Gustav Landauer (1870-1919) was a German anarchist during the German Novemberrevolution. On the 2nd of May 1919 he died a martyrs death, during the fall of the Sovjet republic. His anarcho-socialist ideas can definitely be seen as a solid basis for what we today describe as “folkanarchism”. Landauer is best described as a critical and realistic idealist. He was not deceived by idealist mirages, nor by materialist fallacies.
Folk and Culture
In contradiction to most socialists from his time, Landauer never believed that humanity would reach a higher phase of life by the development of technology and science. He didn´t count on the idea that “progress” would be mechanically achieved, but by an eternal rejuvenation and renewal. The peoples never aged, only their cultures did. At a certain time each culture irrevocably lost its lifeforce, through which it froze and fell. Because of this the peoples who were once its bearers fell into a state of “serenity” and forgot that what they had wanted, known and done, untill finally the day came that they were regenerated by a new idea.
When this new idea appeared between them as a real unchanging truth, then the individuals were bound again through worship and love. Through this, human life became lifted to higher forms of organisation and a new culture flourished. In these times the urge to connect with the people got the upperhand and the power over the individual. With this a form of social life came to being that was described by Landauer as “the community of communities”; the organic connection of little, self-governing and, on their own strength acting units, that in turn connected themselves with larger units. This age of great culture was marked by the new idea feeding the “stream of life”, only then the relationships were healthy and life had dignity.
This era was always preceded by a stage in which the spirit of the community dominates. In this stage no brilliant personalities rise above the masses, because the essence of life is uniform. Brilliant personalities come forth from the bosom of the community and the general spirit of the people themselves, therefore the people does not gawk at them as “wonderous animals”, but recognize them as natural fruits from the tree of society. These highlights are rarely reached in humanity its rich and infinitely long history. During these highlights there is no need for an ideal, no craving for the new, because the spirit that gives meaning to life, is present in all its manifestations.
After these era’s of balance, inexorably follows times of demise. The negative forces that are present within each culture, are rigid dogmas, which prevail over the living spirit. The living spirit is killed by them, because people are clinging to one and the same dogmatic form. Organisations, like the State, have contained since their existence the seeds of domination and mechanically rigid centralism. Through the advance of the general decay their bad sides have gotten worse, while they grow in strength. In the masses, the spirit that binds all individuals into a true community, disappears. When the life of the community no longer feeds the individual, the individual gets alienated and lonely. This process of sophisticated individualization on the one hand, and atomization on the other, leads towards a mindlessness of the masses. They can only become a people again, when a new culture flourishes.
Progress and Revolution
In contradiction to most revolutionary Marxists, Landauer unconditionally rejected the “Zeitgeist”. Fierce anti-capitalists like Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht accepted the growth of the big-industrial organisation and saw the associated mechanization as “progress” in the spirit of Marx. Their “progress” was nothing more than the “progress” of the bourgeoisie. Landauer´s thought was not based on the historical materialism, which makes the development of technology as the criterion of progress. He didn´t see the development of Western humanity since the Renaissance as an unparalleled triumph. Landauer had his own criteria for progress. He didn´t see progress in materialist terms, but measured life by the content in which people became aware of their connectedness. The modern Zeitgeist he acknowledged as an era of cultural descent, of increasing alienation and upheaval.
However Landauer didn’t believe in the “eternal damnation” of a people. He saw change through renewal as a law of life. Through demise, growth could be born and from dispare new strength could derive. There was only one spirit that could rise the people again: the spirit of justice in community life. Landauer didn’t only see his socialism as the only opportunity to escape the need and social misery of the proletariat, but also as the only opportunity for the renewal of the entire humanity. Only this could stop its demise and alienation.
Landauer considered the revolution as a constantly recurring phenomenon, through which society could escape from the danger of cultural rigidity. Since the Western culture perished, the West mostly survived through violence and centralized State power. During this period the Western humanity also strived for freedom, which was strongly expressed during the revolution. Therefore Landauer considered the revolution as the run-up towards spiritual rebirth. The urge to live, which was suffocated during normal times, was released during revolutionary days.
Although Landauer was convinced of the regenerative function of the revolution, he didn’t see it as the way towards socialism. According to him the great force of socialism was construction: the peacefull reconstruction. When the revolution had destroyed the old strongholds and obsolete forms of life, then her positive forces were enough to ensure the existence and further development of the community.
Landauer’s views on socialism were realistic-idealistic. Realistic was his view that the urge for socialism arose from social relations and the impossibility to which capitalism led us. His view was idealistic because he was convinced that next to these social conditions, another force of a completely different order was needed before socialism could be born: the creative spirit which could produce new relationships between mankind. For Landauer socialism was not absolute. The natural feeling of fraternity between fellow countrymen and fellow human beings he acknowledged, as the active force that gave meaning to life and to the world. Socialism was not build on a certain modus of production or a certain technology, but on a deep and noble urge within human nature: social instincts and social feelings.
This is the socialism Landauer fought for many years of his life and for which he eventually died a martyrs death.