The split

the Anthroposophical Society splits

The Anthroposophical Society implodes. Ita Wegman and Elisabeth Vreede are thrown out along with 2000 members. [reported in N&C 01/03/1934] The ripples are still with us ..

Following the death of Dr Steiner on March 30th, 1925, the future guidance of the Anthroposophical Society fell to the officers of the ‘Vorstand’ – Albert Steffen, Marie Steiner, Gunther Wachsmuth, Elisabeth Vreede and Ita Wegman. Should one of these become President, and be seen to dare to step into Steiner’s shoes? A President was a legal requirement and Albert Steffen was vice-president so surely him by default? Should it be Steiner’s Karmic bestie, his companion through incarnations, his recorder in the High School for the First Class? Surely this was a de facto investiture of the successor, who continued to offer the Leading Thoughts! Perhaps one leader for legal reasons and another to carry the esoteric baton? Or should it be that no-one could and so no-one should fill those unique shoes? Was there to be collective responsibility? What if someone went over the line, why should the others take the consequences?

Ita Wegman gave class lessons in Paris and Prague but this was not universally welcome. She wrote in the Mitteilungblatt (the ‘message sheet’ for connecting members) of missions and investitures from Dr Steiner. The reaction was to challenge this and not always in calming language. Wegman felt abused and framed this as a challenge against Dr Steiner’s choices. The come back was Dr Steiner’s name could not be used to cover all criticisms of ones own shortcomings. … and justifications and attacks spiralled. Personalities instead of issues became dominant – and personalities across the incarnations at that! And as the issues grew names began to gather around the different sides – already in the year of Dr Steiner’s death.

Marie Steiner withdrew into her own Section and worked on the copious writings of her late husband rather than join the fray. She even suggested Dr Eugen Kolisko take up some of her role in the German society but this was not welcome by the rest of the Vorstand. 

Dr Kolisko, Dr WJ Stein and Frau Dr Kolisko heard of an initiative from Count Keyserlingk to have Marie Steiner made the honorary president and they rushed to Dornach and made it very clear that this was not acceptable – for 5 hours. The Leading thoughts issue was thrown in as well as Ita Wegman’s authority. Varied interpretations of the import of the Christmas meeting deepened the schism. Some considered all previous bets were off and only things since 1923 were of any importance. The younger members and the older members moved apart. This included Steiner’s will which was written before 1923: although it had to be produced in the growing furore it was declared void due to its age by some. Papers and note books went missing. The book, An Extension fo the Art of Healing came out under the joint name of Ita Wegman and Rudolf Steiner without clearance from Marie Steiner’s publishing arm.

The legal necessity of having a president could not be negotiated away. Steffen was elected at the AGM of December 29, 1925. What then of his rights, his responsibilities, his powers?

ON January 24th 1926 Albert Steffen appealed to the members over two massive concerns. The first was a growing campaign against Marie Steiner, the second was a foundation of the World School Union, the latter supposedly founded by the Vorstand who opposed it. The founding group said that Dr Vreede had approved it on their behalf. On the 27th Herr Steffen faced up to Drs Stein and Kolisko. Dr Stein sent a letter of apology to Frau Steiner but it was not deemed to be sincere. The Dutch anthroposophists under Zeylmans von Emmichoven were considered also to be agitating against Frau Steiner. Dr Zeylmans arrived on the 28th and met with the Vorstand but after setting conditions, which was considered an attack on Steffen’s authority. He offered a report written on the 12th of January which Herr Steffen got on the 25th saying that Dr Vreede had not objected to the Union and had consequently agreed. The Vorstand said that Dr Vreede did not have that authority. A carbuncle of mistrust was lanced and Drs Unger and Stein were asked by Steffen to get to the facts. Dr Vreede had indeed been the go-between for the Vorstand and had complained to the Union but not the Vorstand when the Union had proceeded.

Dr Zeylmans, von Grone, DL Dunlop, George Kaufman, de Haan, Dr Lehrs Dr Stein and Dr Kolisko who founded the World School Union went on to form a Verien Freien Anthroposophischen Gruppen (United Free Anthroposophical Group) and were the signatories of the 1934 Declaration of Intention. Collectively they became know as the super Vorstand – not a name of their own coinage. Their exact connection to Vreede and Wegman (puppets, puppeteers???) is still up for debate.

When the consequences of the division played out over the next decade Dornach gave power to Herr Steffen, Dr Wachsmuth and Frau Steiner to be responsible for the society – a decision reached at the fiery meeting of March 27 & 28th 1934. A ‘Memorandum of some events in the Anthroposophical Society during the years 1925 – 1935, went out from Dornach, 148 pages submitted to the members of the Anthroposophical Society by 12 people, one of whom was Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, from which some of the above has been drawn. This is evidently from one faction. They wrote:

“The gentlemen of the “super-Vorstand” tried above all to subject the Anthroposophical Society to their own will, and later on, when this proved impossible, they tried to claim a special position for themselves in the Society.”

“…If, on perusing this survey of the past ten years, the reader feels oppressed by the many unpleasant events which had to be told, he will be best able to gauge what self-conquest it implied for the writers of this Memorandum to deal again, for whole months at a stretch, with all those events which had been painful enough when they experienced them. This is one of the reasons why the publication of this Memorandum, which was planned for the autumn, has been delayed till to-day. But another reason is more important still it was extremely difficult to decide whether it should be published or not. The decision to bring such a report was by no means made either lightly or willingly.”

The case for the defence – it soon was so polarised it was indeed like a court drama – was provided in the Declaration mentioned above. Concern was raised concerning who now would sign membership cards and whether non-desirables would not be allowed membership status and they were supported by Elisabeth Vreede in person and by a letter from Ita Wegman who was ill.  

The debate raged around collective responsibility, whether the President is liable for all who call themselves Anthroposophists or if not has he abandoned the sections who should be free to run their own business. Dr Steffen laid down the presidency, Marie Steiner said she would now go too!


AFTERNOON SESSION. – Herr Stefen read the following statement : “The President of the General Anthroposophical Society felt obliged to lay down the Presidency during the General Meetng, owing to unjustified reproaches made by Mr. Kaufmann and in view of many things that had gone before. He handed over the Presidency to Frau Marie Steiner and left the Meetng. Frau Marie Steiner declared, however, that she would only contnue to be in the Vorstand if Herr Stefen remained First President, and also left the Assembly.

Dr. Wachsmuth was then entrusted by the General Meetng to hand over to Herr Stefen and Frau Marie Steiner the decision of the General Meetng carried by an overwhelming majority of votes, namely that the Society should be reconsttuted by these three persons, Frau Marie Steiner, Herr Stefen and Dr. Wachsmuth

The consttuton of the Society is contained in the Foundaton Meetng. for those entrusted with this task, who have the work of Rudolf Steiner at heart, there results accordingly the following queston which they now submit to the General Meetng :

“Is the Anthroposophical Society willing to allow these three persons to contnue the work in the sense of the Foundaton Meetng and to consider the decisions to which they come, as binding for the Society?”

This queston was answered by vote in the afirmative : 774 pro ; 94 con: 23 abstained from voting.

The Moton for changes in Clauses 6 and 13 of the Legal Statutes was then put to the vote and carried by a like majority.

Dr. Wachsmuth put it to the vote that the meeting be now closed. This was carried. Dr. Kolisko asked to be allowed to read a brief statement on behalf of the minority. Put to the vote and voted down. Dr. Wachsmuth said that the moton for changes in the Legal Statutes must be formally carried in the presence of a Notary. Dr. Kolisko said that he would be obliged to make a statement in the presence of the Notary. Herr Stefen asked Dr. Kolisko to read it now and he did so, as follows:

“In the name of the representatives of the Groups and Members who have here brought forward the Declaraton, I hereby state:

“We cannot acknowledge as binding for our Groups and Members who number some 2,000, the new exclusive Leadership of these three persons. We do not recognise the changes that have been accepted in the Legal Statutes by a majority decision and will eventually announce this to the Notary. We regard ourselves as Members of the General Anthroposophical Society founded in 1923 and claim all rights of Membership in the Society, at the Goetheanum and in connecton with the Sectons. As free and independent Groups we will continue our work within the General Anthroposophcal Society and at the Goetheanum.”

The hour of 10 a.m. the following morning was suggested for the meeting in the presence of the Notary.

Dr. Vreede now declared: “I shall contnue my work at the Goetheanum in the name of Rudolf Steiner and by virtue of the power with which I serve him.” She then left the Hall.

It was now decided to summon the Notary immediately. Afer insistence by Dr. Kolisko that he would have to make his statement of protest for the minority in the presence of the Notary, Dr. Wachsmuth agreed that he should do so. The voting was then repeated in the presence of the Notary, but although Dr. Kolisko rose to catch the eye of the Chairman, no attention was paid. The meeting was then closed.

In the Anthroposophical Movement of December 1935, Owen Barfield offered an impression of the Memorandum. He seems unimpressed.

SINCE the separation of this journal from the fortnightly News Sheet, which is now sent to all Members of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, it has fortunately been unnecessary to refer to matters which are subjects of dissension in the General Anthroposophical Society. I cannot help feeling, however, that there would be a sort of affectation in passing over without any comment at all the fact that the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain was, on April 14th last, declared by a large majority in General Meeting at Dornach, to be no longer a recognised Group of the General Society, while our own General Secretary, Mr. Dunlop, and Mr. Kaufmann were (with five other leading Members), declared to be no longer Members.
While the identity of the Society which passed this resolution with the Society founded by Rudolf Steiner is no longer admitted, it would, nevertheless, be stupid to make light of this event, idle to pretend that the manner in which it has been brought about does not affect our spirits and tend to sap insidiously our very faith in the power of Anthroposophy to mould character and foster community. I do not feel called upon to expatiate further on the event itself or the long disputes which preceded it, but as editor of an Anthroposophical Journal I do feel disposed to comment briefly on the document entitled Denkschrift, 154 pages long, which has been translated into English under the name Memorandum, and is, I am told, receiving an extensive circulation among Members in this country and elsewhere.
In truth, comment is difficult enough. What can one say of a book, signed by twelve well-known anthroposophists and purporting to give a sort of inner history of the Society for the last ten years, which is, nevertheless, pervaded throughout by a sustained ebullition of personal rancour that would be disgusting even if the facts were as represented? Nor is this the whole of the matter. Those who have not actually seen this astonishing “White Book” will hardly believe that the plentiful charges which it brings against named individuals (serious charges of more than one of the seven deadly sins) are interlarded with (horresco referens) playful, almost kittenish, slaps of sarcasm bodied in epithets, asides, dashes, exclamation-marks and inverted commas. The style in which this affair is conceived and written is to me the most baffling thing about it. It is not content with insinuating clearly and repeatedly that the persons against whom it is directed are unmitigated egoists and liars; it cannot refrain from poking them simultaneously in the ribs; it chucks them under the chin; it taps them archly on the shoulder with a fan and looks coyly away with a side-glance down. I have never met anything like it before and hope never to do so again. Here is one example of the way in which ill-nature, in its anxiety to lose no opportunity of stinging, degenerates into a positive silliness, that is unanswerable because it is unintelligible.
On page 96 a Report signed by eight members of the Executive Council of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain of a meeting held in Dornach on November 29th, 1930, is quoted in full. This Report contained the following sentence:
“With great earnestness Dr. Wachsmuth placed before the members the picture that had never been absent from the minds of many—the Goetheanum – the needs of the Goetheanum on the physical plane and the liability of the Society for its maintenance.”
On the next page of the Memorandum this sentence is described as “a peculiar example of Mr. Kaufmann’s sentimental style.” Nothing more is said of it. Just that. No reason is given for saying it; no inference drawn; no suggestion made. Simply: “Then follows a peculiar example of Mr. Kaufmann’s sentimental style.
I confess that this sort of remark produces in me a great sense of hopelessness than do the pointed, and of course libellous, comments which precede it, accusing the eight signatories to the report of conspiring to deceive the English Members; for this sort of remark appears to me to be not only motiveless, but actually meaningless. I simply do not understand it at all. I follow the grammar and syntax; everything else about it is totally incomprehensible to me. Of what kind of consciousness can it be the expression?
One can remonstrate even with malignity. One can respect indignation – even mistaken indignation and endeavour to avoid irritating it further. One can argue with a person who has lost his temper, for one is at least still in communication with him. But to those who speak as if they had lost their reason at the same time, there is no reply but silence. Incidentally, I happen to have not merely signed, but actually written this Report myself; but I do not think that is of any particular importance.
As to the facts alleged it requires no legal training, the most rudimentary sense of natural justice will dismiss this Memorandum as worth considerably less than the paper it is written on. If the authors themselves believe what they say (and I must believe that they do), there is reason for a proper judicial enquiry at which both sides would be heard. Meanwhile, calumnies uttered not in the presence of the accused by witnesses who have not stood up to cross examination are not evidence one way or the other. They are simply mud.
Here at any rate I am concerned with this ill-starred Memorandum only from the point of view of the object for which this journal exists, that is, the furtherance through the Anthroposophical Society, founded by Rudolf Steiner, of the spreading of the knowledge of Anthroposophy among English-speaking peoples. Now this knowledge is also spreading in other ways. Rudolf Steiner’s books are published and their greatness is such that it cannot fail to be perceived more and more clearly as time goes on. It cannot be doubted that there are already in this country many close students of Rudolf Steiner’s writings who take no notice whatever of this Society or any other. It is possible to look, say fifty, say one hundred years ahead and to ask oneself whether by that time what is now known as the Anthroposophical Society will have anything more than a historical connection with the main stream of Anthroposophical thought in this country. Will it still comprise the main body of the students of Rudolf Steiner’s work or will its membership be limited to a small and outlandish sect? If the Anthroposophical Society becomes identified in any way with documents of this amazing description, the answer to this question admits (the English temperament being what it is) of no doubt whatever. When mud is thrown, some of it always sticks. But the most powerful and the only lasting effect of this very very muddy Memorandum, as far as England is concerned, must be to render Anthroposophy both ludicrous and odious in all eyes. If it is placed by well-meaning zealots in the hands, let us say, of people who are deliberating whether to join the Anthroposophical Movement or not, then the difficulty will be, not to convince these persons that Herr this did really (or did not really) say this that and the other to Frau so-and-so, and all the rest of it (a question in which they will not be in the slightest degree interested) – the only difficulty will be to reassure them that it is possible to become an Anthroposophist working in association with other Anthroposophists without going completely off one’s rocker.
Reputations, especially questionable ones, are easy to acquire, hard to dispel. Artillery which destroys the base from which it is discharged is not worth employing, even if it does some damage to the target. Will not the authors, publishers and disseminators of this deplorable document think carefully whether the damage which they hope to inflict on their now openly declared enemies is worth the damage which they must inflict on themselves, on the name of Rudolf Steiner, on all of us? I do not know whether this is “a peculiar example of Mr. Kaufmann’s sentimental style.” I do know that I mean it.