The anarchists of that period exaggerated the significance of conspiracy organizations and, as time went on, they also exaggerated the importance of individual acts. These last ones reaching big proportions as many of them even got to the point of considering the so called propaganda by the deed the essential of the movement. Individual terrorist acts of a passionate character are comprehensible and explainable in times of wild reaction and atrocious persecutions. These methods weren’t just used by the anarchists. One can even say, with certainty, that in comparison with the reactionary adherents to individual terrorism, anarchists were just simple innocent creatures. Anyway, it is well established that these acts by themselves have nothing to do with anarchists. As human beings, just like everyone, certain conditions incited some anarchists to carry out certain acts, just like it could happen with people of very different ideological tendencies. Only due to the horrendous persecutions of which anarchists are a target of in several countries, can one explain why the importance of these acts was exaggerated in the anarchist circles of the period.
Individual actions can never serve as the foundations for a social movement and they are in no way capable of transforming the social system. They can only, in certain periods, frighten some supporters of the system, but they never actually influence the system itself. That was also said by the anarchists. Only certain individuals can be enticed by terrorist actions, and this fact alone is the best proof that a movement can’t be built with individuals as the base. Social transformations are only possible by movements of the masses. This was understood by the anarchists of the first period and that is why they dedicated themselves mainly to propaganda for the masses and they sought to connect them in economic unions and social studies centers. Later, when the growing reactions ended that activity and the anarchist movement was chased by the authorities, the tendency that we discussed previously was developed.
In Germany, under the domination of the anti-socialists law, the anarchist movement developed underground activity that limited itself to the clandestine distribution of periodicals and pamphlets published abroad. Anarchist elements such as Freíheit de Most and Warheitque also appeared in New York and Autonomy of London was introduced to Germany through the Belgium and Dutch borders. The distribution of such literature resulted in numerous victims and the comrades that fell into the hands of the authorities were almost always punished with prison. The movement was never very strong, as it always had to fight against countless problems and not only did it have to endure all kinds of persecutions carried out by the government, but it also had to endure hateful and intolerable behavior from the social-democratic leaders, who were masters in all kinds of vilifications. Wilhelm Liebknecht slandered August Reinsdorf, accusing him of being working with the police, when he had already been condemned to death.
There were groups in Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Magdeburg, Frankfurt, Mainz, Manheim and several other cities in the lower Rhein, Saxony and South of Germany. The majority of the members, especially after the law against socialists, were young enthusiasts, who conceived their Anarchism more with feelings than with reason. But that’s not odd at all, since there wasn’t much anarchist literature in German. Besides Bakunin’s God and the State there were some pamphlets by Kropotkin, Most and Poucquart. This was all there was. We also can’t forget that Most’s words of substance had more influence over us, the youth, than the simple explanations of Kropotkin. Psychologically it’s easy to understand this, in a country where free speech was forbidden, one interprets that the most radical actions should have the most success, even if those actions weren’t thoroughly studied.
With the fall of the law against socialists in 1890 there was a significant change in the horizon of Anarchism in Germany, one of considerable proportions even when it was operating slowly. The opposition within the social-democracy, that was already quite noticeable during the time of the law, spoke out publicly, causing disgust to the old party leaders. The old tried all kind of tactics to conform themselves to the young and when they didn’t succeed; they openly declared themselves in favor of a rupture, reaching the extreme of, during the 1891 convention in Erfurt, throwing out the orators from the opposition. The expelled then founded a new organization, the Association of Independent Socialists, with a periodical in Berlin, Der Sozialist.
These events helped the anarchists to come out publicly with their ideas, with Berlin as the city where the first anarchist conferences where held. Two years later they even tried to start their own anarchist periodical in Germany, but Arbeiter Zeitung, which titled itself the periodical of the German anarchists and was due to come out on November 1893, was immediately confiscated by the government. All editions of the first issue, with the exception of a few copies, fell into the hands of the police. Meanwhile Der Sozialist was evolving into the direction of Anarchism, finally under the editorial guidance of Gustav Landauer there was a rupture with the Independent Socialists and the majority declared themselves in favor of Anarchism. Since then, Der Sozialist has been purely anarchist.
As such one can say that in the first half of the new decade, it would have been possible to organize the several anarchist groups in Germany and subsequently establish the foundations for a healthy and vigorous movement. A part of the anarchists wanted to do just that, but at that time internal disagreements, that would for years affect the young movement, started. A flood of different currents engulfed the new anarchist movement, which led to an incredible confusion of spirits. Had the movement had the opportunity to publicly develop and spiritually strengthen itself for a few years without any setbacks, many thoughts that they would acquire would have helped to accelerate and spread their spiritual evolution. Unfortunately they weren’t in that kind of a situation. The majority of its adherents at the time lacked the spiritual maturity that could have enabled them to prove and critically value all the new thoughts that were being introduced at its bosom.
Ninety nine percent of anarchists in Germany at the time didn’t have any idea of the origin and aspirations of the anarchist movement. With foreign anarchist periodicals and pamphlets they got to know superficially a certain phase of the struggle, but the circumstances that determined the shape of this phase of the movement remained unknown to them. The comrades that got to know the period of conspiracy of the anarchist movement in Germany were all, without exceptions, Anarcho-Communists. Other tendencies hadn’t even been heard of. In 1891, in Munich, the famous novel by John Henry Mackay Die Anarchisten appeared. This book caused a lot of talk in German anarchist circles, despite its weak theoretical base. In the group meetings and the night dissertations discussions on the question “Anarcho-Communism or Individualist Anarchism?” rambled on forever. The ones that reached the conclusion that so called Individualism represented the true ideological framework of Anarchism weren’t few. Some of them, after Mackay, went so far as to seriously question the right of the adherents to the Communist tendency to title themselves as anarchists. It’s remarkable how the most fanatical proselytes of freedom are exactly those who wish to limit it the most.
A year later there was a new edition of Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own in Reclam’s Universal Library, a piece that had been completely forgotten (The second edition, 1852, wasn’t very distributed and within anarchist circle it was practically unknown). The reappearance of that weird piece is an important event for the German anarchist movement. Only a small percentage had any idea of the time and circumstances of Stirner’s piece. The great ideological struggles of before 1848 had long been forgotten and consequently many of the ones that avidly studied The Ego, had no idea about them or if they did know about them, it was a very lacking knowledge with no way to interpret the polemical attacks in the book. It’s easy to assume so, since that period left us no traces of literature presenting the opposing values of those remote times. As a result Stirner’s works became for many a new Manifest, a kind of ultimate truth that could not be beaten. Paradoxically, this classical work of rejections, without a match in literature, was converted by many anarchists into a new Bible, which itself was very commented and interpreted, and unfortunately there was no lack of writers. I think it’s a tragedy that of all the great spirits, or maybe spirit in general, it’s always the most obtuse and tasteless charlatans that are always ready to take the role of the apostles. Stirner, Nietzsche and beyond, didn’t deserved better than what they got. In many anarchist groups there were Stirnian writers that were always ready to comment on the egoistic – that, one should mention, they didn’t understand – and preventing any other reasonable writings. That meant that in each group there could only be one of those spirits, because when there was another spirit in the group rupture was unavoidable and it lead to the immediate formation of a new group. Those Germans fought especially against all organizing activity, looking down on the flock with a certain derogatory pride. They even forgot that Stirner himself puts a relative value on organization when he talks about the egotistic societies. I had the opportunity to study some of those who follow their own path, the ones that are always ready with empty phrases, brain-dead herd, and the idiotism of masses and experience has always shown me that the majority of those weird saints were always at the same height of the simple Man of the people and that for many of them the epithet at the margin of the masses was predictable. The same occurred with their authoritarian hierarchy. They sought to fall under any authority and then reduce it to ashes, but they were always the most intolerable and they had a stubbornness and sickening opposition that made it impossible to work with them during any amount of time.
But they weren’t the only influences over the young movement, though they were the most effectively prejudicial to it. In 1892 Dr. Benedict Friedlaender’s work Libertarian Socialism in opposition to the State slavery of the Marxists (Der freiheitliche Sozialismus im Gegensatz zum Staatsknechtsthum der Marxisten) was distributed, a book that is worthy of being read, it reminded anarchist of the vital work of Eugen Dühring, which was also unknown to most young people. This lead many anarchists to study Dühring’s Works, exactly when the new tendency was beginning to edit in 1894 their own periodical Der Moderne Volkergeist (The Modern Spirit), which would enable a more intensive propagation of their ideas.
Furthermore there was the movement that favored the “freeland” advocated by Theodor Hertzka, which had such a powerful influence in the anarchist movement that it’s impossible to assess it. His works Freeland, A Trip to Freeland, etc. were read in the German anarchist circles and frequently commented on in Der Sozialist.
In 1894, Dr. Bruno Wille published his work Philosophie der Befreiung durch das reine Mittel (Philosophy of the emancipation by a pure way), which also caused big differences of opinion, since it once again brought to the spotlight the question on the use of violence as a tactic for struggle, a tactic that Wille rejected. One could talk about a few other things that also had influence over the development of the anarchist movement in Germany, but it’s only necessary to take notice of the more important currents. We again repeat that all of those new ideas and goals around the young movement could have useful and advantageous, had there been enough time to spiritually strengthen oneself and to establish bases for their activity. But sadly that wasn’t the case; all these new tendencies functioned as gunpowder on the young movement, gradually destroying it from the inside. The editorial team of Der Sozialist, which had in Gustav Landauer an admirable representative, committed itself to uniting and educating the movement from the inside, but this was no easy task as the atrocious persecutions and taunting from the police that the movement had to endure made it gradually harder. The plots from Ravachol, Vaillant, Henry, Pallás and others that occurred in France and Spain drove the German police mad and led it to chase down anarchists ferociously. The persecutions fell over the movement like hail and were directed especially against the editors of Der Sozialist, which they intended to destroy at all costs. In its short existence, from November 1891 to January 1895, seventeen editors were accused and, with the exception of those that managed to escape abroad, all of them were condemned. When this had no further results, they even broke the law, with the goal of destroying the periodical, until they finally succeeded.