This 7th of October 2012, we celebrate the birthday of Ulrike Meinhof, the great German revolutionary, born in 1934 and murdered in 1976. As her figure is an important example of the question of formation of a revolutionary Thought in a country, let's understand it the best we can.
1.The formation of Ulrike Meinhof in West-Germany class struggles
Initially, Ulrike Meinhof is the product of the revisionist movement of Germany in the 1950's-1960's. She participated as a student to the anti-war movement, became the spokeswoman of the local Anti-Atomtod-Ausschuss ('Anti-Atomic Death Committee').
She could met a spanish intellectual, like Manuel Sacristán, a post-leninist in the spirit of Lukacs' revisionism, and she was deep influenced by the post-marxist school of Frankfurt (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer), which tried to formulate a critical theory of culture in capitalism society.
She became a member of the forbidden Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1959, leaving it just it in 1964; 1968 the KPD became legal under the name of German Communist Party, under a legalist and revisionist form.
Parallel to this, class struggles in West Germany were carried by the student movement, notably against the war in Vietnam, i.e. for the success of the NLF.
As a brillant intellectual, Ulrike Meinhof became also a journalist of Konkret, the intellectual monthly review of the far left, where she wrote for 10 years.
In this review on 11 april 1968, she wrote an article which became famous. It was just after a fascist attack where Rudi Dutschke, the leader of the far left student or even the far left in West-Germany in general, was deeply wounded.
Meinhof explained: „Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.“
Another time, she also hailed the burning of a department store by a group with Andreas Baader among them. She also wrote also the plot for the TV movie „Bambule“, describing a revolt of female adolescents in a school-prison.
2.Ulrike Meinhof's role and thought
Ulrike Meinhof came from a revisionist background. Nevertheless, she manages to understand West Germany's situation in a deep way.
First of all, she understood that Nazi traditions were still present. That's why apathy had to be fought and revolutionary traditions upheld.
That's why it became a tradition of the “left” bourgeois journalists to explain that the Red Army Fraction founded by Meinhof was a “resistance to catch up” the “absence” of a great scale resistance in Nazi Germany. It is a way for bourgeois journalists to negate the continuity of nazi hierarchic and ultra-brutal methods in the social forms of West Germany.
Ulrike Meinhof understood also the US imperialist plan to use West Germany, as an economic basis for its own development, but also as military basis, be it against Vietnam or, of course, against the “Eastern bloc”.
West Germany's regime was understood as a puppet of US imperialism; it was not only the government, but the whole nature of the regime was to be understood as having a submitted nature.
Because of these two aspects, Ulrike Meinhof clearly produced a thought, a guide for revolutionary action in West Germany.
3.Ideological construction and weakness
Ulrike Meinhof, unfortunately, did not have in her possession the ideological weapons necessary to her function. She had to tinker all her thought.
She needed an ideological weapon to promote the struggle against US imperialism and to mobilize against Germany's institutions.
Because of this, she used the elements she had. These elements were:
Guevarism, as possibility to organise a “foco” immediately;
the Tupamaros of Uruguay, as example of possibility of urban warfare;
Linpiaoism, as possibility of struggling against imperialism in any part of the world;
the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, as a call to the struggle against West Germany's institutions;
the revisionist “left” italian tendency called “Il Manifesto”, to explain the capitalist general crisis;
the experiences of the French Gauche Prolétarienne and the US Black Panthers to justify the position of illegality.
In fact, Ulrike Meinhof was a maoist. And indeed, all the chapters of the basical document “The Urban Guerrilla Concept“ from April 1971 alterns, at the beginning of the chapters, quotations of Mao Zedong and of Il Manifesto, and finished with: “Support the Armed Struggle! Victory in the People’s War!“.
Unfortunately, Ulrike Meinhof did not understand that her thought belonged to the epoch of the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution.
That's why her thought was troubled by revisionist influences. For example, as West Germany was considered as submitted to US imperialism and that the defeat of US imperialism was the final step against imperialism as it was its main force, then nothing counted until this step.
There was no stages, it was all a whole long period of armed struggle necessary in West Germany, until the defeat of US imperialism. There was no consideration of the national framework of class struggles.
Another problem was that the USSR was considered as a passive hinterland for the world anti-imperialist struggle. Meinhof considered that the October Revolution opened a process and the USSR was stucked with its own problem, but that it was still a (passive) part of the historical movement.
Another problem was that this struggle, because it had no real framework, was considered as a part of a struggle at world scale; there was a need for a faction of this struggle, not a Communist Party.
4.The Red Army Faction
The Red Army Faction was therefore based on Meinhof's construction (whereas the practical leader was Andreas Baader, who on his side was the one who theorized the necessity of armed struggle).
RAF members were trained in the West Bank and Gaza in camps of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); in Germany the RAF made many bombs attacks, notably against the US military computer in Heidelberg which planned the bombings in Vietnam.
The RAF had a huge impact in West Germany. That's why also the West German state put the RAF prisoners in the high security prison of Stammheim, in solitary confinement, Meinhof wrote a very famous letter about it and her struggle against it, not to become mad because of the white torture.
This process culminated finally with Ulrike Meinhof allegedly hanging herself in 1976; in fact, Meinhof was liquidated by the West German state, because what she represented. Andreas Baader committed also “suicide” in 1977.
The main erroneous consequence of this was that the Red Army Faction continued in the same anti-imperialist perspective (“The revolutionary strategy here is very simply a strategy against their strategy“ says the strategic document of 1982: “The Guerilla, the Resistance and the Anti-Imperialist Front“).
Moreover, all the radical left in West Germany -even when not on the line of the RAF - accepted the line that Germany as a national state was not the framework of the struggle. The fall of the Berlin wall killed strategically the left: the national framework was more clear then ever, and German imperialism could also more and more played solo on the international level.
It was the end of a historical period, and it shows the greatness and the limits of Ulrike Meinhof's thought.