Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part II: Feder

Gottfried Feder’s 1919 vision of a highly democratic, corporatist National Socialism with a grass-roots electoral system

The article below was first published by Gottfried Feder under the title ‘The Social State’ on May 24th, 1919, in Dietrich Eckart’s newspaper Auf gut Deutsch. Its characterization as a National Socialist text could possibly be regarded as a stretch, considering it was published roughly two or three months before Feder first officially joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP). However, one should not forget that Feder’s pamphlet ‘Manifesto for the Abolition of Slavery to Interest’, which swiftly became (and remains) a core document of National Socialist economic doctrine, was written before the DAP even existed; was first published when the DAP was still in its infancy; and was originally pitched in prototypical form by Feder to the Marxist government of Kurt Eisner. ‘The Social State’ in fact is in many respects highly representative of early, pre-Hitler National Socialism, bearing more similarity to the National Socialism of Rudolf Jung and the Austrian-Sudeten-Polish DNSAP than to the more militant, authoritarian form of the ideology which developed under Hitler’s influence. ‘The Social State’ calls for a nationalist, anticapitalist state in which political representation is effected through a corporative rather than parliamentary system, a system remarkable in how democratic it is – Feder not only implicitly assumes that women will have the right to vote, but children too, the grass-roots electoral system he describes potentially involving every member of society in the election process. Although this system was obviously not adopted by the NSDAP as a potential model, ‘The Social State’ is still a fascinating demonstration that National Socialism and dictatorship were not necessarily synonymous concepts in the eyes of the movement’s Party-comrades.     


Gottfried Feder

The old form of government has  broken down. What shall take its place? This is the most important problem of the future: Weimar’s democratic-parliamentary monster, lifeless as it is, now that its illusionary policies have completely collapsed, seems to have reached the end of its days. The peace conditions of the Entente are the horrible alarm bell which has dispelled Socialist dreams and illusions. Where is Mr. Scheidemann’s peace with understanding? Where is Mr. Erzberger’s economic peace – guaranteed to be ready in half an hour? Where is the League of Nations, where is Mr. Eisner’s world revolution? Where is the workers’ state in which production is doubled; where is the higher morality – where is any reconstruction at all to be seen?

Weighed and found wanting – that is already the judgement of its own people, of its own contemporaries. Over and over again history will curse the German revolutionaries who betrayed their people, who in their shortsighted megalomania first robbed a brave people of belief in and desire for victory and then with the cowardly bravery of the assassin stabbed the army in the back during its most difficult days, in order to seize the power which they cannot use. For it is one thing to fell a swaying giant from behindto uproot a dynasty which has already lost touch with the people, or to revolutionize a civil service which has lost its vital connection with the life of the people. It is quite a different thing to display revolutionary power when the task is to inspire the mortally wounded people with new vitality and to prepare a new and vigorous political organism.

Where is the revolutionary power of the German revolutionaries? Where is the French, the English, the Italian revolution? Where is the world revolution? Messrs. Ebert, Scheidemann, Erzberger, Eisner, Hoffman and whatever all their names are have kept none of their promises, none whatsoever? Why? Because no new idea of state guides them, because they think the new form of government should be, at best, class rule, or worse: a system of parliamentary compromises; because they are so far from the true socialist state that they cannot summon the courage to lay a hand on the capitalist system; because they have not yet understood what the World War was really all about, namely, that it was the final battle of the international monetary powers for ultimate world domination.

It would be best to ask ourselves which of the chief defects of the old state we should avoid. I will enumerate them.

The irresponsible [assertion of] divine right by the Crown; the fact that army and navy as well as the higher civil service were dependent on the sovereign ruler. Further, the wholly insufficient representation of the people in the parliament which, completely tangled up in disgusting party quarrels, lost any sense of the interests of the Volk; a social democracy which seemed to find its life work exclusively in inciting the workers against their employers. These were probably the most prominent defects in the political life of our people before the collapse. It is, therefore, our most important task to avoid these defects. The revolution has made a clean sweep of the obvious abuses of the old form of government – the irresponsible [assertion of] divine right, the exaggerated and misdirected militarism and bureaucracy. But the much more deeply imbedded defect, the whole hopeless parliamentarianism, is growing vigorously and is beginning, if the signs are not deceptive, to reach an understanding with the forces of capitalism. Obviously, the only deeper meaning of the revolution, that is, the emancipation of labor from international economic enslavement by the golden international, would thus be abolished and the economic subjugation of creative labor by the interest slavery of the mammonistic powers would be firmly established.

The new state must therefore make a radical break with all the principles of western democracy. It must especially break with parliamentary parties and parliamentary cliques, and above all, it must not mix political and economic types of popular representation in a single parliament, but must provide for this basic separation by a two chamber system. The House of the People (as the first chamber) represents the political interests of the whole people, while the Central Council must represent the economic interests of the working population.

The most important thing in the reorganization is a wholly different electoral system, erected on new foundations, which will be explained below.

The House of the People

The good of the people is the highest law, the only guiding star for the representatives of the people. There can be no question of setting up guidelines for the highest leaders of the state; their guidelines are contained in the above-mentioned principle.

More important is the form of election for the deputies, which must build upon the broadest base, pyramid-fashion, to enter the next higher stage.

In the new state every person has the right to be represented. The entire arbitrary minimal age of twenty is wholly unjustified and must therefore be done away with. On the other hand, not every person is able to be an elector, although he has the right to be represented.

Consequently an elector is someone who can show that he has been legally or voluntarily assigned as representative by at least five, usually ten, persons. This assignment is territorially limited and valid only once, at the place of principal residence; also each person can only appoint one other person as his representative. Let me use a practical example:

A little town of about 6,000 inhabitants needs to assemble its list of electors. Every member of the population is then free to join, entirely at his own discretion, in groups of five to ten people. The family will appoint the father or the mother or the grown-up son or the oldest daughter as its confidant, as its elector; servants and maids will meet in groups of ten persons and designate as elector and confirm by signature the one who seems to them most suitable. The electors (about 600 in a town of 6,000 inhabitants), determined in this way, will gather on specific days to elect from their midst the people’s councillors. Again, groups of ten electors  who know each other well will join together in order to designate one from their midst as people’s councillor. In contrast to the present method of having a single election day, this genuine election process must take place over a long enough period so that even those who find themselves grouping together mechanically can get to know each other and have time to talk, in order to choose from their midst the one who seems to them most suitable. Such a voting procedure has an extraordinary advantage over any other system of general election in that, on the one hand, it opens up a much wider base for popular representation than previously and includes all natural persons, yet on the other hand immediately and very considerably reduces the group of real electors by limiting very significantly the honor of being an elector and by excluding at the start people who are unsuitable because of age, personal inclination, interests or trustworthiness.

The people’s councillors, designated by the electors, will be the lowest legal governing body. Each of them represents 100 persons who have given him their confidence, to whom he is responsible and with whom he is in close contact through the group of ten electors.

It seems clear that in this way selection would be very careful. There is little room for the machinations of ambitious politicians; the relationship of trust is too close between electors and elected. Thus the feeling of responsibility of the elected is considerably increased.

These people’s councillors in turn gather in district meetings. They get to know each other there, again join in groups of ten and elect their district councillors. Corresponding to the number of inhabitants in their districts, the district councillors constitute the local political representatives of the people. They have the right to control government organs, district authorities and so on, as well as the duty of stating grievances to the regional or government councillors. On the other hand, they have the duty of announcing all politically important decrees and government resolutions to the people’s councillors, in order to awake among their electors political understanding and participation in the political life of the entire people. This District Council, consisting according to the size of the district of 60 to 100 or more district councillors, thus represents 1,000 persons per councillor, thus 60 to 100,000 or more inhabitants. At these district meetings the district councillors again get to know each other better. Again, they have to form in groups of ten, in order to delegate one from their midst as a government councillor.

The government councillors meet in the regional capitals for longer periods of time. They must represent the political interests of their region; they have analogous control over the government and regional authorities. In an analogous way, the government councillors, each of whom gets support from 10,000 persons, meet in groups of ten and elect delegates to the Council of People’s Deputies. Each of these people’s deputies is thus the direct speaker for and the responsible representative of 100,000 persons. Thus the Council of People’s Deputies in Bavaria would have 67 persons, corresponding to a population of 6.7 million. This Council of People’s Deputies is the highest legal governing body. It passes the laws and appoints from its midst, or as it sees fit, from outside, a people’s president or presidents, endowed with extraordinary powers, who represent the country at home and abroad.

This organic structuring of popular representation is by no means cumbersome. On the contrary, because it is natural and indigenous, it is the true expression of a social community based on mutual trust. To be sure, this kind of election process cannot, as it used to, be completed in one day after the confusing propaganda of an election campaign. The election, and the construction of this new political organism within the body politic, can only take place slowly and steadily. Many months will pass before the people’s councillors, district councillors, and government councillors have all been elected. The voting procedures will nevertheless have to be limited in time. But in spite of the typical eccentricity of Germans, ten will eventually be able to agree on one from their midst as a suitable representative.

It must be left to the individual reader to ponder the very clear and simple structure of this proposal and to realize its advantages. Especially by comparison with the severe disadvantages of the present electoral system. I certainly do not maintain that this proposal will really lead to the selection of the most politically able leaders, but at any rate it will lead to the exclusion of all idle gossipers and political charlatans.

The Central Council

As its name suggests, the Central Council is the central body which deliberates on the economic interests of the country. The labor of the entire working population finds its expression in the body. In it sit the competent expert representatives of the employers and employees of all branches of business and the professions. In it sit the delegates of the Regional-ABC-Councils. [Feder’s note: This term is the collective expression for the different kinds of councils] It is therefore a corporatist body; an organization representing not political, but economic, interests.

All occupations must be represented in the Central Council; and each occupation must have one representative of the employers and one of the employees. Here the number of votes is not the important thing, but that each occupation can speak through its representative. Usurpation of the power of some groups of professions will be prevented by giving the right of veto to every single councillor. Nor can it be the task of the Central Council to issue firm rulings for the individual professional groups, even if asked to do so. The work of the Central Council is, first of all, to oversee in a comprehensive way the entire production process, to control this production, to make inquiry as to what is needed and, beyond that, to regulate production and distribution according to the results of this survey. Hand in hand with this, there must be large-scale regulation of work and provision of employment. Wage agreements as well as all questions related to wages also lie in the hands of the Central Council.

The Central Council will have arisen from the Regional-ABC-Councils, which in turn will have arisen from the councils of the workers, farmers, businesses, professions, and so forth, within the individual business groups and occupations.

Here too for the sake of simplification it is advisable if not every single individual acts as elector, but at least five members of the profession choose a single elector.

Bavaria yields approximately the following picture in numbers.

In 1907 there were 3,279,914 employed persons:

  men women
1. Agriculture and forestry 324,918 873,030
2. Industry, including mining and building trades 804,837 215,366
3. Commerce and transportation, including hotels and taverns 4,212,281[sic] 145,900
4. Public service and independent professions 145,047 36,324
5. Wage labor of changing kinds 10,469 26,642

We would thus begin with about 600,000 electors who choose their workers’, farmers’, civil servants’, industrial, trades, commercial, and so forth, councillors for their district. These districts group themselves around the larger cities and towns, insofar as the latter are the economic centers of their respective areas. If we say that Bavaria has about 60 of these economic centers, then about 6,000 District-ABC-Councillors must be elected for the entire state. If in individual districts (for example in rural districts) there are fewer occupational groups, then of course this number is reduced. The District Councillors meet in the regional cities. They unite there not according to numbers but according to their professions, and each group names a representative to the Regional-ABC-Council. The Regional-ABC-Councillors in turn meet in the state capital to elect the Central Council, in which again every profession, every occupation unites and selects one delegate to the Central Council. Thus the Central Council is elected in a manner similar to that proposed for the people’s deputies.

The Central Council will thus be composed as follows:

1.Independent farmers- 3 & 3 farm laborers = 6
2.Independent foresters- 1 & 1 lumberman and forest worker = 2
3.Independent gardeners- 1 & 1 undergardener = 2
4.Owners of mines & foundries- 1 & 1 miner = 2
5.Quarry owners- 1 & 1 stone worker = 2
6.Brickyard owners- 1 & 1 bricklayer = 2
7.Concrete works- 1 & 1 concrete worker = 2
8-12.Metallurgical industry- 5 & 5 metallurgical workers = 10
13.Chemical industry- 1 & 1 employee
1 worker
= 3
14-15.Textile industry- 2 & 1 employee
2 workers
= 5
16.Paper industry- 1 & 1 employee
1 worker
= 3
17.Leather industry- 1 & 1 employee
1 worker
= 3
18.Wood and insulation- 2 & 2 workers = 4
19-21.Food production industries- 3 & 3 workers = 6
22-23.Clothing industries- 2 & 2 employees
2 workers
= 6
24.Laundries- 1 & 1 worker = 2
25-26.Building industry- 3 & 2 employees
2 workers
= 6 [7]
27.Printing presses- 2 & 1 employee
1 worker
= 3 [4]
28-29.Commercial enterprises- 2 & 2 employees = 4
30.Innkeepers- 1 & 1 employees = 2
31.Theaters- 1 & 1 employee = 2
32.Music, art, writers- 2 = 2
33.Transportation- 1 & 1 employee = 2
34-36.Government officials- 2 = 2
37.Local government officials- 1 = 1
38.Further groups as expedient = 14
councillors: 100 [98]

The Central Council, it must be emphasized again, is the expression of the working community of the people. Only the best shall have a seat and a vote in it. Every profession, every occupation shall be heard in it. The closest cooperation shall in the best sense have an educational effect; it shall function socially to prevent the representation of the special interests of the individual occupational groups and to encourage their best incorporation into the whole. These are the general principles for structuring the system of councils and for rooting it in the constitution.

I think that these general guidelines for the new constitution leave no doubt that the proposed two-chamber system has nothing to do with that which I consider to be our greatest misfortune: the parliamentarianism of the western democracies.

The House of the People is the image of the political life of the entire people; the Central Council, the public expression of its labor. In both chambers, only the best from the various segments of the population, only the most experienced from the individual professional groups, shall or can be heard.

I would like to conclude with an image designed to show that the structure of the state can not really resemble a building, but rather a tree, a living, organic structure. The similes from the building industry which are very common in our speech when we deal with the “reconstruction” of our state are thoroughly misleading; for even if all comparisons are ultimately somewhat lame, the usual comparison of the constitution to a building overlooks too much the most essential element, namely, that a people is an organism and a building is a dead construction.

These considerations become very clear if one compares the favorite image of a ruined field which has to be reconstructed with the demolished house which has to be reconstructed. The house cannot be rebuilt out of its demolished parts. On the contrary a tree, however ill-treated, even if its big branches are torn off, even if some of its roots are hacked away, can revive. But with the tree as with a people, this renewal must grow out of the inner vitality of the organism. Not from the outside and not by artificial constructions can a sick organism be helped; the cure must come from inside. It must be the concern of the new art of government to find the vital conditions for an organic renewal in a new constitution which guarantees to every single member of the people the freest development of his personality within the framework of the community, based on the clear realization that this free development of his personality (in an aristocratic sense) finds its natural organic limit in the higher interests of the social community.

Excerpted from Barbara Miller Lane’s & Leila J. Rupp’s Nazi Ideology Before 1933: A Documentation (2014), University of Texas Press

Leave a Reply