National Socialists Before Hitler, Part I: The Original German Workers’ Party

The 1904 ‘Trautenau Programme’ of the Austrian German Workers’ Party, the founding party of German National Socialism

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The perception that Adolf Hitler ‘created’ National Socialism is not uncommon today, and cannot entirely be blamed on the overly-simplistic, pop-historical forms of mass-entertainment which have played such a large role in shaping public perceptions on ‘Nazism’. Hitler, after all, did much to encourage the view himself that ‘Leader’ and ‘Idea’ were bound together as one and the same, interrelated and inseparable. In reality, however, the movement Hitler joined in September 1919 had in fact already been in existence since before the First World War, founded in November 1903 in Aussig, an industrial and trading town in northern Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its founders all came directly from the labor movement: the majority were members of the nationalist ethnic-German trade unions, deeply concerned about competition with Czech labor, and the rest disgruntled social-democrats who had grown disillusioned with the internationalism of the ‘red’ workers’ movement and sought instead to build a new German Socialism on a national basis. The German Workers’ Party (DAP) they all founded laid out its party programme, written by nationalist-unionist Alois Ciller, at its first party conference in Trautenau in August 1904. That programme was an eclectic mixture of ideas, heavily pro-labor in a way that would be reminiscent of reformist social-democracy were it not for the smattering of völkisch language and the occasional liberal political demand included within the text. This curious ideology, promulgated by the DAP as it began establishing a strong unionist wing and spreading its influence to lower-middle-class artisans and traders, soon became informally known within the party as ‘National Socialism’. By the time the DAP officially changed its name to the ‘German National Socialist Workers Party’ (DNSAP) in May 1918, the völkisch content of its demands had widened in scope, and concern about the Jews – interestingly absent from this first party document – had more thoroughly filtered into the movement’s active political consciousness. The full text of the 1904 Trautenau Programme is included below, translated by myself from Alois Ciller’s history of the Sudeten and Austrian ‘German Socialist’ movements. 

Party Programme
of the
German Workers’ Party in Austria
Concluded at Trautenau, 15th August 1904

The German Workers’ Party seeks the uplift and liberation of the German working-classes from their present condition of economic, political, and cultural oppression. It begins from the conviction that only within the natural limits of his folkdom [Volkstums] can the worker achieve full value for his labor and intelligence in respect to the other classes of the cultural community.

We reject international organization because it weighs down the advanced workers by those of lower standing, and must completely prevent any real progress for the German working class in Austria.

The German Workers’ Party affirms the position that an improvement in economic and social conditions is only attainable through organization via professional associations [berufsgenossenschaftliche], that purposeful, positive reform work can overcome today’s unsustainable societal conditions and safeguard the social advancement of the working-class.

We do not constitute a narrow class party. The German Workers’ Party represents the interests of all honest, productive labor in general, and strives for the complete elimination of all disparities and the bringing about of fairer conditions in all areas of public life.

We are a liberal [freiheitliche] national party which combats with absolute severity all reactionary ambitions, all feudal, clerical and capitalist privileges, as well as all racially-foreign [fremdvölkischen] influences.

The advancement of work and skill [Wissen] in state and society is our goal – and the economic and political organization of the working German Volk is the German Workers’ Party’s means to this end. Continue reading

Profile: Rudolf Jung

The ‘Karl Marx’ of German National Socialism

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Early Years

Rudolf Jung  was born on 16 April 1882 in Plass, a small town on the Střela River in the heart of Bohemia. Jung’s childhood was spent in Iglau, a city in the neighboring region of Moravia. As well as being a garrison for the local military, Iglau was a ‘speech island’, an enclave for ethnic Germans in the Czech lands of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The significant number of Sudeten Germans in the area engendered an atmosphere of racial tension; since the 1880s there had been competition and conflict between Czech and German workers in the town, an atmosphere which would shape Jung’s perceptions as a child and have a significant impact on the development of his views as an adult.

As an adolescent Jung was sent to Vienna to study at its Technical High School. His natural intelligence ensured him a place at university and eventually, in 1906, a doctorate in mechanical engineering which opened further doors to employment as a railway engineer. It was presumably around this period that Jung’s political activism began. Austria’s state railways were heavily unionized, with the unions divided along racial lines – Czech and German workers not only competed for jobs, but also competed over which languages should be used in signage & paperwork, which provincial administrations would manage which sections of track, how many Czechs could be employed on German-majority territory (and vice versa), etc. Austria-Hungary had a large number of nationalist trade unions divided along ethnic lines, and as a result of these disputes the largest and strongest were those of the railwaymen. Jung was thrown right into the middle of this ferment.

The conditions in the railways did nothing but reinforce the views Jung had been forming since his childhood in Iglau: that Czech immigration was being used to undercut German labor with cheap wages and force Germans to emigrate from their native lands in search of better working conditions. It is likely also that Jung’s social views were further shaped by the ‘proletarian’ culture of the heavily unionized environment and the many working-class railway employees who he encountered. In any event, Jung soon became involved in union politics to such an extent that it impacted on his employment, with his activism on behalf of the railway workers earning him a punitive transfer by his employer from Vienna back to Bohemia. Ironically, this punishment just moved Jung out of one hotbed of social-nationalist agitation and right into another.  Continue reading