Enterprise & Society 4.3 (2003) 561-563
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Christopher Kobrak. National Cultures and International Competition: The Experience of Schering AG, 1851-1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xvii + 394 pp. ISBN 0-521-81481-2, $50.00.
We have too few scholarly monographs on German industry's relations with Nazism, and Christopher Kobrak's new work on Schering AG is a welcome addition. Kobrak seeks to locate Schering within the context of "international business" during the first half of the twentieth century, and two-thirds of the book is devoted to the years from the end of World War I until the founding of the Federal Republic. Based on Schering's own archival sources, the book is not an exhaustive "nuts and bolts" business history; rather, it is a study of Schering's position in the German and world economies. This perspective necessarily limits Kobrak's interests; that is a shame, because one of the book's few weaknesses is its cursory analysis of technological development. There is little attempt to explain the commercial or scientific imperatives that drive high-tech businesses, for example, or why Schering moved from basic pharmacy drugs, industrial intermediates like camphor, and photographic chemicals before 1914 to state-of-the-art medical technologies two decades later.
This is only a passing complaint. Kobrak's real purpose is to analyze what happened to Schering and Germany in the world economy after 1920, and in that he succeeds admirably. Kobrak is strong on the financial side of the company's development, and he devotes [End Page 561] considerable space both to the problems of the merger with Kokswerke, a coal-coke group, in the early 1920s and to Schering's necessary accommodation, admittedly with little enthusiasm, to Weimar labor legislation. An excellent chapter on the re-creation of Schering's international business after 1919 details the move to subsidiary enterprises, which helped smooth the firm's way back into previously hostile markets.
Kobrak provides a clear account of the tax and investment problems that bedeviled Schering throughout the interwar years, with particular emphasis on the company's decreasing room for maneuvers after Adolf Hitler's Machtergreifung. Kobrak is especially good on the way the Nazis were able to envelop business in an ever-widening net of regulation that allowed the regime to achieve its goals without the inconvenience of a head-on collision with industry. Nonetheless, Kobrak makes it clear that "liberal democrats" did not run Schering. Many of its leading personalities were Jewish, thereby making it an obvious target for the radical wing of the Nazi Party, but they were also extreme conservatives who accepted the "National Revolution" as necessary to revitalize Germany while keeping their distance from the vulgar and rowdy elements of the regime. Like others (IG Farben springs obviously to mind), they took the benefits Hitler offered—the defeat of organized labor, improved economic conditions, and a restoration of managerial prerogative—while ignoring Nazism's fundamental violence and illegality. Moreover, they were willing to accede to Nazi laws that excluded Jewish directors and capital from German life, so by 1937 the company was ostensibly "Judenfrei." Kobrak has an interesting take on these events; he argues that they reflect not confidence by the regime but a perception of weakness—a terrifying fear that international Jewry would win out, no matter what the Nazis tried to do.
It is clear that Schering's actions during the Third Reich were complex and ambivalent. It profited from compulsory sales of Jewish property, albeit tangentially, as well as from the use of Soviet forced labor, but it paid generous pensions to its Jewish directors or found alternate work for them, mainly with its foreign sales companies, and at the same time protected obvious anti-Nazis in its management. Even here, however, Schering's activities were limited, and the company's primary motivation seems to have been survival. It avoided IG Farben's fate partly by the accident of its smaller size, but also because it was not indispensable to the Nazis. War reduced Schering...