Tag Archives: Utopia

Moving in Elite Circles: the Blutbund Letters

Mitrinovic's Notes, 'Optimizam' [cropped]

In 1913 -1914 Dimitrije Mitrinović was studying art history in Munich, then one of the centres of the art world. Inspired by Kandinsky’s work and writing, he formed a friendship with the artist and his partner, Gabriele Münter.

Kandinsky and Mitrinović were both convinced of the need for radical change in the world, and felt that this should be led and achieved by the best minds in Europe, and particularly by artists whom they saw as prophets capable of seeing an alternative order. In order to spread their ideas, they set out to publish a Yearbook with articles on cultural and political subjects, as a follow-up to Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (The Blue Rider Almanac) produced by Kandinsky in 1912.

Kandinsky and Mitrinović made contact with Frederik van Eeden (1860 -1932), a Dutch psychiatrist, writer and founder of an intentional community, Walden, and the German philosopher Erich Gutkind (1877 – 1965). Gutkind and van Eeden shared their belief in change being initiated by the intellectual elite, then spreading to wider society. They called for the creation of a “Blutbund” (Blood Band, or Union), bringing together leading figures to effect change. Mitrinović worked furiously to get both the Blutbund and Yearbook off the ground, rattling off letters to politicians, writers, philosophers, philosophers, writers, social critics, political thinkers and leaders across the arts from across Europe and further afield. Amongst those he approached were H.G. Wells, Walter Schücking, Édouard Schuré, Dr. Rudolf Eucken, Ezra Pound, Ivan Meštrović and Stanisław Przybyszewski.

Letter to Erich Gutkind from Mitrinovic 1914 [cropped]

This draft letter to Erich Gutkind is just one of many from this period that survive in the Mitrinović archive here at Bradford. Written in German, Serbo-Croat, French, Russian and English, fortunately some were also later translated by Mitrinović’s circle. To me, Mitrinović’s large, rapid scrawl seems to embody his enthusiasm, conviction and the tremendous energy that he put into the Blutbund and Yearbook project. Although Mitrinović himself was not well known, the fact that he was willing to contact such distinguished men, pitching his vision for the future of Europe and humanity, shows great confidence and perhaps also that sense of great importance and urgency that he attached to his work. This particular letter has a rather nice postscript in which Mitrinović apologies for his imperfect German, but hopes that Gutkind will appreciate what we might call any ‘happy accidents’ that might have crept in.

Letter to Erich Gutkind from Mitrinovic 1914, postscript [cropped]

Sadly for Mitrinović, the First World War put paid to the Blutbund. Nationalist feelings ran high, with the group splitting along broadly German/ non-German lines. A group founded on the idea of creating a fairer, more peaceful world was undone by war. The Yearbook was never produced, despite Mitrinović seeking out contributors again in 1916.

Letter to Kropotkin, London August 1914

Part of what I find fascinating about Dimitrije Mitrinović is his complete refusal to let any setback crush his optimism. Within days of arriving in England as a penniless refugee, he was writing one of his Blutbund letters, urging Peter Kropotkin, the prominent anarchist to support the movement. After the First World War, and doubtless in light of the collapse of the Blutbund, Mitrinović changed tack. Instead of the new world order starting with an elite working to influence the world around them, he would start with more ordinary people who were willing to develop themselves on intellectual and emotional levels. Many in the group he gathered around himself from the 1920s onwards were deeply influenced by his ideas and some would remain devoted to him for the rest of their lives.

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Welcome to The Eleventh Hour!

This blog is my space to share interesting finds from the Mitrinović archive, part of the University of Bradford’s Special Collections. This collection represents the life’s work of Serbian-born philosopher, poet and thinker Dimitrije Mitrinović and the New Atlantis Foundation established after his death to carry on his projects and encourage the study of his ideas. Find out more about the New Atlantis Foundation, now the Mitrinović  Foundation, here. For futher information on Dimitrije Mitrinović, try the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (your public or university library should have a subscription).

NAF9 11th Hour Blog Header

We’re currently at the start of an exciting project to catalogue the complex records created by Mitrinović and his circle, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about some of the interesting items I’m unearthing. Mitrinović was in contact with philosophers, thinkers, writers and artists across Britain, Europe and further afield. His friends and contacts included Wassily Kandinsky, Ivan Meštrović, Gavrilo Princip, Erich Gutkind, Nobel Prize winner Frederick Soddy, H.G. Wells, Gabriele Münter,  and A.R. Orage. Mitrinović believed in the value of the wisdom of the past, and encouraged the study of works from all periods of history on religion, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and the arts. He created a library, which also fortunately has survived and his now divided between the University of Bradford and the University of Belgrade. Mitrinović’s wide-ranging interests and the fruits of his studies are also reflected in the archive, meaning there really is something to interest almost anyone here!

And why ‘The Eleventh Hour’? Dimitrije Mitrinović was constantly establishing and dissolving various groups in pursuit of his aim to radically alter society, the economy and politics. In 1931 he established The Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs, which became known as The Eleventh Hour Group. The name conveys the sense of urgency that ran throughout his many ventures. Groups of individuals all working towards personal and societal transformation were the cornerstone of Mitrinović’s approach to achieving utopia. It seemed fitting to take the name of one of his groups and use it to help bring this collection to a wider public.

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