Documents from the early period of the original German Workers’ Party and the national labor movement in Austria-Hungary
German National Socialism was born out of the labor movement. By the late 1800s, racial tension within the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire had created major divisions within the trade unions. Increasing competition between Czech and German workers, especially in industrial and border areas like Bohemia, combined with the Empire’s hollow sense of national-identity and aggressive clashes over cultural and language competition to foster a serious split within both the unions and the social-democratic movement. Nationalism took hold among both Czech and German laborers, leading to violent brawls and riots. The nascent Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in its 1897 conference fractured over the ‘national question’, breaking into six separate sections based on race. And workers of all ethnicities, dissatisfied with the internationalist ideology of the most prominent unions, began forming their own nationalist ‘protective-associations’ in response. These associations were not at first official unions for bargaining over wages or working conditions, merely pressure groups intended to provide collective aid to members against ‘foreign’ competition – but by the time of the German Workers’ Party’s (DAP’s) founding in 1903, several had evolved into unions proper and the others were growing in strength. This ‘national labor movement’ was in fact why the German Workers’ Party was founded in the first place. All the DAP’s leading members were active within the German nationalist associations, and their original intent was that the Party should serve as the political arm of the German national labor movement, taking the demands of the völkisch workers into parliament. The DAP in its early years thus placed a heavy emphasis on uniting the various independent nationalist unions and associations into a consolidated force, providing them with the common vision and organizational tactics necessary to make both political and industrial activism more effective – a process aided greatly by the unifying ideology of National Socialism as it developed within the Party. The documents below, translated from DAP co-founder Hans Knirsch’s history of Austrian & Sudeten National Socialism, provide an intriguing window into this early period of National Socialism’s history, demonstrating how intrinsic were issues of labor, work, reform, and socialism to the early evolution of National Socialist philosophy.
The First Common Conference of the
Völkisch Trade-Union Movement,
Leitmeritz, April 29th, 1906
Although the DAP’s founders were all leading members of the ethnic-German unions and protective-associations, and although the Party was expressly founded to give the nationalist workers a political voice, the links between the DAP and the national labor movement were not concrete at first. Wariness of political (as opposed to industrial) activism was common among the völkisch workers; the Imperial government had in the past proven perfectly willing to persecute unionists who dabbled in party politics, and previous attempts to ally the nationalist unions with Georg Ritter von Schönerer’s Pan-German Association and Karl Wolff’s Free Pan-German Party had led to disillusionment and a suspicion of parliamentary politicians as bourgeois opportunists seeking to exploit the workers in pursuit of purely middle-class interests. As a consequence, the DAP’s major goal after its founding was to unite the fractious, highly-independent nationalist labor organizations and to convince them of the need to take a more organized, cooperative stance with each other and with the DAP.
To this end on April 29th, 1906, the Party organized the first common conference of all nationalist workers’ associations, held in Leitmeritz, Bohemia. Represented were delegates from the various ethnic-German bakers’, miners’, builders’, assistant-metalworkers’, and woodworkers’ associations, among others. The conference’s purpose was to convince these groups of the necessity to reconstitute themselves as formal trade-unions; to establish guiding principles for the national labor movement; and to set out binding statutes for future collaborative work. The event was considered a success by its attendees, and although the organizers found it necessary to maintain that the conference was not formally affiliated with any one political party, the links forged at Leitmeritz between the unions and the DAP grew strong enough over the following years that, by 1909, the unions had officially recognized the Party as their “greatest ally” and official political representative. Reproduced below are two short documents from this conference: a brief extract from Alois Ciller’s report on the German trade-unions’ goals and tasks (Ciller was another DAP co-founder and the author of the Party’s original programme), along with the four guiding principles unanimously adopted by the conference delegates. –Bogumil
Goals and Tasks of the German Trade-Unions (Extract)
The German trade-union has the task of winning rights and recognition for the German working-class within its own Volk. To this end the international principle proves itself, particularly in the Austrian peoples’ state, utterly unsuitable and detrimental. Where the economic struggle involves making common cause [with non-Germans] this is self-evident from the outset. The cultural work of German workers in associations with Slovaks, Croats, Poles, etc. is in all circumstances an absurdity. We wish for the working-class of every nation to create better conditions through their own resources. We have to think of ourselves and our duty. That duty consists of tireless German trade-union work. Continue reading