The Nationality-Programme of Austrian Social-Democracy

The nationality-programme of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria: a socialist solution to the ‘national question’?

Upon its founding in Hainfeld in 1889, the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ) was faced with challenges which, outside of Russia, were largely unique within the context of European socialist politics. Austria-Hungary was a sprawling multinational land empire, a dual monarchy governing a cosmopolitan blend of different races which had become increasingly dispersed as a by-product of capitalist development and growing industrialization. As a consequence, from the very beginning the SDAPÖ found itself not only dealing with material class issues, but also with the competing demands of different national ethnic groups, and the party soon discovered that abstract appeals to “internationalism” were often not enough to attenuate the ethnic disquiet felt by many workers – whether Germans faced with the threat of “cheap Czech labor” migrating from other parts of the Empire, or non-German minorities who felt discriminated against by the state (and even by the party and the unions). The ‘national question’ proved so divisive for the SDAPÖ that in 1897 it split into six separate (but still theoretically united) Social-Democratic parties, one for each of the major ethnic groups represented within the Austrian state. In 1899, at a Social-Democratic conference in Brünn, the SDAPÖ made an attempt to grapple with the issue directly by drafting a “nationality-programme,” a proposed outline for a future socialist state which the party believed would eliminate national conflicts among the workers while still preserving Austria as a unified, independent entity. The Brünn proposal (a “democratic state federation of nationalities”), and much of the theory which developed out of it in the following years, would subsequently become one of the defining characteristics of “Austromarxism,” that unique form of Social-Democracy which developed within Austria as a consequence of the country’s particular political idiosyncrasies. In order to explore the nationality-programme and some of the critical reactions to it from the broader socialist movement, I have reproduced a number of documents below. The first is a brief account from a historical work providing some background and context to the programme. The second is the translated text of the nationality-programme itself, taken from an SDAPÖ publication. The final three pieces are extracts, critiques of the programme from three different sources: one from Otto Bauer, representing an internal critique (the Austromarxist view); one from Joseph Stalin, representing the Bolshevist perspective; and one from Alois Ciller, representing the National Socialist outlook. Each of these three men had some connection to the Austrian proposal, whether through background or expertise, and each had his own independent interpretation of the programme’s efficacy and its potential impact upon socialist theory and socialist activism.

Nationalism Among the Workers:
The Historical Context Behind the Social-Democratic Nationality-Programme
From historian Andrew G. Whiteside’s “Austrian National Socialism Before 1918” (1962)

Andrew G. Whiteside’s book constitutes an exploration of the conditions which gave rise to the German-völkisch National Socialist movement, whose origins lay within Austria-Hungary (particularly the Sudetenland) and which was already an established, active political force there before Hitler joined the Bavarian German Workers’ Party in 1919. The short extract below, taken from the chapter “Nationalism Among the Workers,” provides some of the historical context surrounding the drafting of the Brünn nationality-programme. It briefly outlines the impact which inter-ethnic worker conflicts had upon the SDAPÖ; the difficulties Social-Democratic leaders experienced in trying to reconcile Austrian conditions with the theory of internationalism; how these conditions helped give rise to the idea of a federation of nationalities; and, finally, how in the end the party’s strategy could still not prevent a complete splitting of the SDAPÖ along racial lines. – Bogumil

The Austrian Social-Democratic Party during these years [the 1890s to early 1900s] was beset by difficulties that did not exist for Socialists in most of the other countries of Europe. Its basic doctrine of proletarian solidarity and the irrelevance of nationality was refuted by the division between Czech and German workers. As a liberating force it had to admit a man’s right to be educated and to do his work in his native tongue. At the same time many of its leaders – Adler, Kautsky, Pernerstorfer, Renner, Bauer, Seliger, Ellenbogen, and others – were firmly convinced that the international labor movement should be directed by men with German brains and character. Like Marx and Engels they distrusted Slavs. Friedrich Stampfer, a spokesman for the betont deutsch1 wing of Austrian Social-Democracy, writing in the Leipziger Volkszeitung, actually opposed political democracy because it would mean handing over the country to Slavs and clericals. Viktor Adler, complaining to Liebknecht about the spread of nationality madness, declared that it was based chiefly on envy, misunderstanding, and irrationality. Otto Bauer, defending the Viennese German leadership, said that the success of the Socialist movement required empire-wide international unions with unified finances, administration, and policy; the Czechs, by stubbornly insisting on autonomy, were failing to show the “the necessary discipline of the minority” and were sabotaging the whole labor movement. Bauer was in the dilemma of all dedicated Austrian Socialists, torn between his belief in the special role of the Germans in advancing Socialism and his sympathy with the Czechs’ desire for national equality.

The Vienna leaders recognized a certain justice in the Czech claims, but did not see how national rights could be reconciled with the primacy of the class struggle. Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, the party’s two chief writers on the nationality question, in orthodox fashion blamed nationalism on the capitalist system. But in an attempt to understand the Czech viewpoint, Bauer distinguished two types of nationalism, one bourgeois and undemocratic, the other Socialist and democratic, assuring to every Volksgenosse2 enjoyment of his cultural heritage. He regarded the nationalism of the Czech workers as democratic and an aspect of their class struggle. The solutions offered by Socialist theorists for overcoming the enmity between Czech and German labor were well-reasoned but politically unreal. To German workers suffering from Czech competition they seemed only a vague hope for the future; Czech workers found Renner’s and Bauer’s concessions wholly inadequate. The extremists of both groups were in fact making demands almost identical with those of the radical nationalist parties.

Just as the Social-Democratic Union Commission had split in 1896 into a centralist, or German, body and a separatist, or Czech, body, the Austrian Social-Democratic Party itself broke up in 1897 into nationally homogeneous sections, independent, but federated. Once the party, in the wake of the commission, was divided, nationalism ran rampant in the local party and union organizations. The Czechs in Bohemia and Moravia insisted on separate party clubs as well as separate unions. The German rank and file denied the leaders’ contention that it was absurd to substitute meaningless national divisions for the real economic division between employers and employed. The Vienna leaders continued to maintain that Czechs and Germans were engaged in a common struggle to win better conditions from the employers and that nationality had nothing to do with it. But the Czechs were unwilling to take orders from Vienna – dictation, they called it – however persuasively Adler argued the case for central direction. His appeal for unity may have been sabotaged by local less broadminded Socialist bosses.

Meeting at Brünn in 1899, the federated sections agreed, not without recriminations between Czechs and Germans, to approve a reorganization of the monarchy into a democratic federation of nationally homogeneous territories in which unavoidable national minorities should be protected by special guarantees. This compromise did not really solve the national problem, but it remained the Austrian Socialists’ official position on nationalism until the break-up of the monarchy in 1918. It was in conformity with the Vienna leaders’ propensity to make opportunist decisions between Marxist unitary and libertarian ideals, between revolutionary theory and moderate practice. The resulting equilibrium made the Social-Democrats, mutatis mutandis, one of the pillars of imperial unity. The proposed reorganization was in a sense a scheme for the renewal of the Austrian state. Those Social-Democrats – and National Socialists – who sabotaged the Brünn compromise were, by implication at least, agents of the dissolution of the empire. For Czech nationalists, dissolution pointed toward a Czech national state, for German nationalists toward a Greater Germany dominated by Berlin. But out of fear of prosecution for treason if for no other reason those who harbored such ultimate designs kept them beneath the surface.

Through the efforts of Anton Němec and other moderates the party was kept together as a federation of political clubs until 1911, but in the Reichsrat elections of that year the nationalist Czech Social-Democrats in many constituencies of Bohemia-Moravia ran their own candidates against those of the so-called German centralists. The result, as could have been foreseen, was that in several cases the election was thrown to an anti-Socialist. This was the situation that led Viktor Adler, at the German-Austrian Social-Democratic Congress at Innsbruck in 1911, to ask whether the Czech comrades thought they belonged to the Czech Social-Democratic Party or a Social-Democratic wing of the Czech nationalist parties. The Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung went so far as to charge that the Czech Socialists were conspiring with Kramař and the Young Czechs.3 The fact had to be faced, however, that a centralist group which broke away from the Czech Social-Democratic Party in 1911 never acquired a mass following, polling only 11,000 votes in the Reichsrat election of that year. In 1918, when the Czech National Assembly declared Czechoslovakia an independent state bounded by the frontiers of the historical provinces and the resolution was supported by the Czech Social-Democrats, Czech and German Socialists were for a brief period on the verge of armed civil war…

Postcard depicting the town square of Brünn (Brno), Moravia, sometime in the late 1800s.

Text of the Nationality-Programme of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in Austria
Adopted at the General Party Congress in Brünn, 1899
Translated from the 1911 “Protokoll des Parteitages” of the German Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in Austria

The Brünn nationality-programme is reproduced in full below, translated from a publication put out by the 1911 party congress of the German wing of Austrian Social-Democracy. The Brünn programme remained an official, key component of the SDAPÖ platform until 1918, when war defeat and the dissolution of the Empire necessitated a change in strategy. Following the establishment of the short-lived Republic of German-Austria in 1918, the Social-Democrats dropped the nationality-programme in favor of either a looser federal union with the newly-constituted Slav states, or a full Anschluss with the new German (Weimar) Republic. Many Austrian Social-Democrats (including prominent figures such as Otto Bauer and Karl Renner) became passionately pro-Anschluss, and would subsequently remain so. – Bogumil

Given that the present national confusion in Austria paralyzes all political and cultural progress among peoples [Völker]; given that this confusion is primarily attributable to the political backwardness of our public institutions; and given that the perpetuation of national conflict is one of those means by which the ruling classes maintain their power and prevent any substantial manifestation of the true interests of the people,

the Party Congress declares:

That the final settlement of the nationality and language questions in Austria, in the spirit of equal rights, social equality, and reason, is above all a cultural demand, and therefore in the vital interests of the proletariat:

It is only possible in a truly democratic polity based upon universal, equal, and direct suffrage, one in which all feudal privileges in the state and in the provinces are abolished, for it is only in such a polity that the working-classes – who are, in fact, the elements which sustain state and society – can make themselves heard.

The cultivation and development of the national uniqueness of all the peoples of Austria is only possible upon a foundation of equal rights and through the eschewal of any form of oppression; consequently, any bureaucratic-governmental centralism, as well as the feudal privileges of the provinces, must be combated above all else.

Under these conditions, but only under these, will it be possible in Austria to replace national strife with national order, in particular through the acceptance of the following guiding principles:

1. Austria is to be transformed into a democratic state federation of nationalities.

2. In place of the historic Crown Lands, nationally partitioned self-governing bodies will be formed, whose legislation and administration are to be in the hands of National Chambers elected upon the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage.

3. All the self-governing regions of one and the same nation are to form together a single national union, one which manages its national affairs on a completely autonomous basis.

4. The rights of national minorities will be protected by a special law to be passed by the Reich Parliament.

5. We recognize no national privilege, and therefore reject the demand for a state language; to what extent a common language is necessary is to be determined by the Reich Parliament.4

The Party Congress, as the organ of international Social-Democracy within Austria, expresses its conviction that an understanding between peoples is possible on the basis of these guiding principles;

It solemnly declares that it acknowledges every nationality’s right to national existence and to national development;

But it also acknowledges that their peoples can only achieve any cultural progress through close solidarity with one another, not via petty disputes; that in particular the working-class of every tongue must adhere to international comradeship-in-arms and international brotherhood in the interests of each individual nation, as well as in the interests of the collective whole; and that their political and trade-union struggles must lead to unified cohesion.

Otto Bauer, one of the key theoreticians of Austromarxism and a leading figure in Austrian Social-Democracy.

The Austromarxist Critique:
Otto Bauer’s Proposed Revision of the Nationality-Programme
Excerpted from Otto Bauer’s “The Question of Nationalities and Social-Democracy” (1924)

Otto Bauer was one of the most noted theoreticians of Austrian Social-Democracy, and a key figure responsible for the Austrian branch developing its own distinctive strand of Marxist theory which became known as “Austromarxism.” Bauer was a strong opponent of the separatist aspirations of the Czechs and other minority groups, believing that the interests of socialism and international solidarity would best be served through the retention of Austria’s vast multi-national economic territory, which meant also preserving the unifying institutions of the Austrian state and monarchy (though as part of a highly democratic system). Although Bauer is commonly associated with the Brünn nationality-programme, he was actually somewhat critical of it, particularly in light of the fact that the national autonomy it envisioned for Austrian ethnic groups was largely territorial in nature (i.e. based upon the idea of self-administering, federal territorial bodies). In his work The Question of Nationalities and Social-Democracy Bauer offers a critique of the existing programme and puts forward a new draft, one which explicitly combines the ‘territorial principle’ with the ‘personality principle’ of national organization (i.e. an organizational form in which individuals register with cross-border, corporate, self-governing bodies which represent the interests of their personal ethnic group, and which exist alongside territorial structures such as state parliaments etc.). This concept was one of those unique aspects of Austromarxist theory which made it distinct from other contemporary forms of Social-Democracy. –Bogumil

…[A]lthough conscious internationalism is only gradually overcoming naïve cosmopolitanism in the consciousness of the individual party comrades, it has long since achieved theoretical victory. This occurred in 1899 at the All-Austrian Party Congress in Brünn… The most sensitive shortcoming of [the Brünn programme] lies in the fact that it fails to comprehend the question of nationalities in Austria in a global context. A Social-Democratic nationalities programme must derive its concrete demands from the position of the working-class within the society, must integrate the particular national problems in Austria into the great social question. If one attempts this, the inevitable result will be the formulation of the socialist policies of the working-class as its actual national policy, for which its constitutional and administrative policies serve as a mere instrument. The political nationalities programme will thereby also acquire greater content; for the working-class will not be able to content itself with demanding, upon the historically given soil of its struggle, the constitution that clears the way for its class struggle; it will also have to inform the peoples of the type of political structure its victory in the class struggle promises the nations. The fact that the Social-Democratic nationalities programme must indicate the position of the working-class regarding the principle of nationality, that it cannot evade the question of the principle of nationality, was also revealed at the Brünn Party Congress, where the delegates of the Polish and Ruthenian workers presented a programmatic declaration stating that the political unity and independence of their nation is and remains a goal of their struggle.

The resolution thus essentially represents only a contemporary national programme. In its first three principles, the idea of national autonomy is outlined very enthusiastically. More questionable is the fourth principle, which deals with the rights of national minorities. The initial draft spoke only of the protection, not of the rights, of the national minorities. The delegates at the party congress clearly felt that such protection corresponded only to the centralist-atomist regulation of national relations in its liberal variant, which protects the citizen against legislative and administrative intervention by means of rights guaranteed by the basic law of the state. As a result, “protection” was replaced by the “rights” of the national minorities. The closing remarks of the speaker Seliger prove very clearly that here one must consider the constitution of the minority as a corporate body even if this was not explicitly referred to.

There is thus a flaw in our nationalities programme. We have not answered the question of national minorities, but merely explained who is to bear responsibility for determining it. The timorousness with which this question is avoided is of course understandable; nevertheless, the party can by no means do without a minorities programme, since it is precisely the national minorities that are the object of the most violent national struggles. We believe we have shown that the working-class cannot answer this question in any way other than with the demand for the constitution of minorities as corporate bodies under public law on the basis of the personality principle. If in Brünn there was a lack of resolution in regard to this demand, this was due not only to the particularly perilous character of the question of national minorities, but certainly also to the lack of awareness of any alternative to a personality principle completely detached from the state administrative apparatus. The adherents of the personality principal imagined the nations as constituted entirely outside the sphere of public administration, such as in the case of the religious communities. In their draft programme, the Slovenian Social-Democrats declared quite specifically: “Territorial divisions have a purely administrative character and have no influence on national relations.” It was only after the Brünn Party Congress that Rudolf Springer’s5 The Struggle of the Austrian Nations for the State was published. It was shown there how local public administration could be placed directly in the hands of the nations without this entailing a denial of the autonomy of the national minorities.

The fifth principle of the programme seems to me to be less important. The language of communication is a requirement of the state, the satisfaction of which the working-class must certainly grant the state, but it is not a need of the proletariat, the satisfaction of which would have to be demanded by the Social-Democratic programme.

If in the not-too-distant future the party sees itself as compelled to reexamine its nationalities programme, it will thus have to integrate its Austrian constitutional programme into the general social programme of the working-class and express the content of its class struggle and its objective; it will further have to supplement the constitutional programme itself through the demand for the autonomy of the national minorities. If we were to briefly summarize the results of our investigation in the form of a programme, we would formulate them, for example, as follows:


In capitalist society, the working-class is excluded from the national community of culture. The ruling and propertied classes alone appropriate the cultural wealth of the nation. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party aspires to make the national culture, produced by the labor of the entire people, the property of the whole people and thereby to join all the members of a people together in a national community of culture, to realize the nation as a community of culture.

When the working-class fights for higher wages and reduced working hours, when it wants to extend the education system so that the school provides access to the treasures of the national culture for the children of the proletariat as well, when it demands complete freedom of the press, of assembly, and of association, it is fighting for the conditions of the extension of the national community of culture.

However, the working-class knows that the workers within capitalist society can never achieve full enjoyment of the national culture. It is for this reason that it will capture political power and transfer the means of production from private property to social property. Only in a society founded on social property and cooperative production will the entire people be called on to participate in the enjoyment of national cultural wealth, to actively participate in the national culture. The nation must first become a community of labor before it can fully and truly become a community of culture that determines itself It is for this reason that the socialization of the means of production is the goal, the class struggle the instrument, of the national policies of the working-class.


In this struggle, the workers of each nation confront the propertied classes of their own people as irreconcilable adversaries. On the other hand, the economic, political, and cultural progress of the workers of each nation is conditioned by the economic, political, and cultural progress of the proletariat of all the other nations. The working class of each nation can thus win economic and political liberation and incorporation into its national community of culture only in battle with the propertied classes of all nations and in close alliance with the working-class of all the peoples.


In Austria, this class struggle is hindered by the centralist-atomist constitution. This constitution compels all nations to struggle for power within the state. The propertied classes abuse these power struggles by casting their class and competitive struggles in the form of national struggles; they thereby disguise class antagonisms and place the masses of the exploited and subjugated peoples in the service of their power interests. The centralist-atomist constitution, whether it appears in the form of state centralism or that of Crown Land federalism, is thus intolerable for the workers of all nations. The working classes of all nations demand a constitution that brings an end to the power struggles of the nations by assigning to each nation a legally guaranteed sphere of power, a constitution that provides each nation with the possibility of freely pursuing the development of its culture and makes it possible for the workers of all nations to win a share in their national culture. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party thus demands the complete reorganization of Austria according to the following principles:

1. Austria is to be transformed into a democratic federative state of nationalities.

2. In place of the historical Crown Lands, nationally defined self-governing bodies are to be constituted whose legislation and administration is attended to by national chambers elected on the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage.

3. All the self-governing territories of one and the same nation are together to constitute a nationally uniform association, that attends to its national affairs with complete autonomy.

4. The national minorities within each self-governing territory are to be constituted as corporations under public law, which, with complete autonomy, provide for the education system of the national minority and which grant legal assistance to the members of their people in their dealings with the authorities and the courts.


The working class can conduct its class struggle only within the historically given framework of the state. It refuses to hope that a solution to the question of nationalities will come from the uncertain victory of an imperialist world transformation, because the victory of imperialism presupposes the defeat of the working class in the great neighboring capitalist states and because it would unleash violent national struggles within Austria itself that would inevitably retard the class struggle and thereby also the cultural development of all the nations.

It is not from capitalist imperialism, but from proletarian socialism, that the working class expects the realization of the political unity and liberty of all nations. Like every form of society before it, the socialist social order will completely transform the principles of the formation and delimitation of the polity. It will destroy the forces inherited from the epoch of feudalism and early capitalism that still sustain the multinational state. It will divide humanity into nationally defined polities that, in possession of their means of production, will freely and consciously control the development of their national culture.

But at the same time, socialist society will also implement the international division of labor; it will thus also link the independent national polity to numerous international administrative communities that will ultimately become organs of the community of international law constituted as a corporation. It will thus gradually integrate the national polities as autonomous members into a great international polity of a new type. The unification of all of civilized humanity in the common task of mastering nature and the division of humanity into autonomous national polities that enjoy their own national cultural wealth and that consciously control the development of their national culture is the ultimate goal of the international Social Democratic movement.

A young Joseph Stalin, circa 1918. Stalin was considered the Bolsheviks’ nationalities expert.

The Bolshevist Critique:
Stalin on the Nationality-Programme and ‘Cultural-National Autonomy’
Excerpted from Joseph Stalin’s “Marxism and the National Question” (1913)

Russia, as a multinational land empire, was one of the few states on the European continent whose political-cultural conditions were roughly analogous to those of Austria’s. The Brünn nationality-programme as a result was of particular interest to members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), with many hoping that the Austrian example could provide workable solutions to the ‘national question’ within the territory of the Russian Empire. This was particularly true among Georgian Mensheviks and members of the Jewish Bund, who had misinterpreted the programme and incorrectly believed that it explicitly advocated non-territorial autonomy (the ‘personality principle’). Lenin, who had visited Austria and seen first-hand how ethnic autonomy within the Austrian workers’ movement had seriously ruptured the SDAPÖ, gave responsibility for drafting a definitive Bolshevik counter-position on the ‘national question’ to Joseph Stalin, a young Georgian activist who had published writings explicitly rejecting Georgian nationalism and the idea of separate ethnic splinter-groups within the RSDLP(b). The work Stalin produced, Marxism and the National Question, was popular within the Russian socialist movement and helped establish Stalin’s credentials as a theorist among the Bolsheviks. It is, however, based upon a rather significant misreading of the Brünn programme. Stalin, who knew little German, was supposedly dependent upon translations of Austrian documents provided to him by Bukharin, and his eagerness to denounce the ‘personality principle’ meant that he attacked the Brünn programme for advocating it when in actuality it did not. Nonetheless, his writing still provides an interesting window into the Bolshevist outlook on nationalism and the rights of minority ethnicites. The text below constitutes excerpts of those sections of Stalin’s larger work which deal specifically with the Austrian nationality-programme. I have removed a number of paragraphs of criticism directed solely against Bauer and “Springer” (Renner), since the ideas the two Austrians proposed are not directly analogous with what is advocated by the nationality-programme, and I did not want to confuse readers. For those interested, the full text of Stalin’s book can be read here. –Bogumil

We spoke above of the formal aspect of the Austrian national programme and of the methodological grounds which make it impossible for the Russian Marxists simply to adopt the example of Austrian Social-Democracy and make the latter’s programme their own.

Let us now examine the essence of the programme itself.

What then is the national programme of the Austrian Social-Democrats?

It is expressed in two words: cultural-national autonomy.

This means, firstly, that autonomy would be granted, let us say, not to Bohemia or Poland, which are inhabited mainly by Czechs and Poles, but to Czechs and Poles generally, irrespective of territory, no matter what part of Austria they inhabit.6

That is why this autonomy is called national and not territorial.

It means, secondly, that the Czechs, Poles, Germans, and so on, scattered over the various parts of Austria, taken personally, as individuals, are to be organized into integral nations, and are as such to form part of the Austrian state. In this way Austria would represent not a union of autonomous regions, but a union of autonomous nationalities, constituted irrespective of territory.

It means, thirdly, that the national institutions which are to be created for this purpose for the Poles, Czechs, and so forth, are to have jurisdiction only over “cultural,” not “political” questions. Specifically political questions would be reserved for the Austrian parliament (the Reichsrat).

That is why this autonomy is also called cultural, cultural-national autonomy.

And here is the text of the programme adopted by the Austrian Social-Democratic Party at the Brünn Congress in 1899.

Having referred to the fact that “national dissension in Austria is hindering political progress,” that “the final solution of the national question… is primarily a cultural necessity,” and that “the solution is possible only in a genuinely democratic society, constructed on the basis of universal, direct and equal suffrage,” the programme goes on to say:7

The preservation and development of the national peculiarities of the peoples of Austria is possible only on the basis of equal rights and by avoiding all oppression. Hence, all bureaucratic state centralism and the feudal privileges of individual provinces must first of all be rejected.

Under these conditions, and only under these conditions, will it be possible to establish national order in Austria in place of national dissension, namely, on the following principles:

1. Austria must be transformed into a democratic state federation of nationalities.

2. The historical crown provinces must be replaced by nationally delimited self-governing corporations, in each of which legislation and administration shall be entrusted to national parliaments elected on the basis of universal, direct and equal suffrage.

3. All the self-governing regions of one and the same nation must jointly form a single national union, which shall manage its national affairs on an absolutely autonomous basis.

4. The rights of national minorities must be guaranteed by a special law passed by the Imperial Parliament.

It is not difficult to see that this programme retains certain traces of “territorialism,” but that in general it gives a formulation of national autonomy. It is not without good reason that Springer, the first agitator on behalf of cultural-national autonomy, greets it with enthusiasm; Bauer also supports this programme, calling it a “theoretical victory” for national autonomy; only, in the interests of greater clarity, he proposes that Point 4 be replaced by a more definite formulation, which would declare the necessity of “constituting the national minority within each self-governing region into a public corporation” for the management of educational and other cultural affairs.

Such is the national programme of Austrian Social-Democracy…

The first thing that strikes the eye [about the programme] is the entirely inexplicable and absolutely unjustifiable substitution of national autonomy for self-determination of nations… For there is no doubt a) that cultural-national autonomy presupposes the integrity of the multi-national state, whereas self-determination goes outside the framework of this integrity, and b) that self-determination endows a nation with complete rights, whereas national autonomy endows it only with “cultural” rights. That in the first place.

In the second place, a combination of internal and external conditions is fully possible at some future time by virtue of which one or another of the nationalities may decide to secede from a multi-national state, say from Austria. Did not the Ruthenian Social-Democrats at the Brünn Party Congress announce their readiness to unite the “two parts” of their people into one whole? What, in such a case, becomes of national autonomy, which is “inevitable for the proletariat of all the nations”? What sort of “solution” of the problem is it that mechanically squeezes nations into the Procrustean bed of an integral state?

Further: National autonomy is contrary to the whole course of development of nations. It calls for the organization of nations; but can they be artificially welded together if life, if economic development, tears whole groups from them and disperses these groups over various regions? There is no doubt that in the early stages of capitalism nations become welded together. But there is also no doubt that in the higher stages of capitalism a process of dispersion of nations sets in, a process whereby a whole number of groups separate off from the nations, going off in search of a livelihood and subsequently settling permanently in other regions of the state; in the course of this these settlers lose their old connections and acquire new ones in their new domicile, and from generation to generation acquire new habits and new tastes, and possibly a new language. The question arises: is it possible to unite into a single national union groups that have grown so distinct? Where are the magic links to unite what cannot be united? Is it conceivable that, for instance, the Germans of the Baltic Provinces and the Germans of Transcaucasia can be “united into a single nation”? But if it is not conceivable and not possible, wherein does national autonomy differ from the utopia of the old nationalists, who endeavored to turn back the wheel of history?

But the unity of a nation diminishes not only as a result of migration. It diminishes also from internal causes, owing to the growing acuteness of the class struggle. In the early stages of capitalism one can still speak of a “common culture” of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But as large-scale industry develops and the class struggle becomes more and more acute, this “common culture” begins to melt away. One cannot seriously speak of the “common culture” of a nation when employers and workers of one and the same nation cease to understand each other. What “common destiny” can there be when the bourgeoisie thirsts for war, and the proletariat declares “war on war”? Can a single inter-class national union be formed from such opposed elements? And, after this, can one speak of the “union of all the members of the nation into a national-cultural community”? Is it not obvious that national autonomy is contrary to the whole course of the class struggle?

…And it is by no means fortuitous that the national programme of the Austrian Social-Democrats enjoins a concern for the “preservation and development of the national peculiarities of the peoples.” Just think: to “preserve” such “national peculiarities” of the Transcaucasian Tatars as self-flagellation at the festival of Shakhsei-Vakhsei;8 or to “develop” such “national peculiarities” of the Georgians as the vendetta!

…A demand of this character is in place in an outright bourgeois nationalist programme; and if it appears in the programme of the Austrian Social-Democrats it is because national autonomy tolerates such demands, it does not contradict them.

But if national autonomy is unsuitable now, it will be still more unsuitable in the future, socialist society…

…We can always cope with open nationalism, for it can easily be discerned. It is much more difficult to combat nationalism when it is masked and unrecognizable beneath its mask. Protected by the armor of socialism, it is less vulnerable and more tenacious. Implanted among the workers, it poisons the atmosphere and spreads harmful ideas of mutual distrust and segregation among the workers of the different nationalities.

But this does not exhaust the harm caused by national autonomy. It prepares the ground not only for the segregation of nations, but also for breaking up the united labour movement. The idea of national autonomy creates the psychological conditions for the division of the united workers’ party into separate parties built on national lines. The breakup of the party is followed by the breakup of the trade unions, and complete segregation is the result. In this way the united class movement is broken up into separate national rivulets.

Austria, the home of “national autonomy,” provides the most deplorable examples of this. As early as 1897 (the Wimberg Party Congress) the once united Austrian Social-Democratic Party began to break up into separate parties. The breakup became still more marked after the Brünn Party Congress (1899), which adopted national autonomy. Matters have finally come to such a pass that in place of a united international party there are now six national parties, of which the Czech Social-Democratic Party will not even have anything to do with the German Social-Democratic Party.

But with the parties are associated the trade unions. In Austria, both in the parties and in the trade unions, the main brunt of the work is borne by the same Social-Democratic workers. There was therefore reason to fear that separatism in the party would lead to separatism in the trade unions and that the trade unions would also break up. That, in fact, is what happened: the trade unions have also divided according to nationality. Now things frequently go so far that the Czech workers will even break a strike of German workers, or will unite at municipal elections with the Czech bourgeois against the German workers.

It will be seen from the foregoing that cultural-national autonomy is no solution of the national question. Not only that, it serves to aggravate and confuse the question by creating a situation which favours the destruction of the unity of the labour movement, fosters the segregation of the workers according to nationality, and intensifies friction among them.

Such is the harvest of national autonomy.

Alois Ciller: textile-worker, unionist, political activist, and one of the original co-founders of the völkisch National Socialist movement.

The National Socialist Critique:
Alois Ciller’s Observations on the Social-Democratic Strategy
Translated from Alois Ciller’s “Deutscher Sozialismus in den Sudetenländern und der Ostmark,” 2nd ed. (1943)

Alois Ciller (born Cihula; at some point he Germanized his name to make it sound less Czech) is a historically significant, yet now largely forgotten figure within National Socialist history. Ciller, who had a proletarian background, was originally a textile-worker and a labour organizer within the national (i.e. völkisch) labour movement, a movement which had begun to flourish in Austria in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a consequence of growing working-class disillusionment with the internationalist course of the SDAPÖ and the established Marxist unions. Ciller was one of the founding members of the original German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP) in 1903, an organization explicitly set up to act as the political arm of the national labour unions; he wrote the DAP’s original programme in 1904, and would play an active role in National Socialist labour and political activism throughout the following four decades. The text below is from the 2nd edition of Ciller’s history of Sudeten-Austrian National Socialism, excerpted from the chapter “National and International,” which covers the phenomenon of ethnic-nationalism within the Austrian workers’ movements. It provides an interesting interpretation of the Social-Democratic nationality-programme and the SDAPÖ’s subsequent travails, not only from a National Socialist ideological perspective but also from the perspective of someone who was actively involved in labour activism at the time, only with the ‘other side.’ –Bogumil

As early as 1891, at a general Party Congress of the still “Austrian” Social-Democrats, the Czech comrades came forwards with an ultimatum for a nationally independent political organization. Hitherto the Jewish party leadership and party press had dealt with the bothersome issue of nationalism both grudgingly and superficially; according to the orthodox materialist perspective, it was technically supposed to be a concern of the bourgeois classes. Yet in 1897 a decision had to be made, and the party was split into six separate national divisions. Only the yawning, empty framework of an All-Austrian umbrella party [Gesamtpartei] remained, for which the following Nationality Programme was decided in Brünn in 1899:

1. Austria is to be transformed into a democratic state federation of nationalities.

2. In place of the historic Crown Lands, nationally partitioned self-governing bodies will be formed, whose legislation and administration are to be in the hands of National Chambers elected upon the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage.

3. All the self-governing regions of one and the same nation are to form together a single national union, one which manages its national affairs on a completely autonomous basis.

4. The rights of national minorities will be protected by a special law to be passed by the Reich Parliament.

5. We recognize no national privilege, and therefore reject the demand for a state language; to what extent a common language is necessary is to be determined by the Reich Parliament.

The last two (seemingly harmless) points were the death-knell for international understanding within Social-Democracy. Disputes over the language, educational, economic, and legal demands of minorities multiplied day by day and grew increasingly complex, as did the difficulties involved in maintaining a common policy for the six ‘brothers in rhetoric’.9 The only test of the value (or lack thereof) of the Social-Democratic proposals was carried out by the governments in the Crown Lands of Moravia and Bukovina, and then also in some mixed-language cities, with the national cadastre serving as the basis for the eligibility to vote.10 Moravia had a total of 719,000 German residents and 1,869,000 Czechs. In the north and south of the province, 497,000 Germans lived on 5,520km2 of purely German home soil, with only 27,000 Czechs disseminated among them. Three larger German folk-islands11 and the bigger mixed industrial cities remained contested, in addition to all the claims made by Czech minority workers in German or predominantly German industrial communities. In this otherwise politically peaceful province, too, the national power struggle was neither concluded nor even mitigated by means of this Social-Democratic contrivance. The will of the people and the insistent dynamism of the Volk mocked the boundaries which had been erected.

No system of administration, nor any soothingly anemic theory of internationalism – no matter how finely thought out – could induce the national combat groups12 to abandon even a single potential conquest. At the 1911 Innsbruck Party Congress of German Social-Democracy in Austria, the conference’s rapporteur, Deputy Leuthner, was also forced to yield to this insight when he declared to the bewildered council: “The greatest artistry in the bridging of perspectives, in the creation of veiled formulas, will scarcely achieve its objectives. No, there are no scientific solutions when it comes to political issues, because feeling still pulses warmly even in the finest veins of abstract political thought. The ultimate, determining factor is a moment of feeling. You may elect for the territorial theory or for the personal theory; yet when you deal with practical issues, the issues become both a matter of fact and of feeling, something which the Germans and the Czechs approach differently. There can be no question of law between peoples [Völkern] because there is no judge mediating between peoples, and because everyone bears within himself his own ideal of justice, something which is different for everyone, especially for each Volk. Scientific solutions may prepare, initiate, clarify; placed alone between two conflicting interests, they are crushed like paper.”

The Party Congress could only classify the excessive educational demands of the Czech comrades in German lands, in Vienna, Lower Austria, and Styria, as issues of political power, because, “there are no cultural issues in politics.” The national ideology of the Czechs, explained Leuthner, was intertwined from its very beginning with the thought-form of struggle against oppression, and was therefore all-powerful within that nationality. He warned German-Austrian Social-Democracy against artificially creating an international unity which would serve as nothing more than common ground for perpetual disputes. The specialist Dr. Renner sadly had to conclude this most important argument about the national question within the party with the not particularly witty (but still rather telling) words: “So, in addition to the thousand years in which the Germans and Czechs have fought upon this soil, a further thousand years may come; may historical developments turn as they like, for myself there is no question that these trials and tribulations within Austrian Social-Democracy are nothing more than a passing episode.”

The ineffectiveness of Social-Democratic “science” in völkisch matters was compounded by the bankruptcy of the internationalist trade-union policy. If the decision to organize into six separate, independent parties in 1897 arose as a result of an experiment in practical reasoning, it was considered absolutely essential by contrast to preserve economic solidarity within the trade-union class struggle. Were these bonds to be broken, declared the top leaders in Vienna, then Social-Democratic theory and the Social-Democratic party would be reduced to nothing. And yet the day of such a calamity drew nearer; no incantation was able to hinder its step.

In contrast with other countries, the trade-unions in Austria were openly part of the party’s power apparatus, without any shameful attempts at concealment. The unions were expected to furnish the party with voters and money which had been predatorily accumulated in the factories under the pretense of representing professional interests. It was therefore logical that, in the six nationally-segmented parties, correspondingly-structured trade-unions would have to be established. The route leading to the ultimate goal of the Czechs was often rather curious. After the first All-Austrian Trade-Union Congress in 1893, fighting broke out within the General Metalworkers’ Association. At the second Congress in 1896, the Czech comrades complained about “Germanization” within the multilingual associations. The cause of the quarrel often seemed utterly ridiculous. Membership books were equipped with two completely identical imprints in both Czech and German; yet in the multilingual regions there were still violent, endless debates (in which a decision could not be reached) as to which of the two imprints should appear on the right and which on the left! Of course, this childish war of paper and books, as well as the martyred expressions of the eternally “oppressed,” were only superficial in nature; in secret, Czech-nationalist egoism was making ready for a calculated departure. At the All-Austrian Party Congress in 1897, the Czechs voted, as calmly as you please, in favor of a declaration by the Vienna party leadership which read in words of immortal stupidity: “We are aware that differences in class divide people more strongly and more deeply than do national differences, and we declare that this organization (split into six parties!) is solely intended to produce the most effective form through which internationally unified and fraternal Social-Democrats of all tongues can fight against the exploiting classes in their own nation, and against the exploiting classes in all nations.” Something which, incidentally, no normal mind was able to comprehend…


1. “Betont deutsch” – i.e. “emphatically German.”

2. “Volksgenosse” – i.e. “folk-comrade.” A term which combines the class-brotherhood connotations of the word “comrade” with a racial/populist connotation derived from the sense of the word “Volk.” The National Socialists would later use the term Volksgenosse as the völkisch equivalent to the leftist “comrade” (“Genosse”) or “class-comrade” (“Klassengenosse”).

3. Karel Kramař (b.1860 – d.1937) was a prominent Czech nationalist politician associated with the Young Czech Party. The Young Czechs, originally a faction of the Czech National Party, represented a more populist strand of center-right, democratic-liberal Czech nationalism. Some of the more radical democrats among them later joined with nationalist Czech workers who had grown disillusioned with Social-Democracy, forming the Czech National-Social Party, the Czech equivalent of the original DAP.

4. In the first draft of the programme, this fifth point read as follows: “We recognize no national privilege and therefore reject the demand for an official language. We recognize as a practical necessity, however, the existence of German as the common language, as there is no other choice. This shall not be a privilege entailing the exclusion of other languages.” This wording was strongly opposed by Czech delegates at the Congress, who did not want to accord Germans or the German language any form of special status, even an unofficial one. Nationalist sentiment was particularly strong among the Czech Social-Democrats, who were uncomfortable with the inherent pro-German bias of much of the party leadership (German Social-Democrats seemed to implicitly assume that Germans were the natural leaders of the workers’ movement). The Czechs could be extremely forceful in their demands for absolute Czech-German parity in all areas of party, union, and state life, behavior which caused considerable disruption and ill-feeling within Austrian Social-Democracy.

5. “Rudolf Springer” was one of the pen-names of Karl Renner (he also went by “Synopticus,” “Karl Hammer,” and some others). Alongside Bauer, Renner was one of the SDAPÖ’s major theoreticians on the national question. Like Bauer, Renner also seems to have had some deep-seated, unconscious German-nationalist inclinations. Whereas Bauer throughout his life exhibited evidence of mild prejudice against Slavs, Renner at times gave voice to anti-Jewish opinions. Renner was also such a strong proponent of German-Austrian Anschluss that he openly advocated that Austrians support the country’s union with the Third Reich in 1938. He also drafted a book (never actually published) which celebrated Hitlerian Germany’s aggression against Czechoslovakia and its annexation of the Sudetenland. These were not unusual sentiments for a German or an Austrian at the time, but they were for a prominent Social-Democratic party-leader.

6. In other words, the ‘personality principle’. This idea was supposedly inspired by the Catholic Church – Catholics everywhere identify as Catholics regardless of what state territory they live in, and local Catholic organizations (the Church and Church groups) theoretically represent their interests as Catholics, simultaneous to their interests as local citizens being represented by territorial state bodies (parliament etc.). The idea was to establish something similar for national ethnic groups in Austria. Each individual would register with their affiliated ethnicity in the ‘national cadastre.’ This would grant them associative membership of cross-border representative bodies for that ethnicity, allowing for representation and self-government on the level of nationality (cultural-national autonomy, or ‘personal’ autonomy) alongside the representation and self-government afforded to them via the governmental institutions of their federated state. As mentioned, Stalin is mistaken in assuming that the Brünn nationality-programme advocated for this principle. It is a commonly-made mistake, however, appearing occasionally also in the work of historians and academics, and is perhaps understandable given the somewhat vague language used in the Brünn programme.

7. I have copied over the translation of the nationality-programme here directly from the English version of Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question which I was working from, which is why the text appears slightly different to my own translation, provided further above.

8. Known more commonly as “Ashura.” A holy day in Shia Islam which commemorates the martyrdom of Husein ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, in the battle at Karbala. The day’s ritual celebrations traditionally involved a procession in which participants would self-flagellate with a sword or scourge.

9. “Six ‘brothers in rhetoric'” – The six separate Social-Democratic parties formed after the 1897 split (one for each of the major ethnic groups: German, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovenian, and Italian) were collectively referred to as “brother parties” (“Brüderparteien”). Ciller’s intimation here is that all that really united them were the empty words and hot air of Marxist rhetoric.

10. As was mentioned in footnote 6, the ‘national cadastre’ was essentially the national register in which individuals were to register their affiliation with a particular national ethnic group as part of the implementation of the ‘personality principle.’ For more detailed information on the practical trial of some of these ideas in Moravia and Bukovina, which Ciller briefly touches on, see this article.

11. A “folk-island” (“Volksinsel,” aka a “speech island” or “language island”) is not a literal island, but an ethnic enclave within a larger territory where another ethnic group is otherwise predominant.

12. Ciller here is not referring to actual paramilitaries or the like. The word “national” refers to nationalistically-minded ethnic groups (Czechs, Germans, Poles, etc.); “combat groups” is just a florid way of saying that these groups were fighting for recognition of their specific ethno-political demands.

First excerpt transcribed from Andrew G. Whiteside’s Austrian National Socialism Before 1918 (1962), Martinus Nijhoff.
Second excerpt (nationality-programme) translated from the 1911 Protokoll des Parteitages: Verhandlungen der deutschen sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterpartei in Oesterreich (1911), Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchhandlung.
Third excerpt transcribed from Otto Bauer’s The Question of Nationalities and Social-Democracy, translated by Joseph O’Donnell (2000), University of Minnesota Press. Originally published 1924 in German by the Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchhandlung.
Fourth excerpt transcribed from Joseph Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question, unknown translator (1952), Foreign Languages Publishing House. Originally published 1913 in Russian in serialized form within journal Prosveshchenie.
Fifth excerpt translated from Alois Ciller’s Deutscher Sozialismus in den Sudetenländern und der Ostmark, 2nd ed. (1943), Hanseastische Verlagsanstalt Hamburg.

4 thoughts on “The Nationality-Programme of Austrian Social-Democracy

  1. Bogumil,

    Much like the previous two ARPLAN posts which explored the historical origins of the “Nationalism” in National Socialism, I also had to spend some time exploring the origins of its “Socialism.” My conclusions about NS being an attempt at conceptualizing a non-Marxist Socialism is correct. That is, assuming we begin from the position that NS originated not in the Prussian half, but the Austrian half of the German-speaking world in parts of Czechia and Austria. Thus, the evidence presented here points to its significance in the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

    The “Socialism” of NS was developed under the unique conditions of several emerging national consciousnesses within the same geographical area. Not just the Germans, but also at least five other ethnic groups in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Here, we can observe why its “Nationalism” took on a distinctly Völkisch pattern, which saw the German-speaking world being united under a single contiguous nation-state. What enabled this to become possible was its “Socialism,” which was made possible thanks to the SDAPÖ splitting into six smaller parties that each represented a ethnic group in 1897. The SDAPÖ tried to address those divisions through the Brünn Program in 1899. However, even by that particular point, National Socialism had already begun to manifest as a non-Marxist Socialism.

    The emergence of National Socialism within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire became discernible when those six ethnicities began coalescing around six different interpretations of Socialism. These interpretations were informed by the spiritual, cultural, ontological and traditional traits of their national identities. What happens as a result is not just the creation of a “Pan-Germanic Socialism” (National Socialism as we understand it) but also a “Czech National Socialism,” a “Polish National Socialism,” a “Hungarian National Socialism” and so forth. In fact, “Czech National Socialism” continues to exist in contemporary Czechia, where a number of political parties refer to themselves as “National Socialists,” except they represent the old Czech branch of the SDAPÖ. Apart from it and the Pan-Germanic that we know best, I doubt the other National Socialisms were successful after the Austrian-Hungarian Empire dissolved in 1918.

    The criticism toward the Brünn Program was justifiable, since it would in practice lead to the continuation of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for a few more years, provided that the Central Powers fought World War I to a stalemate. And even then, it is unlikely for the House of Habsburg to be any more sympathetic toward Socialism (Marxist or non-Marxist) than the House of Hohenzollern in Prussia. The Monarchies of the period were more inclined toward providing piecemeal reforms. The Austromarxists, Bolsheviks, and National Socialists had to have been aware of those implications because the dissolution of Austria-Hungary led to the creation of several independent nation-states after 1918.

    The fact that pre-Hitlerist National Socialism emerged in the conditions of a multicultural, multiethnic empire where Liberal Capitalism reigns and a growing interest in Nationalism and Socialism offers many implications for post-1945 Europe. Such implications are conducive to my own studies into how National Socialism can potentially return in the 21st century under a different, albeit increasingly similar, set of circumstances. I will be addressing that area of my research in a follow up comment.


    • That is, assuming we begin from the position that NS originated not in the Prussian half, but the Austrian half of the German-speaking world in parts of Czechia and Austria. Thus, the evidence presented here points to its significance in the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

      You should read Whiteside’s book, you’d really find it interesting. It makes all this pretty clear, and also makes the fact that NS grew out of the trade-union movement in Austria (and hence also out of Social-Democracy) fairly incontrovertible imo. At one point he does admittedly say there’s no direct, causal link between the original Austrian National Socialism and that which later developed in Germany under Drexler-Harrer-Hitler:

      [There are] striking parallels between the programs and ideological phrases of the Austrian National Socialist Party and those of the German National Socialist Party headed by Hitler. This is not to say that there was a simple cause-and-effect relationship between the two parties. Nor does it appear that Austrian National Socialism prepared the ground for Hitlerism or served as a model for it, even though after the war ended the surviving National Socialist leaders were in close contact with the Munich Nazis… [B]ut the similarities between the two are so many and so striking that they can hardly be ascribed to coincidence.

      By which he seems to mean that, when Drexler originally founded the Bavarian DAP, he did not do so with the conscious determination that his party would be the Reichsdeutsche branch of the movement already existing in Austria. I think that’s probably true, but that’s effectively what it became. People in the earliest days of the German NS movement were certainly aware of the Austrians and their ideology (Brunner, leader of the German Socialists, had been in contact with the Austrian National Socialists since 1904), and the Austrians had begun a regular correspondence with both the DSP and Bavarian DAP within only a few months of the founding of the latter parties. They were all very, very quick to forge links. Plus, we have statements from people like Rosenberg and Hitler which make it clear that the two groups were definitely interrelated and that they saw each other that way. This is from the speech which Hitler gave at the Second Inter-State Representatives’ Congress of the National Socialists of Greater Germany (in Salzburg, Austria, 7-8 August, 1920):

      I am downright ashamed that only today, after so many years, the same movement which had begun in German Austria as early as 1904 is beginning to get a foothold in the German Reich. The system of the bourgeoisie has outlived itself, as has that of the proletariat, and thus our party has emerged. We should not reproach one another, because the same thought and the same suffering has led to the rise of the same movement in all corners of the Reich. Naturally we are independent of one another, but the term ‘worker’ is the ultimate test to decide who is ripe for our movement, and who is not. For us only he is suitable who willingly accepts it as a title of honour…

      Anyway, if you get a copy of Whiteside’s book, I’m sure you’d find it useful. The very early NS movement, as he describes it, really was just a völkisch trade-union movement. Alois Ciller’s book covers this very extensively too. He includes a chronological timeline of events in early NS history, from 1885 to 1920, and almost the whole thing is just a chronicle when this or that ‘national’ union was formed, when it spread to X region, when it did X strike or demonstration, and so on. Puts the entire history of National Socialism into a different perspective when you’re more aware where it came from.

  2. Bogumil,

    I had to reread the rest of your message a few times because there was potential for me to misunderstand the meaning. The information is worthy of my response as there are implications for both pre-1945 National Socialism and post-1945 National Socialism.

    To begin, we know that NS originated from the Austrian half of the German-speaking world among a portion of the trade unionists in the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire. This portion demonstrated Völkisch characteristics and expressed ideas conducive to it decades before Hitlerism. If what you are telling me is true, then nobody can assume that pre-Hitlerist NS contributed to Hitlerism. A more accurate conclusion is that all of the ideas inherent within pre-Hitlerist NS were already present when Hitlerism began to become a coherent interpretation of NS in the 1920s. The possibility for us to conclude that everything about NS, including its positives and negatives, can be traced as far back as 1885 at the earliest.

    I can see why 1885 would be the pivotal year that NS came into being. The First Vatican Council’s “Papal Infallibility” sparked the Kulturkampf across the entire German-speaking world, but more so within the Prussian half. The German-speaking world agreed to a “Lesser Germany” as opposed to a “Greater Germany,” aggravating the preexisting ethnic tensions. Liberal Capitalism was also planted into the German-speaking world, allowing Social Democracy to be touted as the first alternative to Marxist Socialism in order to preserve the Monarchs and their colonial empires.

    Even so, I am not entirely convinced that pre-Hitlerist NS on its own was inherently driven by Antisemitism, Anti-Slavism, and Anti-Catholicism. These social behaviors were byproducts of the historical period during which NS had been founded. A post-1945 application of NS, especially in this century, would leave those three tendencies behind with Hitlerism. I say this because if there was ever a recurring pattern in NS, it has always been an ontological and spiritual, not biological or racial, search for national identity.

    Everything will be addressed in the followup comment to my original statements because the evidence you have provided here is presenting a breakthrough into the philosophical origins behind NS. Not to mention NS is becoming more relevant in today’s times. The followup comment will take time since it is more philosophical in nature, but it will help us arrive at a far greater understanding of what NS is aspiring to achieve.


  3. PS: As promised, I will be presenting you my studying of National Socialism from a philosophical standpoint, Bogumil. Thanks to this recent ARPLAN post and the previous two, not to mention your recommendation of Whiteside’s book, I have completed my deep investigations into the Ontological and Phenomenological significances of NS in its early history. I am convinced that Phenomenology, the study of phenomena influencing personal experiences and perceptions, is just as important as Ontology, the study of what it means to be something. Applying both will be important in understanding why today’s political-economic conditions are becoming increasingly favorable to NS. It will also help me figure out if there is any significance to Martin Heidegger’s philosophy being conducive to National Socialism, including why Heidegger himself was drawn to NS in the first place even though he was opposed to Hitlerism.

    It is clear throughout its history that NS was trying to ascertain the Ontological meaning behind “being German” from a Völkisch standpoint. NS insists that there is an inherent difference between considering oneself as “German” in the legal sense and actually being German. A person can claim German citizenship and own a German passport, but that does not mean that they are German. At the same time, a person can claim to be genetically or biologically related to the Germans as a Volksgemeinschaft but that too does not mean they are German.

    The search for the Ontological meaning, as we can discern from NS and its interactions with the Völkisch and Socialist movements, is mired by experiences and perceptions. Some tried to focus on the biological conditions whereas others tried to focus on the cognitive ones. For the former, it was over its perceptions toward the Jews and the Slavs living in the German-speaking world and Germans living outside the German-speaking world as the “Volksdeutsche.” For the latter, it was over its perception of whether Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism can be considered German or if not whether they can be abolished in favor of a new Christian denomination or else the adoption of pre-Christian Paganism. In both cases, we are dealing with a rare instance of Ontology being influenced by Phenomenology.

    Phenomenology is a fairly recent contribution to Philosophy, its origins occurring around the same time as National Socialism. Like NS, Phenomenology did not become a coherent concept in itself until the early years of the 20th century. The ARPLAN Blog’s posts on NS demonstrate examples of Phenomenological research methods because we are relying on analysis of personal texts and the observations of those involved in that movement to understand what NS is. In doing so, we understand more about the historical circumstances of the period that brought NS into existence as a non-Marxist Socialism.

    This in turn brings me to the crux of my argument: the Ontology of NS was influenced by the Phenomenological experiences of those involved in the movement. What happens as a consequence is that any discussion of the Ontology behind what it means to be German is trapped in the “Mind-Body Problem” of the Enlightenment Philosopher Rene Descartes. It is a problem which affects NS as much as it also affects any philosophical discussion of Marxism-Leninism, National Bolshevism and Austromarxism (in the case of this ARPLAN post).

    My reasoning for this has to do with the implications posed by the Mind-Body Problem and Heidegger’s attempts to overcome it. To use the language of the Völkisch movement, are the perceptions and experiences of the German Volkstum interpreted from material conditions surrounding “the Body” (the German Volkskörper) or cognitive conditions affecting “the Mind” (the German Volkscharakter)?

    If we believe that it is influenced by the conditions surrounding the Body, then we arrive at “Materialism.” National Socialism must determine the Ontology of being German based on biological and genetic factors.

    And if we believe it is influenced by the conditions pertaining to the Mind, we arrive at “Idealism.” National Socialism must determine the Ontology of being German based on sectarian and regional factors.

    But neither Materialism nor Idealism is sufficient in helping NS determine what is German. This accounts for why there has been a variety of ideas from various National Socialists on how it can be done, from genetics to religion, and still arrive at no coherent consensus even after 1945.

    It is a problem that has frustrated serious inquiries and investigations into National Socialism because there is a part of Western Philosophy that is preventing NS from understanding what it is supposed to be and communicate its ideas to others as a form of Socialism. The “Mind-Body Problem” lies at the root of this and it was also where Martin Heidegger became involved in the movement while also disagreeing with Hitlerism.

    Heidegger had to have been convinced that NS represented more than a coalescence of Nationalism and Socialism. If my conclusions here are accurate, NS represented the coalescence between Ontology and the emerging Phenomenology within Western Philosophy. In essence, a Socialism not influenced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or even by ideas existing in Prussia since the 17th-18th centuries but solely by the perceptions and experiences of the German Volksgemeinschaft.
    The belief that the German-speaking world should be united into a single nation-state, Socialism serving as the vehicle by which the interests of the German-speaking world are promoted and preserved both within and without. That is important for Heidegger’s philosophy because he was opposed to the Mind-Body Problem and sought to introduce his concept of Dasein as a way to overcome it.

    Rather than a separation of Mind and Body or one dominating the other, Dasein allows the Subject to be engaged with the Objective Reality around them as a “Being-in-the-World.” The result is a rejection of Materialism and Idealism, just as there is also a rejection of Liberal Capitalism. National Socialism becomes a Socialism defined by the German Volksgemeinschaft as an identifiable group of people united by a common culture, tradition, history, customs, norms, collective consciousness and collective unconsciousness. To be German requires more than simply claiming citizenship, being genetically related or adhering to a specific religion; Dasein must also reflect the values, virtues, norms and customs specifically tied to all Germans.

    What’s more, having read Whiteside’s book, I found it highly peculiar for Antisemitism, Anti-Slavism, and Anti-Catholicism to be driven by economic and financial motives. For Anti-Slavism, it came from Czech workers being discriminated by the German workers they were displacing, the Germans increasingly anxious about their Dasein. For Antisemitism, it was partly centuries-old Sectarianism (as I had concluded) and also Secularism which caused some Secularized Jews to become intertwined with the socioeconomic conditions created by Liberal Capitalism in the German-speaking world. And as for Anti-Catholicism, it is significant that the early NS opposition is in many respects a continuation of the Catholic Church failing to confront the malpractice of the Indulgences that gave rise to Lutheranism (which in itself is also an economic and financial motive as much as it was a political and religious one).

    Therefore, as long as the Mind-Body Problem continues to be left unaddressed, NS will always encounter difficulties returning to form in today’s world. That is why Philosophy is important for the discussions of any Socialism.

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