National Socialist German Workers' Party

(National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP)
   Brainchild of the toolmaker Anton Drexler and the journalist Karl Harrer, the future NSDAP was formed on 5 January 1919 more as a club than as a political party. Based in Munich, it began as the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP). After the suppression of Munich's Raterepublik in May, such organizations were re-quired to register with the authorities. Hitler,* sent by the army in September to observe a Party meeting, quickly joined the group. Persuading its leadership to meet at the Hofbrauhaus, he soon assumed control of its propaganda appa-ratus. At Hitler's urging, Drexler adopted a twenty-five-point program in Feb-ruary 1920 (retained until 1945) that embraced the following: denunciation of the Versailles Treaty*; a resolution that all Germans be united in a Greater Reich; insistence that citizenship be based on race (Jews* being excluded); a commitment to nationalize business trusts; and dedication to improving the plight of small businessmen. To apply himself exclusively to the Party, Hitler resigned from the army in March 1920; the next month he appended the words "National Socialist" to its name and affirmed the swastika as its official em-blem. In December 1920 the Volkischer Beobachter* became the NSDAP's official newspaper.*
   Zealously nationalistic and anti-Semitic,* the NSDAP preached anti-Marxism, yet it called the German worker to a new socialism—a "German socialism." As Hitler intended, people attuned to parties representative of specific groups were at a loss in categorizing the NSDAP as a product of either the Right or the Left; indeed, it styled itself a Sammlungspartei (collective party) and was less "party" than "movement." Yet while it ultimately attracted broad support, the NSDAP remained a bastion of the lower middle class. With its authoritarian structure, the NSDAP was beholden to an all-powerful leader; indeed, Hitler's control steadily increased. Forcing a leadership crisis in 1921, he humiliated Drexler on 29 July and then assumed the Party's paramount position.
   Until 1924 the NSDAP focused less on political maneuvering than on militant activism. Inspired by Mussolini's March on Rome (October 1922), Hitler launched his abortive Beerhall Putsch* of November 1923; a fiasco, it provoked a temporary dissolution of the NSDAP (and a brief prison term for Hitler). In May 1924, during the Party's proscription, the Volkischer-Block (an alliance of anti-Semitic groups) won thirty-two Reichstag* seats. Although a National So-cialist Freedom Movement (NSFB) was formed in August 1924 by Erich Lu-dendorff* and Gregor Strasser,* petty internal recriminations (Julius Streicher,* Hermann Esser, and other Munich-based associates created the opposing Gross-deutsche Volksgemeinschaft) underscored Hitler's indispensability to the Nazi movement.
   Hitler's decision to join the political process marked a fundamental shift in Nazi practice. In February 1925, after his release from prison, he reestablished the NSDAP (no longer illegal), and the NSFB was dissolved. Ensuing months saw formation of the first SS (Schutzstaffeln) units, the growth of NSDAP in-fluence beyond Bavaria,* and the evolution of an intraparty challenge focused on the Strasser brothers and Joseph Goebbels.* Only in April 1926, with Goeb-bels's loyalty secured, did Hitler neutralize his opponents. He then formed a national command structure (Reichsleitung) that included a deputy Fuhrer (Gre-gor Strasser until 1932), a propaganda leader, a treasurer, and a press chief (Reichsleiter fur die Presse). As head of the Party organization, Strasser evolved a regional hierarchy that included thirty-four large regions (Gaue); these were subdivided into districts (Kreise), local groups (Ortsgruppen), cells (Zellen), and Blocks. A leadership corps extended from Gauleiter to Blockwarte (block guard-ians). In addition to the SA* (created in 1920) and the SS, the NSDAP's several organizations included the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth, attached to the SA in 1926).
   Although it claimed 70,000 members in the summer of 1927, the NSDAP gained only 2.6 percent of the vote and a paltry 12 Reichstag seats in the elec-tions of May 1928. Despite sophisticated organizational changes, both the de-pression* and a reorientation of propaganda from cities to countryside were necessary to propel the Nazis to prominence. Winning 18.3 percent of the votes in the September 1930 elections (second highest of any party), the NSDAP returned 107 deputies to the Reichstag; in the July 1932 elections it became the largest party with 37.4 percent of the vote and 230 mandates. Despite major losses in November 1932 (33.1 percent and 196 seats), the NSDAP tenuously preserved its leading position in the two months before Hitler's appointment. By January 1933 it had about 1 million members.
   The NSDAP's success was due less to its adherence to ideology than to clever propaganda and solid organization. Using the depression as a backdrop, it lev-eled scathing attacks on the "system parties," joined a conservative crusade against the Young Plan,* and gained financial backing from segments of heavy industry. By instituting perpetual campaigning, it made key inroads into Ger-many's rural districts, chiefly in the Protestant* north. Yet in the final months of 1932 its constituency began to unravel. Hitler's appointment probably sal-vaged the NSDAP. After January 1933 it became Germany's ruling party; from July 1933 it was the only party (the remainder being disbanded or outlawed), and in 1945 it had a recorded membership of 8.5 million.
   REFERENCES:Bessel, Political Violence; Bracher, German Dictatorship; Childers, For-mation of the Nazi Constituency; Merkl, Political Violence; Noakes, "Conflict and De-velopment"; Orlow, History of the Nazi Party; Phelps, "Hitler and the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei"; Stachura, "Political Strategy."

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

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