"The End Of Our Politics - Armed Resistance In The 90’s"
We have given up our present form of militant resistance in our region. We took this decision after our attacks on the State chancellor’s office in Dusseldorf and the Ministry of Social Affairs in January of 1991 - actions which remained without results. Just like most of our actions, the actions in January were focused on refugee policies and, in particular, against the irregular treatment of the Roma by the provincial government in North-Rhein-Westphalia. (1)
We based our conclusions on the standpoint that the form and structure of our struggle was an expression of a specific phase in the development of the social contradictions in Germany since 1968. With the collapse of real-existing socialism, the reunification of Germany, and the "New World Order" sketched out in the second Gulf War, this phase was unmistakeably changed. With the new project of "Great Germany", the social contradictions have by no means become less severe. The contradictions are permanently reproduced here and
are exported to the fringes of Europe and to the Third World. The events of 1989-90 can be historically analyzed : the definitive leap of Germany to super-power status, the reformation of Europe (including the former East Bloc countries) under German hegemony, and the coming-into-being of the New World Order with all of its social and military-strategic consequences. The developments require an entirely new level of organization of militant and revolutionary resistance. But we can only formulate this as an empty pretence. In reality, we have been run-over by history.
The conditions for left-radical politics in Germany have changed drastically in a short period of time. The starving off of the left in general, including the autonomist scene, from which and
in connection with we have always generally operated, is maybe just a by-product of this process of change. But our politics was fundamentally based on this level. We can’t go on as the representatives of a historical tendency in Germany from the 1970’s if everything has since fallen apart. Our own actions over the last few years have taken place in a vacuum and we no longer part of a broader social practice. The coordination of our politics : armed opposition - carrying over - anchoring - broadening ; these no longer work. The point of reference has shifted and structures have disappeared. The struggle against the "colonization of people’s minds", which was always our standard, needs to take place in a different manner if we are to draw conclusions from these changes. We are not prepared to carry on our politics without some form of interaction between legal and illegal forms of struggle. That would always mean : without control. Nor do we want to ascribe a legitimacy to our method which is independent of concrete historical conditions just because there’s nothing better to do than go on with the politics we have chosen. If we want to remain as political subjects, then we are forced to think of something different.
The end of our politics is connected with the existence of a new national and international context and a radicalization of imperialism, the consequences of which we cannot predict. What is certain, however, is that migration is the most important indicator of this development, one which the Western countries will be increasingly confronted with and influenced by. Whether conditions of uprisings or adaptation will result in the Western nations, this is still unclear. So is where the eventual fractures will be. The struggle in the proletarian sector, in the sub-cultures of young migrants, the struggle of the social injustices faced by women, of the victims of de-regulation in the East - at this moment, we can’t tell. We will be confronted with images in which the emancipation of a class is not to be seen. And our analytical instruments are not adequate to decipher the meaning behind the various forms of appearance. So there’s nothing left, except to discuss the historical process, or to grasp back at hierarchical-patriarchal, antiquated political models and modes of communist organization. Or to hastily craft new ideologies, which again measure the present contradictions of the completely open situation with a mono-causal world-vision.
Let us, now that our attempts to bring about a revolutionary situation in Germany are behind us, look at the causes which brought about our end of involvement. Maybe a look back at the developments and turning-points in our politics can offer some clues as to how we can again play a role in social conflicts.
In the 80’s, we tried to develop a militant politics in our region, one which was always based on the principle of ’anchoring’ and ’broadening’. Anchoring in an active left-radical environment and, where possible, in social conflicts which reached beyond the left-radical scene. We tried, with our actions and communiques, to couple proposals which were politically oriented, rather than placing ourselves in a vanguard position ahead of the legal resistance. Initially, the proposals were the result of an anti-racist and internationalist orientation in support of the black liberation struggle in South Africa. Later came our campaign against imperialist refugee policies and the agencies responsible for such policies. At the end of our refugee campaign in December 1987, and when we resumed our actions to support the Roma peoples in 1989, we were very conscious of our isolation. The lack of anchoring in our political environment could no longer be compensated for by sporadic accompanying rituals from the scene. The action of the BKA (2) in December 1989, against structures of those like us and the Rote Zora (3) who were taking up "attack-relevant themes" (4) like gene-technology and refugee politics, showed just how far this ’loss of contact’ had gone and just how thin our protection was. Although the state didn’t have any concrete successes as a result of this, the criminalization of ’attack-relevant themes’ did come about. The legal left was not prepared (and we ourselves left off) to go on an offensive with the criminalized themes and to thereby protect our part of the campaign against gene-technology and refugee politics. Instead, the broad and hasty support was instead given to the victims of the repression, not our politics. This shift in orientation, from thematic work to an aspect of direct repression, was in important factor which lead to the collapse of many of the legal structures which we had directed ourselves towards. For ourselves, involvement with the events of December 1989 became a substitute for politics. This finally led to hasty internal difficulties for the Revolutionary Cells in general. To be more precise : we are now convinced that the wave of repression at that time was not what broke our politics. Rather, the BKA acted at a time when the over-load of illegal actions, especially in the area of refugee politics, had become an increasing problem.
Over the last three years, as we tried to link up thematically with the refugee campaign and to intervene in the conflicts between the officials in North-Rhein-Westphalia and the racist laws and threatened deportations of the Roma people, we weren’t so much bothered by the police as we were by frustration. The open solidarity groups either not even recognized our actions, or they refused to enter into the political conflicts with the government.
That which we always sought to avoid happened nonetheless : we were alone, with no possibilities for exchange. The motivation for armed intervention could only be subjectively maintained. This situation we regarded as the death of politics, and an opening of the door to terrorism and arbitrary actions. The weaknesses in our politics in the real of refugee policy were made clear by our inability to get other groups from our spectrum onto a common course. Our proposal in 1990 was to get all the groups in the Revolutionary Cells to begin an anti-racist and internationalist campaign. Our reason for this was the nationalist reconstruction of Germany ; also the hate-campaign by the state and the mob against ’foreigners’ and the social-technical construction of a ’refugee’ and ’gypsy’ problem. This proposal was not taken up. Some parts of the Revolutionary Cells structure thought that a new, anti-patriarchal orientation could get the Revolutionary Cells over its down-period, without having to have a fundamental discussion of the Revolutionary Cells in and of itself. On the contrary, our group did not want to take up the common orientation on the theme of ’patriarchy’. The importance of this theme and the necessity of its being discussed are clear to us. But we found the state of the discussion insufficient and the theoretical gaps too large to be able to work out any possible relationship between legal and illegal struggle or to distil any sort of armed politics from it. From a historical standpoint, maybe we could have added an emancipatory element to the patriarchy discussion, if we had been able to carry out a common politics with the women of the Rote Zora, instead of trying to bring us closer through our insights and conduct. But that is another history.
In short : in the internal Revolutionary Cells discussion on patriarchy, we don’t see any manageable political starting points. Even if the ’man as doer’ is put in the forefront and politics replaces personal views and we ’distance ourselves from the male definition of power’, we still see this whole direction as one which is self-discouraging and de-politicizing, rather than as something which gives new input towards social-revolution. In any case, anti-patriarchal struggle won’t help us past our present pressing crisis, namely the fact that militant and armed struggle, such as we have tried to develop, has become the concern of increasingly fewer people and seems to no longer have any social basis.
We became political fossils when the left in both West and East Germany seemed unable to react to the consequences of the reunification. With this passivity, with the failure to formulate any alternatives, and the total inability propose, even theoretically, any internationalist perspective to counter the rise of nationalism, the left disappeared as a domestic political factor. Even the Revolutionary Cells were swept out of the historical process by this passivity. We couldn’t offer any clarification of the events which, as it seems, were set to shape the 90’s : German hegemony in Europe, the Gulf War, and the collapse of real-existing socialism. Even our own anti-imperialist and social-revolutionary models of clarification have failed with respect to this course of history.
We have been dragged along with the disappearance of leftist utopian ideals and the communist systems, even though our own political history placed us miles away from that which was real-existing socialism and which deservedly went bankrupt. We had always maintained that Bolshevik communism was just another a form of control. Our practice did not orient itself to the question of power, but rather to the development and broadening of social self-determination from below. Still, this bankrupt system is thrown at our feet and we can’t just act as if the perverse forms of communism which we were in power don’t concern us. It’s damn hard to argue for a theory of social liberation, much less revolution, in the European metropoles at this point in time. An abstract reference to the global victory of imperialism, hunger, and the suffering of millions of people is not enough. The Albanian refugees in Italy were just a prelude to the undermining of Fortress Europe which will affect the relationships here. At this moment, we don’t see how armed actions can solve this lack of political perspective and bring about mass revolutionary politics in Germany. The form and means of armed struggle, as we know all too well, easily becomes an end in itself, a substitute for political strategies.
The Refugee Campaign
We suspect that already during the refugee campaign in the 80’s, and the closer look given to the so-called ’social question’, that our isolation reached a point of no return, although we were striving for just the opposite. We had hoped that by thematizing on the new class relationships and the social exclusion of the under-class that we had found a way to possibly approach a revolutionary subject and to anticipate its struggle. This was supposed to break through the limited orientation on single-issue movements (like squatting and the anti-nuclear movement) which we and rest of the autonomous left had concerned ourselves with since the 70’s. Our fixation on these movements brought us to a crisis, since we seemed to have had false expectations, interpreting them a microcosms of a general social upheaval.
We also tried, by formulating a ’concrete anti-imperialism’, to break through the rusted one-dimensionality of old leftist internationalism. We saw a possibility in binding the social themes with the refugee campaign for developing a whole new arena for international solidarity in the West.
What we didn’t fully understand at that time, or what we didn’t have an answer for in any case, was the division which first became visible in this campaign of between the theme (refugees) and those who we were orienting ourselves towards (the left-radical scene). We envisioned a possible progress of the global expropriation struggle by refugees in the metropoles. Representatives of the world proletariat, against which the state had to take special measures, which also in part applied to the populations in the metropoles. Of course we didn’t think that there would quickly develop ties between the refugees and the proletarian classes who first had to overcome their racism. But we fantasized that the refugees would demand of the metropoles their share of the society’s wealth. A form of direct anti-imperialist struggle, linked with the resistance experience in the Third World, and thus also a terrain for our politics. When this struggle, in which we had wanted to take part, didn’t come about (instead were the many ’reformist’ demands of asylum-seekers), we compensated for this with an analysis of the state’s refugee politics and attacks on its responsible agencies. We made the business of the refugees our own business, without concerning ourselves with their subjectivity or expectations, indeed without even knowing them. This ’refugee politics without refugees’ seemed necessary. It came out of our experiences in open refugee work and was supplemented with a theoretical analysis of the state’s role in migration. But with this we lost a real opportunity to enter in on the ’social question’. Maybe because we thought that the problems such a step would entail would be too great for an illegal group. But also because there were no exchanges at that time between the left and the refugees. In the attempt to link social themes to refugee politics, things only flowed in one direction. We abandoned the old issue-movement terrain in order to gain an all-encompassing perspective on social change. But we never questioned our own form of organization, nor the methods or goals of our own actions ; and we remained oriented to the left-radial milieu.
In the meantime, the left, whatever remains of it, can no longer ignore the continual sharpening of the situation of refugee and asylum politics, attacks by the state and racists, and the threatening environment faced by refugees. It has become necessary to at least protect their right to stay in Germany. Paradoxically, this comes at a time when we have found ourselves isolated by our attempts to do just that.
Until now, we have limited ourselves to calling the loss of our organization and the resulting tension between our own revolutionary pretensions and real political developments the end of our politics. But there is a more fundamental problem. The question should arise : How can a formation like the Revolutionary Cells achieve its idea of anchoring and broadening with the use of certain limited forms of struggle ?
The Revolutionary Cells came into being in the early 1970’s when the discussion about revolutionary violence was not a taboo and was very broad. Armed resistance - even though only actually practised by a few people - was seen by many people as legitimate, and as something which characterized the dynamics of the global class struggle. The armed groups were a part of the revolutionary spectrum according to the left. In the factory struggles in the 70’s, the squatting struggles, the youth and disenfranchised groups, and especially in the developing women’s struggle, initiatives were seen as part of social change. The experiences of the Latin American guerrilla as a necessary part of the mass movement on its way to revolution was of central importance for the struggle in Western countries for several years. The notion was transplanted here, and the "storming of the headquarters" seemed within the realm of possibility.
The massive repression of the state led to the initial process of losing solidarity. The German Autumn of 1977 (6), the anti-nuclear movement, and the orientation of the Autonomen on single-issue movements were the end of this phase. After the repression against our organization in 1977, the Revolutionary Cells linked their political fortunes with the conjectures of the issue-struggles. The Revolutionary Cells went behind these, complemented them, and saw new seeds of revolution in them. The Revolutionary Cells went beyond the limited goals of the issue-struggles, in so much as they maintained a fundamentally revolutionary orientation. In this phase, the Revolutionary Cells succeeded in stimulating a readiness for militant resistance within the single-issue movements through exemplary examples of the practical methods involved and by making armed opposition a notion which became anchored within the leftist political culture. The themes changed and were arbitrary and shifting (anti-nuclear, Startbahn West (7), the squatters’ movement, the peace movement, gene-technology, etc.), but the credo of the Revolutionary Cells remained the same : armed resistance is possible. Our anchoring, or our impression of it, was expressed in the propaganda and broadening of militant and armed methods of resistance. This anchoring seemed to mirror our acceptance within the radical-left. The more broad and militant the resistance became, the better we were able to decide upon our actions. We carried them out in a manner which allowed for no contradictions within the movement. That’s why we avoided the level of ’power confrontations’. The slogans "Struggle for the hearts and minds of the people !" and "Create many Revolutionary Cells !" represented this broader concept.
The struggle against Startbahn West, when massive open resistance was coupled with illegal actions, was the high-point of the Revolutionary Cell operating there. It had a clear role to play in a regional struggle. It united the general acceptance of the use of violence with its interventions - for us, and example of the successful anchoring of revolutionary politics. In a much more limited fashion, this was also the case with the campaign against fare increases on public transportation in the Rhein and Ruhr areas, during which counterfeit transport tickets were distributed in various neighbourhoods. This was a small example of cheering people up with illegal, cost-saving undertakings.
The concept "Create many Revolutionary Cells !" was only achieved in so far as parallel methods of struggle arose. We weren’t able to get a stable footing in the single-issue movements nor to convince militants to leave their structures to embark on a revolutionary project and organization. The squatters’ movement is an example of this. The willingness to use militancy had grown, and the use of similar forms of struggle as our own were the expressions of a broad political culture of resistance. The broadening of our methods was visible in each annual report issued by the BKA. But still, for the autonome squatters, we remained more a ’myth’ than a part of their struggle. We had scarcely any connections with the new generation of squatters and youths, except for an abstract for of armed support.
In our fixation upon methods of struggle, we failed to develop a theoretical political orientation with more content than mere isolated pieces of decor in various conflicts. Our social-revolutionary theory was at best a mosaic of the sum total of our communiques and analyses of actions ; a group, a strong tie was not possible.
The RAF, with its analysis of imperialism and its orientation on the liberation movements of the Third World, threw out a theory which became a part of the propaganda of its supporting groups. With the ’front concept’ (8), the RAF in 1982 sketched out a framework for the ideological expansion of its political work. We don’t want to discuss the mistakes of this concept here, because this paper isn’t about their mistakes, but rather about ours. Behind our insistence that our methods of struggles were "methods for everyone" was hidden more an actionistic rather than a political theory. Our fundamental revolutionary pretensions did not correspond with the goals of the issue-movements, and in response to the increased splintering of autonomist structures, we couldn’t formulate a unifying perspective. So our strength lay in our ’myth’ and in the openness and easily imitated nature of our actions, and in our willingness to intervene in social conflicts which possessed a certain explosive force.
Our theoretical work was generally limited to the conflicts which we participated in. In that sense we were involved in theory formation. In the development of the refugee campaign, this theory formation went beyond the boundaries of the issue-movement. We thereby expanded the levels of confrontation. Objectively speaking, that was a first step out of the self-limitations which our method gave rise to. Actually, this campaign should have led us to re-evaluating our means and methods of struggle. But this didn’t happen. We just recycled a form of the social-revolutionary guerrilla whose continuity was formed by carrying out certain armed actions. The most important trademark was still the symbolic bombing.
The dialectic between armed resistance and mass struggle was hardly visible. Our own subjective decision at carrying our political conduct past certain boundaries, in the form of armed actions, and the approval of the left of our actions led to our seeing this - falsely - as the rise of a system-threatening revolutionary force, a first step in the revolutionary process. Did we really think that with such a reduced program that we could influence the complexity of social change with all of its political, cultural, social, and organizational facets ?
Apparently so ! Because over the long course of the history of the Revolutionary Cells, our manner of intervening has changed little. We have limited ourselves to sabotage actions and destruction, with its political workings in the form of statements to the media, and in the extreme, this meant that an action might as well have not even taken place if it didn’t make the headlines. Nothing could more clearly document the distances involved in the social process. No theme that we discussed, no analysis that we made opened any new perspective to us for new forms of intervention. We reduced the expected social liberation which we propagated to the deed of actions against always the same objects. As if by constantly repeating the same method we could subjectively contribute to revolution. As if that which we sought to achieve, namely being part and promoter of revolutionary forces, could be brought about by this self-limitation. Our actions remained predictable. Our tight-grip on traditional methods and objects in the refugee campaign was the nail in our coffin.
But still there was a reason for retaining to some minimal methods in the revolutionary struggle. On the one hand, we never made our methods relative, because we never used them in the context of the class struggle, but always as part of the leftist scene. But on the other hand, we never went beyond these methods, because they were perfectly in line with our anonymity and they limited the personal risks involved. This anonymity produced (luckily) no heroes. No one could be called to responsibility ; it could have been anyone.
This meant people disavowing certain ideas and propaganda. They were not identifiable. Without any know members, and no prisoners to act as propagandists, the Revolutionary Cells were but an abstract idea. In this abstraction lay the strength and weakness of the Revolutionary Cells. They were strong because they were independent of its militants, the idea of armed resistance could live on, and solidarity rested not on people but on actions. But this abstraction and anonymity also limited the effects of the propaganda and decreased the political perspectives and intervention terrains. The possibilities for confrontation and attack were limited. Precisely in this logic lay the self-justification of the means, just as a campaign was limited by a lack of suitable objects. This resulted in the isolation of our politics.
Today, in a time of racist attacks on refugee camps, the use of fire and flames as a method of struggle for revolutionary politics has to be excluded. But more important in the question of why our methods are not only labelled as ’terrorist’ by the ruling powers, and compared to the bombing of synagogues, airplanes, and department stores with hundreds dead. The belief that all that matters is who uses this method and to what degree is to oversimplify matters. We cannot practically oppose the discrediting of resistance and liberation struggles by the global spreading of a dirty campaign of ’international terrorism’ which has been spread by secret police organizations. This has become a big problem when it comes to the use of revolutionary violence.
With this piece, we don’t want to call for an end to revolutionary politics. We also cannot speak for the entire structure of the Revolutionary Cells, of which we are but one part. But what is clear is that ever since the 70’s the lived experiences with militant resistance and armed struggle are no longer adequate for identifying the present crisis and clearly analyzing it. We want to fall silent and try to find an offensive way out. What we mean is, the myth of the Revolutionary Cells has not been victorious, but rather the time has come to close out a phase of history. Rusted structures and methods of struggle must be abandoned in order to have a chance at again becoming political subjects in the contemporary social processes. The political disbanding of the Revolutionary Cells seems to us to be a necessary step towards this.
1. Roma and Sinti are the names of people often referred to as ’gypsies’.
2. Bundeskriminalamt ; the German equivalent of the FBI.
3. Rote Zora is an autonomous women’s group within the
Revolutionary Cells. They see armed actions as an inseparable part of the women’s movement. Violence against women, they say, is not the exception but rather the rule in society. The struggle against personal experiences with sexist violence, they say, cannot be separated from the struggle against all forms of violence by the system.
4. The judicial ’creativity’ of the German state in combatting resistance has always been amazing, and the formation of the idea of ’attack-relevant themes’ is but one example of this. It give the judicial branch an excuse to investigate all groups/individuals active around themes around which illegal actions have been carried out, even if such groups/individuals are doing perfectly legal work.
5. The ’social question’ refers to the existence of the social under-class.
6. The so-called ’German Autumn’ of 1977 was the height of the confrontation between the German state and armed political groups like the RAF. In fact, there was a virtual state of emergency imposed, and there were scores of detentions, house-searches, etc.
7. In Frankfurt, a new, large runway was being built, and to do this, a large forest had to be cut. A broad, mass resistance arose to resist this plan. Citizens’ initiatives, church groups, autonomist and militant groups stood side-by-side at various demonstrations which included site-occupations, demonstrations, blockades, court suits, as well as armed attacks.
8. The ’front concept’ was propagated by the RAF as a means of aligning all European guerrilla groups and sympathizing militant groups into one front against the ruling powers as a means of giving solidarity to the liberation movements in the Third World.