Stefan Berger

German historian

Stefan Berger (born 1964) is a Professor of Social History and the Director of the Institute for Social Movements at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and Chairman of the committee of the Library of the Ruhr Foundation.


  • Anarchism had belonged to the most active resistance fighters against Nazi Germany, and their numbers had been decimated by the ruthless National Socialist persecution. Between 1919 and 1923 there had been approximately 1500,000 anarchists in Weimar Germany. By the end of the Weimar Republic, about 50,000 activists remained. In 1945 their numbers were down to 15,000, and many of those were seriously ill as consequence of torture and persecution. Hence, anarchist groups in the immediate post-war period had no more than about 5,000 members. In its pre-1933 centres such as Bremen, Hamburg, Mülheim/Ruhr, Berlin, Darmstadt and Zwickau groups were formed who tried to rivive German anarchism organisationally and intellectually. In the Soviet zone of occupation, they soon clashed with the Soviet military authorities and the SED. Their leading figures such as Alfred Weiland or Willi Jelinek were kidnapped by the Stasi and imprisoned on trumped-up charges. Whether Jelinek's death in Bautzen prison had natural causes or was murder is still unclear today. By 1948-49 there subsequent waves of persecution had uprooted anarchism in the Soviet zone to such an extent that it was organisationally extinct. In the West, the 1950s saw maany attempts to unite the diverse groups into one German federation. The absence of the leading intellects on the movement's ability to regenerate its energies. Many, like Erich Mühsam, had been murdered by the Nazis. Others, like Rudolf Rocker or Augustin Souchy, were still in exile. Furthermore, Rocker was arguably more influential in Spain than in Germany, ant the same can be said in relation to Souchy and Latin America. Despite the many organisational and ideological fissures which characterised post-war German anarchism, an attempt to the movement finally succeeded at a conference in Neviges in August 1959. Yet the emerging Association of Free Socialist and Anarchists was not successful in reviving the fortunes of German anarchism. It failed to overcome the strong ideological differences between the diverse anarchist groups leading a rather shadowy existence in subsequent years. By the mid-1960s, anarchism was marginal political phenomenon in the Federal Republic, and the very words 'anarchism' and 'anarchic' had become bywords for disorganisation rather than signifying one of the few genuine alternatives which had existed in the history of the German left to reformist Social Democracy on the one hand and authoritarian Communism on the other.
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