As the reactionary forces in Germany grew in strength, Mühsam’s activities were severely restricted. In July 1931 the social democratic police chief of Berlin, Grzesinski, banned the distribution of Mühsam’s anarchist magazine, Fanal, for four months. With the growing influence of the extreme right, the circle of those meeting to discuss anarchist ideas was severely reduced and, as a consequence, together with the high unemployment rate and increased working class poverty, it triggered a financial crisis for the entire workers movement. When the four-month ban expired, Mühsam no longer had the means to continue publishing the magazine. Instead, he distributed occasional circulars to his friends and comrades and finally, as a replacement for Fanal, he wrote the following work that summarised his view of the world, and of the idea that animated his magazine. In it Mühsam outlined the basic features of his anarchist doctrine which appeared under the title of Die Befreiung der Gesellschaft vom Staat Was ist kommunistischer Anarchismus? (The Liberation of Society from the State: What is Communist Anarchism?) in 1933, an essay that should be considered to be the most mature expression of Mühsam’s anarchism.
ERICH MUEHSAM (1868-1934)
‘When the official report of July 11th by the Nazi regime of Germany told of Erich Muehsam having hanged himself while in “protective custody”, many of us feared that his death came about in a more terrible manner. These fears were borne out by the following wireless message from Prague to the New York Times. It reads as follows:
‘“Prague, July 20th — Details of the killing of the poet Erich Muehsam in a German concentration camp were given tonight by his widow, who has just reached Prague from Germany “Herr Muehsam went through a Cavalry of Nazi concentration camps, passing through the three most notorious between February of last year and the slaying on July 10th, last. He was in the Brandenburg, Sonnenburg and the Oranienburg camps.
‘“His widow declared this evening that, when she was first allowed to visit her husband after his arrest, his face was so swollen by beating that she could not recognise him. He was assigned to the task of cleaning toilets and staircases while Storm Troopers amused themselves by spitting in his face, she added.
‘“On July 8th, last, she saw him for the last time alive. Despite the tortures he had undergone for fifteen months, she declared, he was cheerful, and she knew at once when his “suicide” was reported to her three days later that it was untrue. When she told the police that they had “murdered” him, she asserted they shrugged their shoulders and laughed. A post mortem examination was refused, according to Frau Muehsam, but Storm Troopers, incensed with their new commanders, showed her the body, which bore unmistakable signs of strangulation, with the back of the skull shattered as if Herr Muehsam had been dragged across the parade ground.”
‘What could one say that would put to shame a regime that takes the greatest children of its land and tortures them to death in the most degrading, sadistic, inquisitory manner imaginable? The heart and mind revolts at the thought of the ordeals that the murdered Erich Muehsam had to undergo in the hands of these inhuman swine that are now reigning supreme in Germany! And of our many other comrades still in their claws — what of them? Protests? They are of no avail — as far as these madmen and imbeciles are concerned. One can only have one hope: that the present fight between these despicable beasts will hasten on a real Social Revolution that will drive them into the oblivion that they rightfully deserve.
‘Erich Muehsam was one of the outstanding modern revolutionary poets in German literature. From his early youth he turned to socialism and soon enough reached anarchism, to which ideal he dedicated his talent and soul.
‘In addition to his poetic creations that appeared in several volumes, he also wrote plays. One of these, an exposure of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, was played with great success in every part of Germany. It also received high praise as a literary work from many critics.
‘After the end of the world war he was very active, together with comrade Gustav Landauer, in the uprising of Bavaria during 1919, and also was a member of the Red Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council that existed in Munich for a short period of the same year. When the revolt was crushed by the Social Democratic rulers, Muehsam was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. After serving five years he was freed in the amnesty granted at that time. Once again he became very active in the anarchist movement.
‘Muehsam also published and edited two journals that exerted great influence. One was Kain (Munich, 1911-1914, 1918-1919), and Fanal (Berlin, 1924-1926).
‘Comrade Muehsam was about to escape from Germany when the Mad Dog of Europe, Hitler, came to power. He was, of course, one of the first victims of the Nazis. And from their claws he never emerged alive!
‘Erich Muehsam’s name will assume a most glorious place in the blackest page of the history of Germany Out of the scores of authors that have succumbed to the Nazi rule, Mueh-sam’s trying ordeal bespeaks of the outraged conscience of Germany. It should also serve as an awakener and inspiration to those who have lost themselves that the real artist can be and is a revolutionist as well.
‘The Anarchist movement has received a great blow in the loss of Erich Muehsam. But it is proud of his association with our ideal and manner in which he defied the enemy of liberty unto his death.’
Marcus Graham, Editor, MAN! Vol. 2, No. 8 August, 1934.