In 1911 Franz Pfemfert, a cantankerous critic of capitalism and Wilhelmine society, founded Die Aktion as a political and literary journal. In April of the following year, a new subtitle declared the journal a “weekly for politics, literature, and art.” Although politics remained the priority, Die Aktion began featuring visual art coverage as well as original prints and illustrations.
Artist Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) worked closely with Die Aktion in its early years, portraying in its pages many of the young writers who gave the journal its distinctive voice. Egon Schiele made his first woodcuts at Pfemfert’s urging in 1916, for publication in the journal. Other frequent contributors included Ludwig Meidner and, later, Conrad Felixmüller and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
Adamantly opposed to World War I, Pfemfert skirted tightened censorship from August 1914 to October 1918 by treating contemporary events only through artistic and literary allusions. At a time when reading books by foreign authors was considered unpatriotic, he dedicated entire issues of Die Aktion to Russian, French, and Belgian authors and artists. In late 1918, however, Pfemfert resumed vocal political critique, siding with the radical left. His selection of prints, formerly varied, became overtly political. After 1921, he ceased art coverage altogether, decreased the number of issues, and used the publication exclusively as a mouthpiece for his own increasingly partisan views.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.