A short biography of German Jewish anarchist and gay liberationist Senna Hoy.
Senna Hoy was born Johannes Holzmann in 1882 into a well-off Jewish family. He is mentioned as a member of Helen Blavatsky’s Theosophical circle in Berlin in 1903, when he would have been eighteen.
The following year he definitively broke with the compromise politics of the Social Democrats and their accommodation to the Germany of the Kaiser. He took the name Senna Hoy (his first name more or less spelt backwards) and started bringing out a weekly anarchist magazine Kampf (Struggle - but of course absolutely no relation to Hitler's book, Mein Kampf -ed). Kampf reached the circulation figure of 10,000 in 1905 which was no mean feat for a political weekly of that period.
Kampf was an amazing publication. Alongside the agitational articles were pleas for sexual freedom, above all gay liberation. Senna Hoy was a pioneer in advocating tolerance of the homosexual way of life. In 1903, in conjunction with Adolf Brand, he brought out a pamphlet The Third Sex on the subject. Alongside this were articles from artists, writers and poets. Erich Muhsam, who was to become a notable anarchist and ended up being brutally done to death in Hitler’s concentration camps, began to contribute and was a close associate of Hoy.
Gustav Landauer, another notable anarchist who was to be murdered in the repression of the Munich workers councils in 1919, also contributed. Trailblazing artists and poets began to contribute, like Paul Scheerbart, who invented "sound poems" and the gifted poet and writer Else Lasker-Schuler (she had thought up his new name). Hoy had a profound influence on Franz Pfemfert who was to bring out the magazine Aktion, which united revolutionary ideas in politics and art. Pfemfert paid tribute to Hoy when he called him:" A twenty year-old political conscience in Berlin. He did not go in vain into the fight for freedom".
Kampf prophesied a coming war with the British Empire, and also that the Social Democrats would support such a war. It also predicted that such a war would be disastrous for the German masses. Senna Hoy argued for workers’ self-organisation and against the trade unions controlled by the Social Democrats. Anarchists from Kampf went to the industrial region of the Ruhr to spread this message in 1905, and their efforts laid the basis for a strong working class anarchist tradition there. A national network around the magazine began to be created, which spread throughout Germany.
The Berlin police began to take note, and repression against Kampf forced Hoy to leave Germany for Switzerland where he edited the anarchist magazine Der Weckruf (The Dawn). A great revolutionary ferment was taking place within the Russian Empire between 1905-1907 and Hoy gravitated to this.
In Poland and Lithuania, part of the Tsar’s Empire, the anarchist movement was young and vibrant. A secret conference of anarchist-communist groups from these two countries took place in June 1907 and a Federation of Anarchist Communist Groups was set up. In the repression which followed, 24 anarchists were arrested, among them Senna Hoy, apprehended in Moscow.
They were imprisoned for a long time in dreadful conditions. Hoy was tortured and then sentenced to prison with hard labour. Some of the comrades became mad as a result of the appalling treatment they received. In 1911 Senna Hoy was moved to the notorious Citadel prison in Warsaw, and from there to the criminal lunatic division (which has echoes of the treatment of dissidents under the Soviet regime).
Suffering from TB brought on by starvation, he was in a terrible condition. Else Lasker-Schuler, who was in love with him, came to Russia in 1913 to plead for his release. But it was already too late, because a few months later Senna Hoy was to die on April 28th 1914 at the age of 29. His body was brought back to Berlin. Else Lasker-Schuler wrote a moving poem in tribute to her fallen lover. But let Senna Hoy have the last word in a poem smuggled out of prison in the last year of his life.
What does it mean to have lived, felt, known, wanted, sown, reaped?
Soon I will be no more and the world - who knows?- will last for eons.
Deeds there are, which I haven’t done, thoughts burn-which haven’t ripened yet.
Pain, whips, which haven’t tortured, laughter resounds, which I haven’t laughed.
There go my gravediggers to their work with pipes, jokes.
The last thought ices over in the brain, last desires shriek in the heart.
I regret every crime in my life that I haven’t yet committed,
Every wish which I haven’t realised In my life.
Senna Hoy had an important part to play in his action and his influence on others in the growth of the German anarchist movement, and his obscurity is unjustified.
From Organise!, the theoretical magazine of the Anarchist Federation