Variable Weather 1: From SDS/Weatherman to the Days of Rage

 One place to start in describing Weather as an ecology is theory, even if it was a movement that generally seen as privileging action over theory.1 In Weatherman, the initial Weather faction position paper “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind’s Blowing” that was circulated at the last SDS convention in 1969 is reproduced in full (51-90), as well as several critiques of it from various positions within the new left on the part of writers such as Carl Oglesby, Jack Weinberg and Todd Gitlin. These critiques, which Thoburn echoes uncritically, tend to insist upon a clear separation between theory and practice, and take the Weatherman document to task for compromising clear theoretical articulation with pragmatic, tactical concerns, such as overcoming the Maoist PL faction of SDS. David Horowitz, for example, describes the statement as a form of “hand-me-down” Marxism, accusing it at once of being a return to the old left and a submission to an uncritical Maoism (Horowitz 1970, 99ff.). Others like Gitlin take the Weather faction to task for abandoning the legacy of what he calls the “visionary perogative” that had previously been exercised by SDS (Gitlin, 109). More tellingly, International Socialists Jack Weinberg and Jack Gerson attack the statement at its weakest point, from a Marxist rather than liberal position, emphasizing its negativity or even hostility towards the American working class and claiming that “Weatherman … have, as their ultimate goal, taking away from workers what they already have” (111) and concluding that “the central driving force behind Weatherman is desperation” (117). This last point seems to be general consensus between both liberal and Marxist critics, many of whom predicted that Weather would not last one year in its current form.

While some of these critiques have theoretical validity, especially the critique of alienating the American working class by situating it on the side of colonial oppression rather than as an at least potentially revolutionary subject, none of them really address the pragmatic nature of the Weatherman statement, which was not meant as an abstract summation of the situation of the new left but rather to serve a specific pragmatic function of expressing what the SDS and the youth movement more generally could become at a precise moment in its history. More specifically, some of what is invariably described as its rhetoric had the express purpose of defeating the doctrinaire Maoists of the PL at their own game by articulating a superior version of the revolutionary potential of the movement in Marxist-Leninist terms and to oppose its incorporation into typical Maoist strategies of infiltrating industrial workplaces and using students and other youth movements as mere resources for this labor strategy. The only critic to partially grasp this process is Carl Oglesby, who nevertheless goes on to reject the Weatherman statement in the harshest possible terms: “Any close reading of the RYM’s Weatherman statement will drive you blind” (129). Nevertheless he is the only critical voice to acknowledge the shift to what would now be called a postcolonial perspective in the Weatherman statement, and is in agreement that the US needs to be understood in terms of global imperialism rather than via a conventional class analysis as a separate nation state. Nevertheless he claims that Weatherman is ambiguous in its treatment of the industrial proletariat which at times appears as having a “momentarily stifled revolutionary potential” and at others as a reactionary “labor aristocracy” (130). The most serious charge he levels at Weatherman is the reifying reduction of class relations from a process to a thing, thus fixing social groups such as blacks, students, and workers in fixed and cliché positions; nevertheless he also detect moments in which Weatherman “forgets its static model of class … and give[s] freer rein to its sense of history and process. At such moments it comes close to saying something really important” (131). This something important closely resembles the Italian Workerist account of class composition as processual and contingent, an account that neither Weatherman, nor Oglesby for that matter, arrive at fully articulating. Nevertheless, there are clearly the beginnings of such an approach within the Weatherman statement as a minor political tendency within it, however subjugated they are to the overarching anti-imperialist perspective and the articulation of a vanguard politics. Writing several decades later, Bill Ayers, one of the authors of the statement, acknowledged the criticisms that, for the uninitiated, reading this statement “could drive you blind, or leave you gasping for air” (Ayers, 2001, 145). He claims, nevertheless, that the message was simple, “The world was on fire; masses of people throughout Africa and Asia and Latin America were standing up everywhere … the worldwide anti-imperialist struggle has a counterpart within the borders of the US—the black liberation movement … The revolution was at hand, the question of power in the air, and along [with that] the question of armed struggle” (Ayers, 145-146).

Examining the statement itself, clearly the key analytical idea is the one taken from Lin Piao that “the main struggle going on in the world today is between US Imperialism and the national liberation struggles against it” (Karin Ashley et al, 1970, 51). Regardless of whether this perspective is accepted or rather seen as an oversimplification, everything that follows in the statement is a pragmatic consequence of this political hypothesis. It is from this perspective that the above criticized class politics emerges: “if the goal [of global anti-imperialist struggle] is not clear from the start we will further the preservation of class society, oppression, war, genocide, and the complete emiseration of everyone, including the people of the US” (52-53). While it is clear how this could be read as being an anti-working class position, in fact what it opposes is the linkage between the working class and bourgeois power, expressed through a conservative union movement that had remained inactive even in the face of massive student opposition to the Vietnam War. In fact, its only difference to conventional Marxist politics is tactical rather than theoretical, in its belief that it is working class youth before their entry into the disciplinary apparatus of the industrial factory assemblage, who were the most potentially revolutionary subjects in the current conditions then prevailing in the US. Bearing in mind the pragmatic goal of building a revolutionary youth movement, the simplifications of this class analysis, which does receive further elaboration (64-68) are a way of mobilizing Marxist ideas for the practical purpose of identifying those subjectivities which are likely have the greatest interest in and desire for revolutionary change and the least investment in preserving the status quo. The departure from classical Marxism’s insistence on the centrality of the industrial proletariat, reveal to what extent this is not just a dry repetition of stale Marxist ideologies but rather an attempted cartography of emergent class composition, that does not assume this will correspond to existing, conventional and fixed categories of class. It is anti-working class (and no less anti-student for that matter), to the extent that it insists that all classes should question their political position in the global perspective of US imperialism and anti-imperialist struggle.

A key part of this cartography of class composition is the positioning of Black Americans as an “internal colony” (53-55), engaged in a necessarily socialist and revolutionary “national liberation struggle”. In this, they are merely responding actively to the ideas of Malcolm X as developed in more Marxist terms by the Black Panthers, both of whom emphasize how the result of slavery was to create a form of invisible colonialism that could only be resisted via a massive awakening of a revolutionary black consciousness. Quoting Huey P. Newton they argue that black liberation is necessarily revolutionary since black “self-determination requires being free from white capitalist exploitation in the form of inferior (lower caste) jobs, housing, schools, hospitals” (56). The original aspect of the Weatherman statement is to attempt to map out an active white response to this situation that consists neither in subordinating black struggle to white leadership nor in leaving blacks to “take on the whole fight—and the whole cost—for everyone” (58). Clearly influenced by the escalating police and FBI war against the Panthers that had already led to several deaths and many imprisonments, the Weather faction strongly insisted that white people should take on as much of the burden, and the risk, of revolutionary action, rather than hiding safely behind non-violent protest or abstract radical theory. It is by pragmatically articulating what this might consist of that Weather formulated its strategy for a revolutionary youth movement.

Given the above analytic propositions, the Weather proposal for a revolutionary youth movement was to target proletarian youth before entry into the factory, as the part of the white population both most directly oppressed by disciplinary institutions such as the family, school, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and with the most to gain from a revolutionary transformation of the US, to fight in tandem with black and international national liberation struggles. The proposed tactics involved not the denial of local struggles but connecting them up with a global anti-imperialist perspective as in the case of Berkeley’s People’s Park that is affirmatively cited.2 The proposed way of organizing the movement would consist of three elements, namely “mixing different issues, struggles, and groups”, “relating to motion”, and building a “movement oriented toward Power” (83-84). In other words these tactics would involve first reaching out the maximum different specific groups and issues and demonstrating the interconnections of their specific struggles with global anti-imperialism; demonstrating the nature of struggle through practical means by provoking confrontations and thereby catalyzing the extension of local struggles; and finally the emphasis on radical change being a power struggle and not just a matter of achieving limited reforms. In order to do this effectively, the statement proposes developing fighting revolutionary cells who would not only develop their own means of self-defense by learning techniques like Karate and the use of weapons but would also use this training to attract rebellious youth already fighting with the system but without any articulation of their rebellion within a broader anti-imperialist framework. Specifically this would mean involving youth in increasingly large scale fighting against the police as key representatives of imperialist power in order to both maximize “anti-pig consciousness” (86) and demonstrate that the repressive force of the police, and therefore of imperialist power more generally, can be overcome. Again this owes a good deal to the Black Panthers who pioneered the ideas and practices of collective self-defense, while also insisting that the white movement should take on an offensive rather than merely defensive role since they have the tactical advantage of not being immediately targeted by the police. As with the RAF, there is the idea here of the revolutionary cell “breeding revolutionaries” through practice, and while a future clandestine organization in envisaged, the immediate task is seen as the building up of these revolutionary cells amongst proletarian youth, including but not limited to students and the counterculture; a phase of Weather strategy that would receive its ultimate test in the “Days of Rage” that would be organized in Chicago a few months later: “tying the city-wide fights to community and city-wide anti-pig movement, and for building a party eventually out of this motion” (90). Whatever the practical feasibility of this project, it was clearly based on activating the movement of bodies, on confrontational practice, rather than the imposition of pre-formulated Marxist theory that is has been accused of being; in fact the “reading difficulty” on the part of the abovementioned new left critics can largely be put down to the very “privileged” preference for theory over practice that Weather believed it was both correct and necessary to challenge, by placing themselves on the frontlines of violent confrontation with the forces of imperialist order. Beyond this, the statement constituted a dramatically open “diagram” of militancy whose form could only be determined through the coming struggles.

Already on the SDS floor, the Weather faction had operated as a kind of war machine, using words as weapons and spouting out lines “like the clanging of steel on armor flashing across the room” (Ayers 2001, 145), leading to the expulsion of the PL from the SDS and sowing the seeds for the dissolution of the latter organization into what Weather hoped would become a revolutionary youth movement. But rhetorical battles amongst the politically engaged are one thing and street fighting with alienated youth and police quite another, as Weather would soon discover. Nevertheless they proceeded to put their ideas into practice by ranging over parks, schools, universities and beaches, talking, arguing, fighting when necessary, anywhere that new recruits for the revolutionary youth movement might be found. While the slogan of the breakaway group RYM 2 was “Serve the People”, Weather instead would “Fight the People”, using their bodies and risking violence and injury, in order to persuade potential members of the movement that they were serious and courageous. One example of this kind of action to reach out to “high school kids, freaks, community college people, bikers, greasers” (Motor City SDS 1970, 152) was what became known as the Metro Beach riot; 300 “cadre” swept the beach in Detroit distributing leaflets about the planned Chicago action and carrying red flags. They provoked heated arguments that soon escalated into a mass physical fight, the SDS contingent apparently holding its own against more patriotically inclined youth, before beating a retreat, chanting communist songs. Through actions like these it was hoped that even initially hostile youth, especially those already involved in rebellious activities such as bikers and freaks, would be persuaded to join the movement and take part in the forthcoming National Action. Other actions known as “jailbreaks” involved taking over and barricading community college or school classrooms, to deliver the anti-imperialist message and exhort young people to abandon their education in favor of participating in revolutionary action. Some of these actions were led and entirely conducted by women, since there was a feeling that the original Weather statement had not engaged sufficiently with women’s issues and the then emergent feminist movement, despite strong female leaders like Bernadine Dohrn and Cathy Wilkerson, the latter writing about the project of forming a “revolutionary women’s militia” (Wilkerson, 1970, 91-96).3

Once formed into collectives the activities would range from Martial arts and self-defense training in the morning to the experimentation with non-monogamous relationships at night, since Weather strongly maintained that the personal was political, and all existing bourgeois social forms, habits and institutions were to be called into question. While such practices were hardly uncommon at the time, their incorporation into a disciplined process of political subjectivation was less common, as was the newfound abstinence or at least restraint in relation to drugs and alcohol. Again, almost all these activities took inspiration from the Black Panthers but were developed in a more accelerated and even exaggerated way, as they sought to form as large a fighting revolutionary force as possible within the time of a single summer. In Ayers words, “all through the summer we worked, and fought and practiced, and when we got time for a breather late at night, we criticized ourselves for not doing enough” (Ayers 2001, 160). Criticisms like those of Thoburn of such Weather practices as self-criticism and the “gut check” often miss the point that it was a matter of producing movement, of generating as powerful a machine as possible, for which it was necessary to eliminate forms of resistance such as fear of violence or even death, that would slow down the maelstrom. In fact Ayers specifically associates this experience to being caught in gale force wind, a cyclone, claiming that a hundred mile an hour gale is not just three times a thirty miles an hour wind but an overwhelming experience that “sucks your breath out as it howls through your empty head” (160). While the Weather self-criticism sessions did not match the extremity of their Japanese counterparts in the United Red Army, some of whom did not return from these sessions alive,4 nevertheless their task demanded an intense subjectivation process in which fears, doubts, and inadequacies had to be overcome by all possible means. While Ayers today laments the excesses whereby from the rule of “art and politics, joy and struggle, love and engagement”, the first of these sets of terms tended also to be eliminated, nevertheless it was clear that to transform student and youth activists into street fighting revolutionaries would not be possible without an affective hardening, not only of bodies but of feelings and behaviors.

The “Days of Rage” as the October, 1969 Chicago National Action has come to be known, has been the subject of many accounts (Kopkind, 1970; Berger, 2006; Gitlin, 1987) all of which emphasize the disproportion between the hoped for thousands of street fighting militants and what actually happened. The choice of Chicago was no accident as it was also the time and place of the trial of the Chicago 8, the anniversary of the Democratic Convention at which the movement was subject to mass police violence and arrests, as well as being the two year anniversary of the execution of Che Guevara. The event was prepared for by an explosion of the Haymarket police statue, a much hated symbol of the Chicago police’s repression of labor activists in the 19th Century, and only one of several occasions in which it had been targeted. However, for this planned attack on the city of Chicago, only a few hundred of the hardcore Weather cadre showed up, and even some of the Black Panthers, including the soon to be murdered Fred Hampton, were critical of the action, the latter describing it as “anarchistic, opportunistic, individualist, chauvinistic, and Custeristic” (Hampton cited in Berger 2006, 108). To make matters worse, the Panthers and other groups like the Young Lords who Weather saw their action as supporting, had instead endorsed the non-violent RYM 2 action, essentially a conventional protest against the conspiracy trial. Nevertheless, the small group that had assembled in Lincoln Park were determined to go ahead with their action, and after some rousing speeches descended on the wealthy Gold Coast area of Chicago, smashing windows, damaging property and fighting with police. The Weather militants were armed, in the sense of wearing helmets and carrying baseball bats, rocks and lead pipes, but not any fire-arms, which had been a directive of the organizing Weather Bureau. At the sound of breaking glass (provided by a Weather affinity group already in town) the signal was given to march into town ostensibly to attack the Drake hotel where one of the conspiracy trial judges lived. On this first night the police were still unprepared for what was to follow, as a few hundred militants literally attacked the city, smashing shopfront and car windows and offensively rather than defensively fighting the police. While a terrifying experience for the militants, it was also largely recollected as an exhilarating one, with several Weather members reporting it was the first time they really felt part of a revolutionary movement; nevertheless only a few of the militants were able to break through the hastily regrouped police lines and the wave of insurgency dispersed before reaching its objectives but not before doing significant property damage to the area they had surged through. By this stage the police were not hesitating to fire on the insurgents and several of them received gunshot wounds. Subsequent events were less effective, particularly a planned action of the Women’s Militia that failed to even break out of a park, and within days the national guard had been called in to quell the disturbance. The result in the end was around 300 arrests, massive injuries on both sides, and more than a thousand smashed windows of shopfronts and automobiles (Berger 2006, 112). The reaction to the event was highly mixed with Weather on the one hand claiming the level of confrontation, and the fact that the national guard had to be called in as proof of its success, and also claiming that they received the support, and help, of Black Chicagoans, while many of the New Left were at the very least ambivalent about the action, many preferring the non-violent but inter-ethnic RYM 2 action. Ironically, while some Black Panthers had criticized the action as too confrontational and insufficiently thought out, others like Eldridge Cleaver considered this a reactionary criticism and argued that the problem was that the action was not violent enough; if guns were available, and the police would be using them, it was suicidal not to employ a comparable level of armed force (Cleaver 1970, 293-295). Andrew Kopkind, a sympathetic observer/participant in the events described them as “a political psychodrama of the best and worst kind” (Kopkind 1970, 291) and concluded in his report that “the Weathermen did not shrink form the fight, and we all thought in the cell-block that night that simply not to fear fighting is a kind of winning” (292).

1This impression was certainly fostered in many respects by Weather themselves at this time. See, for example, Kathy Boudin, Bernadine Dohrn and Terry Robbins, “Bringing the War home: Less Talk, More National Action” in Jacobs ed., 1970, 175-182.

2This was a key event in the radicalization of the struggle around the Bekeley campus, arguably the most radical campus in the US. In this action, activists “liberated” a disused UC Berkeley owned car-park and created a “peo, reverting it to its former use. This is captured well in the documentary Berkeley in the 60s.

3Some of the fraught relations between Weather and radical feminism can be seen in the negative responses of high profile radical feminists like Robin Morgan and Shulamith Firestone, who saw Weather as conservative and sexist despite the strong leadership roles undertaken by women in that sexual oppression and liberation was always subordinated to the over-arching framework of anti-imperialism, or in other words a male defined New Left agenda. See especially Shulamith Firestone, 1979, 41-43, and for a more nuanced critique, Bread and Roses Collective, 1970, 327-336. Weatherwomen, for their part made numerous overtures towards the feminist movement, several of which can be found in the Weatherman collection.

4For a cinematic account of this Japanese experience, form a former member of the Japanese far left, see Koji Wakamatsu, United Red Army, (2007).

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Baader Meinhof 2: Guerrilla Subjectivation

The aspect of guerrilla subjectivation in the RAF has been taken up recently by Simon O’Sullivan in Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari (2006), otherwise dealing with Deleuze and Guattari and aesthetics, as an exemplary case study of the militant production of subjectivity (O’Sullivan 82-87). For O’Sullivan the guerrilla cell is both centripetal and centrifugal; that is it is defined both as a force against an outside, the regime of capitalism-imperialism, but also as a force operating within the cell as a mutant production of subjectivity. O’Sullivan cites Meinhof’s reference to the guerilla as a “breeding cell” as a constant process of “learning and action” as evidence for seeing the RAF in part as a becoming political of the individual. This was clearly evident in the transition of Meinhof from a “bourgeois” left journalist to the ideologue of the RAF, producing texts that correspond to the Deleuze and Guattarian concept of a collective assemblage of enunciation based on group processes of subjectivation, rather than the expression of a separated and privileged individual. In fact, O’Sullivan goes on to assimilate the actions and textual discursive productions of the RAF to the concept of a minor literature; for him the statements of the RAF can be seen as a sort of stammering interfering with the normal workings of dominant languages. Indeed, O’Sullivan is not the first to identify a certain poetics at work in the textual expressions of the RAF, for example, it has been noted that the lower case communiques of the RAF, composed of programmatic decisionist rhetoric, reprise certain tendencies of the modern poetry formerly studied by Gudrun Ensslin. This engagement with literature is also confirmed by the “info system” adopted by the RAF once they were in prison, by means of which a type of coded communication facilitated by sympathetic lawyers, was based on each key member, with the exception of Meinhof, being assigned a character out of Moby Dick (Meinhof was in contrast Saint Theresa). This is emphasized in Starbuck Holger Meins, whose title refers directly to Meins’ name within this info system. This info-system was a veritable media ecology in its own right, not only overcoming the attempts of the state to keep the RAF members separated from each other but providing a forum for a production of minor knowledge ranging from a collective critique of their conditions of imprisonment to elaborating tactics such as hunger strikes against them. In many respects, the tactics the group found to continue communication, even when they were often being kept in isolation if not sensory deprivation, was more radical than the actions they had engaged with prior to their arrests. In particular, the use the RAF made of hunger strikes as a means of resisting their conditions of imprisonment, which in the case of Meins was continued to the point of death, coupled with their resistant actions at their lengthy trial at Stammheim which aimed consistently at the politicization and deindividualization of their “crimes”, can be seen as amounting to the constitution of a form of minor or resistant knowledge. This is especially evident in the already cited text by Meinhof on the “dead wing” which vividly describes the effects of the kind of isolation treatment members of the RAF were subjected to:


The feeling, one’s head explodes (the feeling, the top of the skull will simply split, burst open) … the feeling, one’s spinal column presses into one’s brain, … the feeling, one’s associations are hacked away—the feeling, one pisses the soul out of one’s body, like when one cannot hold water” (Meinhof in Moncourt and Smith 2009: 271).


It is prison texts such as this, much more that the RAF’s actions themselves, that have inspired the ongoing reverence of Meinhof as a figure of radical resistance.1

Furthermore, both the language and actions of the group have been compared to the culture of the happening, graffiti art, fluxus and living theatre; it was, for O’Sullivan, not only a political but an aesthetic break with previous forms of political organisation (83). In this regard, Thomas Elsaesser has noted a comparison of the RAF’s street violence not only with street art but also with rock music, “as a percussion cutting into the monotone of the everyday,” that like rock music, “opened up a new subjective space” (Elsaesser 1999, 289). In terms of language this meant adopting a direct, even abusive, mode of expression, that paralleled the engagement with violent actions. This mode of expression was not just the misogyny of some of its male leading members like Baader but a deliberate and collective attempt to counter what they saw as bourgeois, polite and deceptive modes of communication, even at the risk of psychological cruelty. Even the acts of violence of the RAF can be seen as the twisting of the language of the state in that its aim, at least in the beginning, was to highlight the violence of the state itself, by attacking military installations and politicians whose power stemmed from their involvement in the Nazi era, to make the fascistic violence of the state appear from behind its cloak of democratic invisibility. More than this, the deployment of violence was in itself an expressive affirmation, as both the means and the consequence of breaking with conventional forms of subjectivity. This leads to the second aspect of minor literature, namely a becoming political, which, as already pointed out, can clearly be seen in the transformation of Meinhof herself from a bourgeois individual to the assumption of a collective identity as an element of the guerilla group. This rejection of individualisation would continue in jail through the info-network which was set up precisely as a form of resistance precisely to the forced individualization that the state was attempting to impose on the prisoners as responsible legal individual subjects. O’Sullivan also points to the futural orientation of the group; the group not only reacted critically against society as it was in the present but aimed to embody a future society to come. It is this last point that seems most problematic to maintain and the problem of leadership is a crucial stumbling block; far from an egalitarian utopia, the RAF seemed to be dominated by strong personalities and especially Andreas Baader as a leader as well as the dominant Enslinn/Baader couple. However, in accordance with the previously cited statement by Meinhof, Baader could be seen as embodying for the rest of group a model or forerunner of a people to come, the leader as the product of group practice. Nevertheless, there is a very thin line between this affirmative leadership and micro-fascism, a line that in the case of the RAF remains a grey area.

What is most interesting in O’ Sullivan’s analysis is that unlike most accounts of the RAF it is amoral and aesthetic, indeed he is not primarily interested in the RAF itself so much as what aspects of its practice might be productive in relation to both contemporary aesthetic practices and modes of life. One might even argue that this reading is only possible from a certain distance when the violent effects of the RAF have become a kind of modern mythology and its protagonists pop icons as have other militants such as Che Guevara or the Black Panthers, who it is now safe to discuss in a type of affirmative, even nostalgic fashion—as a fond memory for the days in which the left was dangerous and political violence was politically rather than theologically informed. Even so it would certainly be arguable that the members of the RAF are not the best candidates for an affirmative, non-bourgeois production of subjectivity and perhaps themselves fell prey to consumerist delusions such as a Bonny and Clyde or even Godardian version of the revolution; the stridency of their affirmations of violence resembling the students in Godard’s La Chinoise (1967)who after a summer of Marxist-Leninist study assassinate a target who turns out to be mistaken. One aesthetic movement not mentioned by O’Sullivan in relation to the RAF is Pop Art and the transfiguration of Baader, Enslinn and especially Meinhof into pop icons also expresses the complicity of the movement they emerged out of with pop consumerism, of being the “children of Marx and Coca Cola” as the Godardian phrase taken up in a collection of essays on radical European 60s and 70s counter cultures has insisted upon.2 Put simply, the student movement, the anti-war movement, the anti-imperialist movement and the RAF itself took place to a soundtrack of American rock music and popular culture that as in Wenders’ Kings of the Road had colonized the subconscious of the European counter cultures even in their most radical expressions. This is not to diminish their actions but to locate them within the highly ambiguous environment in which they took place.3

1See, for example, Chris Kraus 2001, 62: “Meinhof herself still lived within discursive language. It was not ‘til [sic] six years later, when she was incarcerated in a maximum security cell … that she herself became ‘exemplary.’ ”

2See Axel Schildt and Detlef Siegfrid eds. (2006) Between Marx and Coca-Cola: Youth Cultures in Changing European Societies, 1960-1980. Oxford: Berghahn Books. This volume contains several important reflections on the RAF and related groups in the context of the intersection between youth counter-cultures and consumer society.

3The ambiguities of the relations between radical German groups and (US) consumerist culture is explored by Wilfried Mausbach, focusing especially on the Kommune 1 produced leaflet “Burn warehouse [sic] burn” which appropriated the language of advertising in order to encourage sabotage of consumer society of the type subsequently undertaken by Baader, Enslinn and Throwald Proll. See Mausbach 2007, 175-202.

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Baader Meinhof Part 1

The Red Army Faction, more widely known by the police and mass media generated name of the Baader Meinhof Group, or even gang, can also be understood as produced at the intersection of the post 1968 student movement and repressive policing, albeit in the notable absence of any significant encounter with working class politics.1 The West German SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund/German Socialist Student Association), especially known via its charismatic leader Rudi Dutschke, had been progressively radicalizing over the course of the 1960s reaching a high point, in line with student movements in other countries, in 1968. As in Italy, this radicalization was catalyzed by key events, the first being the visit in 1967 of the Shah of Iran and his wife, Farah Diba, which was the subject of mass media publicity. This visit was denounced by the student movement and especially in an “Open Letter to Farah Diba” in Konkret by the prominent left wing journalist and future RAF founder, Ulrike Meinhof.2 In the ensuing protest, during which the students threw paint and eggs at the Shah, the students were attacked by pro-Shah supporters, mainly the Shah’s own security forces wielding large sticks (anti-Shah Iranians having already been rounded up by the German security forces), who the German police did little to restrain. In a later, seemingly unmotivated and equally brutal German police attack on the remaining demonstrators, one of the protesters, Benno Ohnesorg was shot at point blank range by a German police officer. This event more than any other was taken as a clear sign by some participants of the student movement that the German security state was drifting towards a Nazi-style authoritarian state. The second key event was the assassination attempt one year later on Dutschke who was shot on the street by Jozef Bachmann, a right wing and mentally disturbed young man apparently operating alone. This act, nevertheless, had clearly been encouraged by the populist and right wing Springer press (Bachman was carrying a newspaper cutting with the headline “Stop Dutschke Now”) and resulted in a far more violent level of protest against Springer than had been seen up to this point. Instead of throwing eggs or paint, the students now threw rocks and Molotovs, and also built barricades and set fire to cars. In the words that Meinhof would later use in her column, they had moved, if only momentarily, “from protest to resistance”, a movement that would lead in her case to the formation of an urban guerrilla group.

This movement towards resistance was already evident within the student movement itself and can be clearly seen in a speech, “Students and the Revolution” given by Dutschke shortly before this attack on his life. In this speech, Dutschke argued that the post-war period in Germany had been characterized by a new form of Neo-Fascism, a diffuse capitalist authoritarianism no longer associated with a specific party or leader but disseminated via diverse authoritarian institutions, resulting in a “a structure geared to adaptation, passivity, paralysis, fear” (Dutschke 1971, 6). According to Dutschke, both reformist and strictly national political responses to such a situation are ineffectual and he instead pointed to two worldwide alternatives: “anti-authoritarianism, world-wide revolution and authoritarian, imperialistic counter-revolution” (9). While Dutschke reserves terrorism against individuals to states controlled by ruthless dictatorships since in advanced capitalist societies, individual functionaries are infinitely replaceable “character-masks for capital” (140), he insists on a global revolutionary perspective for student politics in which mass actions need to be supplemented by subversive “revolutionary terror … against inhuman machines”, like the Springer enterprise in West Berlin: “We have consequently begun a broad anti-manipulation campaign with the final aim of directly attacking Springer—not the person but the institution—in order to destroy this machinery” (14). Both the analysis of the West German and other capitalist states as authoritarian and neo-Fascist, as well as the emphasis on a direct link between the student movement and global anti-imperialist struggles would directly inform the ideas of the RAF which was formed a few years afterwards. This can be seen clearly in the initial targets of the RAF which included US military installations, representatives of the German state and judiciary and the Springer press; from the beginning the RAF was taking its actions not only to the heart of the state but against US imperialism, and these actions also were much more costly in human lives, on both sides, than those of the BR.3

Arguably the paradgimatic case of the relations between political violence and radical media ecologies would be that of Ulrike Meinhof’s transformation from left wing columnist for the journal Konkret, to key participant and ideologue in the Red Army Faction. While this is shown to some extent in the recent film TheBaader Meinhof Complex (2008) via Meinhof’s celebrated leap “through the window” from respected left-wing journalist to outlaw urban guerrilla during the action to release Andreas Baader from prison, the circumstances preceding and surrounding this leap are only given in a very sketchy form. A more in-depth view can be given by reading Meinhof’s texts for Konkret the later of which clearly show the emerging conditions for this leap into direct action, which was more than just the desperate and frustrated act of a psychologically disturbed and sexually unfulfilled liberal journalist as both the press at the time and the film portray her. Meinhof’s columns, as presented in the recent collection Some People Talk about the Weather … We Don’t, are concerned with the legacy of Nazi Germany, the relations of the German state with the US and Israel and the student movement which she was also a participant in. They reveal a writer intimately connected with the emergence of new political movements in the 1960s and their radicalization through the specific dynamics of the clashes between these movements and the West German state that would ultimately lead some of its participants, including Meinhof, into political violence. The reading of her texts also provides a valuable way of getting beyond the various mythologies surrounding the RAF and its leaders that the film does little to dis-spell; I will not go into here the various ways Meinhof has been the subject of cultural mythologies which are fully explored by Karin Bauer in her introduction to the English translation of her texts (Bauer in Meinhof 2008, 13-29, 89-93). Such a cult of personality, both reverential and pathologizing has been extensively applied not only to Meinhof but also to other key RAF members Baader and Gudrun Enslinn but sheds little light on the actual dynamics, politics and ecology of the group.

A key column in this regard is the 1968 column “From Protest to Resistance” (Meinhof 239-243). Following on from an earlier column entitled “Counter-Violence” (234-238), this column states in very clear terms the justifications for the shift in tactics of the student movement from merely protesting about injustices like the Vietnam War to taking direct action. Referring directly to the protests against the right wing Springer press in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke, this column coolly analyses the shift from protest to resistance in this action enumerating the acts of slashing tyres, burning cars and destroying editorial offices, while equally dispassionately acknowledging that all this damage will be easily repaired and that the distribution of Bild was only subject to delays rather than stopped altogether. As Meinhof points out, whereas the response to the June 2 killing of Ohnesorg was more peaceful protest and the screening of a film about making Molotov cocktails (directed by future RAF member Holger Meins), in the Springer events real fires were started and stones rather than eggs were thrown. For Meinhof this passage to direct action is not mindless, impotent or significantly terrorist violence but a necessary form of counter-violence. For her, denunciations of this violence by those in power is hypocritical since this power is directly complicit with multiple forms of political violence ranging from the war in Vietnam to post-colonial oppression to hate campaigns directed against the student movement of which the attack on Dutschke was a direct consequence. For Meinhof then, the practice of counter-violence is a sign that there are “people who have decided not only to name what is intolerable but to oppose it” (241). This shift to resistance is not without its risks and it is worth pausing over Meinhof’s acknowledgement of these in this column: “Counter-violence risks turning into violence, when police brutality sets the measure for action, when helpless rage takes over from sovereign reason, when the paramilitary interventions of the police provoke paramilitary reactions” (242). This note of caution, which would be decisively abandoned in only a short period of time when Meinhof would herself become a core member of the RAF, is undercut in the column by the terse statement, near the end of the column, directly preceding the repetition of the two opening sentences: “the fun is over” (242). What is of interest here is not merely this movement towards the justification of counter-violence but the tightly structured rhetoric of the text which is not merely a description or representation of violence but an albeit still hesitant movement towards it.

Several of Meinhof’s other columns around this time are equally worthy of analysis, particularly those that evaluate the actions of Enslinn and Baaders’ department store arson “Setting Fire to Department Stores” (244-248), the proto-act of the RAF, and the Kommune 1 “Pudding Incident” in which the bags of pudding they were planning to hurl at US Vice President Hubert Humphrey were mistaken first by the policeand then the press for explosives and therefore considered an assassination plan (“Napalm and Pudding” 229-233). Once the ludic rather than violent nature of the action was revealed it was the police and the press who emerged with egg on their faces while the Kommune 1 members were able to obtain some unexpected press coverage. Meinhof was both appreciative and critical of these acts, as so many false starts in the movement from protest to resistance. While she criticises the Kommunards for their lack of exploitation of their unexpected media attention (229), the department store arson is rejected politically as actually strengthening rather than weakening processes of capitalist consumption, constituting an equivalent of advertising or in-built obsolescence (244-245). However, while she condemns the efficacy of the act of arson which is, “not to be highly recommended” (248), she fully embraces its illegality, the stepping beyond the confines of the law that she would later emulate with her leap into the life of the urban guerilla.

However, it was perhaps her last column for Konkret entitled Columnism (249-253), which was not about political violence but about writing, that most fully accounts for this leap. Essentially a piece of self-critique that was also aimed at Konkret and the hypocrisies of the left wing press more generally, Meinhof describes in an intimate way the limitations of her own role as a radical columnist as a release valve or alibi for the lack of real political discourse. According to Meinhof the radical, original views of the columnist are a type of advertising for the commercial publication they are located in, and one that ultimately reinforces rather than challenges the system opposed by the writer. The column also instantiates a cult of personality in which the views arrived at by many are expressed by a solitary individual and therefore cut off from the movement they emerged out of. Meinhof therefore rejects less the complicity of the publication with market values than the internalisation of these values and the pretence of being a site of free journalism, using the radical ideas of columnists as proof. The column as an exception to the authoritarian control of the editor in fact wraps up these anti-authoritarian views in an authoritarian form. For Meinhof this is not freedom but opportunism: “What if this paper were to really open up to discussions, to really listen to how people across the land are criticising its articles? It is opportunistic to claim to be struggling against the conditions that one is actually reproducing … it is opportunistic to limit the anti-authoritarian position to the authoritarian form of the column” (253). While the possible outcome of this critique could conceivably be the formation of more political forms of open communication as was developed for example in the 1970s free radio movements which attempted just such open discussions, in Meinhof’s case it led to the formation of an urban guerilla movement. However, this cannot be seen as simply an abandonment of discourse for violent action but was also in part the attempt to find a new way of writing, no longer as an individual star but within and for a a militant collectivity. Therefore despite the break in context and style between Meinhof’s career as a columnist and her role as ideologue for the RAF there is actually a continuation of the desire to find a mode of communication outside the market and outside the law.

A similar process seems to have been undergone by Holger Meins but in relation with filmmaking rather than writing. A student at the Berlin film academy, Meins involved himself in several activist activities alongside other radical film students like Harun Farocki, such as intervening in the Knokke experimental film festival to make a collective statement of filmmakers against the war in Vietnam. He also became involved with Kommune 1 and and made the film about making Molotov cocktails that Meinhof referred to in her column, as well as some fascinating short films that are not reducible to a narrow Marxist-Lenninism but rather focus on the excluded of contemporary German society, from the elderly (Oskar Langenfeld, 12 mal, 1966), to exploited workers and tenants. He also made films that prefigured the development of more violent and direct tactics on the part of the student movement and was described by one of his colleagues, Thomas Geifer, as “using the camera like a weapon” (Conradt in Starbuck Holger Meins, 2002). While Meins comes across as having a softer, more artistic sensibility than the other first generation members of the RAF group, he nevertheless did not hesitate to become involved in dangerous and violent operations including bank jobs and setting bombs. During the first RAF prison hunger strike, Meins was subject to particularly cruel treatment and became their first “martyr”, entering a space of fiction rather than creating cinema, in contrast to his contemporaries like Farocki and Fassbinder. Holger became RAF’s “Starbuck”, militantly expressing himself through an involvement in political violence that could just as likely have been pursued in cinema or his other forms of artistic expression such as painting, writing and photography that are also presented in Starbuck Holger Meins. Farocki’s memories of Meins in the short essay “Staking One’s Life: Images of Holger Meins” (Elsaesser ed. 2004, 83-91) consist largely of a breakdown of his short film Oskar Langenfeld and a series of images of Meins as a filmmaker, a film student, even as the older man he never became. According to Farocki, Meins “mistrusted the political rhetoric we employed at the time” (85) and he speculates on whether Meins’ deep love of cinema was disappointed in terms that clearly implicate himself within the same ecology of cinema and political violence: “if he could not cope with the claims made by such a love, how could I?” (91). As with Meinhof it seems that there was a moment of bifurcation, a leap in which political violence rather than radical art was chosen as a means of expression, while his contemporaries stayed within the media ecology of radical or not so radical cinema.

While the first text attributed to the RAF was written by Horst Mahler in prison,4 it was thoroughly rejected by the other RAF members as being “as inflated as a game of cowboys and Indians” (RAF cited in Aust 2008, 107). The next RAF text to appear, however, the leaflet entitled Red Army Faction: The Urban Guerilla Concept (RAF 2005)while anonymous, was undoubtedly mainly the work of Meinhof, despite the considerable difference in style to her columns.5 In this text there is a strident explanation and justification of the actions of the RAF, famously beginning with quotations form Mao about drawing a clear dividing line between oneself and the enemy (RAF 2005, 9). The pamphlet goes on to attack many of these enemies from petit-bourgeois cops to leftist fellow travellers who sympathise with the RAF but are unable to countenance its acts of violence. Rather than a misguided gang, the leaflet describes RAF members as defining their political identities through a praxis of revolutionary discipline. The leaflet also presents the RAF not as the substitute for other forms of political action but as its necessary supplement: “we […] maintain that a pre-requisite for progress and an eventual victory of revolutionary forces is the armed struggle” (14).

Some of the sections of the pamphlet are not so far from the positions Meinhof espoused as a columnist, for example, in her affirmation of the student movement because of its practice, however, throughout, there is an insistence on the necessity of armed struggle as an essential complement to other practices of political resistance in order to demonstrate that the enemies of the movement are only “paper tigers.” In these and many other respects this text is not far removed for other expressions of post 68 European Maoism and other militants and organisations such as Régis Debray and Il Manifesto are freely quoted. However, the inspiration behind the concept itself is Latin American and from a pragmatic point of view essentially endorses the description of the urban guerilla organisation developed by Carlos Marighella in his already mentioned Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerilla, which provided the essential description of the modus operandi of the first generation RAF. The RAF’s Urban Guerilla Concept is, however, much more theoretical than Marighella’s pragmatic text and is most disturbing due to its logic and rationality; once one accepts its premises that immediate guerilla warfare against the German state is both possible and necessary, the conclusions it reaches are entirely convincing. In other words it is a kind of fanaticism of excessive reason leading to necessarily violent conclusions. Of course the initial premises on which this movement is based are the weak point in its argument; the first of these is the assumption that conditions of both oppression and resistance in West Germany are essentially equivalent to those in Latin America, in other words that West German democracy is merely a dissemblance of a brutal dictatorship as proved by the violent police responses to the student movement, the introduction of emergency laws enabling the police to use military weapons and so on. This puts the question of armed resistance into a context in which it is equivalent to resisting a military dictatorship which the RAF openly declare as in essential continuity with Nazi Germany.

The second questionable assumption is the existence of a revolutionary movement that the urban guerilla cell can be working in tandem with as was the case in Cuba or China; in fact the left movement in Germany was not only a small minority but one that unlike in Italy was both cut off from the working class and in decline, and certainly not prepared to engage even indirectly in an urban guerilla struggle as the RAF would discover to their cost. Nevertheless, the aim of this pamphlet was certainly to secure this type of support as the culminating slogans of “Support the Armed Struggle! Victory in the People’s War” (36) clearly indicate. A further and crucial problem was clearly the separation between the guerilla cell, necessarily illegal and underground and other revolutionary forces; this is even acknowledged in the text in the stated impossibility of working with grass-roots organisations: “you cannot combine legal political activism with illegal political practice” (28). While this might seem to indicate the futility of the whole enterprise, it is clear in this pamphlet that while not unduly optimistic about the revolutionary potential of West Germany, the RAF believed that elements of the left would be persuaded to step outside the bourgeois confines of legality and embrace not only the form of armed organisation but also the freer type of communication it made possible:

No areas of public life are left which don’t have, in some way or another, the main goal of serving the interests of capital. … These activities play themselves out in the context of mostly private, coincidental, personal and bourgeois forms of communication. … In the public domain a powerful elite has a dominant role … the media’s message in a nut-shell is… Sell. Anything that can’t sell is considered pukeworthy: news and information become commodities for consumption and the most popular publications become commercially saturated. … An urban guerilla can expect absolutely nothing but bitter hostility from these institutions. (28-29)

The echoing of the media critique of the Frankfurt School, albeit in more strident terms, can be clearly be heard here as can the extension of Meinhof’s own self-critique as a columnist for the radical press. What the RAF were proposing was therefore as much a new ecology of communication and subjectivity as new forms of armed resistance or rather these two aspects were intimately linked. It is at this point that one might pose the question of how the RAF was constituted in ecological terms, or how its practice drew upon specific environmental conditions and constituted specific modes of expression.

1While the German name for this group is Rote Armee Fraktion, the conventional English translation is Faction, even though this distorts the original meaning of being part of a larger whole.

2Translated in Meinhof 2008, 171-177.

3Dutschke’s attitude towards the RAF was characterized by an ambivalence approaching what was called in Italy “non-rejection”. While never endorsing their tactics and famously advocating what he called the “long march through the institutions”, he nevertheless appeared publically at the funeral of RAF member Holger Meins (a personal friend) and famously said with a raised fist, “Holger, the struggle continues!”

4See Stefan Aust (2008: 106-108).

5According to Aust, ‘Meinhof was given the job of producing a manifesto of their own, with a view to the correct self-presentation of the group, (Aust 2008: 107). This manifesto is reproduced in full in Smith and Moncourt 2009: 83-105.

Posted in Guerrilla Movements, Revolutionary Theory | Leave a comment

BR as Media Ecology

 Such an incomplete history of the BR, however, is only the beginning of an understanding of its operations in ecological terms. The best resources for doing so are not so much in the analysis of the ideological statements of the BR and its proto groups such as Lavoro Politico as Luigi Manconi has done, the latter claiming that they can be seen at best as “pure Marxism-Leninism … [and] a scholastic reading of basic Maoism in a national setting” (Manconi 1991: 118). The more interesting point that Manconi makes, beyond the fairly obvious one that the brigade model tended to replicate the very bureaucratic and hierarchical state structures it was set up to oppose, was the way this ideology was enacted: “this Marxist bible—which interacted directly and brutally with reality—was conditioned by the environment and registered all its tensions” (Marconi 1991: 118). The seemingly abstract and artificial thoeretical formulations in these and other similar publications have to be seen in the context of the series of events referred to above of which the Piazza Fontana bombing played a key role that catalyzed a generation of militants to take up the thesis, parpaphrasing the subtitle of Straub and Huillet’s Not Reconciled (1964) “only violence is effective where violence reigns”.

The writer who has probably gone the furthest in developing an ecological account of the Red Brigades and other politically violent groups is Donatella della Porta, especially in her study Social Movements, Political Violence and the State, which gives a comparative analysis of armed groups in Italy and Germany. One of the most valuable achievements of this work is to show the development of armed groups as emerging out of the antagonism between social movements and policing, the encounter of which, in circumstances in which “hard” policing meets radicalizing protest, is highly conducive to the accelerated radicalization of militants and the adoption of forms of violence, up to and including clandestine armed struggle (della Porta 1995: 55-82). More than this, she elaborates an analysis of armed groups as organizational ecologies, drawing on the field of organizational analysis which had rarely before been applied to such processes of radicalization. One thing that emerges from this approach is that Weberian notions of progressive institutionalization, moderation and adaptation to a given power configuration or social environment do not necessarily take place within radical movements (della Porta 84). To understand this organizational negentropy, a more complex account of the ways radical organizations make use of environmental resources is necessary, as well as the way that complex organizations can develop their own resources and thus perpetuate themselves by an internal logic, as well as responding actively to their political environment.

In the usually volatile and conflictual conditions in which radical social movements develop, their organizational transformations will not necessarily be the same or even follow the same direction, depending on their specific internal and external dynamics which may lead some groups to become more reformist or moderate while others become radicalized, even in response to the same events. In this context, it can be argued that while Workerist and BR groupings developed out of the same environmental resources and in response to common events and interactions, their internal organization constituted distinct organizational ecologies, leading to quite distinct strategies and tactics. Similarly in her comparison of the environmental resources available to radical groups in Italy and Germany, dell Porta argues that the Italian situation was a distinct environment in that it permitted an encounter between student and worker radicalism that was not possible in Germany, “only in Italy did the students ‘meet’ the working class” (108). This encounter with workers and their modes of organization led to distinctive organizational structures in Italy, which tended to be in della Porta’s view “fairly centralized” (109). This encounter also led to a distinctive repertoire in Italian social movements in which tactics like wildcat strikes, industrial sabotage and organized housing occupations could play a leading role. Della Porta also points to transnational resources in armed groups; while less marked in a direct way in the case of the Red Brigades, the inspiration of third world national liberation struggles and guerrilla movements clearly played a key role and can be seen as a type of symbolic environmental resource, actualized by reference to international armed struggle. Finally there is a sense in which groups like the BR created their own environmental resources in that “if they developed radical skills in order to meet a demand present in their environment, they then used the skills they had developed and, in this way, contributed to produce the very environment in which their political skills made them more competitive” (110). For example, the carrying out of successful actions inevitably led to police reprisals and repression against the movement, and not always against those who were part of the radical group, thereby increasing both solidarity and the necessity for “professional” armed groups. However, none of these dynamics by themselves is sufficient to account for the formation of a clandestine armed group; instead, della Porta emphasizes that the becoming clandestine of a radical group is usually predicated on encounters with state institutions such as the police and the judiciary and often on unforeseeable and contingent events, as well as organizational experimentation; it is when an organization is in crisis whether due to internal splits or the arrest of some of its members that it is likely to try out new organizational forms, some of which are likely to involve an increase in levels of violence. In short, della Porta’s explanation of the radicalization of social movements can be seen as a cybernetic one in which “negative feedback” plays a key role in an escalating conflictual encounter between the movement and the state, both of which are operating with fixed and mistaken images of their other: “all the participants operate on the basis of a self-constructed image of reality and gamble on the results … the outcome of their actions is the product of several ‘fictions’ and concomitant miscalculations” (111). In this respect an event like the Piazza Fontana bombing can be seen as just such a contingent event leading to the radicalization of several existing political groups, but only in the encounter with the specific organizational structures of the groups that would form the BR did it lead to adopting the clandestine strategy of the urban guerrilla.

Della Porta’s approach of organizational ecology has clear advantages over approaches based on ideological analysis or sociological theses of a blocked democratic political process or mass unemployment leading directly to armed violence, in that it focuses on the ways that radical groups are less determined by their socio-political environments than in a co-evolution with them, a process in which ideologies and economic developments do not necessarily play the central role. In her desire to find an account of political violence able to deal with the micro, meso and macro levels of social organization della Porta approaches, without explicitly theorizing, an assemblage account of social formations similar to that recently elaborated by Manuel Delanda. For Delanda, assemblage theory, somewhat modified from its articulation by Deleuze and Guattari especially in A Thousand Plateaus, can provide a useful and flexible basis for thinking a range of social phenomena at scales ranging from the personal to entire nations. On all of these levels an assemblage is not an organicist totality or an essence but a heterogeneous whole, a functional assmebly of components and their relations operating between a series of poles including matter and expression, coding and decoding and territorialization and deterritorialization. Since organizations are one level of Delanda’s analysis it might worth seeing how an organization such as the BR or other radical political groupings might be considered as an assemblage, its specific ways of operating as a coherent whole between the various poles outlines above.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent with regard to the BR is that while not associated with as specific an institutional territory as a building or headquarters, impossible in any case for a clandestine organization, it was nevertheless considerably more territorialized than the Latin American rural guerrilla movements referred to above, whose capacity to move through rural territories were an elemental component of their mode of organization. In contrast the BR was doubly territorialized, first of all in particular, northern Italian cities, inscribed in the very structural division of the organization into city columns, and secondly in the industrial factories such as Fiat or Pirelli that had been the site of proletarian unrest and radical actions. Of course, even in the case of BR members who had been factory workers, by joining the BR they were no longer strictly within the factory, but nevertheless the bulk of the BR’s actions were oriented towards these particular industrial spaces and the struggles within them. While the formation of a national “Strategic Direction” and various lateral fronts could be seen as attempts to inject more deterritorialisation into the group, this was a low level of deterritorialization, more or less following the hierarchical, reterritorializing model of the nation state, itself assembled out of various provinces. Far more deterritorializing was the practice of clandestinity itself, which meant firstly a movement outside legal existence and a kind of nomadism in place through the adoption of an underground life; paradoxically, however, this can also be seen as a reterritorialization as clandestinity necessarily entailed “a way of life that was de facto cut off from the everyday experience of most people” (Lumley 291) which also meant giving up both freedom of movement and engagement in political discussion and thereby “the means of testing and verifying political hypotheses and projects” (291).

It is the poles of matter and expression, however, that most clarify the assemblage of the BR. On the material side, this involved the use of various arms, (guns, molotovs, industrial tools) in practices of violence which were less the invention of the BR than practices already taking place within the industrial workers’ movement. What was new was the abstraction of these tactics from the contingent contexts of conflict in which they had previously been used, and their incorporation in a quasi-military apparatus. This lent a primacy to violence as not simply one of several tactics but the essential tactic to be used in revolutionary armed struggle: “The communist revolution is the result of a long armed struggle against the armed power of the bosses” (BR, “un destino perfido”), a struggle that the BR considered to be already initiated in the strategy of tension. Part of this is based on a simplified and voluntarist analysis of political conditions if not as already those of a revolutionary civil war then potentially modifiable in that direction. But it also involved a set of material practices, not limited to violent actions themselves but also incorporating the logistics of underground existence, the maintenance of the organization and the production of propagandistic materials ranging from telegraphic communiques to lengthy theoretical justifications like those collected in Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid). As researchers like della Porta have pointed out, researching the everyday material practices of radical political groups, especially clandestine ones, poses numerous problems, since in the absence of detailed records one is left with an unstable mixture of police records and personal testimonies; but given the widespread police corruption and misinformation as well as the penitento confessional practices whereby producing a particular story directly affected the length of a judicial sentence, it is dubious to what extent either of these sources can be fully trusted. However, when it comes to the expressive pole of the organization, numerous collectively produced texts remain and are now available that can give some idea of the expressive dimension of the BR assemblage, as well as its (ideal) organizational model.

While on one level the actions of the BR can be seen in material terms as the application of force via various technologies and techniques against either material or human targets, this is only one dimension of these actions; the other expressive dimensions being pedagogical and judicial. The early slogans such as “for one eye, two eyes, for two eyes, a whole face”, or “strike one to educate 100” clearly indicate one aspect of this pedagogical dimension, the idea being that action against one manager, judge or politician would not only modify their own behavior but influence that of other members of their class or profession. More than this, as vanguard actions, they were also meant to have pedagogical effects on industrial workers demonstrating that it was both possible and necessary to strike at the bosses through organized violence “to educate the proletarian and revolutionary left to the need for resistance and partisan actions” (BR cited in Lumley 282). Several of the actions themselves can also be seen as a form of conflictual research; raids on the premises of right wing and center right offices, for example, along with abductions were undertaken in order to expropriate secret information about state and industrial strategies and especially the plans for political and economic restructuring which they saw as effectively being an imminent coup; as such they can be seen as a perverse form of minor knowledge and co-research, less “subjugated” in Foucault’s sense than “antagonistic”, being produced directly in a terrain of conflict. Even the Moro kidnapping was meant to be an elaborate form of research into the future transformation of the Italian state, even if the results of this research were not subsequently forthcoming. All of this was folded back into the various textual productions of the BR which were extensive and mirrored the highly complex world of far left groups in Italy, many of which were oriented around particular journals and other publications. BR founders Mara Cagol and Renato Curcio had prior experience of this kind of activity in their involvement with Lavoro Politico and the project for a “negative university” at the University of Trento (Soccorso Rosso 26-34) and in a sense this project can be seen to be continued by the pedagogical dimension of the BR.

More frequently commented on and criticized was the practice of the BR of forming an alternate judicial system based on what they described as proletarian justice. This idea, which has its origins in the summary justice meted out by WWII resistance groups, as well as military justice more generally, affects every aspect of the BR’s activities from the selection of targets (who were, after all, chosen for exemplifying the punishable actions of the class enemy), to their “interrogation” and the decision taken about their punishment. Abductees would typically be photographed with a placard around their neck or against a BR backdrop stating their “crime”: “Milan 3.3.72, Macchiarini, Idalgo, fascist manager of Sit Siemens, tried by the BR …. for the bosses it is the beginning of the end” (cited in Lumley 282). In this case the abductee was released after a short time in the back of a van with a warning to him and other “functionaries of the anti-worker counter-revolution” (Soccorso Rosso CH9). Completing this judicial series were the various responses in both the mainstream press (alarmed) and radical journals (mostly approving) which are also meticulously documented in Soccorso Rosso. Ideas of proletarian justice were quite common in Marxist-Leninist contexts and had been practiced not only in situations of guerrilla warfare but also in factory struggles, for example in collective worker decisions about when an oppressive foreman or scab would be “allowed” to return to work. Again, in the apparatus of the BR such contingent actions were decoded and generalized with the BR setting itself up a a kind of judicial counter-institution to judge and punish the bourgeois class in general, beginning with factory managers but extending this ultimately to CD politicians such as Moro. Commentators such as Dini and Manconi have seen this as a legitimation process whereby the BR set-up a double of state institutions: “trials/counter-trials; prisons/people’s prisons; army of the bourgeoisie/army of the proletariat … the whole macabre and grotesque ritual of the ‘trials’, ‘interrogations’, and ‘sentences’, of a judicial procedure that imitates and inversely mirrors that of the state apparatuses” (Dini and Manconi 28). Such proletarian justice was, however, welcomed by some segments of the working class and in the beginning by some of the far left publications, with the red brigades taking on the role of “avenging angels” doing in reality what others fantasized about, hence their initial if not approval then certainly “non-rejection”. This support was in turn predicated on the resort to secrecy and illegality on the part of the state which created a situation in which clandestine operations, coupled with contempt for democracy, seemed to equally characterize both sides of the conflict between the BR and the state.

Nevertheless it was just such imitation of the apparatuses of judgement that led some on the far left, even those initially sympathetic to the BR, to reject its tactics, partly for its lack of political imagination and partly for its anthropomorphizing of both capitalism and the state in the figures of particular functionaries, as if they were the functions that they carried out, rather than indefinitely replaceable individuals parts of more abstract processes: “it becomes damaging and confusing to define ideologically or—even worse—morally, positions of command that are per se abstract and interchangeable” (Potere Operai del Lunedi cited in Manconi 125). This anthropomorphism was perversely a form of depersonalization; in identifying their target entirely with their functions in the system, they were reduced entirely to the status of a disposable and absolute enemy, so that their sentences up to and including death became the expression of a political line, rather than a moral or ethical question, even while they were “moralized” and personalized by the attribution to them of individual guilt for the role they were performing on behalf of capitalism and the state. Expressions such as the post-1974 slogan of “striking at the heart of the state” really only referred to which social groupings the targets were chosen from, and were very far from even reaching the “places where repressive decisions were made” (Manconi 125). Even in the case of Moro, his centrality to the Italian state was more symbolic than real, and certainly more real to the BR than the Christian Democrats whose lack of response to the kidnapping showed that the Italian state was quite capable of doing without him (not to even mention the quite plausible theory that elements within the CD, hostile to the historic compromise, were complicit in facilitating if not planning the Moro action).

This pedagogical/judicial coupling therefore constituted the expressive pole of the BR as an assemblage, in which not only the communiques and theoretical statements of the BR but also their actions themselves and the responses they elicited in both the mainstream and radical press can be seen as part of the overall diagram or media ecology constituted by the BR. It is here that ideas about the spectacular nature of “terrorism” first taken up by contemporary commentators, then by writers such as Baudrillard, only to become a common-place of work on political violence can be revised; certainly political violence is expressive and aims to communicate a message including but not exclusively via the mass media. In the case of the BR the effects on the radical press and expression of their own publications was of equal importance as demonstrated in the passage referred to from Soccorso Rosso. The idea is not to build up an army equal in power to that of the state, or at least not initially, but to sustain a revolutionary force that is as much virtual and expressive as it is actual and material, using all available expressive means including the mass media; this aim in a sense differs little from that of any guerrilla campaign which, as we saw above is always as much if not more about collective belief and potentiality as it is about empirical reality. However, what is open to dispute is whether the BR actually constituted such a force in relation to the actual practices of the mass movement and the forces of the Italian state and it is here that any Latin American comparison, even with urban guerrilla groups becomes highly problematic.

First of all, despite the rich field of contemporary practices of resistance and forms of organization, both within and outside the factory, the BR operated by a hierarchical, closed organizational model, which even closed off the possibility of any direct links with the forms of political struggle that the BR was supposed to be supporting. Secondly there is the question of subjectivation which within the BR took a hard political, moralizing one of submission both to structures of authority and to political decisions from above, a model based explicitly on secrecy and compartmentalization. While some aspects of this can be seen as the necessary consequences of a clandestine mode of operation, they were not always dealt with as rigidly as in the case of the BR, for example, the later “diffuse terrorism” of groups such as Prima Linea operated via relatively autonomous cells making decisions without reference to or control by a centralized “Strategic Direction.” Finally there is the question of political imagination which in the case of the BR was extremely limited; many commentators on the BR have noted that in their case, as well as in the case of Italian communism more generally, there is a continuity between Catholic and Marxist beliefs and practices, the idea that Marxist revolution could be the earthly instantiation of the promises of redemption inherent in Christian eschatology. Such a continuity is clearly evident in the work of a filmmaker like Pier Paolo Pasolini, for example, whose Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964), essentially depicts Christ as a proto-revolutionary, a synthesis also evident in other popular and avant-garde Italian texts of the time. In this respect, the BR could be seen as continuing a quite conventional mode of Catholic subjectivation based on an absolute belief in a redemptive future of the revolution, justifying in advance, all actions against the fallen world of the bourgeois capitalist state. This seems to be borne out by a relatively puritanical attitude to relationships in the BR, and a strong rejection of feminism, even though one of the key founders of the BR, Mara Cogol was female (and she and renato Curcio were apparently married in a conventional church wedding prior to the formation of the BR). This is also evident in their attachment to traditional images of resistance such as from WWII, attachment to the point of fetishization of the high end industrial worker and failure to address the “new social subjects”, beyond the factory (women, the under and unemployed, even students), that were paradoxically becoming central to the competing current of radical thought and practice formerly known as Workerism. This Catholic subjective dimension might also go some way to account for the BR’s strangely moralized account of sociopolitical processes in which, beyond the Marxist-Leninist veneer, it seems very much a case of punishing the wicked on behalf of the innocent, in a form of justice that seems as much the divinely inspired early Christian resistance to the Roman Empire as proletarian justice.

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Red Brigades Appear!

Logo of the Italian communist terrorist group, Brigate Rosse

By far the most extensive and long lived of the European urban guerrilla groups was undoubtedly the Italian Brigate Rosse or Red Brigades, although as we shall see they constitute an anomalous example in relation to other armed groups. Emerging out the student and worker struggles that in Italy both preceded and followed 1968 and were to continue throughout the 1970s, the Red Brigades began operating in the industrial context of northern Italian factories. Both this industrial milieu and relatively proletarian composition of these groups distinguish them from many of the other cases that will be examined, and yet they were nevertheless seen as an exemplary model for the invention of a variety of forms of urban guerrilla activity in Europe. They were, of course, not the first groups in Europe to engage in armed struggle, being preceded especially by national liberation struggles in Ireland and the Basque territories but they were the first example of left wing armed struggle to develop out of the student and worker movements of the late 1960s.

In order to understand a phenomenon like the red brigades in ecological terms it is necessary to know something about its socio-political environment. Two series of events stand out from the numerous studies of this particular period of Italian political history. The first is a series of industrial struggles going back as far as the 1950s but intensifying in the 1960s, when they became connected to struggles beyond the industrial workplace, such as of students, women and “new social subjects” (Wright 2002, 89-106). As with many global locations, these struggles were especially intense during 1968 but in the particular context of Italy, 1968 was more a threshold in an already ongoing cycle of struggles, already taking pace outside of union and communist party mediation that also continued well beyond 1968, especially in what came to be known as the “hot Autumn” of 1969. While industrial action ranging from massive strikes to sabotage waxed and waned during the “red biennial” of 1968/1969, it was in the Autumn of the latter year that a concerted campaign was organized that spread to workers previously uninterested in unions and labor politics. As in May 1968 in France a commonality between student and worker demands managed to bypass their traditional separation as recounted in Nanni Balestrini’s Vogliamo Tutti/We Want Everything in which a southern Italian, formerly apolitical, worker discovers that “the things that I’d thought for years, as long as I’d worked, the things I believed only I felt, were thought by everyone” (Balestrini 1971, 133). The aftermath of the hot Autumn was the formation of many new far left “extra-parliamentary” groups ranging from the Workerist Potere Operaio, to far left groups emerging around particular publications such as Lotta Continua and Il Manifesto. This would also be the moment in which the first Red Brigades would form, out of the same struggles if from distinct political groupings.

At the same time, a very different series of events also seemed to begin around this time but in fact had its roots considerably earlier, namely the “strategy of tension” employed by state intelligence services in alliance with far right groups, in cooperation with the CIA and the highest echelons of the Italian political and military elite. This strategy, whose first major act was the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in 1969, in fact had its origins in the top secret Gladio “stay behind” armies, initiated after WWII ostensibly in order to combat a future communist takeover of power but in fact deployed especially but not only in Italy in active warfare against left wing forces prior to and pre-emptive of any such takeover, culminating not only in the series of brutal terrorist acts of the strategy of tension but much earlier attempted coups d’etat. This network, well supplied with caches of weapons, explosives and advanced communication systems, actively recruited right wing forces and deliberately staged acts of terrorist violence which were then to be blamed on the left and therefore justify waves of arrests and other forms of repression, as well as being a deterrent for active militants. This network was further allied with P2, a masonic lodge operating as a virtual parallel state, whose membership list once discovered read like a who’s who of powerful figures in Italian military, political and economic spheres, notably including a certain Silvio Berlusconi. Of course, none of this was officially known at the time and for the most part only started to be officially acknowledged in the 1980s but there was a strong awareness on the left that actions like the Piazza Fontana bombing not only showed the hand of the state but were part of an overall repressive strategy.

One intervention made this particularly clear, namely a widely circulated text “The Real Report on the Last Chance to save Capitalism in Italy” that appeared in Italy in 1975, and originally signed only by the pseudonym, A Censor. This text created a furore in the Italian media and was generally assumed, due to its seeming insider knowledge about the then still secret “strategy of tension”, to originate from a source high up in government, industry or perhaps the intelligence services themselves. Ultimately, after several months of intense speculation, Gianfranco Sanguinetti, who had been one of the two final members of the Situationist International claimed responsibility for the text, which had also had a considerable input from Guy Debord. This was a double blow against the Italian establishment since it not only revealed the conspiratorial violence of the governing regime, but was also taken to be true in the mass media. The report had been widely believed rather than censored since its author was assumed to be an insider, whose proposed strategy was one of “saving capitalism” by incorporating elements of the far left via the historic compromise between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist party thereby defusing political rebellion. This was then revealed to be a well-informed prank after it had been admitted virtually everywhere that state sanctioned terrorism with massive casualties was being used as a strategy of domination, rather than being an activity of the far left of the unaided far right. Sanguinetti’s subsequent work, On Terrorism and the State, had the following to say about the relations between what he called defensive terrorism and state strategy: “The desperate and the deluded resort to offensive terrorism; on the other hand it is always and only States which resort to defensive terrorism, either because they are deep in some grave social crisis, like the Italian State, or else because they fear one, like the German State” (Sanguinetti 1979 reproduced on In other words paraphrasing Virilio, state “counter-terrorism” was in fact terrorism and often of the most lethal kind as demonstrated by both the Italian strategy of tension and the historical record of clandestine organisations like the CIA.

It is only in relation to these two contexts that not only the red brigades but the larger tendency of the Italian far left to adopt violent struggle of one form or another becomes fully comprehensible; essentially the political situation in Italy was one that was seen by many as approaching revolutionary civil war and in which any left wing victory, even the legal one of the communist party being elected to power, was almost certainly going to be met with some kind of right wing coup, as had in fact already been attempted in recent Italian history. The place of the Red Brigades within this contestation is still subject to debate, with negative evaluations such as those of a group statement by a number of former “Workerists” including Paolo Virno and Antonio Negri situating the Red Brigades as “completely marginal and outside the general outlook and debate of the movement … [they] had absolutely nothing in common with the organization of violence in the class vanguards and revolutionary groups of the movement” (Castellano et al, 228). In contrast, one of the few sympathetic accounts of the early Red Brigades, Strike One to Educate 100 (Beck et al. reproduced on, n.p.), differs considerably from this account showing the emergence of the groups leading to the formation of the Red Brigades out of the same student-worker movement as the other far left groups, only tending to adopt different tactics to both those of Workerist groups like Potere Operaio or “Spontaneist” formations like Lotta Continua. In this account, the Red Brigades were formed as a way of elaborating a higher level of organization for a “People’s War Based in the Working Class”, extending already existing tactics such as occupations of factories, housing and social spaces, by means of a clandestine armed organization. While somewhat exaggerating popular involvement in and support of the BR, this text does highlight the fact that the autonomists were understandably keen to disavow that “these trends were not separated by iron walls, but shared people and ideas as they struggled together in a quickly-changing environment” (Beck et al., Chapter 2), as indicated by the fact that some of the same tactics and events, such as housing occupation transport fare reductions and industrial sabotage and go-slows were claimed by both tendencies. Similarly, it is worth noting that one of the most significant pre-BR documents, produced at a CPM (Metropolitan Political Collective) meeting in December 1969 at the moment of formation of the first Red Brigade, was largely concerned with defining and affirming “proletarian autonomy” in terms not entirely dissimilar to that of the Workerists:

Autonomy from: bourgeois political institutions (the state, parties, unions, judicial institutions, etc.), economic institutions (the entire capitalist productive-distributive apparatus), cultural institutions (the dominant ideology in all its manifestations), normative institutions (habits, bourgeois “morals”).

 Autonomy for: the destruction of the whole system of exploitation and the construction of an alternative social organization. (Beck et al., chapter three)


The difference, therefore, between the proto-Red Brigade groups and groups like Lotta Continua or Potere Operaio, can be more sharply understood as tactical and strategic more than theoretical or ideological, in that the former opposed the latter primarily in considering that conditions were ripe for a clandestine organization of communist combatants to undertake a leading role in the movement through armed action, as much inspired by the myth of Italian WWII communist brigades as by contemporary guerrilla warfare in the third world.

While the Red Brigades are most widely known today for the Aldo Moro kidnapping and execution in 1978, their early actions were quite distinct form this in both their focus and their tactics; in fact Gian Carlo Caselli and Donatella della Porta have identified no less than four strategically distinct periods in the history of the Red Brigades during the 1970s. The first period, the primary one dealt with in Strike One, is referred to by Caselli and della Porta as “Armed Propaganda” (1991: 71-79). This was characterized by largely factory-oriented actions in Milan or Turin, usually the car-bombing, injuring or kidnapping of an unpopular manager, or other right wing factory target. These tactics had the tendency and aim to gain worker support since they were effectively an extension of factory struggles by other means. At this point, Red Brigade actions could take on the form of a type of lunch-time street theater for the workers as “A ‘liberated’ car would pull up, with loudspeakers temporarily mounted on the roof, and several masked comrades spoke to the crowd of workers that gathered. Leaflets were passed around. … Just before the pigs arrived the car would zoom off to cheers” (Beck et al, chapter 4). During this time, as Caselli and della Porta acknowledge, the BR could hardly be described as terrorist and “in its two first years of action, BR violence was directed exclusively against property” (1991, 77), usually the flashy cars of factory managers. As the BR became stronger, their actions became more audacious, including the fire-bombing of eight Pirelli trucks in 1971, as well as the first raids and abductions in 1972-1973.

It was at this point that there was shift in the strategy of the BR, corresponding with the arrest of two key figures of the BR “historic nucleus” Renato Curcio and Alberto Franceschini as they attempted to become a national organization and carry their struggle to the “heart of the state” (Caselli and della Porta 1991: 79). Initially the BR was the product of the industrial north and was mainly operating in the cities of Milan and Turin. The idea was to create columns in all the major industrial cities in Italy, even if in reality the group was only really able to do so in a few, mostly northern cities. At the same time the organization became more centralized and bureaucratic with a complex assemblage of vertical city-based columns, in turn composed of the individual brigades and lateral fronts (factory, logistical and propagandistic) all under a national “Strategic Direction”. The fronts were supposed to perform political analyses of their specific terrains for use in the politico-military struggle, following their interpretation by the strategic direction. Caselli and della Porta maintain, however, that this complex structure was something of a fiction, that in reality the horizontal and vertical dimensions proved to be irreconcilable, and the logistical fronts reduced to mere servicing operations for the brigades with the factory front “only existing on paper” (82). Again, emphasizing the common ground between the BR and the far left, the major source of new recruits in this period were from the dissolution of extra parliamentary groups like Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio, even if this could be understood less in terms of ideological affinity than a type of parasitism of the armed groups on the political setbacks of the mass social movements.

This was also when the group became more militarist rather than populist, and selected political rather than industrial targets, in an attempt to take the conflict to the state itself. So while some of the figures targeted by the BR were still associated with the factory, they also turned their attention to purely political targets, such as members of the Christian Democrats, held to be responsible for preparing a future authoritarian right-wing coup, or else sweeping industrial reforms against worker unrest and interests, a not entirely far-fetched theory in the Italian context. In the light of this “militarization of power” (84) the BR saw their actions as a type of counter strategy, one could even say a way of countering state terrorism, which included several raids of right wing and Christian Democratic institutions in order to capture documents pertaining to this future counter-revolution. Magistrates and judges started at this point to become targets, in order to “attack the state at its weakest links” (84) and to secure the release of imprisoned comrades. It was at this point that arms started to be actually used not merely as a threat but for premeditated injury, even if the BR would not carry out a pre-meditated execution until the June 1976 assassination of the Genoa prosecutor Francesco Cocco, which also took the lives of two of his bodyguards. This in turn lead to the third phase of the group, the one which included the Aldo Moro kidnapping and was characterized by at once a raising of the stakes and consequences of political violence and an increasing distance from the mass movements which were at this time once more in an upward escalation: “the BR transformed (at times accentuating a process already in action) their strategy (from ‘armed propaganda’ to ‘unleashing civil war’); their targets (the factory to the ‘heart of the state’); their definition of the enemy (from neo-gollismo to social democracy); their tactics (from ‘hit-and-run’ to ‘dislocation of the apparatus’); and their forms of intervention (from ‘punitive actions’ to ‘destruction’). The final phase dealt with by the authors pf the BR from 1979 could be described in terms of self-destruction, in which the organization splintered into several conflicting fragments and the initial revolutionary aims of the organization were limited to rhetoric while their actions increasingly took on the form of a private war with the state at a considerable distance from any mass social struggle.

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Towards A Media Ecology of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus

Anti-Oedipus is now generally considered one of the more opaque texts in the work of Deleuze and Guattari both together and separately which probably accounts for it being the subject of two recent primers by Eugene Holland (1999) and Ian Buchanan (2008) to name only those texts devoted solely to the explication of Anti Oedipus alone. It is also particularly of interest and susceptible to a media ecological analysis since it is also accompanied by numerous other surrounding texts including interviews with both Deleuze and Guattari on its publication, Deleuze’s comments on how the text was produced in Dialogues and elsewhere, and the recent post-humus publication of Felix Guattari’s The Anti-Oedipus Papers (2006). What is of most interest all these peripheral texts is less a focus on the content but the ways they elucidate its mode of production and in particular the form and context of the collaboration between Deleuze and Guattari in its production. There is considerably more information about how this combined “rhizomatic writing machine” to use Franco Berardi’s expression (Berardi 2008, 43ff) functioned than there is about any of their three major subsequent collaborative works and this alone gives a good deal of scope for a media ecological engagement. Needless to say this will be absolutely distinct from the function of the usual explicative secondary literature as in the above referred to books by Holland and Buchanan, regardless of their undoubted contributions to the field of “Deleuze (and Guattari) Studies.”

From a media ecological perspective, we need to be more precise and more pragmatic and especially to refrain from asking the usual pedagogical questions of what is this text in its essence, or what does the text mean, even if its authors did originally refer to the book as being for the use of young people. Anti-Oedipus is first of all inseparable from the post or possibly during May, 1968 encounter between Deleuze and Guattari which resulted in the agreement to produce a collaborative text and hence from the events of May, 1968 themselves, or as Berardi puts it “Anti Oedipus is the book that brings the mark of May 1968 onto the philosophical stage” (2008, 73). To untangle the various threads of the conditions and forces leading to this collaboration, the collaboration and its explosive effects, we could well resort to the terms outlined in Anti-Oedipus itself of the production of production, the production of recording and the production of consumption, since as the authors insist, each of these moments of any productive process is, itself, produced. The following media ecological exploration of Anti-Oedipus will therefore approximately follow this sequence.

The most poetic account of Deleuze and Guattari’s collaboration is undoubtedly the opening lines of the Rhizome plateau of A Thousand Plateaus: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. As each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. … Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 3). Interviews at the time of the book’s appearance as well as subsequent introductions have fleshed out in what respect each author was already several, Deleuze in his taking on the voices of multiple aberrant figures from the history of philosophy and Guattari with his “four backgrounds” (Guattari in Deleuze 1990, 14ff) of communism, left opposition, psychiatry at la Borde, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, which he himself describes as “too many” (14). The insistent reference to multiplicity is not only to emphasize the point that the “collective assemblage of enunciation” is more than the sum of two individuals but to emphasize its connection to contemporary political events themselves, in Guattari’s words “there was a whole political context that led up to it. Initially, it was less a question of pooling our knowledge than an accumulation of our uncertainties; we were confused about the turn of events after May ‘68” (Guattari in Deleuze 2004, 216). While there were clear differences between both the practical and theoretical orientations of the two writers, there were also commonalities such as the critical response to Lacan, albeit in the markedly different domains of psychoanalytic practice and philosophy. As the authors stated memorably in a contemporary interview: “Lacan himself says ‘I’m not getting much help.’ We thought we’d give him some schizophrenic help.” In this sense both authors brought Lacan into the collective assemblage, each in a different way, such that all elements were transformed into an unrecognizable and unpredictable way (hence the near untraceability between the presentation of Lacanian psychoanalysis in Anti-Oedipus and its much more restrained earlier critiques in the prior work of both Deleuze and Guattari. Similarly, each author brought with them concepts that they had fabricated such as Deleuze’s concept of the body without organs and Guattari’s already outlined account of machines. As the above quote indicates it wasn’t a case of pooling knowledge so much as taking already collectively produced concepts, since the body without organs was produced in relation to Artaud and the machine in relation to Marxist thought and struggles, and recombining them, in an assemblage that radically transformed these components via the creation of new relations, beginning with a new mode of writing.

The actual writing of Anti-Oedipus, what we are calling its production of recording or inscription, is another area in which there is a surprising amount of information available, most obviously in the recently translated Anti-Oedipus Papers, which presents not only some of the texts sent by Guattari to Deleuze as letters, but diary like confessions, such as Guattari’s nervousness about meeting Lacan in the middle of this process of collective invention. However, there is something slightly obscene in these post-humus revelations of materials that were part of a process and were never intended to be read as a final product of consumption. This leads to two dangers, namely of psychologization, that is the supposed discovery of the individual characters of Deleuze and Guattari revealed through these candid exchanges and even worse personal attribution, the attempt, already quite advanced, to distinguish which parts of which text, originate from which author, an attempt explicitly facilitated by Francois Dosse’s recent dual biography, which goes to great lengths to untangle the Deleuze and Guattari entanglement that Anti-Oedipus was the privileged expression of. While there might be some useful materials in these publications, this is only on the condition that these personalizing tendencies are resisted and instead there is a greater appreciation of the Deleuze and Guattarian collective machine. Another collective text involving Deleuze, the Dialogues with Claire Parnet gives a much richer account of what exactly this collaborative writing machine was enacting between Deleuze and Guattari:

We were only two, but what was important for us was less the fact of our working together than this strange fact of working between the two of us. We stopped being “author.” And these “between-the-twos” referred back to other people who were different on one side form on the other. The desert expanded, but in so doing became more populous … and all these stories of becomings, of nuptials against nature, of a-parallel evolution, of bilingualism, of theft of thought, were what I had with Félix. (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, 17)
There is an important distinction here between the idea of working together and working between that is essential to understanding, for example, the relations between the letters sent to Deleuze by Guattari and the final text that is on a completely different register to that of a conventional division of theoretical collaboration. The letters in a sense were already a way of weaving together words and texts in a media ecology, if a seemingly anachronistic and Nineteenth Century epistolary one, of generating a real movement of paper and words that extended itself into a movement of thought. Rather than a coming together of shared ideas, Deleuze refers to this collaboration as a conjugation of different speeds “we were never in the same rhythm, we were always out of step: I understood and could make use of what Félix said to me six months later; he understood what I said to him immediately, too quickly for my liking” (17). This conjugation of different rhythms and speeds is not just a poetic metaphor but a real description of how this or any real event of collaboration works, since it is not just individuals that encounter one another but different times, speeds, and modes of existence.

If this tells us something about the encounter of Deleuze and Guattari and the way the book was produced, what can be said about the text itself and its composition from a media ecological perspective? This necessarily means taking a distance from explicative approaches designed to clarify and explain conceptual meanings in the direction of a more pragmatic and machinic description and evaluation. First of all, it involves a rethinking of what exactly the functions of a book are in machinic and media ecological terms. Books are poorly conceptualized when they are considered as mere repositories of knowledge, the direct expressions of the thoughts of their authors or contributions to a discipline. A book is first and foremost a machine or, as Deleuze and Guattari write in Rhizome, “a book has neither subject nor object; it is made of variously formed matters, with different dates and speeds” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 4). A book, like any other media product can easily appear and is usually taken to be a standardized object, attributed to an authorial subject, and designed for a specific form of consumption whether pedagogical or pleasurable. However, this misses the ways that books articulate “variously formed matters”, that is, affects, thoughts, other texts, different modes of linguistic expression, as well as ink and paper and also constitute events. Just as a seemingly stable object such as a rock or mountain range is in fact from the perspective of geological duration caught up in highly dynamic transformational processes, the same is true of a book (or any other media “object”) which, whether obviously time-based or not, is necessarily the articulation of events ranging from the events leading the book’s production to all the various acts of reading or other modes of use that the book becomes subject to. In this sense reading is not only a matter of understanding or interpretation but also boredom, distraction, forgetting, rediscovery, group discussions, random perceptions and associations for which the book as quasi object actually functions more like a type of catalyst. More than this a book, as the concatenation of a specific physical, intellectual, affective and historical context, is also potentially a reinvention of that context operating via the various processes of its production and consumption to autopoietically reconfigure its specific socio-technical world. It is in this sense that one can consider a book like Anti-Oedipus, not only as a machine but also as a media ecology, in the same way we will subsequently consider such phenomena as a music scene or a free radio station.

This is not to say that a media ecological approach would entirely ignore the content of the book but rather would see them as these variously formed matters and examine how they are articulated together. For example it could be noted that had the book been limited to or even begun with its second and third sections dealing with the critical engagement with Oedipal psychoanalysis and Marxist universal history respectively, while it would still have contained remarkable theoretical insights, it would have been composed quite conventionally as a book in the noble historical lineage of philosophical and cultural critique, this time of Freudo-Marxism. However, this “respectable” mode of conventional composition is entirely disrupted by the first section, the one that many readers, especially academically trained ones, had the most difficulties with. After first reading that an enigmatic “it” is it work everywhere, the second sentence completely jettisons any academic decorum in favour of a machinic explosion: “it breathes, it heats it eats. It shits and fucks” (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, 1). Despite the subsequent explanation that in this explosion of bodily functions onto the page that what is being discussed is the id, that is to say the unconscious, reconfigured as a multiplicity of real machines, the initial destruction of acceptable modes of semiotic expression remains no less vivid. This is just one example of the ways in which this book not only exceeds academic norms but also itself functions as an infernal and self-referential machine. After all this opening description of what will be called desiring machines not only refers to the unconscious in general but also to Anti-Oedipus itself which in its subsequent articulation continues this lack of respect for both psychoanalysis and Marxism but in a way that is both machinic and self-referential. In no way is this book about either of these fields. Rather, after constituting its own machinic operation via the concepts of desiring production and the body without organs, it then uses this articulation to incorporate and reprocess both Freudianism and Marxism, to literally melt them down and recombine them with other heterogeneous materials to produce, at the other end of this process, the pragmatic field of schizoanalysis. It is in this sense that the Anti-Oedipus could be described by Foucault as “that thing which is about nothing but itself” in that it is not even about machines but rather in a literal sense is a machine, a machine of expression but also of struggle against the prevailing sclerotic forms of both Marxism and Psychoanalysis unleashed not for the pure pleasure of destruction (although there are certainly elements of that!) but rather in order to intensify what is most radical and deterritorializing in both these currents and to dispense with or to break through the blockages that stop them from moving in as revolutionary a direction as possible.
As far as the “production of consumption” of Anti-Oedipus beyond the banal fact of it being a philosophical best-seller despite its supposed obscurity and the way functioned as an intellectual depth charge in the surrounding Parisian intellectual scene, one of the most telling registers of its effect can be seen through the objections that were raised to it. In one of the more entertaining discussions at the time, presented in the Desert Islands collection as “Deleuze and Guattari fight Back” (Deleuze 2004, 216-229), Deleuze and Guattari were confronted by a panel of experts in the fields of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, ethnology, sociology and philosophy, organized by Deleuze’s colleague, Francois Châtelet. Surprisingly perhaps it is not the psychoanalysts but the literary critic Maurice Nadeau and the sociologist Raphäel Pividal who raise the most banal objections, namely that the concept of desiring machines is “obscure to the layman and needs to be defined” and that if the book responds to desire “I want to know … Which desire? Whose desire?” (Deleuze 2004, 219-220). One of the more ingenious responses to these objections, which in many ways concern a policing of acceptable modes of intellectual expression, is to shift the terrain. Deleuze states that according to Guattari “our book is addressed to people who are now somewhere between the ages of seven and fifteen” (220) although he qualifies this by saying that this is only ideally the case since the book is still unfortunately “too difficult, too cultivated” (220). The point is that to grasp the implications of the book and especially the opening section, which is what these experts were objecting to as being too obscure or poorly defined, disciplinary expertise is actually a barrier rather than a privileged interpretative position. More than this, it suggests that what is needed is not a learned training in difficult discourses but a political context that a high school student or a psychiatric patient might be more likely to have than a salaried academic. As Deleuze continues, the opening section “does not require any prior knowledge … there are many other people fed up with a current type of discourse … a book can respond to desire only in a political way outside the book” (220). In other words, while the book might remain obscure to those invested in powerful pedagogical assemblages that need texts which can serve to shore up existing power relations between teachers and pupils, or doctors and patients, the book will make perfect sense to people plugged into different collective machines, such as “an association of angry users of psychoanalysis” (220). In other words it is not just that the book is a particular type of machine, it is also one that seeks to connect up with machines of struggle rather than machineries of established power relations. This explains to a greater extent its mention by Foucault as an example of “subjugated” or minor knowledge that in its very composition is oriented towards anomalous rather than disciplinary uses, a point perhaps underlined by the concern of the psychoanalysts in the discussion like Serge Leclaire that the machine functions only too well (221ff) in that it constitutes a destruction of the signifier and a positing of a real that Leclaire finds “somewhat … totalitarian” (223). Leclaire’s subsequent production of Lacanian jargon and quibbling over misunderstandings of the partial object is the perfect illustration of the devastating impact of this book on the psychoanalytical field, which is expressed very lucidly by Pividal: “You hide behind jargon to quibble over details. Your day-to-day practice … you pass over in silence. And the real problem of psychoanalysis—the patient—you pass over in silence” (225). This difference between the enclosed yet colonising disciplinary machine of psychoanalysis and one radically open to the outside, as in the case of Anti-Oedipus, eloquently expresses the way in which a book can function not only as a socio-technical machine but also as an ecology, coupling with other practices and experiences, and redistributing existing flows of knowledge, affect, and material practices in direct relation to an outside.

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Debray and Marighella: Revolution in the Revolution


The work that gave a more theoretical expression of both the Cuban revolution and guerrilla warfare more generally, and one that was highly influential, especially on Europeans, was Régis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution. Debray, a Parisian intellectual and former student of Althusser, had unprecedented access to the Cuban leaders and in fact this work was a deliberate dissemination of the practice and ideas of the Cuban revolution, in order to win the support of both European and Latin American radicals. Interestingly, Debray conceives of guerrilla warfare and revolution in cartographic terms as a series of lines: “any military line depends on a political line which it expresses” (Debray 1968, 25). Debray is especially critical of attempts to impose what he calls foreign political conceptions disguised as military lines such as “armed self-defence” or “the submission of the guerrilla unit to the party.” Some of these models may work in other contexts such as in Vietnam, which Debray characterizes in terms of “armed propaganda”, but in the typically dispersed rural environments of Latin America, everything must revolve around the guerrilla base or foco, leading Debray to elaborate what has come to be known as “foco theory.” While Debray delineates precisely and in detail the distinctive mode of organization that the foco theory entails from a technical and military point of view, what makes it a “revolution in the revolution” to paraphrase the title of the book can be boiled down to a few principles. Debray expresses these principles as the refutation of the following myths about guerrilla struggle. Firstly there is the idea that “The guerrilla force should be subordinated to the party” (114). Apart from the practical difficulties of needing to use impossible lines of communication between the party’s base in the city and the guerrillas in the countryside, this is ruled out primarily because it implies a separation between politics and action, rather than seeing guerrilla action as already political and capable of leading itself. The second myth is that “the guerrilla force should be an imitation of the party” (114). Again this leads to a separation between politics and action and worse, communicates indecisiveness and sows discord and dissension. This leads directly to the core of the Cuban revolution in the revolution in which, contrary to the Soviet or even the Chinese revolutions, “The people’s army will be the nucleus of the party and not vice versa … the principle stress must be laid on the development of guerrilla warfare and not the strengthening of existing parties or the creation of new parties” (115). This is the crux of Debray’s argument that somewhat modifies the relations between military and political lines presented above. In guerrilla warfare conducted according to the foco model the two lines become superimposed so that “the political and the military are not separate but form one organic whole, consisting of the people’s army, whose nucleus is the guerrilla army. The vanguard party can exist in the form of the guerrilla foco itself” (105). This was a complete inversion of previously existing revolutionary theory and practice, one that the Chinese and Vietnamese struggles had approached but which was only fully realized in Cuba. As most of the above authors have stressed, the Cuban revolution, far from being submitted to a Marxist-Leninist party or ideology, in fact only adopted these later after it had succeeded. During the period of guerrilla struggle it was enough that the guerrillas were establishing themselves and winning small victories against the government forces to encourage and build popular support. This model of guerrilla-led revolution would become highly influential, if not without rival methods, throughout Latin America, parts of Africa and, as we will see, on the guerrilla groups operating in Europe in the 1970s, usually referred to in mainstream literature as terrorists.

It is no accident that all three of these optimistic accounts of guerrilla warfare were written at the height of guerrilla successes in the mid 1960s. This optimism, was to be short-lived, however, especially following the disastrous guerrilla campaign in Bolivia in which the Guerrilla force led by Guevara was crushed, he himself was captured and executed and Debray was imprisoned, narrowly avoiding the same fate. As several observers have noted, in this campaign Guevara seemed to go against many of his own principles, first of all in the foreign leadership of a guerrilla force where none previously existed, in insufficient knowledge of and a poor choice of terrain and above all a lack of popular support either from the local peasants or existing radical parties. The Bolivian Guerillas were isolated from the beginning, and an easy target for the US trained Bolivian rangers to wipe out. In this case, all the principles of guerrilla warfare such as taking the time to build up popular support could not possibly work and, even worse, the Bolivian president enjoyed a good deal of popularity with the local Indian peasants, spoke their language and had initiated modest land reforms (Loveman and Davies 1997, 322). The reason for this apparently suicidal mission was to foster continent-wide revolution, using Bolivia’s central location as a starting point. This was accompanied on an official level by the formation of the OLAS, Organization for Latin American Solidarity, also committed to continent-wide radical change and supported by both Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende. However, this internationalist revolutionary project proved to be more an ideal than a reality, and in fact radical movements had to find their own, diverse paths to radical change, and in many cases repeated failures such as Guevara’s by imposing a version the Cuban model on markedly different physical, social and subjective environments. This led Debray to reassess his own elaboration of the foco theory, especially in A Critique of Arms (1974). While still maintaining that the Cuban model is better adjusted to Latin American conditions than either Maoist people’s war or especially Trotskyite world revolution, Debray points to several problems with his presentation of rural guerrilla warfare and its socio-political conditions. This includes a detailed analysis of exactly what was favorable in the Cuban case (Debray 1974, 58-71), including the paradoxical situation that while in Cuba the guerrillas were able to appeal to a broad base of social classes by not defining their rebellion in ideological terms, and only later becoming a socialist revolution, every subsequent guerrilla struggle was seen both by its participants and by local populations as Marxist from the very beginning, making it much more difficult to win broad popular support. More than this, by emphasizing as Che had done previously, the technical aspects of guerrilla organization, he had inadvertently neglected the political preconditions for such an organization to function effectively, its need for a supportive rear base enabling the guerrilla unit to have not only material supplies and communications but a living connection with the people, and which is therefore as much if not more a political consideration than a military one (this is what was completely lacking in Bolivia, for example). While the idea of foquismo was supposed to be the direct integration of political and military leadership and struggle, a guerrilla unit completely cut off from any popular movement ends up being reduced to a mere vagabond army, with no purpose or possible role in any popular insurrection. This does not mean that there was no “revolution in the revolution” and in fact guerrilla struggles would be of decisive importance over the next two decades of Latin American history even if only successful in rare instances, such as in Nicaragua. However, it did mean that the particular form of the revolution could not be fixed in an imitation of the Cuban model but required the invention of new and diverse tactics form the legalism of the Allende socialist victory in Chile, to movements originating in military rebellions to an increasing emphasis on the role of urban guerrilla action; as this latter shift was the most influential on the guerrilla inspired groups that will be examined in this chapter, we will turn now to the concept of the urban guerrilla.

The foco theory was not the last word on guerrilla tactics especially since these must be adapted to different physical, political and social environments, often diverging considerably from the conditions of Cuba, as Guevara himself would learn in his disastrous expedition to Bolivia. In particular, the extreme emphasis on rural guerrilla action as opposed to urban or mass action in the cities, was not practicable in many more urbanized Latin American settings and so urban actions needed to be given a greater emphasis. Guevara’s limited appreciation of “suburban” guerrilla warfare, for example, was entirely dependent on its subordination to “chiefs located in another zone” (Guevara 1997, 70). Similarly Debray is especially scathing of any subordination of rural forces to political leadership in the city and endorses Castro’s slogan “all arms to the Sierra” (75). Apart from the practical difficulties of communication involved, Debray describes city actions as “independent and anarchic actions” (73) which may do more harm than good, while conceding a more limited strategic value of “city terrorism” (74) as a tying up of state and military resources which, after all, are more concentrated in the city than the remote countryside and need to be defended. This terrorism which would more accurately classed as sabotage, is also embraced by Guevara who distinguishes it more clearly from terrorism: “we sincerely believe that terrorism is of negative value, that it by no means produces the desired effects, that it can turn a people against a revolutionary movement, and that it can bring a loss of life to its agents out of proportion to what it produces” (Guevara 1997, 116). In other words whereas sabotage, especially focused on communications both in terms of roads, bridges and power lines as well as media, is a necessary and extremely useful tactic of deplenishing the enemy’s resources, assassinations, kidnappings etc. especially of “little assassins” are difficult, costly in life and resources and often merely result in greater reprisals against all involved in the action (Guevara 116-117).

A very different account of urban guerrilla actions was expressed by Carlos Marighella, a Brazilian militant directly involved in guerrilla resistance to the Brazilian dictatorship, who wrote the Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, as a pragmatic manual for use in this and other struggles. This focus on urban actions was intended to complement rather than replace rural guerrilla warfare, Marighella describing the latter in terms of strategy and the former in terms of tactics. Nevertheless this notorious manual became a virtual how-to guide for European urban guerrilla and terrorist organizations and even in Brazil was imlemented in the absence of any substantial rural guerrilla mobilization. While originally part of Marighella’s book on the liberation of Brazil, the version that circulated as the Mini-Manual, well illustrated with diagrams of urban spaces and pictures of weapons and bombs, is virtually a shopping list of the kinds of actions that would subsequently become familiar in Europe: occupations, ambushes, executions, kidnappings, sabotage, liberation of prisoners and the “war of nerves” (Marighella 21). For Marighella, terrorism is limited essentially to the use of bombs and incendiary devices but his evaluation of its use is much more affirmative than Che’s: “terrorism is a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish” (30). Leaving aside the practical focus of this manual that not only describes in detail weapons but also give advice on actions such as bank robberies and kidnappings, what innovation does it represent in relation to foco theory? On the surface, these urban actions are still meant to play a supporting role in a guerrilla struggle whose strategic center is still supposed to be in rural areas. This is maintained in the descriptions of strategy of rural and urban guerrillas, in which the prime goal of the latter is seen as diverting policing and military resources away from the former allowing the real war to develop in the rural areas, in contact with the peasant base, students and workers. However, in its absolute concentration on techniques and predominantly urban ones, especially as abstracted form the rest of the book, this Manual actually had the opposite effects of promoting urban guerrilla war as a pragmatic end in itself; and in fact Marighella’s own group operated entirely in an urban context and in the absence of any rural guerrilla movement that it was supposed to be supporting. The effects of this shift could be seen, not only in Brazil but especially in contexts like Uruguay where the Tupamaros used these techniques, at times quite successfully, to wage a violent, urban civil war with the US backed dictatorship, which was, however, ultimately crushed as was the Brazilian movement. Nevertheless, this urban transformation of the foco theory had a major impact on the European urban guerrilla groups especially the RAF whose “urban guerrilla concept” essentially was a direct translation of these tactics into a German context and one of the other groups practicing political violence in Germany even named themselves after the Uruguayan Tupamaros: Tupamaros Berlin.

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