The German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

Völkisch parliamentarism: A historical overview of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

The German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP), although something of a historical footnote now, was for much of the 1920s the NSDAP’s primary rival for the völkisch vote within German party politics. The DVFP was the younger of the two parties, having been founded in December 1922 as a result of a split within the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP) over the party’s approach to the “Jewish question.” While the more radical elements in the DNVP’s völkisch wing felt the party was not giving enough attention to the issue, much of the rest of the party were concerned that the völkish radicals’ bellicosity was harming their image with the public, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of German-Jewish Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau. When the DNVP leadership definitively came down against the radicals at the Görlitz party conference in 1922, the die was cast: the völkisch radicals left the party and, coalescing around prominent nationalist activists Albrecht von Graefe, Reinhold Wulle, and Wilhelm Henning, founded the DVFP. In trying to be a broad-based organization representing the entirety of the fractious and highly-diverse völkisch movement, however, the DVFP proved unable to deliver a genuinely coherent, definitive vision of the alternative Germany which they intended to create. This ultimately ensured that the party’s early successes in electoral politics eventually withered away, overshadowed by the growing dynamism of the National Socialists. The article below, written by academic Stefanie Schrader, provides a brief historical overview of this story. It was taken from the 2012 collection Movements and Ideas of the Extreme Right in Europe, and so far as I am aware is the only really thorough examination of the DVFP available in English. Its description of the DVFP helps to highlight some of the major differences within the Weimar era völkisch movement; in contrast to the more radical NSDAP, the DVFP’s ideals were more in line with the ‘conventional’ völkisch politics of the pre-War era, with its ideals and norms still heavily influenced by political attitudes of the late 19th century. It is interesting to consider, in light of this, whether it could ever have achieved the same level of success as the NSDAP, had history for the latter party turned out rather differently.

Völkische Weltanschauung on the Back Benches:
The Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei and the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic
By Stefanie Schrader

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During the years of the Weimar Republic, the German public witnessed the coming and going of a hardly countable number of small political parties, in particular right-wing parties, which aspired to enter the Reichstag and other influential positions. Nevertheless, when it comes to accounts of Weimar Germany’s political parties the focus is often rather quickly, probably even too rashly, diverted to the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, as the only radical party on the far right that succeeded in becoming a mass movement with a substantial faction in the Reichstag by 1930. Evidently, there are obvious reasons for reviewing the rise of the National Socialists as a political party, which tried to play the parliamentary game during the late 1920s and succeeded in doing so with fatal consequences for parliamentarian culture even before 1933. But there are also good reasons for an inquiry into the ideological background and political agenda of neighbouring, if not rivalling groups such as the German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP).

The author of a highly critical three-volume handbook on the völkisch movement, published between 1929 and 1931, remembered the DVFP in direct comparison with the National Socialists as having been the more influential party in parliament only a couple of years ago. Already the name, Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, is difficult to grasp. It is almost impossible to translate without inaccurately reducing the meaning of the adjective völkisch to national or nationalistic, racial or racist, ethnic folkish or anti-Semitic. Where the party is mentioned in a small number of anglophone publications, for instance of the 1960s, it usually figures as “German Racist Freedom Party” or “German Folkish Freedom Party.” More recent authors prefer to leave the term völkisch untranslated. But the lack of conceptual clarity is far more than just a problem of translation into other languages. First and foremost, the inflationary contemporary use of the adjective and the absence of a precise definition of what the concept völkisch actually was supposed to mean are characteristic features of the German discourse about the term in the 1920s. The distinctly heterogeneous character of the völkisch movement on the threshold between the German Empire and the Weimar Republic and its ideological complexity are a confusing, if not elusive phenomenon. The DVFP was thus just one of many groups which labelled themselves völkisch. The unique aspect of this particular völkisch organisation was its being the first völkisch party in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.1

The DVFP was established in December 1922 by three former members of the Reichstag group of the German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), who split after months of internal conflict regarding the assassination of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Walther Rathenau, who as a political liberal with a Jewish family background had been the target of anti-Semitic propaganda for a long time. The formative party meeting was joined by roughly 150 supporters, most of which had been or still were members of radical nationalist or völkisch organisations such as the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband) or the banned German-Völkisch Protection and Defence League (Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund). The DVFP actually profited from the ban and was able to attract a substantial number of the League’s members. The federal state of Mecklenburg, where the newly-proclaimed party leader Albrecht von Graefe (1868-1933)2 held his constituency, and Prussia, particularly the Berlin-Brandenburg area, where the constituency of the party’s second in charge Reinhold Wulle (1882-1950)3 was situated, became the centres of propaganda activity and election campaigning. Nevertheless, branches were established relatively quickly in other North German states, for instance in Saxony, were the DVFP had a prominent supporter in the veteran anti-Semitic writer and publisher Theodor Fritsch, as well as in Thuringia, where the anti-Semitic novelist Artur Dinter was temporarily working for the party.

But establishing a political party and intending to run for elections posed a notable problem for older völkisch circles, since the various branches of the pre-World War One völkisch movement did not consider themselves as party politicians in the first place. The self-perception was more that of a cultural, educational, or religious movement. Even in the early 1920s many adherents of the völkisch movement still rejected a political party as a form of organisation and were unwilling to accept that the only way to change things in a parliamentary democracy was to participate in parliament. Hence, it is hardly surprising that the DVFP, when venturing to one of their first election campaigns for the state parliament of Mecklenburg in February 1924, used the catch phrase: “Into parliament in order to fight the parliamentary system!”

DVFP co-leader and publicist Reinhold Wulle, in discussion before the Reichstag. Unknown date.

Making sure that broader völkisch circles were going to accept and consequently vote for a völkisch party was crucial. Reinhold Wulle emphasised that the foundation of a party was a sheer necessity, a kind of last resort for the völkisch movement, since a number of other organisations which were not appearing as political parties had witnessed restrictions or even complete bans by the authorities. Even Theodor Fritsch, who in earlier years had denounced democratic parliaments as the “most disgusting inheritance of the French Revolution,” and who still had reservations concerning the question of whether adherents of the völkisch movement should run a political party, admitted that under the given circumstances “one has to bow to necessity and get on with a party.” The times of Adolf Stoecker were recalled, when the Protestant Reverend to the Prussian court established an anti-Semitic party, which gained seats in the imperial Reichstag in the 1880s and 1890s. So, in the end, pragmatic justifications outweighed ideological scruples within the DVFP.4

In the run-up to the national elections in May 1924, the DVFP’s officials realised that the party needed a strategic partner in the south of the country, where it hardly had any local branches. As early as in 1923, Albrecht von Graefe had travelled to Munich in order to discuss the possibility of an alliance with representatives of the NSDAP, including Hitler. Hitler’s reaction was apparently reluctant, and there are passages in Mein Kampf which explain this reluctance as the result of a deep mistrust with regard to adherents of the pre-World War One völkisch movement. To him they appeared as a rather passive and unsuccessful bunch of distinguished gentlemen, who, in spite of years or in some cases even decades of promoting völkisch ideas, had had no effect.5 But other leading National Socialists were rather in favour of the idea of registering a joint list for the next national elections, especially since the NSDAP was still banned and had to rely on replacement organisations. Besides, in February 1924 the DVFP proved anything but unsuccessful: In the state elections in Mecklenburg the party gained 19.3 per cent of the votes cast and became the second largest faction in the Mecklenburg Landtag. In the end, Albrecht von Graefe seemed to have convinced at least parts of the struggling National Socialists to temporarily join forces. The list, which was registered by the DVFP with National Socialist candidates as the junior partners for the national elections on 4 May 1924, received 6.5 per cent. This may seem little, but considering the circumstances it was indeed a success, since these votes resulted in 32 seats, most of which went to the DVFP and only about a third to their National Socialist allies. Party leader Albrecht von Graefe, as the longest serving MP of the group, was immediately appointed parliamentary chairman. Newcomers included the above-mentioned Theodor Fritsch, the well-known publicist and journal editor Ernst Graf zu Reventlow, and Wilhelm Kube, a successful organiser of youth groups on the part of the DVFP, as well as Wilhelm Frick, Gottfried Feder, and Ernst Röhm on the part of the NSDAP and Erich Ludendorff as an independent candidate.

The reluctance towards creating a new organisation in the shape of a political party was followed by an unwillingness to publish a party programme. Although the DVFP existed formally for a full decade, it never issued a written programme.6 To deliberately avoid drafting a party programme was again almost a programmatic feature. This party appeared as heterogeneous as the völkisch movement in general. Written programmes were considered as a feature of parliamentary democratic parties, which they put down as conventional. Graefe, while campaigning in Mecklenburg in January 1924, wrote in one of the newspapers associated with the party that the DVFP decided to issue “guidelines and aims” instead of a programme, since any programme could be nothing but a cage to the völkisch movement. He insisted that, concerning political and economic issues, nothing but “flexible guidelines” would serve the purpose of a völkisch party. Reventlow went in the same direction when he wrote that an “organised freedom movement” such as the DVFP should always have “fixed aims” but would be well advised to avoid a “firm position.” He feared that otherwise its character might no longer be any different from the other parties in parliament, and to be different from what Wulle labelled as the “Jewish-democratic system” was what they wanted. But in the end, this avoidance of a central programmatic text could hardly conceal that an evident lack of unity and conclusiveness was one of the party’s weakest points. They were anxious to become a political representation of all branches of the völkisch movement and thus were inevitably unable to reach a feasible consensus. They defined politics as a permanent fight which they wanted to encounter with both parliamentary and propaganda means. That they knew much more precisely what they were targeting instead of supporting, transpired already in one of the party’s first publications in 1923:

Free from the dictate of Versailles!
Free from fruitless parliamentarism!
Free from the domination of the Jews and from stock-market capitalism!
Free from the exploitation of labour!
Free from Marxism and Bolshevism, from class struggle and class spirit!

It seems rather symptomatic that, when given the chance to enter a government coalition in Mecklenburg or Thuringia in spring 1924, the party leaders prevented it. Wulle wrote that völkisch members of any parliament would never become the junior partners in a national-conservative coalition for the price of watering down völkisch aims. Taking up the role of a persevering opposition in the parliaments of the Weimar Republic was apparently not the second best thing; it was the actual aim of the DVFP. Wulle commented that those “who think it to be awkward, are thinking in parliamentary and not in völkisch terms.”

The party leaders and MPs were certainly no political beginners when the DVFP was founded. It seems all the more striking that their political thought can be characterised as contradictory, partly naïve, and far from being a self-contained system. A small number of examples concerning the possible constitutional, economic, and geographical shape of a future Germany may suffice to point this out.

Count Ernst zu Reventlow, leader of the DVFP’s social-revolutionary wing.

The DVFP unanimously demanded the abolishment of the parliamentary republic which they denounced as “Jewish” and the creation of a völkisch German state instead. But the opinion leaders within the party offered different answers concerning the question of a prospective constitution for a völkisch Germany. Reventlow avoided the question during the election campaigns in 1924, stating that it was not yet the right time to discuss the structure of a new state and that all völkisch followers should focus on what he called the “liberation of the people from the dominance of the Jews and stock-market capital, Marxist class-struggle… and the deception of present-day parliamentarism.” He did not go into any further details than stating that a “völkisch dictatorship” or even “völkisch-social dictatorship” might possibly be an appropriate temporary solution. First of all, he explained, there was a need for a “völkisch renewal” on all political, economic, and cultural levels, thus again postponing the desired state to later discussion. On the other, more conservative wing, party leader Graefe and even more so Wulle appeared to have been in favour of the restitution of a monarchy. Graefe carefully addressed the subject as early as in 1923 but conceded that any future German monarchy could be nothing but an entirely new one with a new völkisch monarch.

After the social-revolutionary wing represented by Reventlow had left the party and the Reichstag parliamentary group in February 1927, claims for a völkisch monarchy surfaced less reluctantly than before. The “idea of a Germanic Empire or Kingdom” was taken up again by Wulle, who was an outspoken admirer of the former Prussian royal family and who referred quite often to Frederick the Great and also to Bismarck, both of whom he thought to have been on the right path to unite all Germans. In spring 1927, at the first party congregation after the three defenders of a more national-social approach, Reventlow, Kube, and Franz Stöhr, a spokesman of a völkisch trade union, had left the dwindling völkisch group in the Reichstag in order to join the now independent National Socialist group, Graefe gave a speech which was an open plea for what he described as the “social German monarchic idea of the constructive era of Frederick and Bismarck” compared to the “unsocial republic of the current decadent era.” His notion of monarchy was that of a “people’s empire” (Volkskaisertum). However, not even the remaining conservative wing conclusively tackled the issue of the origin and qualities of a potential völkisch monarchy.

Concerning the inner order of a future völkisch state, the DVFP favoured a decentralised administration of supposed “German tribes.” The concept of tribes was far from marginal to the thought of the völkisch party members. They emphasised the existence of tribes prior to modern states and territories. Kube for example discussed the case of Bavaria at a party congregation in 1925. To him the Kingdom of Bavaria was an unnatural construction enforced by Napoleon and a prime example for the violation of ancient tribal rights, since Franconians and Swabians were incorporated into the Bavarian monarchy without having a say in this matter.7 Kube marked Prussia as the positive counterpart, since Prussia was structured by provinces with provincial representations and cultural autonomy, which, in his opinion, were a tribute to the “historic necessities of the tribes.” This hints at the fact that, in völkisch thought, representative bodies were not entirely rejected as long as they were organised not democratically but according to profession, reputation, and racial categories. Every German was thought to have a natural place in what the party named the “völkisch organism” with a “healthy officialdom” at the top. It is an organic, if not biological understanding of state and society. Concerning the legal system, the DVFP rejected influences of Roman Law which was denounced as allegedly “Jewish” and demanded a reversion to Germanic legal traditions. A true völkisch legal system was to be purged of all elements marked as ostensibly foreign or unnatural. Again, the thoughts did not go much further than this. Apart from the law of inheritance, the party did not elaborate on individual branches of the legal system.

Masthead of the ‘Mecklenburger Warte’, one of the DVFP’s central party newspapers. Taken from the 24 January, 1924 edition.

The völkisch politicians offered even more vague and nebulous views concerning the economy. As much as they avoided elaborating on the questions of a völkisch constitution, they avoided precise ideas about an economic order for a future völkisch state. Bitter criticism of “mammonist and materialist thinking” was common, and quite often anti-capitalist statements were amended by hopes for a full recovery of the old economic middle classes and a romantic perception of the agrarian sector, which the DVFP once more wanted to see as the leading sector of the German economy. In the highly industrialised 1920s this was of course entirely naïve and eclipsed even national-romantic visions of a future Germany.

Weimar’s early völkisch political party neither acknowledged the German borders of 1919, nor the borders of the former German Empire, hence their aggressive and expansionist approach to foreign politics, which was accompanied by an infinite overestimation of Germany’s own military capabilities. Reichstag MP Wilhelm Henning reflected in an address given in 1923 at one of the party’s “patriotic evenings” on the French occupation of the Ruhr region and parts of the Rhineland. He considered the possibility of new wars of liberation, such as the Napoleonic Wars, or even a modern Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, as a means not just to strip Germany of the French occupation but of all “Roman” influences.8 That is where the notion of tribes comes back in. “Greater Germany,” sometimes even described by the Völkisch as “Great Germanic Country” (Großgermanenland), was outlined as a huge European territory which was supposed to comprise all regions where people lived whose linguistic and cultural background was German, including Austria, Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy and France, parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, and parts of Poland, Lithuania, and various other Eastern European countries. The claims for a “Greater Germany” with European dimensions were accompanied by the idea of what the party’s main newspaper called a “healthy settlement policy… according to social, racial, and professional aspects.”

Caricatures of Reichstag “personalities,” from an early DVFP publication.

If there was one ultimate ideological feature which embraced all others and which all leading representatives of the DVFP agreed on, than it was radical anti-Semitism in connection with ludicrous conspiracy theories such as the assumption of a dictatorial “Jewish high finance.” Drawing heavily on concepts such as tribe and race, “people’s community” (Volksgemeinschaft) or even “community of blood” (Blutsgemeinschaft) implied the dissociation from, and discrimination of, all parts of society that were perceived as non-German. This applied primarily to German Jews. In a programmatic article written shortly before the national elections in May 1924, Wulle drew on the old idea of an allegedly natural antagonism between Jews and Germans. He proclaimed the völkisch project of drastic legal sanctions against Jews, who he labelled not just as foreigners but as “racial foreigners” (Fremdstämmige or Fremdvölkische). The so-called “Jewish question” and the “racial question,” Wulle wrote on behalf of the party, are “the core of our entire life” and other leading völkisch representatives such as Fritsch or Reventlow concurred with him. According to Wulle, the DVFP intended to introduce special legislation for Jews (or rather, against Jews). Those Jews who migrated to Germany during or after the First World War were to be expelled. The remaining Jews would have been stripped of all civil rights, including particularly the right to own property. Adding to this, the völkisch plan would also have introduced wide-ranging professional restrictions in order to prevent Jews from working as civil servants, members of parliament, judges, teachers, professors, theatre managers, publishers, or journalists. Fritsch even went a step further than Wulle by claiming the “complete elimination [Ausscheidung] of Jews from the life of the German people.” All of this, of course, is vocabulary which could have been taken from a National Socialist publication as well, and the anti-Semitic and racist consensus was no doubt crucial for the parliamentary marriage of convenience of the völkisch and the National Socialists between 1924 and 1927.

A marriage of convenience it certainly was, since neither the Völkisch representatives nor the National Socialists thought highly of the other.9 A joint party congress which took place in Weimar in August 1924 on the fifth anniversary of the constitution, unanimously loathed by all branches of the völkisch movement, did not result in any improvement concerning the alliance between the völkisch DVFP and the National Socialist NSDAP apart from symbolic gestures. An attempt to found an entirely new party with a völkisch as well as National Socialist background, initiated with some delay in October 1924, was short-lived and without substantial results.10 It did not escape the voters’ attention that NSDAP and DVFP had very little to say to each other. The bill arrived only a couple of weeks later, when the Reichstag was prematurely dissolved and new elections were scheduled for December 1924. Both parties once more registered a joint list of candidates, but they received a mere 3 per cent of the vote which meant the loss of more than half of the seats in parliament. While the outcome of the elections led the National Socialists to question the alliance and especially to question the dominance of the DVFP in general, the lifting of the ban on the NSDAP and its official reestablishment in February 1925 virtually marked the beginning of the end of the joint Reichstag faction. Fourteen seats were too few to be granted full parliamentary rights, hence there was from now on very little room for manoeuvre until the end of their second and final term in the Reichstag in May 1928. Besides, the reestablishment of the Munich-based NSDAP caused the Berlin-based DVFP to adjust their organisational structure, which led above all to it being renamed Deutschvölkische Freiheitsbewegung, thus having the favoured concept of “movement” [Bewegung] replace “party,” although it in practice remained a party, which it was also still referred to as among the public.11

Reichstag delegates for the National Socialist Freedom Party, early 1925. L-R: Konrad Schliephacke, Albrecht von Graefe, Georg Ahlemann, Ernst Röhm, Heinrich Blume.

Eventually, the DVFP may have aimed at entering the Reichstag and the state parliaments, but the party rejected the formation of governmental coalitions when the chance came to do so. It strove to create a völkisch state but failed to explain what constitution this state was supposed to have. Its adherents rejected the abolition of private property but were at the same time suspicious of modern business establishments such as corporations or stock-market companies. They desired a consolidation of the German economy but thought the appropriate way to achieve this would be to rely entirely on the agrarian sector. A prospering cultural and religious sphere was an important issue to them, but the definition of German culture excluded any cultural expression outside the assumed “people’s community,” or rather “racial community,” and furthermore nearly any religious denomination apart from Lutheran Protestantism. Pan-Germanism, agrarian romanticism, the faint idea of a völkisch state of the future and the firm belief in the nebulous concept of a “völkisch renewal” might have been temporarily attractive, but in the long-term the DVFP was unable to find feasible answers to the questions and problems of the German electorate in the 1920s.

Ultimately they also failed to translate their syncretistic and fragmentary ideology into practical politics. The quantity of their contributions in the Reichstag stood in sharp contrast to the quality. The overwhelming majority of völkisch addresses and motions in parliament had no other objective but the rejection of motions made by the government or by other parties. Völkisch parliamentary speeches were anti-speeches: Anti-democratic, anti-republican, anti-parliamentary, anti-liberal, anti-socialist, anti-Semitic, anti-American, anti-French, anti-Slav, anti-Roman, anti-pacifist, anti-capitalist, anti-urban, anti-international, anti-masonic, anti-Catholic, and so on. Representatives of other political parties, in particular the Liberals and Social Democrats, were mostly scoffing at their völkisch colleagues in and outside parliament. Harry Graf Kessler, for instance, who was campaigning for the liberal German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei) in 1924, saw his rallies more than once disturbed by the Völkisch, but he refused to enter any discussion since he expected personal insults. Instead, he sardonically requested the völkisch agitators to come forward with substantial thoughts on the subject matter he was just talking about. He wrote in his diary each time with unconcealed satisfaction that they were arguing a lot without actually saying much. A tiny compendium on radical parties published by Gustav Stresemann’s centre-right German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei) summed up the political contribution of the DVFP in the mid-1920s right to the point: The “lack of responsibility” and of any “real political understanding” in the völkisch party proved to be so blatant that in direct comparison the National Socialists appeared almost sophisticated. If the predominantly Prussian DVFP had not lost the propaganda rat race to its rival and erstwhile strategic partner from Bavaria, it would have failed as a result of disagreement between its different wings with regard to the substance and the practice of völkisch politics.

Having said this, the völkisch party mirrored the völkisch movement of previous decades in many ways and was far from being the kind of modern political power-oriented mass movement which the NSDAP was very soon about to represent. The DVFP and its adherents may not have offered major contributions to political thought in general or to anti-Semitic thinking, which dominated their Weltanschauung. Nevertheless, this particular party and its MPs and opinion leaders were an important ideological and institutional link between the antecedent pre-World War One völkisch and anti-Semitic movements and the National Socialists, who, while struggling themselves until the mid-1920s, jumped at the chance to use the DVFP’s resources and network in Northern Germany with the intention to obtain and hold seats in the Reichstag, thus successfully establishing themselves in Berlin for the first time.

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ARPLAN Notes

For reasons of efficiency, I did not carry over most of the author’s original footnotes, which primarily consist of reference citations. The notes below consist of a mixture of footnotes excerpted from the original text (primarily those which provide additional historical detail), as well as some of my own commentary.

1. From the original text: “The German Empire saw several anti-Semitic, though not essentially völkisch parties from the late 1870s. The German Völkisch Party (Deutschvölkische Partei), founded in 1914, was a merger of two of these, the German Social Party (Deutschsoziale Partei) and the German Reform Party (Deutsche Reformpartei)…” (The German Völkisch Party dissolved itself around the time of the 1918 November Revolution. Most of its active members ended up in the DNVP, while a rudimentary successor group, the Deutschvölkischer Bund, later formed the basis of the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund, Weimar Germany’s primary völkisch propaganda/pressure group until its forcible dissolution in 1922. –Bogumil)

2. From the original text: “Albrecht von Graefe, a retired cavalry major and son of a renowned ophthalmologist, owned the estate in Goldebee, Mecklenburg, where he also maintained a Reichstag constituency since 1912. Having volunteered for military service once again during the First World War, he returned to his political career immediately afterwards. In December 1922 Graefe was one of the co-founders of the DVFP. He successfully led the party through the national elections of 1924, negotiated the temporary strategic alliance with the National Socialists, and chaired the völkisch faction in the Reichstag until the election in May 1928, when the party lost all electoral mandates. Graefe, who formerly had been a close ally of Erich Ludendorff, consequently withdrew from politics and was succeeded by Reinhold Wulle as chairman of the DVFP. A contemporary ‘Who is Who’ of the völkisch movement described him in 1925 as one of the most influential men within the völkisch movement.”

3. From the original text: “Reinhold Wulle was the DVFP’s most prolific publicist. The son of a Lutheran Parson, he had briefly studied theology, literature, and history before he sought a career in journalism. He had already worked as an editor of several major right-wing newspapers, including the Deutsche Zeitung, which was financed by the Pan-German League, when he was elected into the Reichstag in 1920. Together with Graefe, he left the nationalist faction of the DNVP in December 1922 and founded the DVFP. Until 1928 Wulle remained second in charge and was responsible for the party’s daily newspaper Das Deutsche Tageblatt and numerous other official publications. In the December 1924 election he succeeded in keeping his seat in the Reichstag and also gained a seat in the Prussian Landtag. In accordance with Graefe and the party’s board, he opted for the Prussian state parliament where he led the völkisch group until 1928. After the DVFP’s defeat in 1928 and Graefe’s resignation, Wulle took up the party’s leadership and held this post while the DVFP dwindled into insignificance and was finally banned by the National Socialists in 1933.”

4. From the original text: “One of the major arguments in this context was the advantage of jurisdictional immunity which any member of parliament would benefit from. Public statements that were targeting the democratic-republican political order of Germany could be reported to the police and affect surveillance and legal proceedings, finally even the ban of an organisation. Völkisch MP and activist Jürgen von Ramin, a distant relative of Otto von Bismarck, in later years even admitted during a speech in parliament that immunity had initially been his principal motive to run in the Reichstag election.”

5. Mein Kampf includes a fairly extensive critique of the conventional völkisch movement and its longstanding activists by Hitler in Volume I, Chapter 12. An excerpt: “Altogether then… I had to warn again and again against those deutschvölkisch wandering scholars whose positive accomplishment is practically nil, but whose conceit can scarcely be excelled. The young movement had and still has to guard itself against an influx of people whose sole recommendation for the most part lies in their declaration that they have fought for thirty and even forty years for the same idea. Anyone who fights for forty years for a so-called idea without being able to bring about even the slightest success, in fact, without having prevented the victory of the opposition, has, with forty years of activity, provided proof of his own incompetence.”

6. In fact, the DVFP did produce a draft programme circa January 1923, which was distributed in leaflet form and read out to audiences at a number of early meetings. The author actually cites this document directly in the text on several occasions (the section beginning “Free from the dictates of Versailles!” is an excerpt). Although the draft programme was initially distributed to the public, it was never officially ratified by the party, hence the author’s assertion that the DVFP never had a written programme. The 1923 programme was clearly marked as being a “preliminary” document which would be “definitively settled” at the party’s upcoming spring conference. This does not appear to have happened. The party instead decided to relay its goals and ideals through “guidelines” rather than a fixed programme; “guidelines” were apparently seen as being more inherently flexible. Thus by March 1923 Graefe was already stating in speeches that, “The Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei is not a parliamentary party in the traditional sense, but a popular movement which no one has ‘founded’, but which instead grew out of the hearts of the Volk. That is why it has no single programme, i.e. no position on the prevailing constitution, but instead strives only to guide and to direct the movement which is leading the Volk towards freedom.” Similarly, Count Ernst zu Reventlow stated in the Mecklenburger Warte of 30 January, 1924, that the party preferred general guidelines to a “rigid programme” because they were more “elastic,” providing a “certain subjective freedom of movement” which would better allow different factions to work together within the party by enabling them to “automatically adapt” together to “the constantly changing conditions of the day.” As Schrader points out, this aversion to taking a definitive stance on key issues was ultimately harmful to the DVFP. It is one of the causes behind certain high-profile figures within the party (including Reventlow, who was a key leader of the DVFP’s National Socialist/Bolshevist wing) eventually abandoning the party for the more forthright NSDAP.

7. This perception of the existing German Länder as being the unnatural product of dynastic squabbling and foreign (particularly Napoleonic) intervention was not also uncommon within the broader völkisch movement outside the DVFP – see the remarks by Otto Strasser in his article The Socialists Leave the NSDAP!, for example.

8. From the original text: “The Social Democratic newspaper Vorwärts paraphrased Henning’s address, and commented sneeringly that little would be left of Germany if there should ever be a battle as Henning envisioned… The Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD was a substantial defeat of the Roman army against an alliance of Germanic tribes under the command of Arminius, chieftain of the Cherusci. Arminius, dubbed in German as ‘Hermann der Cherusker’, became a popular myth as well as the battle itself. In the 1920s right-wing circles often paralleled the occupation of the Ruhr industrial area by French troops with the Roman invasion of Germanic tribal territories. By that time the völkisch movement had adopted the adjective ‘Roman’ as a synonym for undesired international influence in Germany.”

9. Although it was published after the breakdown in the short-lived NSDAP/DVFP alliance, Goebbels’s brief assessment of the Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei in his 1925 pamphlet The Little ABCs of National Socialism serves as a good example of the common National Socialist perspective towards their völkisch competitors: “The Freedom Party is allegedly the party of völkisch renewal, whose goals here and there seemingly coincide with those of the NSDAP. What divides the two is the position on the question of social compensation. The Freedom Party is, like all bourgeois parties, social; we however are consistent socialists.” The memoirs of Albert Krebs, former Gauleiter of Hamburg, also provide some insight on this topic, such as when Krebs discusses the Hamburg NSDAP’s decision to reject a proposed NSDAP/DVFP alliance in the 1927 Landtag elections: “We felt that our previous link with them had obscured the particularly nonbourgeois (if not anti-bourgeois) social goals of our politics for almost four years. If we were going to go into the election campaign at all we wanted to do so as National Socialists.”

10. The National Socialist Freedom Party (Nationalsozialistische Freiheitspartei), sometimes National Socialist Freedom Movement (Nationalsozialistische Freiheitsbewegung). This name appears to have first been used shortly after the May 1924 election, but efforts towards actually merging the DVFP with certain segments of the then-banned NSDAP into a single, united organization did not officially start taking place until August 1924 (they were never fully completed; when in October 1924 it became clear that Hitler would soon be released from prison, the ongoing organizational merger of the two groups effectively stalled). The name was utilized by members of both groups when they again operated under a joint list during the December 1924 elections, but by that time the alliance was already starting to fall apart, and in early February 1925 the Reich leadership of the NSFP/NSFB dissolved itself.

11. From the original text: “The change of name was barely registered in public, and only the party’s own publications consequently, though not consistently, used Deutschvölkische Freiheitsbewegung instead of Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei from spring 1925 onward.”

Transcribed from Stefanie Schrader’s ‘Völkische Weltanschauung on the Back Benches: The Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei and the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic’, from Nicola Kristin Karcher & Anders G. Kjøstvedt’s (eds.) Movements and Ideas of the Extreme Right in Europe: Positions and Continuities (2012), Peter Lang Edition.

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