The NSDAP was initially a socialist party

1918-33

The German Workers' Party (DAP), founded in Munich on January 5, 1919 in the heated political atmosphere of the revolution of 1918/19, was initially just one of many smaller anti-Semitic-völkisch splinter groups in the Bavarian capital. The perception of the DAP as an insignificant discussion group changed after Adolf Hitler joined it in the autumn of 1919. As a gifted speaker, he made the party increasingly popular in the völkisch circles of the "Ordnungszelle" in Bavaria, which at the beginning of the 1920s was the center of right-wing extremist agitation against the hated Weimar Republic. On February 24, 1920, at the first mass event of the DAP in Munich's Hofbräuhaus with 2,000 visitors, the name was changed to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). Within a few months, Hitler understood, thanks to his agitation talent, to become irreplaceable for the party and to instrumentalize it in his own way. Under the threat of resigning, he decided disputes within the NSDAP for himself. On July 29, 1921, the General Assembly gave him the party chairmanship with dictatorial powers, which Hitler held until his suicide on April 30, 1945 and which allowed him to align the party with himself as early as the early 1920s.

Marked by aggressive anti-Semitism and a radical, völkisch ideology, the goals of the NSDAP set out in the 25-point program in 1920 remained deliberately vague. The party saw itself primarily as a "movement" to mobilize the masses. All "Aryan" Germans should be included in it in the sense of a "national community". The NSDAP deeply despised parliamentarism and the political parties of the Weimar Republic, which it made responsible for social contradictions and the "unnatural division of the people". The party saw its most important task in the fight against the Versailles Treaty and "international Jewry". In passionate speeches - mostly held in noisy beer halls - Hitler appealed as a "savior" and "drummer for the national cause" with powerful slogans to the emotions of his listeners, around a quarter of whom were women. Like no other party, the NSDAP knew how to exert a seductive fascination for many people through non-stop, skilfully staged marches by their military association Sturmabteilung (SA) with flags and uniforms. Provocations, memorable posters and symbols such as the swastika as a party badge or the red, borrowed from left-wing political opponents, as a conspicuous key color were central components of Nazi propaganda. An important instrument of agitation was the party's own weekly newspaper "Völkischer Beobachter", which appeared as a daily newspaper from February 1923. In October 1922, the "German Socialist Party" led by Julius Streicher with its 2,000 members joined the NSDAP.

Although National Socialist groups gathered in many parts of the German Reich, at the beginning of the 1920s the NSDAP was largely limited to Bavaria with the party center in Munich. Here she enjoyed the best connections to right-wing circles from the Reichswehr, politics and business. Since Hitler refused to take part in elections in order to gain political power and instead openly expressed putsch plans against the hated "Jewish Republic", the NSDAP was banned in Prussia from November 1922. In Bavaria, on the other hand, the NSDAP, which had around 20,000 members, was able to hold its first Nazi party rally at the end of January 1923.

In 1923, the inflation in the German Reich deprived millions of people of their savings. Officially still valid, but actually worthless banknotes, the National Socialists printed anti-Jewish caricatures on the back, thus showing who they blamed for the economic and financial catastrophe. When Germany finally threatened to sink into political chaos and a state of emergency was imposed on the German Reich, the situation seemed favorable for the longed-for coup against the republic. Following the example of Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" from 1922, Hitler tried to initiate the "March on Berlin" on November 9, 1923. The Hitler putsch ended in disaster after only a few hundred meters at the Munich Feldherrnhalle. Four police officers and 14 demonstrators were killed in an exchange of fire. The NSDAP was banned across the Reich in November 1923 and Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment for "high treason" in April 1924. Hitler used his eight-month imprisonment in Landsberg to describe his worldview, which was shaped by racial doctrine and social Darwinism, in the programmatic work "Mein Kampf".

When Hitler was released prematurely from prison on December 20, 1924 for "good conduct", the remnants of the NSDAP found themselves in a serious crisis. From the circle of fellow putschists, the "National Socialist Freedom Movement" under Gregor Strasser and Erich Ludendorff and the "Großdeutsche Volksgemeinschaft" under Julius Streicher and Alfred Rosenberg formed two splinter parties that competed fiercely with one another. After his release from prison, Hitler refused to join one of the groups and on February 26, 1925, the NSDAP was re-established. At the "Bamberger Führertagung" a year later he succeeded in preventing anti-capitalist demands for a "national socialism" and nationalization of the economy, as especially the brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser and initially also Joseph Goebbels, in the party program and to finally manifest his position of power within the party.

As a consequence of the failed Hitler putsch of 1923, the NSDAP pursued a tactic of legality from 1925. The republic was not to be eliminated by a violent overthrow, but by participating in elections and by enlarging the National Socialist movement, which in the consolidation phase from the mid-twenties increasingly turned into a Hitler movement in which Hitler - now also in the official parlance of the Party referred to as "leader" - who had absolute authority. The "Führer cult" and Hitler's charisma became central elements of the NSDAP, which in 1926 introduced the Hitler salute for party members. Between 1925 and 1930, the party's membership rose from 27,000 to around 130,000. Despite the considerable increase in membership, the election results were disappointing for the leadership of the NSDAP due to the relative political and economic stabilization in the second half of the 1920s. In the Reichstag elections on May 28, 1928, it received just 2.6 percent of the vote.

The campaign initiated by the NSDAP with the German National People's Party (DNVP), the Stahlhelm and the Pan-German Association in 1929 for the referendum against the Young Plan enormously increased the reputation of the National Socialists in the right-wing camp. After all, the NSDAP profited like no other party from the global economic crisis, which provided fertile breeding ground for anti-capitalist, anti-liberal and, above all, anti-Semitic propaganda against "international financial Jewry". Under the effects of the economic crisis and mass impoverishment, the NSDAP celebrated a landslide election success in the Reichstag election of September 14, 1930: with 18.3 percent, it became the second strongest party and was able to increase the number of its seats in the Reichstag from 12 to 107. Shortly after the election, Hitler countered rumors about National Socialist putsch plans and on September 25, 1930 swore an "oath of legality", according to which the NSDAP would only fight for power legally. But he left no doubt that he would radically change the political system after he got in power. In order to demonstrate their unity in the fight against the Weimar Republic, the NSDAP and DNVP joined forces with a number of nationalist associations to form the "Harzburg Front" in October 1931 at the instigation of Hitler and Alfred Hugenberg.

Accompanied by the street terror of the SA, the NSDAP advanced after 1930 to a basin for all opponents of the presidential cabinets not legitimized by the people through elections. By January 1933, its membership had increased to around 850,000. Parades and non-stop agitation lured mainly young people and young men to the NSDAP or its branches such as Hitler Youth (HJ) or SA. Although the party members were largely recruited from the middle class, the NSDAP had a more balanced social structure than all other parties in the Weimar Republic, with a large proportion of workers. As a new and modern "people's party", it successfully recruited members and voters from all social classes.

Above all, non-voters were mobilized in the 1932 Reich presidential election and the Reichstag election of July 31, 1932. A strong electoral movement for the politically unspent NSDAP came from the conservative-liberal parties, which fewer and fewer people trusted to be able to cope with the catastrophic economic crisis. Many voters were convinced that they would find their "last hope" in Hitler. As the overwhelming winner of the Reichstag election of July 1932, from which the NSDAP emerged as the strongest party with 37.4 percent, Hitler uncompromisingly demanded all political power, which Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, however, still refused to give him. Hitler gambled high when he turned down the vice-chancellorship offered to him - because the frustrated mass support of the NSDAP was already beginning to crumble. Despite massive financial support from large industrialists such as Fritz Thyssen, Albert Vögler or Emil Kirdorf, the party coffers were empty due to expensive election campaigns, and there was no money for further agitation and propaganda. The downward trend that continued with the Reichstag election of November 6, 1932 plunged the party deep into crisis.

When the leading articles in major German daily newspapers predicted the near end of the Hitler movement at the turn of the year 1932/33, the party once again mobilized everything in order to reverse the voting trend in the state elections in Lippe in mid-January 1933. With 39.5 percent, the NSDAP in Lippe was able to gain five percent compared to the Reichstag election in November 1932. The increase in votes was celebrated by the Nazi propaganda as a turnaround in order to keep the hope of the NSDAP supporters alive for the longed-for takeover of power at the Reich level. In fact, in January 1933, the former Chancellor Franz von Papen - who had been commissioned by von Hindenburg to form a new government - offered Hitler chancellorship in a national-conservative cabinet at a secret meeting. According to the fateful misjudgment of many conservative politicians, the NSDAP, with its mass base, was supposed to hold its back in parliament for the cabinet of "national concentration" set up under Chancellor Hitler on January 30, 1933, for only a few months before the NSDAP was politically worn out.

(as)