click here to download Lebensreform interview with Gertrud Prellwitz
click here for Lebensreform intro by Peter&Heidi from Semiotext3
The Lebensreform movements are not so welknown outside of the German speaking context. This paper indends to summarise a talk given at the Copenhagen Free University in oder to provoke remarks, to stir a discussion. So please feel invited to engage, to comment, to question. I would also appreciate if you could add links to other (contemporary?) sources..
The talk in Copenhagen was announced as follows:
Around the turn of the century, a number of groups were formed that can be subsumed under the term “Lebensreform” (Life Reform). These part utopian, revolutionary, reactionary and reformist approaches characterised the most varied attempts to break free from the Empire of the day: the national, capitalistic and monolithic Wilhelminian Reich.
In view of the development of “multitudes” of parallel conceptions of life, the Life Reform movements were certainly predecessors of today’s “escapist” constructions of identity, formed via lifestyle conceptions. At the time, however, some of these approaches lent a sense of “metaphysical depth” to the arising National Socialism.
Other groups were, quite to the contrary, persecuted by the society of the Third Reich, and incorporated or forced into line, which again produced a monolithic homogeneity.
What would be a good translation of Lebensreform into English?
There is not really such a fixed term as in German. Suggest: Life Reform, Reform of Life...or keep it in German.
The timing - How sick of things do you have to be
How sick does one think one is?
Where does it start, the point of withdrawal?
For us, thats the point of departure. When you think you have suffered enough, that you have complained enough, that you have talked and thought enough and have waisted enough time to sit eat wait watch TV read etc…
selling beds to the sick
needing to be sick
depression subjects & money
a holiday from heartache
Speaking in medical terms there were obviously terrible circumstances not only in slums but in the burgeois environment as well. Plush everywhere, no air, no light.. Tight uncomfortable dress (corsets), tight morals.
The “scientific medicine" was obviously not as dominant as it is today. From rural areas you knew of nature medicine, people who would heal through mental powers or secret knowledge. People like Kneipp had shown that you could do a lot of healing with simple means, like cold water or whole grain nutrition.
A lot of Lebensreform Energy came from “feeling sick” or “I had enough, I am sick of that..” Monte Verita was a product of that, it claimed to be a sanatorim. Comepare SSK (Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv). Patients getting impatient with their doctors and taking their health intheir own hands.
But what are the origins of the discomfort?
Concentrate on healing the self rather than fighting the world?
Movement - Kind of a gentle word, waves of ideas
Obviously people with similar problems found each other and started to try things out:
The founders of Monte Verita found each other in a sanatorium and started to cross the alps barefooted… to find the Monte Verita
Students from a school in Berlin started to escape the slum and city environment and went hiking over the weekend to discover nature, health, beauty and each other… that created the Wnadervogel movement…
Fragmentation - Different lifestyles, reform of lifestyle
I can not claim that these groups constituted “fragmented publics” already back then. This is a thinking of today when we might be speaking of “subcultures”, “multi-cultures” or a “mutitude”.
However, I see three motives here…
- to try and escape out of a thight and suffocating society which might lead to escapism, reform or revolution?
- the emergence of different publics and smaller societies, movements like die Völkischen, die Vagabundenbewegung etc that would constitute a fragment of society. It might be of interest to observe in how far these groups had their “own” politics, aesthetics, ideologies, agendas and attitudes that distinguished them from each other.
- But can we speak of lifetyle back then?What is lifestyle anyway? Is lifestyle depending on the acquisition of products, that is… is it merely marketing device: “ to constitute one’s identity as one wants, but with the products that make it”
A characteristic of life reform: The lack of criticism of life reform.
Can we do both? It would be an effort to get out of last century and into this one in the terms of the discussion.
I don't know to what extent life reform as a topic is supposed to be a projection plane of historical inaccuracy, to what extent it is supposed to be a collection of facts about different movements back then, or to what extent it is to be drawn on as a parallel for nowadays problems and activities. I guess that we are meshing all this and more in order to get somewhere else
We should be aware of the different ways that could be used to disect the topic:
- What happened in history, in the context of all the other things that happened around them? How did they influence each other? What were the intentions, what were the effects?
- How does that look from todays perspective, through the history of effects and especially through the filter of the 3rd Reich? But also… through the filter of “alternativity”?
- What are our projections on the Lebensreform movements and to which extend do they become metaphors, parallels, role models and warning signals for today…
- What difference is there between Lebensreform, Life Style and Revolution.
- And finally, can we overcome our own “Lebensreforms” and turn towards a more “political” effort in terms “change of society” and “utopias”….
Modernism - Anti modernism
It is not only the discussion about genetic engineering, cloning, use of nuclear powers that seems to make it necessary to define a modern notion of “Modernity”.
Most Lebensreform movements were trying to look either back or beyond, but always looking for more authenticity, honesty, healthyness.
Chiliasm was an inherent quality of all the Lebensreforms different approaches
Capitalism and its increasing alienation was obviously a big threat. The writer Ulrich Linse claims that there were three ideologies in the 1920s which seriously questioned capitalism for the last time:
Some of Gsells ideas were tested in practice and the succeded until the state claimed back its monopoly of the mint.
- The “Völkische Bewegung” wanted to go back to a social order based on agriculture and craft. Like in the middle ages [and still in fantasy literature and film] society would be organised through inherited privileges of eldermen and guilds, of tribes and traditions, of blood and soil. The superiority of the aryan=germanic race was a given and its strength and purity had to be regained: the local therefor stood against the international, tradition was used against modernity, farming and crafts against technology. The stamp of quality: essentially German. [Note: The National-Socialists merged “völkische” ideas with fascism but they got involved heavily with capital, aristicracy and technology (military).]
- Communism as we know it, class consciousness, international solidarity and the ownership of the means of production by the working class should break away from “traditions” and create a modern society that would use technology for its benefit. I forgot why this finally failed…
- ”The Third Way” wanted to find an alternative between capitalism and communism, thus borrowing from both, Völkischer Bewegung and Communism and and overlapping in parts with Anarchism. Hard to define and inviting all sorts of projections those heterogeneous and alternative paths led to either change of society from within (reform) or to escapism and/or relative autonomy of projects. Freiland/Freigeld (free land free money) was a theory by Silvio Gsell which was often discussed:
- Land should not be owned by anyone, it should be available for rent only. The money gained from rent (supply and demand) should sustain the bascic needs of the population.
- Gsell himself did not see the problem of capitalism in the ownership of the means of production but in monetarism, i.e. in the fact that you make money with money. In order to use money merely as abstract means of exchange and nothing else he suggested to introduce a tax on the use of money.
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- MATERIALIEN last edited on 11 July 2006 at 9:29 pm by e176064196.adsl.alicedsl.de