FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Spontis, Squats and West Germany

My latest novel is situated in Frankfurt am Main in what was then West Germany (or the Bundesrepublik Deutschland for you German speakers).  The time period is 1971-1972 and two of the main protagonists live in a squatted building across from the US military’s Post Exchange.  This squat really existed.  In fact, there were several squatted buildings in Frankfurt, especially in the part of the city known as the Westend.  The squats served as living spaces and community meeting places.  By 1973, they would become the site of some of the fiercest street battles ever seen in postwar Frankfurt.  The battles took place because the police had been instructed to take the buildings back by the banks that owned them and the politicians that served those banks.

I mention this because I just finished reading a testament of the movement that grew up in the wake of the early 1970s squatting movement, the demise of the German New Left, and the rise of the West German terror groups like the Red Armee Fraktion.  This testament, written by a participant in this movement who goes by the name Geronimo, is titled Fire and Flames.  Originally published in Germany in 1990, it was translated from the original German in 2012 and published by the left/anarcho press PM Press out of Oakland, CA.  The book is a brief survey of the numerous left and anarchist movements that characterized extraparliamentary West German politics in the 1970s until the end of East Germany in 1989

fire_and_flames_book_cover

.  The squats, the red cell groups, the antinuclear movement, the Spontis, the Red Armee Fraktion and the alternative movement are presented and briefly discussed.  In addition to relating stories of actions and events, Geronimo also discusses the politics of the different groups from what can best be termed a libertarian left perspective.

Unlike in the United States, the left libertarian and anarchist groups in Europe tend to have a clear understanding of how capitalism works.  Instead of identifying as anti-capitalist without the theory to back that position up, the groups discussed in Fire and Flames (who would become known as Autonomen) usually professed their anti-capitalism in clear Marxist terms.  The areas where the Autonomen differed the most with Marxist organization, whether they were small and cadre-oriented like the Rote Zellen and the Rote Zora, or larger party organization bearing the term Kommunistische somewhere in their name, was in how they organized.  In short, the Autonomen were against leaders and against cooperation with the authorities.  They expressed their politics through protest, lifestyle and attitude.  Naturally, this frustrated those with more long term goals.

Fire and Flames is introduced by George Katsiaficas, author of The Global Imagination of 1968 and several other books examining various protest movements around the globe, including his look at the European squatters’ movement of the 1980s.  The choice of Katsiaificas is an intelligent one.  His approach to modern social movements extends well beyond a traditional Marxist-Leninist or anarchist understanding.  The phenomenon he calls the “eros effect” is similar to what Immanuel Wallerstein calls “antisystemic movements.”  While incorporating a Marxian analysis of capitalism and its history and its mechanics, both reject the approach to systemic change experienced in previous modern revolutions.  In other words, for these men the vanguardist model is dead.  Meanwhile, both consider the changes in consciousness and culture brought on by the events of 1968 (and in Wallerstein’s thesis, 1848 as well) to be intrinsically revolutionary in a perhaps even greater sense than the bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th century and the Leninist ones of the 20th.

One of the most intense protests I ever attended was in spring of 1973.  A German-American friend of mine had introduced me to a squatted set of apartments in the Westend of Frankfurt am Main.  The main attraction for me was a small Gasthaus and meeting room on the ground floor of one of the buildings.  I would occasionally visit the place to listen to music, drink beer, smoke hash and maybe talk to a German girl.  That spring there was an impending sense that a showdown with the authorities was coming.  The speculators who had purchased the buildings were tired of letting squatters live in them.  They wanted to tear them down to build much more profitable office buildings.  The Social Democratic city council was ready to cave and the Polizei were ready to kick ass.  I convinced myself that I was ready for whatever happened and took the streetcar to a stop near the protest that April weekend.  The fight was already underway when I got off the tram.  I lasted perhaps four hours and left when a couple hundred more cops arrived.

This protest was an early part of the movement described by Geronimo.  From the squats to protests against nuclear power; from struggles against prison terror to rallies against abortion laws and more.  This quick catalog of the West German street movements of 1968-1989 suffers from only one thing: its brevity.  Thanks to PM Press for introducing it to the English speaking audience.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail