German National People's Party

(Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP)
   A complex coalition of conservatives from the Kaiserreich, the DNVP (Bayrische Mittelpartei in Bavaria*) was formed in November 1918 by politicians from the German Conservative Party, the Free Conservative Party, the Pan-German League, the Christian Social Party, and the racialist Deutsch-volkische Partei. Although the DVNP was a party of the middle-class Right, it embraced aristocrats and military officers among a membership that included bureaucrats, estate owners, prominent industrialists, and diverse individuals from the upper middle class. In contrast to its predecessors, it stressed merit rather than birth as crucial to political leadership. Although it was identified with mon-archism,* many in the DNVP were prepared to accept a head of state with powers comparable to those of a Kaiser; yet Alfred Hugenberg* used the issue of monarchism to split the leadership in 1928 and gain control of the Party. In the DNVP's first pronouncement of 24 November 1918, the desire was ex-pressed to work with all parties in the interest of law and order; the ambition proved less credible than the army's promise to protect the Republic. The DNVP invariably opposed the SPD and was consistently the most uncompromising adversary of the November Revolution* and the attempt to fulfill the terms of the Versailles Treaty.*
   The DNVP's electoral fortunes mirrored its membership statistics. In 1919, with about 350,000 professed members, it elected forty-four to the National Assembly.* The Reichstag* elections of June 1920 brought it seventy-one man-dates; those of May 1924, when membership was just short of 1 million, raised its faction to ninety-five (the second-largest bloc in the chamber). From 1924, as economic conditions stabilized, membership dissipated. In May 1928, with membership at about 700,000, it gained seventy-three seats. In September 1930, after a turbulent Party split and in the wake of a united-front campaign with the NSDAP, the faction dropped to forty-one; it dwindled to thirty-seven in July 1932.
   In the Republic's early years the DNVP was torn by its volkisch policy. Although members might use anti-Semitism* to attract votes, not all supported it as Party policy; indeed, the DNVP had Jewish backing in Silesia and Pom-erania. The Party's first chairman, Oskar Hergt,* was regularly chided for being friendly with Jews.* It required the assassination* of Walther Rathenau* to generate the backlash needed to frustrate anti-Semitic efforts to control the Party. After an abortive bid in September 1922 to usurp control by forming the Racial Alliance (Deutschvolkische Arbeitsgemeinschaft, DVAG), most anti-Semites broke with the DNVP and founded the German Racial Freedom Party.* The DNVP thereupon replaced the DVAG with a racial committee (volkischer Reich-sausschuss).
   From 1924, with the DNVP emerging as the second-largest Party, issues of coalition politics and parliamentary tactics focused Party attention. Because it continued to reject the Constitution,* such tactics were inherently divisive. The dilemma was intensified when Paul von Hindenburg* was elected President. The Party struggled for five years (1924-1928) with the extent and methods of parliamentary cooperation. Foreign-policy* issues were especially inflammatory; the DNVP's approach to the Dawes Plan* epitomizes the problem. An Allied plan that appealed to business and industrial interests, Dawes was designed to help Germany recover from the war. But as part of the fulfillment policy,* it suggested acceptance of Versailles and was, accordingly, anathema to the DNVP. Divided between economics and politics, the faction split when Dawes was presented for Reichstag approval on 29 August 1924.
   The split over Dawes, which provoked Hergt's removal, signified a fissure between those prepared to contribute to the Republic as a loyal opposition and those implacably opposed to the "Weimar system." As the April 1924 death of Karl Helfferich* had removed the DNVP's most talented figure, leadership fell briefly to Friedrich Winckler, a prominent Lutheran; Martin Schiele,* an agrarian leader, became faction chairman. The tenure of both was short-lived; Kuno von Westarp,* an old Conservative and diehard monarchist, became fac-tion leader in 1925 and Party chairman in 1926. Despite reactionary credentials, he led the DNVP into coalition cabinets in January 1925 and January 1927— actions that alienated him from a radical opposition centered on Hugenberg. The five-year intra-Party conflict has been described as one between the "pri-macy of economics" and the "primacy of principles"—the former implying cooperation, the latter intransigence. After considerable infighting, Hugenberg discredited his opponents as too circumspect vis-a-vis the Republic. Elected chairman in October 1928 and ruling on the dictatorial basis of a Fuhrerprinzip, he led the DNVP until its demise. In the struggle between making the DNVP the voice of big business or retaining a commitment to middle-class, peasant, and large agrarian interests, he opted for the former. His heavy-handed methods, aimed at purging anyone who wished to work within the "system," prompted the fragmented withdrawal in December 1929 and July 1930 of the DNVP's "left wing"; among those lost were Westarp, Gottfried Treviranus,* and Schiele. Moreover, his radicalism fostered the "National Opposition," an alli-ance with the NSDAP focused on resisting the Young Plan.* Arrogant and short-sighted, Hugenberg believed that he could manipulate the NSDAP. But while it augmented the Nazis, the "National Opposition"—extended via the Harzburg Front*—subverted the leverage of the DNVP and accelerated the Republic's demise. To signify the end of parties, the DNVP changed its name in March 1933 to Deutschnationale Front; the Front dissolved on 27 June 1933.
   REFERENCES:Chanady, "Disintegration"; Grathwol, Stresemann and the DNVP; Hertzman, DNVP; Leopold, Alfred Hugenberg; Struve, Elites against Democracy; Walker, "German Nationalist People's Party."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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