Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader

Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader

by Gustav Landauer

ISBN: 9781604860542

Publisher PM Press

Published in Calendars/Readers & Writers

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Sample Chapter




On the Jubilee of Wilhelm II

The essay was originally published as "Vor fünfundzwanzig Jahren. Zum Regierungsjubiläum Wilhelms II." in Der Sozialist, June 15, 1913. It is the only Landauer essay that includes details of his youth.

Demon: Will the spirit not be inherited?

Sleeping King: Of all things that could possibly be inherited, this would be the last.

(Bettina von Arnim)1

Which day of the week the 15th of June was twenty five years ago, I do not remember. The newspapers will certainly address this in all the memorials we will soon be reading. They have better memory because they replace brains with print. I do know, however, that it was not a Sunday like this year. This I know because I was sitting in school. It was in my senior year, shortly before graduation. Between 11 a.m. and noon on said day, all of the town's church bells suddenly began to ring. I instantly knew what this meant and looked expectantly at the teacher; he, however, in his philological fervor, did not (or did not want to) understand what had happened and continued to criticize Sophocles or Plato. This went on until the school's caretaker stormed into the room and ordered us all to the auditorium. There the headmaster told us with the obligatory patriotic ado that Kaiser Frederick III had died.

A few months earlier, I had stood on the auditorium's stage myself, seventeen years old, spewing patriotism. Years earlier, the Grand Duchess Luise had opened a foundation for our school. Senior students whose manuscripts had been approved were granted a patriotic speech every year. Their reward was a silver coin with Fichte's image; the winner got the same coin in gold, and a copy of Fichte's Reden an die deutsche Nation – which the Grand Duchess or her advisors had certainly never read or understood.

The whole event was called Fichte-Akt, and so, in the name of Fichte, I gave a speech on Friedrich Barbarossa. I tied – in black-red-golden spirit and with passionate references to Heinrich Heine, the teachers' most hated poet – the notions of fatherland, unity of the Reich, and revolution dramatically to the old Staufenkaiser. This earned me a harsh public scolding from the headmaster, a pitiful handshake from the mathematics teacher, and, with all sorts of reservations, the silver coin. My mother still has it. I never desired to have Fichte's head, engraved by the Grand Duchess, with me.

Prior to that day, I had a personal encounter with this mother of our country; since this was the only time I ever personally met a crowned head, I want to tell you about it today, on the occasion of her nephew's jubilee.

Our meeting was also at a jubilee. It was the 300 anniversary of our school. Juniors and seniors presented the Sophocles tragedy Philoctetes in German. I had only come to this school recently from another, and – not even considering the boredom I felt – there was no reason for me to celebrate. I hardly knew the teachers or the other students and certainly had no particular connection to the place. Nonetheless, I partook in the play as a coryphaeus.

Afterwards, we were presented to the Grand Duchess and her husband; the seniors to him, the juniors – which I was at the time – to her. We know enough today about the way in which monarchs handle their munificent addresses from the Feldherrnhügel; I got to experience this first-hand when I was 17. The Grand Duchess, whose Prussian accent I noticed, asked one student a quick question, and then, before he was even able to answer, turned to the next. The student before me was asked something about a professor who had recently died, and then I got the question: "Have you also enjoyed the classes of the professor?" Before I could even open my mouth, the headmaster jumped in and said, "No, this is a very young student." The Grand Duchess looked at me bewildered and said, "Really? And already this tall?" I bowed to hide my grin – even if it was not necessary, as she already spoke to my neighbor.

In the bigger picture, this event, like everything that concerned school, was only an unimportant episode in my development. Even though school, including homework, occupied seven to eight hours of my day as a youth, it meant, with few exceptions, only alternating states of nervous anxiety and relaxation, the ludicrous theft of time, freedom, and dreams, and an obstruction to my own desires, investigations, and experiments. I spent a lot of time as a youth alone, and all that was important to me came from theatre, music, and especially books.

The cheap Reclam volumes of Henrik Ibsen left a huge impression on me and forced my romantic desire to face reality. I had a lot of longing in me for purity, beauty, and fulfillment. I had found nourishment in Richard Wagner, whose operas, performed by Mottl, I enjoyed as often as I could from the age of fifteen. I got tickets on the Juchhe, as we called the cheapest stands. But the more effective this magic potion was, the more oblivious I became to the ugliness of reality. And so it was Ibsen who turned my youthful dreams of beauty into a desire for realization; it was Ibsen who forced me, with irresistible power, to no longer ignore reality, to no longer ignore society and its ills, but to be aware and critical and rebellious. It was an individual rebellion at the time, as I did not understand anything about socialism and had no comprehension of national economy. The reason for my opposition to society, as well as the reason for my continued dreams and my outrage, was not class identity or even compassion, but the permanent collision of romantic desire with philistine limitation. This is why I was (without knowing the word at the time) an anarchist before I was a socialist, one of the few who had not taken a detour via social democracy.

Ibsen's influence was soon joined by that of Nietzsche, especially of his Zarathustra. Some of the book's contents probably touched me so deeply and strongly because the words made me experience the spiritual struggle that their author had gone through. I had already lived in the minds of philosophers for a long time. I had read Schopenhauer and Spinoza. Now, with Nietzsche, I encountered a thinker in whom thought did not dominate emotion, but in whom thought and emotion were united. Yearning, passion, and fervency were dedicated to an idea like you would dedicate them to a lover. There was poetry, rich and colorful language, compelling verbal imagery, rhythm and dance, devotion and ardor, blissfulness and agony, animality and beauty, courtship and obsession – and it was all about the idea. And yet, as in the case of Ibsen, reality was not disregarded: there was activity in Nietzsche's spiritual quest, there was permanent destruction and creation, collapsing and rebuilding.

I will not say anything here about the fundamental parts of my youth, my heritage, my personality, my experiences at home and among friends. I am only mentioning a few external influences. Yet these alone should explain why my relation to the past twenty-five years of contemporary history is characterized by a strange mixture of detachment and participation. I felt disgust with society way too early to still feel fury or hate towards individuals.

In our times, an artist is defined as someone who has a vision; someone with visions and rhythms that form a separate inner world; someone who can manifest this world on the outside; someone who can create a new, an exemplary, his own world through imagination and creative force; someone whose ideas leave his inner being like Pallas Athena left Jupiter's head; someone who then, like an Italian trader of plaster figures, packs the result in a basket and hawks it in "the other world," ordinary reality, where he sells the figures of his dreams and sacred desires to the goblins and caricatures of his artistic mind, all the while advertising, calculating, haggling, arguing, cheating. This is the contemporary artist's mixture of detachment and participation. But mine is another: I want to use reality to create; I want art to be the process of imaginative and communal social transformation, rather than the expression of individual yearning.

Even though it is too early to write my memoirs (I do not lack experience, but I do lack retrospective distance), I have taken the liberty of speaking about myself on the occasion of Wilhelm II's jubilee. If you will, I have given myself a modest torchlight procession.

Wilhelm II does not concern me much, and if I try to relate him to the German people of the last twenty-five years, I can only see him as the guardian of the country's Simplicissimus mood, i.e., a spirit of resignation that delights in replacing action with permanent and meaningless complaint; it is the spirit of a fist clenched in the pocket; it is a spirit that has turned the German people into a theatre audience, spectators of the play "German Reich" without any capacity to intervene; it is a spirit that cannot even live up to Grimmelshausen's motto Es hat mir so wollen behagen, lachend die Wahrheit zu sagen, because there is nothing pure and productive about today's laughter.

The height of Wilhelm II's twenty-five-year reign was November 1908, when for two days the representatives of all parties held court against him, when the parties unanimously agreed that he had done great damage to Germany, when the majority found words of scorn and ridicule, and when hardly concealed allusions caused great amusement among all present. Finally, the chancellor traveled to Potsdam and the Kaiser made amends.

This was a start; it was but a triviality, but it was something. We would be a little less audience and entourage, and a little more people, if we all just remembered on this jubilee that there can only be one monarch: the inner being of each individual. If our situation is to improve, it is this monarch who must claim his rule and point us in the right direction.




Landauer explains the change of the Sozialist subtitle to "Journal for Anarchism-Socialism" (Organ für Anarchismus-Sozialismus). The text provides insight into Landauer's early understanding of anarchism, its relation to socialism, and the prospects of a future anarchist society. Originally published as "Anarchismus – Sozialismus" in Der Sozialist, September 7, 1895.

Journal for Anarchism and Socialism - this is what our paper says. Anarchism is the goal that we pursue: the absence of domination and of the state; the freedom of the individual. Socialism is the means by which we want to reach and secure this freedom: solidarity, sharing, and cooperative labor.

Some people say that we have turned things upside down by making anarchism our goal and socialism our means. They see an -archy as something negative, as the absence of institutions, while socialism indicates a positive social order. They think that the positive part should constitute the goal, and the negative the means that can help us to destroy whatever keeps us from attaining the goal. These people fail to understand that anarchy is not just an abstract concept of freedom but that our notions of a free life and of free activity include much that is concrete and positive. There will be work – purposeful and fairly distributed; but it will only be a means to develop and strengthen our rich natural forces, to impact our fellow human beings, culture, and nature, and to enjoy society's riches to the fullest.

Anyone who is not blinded by the dogmas of the political parties will recognize that anarchism and socialism are not opposed but co-dependent. True cooperative labor and true community can only exist where individuals are free, and free individuals can only exist where our needs are met by brotherly solidarity.

It is mandatory to fight the false social democratic claims that anarchism and socialism are as opposed as "fire and water." Those who make such claims usually argue thus: Socialism means "socialization." This means in turn that society – a vague term usually encompassing all human beings who inhabit the earth – will be amalgamated, unified, and centralized. The so-called "interests of humanity" become the highest law, and the specific interests of certain social groups and individuals become secondary. Anarchism, on the other hand, means individualism, i.e., the desire of individuals to assert power without limits; it spells atomization and egoism. As a result, we have incompatible opposites: socialization and individual sacrifice on the one hand; individualization and self-centeredness on the other.

I think that it is possible to illustrate the shortcomings of these assumptions by a simple allegory. Let us imagine a town that experiences both sunshine and rain. If someone suggested that the only way to protect the town against rain is to build a huge roof that covers everything and that will always be there whether it rains or not, then this would be a "socialist" solution according to the social democrats. On the other hand, if someone suggested that, in the case of rain, each individual should grab one of the town's umbrellas and that those who come too late are simply unlucky, then this would be an "anarchist" solution. For us anarchist socialists both solutions appear ridiculous. Neither do we want to force all individuals under a common roof nor do we want to end up in fistfights over umbrellas. When it is useful, we can share a common roof – as long as it can be removed when it is not useful. At the same time, all individuals can have their own umbrellas, as long as they know how to handle them. And with regard to those who want to get wet – well, we will not force them to stay dry.

Leaving allegories aside, what we need is the following: associations of humankind in affairs that concern the interests of humankind; associations of a particular people in affairs that concern the interests of a particular people; associations of particular social groups in affairs that concern particular social groups; associations of two people in affairs that concern the interests of two people; individualization in affairs that concern the interests of the individual.

Instead of both the national state and of the world state that the social democrats dream of, we anarchists want a free order of multiple, intertwined, colorful associations and companies. This order will be based upon the principle that all individuals are closest to their own interests, and that their shirts are closer to them than their jackets. It will rarely be necessary to address all of humankind in order to deal with a specific problem. Hence, there is no need for a global parliament or any other global institution.

There are affairs that concern all of humankind, but in such cases the different groups will find ways to reach common solutions. Let us take the matter of international transport and its intricate train schedules as an example. Here, the representatives of each country find solutions despite the absence of a higher coordinating power. The reason is simple: necessity demands it. It is hence hardly surprising that I find the Reichskursbuch the only bureaucratic publication worth reading. I am convinced that this book will receive more honors in the future than the law books of all nations combined!

Other affairs that will need global attention are measurements, scientific and technical terms, and statistics, which are of great importance for economic planning and other purposes. (Although, they are much less important than what the social democrats think, who want to make them the throne on which to build the people's global domination.) Those who are not condemned to ignorance by the conditions that the powerful force upon them will soon make appropriate use of statistics without any global institution. There will probably be a global organization of some kind that compiles and compares different statistical data, but it will not play a very significant role and will never constitute a powerful political force.

Excerpted from "Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader" by Gustav Landauer. Copyright © 2010 by Gustav Landauer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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