30 years after the “German Autumn”: state terror yesterday and today

Printer-friendly version

The article below has just been published by the ICC's section in Germany to denounce the arrest and imprisonment in isolation ward of several German intellectuals accused of terrorism and belonging to a so-called "Militant Group".


We have just published on our German site an article about the so-called autumn of 1977. That was the time when the kidnapping and the murdering of the president of the employer's federation by the Red Army Fraction (RAF) provided the pretext for a wave of repression unparalleled in post-war West German history. It was a time during which the security forces were let loose to intimidate the population. There were police raids everywhere, entire districts were surrounded, trains stopped in the countryside and passengers obliged to get out by armed policemen. An idea of the atmosphere of fear, hysteria and public denunciation which was whipped up at that time, and of the role that the bourgeois democratic media played in this, can be reexperienced through reading Heinrich Böll's novel "Katharina Blum". The extent to which the kidnapping of Schleyer was merely a pretext for putting on a display of power and justifying new repressive measures became clear soon afterwards when the magazine Stern revealed that the police had known  about Schleyer's whereabouts from a very early stage.

Our article shows that the terrorism of the RAF or the "2nd June Movement" in Germany, or of the "Red Brigades" in Italy, expressed an indignation towards capitalism, but also doubts and even feelings of desperation regarding the revolutionary role of the working class. This led to an impotent, because individualist, revolt against the state, which was basically petty-bourgeois by nature, and which not only did not endanger the upper class but even suited its purposes. The extent to which the ruling class not only used this terrorist rebellion, but was able to manipulate it, was already made clear at the time in a book of one of the witnesses of this movement: "Bommi" Baumann's How it all began. The book explains how the first armed fighters, unsuspectingly purchased their first weapons from the German political police.

The bourgeois class used this generation of "armed struggle" in two ways. For one thing they were used as a bogeyman in order to justify a strengthening of the state which was directed, not so much against "terrorism" as against - in a preventive manner - ones "own" population, above all against the working class. On the other hand these armed groups, as a result of their political confusions, and not least on account of their own impotence were invariably drawn into the power struggles within the bourgeois class (whether the East-West conflict or Palestinian nationalism). In fact, already at that time terrorism was first and foremost a means of imperialist struggle between capitalist states and fractions (IRA, PLO etc.)

How little these two main uses of terrorism by the state - as a weapon of imperialist war and as a justification for repression against the working class - exclude each other, how much on the contrary they complement and mutually enforce each other, is best shown by our contemporary world. Islamic terrorism is, in the first instance, a weapon in the hands of a series of states and cliques against economically and militarily often superior imperialist opponents. But above all it is the "war against terrorism" which, at least since "9/11" has become the war cry of all the leading industrial states of the world. This goes not only for the USA, who most recently used this pretext to justify the invasion and occupation on Iraq. It applies no less to German imperialism which opposed the US-war in Iraq for its own reasons, but justifies its own military operations in Afghanistan, Africa or on the coast of the Lebanon in very similar terms. Regarding the recent enormous strengthening of states vis-à-vis their own populations, which has also of course taken place in Germany it is true that initially the foiling of terrorist attacks from enemy states and cliques was the pre-dominant concern. But the ruling class is fully aware that its natural and mortal enemy is the proletariat. This is its enemy both "at home" and world wide. By contrast, the ruling class has no reserves about getting involved in terrorist activities. It is a well-known fact that the USA originally helped to build up, arm and train Bin Laden's organisation. But the longstanding close ties between German politics and terror groups in the Middle East or on the Balkans, or more recently in Afghanistan, is a subject which would also a be well worth researching.

Six years after the terrorist attack on New York, events in Germany this year have powerfully illustrated the second spearhead of the "war against terrorism" directed against the social front. 30 years after the German autumn we can almost speak of a "German summer 2007". For one thing we have seen how the mostly very young demonstrators, who in Rostock and Heiligendamm demonstrated against G8 and for "a different world", were confronted by open state terror, and thrown into prison. For another thing, the activities of a so-called "Militant Group" (MG) has been the occasion for fabricating a connection between critical, anti-capitalist thinking and terrorism, and for answering such thinking with arrests and imprisonment in isolation cells. This group is supposed to have been involved in damaging property, "symbols of capitalism" such as luxury cars or trucks of the German army.

We do not have any confirmed knowledge about the nature of this group, the public appearance of which remains very foggy. What is clear on the contrary, and very striking is the way in which the state has responded to it. These symbolic attacks against objects have been met with the whole weight and spectrum of the "war against terrorism". We quote from an open letter to the attorney general against the criminalisation of critical science and political engagement, which was drafted August 15th by colleagues in Germany and abroad of one of those recently arrested.

"On 31st July 2007 the flats and workplaces of Dr. Andrej H. and Dr. Matthias B., and five other persons, were searched by the police. Dr. Andrej H. was arrested, flown by helicopter to the German Federal Court in Karlsruhe and brought before the court. Since then he has been held in pre-trial confinement in a Berlin jail. Four people have been charged with ‘membership of a terrorist association according to § 129a StGB' (German Penal Code, section 7 on ‘Crimes against Public Order'). They are alleged to be members of a so-called ‘militant group' (MG). The text of the search warrant revealed that preliminary proceedings against these four people have been going on since September 2006 and that the four had since been under constant surveillance.

A few hours before the house searches, Florian L., Oliver R. and Axel H. were arrested in the Brandenburg region and accused of attempted arson on four vehicles of the German Federal Army. Andrej H. is alleged to have met one of these three persons on two occasions in the first half of 2007 in supposedly ‘conspiratorial circumstances'.
The Federal Prosecutor (Bundesanwaltschaft) therefore assumes that the four above mentioned persons as well as the three individuals arrested in Brandenburg are members of a ‘militant group', and is thus investigating all seven on account of suspected ‘membership in a terrorist association' according to §129a StGB.
According to the arrest warrant against Andrej H., the charge made against the above mentioned four individuals is presently justified on the following grounds, in the order that the federal prosecutor has listed them:

  • Dr. Matthias B. is alleged to have used, in his academic publications, "phrases and key words" which are also used by the ‘militant group';
  • As political scientist holding a PhD, Matthias B. is seen to be intellectually capable to "author the sophisticated texts of the ‘militant group' (MG)". Additionally, "as employee in a research institute he has access to libraries which he can use inconspicuously in order to do the research necessary to the drafting of texts of the ‘militant group'";
  • Another accused individual is said to have met with suspects in a conspiratorial manner: "meetings were regularly arranged without, however, mentioning place, time and content of the meetings"; furthermore, he is said to have been active in the "extreme left-wing scene";
  • In the case of a third accused individual, an address book was found which included the names and addresses of the other three accused;
  • Dr. Andrej H., who works as an urban sociologist, is claimed to have close contacts with all three individuals who have been charged but still remain free;
  • Dr. Andrej H. is alleged to have been active in the "resistance mounted by the extreme left-wing scene against the World Economic Summit of 2007 in Heiligendamm";
  • The fact that he - allegedly intentionally -- did not take his mobile phone with him to a meeting is considered as "conspiratorial behaviour".

Andrej H., as well as Florian L., Oliver R. und Axel H., have been detained since 1st August 2007 in Berlin-Moabit under very strict conditions: they are locked in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and are allowed only one hour of courtyard walk. Visits are limited to a total of half an hour every two weeks. Contacts, including contacts with lawyers, are allowed only through separation panes, including contact with their lawyers. The mail of the defence is checked.

The charges described in the arrest warrants reveal a construct based on very dubious reasoning by analogy. The reasoning involves four basic hypotheses, none of which the Federal High Court could substantiate with any concrete evidence, but through their combination they are to leave the impression of a ‘terrorist association'. The social scientists, because of their academic research activity, their intellectual capacities and their access to libraries, are said to be the brains of the alleged ‘terrorist organization'. For, according to the Federal prosecutor, an association called ‘militant group' is said to use the same concepts as the accused social scientists. As evidence for this reasoning, the concept of ‘gentrification' is named - one of the key research themes of Andrej H. und Matthias B. in past years, about which they have published internationally. They have not limited their research findings to an ivory tower, but have made their expertise available to citizens' initiatives and tenants' organizations. This is how critical social scientists are constructed as intellectual gang leaders."
No less striking is the way in which these events have been reported on in the media. On the one hand this subject has not been widely published. The media is evidently concerned to play things down in order not to provoke a hostile reaction of the population. As opposed to the RAF murders which preceded the "German Autumn" of 1977 the recent attacks against property in Berlin and Brandenburg are hardly suitable for creating an atmosphere of public fear and hysteria. Moreover time has not stood still since 1977. In the epoch of open economic crisis, of massive demolition of social services and of bureaucratic mistreatment in particular of the unemployed population, it is much more difficult to mobilize the population even temporally behind the state (as was revealed soon after the attacks in New York). The concern of the organs of repression seems to be rather to intimidate and terrify those politically searching minorities who have already begun to put bourgeois society in question. On the other hand these attacks, when they are discussed, are regularly connected to a certain "theoretical environment" which is referred to as the "fertile soil for terrorism". The media has frequently referred to "talk about world revolution" as a characteristic of this milieu. There is talk about ominous theoreticians, who as a result of the radicalism of their opinions have to be considered to be "intellectual incendiaries" even when they themselves reject terrorism.

It fits into this picture that the recent wave of police raids in Berlin also hit the Rotes Antiquaritat, which more then any other bookshop in Germany offers the possibility to get to know the ideas and the publications of internationalist revolutionary groups. Here also, the difference in the approach of the bourgeoisie in comparison to the 1970s is striking. In those days the media in Germany or Italy didn't give a damn about the political ideas of the RAF or the Red Brigades. The attacks of these groups were, on the contrary presented as the products of mental illness. It was even proposed to deal with them through brain surgery. At that time most politicized people were very activist and tended to accept the slogans of Stalinism more or less uncritically. What characterises the new generation of today, despite of activist, is a much more critical and profound reflection - something which threatens to become a much greater danger for capitalism. Hence the criminalisation of radical theory.

The reappearance of the practise of attacks against "symbols of capitalism" might seem strange. Even though these present actions are not directed against persons, they show that the lessons from the experiences of the RAF or the Red Brigades have not been, or have been insufficiently drawn. Such pointless acts of desperation are, today also, the expression of a profound indignation against the ruling system. We fully share this indignation, whence our solidarity with the victims of state terror, independently of whether or not they were involved in such actions. But such acts are also the expression of a profound difficulty to understand where is the real revolutionary force within this society. Such a difficulty is not surprising. What characterises the contemporary world, in comparison to that of 1977, is not only the much more dramatic and dangerous dead end which capitalism has lead humanity, but also the fact that the proletariat has to a considerable extent lost its sense of class identity since 1989. However today the world proletariat is beginning to rediscover its own strength. And the political vanguard of this class is beginning to rediscover and to further develop their own revolutionary theory and positions. Part and parcel of the solidarity of the proletariat with the victims of state terror is the struggle to win over the desperate ones to the cause and to the methods of the working class (see the article on our German site)



Recent and ongoing: