The Uneven Alliance: German Nationals and the Hitler Government

“Well, that’s revolution…” Complaints and observations from a member of the German National People’s Party about his party’s unequal position in the NSDAP-led ‘National Government’

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January, 1933, it was not as the leader of a uniformly National Socialist regime. The initial Hitler cabinet was instead a coalition government comprising, alongside the more radical NSDAP, the monarchist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), the paramilitary Stahlhelm, and several non-partisan conservative figures such as Franz von Papen and Konstantin von Neurath. The early hopes among Germany’s patriotic circles that this ‘National Government’ augured a new era of equal dominance for the various forces of the political Right were soon dashed, however, particularly after the passage of the Enabling Act. The National Socialists began using their newfound authority to enforce a process of ‘consolidation’ and ‘coordination’ throughout Germany, in which the political apparatus at every level was gradually occupied by NSDAP functionaries while political opponents – including those ostensibly on the same side as the NSDAP – were systematically harassed and oppressed. German Nationals were not spared any of this treatment – DNVP officials found their offices ransacked, their staff persecuted, their meetings broken up, and their middle-class voters jeered at in National Socialist rallies and newspapers. The office of Vice-Chancellor von Papen, seen by many on the Right as a sympathetic figure, was soon flooded with hundreds of alarmed letters from German Nationals and from other conservatives, men and women who had become painfully aware that the new ‘National Government’ would be neither monarchist nor conservative but was instead marching steadily towards a new and troubling political form of National Socialist radicalism. The two documents translated below, written by a certain Dr. Bubenhöfer – a prominent Freudenstadt physician and a member of the Württemberg DNVP’s leadership committee – provide a typical example of the kinds of reports sent to the Vice-Chancellor’s office by concerned German Nationals. The complaints and observations in Bubenhöfer’s letter and accompanying political memorandum help illustrate some of the key ideological differences between the DNVP and the more revolutionary NSDAP: Bubenhöfer’s writing expresses considerable concern about the ‘socialism’ within the NSDAP, about the NSDAP’s tolerance for Germany’s pre-existing welfare state measures, about its deliberate sidelining of other patriotic groups, and about the potential for instability represented by the SA. Interestingly, some of Bubenhöfer’s complaints are a little atypical of the DNVP, which tended to be more ‘moderate’ on most issues than the NSDAP; Bubenhöfer was a member of the DNVP’s völkisch wing, and as well as being perturbed about the NSDAP’s totalitarianism he also complains that it has been far too lenient in its treatment of Marxists, Jews, and “racial inferiors!” What eventually happened to Bubenhöfer is uncertain, but the DNVP soon faced the same fate as most other nationalist organizations – by the end of June 1933 it was pressured to dissolve itself, with many of its members and officials feeling obliged to go over to the NSDAP.

The Uneven Alliance:
Württemberg DNVP Leader Dr. Bubenhöfer’s
April 1933 Letter to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen

Dr. Med. Bubenhöfer
Freudenstadt
Specialist in Surgery & Gynecology
Chief Physician of the District Hospital

Freudenstadt, 11 April, 1933
His Excellency Herr Vice-Chancellor v. Papen
Berlin

Esteemed Herr von Papen!

Might I once again avail myself of the right which you granted me, to be able to write to you?

If, in an hour of leisure, you might read through a short essay which I have recently dictated, as is my custom, and would perhaps write me your opinion on this or that, I would be most grateful. I have lived with all of these issues for many years, they consume me both inside and outside of my job. I have delivered many a lecture on these various topics. Above all, however, I am particularly concerned by issues regarding the assessment of the Centre, the position to take towards the NSDAP, and the topic of eugenics. And I would be grateful for a brief critique from you, whom I consider such a capable critic. There is so much going on right now which we do not like. Well, that’s revolution. My friends and I witness so much which shocks us. I will mention only two things: As I was able to tell you in Stuttgart, I salvaged a national defense organization, with weapons, out of Captain Damm’s old Freischar organization,1 preserving it through all the perils of the Bolz government.2 Today the SA are no longer willing to recognize us; yes, they even go so far as to doubt our national will because we are not National Socialist.

14 years ago, together with a few friends, I founded a German-völkisch order with which we hoped to perform long-term völkisch work with the aim of combating Freemasonry. Today we ourselves are denounced as Freemasons. Well, such things are the phenomena of revolution, but they nonetheless strongly dampen the satisfaction of nationally-minded men in the National Revolution. What the Stahlhelm3 wrote recently, that Hitler might one day be pleased to have them, I had also hoped might some day be said of a National Government about my organization. But the National Socialists do not need us and do not want us. And so I have no other recourse but to dissolve the organization, which is so highly esteemed by all sides – including by Reichswehr Minister von Blomberg – and thus to destroy, at least formally, a camaraderie which has held fast for 11 years of the most difficult times. When as a leader one has to say farewell to thousands of comrades without any apparent discernible need, because now our “friends” are at the helm, this is something which simply has to be endured. And yet we German Nationals, to whom I also belong, are part of the government. One would therefore think that an organization led by a man known throughout the state of Württemberg for his nationalist spirit would be acceptable to any National Government. We were to be in the government, I was told, not the SA leader.4 Continue reading

A ‘National’ Social-Democracy?

A 1931 article on socialism, nationalism, and the nation, by German Social-Democrat Hermann Heller

The tumultuous interwar years in Weimar Germany were characterized by a number of unusual political trends which sought to syncretize competing ideas from both the Left and Right. National Socialism and the Conservative Revolution were the most obvious examples of this ideological synthesis, but there were manifestations of it even on the more democratic end of the political spectrum (the Jungdeutscher Orden) and also among the Communists. The Social-Democrats, despite their internationalism, were also not immune to this phenomenon; the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) too had its own small nationalist current, part of the broader reformist wing of the movement, whose members were particularly active contributors to the ‘revisionist’ journal Sozialistische Monatshefte, as well as to Die Arbeit, the official theoretical publication of the largest trade-union federation. Beginning in January 1930 these ‘neorevisionists’ also began publishing their own monthly: the Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus, which put out articles with such titles as “We and the Young Nationalists” or “The Presence and Significance of Conservative Tendencies in Social-Democracy.” This neorevisionist faction had not sprung up out of nowhere – many of its members had previously been active in the Hofgeismarkreis and the Berliner Kreis, small intellectual circles which had emerged within the SPD youth movement around the time of the 1923 Ruhr crisis, and which had sought then (somewhat controversially) to intellectually ground German Social-Democracy upon a foundation of ‘Nation’ and ‘Volk’ rather than class. Despite these unifying nationalist tendencies, the neorevisionists were in general a diverse and eclectic group, ranging from right-leaning reformists, to religious socialists, to market-socialists, to radicals whose political ideals were only vaguely distinguishable from those of Otto Strasser or Hans Zehrer. Many, curiously, were also actively involved in the leadership of the Iron Front, and most became committed activists in the antifascist resistance after 1933 (although not all – at least one, Walter Pahl, became a supporter of National Socialism, while another, Fritz Borinski, ended up in the orbit of the Black Front). One of the most prominent neorevisionist thinkers was Jewish-German jurist Hermann Heller, who today tends to be more known for his constitutional scholarship than for his socialist theorizing. Heller’s 1925 work Sozialismus und Nation (re-released in a revised edition in 1931) was held in very high regard among neorevisionists, and is probably the most detailed outline of their general, collective worldview. The short article by Heller below, which references this work, is a classic example of this style of Social-Democratic writing, dealing as it does with German socialism’s difficulties in engaging with nationalist sentiment, while also presenting Social-Democracy as the only political force truly capable of safeguarding the German nation.  

National Socialism1
Hermann Heller

First published in Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus, vol. 2, no. 4, April 1931.

Ever since the 30 Years’ War, the national destiny of the German Volk has been consistently and decisively determined by the political incompetence of its bourgeoisie. Even the state-building power of nationalism, as shaped within the bourgeois revolutions, has been incapably utilized by bourgeois politics. Since the failed revolution of 1848, the political idea of a comprehensive national cultural community has been transformed into the narrow and repressed national conception of a Treitschke.2 As recently as 1902, for example, the widely-disseminated work “Was ist national?” by Professor Kirchhoff3 was claiming that one would never be able to commit to including the German-Austrians as part of the modern German nation – the same German nation to which, meanwhile, the Prussian Poles admittedly belonged.

How meagre the sense of national responsibility of the Wilhelmine state’s ruling classes was, was demonstrated most clearly when they organized themselves after the revolution into the “German National” People’s Party, and thus made into a party name what should have been, or what should have become, an appellation for the entire Volk.

As the bourgeoisie muddled up the nation with the Prussian-German state, worshipping it with Hegel as the realization of the moral idea, as God on Earth, so did Marx-Engels now fight against this bourgeoisie with a lopsided, narrow, and repressed conception of state and nation. For them the state was always only the realization of an immoral idea, namely the necessary evil of the class state, which was to vanish with the end of class rule; just as, according to their truly Mancunian perspective, national separations and differences were destined to gradually come to an end with the development of the bourgeoisie, with free trade, the world market, and the uniformity of industrial production. Continue reading

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