Sunday, October 23, 2011

A remarkable man, a remarkable book

I recently read a book that in a sense I have waited for years to be published. The book is entitled Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, and it was published last year by PM Press. The book is a translation and collection of writings of Gustav Landauer by Gabriel Kuhn.

I have been interested in the work of Gustav Landuer for years, since pretty much around the time that I first discovered the philosophy of anarchism. However I have never before actually read any writings by Landuaer directly. My experience with Landuaer has been through reading various descriptions written by others of his work, his philosophy and his life. Plus, there is one well-known quote that is attributed to him that I have always loved and held dear to my heart, and that is:

"The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another."

There are quite a number of different parallels between the philosophy and outlook of Gustav Landuaer and my own. For one, Landuaer was an anarchist-communist, a pacifist, and a spiritual mystic. He advocated the creation and proliferation of intentional communities and other forms of alternative institutions to meet people's needs so that folks can start living a new socialist way of life right now, as opposed to waiting for a revolution to create it. As he put it:

“If you want socialism, i.e., if you want to live in communities of justice and solidarity, then create it! Look for the cracks in capitalism and find ways to escape the economic war. Figure out how to no longer produce for capitalism’s commodity market, but to satisfy your own needs. This is a collective process: the more that individuals are able to unite their needs, their creativity, and their lives, the more effective they will be.”

And, as that afore-mentioned quote demonstrates, he emphasized and insisted on an anarchist outlook that really focused on social relationships per se and how they reproduced authoritarian structures or not. As he put it:

“It is indispensable to distinguish material realities like the land and its products from complexities like the state and capital. Without such a distinction, neither real understanding nor real action are possible. The state (and the same goes for capital) is a relationship between human beings; it is a form of (active and passive) doing and enduring that has been passed down from generation to generation.”

Reading this book of Landuaer's writings I was struck by how many other ways Landuaer's views dove-tails with my own. From the very beginning, he outlines very clearly and succinctly what all of this "anarchist" stuff is all about to begin with, why it is so important to him:

“Anarchism’s lone objective is to end the fight of men against men and to unite humanity so that each individual can unfold his natural potential without obstruction.”

That being said, he also makes a point to say that this and other such labels are not important to him, and what really matters instead:

“I could not care less whether one calls me a radical or not. I can easily do without labels. Neither superficial garishness nor garish superficiality are indications of radicalness. The same goes for smashing fanfares. ‘Radical’ is not, as it is often claimed, the opposite of ‘moderate’, but of ‘superficial’.”

This search for "depth" that he speaks of is related to his spiritual beliefs, and the importance that he places on people, everyone, actively engaging in sincere self-reflection and striving for an authentic personal spirituality. This is, as he put it, the “…the even more important, yet slow and gradual work of freeing and creating spirit…” This is because, as he said:

“Socialism has to be constructed from an inner desire and requires the awakening of a new spirit.”

To do this work he said that it is important for people to occasionally take the time to pursue active spiritual retreat. As he said:

“Since the world has disintegrated into pieces and has become alienated from itself, we have to flee into mystic seclusion in order to become one with it again.”

At times, when speaking of this kind of spiritual or "inner" work, Landuaer even mentions the kinds of "parts work" that various self-help/emotional healing modalities talk about, such as the Inner Empathy process and Inner Relationship Focusing. Doing this kind of work, and finding peace and harmony with the various aspects of one's self is actually a pre-requisite for finding peace and harmony with others. As Landuaer says:

"Once individuals have transformed themselves into communities, then they are ready to form wider communities with like-minded individuals. These will be new kinds of communities, established by individuals with the courage and the need to separate from the dullness of superficiality."

Coming from an understanding and acceptance of all of the difference aspects of one's self, one can likewise be in a better position to see and accept that society as a whole is also comprised of many different varying perspectives. As Landuaer said:

"Our world can only be understood if we understand the several parallel supplementing perspectives by which we have created it."

Likewise, Landuaer explicitly took steps to avoid painting specific individuals as being the enemy. As he put it, “I felt disgust with society way too early to still feel fury or hate towards individuals.”

Concepts of "us vs. them" as a whole were rejected by Landuaer, and he chose to focus on what the specific behaviors were that people were engaging in instead. As he said:

“I refuse to divide people into those who are the masters of the state and those who are the state’s servants. Human relationships depend on human behavior. The possibility of anarchy depends on the belief that people can always change their behavior.”

This then leads into Landuaer's perspective of how a new society, a socialist/anarchist society, would be primarily based upon a kind of nonviolence. As he said:

“True socialism is something entirely different from the fight of a social group against another. Being unable to enter the ranks of the rich – as a result of both external and internal circumstances – does not make you a socialist. Being a servant to a master or to your own reflexes and instincts does not make you a socialist. Socialism is not a war between people. Socialism is first and foremost a struggle of man against himself; secondly, it is a war against war.”

This view inevitably lead to a great deal of difference and antagonism between Landuaer and others within the anarchist and socialist milieu of the time. As he once lamented:

"Within all this calculating bleakness one longs for a word from the heart. However, no such word can be found; let alone a word that leaves behind the paradigm of war and heads for the true foundation of socialism."

Likewise, he considered all of the revolutions that most people thought about when they used that term as being “little more than champagne to a patient who is slowly and painfully recovering from a deadly disease.” As a result of this, instead of advocating for a "revolution" per se, he considered it to be vitally important to instead work for the "preparation and creation of spiritual and economic foundations for a stateless society of societies.”

The kind of work that Landauer is advocating I would say could be described as being a "Person-Centered" way of being. As Landauer put it:

“We must not forget that the masses have been turned into what they are over hundreds of years. The individuals who are different show themselves because we approach all individuals as if they were different – this is how we find it possible for them to join us. This is an apt and well-tested strategy: if you want to awaken reason and energy from dormancy you have to assume that they are not dormant.”

I find the whole thing to all be quite astounding. Through reading this, I feel as if I have found a tradition that is associated with the A-word that I can more whole-heartedly identify with, compared to most everything else out there that goes by that name. It is a shame that this lineage was pretty much entirely wiped out in 1919. But that is a topic that will be covered in another book


Anonymous said...

A really good text. I also read the book recently.

I am not sure, though, that I agree that this line was wiped out. I think that christian anarchism, for example in the form of the Catholic Worker movement, is one example of a Landauerian anarchism. The followers of Tolstoy would be another example, I guess, and there seems to have been a least some of the same spirit in the early Kibbutz movement. I also think that the gandhian movement largely went along the same lines.

Personally, I have some questions though. Maybe Landauer downplays struggle and attack too much, even though I like his emphasis. I do think that some people are more involved in defending the system than others, and that they can be regarded as enemies (even though I think we should avoid killing them). I also don´t think that the state and the capital will allow the alternatives to develop to their full potential, they will (and have been) attacked. I think we need a resistance that includes aggressiveness and attack, even though I agree with Landauer (and Tolstoy) that love and the search for unity should if possible be a part of this.

(Not sure if any of this made any sense?)
/Jonas, Orebro, Sweden.

Ian Mayes said...

Heya Jonas,

Yeah, I get what you're saying, you're referring to the whole tradition of Christian anarchism essentially. Landauer himself was a Jewish anarchist, and I personally identify as a Buddhist anarchist. I think that basically the whole phenomena of religious-based anarchism is something that I feel affinity with.

I'm wondering - what do you mean here by the phrases "aggressiveness and attack"? Like, what specifically are you referring to? Depending on what you mean, I may or may not agree with you on this.

I do know, though, that when people feel like they are being "attacked", either physically or emotionally, that they usually then get "defensive" and as a result are not interested in listening to or understanding the other person who is "attacking" them. If I wanted to be heard and understood, going around "attacking" people would be counter-productive to that. To me it is important for me to foster real dialogue so that there can eventually be some real mutual understanding and mutual respect.

Anonymous said...

As to Landauer, I guess he also was tending in the direction of christian mysticism in his later years, reading Meister Eckhardt and others, and pointing to (the way of) Jesus.

I have not read that much about buddist anarchism, only a few chapters in the book on Religious Anarchism by the guy with the greek name that I have forgotten right now. I come from a christian background personally, and found anarchism via the path of radical christians and movementes. I have lost most of my christian faith nowadays, but retain a deep respect for Jesus and an openess to "god".

As to the question of attack, I am referring to oppressive structures. I think, personally, that things like civil disobedience and even property destruction and sabotage is an important aspect of the struggle against the domination system, although I think that this can and should be done without physically harming or intentionally threatening living beings. What is your take on that?

Are there any good texts about buddist anarchism that you would recommend?


Ian Mayes said...

Heya Jonas,

Sure, Civil Disobediance makes sense to me, and in a way I see it as almost being a given. Property destruction and sabotage to me only make sense on a case-by-case basis, and I do not support either of them on principle, I see them more as tactical things that could potentially be done in order to better protect life.

To me the main thing to focus on is the transformation of social relationships. The question of material things, destroying them or not, is of secondary importance when compared to the social relationships and dynamics at hand. Here is a great blog entry that explains what I'm getting at here, it is entitled "Beyond Submission and Rebellion" -

Buddhist anarchism is in many ways a fresh unexplored territory. The term was first coined by Gary Snyder with his essay "Buddhist Anarchism" 50 years ago. I would recommend checking that out:

I also wrote a blog entry here on this blog about the topic as:

In my eyes, much more has yet to be written and developed regarding "Buddhist anarchism".

I want to be clear that I was not at all born or raised as a Buddhist. I got into Buddhism as a result of my practice of Vipassana Meditation (which I would recommend you checking out as well: ). I got into Vipassana Meditation because I was very much disillusioned and disappointed with my experience with anarchists, radical politics and activists, and I wanted to change my life around. It gave me a whole new orientation and energy to engage again.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I´ll keep reading your blog, and might comment again sometime.