September 2

This Day in History

World War I

Sep 2, 1917:

Fatherland Party formally launched in Germany

On September 2, 1917, militarist conservatives within Germany formally launch a new political party, the Vaterlandspartei or Fatherland Party, a move that reflects the growing hold of the army over all aspects of German society during the First World War.

By 1917, with mutinies flaring within the German navy and hungry workers striking on the home front, Germany’s Reichstag government was internally divided and struggling to maintain control. Its administrative structures were limited—Germany lacked, for example, the equivalent of the British Munitions Ministry, which organized and regulated Britain’s war production. As a result, the army’s general staff had expanded to fill in the gaps, however inadequately. The Supreme War Command, led by Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, had since 1916 exerted ever more control over Germany’s affairs, both on and away from the battlefield.

As the army’s power expanded, that of the Reichstag and especially that of Kaiser Wilhelm II shrank, and Hindenburg rose in the minds of the German people to become the supreme warlord. The Fatherland Party—formally launched on September 2, 1917, the anniversary of Prussia’s defeat of France at Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870—reflected this reality politically. Its founders were two military conservatives with relatively aggressive war aims, Wolfgang Kapp and Alfred von Tirpitz, the former naval minister. In direct response to the peace resolution introduced by the moderate German politician Matthias Erzberger and debated during the summer of 1917 in the Reichstag parliament, the Fatherland Party aimed to reignite the "spirit of 1914" and rededicate the country to the cause of a German victory in the war.

Tirpitz and Kapp—who was later to lead the notorious failed putsch against Germany’s Weimar government in 1920—drew their support from a conservative base that included schoolteachers, the clergy and the professional middle class. The army expressed its own support through its press agency, as well as through the censorship of the party’s political opponents. By 1918, the Fatherland Party numbered 1.25 million members. Its strength, in turn, encouraged Hindenburg and Ludendorff to disregard any pretense of defensive warfare and pursue an aggressive policy during the final year of the war, which included a new program of annexation that promised to vastly increase Germany’s post-war influence.

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