The myth of Baader-Meinhof
4 December, 2008
by Stan Crooke
Review of the film: The Baader Meinhof Complex
This film traces the history of the German "Red Army Fraction" (RAF)
from its origins in the predominantly student protest movement of the
late 1960s through to the prison suicides of its remaining leaders in 1977.
In total, the RAF had 39 members, but never more than 20 at any one
time. It was the most famous or infamous of a flurry of
similarly-sized groups which emerged in Germany in the 1970s and
which equated "anti-imperialist struggle" with armed struggle:
bombings, kidnappings, hostage-taking, and killings, all financed by
armed bank robberies.
The film is not a documentary. But it is historically accurate. Not
just the general "storyline" but also the specific incidents
portrayed in the film, much of the dialogue spoken by the RAF
members, and also the way in which the personalities of the leading
RAF members are portrayed.
Andreas Baader is a domineering, loud-mouthed, cynical, macho
misogynist, with a penchant for violence as an end in itself. Just as
he was in real life. Unlike other RAF members, Baader had little
involvement in the political upheavals of the 1960s. For a young
person living in West Berlin at the time, this was no small achievement.
His partner, Gudrun Ensslin, despite having a character of her own,
provides Baader with the hero-worship which he craved. This too is
the real-life Ensslin. On more than one occasion she wrote of Baader
in terms such as: "The absolute enemy, the enemy of the state; the
collective consciousness and the morality of the oppressed and of the
downtrodden, of the metropolitan proletariat that is Andreas."
Ulrike Meinhof, a well-known left-wing journalist at the time, is
portrayed as a more complex character, which indeed she was. At one
point in the film she says that she could never join a group like the
RAF as it would mean abandoning her children. And yet she did join
the RAF and then tried to arrange to have her children brought up
in a Palestinian refugee camp.
The other members of the "core group" of the RAF have, at most, only
an episodic role in the film. They shoot, they bomb, and they get
arrested or killed. But their appearances are too fleeting for their
personalities to be fleshed out.
This too reflects the real-life RAF: Baader, backed up by his
high-priestess, made the decisions, with all other members reduced to
mere supporting roles.
Based on Stefan Aust's book of the same name, the film has been
meticulously researched and incorporates material from a variety of
other sources as well. But where the film falls down, as many of its
critics have pointed out, is that it tries to cover too much in too
limited a space of time.
The political context in which the RAF emerged is represented by
scenes of protests against a visit to Germany by the Shah of Iran,
demonstrations and rallies against the war in Vietnam, the attempted
murder of Rudi Dutschke, the campaign to attempt to stop distribution
of the right-wing Bildzeitung newspaper, protests against the
"Notstandgesetze" (emergency legislation), news reports about the Six
Day War in the Middle East and the following year's General Strike in
France, and the decline of the student protest movement in the
closing years of the 1960s.
And that's all just in the first half hour or so of the film!
All this certainly helps recreate the "atmosphere" of the period.
But, especially in the case of non-German audiences, how many people
can make sense of all this and recognise that the RAF was not so much
the product of a movement of radical political protest but rather an
expression of its decline and disintegration?
The history of the RAF in the early 1970s is dealt with in the same
kind of rapid-fire style: the arson attack on a Frankfurt department
store, the arrest and trial of Baader and Ensslin, Baader's escape
from imprisonment, military training with Fatah in Jordan, a series
of bank robberies, and a succession of bombings of US military bases,
police headquarters, and the offices of the Bildzeitung
interspersed with policemen being shot, and RAF members being shot.
This is followed by another succession of similar events, but more
brutal and on a larger scale, carried out by the "second generation"
of the RAF, with Brigitte Mohnhaupt duly anointed as
commander-in-chief by the now imprisoned Baader.
All this provides little more than a glimpse into the political
"logic" behind such events.
The RAF did not so much elevate "anti-imperialist struggle" over
class struggle as reject the latter entirely in favour of
"anti-imperialist struggle". (The working class had been corrupted by
material possessions. It was therefore no longer a force for social
change.) And, beginning a tradition which has carried on to today, it
found the ultimate expression of anti-imperialist struggle" in an
The RAF was contemptuous of theory and glorified "action". The
ultimate form of "action" and of "anti-imperialist struggle" was
armed struggle (no matter how few people were involved in it).
Insofar as the RAF had what might be termed a strategy, it was one of
carrying out provocative actions in order to force the state to
reveal its true but concealed repressive nature. The RAF and large
sections of the organised German left in those years adhered to the
view that Germany was either a fascist society already, or, at a
minimum, was well on its way to becoming one.
Another criticism levelled at the film, especially in Germany, is
that it glorifies the RAF and its violence. "The ultimate
idealisation of the idiots of the Revolution," according to one
critic. This is a particularly perverse criticism: the film is a
sustained attack on what one of its characters calls the "myth" of
the RAF. In fact, the declared goal of the film's author and producer
is to destroy the mythology which, over three decades later, still
surrounds the RAF.
The film shows the remorseless escalation of violence inherent in the
RAF's notion of "urban guerillaism". It begins with an arson attack
on a department store after opening hours. It moves on to bank
robberies. Then bombings and murders. And from there to mass
hostage-taking in the German Embassy in Stockholm and participation
in plane hi-jackings.
By the time of the kidnapping of Hanns Martin Schleyer, head of the
German equivalent of the German CBI, the violence has become
obsessive: even after his bodyguards are dead, the kidnappers
continue to empty their machine-guns into their corpses.
In the prison scenes following the arrests of Baader, Ensslin and
Meinhof, the film focuses on the systematic humiliation and mental
bullying of Meinhof by her fellow RAF prisoners. "You're the knife in
the back of the RAF," says Ensslin to Meinhof at one point.
Eventually, their behaviour drives Meinhof to suicide.
Similarly, the death of fellow RAF member Holger Meins while on
hunger-strike in prison is portrayed as a price which Baader and
Ensslin are happy to see someone else pay in order to maintain the
momentum of the campaign for their release from prison.
In contrast to the ruthlessness of the RAF, the police chief in
charge of the hunt for RAF members is portrayed as a fatherly Mr Wise
Owl figure. He does not support terrorism not many police chiefs do
but, he explains, terrorism will be ended only when politicians
find solutions for the political conflicts which lead to terrorism.
If only politicians could be as sensible as police chiefs!
The closing words of the film are spoken by Brigitte Mohnhaupt, the
daemonic and ruthless leader of the "second generation" of the RAF.
She explains to her comrades that Baader, Ensslin and
fellow-RAF-member Jan-Carl Raspe, whose deaths in prison have just
been announced, were not murdered by the state but committed suicide,
like Meins and Meinhof before them.
Her statement is met with bewilderment by the other RAF members in
the room. They genuinely believed that Meins and Meinhof had been
murdered. And their group has just taken part in a plane hi-jacking
and the Schleyer kidnapping to prevent the other RAF prisoners from
being murdered as well. But now Mohnhaupt disabuses them of their illusions.
"Stop seeing them (the RAF) as people they weren't" says Mohnhaupt in
the closing words of the film. The words have a broader meaning for
the film's audience.
To underline how the RAF should really be remembered, the film
immediately switches to its final scene: the murder of Schleyer in a
Belgian forest, probably the most senseless of all the RAF's
killings. (Schleyer had been taken hostage to secure the release of
the imprisoned RAF members. But by this time they were no longer alive.)
The film's attitude to the RAF could not really be stated much more
clearly than that.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex by Stefan Aust - review
07 Dec 2008
Michael Burleigh on the ragbag of psychopaths and ideologues who
tried to murder Germany into revolution
A common denominator of terrorist groups throughout history has been
extreme romanticisation of the self.
Although they invariably represent undemocratic minorities,
terrorists take it upon themselves to give History a big forward
shove, regardless of the little people crushed under wheels that they
themselves have set in motion.
Democratic and prosperous West Germany experienced the depredations
of such people for two decades from 1970 onwards.
Terrorism was an outgrowth of the intolerant Left-wing culture which,
like a virulent cancer, took hold of some German universities in the
1960s, being especially strong in humanities and social science departments.
Germany's Nazi past was used as a justification for extreme violence
against 'the generation of Auschwitz'.
A paranoid and brutal climate was talked up by such charismatic
demagogues as 'Red' Rudi Dutschke and various opportunistic figures
who in their fifties and sixties have since adorned recent German
cabinets, such as Joskar Fischer and Otto Schily.
Frustrated by the coalition governments of the time, student
activists formed an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition, which went in for
increasingly violent demonstrations.
Among the wider causes they alighted upon were the Palestinians and
American bombing in Vietnam, with such hate figures as the Shah of
Iran tacked on.
His 1967 state visit provided the Left with a seminal martyr: a
student called Benno Ohnesorge was accidentally killed by German
police in the wake of fighting between the Shah's bodyguards and
Stefan Aust is well placed to write the history of the most notorious
of several terrorist grouplets.
Until this year he was editor-in-chief of the Left-leaning magazine
Der Spiegel, although an alleged conflict of interest between the
magazine's repeated attacks on wind farms and his ownership of a
tranquil rural stud farm seems to have put paid to that.
In the 1960s Aust cut his journalistic teeth on an extreme Left-wing
magazine, Konkret, whose star columnist was Ulrike Meinhof.
This well-paid, vehement hysteric became one of the founders of what
would be known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, although in addition to
the drug-fuelled rent boy, Andreas Baader, a clergyman's daughter
called Gudrun Ennslin outdid Meinhof in psychopathic violence.
Other gang members included a left-wing lawyer called Horst Mahler
(nowadays a leading Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi) and such
curiosities as students undergoing psychiatric therapy at Heidelberg
University, who joined the Red Army Faction - the nom de guerre of
the gang - under the slogan 'Mad Men to Arms'.
After receiving military training at the hands of the PLO outside
Amman (where the camp leader was Ali Hassan Salameh, the organiser of
the breakaway PLO faction Black September), the gang embarked on a
campaign of terror that claimed dozens of lives through shootings and
Their preposterous goal was to bring about a German revolution by
forcing the Bonn government to reveal its 'Fascist' face.
This was to be done by murdering, among others, the banker Jürgen
Ponto, the employers federation leader Hanns-Martin Schleyer and the
Federal Prosecutor General Siegfried Buback, not to speak of all the
drivers and police bodyguards who were riddled with bullets in
several of the gang's massacres.
The government of Helmut Schmidt remained defiantly democratic.
Although the terrorist principals were captured quickly, their
incarceration and trials at Stammheim prison from 1972-1977 fuelled
further outrages by second and third generations of successors that
continued into the late 1990s.
In 1989 I had the distressing task of consoling an LSE student whose
godfather, the Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen, had been
blown up by Red Army Faction terrorists.
Despite the fact that conditions in Stammheim were indulgently cushy,
the gang claimed it was a latterday Auschwitz.
This lie was bruited by Left-wing defence lawyers such those around
Dr Klaus Croissant, who collaborated with the gang by smuggling
weapons hidden in lever-arch files, which they eventually used to
commit suicide, after an aircraft hijacking to free them was foiled
at Mogadishu by German commandos.
Aust's book is an abridged version of his German original, which
takes the story down to 1998 when the remnants of the third
generation wound up the 'armed struggle'.
It is as if the book has been slimmed down to concentrate on the
shoot-ups which dominate the newly-released eponymous film.
Aust also adds some opportunistic ruminations on the religious
character of the gang's psychopathic violence, in a bid to connect
pot-bellied German terrorists with al-Qaeda.
In fact, someone like Andreas Baader was more au fait with Mickey
Mouse comics than Marx, while Ennslin and Meinhof, who, foaming at
the mouth, Baader routinely derided as middle class 'c---s', were
typical of the fanaticised females produced by the Left universities
of the day.
We get only glimpses of the penumbra of middle-class dupes who
provided the gang with logistical support, or of the East German
Stasi officers who helped them on their journeys to the Middle East
and provided them with asylum when the game was up.
Like some of the names alert readers may recognise, as well as Aust
himself, the sympathisers have doubtless gone on to make their
careers within the 'liberal' Left Establishment of our day.
Films on terrorism captivate Germans
'Baader Meinhof' only one of a slew of projects
By Scott Roxborough
Dec 4, 2008
COLOGNE, Germany -- It's been 30 years since Germany was gripped by
the exploits of homegrown terrorists the Baader Meinhof gang, but
Germans still can't tear themselves away.
This year has seen an onslaught of dramas and documentaries on the
exploits of the gang, who called themselves the Red Army Faction or RAF.
The latest volley was "Mogadischu," a two-hour telefilm that aired
Sunday on public channel ARD that follows the 1977 hijacking of a
planeload of German tourists by Palestinians sympathetic to the RAF.
Some 7.3 million Germans tuned in, a 21% market share, and 5.8
million stayed on for interviews with the survivors on ARD's
top-rated talk show "Anne Will."
Then there's Uli Edel's "The Baader Meinhof Complex." With ticket
receipts at $22 million and counting, Germany's official entry for
the foreign-language Oscar is a local boxoffice hit as well.
Add to that the countless number of news reports, television
documentaries and magazine stories on the RAF that come out every
other week here, and you get an idea of how much '70s terrorism
remains a part of the modern German zeitgeist.
Discussion flared up again just last month when a German court said
it would release one of the RAF's most notorious and unrepentant
leaders, Christian Klar, in January after 26 years behind bars.
Germany isn't alone in its obsession with local terrorists. Steve
McQueen's award-winning and controversial directorial debut "Hunger"
looks at the last six weeks in the life of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
Spanish director Jaime Rosales' "Bullet in the Head," which drew
angry jeers from some in the audience at its San Sebastian debut, is
based on the murder last year of two Spanish Civil Guard by Basque separatists.
"Mogadischu" and "Baader Meinhof" provide interesting bookends to
Germany's ongoing discussion on the RAF -- seen by some here as
anti-establishment heroes, by others as cold-blooded murderers. While
Edel's film tells the story from the perspective of the terrorists --
played by some of Germany's most famous and sexiest stars -- in
"Mogadischu" director Roland Suso Richter focuses on the victims. The
hero of his story is Lufthansa pilot Jurgen Schumann, played by
Thomas Kretchmann, who was killed trying to save his passengers.
The combination of politics, violence and nostalgia mean the story of
the RAF is likely to continue to obsess German audiences. This year,
Berlin's UFA Cinema announced the flagship production in its new
slate: an adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's "The Weekend." The story?
A RAF terrorist is released from prison and seeks redemption from his
family and friends. The film's release is planned for 2010.