National Socialists Before Hitler, Part I: The Original German Workers’ Party

The 1904 ‘Trautenau Programme’ of the Austrian German Workers’ Party, the founding party of German National Socialism


The perception that Adolf Hitler ‘created’ National Socialism is not uncommon today, and cannot entirely be blamed on the overly-simplistic, pop-historical forms of mass-entertainment which have played such a large role in shaping public perceptions on ‘Nazism’. Hitler, after all, did much to encourage the view himself that ‘Leader’ and ‘Idea’ were bound together as one and the same, interrelated and inseparable. In reality, however, the movement Hitler joined in September 1919 had in fact already been in existence since before the First World War, founded in November 1903 in Aussig, an industrial and trading town in northern Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its founders all came directly from the labor movement: the majority were members of the nationalist ethnic-German trade unions, deeply concerned about competition with Czech labor, and the rest disgruntled social-democrats who had grown disillusioned with the internationalism of the ‘red’ workers’ movement and sought instead to build a new German Socialism on a national basis. The German Workers’ Party (DAP) they all founded laid out its party programme, written by nationalist-unionist Alois Ciller, at its first party conference in Trautenau in August 1904. That programme was an eclectic mixture of ideas, heavily pro-labor in a way that would be reminiscent of reformist social-democracy were it not for the smattering of völkisch language and the occasional liberal political demand included within the text. This curious ideology, promulgated by the DAP as it began establishing a strong unionist wing and spreading its influence to lower-middle-class artisans and traders, soon became informally known within the party as ‘National Socialism’. By the time the DAP officially changed its name to the ‘German National Socialist Workers Party’ (DNSAP) in May 1918, the völkisch content of its demands had widened in scope, and concern about the Jews – interestingly absent from this first party document – had more thoroughly filtered into the movement’s active political consciousness. The full text of the 1904 Trautenau Programme is included below, translated by myself from Alois Ciller’s history of the Sudeten and Austrian ‘German Socialist’ movements. 

Party Programme
of the
German Workers’ Party in Austria
Concluded at Trautenau, 15th August 1904

The German Workers’ Party seeks the uplift and liberation of the German working-classes from their present condition of economic, political, and cultural oppression. It begins from the conviction that only within the natural limits of his folkdom [Volkstums] can the worker achieve full value for his labor and intelligence in respect to the other classes of the cultural community.

We reject international organization because it weighs down the advanced workers by those of lower standing, and must completely prevent any real progress for the German working class in Austria.

The German Workers’ Party affirms the position that an improvement in economic and social conditions is only attainable through organization via professional associations [berufsgenossenschaftliche], that purposeful, positive reform work can overcome today’s unsustainable societal conditions and safeguard the social advancement of the working-class.

We do not constitute a narrow class party. The German Workers’ Party represents the interests of all honest, productive labor in general, and strives for the complete elimination of all disparities and the bringing about of fairer conditions in all areas of public life.

We are a liberal [freiheitliche] national party which combats with absolute severity all reactionary ambitions, all feudal, clerical and capitalist privileges, as well as all racially-foreign [fremdvölkischen] influences.

The advancement of work and skill [Wissen] in state and society is our goal – and the economic and political organization of the working German Volk is the German Workers’ Party’s means to this end.


The fulfilment of the cultural tasks of the Austrian state is consistently rendered impossible by the so-called questions of state [Staatsfragen]. The resolution of these questions is only possible in such a way that Austria becomes a uniformly organized state, and is thus made viable.

Therefore we demand:

  1. Personal union with Hungary.
  2. Special status for Galicia and Bukovina within the Cisleithanian federation, for which the name ‘Austria’ is designated.
  3. Legal declaration of German as the state language of Austria; the German language is therefore the exclusive language of the army, representative bodies, and public offices; appointment of German officials and judges in German-speaking areas.


In the political sphere the German Workers’ Party demands the free development of the peoples’ nature [Volkswesen]:

  1. Introduction of universal, equal, and direct suffrage; the national demarcation of electoral constituencies; statutory compulsory voting; a proportional electoral system; severe penalties for electoral abuses; abolition of the House of Lords [Herrenhauses].
  2. Thoroughgoing expansion of political self-government.
  3. Stipulation of three-year legislative periods.
  4. Laws for free association and free assembly; laws for freedom of speech and freedom of the press; the abolition of objective procedure1; deregulation of colportage.2
  5. Protection against any interference in the exercise of political rights, in particular against the utilization of wage conditions and terms of employment to restrict personal rights of self-determination.
  6. Basic Laws [Staatsgrundgesetze] may in no way be modified by decree; §14 of the Basic Law is to be abolished.3
  7. Individual ministers are to be selected from the Imperial Council [Reichsrat] and held liable, under severe penalty, for the upkeep of the constitution and for the just implementation of the law.


The economic policy of the state has to tailor itself to the interests of the great masses of the Volk. In particular, the development of labor-protection legislation is a pressing need.

In the economic and socio-political spheres the following should primarily be strived for:

  1. Creation of a common customs territory with the German Reich.
  2. Transfer of capitalist large-scale enterprises, in which private property is injurious to the common good, into the possession of the Reich, province, or municipality, in particular the nationalization of the mining industry and railways.
  3. Reform of the entire tax system; abolition of all indirect taxes and introduction of a progressive income tax; fixation of a tax-free living wage [Existenzminimums]; scheduling of higher taxation rates for rentier incomes, and lower rates for earned incomes; reform of the inheritance tax; elevation of the stock-exchange tax; introduction of luxury taxes; strict penalties for tax evasion.
  4. Full and unlimited freedom of association [Koalitionsfreiheit]; legal recognition of labor unions; full freedom of association for agricultural laborers.
  5. Creation of Chambers of Labor for the promotion of the economic interests of the working-classes.
  6. Fixation of minimum wage rates for each occupation and municipality; adoption of legal regulations which enable public authorities and municipal self-governing bodies [Selbstverwaltungskörpern] to prevent the engagement of foreign workers of a different nationality for the purposes of wage pressure.
  7. Organization of a public employment office [Arbeitsnachweises] through the repeal of the private employment agencies [Arbeitsvermittlung].
  8. Regulation of home-work, with the end-goal being its abolition.4
  9. Legal regulation of working-hours on the basis of the eight-hour-day, with shorter working-hours set for hazardous industries; international labor protection legislation.5
  10. A ban on nightwork in all industries, where this is not unfeasible due to technical reasons; a complete ban on nightwork for women and young workers.
  11. General implementation of a 36-hour weekly rest period [36stündigen Sonntagsruhe]; female workers to have Saturday afternoons free.
  12. Prohibition on female labor in health-hazardous enterprises and in mining; introduction of maternity leave; total prohibition of gainful employment for children under 14 years of age and the establishment of a shorter working-period for young workers.
  13. Establishment of qualification certificates as a requirement for highly-skilled work; stricter legal provisions covering accident prevention and the condition of workplaces.
  14. Development of the Trade Inspectorates and expansion of their scope of powers;6 appointment of factory-inspection auxiliaries, who are to be drawn from the working-classes; appointment of female inspectors for companies with female labor; maintenance of labor statistics.
  15. Establishment of industrial courts [Gewerbegerichten] in all major industrial locations; the industrial courts to be structured as arbitration agencies for all labor and wage disputes.
  16. Establishment of a Workers’ Housing Act; introduction of housing inspections; scheduled facilitation of land reform.
  17. Uniform reform of the entire labor insurance system; expansion of health and accident insurance; introduction of general old-age and invalid insurance, as well as widow and orphan benefits; insurance against unemployment through supporting the free unions’ efforts towards it, furthermore by structuring this branch of insurance within workers’ insurance.
  18. Establishment of a Ministry of Labor, to which all trade inspection and mining inspection, as well as the social insurance system, are subordinate.


The German Workers’ Party demands in the cultural field:

  1. Complete separation of church and state.
  2. Improvement in the legal status of women and reform of the Marriage Law.7
  3. Reform of the school system in the spirit of the modern Volksgeist;8 complete separation of school and church; complimentary learning materials and public education; regulation of further education and technical education; for teachers, an income appropriate to their education and responsibility; free election of teachers’ representatives to all school board bodies.
  4. Simplification of the administration of justice [Rechtspflege] and free legal representation; compensation for those wrongly arrested and convicted; nationalization of the medical profession.
  5. Pursuant to general conscription, the restructuring of the army into a people’s army [Volksheer], in which anyone capable can rise to the highest positions; reduction in the active term of service; restrictions on the retirement of the more capable officers; public hearings for court martials.


Translator’s Notes

1. ‘Objective procedure’ was introduced into Austro-Hungarian press law in 1862, giving public prosecutors the right to order police to confiscate published materials. Prosecutors had to justify their actions within the courts, but could do so without actually prosecuting the publisher and giving them an opportunity to defend themselves – all that was required for a ban to be sustained was for a prosecutor to prove to the court that the material either contravened the press law or that its publication was “contrary to the public interest”. Unionists of all stripes alleged that objective procedure constituted an authoritarian press control that had been weaponized by the state against workers’ publications.

2. ‘Colportage’ were cheap, mass-produced books, leaflets and tracts distributed widely by itinerant traders (‘colporteurs’) throughout the European and American countryside in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a period of growing literacy they were an important source of information and news for rural populations. In Austria, colportage went through fluctuating periods of bans, censorship, and heavy regulation by the state, which was concerned about their being used in the spread of potentially seditious or inflammatory political ideas.

3. ‘Basic Laws’ (occasionally translated ‘Foundational Laws’) were the series of laws enacted by the Austrian Imperial Council [Reichsrat] in December 1867; these laws served as the country’s first modern, functioning constitution (the ‘December Constitution’). There were six sets of constitutional ‘Basic Laws’ [Staatsgrundgesetze] outlining the limits and powers of the state in various areas: the general rights of citizens and nationalities, the functions of the Supreme Court [Reichsgericht], the powers of the executive, etc. “§14 of the Basic Law” is a reference to the infamous Paragraph Fourteen of the first part of the December Constitution, the ‘Law Amending the Basic Law of the Reichsvertretung of 26th February 1861’, which made amendments to the old February Constitution of 1861. Paragraph Fourteen of this Law was notorious in that it granted the Emperor and his ministers full executive power in the absence of parliament, including those moments when the Reichsrat was simply not in session. §14 was essentially a loophole by which the government could bypass parliament, nullify Austria’s nascent constitutionalism, and issue emergency decrees which eroded the liberal freedoms provided in other areas of the December Constitution.

4. ‘Home-workers’ (Heimarbeitern) are those who work in a self-selected workplace, usually their own home, on behalf of an employer (such as a tradesman) who owns and provides them with the means of production and takes possession of the finished product they create with it. Both the German and Austrian labor movements have a long history of advocacy in favor of the Heimarbeit industry, since home-workers were typically not considered ‘workers’ under labor laws and were thus vulnerable to exploitation.

5. The term ‘international’ here refers to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s peculiar political status, in which Cisleithania and Transleithania (i.e. Austria and Hungary) were technically separate sovereign states, each possessing further autonomous or semi-autonomous regions (such as Galicia and Croatia) within their own borders. The DAP’s call for “international labor protection legislation” derived from the party’s desire to protect ethnic-German workers living outside of Cisleithania’s borders,  not out of any concern over the labor conditions of foreign nationals.

6. The ‘Trade Inspectorates‘ (‘Gewerbeinspektorates‘, today called Labor Inspectorates, ‘Arbeitsinspektorates‘) were established in Austria in 1883 to monitor the observation of labor protection laws and to help resolve grievances in trade and industry.

7. The Marriage Law of 1868 was regarded as a liberal reform, in that it caused a suspension of the 1855 Concordat with the Catholic Church which had seen canon law supersede the Austrian civil code in certain areas, including that of marriage. While the 1868 Marriage Law returned the Austrian civil code to its place of prominence by replacing canon law and returning marriage to the sole jurisdiction of the state, it nonetheless still had a strong Catholic influence – the Law was denomination-bound to Catholicism, with civil marriage regarded as a secondary (or ‘non-default’) option for couples seeking legal union. The DAP’s desire to reform the Marriage Law was, based on its anti-Catholic tendencies, likely oriented towards ending this religious influence in the state in favor of the promotion of civil marriage, something that finally occurred after the Anschluß of 1938 when the National Socialist government in Berlin took power over Austria.

8. ‘Volksgeist‘ is a völkisch term, translating roughly as ‘national spirit‘ and also occasionally translated as ‘racial spirit‘ or ‘spirit of the people‘.



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