Alexander Straßner. Die dritte Generation der "Roten Armee Fraktion": Entstehung, Struktur, Funktionslogik und Zerfall einer terroristischen Organisation. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2005. 426 S. EUR 39.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-531-14114-5.
Reviewed by Annette Vowinckel (Zentrum fÃƒÂ¼r Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam/Department of Cultural Studies, Humboldt University Berlin)
Published on H-German (September, 2006)
A Lack of Ideology or Anti-Americanism?
The German Red Army Faction (RAF) was founded by Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Jan Carl Raspe and Horst Mahler in 1971. Many of its members were already imprisoned between 1972 and 1974, and some did not survive: Holger Meins died in a hunger strike in 1974; Meinhof hung herself in 1976; Baader, Ensslin and Raspe committed suicide in 1977. While this "first generation" of the RAF was imprisoned, a "second generation" took over. Its members were still close to the RAF's charismatic founders. However, many of them were also imprisoned, while others moved to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and either received military training (Helmut Pohl, Christian Klar, Inge Viett) or chose to abandon their terrorist pasts and start a new life under the auspices of really-existing socialism (Susanne Albrecht, Silke Maier-Witt).
Therefore a "third generation" had to take over if the group's activities were to be continued; these members dominated the RAF from 1984 until its self-dissolution in April 1998. Its members killed eight people and attempted to kill several others (among them various high-ranking state officials or prominent businessmen like Gerold von Braunmühl, Alfred Herrhausen and Detlev Karsten Rohwedder). Not a single one of these crimes has been solved entirely--a state of affairs that points to the third generation's highly "professional" standards and to the fact that the charismatic terrorism of the 1970s had long been replaced by more anonymous, effective and technically sophisticated forms of violence. Only Eva Haule and Birgit Hogefeld have been convicted of murder, for killing U.S. soldier Edward Pimental because the RAF "needed" his identification in order to enter and attack a U.S. airbase at Frankfurt in August 1985. Ironically, this murder upset many of the RAF's leftist supporters and subsequently led to heated debates about whether or not killing an ordinary soldier could be justified by revolutionary morale.
While a lot of research has been done on the first and second generations, Alexander Straßner is the first to investigate this third and last generation of the RAF systematically. His task was difficult, for only a few of its members are known to the authorities--aside from Haule and Hogefeld, only Wolfgang Grams is known to have been at the head of the RAF until his death in 1993. Along with them Straßner lists seven more names of those who belonged to the so-called illegale Militante: Andrea Klump, Horst and Barbara Meyer, Christoph Seidler, Sabine Callsen, Ernst Staub and Daniela Klette. While Horst Meyer was shot dead by Austrian police in 1986, his wife Barbara Meyer, Christoph Seidler and Sabine Callsen turned themselves over to the German authorities. All of them were set free for lack of evidence. Only Klump was sentenced to nine years in jail; however, she denied ever having been a member of the RAF and the court failed to prove the contrary. Staub and Klette are still free and being hunted by the police.
Because of the complete lack of information on all the other individuals, numbering approximately twenty, who belonged to the third generation of the RAF (Hogefeld--who has commented on her terrorist career at length--is the one and very important exception), Straßner chose to analyze official statements of the RAF, newspaper and news journal articles and reports of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutzberichte), and to rely on interviews he made with selected people, most of them high-ranking police officials or members of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesverfassungsschutz). He has done very accurate work in reconstructing the development of the third generation, paying special attention to the changes implemented by the so-called Mai-Papier of 1982, one of the last strategic texts of the RAF's second generation in which the establishment of a broader "front" of resistance against the "system" was claimed as the project of the future. According to Straßner, the fact that the third generation clung persistently to this program shows that the RAF had already entered a period of decline leading up to its self-dissolution in 1998. His argument is convincing, and by and large confirms Butz Peters's more popular account of the RAF.
However, some criticisms of Straßner's work should also be mentioned. In general, the book could have been shortened substantially: several subjects or incidents are raised repeatedly, as the author chose not to proceed chronologically, but to organize his material thematically (the Pimental and Klump cases, for example, come up at least three times, as do the debates about the "Mai-Papier"). Very often the author quotes documents without mentioning his source; therefore the reader has to consult the footnotes in order to find out whether a former RAF member, a journalist or a state attorney is being cited. Another difficulty stems from the obvious lack of editing on part of the publishing house. The index contains several incorrect page numbers and--much worse--some names (such as Ute Hladki and Holger Deilke) are missing entirely; sometimes the index gives an incomplete number of references (as in the case of Haule). These mistakes could easily have been corrected in the second edition.
Aside from these rather technical difficulties, it remains unclear why the author chose to carry out several interviews with representatives of the German Staatsschutz, but not to interview any former member of the RAF. Hogefeld, for example, might have added some critical information; the same can be said for Hladki and Deilke (who belonged to the RAF's "illegale Militante" until they were arrested during the 1990s). Even if it is unlikely that they would have talked about their past to a social scientist, it would have been worth asking. After all, Hogefeld revealed a great deal about her RAF past during her trial, and Hladki has been active in leftist circles in Berlin after she was released from jail.
Instead, Straßner quotes Der Spiegel without ever reflecting on the magazine's own role in the history of German left-wing terrorism. In general, he seems to take journalistic articles for the truth proper--just as he does for the Verfassungsschutzberichte. However, these reports obviously do not intend to "explain" the RAF as a social and historical phenomenon; they were written instead with the purpose of putting its members behind iron bars. Some comment on historical sources in general and also some more attention to general historical developments of the 1980s would have been appropriate.
The most problematic point of the account, in my view, is Straßner's argument that the RAF's third generation suffered from a complete lack of ideology. This claim may be true if we look only at its theoretical writings; however, ideology can also be demonstrated in action--as, for example, by the decision to kill an ordinary twenty-year-old American soldier because his military identification was needed in order to enter an airbase. This decision was justified as an anti-imperialist act--anti-imperialism, in this case, was identical with anti-Americanism. In fact, the RAF's first generation had argued that American imperialism caused the rise of German fascism and that the United States was responsible for all imperialist crimes (with Zionism being the worst case of imperialism). Operating under this premise makes it easy to justify killing an American soldier--for he is only an imperialist pig.
Consequently, it is difficult to speak of a lack of ideology among the RAF's third generation; rather, its protagonists relied uncritically on the writings of their predecessors and took on their ideological anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism. Consequently they failed to notice that the world was changing quickly during the last decades of the twentieth century: "globalization" and the shift from the late industrial to a "postmodern" information society are not even raised rhetorically in their ideological statements, while the breakdown of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet bloc in 1989/91 was still considered in terms of anti-imperialism. Instead of a lack of ideology, we should speak of ideological stubbornness (and one might in fact argue that stubbornness is one of the most important elements of ideology, be it anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, Leninism or vegetarianism).
Despite this criticism, I would like to stress that Straßner has written an important book on those protagonists of the RAF who are still alive--some in prison, most living anonymously among us. We can hope that in the future, we will learn more about those individuals who--unlike Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin--chose to remain faceless.
. This chapter of RAF history is well documented in Tobias Wunschik, Baader-Meinhofs Kinder. Die zweite Generation der RAF (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1997).
. "Auszüge aus der 'Erklärung zur Sache'. Die Gefangenen aus der RAF Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof und Jan-Carl Raspe am 13.1.76," in Rote Armee Fraktion. Texte und Materialien zur Geschichte der RAF, ed. ID-Verlag (Berlin: ID-Verlag, 1997), pp. 198-265, especially p. 202f.
. Butz Peters, Tödlicher Irrtum. Die Geschichte der RAF (Berlin: Argon Verlag, 2004).
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Annette Vowinckel. Review of Straßner, Alexander, Die dritte Generation der "Roten Armee Fraktion": Entstehung, Struktur, Funktionslogik und Zerfall einer terroristischen Organisation.
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