Alternative History
German National Party
Leader Oskar Hergt (1918–1924)
Kuno Graf von Westarp (1924–1928)
Alfred Hugenberg (1928–1933)
Adolf Hitler (1933–1951)
Founder Anton Drexler
Founded 1920 (1920)
Dissolved 1989 (1989)
Preceded by German Fatherland Party
Succeeded by None (banned)
Headquarters Munich, Germany
Newspaper Völkischer Beobachter
Youth wing Hitler Youth (HJ)
Mlitary wings Sturmabteilung (SA)
Schutzstaffel (SS)
Ideology Fascism
German nationalism
Political position Far-right
Colors Black, white, red (German Imperial colors); brown
Slogan "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" (unofficial)
Election symbol

The German National Party (German: Deutschnationale Partei, DNP) was a national-conservative party in Germany during the time of the German Empire. The party dominated German politics for most of the 20th century before and mostly following World War II ceased to exist after the coup d'état attempt in 1991.


On January 5, 1919 Anton Drexler formed a new political party from the crumbling Fatherland Party and proposed it be named the "German Socialist Worker's Party", but Karl Harrer (a journalist and member of the Thule Society), objected to the term "socialist"; the issue was settled by removing the term and the party was named the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP). To ease concerns among potential middle-class supporters, Drexler made clear that unlike Marxists, the party supported the middle-class, and that the party's socialist policy was meant to give social welfare to German citizens deemed worthy. They became one of many völkisch movements that existed in Germany at the time. Like other völkisch groups, the DNVP advocated the belief that through profit-sharing instead of socialisation Germany should become a unified "national community" (Volksgemeinschaft) rather than a society divided along class and party lines. This ideology was explicitly antisemitic. As early as 1920, the party was raising money by selling a tobacco called Anti-Semit.

From the outset, the DNVP was opposed to non-nationalist political movements, especially on the left, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the newly formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Members of the DNVP saw themselves as fighting against "Bolshevism" and anyone considered a part of or aiding so-called "international Jewry". The DNVP was a strong supporter and advocate of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. The DNVP did not attempt to make itself public, and meetings were kept in relative secrecy, with public speakers discussing what they thought of Germany's present state of affairs, or writing to like-minded societies in Northern Germany.

The DNVP attracted the attention of the German authorities, who were suspicious of any organisation that appeared to have subversive tendencies. In July 1919 while stationed in Munich, army Gefreiter Adolf Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of the Reichswehr (army) by the head of press and propaganda in the Bavarian section, Captain Mayr. Hitler's assignment was to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the DNVP. While attending a party meeting on September 12, 1919 Hitler became involved in a heated argument with a visitor, Professor Baumann, who questioned the soundness of Gottfried Feder's arguments against capitalism and proposed that Bavaria should break away from Prussia and found a new South German nation with Austria. In vehemently attacking the man's arguments, he made an impression on the other party members with his oratory skills and, according to Hitler, the "professor" left the hall acknowledging unequivocal defeat. According to August Kubizek, Drexler was so impressed that he whispered to a neighbour, "My he's got a gift of the gab. We could use him." Drexler invited him to join, and Hitler accepted. In less than a week, Hitler received a postcard from Drexler stating he had officially been accepted as a DNVP member. Among the party's earlier members were Ernst Röhm of the Army's District Command VII; well-to-do journalist Dietrich Eckart; then University of Munich student Rudolf Hess; Freikorps soldier Hans Frank; and Alfred Rosenberg, often credited as the philosopher of the movement. All were later prominent in the early nationalist regime. Hitler's first speech was held in the Hofbräukeller, where he spoke in front of 111 people as the second speaker of the evening. Hitler later declared that this was when he realised he could really "make a good speech". At first Hitler only spoke to relatively small groups, but his considerable oratory and propaganda skills were appreciated by the party leadership. With the support of Anton Drexler, Hitler became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920. Hitler began to make the party more public, and he organised their biggest meeting yet of 2,000 people, on February 24, 1920 in the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München. Such was the significance of this particular move in publicity that Harrer resigned from the party in disagreement. It was in this speech that Hitler, for the first time, enunciated the twenty-five points of the German National People's Party's manifesto that had been drawn up by Drexler, Feder, and Hitler. Through these points he gave the organisation a much bolder stratagem with a clear foreign policy (a Greater Germany, Eastern expansion, exclusion of Jews from citizenship), and among his specific points were: confiscation of war profits, abolition of unearned incomes, the State to share profits of land, and land for national needs to be taken away without compensation. In general, the manifesto was antisemitic, anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal. To increase its appeal to larger segments of the population, in February 1920 the DNVP changed its name to the Deutschnationale Partei (German National Party – DNP).

Hitler quickly became the party's most active orator. Hitler's considerable oratory and propaganda skills were appreciated by the party leadership as crowds began to flock to hear his speeches. Hitler always spoke about the same subjects: the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Jewish question. This deliberate technique and effective publicising of the party contributed significantly to his early success, about which a contemporary poster wrote 'Since Herr Hitler is a brilliant speaker, we can hold out the prospect of an extremely exciting evening'. Over the following months, the party continued to attract new members, while remaining too small to have any real significance in German politics.

Hitler's talent as an orator, and his ability to draw new members, combined with his characteristic ruthlessness, soon made him the dominant figure. However, while Hitler was on a fundraising trip to Berlin in June 1921, a mutiny broke out within the National Party in Munich. Members of its executive committee, some of whom considered Hitler to be too overbearing, wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on July 11 and angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised that his resignation would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. The committee agreed, and he rejoined the party on July 26 as member 3,680. He still faced some opposition within the DNP: Opponents of Hitler had Hermann Esser expelled from the party and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party. In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser, to thunderous applause.

Hitler was formally elected party chairman on July 28, 1921 with only one opposing vote. The committee was dissolved, and Hitler was granted nearly absolute powers as the party's sole leader. This was a post he would hold for the remainder of his life. Hitler soon acquired the title Führer ("leader") and, after a series of sharp internal conflicts, it was accepted that the party would be governed by the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). Under this principle, the party was a highly centralized entity that functioned strictly from the top down, with Hitler at the apex as the party's absolute leader. Hitler at this time saw the party as a revolutionary organization, whose aim was the overthrow of the democratic constitution, which he saw as controlled by the socialists, Jews and the "October criminals" who had tried to betray the German soldiers in 1918. The SA ("storm troopers", also known as "Brownshirts") were founded as a party militia in 1921, and began violent attacks on other parties.

In 1922, a party with remarkably similar policies and objectives came into power in Italy, the Republican Fascist Party under the leadership of the charismatic Benito Mussolini. The Fascists, like the Nationalists, promoted a national rebirth of their country; opposed communism and liberalism; appealed to the working-class; and advocated the territorial expansion of their country. The Italian Fascists used a straight-armed Roman salute and wore black-shirted uniforms. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini and the Fascists, borrowing their use of the straight-armed salute as a Nationalist salute. When the Fascists came to power in 1922 in Italy through their coup called the "March on Rome", Hitler began planning his own coup which would materialize one year later.

In January 1923, France failed to meet its reparations payments. This led to economic chaos, the resignation of Wilhelm Cuno's government, and an attempt by the German Communist Party (KPD) to stage a revolution. The reaction to these events was an upsurge of nationalist sentiment. National Party membership grew sharply, to about 20,000. By November, Hitler had decided that the time was right for an attempt to seize power in Munich, in the hope that the Reichswehr would mutiny against the Berlin government and join his revolt. In this he was influenced by former General Erich Ludendorff, who had become a supporter—though not a member—of the Nationalists.

On the night of November 8, the Nationalists used a patriotic rally in a Munich beer hall to launch an attempted putsch (coup d'état). This so-called Beer Hall Putsch attempt failed almost at once when the local Reichswehr commanders refused to support it. On the morning of November 9 the Nationalists staged a march of about 2,000 supporters through Munich in an attempt to rally support. Troops opened fire, and 16 Nationalists were killed. Hitler, Ludendorff and a number of others were arrested, and were tried for treason in March 1924. Hitler and his associates were given very lenient prison sentences. While Hitler was in prison, he wrote his semi-autobiographical political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle").

The National Party was banned, though with support of the nationalist Völkisch-Social Bloc (Völkisch-Sozialer Block), continued to operate under the name of the "German Party" (Deutsche Partei or DP) from 1924 to 1925. The Nationalists failed to remain unified in the German Party, as in the north, the right-wing Volkish nationalist supporters of the Nationalists moved to the new German Völkisch Freedom Party, leaving the north's left-wing Nationalist members, such as Joseph Göbbels retaining support for the party.

Rise to power: 1925–1933[]

Adolf Hitler was released in December 1924. In the following year he re-founded and reorganized the National Party, with himself as its undisputed Leader. The new National Party was no longer a paramilitary organization, and disavowed any intention of taking power by force. In any case, the economic and political situation had stabilized and the extremist upsurge of 1923 had faded, so there was no prospect of further revolutionary adventures. The National Party of 1925 was divided into the "Leadership Corps" (Korps der politischen Leiter), appointed by Hitler, and the general membership (Parteimitglieder). The party and the SA were kept separate, and the legal aspect of the party's work was emphasized. In a sign of this, the party began to admit women. The SA and the SS (founded in April 1925 as Hitler's bodyguard, commanded by Himmler) were described as "support groups", and all members of these groups had first to become regular party members.

The party's nominal Deputy Leader was Rudolf Hess, but he had no real power in the party. By the early 1930s the senior leaders of the party after Hitler were Himmler, Göbbels and Göring. Beneath the Leadership Corps were the party's regional leaders, the Gauleiters, each of whom commanded the party in his Gau ("region"). There were 98 Gaue for Germany and an additional seven for Austria, Joseph Göbbels began his ascent through the party hierarchy as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in 1926. Streicher was Gauleiter of Franconia, where he published his antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Beneath the Gauleiter were lower-level officials, the Kreisleiter ("county leaders"), Zellenleiter ("cell leaders") and Blockleiter ("block leaders"). This was a strictly hierarchical structure in which orders flowed from the top, and unquestioning loyalty was given to superiors. Only the SA retained some autonomy. Being composed largely of unemployed workers, many SA men took the National Party's socialist rhetoric seriously. At this time, the Hitler salute (borrowed from the Italian fascists) and the greeting "Heil Hitler!" were adopted throughout the party.

The Nationalists contested elections to the national parliament, the Reichstag, and to the state legislatures, the Landtags, from 1924, although at first with little success. The "National Freedom Movement" polled 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections, and this fell to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. Despite these poor results, and despite Germany's relative political stability and prosperity during the later 1920s, the National Party continued to grow. This was partly because Hitler, who had no administrative ability, left the party organization to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz and business manager Max Amann. The party had a capable propaganda head in Gregor Strasser, who was promoted to national organizational leader in January 1928. These men gave the party efficient recruitment and organizational structures. The party also owed its growth to the gradual fading away of competitor nationalist groups, such as the DKP. As Hitler became the recognized head of the German nationalists, other groups declined, or were absorbed.

The party expanded in the 1920s beyond its Bavarian base. Catholic Bavaria maintained its right-wing popularity for its Catholic monarch; and Westphalia, along with working-class "Red Berlin", were always the Nationalist's weakest areas electorally, and even during their time in power. The areas of strongest Nationalist support were in rural Protestant areas such as Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, West Prussia and East Prussia. Depressed working-class areas such as Thuringia also gave a strong Nationalist vote, while the workers of the Ruhr and Hamburg largely remained loyal to the SPD, the KPD, or the Catholic Centre Party. Nuremberg remained a party stronghold, and the first Nuremberg Rally was held there in 1927. These rallies soon became massive displays of Nationalist paramilitary power, and attracted many recruits. The Nationalist's strongest appeal was to the lower middle-class – farmers, public servants, teachers, small businessmen – who had suffered most from the inflation of the 1920s, so who feared Bolshevism more than anything else. The small business class were receptive to Hitler's antisemitism, since they blamed Jewish big business for their economic problems. University students, disappointed at being too young to have served in World War I and attracted by the Nationalist's radical rhetoric, also became a strong Nationalist constituency. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members.

Despite these strengths, the National Party might never have come to power had it not been for the Great Depression and its effects on Germany. By 1930 the German economy was beset with mass unemployment and widespread business failures. The SPD and KPD parties were bitterly divided and unable to formulate an effective solution: this gave the Nationalists their opportunity, and Hitler's message, blaming the crisis on the Jewish financiers and the Bolsheviks, resonated with wide sections of the electorate. At the September 1930 Reichstag elections the Nationalists won 18.3% of the vote, and became the second-largest party in the Reichstag after the SPD. Hitler proved to be a highly effective campaigner, pioneering the use of radio and aircraft for this purpose. His dismissal of Strasser and appointment of Göbbels as the party's propaganda chief was a major factor. While Strasser had used his position to promote his own leftist version of party ideals, Göbbels was totally loyal to Hitler, and worked only to burnish Hitler's image.

The 1930 elections changed the German political landscape by weakening the traditional nationalist parties, the DKP and the DVP, leaving the Nationalists as the chief alternative to the discredited SPD and the Zentrum, whose leader, Heinrich Brüning, headed a weak minority government. The inability of the democratic parties to form a united front, the self-imposed isolation of the KPD, and the continued decline of the economy, all played into Hitler's hands. He now came to be seen as de facto leader of the opposition, and donations poured into the National Party's coffers. Some major business figures such as Fritz Thyssen were Nationalist supporters and gave generously, and some Wall Street figures were allegedly involved, but many other businessmen were suspicious of the extreme nationalist tendencies of the National Party, and preferred to support the traditional conservative parties instead.

By 1932 the SA had 400,000 members, and its running street battles with the SPD and KPD paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nationalists were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler's appeal to a frightened and demoralised middle class was his promise to restore law and order. Overt antisemitism was played down in official Nationalist rhetoric, but was never far from the surface. Germans voted for Hitler primarily because of his promises to revive the economy (by unspecified means), to restore German greatness and to save Germany from communism.

On July 20, 1932 the Prussian government was ousted by a coup—the Preussenschlag, and a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nationalists made another leap forward, polling 37.4% and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nationalists and the KPD between them won 52% of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed the established political system, and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Comintern directives, the KPD maintained its policy of treating the SPD as the main enemy, calling them "social fascists", thereby splintering opposition to the Nationalists. Later, both the SPD and the KPD accused each other of having facilitated Hitler's rise to power by their unwillingness to compromise.

Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The electoral result was the same, with the Nationalists and the KPD winning 50% of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. But support for the Nationalists had fallen to 33.1%, suggesting that the Nationalist surge had passed its peak – possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest, but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nationalists interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher, and the nationalist press magnate Crown Prince Wilhelm spent December and January in political intrigues that eventually persuaded the aging Kaiser Wilhelm II it was safe to appoint Hitler Reich Chancellor at the head of a cabinet including only a minority of Nationalist ministers—which he did on January 30, 1933.

Ascension and consolidation[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1982-159-21A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, Hitler und Röhm

Reichsparteitag (Nuremberg Rally): NSDAP-leader Adolf Hitler and SA-leader Ernst Röhm, August 1933.

Hitler in Mein Kampf directly attacked both left-wing and right-wing politics in Germany. However, a majority of scholars identify the party in practice as being a far-right form of politics. When asked in an interview whether he and the Nationalists were "bourgeois right-wing" as alleged by their opponents, Hitler responded that the Nationaly Party was not exclusively for any class, and indicated that it favored neither the left nor the right, but preserved "pure" elements from both "camps", stating: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism".

The votes that the Nationalists received in the 1932 elections established the National Party as the largest parliamentary faction of the German government. Adolf Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.

The Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933 gave Hitler a raison d'état for suppressing his political opponents. The following day, February 28, he persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm II to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended most civil liberties. On March 23, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of the Reichstag. In effect, this gave Hitler dictatorial powers. Now possessing virtually absolute power, the Nationalists established totalitarian control; they abolished labor unions and political parties, and imprisoned their political opponents, first at wilde Lager, improvised camps, then in concentration camps. German fascism had been established, yet the Reichswehr remained impartial: National power over Germany remained virtual, not absolute.