Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part II: Feder

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

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

THE SOCIAL STATE

Gottfried Feder

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

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

Feder vs. Führer

Gottfried Feder’s critical letter of 10th August, 1923, calling Hitler to task for his poor leadership and bohemian lifestyle

Gottfried_Feder

The following letter was sourced from an academic article by historian Oron James Hale which was published in The Journal of Modern History in December 1958. Mr. Hale thoughtfully reproduced the letter in its entirety, but only in German; this despite the rest of his article discussing the letter’s contents being entirely in English. Perhaps Mr. Hale was under the impression at the time that fluency in German is commonplace. In any event, since I could find no actual English translation, I translated the letter myself, the result of which is reproduced below. Written by National Socialist ideologist Gottfried Feder to Adolf Hitler only a few months before the Bürgerbräukeller Putsch, the letter is distinctive in how openly critical it is. Hitler by this time was undisputed leader of the Party, yet the principles of Führerprinzip had not yet permeated the movement and it was not yet totally unthinkable to contradict or criticize the Führer. Feder’s complaints represent those of a circle of Party founders and senior figures (including Anton Drexler), a group who were deeply concerned about Hitler’s work habits, about the lack of effective Party organization, and about the Führer’s growing connections with High Society, and who consequently wanted to save Hitler’s “workingman’s soul”. On top of these group complaints Feder sprinkled a number of personal grievances: Hitler’s refusal to meet with Feder, and his lack of interest in reading Feder’s new work The German State on a National and Social Foundation. Hitler apparently reacted with fury to the contents of the letter, though he did eventually supply Feder with the much-desired introduction to Feder’s new book. 

DEAR MR. HITLER!

Some poet once spoke some very earnest words about a great and important man who, however, “could not control himself, and thus his work as well as his life slipped away.”

Serious concern for our work – the German freedom movement of National Socialism – and for you as its leader who we all ungrudgingly accept, causes me to tell you in a frank way what I have already partly told you in person.

You know for yourself that our movement has grown so hugely and rapidly that the expansion of the internal Organization has not kept pace with it. You yourself complained to me about the pernicious lack of space for the housing of the individual departments [of the Party], which we absolutely must have if one is even only remotely thinking of renewing a terminally ill state and economy.

Certainly the question of space is difficult, but it is easier to overcome than the second question – the question of people. A truly capable circle of staff for the upcoming tasks of state is not at all available. Probably in Rosenberg we have a first-class strength for our newspaper – Kapitänleutnant Hoffmann also makes a very good impression. [Hoffmann was a former Ehrhardt Brigade member and was chief-of-staff to Goering, then head of the SA – Bogumil]

Otherwise, if I do not name anyone else, this should by no means be taken as a disparaging judgement of our other staff of whom most are very suitable for their positions, as far as I can judge. Another question however is whether the important tasks of our movement do not seem to suggest a change of person here or there. However, this is not due to the people but due to the tasks themselves, which simply exceed the suitability of some of the individuals. I think especially of the good Christian Weber. [Weber was a burly horse-dealer and at this time part of Hitler’s close circle of associates; he was widely regarded as corrupt and was very unpopular with the older leaders like Drexler, Feder, etc. – Bogumil]

In general, there is quite a difference in ability between you, who have grown so well along with your greater responsibilities, and the men of your former closest circle. You understand that yourself, which is why you would like to be introduced to “society” by Mr. Hanfstaengl. I would now like to reassure you that I do not – as so many others do – see in Hanfstaengl a “danger” or a camarilla; I appreciate Hanftstaengl’s dedicated enthusiasm, his honesty and decency, too much for that. Yet I cannot shake an unpleasant feeling, as if you yourself were wrong about things. “Society” is a thing, a monster, something that has nothing to do with your current mission. That mission has no social obligations, just a terrible responsibility to the State and People [Volk]. Certainly you can find a valuable person here or there “in society” – but in general these are probably few and far between. In your stressful work perhaps one does need to relax in the company of groups of artists or of beautiful women. Continue reading