[Marxism] Heinrich Blücher: street-fighting man

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 17 15:12:26 MDT 2013

It was an eerie experience sitting through the press screening for 
Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” at the Film Forum yesterday, a 
biopic that focuses on her reporting from the Eichmann trial with some 
flashbacks to her early affair with Heidegger.

Two of the major characters in the film were Heinrich Blücher and Hans 
Jonas, two professors I knew from Bard College and the New School 
Graduate Philosophy department respectively. I can’t say that I knew 
them all that well on a personal level but their teaching had a profound 
effect on my thinking.

This was especially true of Blücher whose insisted that principle and 
truth always trumped patriotism and the state, frequently citing the 
trial of Socrates in his Common Course, a humanities type required 
class. After discovering from von Trotta’s film notes that Blücher had 
been in the German CP in the 20s, I decided to stop by the Columbia 
University library and take out a few books that will help me prepare an 
in-depth article on the film. As is always the case with me, ideas take 
priority over tracking shots.

One of the books was Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography of Hannah Arendt 
that was written in 1982. I had mixed feelings about her value since I 
knew her only from her hatchet job on Hugo Chavez.

To my utter amazement, I discovered that Blücher was a major player in 
the revolutionary struggles that were hobbled by Comintern “advice”. I 
only wish that I could get my hands on a time machine and travel back to 
1963 and talk to him about what he saw and did. Back then I was too 
apolitical to know where to begin but now understand a lot better why he 
was so insistent on my writing an analysis of the Communist Manifesto 
for a sophomore year class. Fifty years ago my heart was in Camus and 
cannabis. It took an imperialist war to put me on the same path that 
Blücher followed when he was my age.

 From Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s “Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World”:

Hannah Arendt had been eleven years old when her mother took her to the 
Konigsberg demonstrations in support of the Spartacists. She was thirty 
years old when she walked through the streets of Paris to watch the 1936 
demonstrations in support of the Front Populaire government under the 
leadership of the Jewish Socialist, Leon Blum. Most of the political 
awareness she had developed in the intervening years had come in the 
context of her relationship with Kurt Blumenfeld and his concern with 
the Jewish Question. With Heinrich Blücher as her teacher, she added to 
her preliminary reading of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky a feeling for 
“revolutionary praxis.” Blücher—not a university man but a proletarian, 
not a theorist but a man of action, not a Jew but a man for whom 
thinking was a kind of religion—was Hannah Arendt’s New World. Ten years 
after they met, she summarized what Blücher had meant to her 
intellectually, in response to words of praise Jaspers had bestowed on 
her own cosmopolitan and impartial political vision: “That I learned 
from my husband’s political thinking and historical observation, and I 
would not have come to it otherwise, for I was historically and 
politically oriented toward the Jewish Question.”

During those ten years, from 1936 to 1946, Hannah Arendt continued to 
concern herself with the Jewish Question, but what she learned from 
Blücher became, after the Second World War, central to the political 
philosophizing that animated The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human 
Condition, Between Past and Future, On Revolution, On Violence, and 
Crises of the Republic. The learning relationship was not, however, 
completely one-way. Blücher, an avid reader of Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, 
and Bukharin, and a convinced Communist, slowly gave up his Communism 
and became an incisive critic of doctrinaire Marxism. While Hannah 
Arendt was being introduced to revolutionary politics in Konigsberg, 
Heinrich Blücher was twenty years old and fighting as a Spartacist in 
the streets of Berlin. The stories he told her of his political past 
shaped her vision, both critical and constructive, her understanding of 
resistance and revolution, and her theory of republicanism. Blücher’s 
stories are not easy to reconstruct: he was hesitant to tell them, 
particularly after he had entered America without admitting on his 
immigration documents that he had been a Communist, and he was given to 
exaggerating and embroidering what he did tell. In Heinrich Blücher, the 
combination of cautiousness and hyperbole was always an astonishment. 
Those members of the Arendt-Blücher tribe who had known him since his 
youth understood his storytelling for what it was—a way of finding 
meaning in a chaotic world. His devotees were unskeptical, and his 
detractors charged him with mythomania. In truth, had he had a gift for 
writing equal to his gift for talking, he would have made a fine novelist.


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