Thursday, August 18, 2016

Threefolding Movement of 1917-1922: 12th (and Final) Part

Kochel, Graveyard and Rectory, Kandinsky, 1909

The Threefolding Movement of 1917-1922 and Its Present Significance


By Christoph Strawe*
(translated by Edward Udell)

12th (and Final) Part
(Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11)

Present Significance


If the threefolding movement of the years 1917-1922 failed in the end, the practical attempt was more substantial – as “unrealized history” – than a mere program and literary observations. Enormously much can still be learned from the experiences of the movement of that time: from the balance between utopianism and technocratic pragmatism; from the attempt to speak with the broad masses and also to deal without reservations with the “establishment”; from the sense for historical constellations and from the feeling for the essential in each particular time; from the variety of forms of work and the ability to vary them according to the situation; from the attempt at effective public relations; from the non-partisan character of the organizational approach of the Union for Threefolding; from the endeavors to link the deepest human questions (anthroposophy) with immediate practical tasks; but especially from the steadily maintained course toward progress in creating realities in all three great fields of social life (realities such as works councils, The Coming Day, cultural council, Waldorf school).

The work approach of the “Threefolding of the Social Organism” is an attempt to answer the question raised for the majority of individuals by the crisis of social upheaval. To that extent this work approach is relevant for a whole historical era. However, that does not mean that “threefolding” is to be grasped as a collection of ready-made answers. Much more is it to be understood as the description of conditions in which social relations become penetrable by consciousness and humanly shapeable. It is a living model out of which directions for work and practical forms – appropriate always to the concrete demands of each situation and time – can be developed.

With regard to approaching such a social renewal, the following statement, which R. Steiner at that time wrote in Toward Social Renewal, remains relevant: “No one will take what is explained here for a mere utopia… For precisely those arrangements are indicated which can grow everywhere in life quite immediately out of the present conditions. One will only have to arrive at the decision to gradually renounce state management of spiritual life and the economy, and not to resist when what should happen actually happens, namely that private educational institutions arise and that economic life stands on its own foundations. One need not abolish the state schools and state economic institutions from one day to the next; but from perhaps small beginnings one will see grow the possibility that a gradual dismantling of state schools and state economic institutions takes place. But necessary above all would be that those persons who can permeate themselves with the conviction of the rightness” of the threefolding idea “care for its dissemination. If such ideas find understanding, trust is thus created for a possible healthy transformation that does not evince the defects of present conditions.” Trust arises when it can be shown, “how new institutions can be connected with what exists… To doubt because one cannot believe that even in the chaos of the present a sufficient number of human beings will understand such ideas if the necessary energy is applied to their dissemination, means to doubt in the receptivity of human nature for impulses of health and practicality. The question as to whether one must doubt should not be posed, but only this one: what should one do in order to make as strong as possible the understanding of ideas that awaken trust.”9

Appendix: From the Speech of R. Steiner to the Workers of the Waldorf-Astoria Factory on 23 April 1919


“Human beings today participate in material domains, in the outer economic domains, in two classes: in the class of the bourgeoisie, with which the nobility is merged, and in the class of the proletariat. Because the proletarian has become class conscious, today he knows what he has to demand. He is a proletarian. He did not have a choice. He was thrown into the proletariat through the economic process. […]

“The matter stands thus: cultural life in modern times has emerged at the same time as the development of technology, along with the development of soul-desolating capitalism. A modern cultural/spiritual life has also emerged, but it is only class-based. […] And we stand today before the necessity to further cultivate not the knowledge taken over by the bourgeoisie, but rather to decide for a free knowledge that can only develop when prejudice is overcome […] We must learn to see that the cultural/spiritual life must be emancipated, that it must be freely based upon itself, so that it is no longer a servant of the state- and economic order, but a servant of that which universal human consciousness can bring forth in spiritual life; so that the cultural/spiritual life is not present for a class, but for all human beings at once.

“Very honored attendees, you work today in the factory from the morning on, as long as your work lasts. You go out of the factory and at most pass by educational institutions, which are built for certain human beings. In these educational institutions the people are produced who till now have been the ruling classes, who have led the government and so on. I ask you: Hand on your heart, have you an inkling of what is pursued inside those institutions? Do you know what takes place there within? You know nothing. That shows with immediate clarity the division of the classes. That is the chasm. What is striven for in the appeal is that everything pursued on a cultural/spiritual basis concerns everyone, and that the cultural worker is responsible to all humanity. You cannot achieve that if you do not liberate the spiritual life and base it upon itself.”

After the lecture some workers came to Herbert Hahn, who had taught courses for them. They said approximately, “The courses that we receive are right, and we are thankful for them. But we are already a little old. Could not our children from the first years on be taught in the fashion with which we have become acquainted?” And thus was the question about a new school brought to Rudolf Steiner.

Appendix from: Christoph Lindenberg: Learning Without Fear – Self-Conscious Action. Praxis of a Misunderstood School Model. Reinbek 1975, p. 170.

Further Reading


Christoph Lindenberg: "Der geschichtliche Ort der Dreigliederungsinitiativen Rudolf Steiners. Eine historische Untersuchung der Jahre 1916-1921," in “Die Drei”, Nr. 9, September 1985, S. 641 ff.

Albert Schmelzer: Die Dreigliederungsbewegung des Jahres 1919. Rudolf Steiners Einsatz für den Selbstverwaltungsimpuls. Stuttgart 1991.

Hans Kühn: Dreigliederungs-Zeit. Rudolf Steiners Kampf für die Gesellschaftsordnung der Zukunft. Dornach 1978. Textrevision 1.10.01.



9 Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendigkeiten der Gegenwart und Zukunft. Complete Works, Vol. 23, Dornach 1976, p. 119 ff. Available in English under various titles, the most recent of which is Toward Social Renewal.

* Dr. Christoph Strawe has kindly given me permission to post my translation of his article. I have divided it into Parts 1, 2, etc. Words in brackets [ ] are my insertions. Apart from this note, the footnotes are from Dr. Strawe's article. The original German version can be read here. Dr. Strawe manages the Initiative Network Threefolding (Initiative Netzwerk Dreigliederung). The Initiative Network's English-language website is here.  The German-language website is here.  The Initiative Network Threefolding is part of the Institute for Present-Day Social Questions in Stuttgart (Institut für soziale Gegenwartsfragen e.V. Stuttgart). A biographical paragraph (in German) about Dr. Strawe can be found by scrolling near the end of this webpage. - transl.

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