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Remembering Gustav Landauer

On May 2, 1919, it will be one hundred years since the German anarchist and revolutionary Gustav Landauer found his death at the hands of German soldiers who had attacked and overthrown the Bavarian Council Republic that Landauer had helped establish. Landauer, whose work has been documented in English in the PM Press reader Revolution and Other Writings, remains a unique figure in the history of anarchism and socialism (synonyms for him), not only in Germany but internationally. His call for building small-scale rural communes (Siedlungen) based on a spiritual embrace of anarchist principles in order to, step by step, undermine the state’s authority and eventually make it superfluous, might struck some as naive but remains one of the most coherent concepts of how to replace the existing social order with one based on direct democracy, mutual aid, and social justice.

The upcoming anniversary of his death has caused several initiatives in Germany to honor his legacy. In an earlier post, I reported on the efforts of having the city of Munich resurrect Landauer’s monument at the Waldfriedhof. The original monument there had been erected by Munich’s anarchosyndicalists in 1925, only to be destroyed by the Nazis eight years later. These efforts have borne fruit. The city of Munich will unveil the resurrected monument on June 29, 2017.

Meanwhile, the Gustav Landauer Denkmalinitiative in Berlin has been campaigning for a memorial in the German capital, where Landauer established himself as one of the most important voices of anarchism in Germany while working as an editor for Der Sozialist in the 1890s. The Denkmalinitiative, which also publishes pamphlets of Landauer’s most important writings and leads guided tours through “the anarchists’ Berlin”, explains the reason behind demanding a memorial for an anarchist thus:

“Some might wonder: Why a monument for an anarchist? Isn’t that corny, perhaps even un-anarchistic? … A monument for Gustav Landauer does not mean to confine the memory of a towering figure in anarchism’s history to a museum. … We believe that the essence of Landauer’s ideas is as relevant today as it has ever been. To bring these ideas back to life will awaken and inspire people. … The hundredth anniversary of his death coincides with a time that sees people searching for alternatives to the catastrophes they are facing every day. This has also rekindled an interest in the tradition of anarchist socialism. In this context, we regard the campaign for a Landauer monument in Berlin as an opportunity to reintroduce this tradition into public discourse.”

Berlin’s city council has not yet made any decision. Whether its members will follow the example of the one in Munich remains to be seen. Regardless, the Denkmalinitiative is another project helping to reintroduce Landauer to the German public, next to Edition AV Verlag’s ongoing Selected Writings series, the seminal new Landauer biography by Tilman Leder, and brand-new multi-volume editions of Landauer’s letters and diaries (1884-1900 and 1899-1919). It is hard to find fault with that.

(May 2017)



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