After the crushing defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, there was no real question among the victorious Western Allied Powers or what would go on to become the government of the Federal Republic of Germany -- aka West Germany -- of allowing the Nazi Party (abbreviated as NSDAP due to its German spelling) to continue to exist. In the Soviet-occupied area that would later become the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), there was no real question of allowing any political parties to exist in anything but name only as it would go on to become one of the most reliably hardline communist dictatorships in the Eastern Bloc so the situation was resolved fairly easily there. There was broad agreement that the Nazi Party was gone forever.

The elephant in the room was the fact that by 1945, the German Nazi Party had almost 9 million members -- one of the largest political parties in the world at the time. Banning the party is one thing, but what in the hell was supposed to be done with all those people? Now to be fair, being a member of the Nazi Party did not necessarily mean that a person was a Nazi in the ideological sense. Membership in the party was a prerequisite for employment or advancement in many fields in the Third Reich. Even infamous Nazis like Adolf Eichmann and Joachim von Ribbentrop were not ideologues, having joined the party specifically out of career concerns, and they viewed the execution of their "duty" in an amoral technocratic fashion. Of course most non-ideological party members did nothing even remotely as evil as these two but the point remains. The majority of these people joined mainstream political parties or reverted to an apolitical status.

And then there were the true believers. These were the people who fully embraced the National Socialist ideology and firmly thought that the Third Reich would last for a thousand years. These people did not see the annihilation that had been visited upon Germany as the final refutation of their politics but rather a minor stumbling block on the road to Aryan Weltherrschaft. The beginning of the Cold War between the USA and its allies on one side and the USSR and its allies on the other confirmed just how badly West Germany needed to embrace another alternative between the godless communism of the east and the aimless liberal capitalism of the west.

Naturally, there were several would-be Führers looking to fill the vacuum of leadership by creating their own thinly veiled Nazi parties. The German Imperial Party (Deutsche Reichspartei), the German Right Party (Deutsche Rechtspartei), the National Democrats, and still others popped up attempting to lay claim to being the true heirs to Hitler, Goebbels, and Göring. In 1949, two disgruntled Imperial Party members joined together with a friend and created the Sozialistische Reichspartei or the Socialist Reich Party. The Imperial Party -- while definitely appealing to former Nazis and sharing some ideological similarities -- had enough tact to not claim to be overtly National Socialist. The SRP dispensed with this formality and openly declared itself pro-Nazi. The three founders had all been enthusiastic NSDAP members and all maintained an uncompromising admiration for Adolf Hitler.

Otto Remer was an officer in the Wehrmacht who helped defeat the 1944 coup against Hitler. He described with pride after the war how he had "saved National Socialism from traitors." Like Hitler, Remer was a gifted orator but only average in intelligence. His main comrade was Fritz Dorls, who had been expelled from both the Nazi Party and the Imperial Party. Dorls was primarily known as an author and he kept such company as Otto Strasser, the exiled bulwark of the NSDAP's left-wing before it was destroyed in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Strasser's influence would prove instrumental in the direction that the SRP would take. Dorls said that democracy in Germany was doomed because "the German people must be led and want to be led."

The third founder was Gerhard Krüger, who had been appointed the leader of the German Students' Union in the early 1930s. This sounds mundane enough, but this organization was dominated by the Nazi Party and was one of the chief organizers of mass book-burnings in the Third Reich. As he aged out of this position, he became an ideological investigator for the NSDAP whose job it was to ensure that all academic publications conformed to National Socialist tenets. Krüger, though the junior partner, was clearly the brains of the SRP. He either left or was expelled from the Imperial Party along with Dorls in 1949. He also had the longest tenure out of the three founders within the NSDAP, having joined it in 1924 at the age of 16. This is particularly remarkable because this was the absolute nadir of the Nazi movement's early years. For reference, this would have been right after the hilariously bad attempt at overthrowing the government of Bavaria in 1923 during what would later go on to be called the Beer Hall Putsch and during the imprisonment of Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and many of the movement's early leaders. While not necessarily founders, the credentials of the SRP were bolstered by the membership of several veterans. Important early supporters included Count Wolf von Westarp (an aristocratic Waffen SS soldier who lost an arm in combat in the Soviet Union) and Hans Ulrich Rudel (a highly decorated Luftwaffe commander).

At its core, the SRP's ideology was fundamentally a rehash of the Nazi Party's early program. Among other things, the SRP demanded that all ethnic Germans should live within one Reich, that Germany should be formally recognized as a great power equal to every other nation, and that class warfare should not exist. More nuanced positions included the belief in a "European community" (i.e. a Europe dominated by Germany), a disdain for a government poorly served by traditional political parties (i.e. a movement toward a one-party state), and an alleged belief in "non-sectarianism." Other positions were less clear. Messages about the "Jewish question" were decidedly mixed with some initial communications indicating that the SRP had no interest in revisiting it and others saying that there needed to be a "final solution" to it. Remer also claimed paradoxically that "the SRP is not a successor to the NSDAP" but also that "the SRP is going to continue the National Socialist revolution." I guess someone could make the case that National Socialism was not synonymous with the Nazi Party, but what does the second statement even mean in the context of the first?

The strangest departure from the original NSDAP program was the way in which the Soviet Union and its communist satellites were treated. The NSDAP had originally staked its reputation upon its supposed ability to combat Bolshevism in the wake of the failure of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, at different points in time, the hardest of the hardcore Nazis like Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler had privately tried to negotiate separate truces with the USA and the UK that did not necessitate surrendering to the USSR so the struggle in the east could continue in perpetuity. Hitler himself was initially dismissive of Soviet capabilities, saying "we have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down" right before the launch of Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Fast forward to 1945 when Hitler is trapped underground in a bunker in Berlin with the Red Army well on its way to the conquest of the city. He is reported to have predicted the start of the Cold War, claiming that only the USA and the USSR would have the resources to mobilize huge standing armies after World War II and that the two powers would inevitably come into some kind of conflict.

It's a well known fact that the United States recruited certain Nazi Party members to work for it after the end of the war under the aegis of Operation Paperclip. These were generally party members who were useful in the fields of science and intelligence who were not considered major war criminals such as Werner von Braun or Reinhard Gehlen. It's a common misconception that the West employed more of these types of people than the USSR. In reality, both the US and Russia recruited (or captured, depending on your point of view) about equal numbers of ex-Nazis for fairly similar purposes. While it would seem like the NSDAP's harsh stance against communism would make most Nazis balk at the idea of helping the Soviets, it's important to remember that the Nazis reserved equal opprobrium for what they considered the decadent democracies of the West, especially one as racially diverse as the USA.

As early as the 1920s, certain members of the NSDAP advocated for an alliance with (or at least an ambivalent position toward) the recently communized Russia. There were varying reasons for this contravention of what was considered a basic tenet of Nazism. For some advocates, it was purely pragmatic. Why antagonize a huge country with a massive population if it's not necessary? Hadn't Napoleon been crucified on a cross of his own hubris after attacking Russia? For others -- such as the aforementioned Otto Strasser and his brother Georg Strasser -- it was ideological. The Strasser brothers took the "Socialist" part of "National Socialist" very seriously. They were less inclined to accommodate industrial business interests than Hitler. They saw the Soviet Union as a natural ally. The Strassers and their followers were even more emboldened by the rise of Josef Stalin. Stalin eventually became disillusioned with Lenin's idea of a worldwide communist revolution. He promulgated a concept he referred to as "socialism in one country" which is a more elaborate translation of "National Socialism." Otto Strasser was expelled from the NSDAP for this idea (among others) and fled Germany in 1930 while his brother Georg was killed in the great purge of 1934. This is all particularly ironic when one recalls the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 that divided up eastern Europe into German and Russian spheres of influence and guaranteed a degree of economic cooperation between the two totalitarian states.

I mention all of this because it has a direct bearing on the Socialist Reich Party and does much to explain its rise and fall. Shortly after the party's formation, Remer began to make several conspicuously laudatory statements regarding the USSR. Remer apparently said that if the Soviet Union were to invade West Germany during the course of a hypothetical war with the United States, he would order SRP party members to act as traffic cops and direct the flow of Soviet soldiers and vehicles through the country. He also complained that Konrad Adenauer (the first democratically elected chancellor of West Germany since before World War II) was nothing more than a puppet of the US and that the last legitimate head of state was Karl Dönitz, whom Hitler had appointed president in his will. Provocatively, he was also among the first recorded Holocaust deniers in history, saying that the systematic killing of millions of people never actually occurred and that the US had built facsimile gas chambers and crematoria in the concentration camps through central and eastern Europe in an effort to make Germany look bad. The party repeatedly called for a reunification of East and West Germany under a banner of neutrality between the world's two remaining superpowers.

It's obvious that the SRP had a noticeably anti-American bent. This is entirely in keeping with the NSDAP's original stance on German-American relations. What's odd is that the SRP never made any anti-Soviet or anti-communist declarations. It could be argued that this represented the long overdue victory of Strasserism over Hitlerism in the Nazi philosophy. It could also be said that this was simply a throwback to previous Realpolitik considerations. After all, the Soviet Union and its proxies were essentially right next door to West Germany, so why rock the boat?

Another possible explanation is that Soviet Union was the major financial backer of the Socialist Reich Party and that the SRP therefore had an incentive not to even hint at criticizing a country that their ideological forebearers had tried to destroy less than ten years earlier. And, wouldn't you know it, this turned out to be exactly the case! Stalin believed that there were too many latent Nazis in West Germany to try to reform and that it made more sense to simply coopt them. This made even more sense given his dissatisfaction with the poor performance -- both electorally and ideologically -- of the West German Communist Party. The funding he had previously reserved for this group was instead channeled toward the SRP. While he probably never really believed that the general membership of the SRP would ever consent to allying itself with the USSR, he at least appreciated the potentially destabilizing influence that such a party could have on the course of West German politics.

In 1951, the SRP contested its first elections. The party had some minor successes in a few local and state elections, but failed to elect a single representative to the Bundestag, West Germany's federal parliament (despite two or three members of other parties defecting to the SRP). While this perhaps gave the SRP a certain amount of optimism for the future, it was by no means a slam-dunk victory. By 1952, however, the Federal Constitutional Court of West Germany declared the Socialist Reich Party unconstitutional and confiscated what few assets the party had. The SRP was therefore banned and it became illegal to attempt to reconstitute the party. The party's membership never exceeded about 10,000, a far cry from the 9 million its predecessor possessed. The SRP became the first political party banned by the West German government after the NSDAP. Appropriately enough, the Federal Constitutional Court would also go on to ban the German Communist Party in 1956, although this was evidently due to the radical and occasionally violent methods the party endorsed for electoral success rather than its actual ideology.

After the dissolution of the SRP, most of its members wandered back into other far-right parties. In the 1960s, the vast majority of them merged together to form the National Democratic Party, which still exists to this day. It resembles the British National Party more than the Nazi Party, but it is nevertheless the most visible far-right movement in Germany. Otto Remer would flee West Germany for the Middle East shortly after his party was banned before eventually settling in Spain. Fritz Dorls moved back and forth between Egypt and Germany for the rest of his life. Gerhard Krüger stayed in West Germany and made a few other forays into electoral politics with other parties before giving up the ghost of this ambition and dedicating the rest of his life to writing for various far-right European journals and periodicals.

In retrospect, it's obvious that the politics of the Nazi Party would not disappear entirely from the German social dialogue in the immediate aftermath of World War II. One reason that the SRP -- and indeed all of its competitors -- failed to make anything more than a slight dent in the West German political scene was that the post-war constitution of West German mandated that all political parties had to be internally organized along democratic lines. This was meant to prevent the resurrection of the Führerprinzip (the Leader Principle) that characterized the original Nazi Party and helped to foster the cult of personality around Adolf Hitler that made him utterly infallible and unchallengeable. A true revival of the Nazi Party organized along these lines would have streamlined the post-war movement and probably made it more electorally competitive in the years immediately following Germany's loss in the war. Why the SRP felt the need to comply with this particular constitutional directive but not the more significant one of banning any party from organizing itself along National Socialist lines is unclear. Regardless, the Socialist Reich Party was -- as of 2015 -- the last great hurrah for organized Nazism in Germany.

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