Gilles Dauvé is a French political theorist who first rose to prominence with his critiques of Marxism, the Second International, and the revolutionary 1960s under the pen name Jean Barrot. Influenced by the recent history of left communism in Europe, his writings portray independent workers’ councils as an alternative to state socialism and a natural outcome of capital’s overreach into all aspects of world politics. Dauvé is possibly the most important theorist of the political current known as communization, which he helped shape in the journal La Banquise and through his work with the Situationists—an international organization focused on society’s constitution through spectacle and expression through consumption.
Dauvé’s 2018 book, Homo: Social and Sexual Question from 1864 to Our Time, connects the origins of queer studies to the expansion of global capitalism. Sexuality and identity, he posits, are linked only insofar as they adhere to institutional structures of oppression. The following excerpt explores how the first openly gay literary magazine welcomed a plethora of radical perspectives in Weimar Germany but fell prey to a popular wave of reactionary masculinity.
— Billy Anania, translator
The Unique and its mistakes
Without the two ideologies coinciding, the path traced by Hans Blüher crosses that of Der Eigene, “The Unique,” a journal with a title that echoes The Unique and His Property, an anarchist classic published by Max Stirner in 1845. But this original libertarian inclination is limited to each person claiming free disposition of their body. Between 1898 and 1932, despite irregular publication, interruptions, and title changes, Der Eigene was without a doubt the first homosexual periodical in the world, with about 1,500 subscribers and some variable subtitles: “For everyone and no one” at the beginning, borrowed from the subtitle of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, or “Journal for masculine culture” in 1924. Der Eigene celebrated masculine beauty, published nude images, and was not hostile to relations between young people and adults, two themes that cause trouble with censorship. Contributors ranged from the anarchist Erich Mühsam (murdered in a concentration camp in 1934), to the “scandalous” novelist Hanns Heinz Ewers (who later became a Nazi), or Karl-Günther Heimsoth (homosexual and Nazi), as well as recognized writers (Heinrich and Thomas Mann).
The course of three important contributors illustrates the confusing diversity of Der Eigene.
Born to a Jewish family, Benedikt Friedländer (1866-1908) had supported the anarchist journal Der Kampf (of which Franz Pfemfert, later close to the communist left, was for some time editor-in-chief), and written in Der Sozialist, before developing what would become his credo: The defense of a purely individual liberty, and the refusal of socialism as well as Marxism.
Although the founder of the Community of the Uniques, he also belonged to the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee of Magnus Hirschfeld, in whose journal he wrote until 1906. That year, he seceded and founded a League for Male Culture that disappears two years later when, suffering from an incurable cancer, he commits suicide.
According to him, humans are social beings attracted to each other, therefore also to people of
the same sex; a man does not need a feminine soul or personality to be attracted to another man. Between the extreme poles (the hetero who is only hetero and the homo who is only homo), bisexuality was the most “natural” case, though unfortunately repressed.
Friedländer mixes belief in a bisexuality intrinsic to the human condition, an individual elitism and a conviction of female inferiority. This innate antifeminism even leads to antisemitism—a paradoxical position given his origins—because to him the Jews are one of the causes of the “feminization” of the world.
John Henry MacKay (1864-1933) was an “individualist” anarchist. In 1905, he campaigned for the depenalization of relations between adult men and adolescents (a position disapproved of by Magnus Hirschfeld), and published brochures that earned him prosecution and a fine. One of these books romanticizes the author’s love for boys (from 14 to 17 years old). MacKay wrote widely: works of propaganda (The Anarchists, 1891), sometimes to pay the bills, or for his own pleasure, like The Swimmer, and a biography of Stirner. Richard Strauss set MacKay’s love poems to music.
That such dissimilar personalities could mingle, if only in the pages of a magazine, speaks much about the vertigo of an era.
Adolf Brand (1874-1945) secured the direction of The Unique. Insofar as the journal had a political line, its principal theorist was Benedikt Friedländer, although John Henry MacKay also influenced Brand after 1906. A member of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee—founded by Magnus Hirschfeld to publicize and defend homosexuality—Brand split off in 1903 to found the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (GDE), the “Community of the Uniques,” that is to say, particular individuals who are self-owned because they are not the property of anyone. Contrary to the mass organizations discussed in the previous chapter, the GDE would never gather more than a small number of adherents, 250 dues-paying members to date, Brand wrote at one point. Willie Janse, whose role in the Wandervogel we have discussed, was one of them.
Though the Community of the Uniques did not preclude members from joining the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and other groups for united action against the criminalization of homosexuality, they still had their strong differences. The Community criticized the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee for dealing too much with legislation and for basing its political claim on science, instead of privileging natural rights and personal freedom. What separated them was the refusal by Brand and his friends of a “third sex” theory dear to Hirschfeld, according to which the homosexual would have a different constitution from other men. Der Eigene believed in a common bisexuality in most human beings, underlying but repressed and self-censoring. Every man is susceptible to orientation toward men and/or women, and the homosexual is neither a minority nor a separate category.
Der Eigene portrays the homosexual as the most complete and virile of men, the incarnation of the Greek ideal, the member of an elite illustrated by historical figures, from Alexander the Great to Frederick II.
Brand was in favor of publicly denouncing political figures (deputies and even Chancellor Bernard von Bülow) who practiced homosexual conduct in private while allowing the law to repress it among ordinary men; to Brand, this is worth 18 months in prison for defamation. After 1930, he renounced public action. The Nazis banned Der Eigene and searched Brand’s home several times, but he was never arrested and died in 1945 during a bombing raid.
The “true” men
For Friedländer, that which hinders love between men, whatever form it takes, is not the patriarchy, it is women, and the “feminization” of all culture; the “whole white race” is threatened by the “exaggeration of the familial principle—the most primitive form of socialization—that breaks the States and gnaws at national unity.” Too engulfed in materiality due to motherhood, the woman pulls the man down and impedes the spiritual and artistic flourishing of which he alone would be the bearer. The great reproach addressed to the contemporary world by Friedländer, in the wake of Heinrich Schurtz, is for favoring the negative influence of women, which according to them was a typical trait of bourgeois society. If Japan preserved a “masculine culture,” North America was undergoing a “feminized condition.”
Thus, between the two sexes (because the vision remains binary), the Community of the Uniques advocated for the minimum of mixing; if the relations of “man plus woman” are essential for reproduction, society must promote relations of “man plus man” to develop the best of civilization. In this context, the family would disappear as a basic social unit. The boy would be taken from his parents and especially the negative influence of his mother, raised in contact with men, in the model of the boarding school, the scout camp, the men’s sports association or the barracks.
Der Eigene overthrows the stereotype “homosexual equals effeminate.” It is so-called normal men without spiritual elevation who let themselves be effeminized. The “true” man does not enjoy contact with women, because only the company of men reinforces him morally and intellectually. The woman leads an instinctive life and is content as such; man makes himself in the effort to dominate instinct.
Misogyny is not unanimous in Der Eigene. In 1903, Edwin Bab spoke out against the idea of a masculine or feminine nature: “I affirm that there are no differences between what characterizes man and woman psychologically and intellectually. [...] Man is no more productive than woman.” But Bab remains very much in the minority, and was one of the rare Uniques to defend the positive role of women alongside men.
There is hardly any question of sexual freedom; this homoeroticism minimizes, even discourages, the physical relationships that fall in a secondary and purely private domain. The goal is not to make love, but to promote relational hierarchies between men, in order to select an elite to lead the masses. In this return to the mythical ancient Greece, the ideal is less the Athenian philosopher than the warrior of Sparta. Frequent reference to the medieval Lieblingsminne, from Liebling (favorite) and Minne (courtly love), indicates that the Uniques seek their model more at the knights’ table than in the commoner’s cottage.
Photos of naked men published in Der Eigene were part of the nudist movement and cult of sport then very popular. In ancient Greece, etymologically, the gymnast was the one “who is nude.” But physical exercise took on a particular meaning, that of an anti-materialist reaction: It was not a matter of training athletes, but of new men, of promoting the spirit through the body, beauty against raw material, the human against money, the individual against the masses. It was necessary to break with the Christian (and Buddhist) rejection of the real world, of life and flesh, and the glorification of asceticism that maintained a fear of sexuality.
Physical love between men was therefore not excluded, on the condition of expressing a friendship, an intense spiritual bond, of which “effeminate” homos are considered incapable. Friendländer opposed walks in the wilderness to the frequenting of gay bars, for him, typical of modern decadence. It is necessary to control oneself, to learn through physical training, effort, hardening. Sport and nudism help to transcend the body by spiritualizing it.
Whatever the reader may have found in them, the nude photos in_ Der Eigene_ were not solely for visual pleasure, but were also a spiritual exercise and contribution to the restoration of a natural order. Here we get to the heart of reactionary thinking: Belief in a world order to found or win back.
It makes sense that the Uniques considered the struggle to depenalize homosexuality as secondary; the essential goal was to launch a moral reform, at the base, where a youth supposedly unscathed by modern social defects could rediscover nature undefiled by industry or commerce. With the aim being to revive a masculine culture, everything that favored the segregation of men was considered positive, camping as much as military preparation, better still the mixture of the two.
Politics of feeling
The initial “anarchism” of Der Eigene was an individualism hoping to resolve everything through the international fraternity of friendly organizations. Brand thinks in liberal terms when he dreamed of private property accessible to all. More than Stirner, it was Nietszche who inspired the Uniques. The myth of an individual capable of giving itself the strength to be free (of which the masses would be powerless) takes precedence over the collectivity of human beings acting together. The workers’ movement and the women’s movement are both perceived as negatively as bourgeois civilization (of which they would only be the effects) due to their leveling, preventing individual affirmation and thus the emancipation of each and everyone.
In What Do We Want? (1925), Brand based the minimum agenda of the Community of the Uniques on the idealization of love. The “bisexual tendency in everyone,” “primary form of all varieties of love,” to him leads to pacifism. Love of (male) friends will allow tolerance between people and put an end to overcrowding, and therefore war and a class struggle caused by misery: “Men of all classes, unite…”
If in 1911 Brand called to vote socialist, after the war came political disillusionment where elitist individualism wins out. But his universal pacifism had always accommodated nationalist, racist and antisemitic affilates. In 1908, Der Eigene published an article by Friedländer denouncing the decline of the white race, “Jewish influence” and “yellow” peril. In 1924-25, a text by (future Nazi) Karl-Günther Heimsoth attacks Magnus Hirschfeld as a Jew; Brand publishes it, adding only a few reservations in the introduction. The same year, he recommended Masculine Heroism & Loving Camaraderie in Times of War, by Dr. Georg Pfeiffer, to appear in Der Eigene; after a series of historic examples that heap so much praise on wartime comradeship, the author proposes to henceforth put collective masculine energy in the service of goals other than war, but service of “our dear country” above all.
Politically, the hatred of mind-numbing “Americanization” was accompanied by an antipathy at least as strong for the equalizing “Bolshevism.”
From favoring the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or SPD) in 1911 to apoliticalism under Weimar, these Uniques maintained and propagated the idea that there is no community but that of individuals, meaning supposedly superior male individuals. When feeling serves as theoretical intelligence, nothing prevents getting carried away by dominant winds, which in Germany at the time were blowing in the nationalist direction.
There is no red line inevitably leading from the Community of the Uniques to Nazism. Mistrust imposes itself before a “history of ideas” that would demonstrate everything and the rest (for example, since the Stalinists never stopped quoting Marx, The Manifesto _would prepare the gulag). What is certain is that the current guiding _Der Eigene fueled the national-racist mentalities that favored Nazism. But the Uniques contributed at least as much through their confusion: Incoherence is counterrevolutionary, eclecticism, often, too. ⊱