user preferences

Landauer’s Fallacy

category international | anarchist movement | opinion / analysis author Thursday July 28, 2011 12:09author by Wayne Price - (personal opinion)author email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

Gustav Landauer's "Famous Statement"

There is a often-cited quotation by Gustav Landauer, that the state is only a relationship. It is frequently used to argue for a non-revolutionary anarchist strategy. I argue that it is mistaken and misleading. [Italiano]

landauer.jpg


Landauer’s Fallacy

Gustav Landauer's "Famous Statement"


Reading contemporary anarchist literature, I repeatedly come across some version of a quotation from the German anarchist Gustav Landauer (1870—1919). A book on anarchism and education cites “Gustav Landauer’s famous remark” (Suissa, 2010; p. 136),
The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.” (quoted in above)
The writer on education actually took this quotation from a work by the well-known anarchist writer, Colin Ward. Another version of this “famous statement by Gustav Landauer” (Gordon, 2008; p. 38) is cited in Uri Gordon’s book on the nature of anarchism,
One can throw away a chair and destroy a pane of glass but…[only] idle talkers…regard the state as such a thing or as a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior between men [note]; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community….” (quoted above)
In either version, this statement is fundamentally wrong, I will argue. First, I will paraphrase the statement, to summarize what I think Landauer was saying. He was denying that the state is primarily an institution, a social structure. Instead, he claims that it is nothing but a set of relationships among people. He draws the conclusion that it is wrong to seek to overthrow the state in a revolution. Instead, we should develop alternative ways of relating to each other, expressed in alternate social arrangements created in the here-and-now, to gradually replace the state. (While the quotations refer to the state, I assume they generalize to all forms of oppression, particularly capitalism.)

Note that it is not I but Landauer who counterposed these approaches: either we see the state as a thing, an institution, or we see it as relationships. Either we aim for a revolution to smash the state or we build alternate relationships here-and-now. This was his view and the view of those who quote him—not mine.

The Landauer quotation is admired by those anarchists whose basic strategy is to gradually build alternate institutions until they can peacefully replace capitalism and the state. Sometimes this is called a “new anarchism,” although it goes back to the ideas of Proudhon, not to mention Landauer. This nonrevolutionary strategy is opposed to the supposedly “old” strategy of revolutionary class struggle anarchism (see Gordon, 2008; Price, 2009).

Who Was Gustav Landauer?

In his time, Landauer was an influential anarchist thinker and activist. Erich Fromm referred to him as “one of the last great representatives of anarchist thought” (Fromm, 1955; p. 221). Jesse Cohen stated, “Gustav Landauer [should] be remembered, right along with Bakunin and Kropotkin, as one of anarchism’s most brilliant and original thinkers” (quoted in an advertisement for a new collection of Landauer’s writings, at the back of Suissa, 2010). Paul Avrich, the historian of anarchism, wrote, “He was also the most influential German anarchist of the twentieth century” (same). Perhaps the most impressive blurb is a 1893 reference in a German police file, “Landauer is the most important agitator of the radical and revolutionary movement in the entire country” (same). High praise indeed!

During his political career, Landauer went from being a Marxist oppositionist among the youth of the German Social Democratic Party, to complete hostility to Marxism and dedication to anarchism. (Until I have seen the new collection of his work [Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, Gabriel Kuhn ed. & trans.; PM Press], I am relying on Landauer; 1978 and Ward; 1965).

In 1919, following World War I and the Russian Revolution, revolutions swept across Europe. Landauer was invited to serve on the central council of the region of Bavaria, which was trying to establish a repoublic of workers and peasants councils. Counterrevolutionary military forces, under the orders of Social Democrats, overthrew the council repoublic. Landauer was arrested, repeatedly shot, and then trampled to death, similar to the killing of Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin. “When [Luxemburg] and Gustav Landauer were murdered by the soldiers of the German counter-revolution, the humanistic tradition of faith in [humanity] was meant to be killed with them” (Fromm, 1955; p. 210).

Gustav Landauer’s Program

Landauer’s writings express keen insight into many of the problems of Marxism: its teleological determinism, its centralism, its scientism, its mostly uncritical attitude toward technology. He was entirely correct that socialism requires new ways of human beings relating to each other and of relating to nature. Almost all anarchists would agree with these views.

However, he integrated the communist-anarchism of Kropotkin with the gradualist alternative-institutionism of Proudhon’s mutualism. He advocating leaving the cities (and the class struggle in them). Instead he proposed building collective farms. These would spread until they replaced capitalism and the state.
The socialist village, with workshops and village factories, with fields and meadows and gardens…you proletarians of the big cities, accustom yourselves to this thought…for that is the only beginning of true socialism…” (quoted in Ward, 1965; p. 246). “Let us unite to establish socialist households, socialist villages, socialist communities….They should shine out over the country, so that the masses of men [note] will be overcome by envy of the new primeval bliss of satisfaction….” Landauer, 1978; p. 138).
There is nothing wrong with building cooperatives or collective villages. But this is not a strategy for overthrowing capitalism and its state. Its most “successful” implementation were the Israeli kibbutzim, which were ideologically inspired partially by Landauer’s friend, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Whatever their virtues, these served as agents of a capitalist, colonial-settler, new state, not socialist anarchism.

Along with his valid criticisms of Marxism, Landauer also condemned its core orientation to the working class (he similarly condemns the syndicalists). After all, he wanted the workers to leave the big cities and industries where the class struggle was being fought out and (as the “famous statement” has it) “contract other relationships” by building collective agricultural-industrial farms in the countryside. This meant that they must stop being industrial workers, proletarians.

He supported labor unions only if they worked with consumer cooperatives, using their money to buy land for collective industrial-agricultural villages. This was not a class orientation, since he also hoped for “rich men [to] either join us completely or at least contribute to our cause” (Landauer, 1978; p. 140).

Unfortunately, his writing is full of vile insults and degrading caricatures of the working class. “Proletarians are the born uncultured plodders….The proletarian’s uncultured mentally is, incidently, one of the reasons why Marxism, systematized unculturedness, has been so well received by the proletariat…..The workers are not a revolutionary class, but a bunch of poor wretches who must live and die under capitalism….If the revolution came today, no stratum of the population would have less idea of what to do than our industrial proletarians.” (Landauer, 1978; pp. 69, 86, 134)

It is ironic that Landauer died, not defending his fantasy of collective villages, but as part of a real working-class revolution. Whatever his weaknesses, he died bravely in the cause of proletarian anarchism.

The Famous Statement

Returning now to the “famous remark” of Landauer’s: saying that the state is only a relationship between people, is like saying that Niagra Falls is just drops of water flowing downward. It is true, but misses the point. All institutions (social structures) are composed of individual humans. If a neutron bomb killed off all the people but left the buildings in which the government meets, there would be no more state. But this does not mean that, as Margaret Thatcher once said, there is no society, only individuals. When many people act in consistent, repeated, and stable patterns, then that is an institution. (By “act” I include both overt behavior and internal thinking and believing.) And such institutions resist change. The US national state has outlasted all those who once established it, and those who continued it, for over 200 years; the individuals are different, but the state continues.

No doubt, if tens of millions of individuals decided to live in a different, nonstate, way, this would challenge the state. But what if, at the same time, other millions decided to keep on living in a statist fashion? What if they have self-interests in living as powerful and wealthy people, and this is part of their self-conception? Statism will not be settled by how many people chose to live this way or that. It will take a clash, a conflict, a fight. Ruling classes have rarely permitted those they exploit to chose to live differently; they use force to maintain their institutions, especially the state—and the oppressed are forced to either use violence to defend their choices or to surrender to the masters.

Even Landauer notes that his strategy of collective villages and cooperatives will face state resistance. “The state…will place the greatest and smallest obstacles in the way of the beginners. We know that” (Landauer, 1978; p. 141). What is his answer to this? “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!” (same). This is hardly adequate.

Socialist-anarchism will need a mass movement of workers and all the oppressed, determined to live differently, for ourselves and our children. But it will not succeed if the movement blinds itself to the obstacles, bases itself on fantasies, and refuses to prepare for an eventual revolution.


References:

Fromm, Erich (1955). The Sane Society. Greenwich CT: Fawcett.
Gordon, Uri (2008). Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. Ann Arbor MI: Pluto Press.
Landauer, Gustav (1978). For Socialism. (D. J. Parent, trans.). St. Louis: Telos Press.
Price, Wayne (2009). “The two main trends in anarchism.” http://www.anarkismo.net/article/13536
Suissa, Judith (2010). Anarchism and Education; A Philosophical Perspective. Oakland CA: PM Press.
Ward, Colin (1965). “Gustav Landauer.” In Anarchy 54 (vol. 5, no. 8). Pp. 244-254.

Written for Anarkismo.net

 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Revolution and coiunterinstitutions     Wayne    Mon Nov 07, 2011 11:55 
   state as social relationships     Scott Nappalos    Sun Nov 06, 2011 21:13 
   Response to Gabriel Kuhn     Wayne    Sat Aug 06, 2011 04:07 
   Response to Duane     Wayne    Sat Jul 30, 2011 03:42 
   What Landauer has to say...     Duane    Fri Jul 29, 2011 15:31 
   Comments recieved elsewhere, w/ Response     Wayne, citing others    Fri Jul 29, 2011 11:21 
   Response     Wayne    Fri Jul 29, 2011 04:25 
   The State inside our neurons     Manuel Baptista    Thu Jul 28, 2011 21:40 


Number of comments per page
  
 
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
Double Issue 5/6 of Tokologo, the Newsletter of the TAAC, now available

International | Anarchist movement | en

Fri 06 May, 15:23

browse text browse image

The Anarkismo network imageConsiderations of the Anarkismo network about the accusations against Michael Schmidt 18:31 Sat 30 Jan by Anarkismo network 23 comments

The Anarkismo network has already published a statement that it would wait until all parts of the accusations by Reid Ross and Stephens were published, as well as the answers of M. Schmidt, before making any judgements on the case. Now that this has been forthcoming, as well as two more responses by Reid Ross, we are issuing a second statement to make public our intentions regarding the present situation.

textStatement For Rojava 15:44 Sun 30 Aug by Bob McGlynn for Neither East Nor West-NYC 0 comments

This is a solidarity Statement For Rojava from an old group that is reviving itself somewhat: Neither East Nor West-NYC

textAnarkismo message of support to 1st Congress of Columna Libertaria Joaquín Penina 17:47 Wed 22 Apr by Anarkismo 0 comments

We are very pleased to be able to congratulate you on the realisation of your First Congress as a specific anarchist political organisation. In light of the disbanding of the Federación Anarco-Comunista Argentina we believe that this is a very important step both for our shared especifista tendency as well as for the development of anarchism in general, both in Argentina and the region.

amara.jpg imageAnarchist Women: "Long Live Freedom, Long Live Anarchism!" 00:08 Thu 01 Jan by Anarşist Kadınlar 0 comments

Anarchist Women attending to the Young Women Conference, in a small village Amara which is in Urfa (Kurdistan), made a speech on the resistance in Kobane, the effect of women on this resistance and women's freedom struggle.

textReport from St. Imier International Congress, 8th-12th August 2012 22:28 Mon 10 Sep by Collective Action 0 comments

This year marks the 140 year anniversary of the first anarchist International held at St.Imier, Switzerland, in 1872. In celebration of the anniversary an international gathering was called in St.Imier in mid-August. A contingent of Collective Action militants attended the gathering along with thousands of other anarchists from around the world to discuss politics, create new international ties and, of course, have some fun.

anarkismotent.jpg imageDelegation returns from International Anarchist Gathering at St Imier 16:13 Wed 22 Aug by Andrew Flood 4 comments

August saw a gathering of a couple of thousand anarchists from all over the globe in St Imier, Switzerland. This small town was the site of the founding of the Anarchist International in 1872, the gathering was organised to commemorate this event and involved dozens of political, organisational & cultural events. As part of this gathering Anarkismo, the international network that the WSM is the Irish section of, held both a European conference and a global gathering. [Italiano]

300_0___20_0_0_0_0_0_5423_popupp.jpg image"Black Flame" blog updated again 20:09 Tue 13 Dec by Lucien van der Walt 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

zababooks_logo_2011.png imageNew Zabalaza Books website 23:25 Thu 08 Sep by Zabalaza Books 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

Freedom Bookshop, venue for the event imageConference of European Anarkismo organizations in London 18:02 Wed 23 Mar by European Coordination Committee 0 comments

On the weekend of 26-27 February 2011, delegates representing organizations from the UK, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Italy met to discuss how they could work more closely together. [Dansk] [Deutsch] [Italiano] [Ελληνικά] [Nederlands]

videoComunique from A(A)A. Anon Anarchist Action 03:47 Thu 24 Feb by NetAnarchist 0 comments

In the last few years, Anonymous has gained increasing notoriety for its action against websites, agencies and organizations that promote censorship and control. It has helped spread information and supported protestors demanding freedoms and rights. But the popularity of the movement, the attention it brings along, and the structure it has engendered threaten to push Anonymous away from the decentralized, collective movement it has been. As decisions become more centralized and newcomers jump on the bandwagon, Anonymous risks becoming yet another ineffective reformist group, fueled by well-meaning rethoric but subject to third party interests and paralyzed by its fear of authority...

more >>

textTo Cure Africa's Heart-Rending Misery, we Need Working Class/Peasant Counter-Power, Anarchism Apr 04 by Tokologo African Anarchist Collective 1 comments

"Africa today lies prostrate, bleeding, and embattled on all fronts, a victim of capitalist and, to a great extent, state socialist ambitions. The heart-rending misery of its peoples, the conditions of abject poverty, squalor and disease in which they live, exist side by side with the wanton luxury, rapacity, and corruption of its leaders." Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, 1997, African Anarchism: The History of a Movement, Sharp Press: Tucson, Arizona. Our vast continent, Africa, is the poorest in the world, host to dozens of wars and conflicts, and marked by instability and inequality. The root causes of the instability lie in political corruption and the profiteering system run by local and international elites. The local ruling classes are interested in making profits and getting wealthy, by any means necessary. The elites are not promoting the development of the working class and peasants (small farmers), but only worsening our conditions. If the choice is between building a road in a poor area or pocketing the money, they will pocket the money.

imageTurnips, hammers & the square - why workplace occupations have faded Feb 16 by AndrewNFlood 0 comments

What if we build it and they don’t come? That was the experience of the left during the crisis - decades had been spent building organisations and a model of how crisis would create revolution but when the crisis arrived the left discovered that the masses weren’t convinced. The expected pattern of crisis leading to small strikes and protests, then to mass strikes and riot and then perhaps to general strike and revolution didn’t flow as expected. Under that theory the radical left would at first be marginal but then as conditions drove class militancy to new heights the workers disappointed by reformist politicians and unions leaders would move quickly to swell its ranks.

imageComment on the Accusations against Michael Schmidt Dec 29 by Wayne Price 43 comments

For months there has been a heated discussion over charges that Michael Schmidt, author of well-known books about anarchism, is actually a fascist and "white nationalist." Now that the main statements are out on both sides, I have been waiting for an evaluation by some panel of reputable anarchist activists and theorists. As this has not happened, I am publishing my own conclusions.

imageThe Anarchist Road To Revolution Dec 02 by Bongani Maponyane 0 comments

We, anarchists, are committed to building a society based on self-management and equality. We identify with the analyses and experiences of Mikhail Bakunin, who stated the need for freedom beyond the limited confines of “democracy” – where you are only free to vote on who is next to govern you. Bakunin argued that freedom comes responsibility: this included responsibility to others in the maintenance of this freedom. We need a society based on these principles; an anarchist society which expects from each according to their ability, and provides to each according to their needs.

How do we achieve this? The anarchist society is achieved through a revolutionary strategy based on mass organization to overthrow systems and relationships of hierarchical (or top-down) political, economic and social power. These organisations – trade unions and community movements – we refer to as counter-power.

imageAlpha below zero - Nemesis and "new anarchy" Nov 19 by Argyris Argyriadis 1 comments

This pamphlet by the “enigmatic” title “Alpha below zero - Nemesis and new anarchy”, appeared online almost a year ago in Greek language by Anarpsy project. Anarpsy is a project about speech, theory and analysis in the context of social psychology, psychoanalysis, psychodynamic approach and psychiatry through Antiauthoritarian - Anarchist perspective, in order to analyse the reality of social and political phenomena. “Alpha below zero” is the second Anarpsy’s pamphlet. (The first was the “ELthnikismos (ΗELlenicNATIONALISM), - A contribution to the understanding of Greek nationalism”). “Alpha below zero” reflects a shift towards nihilism that exists into so-called neo-anarchists.

more >>

imageConsiderations of the Anarkismo network about the accusations against Michael Schmidt Jan 30 23 comments

The Anarkismo network has already published a statement that it would wait until all parts of the accusations by Reid Ross and Stephens were published, as well as the answers of M. Schmidt, before making any judgements on the case. Now that this has been forthcoming, as well as two more responses by Reid Ross, we are issuing a second statement to make public our intentions regarding the present situation.

textStatement For Rojava Aug 30 Neither East Nor West- NYC 0 comments

This is a solidarity Statement For Rojava from an old group that is reviving itself somewhat: Neither East Nor West-NYC

textAnarkismo message of support to 1st Congress of Columna Libertaria Joaquín Penina Apr 22 1 of Anarkismo Editorial Group 0 comments

We are very pleased to be able to congratulate you on the realisation of your First Congress as a specific anarchist political organisation. In light of the disbanding of the Federación Anarco-Comunista Argentina we believe that this is a very important step both for our shared especifista tendency as well as for the development of anarchism in general, both in Argentina and the region.

image"Black Flame" blog updated again Dec 13 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

imageNew Zabalaza Books website Sep 08 Zabalaza Books [ZACF] 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

more >>
© 2005-2016 Anarkismo.net. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by Anarkismo.net. [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]