Was Hitler a nationalist or an extremist?

National Socialism and World War II

Hans-Ulrich Thamer

To person

Born in 1943, is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Münster. His main research interests are National Socialism and European Fascism.

Publications including: Seduction and violence. Germany 1933-1945, (The Germans and their Nation, Vol. 5), Berlin 1986; National Socialism, Stuttgart 2002.

At the end of the 1920s, National Socialism had become a mass movement - and a tightly organized party. With massive internal and external propaganda, the NSDAP won more and more votes for itself. In the Reichstag elections in 1930, it became the second largest party after the SPD.

The Reichstag building in 1931. (& copy AP)


Hitler had prepared his return to the political public well. When the NSDAP was re-established in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on February 26, 1925, he affirmed his unconditional claim to leadership and at the same time called for unity in the Volkish camp. He only wanted to accept General von Ludendorff, one of the most famous military personnel of the First World War, and support him in the election of the Reich President. It was all the easier for Hitler to politically sideline the general after his election defeat in the spring of 1925.

At the same time, Hitler had organizationally secured his claim to leadership in his own party. The Munich local group, which he ruled with his close followers, was formally responsible for all questions of party organization and membership. The entire NSDAP was thus an offshoot of the Munich local group in terms of organizational law, although the main focus of the party had meanwhile shifted to northern and western Germany. Above all, the leader principle was laid down in the new party statutes. There was no internal party control or will formation.


Initially, however, Hitler was prevented from developing his new position of power by a speech ban imposed by the Bavarian government in March 1925 and almost all other countries after it for a period of at least two years. Instead, some subordinate leaders, with Hitler's approval, were able to excel in rebuilding the party. As a result, the rather small party with around 27,000 members offered a motley picture of various political and ideological groups and endless leadership rivalries.

Constant bureaucratic organizational work was indispensable for the cohesion of the party, but it was not Hitler's business. He preferred a personal bond between the subordinates, who, according to his ideas, should assert themselves in tough competition among themselves. This should leave the subordinates enough leeway, but at the same time strengthen their own leadership position, which should be justified above all by the fact that only the "Führer" embodied the National Socialist idea. This submission to the will of the leader was initially thwarted by the organizational concept of the leadership group around Gregor Strasser. Hitler was dependent on his support outside of Bavaria. In the working group of the north-west German Gauleiter, Strasser had loosely combined quite different, but generally left-wing currents in an alliance, collegial leadership structure. With its own publication organs, the "National Socialist Letters" edited by Joseph Goebbels and Otto Strasser's weekly magazine "The National Socialist", the party left also represented a deviating, emphatically socialist line ideologically.

That Hitler was deeply repugnant to a program discussion like the one that Strasser aimed at with a draft to clarify the extremely vague 25-point party program, because it threatened his unrestricted claim to leadership, the gullible Gregor Strasser had to convene at short notice in the spring of 1926 in Bamberg Experience leadership conference. It ended with a victory for Hitler and the collapse of the young Goebbels, who moved to Hitler's camp believing in authority and from then on belonged to the most zealous propagandists of the "Führer". However, this experience did not prevent Gregor Strasser from continuing to devote himself to building a powerful party organization with even greater energy.

In the spring of 1925, Hitler also prevailed in the conflict with Ernst Röhm about the future concept of the SA, in this case supported by the Strasser Group. The SA was to be rebuilt not as an independent military association, as Röhm had further trained in the meantime, but as a political association within the party. The SA was to act on the streets not with paramilitary methods, but as a propaganda force and a reflection of the party's political will. That was required by the legality course on which Hitler had committed himself after the miserable failure of his putsch.

The organizational structure of the NSDAP was initially limited to the Reichsleitung in Munich, the Gaue (their number fluctuated between 30 and 36 from 1925 to 1937) and the local groups. The party leaders and their expansion were supported by the Gauleiter, who as subordinate leaders had a personal allegiance to the "Führer" and based their power on their own assertiveness and on their special loyalty to the "Führer". They also recognized him as a symbol of party unity, although they were usually used by Gregor Strasser.

Thanks to Strasser's organizational talent, the party was initially built up in its subdivisions down to the level of the local group. From 1926, and increasingly from 1929, special organizations and professional associations were added, which, following the example of other modern mass parties, formed a network to mobilize and capture the heterogeneous members and supporters with their different interests: In 1926 the "Bund der Deutschen Arbeiterjugend" (Federation of German Workers' Youth) and "National Socialist German Student Union" (NSDtB) founded; In 1928 the "Bund National Socialist Juristen" followed, in 1929 the "National Socialist German Medical Association" and the "Combat League for German Culture", 1929 the "National Socialist Student Association", 1930 the "Agricultural Political Apparatus" and the "National Socialist Company Cell Organization" (NSBO), 1931 die "National Socialist Women's Association", in December 1932 the "Combat League for Commercial Medium-Sized Enterprises". "Offices for foreign policy, press, politics in factories, legal issues, technology, etc., modeled on the state apparatus, were added and led to the ambitious expansion of a" shadow state "that effectively represented the party's claim to power and satisfied the ambitions of the officials and this enabled the party to penetrate the various areas of society at an early stage, which was to promote the process of conquering power quite considerably.