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Timothy Wright Mason (2 March 19405 March 1990) was a Britishmarker Marxist historian of Nazi Germany.

Life and work

He was born in Birkenheadmarker, the child of school-teachers and was educated at Birkenhead Schoolmarker and Oxford Universitymarker. He taught at Oxford from 1971–1984 and was twice married. He helped to found the left-wing journal History Workshop Journal. Mason specialized in the social history of the Third Reich, especially that of the working-class. Mason's most famous books were his 1975 work Arbeiterklasse und Volksgemeinschaft (The Working Class and the National Community), a study of working-class life under the Nazis and his 1977 book, Sozialpolitik im Dritten Reich (Social Policy in the Third Reich). Unusually for a British historian, most of his books were originally published in German first.

Mason saw his role as developing history that was flexible, humane and analytical Mason wrote about the historians' role in 1986: "If historians do have a public responsibility, if hating is part of their method and warning part of their task, it is necessary that they should hate precisely". Mason's interest as a Marxist historian were in writing history that was not deterministic, and in revising the views about fascism As part of his efforts to develop a broader picture of the Third Reich, Mason approached such topics as women in Nazi Germany, a critique of "intentionalist" views of the Third Reich, and theories of generic fascism as an analytical tool.

In Social Policy in the Third Reich, Mason unlike his counterparts in East Germany did not focus just on resistance movements within the German working class, but sought a comprehensive picture of working class life with how the working class viewed itself, and by the Nazi regime Mason argued that the Nazi leadership was haunted by the memory of the November Revolution of 1918, and so the Nazi dictatorship was prepared to make no small material allowances in the form of social policy, a reluctance to impose material shortages, and a hesitation to bring in a total war economy.

Besides his studies in working-class in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Mason was noted for his break with previous Marxist interpretations of fascism that saw fascist regimes as the servant of capitalist interests. Mason argued instead for the “primacy of politics” by which he meant that although fascist regimes were still capitalist regimes in his opinion, they possessed “autonomy” in the political sphere and were not dictated to by capitalist interests. In a 1966 essay, Mason wrote "that both the domestic and foreign policy of the National Socialist government became, from 1936 onward, increasing independent of the influence of the economic ruling classes, and even in some essential aspects ran contrary to their collective interests" and that "it became possible for the National Socialist state to assume a fully independent role, for the "primacy of politics" to assert itself" Mason used the following to support his thesis:
  • that after the 1936 economic crisis, German industrialists were increasing excluded from the decision-making process
  • that after 1936, the German state came to play an increasing dominant role in the German economy both through state-owned companies and by placing increasing larger orders
  • that the expansion of armament-related production supported by a highly economically interventionist state led to those capitalist enterprises not related to armaments to go into decline
  • the decline in effectiveness in economic lobbying groups in the Third Reich
  • that through every major German industrialist called for a reduction of working class living standards from 1933 onwards, before 1942 the Nazi regime always ignored such calls, and sought instead to raise working class living standards
Mason's “primacy of politics” approach against the traditional Marxist "primacy of economics" approach involved him in the 1960s with a vigorous debate with the East German historians' Eberhard Czichon, Dietrich Eichholtz and Kurt Gossweiler The latter two historians wrote if Mason was correct, then this would amount to "a complete refutation of Marxist social analysis". Mason was a leading advocate of comparative studies in fascism and in the 1980s strongly criticized the German philosopher Ernst Nolte for comparing the Holocaust to events that Mason regarded as totally unrelated to Nazi Germany such as the Armenian genocide and the Khmer Rouge genocides. By contrast, Mason argued that there was much to learn by comparing Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in order to produce a theory of generic fascism. In Mason’s view, Nazism was only part of a wider fascist phenomenon.

Mason's most notable arguments were that the German working-class was always opposed to the Nazi dictatorship; that in the over-heated German economy of the late 1930s, German workers could force employers to grant higher wages by leaving for another firm that would grant the desired wage increases; that this was a form of political resistance and this resistance forced Adolf Hitler to go to war in 1939. Thus, the outbreak of the Second World War was caused by structural economic problems, a "flight into war" imposed by a domestic crisis. The key aspects of the crisis were according to Mason, a shaky economic recovery was threatened by a rearmament program that was overwhelming the economy and in which the Nazi regime's nationalist bluster limited its options. In this way, Mason articulated a Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") view of World War II’s origins through the concept of social imperialism Mason's Primat der Innenpolitik thesis was in marked contrast to the Primat der Außenpolitik ("primacy of foreign politics) usually used to explain World War II. In Mason’s opinion, German foreign policy was driven by domestic political considerations, and the launch of World War II in 1939 was best understood as a “barbaric variant of social imperialism”.

Mason argued that “Nazi Germany was always bent at some time upon a major war of expansion” ” However, Mason argued that the timing of a such a war was determined by domestic political pressures, especially as relating to a failing economy, and had nothing to do with what Hitler wanted In Mason's view in the period between 1936-41, it was the state of the German economy, and not Hitler's "will" or "intentions" that was the most important determinate on German decision-making on foreign policy. Mason argued that the Nazi leaders were deeply haunted by the November Revolution of 1918, and was most unwilling to see any fall in working class living standards out of the fear that it might provoke another November Revolution. According to Mason, by 1939, the “overheating” of the German economy caused by rearmament, the failure of various rearmament plans produced by the shortages of skilled workers, industrial unrest caused by the breakdown of German social policies, and the sharp drop in living standards for the German working class forced Hitler into going to war at a time and place not of his choosing Mason contended that when faced with the deep socio-economic crisis the Nazi leadership had decided to embark upon a ruthless “smash and grab” foreign policy of seizing territory in Eastern Europe which could be pitilessly plundered to support living standards in Germany Mason described German foreign policy as driven by an opportunistic “next victim” syndrome after the Anschluss, in which the “promiscuity of aggressive intentions” was nurtured by every successful foreign policy move. In Mason’s opinion, the decision to sign the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union and to attack Poland and the running of the risk of a war with Britain and France were the abandonment by Hitler of his foreign policy programme outlined in Mein Kampf forced on him by his need to stop a collapsing German economy by seizing territory abroad to be plundered

Mason's theory of an "Flight into war" being imposed on Hitler generated much controversy, and in the 1980s he conducted a series of debates with economic historian Richard Overy over this matter. Overy maintained the decision to attack Polandmarker was not caused by structural economic problems, but rather was the result of Hitler wanting a localized war at that particular time in history. For Overy, a major problem with the Mason thesis was that it rested on the assumption that in way unrecorded by the records, that information was passed on to Hitler about the Reich's economic problems. Overy argued that there was a major difference between economic pressures inducted by the problems of the Four Year Plan, and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserve of neighboring states as a way of accelerating the Four Year Plan. Moreover, Overy asserted that the repressive capacity of the German state as a way of dealing with domestic unhappiness was somewhat downplayed by Mason. Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that the German state felt they could master the economic problems of rearmament; as one civil servant put it in January 1940 "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix"

In a 1981 essay 'Intention and explanation: A current controversy about the interpretation of National Socialism' from the book The "Fuehrer State" : Myth and reality, Mason coined the terms Intentionist and Functionalist as terms for historical schools regarding Nazi Germany. Mason criticized Klaus Hildebrand and Karl Dietrich Bracher for focusing too much on Hitler on as an explanation for the Holocaust.In 1985, Mason decided the government of Margaret Thatcher was the harbinger of fascism, advised trade union leaders to start making preparations to go underground, and moved to Italymarker. After battling severe depression for many years, he committed suicide in Romemarker in 1990.


  • "Some Origins of the Second World War" pages 67-87 from Past and Present, Volume 29, 1964.
  • "Labour in the Third Reich" pages 187-191 from Past and Present, Volume 33, 1966.
  • "Nineteenth Century Cromwell" pages 187-191 from Past and Present, Volume 49, 1968.
  • "Primacy of Politics: Politics and Economics in National Socialist Germany" from The Nature of Fascism edited by Stuart J. Woolf, 1968.
  • Arbeiterklasse und Volksgemeinschaft: Dokumente und Materialien zur deutschen Arbeiterpolitik, 1936–39, 1975.
  • "Innere Krise und Angriffskrieg, 1938-1939" pages 158-188 from Wirtschaft und Rüstung am Vorabend des Zweiten Weltkrieges edited by F. Forstermeier and H.E. Vokmannn, Düsseldorf, 1975.
  • Sozialpolitik im Dritten Reich: Arbeiterklasse und Volksgemeinschaft, 1977.
  • "Women in Germany, 1925-40: Family, Welfare, and Work" pages 74-113 from History Workshop Journal, Issue 1, 1976 and pages 5-32 from History Workshop Journal, Issue 2, 1976.
  • "National Socialism and the German Working Class, 1925-May 1933" pages 49-93 from New German Critique Volume 11, 1977.
  • "Worker's Opposition in Nazi Germany" pages 120-137 from History Workshop Journal, Issue II, 1981
  • "Injustice and Resistance: Barrington Moore and the Reaction of the German Workers to Nazism" from Ideas into Politics: Aspects of European History, 1880-1950 edited by R.J. Bullen, Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann and A.B. Polonsky, 1984.
  • "Massenwiderstand ohne Organisation: Streiks im faschistischen Italien und NS-Deutschland" pages 1997-212 from Gewerkschafliche Monatshefte, Volume 32, 1984.
  • "Arbeiter ohne Gewerkschaften: Massenwiderstand im NS-Deutschland und im faschistischen Italien" pages 28-35 from Journal für Geschichte, 1985.
  • "History Workshop" pages 175-1986 from Passato e Presente, Volume 8, 1985.
  • "Il nazismo come professione" pages 18-19 from Rinascita, Volume 18, May 18, 1985.
  • "The Great Economic History Show" pages 129-154 from History Workshop Journal, Volume 21, 1986.
  • "Italy and Modernisation" pages 127-147 from History Workshop Journal, Volume 25, 1988.
  • "Gli scioperi di Torino del Marzo' 43" from L'Italia nella seconda guerra mondiale e nella resistenza, edited by Francesca Ferratini Tosi, Gatano Grasso, and Massimo Legnain, 1988.
  • "Debate: Germany, `Domestic Crisis and War in 1939': Comment 2" pages 205-221 from Past and Present, Volume 122, 1989 reprinted as “Debate: Germany, `domestic crisis’ and the War in 1939” from The Origins of The Second World War edited by Patrick Finney, Edward Arnold: London, United Kingdom, 1997, ISBN 0-34-067640-X..
  • "Whatever Happened to `Fascism'?" pages 89-98 from Radical History Review, Volume 49, 1991.
  • "The Domestic Dynamics of Nazi Conquests: A Response to Critics" from Reevaluating the Third Reich edited by Thomas Childers and Jane Caplan, 1993.
  • Nazism, Fascism, and the Working Class: Essays by Tim Mason, edited by Jane Caplan, 1995.



  • Perry, Matt "Mason, Timothy" pages 780-781 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1999.
  • DiCori, Paola, Samuel, Raphael and Galleranto, Nicola "Tim Mason: l'uomo, lo studioso" pages 267-286 from Movimento Operaio e Socialista, Volume 13, 1990.
  • Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold, 1993.
  • Peukert, Detlev Volksgenossen und Gemeinschaftsfremden: Anpassung, Ausmerze und Aufbegehren unter dem Nationalsozialismus, Cologne: Bund Verlag, 1982.
  • Samuel, Raphael "Tim Mason: A memorial" pages 129-188 from History Workshop Journal, Volume 39, 1990.
  • Schoenbaum, David "Book Review: Timothy W. Mason" Contemporary European History, July 1996.
  • Moltó, Ferran, "Tim Mason. Genocidio racial y clase obrera (1933-1945)", Tesina inédita dirigida por el Dr. Ferran Gallego, UAB 2007.

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