AT this difficult time of my life the executive committee of the
Berlin Workers' School came to me with the request that I should take
charge of the courses in history and practice in speaking
in the school. I was at first little interested in the socialistic
connections of the school. I saw the beautiful task offered me of
teaching mature men and women of the working class, for few young
people were among the pupils.
I explained to the committee that, if I took over the teaching, I must
lecture entirely according to my own views of the course of evolution
in human history, not in the style in which this is customary
according to Marxism in Social-Democratic circles. They still wished
to have me as a teacher.
After I had made this reservation, it could no longer disturb me that
the school was a Social-Democratic foundation of the elder Liebknecht
(the father). For me the school consisted of men and women of the
proletariat; the fact that the great majority were Social-Democrats
did not at all concern me.
But I obviously had to do with the mental character of the
pupils. I had to speak in forms of expression to which I
had till then been quite unaccustomed. I had to familiarize myself
with the forms of conception and judgment of these persons in order to
be in some measure understood.
These forms of conceptions and judgments came from two directions.
First, from life. These people knew manual labour and its results. The
spiritual Powers guiding mankind forward in history did not enter into
their minds. It was for this reason that Marxism, with its
materialistic conception of history, had such an easy way
with them. Marx maintained that the impelling forces in the historic
process are merely economic-material forces, those operative in manual
labour. The spiritual factors are considered merely a sort
of by-product which arises from the material-economic factors as a
A craving for scientific education had long before grown up among the
workers. But this could be gratified only by means of the popular
materialistic scientific literature.
For this literature alone dealt in the forms of conceptions and
judgments known to the workers. Whatever was not materialistic was
written in such a way that the workers could not possibly understand
it. Thus came about the unspeakably tragic fact that, while the
developing proletariat desired knowledge with the most intense
craving, this craving of theirs was satisfied only by means of the
It must be confessed that half-truths are imbedded in the economic
materialism which the workers take from Marxism as the
materialistic conception of history. And these half-truths
are just the thing they easily understand. If I had taught idealistic
history to the complete ignoring of these half-truths, the students
would have found involuntarily in the lack of these materialistic
half-truths the very thing which would have repelled them in my
I therefore took as my starting-point a truth which could be grasped
by my hearers also. I showed that to speak of a mastery by the
economic forces up to the sixteenth century, as Marx does, is
nonsense. That from the sixteenth century on the economic first comes
into a relationship which can be conceived in a Marxian way; and that
this process then reaches its climax in the nineteenth century.
In this way it was possible to speak quite as a matter of fact of the
ideal-spiritual impulses in connection with the preceding periods of
history, and to show that in the most recent times these had grown
weak in comparison with the material-economic impulses.
In this way the workers arrived at conceptions of capacities for
knowledge, of religious, artistic, and moral impulses in history, and
abandoned the habit of thinking these mere ideology. It
would have been senseless to resort to polemics against materialism; I
had to cause realism to arise out of materialism.
In the practice in speaking little could be done in this
direction. After I had discussed at the beginning of each course the
formal principles of lecturing and speaking, the pupils made practice
speeches. Inevitably they then brought forward what was familiar to
them from their materialistic nature. The leaders of the
labour unions did not at first trouble themselves at all about the
school, and so I had a perfectly free hand.
It became more difficult for me when the teaching of the natural
sciences was annexed to that of history. There it was especially
difficult to ascend to true conceptions from the materialistic
conceptions dominant in science, especially among its popularizers. I
did this as well as I possibly could.
Now, however, my teaching activity was extended through the sciences
among the workers themselves. I was requested by numerous workers'
unions to lecture on natural science.
Especially was instruction desired concerning that book then creating
a sensation, Haeckel's
In the positive biological third of this book I saw a comprehensive handbook
on the metamorphosis of living beings. My general conviction that
mankind can be led from this side to spirituality I held to be true
also for the workers. I connected my reflections with this third of
the book and said often enough that the other two-thirds must be
considered worthless and really ought to be cut out of the book and
At the celebration of the Gutenberg jubilee I was entrusted with the
festival address before 7,000 type-setters and printers in a Berlin
circus. My manner of speaking to the workers must therefore have been
With this activity destiny had once more transplanted me into a piece
of life into which I had to submerge myself. I came to see how the
single souls among this workers' group slumbered and dreamed, and how
a sort of mass-soul laid hold upon men, revolutionizing their
conception, judgment, bearing.
But it must not be imagined that the single souls were dead. In this
respect I was able to look deeply into the souls of my pupils and of
the whole workers' group. This brought me to the task which I set
myself in all this activity. The attitude toward Marxism was not yet
what it became two decades later. Marxism was still something which
they elaborated with complete deliberation as a sort of economic
gospel. Later it became something with which the mass of the
proletariat were apparently obsessed.
The proletariat consciousness then consisted of feelings which
manifested themselves like the effect of mass suggestion. Many of the
single souls said again and again: A time must come in which the
world shall evolve spiritual interests; but for the present the
proletariat must be freed by purely economic means.
I found that my lectures wrought much good in their souls. Even that
element was taken up which contradicted materialism and the Marxian
conception of history. Later, when the leaders learned of my way of
working, they fought against it. In a gathering of my pupils one of
these minor leaders spoke. He made this statement:
We do not wish freedom in the proletarian movement; we wish
rational compulsion. Because of this the desire arose to drive
me out of the school against the will of my pupils. This activity
gradually became so burdensome to me that, soon after I began my
anthroposophic work, I dropped it.
It is my impression that if the workers' movement had been followed
with interest by a greater number of unprejudiced persons, and if the
proletariat had been dealt with understandingly, this movement would
have developed quite differently. But we have left the people to live
in their own class, and we have lived in ours. The conceptions of each
class of men held by the others were merely theoretical. There was
discussion of wages when strikes and the like forced it; and all sorts
of welfare movements were established. These latter were exceedingly
But the submerging of these world-stirring questions into a spiritual
sphere was wholly lacking. And yet only this could have taken from the
movement its destructive forces. It was the time in which the
higher classes had lost the community feeling, in which
egoism spread abroad with it fierce competitive struggles the time
in which the world catastrophe of the second decade of the twentieth
century was already being prepared. Side by side with this, the
proletariat evolved the community sense in its own way as the
proletarian class-consciousness. It took up the culture which had been
developed in the upper classes only so far as this
provided material for the justification of the proletarian
class-consciousness. Gradually there ceased to be any bridge between
the different classes. Thus by reason of the Magazine I was under the
necessity of submerging myself in the being of the citizen, and
through my activity among the workers in that of the proletariat. A
rich field, wherein one could knowingly experience the motive forces
of the time.
- The Riddle of the Universe.