There is a sizeable body of opinion that there was little anarchism in Germany and that those anarchists there were contributed nothing to anarchist thought. A similar view contends that the German anarchist movement was ineffectual and meaningless so far as producing any lasting results are concerned. G.D.H. Cole writes: "In Germany Anarchism never took hold; ... after Johann Most and Wilhelm Hasselmann had left the country, German anarchism lacked leaders, and the Germans made no significant contribution to Anarchist theory."1 Der Grosse Brochaus states: "In Germany on the other hand [as compared to other countries] there were only insignificant anarchists."2 James Joll in his recent book relates: "In Germany ... the anarchist were limited to those individuals who had been in direct contact with the followers of Bakunin and Guillaume in the Jura." After the assassination of police President Rumpf in 1885

Anarchist ideas in Germany soon virtually vanished, except among a few bohemian intellectuals such as the Bavarian writer, Gustav Landauer, and a few dissident Social Democrats who were expelled from the socialist party for advocating direct revolutionary action.3

This is the only time Landauer's name is mentioned in Joll's book. Erich Muhsam is not mentioned at all and Rudolf Rocker is accorded only two references in the text. Joll's book is not unusual in this respect. Landauer, the anarchist, until recently was nearly a forgotten figure in Germany, although Landauer, the Shakespearean scholar, has continued to be very much alive.4

The Proud Tower, which Barbara Tuchman avers is a "portrait of the world before the war, 1890-1914," dismisses anarchism in Germany with the following remarks:

That sovereign [William] II had little to fear, however, from the Anarchists of his own country, for the last two who had attempted to kill his grandfather [attempts by Hodel and Nobiling on the Life of William I in 1878] were the last and the only activists. Otherwise, German Anarchists remained theorists, except for those who got away to America. Germans were not fit for Anarchism, as Bakunin had said with disdain, for with their passions for Authority, "they want to be at once both masters and slaves and Anarchism accepts neither."5

Although over one-tenth of the book is devoted to a discussion of anarchism, this short statement is the only mention of the anarchist movement in Germany. To substantiate the contention that the Germans were not "fit for anarchism,” Tuchman quotes Mikhail Bakunin. It would seem to be incongruous to cite Bakunin, whose remains had been moulding since 1876, as an authority for the susceptivity of the German people to anarchism for the years 1890–1914. Tuchman’s remarks on the German anarchist movement are shallow and misleading as this study will demonstrate.

In the respected German encyclopedia, Handworterbuch der Staatswissenschaft, Karl Diehl writes:

In comparison to the Romance countries the anarchist movement in Germany was never to attain great importance. To be sure, the ideas of individualist anarchism found here in Stirner, one of their important advocates. Anarchist ideas evoked a certain amount of theoretical interest and discussion. But the anarchist movement in Germany never achieved any significant political activity, nor did the group organizations at any time approach a numerical size which could be considered important. Unquestionably the rigid centralization in the Social Democratic organization, which dominated the workers’ movement and rejected all anarchist particularism, contributed to this.6

The French encyclopedia, La Grande Enclopedie, relates that

Contrary to the countries about which we have been speaking, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, it is not from the Hague Congress of 1872, at which time the dispute between Marx and Bakunin resulted in a division of the International, that one must trace the origins of the beginning of the anarchist movement in Germany. It is much later, after the assassination attempts of Hodel [May 11, 1878] and Dr. Nobiling [June 2, 1878], upon Emperor William, and after the enactment of the Socialist Law [October 21, 1878], that the division of the German socialist party resulted, less among authoritarians and anarchists than between parliamentarians and revolutionaries, moderates and extremists.7

There are grains of truth in both of these statements, but mainly they are misleading. The German anarchists did more than sit around beer gardens discussing the theoretical aspects of anarchism. There were groups that were large enough to be considered important. There were German anarchists active in both Germany and the International long before the assassination attempts of 1878.

I am of the opinion that anarchism did play a role in shaping the destiny of Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, this influence cannot be seen if one examines only the positive attainments of the anarchists in Germany. If, on the other hand, one examines their negative influence he will soon discover that many suppressive measures were enacted as a result of an anarchist deed. The Socialist Law, prompted by two attempts on the life of William I in 1878, was the first such measure. This measure affected not only the anarchists, but everyone who was interested in developing a responsible parliamentary government in Germany.

Substantial amounts of materials are available on the leading anarchist figures such as Bakunin, Proudhon, Godwin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, Tolstoy, Reclus, Tucker, and Stirner. A great deal of research is required to locate material on the lesser-known, though important, anarchist figures. There is on the other hand a considerable body of material available on Landauer, Muhsam, and Rocker but, again, to locate it requires patient searching. The great figures have been studied in depth many times. The lesser known "characters" and organizations have been all but forgotten except in the crumbling pages of some little-known anarchist monthly of which only one copy is to be found in the entire world. Many of the anarchist newspapers had a small circulation and were printed on such cheap paper that they have not survived the ravages of time. This is also true of the pamphlets of the anarchists which were so important in spreading their message. Further information on this problem can be found in the bibliography. Suffice it to say that the large mass of periodical and documentary material on the subject of anarchism in Germany has scarcely been touched by any scholar.

A serious study of anarchism is virtually impossible unless one has access to a large number of anarchist newspapers and pamphlets. Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) points out the reason (Kropotkin does not here refer to our present-day concept of socialism, but to that of the 19th century, when many anarchists considered themselves to be socialists.)

Socialistic literature has never been rich in books. It is written for workers, for whom one penny is money, and its main force lies in its small pamphlets and its newspapers. Moreover, he who seeks for information about socialism finds in books little of what he requires most. They contain the theories or the scientific arguments in favor of socialist aspirations, but they give no idea how the workers accept socialist ideals, and how the latter could be put into practice. There remains nothing but to take collections of papers and read them all through, the news as well as the leading articles, the former perhaps even more than the latter. Quite a new world of social relations and methods of thought and action is revealed by this reading, which gives an insight into what cannot be found anywhere else, namely, the depth and the moral force of the movement, the degree to which men are imbued with the new theories, their readiness to carry them out in their daily life, and to suffer for them. All discussions about the impracticability of socialism and the necessary slowness of evolution can only be judged from a close knowledge of the human beings of whose evolution we are speaking. What estimate of a sum can be made without knowing its components?8

Kropotkin's assertion that it is necessary to read anarchist newspapers and pamphlets in order to understand anarchism is perfectly true. Such German anarchist ephemera are to be found in many of the larger libraries, but no single library possesses what could be called a large collection. Therefore, the researcher is forced to comb the libraries of the world to have access to a sufficient amount of this type of material.

Perhaps it is for this reason that there is no general work on the subject of anarchism in Germany. Nothing of significance, in the historical sense, has been written since Max Nettlau's multi-volume history of anarchism; he presents little material on the movement in Germany and nothing for the period after 1886.9 Another difficulty facing the researcher on anarchism in Germany is the unavailability of any bibliographies covering the materials published on the subject. The only bibliographies which make an attempt at covering the subject are dated and sometimes inaccurate or misleading.10

Still another problem in this study is the unreliability of sources: such an anarchist writer as Johann Most for example are not entirely reliable. Many articles written by Most were for the purpose either of glorifying or vilifying some person. And too, anarchist historians, true to their belief in anarchism, make poor historians of the movement. They tend to ramble and they lack the degree of personal detachment necessary to write a substantial work of history. In certain cases, contemporary histories of the anarchist movement were written by paid police agents. Needless to say their accounts are not without bias. Accounts by socialist writers, who viewed the anarchists as their opponents, also are written with a slanted viewpoint. And bourgeois writers usually write with a less than complete understanding of anarchism.

Police files, too, must be used with caution. Government officials in Germany were slow to acknowledge publicly that there was a difference between anarchism and socialism. Separate files on anarchism were not established until 1884. Prior to this they were grouped with socialist activity. In some cases a government official would continue to maintain publicly that there was no difference between anarchism and socialism, while in his personal correspondence he acknowledged a difference.

In the final analysis the sources dealing with anarchism are no better or no worse than those on any other topic. Partiality and bias enter into practically all writing, and police reports – not only on anarchism, but in other areas – are not the most perceptive material. The burden of separating fact from fiction was at times a particularly exasperating problem. No piece of evidence cited in the present work was accepted at face value until it could b e substantiated by another independent source.

Another problem in relation to sources is the near lack of extant writings by persons who participated in anarchist activity in Germany in the 1870's and 1880's. Many of them died early and violent deaths. The great majority of them were ordinary working men who are not noted for Nachlass that amounts to much. Furthermore, of necessity, the movement was an underground one of occasional meetings of members of various groups. To a great extent tracing the German anarchists in the 1870's and 1880's is like following the trail of a fox in the melting snow. Patches are available, patches have been swallowed up entirely by time. Accounts of activity by participants for the most part do not exist. It would have been dangerous to put down on paper admission to complicity in a crime committed in Germany, even if living abroad, for this would have precluded returning to the Fatherland.

It is a mistake to think of the anarchist movement in Germany as a single coherent movement which exerted a continuing force. Anarchists in Germany covered the entire spectrum of anarchist thought: from highly individualistic to communistic anarchists. The diversity in philosophy led to the establishment of many small splinter groups. Often a group would come into being, gain a reasonably good-sized following and then fall into demise without having affiliated itself with the other anarchist groups. However, all anarchists in Germany acknowledged a common brotherhood. Additionally, there were numerous individuals who can be considered as being on the fringe of the movement. There were those who transferred their allegiance, in part, from the Social Democrats to the anarchists. Among the rank-and-file followers there was much moving back and forth between socialism and anarchism, depending upon the mood and circumstances of the individual involved. Complicating this already difficult problem were groups such as the Independent Socialists, who sometimes worked in close collaboration with the anarchists.

Many of these people, who walked in the penumbra between anarchism and socialism, cannot be labelled either anarchist or socialist. Professor Lombroso of Turin University was able to solve the problems of definition and categorization. After having studied many anarchists he concluded that anarchists possessed certain well-defined physiological characteristics which were easily discernible; for example, exaggerated plagiocephaly, facial asymmetry, cranial anomalies (ultrabrachycephaly), large jaw bone, exaggerated zygomas, enormous frontal sinus, anomalies of the eyes, ears, nose and teeth, anomalous coloration of the skin, and neuro-pathological anomalies.11

This idea seems ludicrous today but around the turn of the century Professor Lombroso's theories were considered to have a scientific basis. Turin University at the time was a leading center for the study of criminology. Lombroso's theories, were internationally respected and discussed at the World Conferences of Criminal Anthropologists which were held at Turin University. Lombroso was of the opinion that, although the anarchists possessed criminal physiognomies, they were not common criminals and thus should not be punished in the same way. He was of the opinion that their hereditary anomalies was the primary reason why they turned to anarchism.

Anarchism, as a philosophy, has a certain stigma attached to it. The word itself has a bad connotation. Anarchy has come to mean chaos, although this is not the view of anarchists. To them it is a well-ordered system which can be achieved. On the whole the anarchists were not insane neurotics, as they are often pictured – though some of the terrorists undoubtedly were. The great majority of them regarded anarchism as the only method of ameliorating the wrongs of modern society. Revolution held out the hope to the masses of an immediate end to their misery.

Anarchism has a certain negativeness about it as viewed from any contradictory philosophical point of view. As a theory it is full of inconsistencies which are apparent even to the anarchists themselves. There is no single theory which must be accepted by all anarchists for this would be a fundamental violation of the anarchist creed itself.

The question of what is a German was another problem which had to be dealt with in this book. The solution was to consider as Germans all people born in the area that became known in 1871 as the German Reich. It is apparent that this is an expedient answer to a difficult problem; but not a satisfactory one. The anarchists discussed in this study were born before Bismarck's creation of the German Reich. There are large numbers of people who share the German culture who were left out of the Reich: e.g., the German-speaking Czechs, Austrians, and Swiss. There is a certain affinity and a great deal of cooperation and working together among these three nationalities with those who come from within the borders of the Reich. The German anarchists felt no great ties of sentiment to the Reich. By its very nature anarchism is international rather than national. The German anarchist sections in Switzerland and London were composed of exiles from the Reich, mixed in with Swiss, Czechs, and Austrians. At times, in this study, it was necessary to include Germans who were born outside the confines of the Reich. This was done only when it was necessary to explain more fully the actions of the German anarchists. The German anarchists played an important part in the rise of anarchism in Austria and the development of radicalism in the United States; however, lengthy examinations of these topics, interesting though they may be, are well beyond the scope of this study.

The exact number of sympathizers the anarchists had in Germany will never be known, but circulation statistics have been obtained for many anarchist newspapers. In Germany it was more difficult than in other European countries to publicly profess anarchism. This was especially true in Prussia where administrative and police efficiency maintained a close scrutiny of all suspicious activities. A Berlin police official related to a correspondent of the London Times that in Germany anarchists were controlled through the system which required all "newcomers to a locality … to register their names and addresses with the police." He went on to say that "Berlin police are ex-soldiers who know how to behave in a moment of danger." He also related that "restrictions on immigration" into Germany helped to keep the foreign anarchist element out of the country.12

The difficulty of being an anarchist in Germany is further accentuated by the fact that it was common practice for police spies to attend all meetings suspected of espousing the cause of radicalism. After the meeting adjourned the spy wrote up detailed reports of what was said at the meeting and who was in attendance. The police kept long lists of people suspected of being anarchists. Many anarchist cells and anarchist periodicals were smothered while still in the embryonic stage. It was customary practice to confiscate an issue of a newspaper if it contained an article that was offensive to the government.13

Today, we view anarchists as excessive, romantic, dreamers of impractical schemes which could never be put into practice. In the latter quarter of the nineteenth-century they were not viewed in this way by many of the poor, to whom the total revolution which the anarchists promised held out the only hope of any immediate improvement of conditions. Life among the poor urban proletariat was short and at best "brutish." To a sizeable proportion of the lower class, the piecemeal concessions of the bourgeois and aristocrat-dominated governments came too slowly, as did socialist programs which held hope only for the future. Only the anarchist revolution held any hope of an immediate change in their desperate condition. Perhaps the surprising fact is not that there were anarchists in the 1880’s, but that there were not more of them.

For some unknown reason, as noted above, historians have tended to dismiss anarchism in Germany as an insignificant force in the development of the German nation in the nineteenth-century. This is probably due to looking at things in a "normal" way. Historians and writers tend to look for positive political, economic, and social achievements. Anarchists are, by nature, apolitical. Economically and socially they are an anachronism to historians, whether they be bourgeois or Marxist. In the fields of politics, economics, and social legislation the anarchists achieved nothing; nor did they try. Such ventures are anathema to the spirit of anarchism.

It is difficult if not impossible for writers to think about anarchism in term s other than political. Even Johann Most had this difficulty. For a long time he thought of anarchism as a political philosophy. Anarchism is apolitical and this must be kept in mind. Yet bourgeois and socialist historians point out the lack of definite political programs and political organizations among the anarchists without realizing the apparent contradiction in their words; the word political is alien to the vocabulary of a true anarchist.

As a force, the anarchists in Germany exerted power all out of proportion to their numbers. Prior to 1890 they achieved little in the way of success, in numerical strength, but nevertheless they aroused sufficient anxiety to bring into being repressive legislation which restricted the activities of everyone interested in reforming the monarchical system in Germany. Credit for improving the social condition of the poor in Germany is usually given to either the monarchical government or the socialists, depending on one's point of view. If credit is to be given, some of it must go to anarchists, who though unsuccessful in their immediate objectives of creating a new society either by revolutionary or peaceful means, nevertheless made it apparent to the government that concessions had to be made to assuage the masses.

This study was undertaken with the belief that it would be more than a mere cataloguing and description of the activities of the German anarchists, although their recorded activities are of sufficient color and embellishment to warrant such a narrative, It was done with the belief that the anarchists exerted a substantial force on the development of Europe in the 19th century, and that perhaps in no other country is this force more demonstrable than in Germany, which most writers and historians have felt was free from anarchist activity.

Even though there were differences of opinion, among the German anarchist groups there was nevertheless general agreement that social conditions in Germany needed to be changed. They were of the opinion that meaningful reforms could not be accomplished through parliamentary means. In this respect, perhaps, the anarchists were able to see more clearly than the Social Democrats that Germany could not be reformed by electing representatives to the Reichstag. The systems needed to be changed, but the anarchists offered to feasible alternatives.

  • 1. G.D.H. Cole, Socialist Thought, Marxism and Anarchism, 1850-1890 (London, 1961), p. 330.
  • 2. (Wiesbaden, 1953), I, p. 261.
  • 3. James Joll, The Anarchists (London, 1964), pp. 140-141
  • 4. Walter Laqueur, "Visionaries," Atlas, IX (January, 1965), p.51. Landauer's commentaries on Shakespeare were nearly completed when he was killed. Martin Buber, a long time friend of Landauer, prepared the text of the commentaries for publication. For additional information on this subject see Buber's preface and introduction to Gustav Landauer, Shakespeare, 2 Vols., (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1920). Landauer's Aufrufzum Sozialismus has been republished in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1967.
  • 5. Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower. A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914, Bantam edition (New York, 1967), p. 119.
  • 6. 4th edition (Jena, 1924), I, p. 290.
  • 7. (Paris, n.d. ), II, p. 953.
  • 8. Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist (New York, 1930), p. 275.
  • 9. The following three volumes contain some material on the movement in Germany, presented in a chronological manner: Der Vorfrulhling der Anarchie: Ihre historische Ent­wicklung von den Anfange bis zum Jahre 1864 (Berlin, 1925); Der Anarchismus von Proudhon zu Kropotkin (Berlin, 1927); Anarchisten und Sozialrevolutionare: Die historische Entwicklung des Anarchismus in den Jahren 1880-1886 (Berlin, 1931).
  • 10. Max Nettlau, Bibliographie de l'anarchie (Brussels, 1897); Josef Stammhammer, Bibliographie des Socialismus und Communismus, 3 Vols., (Jena, 1893-1909).
  • 11. Cesare Lombroso, "A Paradoxical Anarchist," Popular Science Monthly, 56 (January, 1900), 312-315. Cesare Lombroso, "Illustrative Studies in Criminal Anthropology," Monist, I (April, 1891), 336-343. See the reply to Lombroso's article by Michael Schwae, "A Convicted Anarchist's Reply to Professor Lombroso," Monist, I (April, 1891), 520-524. See also: by C. Lombroso, "Der Anarchismus," Deutsche Revue (October, 1894); and "Anarchy. The Status of Anarchism Today in Europe and the United States," Everybody's Magazine, VI (1902), 165-168; Die Anarchisten (Hamburg, 1894) which is a translation from the Italian. There is also a French edition.
  • 12. London Times (January 5, 1911), p. 6, Col. b, c.
  • 13.

    On the efficiency of Prussian administration see: Frederic G. Howe, European Cities at Work (New York, 1913), pp. 4-7; H.G. James, Principles of Prussian Administration (New York, 1913).

    On the suppression of anarchist periodicals see: Max Nettlau, Bibliographie de l'anarchie (Brussels, 1897), pp. 157, 164. More will be said later on the confiscation of various issues of anarchist newspapers; including the reasons given for confis­cation. Libraries in the United States which contain German anarchist newspapers invariably have the confiscated numbers. This is probably due to the fact that newspapers usually send out their subscription copies before the issue appears on the street for sale to the general public. Usually the confiscation was carried out before the papers reached the newsstands; however, German police found it more difficult to seize subscription co­pies. German postal regulations prohibited capricious seizure and opening of the mails. Anarchist newspapers were usually small enough that they could easily be mailed in an ordinary brown paper envelope and thus were not conspicuous. Material will be introduced later to point out the role of police spies. This material is mainly from the archives in Bavaria and Prussia as well as material from the German Foreign Office.