Category Archives: Vague, Tom

Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993 Tom Vague

“I state here that none of us intend to kill ourselves.”

The Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion) had its rather innocuous beginnings in Germany in the early 60s. The name was created as a sort of joke–a combination of the Royal Air Force and the Red Army. Founded by Horst Mahler (and his leadership was short), the members of the Red Army Faction (in reality, a handful of individuals) informally banded together ostensibly to protest the Vietnam War, the continuance of Fascism in the BRD, and to support the Palestinian cause. Initially, the RAF was quite harmless–it was all just theory. Several student organizations existed that opposed the political climate in West Germany, but their actions were mainly pranks. For example, the SDS (Socialist Student Movement) planned to lob custard pies at American VP, Hubert Humphrey. The student movements heated up rapidly after protests were staged against the Shah of Iran’s visit to Berlin. In the first violence to occur, student, Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the head by the Popo (Political Police). Things rapidly escalated, and disintegrated from this incident.

The mere handful of RAF members at this point included Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Ulrike Meinhof. A few bombs, demonstrations, and brief jail sentences later, the group is off training with the PLO. By 1970, Mahler is in jail, and Baader assumed authority of the group. By 1972, the RAF is responsible for several devastating bombings at American bases in the BRD, and it’s clear that the German government has a serious problem on its hands. The German authorities captured and ‘dealt’ with leading members of the RAF, and it’s not a pretty picture. The original, and incarcerated RAF members were an attractive nuisance for the government, and the Second Generation RAF committed bigger, bolder, and more violent acts–freeing their imprisoned comrades became an imperative. Over the next two decades, the RAF–which mutated and was in a continual state of flux–rampaged through Germany–and with Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin, and Raspe in jail and then dead, the far more brutal Second Generation RAF kidnapped industrialists, politicians and judges–often murdering their hostages. The Second Generation RAF even hijacked planes in an attempt to swap hostages for imprisoned RAF members. Carlos, the Jackal, aided the RAF in one hijacking episode.

Televisionaries is a peculiar book. It’s written chronologically, and the author gives the date and the incident, but it lacks an index. There’s very little commentary or background information given–although the author, upon occasion, does provide the ‘official government version’ and the version from members of the RAF and/or witnesses. Black and white photographs accompany the text. There are surprisingly few books on the subject of the RAF, and beggars cannot be choosers. According to the author, Tom Vague, the book Hitler’s Children by Jillian Becker is the state-approved version of events. There’s also another book by journalist Stefan Aust–long-time acquaintance of the group. Aust’s book is out of print, and most used copies are in German. That said, as a chronicle of the development of a terrorist group, Televisionaries delivers informative–and chilling information–especially concerning the deaths in jail of Baader, Ensslin, Raspe, Meinhof, and Schubert (all ruled suicides–with Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe’s deaths occurring in 1977 on the day when a hostage exchange was scheduled to take place). Included in the book is testimony from court appearances of the core group of the RAF. The book also includes information about other radical groups–Kommune 1, the J2 Movement, Action Directe, Rote Zora, and my personal favorite, the SPK (the Socialist Patients’ Collective) founded by state psychiatrist Dr Wolfgang Huber who “mobilises his patients.” This is amazing stuff. Televisionaries is flawed, but it’s riveting. Read it and be stunned.

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Anarchy in the UK by Tom Vague

“That well-known group of demolition experts.”

The Vietnam War is raging in Southeast Asia, Carlos the Jackal is on the loose, the Red Army Faction rampages through Germany, and in Britain, the Angry Brigade becomes a household name. These were “angry times”–a time of social unrest, hijacking of planes, and then when bombs started going on in Britain, at first, it wasn’t clear who was responsible ….

It’s 1970, and the first “Communique” from the Angry Brigade is received by “The International Times.” Communique 1 claimed responsibility for machine-gunning the Spanish embassy to protest the sentencing of Basque nationalists. Then with the advent of the new Industrial Relations bill in Jan 1971, the home of employment minister, Robert Carr is bombed, and the Angry Brigade send communique 4 claiming responsibility. Following the bombing of Carr’s house, 6 Conservative party offices are firebombed, and there’s another communique. At this point, no-one had heard of the Angry Brigade, but they can no longer be ignored. As a result, the Special Branch formed a unit to work on cracking the case.

By August 1971, several people were arrested for conspiracy in what became known as the trial of the Stoke Newington 8, and what followed was “Britain’s biggest conspiracy trial.” With 1000 plus pages of evidence, over 800 exhibits, and more than 200 prosecution witnesses, the prosecution sought to prove that the 8 accused were involved in a conspiracy with “the intention of disrupting and attacking” society. The evidence came down to the possession of gelignite and handwritten envelopes which included some of the communiques to the newspapers. The big questions during the trial included whether or not the gelignite had been planted. The prosecution’s case essentially boiled down to the elements of “conspiracy”–the accused did not actually have to plant the bombs (a total of 25) to be guilty of conspiracy–they just had to “know what the agreement” about bombing was.

Anarchy in the UK: The Angry Brigade begins with a decent explanation and overview of Situationist theory–including a glossary. There’s some detail here regarding the unrest amongst French students, the 1968 student riots, the Society of the Spectacle, etc. The author, Tom Vague’s style is relaxed (if you’ve ever read any of Vague’s books, you know what I mean), and he follows the events in typical chronological, very brief style. Vague includes all of the communiques from the Angry Brigade and heavy emphasis is on the trial. There are black and white photos of those involved in the case, and since there’s an extensive cast of characters here, be prepared to take notes.

For those interested reading more on the Angry Brigade, Gordon Carr’s book: The Angry Brigade: The Cause and the Case is the best source I’ve found on the subject, but it’s not easy to find a copy. Vague’s book is not as through source but it’s easier to find.

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