National Socialism

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Adolf Hitler in 1927 as a speaker at the Third Reich Party Congress of the NSDAP (the first in Nuremberg ). Heinrich Himmler , Rudolf Hess , Franz Pfeffer von Salomon and Gregor Strasser can be seen in the background .

National Socialism is a radically anti-Semitic , racist , nationalist ( chauvinist ), folkish , social Darwinist , anti-communist , anti- liberal and anti-democratic ideology . It has its roots in the völkisch movement that developed around the beginning of the 1880s in the German Empire and in Austria-Hungary . From 1919, after World War I , it became a political movement in its own right in German-speaking countries.

The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), founded in 1920, came to power in Germany under Adolf Hitler on January 30, 1933 , transformed the Weimar Republic into the dictatorship of the Nazi state through terror , breaches of the law and the so-called " coordination " . This triggered World War II with the invasion of Poland in 1939 , during which the National Socialists and their collaborators committed numerous war crimes and mass murders , including the Holocaust of around six million European Jews and the Porajmos of the European Roma . The Nazi era ended with the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945.

Since then, dealing with the Nazi past has influenced politics. Nazi propaganda , the use of symbols from the time and political activity in the National Socialist sense have been banned in Germany and Austria since 1945. Similar bans exist in other states. Neo-Nazis and other right- wing extremists continue to represent National Socialist or related ideas and goals. In Nazi research , it is disputed whether National Socialism can be described with generalized terms such as fascism or totalitarianism or whether it was a singular phenomenon.


" National Socialism " has been used in German-speaking countries since around 1860 to describe the combination of nationalist and socialist ideas. The German Workers' Party , which was founded in Austria in 1903 and renamed itself the German National Socialist Workers' Party (DNSAP) in 1918 , first spoke of "National Socialism" . Accordingly, the German Workers' Party (DAP), founded in Germany in 1919, renamed itself NSDAP in 1920.

Labeled “National Socialism,” these new parties differentiated their ideology from the internationalism of the social democratic and communist parties and from the conservative nationalism of older parties, offering their constituency (working class and middle class) a better alternative. In addition, they placed individual anti-capitalist demands within the framework of a folkish-racist nationalism and presented themselves as a “movement” from 1920, not as a party, in order to reach protest voters and those disenchanted with politics.

Today the term mostly refers to the special ideology of Adolf Hitler and his followers. Hitler defined “nationalism” as the devotion of the individual to his national community ; he called their responsibility for the individual “socialism”. He firmly rejected the socialization of the means of production , a major goal of the socialists. According to the historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler , socialism in the NSDAP lived on only "in a corrupted form" as a people's community ideology.

In addition, the NSDAP differentiated its National Socialism from Italian fascism . However , since 1925 (starting from the Soviet Union ), fascism has often served as a generic term for “National Socialism” (“ Hitler fascism ”), Italian fascism and related anti-communist ideologies, regimes and systems. In Marxist theories of fascism , National Socialism is classified as a form of fascism. Non-Marxist researchers who explain National Socialism as a variety of fascism include Ernst Nolte , who characterized it as “radical fascism” in his work Der Fascismus in its epoch (1963) in contrast to Italian “normal fascism ”, or Wolfgang Benz , who described it as “radical fascism ”. Described in 2010 as the "most radical manifestation of fascist ideologies". Jörg Echternkamp argues that only the coordinate system developed by transnational fascism research allows a classification of National Socialism and a comparison with other movements. The affinity between them, affirmed by many academics, is shown less in the respective programs than in their activism and their immense willingness to use violence .

After 1945, National Socialism was referred to as totalitarianism , especially in the USA and the former Federal Republic of Germany , and under this umbrella term was parallelized with the ideology and system of government of Stalinism . Fascism and totalitarianism theories are controversially discussed in research. The historians Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann argue that subsuming Nazism under one of these theories misjudges its essence, the racial ideological program. According to French psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel and German social scientist Samuel Salzborn, applying the concept of fascism to Nazism rationalizes and thereby belittles the Holocaust. This subconsciously serves to suppress and ward off the guilt of the parents' or grandparents' generation. For these and other reasons, these researchers, as well as Karl Dietrich Bracher and Bernd Martin, advocate viewing National Socialism as an independent and singular phenomenon.

The terms “ Nazis ” for the National Socialists and “ Nazism ” for their ideology became common among their opponents in the labor movement from the 1920s onwards , and later also among the liberated prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp and in the GDR . Today's supporters of National Socialism are often called " neo-Nazis ".


swastika sketch from 1920 with the note: "The sacred symbols of the Germans . One of these signs should be raised up again by us.”

Since 1879, German anti-Semites had organized themselves into several political parties, many groups and associations. The anti-Semitic parties wanted to end and revise Jewish emancipation , but failed to achieve their goals. After voting losses in the Reichstag elections of 1912, new, non-partisan anti-Semitic organizations and associations such as the formed reichshammerbund of Theodor Fritsch , the " Association against the arrogance of the Jews " and the secret German Order , from the 1918 Munich Thule Society emerged. Their magazine, the Munich Observer with the swastika as the title symbol, became the party organ of the NSDAP, the Völkischer Beobachter .

Another forerunner of National Socialism was the small, extremely nationalist and imperialist non-partisan Pan-German Association (established in 1891). He strove for a warlike expansion of the German " Lebensraum " and subjugation policy. During the First World War, his strong anti-Semitic propaganda reached the state count of Jews in 1916. After 1918 he called for a "national dictatorship" against "foreign nationals".

In 1914, the German National Association of Clerks was founded , and two older anti-Semitic parties united as the German National Party (DVP). In the course of the war, this united with the Pan-German Association. On his initiative, groups that had been dissolved towards the end of the war combined with newly founded ethnic groups such as the German-Austrian Protection Association Anti-Semites League , the German National Civil Service Association and the League of National Women to form the German National Protection and Trutz League . In 1920 it had around 200,000 members in 600 local groups, but was banned after the Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch in 1923. After the NSDAP was re-admitted, it lost influence over it and was completely dissolved in 1933.

In addition, since the October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War , many anti-communist groups have spread, among other things through Russian refugees. Under the propaganda slogan " Jewish Bolshevism " put national conservative elites and formed from front-line soldiers volunteer corps Jews and communists alike. They often also advocated the conspiracy theory of an alleged world-dominating world Jewry . Among them was the " Economic Development Association " founded in Munich in 1920 . This supported the NSDAP financially and ideologically.

In National Socialism, these currents and groups merged their racist, nationalist-“pan-German” and imperialist ideas and goals. The strongest supporting link of their diverse ideas was anti-Semitism. Since the November Revolution of 1918, this has also manifested itself as a radical rejection of the Weimar Republic , which these groups denounced as the “Jewish Republic” created by November criminals. The Völkische defined their world view as a strict antithesis to the Marxism of the left parties, the political Catholicism of the Center Party and their fiction of a "world Jewry". Parts of the völkisch movement already represented ideas of "human breeding" ( eugenics ).


25-point program

As a collective movement of völkisch, racist and revisionist groups, National Socialism initially did not form a consistent ideology. Hans Frank therefore later declared in the Nuremberg trials that there had been "as many National Socialisms as National Socialists". The party was held together by the person of Hitler, who, as a charismaticFuhrer ”, held the monopoly on interpreting what National Socialism meant: “Our program is called Hitler” was a National Socialist slogan.

The program was laid down in writing in the 25-point program adopted when the NSDAP was founded in 1920.

Foreign policy goals came first. From the "union of all Germans ... to a Greater Germany" with reference to the right of self-determination of the peoples , point 2 derived the repeal of the Versailles Peace Treaty , point 3 "Land and soil ( colonies ) to feed our people and settle our surplus population". This was followed by domestic political demands for the exclusion of certain parts of the population through racist alien legislation:

"Only one can be a citizen who is a member of the people . Only one who is of German blood can be a national comrade, regardless of religion . Therefore, no Jew can be a member of the people.”

Point 6 concluded from this the exclusion of Jews from all state and party offices, point 8 a ban on immigration and immediate forced expulsion of all persons defined as “non-Germans” who had immigrated since August 2, 1914.

The guiding principle of the racial community was thus formulated in an expansive manner on the outside and on the inside as a disenfranchisement of a part of the Germans. This was followed in points 9-17 by some striking and resentful economic and social policy demands, which were intended to show the party's claim to represent the interests of German workers:

  • general work obligation
  • "Abolition of work and effortless income"
  • " Breaking the Interest Servitude "
  • "Confiscation of all war profits"
  • "Nationalization of all (so far) already socialized (trust) companies"
  • "Profit sharing in large companies"
  • "Expansion of pension schemes"
  • "Creation of a healthy middle class and its preservation"
  • “Communalization of the large department stores and letting them at cheap prices to small traders”
  • "a gratuitous expropriation of land for charitable purposes"
  • "Abolition of land interest and prevention of all land speculation".

Point 18 called for the death penalty for "common people's criminals, usurers, profiteers, etc. without regard to religion and race": again a clear reference to the intended target group, the Jews. Point 19 called for the replacement of an allegedly "materialistic" Roman law with a "German common law".

The idea of ​​a unity of people and state was followed by demands for state expansion of popular education (20), "improvement of public health" through "physical training" (21), formation of a "people's army" (22). The desired abolition of press freedom and the introduction of press censorship was disguised as a "legal fight against deliberate political lies and their dissemination" (23). Since only “national comrades” should be newspaper editors and publishers, an anti-Semitic impulse was also evident here: the topos of the “Jewish world press” had long been common among anti-Semites. At the same time, art and culture were to be "cleansed" of the "corrosive influence on our national life": This was the basis of Nazi cultural policy, especially the action against so-called " degenerate art ".

In apparent contradiction to this, point 24 affirmed freedom of religion “in the state”, but only “insofar as it does not endanger its existence or offend against the sense of morality and morality of the Germanic race.” With the commitment to a “ positive Christianity ” without ties to a specific denomination , but in a unified position against a "Jewish-materialistic spirit in and outside of us" was mentioned as a prerequisite for the later church struggle.

The program culminated in the slogan "public interest before self-interest" and the demand for a " strong central power of the Reich " whose "framework laws" issued with "unconditional authority" were to be implemented by newly formed estates and professional chambers in the federal states. This was already a hint of the later policy of bringing the system into line with federal institutions. The party leaders would advocate for the implementation of the program "if necessary at the risk of their own lives".

Darré at a rally, December 1937

While the main foreign and domestic policy demands in points 1-8 were formulated precisely and concretely and were in fact largely implemented by the state from 1933, many of the economic and cultural-political demands in points 9-20 remained vague (11), unclear (13) and bizarre or practically impossible (e.g. the "confiscation of all war profits" in point 14). These ambiguities led to a sometimes violent internal ideological debate and various economic programs. Otto Wagener, for example, demanded the support of the middle class, Richard Walther Darré that of the farmers, and Gottfried Feder demanded the "breaking of interest slavery" that he had invented. Later, as party leader, Hitler partially accommodated this dispute by revising, reducing or ignoring some of the program requirements. In 1928 he reduced the announced land reform to expropriation of "Jewish" land speculation companies. However, he left it open how the “interest slavery” was to be broken. After fierce arguments about " socialism " in National Socialism, the 25-point program was declared "unchangeable" at the Bamberg Leaders' Conference in 1926, and there was no specification or commitment to a specific interpretation.

In an interview with a Catalan journalist in November 1923, Hitler explained why the NSDAP campaigned for the removal of Jews from Germany: Killing them without exception "would of course be the best solution". However, since this is not possible due to the expected reaction from abroad, the only solution is mass expulsion.

my fight

In Mein Kampf , Hitler reaffirmed the foreign and population policy goals of the NSDAP program, above all the annexation of Austria to what was now the Greater German Reich . In contrast to the German Empire, which tried to compete with the British Empire as a colonial power in Africa and Far Asia, Hitler did not want to gain living space in Western Europe and overseas, but in Eastern Europe . In doing so, he likely aligned himself with the geopolitical theories of Rudolf Kjellén , Halford Mackinder, and Karl Haushofer , who saw conquering and dominating the landmass of “Eurasia” as the key to world domination. The medieval myth of some knights of a German "Drang nach Osten" was behind this idea.

Hitler was thinking of "Russia and the border states subject to him". In order to conquer it, he first wanted to revise the Versailles Treaty, then isolate France with the help of an alliance with Great Britain and Italy , and later destroy it entirely. With this he revised point 3 of the NSDAP program: conquering colonies would provoke protests in England. Germany would have to guarantee its colonial power, then the British would let it do so on the continent. Poland did not mention Hitler here, and the USA and Japan were only mentioned marginally. These priorities were new to the preferences of imperial imperialists.

An "information poster" from the Miracles of Life exhibition , March 1935 in Berlin

Hitler only had five pages of comments on economic policy in Mein Kampf . On the other hand, he broadly elaborated on the point of public health, clearly emphasizing the racism of the Nazi ideology, which also supported economic and cultural-political ideas. His two fundamental ideas, which are inextricably linked, were

  • the thesis of higher and lower races fighting each other;
  • the thesis that "racial mixing" is harmful to the higher race, inevitably weakens it and dissolves it in the long term.

These tenets of ideology had established social Darwinists , eugenicists, and racial theorists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Francis Galton , Ernst Haeckel , Alfred Ploetz, and Wilhelm Schallmayer . The only new thing was that “ racial hygiene ” was made a comprehensive political program for the first time. Hitler saw the "preservation of the species" as the main task of the state and concluded that it had to consistently protect the "unmixed stocks of Nordic-Germanic people" in the German people and thus "slowly but surely lead them to a dominant position". The strong leader state must promote “the victory of the better, the stronger” and the subordination of the “worse and the weaker”. In concrete terms, this meant forced sterilization of those classified as “disabled” and “hereditary diseases” and at the same time child benefit, cheap housing and material benefits for “German families”. The “bearers of the highest racial purity” were to receive a “settlement certificate” and be settled in “fringe colonies” that were still to be conquered. At the end, Hitler once again emphasized his objective:

"A state devoted to cultivating its best racial elements in the age of racial poisoning must someday become lord of the earth."

The antithesis to this vision was “world Jewry”, which was portrayed in Hitler’s conspiracy theory as the originator of all negative contemporary phenomena, such as the First World War, its defeat, the November Revolution and inflation. In doing so, he identified Judaism both with “ financial capital ” in the USA and with its global opponent, “ Bolshevism ”. Apparently contradicting this global supremacy, Hitler emphasized the absolute inferiority and inferior dependence of the Jews on their Aryanhost peoples ” and described them as parasites, parasites , bacilli, leeches, fungi, rats, etc. In all its manifestations, Judaism strives for “disintegration ", "bastardization" and "blood poisoning" of the German people: for example through prostitution , spread of venereal diseases, seduction of unsuspecting Aryan girls. Propagating this pornographic image became the main task of the hate newspaper Der Stürmer , founded especially for this purpose, by the Gauleiter of Franconia, Julius Streicher .

Auschwitz-Birkenau mass extermination camp

In the second volume of Mein Kampf , Hitler also openly expressed the idea of ​​a representative, preventive extermination of the Jews:

"If at the beginning of the war and during the war twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew people's corrupters had been kept under poison gas like hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers from all walks of life and professions had to endure in the field, then the millions of victims at the front would not have been in vain. On the contrary: Twelve thousand villains eliminated at the right time might have saved the lives of a million decent Germans who would be valuable for the future.”

To carry out this task in the future, Hitler saw himself destined by “ Providence ” – as he called God :

"In defending myself against the Jew, I fulfill the work of the Lord."

For this reason, the historian Saul Friedländer speaks of a special “salvation anti-Semitism” that goes beyond traditional Christian, but also ethnic and social Darwinist anti-Semitism when looking at the National Socialist movement and its immediate predecessors.

Leader cult and leader state

Eger receiving Hitler, Sudeten Germany , October 1938

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been strong tendencies towards authoritarian, anti-democratic political concepts in all European countries , the acceptance of which after 1918 was also fed by disappointment with pluralistic democracy and mass misery. The veneration of the ruler in a monarchy , based on the idea of divine right , could already be seen as a “leader cult” . The First World War disappointed the image of the heroic emperor , but intensified the longing for the heroic leader among nationalists . Emerging fascism made this a party-political concept: first with the Duce Benito Mussolini in Italy, then with the Caudillo General Franco in Spain , but also in the cult of “Dad” Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Unlike in Italy, the personality cult surrounding the “Führer” began ten years before the “ seizure of power ” after the Hitler putsch of 1923, from the failure of which Hitler concluded that the NSDAP must be a tightly run Führer party and that he himself was responsible for Germany’s “rescue”. may be. This was met by the expectations of the party base of him. The German leader cult thus went hand in hand with the development of the NSDAP into a mass party and served its integration, clout and expansion. In 1933, it was not grafted onto an existing centralized military dictatorship to secure it, as was the case in Spain or Russia, but instead became the organizational principle of a leader state created by synchronizing all existing administrative and governmental institutions without replacement. After the death of Reich President von Hindenburg , Hitler also became Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht on August 2, 1934 as Führer and Reich Chancellor ; since 1938 the government cabinet has not met.

Unlike in the Soviet Union, which continued to exist until 1991 after Stalin's death in 1953, the principle of the "charismatic leader personality" ( Max Weber ), who directed and oriented the rival forces in state and party through her "will" , undermined the independent functioning of the bureaucracy in Germany. The state, which had been directly governed for a long time with Führer decrees and ordinances, was only able to survive the defeat in the war and Hitler's death for a very short time. According to Ian Kershaw , the German Nazi state stood and fell with the person of the "Führer".

The Vichy regime (1940–1944) in southern France was also a “leader state”; its leader was Philippe Pétain .

Further characteristics and developments of the NS ideology

"Lichtdom", staging at the Nazi party rally in 1936

Other main characteristics of National Socialism were:

  • the central role of Nazi propaganda and mass staging as a means of ruling and securing it internally and externally.
  • Totalitarianism : Destruction of democracy , one-party rule, abolition of the separation of powers , instrumentalization of all political control bodies and media, far-reaching powers for secret services and informers , police state
  • Militarism and imperialism: Already during the rise of the NSDAP, weapons depots were set up, armed gangs were trained, and they used street violence to intimidate political opponents. During the years of the Weimar Republic, National Socialist propaganda initially focused on the revisionist demand for the reacquisition of the territories lost as a result of German defeat in the war and thus for the Treaty of Versailles to be abolished or breached . This was defamed as a "disgrace of Versailles" or "Versailles disgraceful diktat". From 1933 onward rearmament was pursued, first secretly, then openly, and the contractual ties to the League of Nations and international law were first circumvented and then broken. As soon as the Wehrmacht was strong enough, Hitler planned targeted wars of aggression to restore and expand a Greater Germany built on the development of military power. One country after the other was to be isolated and defeated one by one. According to most historians, the ultimate goal was the conquest of the continental mainland, the Soviet Union up to the Arkhangelsk-Ural Mountains-Caucasus line and the colonization of these areas by the Germans. Other researchers believe that they have evidence that Hitler was striving for (utopian) world domination . The rule over the occupied territories should be strengthened by expelling undesirable population groups.
  • The blood and soil ideology , the glorification of the peasantry (the "nourishing estate"). Some National Socialists rejected urbanization and increasing industrialization and nostalgically longed for a country that was tilled by farmers as it had always been. Even Heinrich Himmler had such thoughts when he proposed to settle the conquered territories of the Soviet Union with farmers who should be both soldiers ( "wehrbauer"). Russians, Ukrainians and Poles were to provide the farm workers, domestic staff, construction workers or unskilled workers.
    Hunger plan : Starving Soviet prisoners of war in the Mauthausen concentration camp
  • The propagation of the master race or the master people that have the right to oppress, expel or destroy other "inferior peoples".
  • Male rule and the cult of masculinity, i.e. the propagation of values ​​such as bravery and soldierly hardness. "Feminine values" are denounced in men as cowardice , disease and "undermining of military power".
  • Conspiracy Theory : The delusional idea that international Jewry conspired to achieve world domination is considered by various historians to be at the heart of Nazism. This conspiracy theory already comes to light in a conversation with Hitler published by Dietrich Eckart in 1924 , in which an unbroken continuity of the alleged Jewish machinations from the second millennium BC is claimed. In the imagery of National Socialist propaganda, for example in the election posters before 1933 or in the caricatures of Der Stuermer , “the” Jew was regularly depicted in conspiracy theory metaphors such as the mastermind behind the scenes of world events or the world-encompassing octopus or spider. And during the war against the Soviet Union , the Wehrmacht justified the implementation of criminal orders such as the commissar order or the decree of court-martial with the conspiracy theory thesis of Jewish Bolshevism : behind the Soviet system is actually Jewry. On November 20, 1941 , General von Manstein instructed his troops to “understand” the “hard atonement of Judaism”:

“Judaism forms the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remnants of the Red Army and the Red Leadership who are still fighting […]. The Jewish-Bolshevik system must be eradicated once and for all.”

capitalism and anti-capitalism

The question of whether National Socialism was capitalist or socialist has always been at the center of the academic debate on the character of National Socialist economic ideology.

In 1939, before the start of the war, the German sociologist Max Horkheimer took the position that anyone who does not want to talk about capitalism should keep silent about fascism. In a book published in 2011, the Marxist historian Manfred Weißbecker describes the name NSDAP as pure demagogy , since the party was in fact neither national nor socialist, but fascist.

In contrast, the Austrian-American economist Ludwig von Mises attested to the fascist economic program in 1927 as anti-liberal and interventionist, albeit not as extensively as Bolshevism .

The economic policy orientation of National Socialism is examined at various levels:

  • as a question about the financial sources of the NSDAP and the circles that brought Hitler to power,
  • as a question of the importance of anti-capitalist elements for the ideology of the National Socialists,
  • as a question of the actual economic policy of the Nazi regime 1933-1945.

Financial sources of the NSDAP

Marxists see the donation practices of German industrialists such as Fritz Thyssen and Emil Kirdorf and the industrial petition of November 1932, which called on Reich President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor, mostly as evidence of the responsibility of big industry for the transfer of power to Hitler. The GDR historian Eberhard Czichon therefore said that a "Nazi group" of German "industrialists, bankers and large farmers wanted and organized Hitler's chancellorship".

His West German colleague Reinhard Neebe , on the other hand, emphasized that most German entrepreneurs and their umbrella organization, the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie , did not support Hitler but rather the previous governments of Heinrich Brüning , Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher . The US historian Henry Ashby Turner substantiated this view with studies according to which the NSDAP did not obtain its financial resources primarily from industrial donations, but from membership fees and entrance fees. Big industry has always given her far less money than her competitors DNVP , DVP and Zentrum . She only wanted to protect herself in the event of a Nazi seizure of power. The large companies are therefore hardly considered to be the main cause of the rise of the National Socialists and Hitler's takeover of power in 1932-1934.

Anti-capitalism in Nazi ideology

There were anti-capitalist elements in the ideology of the National Socialists, most of which were anti -Semitic . It is disputed how these elements are to be classified within the framework of Nazi propaganda, especially after the elimination of the Strasser wing within the NSDAP.

The party 's 25-point program of 1920, which Hitler declared "unchangeable" until 1926, contained several anti-capitalist demands such as breaking interest-bondage , nationalizing trusts , and profit-sharing in large enterprises. Initially, leading National Socialists such as Joseph Goebbels , Gregor Strasser and his brother Otto , who left the party with his followers in 1930, regularly used socialist elements in their speeches. Hitler himself had clearly committed himself to private property , but in National Socialist practice there were numerous expropriations of private property, e.g. B. in the course of the so-called “ Aryanization ”. The main victims of expropriation were Jews, but also non-Jewish emigrants and politically undesirables.

Albrecht Ritschl refers to the gradual elimination of the socialist wing of the party between 1930 and 1934 and interprets the anti-capitalist tones as anti-Semitism in disguise. The close connection between anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism in National Socialist propaganda can be seen, for example, in the motion that the chairman of the NSDAP parliamentary group made in the Reichstag on October 18, 1930. In it he called for the expropriation of the entire property of the "bank and stock exchange princes, the Eastern Jews who had moved here since August 1, 1914, and other people of foreign origin [...] for the good of the German people as a whole."

In 1931, at the height of the Great Depression , the NSDAP called for government job-creation programs to recruit workers to become NSDAP voters. In May 1933, the Nazi regime smashed the organized workers' movement in the form of left-wing parties and trade unions. The NSDAP saw Marxist and communist groups as the main enemy domestically, just as Bolshevism was the main enemy abroad.

The alternative, "national socialism", was defined as a " people's community ". This was understood as a "unity of people and state" under the uniform Nazi ideology and a " strong state " steered by a "leader". The classification of all citizens in the obligation to work and the racially defined national interests left open whether the conditions of production should be overturned: this keyword was missing in the 25-point program. Conceived as a counter-concept to the central idea of ​​the international classless society in Marxism, but also to the plural and parliamentary social democracy protecting individual freedoms , it distinguished the NSDAP from the programs of all socialist parties at the time.

For Joachim Fest , neither a humanitarian impetus nor the need for a new design of society were noticeable in Hitler's concept of socialism. For reasons of tactical power, Hitler took advantage of the mood value of a popular word and demoted the term to a mere token.

Relationship to private property and the principle of competition

In his book on the structure and practice of National Socialism Behemoth from 1942/1944, the political scientist Franz L. Neumann , who emigrated to the USA, stated that the National Socialist apparatus of rule had not detached itself from the basis of the private capitalist mode of production, but had brought about a “totalitarian monopoly capitalism ”.

Marxist historian Dietrich Eichholtz believed it was impossible for the Nazi state to intervene in the ownership structure . As an example, he cites Albert Speer ’s plans to nationalize the electricity industry : On May 6, 1942, as Henry Picker noted after a joint table discussion, Speer initially received Hitler’s approval for his plan “to combine the electricity industry in one Reich company (such as the Reichsbahn)”. . On July 26, 1942, Hitler then suddenly turned against “state socialism” with a “centralist tendency” in the energy industry and refused his approval.

Hitler's commitment to private property was private in 1919 and public in 1926 at the Hamburg National Club. The Berlin economic historian Albrecht Ritschl draws attention to statements made by Hitler in March 1942 in the circle of his adjutants, that is, without being forced to conceal his true views. Hitler fundamentally opposed “anonymous private ownership of shares . Without doing anything themselves, the shareholders receive more dividends if the employees of the joint stock company are hardworking instead of lazy or if a brilliant engineer is at the head of the company. Accordingly, the frequent rejection of a "reaching" in contrast to the praiseworthy "creative capitalism" was meant by him seriously.

On June 26, 1944, Hitler and Albert Speer in speeches before important people from the armaments industry, including u. Walter Rohland , on the Obersalzberg "self-responsibility" and announced a great epoch for the "private initiative of the German economy" for the time after the victory.

The former NSDAP politician and conservative-bourgeois fascism theorist Hermann Rauschning attested to Hitler's purely "real-political attitude" on economic issues, which "tried to free himself from all doctrines". After Rauschning, Hitler consistently subordinated the economy to overriding political goals, so he did not pursue any fundamental ideas about order in this area, but only flexibly adaptable goals.

Henry A. Turner concludes that Hitler endorsed the "liberal principle of competition" and private property, if only "because he could distort them into his social Darwinist view of economic life."

Avraham Barkai contradicts this thesis and sees Hitler's extreme anti-liberalism and a fundamental rejection of the laissez-faire principle. An incomplete quote from Turner in the following sentences points to an attitude that is incompatible with the liberal principle of competition. In 1984, Hermann Rauschning , cited by Turner among other things as evidence, was so badly shaken in his credibility as a contemporary witness that Kershaw declared that the "Conversations with Hitler" were "a work that is given so little authenticity today that it is better to disregard it altogether pay attention".

According to Jörn Axel Kämmerer , Hitler rejected the privatization efforts of the 1920s and instead advocated the nationalization of the large corporations, the energy industry and other branches of the economy. Existing industrial companies were not nationalized, but Reich-owned companies (e.g. Reichswerke Hermann Göring ) were founded. Some of these company foundations and the decisions taken by the National Socialists in commercial law still have an impact today.

relation to ordoliberalism

For the economist Ralf Ptak , "the diverse publication opportunities for ordoliberal authors during this period indicate National Socialist toleration of the ordoliberal project". The economist Nils Goldschmidt disagrees with Ptak's conclusion and publishes Nationalökonomie – why? (1938) by Walter Eucken as an example of a publication ban. Furthermore, Goldschmidt points to ordoliberal resistance against National Socialism , such as by the Freiburg circles .

Hauke ​​Janssen writes that "above all the people of Freiburg" resisted the interventionist and central administration tendencies of National Socialism.

Egalitarian principles and relationship to socialism

Friedrich August von Hayek emphasizes that National Socialism and Soviet Communism were similar in their dictatorial and anti-liberal features. For Hayek, socialism and National Socialism show the same totalitarian tendencies in order to pursue their - quite different - goals. Since they use central planning, both are variants of collectivism, the momentum of which leads to the destruction of prosperity, democracy and the rule of law.

Rainer Zitelmann sees Hitler as a “ revolutionary ” who sincerely wanted to improve the chances of advancement for the workers, insofar as they corresponded to his racial ideas. He was not concerned "with enabling the best possible development of the individual, but with optimizing the benefits for the German national community ". In relation to the economy, he strived for a “ primacy of politics ”, which “came to revolutionizing the relationship between politics and the economy”. Hitler wanted to replace the capitalist economic system with a mixed economic order in which market and planned economy elements were combined to form a new synthesis. The "social revolution" triggered by National Socialism should be taken seriously. Wolfgang Wippermann and Michael Burleigh indirectly objected to this thesis, saying that it unduly downplayed the racist and thus reactionary character of the Nazi regime.

According to Joachim Fest , "the discussion about the political location of National Socialism has never been thoroughly conducted". Instead, "numerous attempts were made to deny any relationship between the Hitler movement and socialism." Hitler did not nationalize any means of production, but "promoted social conformity no differently than socialists of all shades."

According to Götz Aly , too, the Nazi regime, which he describes as a “comfortable dictatorship”, tried to implement egalitarian principles through social welfare. The program of the NSDAP was based on two ideas of equality that could be combined with anti-Semitism: One of the basic ideas was that of ethnic homogeneity, and on the other hand they promised more social equality as “national socialists”. More recent work primarily identifies the Reich Labor Service , the Hitler Youth , and the military as areas where actual attempts were made to turn this promise into action. In contrast to Marxism, however, this egalitarian claim did not relate to the entire population, but was limited to “the ethnically defined large collective German people”.

economic policy of the Nazi regime

It is disputed to what extent the economic policy practical measures of the Nazi regime corresponded to a National Socialist economic policy model or were simply "due to the pragmatic requirements of the regime's armament and war policy" (cf. also War Economy ). After Willi Albers, due to the experience of the First World War and the failure of a liberal war economy policy attempted in individual countries at the beginning of the Second World War, all countries involved in the Second World War resorted to dirigiste measures. Markus Albert Diehl points out that, in the face of massive economic problems, government measures were taken as early as the Weimar Republic , e.g. For example, foreign exchange was managed.

Overall, the findings are contradictory in view of the economic policy actually practiced from 1933 to 1945. On the one hand, the re- privatization of the major banks that were de facto nationalized during the 1931 banking crisis speaks for a pro-capitalist attitude on the part of the government. On the other hand, i.a. After Avraham Barkai , Timothy Mason and Dietmar Petzina , the dirigiste interventions in the economy under Hjalmar Schacht 's " New Plan " (1934), under the Four-Year Plan (1936) and finally the wartime economy under Minister of Armament Albert Speer (from 1942), little was left of free enterprise. In accordance with the economic goal of self- sufficiency , the free market economy in agriculture was practically abolished in 1933 with the Reichsnahrungstand , although in the 1930s planned economy policy was also spreading in other European countries in agriculture. As part of the rearmament of the Wehrmacht , the price mechanism was replaced by rationing for numerous products . This affected, for example, steel, foreign exchange, capital transactions and the labor market .

The historian Klaus Hildebrand summarizes the state of research in Oldenbourg as follows: “Although the companies remained in the private hands of the entrepreneurs, there is no doubt that the financial returns from the armaments boom also increased. However, the principle of end-means rationality, which is binding for a capitalist economy , was increasingly overridden by the orders of Hermann Göring under the spell of armament requirements and the principle of self-sufficiency.” After Adam Tooze , the big banks never had less influence in German history than between 1933 and 1945, the influence of big industry ( big business ) was already weakened in relation to the state during the global economic crisis of 1929, especially under National Socialism; Nevertheless, private industry retained a power base because the National Socialist regime remained dependent on it for its goals, especially armaments for war.

Dietmar Petzina puts it this way: "The NS system eludes clear assignment to the regulatory categories of central administration economy and market economy. " however, were severely restricted". According to Adam Tooze, foreign capital in Germany (e.g. Opel , Ford , shares in IG Farben ) was not expropriated. However, due to capital controls, a withdrawal of capital was only possible with large losses, so that foreign capital was forced to reinvest its profits in Germany. Gerold Ambrosius states: "By the beginning of the war, the foundation for the transition to central planning and control had been laid."

This thesis is supported by current studies of order theory: Michael von Prollius describes the NS economic system as "the result of incessant new and reorganization [...] and countless control and bureaucratization measures"; For Markus Albert Diehl, “under National Socialist rule, the German economic order moved further and further away from the ideal type of market economy and finally largely corresponded to the ideal type of centrally planned economy ”. According to Götz Aly and Susanne Heim , the propagated promotion of small and medium -sized businesses gave way in practice to economic rationalization, which led to bankruptcy and the closure of numerous small and medium-sized businesses. Ideologically, the integration of the private sector into the German war economy under Reich Minister for Armament and Munitions Fritz Todt was presented as the application of the principles of leadership and entrepreneurship .

On the one hand, planning for the post-war period was forbidden, on the other hand, according to the historian Bernhard Löffler , the " Reichsgruppe Industrie " commissioned Ludwig Erhard in 1943 with economic planning for the time after the foreseeable loss of the war. These were "aligned with a market economy concept" and were "thus in contrast to the NS system". Industry and state agencies such as the Reich Ministry of Economics and the planning office in the Reich Ministry for Armament and Munitions headed by Hans Kehrl planned to carefully transition from the war and control economy to the peace and market economy. In the Reich Ministry of Economics, Otto Ohlendorf held his "protective hand over the post-war market economy planning" and was "astonishingly open to the redesign of a more liberal, business-friendly market organization despite all the profound ideological differences [...]". According to Ohlendorf, “active and daring entrepreneurship” must take the place of the bureaucratic control apparatus in times of peace. Ohlendorf himself was protected by Himmler, who rejected Speer 's "totally Bolshevik " economic management.

The relationship with the trade unions

In the spring of 1933, Adolf Hitler decreed May 1st as a public holiday called “German Labor Day”. This met a trade union demand, of all things, by the government, which was strictly rejected by the trade unions. The trade unions called for participation in the May events because they felt they were the initiators of the May idea. The official program was already heavily influenced by the National Socialists: “Wake up at 6 a.m. by the SA bands. 8 a.m. Flag hoisting in the factories, march to the parade ground, 9 a.m. broadcast of the rally from the Lustgarten in Berlin to the public squares of the cities. 10.45 a.m. State ceremony of the Hessian government (...), reception of a workers’ delegation from the three Hessian provinces. (...) Joint singing of the 'Song of the Workers'. (...) 7.30 a.m. transmission from Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin: Manifesto of the Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, 'The first year of the four-year plan'. Followed by entertainment music and German dance. 12 noon: Transmission of the speech by Prime Minister Hermann Göring. (...) Former Marxist singing, gymnastics and sports clubs can take part in the processions, but carrying Marxist flags or symbols is not permitted." took over”: “The previous Marxist leaders in protective custody – a 3 million account of the former President of the Reichstag Löbe blocked – the rights of the workers secured – the buildings of the free trade unions occupied”, headlines the newspapers that have already been brought into line throughout the Reich.

relation to religion

Postage stamp from 1943

The National Socialists did not represent a uniform religiosity. As German Christians (DC) , some propagated a nationalistic, anti-Semitic Protestantism , others a racist neopaganism with references to Germanic mythology . In his major work The Myth of the 20th Century , the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg called for Christianity to be replaced by a religion of “ blood and soil ”. A particularly harsh critic of Christianity in the NSDAP was the Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler. Himmler saw the overcoming of Christianity and the revival of a "Germanic" way of life as a central task of the SS.

National Socialism as a Political Religion

As early as 1938/39, the German-American political scientist Eric Voegelin systematically interpreted National Socialism as a political religion for the first time. The contemporary depiction of Hitler as an infallible, almost godlike figure played an important role in this – a view that, e.g. propagated by the film Triumph des Willens by director Leni Riefenstahl . Since the 1990s, historians such as Emilio Gentile and Michael Burleigh have taken up and expanded this interpretative approach.

However, this interpretation is controversial in historical research. Hans Günter Hockerts , for example, argues that although the National Socialists created a kind of political religion in order to bind “religious energy that had become homeless”, the genocide of the Jews was based on ethnic and eugenic racism. Above all, the absence of ideas of transcendence speaks against an interpretation of National Socialism as a religion .

relationship to Christianity

The NSDAP program of 1920 affirmed a " Positive Christianity ", defined as "freedom of all religious beliefs in the state, as long as they do not endanger its existence or offend against the sense of morality and morality of the Germanic race." The formulation was used at the time as tolerance and impartiality misunderstood and welcomed in relation to the Christian denominations in the context of reasons of state and the common good, although as early as 1925 Hitler associated a threat against political activity by Christians in parties other than the NSDAP with it. In fact, the program item subordinated Christianity to racism and appropriated it for anti-Semitism, expressed as "struggle against the Jewish-materialistic world view", and for the "national community" guided by the authoritarian state, expressed as "common good before self-interest". In his government declarations of February 1 and March 23, 1933, Hitler only approved of Christianity for reasons of power tactics, in order to obtain the support of the major churches for the establishment of the Führer state that had been brought into line and because he was interested in a Reich Concordat with the Vatican (which was signed on March 20, 1933). actually closed in July 1933). The churches provided this support willingly and only gradually recognized and expressed the contradiction to their own universal teaching in the church struggle (from 1934).

National Socialism understood its racist ideology as a “worldview” to be enforced in all areas of society by the Führer state. This totalitarian claim to absoluteness tended to conflict with other "confessions". On the one hand, the NSDAP program, like Hitler in “Mein Kampf”, guaranteed the protection of the status quo and internal church self-government for the major churches; Since 1933, the DC have been trying to unify the German Evangelical Church (DEK) in the sense of a non-denominational, centrally controlled Reich Church and to align it ideologically with National Socialism. They rejected the Old Testament as a "Judaization" of Christianity and tried to abolish it. When this attempt failed in the church struggle, the Nazi regime turned away from the DC.

In the 1933 Reich Concordat , Hitler granted the Vatican and the German bishops freedom of religion, denominational schools and universities, as long as the Roman Catholic Church refrained from any political activity. The Catholic Center Party dissolved on July 5, 1933 , after agreeing to the Enabling Act and thus giving Hitler's dictatorship the necessary constitution-amending majority. When the churches objected to some mass murders by the Nazi regime from 1940 onwards, Hitler strengthened the anti-church forces in the NSDAP and allowed them in conquered areas such as the Warthegau to disempower the churches by downgrading them from public corporations to mere religious associations.

Unlike the DC, Hitler did not believe that the "Jewish roots" of Christianity could be cut off and that it could be completely "de-Jewed". Hitler therefore internally supported the critics of Christianity in the NSDAP. However, he deliberately never expressed this point of view publicly because he feared losing the support of the population. A long-term elimination of Christianity can therefore be assumed to be a long-term political goal of National Socialism.

"God belief"

In 1936 the National Socialists initiated a movement to leave the church. Between 1937 and 1939 the evangelical church lost more than a million members. The Catholic Church was also weakened by numerous resignations during this period. The exit movement was accompanied ideologically by the writings of the party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, in particular by his myth of the 20th century , as well as by publications by Erich Ludendorff and his wife Mathilde . The expression "God-believing", intended as a positive contrast to "unbelieving", was intended to positively characterize genuinely religious or only apparently religious, non-denominational people with ideological proximity to National Socialism.

According to the Philosophical Dictionary of 1943, "God-believing" was defined as an "official term for those who profess a species-appropriate piety and morality without being bound to a denomination or church, but on the other hand rejecting religion and godlessness".

The introduction of the term for all " national comrades " who are not affiliated with a church but are not unbelieving is seen as an attempt to create a religious identification formula for officials and members of the NSDAP and the " German Believer Movement " beyond the churches and other religious communities. Since membership in a religious community and “freethinking” were not considered career-promoting under National Socialism, the designation “God believer” officially introduced by decree of the Reich Minister of the Interior on November 26, 1936 offered a way out for non-denominational National Socialists to document that one not automatically become “unbelieving” or free-thinking-liberal when leaving the church.

See also

Portal: National Socialism  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of National Socialism


web links

Commons : National Socialism  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Nationalsozialismus  - explanations of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Category:National Socialism  - sources and full texts




basic information

historical debate




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  2. Joachim Fest: Hitler. A biography. 8th edition 2006, p. 411.
  3. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German social history. Volume 4: From the beginning of the First World War to the foundation of the two German states 1914-1949. Beck, Munich 2003, p. 543.
  4. Ernst Nolte: Action Francaise - Italian Fascism - National Socialism. Paperback edition, Piper, Munich/Zurich 1984.
  5. Wolfgang Benz: National Socialism . In: the same (ed.): Handbook of anti-Semitism , Volume 3: concepts, theories, ideologies. Walter de Gruyter, 2010, ISBN 978-3-11-023379-7 , p. 223 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
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  7. Wolfgang Wippermann and Michael Burleigh: The racial state. Germany 1933-1945. Cambridge University Press 1991, pp. 304–307 and above.
  8. Samuel Salzborn: Global Antisemitism. A search for traces in the abysses of modernity. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim 2018, p. 175 f.
  9. Klaus Hildebrand : The Third Reich . (= Oldenbourg outline of history , vol. 17). Oldenbourg, Munich 2010, p. 184.
  10. Nazis. In: Friedrich Kluge, Elmar Seebold: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 24th edition, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017473-1 ( Online Etymology Dictionary: Nazi ).
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  39. a b Henry Picker : Hitler's table talks in the Führer's headquarters . Ullstein, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-550-07615-0 , p. 136.
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