… working on a Revolutionary Cells / Rota Zora dossier … comprised for the most part of material pulled from the old ATS-L listserv … some of the material made it into the printed pages of Arm The Spirit, some didn’t …
…will include, at the very least, an intro to the RZ from the book ‘Art As Resistance’ (1997), An Interview With Former Revolutionary Cell member Enno Schwall (1982), A Herstory Of The Revolutionary Cells And Rote Zora: Armed Resistance In West Germay (1988), A Short Introduction To The History Of The Revolutionary Cells and Rote Zora (2000), Resistance Is Possible: An Interview With Two Members Of Rote Zora (1984), Revolutionary Cells Communique (1991), Revolutionary Cells Communique Concerning The Attack On The A+B Office For Roma And Sinti In Cologne (1989), 200 Years Is Not Enough – Revolutionary Cells In The Post-Fordist Era (1989), Revolutionary Cells Communique: The End Of Our Politics – Armed Resistance In The 1990s (1992), Interview With A Revolutionary Cell ( 1993), Rote Zora Communique (1994) Rote Zora Communique (1995) and maybe a few more bits and pieces …
… here, for now, are a couple of the pieces that Arm The Spirit translated and disseminated …
THE REVOLUTIONARY CELLS (RZ)
… translated from the book “Art As Resistance” (Chapter 5, “Armed Struggle”).
In 1973, the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) became the third group in West Germany to take up the armed struggle. Although the RZ followed a different concept than the Second of June Movement and the RAF, all three shared the same roots. The Vietnam War was a major impulse which led to the formation of the RZ. They, too, wanted to develop a guerrilla, and just like the RAF, they had close ties to the Palestinian resistance. Just how closely tied the RAF and the RZ were to the Palestinians was shown by the first actions which gained the RZ international recognition. Under the leadership of one of the world’s most wanted “top terrorists”, Ilich Ramirez-Sanchez, otherwise known as “Carlos”, a German-Palestinian commando stormed into the OPEC Summit in Vienna in December 1975 and took 11 top government ministers hostage. When the commando stormed the building, three members of the security forces were killed, and RZ member Hans-Joachim Klein was seriously wounded. In addition to Klein, RAF member Gabriele Krocher-Tiedemann took part in the action as well. The kidnapping action was designed to put pressure on Arab states to take a firmer stand against Israel. The ministers were all released in North Africa, and the commando disappeared. At the end of June 1976, a commando comprised of two Palestinians and RZ members Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose hijacked an Air France passenger jet with 257 people on board. This action was designed to win the freedom of political prisoners in German and Israeli prisons.
The airplane had taken off from Tel Aviv and a large number of the passengers were Israelis. The action was designed to put pressure on the government in Jerusalem. After forcing the plane to land in Entebbe, Uganda, all non-Jewish hostages were released. On July 4, 1976, a unit of Israeli special forces stormed the plane and freed the hostages. All the commando members were killed.
Within the context of the RZ, an autonomous women’s organization called ‘Rote Zora’ developed. Although the Rote Zora followed the same fundamental concepts as the RZ, the group was also a radical feminist expression of the women’s movement. But the group did not solely focus on women’s issues, and the Rote Zora did carry out actions as part of RZ campaigns, for example against the NATO summit in 1982.
One of Rote Zora’s most famous and successful actions came in 1987: While South Korean women workers were on strike against the textile corporation Adler, which was boosting its production due to cheap labor prices in Korea, Rote Zora supported the efforts of the striking women. On one night in June 1987, there was a series of coordinated firebombings directed against Adler chain stores. The corporation soon gave in to the demands of the striking Korean women.
Repression Against The RZ In Germany
A movie called “Operation Entebbe” was made about the Entebbe hostage drama and the actions of the Israeli army. The RZ tried to halt showings of the film by means of firebomb attacks. After one such action in January 1977, Enno Schwalm and Gerhard Albartus were arrested. Police found weapons, ammunition, fake IDs, and plans for future actions. Both men were convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “attempted arson” and sentenced to a few years in prison.
Following the Rote Zora’s wave of attacks against Adler, a series of house raids against 33 people were conducted all across Germany in December 1987. Ingrid Strobl and Ulla Penselin were arrested and sentenced to prison in June 1989 for supporting Rote Zora. These were the only two occasions when individuals were convicted of membership in or support for the RZ.
The RZ underwent a change of structure at the end of the 1970s. Following the Entebbe action, which was claimed by the “International Section” of the RZ, one part of the RZ movement broke off its contacts with the Palestinian resistance. There were internal conflicts, which were discussed in the paper “Gerd Albartus Is Dead”, published in December 1991: “He shared the criticisms of other comrades, with whom we had fierce discussions, to the point of a split, because of our decision to break off international contacts. He felt the reduction to our own structures was a weakness, that discussing political differences represented a split. … For the deceptive advantage, he said, of a ‘clean slate’, we had brought the RZ down to the level of leftist small group militancy and abandoned all claims of guerrilla struggle.”
A small number of RZ activists remained true to their original approach. Contacts with the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), a small Palestinian resistance group, were kept up. But the RZ in Germany made a clear break with this tradition. There was no connection between the two whatsoever, neither in concept nor in logistics. In 1982, several Germans were arrested in Rome and Paris transporting explosives and weapons for the Palestinian resistance. Gerd Albartus returned to Lebanon in December 1987 and, for reasons which are still unknown, was put on a tribunal by his own group and executed.
The Popularity Of The RZ
The popularity of the RZ among the militant left was partly due to their variety of forms of actions, with everything from forging train tickets to bombings. Another important factor was that the strategy of the RZ in the 1980s was not to kill people. When the Economics Minister for the state of Hesse, a man named Karry, died during an RZ attack protesting the construction of the Startbahn West airport runway, the group suffered a lot of criticism. There were no other deaths from RZ attacks after that.
Concept Or Organization?
The RZ were more of a concept rather than an organization. The slogan “Create Many Revolutionary Cells!” was a call to everyone to carry out RZ actions. The political orientation was towards contemporary movements, and discussions were encouraged by means of communiques and other texts. This was different from the original conception of the RZ. Initially, the RZ wanted to be an organized core, linked to movements with the aim of radicalizing them and eventually forming a guerrilla. Without ever fully abandoning this original aim, the old views were transformed. There was also unequal development within the RZ. There were some RZ, often called the Traditional RZ, which adapted the old model, then there were people who simply made use of the RZ name to carry out actions – in other words, it’s almost as if there were both organized and unorganized RZs.
The RZ Concept In The 1980s
The RZ rejected the vanguardist politics of groups like the RAF. The following is a citation from “8 Years RZ – Two Steps Forward In The Struggle For The Minds Of People, And Our Own”, an RZ text published in 1981: “…We don’t think it’s possible to carry out attacks against central state institutions: We can’t pose the question of power! We aren’t waging a war! Rather, we are at the beginning of a long and difficult struggle to win the hearts and minds of people – not the first steps toward a military victory.” The RZ propagated armed struggle from legality. That led state investigators to call them “weekend terrorists”, but the RZ approach proved successful. Anonymous RZ members could follow the effects of their actions directly and convey them to the movement. Because RZ members were unknown, but also not living underground, they were more protected from repression. That’s not the case for RAF members, for whom spending their entire lives in illegality is a precondition.
The End Of The RZ
The RZ concept can only function in correspondence with a broad movement. Without such movements, the RZ are reduced to an armed form of action, isolated and near its end. That’s exactly what happened in the mid 1980s with the decline of the autonomist movement.
In 1986, the RZ began a militant campaign against deportation police and authorities with the slogan, “For Free Floods! Fight For The Right To Stay For Refugees And Immigrants!” This was a break from the new concept of the RZ. There was no broad movement in support of refugees and immigrants for the RZ to work out of, nor a broad movement within the radical left with such a focus. The RZ were trying to start such a movement themselves. In a text entitled “The End Of Our Politics” issued in January 1992, the RZ stated: “We saw possibilities in our connection to social themes and the refugee campaign for creating a new sphere of action for international solidarity in the metropoles and opening it ourselves.”
In January 1991, the RZ ended the campaign, and a year later a statement announcing the dissolution of the RZ movement was released. Although some attacks were still carried out in the name of the RZ, that doesn’t escape the fact that the RZ concept hit a dead end in the conditions of the 1990s.
A Short Introduction To The History Of The Revolutionary Cells (RZ) And
Rote Zora, 2000
“What we want is to organize counter-power in small, organized cells, which work, struggle, intervene, and defend autonomously in various social areas, and which are part of the mass political work. Once we have enough cells, then we will have created the impetus for the urban guerrilla as a mass perspective.”
This idea of armed struggle was formulated by the ‘Revolutionre Zellen’, or Revolutionary Cells (RZ), in 1975 in the first issue of their magazine ‘Revolutionrer Zorn’ (“Revolutionary Rage”). This concept saw armed struggle as part of a social-revolutionary movement, struggling together with “legal” actions like squatting, revolutionary factory work, teach-ins, and so on, against state repression. By means of clandestinely operating, autonomous, and decentralized organized groups, it would be possible to strengthen mass initiatives and take a first step towards the long-term assault on power. An integral part of the discussions at that time was the so-called militant variations of thought by building a model of a functioning social-revolutionary counter-society which could undermine capitalist society in the long-term and eventually overcome it by means of attacks and a massive decay of loyalty to the system.
“Create and multiply the fighting collectives as the core cells of a new society!” was one of the slogans of the RZ in 1978. This concept was also conceived as a practical critique of and alternative to the continuing attacks by the Red Army Fraction (RAF) on “the heart of the state” which were also taking place at that time.
According to Germany’s intelligence agency, the Revolutionary Cells and Rote Zora were responsible for 186 mostly unsolved attacks from 1973 to 1995 on government offices, corporations, and military installations, as well as a few kneecappings of officials responsible for repressive asylum policies. The first armed action attributed to the
Revolutionary Cells took place in November 1973, an attack on the America corporation ITT in protest of the military coup in Chile. Two years later the name “Revolutionary Cells” went into common use. The first issue of the magazine ‘Revolutionrer Zorn’ classified three types of RZ actions: anti-imperialist actions, like actions against the American corporation ITT of the Chilean consulate; anti-Zionist actions, like the attack on the officers of the Israeli airline El-Al or on corporations that import Israeli fruit; and actions in solidarity with the struggles of workers, youths, and women, like attacks on cars belonging to real estate speculators or individuals responsible for tearing down youth centers, printing counterfeit public transport passes and food vouchers for the homeless and distributing them in “proletarian neighbourhoods”.
The RZ were always aware of the fact that the general population in Germany were not engaged in solidarity with international struggles: “But there is a part of our politics which, in so far as we have progressed the discussions, does not interest many comrades, and which many of them cannot understand or accept, and which the people certainly won’t be interested in at the time being. But we still think it is correct. This part of our struggle is internationalism, meaning solidarity with comrades in foreign guerrilla movements and solidarity with the struggling peoples of other countries.” (from an interview with an RZ, May 1975) But, following two spectacular actions which RZ members
participated in, and which unleashed heavy debates and discussions, the organization split internally into an internationalist faction and a domestic faction. This break, a virtual split in the organization, did not become clearly known until about 15 years later.
One of these two spectacular actions was the attack by a joint Palestinian, Latin American, and German commando on the OPEC Conference in Vienna in December 1975. Eleven Arabian oil ministers were held hostage to demand material and ideological support for the Palestinian liberation movement. Three security guards were killed during the action. It remains unclear to this day just how big a role the Syrian government and the Libyan government of Khadaffi played in this action, thus blurring the distinction between “mercenary work” and “an action of international solidarity”. RZ member Hans-Joachim Klein participated in this action. He later became a witness for the state, and the arrests of Rudolf S., in the fall of 1999, and Sonja S., who was arrested in France in January 2000, were based on his statements to police that they also provided logistical support. Klein quit the RZ in 1977 remained in hiding for over 20 years, due to the support given to him by Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Klein was arrested in France in 1998 and soon became a turncoat, pointing the finger at others.
The second controversial action was the June 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was ordered to fly to Entebbe, Uganda, where the guerrillas demanded freedom for 53 political prisoners, including 40 Palestinians in Israeli custody and 6 political prisoners in Germany. Two RZ members, Wilfried Boese and Brigitte
Kuhlmann, were killed when Israeli special forces stormed the plane. It became known afterwards that passengers were separated into groups according to their passports during the hijacking. All Israelis were forced to remain on the place while most of the other passengers of other nationalities were released. It is unclear whether the passengers were also divided into “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” groups, as the authors of the RZ critique “Gerd Albartus Is Dead” have alleged. But the moral dilemmas of this action remain nonetheless.
The internationalist faction of the RZ eventually developed into what the mass media have called the “Carlos Group”, and this group no longer used the name Revolutionary Cells (RZ), instead calling themselves “Group of International Revolutionaries”. The domestic RZ faction, however, made a radical break with its international contacts and sought to develop its future internationalist and anti-imperialist actions solely from the conditions existing within West Germany. But it seems some individual members did maintain some indirect links to the “Carlos Group”. One person in particular was Gerd Albartus, and this cost him his life in 1987. According to statements from turncoat Magdalena Kopp (‘Focus’ magazine, April 2000) he was accused of “treason” by members of the internationalist faction during a visit to Lebanon and was immediately executed by Carlos. It is not known what the accusations were based on. The authors of the paper “Gerd Albartus Is Dead” have no doubts about Gerd’s integrity, however. According to the book “Carlos’ Accomplice Weinreich”, published in 1995, his naive associations with the intelligence agency in East Berlin (the Stasi) caused a point of conflict between him and the rest of the internationalist faction. Transcripts of wiretaps from the Hungarian secret police, found among Stasi files, are said to show this, according to the book’s authors.
The problems surrounding the “Carlos Group” can’t simply be dismissed as being due to the conditions at that time. In ‘Radikal’ #104 (May 1982), a long article discussed the attacks by the “Carlos Group” and their relationship to the Syrian intelligence agency. This text stated: “The notion of ‘terrorism’ – by the state or others – is incomprehensible to the majority of the population due to its invisibility and elements of confusion. In this way, it only heightens the feeling of powerless people have in their daily lives in capitalist society, their powerless in the face of economic crisis and the fact that they are just pawns in the secret games of international politics and state repression.”
As for the domestic faction of the RZ, they made themselves heard from by means of several attacks in the following years. In particular, they were able to keep the possibility of armed struggle open during the so-called “German Autumn” of 1977. In the summer of 1978, a bomb undergoing a final test exploded in the lap of Hermann Feiling outside the general consulate of the military regime in Argentina in the city of Heidelberg. Hermann lost both of his eyes and had both of his legs amputated as a result of this accident. Although he was under the influence of heavy painkilling drugs and was in no condition to speak, German state and federal police interrogated him extensively and took some 1000 pages of transcripts. Based mostly on police fantasies, seven more arrests warrants were eventually issued. Five of these accused people were able to disappear before police could nab them: Rudolf Raabe, Rudolf S. and Sabine E. (who resurfaced in 1999 as part of the Berlin Trial), and Sonja S. and Christian G. (who were arrested in France in January 200).
The “Women of the Revolutionary Cells” first appeared with a bomb attack on a federal court building in Karlsruhe in 1975. Their attack was part of the struggle against the abortion law Paragraph 218. Starting in 1977, the “Rote Zora” appeared as a independently operating feminist group closely oriented to the RZ. Some fundamental discussion papers were later signed jointly by the RZ and Rote Zora.
In January 1981, issue #6 of ‘Revolutionaerer Zorn’ was published, at just the right time according to many activists in the squatters’ movement, during the high point of the youth revolts of 1980/81. In Berlin and many other cities at that time, there were countless numbers of squatted buildings. The main part of the magazine was a text, written in a radical self-critical tone, concerning the past eight years of experiences with armed struggle. The concept and the problems of the RZ were correctly and sharply criticized by the members themselves. The level of self-reflection and admissions of problems and contradictions was unprecedented among armed fighting groups at that time. The text went on to say: “Attacks on central state institutions are politically impossible at the present time: We cannot pose the question of power! We are not waging a war! Rather, we are at the beginning of a long and difficult struggle to win the hearts and minds of the people – we are not at the first stage of a military victory! We characterize our strategy as a defensive one – but at the same time, our struggle can be offensive as well.” The positions of individuals who had left the group were explained and counter-posed with the authors’ own reasons for deciding to continue the struggle.
The concept of the Revolutionary Cells, clandestine actions on a massive scale, became a reality during the revolts of 1980/81 (“You have the power, but the night belongs to us!”), albeit not in the one-to-one relationship envisioned by the RZ. The RZ often critiqued the lack of an organizational continuity to the movement. There was always a degree of cultural and emotional difference, or deference. This lay in the fact that the RZ had its roots in the years after 1968. They often formulated ideas associated with the “Frankfurt school” (Marcuse), marked by pedagogical thinking and a conduct based on knowing what is right for people. Punk, on the other hand, had more in common with the philosophy of “educated existentialism” (Sartre). In the text “The End Of Our Politics”, one RZ wrote: “The concept “Create many Revolutionary Cells!” was only achieved in so far as there was some parallelism in the methods of struggle. We were not able to get a foothold in the various movements, or to win over militants from their associations to a revolutionary perspective and form of organization.”
In addition to the squatters’ movement and the anti-nuclear movement, the struggle against the Startbahn-West airport expansion in Frankfurt was a central point around which resistance was organized. Like never before, some groups of RZs were able – despite all the problems outlined above – to become an integral part of this movement. And this,
despite the fact that their participation in the anti-Startbahn movement was marked from the beginning by a major failure: In May 1981, during the attempted kneecapping of the Hessian state’s Economics Minister Heinz-Herbert Karry, the man responsible for the planned expansion of Startbahn-West, the shooting ended up killing Karry, who bled to death. In the months that followed, the RZ called for attacks on firms connected to the construction of the runway as the best strategy to follow, and they backed up this call with actions of their own. After the anti-Startbahn movement faded, the RZ released an extensive text which unleashed a wave of criticism from the autonomist movement. After most social movements had run their course after 1980/81, many activists began asking the question, “How do we go on from here?” How can continuity be maintained without simply waiting for the next movement to arise?
The autonomist movement was always consciously diffuse on the militant terrain, in contrast to the attempts at hegemony by the RZ, during both the squatter struggles in Berlin and the anti-Startbahn actions in the Frankfurt region. An autonomist text published in ‘Radikal’ #114 (March 1983) stated: “In their relations to the mass movement, the RZ always claim to want to link up with the mass movement, and that by means of their actions there would be an advance of militancy and offensive, thus firebombs and explosives become the tools of pedagogy. We cannot accept such an education-minded relationship.” The authors were clear about their critical solidarity with the RZ. They were particularly irritated by the fact that the RZs themselves had not stuck to the criteria they themselves spelled out in ‘Zorn’ #6. The article ended with the controversial call: “Cells – join the movement!” What they meant was that militant continuity and experience are gained as people in real movements, not as an organization. “Actions are only spices in the soup, not the soup itself.” This debate was continued in ‘Radikal’ #121 (October 1983): “Insofar as an organized militant group has decided to wage continuous resistance, that also changes their strategy; movements, on the other hand, have their own dynamic and are uncontrollable.” […]
One RZ responded to such criticisms in ‘Radikal’ #123 (December 1983): “Militancy and actions are seen as good, so long as they don’t come from political associations or illustrate any continuity. ‘Go out, fuck shit up, and get away’ seems to be the autonomist motto. Anything beyond that is dismissed as potential cadre formation and the seeds of a new state. Politics is dirty business, they say, so we’ll never do politics. All that matters is new subjectivity. How can I get the best feeling? An expression of this is the search for new niches (new culture), waiting around for the next movement to start without even analyzing the movement that just finished.”
In the early 1980s in West Germany, another important social issue was the question of nuclear arms. The opposition was split into the peace movement, on the one hand, and the autonomist movement with its anti-militarist outlook on the other. Then there was the anti-imperialist movement, which was oriented solely against the USA and NATO. During
official visits by representatives of the American government to West Germany, there were always massive, often militant, demonstrations. The visit by Ronald Reagan to West Berlin on November 6, 1982 was accompanied by RZ attacks on U.S. military installations. The RZ also always tried to make the point that the arms race was not an evil coming just from the outside, and to thereby also open up the German arms industry to attack. The most significant attack in line with this policy was the bomb attack on the computer corporation MAN that caused more than 20 million DM in damage. The RZ also made two intellectual interventions in this issue. On the one hand was the text “Peace, War, And Crisis”, then there was the communique “Beethoven And MacDonald’s”, in which they drew a clear distinction between neo-nazi attacks on the homes of American servicemen
and anti-imperialist and anti-American attacks aimed against the politics of the U.S. government.
In the years 1979, 1980, and 1982, a group called ‘RZ in the IG Metall’ [German metal industry’s trade union] claimed responsibility for several actions, for example an attack on a federal labour court in the city of Kassel. In March 1984, the RZ released a text related to the public discussion around the 35-hour workweek called “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing: The 35-Hour Work Week, The Social Partnership, The Left, And Class Antagonism”. This text accurately predicted the development of a fully flexible working class. It also examined how “autonomists could develop social-revolutionary positions”. The RZ also acted in solidarity with the coal miners’ strike in Britain by means of attacks in 1985.
During these years, the RZ and the Rote Zora also discussed new forms of control technology. For example, the social aspects of gene technology and reproduction technology. Their general rejection of computer technology as a new means of social domination and control may seem Luddite to people today, but even at that time it was not without some controversy. In a September 1985 communique from an attack on two software companies, the RZ stated: “The logic of the computer is the logic of capitalism: it serves exploitation and oppression, splintering and selection, registration and repression. The useless debates about alternative uses for computers represents powerlessness, not fantasy, in the face of this monstrous technological violence.” But we shouldn’t forget that in those days a computer cost 50,000 DM, and home computers for private use didn’t really become a reality before 1990.
Just how widely the RZ concept was being taken up was illustrated in the months following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986. Nightly attacks on electricity pylons all across Germany toppled more than 150 utility towers. But that doesn’t mean that everyone agreed with all of the content of the RZ’s positions. What was for some a political strategy was for others simply a subjective form of action.
In the mid 1980s, another field of political conflict crystallized in West Germany, namely the issue of immigration. Although German history has always been marked by immigration, the ruling powers and a large segment of the population don’t wish to accept that fact. Instead they choose to differentiate themselves from “the strangers” and an
“ethnicization of social conflicts” results. In the years after World War II, 12 million German-speaking refugees (still about 20% of the population) from lost eastern territories were integrated without major ideological problems. When this influx subsided, Germany began to experience a lack of labour resources in the 1950s. Then began the immigration of mainly young, male workers, first from Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and later in the 1960s from Yugoslavia and Turkey. The end of the Fordist economic boom in 1973 resulted in an stop to labour importation, and guest workers were told to return to their home countries. But they didn’t. Instead, they began to have their families join them in Germany, and in a few years they achieved the same level of employment as the Germans. By the end of the 1970s, West German society began to realize that there were now some 4 million so-called “foreigners” who were living in the country and who wanted to stay in the country until their retirement.
Since the early 1980s, more and more people from the Three Continents were able to make their way into West Germany, especially via the one-way open border between East and West Berlin. They didn’t come to German primarily to earn money, rather they were fleeing from civil wars and economic misery. Most of these people came from the Near East, Turkey, and Sri Lanka/Ceylon. This development led to domestic political conflicts stirred up by the CDU [Christian Democratic Party]. The court ‘Berliner Verwaltungsgericht’ ruled that “torture is not a grounds for asylum”, and the numbers of accepted asylum-seekers began to decrease. On the other hand, 1985 also saw the failed first attempt to introduce food coupons for asylum-seekers, due to widespread resistance from civil society. Refugees faced with deportation were supported by actions like ‘Fluchtburg’, initiated by the AL [later the Green Party] in West Berlin. In 1983, the Turkish asylum-seeker Cemal Altun jumped to his death from the fourth floor of a federal courthouse in Berlin to avoid deportation. That evening, more than 10,000 took part in a spontaneous protest demonstration. Also in those years, the social aspect of people from other countries changed from exploitable “workers” to the more ethnic concept of members of a “different culture”.
That explains the background to the refugee campaign by the RZ. The publication of ‘Zorn-Extra’, issue #9 of the RZ’s magazine, in October 1986 represented the opening of the RZ’s refugee campaign. This was against the background of increasing numbers of people coming into the metropoles from the poorer regions of the world and the rigorous measures being taken by the ruling powers to stop this development. The RZ stated: “We want to contribute to the winning back of a concrete form of anti-imperialism in West Germany – this is our orientation to the refugee question.” By coming to the metropoles, the people from the Three Continents are justly demanding a right to life and compensation. The RZ called for open borders and free cities for refugees, but this could only be achieved if “we create an open space for refugees which cannot be controlled or regimented by the state”. The RZ’s proposal was directed at the autonomist and social-revolutionary left, “to make the refugee question the touchstone for political praxis at various levels”. Various RZ actions made up this campaign, including the kneecappings of Hollenberg, the head of the Foreigner Division in the West Berlin police, and Korbmacher, a federal judge responsible for rulings restricting asylum claims, and the attack on the ‘Zentrale Sozialhilfestelle fur Asylbewerber’ administrative officers.
Later, this campaign was sharply criticized within the ranks of the RZ. In contrast to the point put forward by the RZ in issue #6 of ‘Revolutionrer Zorn’, namely that movements cannot be brought into existence by means of armed actions, this is exactly what the RZ were trying to do with their campaign. Others criticized the use of refugees as “the revolutionary subject” in the metropoles as “false”. In the text “The End Of Our Politics”, one RZ group wrote of the refugee campaign: “We fantasized about the will of the refugees, about them seeking their slice of the wealth and a secure existence in the metropoles as being a direct anti-imperialist struggle linked to their experiences of resistance in the Three Continents, and thereby using this as a possible terrain for our own
politics. When the struggles we hope to identify with failed to materialize (we also overlooked many of the “reformist” demands of the asylum-seekers), we compensated with an analysis of the state’s refugee policies and attacked its responsible agents. We acted in the name of the refugees without considering their subjectivity or their expectations, indeed without even knowing them.”
The autonomist scene was dismayed when the RZ dropped the campaign in the early 1990s, just at a time when, according to the autonomist scene, such a campaign was needed more than ever before since hundreds of thousands of people were coming into the metropoles from east via the temporarily open borders. Then the situation escalated even more in 1991: in the summer, there were massive pogroms by citizens in the East German city of Hoyerswerda directed against former contract workers from Angola and Mozambique. That year also saw a massive pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, fueled by the propaganda campaigns of the CDU, against Roma and Sinti peoples and contract workers from Vietnam. The aim of the CDU was to strike the individual right to asylum enshrined in the German Constitution, which they were eventually able to do by means of the so-called “asylum compromise”. Autonomist resistance could only prevent a worst of all possible scenarios, for their position “Open Borders For All!” was certainly a minority opinion in Germany at that time. The autonomists were in the de facto position of fighting to protect the Constitution and the civil rights of refugees. From above, the individual rights of refugees were being restricted, in particular the ban on working, residence restrictions, and the housing of increasing numbers of asylum-seekers in hostels instead of private homes. At the same time, border police on the eastern borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia were increasingly and massively armed.
These policies by the government drastically reduced the numbers of refugees who were able to make it into Germany to file asylum claims. The RZ’s refugee campaign was five years ahead of its time, and it correctly predicted that the ruling powers would attempt to mutate rising social conflicts into an ethnic conflict against refugees. But not even the RZ were able to spell out how the struggle of refugees could be linked to the struggles of the German underclasses. The RZ admitted this themselves in an action communique in 1989: “We never had the illusion that proletarian youths, women, the unemployed, or other sectors of the society would quickly develop common interests with refugees and immigrants, because racism and sexism are too strongly ingrained in the society. But that it exactly why anti-imperialism must intervene to break through these knots.”
During these years, the Rote Zora continued to make their own politics and did not want to be seen as just a feminist wing of the RZ. The Rote Zora wrote: “We do not any ‘leftist’ division of labor: women work on women’s issues, and men deal with the general political themes.” Rote Zora attacks were often directed against women traders and sex shops. But they also attacked the corporation Siemens Electronics, the computer firm Nixdorf, and a data center as a form of resistance against arms production, state surveillance measures, and economic restructuring. After 1985, they took up the resistance of women against gene and reproduction technology and concentrated most of their attacks on these areas. Most, but not all, since their action that gained the most public attention was their series of attacks on the clothing chain ‘Adler’ in solidarity with a strike by female textile workers in South Korea. After the store’s management ignored one arson attack, nine Adler stores went up in flames simultaneously on the night of August 15, 1987. Shortly after another arson action by Amazons in Berlin, the company gave in to the demands of the Korean strikers. Seldom had an armed action in Germany had such a concrete, positive effect. It was because of this success that Germany’s federal police and intelligence agencies launched a nationwide series of raids on December 18, 1987, attempting to arrest 33 people and charging them with membership in the RZ/Rote Zora. Many people were able to elude police capture during the raids. Some of these people are still living underground today. Among those arrested, however, was Ingrid Strobl, who police said purchased the alarm clock which was used as a timer in one of the attacks. She spent two and a half years in prison.
In 1990/91, the RZ began to stumble over various theoretical points, and the group de facto dissolved itself over the next few years. The last militant action claimed under the name “Revolutionary Cells (RZ) was an attack on a border police electricity substation in Frankfurt/Oder near the border with Poland. The last action claimed by the Rote Zora was a 1995 attack on a wharf in Bremen that was producing warships for Turkey. The external conditions which contributed to the demise of the RZ included the reunification of Germany and the overwhelming collapse of the left following the Cold War. This new situation made attacks seem like mere actionism in a vacuum. One “traditional” RZ group released a communique in 1991 entitled “This Is Not A Love Song” which summarized the situation as follows: “The attack on the nowadays completely politically irrelevant memorial to militarism, the ‘Siegessaeule’ in Berlin, has made it clear that the Revolutionary Cells are acting entirely out of time and place. (…) Apart from the fact that
the action took place at an irrelevant time, the comrades have revealed that they have no answers for the objective questions which they themselves raised, namely the relationship between nationalism, racism, and sexism, and their own political praxis. The communique that accompanied the action lacked any political orientation. The comrades see clarity where none exists. (…) Militant actions should aim to sharpen social contradictions, to advance social struggles, and to secure or expand free spaces which have been struggled for and won. Militant actions should expose the violence of the ruling system, identify injustice, sabotage the projects of the ruling class, and destroy the system of social and repressive control. Militant actions should act to reverse the increasing feeling of powerlessness among the resistance, to show that resistance is possible, and to destroy the mythos of the ruling powers. Militant actions should hit the ruling powers politically, make them feel insecure, and expose them to ridicule.”
Internally, the murder of Gerd Albartus in Lebanon by his former comrades seems to have started a dynamic of alienation and resignation with the RZ. The text “Gerd Albartus Is Dead”, which appeared in December 1991, make this discussion an open debate for the first time. In January 1992, an RZ group from North Rhein-Westphalia announced the end of its activities in a text entitled “The End Of Our Politics”. At the time, this text was heavily, and justly, criticized. But since ten years have passed, it seems that many points formulated in that paper, although often unclear and off the mark, seem, in fact, “correct” now. In particular, they raised the question of whether attacks where the proper response to the ever-changing conditions. “The form and the means of armed struggle, as we
ourselves know very well, can too easily become an ends in and of itself, a substitute for political strategies.”
The Revolutionary Cells, in several of their communiques, utilized citations from Brecht from his tales of the fictional Mr K. “‘What are you working for?’ Mr K. was asked. Mr K. answered, ‘I am making a great effort, I am preparing for my next mistake.'” As was said before, no one criticized the RZ more harshly than the RZs themselves. The biggest problem seems to have been the drastic shift in the global coordinates in 1990, when the ruling powers completely realigned themselves. Even the CDU has been overtaken by these events. Representative of this is the fact that Joschka Fischer, who used to hurl stones at police together with RZ members in the early 1970s, became Germany’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Chancellor in 1999.
Another problem was the contradiction between the RZ’s desired political organization and their simultaneous existence as a “military” organization. In “The End Of Our Politics”, one RZ group wrote: “Our fixation on methods of struggle meant we neglected a
theoretical political development, something which would have added more content to our individual contributions to various conflicts. Our social-revolutionary theoretical understanding was basically just a mosaic of the sum of our various commentaries and analyses, lumped together from various fields of struggles, and a tighter unification of these was not possible. (…) The dialectic of armed resistance and mass struggle remained purely external. Our own, subjective decision for an all-encompassing political conduct, for armed attacks, and the approval of the left for our attacks we attributed – falsely – to a revolutionary force which could take on the system, the first steps of a revolutionary process. Did we really believe that such a reductive program could actually have an influence on the complexity of social changes in all their political, cultural, social, and organizational extents? Of course we did!”
One of the main motives for the founding of the RZ was to make militant and armed actions in a country like Germany conceivable as a form of action. Looking back today, they were able to achieve this. But that doesn’t solve the question of what forms of action are more useful and justified in actual situations these days.
This text was written in September 2000 by:
c/o Buchladen Schwarze Risse
(Source: “Interim” #499; Translated by Arm The Spirit)