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International Socialism, October 1977


Notes of the Month

West Germany

Terror & Counter-Terror


From International Socialism (1st series), No.102, October 1977, pp.5-6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Recent months have seen an intensification of press attention and commentary on the internal affairs of West Germany (BRD). The economically dominant partner of the EEC, the home of the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle), is beset with a stagnant economy. The diplomatic flurry around the London summit talks in the early summer showed plainly the pressure from at her Western capitalist countries on the German ruling class to reflate the economy and increase the growth rate in order to stave off he drift forwards another world recession. The chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, promised a growth rate of 5 per cent as well as package of reflationary measures.

Four months on, there is evidence that the BRD’s economic problems have worsened. Growth of the first half of 1977 is now officially put at 3 per cent and prospects for the rest of the year are no better. (Financial Times September 24 1977). The recent reflation was cautious and the current arena of international economic debate around the IMF talks is likely to produce even stronger pressure on Germany, and on the world’s other strong surplus economy, Japan, to take more vigorous measures. However, the encouragement of consumption in an economy of low growth is likely to cause inflation and the German ruling class is perhaps more afraid than most of high inflation levels, having memories which stretch well back into the inflation-ridden Weimar republic, and its attendant workers’ struggles.

Unemployment is high and still rising, but its effects on working-class consciousness are severely mitigated by the very high level and duration of unemployment benefits, and the fact that the brunt of the burden has, as always been born by the immigrant workers, who have few political rights in Germany and are simply sent home to Yugoslavia, Italy, Turkey, etc., when they are no longer needed.

The West German trade union movement is incredibly weak, although to the outside bourgeois observer it appears strong, responsible and deserving of the power it has in national decision-making processes. The largest constituent union, IG Metall (equivalent perhaps to an industry-wide AUEW), did call a demonstration of 10,000 to protest against factory closures in the Bremen area recently (Bremen has particularly high local unemployment rate), but in general the unions have been Schmidt’s staunchest allies in his ‘social democratic’ government.

The unions are also extremely highly bureaucratised and the permanent atmosphere of anti-communism (the presence of many in the BRD who have experienced ‘Socialism’ in the East and know how hard it is to escape from it ensures this) has led to a situation where militants and revolutionaries are constantly under threat of expulsion from the unions.


Resistance to the strength and repressiveness of German capitalism has taken on new forms: the anarchism and individual violence of the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion or red army fraction, as the Baader-Meinhof group of the early 70s are now known) and the apparently popular based ‘citizens initiative groups’ which have formed the core of the anti-nuclear power movement. Both have hit the headlines in recent months and are worthy of some attention. The revolutionary left, although small and dominated by lunatically nationalistic Maoist sects, has intervened in the latter campaign, and it has been suggested that it is implicated in the former.

But revolutionaries operate in a milieu which regards opposition to the status quo as outrightly criminal. Even the small fanatically pro-Moscow, Communist party (DKP) was only reconstituted in 1968 after more than a decade of illegality.

The RAF is the most extreme of a strong current of anarchism which emerged, along with the revolutionary left itself, from the student days of 1968. Ulrike Meinhof one of its leaders, was imprisoned although never convicted ‘terrorism’ and who died in prison under extraordinary circumstances more worthy of the South African state than a European democracy (there was apparently some evidence of a sexual assault, but the official verdict as of course ‘suicide’). She wrote of the RAF:

“We are a group of comrades who have decided to act, to leave the arena of meetings verbal radicalism, of meetings and assemblies, of long boring discussions without purpose: we are going to fight!”

And fight they have done, by variously assassinating and kidnapping the public figures that preside over the German state and its successful capitalism. The current victim, Hans-Jürgen Schleyer, is the head of both the main employers federations and a director of many companies, notably Daimler Benz. The previous victim, Jürgen Ponto was chief of the all powerful Dresdner bank.

Such actions, which have no support from German workers play directly into the hands of those sections of the German bourgeoisie, most notably the conservative opposition parties, by tightening the screws of state repression Their demands seems to consist solely of the release of Andreas Baader and the other comrades imprisoned as a result of the last campaign. Neither do they appear to have highlighted the reasons for their choice of victims. Schleyer is a particularly revolting specimen of German big business. His political activity extends back to the time o the Third Reich. He was a friend of Goebbels and was entrusted with the important task of nazifying the universities. He ran a concern which employed slave labour for the war effort.

Another Nazi war criminal, Herbert Kappler, was recently freed from his Italian prison hospital. Allegedly his wife removed him surreptitiously but the German security police was probably implicated. It has been well known for some time that Kappler’s freedom was an object of the SS old boys clubs in Germany. The German government has refused to extradite him. This was a victory for the reactionary forces in German society whose renewed confidence has ensured that the entire German left will suffer as a result of police efforts to track down the RAF. Federal spending on security has doubled since the RAF began its operations.


State repression is in any case not limited to ‘terrorists’. The Maoist, Trotskyist and Anarchist left, together with the DKP and some members of the ruling SPD have since the early 1970s had to live with the Berufsverbot. Under a law of 1970 all intending and serving public servants (and in Germany this includes schoolteachers and train-drivers) are politically screened for ‘loyalty to the Constitution’ Over three thousand on the left have been sacked or denied jobs as a result.

The campaign against nuclear power has been less affected by attempts to criminalise political activity, no doubt because the campaign has mobilised support far beyond the revolutionary left and student movements. Nevertheless the series of demonstrations in the last year have given the state another opportunity to show its repressive strength. 10,000 troops with sub-machineguns and tanks were deployed recently to defend the site of Germany’s first fast breeder reactor from a demonstration.

The tragedy of the Schleyer affair is that the only result of the RAF’s actions, however courageous and dedicated the individuals concerned may be, will be to deepen the isolation of the revolutionary left from the German working class.

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