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 →]