Gustav Landauer

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Gustav Landauer
Gustav Landauer 189x.png
Born (1870-04-07)April 7, 1870
Karlsruhe, Grand Duchy of Baden
Died May 2, 1919(1919-05-02) (aged 49)
Munich, Bavarian Soviet Republic
Nationality German
Religion Judaism
Gustav Landauer (1892)

Gustav Landauer (7 April 1870 – 2 May 1919) was one of the leading theorists on anarchism in Germany in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was an advocate of social anarchism and an avowed pacifist. Landauer is also known for his study and translations of William Shakespeare's works into German. One of his grandchildren, with wife and author Hedwig Lachmann, is Mike Nichols, the American television, stage and film director, writer, and producer.

Life and career[edit]

Landauer in the 1890s

Gustav Landauer was the second child of Jewish parents Rosa (Neuberger) and Herman Landauer,[1] a shoe shop owner in Karlsruhe in the Grand Duchy of Baden, where he went through school. He was educated in philosophy, German studies and art history at Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and Berlin. After breaking off his studies in 1893, he worked as a freelance journalist and public speaker.

His second wife, Hedwig Lachmann, was an accomplished translator, and they worked together to translate various works into German, including those of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the American poet Walt Whitman.

In the spring of 1889 in Berlin, Landauer met his sponsor and long-time friend, the author and philosopher Fritz Mauthner for the first time. In April 1891 he joined the Free Volksbühne Berlin and declared his support of the "Friedrichshagen Poet Circle" (Friedrichshagener Dichterkreis) for Naturalist literature.

In February 1892 Landauer became a member of the Association of Independent Socialists (Verein Unabhängiger Sozialisten) and of a group of publishers for their mouthpiece "Socialist Organ of the Independent Socialists" (Sozialistisches Organ der unabhängigen Sozialisten). In this paper he wrote a number of articles about art, but also critical remarks about political issues as well as on the economic views of Karl Marx and Eugen Dühring.

Together with friends from the literature group "The Young" (Die Jungen), who also worked with the Association of Independent Socialists, he founded the "New Free Volksbühne" (Neue Freie Volksbühne).

At the end of 1892 Landauer married the seamstress Margarethe Leuschner.

In July 1893 the Association of Independent Socialists, in which Landauer had become the leading member of its anarchist wing, split up. In the same month he ended his cooperation with the magazine "Socialist" (Sozialist) of which the last issue appeared in January 1895.

At the "International Convention of Socialist Workers" of the II. Socialist International in August 1893 in Zurich, Landauer, as a delegate for the Berlin anarchists, stood for an "anarchist socialism". Against an anarchist minority the convention with 411 delegates from 20 countries passed a resolution in favour of participation in elections and political action in parliaments. The anarchists were excluded from the II. Socialist International.

Landauer was arrested for "incitement to civil disobedience" in October 1893, and sentenced 2 months in prison. In December the sentence was extended to 9 months, which Landauer served in the prison of Sorau (today Żary).

After Landauer had been unable to establish a secure livelihood in Switzerland in 1895 he returned to Berlin where he lived very modestly in a circle of artists, literati, people from theatres and critics. Between 1895 and 1899 he published another magazine titled "Socialist-Anarchist Monthly" (Sozialist – Anarchistische Monatszeitschrift).

In 1899 Landauer met the poet and language teacher Hedwig Lachmann, who would later become his second wife. In September of that year they decided to stay together for a longer period in England, where Landauer became close friends with the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. During this time Lachmann's and Landauer's daughter Gudula was born. In 1902 they returned to Berlin.

In 1903 Landauer divorced his first wife and married Hedwig Lachmann the same year. In 1906 their second daughter Brigitte was born.

From 1909 to 1915 Landauer published the magazine "The Socialist" (Der Sozialist) in Berlin, which was considered to be the mouthpiece of the "Socialist Federation" (Sozialistischer Bund) founded by Landauer in 1908. Among the first members were Erich Mühsam and Martin Buber. As a political organisation the federation remained unimportant.

In these years Landauer himself wrote 115 contributions for the magazine concerning art, literature and philosophy but also contemporary politics. In this magazine he also published to a greater extent own translations of the French philosopher and theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Because of the tightening of censorship the magazine had to be closed down.

In 1914 Landauer would not let himself be carried away by the general enthusiasm for the German war effort. Instead, he fought against it from the very beginning from his anarchist and pacifist standpoint.

Because of the increasing difficulties and poverty during the war, Landauer and his family moved from Berlin to Krumbach, near Ulm, in southwestern Germany. Here his wife died on 21 February 1918 of pneumonia.

Right after the war and the start of the November Revolution (German Revolution) Kurt Eisner sent a letter to Landauer on 14 November 1918 inviting him to participate in the Revolution and the establishment of a soviet republic in Bavaria: "What I would like you to do is to contribute in the reconstruction of the souls by speech".

After the assassination of Eisner by the right-wing extremist student Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley on 21 February 1919 the debates on the question of a council (soviet) system or a parliamentary system in the new Bavarian republic grew in intensity. When the soviet republic was proclaimed on 7 April 1919 against the elected government of Johannes Hoffmann, Landauer became Commissioner of Enlightenment and Public Instruction. The government of the first Soviet Republic of Bavaria (Erste Räterepublik des Freistaates Bayern) was initially dominated by independent socialists and pacifists like Ernst Toller (author and poet) or Silvio Gesell and anarchists like Erich Mühsam or Landauer. Landauer's first and only decree was to ban history lessons in Bavarian schools.

Three days after the Soviet government had been taken over by functionaries of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) around Eugen Leviné and Max Levien, Gustav Landauer became disappointed with their policies and resigned from all his political posts on 16 April 1919.

After the City of Munich was reconquered by the German army and Freikorps units, Gustav Landauer was arrested on 1 May 1919 and stoned to death by troopers one day later in Munich's Stadelheim Prison.

After the Nazis were elected in Germany in 1933 they destroyed Landauer's grave, which had been erected in 1925, sent his remains to the Jewish congregation of Munich, charging them for the costs. Landauer was later put to rest at the Munich Waldfriedhof (Forest Cemetery)

Metaphysics and religion[edit]

Landauer's ideas about metaphysics and religion changed around 1900. In his essay "Christentum und Anarchismus" ("Christianity and Anarchism" published in 1895 in the magazine Sozialist) Landauer was posed against religion. He especially rejected monotheist religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, saying that he denied any revelation. This can also be seen in an 1895 text in a series of articles "Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Individuums" (On the Developmental History of the Individual) in which Landauer pronounced himself in favour of Buddha. Unlike the religions mentioned before, Buddha supported his statements with arguments. Under the mystic-symbolic cloak of the teachings of Reincarnation he believes to have discovered the deep-lying "Core of Truth" and that he could now express this truth without the cloak. Until 1903 Landauer clearly rejected religious concepts such as god, immortality, the hereafter, revelation etc. Instead, he believed in rationality and enlightenment.

But in his essay "Skepsis und Mystik" (Scepticism and Mysticism) published in 1903 there is a turn in Landauer's thinking towards mysticism. His translation, the "Doctrines of Meister Eckhart" (Die mystischen Schriften des Meister Eckhart) from Middle High German into High German is also published in 1903. Although Landauer is still sceptical about Meister Eckhart's concept of God, because instead talking about God he actually only talks about world, worldly or world spirit. The divine-oneness of Meister Eckhart is seen from the perspective of essence and bliss of nature; the "essential" of things is transcendent. Thus, it can be argued that Landauer had "pantheism" in mind. He also often wrongly called Meister Eckhart a pantheist. For Eckhart the term "pan-en-theism" ("All things are in God") would probably be more fitting. Landauer's view of religion during the conception of his mysticism can be characterized as follows: He still regards the concrete manifestations of "ecclesiastical Christianity" as negative, among them "priests and professors of philosophy" but also priests and founders of philosophies "who quickly find peace in something positive". He sympathizes with those "who passionately desire peace but cannot be appeased by anything, such as heretics, sectarians and mystics". Amongst others, in "Skepsis und Mystik" (Scepticism and Mysticism) Landauer mentions Dionysius Areopagita, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Jakob Böhme, Angelus Silesius and Alfred Mombert. Their common trait was that they did not accept terms and concepts as intellectually correct and that they therefore opposed religious groups. For these thinkers the world of senses was only something metaphorical. By segregation they would try to unite their self with the world. Landauer's reverence for mysticism enabled him to include Christ into his thinking. He interprets Christ is a "Symbol of Man becoming God". For Landauer becoming God means the merger of the self with the world and that's exactly what Christ showed us.

At the age of 22 Landauer broke with the Jewish religious community. As described before, he rather referred to Christian-mystical tradition than to Judaism. Around 1907 he consciously returned to Judaism and its religious traditions. An important impetus for this reversal came from Martin Buber with whom he was good friends. Buber also occupied himself at the beginning of the century with Christian mysticism. From then on Landauer also included "Hasidic mysticism" into his thinking.

It is interesting how Landauer coins the terms of "time" and "eternity" in his essay "Skepsis und Mystik" (Sceticism and Mysticism). Eckhart or Neoplatonists of the Christian and Pre-Christian tradition (Plotinus, Augustinus, Dionysius Areopagita, Scotus Eriugena, Bonaventura etc.) respectively, did not define eternity as a time span which was forever expanded. Eternity is rather present in every moment of time, it contains time as a whole and transcends it at the same time. An "secluded" person that can free himself from time, experiences eternity by "mystical show" (spiritual perception) (Plotinus). For Landauer eternity at the same time is an everlasting temporal continuation but also the source of the temporal stream of development (Entwicklungsstrom). The idea of past and future is a "distortion of space" because only by applying ideas of space it could be suggested that we are standing at a point from which one can see into the past and into the future. The two opinions that, on one hand, eternity is an everlasting temporal continuation and on the other, it is the source of time, seem to contradict each other. For Landauer eternity remains bound to the course of time. He declares eternal renewal to be a constant through which "temporal quality differences" quite possibly appear in the "eternal presence".

Landauer's perception of time and eternity distinguishes itself by regarding past, present and future not as a category of time but as a result of "distortion of space". Thus eternity for him is a temporal course which, at the same time, is the source of time. Neoplatonists (Meister Eckhart) also talk about a temporal course of time that is embraced by eternity which at the same time is the source of time. Thus, eternity can be experienced by "mystical show" (spiritual perception) (Plotinus) within time. For Meister Eckhart as well as for Landauer the key to this experience lies in the so-called "secludedness".

Mystical anthropology[edit]

In mystical anthropology man has within him a divine spark or the "uncreated base of the soul," which goes to make up the actual human nature and at the same time is one with God. In the Bible it says "Man is an image of God". To define the actual nature of man, Landauer explicitly refers to Meister Eckhart. Therefore, according to Landauer, our "individual", firmly "standing on itself" and "deeply retreating into itself" is at the same time "our most general", which connects us with the whole "all-one" world and leads us to unity with it. Landauer says in "Skepsis und Mystik" (see: Skepsis und Mystik 1978, p. 17): "The deeper I return home into myself, the more I am blessed with the world". For Landauer sinking into one's self means being blessed with the world. In Neoplatonism or according to Meister Eckhart the "search in one's own heart" in the end leads to the recognition or to the "vision of God". Another difference in mystical anthropology between Landauer and Eckhart is the "concept of heredity" which Landauer propagates. The individual is the result of a long chain of ancestors which are all still present by executing power over a person. The upright carriage of man e. g. is a visible sign of this power of the first humans over us. Heredity leads us back, beyond human and animal ancestors, all the way to the inorganic world. This thought is confirmed in "Skepsis und Mystik" by the mystical idea that man has the whole world in himself. Thus, our complete ancestry is within us. Landauer also connects the concepts of "mankind" and "human nature", which, in addition to that, he defines as divine.

Of course the world is emphasized in comparison to the human individual. In turn, the human individual is subordinate to the human race. The individualization is a result of the "Will of the World" and not the will of the individual or the "human race". In 1895 Landauer still adhered to the thesis, that individuals are the result of the will of the human race. Around this time he also declared that the more someone stepped out of the mass as an own independent self the larger would be his influence on mankind. On the other hand in Skepsis und Mystik (Scepticism and Mysticism) he wrote that the world had to separate off the individuals so that it could flare up and appear within them, for: "The world wants to become". Until 1900 Landauer started out that the individual had to fulfill himself in order to come up to the primordial idea of progressing mankind. After 1900 the human being could any time "coincide with the world", that is to say man can fulfill himself any time. Utopia is thus moved from the future into the eternal presence, which can be mystically experienced. Thus, the future course of Socialism (Anarchism) does not depend on a certain development stage of mankind.

For Landauer seclusion is necessary in order to break through to the human race. In Skepsis und Mystik (Scepticism and Mysticism) he writes:

"The firmer an individual is footed on himself, the deeper he retreats into himself, the more he isolates himself from the influences of his surroundings, the more he finds himself coinciding with the world of the past and with what he originally is".

By "originally" Landauer means the human community, which is stronger, more noble and much older than the frail influence of the state or society.

The seclusion not only has consequences for the individuals themselves. By the seclusion the individuals are also returned to the unity with the world.

Political philosophy: ethical anarchism[edit]

From the above described philosophical sources and works Landauer developed an anarchism which was not individualistic; he rejected individualist anarchism. Landauer supported anarchism already in the 1890s. In those years, he was especially enthusiastic about the individualistic approach of Max Stirner. He didn't want to stay behind Stirner's extremely individual approach but wanted to develop a new general public, a unity and community. His "social anarchism" was a union of individuals on a voluntary basis in small socialist communities which came together freely. Landauer's goal was always emancipation from state, church, or other forms of subordination in society. The expression 'anarchism' stems from the Greek "arche" meaning 'power', 'reign' or 'rule'. Thus 'an-archy' equals 'non-power', 'no-reign' or 'no-rule'. The rejection of the state is common to all anarchist positions. Some also reject institutions and moral concepts, such as church, matrimony, or family; the rejection is, of course, voluntary. Landauer came out against Marxists and social democrats, reproaching them for wanting to erect another state executing power. For him, anarchism was a spiritual movement, almost religious. In contrast to other anarchists, he did not reject matrimony; on the contrary, it was a pillar of the community in Landauer's system. True anarchism results from the "inner segregation" of the individuals.

Here once more is a list of the most important aspects of Landauer's anarchism:

  1. Anarchism entails absence of power (reign, hierarchy, forced institutions)
  2. Anarchism is not equatable with terrorism; it is to be achieved through non-violence.
  3. Anarchism cannot be based upon egoistic individualism.

It is exactly this from which one is to be freed. Precondition for autonomy and independence respectively is the "seclusion" which leads to a "unity with the world." According to Landauer, it is necessary to change the nature of man or at least to change his ways, so that finally the inner convictions can appear and be lived. This includes an "anarchism of deed" that is never strictly theoretical.

Monetary and economic philosophy[edit]

In "Aufruf zum Sozialismus" (Call to Socialism) Landauer describes three aspects of economical slavery of modern capitalism, as he calls it:

1)The first problem he points out is ownership of land. It is the cause of "the begging and dependent position of those without possessions". The landowner can deny it to the landless. But the latter needs the land for the purpose of direct and indirect consumption thus creating a dependency. Land ownership and its correlate, landlessness, according to Landauer, are the roots of slavery, bondage, tribute, lease, interest and the proletariat.

The solution to this problem simply lies in the dissolution of land ownership. In "Aufruf zum Sozialismus" (Call to Socialism) Landauer says (p. 170):

The abolition of property will mainly also be a change of spirit; from its rebirth will stem a powerful redistribution of property with the will, to redistribute the land at different intervals in the future over and over again.

Justice will of course depend on the inner spiritual attitude of the people. There will be no need for legal procedures pertaining to the just distribution of land because the spirit of the people will "voluntarily" recognise what a just distribution is.

2) The second evil stressed by Landauer is the superiority of money as a means of exchange for goods. After some time goods lose their value through use. Money makes the disastrous exception that it is part of the exchange but not of the devaluation. If there is to be a just exchange economy, the money that is used cannot have the quality of our money with an "absolute value". Landauer also regards interest as damaging because it creates constant economical growth. But the main evil of present money is its non-consumptiveness. Landauer's idea is that in a free exchange economy money must become equal compared to goods having the dual character of exchange and consumption. He basically refers to ideas of the economist Silvio Gesell. In "Aufruf zum Sozialismus" (Call to Socialism) he writes:

Therefore the proposals of Silvio Gesell to find a kind of money which, unlike today, does not gain in value but on the contrary, progressively loses value with time. Thus the vendor of a product now possessing money will be pressed to exchange it for another product as soon as possible etc., etc..

According to Landauer, Silvio Gesell is one of the very few who learned from Pierre Joseph Proudhon. When producing or acquiring a means of exchange there will be no other interest but consumption. This was Proudhon's idea that the fast circulation of money brings happiness and liveliness into one's private life while the dropping off in the market and the stubbornness of persisting money also brings life to a grind[citation needed].

Silvio Gesell proposed the reformation of the monetary system: Instead of the money used until now, so called "free money" is to be introduced. Money is given out in the form of notes along with little tickets to be torn off as smaller change. The little tickets also serve as devaluation, because every week it must be diminished by 1/1000 of its value. Every week the owner of a note must attach a stamp to indicate the devaluation of 1/1000. This induces the owner of the "money" to spend it as soon as possible. Coins would be abolished and the Central Bank would be replaced by a currency office responsible for transactions, contributions and regulation of circulation. This office would also withdraw all notes at the end of the year and replace them with new ones. Gustav Landauer fully supported this idea of Silvio Gesell.

3. The third evil leading to slavery according to Landauer is added value. Value initially means to have a claim against someone, meaning an economical, not an ethical value. The word "value" includes the expectation that the price should equal the material value. The respective price is usually much higher than the sum of wages paid to make the product. This is because people want to make use of every advantage, not only of property but also of the rarity of a commodity in demand or the ignorance of the consumer. As a result, work cannot buy everything it was paid to produce so that a considerable part remains for the buying power of profit.

In "Aufruf zum Sozialismus" (Call to Socialism) Landauer criticizes Marxism as follows:

This is about pointing out, that the one-sided emphasis on the question of wages by workers and unions is connected with the wrong perception of added value by the Marxists. In earlier times we saw how wages and prices were mutually dependent; we now point out that the opinion is totally false, according to which the so-called added value is an absolute quantity produced by the undertaker, from where it flows into the other capitalist categories.

The truth for Landauer is that every and each profit is drawn from labour. There is no productivity of property and no productivity of capital as such, but only a productivity of labour. This is a conclusion he shared with Marx.


  • Skepsis und Mystik (1903)
  • Die Revolution (trans. Revolution) (1907)
  • Aufruf zum Sozialismus (1911) (trans. by David J. Parent as For Socialism. Telos Press, 1978. ISBN 0-914386-11-5)
  • Editor of the journal Der Sozialist (trans. The Socialist) from 1893–1899
  • "Anarchism in Germany" (1895), "Weak Statesmen, Weaker People" (1910) and "Stand Up Socialist" (1915) are excerpted in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas - Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), ed. Robert Graham. Black Rose Books, 2005. ISBN 1-55164-250-6
  • Gustav Landauer. Gesammelte Schriften Essays Und Reden Zu Literatur, Philosophie, Judentum. (translated title: Collected Writings Essays and Speeches of Literature, Philosophy and Judaica). (Wiley-VCH, 1996) ISBN 3-05-002993-5
  • Gustav Landauer. Anarchism in Germany and Other Essays. eds. Stephen Bender and Gabriel Kuhn. Barbary Coast Collective.
  • Gustav Landauer. Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, ed. & trans. Gabriel Kuhn; PM Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60486-054-2


  1. ^ Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2010, p. 10

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Esper. The Anarchism of Gustav Landauer. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961)
  • Ruth Link-Salinger Hyman. Gustav Landauer: Philosopher of Utopia. (Hackett Publishing Company, 1977). ISBN 0-915144-27-1
  • Eugene Lunn. Prophet of Community: The Romantic Socialism of Gustav Landauer. (Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1973). ISBN 0-520-02207-6
  • Charles B. Maurer. Call to Revolution: The Mystical Anarchism of Gustav Landauer. (Wayne State University Press, 1971). ISBN 0-8143-1441-4
  • Michael Löwy, Redemption & Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe, a Study in Elective Affinity. Translated by Hope Heaney. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.
  • Martin Buber. Paths in Utopia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.

External links[edit]