Tag Archives: urban guerillas

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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German Guerilla: Terror, Reaction and Resistance by Jean-Marcel Bougereau

“The relation between the ends and the means employed becomes insane.”

The book, The German Guerrilla: Terror, Reaction and Resistance written by Jean-Marcel Bougereau and translated by Peter Silcock is a compilation and essays and interviews on the subject of German guerrillas. The book is for anyone interested in the Red Army Faction, urban guerrillas, and/or revolutionary ethics. Contents include:
An Interview with Hans Joachim Klein
Postscript: Political Violence and Liberty
The Moabit Gang of Four
The Berlin Indomitables
Background to the Left German Guerrilla
RAF Philosophy

The story of Hans-Joachim Klein is fascinating. In 1975, Klein was one of a group of Guerrillas who stormed the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. The aim of the commando was to force the OPEC ministers to make declarations of support for the Palestinian cause, and as part of this raid, two ministers–Amouzegar from Iran, and Yamini from Saudi Arabia were targeted for death. The mission resulted in three murders, and Klein was seriously wounded. The hostages–along with Klein were flown to Algeria. Here, Klein recuperated and began to have serious misgivings about his actions.

In the interview Klein admits it was no simple matter to break from his undergound life and his relationship with ‘Carlos.’ According to Klein, he and some of his comrades were pawns of much larger, darker forces, and he came to realize this following Entebbe and after discovering that the guerrilla group received 5 million for placing a suitcase of explosives on a plane. He eventually managed to break free and then began an underground life on the run hiding from both the police and his former comrades. Klein explains why he wrote a letter to Spiegel in which he blew several upcoming commandos that targeted individuals for assassination. He acknowledges that “if you stay with the guerrillas for a long time, then sooner or later, you throw things overboard….from your humanity to your political ideals.”

In the interview Klein also offers contrasts between the three major German revolutionary groups: RAF (Red Army Faction), the June 2nd Movement, and the Revolutionary Cells (Revolutionare Zellen) and explains his evolution from a dissident to a gun-wielding guerrilla. The author includes a good analysis of a “clandestine existence” and concludes that such an existence has an “appalling effect.” He argues in a life cut off from reality, and with a loss of personal identity, the armed revolutionary is caught in an “incestuous circuit of ideas” and that such a dangerous existence inevitably alters “values and moral judgements.”

The book also includes a 27-item questionnaire titled “The Berlin Indomitables” written by the Moabit Gang of Four (Ralf Reinders, Gerald Klopper, Ronald Fritzch, and Fritz Teufel)–members of the June 2nd Movement. Stern, who intended to publish an interview with the Moabit Gang of Four, originally sent this questionnaire, but when the questionnaire was seized as evidence in court, the interview was never published.

Other sections of the book include the “Background to the Left German Guerrilla” and a statement taken from an RAF pamphlet. The latter includes details that question the alleged suicides of Andreas Baader, Jan Carl Raspe, and Gudrun Ensslin that occurred on October 18, 1977 in Stammheim Prison. The authors argue that these members of the RAF were, in fact, murdered by the state.

The book’s fascinating postscript “Political Violence and Liberty” offers a discussion analyzing political violence and its “three main areas of motive or source”: state terrorism, revolutionary terrorism, and violent political reaction. The author, arguing “actions and morality are indivisible,” advocates establishing the groundwork for a “viable alternative society” before attempting to dismantle the old, established order.

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The Angry Brigade.The Cause and the Case: A History of Britain’s First Urban Guerilla Group by Gordon Carr

“They were strictly home-grown subversives, owing allegiance to no one but themselves.”

Some time ago, I read Tom Vague’s book about the Angry Brigade, so it was with great delight that I finally got my hands on a copy of The Angry Brigade. The Cause and the Case: A History of Britain’s First Urban Guerilla Group by Gordon Carr. Carr produced a BBC documentary on the subject of the Angry Brigade, and although Tom Vague’s book is easier to find, Carr’s book is far superior, and includes a great deal more comprehensive analysis.

The book begins with an explosion at the home of Britain’s Secretary of State for Employment, Robert Carr. It’s January 1971, and there’s a great deal of labour unrest in Britain. Bombs were not an unknown phenomenon in Britain at this time, and there had been numerous explosions attributed to various groups–including The First of May Group. Up until this point, Britain’s Special Branch had been aware of the existence of a group calling themselves The Angry Brigade, but they weren’t given much attention. The bombing of Carr’s home changed all that, and from that point on considerable resources were applied towards the capture and conviction of those who called themselves The Angry Brigade.

Special Branch detectives soon made connections between Angry Brigade Communiques and Guy Debord’s book Society of the Spectacle. Carr provides a marvelous background portrait of the times, and includes a splendid analysis of Debord’s fascinating, but somewhat impenetrable and didactic theories of consumer society. Carr also examines the ties between the First of May Group and the Angry Brigade, and states that the First of May Group were the first to use communiques “to explain the reasons for a particular act of violence.”

Carr examines the evolution of The Angry Brigade–its actions (including the bombing of the Miss World contest), and the communiques–as well as the political and social lives of those who were finally convicted of involvement–John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelson. These four dropped out of university, moved to London, established a commune, became involved in the Squatting movement, formed a Claimant’s Union, and eventually moved away from activism and protest to Direct Action acts of violence against property and the State. Carr details the police investigation, and the final cracking of the case. A considerable amount of the book examines the trial of the “Stoke Newington Eight” (this refers to the eight people who were eventually tried for conspiracy and weapons possession). Large portions of speeches given at the trial are included–as well as evidence, police procedure, forensic connections between The Angry Brigade and The First of May Group, portions of the cross-examinations etc. The trial stands as a landmark in the judicial system for many reasons–and ultimately the guilty verdict comes down to whether or not those accused were aware of a plot to bomb–even if they did not directly participate.

One of the most fascinating things about the book is the way in which it’s quite evident that the police finally made their arrests through the investigations of ‘normal’ crimes (check forgery and credit card theft)–an arena that proved much easier to penetrate. By far the most surprising element of the police investigation is the way in which subversives/agitators are only seen in a one-size-fits-all category. Therefore, to the Special Branch investigators, there is no distinction made between a communist, a Situationist, an anarchist, or a neo-Marxist, etc. The book includes a great postscript–a retrospective–by John Barker, an introduction by Stuart Christie, as well as a chronology and index.

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Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the Run 66-67

“We lived a sort of armed existentialism.”

Astrid Proll’s book Baader Meinhof: Pictures on the Run 67-77 is for those interested in the Red Army Faction. The RAF is an integral part of West Germany’s history, and as a revolutionary/terrorist group (pick the term you prefer), they were a thorn in the side of German politics for decades. Astrid Proll was an early member of the First Generation RAF. Proll’s “underground time with the RAF … lasted less than a year,” and she was arrested in 1971. When she was released from prison, she escaped to England, and that is probably the reason she remained alive. This book of photographs is a compilation of some significant moments in the history of the RAF.

The photos from the early days are giddy, and high-spirited, but then a photo of the dead Benno Ohnesorg–shot by police during a demonstration–marks the swift change in events. One photo shows the abandoned shoe of Rudi Dutschke after he was shot by a “right-wing assailant.” Later photos include ‘wanted posters’, and prison photos of Ulrike Meinhoff, Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader, and Jan-Carl Raspe.

The final photos are taken from the funerals of Ensslin, Baader, and Raspe after the state claimed they committed mass suicide in their prison cells.

The book includes an introduction by Proll, and these pages include both German and English text. Proll makes some interesting comments and admits that the RAF “overestimated themselves ridiculously … we were self-timers who acted cut off from reality in a void.” If you are interested in learning more about the RAF, I highly recommend the following: How It All Began: The Personal Account of a West German Terrorist by Bommi Baumann, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex by Stefan Aust, and the film, Germany in Autumn.

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The Urban Guerilla Concept

“Legality is about Power.”

Red Army Faction: The Urban Guerilla Concept is not an A-Z of the Red Army Faction, and the reader is best served approaching this pamphlet with some prior reading on the subject. Divided into three sections, the pamphlet contains: historical background, an introduction, and The Urban Guerilla Concept–the RAF’s first “ideological text” (apart from a short letter shortly after Andreas Baader was sprung from jail). Anthony Murphy writes both the historical background and the introduction. The document, The Urban Guerilla Concept–while ostensibly the collective product of the RAF was most likely written by former journalist Ulrike Meinhof. It’s the most famous document ever produced by the RAF, and so for anyone interested in the RAF–the “most influential and longest surviving” guerilla group that sprung from the German Student movement of the 1960s, then this pamphlet is invaluable. If however, you’re new to the Red Army Faction, then I recommend Stefan Aust’s book Das Baader-Meinhof Komplex (if you can find a copy in English), Televisionaries by Tom Vague (flawed, but still interesting.) or the marvelous memoir How It All Began: The Personal Account of a West German Terrorist by Bommi Baumann.

The pamphlet’s historical background is extremely valuable in its explanation of how the West German government perceived the Red Army Faction (the RAF never referred to themselves as the Baader-Meinhof Gang). The West German government had shown a tendency to “resort to authoritarian methods to solve political problems, particularly political dissent from the Left.” Identified as the “biggest threat to democracy” the members of the Red Army faction were classified as “enemies of the state.” Under West Germany’s Basic Law, they effectively “lost their rights”, and the “protection of the state” became an overpowering priority. This explains why the West German government responded so quickly to the RAF with such extreme, overwhelming violence (the police were issued with machine guns and grenades in June 1970).

The document The Urban Guerilla Concept basically lays out the RAF’s ideological argument for the armed struggle against the state. The document rife with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist rhetoric references the Springer press, the Vietnam War and the destruction of the Black Panthers. Now, years after the official demise of the RAF in 1998, this document shows the RAF’s determination and oddly enough there’s a thread of naivete that runs throughout the text that predicts its inevitable destruction. Yet, at the same time, some of the document is strangely prophetic–more than 3 decades later:
“No publications escape the control of vested financial interest-through advertising;…and through the concentration of media ownership. In the public domain a powerful elite has the dominant role….The media’s message in a nutshell is…Sell….News and information become commodities for consumption.”

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