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. Continue reading

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

NS_Swastika

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 Continue reading

The Conversion of “Comrade” Müller

“I probably will never be a real National Socialist, but…” A 1935 example of National Socialist ‘proletarian fiction’ by Labor Front writer Walter Dach

One of the many innovations which the early socialist movement developed in the field of propaganda was the concept of ‘proletarian literature.’ Proletarian literature constituted writing directly aimed at appealing to a working-class audience and at conveying socialist ideology to them through entertainment. Usually published as a novel or as a serialized story in a workers’ newspaper, proletarian literature was written in a popular, accessible style, and would typically focus on presenting readers with characters and situations they could relate to: working-class people living working-class lives and experiencing similar joys and frustrations to their own. This format’s efficacy in terms of communicating ideological principles and talking-points was notable, and proletarian literature was one of the many forms of socialist technique which the National Socialists in Germany and Austria incorporated into their own political propaganda work. Proletarian stories were not uncommon within National Socialist publications during the movement’s ‘years of struggle’ before 1933, and they were a regular feature in Goebbels’s daily Der Angriff in particular, which was specifically targeted towards a working-class audience. Proletarian fiction continued to be employed by the NSDAP after it came into power, with the vast resources of the German Labor Front (DAF) aiding in the publishing and dissemination of labor-themed stories and novels which it was hoped would help win over the workers to the ‘New Germany’ into which many of them had been somewhat reluctantly thrust. The story excerpt below is one such example. The author, Walter Dach, was employed by the ‘Strength Through Joy’ organization (an arm of the DAF) to write National Socialist-themed proletarian literature aimed at propagating National Socialist ideals about the ‘dignity of labor’ and the ‘ideal worker’ among the German working-classes. This particular story was excerpted from a 1935 collection by Dach entitled Volksgenosse Müller II: Erzählungen der Arbeit (‘Folk-Comrade Müller II: Labor Stories’), and includes a trope common to National Socialist fiction – the simple, noble-hearted German worker (‘Comrade Müller’), whose deep-rooted love of Volk and Fatherland causes him to rise above his conditioned sympathy for Marxism or Bolshevism and to embrace Germany (as well as Hiter and National Socialism) instead. This translation is not by myself, but comes from George L. Mosse’s book Nazi Culture; I have not so far been able to find an original copy of Dach’s book, so I am unsure whether this excerpt represents the story in its entirety or is merely a fragment. 

The Conversion of “Comrade” Müller
Walter Dach

“I must leave again right away,” Müller said quickly, after he had swept up his boys, all three of them, in the circle of his mighty arms, the while shouting “Loafers! Vagabonds!” and, in accordance with a long-established custom, carried them out of the kitchen and threw them onto the beds. The youngest, a six-year-old, enjoyed it most, but all three roared and bellowed like lions.

“Must you go out again?” Müller’s wife asked with a touch of apprehension. She knew that something was gnawing at him and boiling inside him. He was a regular fanatic in everything he did, and on occasion he easily became thoughtless. The cause of Labor seemed definitely lost; it had been drilled into him for a generation, so that he had to believe it now. But what wholly confused him was that he had no evidence for it. “Hitler is a slave of the bourgeoisie!” they had shouted for many years at political meetings. And now they saw how captains of industry and banker-princes had to ask this Hitler for favors.

“And they will certainly take him in!” Müller had tried to tell himself.

They want to. Could be. But will he permit himself to be taken in? That is the question. Frau Müller had never been particularly interested in politics. But this much she understood (in fact, she felt it): Hitler wants the best for the worker; one can trust him. He has himself stood on a scaffold as a simple worker, and he knows what’s in the poor man’s heart.

“He will forget, just like all the other big shots we’ve had before,” grumbled Müller.

“I don’t believe that,” said his wife. “The man lives so simply, you can see that by his clothes. Of course, time will tell. By the way, there’s a letter from the Association of the Saarlanders… about the plebiscite.”1 Continue reading

Capitalist Power and German Socialism

The völkisch-radical German Socialist Party on capitalism, right-wingers, and the power of money

The German Socialist Party (Deutschsozialistische Partei, DSP) is largely forgotten now, but for a brief period in history it was the pre-eminent National Socialist party within the German Republic. The party’s guiding light was Düsseldorf engineer Alfred Brunner, a Thule Society member with a determination to found a völkisch-socialist movement which could rescue Germany from its post-War mire. In December 1918 Brunner’s draft programme outline for such a movement was published. Völkisch activists consequently heeded Brunner’s call and began founding their own independent German Socialist working-groups and party cells, and by 1919 there were German Socialist organizations in Düsseldorf, Kiel, Frankfurt, Dresden, Nuremberg, and Munich. Although ideologically extremely similar to the NSDAP (something recognized by both groups), the DSP’s organizational beginnings made it a very different party from the outset. Because of the way it had been founded, the DSP early on had a much broader base than the NSDAP, which did not establish a chapter outside Munich until April 1920. By contrast, by the time the DSP held its first official convention to bring all the independent German Socialist groups under one national organization (also in April 1920), there numbered about 35 German Socialist local chapters across Germany with a combined total of around 2,000 members. Although this appeared impressive in comparison to the NSDAP, the DSP did not actually have the resources to manage a national party and many of the local groups were heavily under-resourced, resulting in gradual stagnation and inactivity. This hindered the DSP’s central tactical focus on electioneering and parliamentary work; unlike the still-revolutionary NSDAP, the DSP sought a “legal” dismantling of the existing system through “reformist-evolutionary” methods. A side-effect of this parliamentary orientation was that the DSP put far more emphasis on issuing programmatic resolutions and debating policy proposals than it did on active organization and propaganda. Although this approach ultimately proved ineffective and harmed the party’s dynamism, it did result in the publication of a number of distinctive theoretical documents, such as the short leaflet translated below. This leaflet, titled “Capitalist Power” (Kapitalistische Macht), is undated, but if I had to guess I would say that it was probably released in 1920 for the June Reichstag election (the DSP received a mere ~7,000 votes nationwide, or 0.03%). It is an interesting little document, with its anti-capitalist rhetoric and its strong attacks on the “right,” and helps to illustrate why DSP members considered themselves the “left-wing” of the völkisch movement.

Capitalist Power
An undated flyer from the German Socialist Party

In our publications we often discuss the power of capitalism – which we understand above all to mean the overriding predominance of loan-capitalism – as against working capital,1 which we German Socialists acknowledge, in a controlled and restricted form, within an economy built upon a purely German foundation.

But that even this form of capital, under today’s conditions, holds a power which detracts from Rightness and Truth, is shown by the modern parties of the right who, on the basis of an intrinsically and thoroughly capitalist programme, are able to bind hundreds of thousands of people to themselves, people who are suffering as a result of capitalism and the capital of today.

And that they can do this is purely because both these parties2 possess enough money to enable the press and their public speakers to socially disguise their programmes and to strike an anti-Semitic tone, a tone which becomes all the livelier the closer they draw to the elections.

In doing so, these parties do not possess a single, fundamental, sweeping demand which would bring about an alleviation of the social situation and a liberation from the pressure of capitalism! Continue reading