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Antigone Agonistes: Urban Guerrilla or Guerrilla Urbanism?
The Red Army Fraction, Germany in Autumn and Death Game

Thomas Elsaesser

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Burying the RAF







1. I want to thank Michael Wedel (Berlin), Ulrich Kriest (Stuttgart) and Peter Kramer (Norwich), as well as Eric Ames (Berkeley) and Kay Hoffmann (Stuttgart) for their assistance with source material and additional research.

  On April 20th, 1998 a letter addressed to the State Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe arrived at the Reuters News Agency bureau in Bonn, declaring the voluntary dissolution of the RAF, the Red Army Fraction, West Germany's 'urban guerilla' movement from the 1970s. The date was as symbolically overdetermined as had been many of their often violent actions in previous decades. Timing their demise with Hitler's birthday made commentators wonder if this was not a hoax, though whether on the part of the remaining RAF activists or put about by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation itself remained another tantalizing ambiguity. If this traumatic display of spectacle on the theme of urban disruption and political dissidence had indeed come to an end, it was probably not unconnected with the media blitz that six months earlier - in October and November 1997 - had 'covered' the twentieth anniversary of the turbulent weeks known as the 'hot autumn of 1977' or Deutsche Herbst. The mise-en-scene of national recollection on television appeared to achieve what the police and the security services had failed to accomplish: to 'bury' the RAF along with its mythology, by once more staging it. This essay asks what finally was at stake in the mythology, and what did its burial in turn help to over-expose? (1)  

2. The best-known English-language account is Jillian Becker, Hitler's Children? The story of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang (New York/Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1977).




3. Among the studies of terrorism in an international, historical perspective, see Anthony M. Burton, Urban Terrorism: Theory, Practice, Response (New York: The Free Press, 1975); Martha Crenshaw (ed.), Terrorism, Legitimacy, and Power (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1983); Noam Chomsky, The Culture of Terrorism (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Edward S Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan, The 'Terrorism' Industry (New York: Pantheon, 1990).

4. A complete filmography can be found in P.Kraus, N. Lettenewitsch, U.Saekel et al. (eds.), Deutschland im Herbst: Terrorismus und Film (Munich: Münchner Filmzentrum, 1997), pp 118-133.

5. Among the many essays on Germany in Autumn mention should be made of Miriam Hansen, 'Alexander Kluge's Contribution to Germany in Autumn', New German Critique no 24-25, Fall/Winter 1981-82, pp 36-56; Felix Guattari, 'Like the Echo of a Collective Melancholy' in Semiotexte, vol 4, no 2, 1982, pp 102-110; Marc Silverman, 'Germany in Autumn' in Discourse no 6, Fall 1983, pp 48-52; Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp 22-28; Joachim Paech, 'Zweimal "Deutschland im Herbst": 1977 und 1992', Kinoschriften (Vienna), no 4, 1996, pp 87-105.


To much of the world, the RAF is mostly remembered as the Baader-Meinhof group, after Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, two key protagonists of the so-called 'first generation'. (2) At the time of the 'hot autumn' Ulrike Meinhof was no longer alive; she had hanged herself on May 9th, 1976 while awaiting trial. Since Baader, Horst Mahler, Gudrun Ensslin, Jan Karl Raspe were also in prison, it was the 'second generation' who claimed responsibility for a series of 'political' actions in 1977: foremost among them the kidnapping (on September 5th) of Hans Martin Schleyer, Chairman of the German Federation of Industry and a Director of Daimler Benz; the hijacking (on October 13th) of a Lufthansa flight of German tourists, forced to land in Mogadishu, Somalia, with a demand to free the RAF prisoners. The 'hot autumn' was the aftermath of these actions: the storming of the plane by a German elite unit, the discovery of Schleyer's body in the trunk of a car in France, and three presumed suicides inside the Stammheim maximum security prison near Stuttgart, where Raspe, Baader and Ensslin took their lives (on October 18th), after learning of the failure of the Mogadishu hijack in forcing their release. Although acts of violence continued to be attributed to RAF members not rounded up or killed in the subsequent dragnet searches, arrests and shoot-outs with the police, by Christmas of 1977 the German government was confident enough to declare the 'terrorist threat' to be over and for public life to return to 'normal'.

As we know, however, the tremor of the events lingered on, not only in Germany. Because both the State and its youthful opponents had, for however brief a moment, shown themselves capable of ruthlessness, violence and open confrontation so extreme that it had torn the unexpectedly flimsy fabric of the post-war political consensus, the RAF episode became a turning point also for armed militant action elsewhere. (3) In Germany, the recoil and the soul-searching went deeper than the events of May 1968 had done, as if a different kind of 'knight's move' had been made, backtracking into German history but also forward into an altogether discontinuous political space. Thanks to a number of films identified with the then still relatively 'New' German Cinema, this crisis of West German self-understanding and self-presentation was thematized on an international platform as well: art-cinema audiences saw or read about The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), Knife in the Head (1978),Mother Kuster's Trip to Heaven (1975), The German Sisters (1981),The Third Generation (1979), Stammheim (1986). (4) Above all the omnibus film Germany in Autumn (1978), shot partly during the funeral of Schleyer, was a first response among the filmmaking community, meant to bear witness to the impact the kidnap and the suicides were having, across a number of contextualising narratives. (5)


6. The literary reflection came in the 1980s: novels like F.C. Delius' trilogy Deutscher Herbst (1981-1992), Christian Geissler's Kamalatta (1988), Reinald Goetz's Kontrolliert (1988); investigative journalism like Stefan Aust's Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (1985) and Michael Sontheimer, Otto Kallscheuer (eds.), Einschüsse. Besichtigung eines Frontverlaufs (1987).

7. WDR and NDR are two of the larger and more prestigious German regional television channels that supply the central network ARD with programming. For a production history and the book of the film, see Heinrich Breloer, Todesspiel - Eine dokumentarische Erzählung (Cologne: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 1997).
  Neither the films nor a slew of books managed to lay the episode to rest, though. (6) It was as if the events - at once demanding an explanation and in their emblematically dense textuality inviting hermeneutic excess - had proven so eminently interpretable because they also inscribed themselves in several other histories, where revolutionary violence, the 1960s student protest movement, and even the phenomenon of international terrorism and governmental reprisals figure only obliquely. This point is raised not in order to once more depoliticise post-1968 radicalism and the German autumn, but rather to recover the events' political dimension, which is to say, their possible significance for the 1990s. One episode from Germany in Autumn as well as the framing story in retrospect provoke second thoughts, especially when compared to the coverage from 1997, which included, I shall argue, an explicit rewriting of Germany in Autumn through repetition: the made-for-television film Todesspiel (Death Game, 1997), commissioned by ARD from WDR and NDR, and directed by Heinrich Breloer, at a cost of 7mDM - for German television an enormous budget. (7)  


8. In Breloer's Wehner - die unerzählte Geschichte (1993) Herbert Wehner, a king-maker and wily tactician, comes across as a sort of Iago to Willy Brandt's Othello, masterminding Germany's role in the Cold War as well as shuttle-cocking for the so-called Ostpolitik, thanks to the contacts he had kept with his former Communist comrades from the days in political exile in Moscow and Stockholm.


Death Game

Heinrich Breloer is one of the top television makers in Germany, a specialist in political thrillers, and known for suspenseful storytelling. He established his reputation with a number of docu-dramas, combining archive footage, dramatic re-enactments and interviews, often picking political scandals or high-profile corruption cases, such as a notorious tax subsidy housing scam by Co-op officials (Kollege Otto, 1991). Sometimes called 'the Oliver Stone of Germany', his most famous film prior to Todesspiel was an investigative tv-portrait of Herbert Wehner, party chairman and éminence grise behind the social-democrat government of Willy Brandt. (8)








9. For a critical assessment of Breloer's film, from the political left, see Ulrich Kriest, Rember Hüser, 'Rechtzeitig', in P.Kraus, N. Lettenewitsch, U.Saekel et al. (eds.), Deutschland im Herbst: Terrorismus und Film (Munich: Münchner Filmzentrum, 1997), pp 48-60.

  Given Breloer's knowledge of the internal power structure of the SPD and his familiarity with many of the party's leading figures, he was an obvious choice as director for a look back at the crisis of 1977. The hot autumn had occurred during the early days of the social democrat government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, whose first political test this was after he had suddenly been obliged to take over from the popular and internationally much more famous Brandt, who resigned after a spy scandal. Death Game was made in two parts, alternating its points of view, focusing first on the kidnap victim Hans Martin Schleyer and his state of mind during what would prove to be the last days of his life; then, the perspective of ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his crisis team, interviewed extensively and re-living the difficult, possibly fatal choices - perhaps fatal to West Germany's democracy, and certainly fatal to quite a number of individuals; and finally, we share the subjective perspective of one of the hostages: caught, after a happy Mallorca holiday, in the nightmare of the Mogadishu airfield, sitting for three days and nights in his own sweat and urine, doused with duty-free liquor so he could be lit as a human torch, shouted at by Palestine guerillas and forced to witness the casual killing of the pilot. Also included is Andreas Baader, morosely solitary or manically busy in his overstuffed, untidy prison cell at Stammheim. (9)  



The multiple perspectives make for high drama and intense human interest, but they also cunningly disguise a significant absence. Death Game shifts attention almost entirely away from where twenty years earlier writers and filmmakers had found their natural locus of identification: the 'terrorists' and their relatives (The German Sisters), 'innocent' bystanders and reluctant protesters (Katharina Blum, Mother Kuster, Knife in the Head) the 'political' prisoners (Stammheim) and their funeral (Germany in Autumn).

Death Game was a hit, a Strassenfeger, the name for a tv programme that sweeps the streets clean of people on the nights it is broadcast. It appears to have been especially popular among younger audiences, for whom the terrorists were by now political dinosaurs, but who became fascinated by ex-Chancellor Schmidt's narrative. Identifying with the State, possibly not as a political entity, but as an institution whose mechanisms of power are rarely laid as bare as during such a crisis, viewers could follow the unfolding events with a technocrat's appreciation of complex institutional and legal processes, a stance also adopted by the pragmatist Schmidt himself at the time, and in his retrospective tv-interview that allowed him to relive the drama.


10. The best general account is still Stefan Aust, The Baader-Meinhof Complex (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1989). Aust, a left-wing journalist and friend of Alexander Kluge, later became editor of the news magazine Der Spiegel. He had himself been a pro-Meinhof sympathizer, but later became embroiled in public rows with Horst Mahler and other ex-RAF members. See Die Zeit, 6 June 1997, p 44.

11. 'Ausgrenzung' (isolating the 'terrorist' element) became the key word. See Heinrich Böll, 'Diese Art der Stimmungsmache', in H. Boencke, D. Richter (eds.), Nicht heimlich und nicht kühl (Berlin: Ästhetik und kommunikation, 1977), pp 75-82.

12. Some of the documents are to be found in Henner Hess (ed.), Angriff auf das Herz des Staates (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988).





  These audience interests stand in sharp contrast to the discourses current at the time, both official and among the young. In 1977, media attention was fixated on the phenomenon of 'sympathisers': students, young unemployed, writers and intellectuals who before condemning the RAF outright, wanted to know more about their motives, suspecting the available public information to be biased, and asking themselves with anguish where they stood in the ensuing debates about violence that split families and estranged life-long friends. (10) To the press, it was as if the terrorists were a threat less by their violent acts than by the fact that they could inspire not just universal revulsion, but sometimes sorrow and even sympathy. Like a virus, terrorism appeared contagious, transmissible through verbal contact, requiring discursive efforts to 'isolate' it. (11) A notorious editorial spoke of the 'marshy hinterland of sympathy' that had to be 'dried out', left-liberal demands for prisoners' rights had to be put in quarantine, in an effort to suppress the flow of energy and empathy running between a violent minority and the mass of others. (12) Almost all the episodes in Germany in Autumn, for instance, convey a climate of paranoia: everyone might be a terrorist, or worse still, everyone might take one for a terrorist. To some (including myself) this paranoia seemed at the time beside the point. I can recall the strange thrill when first hearing about the exploits of the RAF in 1972: the sudden appearance of a Bonnie-and-Clyde gang in the stodgy West of petit-bourgeois Germany lent the events a surreal improbability. There was the RAF's own revolutionary discourse: though stridently anti-American and pro-Vietnam, it became 'authentic' only where it referred itself to Germany and its political post-war record. The fact that the RAF spoke of Germany's murky and unmastered past set a novel agenda, and their boldness in targeting members of the judiciary and the business sector - known safe havens for high-ranking ex-Nazi, never made publicly accountable for their actions - hit a raw historical nerve, from which any paranoia on the left and the hysterical witch-hunt for sympathisers by the right seemed merely intended to detract. For others, the RAF's approval was even less overtly political but just as revolutionary: the idea that one could go underground, change one's identity, invent oneself a life, and start all over again. The fiction of forging papers, put on smart clothes, rob a bank, drive fast cars (BMWs became known as 'Baader-Meinhof-Wagen') and live dangerously was irresistible, and having the moral right to do so by mouthing Marxist slogans was not as cynical a stance as it might sound.  



As can be surmised, little of this ambivalence has made it into Breloer's film. With an apparently wider distribution of attention and interest, Death Game works hard to create a special space of empathy around ex-Chancellor Schmidt, his intricate reasoning and calculus of consequences, taking time to dwell also on the personalities of the men Schmidt relied on when reaching for a decision whether to buy Schleyer free and risk letting the prisoners go, whether to abandon the victims of air-piracy to their fate or send a potentially abortive and (in terms of human lives) costly rescue mission. The docu-drama exudes the gravity of the reason of state, ponders the agonising hours of lonely men at the top, and circles around the problem of how a democratic state manages the mass media. Hence one topical interest and source of appeal: Death Game is about spin-doctors and government spokesmen, about how to contain a 'situation', where in the end, it does not seem to matter whether the crisis is a burst oil-tanker, a sex scandal or this particular story of hostage-taking, kidnap, murder and multiple suicide. The fascination is with how men in positions of power deal with emergencies while seemingly keeping cool in public, which is another reason why the film naturally drifts towards Schmidt's advisers, his Krisenstab.

They turn out to be partly recruited from among old war-time comrades of Schmidt, when he was a Wehrmacht officer on the Eastern Front. In one of the most astonishing turns, the film is able to invoke the spirit of Stalingrad and 'the Russian campaign' as naturally as a British politician might invoke the spirit of Dunkirk, or an American President the national resolve after Pearl Harbour. Asked to describe what it was like to wait for the next message from Schleyer's kidnappers or worry if the decoy messenger in Geneva would make contact, State Secretary Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski recalled the dawn mornings on the Eastern Front, waiting for Polish or Russian 'partisans' to attack, while Klaus Bölling, another member of the Krisenstab argues that he kept a cool head only because of the soldierly virtues of the Wehrmacht had been drilled into him, in contrast to some other politicians, who foolishly demanded that a RAF prisoner should be publicly executed for each hostage murdered in Mogadishu.




13. For a stunning account of one such Seilschaft, extending all the way into the foundation of Der Spiegel, see Lutz Hachmeister, Der Gegnerforscher (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1998).

14. Reference to the exhibition "die Wehrmacht im Osten", Hamburg 1997, curated by Philip Reemtsma jr.

15. For different evaluations of this masculinity and its (gender) politics, see among others, Karlheinz Bohrer, Aesthetik des Schreckens (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1986), Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990) and Helmut Lethen, Cool Conduct (University of California Press, 2002).

  To the extent that Death Game is about these former soldiers and their self-representation, it ironically grants the RAF one of its basic points, namely that senior politicians of the Federal Republic were bound together by a military, para-military code of conduct or even an outright Nazi past, and that they formed what were known as Seilschaften, old boy networks. (13) Inadvertently perhaps, Death Game was replying to the controversy caused by Daniel Goldhagen's 1996 book, Hitler's Willing Executioners, which had dented once more the notion of a clean-cut division between professional soldiers and SS units, between army conscripts and the police battalions. More damaging still to the idea of the 'correct' conduct of the basically 'decent' Wehrmacht - so important to the self-understanding of its successor, the Bundeswehr - was an exhibition that first opened in Hamburg in 1997, which challenged this particular myth head-on, by showing scores of photos taken by soldiers themselves, of the most unimaginable cruelty and atrocities committed by the army in the east. (14) Death Game valorises once more the 'front experience' and its ideals of masculinity (dating as far back as WW1), (15) promoting the impression that if it had not been for the military men at the helm, Germany's ship of state with its fragile cargo of democracy might have sunk in 1977.  



With such a re-focusing on ex-Chancellor Schmidt and his wartime comrades, doubling the twenty years after the Hot Autumn with the fifty-five years after Stalingrad, itself echoing the 'storms of steel' of Verdun in 1917, Death Game not only tried to 'redress' the moral balance and level the empathetic score, but actually inverted the dominant mythologies that had already at the time given the events of Autumn of 1977 their dramatic shape. With Death Game it was as if a major player had come back to claim the hero role in a piece of theatre which at the time had cast him as the villain. The 1977 play was called Antigone: the 'return' of 1997 traded on this knowledge, suggesting a re-reading of the mythic constellation which the re-staging set out to repeal.

Antigone in Germany

Sophocles' Antigone has a long and involuted history in Germany, especially since G.W.Hegel's commentaries on the play in his Philosophy of the Spirit had made Antigone the epitome of an irreconcilable opposition between the discourse of the state and the demands of the family:


16. G.W. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p 288, para 475, here quoted from Patricia Mills, Woman, Nature and Psyche (Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1987), pp 25-26.  

since the community only gets an existence through its interference with the happiness of
the family, and by dissolving self-consciousness into the universal, it creates for itself in
what it suppresses and what is at the same time essential to it an internal enemy – womankind
... the everlasting irony of the community. (16)


17. See the essays by Hans-Joachim Ruckhaeberle on the history of Antigone in German post-war theatre from Bert Brecht to Julian Beck's Living Theatre, Peter Handke, Heiner Müller and Straub-Huillet, in poetics politics: documenta X - the book (Ostfildern: Cantz, 1997), pp 48-53, 250-251, 488-489, 648-653.   Hegel's friend, the poet Friedrich Hölderlin published a German translation in 1804, and ever since Antigone has stood for those confrontations which after the French Revolution oppose not only individual conscience and state power, but two kinds of law, defying any form of government to distribute justice evenly among its citizens, without showing up the limits which tragically flaw the very attempt. (17)  


  Thus, when halfway through Germany in Autumn a sketch directed by Volker Schlöndorff (and written by novelist Heinrich Böll) turns on a cancelled television production of Sophocles’ play, Antigone's name trails with it an entire post-romantic politics of interpretation, connoting rebellion and opposition to the State, as well as an order of refusal and resistance of such categorical negation that it challenges the foundations of any form of government, a subject of evident relevance in West Germany, since the Bonn government considered itself the sole legal representative of the German Reich, an ambiguous mandate given the Nazi legacy, and precisely the one contested by the RAF's violent protest. The appearance of Antigone in Germany in Autumn is thus overdetermined: it raises the question whether the film, by pointing to her presence, already specifies a particular reading of the historical-political dimension of the events with which Germany in Autumn is concerned. Is Antigone the hermeneutic key, in other words, for more than some merely accidental features of the 'hot autumn'? Does she, thanks to Hegel and Hölderlin, embody or allegorise a recurring constellation in the history of modern Germany? On the other hand, given the belated - and for the viewers of 1997 evidently plausible - reversal of the relationship between state and individual, perhaps Antigone could become the master-mythology of 1977 only because she served also to mystify what was equally at stake?  

18. The idea came from a distributor, the Filmverlag der Autoren, which had just changed hands. After having been owned by a number of filmmakers, among them also Wim Wenders and R.W. Fassbinder, the Filmverlag was bought out and baled out by Rudolf Augstein, the editor of Germany's powerful newsmagazine Der Spiegel.



The Hot Autumn: Tragedy and Anagnorisis?

Germany in Autumn premiered in March 1978, only six months after the fatal events. (18) They in turn had brought to a head eight years of often violent and occasionally tragi-comic encounters between the RAF, the press, the German government, its security authorities and police forces. Of these encounters, only the period of the last weeks in October and the beginning of November 1977 appear in Germany in Autumn, with the documentary footage mainly centred on two funerals: that of Hans Martin Schleyer and that of Ensslin, Baader, Raspe. Also included are parts of a television interview with Horst Mahler in his prison cell, where he condemns the hostage taking but tries to give the RAF a context and a history: as long as German fascism survives in the guise of West German capitalism, there will be people desperate enough in their protests to put themselves above the law.



  Horst Mahler's argument, with its reference to the Nazi past, instantiates one of the most powerful figurations around the RAF, namely the 'return of the repressed'. At the time, this return was understood by the militant activists as the playing out of a tragically necessary operation: provoking the government with violent and bloody attacks on its officials, its security installations, its top judges, the RAF wanted the political elite to show its true nature. By 'tearing the mask off the face of power' the terrorist expected the public to see what hid behind capitalism and economic prosperity: the old fascist state and its obedient servants. Hence the overdetermined and emblematic figure of one of their chief kidnap victim: Hans Martin Schleyer, figurehead of German industry and prominent member of the political class which it represented, behind whose Biedermann appearance the RAF wanted to expose the fervent SS officer he strenuously denied ever having been. In captivity, Schleyer was apparently several times interrogated by his guards as to his Nazi past, and photos of him in SS uniform circulated in the left-wing press.  




19. Heinrich Böll, 'Will Ulrike Gnade oder freies Geleit?', Der Spiegel no 3, 1977.





20. Hans Egon Holthusen, Sartre in Stammheim: Literatur und Terrorismus (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1982).

21. T. Botzat, E. Kiderlen, F. Wolff (eds.), Ein deutscher Herbst. Dokumente. Berichte. Kommentare (Frankfurt: Verlag Neue Kritik, 1978).

  Germany in Autumn tries to seize this 'return of the repressed' as one of its major structuring devices, while avoiding the 'theatricalised' logic of the RAF's argument about 'unmasking' the German establishment. The film nonetheless thematises how the West German State, its legitimacy contested by some of its most intelligent (and some argued, most self-sacrificing) (19) young people thought of itself as besieged, resorting to measures that went right to the limit of - and maybe even beyond - what was legal and constitutional. It shows the government provoking the resistance, if not forfeiting the loyalty of many former social-democrat (SPD) intellectuals, among them Tiresias figures such as Günter Grass and Max Frisch - the latter seen in the film addressing the SPD party conference. There, a murmur of dissenting voices muffling more strident controversies could also be observed among the moderate party members, making up a credible Ancient Chorus. If Helmut Schmidt then still seemed an unlikely Creon (and the deposed, 'exiled' Willy Brandt only remotely recalled 'Oedipus at Colonus'), the thoroughness and often ruthlessness of the authorities in dealing with what was judged the terrorist threat did suggest that even the Social Democrats were prepared to use strong-arm tactics to restore order, making some cry 'police state', while to observers outside Germany (such as, famously, Jean Paul Sartre) (20) the dawn raids on and interrogation of thousands of activists or political opponents were too reminiscent of Nazism to be acceptable. In addition, at the height of the crisis, public opinion was massively manipulated by the tabloid press and Christian Democrat politicians. There was a news blackout during much of the month that the Schleyer kidnap drama unfolded, while the quality papers were either censoring themselves or feared official censorship. (21)  



Self-censorship of television is explicitly connected in the film to the Antigone story. At issue in the Schlöndorff episode of Germany in Autumn is the decision of a Broadcast Commission Meeting whether to allow the production (made for a series called 'Youth meets the Ancient Classics') to be aired, or whether in view of current events, the play is an 'incitement to violence' and ought to be shelved in the interest of public safety. In the exchanges that lead to the decision to ban it, the sketch is able to evoke some striking contemporary parallels: a state funeral and a contested burial; a woman hanging herself in a prison cell; two sisters; a state in a state of emergency suspending civil rights and curtailing individual freedom; acts of resistance and violence committed out of fiercely held convictions are among the major echoes that provide the episode's central dramatic irony: that a classic tragedy from the canon of Western civilization cannot be shown in a democratic society because it turns out to be 'too political'.

However, the irony cuts both ways, and the film exhibits its own sort of impasse: it implies the relevance of the parallels, but then denounces the officials who act on the recognition of this relevance - Schlöndorff's intended ideological critique either risks evaporating in self-contradiction or it is itself an element that stabilises the film's myth-making about German history, with its turns and returns, creating a sort of mise-en-abyme by which the self-staging of the RAF and the media-management of state institutions are allowed to take on the stature, gravity and allure of an ancient tragedy.





22. As indicated in Jillian Becker's title Hitler's Children? The story of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang, cited above.

  This strategy is most noticeable in the treatment of the two funerals - one an Act of State for a high official, the other the heavily controversial burial for three convicted terrorists, both taking place in one city - not Thebes, but Stuttgart - home town of Daimler Benz and of the Ensslin family. In the case of Gudrun Ensslin, it is her sister, Christiane who fights hardest for the dead activists to be given a proper burial, against public protest and massive threats to her family. Although a generation apart, both Schleyer (as a member of the Hitler youth and the SS) and the terrorists (the RAF being referred to as 'Hitler's children') (22) are seen as heirs to the 'curse' which Nazism had laid upon Germany. By honouring one dead, and condemning the others, the State had chosen to cast out part of this legacy, part of this tragic burden or 'pollution' of the body politic.  

23. Among Meinhof's journalism, only her pamphlet advocating the rehabilitation of youth offenders appears to be in print. Ulrike Meinhof, Bambule. Fürsorge für wen? (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1995). A brief extract from a pamphlet 'Revolt' can be found in Semiotexte: The German Issue, vol 4, no 2, 1982, pp 152-158. Meinhof is also the heroine of a Danish novel, published in 1996.

24. These two daughters of a Swabian protestant clergyman who had passed on to them a passionate idealism and a fierce sense of justice became the subject of another famous film of the New German Cinema, Margarethe von Trotta's The German Sisters.
  The confrontation - between State authority and individual conscience, between expediency and resistance, between a law pronounced on behalf of the common good, and a law upheld on behalf of an individual's sense of an ethical imperative - had produced more doubles: not one but two women who were prepared to commit suicide in prison, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, and thus two Antigone figures. The first had flung a categorical 'no' in the face of the German State, initially in print, then in direct action, evidently prepared to take the final consequence of what in her eyes must have appeared as an inevitable choice. (23) In the case of the other, her suicide coincided with that of her lover, Andreas Baader, suggesting a Haimon, alongside the Antigone of Gudrun Ensslin, as well as an Ismene in the figure of Christiane Ensslin. History and biography had indeed written a tight script. (24)  



Once primed by the Sophoclean Ur-text and its Hölderlin-Hegel-Brecht hermeneutic, other aspects of the political crisis depicted in Germany in Autumn begin to reverberate in the symbolic-theatrical space that the film sets up to echo down the years of recent German history. For instance, the trope 'State Funeral and Suicide' returns in Germany in Autumn when we learn that the Mayor of Stuttgart, the site of the double funeral, happens to be Manfred Rommel, son of Field-Marshall Erwin Rommel, better known as the Desert Fox. In a WW2 newsreel included in the film, the young Manfred can be seen standing beside the coffin of his father, who after the defeat of El-Alamein had been ordered by the Nazis to commit suicide, so that Hitler could give him a State Funeral and celebrate a National Hero. Now Rommel Junior in 1977 found himself in the part of the benevolent counter-Creon, for it is he who as Mayor orders - 'a quick decision and clean choice', he calls it in the film - that the three terrorists should have a dignified funeral in one of the city's more prestigious cemeteries, rather than be handed to the Stuttgart vox pop, who had demanded that the bodies be disposed of 'down the sewers'.

On the other hand, beyond more repetitions and reversals, what sort of cynicism, hypocrisy or expediency is the Rommel reference supposed to imply about the State funeral of Hans Martin Schleyer? The camera lingers on further parallels between the Rommel State Act and that given to Schleyer. The same forest of flags: the Swastika in the newsreel then is replaced by the Mercedes Star now; the same rows of uniformed men: in 1944 in SS uniform, now in sober black suits, but not a few of them with scars on their cheeks, tell-tale signs of having once belonged to the ultra-conservative, duelling student fraternities which since the Wilhelmine Reich have supplied Germany with its judiciary, military and industrial elite. Continuities across the rupture, repetitions and returns: that the framing episodes consciously build on these and other dramatic ironies becomes evident when we see shots of the Mercedes Benz assembly line, where the workers down their tools for three minutes of silence, in honour of the dead Schleyer, whose portrait looms over them. As the voice-over commentary informs the viewer, 85% of the workers present are foreign 'guest workers' - a reference that points forward and backward at the same time - oblique reminder of the slave labour that firms like Mercedes Benz requisitioned from Nazi armament minister Albert Speer, and forward towards the workers becoming undesirable aliens stealing scarce jobs, the future target of right-wing Neo-Nazi resentment in the 1980s. To this can be added another (unstated, but no doubt implied) irony that undercuts both: the workers are now enjoying, albeit for only three minutes, the right to down-tools which the dead Schleyer, as notorious trade-union basher, had fought hard to eliminate from the statute books.






25. The sense of official hypocrisy - strongly felt by the members of the Schleyer family at the funeral itself - was also alluded to by the Federal President Walter Scheel, who in his funeral oration said: 'the face of terrorism makes us blanch. But we ourselves may have to look more often into the mirror.'


Fathers and Sons: The Hamlet Figures of Germany

The Rommel reference is, however, an instance of another trope, related to the Antigone story and central to several other interpretative strategies implemented in Germany in Autumn. A farewell letter by Schleyer to his son, written immediately prior to his death opens the film. In it the doomed hostage gives a candid assessment of his predicament, warning the son against harbouring illusions about any possible lack of resolve on the part of the terrorists, and implicitly accusing the Government of having sacrificed him out of clearly political calculations. (25) This double father-son nexus, linking Rommel and Schleyer, both victims of the Fatherland the better for it to posthumously honour them, also echoes in the Antigone television production which ends with the messenger describing how Haimon killed himself, out of hatred and disgust when he saw his father Creon cowardly turn and run, after the son had raised his sword against him.



  Such an emphasis on father-son relations in Germany in Autumn was itself symptomatic of a wider semantic and ideological field, what one might call the attempt to 'Oedipalise' Germany's recent political past, using the family romance as a conceptual-psychoanalytic model to figure some of the continuities across the political breaks in West Germany, as well to explain the more extreme features of the breakdown of the family, illustrated by one of the RAF killings, when the director of the Deutsche Bank, Jürgen Ponto, answered the doorbell of his villa to his own god-child, unaware that she was a decoy, calling on him so that her terrorist accomplices could assassinate him.  

26. Bernward Vesper, Die Reise (Reinbek: Rowohlt, [repr 1995]).




  The emergence of these explicitly Oedipal cultural references first occurred in West German literature: from about 1975 onwards, a wave of autobiographical fiction hit the bookstores, mainly by writers in their thirties. Starting with Bernward Vesper's Die Reise, these reports about the self took the form of extended suicide notes, often addressed to, and trying to settle old scores with a recently deceased parent. (26) Vesper's novel, for instance, tells the story of the son of a well-to-do Nazi writer, trying to resolve the conflict between loving and fearing his father as a father, and hating what he stood for. Unable to confront his father's ardent Nazism, now turned into an ultra-right, but once more highly respectable conservatism, the hero suffers silently parental disappointment fed by the father's sentimental nostalgia for his own 'heroic' youth. Oedipal rebellion finally makes him take up the plight of the Palestinians as his cause, and he is drawn into militant student actions, together with his girlfriend. She, however, falls under the spell of a trigger-happy, working class activist, and the two of them, wanted by the police, escape to Sicily, where they are to be trained by Libyans as international terrorists. Too sensitive to commit acts of violence, and recognising in his sexual rival the same ruthlessness shown by his own father, the hero kidnaps his small son and brings him home: where else but to his father's now abandoned house.  



27. Michael Schneider, 'Fathers and Sons Retrospectively', New German Critique, no 31, Winter 1984, pp 11-12.

28. That this distrust did much to shape the forms the protest movement took in West Germany is made clear in another autobiographical essay, Christoph Meckel's Suchbild (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1983). There, among the most traumatic memories are instances where the father projected his own insufficiency onto his children, abusing parental power to confirm himself and strengthen his own battered ego, setting a pattern which in the son provoked violence against both himself and seemingly 'innocent' targets.

29. Schneider, p 23.

  Vesper committed suicide before he had completed what is in fact a roman à clef, insofar as the girlfriend in the story was Gudrun Ensslin and his rival Andreas Baader. Analyzing Die Reise, the critic Michael Schneider observed that the parent generation's conspiracy of silence had 'been bitterly avenged. Since German fathers had failed to indict themselves for their monstrous pasts, they were on trial by proxy by the radicalised sons and daughters in 1968 and thereafter. And since the fathers themselves had taken pains to be sure that they would only be seen as fathers, and not as political beings, their offspring chose to do precisely the opposite in the aftermath of their abrupt political awakening [thanks to the Vietnam War].' (27) As defeated world conquerors, the unpunished but also unreconciled fathers had to re-establish their own sense of identity by wielding an iron authority within the home. But - so not only Schneider's argument - the family resulting from such flawed authority could only breed murderous distrust between fathers and sons or daughters. (28) Yet the chance discovery by a bereaved son of shoe-boxes full of old photographs or war diaries locked in desk-drawers did not necessarily lead to objective investigations: 'The specific interest which released this literary return to the past was not at all primarily an interest in the fathers and the dark areas of their past, but rather, and to a much greater extent, an interest in [the sons'] own beginnings. The look back [...] is a retrospective look to the roots of their own emotional lives, to the influences at work on them, and to the psychological legacy they thereby have to carry.' (29)  




30. Paul Kersten, Der alltägliche Tod meines Vaters, quoted in Schneider, p 41.




31. Schneider, p 9.

  In other words, these sons not only did not identify with the official optimism of the West German economic miracle, they also did not have a genuine stake in any (socialist) alternative. Instead, they identified with the latent emotions, the ones that the forced optimism and strident efficiency tried to hide. Seeing the fathers' cover-up, seeing through it, but being sons by flesh and blood, they also had to deal with their own internalisation of the father, whose hidden guilt and shame, according to Schneider, returns in the son as self-destructive melancholy. To quote one of these sons: 'the wound had folded inwards'. (30) For the paradox was that only in the wake of disillusioned and disillusioning political activity - the aftermath of the failure of the extra-parliamentary left - did these ambivalences find words, expression and (dramatic) representations. Significantly enough, the key figure became Hamlet - who in Hegel (and Lacan) is the 'modern' complement of Antigone. To quote once more Schneider: 'It was as if the ghosts of their fathers had suddenly appeared before them in Nazi uniforms, and their living fathers with whom they had sat down at the supper table for twenty years, had been indicted in the most horrible collective crime committed by any generation this century.' (31)  



Schneider sees the RAF's theatrical metaphor as apt. The bombings, hostage takings and terrorist acts were nothing less than 'murderous and suicidal' attempts to 'tear off the mask' of official authority behind which they had reason to suspect the guiltily fretting faces of their own fathers. To take Schneider's analogy further: the Schleyer kidnap was the RAF's staging of 'The Mousetrap' to catch the conscience of a king by the name of Helmut Schmidt, while Schleyer is himself a Claudius who has the bad luck of being guarded by someone more resolute than Hamlet, for his captors did not spare him the way that Hamlet spared Claudius when he overheard him praying. Such an emphasis on the father-son axis in literature, in political activism and in Germany in Autumn suggests that the German protest movement was anti-authoritarian rather than egalitarian, that despite a Marxist political discourse, it was caught in the ruses of patriarchy: a feature from which the women's movement had to extricate itself, perhaps by countering this 'Hamletigation' of German post-war history with its own (agonising) 'Antigonising'?

Fassbinder's Antigone

This might indeed be the 'feminist' aspect of Germany in Autumn, even if the majority of its directors were men. Against it, one could argue that, paradoxically, the part that most challenges any kind of Oedipalization is not the Schlöndorff/Böll segment, but the one directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, featuring Fassbinder himself, along with his lover Armin Mayer and his mother Lilo Pempeit. The episode shows Fassbinder, alternately naked and wrapped in an untidy bathrobe, restless and sweating, in his sombre Munich apartment, frantic about the news blackout, cynically incredulous about the Stammheim suicides, in fear of possible police-raids and house-searches, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, finally collapsing on the floor in a fit of uncontrollable hysterical weeping.

At the heart of the politics of the segment is a heatedly impromptu but in fact meticulously scripted interrogation Fassbinder subjects his mother to in the kitchen, where he thematizes the duties of dissent for citizens in a democracy under siege; the human rights of murderers; the special horror provoked by terrorists in ordinary men and women, because they might have reasons for their acts one could not disagree with. As Fassbinder hectors and lectures his mother, he extracts from her the common sense caution of the 'normal' German about not wanting to risk one's neck, and finally, the admission that she would much prefer in such a situation to be ruled by an authoritarian Führer, 'but a gentle benevolent one', rather than face the responsibilities of free speech. Challenging his mother, berating his homosexual lover, phoning his former wife for comfort, after denouncing in an television interview marriage as an artificial coupling, Fassbinder stages a series of encounters meant to cast doubts on the fictional-narrative closure on which a founding myth of West German democracy was built, namely that (masculine) ideals of self-discipline, responsibility and citizenship had done away with the authoritarian personality - the Helmut Schmidt values which Death Game was to revive nostalgically twenty years later.

Considered as such, Fassbinder's self-display is an act of resistance, and a double Antigone gesture, partly directed at the film that Alexander Kluge has bound him into. For ultimately, three perspectives intersect also in Germany in Autumn, though they do not segue into or even complement each other, as they do in Breloer's film. Firstly, Kluge's generational line from 'fathers to sons cross-wise' most explicitly evokes the Hamlet-Claudius intertext; in Schlöndorff-Böll's 'Antigone' sister confronts sister, in the encounter of Antigone with Ismene, a theme that Margarethe von Trotta (then married to Schlöndorff and his collaborator on Katharina Blum) was to take up in The German Sisters, while in Fassbinder's episode there is an exchange between mother and son, as if to make the primary incestuous mother-son bond so over-explicit that it effectively de-Oedipalized the lineage from (guilty) father to (guilty) son, as analysed by Schneider.

While Kluge's segments explore, as we saw, the echoing parallels of a double funeral symmetrically inverted, and across the axis of two fathers and two sons creates a story intended to hold together the disparate moments of this film of many voices, they also effectively 'contain' German history, by setting up a more or less orderly series of mirrors which balance the two periods, Germany in the 1940s and the 1970s. But as Fassbinder's episode makes clear: neither such doubling for the sake of structure, nor the proliferation of situations alluding to the classical Antigone can 'domesticate' the fantasmatic power emanating from the events. Fassbinder in a sense tries to write a different kind of asymmetrical exchange into the representations, offset in turn by Kluge's own anti-Antigone in a minor (tragi-comic) key, his heroine Gabi Teichert, a teacher who, at a loss where to find German history, goes out, instead of burying a body, to dig for it with a shovel in the frozen ground. Fassbinder's episode puts before us not an absence or an unburied body, but 'a body too much': violent, obese, naked, grossly material, he confronts the viewer, indeed assaults the viewer - demanding an Antigone to mark the site where mourning has not taken place, to remind us of the irreducible singularity involved in her predicament.

In a sense, Fassbinder's staging is in the spirit of Sophocles' Antigone more than is the Antigone sketch of Schlöndorff/Böll. By thematizing both of Antigone's impossible choices - that of the unburied body and that of her angry confrontation with Creon, Fassbinder enacts an almost classical reciprocity, as expressed in the play's stychomythia - the exchange of sentences - when he argues with his mother, recreating and at the same time inverting the encounter between Creon (power, state, future father-in-law) and Antigone (individual, female, daughter), where formal equivalences more strongly underline different orders of non-equivalence, inequality, in-justice, while all the time keeping before our eyes the fact that the power, the potential for resistance comes from this non-equivalence between son and mother, between male and female subjectivity. Fassbinder's own (terrorising) self-righteous intransigence and his mother's moral candour of the sensible, if cowardly pliable 'pragmatist' confront each other, while - emphasised by the abrupt cuts and montage effects - a retching, weeping, shaking Fassbinder remains 'uncovered' by the symbolisation or representations offered to him by his lover Armin. Unless one takes the excess that takes the place of representation as an act of exposure that undoes the uncovering, Fassbinder's sexualized self-exposure enforces, by its frontality towards the spectator, an impossible convergence of 'look' and 'gaze'. What seems an unselfconscious display of shameless vulnerability is in fact a form of exhibitionism that tries to turn the machinery of surveillance - in Germany in Autumn the State is present through patrol-car sirens wailing at night and mounted policemen wielding camcorders filming the mourners at the Ensslin funeral - into 'showing itself' and thus allowing Fassbinder to manifest a kind of defiant compliance in which the spectator is necessarily implicated as much as s/he is excluded.

When (re)turning to the Antigone episode of Schlöndorff/Böll after Fassbinder's, one cannot help wondering if the former does not subtly 'hand over' its own heroine. By placing the discussion of the television production at the centre of Germany in Autumn, and making the metaphoric links between Sophocles' play and a version of political events ('rebellious women', 'a suicide', 'a Government that stands firm') the ironic hinge between the classical play and the contemporary events, Schlöndorff/Böll's Antigone is drawn into Alexander Kluge's mirror mazes of uncanny repetitions and doubling symmetries - a mirroring also evidenced by the 'doubles' inside the episode, for instance, letting Ismene and Antigone speak a number of 'distancing prologues' as if with one voice. Where the play, as well as Hölderlin, Hegel, Brecht or Straub/Huillet's renderings, speak of the radical incommensurability of the subject and the state, Kluge and Schlöndorff are seduced by symmetry, balance and repetition. They allow their narrative to achieve almost 'classical' closure, which contaminates their version of German history, since such a spirit of heavily underscored dramatic ironies and structural parallels seems remote not only from the singularity of Antigone's act, and contrary to the direction in which her ethical narrative propels her: twice having to make a choice, where each time she has to take sides against herself. It also 'masters' the German past by letting it metaphorically slide into the master-narrative of fathers and sons.

That Germany in Autumn is thus finally more conciliatory than its makers might have intended also highlights a historical problem - one that the reversal of perspective so deftly effected by Death Game makes explicit. Rewriting the very tropes of tragedy, it lets Creon take control of the play and with it, of the 'hot autumn'. Here, too, an act of handing over was on offer, the tacit reconciliation with the previous generation, where former soldiers 'father' future captains of industry, as the television-nation unites in sympathy with the necessarily sacrificial victim Schleyer and the patriarchal-patrician Schmidt, attentively listening to the latter's case on behalf of his conscience, his plea for letting pragmatism prevail over dissent and his categorical 'no' to the terrorists also in retrospect, which is to say, for now and in the future. After this coup d'état par l'état, where might the ground be located from which the RAF could have continued - even within the law? But then, what jagged terrain has been abandoned in such a suture, such a progress towards closure?

Reversals and Rehearsals: 'unheimlich' or 'klammheimlich'?






32. Gerhard Schroeder, at the time of writing the SPD Chancellor-candidate is of the generation of Baader and Meinhof, and he models himself consciously in the image of Schmidt. Furthermore, he has taken into his shadow-cabinet the ‘Green party’ deputy Otto Schily, who in 1977 came to prominence as one of the lawyers who defended the Stammheim prisoners.

  The historical problem just alluded to concerns Germany's social democrats. After leaving not only the centre-ground of politics, but also of national identity to the Christian Democrats for more than fifty years, they feel in need to re-stake their claim and to prove themselves patriots, making their contribution to the nation's generational lineage, so to speak, by producing 'good fathers'. Death Game does this ideological work of national consolidation with great rhetorical force and narrative skill, 'replying' to Germany in Autumn while promoting its own political agenda, now with an eye to the imminent post-Kohl era in Germany, where another pragmatic, social democrat government is waiting in the wings, and for the sake of coming to power is ready even to bury its differences with the 'Greens', themselves parliamentary descendants of the militants of 1968. (32) It took Death Game to make explicit the hint that Kluge and Schlöndorff might already have inscribed in their film the possibility of a revisionist remake, for Breloer assigns to his film, too, the task of mourning-work and memory-management for a nation still - and after unification, once more - negotiating historical breaks. For the sake of this binding and healing, a double betrayal then, of the tragic female heroine and of the tragi-comic avenger-terrorists? A repetition that buries a body and banishes a ghost by definitely separating postwar history and politics from Sophocles and Shakespeare?  


  Death Game has another contemporary agenda, because it so resolutely refuses to repeat the dominant representational gesture of the 1970s, which was to see West-Germany invariably as possessing no present except as 'post-'. For instance, for Germany in Autumn to cast the events of 1977 in the shape of classical tragedy - even if it was a tragedy with a revolutionary heroine - was to make the present of 1977 first and foremost a function of the past, encasing it, as indicated, in the paradigms of the 'return of the repressed'. The repetitions of Death Game, by contrast, wrest from the events of 1977 a pastness that refers itself to a present situated in 1997. It does so, not by denying the link to Nazism and the War, but by thematising it explicitly as proof of a continuity and a tradition (that of soldierly virtues), rather than a 'return of the repressed' or of a past un-mastered. On the basis of this central reversal - the shift in identification from hunted terrorists to beleaguered soldiers called upon to serve the democratic state - the film constructs a continuity, that of social democrats, remaining patriots by serving their country in war just as honourably as they stand by the nation in conditions of near civil war.  











33. 'Nachruf' (signed: 'a Mescalero from Göttingen'), ASTA: Göttinger Nachrichten, May 1977.







34. Stefan Aust, The Baader Meinhof Complex. But see also the report of the prison guard's account in WDR Info, November 1996.




35. Herold, who once claimed that one had to be able to sympathize with a terrorist in order to fight a terrorist, is himself one of the tragic-comic victims, having been confined for the past twenty years to a life inside an army compound, for fear of reprisals. Dirk Kurbjuweit, 'Gefangen für alle Zeiten', Die Zeit, 8 August 1997, p 8.

  Yet what applies to the social democrats now was also true of the RAF then: their messages, too, were doubly coded. The RAF's pamphlets may have spoken of the Nazi past, and their intuitive recourse to Hamlet's play-within-the play strategy may have been nothing if not an archetypal case of provoking the 'return of the repressed'. Yet the means they deployed, at once expressively metaphoric and excessively literal, also connoted something else, and supported another voice, another discourse. If we go back to what was said about the fascination with the RAF at the time - the troubled question of 'sympathisers' - then it seems that these supporters were themselves split. The older generation of liberals, such as Heinrich Böll or Günter Grass, subscribing to the 'return of the repressed', saw the motives for these apparently senseless acts of violence rooted in the past. They argued for a dialogue with West Germany's disaffected youth, recognising in the RAF's bloody acts the force of a familiar history, in which the worst excesses of left-wing, but also fascist street terror from the Weimar years staged an unheimlich return. But for the younger generation the sympathy was not generated by a sense of the unheimlich. Rather, theirs was a sympathy that became known as klammheimlich, after a notorious student manifesto had expressed 'vicarious satisfaction' (klammheimliche Freude) at the death of one of the RAF's most prominent victims, the Prosecutor General Siegfried Buback. (33) The outrage that followed this seemingly callous expression of collusion in murder, however, somehow missed its target. Today it is clear that a significant element in the RAF's popular appeal lay in the many kinds of vicariousness their emergence onto the scene permitted their own generation to engage in: even if neither the acts of violence nor the RAF's political goals were perceived as viable, their modes of interaction, their moral high ground and tactics of intervention were sensed as absolutely contemporary, and often enough as the vital social vanguard. That was because their politics effected an aesthetic break and their practice embedded itself in a culture of direct action taking shape on several (not always explicitly politicised) fronts: even more than to the romantic Hollywood cliché of the outlaw gang on the run, Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin, Raspe belonged to the culture of the happening, to graffiti art and fluxus events, to street theatre and the Living Theatre: their energy was turned outward, and seemed like the ratchet-action of ferocious escalation on situationist urban dérives. True, some of the RAF's stunts were uncannily reminiscent of scenes from movies - not necessarily Hollywood movies: the baby pram pushed in front of Schleyer's car to make his driver break seemed borrowed from Eisenstein; other spectacular actions involving bank raids or car chases re-enacted scenes from Godard's Band a Part (1964) or Weekend (1967), and if one is to believe Stefan Aust, the antics later at Stammheim prison read as if the Marx Brothers had strayed into a Mack Sennett prison caper. (34) The double-coding involved in this role playing and its references to the cinema had its strategic place in the perpetual exchange of misinformation and disinformation between the RAF, the police and the press. The pram story is a good example: was it for real or was it a fiction? Was it something the police invented, in order to show just how inhuman the terrorists were (the RAF 'women' perverting the most basic maternal instincts?) or was it the terrorists, 'citing' the Odessa steps from Battleship Potemkin (1925) or the 1918 Spartakus uprisings in Berlin and Munich, in order to inscribe themselves into the historical iconography of the Revolution? These post-situationist dress-rehearsals for the great 'all-change' contained too much and too little 'reality', allowing a perpetual ambiguity of reference and intent to hover over the proceedings. Yet it was also proof of an intense involvement on both sides, which even created, in the figure of Horst Herold, the information-gathering computer expert and Head of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation - a sort of 'Juve' who with passion and dedication pitted his wits against the RAF's various 'Fantomas'. (35)  






36. Hellmuth Karasek, 'Deutschland im Herbst,' Der Tagesspiegel 25 June 1997, p 21; Heinrich Breloer, quoted in WDR Info, November 1996; Mariam Lau, 'Der Deutsche Herbst als Exorzismus,' Merkur no 585, December 1997, p 1092.


37. The literature charting these changes is now too vast to more than signal in a footnote. Besides classics such as Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961) Manuel Castells, The Informational City (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989) and Richard Sennett, The Conscience of the Eye (London: Faber & Faber, 1990) one could mention recent collections such as M. Sorkin (ed.), Variations on a Theme Park (New York: Hill & Wang, 1992), R.T.Le Gates and F. Stout (eds.), The City Reader (London: Routledge, 1996) and N.R. Fyfe (ed.), Images of the Street (London: Routledge, 1998).


Inhospitable Cities

Listening to the RAF 'live' must have been embarrassing to some of their sympathizers, even in 1977: arrogant, jargon-ridden, self-obsessed, their pronouncements seemed to lack all playfulness or the marks of the political prankster. Instead of leaving room for possible irony when baptising the foam-padded closet in which Schleyer was kept 'the people's prison', the phrase merely appeared irritatingly pompous, while the truly appalling words used to announce that Schleyer had been assassinated were rightly judged 'contemptuous' not only of his life but 'of human life'. When journalists recalled these moments in 1997, they easily managed to sustain moral distance by quoting the RAF's more outrageous statements, talking of hubris, bathos, or sniggering at the convoluted rhetoric. (36) But with the sound turned off, as it were, the tv-footage of mass demonstrations, the newspaper pictures of barred faces, or the grainy photos of bombed cars in leafy side-streets spoke a different language. True, they speak of violence, of crowds, of confrontation, but they also bring into view something that makes keeping distance a more difficult task, because the distance in time makes the proximity in another register all the more striking. What becomes evident is that the RAF's preferred theatres of action - the street, public buildings, department stores, nondescript underpasses - designates a topography of visual signs now omnipresent: the city, the urban scene on the move. One suddenly becomes aware to what extent these 'urban guerillas' - and the police that controlled the crowds - were not only part of the more general transformation of the civic realm and the public sphere, but actually played a leading role in making the changes visible. This public sphere in the making has, as we know, radically re-coded the cities of the developed world, producing new kinds of mobility, reflecting changed working conditions and leisure habits, imposing new ways of inhabiting and using the domestic environment, in short, making space itself a political category. (37)






38. Alexander Mitscherlich, The Inability to Mourn (London: Tavistock, 1975) and Alexander Mitscherlich, Die Unwirtlichkeit der Städte (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1965).




39. See 'Der Herbst der Terroristen', Der Spiegel no 38, 15 Sept 1997, p 43.

  Viewed in this light, the RAF can be seen as a possible answer not to Alexander Mitscherlich's famous The Inability to Mourn, where the eminent Freudian social-psychologist tried to present his own reading of Antigone and explain West-Germany's amnesia regarding the Nazi period, but to another - then almost equally controversial - Mitscherlich book, Die Unwirtlichkeit der Städte ('The Inhospitability of Cities'), in which he lambasts contemporary town planning and modernist high-rises for breeding family violence, destroying communities and laying waste the historically grown city centres more terminally than allied bombing raids had done in 1944-45. (38) If one subtext to the RAF's urban guerrilla tactics is furnished by Mitscherlich's jeremiad, then it does so with a twist: many of the phenomena Mitscherlich eyed with growing despair as symptoms of social entropy, the RAF used productively, even creatively. The blight of suburban anomie, the anonymity of apartment blocks, where no-one talks to their neighbours, and where shopping, service industries and the cash-nexus define the quality of life: these became subject to situationist divagation or Brechtian acts of Umfunktionieren. The rent for the three-room apartment in a dormitory town near Cologne, into which Schleyer was bundled and where he was held for six weeks was paid for in cash, as was the three months' deposit. Less than two minutes from the off-ramp of a major interstate Autobahn, it was located on the third floor of a 15-storey high-rise, with convenient underground parking and a service lift: a building where not even the janitor could later remember who exactly had lived there. (39)  





40. Marc Augé, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London: Verso, 1995).

  To search out the sites where the RAF kidnapped their victims, found their safe houses or clashed with the police is thus to inspect a strangely familiar and yet dislocated topography. The RAF attacked the industrialists and bankers in their quiet villa side-streets, but they found refuge in the new urban high-rises. That the RAF justified their actions with the sins of omissions in German post-war history or the anti-imperialist, pro-Vietnam struggle seemed to pale in comparison to their brutally actual presence but also phantom-like elusiveness in the new traffic-free pedestrian shopping areas, where the sins of commission were architectural, or in the newspapers' daily headlines and on the ubiquitous 'wanted' posters in every post-office, where the brutality was typographical. But their ubiquity, proximity and simultaneous 'underground' existence also owed much to the way they occupied and made use of those sites which Marc Augé has called les non-lieux, typically contemporary 'non-spaces': motorway off-ramps, suburban tramway crossings, industrial estate wastelands, the sprawl of housing conglomerations. (40) Breloer, in Death Game develops a keen eye for such sites, in the way he deploys the newspaper and tv material, effectively contrasting it in his re-enactments with some of the more symbolically overdetermined or falsely idyllic locations, as in the final scene, where he constructs a veritable tableau out of the setting and circumstances of Schleyer's killing: in the middle distance, a body slumping forward on a grassy mount, against the evening sun, with impressively 'Germanic' trees spreading their branches in the background.  



The irony is poignant also for my argument. Are we, with these sites, still in the world of the tragic stage? I do not mean that Death Game belongs to the genre of the television docu-drama while Germany in Autumn still follows a distinct film aesthetic. Rather, an additional doubt arises about the latter's Antigone parallel, but also about my claiming to detect the return of Creon in the former: the parallels and contrasts rely too confidently on the pertinence and validity of the theatrical metaphor. True, its cultural currency gives the 'drama' of the hot autumn a powerful pathos, but it also hides a number of historical blind spots emerging from these representations of urban mutations. For instance, by ignoring the blurry iconicity of identikit photos, the gaudy language of the slogans, posters and graffiti, or the terrorists' irruptive presence in the urban fabric, the theatrical analogy can be accused of dignifying 'common criminals' with the gravity of a high tragedy. But perhaps more to the point, it also risks mis-identifying the medium in which the events not so much unfolded but were subsequently to take on a good deal of their historical significance.

The street not as metaphor for the stage, but as synecdoche for urban space: this does not mean that the 'Antigone' and 'Hamlet' effects discussed above did not exist - they clearly did, since they were so readily seized upon. But could such interpretative moves themselves have become mere vestiges of a political culture that in its cognitive map had made the theatrical stage central, rather than the city, the media, and the urban scene? Put more pointedly, was the RAF in 1977 harbinger also of a shift from the (elite) politics of stage/parliament/agora to the (street) politics of an event-and-entertainment culture, across the switch from literature and drama to the photographic, print and electronic media?


41. Baader's portrait featured prominently in 'Deutsche Photographie 1890-1990', an exhibition at the Bonn Museum of the Federal Republic, January to June 1997.   Whether the terrorists were aware of such changing space semantics is another question. Their rhetoric might suggest not, but other evidence makes it plausible that they were. For the RAF's deployment of the signs of the streets and the sites of urban space, their command of the slogan-caption, the sound-bite, the video tape, and the photomontage curiously aligns them with a West Germany reconstructing itself in the 1960s not only as a Western-style pluralist liberal democracy, but one that self-consciously constructs for itself a set of brand-name logo's. The chain of associations which the RAF iconography - encompassing the means as well as the targets of their actions - evokes is nicely summed up in the pun already quoted, namely the re-naming of the revamped BMW as the Baader-Meinhof-Wagen. Around this other mythology (derived from Barthes rather than the Bard), and encapsulated in the colourful figure of Andreas Baader, one can begin to trace another sort of transformation. (41) It locates the RAF in the slipstream of a shift which while not unconnected with urbanism is nonetheless distinct from it, namely that of an also elusively ubiquitous youth culture, where fast cars, leather jackets, macho-attitudes and violence came to play a very ambiguous role, since they could also stand for radical depolitisation. But one evident irony of the appearance of a figure like Baader lies in the fact that a blindingly shrill anti-American rhetoric existed side by side with behaviour, dress codes and forms of expression that were nothing if not American. Perhaps one should not forget that growing up geographically and culturally adjacent to the massive presence of US Armed Forces, first as the occupying power, then as the visible reminder of NATO and the Cold War, also left a legacy among German adolescents, dreaming of (what must have seemed) these American GIs' glamorous lives, lived on the edge and in material plenitude. As young Germans stared through barbed wire into the compounds where their 'others' played basketball or drove open top cars, envy mingled with admiration. Some of the envy resurfaced later as anti-Americanism, without quite quenching the admiration, now become desire for mimesis and impersonation.  


  What interferes with this reverse identification, and builds up a different texture of associations, feelings and values is an equally ambiguous because at once valorised and vilified prominence of specifically German icons of the economic miracle, reflecting the arrogant establishment (but also petty bourgeois) complacency of 'wir sind wieder wer' ('once again, we amount to something'). Apart from the automotive prowess behind the logos of VW, BMW, Porsche and the Mercedes star, one thinks of the Lufthansa icon on the Mogadishu plane, or the smart uniforms of the GSG 9 rescue mission: a forest of symbols of (post-war) Germany, which seemed to want to compete with US American symbols like the Big Mac golden arches, the Coke bottle or Levi's jeans. These 'design features' of the West German soul the RAF participated in at the same time as it vociferously reject them. Amidst such oscillating semiosis in which the mimetic impulse of 'acting out' and 'putting on' were central, the drama of the RAF and the hot autumn would seem to be at odds with notions of 'working through' or the purging of fear and pity, implicit in the 'tragic' genre of Antigone that gave the events their metaphoric space, but it is equally at odds with the 'classical narrative' by which Germany in Autumn tried to mould modern German history into a unity across the break of 1945.  

42. See Mariam Lau, 'Der Deutsche Herbst als Exorzismus,' Merkur no 585, December 1997, pp 1080-1092.




  If one can speak of a public sphere poised between theatricalisation and mediatisation, then the RAF marked a significant rupture: their enunciated was 'theatrical', their acts of enunciation were often cunningly 'medial'. Put differently, the RAF's ideology already at the time may have seemed stilted, expendable, second-hand, (42) yet it was their mode of address that made them credible and with it, authenticated the bond between the terrorists and their contemporaries. The RAF 'got it right' as far as the mediality of their message was concerned, even if what they said may have been stagy and self-conscious, and their actions politically obtuse as well as obscene. This 'enunciative apparatus' was, I am suggesting, linked to what one now understands by 'popular culture' or mainstream youth culture, but which at the time was clearly more ambiguous, poised between the urban guerrilla tactics of violent and bloody actions, and what would be the RAF's 'guerrilla urbanism', the media-literate, but also harsh and brittle interventionism which held people in thrall. Not only that: it gave the '68 student generation its sense that they were challenged into having a response, that they were called upon to be either counted 'in' or 'out'. This may have been the true drama of 'sympathisers': to feel interpellated, but not sure in the name of what.  

43. Michael Dreyer, 'Das muß genäht werden: Frakturen aus dem Lazarett einer ungeschriebenen Geschichte', Die Beute. Neue Folge (1998), pp 171-185.  

Street Violence as the Street Credibility of a Super-Band

The dilemma is illustrated by an autobiographical essay published in Die Beute, a neo-left 1990s magazine, in which articles on Raymond Williams, 'Manhattan after Warhol and Nan Goldin' and Courtney Love stand alongside pieces dissecting German museum culture or the demise of radical German filmmaking. In 'Fractures from the Field Hospital of an Undeclared History' Michael Dreyer describes how he first reacted to the RAF as a schoolboy, or rather, how in the cotton wool world of a protected family life, he tried to make sense of the radio bulletins and the television news as he sat in his room or walked the streets in the evenings. (43) For Dreyer, the RAF's street violence was not only street theatre, it was a kind of 'music' ('no more/mere words'). He felt their political violence as a percussion cutting into the monotone of his everyday, a form of bodily 'sensation' which, rather like rock music, delivered non-verbal expression and opened up a new subjective space. He also compares their actions to Walt Disney's definition of animation: 'plausible impossibility'. Such recollections are doubly surprising, for their endorsement of aestheticised violence, but also for remembering the RAF as non-verbal, when in fact, with their pamphlets, statements, messages to the press they were hyper-verbal. This slip of memory would, however, confirm that the verbal was not perceived as words, but as material signs, and the signs not as messages, but as shapes, sounds and colours.


44. Die Beute, p 174.   Dreyer's recollections are thus useful as the record of a disavowed but also over-cathecting form of identification. He speaks of the RAF as Germany's only 'super-band' ('the Crosby, Stills & Nash principle of armed struggle'), and concludes that the RAF was engaged in what he calls a 'style war', (44) disguised as 'international Marxism': the terrorists literally shot past the 'form' and 'issue' debates of political activism to fame, and for their sympathizers unconsciously embodied a German version of pop, yet to be defined as to idiom, medium or mode of participation. For others, the RAF even carried on the interventionist work of a particular literary avant-garde, and the pop-polemicist and cultural analyst Dietrich Diedrichsen wonders:  

45. Dietrich Diedrichsen, 'Der Boden der Freundlichkeit' Die Beute. Neue Folge, 1998, pp 44-45.   where are we to locate the symbolic rupture between the early enthusiasm of Ensslin or Vesper for modern poetry, and the full-blown RAF-diction, present in the lower-case typewritten messages, influenced by sub-culture colloquialisms, shaped by decisionist rhetoric, and celebrating orgies of one-line sententiousness? (45)  




46. 'We were a bit like media stars', admits Astrid Proll, one of the first generation RAF members, for most of the 1970s in hiding in London, who has called Baader a 'James Dean lookalike' in The Guardian (Weekend), August 28, 1998, p 25. Baader also recalls the Martin Sheen character in Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), himself a reworking of the media-consciousness of Clyde in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

47. When a German popular culture finally did emerge towards the end of the 1980s, it was both middle-class and middle-aged: sex comedy, sit-coms, football and talk-shows, i.e. quite different from British 'pop' in the 1960s (when music, fashion, movies and art briefly fed from the same social-subversive energies), and instead directly reflecting the suburban tv culture imported from the US.

  Diedrichsen goes on to trace the fault lines of a poetics of revolt, perhaps indebted to Brecht, but choosing a terseness closer to advertising and marketing, driven by a self-conscious promotion of casualness, anti-establishment life-styles and street-credibility. The demands were all about 'the political struggle' and 'international solidarity': what made an impression (and often the headlines of the tabloids) were the fast cars, the girls and the guns. One comes back to Andreas Baader, profiling himself as the incarnation of the narcissistic, self-styled working class hero, good at break-outs, shoot-outs, bombings. (46) But such a stance also disguises the culture clash within the RAF (which comprised a writer, Ulrike Meinhof and a lawyer, Horst Mahler), as well as between the RAF and university-educated literature students, making the first-generation more like the rear view mirror - belated, heavily moralised and fiercely protestant - of 'sex, drugs and rock'n'roll' rather than its extension by other means. The culture clash, however, does highlight the absence of a (home-grown) pop culture in Germany well into the 1970s, including the cinema, where Wim Wenders' obsession with US rock bands and R.W. Fassbinder's pastiches of at first B-feature gangster films and then Sirkean melodramas put this lack into sharp relief. Unlike Britain, Germany did not answer the US 'invasion' with the wit, irony or creative mimicry of the Beatles or Rolling Stones. And unlike France, with its situationist May '68 slogans of l'imagination au pouvoir, Germany's political youth culture was almost solely university-based, theory-driven, and (this being post-war Germany) it proved more earnest, more systematic, more bloody-minded (and in the end, more traumatized and traumatizing) than even the Italian or Japanese violent protest movements. (47)  



The presence in the streets, the organisation into 'cells', the lightning raids on banks or bankers' homes could thus count as part of a thoroughly ambivalent modernism represented by the RAF, helping a youth culture to take off, but which then veered off in quite a different direction. On the other hand, one wonders if the techno-fetishism of a Jan Carl Raspe or Andreas Baader did not anticipate the yuppie side of this youth culture, inventing electric gadgets, re-wiring loudspeakers to serve as radio-receivers, and mail-dropping video-tapes to tv broadcasters, even before the computer and the portable telephone made communication 'electronic', 'mobile', 'multi-media'.

Emblematically, the RAF deployed novel forms of communication also in the wider sense, in that they soldered together a great many different circuits of energy, bringing together, hot-wiring so to speak, different areas of politics, institutional life, the press. They clearly had an ambivalent relation to the new means of communication, half 'inventing' a modern communication infrastructure out of the bric-brac of minimal prison furniture, re-tooling that which, under a democracy, they were entitled to against the state, like persuading their lawyers to make statements to the media about imperialism, Zionism, police brutality. The 'secret' mode of the Kassiber that passed among the prisoners in solitary confinement, or made their way mysteriously between the high security tract and the RAF's underground 'cells' outside, strangely combined with the 'public' mode of media bulletins, press-interviews, spectacular actions. Contact in prison, among themselves and between blocks are described in detail in Stefan Aust's book (and in the film Stammheim), with the guards putting mattresses on the doors during the day but removing them at night, with radio wires used as two-way circuits for speech and messages. Baader hid his hand-gun in a record player, and he used the water pipes in his cell as a communication system, after the guards had finally found out how he had 'adapted' the prison intercom. Having trained as bomb- and booby-trap experts, Baader and especially Raspe were do-it-yourself geniuses, experts with wire, electricity, radio sets, transistors and transmitters. At the height of the crisis, even the maximum security prisons proved impossible to keep 'closed' or the prisoners 'isolated', just as the press was no longer 'independent' or the government 'leak-proof'. In the move to mediality, two public spheres, the press and the prison, temporarily may have changed place, taking over from two traditional political 'stages': the (bourgeois) parliament and the (proletarian, but also fascist) street.





48. 'Everything in terrorism is ambivalent and reversible: death, the media, violence, victory. Who plays into the other's hands?... Fascination allows no distinction to be made, and rightly so, for power finally does not make any either, but settles its accounts with everyone, and buries Baader and Schleyer together at Stuttgart in its incapacity to unravel the deaths and rediscover the fine dividing line.' Jean Baudrillard, 'Our Theatre of Cruelty', Semiotexte vol 4, no 2, 1982, p 109.

49. Paul Virilio 'The Overexposed City', in J. Crary and Feher (eds.), Zone Book.

  In such a transfer, the much-noted self-obsession of the group, with its clandestine networks and bulletins to the press might not have been so self-absorbed after all, since it provided a permanent commentary on the importance it attached to the 'material' side of communication. The RAF's peculiar form of mediality being perhaps their more lasting legacy, this new urbanist communication (typified by the city as non-space, and the prison cell or private study as command-and-control centre) would signal also a dramatic overlay of inside and outside, of architectural, carceral and electronic space. At the time, if it was seen at all, this space was discussed in 'panoptic' terms or as the curse of 'reversibility', (48) but now it might be more appropriately analysed in the manner suggested by Virilio, for whom paradigmatic of contemporary urban space are the security arrangements at a modern airport. (49) Hence another ambivalence of the RAF's 'street-credibility': it was difficult to tell whether the new surveillance city was the RAF's 'natural' element, or whether they were critiquing it by forcing it to show itself. A fine dividing line runs between the kidnapper and the media-star, between the bank-robber and the super-group. As the politically soft-edge focus of Michael Dreyer's essay shows, the 'style wars' argument leads to either cynicism or aporia, either it ignores the violence or is willing to read it as 'music' to post-modern, post-punk ears.  


  But how else to confront the fact of the RAF's violence? Can it be regarded as a 'language'? Did its particularly spectacular form merely indicate the violence of electronic communication, now disguised and normalised - having left behind the 'modern' violence of the administered discourse to mutate into Paul Virilio's zonal violence of electronic passes, x-ray screens, security areas? What if the RAF's spectacular violence was a theatrical way of representing and staging the wrenching dislocation of the post-war world economic order which in the 1970s followed upon the Six Day War, the war in Vietnam, the oil crisis? Can one argue that the violence of the RAF was, despite its very real victims, essentially symbolic?  



50. Henri LeFebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991); Michel de Certeau, Heterologies (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1994); Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994).

  Symbolic violence in this sense would connote the use of spectacle in order to interrupt the circulation of goods and people, to render visible the security zones and spaces of exclusion, to let flare up the last ambiguous moment of a politics of the street, before the street becomes 'safe' for shopping, for the multiplex cinema and the mall, for market research and opinion polls? The question repeats itself: was the RAF the last (violent) snapshot of a political culture of the street - in Germany's 20th century history ambiguously coded in both right and left-wing terms - which tried to uphold essentially 'democratic' principles of the forum and the agora, or was it already operating in the space of the spectacle which it seemed to attack, but in the end could not but help usher in? (50)  



If symbolic violence, then a further question might be: did the RAF at some level understand themselves as 'artists', engaged after all in making of West-Germany the stage for a 'learning play' in the Brechtian tradition, taking such liberties with the lives of officials because they considered them to be 'actors' like themselves? And is this what their 'sympathisers' in the style wars obliquely picked up: the spectacle of a new 'media-politics' bursting upon the scene? Perhaps the RAF was trying to produce a different kind of 'art' altogether: not spectacular, but 'conceptual', by making visible deeper, irreconcilable contradictions, articulating a series of 'deadlocks' in the body politic, in the fabric of democracy itself? If so, the deadlocks fell back on themselves, for they were denied success not only with their enemies, but also with their friends, since even for their sympathisers, they succeeded in outlining at most a moment of 'culture', an 'aesthetisation of politics' in the form of a (dangerous) life-style, complementing and facilitating a shift in (imaginary) self-representation. It would mean that their success at having created sympathisers actually connoted the failure of their intervention, both as street 'artists' and as 'political' protagonists.

A Symbolic Mandate?

Double failure, then, as artists and as political activists. In fact, this double failure could be seen to spell another kind of success for the opponent: the possibility that the RAF's actions and tactics 'played straight into the hands' of the government, their own sworn enemy. Such, at any rate, was the tenor not only of the retrospective assessments on the right. The conventional view by the left of the result of the 'hot autumn' has always been that the State cynically played up the terrorist threat, in order to usher in a 'law-and-order' society, using the RAF as intimidation against reformist social movements, a stick to beat the moderate left with, but also as justification to invest in security equipment, surveillance technology, the introduction of electronics into the bureaucracies at federal, regional and local level. It was as if capitalism shifting gears towards the information society had to invent terrorism in order to legitimate a (temporary?) curtailment of civil liberties and even human rights, as a politically expedient, broadly acceptable argument to allow the new military-industrial, electronic-surveillance complex to ease itself into place. It is a version of events endorsed, for instance, by the writer F.C. Delius in June 1997:




51. F.C. Delius, 'Die Dialektik des Deutschen Herbstes', Die Zeit, 25 July 1977, p 3.

  Whereas for the terrorists their on-air 'live' cop-show replaced political analysis, the RAF was a welcome gift to the police, to the security services, parts of the press and the conservative political parties. The gigantic process of paramilitary upgrading of the federal bureau of criminal investigation, the secret services and border police was surely not resisted by those thus served. The RAF was useful [also in other respects]: Never had it been easier to paint anyone who was young or left-wing, who was engaged on behalf of liberal, progressive or social causes into the same corner with terrorists. (51)  

52. The title is explained by Fassbinder: 'The first generation was that of '68. Idealists, who thought they could change the world with words and demonstrations in the street. The second generation, the Baader Meinhof group, moved from legality to the armed struggle and total illegality. The third generation is today's, who just indulges in action without thinking, without either ideology or politics, and who, probably without knowing it, are like puppets whose wires are pulled by others.' R.W. Fassbinder, Die Anarchie der Phantasie (Frankfurt: Verlag der Autoren, 1986) p 106.   Fassbinder, in his 1978 film The Third Generation had already appeared to put forward a similar view, when he showed his terrorists masterminded and plied with drugs by an industrialist keen to secure government contracts for his electronic hardware and business computers. (52) That the film can also be read differently was not noted at the time, yet in the face of even the left thinking of the RAF as merely having become a tool of the state, it may be necessary to break open this apparently devastating but perhaps too facile irony. What this 'mirroring' of the State by the RAF flattens is the underlying dynamic of identification: not the kind of imaginary identification noted above, on the part of the RAF's political or pop sympathisers, but the act of symbolic identification, where the RAF saw itself interpellated, from an instance that challenged the members to become 'more themselves' than they were, but also challenged the State to speak from a position, to own up to the place from which it made its subjects political citizens: a necessarily and fundamentally contradictory place.  


  Such an observation is prompted by two thoughts. Firstly, it implies that one consider the RAF from the point of view of subjectification and regard them as 'desiring subjects'. Secondly, it means 'taking seriously' their politics, not in the sense of endorsing their political goals or methods, but recognising their founding gesture, as it were, namely their demand to assume a political role, to assume a political mandate. One might say that if at first glance it looks as though the RAF ultimately mirrored the state, then it is equally appropriate to say that the RAF took the state at its word, mirrored the demand made upon the individual by the state, accepted the symbolic mandate that is implied in being a citizen. The RAF demanded that the state not only took its citizens seriously, but that the state took itself seriously as the space of the polis (where everyone is answerable at once to himself and the community) rather than the space of the police (where everyone is answerable only to himself and to statistics).  







53. Dorothea Hause, Baader und Herold - Beschreibung eines Kampfes (Berlin: Fest, 1997).

  This symbolic mandate can be seen as a historical one. It may enjoin one to offer resistance in a situation when the state exceeds its legitimacy, when the state commits a wrong, in this case the perceived collusion of Germany with the USA waging an imperialist war in Vietnam. Here, a fatal displacement operated: the RAF was the resistance that German citizens had never managed to organise when it mattered, for instance, resisting the Nazis or opposing the persecution of the Jews. The RAF was in this precise sense not the 'return of the repressed', but involved in a situation of Nachträglichkeit, engaged in making up for something that had been omitted in the past, desirous to assume a role, across a historical gap, that was marked by shame, guilt, self-hatred. Under these circumstances, speaking of 'mutual symbiosis', as does Delius, may not quite strike the right note, although it recognises that something other than pure antagonism played across the confrontation between the state and the terrorists. The RAF was not only attacking the state: it was also 'addressing' it, their mode of address being that of 'symbolic identification'. That such an awareness was even shared by some of those thus addressed is attested by security chief Horst Herold's remark 'I loved Andreas Baader'. (53)  




54. Fassbinder spoke of West Germans as living in a 'democracy handed to them as a present' (a common phrase at the time: 'Modell Deutschland: die geschenkte Demokratie', Die Anarchie der Phantasie, 138). This implies a question about the 'agency' the political subject can assume or put on (if only mimicry) in reply to repression: 'we're not in control, and therefore not responsible,' thus hinting at one kernel of (inverted) truth in the emergent 'victim' cultures of the 1980s and 1990s.

55. A similar dilemma of how to respond to the symbolic mandate coming from a cult following has faced pop-stars. The black rapper of the 1990s, for instance, 'represents' a constituency which demands that his street-credibility of violence is not merely verbal and in the music. Tupac Shakur, the 'gangsta rapper' whose mother was a Black Panther militant, exposed himself to 'getting real' with fatal results. But as he is supposed to have said, 'all good niggers, all niggers who change the world, die in violence'. The Economist, October 1996.

  What was at stake in the wider context touches the crisis of historical subjectivity and political agency for which the events of May 68 still stand as the muted beacon. It could be called a double crisis of the subject: the political ramifications of the post-68 period showed that in Western Europe, with the absence of a militant working class, there no longer existed even the possibility of a collective revolutionary subject. At the same time, the bourgeois order could no longer claim, in the face of such massive disaffection as manifested itself in the anti-war protests, to embody in its leaders the representative subject, mandated to act on behalf of and in place of society and its members. (54) The RAF might be said to have highlighted one of the political double-binds in which liberal democracies necessarily find themselves: they exist to guarantee equality before the law, yet because this very principle contradicts the expression of uniqueness and particularity, difference reappears elsewhere in the system, whether in the form of youth protest or identity politics. The question raised by such phenomena as urban guerillas or 'revolutionary cells' was thus how the singular connected to the collective, to which one possible answer was the figure of the terrorist, at once the existential subject (by his mimicry of 'armed struggle'), the embodiment of the singular (the saint or cult figure), and the self-conscious martyr (the ascetic, prepared to sacrifice him/herself). The terrorist is a representative, but - so one might argue - with a false mandate, trying to inscribe him/herself 'positively' into history (or its religious equivalent, immortality). In the absence of a 'representative' who can credibly figure both the singular and the collective (which is the false promise of the fascist leader), the terrorist necessarily buys into 'representation' in the form of spectacular action and highest visibility. (55) Yet to the extent that the terrorist 'responds' to this double-bind within the dominant political system of representation, s/he is a figure that shadows, mirrors or even mimics the official state, nowhere more so than in the challenge to the state's 'monopoly on violence'.  

56. As Astrid Proll put it: 'Everyone carried a gun. That was a membership card.', The Guardian (Weekend) 28 August, 1998, p 25.





Outside the Law

One of the crucial points about the RAF is that its existence was the result of an act of separation: they started by putting themselves outside the law. It almost seems as if they undertook certain actions, committed certain offences, went 'underground', first and foremost in order to draw a line, to instantiate a break. (56) Historians are tempted to see the origins of RAF within a continuum, namely that of the post-68 movements to create alternative communities. For instance, it is often argued that the RAF emerged from the Berlin communes movement, whose social protest potential and revolutionary energies came from partly historical, partly anarchist-inspired hopes to break up the patriarchal structures of the German bourgeois family (the so-called anti-authoritarian movement), informed by the broader currents of sexual liberation and feminism. In one sense this is true, although it is worth recalling that the communes were also, more prosaically, a reflection of the specific housing situation in West Berlin, with its large student population, as well as its large 'bourgeois' apartments which, economically, were only viable through multiple occupancy (the so-called Wohngemeinschaften). The student communes - and in their wake, the 'revolutionary cells' - initially stood for opening up the nuclear family to other forms of or new experiments in group solidarity and bonding. They also promoted a new kind of body-politics, ideally acting as the vanguard of a new interpersonal proximity, pursuing ideals not only of how to share and redistribute goods and services more equitably, but also how to redefine privacy and communality, as well as the material and immaterial spaces of everyday existence.



  Clearly, some of the aims of the RAF can be identified with these currents, but in other respects, the RAF only became the RAF after it had made the break, semantically secured by their initials (connoting the double nemesis of the Third Reich: the Red Army and the Royal Air Force) and politically manifested by their use of arms. This resort to violence is usually treated as a 'cause', i.e. the moment where legitimate political opposition turned into criminal behaviour, marking the beginning of the escalating spiral that finally ended in murder and suicide. Yet the resort to violence can also, from another vantage point, be seen as an effect, the consequence of another chain of events, which as indicated, had to do with the crisis of certain citizens no longer feeling represented (the symbolic mandate), to which corresponded the crisis on the left that followed the formation of alternative communities, namely the withdrawal from the polis, the public sphere into the personal. For it was clearly not perceived as an adequate political act to find ways of occupying large apartments economically, or to reorganise the domestic sphere, however important these goals were in the context of slogans such as 'the personal is the political'. It must have seemed to the RAF that only by putting themselves outside the law could they have a vantage point from where to constitute a 'political group', and again, not in the practical sense of how to organise a non-authoritarian Wohngemeinschaft, or in the formal sense of registering as an extra-parliamentary opposition, a sort of NGO for internal affairs, but in the sense of how to be political subjects, of how to say 'we'. In this respect, the RAF were both a 'family' (in Hegel's sense of 'enmity to the state') and the very opposite of a family (in the sense of the hippie communes, student communities or post-nuclear families). The RAF's 'we' was the negative, utopian, suicidal attempt at a political 'we', under specifically contemporary conditions. For to be able to say 'we' in post-war Germany meant above all to contest a history: foremost the disastrous history of saying 'we' under Nazism, when one part of the nation redefined who was allowed to say 'we', excluding from this community not only legitimate citizens, but proceeding to segregate and exterminate them on the basis of this redefinition. The specificity of the conditions pointed backward to the fascist abuses of the 'we' embodied in the Aryan Volksgemeinschaft, but also sideways to the Stalinist abuses of the 'we' of proletarian collectivity in the GDR.  








57. It is in this sense that even the RAF can be seen as part of West German 'mourning work', by letting a set of complex forces work over the traumatic material, at once cathecting and decathecting, allowing for all the stages of Freud's 'remembering, repeating and working through'.




58. This is the gist of the conversation that Fassbinder has with his mother in Germany in Autumn about whether terrorists are criminals protected by the law or a species of perpetrator to which the law does not apply and where thus a more atavistic demand for retribution is called for.

59. See Jacques Rancière, 'The Political Form of Democracy' in documenta X- the book (Cantz, 1997), p 801.

  In practice, this may seem as if the RAF was able to say 'we' only by an act of equally radical exclusion or appropriation, necessarily leading to individual or collective suicide. But if one returns to the question of how to be a political subject, then the RAF must be considered not only historically, but also hermeneutically, as it were, so that their role as 'political activists' is complicated by their status as 'political subjects'. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it is at this point that the figure of Antigone returns. The RAF, by putting itself outside the law, or rather by making the act of becoming 'criminals' the founding gesture of its group identity, might be said to have made an Antigone gesture, the Antigone move. This much the parallels drawn in Germany in Autumn had already hinted at. But the possibility that the specifically German dilemma of saying 'we' should also bring us back to Antigone has to do with the further step of seeing the RAF as 'desiring', whose actions were also designed to secure for them a subject position from which they could speak, in this case the objectively impossible, negative but 'justified' position of the 'we'. (57) Just as Antigone, by speaking from a position not above the law but outside the law, could become to Western political thought the 'ethical' subject par excellence, because the place outside the law is for any mortal a non-place, so the RAF's so-called self-obsession can be regarded as the consequence of their knowledge about the non-place from which they were speaking, doubled by the urban 'non-space' they were inhabiting. It gives them, if only in retrospect, the freedom to speak to us about these difficulties of saying 'we', especially in the 1990s, when the various ethnic, tribal, post-national and post-colonial ‘we’s are staging such apparently compelling come-backs. Or is the real tragedy of the RAF that their particular ways of going outside the law, in order to say 'we', precisely because they did not allow for the traditional symbolisations like 'class', 'nation', 'the people', was merely able to engender 'imaginary' identifications around either bank-robberies, prison break-outs and killing sprees, or designer brands, rock music and fast cars? Which has left us with several, equally unenviable positions, or rather, it has left us with the one crucial question: what sort of 'we' is symbolisable in a civic, political sense? (58) To which our present societies have given various 'answers': from the identity politics of political correctness (according to Jacques Ranciere, always at risk of conflating a non-symbolised singularity with a non-symbolizable universal like race or religion to arrive at a 'we'), (59) to the new forms of nationalism, in which the ethnic-geographic 'thing' once more sanctions violence 'within the law', in the form of civil wars and ethnic cleansing.  



60. Another sign of the televisiual ‘we’ was the attempt made in the media in 1997 to bring together the victims, such as the son of Hans Martin Schleyer, and ex-members of the RAF, in the hope of finding some common ground, however vain and absurd this attempt in practice proved to be. Television shows presume that there is always the space of 'talk'. No wonder it proved impossible to recover across the televisual face-to-face the displaced dialogues of German history, the generations, of responsibility and accountability.


The Self-Dissolution of the RAF

However, perhaps the most familiar contemporary 'we' to provide a form of subjectification takes shape in an altogether different space, at once parasitic of the civic and its absolute negation because of its perfect simulation. This is the space of television, where the 'we' is always already there, whether 'we' are watching 'it' on television while it happens, or 'we' are watching it re-staged and replayed, also on television. In the face of the new 'we' of the televisual global/local community, and the virtual 'we' manufactured by the televisual media event and its mode of address, the subjectivation instanced by Death Game spelled indeed the death of the RAF, not only historically, but also in the very terms one can understand the symbolic mandate they may have thought themselves to be responding to. (60) Such a 'we' no longer needs to be able to symbolise a political entity like 'the people' or the revolutionary subject, no more than it needs an urban environment, whether inhospitable, theatrical or communal: a media event, as the German phrase indicates, is a Strassenfeger - it sweeps the streets clean, historically and politically.




The letter of April 20th, then: whether it was sent on Hitler's birthday as a reminder of his legacy, or whether the date was chosen because it was also the eve of a possible amnesty hearing for some of the RAF ex-members still held in prison must remain a matter of speculation. But in a curious sense, the RAF may never have been more true to its historical and political meaning than when it dissolved itself in the wake of the massive act of 'sympathy' or imaginary identification that the German television audience manifested with the paternal order returning to Germany across Death Game rewriting Germany in Autumn, and thus literally recuperating a piece of national history by covering it. Faced with the apparent alternatives of either the atavistic ethnic 'we', or the virtual, transitory 'we' of the television audience, not only was there no ground for the political that was not already occupied, but more crucially, the very possibility of a non-ground would appear foreclosed by the sheer proliferations of (dis-)embodiments of a ‘we’ that alone can and should found a politics, by constantly con-founding it.

This piece first appeared in Joan Copjec and Michael Sorkin (eds.), Giving Ground: The Politics of Propinquity (Verso, 1999).


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