Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel East Germany and the West German Far Left 1967-1989 (Book Review)

Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel
East Germany and the
West German Far Left 1967-1989
Cambridge University Press, New York 2016
ISBN 978-1-107-46162-8

Jeffrey Herf is a history professor at the University of Maryland and has published extensively on Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and political Islam. Undeclared Wars with Israel 1967-1989 is his latest book. At the core of this book is the ideological, economic and military support for Arab dictatorships and the Palestinian nationalist movement by the government of the German Democratic Republic in the period between the 1967 Six-Day War and the end of the East German state in 1989/1990. Herf uses extensive research of the Stasi (GDR secret service) archives, the official party press, documents from the United Nations, including the extensive reports by Israeli ambassadors regarding the territorial intrusions and massacres perpetrated by the PLO and its associated member groups in those years.

This (partially new) research is embedded in a history of the relationship of the Soviet Bloc with the state of Israel and the development of the struggle of Arab/Palestinian nationalists against Israel, whether through open warfare, shelling of Israeli cities across the border with rockets, guerrilla actions inside Israel – often consisting in massacres of civilians – or hijackings and murder in the international arena, or through diplomatic means on a bilateral level and often at the UN.

Herf is broadening this research to cover the role of the West German far left in the context of these conflicts. The post-1967 radical left is portrayed here as radically anti-Zionist, if not anti-Semitic. Prominent examples after that time are people and organisations like Dieter Kunzelmann and the Tupamaros Westberlin, Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF, the Revolutionary Cells and their partaking in the hijacking of an Israeli plane to Entebbe, as well as examples from the so-called K-Groups. In my opinion, Herf, while accurately displaying dubious points in the history of the radical left in West Germany, fails to describe the often contradictory developments of some of these groups. For this reason I divide this review in two parts. The first is the book review proper, while the second extends the discussion of the relationship of some of the groups on the West German radical left with both anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in a way that goes far beyond the confines of a book review and hopefully offers additional insights. [Read more →]

From Adorno to Mao, or: the Decomposition of the ’68 Protest Movement in Germany

Extended book review of:

Jens Benicke: Von Adorno zu Mao – über die schlechte
Aufhebung der antiautoritären Bewegung (ça ira, Freiburg im
Breisgau 2010)

Jens Benicke describes in his book the development of the German far left in the years around 1968 from positions strongly influenced and informed by the Critical Theory of Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse to the neo-leninist cadre organisations, which became in the 1970’s the strongest formation on the far left. In this article I’m using the book as a starting point to elaborate on some topics I touched upon in the text Hedonism and Revolution in datacide eleven.

The situation of the German Left after the War until 1967
The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School provided an intellectual pole of critical Marxism amidst the general post-war West German anti-communist consensus. After the war, the holocaust, the eventual defeat of fascism and the ensuing occupation which produced two German states, the Institute for Social Research, originally founded in 1923 and exiled in 1933, finally returned to Frankfurt at the beginning of the 50’s, and took a unique place in the development of the left.
In terms of left wing organisations and parties which had reformed/ returned from exile after 1945, there were two key dates eventually leading to the student movement of the 60’s. In 1956, the Communist Party (KPD) was made illegal in West Germany.
In 1959, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) declared its transition from a workers party to a “people’s party” in its Godesberg Program. The more radical student organisation associated with the SPD, the SDS, didn’t go along with this move towards the political center. The SPD banned dual membership with the SDS and thus effectively expelled its members.
Far from being delivered to political oblivion, the SDS became the driving organizational force for the “extra-parliamentary opposition” (APO) in the 60’s. [Read more →]