first in a series of
installments about the Red Army Faction, specifically their 1977
campaign which led to the "German Autumn"...
Seven Years of Struggle Against
The Red Army Faction had, by this time, engaged in a campaign of
struggle for seven years, beginning with the action that freed Andreas
Baader from custody in 1970 – he had been serving a three-year sentence
for setting fire to a department store to protest the war in Vietnam.
Following the liberation of Baader, RAF members received training from
Al Fatah in Jordan. After returning from Jordan, the guerilla carried
out a series of bank robberies and began to prepare for campaigns to
As they continued to evade police, the RAF began to take on the aura of
folk heroes for many students and leftists who were glad to see someone
taking things to the next level. Thousands of people secretly carried
photographs of RAF members in their wallets, and time and time again,
as the police stepped up their search, members of the young guerilla
group would find doors open to them, as they were welcomed into
people’s homes, including not a few middle class sympathisers –
academics, doctors, even a clergyman. Newspapers at the time carried
stories under headlines like “Celebrities Protect Baader Gang” and
“Sympathizers Hamper Hunt for Baader Group.” An opinion poll revealed
that “40 percent of respondents described the RAF’s violence as
political, not criminal, in motive; 20 percent indicated that they
could understand efforts to protect fugitives from capture; and 6
percent confessed that they were themselves willing to conceal a
May 1972: car bomb goes off outside police
station in Augsburg...
Then, in May 1972, the group turned things up a notch, carrying out a
series of bombings. Targets included police stations and the U.S. army
headquarters, which were blown up in protest against killer cops and
the ongoing war in Vietnam. Four American soldiers were killed, and
dozens of other people, including civilians, were injured.
There followed a wave of repression as one hundred and thirty thousand
cops, supported by both West German and U.S. intelligence units, set up
checkpoints and carried out raids across the country.
Within a few weeks the leading members of the RAF – Andreas Baader,
Gudrun Ensslin, Holger Meins, Jan-Carl Raspe and Ulrike Meinhof – had
all been captured.
Yet the State was not content to simply remove the perceived leadership
of the RAF from the field. Instead, it hoped to render them ineffective
not only as combatants, but also as spokespeople for anti-imperialist
resistance. If at all possible, they were to be deconstructed as human
beings and reconstructed as representatives of the counterinsurgency
project. If the latter was not possible, as a bare minimum, they were
to be destroyed. The weapon for this campaign was complete and total
isolation, both from each other and from the outside world.
Yet, captured and isolated, the guerilla managed not only to survive
but also turned things around. There were dozens of RAF members in
prison, and dozens more political prisoners from other groups; through
the strategic use of hunger strikes they called attention not only to
their conditions of incarceration but also to their anti-imperialist
armed struggle ideology. Prisoner support groups sprang up across the
country, and when Holger Meins died in a 1974 hunger strike there were
protests in cities across West Germany, thousands meeting in university
auditoriums in West Berlin to discuss possible responses while
thousands more braved the ban on demonstrations and took to the
streets. The next day the 2nd of June Movement (2), a Berlin-based
anarchist guerilla group shot and killed the president of the West
Berlin Supreme Court to avenge Meins and support the demands of the
Autopsy photo of an emaciated Holger
over six feet tall, he weighed less than 100 pounds at death...
The prisoners’ struggle would serve to gain the RAF more than
supporters it would also win new recruits, as in the eyes of many
German leftists the RAF came to symbolize resistance to the imperialist
State, to the “new fascism.”
Following the death of Meins, the prisoners would continue their hunger
strike until this regenerated RAF issued a communiqué addressed
to them, in which it ordered them to start eating again. The guerilla
promised that they would carry out the necessary actions on behalf of
the prisoners, explaining that “our weapons which will decide it.”
In April 1975, this came to pass: a group of guerillas, adopting the
name “Holger Meins Commando”, stormed the West German embassy in
Stockholm, taking twelve hostages. They demanded the release of
twenty-six West German political prisoners including Ensslin, Meinhof,
Raspe, and Baader. The West German government’s refusal to negotiate
prompted the guerillas to execute the Military and Economic
Attachés. After twelve hours, as police prepared to storm the
building, the explosives the guerilla had laid detonated. One RAF
member, Ulrich Wessel, was killed instantly. RAF members Siegfried
Hausner, Hanna Krabbe, Karl-Heinz Dellwo, Lutz Taufer and Bernhard
Rössner were all captured.
Despite the fact that he had a fractured skull and burns over most of
his body, Hausner was only hospitalized for a few days, and then
despite the objections of doctors in Sweden and Germany was flown to
Stammheim Prison, where he died soon after.
Stockholm 1975: the West German embassy in
The State had attempted to capitalize on its initial capture of the
guerilla, only to find that from within prison they had managed to
inspire their successors. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt went so far as to
state that “anarchist guerillas” now posed the greatest threat the
Federal Republic had encountered during its twenty-six year history
(3). Destroying the prisoners, or at least undercutting their support,
became a top priority.
Fear mongering was stepped up, claims were made that the guerilla had
nuclear weapons and was intent on kidnapping children to exchange for
the prisoners. No claim was too ridiculous, as those few who had broken
were paraded out as state witnesses, alleging all kinds of horrors.
Proof, or even mildly convincing evidence, was no longer deemed
Then on May 9, 1976, the state announced that Ulrike Meinhof had died
in her cell, just as her trial was entering a critical phase. The
authorities tried to spin a tale that Meinhof had committed suicide by
hanging following a period of extreme depression provoked by tension
between herself and her co-defendents, particularly between herself and
The prisoners, and most of the left, immediately denounced this as
impossible, and did not hesitate to accuse the State of killing the
woman who many viewed as the RAF’s chief theoretician.
Prisoners in Berlin-Tegel Prison held a three-day hunger strike, and in
Paris there were two bombings against West German companies. Thousands
reacted with sorrow and rage: “Demonstrations took place across West
Germany. In a Frankfurt protest, a policeman was seriously injured. On
May 15, some 7,000 people, many with their heads covered to avoid
identification by the police, attended Meinhof’s funeral in West
The day of her burial, there were bomb attacks in Hamm, West Germany;
Rome, Italy; and Zurich, Switzerland. Three days later there was
another demonstration of 8,000 people in West Berlin protesting her
murder. On June 2nd the Revolutionary Cells bombed the U.S. Army
Headquarters and U.S. Officers’ club in Frankfurt, carrying out the
attack under the name “Ulrike Meinhof Commando.” That same day, just
outside of the city, two fully loaded military trucks at a U.S. Airbase
were blown up.
The defense attorneys called for the formation of an independent
international commission of inquiry. As a result, an International
Investigatory Commission into the Death of Ulrike Meinhof was formed;
it took three years to release its findings, but in 1978 it indicated
that there was evidence Meinhof had been brutally raped and murdered.
This then was the context in which the events of 1977 were to unfold.
These were the guerilla. This is what they had done. This is what the
State had proven itself capable of.
But the story was far from over.
Masked mourners at the funeral of Ulrike
who was raped and murdered by State agents...
(1)Varon, Jeremy, Bringing the War
Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction and Revolutionary
Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, University of California
Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: 2004. p. 199.
(2) The 2nd of June Movement took its name form the date of a 1967
demonstration in West Berlin against a visit from the Shah of Iran. A
young student named Benno Ohnesorg was shot and killed by police, and
many other demonstrators were injured. This proved to be a significant
turning point in left wing politics in West Germany.
(3) "From barroom brawls to bombings" Post
Herald and Register, Beckley West Virginia, April 27 1975. It
must be stressed that the Red Army Faction never were anarchist – they
repeatedly affirmed that they were Marxist-Leninists. They considered
the State’s practice of labeling them “anarchists” to be a ploy to
obscure their own politics, and also to discredit actual anarchists by
associating them with "mindless terror."
(4) Varon op cit. p. 234.
Thirty years ago an escalating conflict
between the Red Army Faction and the West German state reached its
turning point. As events reached their climax in a bloody series of
events known as “The German Autumn” every sector of West German society
was shaken to the core.
Kersplebedeb will be co-publishing a two volume complete works and
history of the Red Army Faction in early 2008.
This week, to mark the
events of thirty years ago, we will be posting a series of pieces drawn
from these books.
More information about the Red Army Faction is available at http://www.germanguerilla.com
For more information about the upcoming two volume history and complete
works of the RAF, contact email@example.com