National Socialists Before Hitler, Part II: The National Labor Movement

Documents from the early period of the original German Workers’ Party and the national labor movement in Austria-Hungary

DNSAP_Zukunft

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  

Symbol_DNSAP

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

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

DAP_Founders

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

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part I: Jung

Rudolf Jung’s 1922 vision of a future representative, National Socialist council-state

Over the next few weeks ARPLAN will be publishing a number of articles exploring the often difficult concept of democracy’s place within National Socialist ideology. On the face of it one might think that there is no place for democracy in National Socialism; today the Hitlerian regime and its guiding philosophy are typically presented as the archetypal antithesis of democratic values. What complicates this perception are the thoughts and words of the National Socialists themselves – on the one hand they cursed democracy, while on the other they claimed to be bringing a true, Germanic democracy to the German people. The National Socialist interpretation of democracy, like the Soviet, was characterized by a difference of interpretation – for them democracy lay not with parliaments and parties, but with more traditional forms of popular rule drawn from the Germanic past. When activists set out to write their blueprints for a possible future National Socialist state, they rarely spoke of dictatorship – and more often spoke of voting, and elections, and representative government, all shorn of the trappings of bourgeois Western parliamentarism. These visions of ‘National Socialist democracy’ are what ARPLAN will be exploring in the coming weeks. Our first vision is excerpted from Rudolf Jung’s 1922 (2nd ed.) book Der nationale Sozialismus, the earliest work of National Socialist political philosophy, which describes a future NS-state built on a kind of ‘council-nationalism.’ The text below was translated by myself from two separate chapters of Jung’s work, ‘Parliament or Council?’ (Parlament oder Räte?) and ‘The German Peoples’ State’ (Der deutsche Volkstaat). The first chapter is abridged for purposes of brevity, the second included in full.    

Parliament or Councils?

How were things in 1918? Absolutism – it was declared at the time – must disappear, democracy should take its place. The very fact that no one could find a German word to describe what was desired indicated that the goal was quite unclear and hazy. In essence, the autocracy of the individual, which had been severely limited by constitutional institutions, was simply replaced by the far more ruthless rule of the major parties. And even then, sometimes only ostensibly. The sceptres rolled into the dust, the moneybag took their place; in lieu of dynastic power struggles, which still here and there had to be reconciled with the public welfare, the naked selfishness of the parties appeared. The urge to feed at the trough has brought about the most untenable alliances between parties, in which each has no faith in the other, in which each seeks advantage over the other. It does not matter to them whether the state whose leadership they have been entrusted with falls apart as a result, so long as the party’s fortunes prosper…

…Every method is pursued in the attempt to alleviate this malady, from unity parties here to untenable party alliances there. But it is incurable. The system instead must be transformed completely. Today’s parliamentarism, with its unicameral structure, requires urgent supplementation by the old German system of representation via the estates, a system which is far better suited to the nature of our Volk. Of course, this system will not appear as it did in former times, because the old estates have either partly changed or have vanished completely. Nobody today, for example, would be able to sufficiently exemplify the concept of Bürgertum. But there are occupational groups which can provide us with a suitable basis for estatist representation, a representation whose modern form of expression is the council system – by which, however, we do not intend to mean the Russian caricature, because the concept of a council dictatorship is as untenable as any dictatorship, i.e., tyranny. But the council concept [Rätegedanke] itself is good, and it will be realized in the most diverse range of forms within political, intellectual, and economic life! But here, too, one needs to be on guard against one-sidedness and overestimation. There are no panaceas; every illness requires different remedies. Life is manifold, and colorful and manifold are therefore also its manifestations.  Continue reading

Profile: Rudolf Jung

The ‘Karl Marx’ of German National Socialism

Rudolf_Jung04

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