National Socialists Before Hitler, Part VI: Drexler’s Political Awakening

“From the journal of a German Socialist worker”: selected chapters from Anton Drexler’s 1919 political testament

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In the autumn of 1918 Karl Harrer, a sports journalist for the right-leaning newspaper Münchner-Augsburger Abendzeitung, was charged by the Thule Society with forming a völkisch ‘Thule Workers’ Ring’ among the proletariat – part of a wider plan to win workers for nationalism and undermine the socialist forces then dominant within Bavarian politics. Attending a public meeting at Munich’s Wagner Hall on 2 October, Harrer was struck by a speech given by a laborer named Anton Drexler (then-head of the Munich branch of the Free Workers’ Committee for a Just Peace) calling upon bourgeois and workers to “unite!” Although Drexler’s speech was greeted with hostility by the crowd, Harrer saw in it opportunity; he approached Drexler with the offer to assist in forming a ‘Political Workers’ Circle’ to help spread their shared ideas among Drexler’s laborer contacts. Drexler, who had attempted in vain to do this himself in the past (both as a prior, dissatisfied Fatherland Party member, and via his own Free Committee), was intrigued by the offer, and so the Political Workers’ Circle was formed. By 5 January 1919 the Circle had evolved into the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP), an independent political organization with its own written Guidelines as its conceptual basis. To help propagandize for the new Party and to provide greater intellectual weight to its fairly sparse and unsatisfactory Guidelines, Drexler published a political pamphlet sometime between May and September 1919. Drexler’s My Political Awakening: From the Journal of a German Socialist Worker is, like Hitler’s later Mein Kampf, a mixture of personal biography and ideological worldview, providing an introduction both to Drexler as a person and to the substance of his National Socialist philosophy. Several selected chapters of Drexler’s brochure are provided below as an example, translated by myself from an original 1920 2nd edition. Although this series is called ‘National Socialists Before Hitler’, and Hitler joined the DAP on 19 October 1919, the content of the 1920 edition does still technically qualify as being “before Hitler”. Unlike the later 1923 3rd edition, which was substantially rewritten, the 2nd edition’s text is identical to that of the 1919 original, apart from the addition of a second foreword and the rather telling removal of Drexler’s original dedication to Harrer as “the founder of the German Workers’ Party”. The pamphlet’s strong focus on workers’ issues and on the inadequacies of mainstream (Marxist) socialism are very typical of early National Socialist writing, as is Drexler’s positioning of himself as a dissident voice within the broader socialist workers’ movement. 

My Political Awakening:
From the Journal of a German Socialist Worker
(Selected Chapters)
Written in 1919 by Railway Toolmaker Anton Drexler,
Founder & 2nd Chairman of the German Workers’ Party (Bavaria)

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Foreword to the First Edition

I must begin by saying that the ideas I have laid down here are purely political as well as trade-unionist in nature, and that with this document I am not presenting myself to the public as a fellow combatant in the World War; I was busy instead with my battleground on the home front. Many a workmate has told me, “it’s a pity about me that I’m in the wrong place, that I could accomplish a lot more in the circle of the socialist working-class.” Sometimes a feeling comes over me as though these people were right, as if I really have to incorporate my socialist mindset entirely into Social-Democracy. And only with severe internal struggles have I remained loyal to my National Socialism,1 for which I am now grateful to Fate. To portray the storms that surged around me on my lonesome island in the midst of the workers’ sea, to communicate the experiences that I have been able to gain in political matters to the working-classes and to every productive worker – that is the purpose of this document. No excuses should be made to my colleagues, I haven’t the slightest reason to make them, but I want to make it understandable to them that my political opinion, which is so isolated among workers, has arisen only from concern over the existence of the German worker.

Neither pettiness, nor ambition, nor the idealism of the money-purse have brought me to my political position. As a “neutral” standing outside the fence of the political parties – that is, without having previously absorbed a party catechism myself – I have studied domestic political life and activity, and not without also dedicating my primary focus to matters of foreign-policy.

Allowing themselves to be enveloped in the ‘internationalism’ of the workers’ leaders and pacifists of enemy countries – this myopia on the part of  the German workers’ leaders and other party men in their assessment of enemy war aims has led Germany and the German working class to where it is today.

As the only Munich worker who was not deceived by the intentions of England and America and who therefore publicly advocated for the attainment of a ‘just peace’, I not only have the right but also feel I have the obligation within myself to apprise the public of my experiences and impressions since my ‘political awakening’, all the more so as I also became acquainted with the ‘secret powers’ that made it possible for our governments, as well as many party leaders to – for the most part unconsciously – work directly for the interests of our destroyers. Continue reading

Guidelines of the German Workers’ Party

Anton Drexler’s original party program, first published in ‘Auf gut deutsch’ on January 5, 1919

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The Guidelines of the German Workers’ Party was the original political program of the German Workers’ Party (DAP). Along with Anton Drexler’s pamphlet Mein politisches Erwache (‘My Political Awakening’) it served as the main literary statement of the Party’s aims and worldview until the adoption of the ‘Twenty-Five Point Program’ on February 24 1920, when the Party rechristened itself as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The exact authorship of the Guidelines is unknown, although it was almost certainly written by Drexler; whether or not Karl Harrer (the co-founder of the DAP) was also involved is unclear. What is certain is that the Guidelines were first announced on January 5 1919, and published in Dietrich Eckart’s völkisch newspaper Auf gut deutsch on the same day. In terms of content the Guidelines are briefer and less detailed than the later NSDAP program, being far more a general statement of worldview than an actual outline of specific political goals. Nonetheless, the Guidelines’ National Socialist content is obvious – völkisch nationalism, anti-Marxism, opposition to Jewish influence, and a concern with social reform. The clear emphasis on workers’ issues and on corporatist appeals (“work cooperatives”) should be noted, being typical elements of early pre-Hitlerian National Socialism. 

What is the German Workers’ Party?

The DAP is a socialist organization, composed of all folk comrades [‘Volksgenossen’] engaged in mental or physical work. It may only be guided by German leaders who put aside selfish goals and allow national needs to be the highest concern of the program.

What does the German Workers’ Party offer the worker?

The DAP seeks the ennoblement of the German worker. Skilled resident workers have the right to be considered members of the middle class. A sharp distinction between workers and proletarians should be made. An international agreement with the trade unions of other countries must stabilize wages, making it impossible for the working-class of a particular country to engage in sharp bargaining. In the future the competitive position of an individual country shall be determined not by the lowest wages but by the diligence and efficiency of its workers. In this way the causes of friction among the various countries will be avoided. Big business provides food and employment and is therefore to be protected, as long as it does not relentlessly exploit the worker making it impossible for him to lead a worthwhile life. The DAP believes that the socialization of German economic life signals the collapse of the German economy. By controllingsocialized businesses our enemies would be in the best possible position to collect efficiently the war indemnities which have been imposed on us, and to do so at the expense of the workers. Therefore the German worker should have not socialization but profit sharing. Profit sharing can be made possible by founding work cooperatives in the cities, and in the country, farm cooperatives among the agricultural workers, to protect land and soil.

Who is the DAP fighting against?

The DAP is fighting with all its strength against usury and the forcing up of prices. Against all those who create no values, who make high profits without any mental or physical work. We fight against the drones in the state; these are mostly Jews; they live a good life, they reap where they have not sown. They control and rule us with their money. For these drones Germany and her entire people were just objects of speculation; their party slogans are much the same. Talk, no action. The DAP honors the principle: he who will not work shall not eat. We fight for justice, true freedom, and happiness. No dictatorship of the proletariat! Equal justice for all. No rule of bayonets. Everyone shall feel himself to be a free German. There is no happiness in phrases and empty speeches at meetings, demonstrations, and elections. Our striving is toward the free happiness of good work, the full pot, and prospering children. Continue reading