ART AS RESISTANCE:
ARMED GROUPS IN WEST GERMANY
Armed Struggle In Germany
The following is a general introduction to the history of armed resistance in West Germany, entitled Armed Groups which is translated from the book “Art As Resistance” (Chapter 5). Over time, we plan to build a more in-depth archive, incorporating texts from urban guerrilla movements all across Western Europe, so as to provide a comprehensive history of armed struggle in Europe from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The Second Of June Movement
Named after the date when Benno Ohnesorg was murdered, the “Second of June Movement” arose from the militant anti-authoritarian scene in West Berlin in 1971. In June 1972, the group published their political program. Point three read as follows: “The Movement only sees itself as the vanguard in so far as it was among the first to take up arms. It is not the vanguard because it calls itself such.”
The strategy of the Second of June Movement was to draw from the guerrilla concept in Latin America and to combine that with “legal” struggles. Point ten of the program read: “…For us, praxis means: Creating militant legal groups, creating militias, creating an urban guerrilla – until we have an army of the people.”
The Second of June Movement saw itself as an urban guerrilla group, limited to West Berlin. In particular by means of spectacular actions, like handing out chocolate candies during bank robberies, the group received a great deal of attention. The highpoint for the Second of June Movement was the kidnapping of regional CDU leader Peter Lorenz in 1975. By means of this action, the group was able to win freedom for five imprisoned members of the Red Army Fraction (RAF).
A short time after the Lorenz kidnapping, leading members of the Second of June Movement were arrested. During searches for group members, a shootout with police took place in Cologne in May 1975. Werner Sauber, a member of the Second of June Movement, and a policeman were killed. After the state’s success in cracking down on the group, the Second of June Movement only made itself heard of by means of trial statements and texts from imprisoned activists. In June 1980, the group dissolved itself and became part of the RAF. That same month, three members of the Second of June Movement jailed in Moabit Prison in Berlin, Ralf Reinders, Klaus Viehmann, and Ronald Fritsch, released a paper stating their opposition to this decision.
The Red Army Fraction (RAF)
In 1968, in protest against the war in Vietnam, four people, among them Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, set off incendiary devices inside shopping centers in Frankfurt. All four were soon arrested and sent to prison. While in prison, Andreas Baader developed close ties to a journalist named Ulrike Meinhof. From this came the idea to break Andreas Baader out of prison in May 1970, the first action by the RAF. At the end of 1970, the group went to Jordan to train with the Palestinian organization ‘Al Fatah’. In the spring of 1971, a paper was released entitled, “Red Army Fraction – The Concept Of The Urban Guerrilla”. The text read as follows: “The concept of the urban guerrilla comes from Latin America. It is there what it can also be here: a revolutionary means of intervention by relatively weak revolutionary forces.” The RAF defined itself as “an anti- imperialist fighting group, which is not part of the struggles here, but rather of the struggles taking place in the Third World”.
The First Actions By The RAF
After two years underground, the RAF carried out six attacks in May 1972. Two of these were against the U.S. army, three against police and the courts, and one against the Springer corporation. A few weeks after these attacks, some RAF members were arrested. In September 1974, the RAF prisoners began their third hungerstrike against their prison conditions. After 56 days, Holger Meins died as a result of being forced fed. After this, the RAF’s “Commando Holger Meins” occupied the German Embassy in Stockholm in April 1975 and offered to exchange the hostages in return for the release of the 26 imprisoned RAF members. In order to illustrate their resolve, the RAF commando executed Germany’s military attache at the beginning of the occupation. When police units stormed the embassy, the commando set off explosive charges. During the raid, one diplomat and one RAF member, Ulrich Wessel, were killed, and the building went up in flames. Five other commando members were arrested by the police. Among them was Siegfried Hausner, who despite being seriously wounded was flown to Stammheim Prison, and soon died.
One year later, in the night of May 8, 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was found hanged in her cell. In 1977, the RAF launched a major offensive. In April, Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback and two bodyguards were shot to death on the street. The RAF commando responsible called the act an execution of Buback, who was responsible for the murders of Holger Meins, Ulrike Meinhof, and Siegfried Hausner. In July, a RAF commando shot and killed a top executive of the Dresdner Bank, Jurgen Ponto. In September, a RAF commando kidnapped the president of the German Employers’ Association, Hanns-Martin Schleyer.
During the Schleyer kidnapping, four bodyguards were killed. The RAF wanted to exchange Schleyer for imprisoned RAF comrades. To add weight to this demand, a Palestinian commando hijacked a Lufthansa jet full of German tourists on Mallorca. The commando shot the pilot and threatened to kill all the hostages. A special GSG-9 anti-terrorist police unit stormed the plane as it waited on the runway in Mogadishu, Somalia. All the members of the Palestinian commando were shot and killed, except for one woman who survived, seriously wounded. Immediately following this, RAF prisoners Jan Carl Raspe, Andreas Baader, and Gudrun Ensslin were found shot to death or hanged in their isolation cells in Stammheim. Irmgard Moller survived, seriously wounded. The next day, October 19, 1977, police found the body of Hanns-Martin Schleyer in the trunk of a car.
The German Autumn
The reaction of the German state to the RAF’s offensive has become known as the “German Autumn”. This period was marked by an unprecedented media smear campaign against alleged RAF “sympathizers”. Any and everyone suspected of being sympathetic to the RAF was considered a potential member or at least a supporter of the organization. Police surveillance, house raids, and arrests were the order of the day. Laws regarding political crimes were greatly sharpened. Between 1977 and 1981, the RAF carried out only one attack. In June 1979, a RAF commando detonated a bomb near the motorcade of U.S. General Alexander Haig, the head of NATO, in Mons, Belgium. Haig survived unhurt. From February to April 1981, RAF prisoners organized a hungerstrike, which was called off following the death of Sigurd Debus. Two RAF actions followed that summer: a bomb attack in August on the headquarters of the U.S. air force in Europe, the NATO base in Ramstein, and a rocket attack on U.S. General Kroesen, who was uninjured.
The Front Concept
In May 1982, the RAF released a communique entitled, “Guerrilla, Resistance, And The Anti-Imperialist Front”, which expanded upon the group’s ideological and strategic concept. This “May Paper” criticized the 1977 offensive, in particular the plane hijacking, and called the efforts a failure. But the RAF’s self-criticism was restrained. The RAF said 1977 reached a historic dimension, a year with positive effects on the resistance movement. A victory was seen in the fact that the state was not able to destroy the RAF. And the subsequent wave of repression from the state apparatus was deemed positive as well, since it forced the entire resistance to make a stand either for or against the RAF. The RAF saw such clear distinctions as proof of its vanguard position. From this point of view, all true opposition forces were oriented to the RAF – or they didn’t exist at all. “The Autumn of 1977 gave all fundamental opposition groups new relations and conditions for existence – as actual experience and the perspective for future struggles, all were forced to fundamentally reorient themselves to the powers – or to give up. … From this new experience, the necessity of the guerrilla is an easy step for consciousness: If the struggle of the guerrilla is your own, then the only logical realization of this is to politically and practically join the strategy of the guerrilla yourself, at whatever level.” (May Paper)
The RAF developed this idea of an “anti-imperialist front” in the metropoles as part of the global struggle for liberation. Practically speaking, this meant a three-part approach. At the center were the “military actions” of the RAF commandos, accompanied by activities and attacks by “militants” and further agitation by a broader spectrum of supporters. That need not, however, imply any organizational connection. Independently operating groups from the resistance movement would orient themselves towards RAF activities. This concept was summarized in the slogan: “The Front Is Created As A Fighting Movement!”
The “front strategy” of the RAF did not have any substantial success. Only during hungerstrikes by RAF prisoners was it possible to mobilize broader forces from the resistance. The RAF’s “military actions” were only taken up by the immediate field of supporters. These groups, various “Anti-Torture Committees” and anti-fascist groups, had been set up in the 1970s to do prisoner support work for the RAF.
The antifa groups at that time understood fascism to be the “fascism” of West Germany, in particular as it was illustrated by prison conditions and police state measures. From these came the “anti-imperialist groups” which developed in the early 1980s. A major focal point for ‘antiimps’ was prisoner work. In addition to this, RAF communiques and actions were discussed and an attempt was made to communicate these within the broader resistance and to support corresponding initiatives.
In addition to the front concept, the RAF in the 1980s also did theory on the “military-industrial complex”. An indivisible link was seen between the military, industry, and the political elite in the imperialist states. Targets of attack, therefore, could not only be the military and repression apparatus, but also industrialists and politicians.
Shortly after publishing the May Paper, the RAF suffered a heavy blow in November 1982. With the arrest of Adelheid Schulz, Brigitte Mohnhaupt, and Christian Klar, three commando members were lost. The subsequent discovery of 13 weapons caches deprived the group of much of its infrastructure. The following years were also marked by serious repression. By 1984, a further 9 RAF members had been imprisoned, and no attacks were carried out during this period.
The New Offensive
It wasn’t until December 1984 that the RAF carried out another action, a failed bomb attack on the NATO officers’ school in Oberammergau. Another hungerstrike began in December 1984 as well, and it lasted until February 1985. This hungerstrike was accompanied by a wave of attacks which remained unique in the RAF’s history. Not only the antiimp spectrum, the autonomist scene also mobilized in support of the hungerstrike. In eight weeks from December to February there were at least 39 major arson and bomb attacks and several smaller actions as well. On January 20, 1985, there was a bomb attack on a computer center in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. The bomb went off prematurely and killed Johannes Thimme. His comrade Claudia Wannersdorfer was seriously wounded and arrested.
The “West European Guerrilla”
The RAF and the French group ‘Action Directe’ (AD) issued a joint communique in January 1985. Entitled “For The Unity Of Revolutionaries In Western Europe!”, the paper propagated the creation of a “West European guerrilla”. At the end of January, the AD executed General Rene Audran. On February 1, a RAF commando shot and killed arms industrialist Ernst Zimmermann. Both commandos oriented their actions towards one another. In the communique following the Zimmermann attack, the RAF called on the prisoners to break off their hungerstrike, which soon happened. “The West European Guerrilla Is Shaking The Imperialist System” was the slogan which united the RAF, the AD, and the Belgian group Fighting Communist Cells (CCC) in 1985. Despite some ideological differences with the latter, the groups’ actions were to be oriented towards one another, and the groups shared logistical cooperation. In the media, the “West European guerrilla” became public enemy number one, and the concept was very controversial within the militant left. With the arrest of leading members of the CCC in December 1985 and the capture of four AD members in February 1987, both groups ceased to exist. That ended the short history of the “West European guerrilla”.
The Air Base Attack
In August 1985, the RAF bombed the U.S. air force’s Rhein Main Air Base. In order to gain access to the base, the RAF commando needed an American ID card, so they lured a U.S. soldier named Pimental out of a disco late one night. He was later killed in the woods to avoid being a witness. Two other people were killed in the bomb attack on the base.
The militant spectrum was critical of the attack, in particular the death of Pimental, which the RAF had called “a practical necessity”. All gains with the resistance movement which had been made during the hungerstrike were now lost. The criticisms became so intense that the RAF were forced to respond. In January 1986, the RAF released a paper entitled “To Those Who Struggle With Us”. It began with the line: “Today, we say that the shooting of the GI in the concrete situation last summer was a mistake which blocked the effects of the attack on the air base and the discussion of the political-military orientation of the action, and the offensive as a whole.”
The background to this concession by the RAF was the International Anti-Imperialist Congress which was held in Frankfurt from January 31 to February 4, 1986. This conference, organized by the antiimp spectrum, was attended by representatives from all across Europe and Latin America and was the source of great interest since more than one thousand people took part. Despite threats of being banned, the congress took place anyway, but it was not a success. Autonomists in particular voiced heavy criticisms, particularly in reference to the shooting of the GI, but their critique was aimed at the RAF concept as a whole.
In the summer of 1986, the RAF resumed its campaign of assassinations: the head of the Siemens corporation, Beckurts, and his driver were killed in a bomb attack in July; in October, a ministerial director in the Foreign Ministry, Braunmuhl, was shot. In other words, there was not to be a fundamental shift in strategy by the RAF, and the group remained isolated from wide sectors of the militant movement. But repression from the state apparatus increased: In 1986, RAF member Eva Haule-Frimpong was arrested. Until 1993, the state was not able to arrest any other RAF members. But the anti-imperialist scene suffered an unending series of house raids, arrests, and trials.
The Final Slope To The End
After a lapse in actions in 1987, the RAF changed its strategy starting in 1988. The targets of attack would now have some connection to themes of the resistance movement in Germany.
The failed attack on Finance Secretary Tietmeyer in September 1988 was linked to his involvement in the annual congress of the IMF. And when the head of the Deutsche Bank, Herrhausen, was killed in a bomb attack in November 1989, the RAF’s communique for the action also pointed to the IMF and the World Bank. Until 1991 there were a series of sometimes failed attacks by the RAF, and the communiques became increasingly diffuse. On April 1, 1991, a RAF commando shot and killed Rohwedder, head of the ‘Treuhandanstalt’, the state agency charged with selling off the former East Germany’s industries. The RAF stated in their communique that they would, in future, orient themselves more towards intervening in social struggles. The attack on Rohwedder was supposed to be a means of influencing the imagined resistance of the East German people to capitalist restructuring.
It was also at this time that contacts since the early 1980s between the RAF and the DDR’s Ministry of State Security, or ‘Stasi’, became known. Former RAF members who had sought refuge in East Germany were arrested and became state witnesses in trials against former comrades. These Stasi contacts, state witnesses, disagreements among the prisoners, and a seeming lack of clarity among those still living underground led to the dissolution of many anti-imperialist groups. In April 1992, the RAF issued a statement spelling out the re-orientation of their politics. The collapse of real existing socialism and the defeat of liberation movements on the Three Continents had created a totally different situation. The group’s vanguard approach was traded for the creation of a “counter-power from below”. The statement went on to say: “We have decided to scale back the escalation. That means that we will halt attacks on leading representatives of capital and the state during this present, necessary process.” (RAF Communique, April 10, 1992) The RAF’s final attack was carried out in March 1993. Shortly before its completion, the new Weiterstadt Prison was blown up.
A final blow was dealt to the RAF in June 1993. For more than a year, the German state was able to get one of its spies, Klaus Steinmetz, close to the commando levels of the RAF. In June 1993, Steinmetz met with RAF members in a train station restaurant in the town of Bad Kleinen. The meeting was observed by police. During the subsequent arrests, RAF member Wolfgang Grams was killed and Birgit Hogefeld was captured.
The Front Militants
The anti-imperialist front propagated in the RAF’s May Paper in 1982 did not find much resonance in the leftist scene. In order to get out of this situation, the RAF initiated a “total offensive”. On December 4, 1984, prisoners from the RAF, as well as other prisoners in solidarity with them, launched a nine-week hungerstrike. The struggle by the prisoners was accompanied by a wave of attacks. For the first time, the anti-imperialist spectrum carried out major bomb attacks. In conjunction with this, an photocopied underground newspaper called ‘Zusammen Kaempfen’ (“Struggle Together!”) appeared at the end of 1984. The topic of the first issue was the hungerstrike, and a series of action communiques by “underground militants” from nine different groups were printed.
These militants saw themselves as part of the anti- imperialist front in Western Europe, and they acted in the context of the RAF’s politics. Their concept of developing “coordinated militant projects”, to open a new level in the confrontation, was in line with the course spelled out in the May Paper. The militants, like the RAF, viewed themselves as internationalists. That’s why they named their commandos after foreign martyred anti-imperialists. Starting in 1986, militants began signing their communiques as the “Fighting Unit”, with a corresponding commando name just like the RAF.
These underground activists mainly carried out explosives and arson attacks with a high degree of technical sophistication. For example, one “Fighting Unit” detonated a car bomb outside the headquarters of the ‘Verfassungsschutz’, the federal intelligence agency, in Cologne. These militants never carried out shooting attacks, nor did they direct their actions against persons.
Militants carried out nine attacks in 1986. This highpoint in their activity was followed by a wave of repression. In 1986, many people from the antiimp spectrum were arrested and sentenced for Fighting Unit attacks. This temporarily halted attacks by the militants. But the paper ‘Zusammen Kämpfen’ was still published periodically until 1991. After the RAF’s attack on the head of the Deutsche Bank in November 1989, the Fighting Units carried out four attacks between December 1989 and February 1990. Two bombs were detected and disarmed. Then there were no more Fighting Unit actions.
A publication dealing with armed groups was also published in Holland, ‘De Knipselkrant’. The paper defined itself as a militant, revolutionary publication with an internationalist focus. The newspaper consisted of a collection of newspaper articles, communiques, and reports from around the world. There were rarely any editorials. As a means of documentation, communiques from different countries were published in their original language. There were texts in English, Dutch, and German, and well as German translations of many texts. ‘De Knipselkrant’ became the organ of the West European guerrilla and represented the positions of the RAF. Published every two weeks, the paper made it possible to have a continuous exchange of information. Communiques and texts from the RAF and other groups could be sent to subscribers in Germany, while avoiding repression from the German authorities. In 1988, there were conflicts among the editors of ‘De Knipselkrant’ and clashes with autonomists in Amsterdam. These conflicts led to the end of the project in early 1989.
The Revolutionary Cells (RZ)
In 1973, the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) became the third group in West Germany to take up the armed struggle. Although the RZ followed a different concept than the Second of June Movement and the RAF, all three shared the same roots. The Vietnam War was a major impulse which led to the formation of the RZ. They, too, wanted to develop a guerrilla, and just like the RAF, they had close ties to the Palestinian resistance. Just how closely tied the RAF and the RZ were to the Palestinians was shown by the first actions which gained the RZ international recognition. Under the leadership of one of the world’s most wanted “top terrorists”, Ilich Ramirez-Sanchez, otherwise known as “Carlos”, a German-Palestinian commando stormed into the OPEC Summit in Vienna in December 1975 and took 11 top government ministers hostage. When the commando stormed the building, three members of the security forces were killed, and RZ member Hans-Joachim Klein was seriously wounded. In addition to Klein, RAF member Gabriele Krocher-Tiedemann took part in the action as well. The kidnapping action was designed to put pressure on Arab states to take a firmer stand against Israel. The ministers were all released in North Africa, and the commando disappeared. At the end of June 1976, a commando comprised of two Palestinians and RZ members Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose hijacked an Air France passenger jet with 257 people on board. This action was designed to win the freedom of political prisoners in German and Israeli prisons.
The airplane had taken off from Tel Aviv and a large number of the passengers were Israelis. The action was designed to put pressure on the government in Jerusalem. After forcing the plane to land in Entebbe, Uganda, all non-Jewish hostages were released. On July 4, 1976, a unit of Israeli special forces stormed the plane and freed the hostages. All the commando members were killed.
Within the context of the RZ, an autonomous women’s organization called ‘Rote Zora’ developed. Although the Rote Zora followed the same fundamental concepts as the RZ, the group was also a radical feminist expression of the women’s movement. But the group did not solely focus on women’s issues, and the Rote Zora did carry out actions as part of RZ campaigns, for example against the NATO summit in 1982.
One of Rote Zora’s most famous and successful actions came in 1987: While South Korean women workers were on strike against the textile corporation Adler, which was boosting its production due to cheap labor prices in Korea, Rote Zora supported the efforts of the striking women. On one night in June 1987, there was a series of coordinated firebombings directed against Adler chain stores. The corporation soon gave in to the demands of the striking Korean women.
Repression Against The RZ In Germany
A movie called “Operation Entebbe” was made about the Entebbe hostage drama and the actions of the Israeli army. The RZ tried to halt showings of the film by means of firebomb attacks. After one such action in January 1977, Enno Schwalm and Gerhard Albartus were arrested. Police found weapons, ammunition, fake IDs, and plans for future actions. Both men were convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “attempted arson” and sentenced to a few years in prison.
Following the Rote Zora’s wave of attacks against Adler, a series of house raids against 33 people were conducted all across Germany in December 1987. Ingrid Strobl and Ulla Penselin were arrested and sentenced to prison in June 1989 for supporting Rote Zora. These were the only two occasions when individuals were convicted of membership in or support for the RZ.
The RZ underwent a change of structure at the end of the 1970s. Following the Entebbe action, which was claimed by the “International Section” of the RZ, one part of the RZ movement broke off its contacts with the Palestinian resistance. There were internal conflicts, which were discussed in the paper “Gerd Albartus Is Dead”, published in December 1991: “He shared the criticisms of other comrades, with whom we had fierce discussions, to the point of a split, because of our decision to break off international contacts. He felt the reduction to our own structures was a weakness, that discussing political differences represented a split. … For the deceptive advantage, he said, of a ‘clean slate’, we had brought the RZ down to the level of leftist small group militancy and abandoned all claims of guerrilla struggle.”
A small number of RZ activists remained true to their original approach. Contacts with the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), a small Palestinian resistance group, were kept up. But the RZ in Germany made a clear break with this tradition. There was no connection between the two whatsoever, neither in concept nor in logistics. In 1982, several Germans were arrested in Rome and Paris transporting explosives and weapons for the Palestinian resistance. Gerd Albartus returned to Lebanon in December 1987 and, for reasons which are still unknown, was put on a tribunal by his own group and executed.
The Popularity Of The RZ
The popularity of the RZ among the militant left was partly due to their variety of forms of actions, with everything from forging train tickets to bombings. Another important factor was that the strategy of the RZ in the 1980s was not to kill people. When the Economics Minister for the state of Hesse, a man named Karry, died during an RZ attack protesting the construction of the Startbahn West airport runway, the group suffered a lot of criticism. There were no other deaths from RZ attacks after that.
Concept Or Organization?
The RZ were more of a concept rather than an organization. The slogan “Create Many Revolutionary Cells!” was a call to everyone to carry out RZ actions. The political orientation was towards contemporary movements, and discussions were encouraged by means of communiques and other texts. This was different from the original conception of the RZ. Initially, the RZ wanted to be an organized core, linked to movements with the aim of radicalizing them and eventually forming a guerrilla. Without ever fully abandoning this original aim, the old views were transformed. There was also unequal development within the RZ. There were some RZ, often called the Traditional RZ, which adapted the old model, then there were people who simply made use of the RZ name to carry out actions – in other words, it’s almost as if there were both organized and unorganized RZs.
The RZ Concept In The 1980s
The RZ rejected the vanguardist politics of groups like the RAF. The following is a citation from “8 Years RZ – Two Steps Forward In The Struggle For The Minds Of People, And Our Own”, an RZ text published in 1981: “…We don’t think it’s possible to carry out attacks against central state institutions: We can’t pose the question of power! We aren’t waging a war! Rather, we are at the beginning of a long and difficult struggle to win the hearts and minds of people – not the first steps toward a military victory.” The RZ propagated armed struggle from legality. That led state investigators to call them “weekend terrorists”, but the RZ approach proved successful. Anonymous RZ members could follow the effects of their actions directly and convey them to the movement. Because RZ members were unknown, but also not living underground, they were more protected from repression. That’s not the case for RAF members, for whom spending their entire lives in illegality is a precondition.
The End Of The RZ
The RZ concept can only function in correspondence with a broad movement. Without such movements, the RZ are reduced to an armed form of action, isolated and near its end. That’s exactly what happened in the mid 1980s with the decline of the autonomist movement.
In 1986, the RZ began a militant campaign against deportation police and authorities with the slogan, “For Free Floods! Fight For The Right To Stay For Refugees And Immigrants!” This was a break from the new concept of the RZ. There was no broad movement in support of refugees and immigrants for the RZ to work out of, nor a broad movement within the radical left with such a focus. The RZ were trying to start such a movement themselves. In a text entitled “The End Of Our Politics” issued in January 1992, the RZ stated: “We saw possibilities in our connection to social themes and the refugee campaign for creating a new sphere of action for international solidarity in the metropoles and opening it ourselves.”
In January 1991, the RZ ended the campaign, and a year later a statement announcing the dissolution of the RZ movement was released. Although some attacks were still carried out in the name of the RZ, that doesn’t escape the fact that the RZ concept hit a dead end in the conditions of the 1990s.