Socialist Federation

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Socialist Federation

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The Socialist Federation (Sozialistische Bund – SB) was founded in Germany in 1908 by Gustav Landauer, Erich Mühsam, Martin Buber, Margarethe Faas-Hardegger and others. The Bund consisted of autonomous groups without central leadership. Its aim was to become a network of decentrally organised communes that was to give an idea of what a future socialist society would look like – communitarian anarchism. Landauer formulated the principles and statutes of the SB in twelve articles. The main goal was the preparation of a new, freer social system through the founding of communal settlements. The new society was to be based on manual, intellectual and artistic activity. It was to be an network based on the principles of autonomy and free association with further groups. The concept combined Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s idea of mutualism with Peter Kropotkin’s and Ebeneezer Howard’s philosophy of decentralisation: there would be no central leadership. At its height, it counted around 800 people.

In the years between 1909 and 1915, Gustav Landauer published “Der Sozialist” – “The Socialist” in Berlin as a bi-weekly organ of the SB. “Der Sozialist” was a cultural periodical, with news articles, translations (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoi), poetry and prose.
The SB itself was a cultural movement (Kulturbewegung) and a peoples movement (Menschheits-Bewegung) rather than a class interest movement. However, at the start of WW1 events overtook the SB and, as a political organisation, it remained politically unimportant.


Ideas, Aims and Principles

The Socialist Federation (SB) proposed that people and groups should drop out of the capitalist system and together should organise a network of anarchist-socialist communities. In his text “Call to Socialism” (1911) Landauer wrote that this would be the basis of a stateless form of federal society: “a society made up of societies of societies; a federation of federations of federations; a commonwealth of communities of communes”.
In contrast to the Marxist socialists, Landauer insisted that the dictatorship of the proletariat was in no way an institution which would make the state unnecessary so that it would disappear on its own. The violent and alienated forms of relationship between people produced by the state would remain alive as long as the people living in a state remained incapable of replacing these forms of relationships with new, dominance-free and non-violent social forms of community filled with a new “spirit”. Landauer emphasised that the transformation of society and the transformation of the individual person had to proceed hand in hand. A political revolution had to be accompanied by a mystical rebirth, otherwise it would end in new forms of exploitation, alienation, dominance and violence.


The SB was started in October 1908, following two lectures about socialist community held by Landauer in Berlin on 16th May and 14th June. Here he had explained the ideas formulated in his January 1907 publication, “Volk und Land. Dreissig sozialistische Thesen” (People and Land. Thirty socialist Theses). The first group, “Gruppe Arbeit” (Work) was in Berlin, members included Martin Buber and Erich Gutkind. The twelve articles of the SB were a sort of set of core principles, and additionally there was a proposal for the organisational structures. At the end of 1908/start of 1909, a second Berlin group, “Gemeinschaft” (Community) was started.

Growth of the SB

Inspired by Landauer’s ideas, a number of groups came into being across Germany and Switzerland. (Landauer was banned from entering Austria, and he could not persuade Pierre Ramus to start an austrian SB group.) From February 1909, there was a group in Oranienburg, with members also being members of the Eden community. The first anniversary of the SB was celebrated with a party in May 1909 at Eden.
This group, called “Grund und Boden” (Ground and Earth) wanted to prepare the first SB settlement.
The group in Munich, “Gruppe Tat” (Deed) was based around Erich Muhsam and included Oskar Maria Graf. The Munich group of the SB was renowned for scandals, provocation and court cases, organising wild evenings with “working girls”, poetry, songs and plenty of beer. The group in Bern, Switzerland,(Gruppe Hammer) was based around Margarethe Faas-Hardegger. Additionally, there were SB groups in Zürich, Luzern, and at Ascona, where there was the Monte Verita community. In November, 1909, the groups around Berlin began to meet regularly and a year later founded a local federation – “Gruppengemeinde Berlin und Umgebung”, including the “Arbeit”, “Gemeinschaft”, “Vorwarts” and “Grund und Boden” groups and a newly formed youth group, “Jugend”, of which the then 19 year old Augustin Souchy was a member. From the end of 1909, they organised cooperative purchase and sale of foodstuff, including vegetables, eggs, fruit and margarine.(The first purely vegetarian margarine was produced at Eden, the so-called “Eden Reformbutter”. The group in Frankfurt am Main was called “Freiland”, showing the influence of Theodor Hertzka‘s 1890 book, “Freiland – Ein soziales Zukunftsbild” – “Freeland – a social vision of the future”. The group in Leipzig was the “Gruppe Anfang” – “Beginning”.

In early 1910, the SB called for the foundation of a free school based on the ideas of Francisco Ferrer, the spanish educator who had been executed without a trial on 13 October 1909. See also Ferrer Colony, Stelton

Attempts to start communities

The “Grund und Boden” group in Oranienburg, outside Berlin, was the first to attempt to found a community. A community “Settlement Fund” was started, financed through the sale of ten pfennig “stamps” which could be stuck on letters next to the postage stamp, and which were a small form of propaganda for the SB. The person responsible for the sale of stamps lived at Eden, and the money collected was only to be used to help start a settlement. In February 1910, there was a group of 30 people (13 adults plus teenagers and smaller children) based in Oranienburg who were ready to start a community on the land. Some of them were already living communally together. However, they were unable to find land that they could purchase.

A further attempt was started in December 1913. The groups in Oranienburg and Leipzig founded the Siedlungs-Vereinigung “Gemeinschaft”. This association was based in Wittenberg, had a 12 point statute and membership was 10 pfennigs per week. The aim was to actively promote settlements and the foundation of communities through the purchase of land. Membership of an eventual community was to cost 50 marks. By May 1914, a number of single members across Germany had joined the association, but they could not raise enough funds to purchase land. The start of the first world war then ended the attempts to start communities in Germany.

The SB at its peak

In 1910, the “Leitsätze der Politik” were added to the 12 core principles, adding details about the autonomy of the individual and the community. This gave the SB a clearer theoretical structure. The SB had its peak in 1911. There were about eight hundred people organised into around two dozen groups. As well attempting to spread the ideas of intentional community, the SB became more and more involved in anti-militarist activity, especially after the 2nd Morocco Crisis of 1911. In 1912, the 12 articles were re-formulated, again emphasising the communitarian and cultural identity of the Bund. This communitarian form of anarchist socialism was mostly opposed by the other german anarchist organisations. The AFD (Anarchist Federation Deutschland) and the syndicalists in the Freie Vereinigung deutscher Gewerkschaften (Free Association of German Unions), together with the anarchist periodicals, Berlin’s “Der freie Arbeiter” (The Free Worker)and Leipzig’s “Der Anarchist” all accused the Sozialistische Bund of being “Utopian” – where the SB was for cooperatives and settlements, the others were for proletarian class struggle. This division in the movement was to continue after the first world war. See also Post WW1 german communities

“The Settlement” – “Die Siedlung”

Written in 1910 as the third propaganda leaflet for the “Sozialistisches Bund”, this was one of the most important and influential of Landauer’s writings about community. In this and other works he propagated the idea of communal settlements as being the first practical steps to achieving socialism. He believed that groups of strong willed activists sharing similar ideas should go out on the land and form “face-to-face”, human scale communities which would be federated together in networks while maintaining a high degree of autonomy. Here the members would work and live collectively, creating the new “communist” society. Landauer thought that the trade unions and the co-operative movement should support the new communal settlements, both financially and materially.

Margarethe Faas-Hardegger

Margarethe Faas-Hardegger was co-founder of the Socialist Federation (SB) in 1908, and also of its publication, „The Socialist“. After losing her work-place at the SGB (Swiss Trade Union Federation), she concentrated above all on these two enterprises. However, she came into conflict with Landauer. In contrast to Landauer, she openly propagated the ideas of free-love and women’s emancipation, and was also the proponent of these ideas in her writings for „The Socialist“. In 1913, she was found guilty of making false statements in favour of Ernst Fricks during his trial, and Landauer used this as an excuse to have her expelled from the Socialist Federation (SB).
After this, she turned more and more to the ideas of free love. In 1919, she founded a commune in Herrliberg, and in 1920, the Phalanstère „Villino Graziella“ in Minusio, near Monte Verità. Both projects failed.

Erich Mühsam

From 1909, he lived in München-Schwabing. Here he founded the groups „Tat“ (Deed) and „Anarchist“. Both groups were members of the Socialist Federation, and were intended to agitate among the „Subproletariat“ in favour of anarchism. In 1910, Mühsam was arrested and imprisoned, charged with organizing secret societies, (Geheimbündelei) and, in the end, aquitted. As a central figure in the Schwabinger Bohème, he was a friend of Heinrich Mann, Frank Wedekind, Lion Feuchtwanger, Fanny zu Reventlow and many others. The writer, Oskar Maria Graf and the painter, Georg Schrimpf both joined his „Tat“ group and later went with him to Ascona to the Monte Verità community.

Recommended Reading

Gustav Landauer, “Revolution and other Writings”, A Political Reader, Edited and Translated by Gabriel Kuhn, PM Press 2010, ISBN 978-1-60486-054-2.

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