Herf on the RAF and the German New Left



[H/t to ZWord]

Professor Jeffrey Herf has an article on the German New Left that you really should check out, “An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany“:

It is best to begin with the obvious. This is a series of lectures about murder, indeed about an age of murder.[1] Murders to be sure inspired by political ideas, but murders nevertheless. In all, the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, hereafter the RAF) murdered thirty-four people and would have killed more had police and intelligence agencies not arrested them or prevented them from carrying out additional “actions.”[2]

Yesterday, the papers reported that thirty-two people were killed in suicide-bomb attacks in Iraq, and thirty-four the day before, and neither of those war crimes were front-page news in the New York Times or the Washington Post. So there is an element of injustice in the amount of time and attention devoted to the thirty-four murders committed by the RAF over a period of twenty-two years and that devoted to the far more numerous victims of radical Islamist terror. Yet the fact that the murders of large numbers of people today has become horribly routine is no reason to dismiss the significance of the murders of a much smaller number for German history.

Along with the murders came attempted murders, bank robberies, and explosions at a variety of West German and American institutions. The number of dead could have been much higher. If the RAF had not used pistols, machine guns, bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), remote-controlled bombs, and airplane hijackings, and if the West German radicals of the 1970s through the 1990s had only published turgid, long-winded communist manifestos, no one would have paid them much attention at the time. I doubt that the German Historical Institute would have decided to sponsor a series about Marxist-Leninist sects of the 1970s.

This article is important for a number of reasons. First, for clarifying the totalitarian (and specifically German) roots of the German New Left. Second, for discussing the RAF’s antisemitism and the prevalence of antisemitism in the German New Left. Third, for debunking some of the myths circulated on the radical left about the RAF.

If you are unfamiliar with Professor Herf’s work, he is an historian of Modern Europe and has written extensively on Germany during the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and the Cold War. He is also one of the authors of “American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto“:

We reject the now ossified and unproductive political polarization of American politics rooted as it is in the conflicts of the 1960s, not the first decade of this century. We are frustrated in the choice between conservative governance that thwarts much needed reforms at home, on the one hand, and a liberalism which has great difficulty accepting the projection of American power abroad, on the other. The long era of Republican ascendancy may very well be coming to an end. If and when it does, we seek a renewed and reinvigorated American liberalism, one that is up to the task of fighting and winning the struggle of free and democratic societies against Islamic extremism and the terror it produces.

One response »

  1. An interesting post – and thanks for the Herf links. I look forward to reading the article. I have no intention of seeing the new movie about Baader Meinhof, but was disconcerted to read (in the reviews) that it promotes a message about the need to address the ‘underlying causes’ of terrorist violence – and draws heavyhanded parallels with contemporary Islamist terrorism. In retrospect, the totalitarian and antisemitic tendencies of the 60s far left in Germany and Italy can be seen as foreshadowing the very similar coming together of far left and far right in some elements of today’s pro-Islamist left.

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