Translated from MSZ 6-1988
The Student Movement (Part I)
The rebels of the sixties stood down without having achieved anything. They reached neither their smaller or bigger goals. Everything they once protested is heedlessly forging ahead. Occasions for being “radicalized” and attacking the “system” are presented on a daily basis by those in power. In 1988, the Federal Republic of Germany quite brazenly presents itself as a collection of material for criticizing capitalism in the way that Karl Marx once espoused. And what are the veterans of the protest movement doing, especially those who have clung to a bit of celebrity? They are making themselves available to the media with untroubled vanity and spinning webs of lies for the anniversary; in keeping with the disgusting model of “celebrating the movement’s commendable results and lasting achievements,” they, in league with their former enemies, always come up with the same message from their looks back.
The logic of the assessment
Without blushing, “those who were there” repeat the insight of the professional whitewashers: no, without the student movement, the republic would not be what it is today! Yes, it has decisively shaped our political culture. The peace and ecology movements can also be traced back to those days. Reforms are beginning to be considered in Bonn, and so on. Those who look back, satisfied with the FRG of 1988, compliment the opposition of yesteryear without any anger, saying that it rendered outstanding services to the society. And they don’t even feel compelled to say what is so splendid about the FRG of 1988, which they so wholeheartedly salute. Do they mean the nuclear power plants and the unemployed? The weapons build-up of the last 20 years, the imperialist splendor, the emergency laws? Do they think the Greens are good because they have prevented any evils? Do they think of corruption, Hanau, Flick or Barschel [a big corruption scandal in Germany in 1988 – translator] when they think of the “political culture”?
Obviously, this is only a rendition of the fairy tale that the nation has purified itself, that its critics have made a deeply impression on it – which means, of course, that it is also time for the radical movement to call it quits. So to correct this black-red-gold fairy tale, let’s remember:
- that the movement of the 60s had a somewhat different program than the FRG in 1988 in which some feel so comfortable,
- that this state of ours combatted the rebels of yore (some did not survive), and that its learning process resorted more easily to violence than inner peace.
The political positions of the student movement
The fact that the rebellion seemed very subversive to a lot of citizens doesn’t have much to do with the substance of the criticism. Rather, the happenings, the demonstrations and “occupations,” the confrontations with police gave decent people, as well as goading journalists, the impression that the west was facing a serious test here. The objections of the rebellious youth actually rightly deserved the label “radical democratic” which was so common at the time; and the reactions of the really existing democracy only proved that the “best of all forms of rule” will not tolerate illusions about itself as soon as anyone tries to put them into practice.
a) Science and education
The student activists discovered a deficiency in the teachings of the humanities and social sciences that had already been made tolerably presentable by scholars such as Habermas. They craved the opportunity to criticize the “methodological presuppositions” of what was read aloud and discussed in seminars. Today, this seems like an irony: 20 years later, the stupidities and ideologies of the university are all presented with a commitment to a method, to an approach, which discloses their “epistemological interest” and does not in the least fear the accusation of bias. Today, no academic can imagine science in any other way, and the commitment to pluralism, which also comes across as a commandment, is considered “critical.” The fact that science has an object and explains it is regarded by the university community as sheer “dogmatism”; the triumph of methodological thinking is complete, so that even the most contradictory views gather peacefully in every discipline – according to the motto: “The perspective results in the science.”
It is undeniable that some academics today consider their objections of those days to be settled and gladly participate in the modernized and method-controlled formation of ideology. Nevertheless, the demand that professors should finally explicitly state their methodological presuppositions – apart from and, if possible, before their lessons – came about in those days from a different need than seeing academic activity finally develop into instrumentalism and a diversity of partisanships. What was demanded from the older generation of professors, whose meaning-giving teachings seemed incompatible with the interests of the students, was a reflection on the “social relevance” of the stuff. The approach, which was considered progressive, was the annoying exercise of viewing everything “socially” and thus not requesting the sociologization of science, which was also quickly pushed through, but insisting on social responsibility. The prejudice that was enforced was that every single literary interpretation and history lecture had to lead to information about the improvement and organization of a democratic society, and its admission to the university was demanded as a perspective.
The majority of university lecturers saw such a request as a “politicization” of science, incurred the silly accusation being “apolitical,” and were considered reactionary vermin who shut themselves up in their “ivory tower.”
So the second “objection” to science was already finished: “reflections on the practical consequence of what is being learned” was missing, as in those days not much learning was done but everything was always “reflected on.” Just as little as the demand for methodological “self-criticism” led to a critique of science did the so-called “reflection” find an error in the “prevailing science.” Instead of identifying incorrect thoughts in the various subjects, seeking the reasons for them, and at some point reproaching the teachings themselves, the critical students of the 60s indulged in “critical science.” This was understood as eternally questioning the “practical relevance” of the presented theories, separate from and prior to, and later alongside, dealing with them. In the process, some people succeeded in inventing “practical” meanings that can only be taken as a joke. The belief that academic ideologies from macro-economics to literary appreciation find application in real life and somehow decisively determine the course of social life was fashionable. The fanaticism of democratic science was on its way, and the attribute “democratic” complained about nothing in science but a lot of “functions” it was guaranteed not to have. What was meant was “practice” in the sense of society-changing good deeds. All the democratic ideals, the desire that everything be a little more social and fair, got its turn – and plans for alternative professional practices were widely popular. By changing science and education in line with the need for changes in “society” as identified by radical democrats, the society was going to be turned upside down.
Historical coincidence would have it that this movement found a disputatious ally in ideologists of the “education catastrophe.” The view that the future of the nation depended on the education system and the number in the elite was also fashionable at the time among influential people. What would becomes of “us” was to be decided on the educational front – and education reform then emerged from the interaction of the two teams. With a few more working class children in the university, a few more idiotic dorm buildings, and a lot of unemployed academics who “society” doesn’t care about because it counts its unemployed and its gross national product …
b) West German democracy
The protesters in the universities consistently measured academic life by democracy – the one they had in their heads. The daily operation of the whole Federal Republic was thoroughly disgraced by these ideals. The democratic spirit that young citizens were seeking, not only in the university but everywhere, was simply nowhere to be found. The fact that the no-longer-young generation simply meant “our state” when they said democracy, that they were heartily in favor of the state and “order” without any further analysis, was noticed by the change-hungry, diligent students in social studies classes quickly labelled “post-fascist.” To their horror, they discovered in the nation’s practicing democrats, usually even in their own families, quite ordinary citizens and opportunists who put up with way too much and who were actually proud of it. And who were just as proud of being members of a nation in which old Nazis had quickly participated in the democratic exercise of power. They criticized President Lübke, who was not only a Nazi but also thick as a brick, for a contradiction that existed only in their imagination. Excitedly, they found that power in a German democracy was worthy of a better moral and intellectual endowment. They stretched the idea that fascist and democratic governance are irreconcilable to the point of implausibility. It never occurred to the first generation of the movement that perhaps their ideas might be discredited by reality, instead of the other way around. They saw a lack of equality and freedom everywhere because they did not notice that bourgeois society only carries out the hardships of these state institutions. They believed in these and all the other “values” and discovered one violation after another. The Grand Coalition threw them off track in their faith in democracy, as far as the blessings of the struggle of competing leaders for good government was concerned. Not so much, of course, that they gave up on putting their faith into action as a critical stance. They considered the emergency laws enacted by democratically empowered politicians to decide everything that is required in cases of a state of emergency to be a crime against the democratic mandate and something like the eve of a coup to eliminate democracy. They wanted to see nothing they disliked as a consequence and necessity of the democratic way of organizing a state. The “contradiction” between constitutional claims and realities, cobbled together by some “leftist” professors, had caught their fancy, and a book called “The Transformation of Democracy” made a strong impression. In sociological twists and turns, they learned the bitter news that corresponded to their excitement: democracy was in serious regression and had lost its true essence. The movement could only confirm the suspicion; and as for the indolence and intolerance of their fellow democrats, they came to the sad conclusion that it had to be a clear case of manipulation. Of course, the boys and girls of those times are honored to have taken this idea, which is intrinsically elitist, as an opportunity to show opposition and resistance. After all, they wanted to start an argument with everything under the sun; in this way, they became enemies of the really existing democracy and the powerful in no time. And not only of them. Also of those to whom they wanted to give more democracy and social benefits, who not only kept nobly aloof, but vigorously advocated they be resettled on the other side of the Berlin wall.
The cause of the Vietnam War and other adventures of the free world was settled along the same lines. The supposed goodness of the western form of government spurred doubts and suspicions of the most radical kind. An interest in what the official powers of the democratic camp were doing, what the freedoms of business and force were accomplishing, was acceptable. And it could have easily shaken the belief that one is lucky to have the chance to live and study in a democracy. But they didn’t analyze the foreign adventures of imperialism. The “harmlessness” conceded to the FRG may have played a certain role in this: economic interference, capital exports and the like – all things based on NATO’s military might – were still chalked up to peaceful trade; and the most notorious atrocities were done by the USA, so for some time the protests took the form of demanding that the democratic rulers in Bonn distance themselves from the protector power. It was only by meeting with grassroots ambassadors from abroad, with Persian and Latin American students, that it became clear to some protestors that the FRG was anything but a peaceful exception in the alliance of freedom fighters. Admittedly, whenever there was a demonstration in Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich, they immediately imagined they were in alliance with the struggles of oppressed peoples. So there were enough delusions, and the explanation of imperialism happened pretty frugally. Clarifications were demanded and offered to outsiders according to the needs of the day, usually to point out what monstrous deeds were being committed in the name of “freedom and democracy”; which guests were being paraded in Bonn was always worth considering; where they belonged on the scale of loathsomeness was easier to answer than the question of what the Bonn team and the “actually” democratic FRG had to do with them. Even with the clearest findings about the creatures of the free world which were then called the “Third World,” the “complicity” manifested in diplomatic relations was castigated, as if the respective official reception had no permanent and solid basis. Who knew at that time anything about the weapons of competition which did their work under the protection of NATO’s weapons! There was not a hint about currencies and credit, but a lot of indignation that, first, the free West was not made up solely of democratic allies and that, second, this was not a problem in Bonn.
Even in this sphere of solidarity with abused and humiliated nations, of appeals to the ruling democrats to live up to their ideal, the protest movement engaged in every possible confrontation. They may well have gotten the idea of “revolution” from distant lands where, in the words of Mao Tse Tung, “revolution is justified.” On the one hand, the suspicion they aroused of communism didn’t matter to them because of a failure to deal with real socialism – communism was in force, in any case, as much as “realized democracy” – on the other hand, it was worth a lot of distancing tricks, at the latest when the Russians invaded Prague. But how should real socialism be judged by people who thought of “capitalism” as something like an “obstruction of real democracy,” that is, who also think of money, capital, wages, prices and profit only in terms of fairness? The only “judgment” that prevailed with regard to the Eastern bloc was: “That’s not what we mean nor what we want!” For Cuba and Che, however, all sorts of sympathies were in circulation – and some even went there.
d) The need for “Marxism”
The student movement turned to arguing about three issues. The effort to make its case as eloquently as possible was therefore very lively. The propaganda for an alternative way of doing science; the demand for a theoretical approach that guarantees “social thinking” – this always leads to the search for helpful sources. However, the difference between scientific findings and ideological confessions becomes unimportant to anyone who always reads according to the claims presented by their practical interest. Some to this day consider Marx to be the best method of celebrating social science, others do not consider the Feuerbach piece wrong but an excellent guide to critical sociology. “Dialectic,” “being and consciousness,” “praxis” and “historical thinking,” etc. – these have become smash hits in the toolbox of people who are constantly anxious to “think critically” and completely overlook what they or Marx actually had to criticize.
The excursion into social criticism which is owed to the view that democracy does not yet exist also had its pitfalls. The confusion between “social” and “socialist” has a long tradition, and many readers in the movement preferred to stick to it rather than let Marx make the relevant corrections. How many knew that the welfare state, as well as the institutions of equality and freedom, are part of class society? And that justice always turns out to be whatever the mode of production dictates? Obviously, it is more convenient to have one’s own point of view confirmed by literature – and there is really no lack of writings that set Marxism in a methodological and “social” perspective. As far as the previously mentioned “theory” of manipulation went, some managed to make the exact same lament out of a statement by Marx about “necessarily false consciousness,” Marcuse’s “one-dimensional man,” and the all-pervasive power of the media.
Imperialism generates interest in knowledge about and from the “Third World,” but it’s difficult for an idealistic global democrat to get away from sighs about “development” and “democratization.” Lenin’s wrong explanation of world market mores and war was not in vogue for long because it was uncritically set aside in favor of other rather humanistic concoctions. For a while, texts originally from the sites of the people’s war were popular, even if, with all the people’s justice, it often turned out to be a bit silly.
It’s not true that none of this could have been any different. Those who took grasped at Marx also had a good chance to recognize the FRG in his explanation and to re-focus their efforts at change.
Translated from MSZ 7-1988
Part II: A reckoning with the anniversary lies
e) The praxis of the movement
If they did not make much difference, it was not because too little was done. With their criticism, the activists were heard loud and clear. They wanted to make colleagues out of their addressees; they were even able to root out more or less open-minded allies, and hopeless cases, thus opponents, were quickly identified.
In the secure, democratically guaranteed feeling of being in the right with their complaints, the movement violated the best customs of the university. In lecture halls, where people used to listen, take notes, and knock respectfully at the end, they simply instigated discussions. The speakers were quite often heard by the other students, but less so by the professors. These figures were flabbergasted when they were offered one “social responsibility” after the other. They already had one: they did science and kept up their teaching activities in accordance with the law. They didn’t think much of a joint consultation about the why and how of academic research and teaching; at most, they were able to recognize a long-mounted attack on the freedom of science. They accused them of being more authoritarian than democratic. The few exceptions and the assistants, who also thought that a little more democracy was good for the university, emerged as a source of ideas for reforms.
So it came to exciting scenes in the Site of the Mind, and the janitors had a few more functions. The spontaneous type of blowups that arose because of “refusal to discuss” was soon supplemented by planned operations, sit-ins and occupations of institutes. Professors who all too meddlesomely spoke in the media about the impending downfall of the good, true and beautiful received visits. The spectacle was considerable, because then the police were coming more and more often. From time to time, the blowups were fair and very important for those who had already done so much for the Western spirit and its salvation during the Third Reich. The democratization of the university could by no means be hindered by such people. How the latter was to be done was discussed extensively at plenary meetings; models of a future university were the subject of public debates; participation on equal terms and a bigger political mandate on the part of the student body were among the permanent fixtures of subversive engagement. All this, always with a lot of voting and applauding, garnished with brisk insults from the RCDS [translator: a right-wing student organization], which usually saw things differently and applied the standards of the real democracy.
The efforts in the field of corrections, which the excited students wanted to inflict on the domestic and foreign political activities of the republic, was also quite costly. The means of combat was the demonstration, the criterion of success was on the one hand the number of participants and on the other hand the echo the events received in the media. Of course, the joy about well-attended processions against emergency laws and Vietnam did not last long; satisfaction with the growing number of people willing to demonstrate contrasted with the knowledge that the relevant authorities in a democracy do not listen to critics. The rulers, instead of taking the popular initiatives announced in chants to heart and bettering themselves, continued unabashed. They insisted that they had been empowered very democratically by the people, repeatedly declared themselves to be the sovereign executors of a democratic will and the demonstrators to be a “radical minority” that presumed too much.
This got the aforementioned minority to reflect in a strange way – not on the emancipation of political power from the economic situation that bedevils the interests and opinions of citizens; nor on the why and for what of the programmatic ruthlessness. Rather, on more effective ways of finding a “legitimate” hearing. From this reflection came the infamous provocations, the “rule violations” and the “symbolic violence” against things, and paint bombs against people. The not at all symbolic and very regular violence which democracy used against them confirmed the demonstrators across the board. When they were beaten by the police on the occasion of a demonstration against the coup in Greece and the benevolent reaction to it in Bonn, it was said: “German police protect fascists!” When a demonstrator was straight out murdered during the anti-Shah demonstration in Berlin and the divided state power afflicted hundreds of others with truncheons and disturbing the peace procedures, the SDS had nothing better to do than once again cast doubt on democracy with the accusation of fascism. The explanation in the subsequent campaign was that the FRG was on its way from a “post-fascist” system to a “pre-fascist” one – and hardly anyone wanted to notice that even in the most painful experiences with real democracy, a tribute was paid to democracy, the real democracy.
And because the media, in the form of radio and television, but above all in its most beautiful democratic expression as a Bild tabloid with a circulation of millions sold every day, attacked the demonstrating “bums” as freely as possible and met with far more approval with its view of things than the leaflets of the movement, it was time for a final campaign in the name of democracy. “Expropriate Springer!” [translator: publisher of Bild] was once again fiercely demanded and invoked at demonstrations, of course with references to a constitutional article. Also in this battle, which reached its high point with the attempted murder of Rudi Dutschke, there were dead and other victims. Unfortunately, the Springer campaign was also the culmination of the ideological mistakes of the movement which had emerged in the course of years of demonstrations. In fact, that’s why the activists and supporters of the democratic perfection of the FRG put together some odd rhymes for their relative successes and their clear failure.
f) The need for “theory”
As far as the fundamental position of the student movement goes – idealists of democracy become oppositional because the reality of democracy disappoints them – the Marburg School did good service with the credibility of the fascism victim Abendroth [translator: victim of fascism and the east German state who became a prominent academic in West Germany]. However, with the socially justified interpretation of the constitution as a mandate to eliminate poverty, violence and war, as well as large sums of money earned through violence, not much could be done. While in their dealings with the movement, the “rulers” and the “establishment” were quite suitable as real proof for the absence of democracy, the rebels had a problem with one fact: the gentlemen in Bonn had solid support from the people to their credit. The propaganda of the Springer press was, after all, popular, and the vox populi was like an echo amplified umpteen times by the moral crusaders who governed and agitated in the name of Germany. The unmistakable difference between their own good democratic will and the attitude of democratic voters (who didn’t just oppose the rebel brigades of “do-gooders” who “belonged in East Germany” by saying “no thanks”) was a challenge to the movement. In the awareness that it was doing the right thing but that it wasn’t catching on in any significant way outside university circles, the movement went on to explain its failure. And it started with the firm conviction that the others were simply manipulated – and ended up in socio-psychological discoveries about personality differences that have it within them.
Instead of examining and criticizing the views of the majority of their contemporaries about work and voting, which were used to denounce those who were demonstrating and criticizing the republic, the rebels tried another field of theorizing. They extended the elitist ploy contained in manipulation theory – someone who accuses others of letting themselves be lead by the nose always claims in the end not to have fallen for it – and found help from the Frankfurt School. Some theorists were quite taken with the diagnosis of an “authoritarian personality” which is all about the willingness to submit, because the psychic balance of individuals also has its own requirements. They found the explanation for the failure of the anti-authoritarian movement in the image of humanity that had been produced by the old Institute for Social Research. Some very vigorously contrasted the information provided by psychology with the little bit of social criticism that they wanted to have learned from Marx and Marxists of any direction; some thought this stuff was the missing complement to their critical notions of rule. The “subjective factor” was customary as an argument even before a halfway serious engagement with the “objective factor” – which allegedly Marx had “merely” analyzed – had begun. Freud’s dogmas about the authorities governing the psychic life and the will of the individual, about the role of sexuality in personality formation, were dutifully adopted. Theses of the type “Sexuality and Domination” were in vogue, and probably more copies of W. Reich’s “Function of the Orgasm” were purchased and knowingly read together than the “Critique of Political Economy.” The message suited anti-authoritarians: they failed to make the world a better place because of screwed up guys who – warped by “repression” and supported with a lot of “super-ego” – had cast their lot in with the wrong side already under Hitler.
The search for an effective way of coping with the "authoritarian society" took a slightly different direction from then on. The program of counter-manipulation in educational psychology, “anti-authoritarian education,” was on the agenda; and the corresponding literature from the tradition of this mistake was again available in pirated editions. The other side of the finding that they were banging their heads against the wall in the midst of so many uptight people was, of course, given its due. Many a protester was devoted to grooming themselves into a more or less “emancipated” personage; the investigations into a liberated sexuality produced a lot of theoretical nonsense and some experiments in the field of communal living.
This contrasted sharply with the theoretical efforts of those who had preserved their democratic conscience throughout the imperialistic scandals. However, scientific objectivity was a long way off even in this field because the theorists of anti-imperialism were very biased about the conditions in the “Third World” and the reasons for them. The search for a successful end to the struggle, as whose advocate one did one’s best in the “metropolises,” led to a view of things that was as optimistic as it was wrong. The slogan “two, three, many Vietnams!” was the short version of the belief that the just cause of oppressed peoples was about to be carried out – this slogan was observed only by the USA in line with its point of view. As informed as some militants of the movement tried to be about conditions in remote and tortured regions of the world, they always discovered peoples worthy of support, just and promising uprisings. As if the perspective lost at home had remained alive and become real in the history of decolonization, many treated themselves to an unjustified cult of liberation movements – and even went to the Chinese embassy in Switzerland to drink tea because their skewed outlook was confirmed there.
So the one-point movement of democratic idealism led in a peculiar way to a juxtaposition and opposition of quite incommensurable positions. These were brought on by interpretations of the lack of success, the obvious limits that the real democracy had set on democratic protest. Debate was the order of the day, and indeed one of the worse kinds. It was not about the reasonable self-criticism of people who wanted to see what had been wrong or limited about their commitment. Rather, it was about a confrontation of theories, interests and inclinations into which various “factions” had shifted in the course of their interpretation of the movement. This constellation was the beginning of the end of the “student movement” – and the starting point for new political and other efforts.
g) The club-life of the “vanguards”
As bourgeois as the programmatic starting point of the student movement was, so too were the ranks of the SDS. It’s good custom in democracy to scourge unpopular conditions, from the sales tax to factory work to the training of soldiers, with the accusation that all this is not democratic. This way of criticizing comes to life in every parliamentary debate and in every newspaper commentary, and it is also a permanent item in the arsenal of anti-criticism cultivated from above. The only difference was the confusion of this argument with a guaranteed right to interfere in the techniques and goals of political rule – the movement no longer wanted to see its ideal of democracy as missing and to correct the whole show in its name. The activists made their decisions, demonstrating that they wanted change, on occasions that did not require further investigation. They were suitable when they corresponded to the idea of an undemocratic scandal. And the “analyses” that were produced to attract people to the movement always aimed only at this proof. The fact that emergency laws serve to empower the political leadership, that these leaders blow the whistle on democratic procedures, on the constitutionally guaranteed relationship of rights and duties, was just a violation of democracy. Where this leads was painted very politologically with “Weimar” on the wall; and the fact that “real” democracies do not need such things, even in case of emergency, was shown in England, of all places. The fact that napalm did not fit the honorary titles of “freedom and democracy” was a decided matter at the moment and a line of agitation when one of the halfway eloquent comrades contended it. The issue was not the examination of the judgments that were dedicated to the incriminated matter, but the usefulness of the denunciation for one’s own unshakable sense of justice. And anyone who could serve this need with a little bit of socio-, psycho- and political science phrases was an authority in the SDS.
The resulting findings would not have withstood a half-hour of collective reflection on the reason and purpose of the concerns of the “rulers” that were being fought. But they were already good enough as a forceful warmup for the next round of protest, and their inventors came to be ranked as knowledgeable idea-givers due their eloquence in the realm of false theories. What they were talking about by “creating consciousness” and “smashing structures” had little to do with the world; but the anti-authoritarian mission they could credibly cast into slogans again and again. The slogans that Dutschke and the respective Frankfurt Federal Executive issued, as they mistook past actions and future ones for glorious trespassings in the mind of the “repressive society,” but also in their own, did not discredit them. And anyone who didn’t know what to do with the beautiful phrases, or even had doubts that was the case, was considered ignorant or stupid.
Originators of cookie cutter requirements of radical change and false reports of successes of all kinds were in demand – and performed accordingly. They preened as personified revolutionary thinkers, and the triumph of psychology in the movement gave them not an advanced knowledge that could have been passed on to others, but a new set of tools. They set standards for a community that not only wanted to demonstrate politically, but loved dashing through the world with demonstrations of deviant attitudes. In that time, the conclusion drawn from the false argument of manipulation was to stylize oneself as an anti-authoritarian personality. To show that one was different from the rest of corrupt humanity with its screwed up authoritarian hangups soon became more important than the political cause which everything had begun with. It was exhaustively exhibited how superior and libidinous, how dissenting and free of prejudice people could be who had “emancipated themselves” from their “authoritarian upbringings” – which otherwise really had no content. The use of suitable scraps of psychological gibberish, the imperative of letting oneself go for the “anti-authoritarian” dalliance, the endless fuss in the name of enormously liberating sexual activities, belonged to the stupid and vulgar sides of the movement-focused inner life. It bestowed some “broken characters” on the local branches and some victims on the girls’ side. So it was inevitable that the fervently circulating womenkind noticed how little this sort of “emancipation” allows for individual well-being. The first nimble feminist uprisings took place in the anti-authoritarian community after a few years of political gatherings that took the form of huge camps for making out and groping.
On the other hand, there was another embarrassing consequence to the custom of not giving proper advice to anything in the club before they started another act of protest. The representation of the movement in the bourgeois public sphere, in panel discussions, interviews, etc., degenerated into noisy feats of self-promotion obsessed with the stupidest form of originality. At one moment Dutschke represented his more philosophically inspired visions, at another moment someone criticized capitalism for “monopoly,” then a more colonial revolutionary type rediscovered the “encirclement of the metropolises by the villages,” and idiots of a psychological style represented the movement with public outbursts about the significance of their orgasm difficulties. And exactly like the celebrities of the movement, the members shifted to their “specialties” when it came to the question of “what is to be done” and the how and why of it. The attempts to somehow speak up like a bunch of people who know what they want were doomed to failure. There was no longer any common basis. But there were a bunch of different programs with which student politicians tried to remedy the mistakes of a discordant movement that had been found ineffective.
The dissolution of the movement
The political lie mentioned at the beginning, which credits the student movement with all sorts of accomplishments for the political future of the republic, draws on an artifice peculiar to the bourgeois viewpoint which calls itself “historical”: later things are recorded as “unthinkable” without what happened before, the stuff of that time is a condition, and the present is a single accumulation of its consequences. This somewhat sloppy use of the idea that something is a “product” and “effect” of ..., quite roughly misses the truth about the dissolution of the movement. This took place as a self-criticism of the actors who drew quite different conclusions from the experience of failure, the limits to their efforts that once so seemed so sizable, and devoted themselves to new projects. The movement of the late 1960s by no means obeyed the principle that everything comes to an end; enough views about its due and payable sequels had accumulated within it – and then took place.
a) “Realism” in reformed parties and higher education
It was hard to overlook the fact that it’s pointless to forever demonstrate against the lack of democracy afflicting the republic. This banal assessment weighs one’s own ineffectiveness and doesn’t show any insight into the reason for failure. Neither can a statement of this kind be linked to the fact that someone has changed his view of the form of democratic rule, nor does it reveal even a limited insight into the role of public complaints in the best of all forms of government. How embarrassingly opportunistic it can be to admit that one hasn’t accomplished anything was demonstrated by several thousand rebellious young academics of that time. They returned to the SPD and entered the reformed landscape of German educational institutions.
The reason for this transition was simple: the beautiful ideas about democratizing the republic were only useful when combined with the resources that alone guarantee their implementation! This argument for trying to have a chance by getting involved in office, by engaging in the use of political power, had become modern at two poles. Summed up in the movement in the slogan “march through the institutions,” in which the authors seem to have forgotten that they had seen almost everything they considered fair and democratic to be missing in the institutions and its personnel. As an offer to the movement on the part of the SPD, which contested the parties’ competition for power on its part with the ideals of democracy as a good reason for votes. This party, which in matters of internal order, states of emergency, weapons and imperialist foreign policy really left no doubt about its variant of making a state, confronted the rebellious students and their sympathizers with the appeal: “Critical youth, participate in the SPD with your ideals and make politics better! The SPD also thinks there’s a lot to be done.” With the addition of the small condition that participation includes “realistic” respect for the constraints of the national interest, this invitation was in the name of equal opportunity in education, “social rights” of all kinds, etc.
Those who accepted the offer benefited from a career, which is of no importance. However, what they made into their cause in their professions is annoying, because they would be the last to run something as honorable as a state office “cynically”:
- In the reformed higher education scene, they dedicated themselves to some miraculous reinterpretations of bourgeois science; to the higher mission which it follows, as well as to the good works that emanate from it. They sold even the craziest and somewhat unworldly ideologies as practically enormously socially relevant and as a contribution to society’s progressive orientation towards its future;
- in the SPD and the DGB [translator: the SPD’s associated labor union], they had an enormous “consciousness raising” effect in that they now presented their ideals of the past – with which they had aggrandized themselves as enemies of the social reformist powers – as the truth about the praxis of their offices. All the alternative economic and social politicians, development aid and world debt managers, peace planners and nationalists were at work here – and portrayed the programs of their associations all the more beautifully, the uglier the results of their work turned out to be.
So strident idealists of democracy became professional advocates of the system which they trust because it gave them and their ideas a “chance” and the appropriate place. They now demand everyone’s faith in democracy, respect for every lie about the actually good goals of the SPD, partisan science and trade union participation, and they reject anything “to the left” of it with the cheapest of all arguments that “realists” master: they do not like “sects” and think that things like that deserve to be severely isolated and not, or all the more, paid attention to. As providers of credibility for a real division of power, without which, as is well known, nothing gets changed, the easily converted fanaticism of democracy suits them well.
b) Revisionist party foundations
The bad experiences of the revolt were not so easily forgotten by some others. The state, which confronted them with force as long as they organized demonstrations as a struggle for its improvement, was for them not an ally but an opponent. The self-criticism of the second type had at least one content in this respect: the radical-democratic misjudgment about bourgeois society was corrected; it was replaced by accusations against class society and the class state. Thus a new program of struggle was launched that differed considerably from the old one. First, the opposing parties were no longer defined as true and false democrats, but as classes, one of which also had state power as its instrument. Second, one did not oneself belong to those who had to carry out the cause in their own interest and according to their own means. Although it was hard to get into the class struggle against capital and its state, it was clear from a little Marx reading and rummaging in Marxist literature that the “revolutionary subject” was the proletariat. Third, the question was therefore raised as to how one should relate to this newly discovered subject of the anticipated revolution.
And the founders of the class struggle parties made a lot of mistakes. This was because they did not want to let go of a bad habit from their student movement days. It consisted in a confusion between the interests which find reasons in how the society is composed that make an overthrow necessary and the moral right to struggle. Thus, in their Marxist studies, they discovered little more than the above-mentioned insights, and the last thing they kept was the explanation that Marxism gives about the functioning of the capitalist mode of production. For them, the working class, recognizable as victims of the evil ruling classes, was quite good because it was authorized to revolt – and quite good for the class as a whole, because of the shifting mission that the studying radical citizens had mistakenly attributed to themselves. This had consequences.
First of all, the joyful discovery that it is not students and “petty bourgeoisie” but workers who are revolutionary, contrasted somewhat with the experiences of the militant scenes of the 1960s. This was addressed with the information that one had not even plunged into the legitimate cause of the workers, but had organized a petty-bourgeois revolt that rightly repulsed every true proletarian. The proletarian cult was born and the slogan “serve the people!” invented. Long hair, once a sign of democratic nonconformism, fell to the scissors, even though the workers were slowly but surely also making their hair more original. And in the meantime, they strictly neglected the expected struggle, even though their mission was certain. The September strikes of 1969 were good for a while for optimistic interpretations that they heralded the beginning of the end of class society, but not much followed afterwards. The answer to this self-fabricated contradiction, which could not be accepted, was quickly found: the class lacked the organization for struggle – and that belonged to them. Especially since the organization of the class struggle had been “smashed” by fascism and democracy (with the KPD ban). So a party was needed as a tool, without which the workers simply could not lead their struggle. The proselytes of the student movement did not fall for the idea that the will to class struggle “builds” its organizations, if it exists. Nor for the subject that Marx had taken considerable effort to explain, that the workers’ aspirations had to deal with the dependence on capital. Instead of explaining to the workers the need for revolutionary activities on the basis of their experiences with work and wages and the demands of the state; and instead of substantiating arguments for class struggle on the basis of the required and inevitable sacrifices of jobs and elections – the revolutionary parties set forth with faith in the proletariat. They wrote it in their leaflets without noticing that their addressees had different worries.
Of course, their optimism, the certainty that they would help the workers achieve a breakthrough, had always been subject to doubts. It really stirred them, so the question “Why not?” was very much on the minds of the party. The ideal proletariat, whose success in the class struggle the parties of DKP, KPD with AO and ML, etc., wanted to helpfully participate in, proved to be extremely unapproachable. The fact that it did not exist at all, the ideal, was first expressed as follows: “Objectively” – which stood for “actually” – the class of wage workers is revolutionary! Merely subjectively and not now. Then the pirate edition history of the workers’ movement came to the rescue, as the second idealistic staunch ally, so to speak. Without having to pay tribute to even a single judgment, this story at least provided irrefutable proof that workers once committed themselves to the class struggle.
The proletcult was saved; through such shallow glances into the truly incorrect, let alone successful battles of the past, morale remained intact. Scientific socialism, the explanation of exploitation and the purposes of the class state, was unnecessary. Instead, the “Kommunismus groups” could extensively pursued their problem – the question what keeps the workers away from class struggle. The answers to this stupid question from people who wanted to be communists and didn’t even know halfway decent reasons for their project gave them some trouble. A lot of effort was wasted on the “theory” of the relationship between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. This did not mean the real relationship in the capitalist system, in the hierarchy and function of the professions, but the examination of the conscience of the students, which was raised to the rank of a theory, whether they did not secretly want to play revolutionary subject themselves, and in a counterrevolutionary way! Those who knew how to call themselves the vanguard and built parties that no worker had summoned called themselves to order: it was precisely as a vanguard that they exhorted themselves to disciplined modesty. It looked as if arguing with reasons for revolution counted as a single act of paternalism. No, they didn't want to dictate anything to the revered masses, they were supposed to make their own experiences – even if they were bad ones. This noble decision was, of course, again brought to the attention of the people in detail, if only because of the competition among the vanguards. The others were always the ones who wanted to persuade the revolutionary class something that did not comply with it at all and divided its unity. So the idea of manipulation also performed some service for this movement – it “explained” its failures incorrectly. Against the SPD and the DGB, it also applied well, as the history of the workers' movement showed. And it spared engagement with the reasons which were found good enough in the really existing consciousness of the class to fall for nothing but “traitors.”
All disappointments in the world under 1% – election campaigns were also given a try – were morally overcome. The workers were in the starting blocks of the class struggle, but the obstacles were enough, so they did not get started. To prove that it was only a matter of experience, that is, of time, other idealistic allies were also available. In addition to those of the past, those of other places were also honored. Some took up the comforting example of the Russian revolution in their confessions to the proletariat, to whom they wanted to show the possibilities and achievements of a successful class struggle. That was not at all proper for the others, because they rated the example an extremely bad one and considered it an all too warranted cautionary tale. They surpassed any bourgeois anticommunism and ranted in front of German factories about the red czars even more stupidly than the Bild tabloid. For this purpose, they congratulated Mao Tse-tung on his 80th birthday before the morning shift, because it was clear that German workers wanted to emulate the long march. English, French and Italian strikes yielded beautiful reports of struggles that one never experienced here. They never added up, the reports, but as a well-intended call for imitation they were indispensable. They too were spared the intended effect – like the whole theater, which was based on faith in the proletariat rather than on knowledge of the necessity of class struggle. In the end, many of the faithful simply did not want to be what they had reproached each other as during their active missionary work: a “sect” that ends up on the “dung heap of history.”
c) The Greens
are, strictly speaking, a product derived from the self-criticism of the student movement in its pursuit of new frontiers. It was the common charge of being a sect – of not having as many followers to command as the powerful and their ideologues; certainly, a cause is neither right or wrong because of the number of its followers – that some from the K-group era took to heart. Its final refinement consisted in the resolution that, if a credible program for mass representation is already in place, one impression must be avoided: that there is anything else in mind than the shepherded addressees, however they are doing. Very casually, a cause is sacrificed simply because it doesn’t find any supporters – to the opportunism of success. Of course, the program then looks somewhat different, criticism is dedicated to the goal of “any” movement at all – and objections are no longer made, but topics of concern to all people. The abstract worry about life (and its survival) lends itself as a concrete program when environment and peace are on people’s minds. The fact that even this bottomless opportunism is still capable of progress is shown by the development of the party that emerged from the agitation for humanization. Because the “topic” can no longer be confused with a distinct objection once it has been included in the canon of all political parties; and because the failure to take into account peace and environment as popular hits is therefore no longer suitable for creating a profile, the Greens today have new concerns: how politically realistic or how fundamentalist do they have to make themselves in order to be credible, i.e. electable? In this debate, it is clear that even the method of opportunism can be considered a question of policy.
Caution is also required when dealing casually with this movement, which is ranked among the “consequences” of the 68ers’ revolt. What the Red Army Faction and its offshoots got from the student revolt is the moralism of people who decide or imagine they have a recognized legal claim to disrupt and obstruct power. Everything else is the result of a wrong conclusion from an observation whose correctness can hardly be denied. The observation concerns the omnipresence of violence, which is encountered as a means wherever suffering is inflicted, so that good people give some thought to redressing it. The wrong conclusion is: all attempts at change, especially those made by the student movement, are doomed to failure as long as they can’t rely on the means of violence used by the other side. Therefore, dragging people off who have chosen the profession of character mask of money and who exercise it at the expense of many other people is fine. Therefore, it is morally necessary to acquaint the personifications of the state apparatus of violence with the means so familiar to them in the reverse way.
This is nothing to be frightened about; it is to be assessed as an integral part of the political culture, just like the relevant authorities in our country and elsewhere do. Unless they put forward the lie about their own handiwork that “violence is not a means of politics.” The error of terrorism and its futility and the victims created by it can easily be looked up in: MSZ No. 9/85, “Terrorism – the counterviolence of the powerless.” [Not translated]
e) The only real success of the student movement
came about because the psychological techniques which were used within it as a condition for anti-authoritarian rebellion, as well as proof of its own impartiality, were also quite useful in other ways. It made it fashionable to work on imaginary emotional deformities. And quite rightly so, also outside of associations that appreciate such things, because they are found in intactness of the psychological budget as well as the ability to criticize the state budget – and seem to have deprived inhibited personalities of the ability to rebel against war and exploitation. Logically speaking, it is not at all comprehensible why the atrophy of the ego paralyzes only the oppositional will – why shouldn’t the cultivation of self-confidence not also be the prerequisite for pursuing other, not so easy to produce concerns?
The embarrassment of this nonsense, as far as it came out of the student movement and its intellectual environment, is only this: critics of the state and the society who shifted onto the psycho-track carry out the most radical political self-criticism toward their once expressed and practiced objections – to politics, the military, profit, etc. They say quite bluntly that they were wrong all down the line. No objective authorities of the bourgeois world, no interests equipped with means of power are thought to have gotten in their way, but exclusively themselves. In this respect, the psycho-ramblings about emancipation which one has to carry out on oneself and then exhibit was the precursor to the popular epidemic of modern class society, which is looked after by an academic discipline, many advice columnists and bestsellers: men and women no longer feel restricted by anything but themselves; so they seek themselves, realize themselves, and change themselves until they have made their peace with themselves more perfectly than any humble Christian. And are useful for any movement that demands business and violence.