We share below Manfred Buddeberg’s essay, The Student Movement in West Germany, written at the height of events in 1968 (From International Socialism, No.33, Summer 1968, and translated by Jennifer Bell, and available at the site marxists.org).
The Student Movement in West Germany
Since the mid-sixties students have been troubling the West German public. We shall try to describe the main aims of the students’ movement, the basic features of the history of its rise and, finally, look briefly at the individual groups within the student movement and their relationship to the working class. The starting-point for the student movement was and is activity in the colleges themselves. Nevertheless the formation of an independent opposition movement among students is in no way indebted to far-sighted policies of a political student organisation. On the contrary. Until 1964, politics were, for the SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentbund) nothing much more than a means of recruiting Marxist intellectuals, whose chief task was to be the re-establishment of a German workers’ movement. Only the astounding success of the SDS in University politics, its origins based on the history and structure of the West German university and the long hibernation of the West German workers’ movement can explain the shaping of the theories advocated today by the majority of the groups within the SDS. They reflect the real isolation of a radical student movement from a working class, which, over the last fifteen years, has forgotten all about struggle and strike. This is particularly true, as we shall see, of the Berlin students, who have left a permanent stamp on many of the theories and activities of the SDS.
Structural crisis in the university
Along with the restoration of bourgeois democracy in West Germany after the second World War the universities began to be restored to the pattern in which they had existed before the rise of Fascism. The universities acquiesced, more or less willingly, in programmes of denazification and re-education, and saw in the German university institution – an ‘abode of the intellect,’ as long as it stood apart from the influence of the State, indeed from politics altogether – the ‘bastion of an essentially sound tradition.’
Giving formal recognition to the values of democracy, the authorities re-established the idealistic character of the university institution – conceived by Alexander v. Humboldt as ‘a community of instructors and instructed’ – although, compared with the state of the other productive forces, this had been anachronistic and extremely contradictory even before Fascism. In accordance with the intention of its spiritual forefathers, the university was to serve the development of the intellect, free from material, political and ideological forces – this was its progressive, if not Utopian, aim. This aim thrived in increasing contradiction with the needs of an expanding capitalist economy for scientific and academically-based technical progress, and at the same time the need for a large technically educated work-force. The idea of a university as a refuge for the independent intellect was, in a world increasingly determined by the processes of capitalism, not without its reactionary implications; its basic political aloofness had allowed it to become an easy victim of Fascism; and, what had been intended as a ‘republic of scholars,’ became, with the increase in numbers of students and the almost static provision of teachers and equipment, an elitist and hierarchically structured organisation– in which final authority and power was concentrated in the hands of the ‘Ordinarius’ (the professor in charge of a faculty or department) or college principal as the case may be. Although immediately after the second World War there did exist small political groups who were aware of the disastrous role of the universities in the rise of Fascism, these remained without significant influence on the way in which the universities were re-established. A majority of the students at this time were chiefly interested in completing, as quickly and with as little fuss as possible, their studies, which in many cases had been interrupted by the war. The State authorities feared any evidence of a qualitative alteration in the university structure and the professors were above all concerned to maintain the privileges which they possessed within the quasi-feudal university structure. This traditionally ‘idealistic’ structure of the German university would inevitably generate conflict when, because of its pre-industrial character, it could no longer fulfil the needs of a growing capitalist economy.
The West Berlin ‘Freie Universität’ (Free University) occupies a special position in this sketch of the post-war development of the universities. It was founded in 1948 on the initiative of a group of students from the East Berlin Humboldt University, as a protest against the political domination of the students by the administration of the Soviet sector of Berlin. These students were, above all, consciously attempting to found an anti-totalitarian– that is, anti-Stalinist as well as anti-Fascist – institution; the Americans, without whose help such a foundation would have been impossible, saw it as an anti-Communist establishment. Nevertheless the action of the students who founded the university was supported by the support of student representatives on all the university senates; also the intentions of the founders – which were often glamorised – became a starting point for comparatively strong political interest among students. Both these facts differentiated the FU from other West German universities, in which official participation by elected students on university senates, and political activity among students were both very slight. The participation of two student representatives on the senate of the Freie Universität presupposed a basic understanding between students and professors; only with such a pre-supposition could this ‘gentleman’s agreement’ function relatively free from conflict. With the restoration of political parties within the Federal Republic, the growing policies of co-existence between Moscow and Washington, and finally with the structural crisis in the universities, this agreement broke down. Whilst the academic administration and the majority of lecturers remained indifferent or conservative towards these changes, the students’ inclination towards some form of political non-conformity increased the tendency to disregard the ideological boundaries of the Cold War. In Berlin, where the relationship of students to professors had not been based on subordination, but on a sort of precarious understanding, this was enough to create, from the early sixties, increasingly sharp conflicts which have gradually spread to West German universities.
Reform or Revolt in the Universities
As long as one of the first aims of the student movement was a reform of the universities themselves and their courses of study, the demands of the students in this direction found a certain amount of positive acclaim among the public. Outside the student body, too, experts recognised the necessity for the universities to become training grounds for an academically trained work-force, in order to fit the quantitatively and qualitatively changed demand. For with the decline of the postwar boom, it could be seen that a larger supply of better educated specialist workers was indispensable to an improvement of the West German economic infrastructure. And so people demanded not only the erection of new universities, but also, by shortening the length of study of each student, an increase in the turnover and output of the universities. It was hoped that this could be achieved through a stricter regimentation and standardisation of courses, which, up till then, the individual student had been able to arrange to suit his own interests. The demand for stricter regimentation, however, came into conflict with the needs of those students, for whom this lack of direction was synonymous with academic freedom vis-a-vis the chaotic organisation of most university departments. This technocratically conceived reform of studies threatened to lead to a sort of ‘academic Taylorism’ in which the lack of physical and organisational equipment would be made up for by an increase in the intensity of work among the students; further it threatened to subjugate the universities – previously enclaves of free discussion and reflection – entirely to the needs of capitalism. In contrast to this, increasingly large groups of students are demanding a ‘democratisation’ of the universities and courses of study. By this is meant on the one hand a decrease in the hierarchical structure of the university and an increase in the students’ rights of co-determination and self-determination; on the other hand, a decrease in all irrational and superfluous regimentation of study, through more or less voluntary intermediate examinations, schematic timetables of study, etc; that is, exactly the opposite of what the technocratic reformers have in mind.
The demand for greater effectiveness of the study period is put forward particularly by extra-university groups and institutions, such as the ‘Wissenschaftsrat’ (a council of experts on the reform of studies strongly influenced by the economic situation), by many professors and by bureaucratic student officials in the Verband Deutscher Studenten(General Student Union). On the other hand, the demand for democratisation comes much more genuinely from the rank and file students themselves. So the first disagreements within the Berlin Freie Universität arose around the rights of the students to participate in the running of the University – these rights already existed in a limited form – and around the right to take responsibility for their own political activities (free speech!). At the same time, other West German universities looked to the rights already achieved by the students of the FU as a model for their own democratic reforms. Experience in Berlin had shown, however, that student representatives could be outvoted by the overwhelming teaching representation on the senates, and that in all cases of conflict they actually were outvoted. So it came about that today in Berlin and most other universities ‘third part representation’ is demanded on all university senates, and not just symbolic representation. ‘Third part representation’ means that the councils should consist of one third professors, one third assistant teaching staff and one third students – and moreover, that all parties, and not just the student representatives, should be democratically elected. So far this demand has not been achieved in any university. The maximum so far allowed to students – even as a basis for negotiations – is a 20 per cent representation.
Nevertheless the ‘third part representation’ demand is winning more and more support in all student organisations. It is, however, questionable whether even this would bring for the students the advantages they expect. One can draw parallels here with co-determination in industry. Co-determination in the university as well as in industry must finally amount to the fact that the workers have to collaborate over sackings and the students over material restrictions in their studies. So co-determination is a two-edged sword, so long as it leaves untouched the power of individuals over the means of production on the one hand and over the investment in education on the other. How far ‘third part representation’ could, through an additional power of veto by the student representatives, effectively prevent decisions unfavourable to the students could only be tested through experience. Nevertheless, this demand, however much overestimated, has the function of stimulating intensive discussion among students about the dictatorial structure of the universities, and also about the involvement of education and training with economic interests. The demand for a ‘political mandate’ for the elected student representatives, has been of no less great significance for Left-wing students. Basically these representatives only have the right to give an opinion about ‘student concerns.’ Officially such a restriction has been established in this way: the student representatives are representatives of the whole student body and not of a specific political group within the student body; They are chosen not according to political group but according to faculty, and therefore students of other political convictions would have no opportunity of making their voice heard on the senate. This argument by the authorities obviously serves to stifle politically unacceptable utterances by the student representatives, for it would never have been considered valid if these political viewpoints had accorded with the views of the Government. Meanwhile, the student body has in fact won for itself a political mandate – although this is still contested by the authorities. In almost all universities today student representatives are chosen according to political points of view, and partly even, the candidates stand as representatives of a particular political group. In many universities the student representatives organise demonstrations against the Vietnam war or against the Emergency Laws; the political mandate has become today one of the most significant successes of the student movement.
Apart from the demand for a democratisation of the learning process, a demand for the politicisation of the university and content of courses has been made by the politically conscious section of students. This demand stems from the idea that a consciousness of the political implications of their work will arise among an academically trained work-force in direct proportion to the degree to which the results of their training will be industrially usable. This demand of course, comes across opposition from all professors and students who are supporters of a ‘value-free’ positivist concept of learning. (Here many professors are aware of their own, never fully comprehended, experiences of ‘politicisation’ of learning by National Socialism.) The ideas of the students about a politicisation of study are more or less precise only in the fields of social sciences and the arts. Since the 1967/8 winter term, some people have been attempting to put these ideas into practice in the Berlin Kritische Universität (Critical University). There, students and lecturers have been attempting, in a series of working groups, discussion groups and teach-ins to discuss and study subjects which are simply omitted from, or insufficiently covered in, the usual university course – such as political economy, the sociology of literature, analysis of Fascism, political law, psychoanalysis, etc. The KU is the result of the sudden broadening which the student movement has undergone since the murder of Benno Ohnesorg on 2 June 1967. Students who, because of the action of the Berlin police, became politicised spontaneously and more or less emotionally, needed a new form of political education, which the temporarily paralysed Berlin SDS was not able to offer. The programme of the KU resembles in many ways an extended programme of the SDS study groups, but it has also taken over the sterile emphasis on academic method of the traditional university. In addition, allowances have to be made for the heterogeneous nature of the members of the KU. Some see in it a contemporary extension of the existing university, others a training ground for the ‘extra-parliamentary opposition,’ and still others see it as a model for a Utopian university in a Utopian society, and finally even as a model for a Socialist society, which should be ‘a community of students’ (‘Gesellschaft von Lernenden’). These latter ideas reflect a tendency on the part of the students to overestimate their own political activity; further the danger becomes obvious that nothing will be done with the KU but to reproduce the idealistic ‘republic of scholars’ and thereby isolate critical theory from political practice. The idea of a ‘community of students’ is a kind of conception of ‘socialism in a university,’ a theory about the changing of society into a ‘collectively-based democracy’ through the example of changing the universities into ‘collectively-based universities.’ In practice these ideas are, in the nature of things, scarcely relevant. They simply show the inclination of the student movement theoretically to make something absolute out of partial, strategic actions; perhaps this shows a, scarcely conscious, intention to create the whole revolutionary avant-garde out of a single-issue movement. However, these sceptical comments should not detract from the positive role of the KU in the theoretical instruction of students in and out of the SDS. One of its chief weaknesses – that is its tendency towards scholarly-academic learning – was recognised by SDS students in other cities and this stimulated even more speedy forms of action to politicise the universities. In several universities, the students held ‘go-ins’ at the lectures of politically exposed professors, in order to challenge them to discussion with the students. From the professors came immediate protests against this violation of academic protocol. Even among students the reaction was, at the least, ambivalent. The extremely sharp reactions of the academic administrations, who accused the SDS of terrorist methods and forbade it – e.g. in Frankfurt – to hold further meetings in the university, did however lead to greater solidarity among the student body and closer links between the majority of student representatives and the SDS. The Frankfurt students’ ‘go-in,’ which in itself was not particularly successful, at a lecture given by Carlo Schmitt, a prominent Social Democrat and professor of political theory, did mark the beginning of the student movement in Frankfurt. In retrospect, the provocative action of the SDS students showed the powerlessness of the conservative professors, who clearly were in no position to react in any other way than to call for peace and order and for the preservation of dignified behaviour. The strategy of provocation, practically incomprehensible to non-students outside the university, was successful in bringing about a base to the student movement. One must admit, however, that no concrete goal was reached through such action; however, for a large number of students they did – to a certain extent like a successful schoolboy joke – call into question the authority of their professors, which obviously was based on nothing other than their ‘academic office.’ Action of this sort, as carried out during the last semester, was proof of the fact that the student movement has developed not only aims, but also genuine forms of student activity. In the long term, these tactics in the isolation of the universities are probably scarcely effectual, as they cannot be carried over to non-student groups, particularly not to groups of workers. Nevertheless they have the important function of mobilising and consolidating the student base. Even if it is true that the problems of the university cannot be solved within the universities themselves, this phase of genuine student struggle for student goals by student means is a phase whose significance should not be underestimated for the development of a radical opposition in the Federal Republic.
The Struggle against the Emergency Laws and the ‘Grand Coalition’
Again and again the student movement has extended its activity beyond goals and actions concerned with college politics. This prevented them from succumbing to the bureaucratic attempts at solution of internal university problems, and likewise from an aesthetic self-reliance in their primarily student-orientated activities. Not only the hard socialist core of the movement, but also the social democrat groups like the SHB (Sozialdemocratischer Hochschulbund) and radical liberals like the HSU (Humanistische Studenten Union) followed a programme extending beyond the colleges themselves – which is often summed up in the slogan ‘defence of basic rights.’ In the middle of this struggle for the retention of a constitutionally democratic social State stands the fight against the Emergency Laws (cf. IS 22). Here the question, for all radical democratic opponents of the emergency powers, is primarily to retain the parliamentary system and the freedoms of the people (freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, secrecy of post, etc.). The socialist groups on the other hand see in the emergency powers primarily a threat to independent workers’ organisations; for the Emergency Laws, through the State’s right to direct labour by force, restrict the right to strike and the right to free choice of place of work. In the fight against the Emergency Laws arise most points of contact between the ‘opposition students’ (Left-wing intellectuals) and the workers. For previously it was the ‘No’ of the trade unions which prevented the passing of decisive parts of the Emergency Laws. But since the entry of the SPD into the national coalition Government, the attitude of the trade-union leadership, personally and politically committed to the SPD, threatens to become more compliant. Among many students, too, interest in the seemingly dry and purely legalistic disputes about the emergency powers lessened after the ‘publicity campaigns’ of 1965 and 1967, and has partly given way to a conviction that the Emergency Laws can no longer be prevented as they are an inevitable expression of a system, which has become more and more irrational and ‘pre-fascist.’ Police action against student demonstrations since the 2nd June has certainly given a bloodily realistic forewarning of what the Left-wing opposition can expect after the passing of the Emergency Laws, and has helped the struggle against the Emergency Laws to a new sense of urgency, even among temporarily resigned sceptics in the SDS.
The entry of the SPD into the Grand Coalition was a shock for many students, who, for a long time, had felt themselves to be ‘the left of the SPD;’ but much less so perhaps for the SDS, for already in 1960, the SPD had grown away from the SDS when it passed a resolution proclaiming common membership incompatible. However, since the formation of the coalition in Autumn 1966, groups, which until then had gritted their teeth and remained loyal to the SPD, looked round in vain for a party to represent their interests in parliament and in public. Such groups, which had previously belonged to the SHB – the then official student organisation of the SPD – were coming even more sharply into disagreement with the SPD leadership, and became sympathetic to the SDS.
The concept of the ‘extra-parliamentary opposition,’ with which opposition students, schoolchildren, intellectuals and workers today like to identify, actually dates from the setting up of the CDU/SPD government. This reveals two points; firstly that this opposition is not represented in parliament and secondly that it rejects parliamentary representation as being indissolubly linked with the system of bourgeois sham-democracy; this latter point is, however, one on which there is by no means unity in the extra-parliamentary opposition. The formation of the Grand Coalition was necessary to discipline the workers, and so prevent the first large-scale recession since the war in West Germany. Nevertheless, in Hesse, there were comparatively sharp wage disputes in the metal and chemical industries, and it even came to strikes in the chemical industries. The reaction of the student movement was, however, limited to a telegram of solidarity with the strikers. Apart from this there was a tendency to link economic stagnation primarily with the crisis in the universities, and sometimes to go so far as to assert that the lack of a qualified work-force, the reason for the growing pressure for achievement on the universities, is today the basic contradiction in West German capitalism. Along with this existed a theoretically little-thought-out, but significant, reaction to the end of the Wirtschaftswunder: in several towns in which the public transport companies wanted to increase fares, there were impassioned and partially successful demonstrations. They were initiated, and at first carried out, by secondary school children. Since 1967 there have been in existence in most towns socialist or ‘independent’ groups of schoolchildren, founded with the help of the SDS. Their aims consist primarily of demands for liberal sex-education and for the democratisation of the teacher/pupil relationship. When these groups turned their attention to fare increases which hit most schoolchildren hardest, they soon found themselves supported by the workers. After the economic recession had (thanks to the SPD) led to no noticeable political reactions except among the workers in the Ruhr, one could see, in these demonstrations against fare-increases, the rudimentary beginnings of a radical working for common interests, in which workers, schoolchildren and students fought together with solidarity.
The Struggle against US Imperialism
None of the activities outside the colleges played such an important role in the development and consolidation of the student movement as the fight against the American war in Vietnam. This was decisive in the change in consciousness of SDS members and many other students away from a radical-democratic and social-reformist to a revolutionary-socialist standpoint – however open to criticism this latter may be. The SDS organised the first discussions about the Vietnam war in Berlin in 1964. The SDS put forward at this time a primarily humanitarian and pacifist argument. The first resolution supported in 1965 by over one hundred West German professors and intellectuals – many of them very well-known – and about 3,000 students at the Freie Universität, could be summed up as ‘Freedom and Self-determination for Vietnam,’ and tried to show that the National Liberation Front was in no way a communist organisation, but rather was substantially supported by bourgeois forces (a fact which today is ignored or unmentioned). In spite of all the tactical reticence of the war’s opponents, there were already in 1965 sharp clashes between the university and city authorities and the Berlin police on the one hand and the students under the leadership of the SDS on the other. For the protests against the American war in Vietnam broke a double taboo: they set themselves against the forces, particularly strong in Berlin, of militant anti-communism, for whom even the most inhuman means are justifiable in fighting the enemy; and they set themselves against the Americans, the liberators from the Nazi regime and protectors from the Bolshevik danger. The anti-Vietnam war demonstrators were told that anyone who was for the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam was putting in danger the ‘freedom’ of West Berlin, which only existed thanks to the presence of the Americans. The mere reference to the wall between both parts of Berlin remained one of the standard arguments used against the opponents of the Vietnam war and also served to denounce them among the public as ‘agents of Ulbricht.’ Only with the spread of the movement against the Vietnam war and the intensification of discussion and analysis of Vietnam’s problems did Vietnam cease to be for the opposition students merely an object for sympathy, against which the USA was waging a barbaric and senseless war, and become a sample case of neo-colonialist and imperialist exploitation and of a people’s war of liberation against imperialism and feudalism. More and more the interest of the opposition students turned away from the problems and contradictions in their own land, for which, lacking a ‘revolutionary subject,’ they saw no solution, and towards the wars of liberation in the Third World. The principle of the necessity for revolution in the underdeveloped countries has today become almost a platitude among Left-wing social democrats and intellectuals. These people frequently expect, in accordance with the Chinese theory, a movement of struggle from the villages to the cities,’ or a collapse of the entire capitalist system from its ostensibly weakest point, the areas of colonial dependence. However vague and politically unsound these ideas may be – ideas which emanate from the SDS and are advocated by most SDS members – they have nevertheless awoken in the students a consciousness that there are contradictions in capitalism, which capitalism itself cannot solve by immanent reforms. These ideas have contributed to shaking the faith in social democracy, whose leaders only speak of the Vietnam war concurringly, evasively or not at all.
Among most Left wing students and most SDS comrades, solidarity with the Vietnamese liberation movement goes far beyond the support of its anti-imperialist struggle. Frequently it has taken on grotesque forms of a ‘guerilla-cult’ – with Mao badges, Che Guevara pictures, etc. Even among the less romantic Left-wingers, there are few who would be in a position to make a sober assessment of the colonial liberation movements. The students – themselves a movement, at least in origin, of petit-bourgeois radicals – are inclined to see a model for their own movement and their own actions in the petit-bourgeois peasant liberation movements of the underdeveloped countries. They do not recognise the inadequacy of guerilla-type actions in industrialised countries, do not grasp the class boundaries of these movements nor the limitation of their political goals and successes. The students saw one possibility for identifying with guerilla actions in the Third World, in the substitution of more provocative demonstration tactics for the traditionally solemn protest marches. Groups within the SDS hoped, by throwing tomatoes and eggs at the ‘America Houses’ and blancmange at Vice-President Humphrey, to turn, on the one hand, public attention to problems as yet not at all, or very scarcely, discussed, and on the other hand to express, at least symbolically, hatred for US imperialism. This first aim succeeded without any doubt; with the first eggs hurled in spring 1966 at the Berlin America House, the anti-Vietnam war protests of the students conquered the headlines of the daily papers. At the same time worry about the students’ protests was expressed for the first time in bourgeois and social-democrat circles. At first the police attempted to crush the radical students by instituting harsh proceedings against them. Subsequently, with the increase in numbers of demonstrators, attempts increased to break through the rules laid down for such occasions by police and traffic regulations, and so the attempts of the police were intensified. It was just these police measures to suppress the opposition of students which caused other previously uninvolved students to show solidarity with the demonstrators. The parallel, exaggerated certainly, but nevertheless for each individual demonstrator meaningfully evident, drawn by many student leaders between the police regime in Vietnam and the terrorist action of the police in Berlin, grew in its power to convince – even among uninvolved students. For, in Berlin particularly, reprisals against the SDS grew even tougher, and here city and academic authorities were working hand in hand. In the University they threatened to forbid the existence of the SDS, and in the city still more numerous police were moved in to intimidate the demonstrators with truncheons and arrests. The struggle of the politically active minority of opposition students in Berlin reached its climax in the brutal cudgelling of those demonstrating against the Shah of Persia on 2 June 1967 – during which a student, Benno Ohnesorg, was killed by a police bullet.
Police Terror – a result of manipulation?
The death of Benno Ohnesorg was more than a tragic accident. It was a characteristic result of the mobilisation of the oppressive forces of the State, which have since been in common use against the students. At the same time, it was symptomatic of the situation of the Berlin students. The ‘pogrom-atmosphere’ which arose for the second time with the Vietnam Congress and demonstration against the Government in February 1968, has a variety of causes, which are all most clearly marked in Berlin. In Berlin the student movement was strongest, so those anti-intellectual feelings which are so common among the conservative petit-bourgeoisie and workers with a petit-bourgeois consciousness, expressed themselves most strongly there too.
This common social-psychological mechanism has been intensified by the peculiar nature of the population structure in Berlin, and its special economic situation. West Berlin is an industrial area with a largely ageing and shrinking working population, a consequence of its territorial isolation and the tense political situation. This, and the isolation from surrounding industrial areas, makes Berlin, structurally, a crisis area. Neither politics in general nor the politics of the West Berlin trade unions take this fact into account. Indeed considerable subsidies and public investment have been given to West Berlin; these are gladly accepted by industrialists to improve the position of their profits, but are never used as investment in new branches of industry, which are imperative in the present economic situation of West Berlin. The subsidies do the workers of West Berlin no good either. The West Berlin trade unions are anything but militant –on the contrary, they are openly reactionary. Together with the West German and the West Berlin regimes they suggest to the people that West Berlin is a bulwark of the Free West standing against Bolshevism, and in so doing conjure up a ‘fascistoid’ ideology, prepared to take action against all those who do not ally themselves with the cause of the ‘decent frontier citizens.’ Two examples will serve to illustrate the politics of the West Berlin trade unions, which are partly responsible for the political isolation of the Berlin students. Since 1948 there has been no industrial struggle; the 1st of May, which, in West Germany, is often a sort of trade-union public holiday, is, in West Berlin, a day of unity against the ‘Enemy in the East,’ at which speakers like Heinrich Lübke utter nationalistic platitudes. This anti-communist ‘frontier town atmosphere’ in Berlin finds an echo in, and indeed is continuously stimulated by, the publications of the Springer Group – to which belong 75 per cent of the West Berlin press and 60 per cent of the daily papers in West Germany.
The objective isolation of the students from the working class was for a long time theoretically conscious and intentional. Along with Herbert Marcuse and theoreticians of the Third World like Guevara, Debray, Fanon, etc., they saw in the working class and its organisations, forces acquiescing in and determined by the system, and regarded themselves, on the contrary, as bearers of the pure ‘revolutionary truth.’ The Berlin students particularly saw Marcuse’s theories borne out in reality. But up to then they had not seriously asked themselves whether the demands and activities of the student movement were geared to activate the majority of the working class. Workers, unlike students, have not learned to think in the abstract. Their consciousness is concrete. The situation in the factories is essentially different from that of the students in the universities. The tendency inside the student movement to postulate the struggles inside the universities as a model for conflicts in other areas of society led to the fact that, for a long time, the Berlin students felt themselves more closely linked with the Vietcong than with the workers in their own city; while the Berlin workers felt themselves nearer to their exploiters than to the students, who claimed to represent the objective interests of the working class.
This situation changed strikingly after the death of Benno Ohnesorg. Suddenly it was realised that a student movement isolated from the population was defencelessly exposed to the power of the State and the violence of certain sections of society at large. After the 2nd June, there was not only a movement towards solidarity among previously unpolitical students, there was simultaneously a feverish activity to arouse support among the community and particularly among workers, by disseminating information in the city and outside factories. The result was disappointing. Only then did the students really come to appreciate the degree of resentment which existed.
The Anti-Springer Campaign
Out of experiences of permanent public denunciation and vain attempts to create understanding among workers, there arose the demand for the ‘dispossession of Springer.’ For a long time the popular tabloid papers of the Springer press had been considered, even by liberals, as ‘irresponsible creators of opinion.’ Therefore the anger of the students after the events of the 2nd June met with a certain amount of sympathy among liberal journals like Der Spiegel, Die Zeit and Der Stern. This sympathy mainly consisted of paternal and benevolent articles about the student unrest, and, of course, recommended the way forward from radical activity to ‘genuine reforms.’ They agreed though, in the Springer case, only, under certain circumstances, to a limitation of circulation, to an unravelling of the combine, but under no circumstances to a complete dispossession. For this would certainly endanger private enterprise – and therefore their own position. Also certain representatives of the FDP (Liberal Party) sympathised with the students, but always with the proviso that private property could not be touched. The fact that the students – particularly the SDS – stuck to the demand for expropriation, gave their demands an apparently socialist nature. The fact that their demands were mostly taken up by liberals, pacifists, clergymen and intellectuals, but basically did not interest the workers, shows that the student movement had not yet succeeded in shaking off its petit-bourgeois roots. But it must be emphasised that the anti-Springer campaign was a reflex action against the actual, systematic denunciation of the students in the press and particularly in the Springer press. The campaign further reflected the base of the SDS which had suddenly become extended after the events of the 2nd June. Basically the SDS had always represented groups whose sympathies had rested on a more or less aesthetic discomfort about bourgeois society and this tendency grew through the sudden influx of students, often scarcely educated theoretically, who were simply emotionally roused by the pressure of recent events. When one considers that many of these students were of liberal or pacifist origin, and that many of the most politically active students were concerned in their studies – professionally as it were – with hierarchical phenomena, then the anti-Springer campaign was the logical form of action for an almost purely student movement which contained a large percentage of idealistic critics of society and only a small proportion of real Marxists.
The Attempted Murder of Rudi Dutschke
The anti-Springer campaign would probably have stayed at press statements, pamphlets and ‘Expropriate Springer’ badges, and indeed was becoming less intense because of new actions in the universities – the struggle for ‘third part representation’ and the large Berlin Vietnam congress on the 17th February. To all intents and purposes it was pronounced dead at the extraordinary delegate conference at the end of March. Then it was given a new lease of life suddenly and spontaneously because of the attempted murder of Rudi Dutschke on 11th April. Justifiably parallels were drawn between this act of an extreme rightwing individualist and the post-Vietnam Congress atmosphere, which was again sharply anti-student. Justifiably the actual guilt for the attempted murder was placed at the door of Springer and his Berlin press, as well as at mat of the entire Berlin establishment. So there arose in almost all large West German cities, demonstrations of unexpected size against the Springer combine. These demonstrations showed a fury which had not previously existed. They occurred chiefly outside printing and publishing houses of the Springer group. They repeatedly succeeded, at least for a matter of hours, in holding up the delivery of the newspapers. On Easter Monday, the last day of this wave of demonstrations, the police were, according to information available, coordinated on a country-wide scale. Summary courts were set up to deal with the students. Never before in the history of the Federal Republic have such comprehensive emergency measures been taken. The intervention of almost all police forces, centrally directed from Bonn, and their harsh action, and also the deaths of two people in the Munich demonstrations, led to an abrupt cessation of the storm against the Springer group. It was clear that the student movement – which, however, this time had drawn with it many young workers – could always be beaten down by the organised power of the State. Again the students carried out publicity campaigns in the cities and outside factories, but this time the task was even more difficult than after the 2nd June, even though one could speak more convincingly than before of emergency measures of the State machine being used against students. Now, publicly for the first time, sections of the CDU demanded the banning of the SDS.
This is roughly the situation at the time of writing. In front of us lies a march on the Federal capital, Bonn, planned for the 11th May by workers, schoolchildren and students, against the passing of the Emergency Laws, which threatens imminently. The DGB (Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund – Federation of German Trade Unions) had already announced its own arrangements for a protest against the Emergency Laws for the same day, in another town.
The DGB bureaucrats know that if they were to take part in the Bonn demonstration they would lose control over their members. Should the students succeed, through their publicity campaigns, in winning over sections of the trade unions for their Bonn demonstration, then not only would the students’ isolation be broken through, but also heated discussions would be provoked in the ranks of the trade unions themselves.
The political motive force behind the student movement was, and is, without doubt, the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenverband. Today it is the only student organisation which can claim to have working groups in all the universities. However, the SDS is anything but a homogeneous political group. Three chief groups can be distinguished among the many tendencies represented within the organisation.
The historically oldest group – the Left-wing social democrats – has lost most of its influence today and is chiefly confined to the University of Marburg. The goal of this group is the founding of a Left-wing socialist party in the style of the Scandinavian Left-wing parties or the Italian PSIUP. It is not by chance that some of the ‘ex-officials’ of the SDS congregate round this group. Its consciousness was decisively determined during the arguments with the Social Democrat Party at the beginning of the sixties. After the expulsion of the SDS from the SPD in 1960, for several years this tendency was the major influence in the SDS. Apart from playing a part in the campaign against the Emergency Laws this group has today lost its importance within the SDS. Of course it does represent a sort of connecting link between the SDS and Left-wing trade-union officials. In the last year it has definitely been coming nearer to a second group – the CP faction. Together with these, the first group stood, at the March 1968 extraordinary delegate conference, for the founding of a coalition party for the 1969 Federal elections.
The Left-wing Social democrats and the Communists are today classed as ‘Traditionalists’ by the majority of the SDS. The CP faction can depend on the Cologne and Bonn groups, and to a certain extent on the Munich group. It goes without saying that this group sees as a very important task the building up of contacts between the SDS and FDJ (Free German Youth of East Germany), and also the reduction of ‘anti-communism’ within the SDS. The reduction of anti-communism in this form is not an attractive programme for students, and to equate socialism with the GDR (East Germany) arouses little sympathy. Nevertheless there are useful Marxist discussion groups within the CP faction; and the contacts which exist with the SED (East Germany) are linked with a criticism of these – however
benevolent this criticism may be – so that there can be no question of sole dependence on these by the CP faction. At present the CP faction groups have at their disposal the best contacts within the SDS with the working class – without their being able to point to any visible results, beyond education programmes for the trade unions. Their college activities are no different from those of other SDS groups. The CP faction’s criticism of the ‘anti-authoritarians’ – the present majority of the SDS – that these no longer regard themselves as part of the working-class movement and so have abandoned the roots of Marxism-Leninism, was previously a sterile criticism, because it was limited to an abstract, theoretical reproach – without offering a practical alternative. Altogether the ‘traditionalists’ comprise about one third of the representatives at delegate conferences.
The large majority of the SDS – particularly of the younger comrades – belongs to the group of ‘anti-authoritarians.’ This is strongest in Berlin and Frankfurt and has most influence at the moment on the policies of the SDS as a whole. This group arose first of all against the background of the Berlin students’ movement. Two theoretical elements have been decisive in its development: firstly the analyses of Fascism made by the Institut fur Sozialforschung (a research body of critical German social scientists, which, from 1930 worked first in Germany and later in emigration in France and the USA) – that is the work of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Franz Neumann and Walter Benjamin; secondly the theoreticians of the Third World. The attempts of the Institut fur Sozialforschung to present an exact analysis of fascism was of course fascinating to the serious sections among post-war students. From these studies have come the great influence on anti-authoritarian students of psycho-analysis and the inclination towards subjective neo-Hegelian theories. If, along with Adorno and Marcuse, they define the present bourgeois capitalist system as ‘closed’ and ‘without the possibility of a concrete negation,’ then the logical consequence is a ‘shifting of the revolutionary subject’ to fringe social groups, which anyway stand outside society as such, and to the Third World. And also the ‘revolutionary subject’ is no longer determined economically but by psychological categories. Thus it was that the Vietnam war became such a central issue for the ‘anti-authoritarians,’ who also like to call themselves Maoists. Organisational consequences spring from these voluntary beginnings; in accordance with the analysis of the Institut fur Sozialforschung, the reason for the wrecking of the workers’ movement by Fascism is seen not in the positive breakdown of the political parties leading the workers’ movement, but in a fundamental deforming of the workers’ consciousness towards an authoritarian character structure. This comes about because of the hierarchical structure and relationships based on subordination within the economic process, and is preserved – even today – by the conscious manipulation of the ruling classes. All this is said to explain why, after the destruction of fascism, the workers did not turn towards a revolutionary consciousness. These assertions that there exists an all-powerful ‘industry’ for the manipulation of the economically dependent within society forms the theoretical springboard for the anti-Springer campaign. The anti-authoritarians have therefore developed an elitist strategy for the liberation of the workers: the liberation of the workers can no longer be the task of the workers themselves, but first of all, a section of intellectuals suited for the task, must remove the veil of their manipulation from the workers’ eyes.
Among the criticisms directed at the Stalinist CP is, justifiably, the criticism of its bureaucratic authoritarian apparatus. However, this appears not as the working of a definite class grouping but as an autonomous technical instrument. An organisational consequence of this is a leaning towards looser associations, whose immediate task is to form themselves into ‘collectives,’ which are geared towards Left-wing radical theoreticians of the twenties, like Korsch, Pannekoek, etc. Naturally leading on from these ideas then is a complete rejection of the founding of a new party, particularly of a parliament-orientated party, such as the other two groups are striving for. The events of the 2nd June have however greatly modified both the theories and the actions of the anti-authoritarians. The sudden turning towards the population at large – partly instigated by students outside the SDS – brought with it a turn in theory towards more pragmatic concepts. The students had learned that, as a ‘radical minority,’ they could effortlessly be beaten by the concerted powers of the State. So a declaration of the Executive Committee of the SDS concluded: ‘the students will only find understanding of their problems among other social groups and perhaps among industrial workers insofar as they make the problems of the others their own, and continually support them.’ The working class – for the traditionalists a dogmatised fetish and given up for the time being by the anti-authoritarians in favour of the Third World – was now seen quite pragmatically as a definite ally. Nevertheless the delegate conference in Autumn 1967 was still dominated by high flown attempts to analyse the system and by romantic ideas about urban guerilla warfare. The winter semester, too, was taken up with activities inside the colleges, which did however form the basis for the spread of many groups, as yet still small and politically uneducated. A new phase of consolidation inside the colleges followed the spontaneous turning towards the working class. The attempted murder of Rudi Dutschke, the experiences of the anti-Springer campaign, the renewed, massive intervention of the police, all gave further impetus to the way in which the students now looked to the workers as allies. Here one finds the tendency for originally petit-bourgeois student movements in highly developed countries to be forced, so to speak, into the arms of the proletariat, only through force of circumstance and a realisation of their own impotence. The attempt to form political groups in contact with individual factories shows an organisational beginning. However sceptically one may look at this still unformed movement, there does lie here a chance not only for the student movement, but also for the West German working class, which is now, with the economic recession, beginning to wake up.
It is the task of Marxists to support these tendencies in such a way that a revolutionary political movement among the working class grows out of them.
Rudi Dutschke (English Subtitles)
68 ÜBER ALLES! (from Azsacra Zarathustra)