In the previous chapter Graf recounts his deep regret at deceiving his brother Maurus and how it affected him for years to come. Though he doesn't reflect on the consequences of his actions in this next chapter (7), his encounters with self-described anarchists and other left-leaning political groups in Munich will also have its impact and for the rest of his life.
Chapter 7 - The Search
Unexpectedly an illustrated journal published eight aphorisms of mine and paid five marks. I was over the moon, and it raised my hopes. My plans took off. Immediately I wrote a great many sketches, aphorisms, and poems, and sent them to every possible editor. Nothing was accepted. I had less and less to eat, and Maurus’ money was all gone. Theres declared open hostility. I wrote and wrote. I must have something in reserve, I thought, for the moment when editors asked for more. A selection, material!
I wrote whole nights through. My days were restless, haunted by despair and hunger, and I was utterly alone. I wrote. I was possessed by an overwhelming sense of alienation.
As soon as I met Theres, her lamentations would begin, “You’re young and strong! We all have to work.”
I went about it alone. I did not know a soul. I never went to a pub. Quietly I frequented the shops, museums and exhibitions, sat on street benches, and waited for some human to approach. But no one spoke to me.
So then, work.
Back I went to my room and wrote. Impossible articles accumulated, sketches, reflections. I wanted to write a large book on education. Then I wrote letters again appealing to well known authors.
Bouillion cubes, tea, bread!
But I have to be tough and hold out, I thought.
I read Tolstoy and all the books Nanndl had sent to me secretly. Hunger gnawed. I recited aloud in my room, pacing back and forth. Work! Work!
Below me there was a large bookbinder. Work! Yes, but what work? What? As a baker? On no account. If only because of Mrs. Ulitsch – besides, I hadn’t taken the exam to qualify as a journeyman, so I would have to enter somewhere as an apprentice. No, that was out of the question for a budding author.
Every day the bookbinders and filers came out of the workshop, laughing and merry from the hum of the place. They were safe. They had learned a trade and earned money. What should I do? What should I do?
If only I could find one person who would take me under his wing, somehow or other.
Next door to me there lived a bookbinder named Schmocker. Every evening he came home from work, made some hot cocoa, hummed a tune, and sometimes went out again. I managed to start a conversation with him. I knocked and asked for a newspaper. He opened the door, greeted me warmly and with an engaging smile said, “Oh certainly!”
“One likes to know the latest news,” I said so readily that I surprised myself.
“Yes, yes. It’s absolutely necessary for an author like you,” he returned. He was short in stature and had a moustache. He collected the sheets of the newspaper and resumed our conversation, saying that what was in the papers was all lies. “But a man must know how to read between the lines.”
“Oh yes, there’s plenty of lying in the world,” I said mechanically, and secretly I knew it applied to me as well.
The bookbinder picked up a pamphlet that was lying on his desk and offered it to me. It was Tolstoy’s Slavery of Today. He continued in a much more conceited tone and with a marked Swiss accent, “Now that man tells the truth, and that’s why the world regards him as a lunatic. But the people who have nothing know he is right.”
I reddened. The tone was familiar, something akin to me. I knew the little book and felt instinctively that my companion wanted to draw me further into conversation. My curiosity and interest were also piqued. “Yes,” I said suddenly relieved, “but who believes in Tolstoy nowadays? A mere handful, and they can do nothing in opposition to the whole world.”
The book binder looked at me intently and said eagerly, “But that handful will grow, and even if only a few start to stand up for those principles and to teach others what they mean, then there will be a multitude, and we will change the world!”
I didn’t understand. I stood there, feeling stupid and confused, and asked, “Are there people like that here?”
Evidently my neighbor had been waiting for this.
“Yes, indeed,” he said in a low, solemn voice, “there are quite a few of us here. And the Syndicalists are with us. Won’t you come with me one day? You will definitely find it interesting.”
I played dumb.
“What’s the society called?” I asked after a brief pause.
The bookbinder smiled, “It’s not a society. They are anarchists. We meet every Friday in the Glockenbach Restaurant. We hold discussions there. Soon we plan to have a larger, public meeting again. We want to have it out with the Social Democrats. They are mere bureaucrats, a drag on the movement; they muddle the workers’ heads.”
When he saw how astonished and ignorant I looked, he went to the desk again, took a second pamphlet out of the drawer, and handed it to me.
“That tells you what we are all about. Have a look at it, and if you like, come with me on Friday evening,” he said and said good-bye. I went back to my room and read Landauer’s Call to Socialism, the second pamphlet my neighbor gave me. On the last page the “Twelve Articles of the Socialist Union” were listed and below them was a blue stamp, “Action Group, Munich.”
But there was nothing about anarchists.
Anarchists – I reflected and vaguely recalled Luccheni, the murderer of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria; I thought of bomb attacks and terrible criminal societies. I pictured in my mind a dark, concealed cellar and saw masked figures gambling with the fate of one prince or another. An immense excitement took hold of me and curiosity wouldn’t let me sleep; Landauer’s arguments were scattered to the four winds. I have to see this. I must go. These are criminals – one would be given a new name and vanish from the face of the earth, so to speak. What could be more opportune then, as I thought of Maurus? I have to go!
Very early the next morning I got up, went out into the street, and looked for the Glockenbach Restaurant. On the way my fantasy painted awful pictures: a bomb cellars, daring figures, secret doors …
It was something incredibly new for me, something unthinkable and unheard of. I have to learn more about it. Let’s go! I was feverish. I searched like a madman. Damn it, where was this outlawed “Glockenbach”? I was walking beside a stream. The sunshine flickered on the rippling waves. There was a little hill on the other side, and the outside wall of a cemetery stretched along for a ways. I looked around. There was no sign of a Glockenbach Restaurant. A policeman came strolling by. I went up to him, took off my hat hesitantly, and asked innocently, “Please, can you tell me where the anarchists meet around here?”
“What?” he said. “The artists?”
“No, the anarchists,” I said.
The policeman’s face grew serious and very official. For a few moments he eyed me critically and then said brusquely, “Come along with me!”
Now I had really stepped in it! My heart fell to the floor. I nearly burst into tears. I was taken to the police station.
There was a strong smell of tobacco. Several police officers were sitting around a table. They turned around apathetically when we entered, and one said to the policeman who brought me in, “What’s he been up to?”
The man whispered something in his ear and went out again. I stood there frightened.
“Come here,” said the man on duty. “Have a seat there.” Then he took a writing pad out of his drawer and began to ask questions. “What is your name?” I stammered out an answer. The date of my birth, my home, my father’s occupation, and my own. I answered question after question, and pictured myself locked away in a remote prison cell. The man took it all down. When he had finished his questions, he looked at me fiercely, facing me straight on with his hands on his hips, and began to instruct me.
“How did you come to know those people?” he asked. I told him everything and started to whimper. When he saw how helpless I was, his face softened. He even patted me on the shoulder.
“Young man,” he said, “you are still young. Look around for work and keep clear of that disreputable rabble. They’re all people who don’t want to work and earn their living in all sorts of shady ways.”
I had told him about my sister Theres, and that I had a dreadfully cruel brother at home and had run away, and now did not know what to do. He wrote out for me the address of the nearest employment office and advised me to go there; I would be sure to get an entry-level office job or some other kind of work.
“There,” he concluded, “now you may go. Remember what I’ve told you and steer clear of that sort of thing.”
I went on saying meekly, “Yes, yes, oh yes,” and “thank you very much,” and went out quite stupefied. The pressure I felt was relieved at once. But I was pleased to know that my suppositions about bomb cellars and criminals were proven correct. I was positively vain about my powers of insight, and though I was dreadfully frightened, I couldn’t overcome my curiosity. These anarchist fellows, I thought, are sure to have their secret dodges, and my neighbor will certainly know how to manage the affair so that they can meet undisturbed. I hurried home and told him what had happened to me. The nimble little man sprang out of his chair and ran up and down the room like a madman.
“But Mr. Graf! Mr. Graf! What have you done, just think about it! – I could be arrested any minute! They might be coming for me already, the coppers! – My God! My God! How stupid of you!”
I wrung my hands and protested my innocence, but he bore down on me with his words, sputtered with excitement, and threw me reproachful glances. I was defenseless and stammered, “Good Lord! If I had known that!”
When he found out finally that I hadn’t been asked about him, he grew a little calmer. Finally he took his overcoat from the peg, slipped it on, and said as he went out, “I have to report this at once!” And off he went. I also left and went to my room shaking my head, dropped onto the sofa, and reflected on what had happened.
In the torrent of words the Swiss uttered, I heard the same phrase over and over, “This could very much be to your disadvantage. From this point onwards you have a record with the police.” What could he mean? I went to bed but couldn’t fall asleep. Late at night I heard the bookbinder return home. What was going on? It was really very strange.
On Friday the Swiss said to me casually, “We won’t be meeting till next Friday. You should come along, too.”
It was becoming more and more mysterious. I was taught like an umbrella. I have to go check it out no matter what, and after all I won’t lose my head just for going this once. If they wanted to lure me into murdering princes, I could always say I didn’t know how to throw a bomb, or I didn’t have a gun, or my sister wouldn’t allow it, or something like that.
That whole week I buried myself in the Call to Socialism. I began to see what it was driving at. But what did it have to do with anarchism? There was nothing at all in it about bombs or murdering princes. It only repeated quite innocently, “The Socialist Union is a community of those who want to create a new economic system inspired by an ideal.” It went on to talk of groups that would gradually make up this community, this new human society; of the distribution of the land, of the transformation of our whole lifestyle through the spirit, and so on.
After I wasn’t able to make heads or tails of it in my confusion, I finally arrived at the strange idea that these sly anarchist foxes were using language in a completely different sense, so as to cover their tracks. Perhaps this entire pamphlet and the whole business meant something quite different from the literal sense of the printed words. A secret language. I was satisfied and waited for Friday in anticipation.
That evening my neighbor came to my room, more nicely dressed than usual, and said in a friendly tone, “Are you ready?” I nodded. We set out.
On the way my companion told me how various comrades had been arrested and had their homes searched, and he advised me to be very cautious. I said little and looked serious. The further we went along, the more frightened I became. But it was too late to retreat. I thought secretly. “I’ll go just this once, and then never again, not for all the world; I would rather move out so that this damned Swiss can’t drag me along with him.” But my curiosity was beyond control and finally got the upper hand.
In Sendlinger Street we entered a pub called “Gambrinus,” and groped along a dark corridor to a door. The bookbinder went ahead and opened it. I followed, trembling a little. We were in a dirty, smoke-filled hall, which looked bare and uncomfortable. About twenty-five people were sitting at the tables, drinking beer, talking about all sorts of things, and smoking. We were hardly noticed. The Swiss approached one of the tables, spoke to a shaggy-haired man in spectacles, and introduced me. Finally, once the man smiled at me and shook my hand, I also managed to smile. Several men who were sitting nearby sized me up, and then we sat down. At one table I constantly heard the words “expropriation” or “general strike.” Then a man with a pear-shaped face stood up, and it became quiet. This man thanked us all for turning up in such good numbers, and then sat down again. There was a pause.
I was even more bewildered and excited than ever, for I thought the real anarchist part was still to come. “Oh, yes,” I said to myself, “they’re crafty, very crafty. They are sitting here innocently in a mere tavern, and suddenly a cavity will open under our feet and – down we shall go into the dark conspirators’ cave.” Meanwhile, nothing of the kind occurred.
“Are you going to speak, Mühsam?” said a workman to the man I had been introduced to. Others were talking nonchalantly about one thing or another. They talked about Social Democracy and police informants, and told stories about arrests; and then Mühsam spoke briefly about the aims of the Socialist Union. When he was done, leaflets were distributed. A thin little woman went from table to table and sold the Socialist, and offered a number of pamphlets by Kropotkin, Landauer, Most, and Hervé.
Then Morax – the man with the pear-shaped face – stood up and asked, “Who would like to volunteer to distribute the Socialist and to do other propaganda work? And we also need someone to do the writing.”
The Swiss man nudged me. “What about you? – You’re an author, you could do that…?” I stared at him, somewhat astonished, and held up a finger like a schoolboy. But I wasn’t able to speak.
Morax approached me amicably, “Do you want to do the job from now on?”
I said, “Yes,” and nodded.
Then he gave me a pile of pamphlets, a bundle of the Socialist, and leaflets, and told me exactly what to do. I was to give some to people privately, to sell the pamphlets at meetings, to distribute leaflets, and to receive all correspondence and literature. Further, he handed over a rubber stamp to me with the words, “Action Group of the Socialist Union. Meeting place: …”
With this I was to stamp each leaflet and fill in our next meeting place with the day and hour. I kept on saying, “Yes,” and was very proud of being entrusted with such responsibilities right away. Then the meeting was adjourned. A few of the members went through a door into the guestrooms, others stayed and finished their beer. Many paid and left, wishing one another goodnight. A troop of about five of them joined us, including Morax, Franz Jung, Ida, Theo, and George, who was just called “Schorsch.”
When we parted Jung promised to come and see me. He had just published his first book, and I recognized the advantage of his acquaintance. I shook hands with each of them.
When I was alone again with the Swiss man, I was deeply disappointed with this group of anarchists. As I reflected on the whole affair, all my fine illusions were dispelled. Nevertheless, I was glad. Simply because it had brought me in contact with people.
“It’s splendid,” I said to my neighbor as we climbed the stairs and I clutched the packages more firmly. “Many thanks for getting me such a good position.” I imagined it to be an immense duty, and regarded myself as indispensable to the movement. My talent had been recognized after all. To have something to do with the book trade and newspapers, to receive them direct from the publishers, all that opened up prospects of getting into print. That night I sat down right away and wrote an article about oppression and justice, looked up the address in the Socialist, and sent it off.
The next day – I couldn’t resist telling someone about my happiness and success – I went to pick Theres up from work, which I had not done for a long time.
“I have a splendid position now,” I said beaming, and I smiled with self-assurance. “I am secretary for the Anarchists.”
Theres stood there petrified with horror and stared at me wide-eyed, “What? The Anarchists?”
“Yes,” I said, and told her how I had been entrusted with an immense trade in books and journals. I was bubbling over with joy.
“Book and newspapers – ?” said Theres almost beside herself as she kept on murmuring and shaking her head, “Hm, hm…”
But I wasn’t listening.
“And just think how easily I obtained the post. I got to know my neighbor in the next room a bit better, went with him to the meeting and was appointed right away,” I babbled on rapidly.
“Well, that’s very nice,” said Theres, seeming now really to understand’ she went on to ask, “What kind of salary are you getting?”
“Salary?” I said, staring at her, for now it occurred to me for the first time that they had said nothing about that. “Salary? – Oh they haven’t told me yet. I’ll have to ask.”
I was all confused again. Confound it! Why had I forgotten that?
“Is there an office?” continued Theres.
“No, nothing like that. The publications are sent to me by post, and I sell them at meetings and forward on to newspapers, and have to deal with all the correspondence and any other writing that the Union requires,” I told her.
Theres shook her head again and again. Nevertheless, she said, “Well, I hope it’s a good thing for you.” Then she asked again, “Can’t you inquire tomorrow what you will get, and all that. That’s always the first thing settled when a firm takes on a new employee.”
“I’ll have to wait till the meeting next Friday,” I answered. “The members aren’t there every day.”
“Well then, we shall see,” said Theres as she said good-bye and looked at me anxiously. I promised to let her know right away, or to come and see her the following Saturday and tell her everything myself.
I distributed a number of leaflets, sent one to Nanndl, and wrote her ecstatically about my new occupation and how happy I was, but that she must on no account say anything to Maurus. There were people sitting on benches in the parks. I went up to them and offered them the Call to Socialism. They gave the pamphlet a passing glance and gave it back to me.
The next Friday I spoke timidly to Mühsam, “Excuse me, Mr. Mühsam, my sister wants to know what salary I am to have, and all about my post.”
Morax, who was sitting nearby, burst out laughing. Mühsam looked at me with something approaching pity, smiled and explained everything to me, and asked what other work I had. I stammered out one thing and another, and literally perspired from embarrassment. I stood there like a frightened defendant before an angry judge. Finally – Morax had whispered the story to those next to him – the whole room was in an uproar and I was the laughing-stock. I felt the bottom drop out from under me. I must have stood there looking dreadfully foolish, my whole face blushing until someone said, “Sit down.” When I finally had gathered myself sitting next to my colleagues, I clenched my jaw and thought furiously: I bungled everything again! To hell with it all! And I didn’t utter another word.
I did not go to see Theres or send any news of myself. I grew more and more conscious of my ill fortune. “How difficult it was to live, out in the world! How cultured, hardened, and quick of the tongue one had to be!” I thought again and again. I had immence respect for anyone who had found his way, though not without bitterness. Nevertheless I didn’t give up the distribution of materials, and I went on writing articles and submitting them, but never got any answer. I collected all the verses I had written and sent them to Mühsam accompanied by a very foolish letter. He returned them to me with an introduction to his publisher, Steinebach. I was to pay the cost of printing. I was in despair and took no further steps. I cursed everything and everybody.
I came to know my neighbor better and better. We went to meetings and gradually I drifted into political circles. I began to have an inkling of what Socialism meant, and I picked up a great deal of useful knowledge during this time. My horizon was broadened, and my speech grew somewhat more supple through the ongoing arguments with my peers and through reading all the pamphlets. But I felt horrible. I was continually haunted by Maurus’ spent savings. I searched desperately for some means of earning a living.