History of an organisation: the two-fold founding of the NSDAP
Rise and fall of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Nord-West
During the meeting of the North German NSDAP in Hamm (22 February 1925) the decision was made to form a Western block within the party. Dr. Goebbels was assigned to take on the daily management. Besides the political differences, this decision was made because of the chaotic conditions in the Munich NSDAP and the fact that Hitler was surrounded by the wrong people – a clear continuation of the old conflict – dating back from 1924 - was created. However these rebels first had to take the overhand in the North Rhine district during a long power struggle with Gau leader Ripke that lasted for months.
The concept of a Western block was again raised during a meeting between the Elberfeld group and Gregor Strasser on August 20, 1925. Both the block that reached far into the western state of Lower Saxony as well as the newspaper "NS Briefe" served as means in the fight against the "entrenched bosses" in Munich. This Northwest version of National-Socialism had to be adopted by Hitler, it was certainly not meant as an internal coup. Gregor Strasser was somewhat sceptical about his party leader at that time. According to Strasser the National-Socialist idea was more important than its leader. He wanted that the leader just as any other activist had to prove his value over and over again. In a letter to Oswald Spengler (July 1925) Strasser had already proclaimed that the 25 point program of the party was not suitable to pursue a socialist revolution. Dr Goebbels shared this opinion; according to him the whole program was not radical enough. They meant to take the initiative from the hands of the NSDAP central in Munich. Wolfgang Horns stated:
"Since 1925 the development within the NSDAP is marked by the tension between the pretention from Hitler to be the bearer and embodiment of National-Socialism and the attempt from a part of the party to unify the leader and the National-Socialist idea together by making the party program complete and by creating internal discussions."
On 10 September 1925 the Elberfeld group took on the initiative of organizing a party conference in Hagen, where the merger of Nord Germany and AG Nord-West against the South German Völkischen was sealed. The shires of Rhineland and Schleswig-Holstein were also represented. Gregor Strasser was chosen as the chairman of the AGNW and publisher of the NS-Briefe, the daily management and job of head-director was assigned to Dr. Joseph Goebbels. The characterization of the AGNW as one socialist unity certainly didn’t come without any trouble. Even the most extreme social Darwinists - like captain Pfeffer von Salomon (Oberster SA Führer) - were part of this group while crucial issues such as participation in elections, the alliance with Soviet Russia or a stronger orientation towards the working class remained controversial. The main points on which a minimal consensus existed were:
- Rejection of anti-Bolshevism
- No war against the Soviet Union
- Criticism on the bourgeois anti-semitism
- National and social integration of the working class
- A break with bourgeois nationalism and its adherence to certain privileges on a social, political and economical level
The first conference of the AGNW (including Berlin and Silesia) was held on February 22, 1925 in Hannover. There the decision was made that any cooperation with the Völkischen and Wehrverbände (paramilitaries) had to be rejected. The issue on trade unions was, until further notice, left to the Reichs leadership, meanwhile they took a firm stand against the yellow (= pro bourgeois) trade unions. With regard on the position relating to the Soviet Union, no reconciliation could be reached. However, the main result of the conference was the decision to specify the NSDAP 25 point program in a new design program. Together with his brother Otto a concept was made by Gregor Strasser. Kaufmann and Dr Goebbels worked on their own design of the program. Gregor’s program "Der Nationale Sozialismus" was finalised halfway of December. This was more a draft constitution and a moderate realization of the 25 points instead of a complete new program. Through the concretization of the 25 points the NSDAP leadership had to be recalled that the program of the movement had a binding character that should be defended against the rightwing populists. By unleashing a discussion about the party program the AGNW left the cadre of formal fraction formation and became dangerously close to an open rebellion against Hitler, who had taken a stand against such a discussion earlier in July. At no single time the sole leadership of the NSDAP by Hitler was this strongly criticized as by the AGNW.
The chances for success were not bad. The AGNW had been extended to Mecklenburg and all the way to the Oder, while contacts were being made with Saxony and Wurttemberg. Moreover Rosenberg, who was also in conflict with Esser, showed willingness to compromise. During the second party conference in Hannover (24 February 1926) a violent controversy arose about the representative of Munich, Gottfried Feder. The issue of expropriation (without compensation) of the German aristocracy was connected with the expropriation of the immigrant Eastern European Jews and the confiscation of all profits from the banking sector and the stock exchange (Due to the fact that these politics couldn't be realized it was constantly shifted ahead).
In the spring of 1926 the newly formed Kampf Verlag would begin with the publishing of its own magazine. The draft program of Gregor Strasser met with fierce criticism for various reasons. The group from Göttingen and OSAF Pfeffer, who continued to stay adherence to the social-Darwinian selection principle, the racial doctrine and the lebensraum program, were among the biggest critics - which shows that within the leftwing AGNW a rightwing opposition group existed. On the other side Kaufmann and Dr. Goebbels rejected the draft program because it was too moderate. Feder however continued to defend his original 25 points program. There were also disagreements regarding the draft program of Elberfeld. Although AGNW criticized the 25 points program - or rather the rightwing interpretation of it - they were not able to form a common position or a mutual agreement. As a compromise the decision was made to form a program committee headed by Gregor Strasser, which would give the results of her findings for review to the Munich central.
The simmering conflict with Munich now came to an open showdown, when the rejection of the blurry 25 points essentially turned against Hitler himself. Probably the only ones who were really prepared to cause an open rupture with the (in Hannover fiercely criticized) leader were Otto Strasser, Kaufmann, Dr Goebbels and Pfeffer. The only one who had actually been able to weld together a political power block of any supra-regional significance was Gregor Strasser, but he chose for unity within the party. Gregor Strasser never intended to bring down Hitler or forcing a rift within the party, he only wanted to get rid of the reactionary Munich wing. The controversy within the AGNW showed that a break with the "spiritual leader" Adolf Hitler would probably lead to a disintegration of the movement.
According to Pfeffer they began to realize that a leader with defects still has to be preferred over not having any leader. The observation of (Hjalmar) Shank fits this context; he said that Hitler didn’t reach the top because of his own quality, but by the total absence of those qualities in others. The final defeat took place at a meeting about the leadership convened by Hitler in Bamberg (14 February 1926). Leading up to the meeting Kaufmann urged to take a clear political direction, however Gregor Strasser was not willing to break and was only interested to keep the discussion going, while Dr. Goebbels was indulged in unwarranted optimism. In the end it was Hitler who made clear fronts with his speech. He stated:
- An alliance with Italy and Great Britain against France
- War for lebensraum in the East
- No alliance with the Soviet Union
- Respect for legitimately acquired private property
- And a ban on every discussion concerning the party program
The struggle for direction farced Hitler to choose for a Volkischer course or a National-Socialist direction. He managed to find an acceptable way out; he praised himself as the third way and raised his own views for the party program. A meeting followed in Gottingen where the situation was discussed and where the Elberfeld group once and again enforced her socialist position. At the 3rd conference of the AGNW (Hannover, 21 February 1926) the decision was made that they wouldn’t give up. The influence of the left wing should be strengthened through further activity within the Party. The failure of the AGNW had no further effect on the plans to publish a new journal and it was also scheduled to bring together the shires Rhineland-North and Westphalia as one Ruhr shire to form a new power block within the NSDAP. From that time on the AGNW led a sleepy existence and was silently dissolved by Hitler on 1 July 1926.