The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History –
Volume 1: Projectiles for the People (February 2009); Volume 2: Dancing with Imperialism (June 2013)
Edited by J. Smith and André Moncourt, Published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb
Volume 1, Forewords by Russell “Maroon” Shoats and Bill Dunne
ISBN: 978-1-60486-029-0, Paperback, 736 pages, $34.95
Volume 2, Introduction by Ward Churchill
ISBN: 978-1-60486-030-6, Paperback, 480 Pages, $26.95
Volume 3 forthcoming
Much documentation in the books available at: http://www.germanguerilla.com
Graphics used in the volumes online at: http://plakat.nadir.org/
Reviewed by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
Far from being a relic of the ’60s and ’70s, the German Red Army Faction (RAF), an urban guerrilla formation in the “metropole” of imperialism, has continued to be a target of state repression well into the 21st Century. In a 2010 statement issued by “some who have been RAF members at various points in time,” they addressed the prosecution of a former RAF member, who had secretly become a cooperating “crown witness” years before, for the assassination of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback more than 30 years ago. They wrote: “The apparent purpose is to obtain individual ‘recriminations,’ i.e. to pressurize individuals to say who exactly did what…. Not enough that we have stated our collective responsibility for the attacks of the RAF. We should ‘finally’ squeal in order to ‘give up the logic of conspiracy.’” They describe the effort by the state and the corporate media to reduce their struggle to personal aberrations, an effort that goes back to the bourgeois designation of the RAF as the “Baader-Meinhof Gang,” after the names of two of their founding members.
They continued, “What it is really all about is to pull …the debate on the history of armed struggle [down] to the mere level of murder and violence…The RAF was dissolved in 1998, based on its assessment of the changed political situation globally. The fact that it was its own decision and that it has not been defeated by the state, obviously remains a thorn in the flesh [of the state]. Hence the eternal lament of the “myth” yet to be destroyed. Hence the political and moral capitulation demanded from us. Hence the attempts to finalize the criminalization of our history… Whereas the search for those who are still underground, the smear campaigns in the media and the legal procedures against former prisoners continue, we are expected to kowtow publicly. As in all these years, it didn’t work by ‘renunciation,’ we are now to denounce each other.”
They explained why they continue to refuse to testify. “Not to testify is not a RAF invention. It has been an experience of the liberation movements and guerilla groups that it is vital to provide no information whatsoever when in custody, in order to protect those who continue the struggle. We have the historical examples of the resistance against fascism… But also like this. We don’t testify because we are no state witnesses, not then, not now.”
“Through all these years, despite ‘screen search’ technologies, the highly armed state security apparatus hasn’t been able to obtain a reasonably comprehensive picture of our movements…. The bits and pieces put together by state security agencies haven’t been very useful for general counterinsurgency purposes. They have no clue of the approach, the organization, the traces, the dialectics of an urban guerilla in the metropolis. And there is no reason to help them out on this. …The RAF’s collective structure has been attacked right from the start. It was not supposed to exist, it had to be old school, authoritarian relationships, ‘officers and soldiers,’ ringleaders and followers. Those were the compulsory terms for the police, for the propaganda, and those are their terms today. The judiciary, however …was lacking evidence in court due to our lack of collaboration. Its solution was the ‘conspiracy’ paragraph 129/129a, with which everyone could be made responsible for everything. That’s what the verdicts have been based on… In contrast, testimonies which we sometimes provided in the trials against us, during the years of prison, have been determined collectively, as a possibility to say something against the worst shithouse propaganda.”
They concluded: “We were in prison because we started armed struggle over here, and our interest during the trials in court was, at best, to convey the contents and aims of our policy. A policy of attack in the metropolis which understood and determined its praxis in the context of struggles worldwide for liberation from capitalism.”
The represents the strength of political commitment demonstrated by the RAF through torturous, sensory-deprivation isolation incarceration, being “suicided” in prison, and continuing almost 35 years after the creation of the organization in the face of continuing persecution. It demonstrates why they merit serious study of the content and history of their political thinking, practice and development. That study has been well served by the “Documentary History” of the Red Army Faction being meticulously produced by J. Smith and Andre Moncourt, with two volumes completed and a third in preparation (probably some additional years until publication). Profusely illustrated, and carefully researched, the books present the RAF in their own words and in well-explicated context. Smith and Moncourt’s narrative amounts to a history of mid- to late-20th Century imperialism from the perspective of the so-called “Federal Republic” of West Germany (plus West Berlin, a separate entity until the reunification of Germany after the communist East German Democratic Republic was absorbed).
Its relevance today is magnified by the central role the series of hunger strikes by the imprisoned members of the RAF played in exposing the militarist nature of the German state, and in helping to attract new combatants to the ranks of the “guerrilla” in Germany and throughout Western Europe. We have recently seen in CA the power of that bodies-on-the-line commitment by prisoners to impact consciousness, not only in the prisons, but also on the streets. The RAF’s prescience about the offense-oriented nature of the NATO alliance also makes its analyses important reading today.
It’s impossible to summarize such a voluminous work. The division into 3 volumes roughly parallels the history of the RAF in three periods, or generations. The first is from their founding until the 1977 kidnapping and killing of German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer and the deaths in prison of many of the allegedly leading RAF members. The second is from that point through the 1984 arrests of (unbeknownst to the state at the time) virtually the entire ranks of combatants then in the field. They were attempting to put into practice a plan to develop a “front” between the German guerrilla and both similar formations in other mostly European countries and semi-legal anti-imperialist and radical groups. The third volume will address the period from the second reconstitution of the RAF from a major counter-offensive in 1984 through the group’s self-dissolution in 1998.
The question of whether and how armed struggle relates to the much different political circumstances of the 21st Century is a critical one. Even more important is the question of what politics can guide the development of a successful strategy for revolutionary change and develop appropriate tactics, as well as undertake the necessary transformation and development of committed, consistent and capable revolutionaries.
Smith and Moncourt’s detailed, methodical presentation of this history provides valuable insights, including into the differing politics that guided various German clandestine and semi-clandestine armed struggle groups and actions over almost two decades. In addition to the RAF, the June 2nd Movement (2JM), the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) and their women’s off-shoot Rote Zora built fairly consolidated underground formations from different political and organizational perspectives. Thousands of other armed and otherwise illegal actions were carried by elements of the German anti-imperialist and autonomist movements between the late ’60s and the ’90s.
Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, the differences – particularly between “social revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” orientations – and their impact, can make a vital contribution to understanding the true nature of our enemy, and the most effective strategy for defeating it once and for all. The contradiction between the “autonomist” and “anti-imp” tendencies in the German movement, paralleled similar differences between guerrilla groupings. A similar division, minus the armed underground organizations, existed in the South Korean movements against militarism and dictatorship, between “national liberation” and “peoples democracy” formations (see my review of Asia’s Unknown Uprisings in the last issue of TTT). The comparison of the South Korean and German movements over roughly the same time period also highlights the necessity of correctly linking clandestine guerrilla capacity and mass insurrectionary activity. Deeper study and struggle aimed at developing a revolutionary synthesis of all necessary aspects of understanding both the Empire and how to defeat it is an essential part of a current revolutionary process.
Smith and Moncourt have made and are making a tremendous contribution to that process, and to recuperating the lessons that the RAF and others learned at a tremendous cost. Learning about and from the contributions and errors, the successes and failures, of past revolutionary efforts, can contribute mightily to ending all forms of oppression and exploitation, and to the ultimate triumph of the forces of decolonization, liberation, and a better, sustainable world.[In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I was a member of Prairie Fire Organizing Committee in the 1970s and ’80s, and on the staff of its journal Breakthrough. We published a number of the contemporary communiques and documents of the RAF, and the public organization Women Against Imperialist War, as well as a defense of the prisoners against isolation-torture. Some of those materials are cited in the present volumes.]