Red Army Faction

From ProleWiki, the proletarian encyclopedia
Red Army Faction
Rote Armee Fraktion
FoundersAndreas Baader
Hans-Jürgen Bäcker
Ingeborg Barz
Monika Berberich
Gudrun Ensslin
Irene Goergens
Wolfgang Grundmann
Peter Homann
Horst Mahler
Ulrike Meinhof
Astrid Proll
Ingrid Schubert
LeadersHorizontally organized - prominent members at different points included:
First Generation
Ulrike Meinhof
Andreas Baader
Gudrun Ensslin
Horst Mahler
Holger Meins
Jan-Carl Raspe
Second Generation
Brigitte Mohnhaupt
Third Generation
Wolfgang Grams
Birgit Hogefeld
Dates of operation14 May 1970 –
20 April 1998
IdeologyRevolutionary Socialism
Mao Zedong Thought
2 June Movement
Revolutionary Cells
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Black September Organization
Battles and warsGuerilla Conflict in the Federal Republic of Germany

The Red Army Faction (German: Rote Armee Fraktion; RAF), alternatively translated as Red Army Fraction, was a communist urban guerrilla organization in West Germany.

They participated in many actions against Imperialist and Capitalist forces, including the bombings of US Army bases and police stations, an attack on the West German embassy in Sweden, the killing of Nazi lawyer and federal prosecutor general Siegfried Buback and prominent Nazi Hanns-Martin Schleyer.

After the imprisonment of many of their leaders, many of their allies and supporters around the world took action to try to free them, including the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, in which the freedom of RAF prisoners was a demand. In order to stop these efforts, the West German government, possibly with the help of allies in Nato, murdered Ulrike Meinhof in 1976 and later on 17 October 1977 murdered Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, with Irmgard Möller surviving. These deaths were all called suicides.[1]

After the deaths of these members the Red Army Faction continued to carry out attacks until it was dissolved in 1998.[2][3]

Background[edit | edit source]

West German Student Movement[edit | edit source]

See main article: West German Student Movement

The Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (Socialist German Students' Federation, SDS) was founded in 1946 as the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It moved towards the left, away from the mainstream SDP, beginning in the late 1950s, with the group adopting stances against nuclear weapons, calling for the withdrawal of France from Algeria, and opposing militarism at its 1958 conference. This move to the left was countered in May of 1960 by the forming of the Sozialdemokratischer Hochschulbund (Social Democratic Student Federation, SHB) by supporters of the SPD party line. In response to this move the left of the SPD formed another organization, Society for the Promotion of Socialism (SF), in October 1961. In order to stop the leftward and anti-party-establishment drift of the student groups, the SPD expelled SF and the SDS from the party in late 1961. The SDS continued to be a powerful force in student politics in the years to come, while continuing to pull the SHB and other pro SPD groups left.[4]

Young people in West Germany were drawn to the growing radical left movement for several reasons. Repressive and socially conservative laws and still ever present antisemitism and pro-Fascist sentiments in the older generations, as well as the growing worldwide resistance to United States imperialism and imperialist wars.[4]

In December 1964 Moise Tschombe, Congolese dictator and leader of the coup that resulted in the death of Socialist and anti-imperialist leader Patrice Lumumba, visited West Berlin. This visit was met by large protests, with the SDS playing a major role. The protests faced police repression, and the protesters fought back, setting the scene for the later anti-imperialist movements of the decade.[4]

As the left grew more popular, the SPD further alienated younger and more progressive sections of society by entering into the Grand Coalition with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), two reactionary parties with many former Nazis in their ranks. In response to this, the Außerparlamentarische Opposition (Extra-Parliamentary Opposition, APO) was created.[4]

On 2 June 1967, thousands of demonstrators protested against a visit by the Shah of Iran. They wore masks of the Shah and his wife and pelted the pair with rotten tomatoes. In response the police, as well as the Iranian intelligence agency SAVAK, attacked protesters, leading to a battle which ended with 44 arrests, 44 injuries, and one student dead, Benno Ohnesorg, who was shot in the back of the head by Karl-Heinz Kurras.[4]

The police murder sparked even larger protests, with between 100,000 and 200,000 students taking part. The SDS and other left organizations grew rapidly and began to experiment with new organizational strategies and chapters outside of universities.[4]

Demonstrations were banned in West Berlin on 3 June, with eight protesters being arrested the next day. Then on 5 June, the Zionist Entity attacked Egypt's air bases and soon destroyed it and its allies militaries in the Six-Day War. This solidified the Anti-Zionist sentiments in the SDS and further cemented its anti-imperialism.[4]

On 17 and 18 February 1968, 5,000 people attended the International Congress on Vietnam in West Berlin. After the congress a demonstration of more than 12,000 people took place.[4]

The West German press, largely controlled by businessman Axel Springer's corporation, increased its attacks on the left. This culminated on 11 April, when right-wing worker named Josef Bachmann attempted to kill Rudi Dutschke, shooting him three times, once in the head, nearly killing him. He later confessed that his information leading to the act was taken from Bild Zeitung, a Springer outlet.[4]

The attack, less than a week after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States, radicalized many, leading to increased protests, with 300,000 people participating in marches the next weekend in favor of peace and now against the Springer corporation. Two people were killed by police during the wave of protests, and the Springer corporation began to become the target of direct attacks. By the end of it more than 250,000 dm of Springer property was damaged or destroyed, a serious blow to the propagandists.[4]

On 31 May the Notstandgesetze (Emergency Powers Act) was passed. It gave the state additional power to suppress protests and allowed increased tapping of phones and stealing of mail. The passing of the act led to even more protests, with tens of thousands demonstrating and tens of thousands more staging a one-day strike in opposition to the law.[4]

Further protests broke out with the attempts to disbar left-wing lawyer Horst Mahler. These protests culminated in the Battle of Tegeler Weg, where about 1,500 protesters, with cobblestone and wooden two-by-fours, and police with water cannons, tear gas, and clubs, fought throughout the night on 3 November. Ten police and 21 demonstrators were hospitalized and 46 were arrested. Mahler was not disbarred.[4]

In October 1969 the Grand Coalition ended and the SDP, with Willy Brandt as Chancellor, came into power. Some demands of the student movement were given in to, but the tensions continued.[4]

In March 1970 the SDS dissolved after a congress in Frankfurt.

Konkret[edit | edit source]

Konkret was a Hamburg based magazine published by Klaus Rainer Röhl. It began publishing in 1957 and was funded in part by the remnants of the KPD based in exile in the GDR. The magazine focused on the left wing issues of the time and became popular within the early student movement. It's chief editor was leftist journalist and later leader of the Red Army Faction Ulrike Meinhof. She had been active in the SDS from 1957 and had joined the KPD in 1959. In 1961 she married Röhl in 1961.[4]

In 1964, amidst the Sino-Soviet Split, the magazine faced serious challenged and drastic changes. Meinhof and konkret as a whole took the side of China, despite their funding from the Soviet aligned KPD. This led to them losing its funding from the KPD and the GDR. [4]

In 1969 Meinhof left konkret.[4]

West Berlin[edit | edit source]

West Berlin, due to its status as technically part of the Federal Republic of Germany, while being disconnected socially and politically, as well as physically, grew to be a center of the left in Germany. Organizations like Kommune 1, the Republican Clubs, various women's communes and student groups began to further the left movement, though not without flaws.[4]

Problems Within the Student Movement[edit | edit source]

Male Supremacy[edit | edit source]

Chauvinism, male supremacy, and misogyny, though opposed by many, were prevalent within some elements of the student movement. This led a decline in the number of women in the SDS and APO and the growth of smaller feminist groups.[4] In addition to this, the Kommune 1 movement and other similar Anarchist-oriented groupings within the student movement containing male-oriented and chauvinist distortions of the sexual revolution.[5]

Division[edit | edit source]

The student movement was divided along ideological lines, like most of the left in the world at that time. Anarchist groups grew apart from Marxist-oriented groups, forming the Sponti left. Division over the issue of the German Democratic Republic led to little growth within the newly founded German Communist Party (DKP), a re-establishment of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Division stemming from the Sino-Soviet Split also was prevalent, with groups following Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Mao Zedong Thought feuding with pro-Soviet sections of the movement.[4]

Lack of Working Class Representation[edit | edit source]

The most serious problem of the student movement was the class makeup of the students in the FRG at the time. University students were overwhelmingly from petit bourgeoisie or labor aristocratic backgrounds, with only 7% being from working class families. This led the the FRG being able to buy out many within the movement with ease: two months after the dissolution of the SDS, amnesty was granted to most protesters in prison. This led to the near complete destruction of the student movement. The student movement was not entirely from these backgrounds. In the protests against the Springer corporation after the attempted murder of Rudi Dutschke only a minority of those arrested were university students, with most being working-class youth living in West Berlin.[4]

The Move to Violent Action[edit | edit source]

In September 1968 student movement political leaders Rudi Dutschke and Hans-Jürgen Krahl first proposed the idea of building left-wing urban guerilla, though this would not be further developed for some time.[4]

Early Anarchist Actions[edit | edit source]

The first organized revolutionary violence was carried out by individuals within Kommune 1. They formed the Anarchist 'Central Committee of the Roaming Hash Rebels'. The group carried out actions under several different names over its existence. Under the name Tupamaros-West Berlin, a firebombing attempt on a Jewish cultural center was carried out and widely criticized from both within and without the movement, and the group essentially dissolved soon after.[5]

The short-lived grouping eventually evolved into the 2nd of June Movement in 1972, which was closely aligned with the RAF.[5]

Frankfurt Firebombing and Trial[edit | edit source]

On 3 April 1968, the most important development of the revolutionary struggle in relation to the Red Army Faction occurred. Future RAF members Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, along with Horst Söhnlein and Thorwald Proll, who were in Frankfurt at for an SDS conference, firebombed two department stores. They were all arrested 2 days later on 5 April.[5]

The attack was poorly planned; there was no communiqué, little attempt to avoid arrest, and after their capture, little unified strategy in court. Gudrun Ensslin stated that the attack was "in protest against people’s indifference to the murder of the Vietnamese." She also echoed a core belief of the later RAF, that "words are useless without action."[5]

In court they were represented by fellow future RAF leader Horst Mahler, who at that point was well-known as a leftist lawyer.[5]

They were sentenced to three years in prison each in October. They appealed the sentence, but were imprisoned until June 1969. They were then released until the court came to a decision on the appeal. Ensslin, Baader, and Proll began to work within the 'apprentices' collectives', which consisted of runaways from state homes. In November the court denied their appeal. Söhnlein turned himself in, the other three went on the run. Proll soon left the group, but his sister Astrid Proll, who later became a prominent member of the RAF, joined Baader and Ensslin.[5]

They travelled to France and then to Italy before returning to West Berlin, and reconnected with Mahler. He was trying at that point to create a guerilla movement, and joined forces with the three to pursue this. They lived in various safehouses with sympathetic, sometimes prominent, people. One of these people was Ulrike Meinhof.[5]

On 3 April 1970, Andreas Baader was recaptured in West Berlin, set up by longtime informant Peter Urbach. The subsequent actions by his comrades served as the beginning of the Red Army Faction.[5]

Early Days of the RAF[edit | edit source]

The Action to Free Andreas Baader[edit | edit source]

Immedietely after Baader's capture planning to free him began. Eventually it was decided that Ulrike Meinhof would use her reputation to have Baader allowed out to meet with her in a library. This was done with the pretext of research for a book on youth homes, which was a subject Meinhof had covered extensively. Once they were there a group would storm the building, threaten the guards with weapons, and finally make their escape.[5]

On 14 May Baader was allowed out, escorted by armed guards. He met Meinhof at the Institute for Social Issues Library in West Berlin. Once they were there Irene Goergens and Ingrid Schubert entered the building, followed by Gudrun Ensslin and an unknown man, both masked and armed. A librarian attempted to intervene and was shot in the liver. After this the guards opened fire, but missed all of them. The four, now joined by Baader and Meinhof, jumped out of the window and into the getaway car waiting for them.[5]

The action gained widespread media attention very quickly, and Meinhof, who before was not fully involved with the underground of the group and had been continuing her public life until then, was forced to go underground.[5]

In response to the action the West Berlin police were supplies hand grenades, semiautomatic revolvers, and submachine guns, in an precedented and shocking move for many on the left.[5]

The group published Build the Red Army in the radical magazine 883, explaining the purpose of the action and denouncing those on the left who criticized revolutionary violence.[5]

Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, Ingrid Schubert, Astrid Proll, Irene Goergens,Monika Berberich, Hans-Jürgen Bäcker, Ingeborg Barz, Wolfgang Grundmann, Peter Homann were known founding members of the Red Army Faction.[5]

In Jordan[edit | edit source]

After the action to liberate Baader, more than a dozen RAF members travelled to Jordan to receive training from the Palestine Liberation Organization. At this time the PLO in Jordan, which had a large Palestinian presence in the aftermath of the Nakba, trained many leftist guerilla organizations throughout the world, including even some West German groups previously. By the end of the summer of 1970 the RAF members travelled back to West Berlin through the GDR.[5]

Back in West Berlin and Early Arrests[edit | edit source]

Soon the RAF began to obtain weapons, cars, and safehouses, as well as new members and supporters. On 29 September 1970, three banks were robbed by the RAF in collaboration with the Roaming Hash Rebels grouping. More than 220,000 dm (about 60,000 US dollars then, more than 480,000 US dollars in May 2024[6]) were stolen by the group.[5]

On 8 October, RAF members Monika Berberich, Horst Mahler, Irene Goergens, Brigitte Asdonk, and Ingrid Schubert were arrested in West Berlin after an anonymous tip about two RAF safehouses was received by police. Hans-Jürgen Bäcker was suspected as having been the source of the tip, and was confronted by other members. He denied the claims, but left the RAF.[5]

After the arrests the RAF moved out of West Berlin. Once arriving in West Germany, they burglarized the town halls of two small towns, stealing ID cards, passports, official stamps, and other needed materials.[5]

On 20 December RAF members Ali Jensen and Beate Sturm and non-member Karl-Heinz Ruhland were stopped by police along. Ruhland surrendered, but the others fled. The next day they were arrested along with fellow member Uli Scholze. Ruhland would later cooperate with the police.[5]

On 10 February 1971 Astrid Proll and Manfred Grashof were stopped by police. The police opened fire unprovoked, but the two managed to escape.[5]

The trial of Mahler, Goergens, and Schubert began on 1 March in West Berlin. They were charged in relation to the action to free Baader, with Goergens and Schubert charged with attempted murder and Mahler with accessory to the action and illegal possession of a firearm.[5]

Early Anti-RAF Propaganda Campaign and Further Arrests[edit | edit source]

Around this time the first psychological warfare campaign against the RAF began. In February, the police announced that the RAF planned to kidnap FRG Chancellor Willy Brandt. This claim was quickly refuted by the RAF.[5]

On 25 February, a seven-year-old boy was kidnapped, with one of the ransom demands being the release of Mahler. Mahler denounced the kidnapping and called for the boys release. The lawyer who delivered the ransom money to the group reported that the kidnappers were not leftists at all, let alone members of the RAF, and were rather a right-wing group.[5]

On 25 April, it was reported that a university professor and his friend were kidnapped. The alleged kidnappers demanded the release of Mahler, Schubert, and Georgens, and threatened to kill them if they were not released. Two days later, the two alleged victims were found, with no kidnappers nearby. They admitted it was staged in the hopes of turning public opinion against the RAF and the nominally left-wing SPD. The leader of the plan was Jürgen Rieger, a fascist militant who was imprisoned for six months for the plot.[5]

While the trial was occurring various members of the RAF were arrested. On 12 April, Ilse Stachowiak, likely the youngest member of the group, who joined at 16-years-old, was arrested in Frankfurt. One day later Rolf Heissler was arrested during a bank robbery attempt in Munich. On 6 May Astrid Proll was arrested at a Hamburg gas station.[5]

In late May the trial ended. Goergens were sentenced to four years and Schubert to six. As the trial ended rioting broke out in West Berlin. The defendants would have additional sentences added on in relation to the bank robberies and other RAF actions, with Mahler eventually receiving 14 years in prison by 1974.[5]

Around this time Horst Mahler released a document titled Regarding the Armed Struggle in West Europe. It was portrayed as being an official Red Army Faction statement and published in a radical left magazine under the title New Traffic Regulations in order to avoid immediate suppression. In response to this document, which the majority of the RAF leadership opposed, The Urban Guerilla Concept was published widely, both in radical and mainstream publications. The document formed the basis of the RAF's urban guerilla strategy and served as their most important theoretical document, being widely read, translated, and used by revolutionaries around the world.[5]

Organized State Repression and First RAF Deaths[edit | edit source]

The first Red Army Faction martyr was Petra Schelm , who was murdered by police on 15 July 1971. The West German government sent three thousand armed police officers to patrol cities and set up checkpoints on roads across the north of the FRG. These state repression efforts were named Operation Cobra. Schelm and a comrade, Werner Hoppe, were stopped at one such checkpoint in Hamburg. Hoppe surrendered and was captured, Schelm was shot in the head and killed at the age of 19.[7]

The murder led to widespread support among the German working class and especially among proletarian youths for the RAF, with 40 percent of respondents in one survey stating that the RAF's actions were political rather than criminal in nature. This led to an abundance of sympathizers among the general public who were willing to harbor RAF fugitives.[7]

Around this time, many former members of the Socialist Patients Collective (SPK), a Radical New Left therapy and medical group, joined the RAF after the arrest of the groups leader and the groups subsequent dissolution in Summer 1971. Many former SPK members would become prominent members of the RAF.[7]

First RAF Killings[edit | edit source]

The first police death was on 22 October. Former SPK member Margrit Schiller was being attacked by two police officers, and two RAF members including Gerhard Müller came to their comrade's defense. Police officer Norbert Schmid was killed in the fighting, and soon after Schiller was captured as well, with her arrest broadcast on live TV.[7]

Two months later, on 22 December, a second police officer, Herbert Schoner, was killed during a bank robbery in Kaiserslautern. He knocked on the window of the getaway vehicle outside of the bank during the robbery and was shot three times. The killing was quickly exploited by bourgeoise media to demonize the RAF.[7]

Unprovoked Murders by Police[edit | edit source]

The first was on 4 December, when police stopped a car carrying two guerillas of the 2nd of June Movement Anarchist group, Bommi Baumann and Georg von Rauch, in West Berlin. Von Raunch was murdered by police immediately with no provocation.[7]

Then, on 1 March 1972 a seventeen-year-old in West Berlin named Richard Epple was murdered by police machine gun fire after he ran through a police checkpoint. He was not a member of the RAF or of the radical left at all, but instead was driving without a license.[7]

On 25 June, Scottish businessman Ian Macleod was shot by police as he stood behind his bedroom door. He was either a non-member of the RAF or a British spy attempting to infiltrate the group, and either way he was killed without any provocation.[7]

The three police murders led to widespread protest and additional support for the RAF.[7]

Further Police Repression[edit | edit source]

In March 1972 another propaganda effort against the RAF began. Karl-Heinz Ruhland, who was arrested several months before, began to work for police after his trial ended that month, leading to leniency for him in sentencing. He was only loosely connected to the group, but provided evidence, sometimes real, but most of the time fabricated. This included testifying against RAF members in trial and publicly support police narratives, changing his story as the police story changed.[7]

On 2 March 1972 Tommy Weissbecker was murdered by police in Augsburg at 23-years-old. His comrade Carmen Roll was captured during the same engagement. The killing occured as the pair left Weissbecker's apartment. Weissbecker was under surveillance at the time. In response the 2nd of June Movement bombed the police headquarters in West Berlin was bombed. Roll was drugged while imprisoned in an effort to force her to provide information. This almost lead to her death on 16 March.[7]

RAF members Manfred Grashof and Wolfgang Grundmann feared their cover was blown, as the safehouse they were staying at had been rented out by Weissbecker. They were correct. They returned to the building to collect materials they had left there before planning to flee to another safehouse, and when they returned three police were waiting. One officer shot Grasof three times, and in response Grashof, aiming blindly in the dark building, shot and killed police commissioner Hans Eckardt. Both were subsequently captured.[7]

May Offensive[edit | edit source]

RAF in Prison and Outside Action[edit | edit source]

German Autumn[edit | edit source]

Stammheim Murders[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jutta Ditfurth (2007). Ulrike Meinhof: The Biography (German: Ulrike Meinhof: Die Biographie). [PDF]
  2. "Rise and Fall of the Red Army Faction". Britannica.
  3. Kate Connolly (2008-9-10). "Terrorist chic or debunking of a myth? Baader Meinhof film splits Germany" The Guardian.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 Red Army Faction - compiled and translated by J. Smith and Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History - Volume 1: Projectiles for the People: 'The Re-Emergence of Revolutionary Politics in West Germany'.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 Red Army Faction - compiled and translated by J. Smith and Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History - Volume 1: Projectiles for the People: 'Taking Up The Gun'.
  6. "CPI Inflation Calculator". CPI Inflation Calculator.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 Red Army Faction - compiled and translated by J. Smith and Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History - Volume 1: Projectiles for the People: 'Building a Base and Serving the People'.