In 1 January 2016, Mein Kampf came out of copyright. It had been 70 years since the author’s death, and by international copyright law, legal protection for the book had expired. Thus it is perhaps a good time to reconsider and reexamine this most notorious work—and perhaps to banish some of the many myths surrounding it to history.
In fact, we are long overdue for a revisionist treatment of this work. In my experience, very few people really understand what’s in it. The common man, even the well-educated one, likely knows little more than the title and the author. Revisionists who work on the Holocaust or either of the world wars often bypass the book completely, as if it had no relevance at all; most likely, they have never read it. Traditional journalists, academics, and alleged experts frequently display their ignorance by taking passages out of context, overlooking key facts, or simply failing to cite the author appropriately. More generally, the mainstream approach to Mein Kampf seems be rather similar to its tactics with regard to Holocaust revisionism: ignore, censor, or disparage. It is simply too problematic to discuss this work in a fashion that might lead readers to ask tough questions, or to seek out the book itself.
A large part of the reason for the book’s obscurity is the sorry state of its many English translations. These will be discussed and critiqued below. This is also one of the reasons that I am currently working on a new, parallel German-English translation—the first ever, in fact. I will attempt to remedy many of the shortcomings in current versions, and provide something of a revisionist perspective on the entire work. In the present essay, I examine the translations, discuss some main themes of the book, and argue for its relevance in the present day.
A Most Consequential Work
Mein Kampf is the autobiography and articulated worldview of one of the most consequential and visionary leaders in world history. It is also one of the most maligned and misrepresented texts of the 20th century. There have been so many obfuscations, deceptions, and outright falsehoods circulated about this work that one scarcely knows where to begin. Nonetheless, the time has come to set the story straight.
That Adolf Hitler would even have undertaken such a work is most fortunate. Being neither a formal academic nor a natural writer, and being fully preoccupied with pragmatic matters of party-building, he might never have begun such a major task—were it not for the luxury of a year-long jail term. In one of the many ironies of Hitler’s life, it took just such an adverse event to prompt him to dictate his party’s early history and his own life story. This would become Volume One of his two-part, 700-page magnum opus. It would have a dramatic effect on world history, and initiate a chain of events that has yet to fully play out. In this sense, Mein Kampf is as relevant today as when it was first written.Perhaps the place to begin is with the rationale for the book. Why did Hitler write it at all? Clearly it was not a requirement; many major politicians in history have come and gone without leaving a personal written record. Even his time in prison could have been spent communicating with party leaders, building support, soliciting allies, and so on. But he chose to spend much of his stay documenting the origins and growth of his new movement. And this was a boon to history as well as to understanding of the human spirit.The work at hand seems to have served at least four purposes for its author. First, it is autobiographical. This aspect consumes most of the first two chapters, and is repeatedly woven into the remainder of Volume One. For those curious about the first 35 years of Hitler’s life, this aspect is invaluable. It gives an accurate and relevant account of his upbringing, his education, and the early development of his worldview. Like any good autobiography, it provides an irreplaceable first-hand description of a life. But as well, it offers the usual temptation to cast events in a flattering light, to downplay shortcomings, or to bypass inconvenient episodes. On this count, Hitler fares well; he provides an honest and open life story, devoid of known fabrications or omissions—one that is essential for understanding his thinking and attitudes on social, economic, and political matters.Second, Mein Kampf is a kind of history lesson on Europe around the turn of the 20th century. Hitler was a proximate observer—and often first-hand witness—to many of the major events of the time. He served in the trenches of World War One for more than four years, which was virtually the entire duration of the war. Serving on the ‘losing’ side, he naturally gives a different interpretation of events than is commonly portrayed by historians of the victorious nations. But this fact should be welcomed by any impartial observer, and in itself makes the book worth reading. With rare exceptions—such as Jünger’s Storm of Steel—no other non-fiction contemporary German source of this time is readily available in English. For those interested in the Great War and its immediate aftermath, this book is irreplaceable.In its third aspect, the book serves to document the origins and basic features of Hitler’s worldview. This, unsurprisingly, is the most distorted part of the book, in standard Western versions. Here we find the insights and trigger events that led a young man without formal higher education to develop a strikingly visionary, expansive, and forward-looking ideology. Hitler’s primary concern, as we read, was the future and well-being of the German people—all Germans, regardless of the political unit in which they lived. The German people, or Volk, were, he believed, a single ethnicity with unique and singular self-interests. They were—indisputably—responsible for many of the greatest achievements in Western history. They were among the leading lights in music, literature, architecture, science, and technology. They were great warriors, and great nation-builders. They were, in large part, the driving force behind Western civilization itself. Hitler was justly proud of his heritage. Equally is he outraged at the indignities suffered by this great people in then-recent decades—culminating in the disastrous humiliation of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. He seeks, above all, to remedy these injustices and restore the mantle of greatness to the German people. To do this, he needs to identify both their primary opponents and the defective political ideologies and structures that bind them. Then he undertakes to outline a new socio-political system that can carry them forward to a higher and rightful destiny.
Finally, in its fourth aspect, Mein Kampf is a kind of blueprint for action. It describes the evolution and aims of National Socialism and the NSDAP, or Nazi Party, in compelling detail. Hitler naturally wants his new movement to succeed in assuming power in Germany and in a future German Reich. But this is no theoretical analysis. Hitler is nothing if not pragmatic. He has concrete goals and specific means of achieving them. He has nothing but disdain for the geistige Waffen, the intellectual weapons, of the impotent intelligentsia. He demands results, and success.
Importantly, his analysis is, in large part, independent of context. It does not pertain only to Germans, or only to the circumstances of the mid-1920s. It is a broadly universal approach based on the conditions of the modern world, and on human nature. As such, Hitler’s analysis of action is relevant and useful for many people today—for all those who might strive for national greatness in body and spirit.
This complex textual structure of Mein Kampf explains some of the complaints of modern-day critics who decry Hitler’s lack of ‘coherence’ or ‘narrative flow.’ He has many objectives here, and in their implementation, many points overlap. Perhaps he should have written four books, not one. Perhaps. But Hitler was a doer, not a writer. We must accept this fact, take what we have, and do our best to understand it in an open and objective fashion. He was not striving for a best-selling novel. He wanted to document history and advance a movement, and to these ends he succeeded most admirably.
Origins and Context
Born on 20 April 1889 in present-day Austria, Hitler grew up as a citizen of the multi-ethnic state known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This disparate amalgamation was formed in 1867, with the union of the Austrian and Hungarian monarchies; thus does Hitler refer to the state as the “Dual Monarchy.” Throughout its 50-year history, it was always a loose conjunction of many ethnicities, and never a truly unified state. The ethnic Germans in it were a minority, and had to struggle to promote their own interests. This fact caused Hitler no end of distress; he explicitly felt more attachment to the broader German Volk than to the multi-ethnic state into which he was born.
As a youth, his interests tended toward the arts, painting, and history. This led to conflict with his obstinate father, who envisioned a safe, comfortable bureaucratic career for his son. But his father’s death on 3 January 1903, when Adolf was 13, allowed the young man to determine his own future. Two years later he moved to Vienna, scraping by with menial jobs to survive. In late 1907, his mother died. At the age of 18, he then applied to enter the Viennese Arts Academy in painting, but was diverted to architecture. He worked and studied for two more years, eventually becoming skilled enough to work full-time as a draftsman and painter of watercolors.
All the while, he studied the mass of humanity around him. He read the various writings and publications of the political parties. He observed the workings of the press. He watched how unions functioned. He sat in on Parliament. He followed events in neighboring Germany. And he became intrigued by the comings and goings of one particular minority in Vienna: the Jews.
Gradually he became convinced that the two dominant threats to German well-being were Marxism—a Jewish form of communism—and the international-capitalist Jews. The problems were compounded by the fundamentally inept workings of a representative democracy that tried to serve diverse ethnicities. In the end, the fine and noble concept of democracy became nothing other than a “Jewish democracy,” working for the best interests of Jews instead of Austrians or Germans.
Upon turning 23 in 1912, Hitler went to Munich. It was his first extended contact with German culture, and he found it invigorating. He lived there for two years, until the outbreak of World War I in July 1914. Thrilled at the opportunity to defend the German homeland, he enlisted, serving on the Western front in Belgium. After more than 2 years of service, he was slightly wounded in October 1916 and sent back to Germany, spending some time in a reserve battalion in Munich. Appalled at both the role of Jews there and the negative public attitude, he returned to the front in March 1917.
By this time, the war had been dragging on for some two and a half years. It had effectively become a stalemate. Even the looming entrance of the Americans into the war—President Wilson would call for war the next month, and US troops would soon follow—would have little near-term effect. As Hitler explains, however, the Germans actually had reasons for optimism by late 1917. The Central Powers (primarily Germany and Austria-Hungary) had inflicted a decisive defeat on Italy in the Battle of Caporetto, and the Russians had pulled out of the war after the Bolshevik Revolution, thus freeing up German troops for the Western front. Hitler recalls that his compatriots “looked forward with confidence” to the spring of 1918, when they anticipated final victory.
November Revolution, and a New Movement
But things would turn out differently. Germans’ dissatisfaction with the prolonged war effort was being fanned by Jewish activists calling for mass demonstrations, strikes, and even revolution against the Kaiser. In late January 1918 there was a large munitions strike. Various workers’ actions and riots followed for months afterward. The Western front held, but Germany was weakening internally.
In mid-October of 1918, the German front near Ypres, Belgium was hit with mustard gas. Hitler’s eyes were badly affected, and he was sent to a military hospital in Pasewalk, north of Berlin. In late October, a minor naval revolt in Kiel began to spread to the wider population. Two major Jewish-led parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), agitated for the Kaiser to abdicate—which he did, on November 9. Jewish activists in Berlin and Munich then declared independent “soviet” states; for a detailed discussion of these events, see Dalton (2014). Germany formally capitulated on November 11. After the dust had settled, a new ‘Weimar’ government was formed, one that was notably susceptible to Jewish influence.
Hearing about the revolution from his hospital bed, Hitler was devastated. All the effort and sacrifices made at the front had proven worthless. Jewish agitators in the homeland had succeeded in whipping up local dissatisfaction to the point that the Kaiser was driven from power. The revolutionaries then assumed power and immediately surrendered to the enemy. This was the infamous “stab in the back” that would haunt German nationalists for years to come. And it was the triggering event that caused Hitler to enter politics.
In September 1919, working for the government, he was assigned to follow and report on a little-known group called the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or German Workers’ Party (DAP). He ended up joining the group, and quickly assumed a leadership role. By early 1920, Hitler’s speeches were drawing hundreds or thousands of people. On February 24, he announced that the party would henceforth be known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or NSDAP—‘Nazi,’ in the parlance of its detractors. It is with this “first great mass meeting” that Hitler closes Volume One of his book.
The new movement grew rapidly. Hitler formalized his leadership in July 1921. A series of stormy and occasionally violent public events occurred in the following months. In November 1922, ideological compatriot Mussolini took power in Italy, which served to bolster both National Socialist efforts domestically and their international reputation. It was on November 21 that the New York Times printed its first major article on Hitler: “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria.” Calling the National Socialists “violently anti-Semitic” and “reactionary” but “well disciplined,” the NYT viewed them as “potentially dangerous, though not for the immediate future.” Indeed—it would not be for another 10 years that they would assume power in Germany.
Soon thereafter, other events would favor the National Socialists. France had occupied the Ruhr Valley in January 1923, claiming a violation of Versailles; this was taken as a grave insult to German sovereignty. It was also at this time that the infamous German hyperinflation took hold, wiping out the savings of ordinary Germans and forcing them to haul around bushels of cash for even the smallest purchases. By the end of the year, Germany was in a full-blown financial crisis. This led Hitler and the NSDAP leadership to plan for a revolutionary take-over of Munich on 9 November 1923.
This attempted Putsch, or coup, would fail. In a brief shoot-out, 16 Nazis and four policemen were killed. Hitler and the other leaders were arrested within days, put on trial in February 1924, and sentenced to light prison terms. In all, Hitler spent some 13 months in confinement, obtaining release in December of that year. It was during this time that he dictated what would become Volume One of his book.
Hitler reportedly wanted to call his new book, “Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice.” The publisher adroitly suggested a shorter title: “My Struggle,” or Mein Kampf. It would initially be published in July of 1925.
Hitler then began a second, shorter volume to complete his program. This appeared in December of 1926. The next year, the two volumes were slightly revised and combined into one work. This so-called ‘second edition’ of Mein Kampf was published when Hitler was 38 years old.Chapter Synopses
It will be useful to provide a very brief summary of the main themes of each of the 27 chapters.Volume 1
- Chapter 1: Hitler’s early life. Relationship with parents. Early education. Interest in history and art. Budding nationalism. Covers birth in 1889 to mother’s death in late 1907, when Hitler was 18 years old.
- Chapter 2: Time alone in Vienna. Marxism and international Jewry as main threats. Assessment and critique of Viennese government. Life of the working class. Study of the Social Democratic party, and its Jewish influence. Role of unions. Burgeoning anti-Semitism. Study of the destructive role of Marxism.
- Chapter 3: General reflections on Austrian politics, and representative democracy. Failings of multi-ethnic states. Critique of Western democracy. Failings of ‘majority rule.’ Demise of the pan-German movement. Unfortunate conflict with the Catholic Church. Anti-Semitism and religion. Covers period up to age 23 (1912).
- Chapter 4: Moves to Munich. Critique of German alliances. Four possible paths of German policy. Population growth, and the need for land. Need for alliance with England. Initial discussion of the role of Aryans. Marxism as mortal foe. Covers up to mid-1914.
- Chapter 5: Outbreak of World War One. Hitler enlists, at age 25. “Baptism by fire.”
- Chapter 6: Role and need for propaganda. Effective use by England; failure by Germany.
- Chapter 7: Course of the Great War. Wounded in late 1916. Jews and negative attitudes rampant in Munich. Munitions strike in early 1918. Poisoned by mustard gas in October 1918, at age 29. November Revolution.
- Chapter 8: Postwar time in Munich. Need for a new party. Negative role of global capitalism.
- Chapter 9: Encounters German Workers’ Party (DAP). Early meetings. Joins DAP, as member #7, at age 30.
- Chapter 10: Analysis of the collapse of the German Empire in 1918. Dominance of international capitalism. Effect of the press on the masses. Jewish control of press. Combating the syphilis epidemic. Cultural decay in modern art. Ineffective parliament. The army as a source of discipline.
- Chapter 11: Detailed racial theory. Nature strives to improve species. Racial mixing between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ types yields physical, moral, and cultural decay. Aryans as true founders of civilization. Aryan tendency for self-sacrifice. Aryan versus Jew. Jews as parasites. Fake Jewish ‘religion.’ Extended examination of “the way of Jewry”—historical, sociological, political. Marxist worldview. Jewish subversion of democracy. Ill effects of racial impurity.
- Chapter 12: Evolution of DAP. Extended discussion of the need to nationalize the masses. How to organize a party. Gaining publicity. Second major meeting in October 1919. Growing success. Rejection of ‘intellectual’ weapons. First true mass meeting in February 1920. Transition to NSDAP.
- Chapter 1: Corruption of democracy. Concept of ‘folkish.’ Transforming ideals into practice. Marxism pushes race equality. State must serve racial function: to promote the best.
- Chapter 2: Three conventional concepts of state. State as means to end: advancing human race. Must maintain racial integrity. Strong minorities end up ruling. Racial mixing leads to decay. State must promote healthy children. Basic eugenic theory. Folkish education, for physical, mental, and moral strength. Promote willpower, determination, responsibility. Meritocracy.
- Chapter 3: Citizenship based on race. Three classes: citizen, subject, foreigner.
- Chapter 4: Aristocratic principle. Value of the individual. Marxism promotes mass thinking. Government rule by the best individuals, not majority.
- Chapter 5: Need for an uncompromising worldview. Need for decisive leadership. 25-point NSDAP program is unshakable. Only NSDAP is truly folkish.
- Chapter 6: Resumes autobiography. NSDAP must dominate mass opinion. Must fight against common views. Brest-Litovsk and Versailles. Importance of spoken word. Marxism flourished with speeches. Need for mass meetings.
- Chapter 7: Lame bourgeois mass meetings. Need for publicity. Control of mass meetings. Violent protests. Party flag and symbol: swastika. First use in summer 1920. Party strength by early 1921. Mass meeting 3 Feb at Circus Krone. Attempted disruption.
- Chapter 8: Right of priority. Many folkish movements. Futility of compromise and coalition.
- Chapter 9: Three pillars of authority. In warfare, survival of the inferior. Deserters and Jewish revolutionaries in November 1918. Bourgeois capitulation. Need for a great ideal. Creation of the SA (storm troops). NSDAP is neither secret nor illegal. SA as trained fighters. March to Coburg in Oct 1922. French occupation of the Ruhr.
- Chapter 10: War industries in World War I. Bavaria versus Prussia as diversion. Kurt Eisner, Jewish revolutionary. Growth of anti-Semitism from 1918. Catholic versus Protestant as diversion. Federation versus unification. Opposition to Jewish Weimar.
- Chapter 11: Role of propaganda. Supporters and members. Need for restricted growth. Leadership principle versus majority rule. Acquisition of Völkischer Beobachter. Building the party. Dissolution on 9 Nov 1923.
- Chapter 12: Question of trade unions. Necessity of unions. NSDAP must form a union. Union in service to the people. Priority of worldview.
- Chapter 13: Foreign policy as means for promoting national interest. Unification of German people. England against Germany. France against England. Need for alliance with England and Italy. Jews seek world conquest, racial contamination. Question of South Tyrol. Jews oppose German-Italian alliance. Only fascist Italy is opposing Jews. Jews gain power in America.
- Chapter 14: Russia policy is foremost. Top priority: need for land, living space. Victory goes to the strong. No colonies, but only an expanded Reich. Look to the East. Russia is ruled by Jews, cannot be an ally. Only possible alliances: England and Italy.
- Chapter 15: German submission. Locarno Treaty as further submission. France seeks to dismember Germany. War with France is inevitable. France occupies Ruhr, opposes England. Must confront and destroy Marxism. Failure of Cuno’s passive resistance.
Even this concise summary demonstrates the controversial nature of the text.
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