In 1919 Adolf Hitler was recruited into the political department of the German Army in Munich. During his training he impressed the senior officers with his abilities as an orator. Hitler soon became an educational officer whose duties included lecturing soldiers returning from the war on the dangers of socialism, pacifism and democracy. The army considered this important work, as they feared that the Russian Revolution might spread to Germany.
Hitler was also asked to investigate the radical political organisations that had emerged in the city after the war. In September 1919, he was sent to spy on the German Workers' Party. Hitler reported back that it posed no threat as it was small in numbers (only 40 members) and was extremely hostile to communism. Under the orders of his commanding officer, Captain Karl Mayr, Hitler joined the German Workers' Party with instructions to use his talents to help it grow.
In his (Feder's) little book he described how his mind had thrown off the shackles of the Marxist and trades-union phraseology, and that he had come back to the nationalist ideals. The pamphlet secured my attention the moment I began to read, and I read it with interest to the end. The process here described was similar to that which I had experienced in my own case ten years previously. Unconsciously my own experiences began to stir again in my mind. During that day my thoughts returned several times to what I had read.
For Hitler, Feder's separation between stock exchange capital and the national economy offered the possibility of going into battle against the internationalization of the German economy without threatening the founding of an independent national economy by a fight against capital. Best of all, from Hitler's point of view, was the fact that he could identify international capitalism as wholly Jewish-controlled. Hitler became a member of the German Workers' Party and Feder became his friend and guide.
The programme (of the German National Socialist Workers' Party) was nationalist and anti-Semitic in character. All Germans (including those of Austria and the Sudetenland) were to be united in a Greater Germany. The treaties of Versailles and St Germain were to be abrogated. Jews were to be excluded from citizenship and office; those who had arrived since 1914 were to be expelled from Germany. At the same time the Party programme came out strongly against Capitalism, the trusts, the big industrialists, and the big landowners. All unearned income was to be abolished; all war profits to be confiscated; the State was to take over all trusts and share in the profits of large industries; the big department stores were to be communalized and rented to small trades people.
Hitler joined the German Workers' Party in September 1919 and quickly rose to become the party's chief propaganda officer... As a first step Hitler drafted and published the so-called Twenty-five Point Party Programme early in 1920 - a curious mixture of anti-capitalism, anti-socialism, anti-Semitism, corporatism and ultra-nationalism. At about the same time the party also changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) in line with Hitler's and Drexler's intention to win over the working class to some form of national corporatism.
1. We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people's right to self-determination.
2. We demand equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations; abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.
3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the sustenance of our people, and colonization for our surplus population.
4. Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.
5. Whoever has no citizenship is to be able to live in Germany only as a guest, and must be under the authority of legislation for foreigners.
6. The right to determine matters concerning administration and law belongs only to the citizen. Therefore we demand that every public office, of any sort whatsoever, whether in the Reich, the county or municipality, be filled only by citizens. We combat the corrupting parliamentary economy, office-holding only according to party inclinations without consideration of character or abilities.
7. We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations (non-citizens) are to be expelled from the Reich.
8. Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans, who have immigrated to Germany since 2 August 1914, be forced immediately to leave the Reich.
9. All citizens must have equal rights and obligations.
10. The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of the universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all. Consequently we demand:
11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of debt (interest)-slavery.
12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people, personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalisation of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.... At the same time we immediately ordered the corresponding armlets for our squad of men who kept order at meetings.... The new flag appeared in public in the midsummer of 1920. It suited our movement admirably, both being new and young. Not a soul had seen this flag before; its effect at the time was something akin to that of a blazing torch... The red expressed the social thought underlying the movement. White the national thought. And the swastika signified the mission allotted to us - the struggle for the victory of the Aryan mankind and at the same time the triumph of the ideal of creative work which is itself and will always will be anti-Semitic.
There is a secret world conspiracy, which while speaking much about humanity and tolerance, in reality wants only to harness the people to a new yoke... The leaders are big capitalists ... 300 big bankers, financiers and press barons, who are interconnected across the world, are the real dictators. They belong almost exclusively to the "chosen people"... Shake off your Jewish leaders, and those in the pay of Judas!... And one final point. Don't expect anything from Bolshevism. It does not bring the worker freedom.... In Russia the eight-hour day has been abolished. There are no more workers' councils. All cower under the dictatorship of a hundred government commissars, who are nine-tenths Jewish. Bolshevism is a Jewish swindle.
The organization lived from day to day financially, with no treasury to draw on for lecture-hall rents, printing costs, or the thousand-and-one expenses which threatened to swamp us. The only funds we could count on were small, merely a drop in the bucket.
The meeting, which was well attended, came to a premature end owing to an attack systematically planned by the National Socialists. National Socialist youths had early on taken the seats near the speakers' platform, and numerous National Socialists were distributed as well throughout the hall... Hitler's followers, bent on making it a National Socialist meeting, thereupon occupied the platform. But a large section of the meeting protested and demanded that Ballerstedt should speak. He had pushed his way through to the platform, but could not begin because the National Socialists were all the time shouting, "Hitler". Ballerstedt (leader of the Bavarian League) declared that anybody who tried to disturb the meeting would be charged with disturbing the peace. After this the young people on the platform, many of them hardly in their teens, surrounded him, beat him up and pushed him down the steps.
The most active political force in Bavaria at the present time is the National Socialist Labour Party... It has recently acquired a political influence quite disproportionate to its actual numerical strength... Adolf Hitler from the very first has been the dominating force in the movement, and the personality of this man has undoubtedly been one of the most important factors contributing to its success... His ability to influence a popular assembly is uncanny.
He (Hitler) had grown too powerful for the founders; they - Anton Drexler among them-wanted to limit him and press him to the wall. But it turned out that they were too late. He had the newspaper (Völkischer Beobachter) behind him, the backers, and the growing S.A. At a certain distance he had the Reichswehr (German Army) behind him too. To break all resistance for good, he left the party for three days, and the trembling members obediently chose him as the first, unlimited chairman, for practical purposes responsible to no one, in place of Anton Drexler, the modest founder, who had to content himself with the post of honorary chairman.
Questions for Students
Question 1: Read source 2. Why was Adolf Hitler impressed with Feder's pamphlet, My Political Awakening?
Question 2: Study the policies of the German Workers' Party (sources 3, 4, 5 and 7). Describe the type of people who would have joined the GWP.
Question 3: Describe how the policies of the GWP helps to explain the comments made in source 11.
Question 4: In source 8 Adolf Hitler explained how designed the GWP flag (source 1). What did Hitler mean by saying it "suited our movement admirably"?
Question 5: Study source 6. Explain why we know that the photograph was taken in the second-half of 1920?
Question 6: Use the information in source 9 to explain the meeting of source 10.
Question 7: Select passages from at least two different sources that help to explain why Hitler became leader of the German Workers' Party.
A commentary on these questions can be found here.