Erich Mühsam: Anarchy (1912)

Erich Mühsam

Erich Mühsam

Here is a brief piece on anarchy by the German anarchist revolutionary, Erich Mühsam (1878-1934). Friend of Gustav Landauer, participant in the 1919 Bavarian Revolution, and one of the first radicals to be murdered by the Nazis in July 1934 after their seizure of power, Mühsam was, next to Landauer and Rudolf Rocker, one of the leading German speaking anarchists of the 20th century. This translation is taken from Gabriel Kuhn’s collection of Mühsam’s writings, Liberating Society from the State, published by PM Press.

Mühsam's paper, Fanal

Mühsam’s paper, Fanal


Anarchy means freedom from domination. Those for whom it means nothing but chaos have the sensory perception of a horse.

Anarchy is freedom from coercion, violence, servitude, law, centralization and the state. An anarchic society rests on voluntariness, communication, contract, agreement, alliance and people.

Humans demand to be controlled, because they cannot control themselves. They kiss the robes of priests and the boots of princes, because they lack self-respect and must find an object of adoration outside of themselves. They call for the police, because they cannot protect themselves against the bestiality of their own instincts. In making decisions, they trust others to represent them… because they lack the courage necessary to trust their own opinions.

To continue with the horse analogy: the political life of the civilized peoples remains limited to conceiving ever more perfect reins, saddles, shafts, curbs, and whips. The working human being only distinguishes himself from the working horse by helping the master to develop ever better tools of bondage and by adjusting to them voluntarily. Both share the trust in iron mountings and accept blinders to prevent these from being used properly.

Scientific studies have revealed how the capitalist system robs human beings of the profits of their labour. They are exploited, and they know it. They also know the route to socialism, the redistribution of land and the means of production from the hands of the privileged to the hands of the people. They have known this for half a century, but they have not taken a single step in the right direction up to this day.

The means to change conditions that you know are dreadful is action. But the people of our times are lazy. As an excuse for their lack of action, they have developed the theory that history follows materialistic necessity: time changes things automatically. Meanwhile, the working people wait, repair and wash their dishes, complain, and vote. These provisional activities have become their habit, their need, their purpose in life. In fact, they have forgotten what they were waiting for. And if anyone dares to remind them, that person better watch out!

Anarchy is the society of humans as brothers. Its economic alliance is called socialism. Humans who are brothers exist. Anarchy is alive whenever they come together. They need no domination. However, they still have to create socialism. This demands labour. Those who refuse to help create and to engage in socialist labour in brotherly communion, those who want to wait until things change without themselves lifting a finger, they may go on repairing and washing their dishes, they may go on complaining and voting—but they must not call themselves socialists! In particular, they must not speak of anarchy! Anarchy is a matter of the heart, and they know nothing of that.

Erich Mühsam, from the Kain-Kalendarflir das Jahr 1912