The German Workers' Union was conceived by Anton Drexler on the seventh of March, 1918. Drexler's union consisted of about forty members, most of whom were railwaymen, that were banded together by shared sentiments of fierce nationalism, anti-Semitism, and support for the war effort. Previous to the end of World War I, this small union carried the rather verbose title of the "Free Labor Committee for a Good Peace." At this time the organization adhered to a rather straightforward program-"Strikers, Bolsheviks, Jews, malingerers, and war profiteers were the enemy, and it was the duty of the workers to unite behind the war effort." (Payne, 135) However, after the disastrous conclusion to the war, Drexler's union, having changed its name to the "German Worker's Party," lacked any coherent program and was on the brink of collapse when Hitler inadvertently stepped into the picture.
When this happened the party ceased to be Drexler's partly; it became Hitler's. The German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) became the foundation of the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, commonly abbreviated as the NAZI party. Hitler's ability to transform this forty-member union into the dominant political force that it became gives us clear indication that he was an inherent leader and a master of propaganda. In fact, I believe, that without his introduction to the DAP, the Nazi party would probably never have been formed.
Hitler was assigned to attend his first DAP meeting on the twelfth of September, 1919 in order to investigate the party and its activities for the military. In the course of the meeting, Hitler became actively involved in one of the arguments. He refuted one person with such force that the man left "like a wet noodle" before Hitler was even finished speaking. However, Hitler's only purpose for that meeting was to attend and then write a report. For this reason he took one of Drexler's pamphlets which detailed much of the group's political philosophy. Here he found "in Drexler a prophet after his own heart." (Payne, 137) In one chapter, "The Jew and His Activity Before and During the World War," Drexler wrote:
There is a race-or perhaps we should call it a nation-which for over two thousand years has not possessed a state of its own, but has nevertheless spread over the entire earth. They are the Jews...They quickly conquered the money market, although they began in poverty, and were thereby made all the richer in vice, vermin and pestilence... Only one per cent of the total population is Jewish but for thousands of years the Jews, form the highest to the lowest, have grimly pursued the thought that this tiny people should never serve rulers but always govern them. Yet they are unable to form a state of their own. (Drexler, 29)
Drexler was equally impressed with Hitler, and immediately saw his potential. Thus, Drexler invited him to attend one of the executive committee meetings. Hitler did attend the meeting; however, he was not too impressed with the organization. "This was all frightful, frightful. This was the life of a little club at the lowest possible level. Was I to join an organization like this ?" (quot. by Payne, 138) Although he did eventually become the fifty-fifth member and the seventh committee member, "in a sense he [never did] really join the party, for when he became a card carrying member it was with the intention of destroying it and re-creating it in his own image." (Payne, 138)
Hitler's first step in developing the party was to take over the propaganda work. He had to advance the party's small gatherings from small to large scale. To begin, he arranged that their meetings take place in larger halls. Presently, they were held in obscure taverns like the Hofbrauhauskeller with an attendance of only about one hundred and fifty people. After his decision, they were moved to a much larger tavern named Zum Deutschen Reich. There, within four subsequent meetings, the attendance increased to over four hundred. Through these meetings Hitler established himself as a political figure and as a powerful voice of the people.
In his own words, Hitler said, "To be a leader means to be able to move masses." (Hitler, 474) Thus he took it upon himself "to not only move the masses, but to create a mass movement." (Jarman, 91) At the DAP meetings, he spoke so that one would feel like he was part of some vast and powerful movement. He was able to stir the crowds into such a fervor that they would agree to whatever he said, thereby making the gatherings an exercise of mass suggestion. He welcomed the occurrence of violence at the meetings, as when his bouncers (later to become the 'Brownshirts') crushed an adversary, the power of the party and the influence of the message were seemingly enhanced.
Hitler also put himself in control of making the posters and fliers that advertised the meetings. These showed a mastery of propaganda that was probably unsurpassed at that time. He used red paper as red catches a person's attention better than any other color. (Nor did he mind that the communists used the same color.) On it he wrote the information in various sizes of lettering, so that the largest letters shouted to the observer much like he might shout during a speech. As one historian wrote, "the art of propaganda was being studied by a master."
When he first became involved with the workings of the party it was still in need of a program. He quickly remedied this problem. He, Drexler, and another committee member Dietrich Eckart developed twenty-five points which detailed the party's new program. I say that all three cooperated on their development simply because there is much dispute as to all of their roles in drafting the program. Drexler consistently claimed that only he and Hitler wrote it, while later drafts can be seen to be grossly rewritten by Hitler with the help of Eckart. However, much of the program was largely influenced by Hitler which can be seen by the inclusion of the categorical imperative "We demand." (This was a characteristic of his speeches since his first. The other speakers would only say "we declare" or "we ask," etc.) Nevertheless, regardless of who wrote it, it was largely a work of Hitler's influence and philosophy. The program included such points as:
We demand the union of all Germans in a Great Germany on the basis of the principle of self-determination of all peoples.
Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.
All citizens must possess equal rights and duties.
We demand that all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished.
We demand profit-sharing in large industries.
We demand a generous increase in old-age pensions.
We demand that ruthless war be waged against those who work to the injury of the common welfare. Traitors, usurers, profiteers, etc., are to be punished with death, regardless of creed or race.
In order to carry out this program we demand: the creation of a strong central authority in the State, the unconditional authority by the political central parliament of the whole State and all its organizations.
Despite this grand program, in which many people's questions were answered, and which gave many a direction to work toward, "it never possessed the importance which it might have had in a party founded on reason and argument. The real driving force in the Party's development was... the personality of Hitler." (Jarmen, 90). The speech in which he delivered the program provides a good example. At this particular meeting there were about two thousand people present-the hall was filled to capacity. In these numbers, Hitler was pleased to see that there were a good number of communists, as that would mean that the gathering would be exciting. Even before he read the points, he had the audience in a frenzy. "The screaming and shouting were slowly drowned out by the applause." (Hitler, 405) He then began to read the program to a "people united by a new conviction, a new faith, a new will." During his speech he deliberately attacked the Berlin government, the Jews, and other parties, so that one police reporter present wrote, "Ungeheuer Tumult," translated, "Fearful Uproar." Two years later Hitler wrote in one article that he had felt as if "a wolf had been born, destined to hurl itself on the herds of seducers and deceivers of the people." (quot. by Payne, 148)
It was during the development of the party's twenty-five points that Hitler decided to change the name of the party to the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated NSDAP or Nazi. To symbolize the new party and the new program, Hitler himself designed a flag as an insignia of the movement. "Whipping in the wind, the swastika flag suggested streaming blood, black pistons in violent motion, sudden flares of energy." (Payne, 153) He discussed its development with some detail in his Mein Kampf.
As National Socialists we see our program in our flag. In the red we see the social idea of the movement, in the white the national idea, in the swastika the mission to struggle for the victory of Aryan man and at the same time the victory of the idea of creative work, which is eternally anti-Semitic and always will be anti-Semitic.
Hitler saw to it that this party development was also solely his own. "Even the measurements of the armbands and the exact proportions of the flag were dictated by him." (Payne, 153)
By this time, only a little more than one short year after his first meeting, the NSDAP had grown rapidly. By November of 1921, the meetings were normally held at the Krone Circus where crowds of more than six thousand were commonly in attendance. The number of card holding, or due paying, members had increased to three thousand, and the party published its own newspaper. Through all of this, Hitler could not have been called anything less than the party's dictator. This fact caused the older members of the party to feel increasingly isolated and without any significant role to play. (Jarmen, 92) Anton Drexler once approached Hitler to remind him to heed the advice of the executive committee. However, Hitler "totally disregarded him."
In response to the growing opposition of the older members, Hitler decided to demonstrate his power the simplest way-he simply left the area for a short while. The others found that no one else was capable of carrying on the workings of the party. When they begged him to return, Hitler made them sign "an instrument of surrender."
In view of your immense knowledge, the services you have rendered in the most honorable fashion and with rare self-sacrifice to the growth of the party, and your exceptional oratorical skills, the Committee is prepared to grant you dictatorial powers. If you should choose to return to the party, they will feel extremely honored if you will accept the post of First President, which Drexler has already offered you over a long period of time.
In addition to this document which assured the committee's subservience to Hitler, he decided to arrange for a meeting in which the whole party would decide on the matter. The result was obvious.
For another meeting shortly thereafter, Hitler invented a new term by which to describe himself. Presently he was called Unser Fuehrer-our leader; his new term dropped the Unser and in its place added Der, an article that removed the human ties represented by the former. "The invention of this word, like the invention of the swastika flag the previous year, must be included among Hitler's daemonic accomplishments." (Payne, 160)
Hitler had now secured all of the resources necessary to institute a major political institution. He had a party, a program, a symbol of the party, and Der Fuehrer to lead the party. All of these he achieved by his own accord. Since his first meeting, he was the force behind the party. He made all of the decisions and had confirmed that he did indeed have all of the power. Previous to his introduction to the party, the DAP was nothing more than a small club of beer-drinking fellows. After his admission and throughout his rise to power, he never had a serious rival to challenge his power. Anton Drexler, the party's founder, was only able to stand on the side, impotently watching his organization go under the control of another. The same was true for the other five members of the original committee. And although they (and some others) made some attempts to damage Hitler's influence, all proved to be feeble against his power. Thus, Adolf Hitler was almost solely responsible for creating the Nazi party, and in fact, was the only person capable of creating it. It was through his uniquely powerful charisma and his mastery of propaganda that he was capable of such a feat.
Drexler, Anton. Mein Politisches Erwachen. Munich: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1924.
Feder, Gottfried. Das Program der NSDAP und seine weltanschaulichen Grundgedanken. Munich: Verlag Frz. Eher, 1932.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. trans. by Ralph Mannheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942.
Jarman, T.L. The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany. New York: New York UP, 1956
Mason, Werner. Naissance du parti national-socialiste.
Paris: Fayard, 1967.
Payne, Robert. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Praeger, 1973.