The Baader-Meinhof Terrorists: Majority Understanding or Minority Action?

On 5th September this year, Dr. M. H. Schleyer, a West German industrialist and ex-member of Hitler’s SS, was kidnapped. He was later murdered. Connected with this, a Lufthansa aircraft carrying 86 passengers was hi-jacked, and the pilot was later killed.

These activities were carried out by a group of West German terrorists or, as some people call them “freedom fighters”: the Baader-Meinhof group. Hi-jacking and kidnappings like these have been happening fairly frequently in recent years.

Who are these terrorists? Groups like the Baader-Meinhofs, the Angry Brigade, the IRA and the PFLP in Palestine are all minorities in their countries of origin; and they act, generally, by attacking an individual, or several individuals, to frighten and coerce a number of others. Sometimes, as with the various factions of the IRA in N. Ireland, the activities of the terrorists take place mainly in their own countries. Such groupings may be given support by sympathizers in foreign countries; the IRA is given funds and weapons by some of the Irish in America. At other times, as for example the kidnapping of the OPEC oil ministers in Vienna in 1975, international terrorist groups act in countries in which they have no interest but which serve as a stage for some spectacular kidnapping or hi-jacking.


What are the aims of these people? It is often difficult to answer this question, because the Angry Brigade and the Baader-Meinhofs  are minority groupings who are unsympathetic to the existing state machine. Hence they are unlikely to get publicity from the press and television etc.

One can understand something of the aims of groups like the Baader-Meinhof by their actions, and by the occasional piece of propaganda. On the 21st October this year, the Paris daily Liberation, carried this statement from the Baader-Meinhofs: “We will never forget the blood spilled by Schmidt and the Imperialists who support him. The battle has only begun. Freedom by the anti-Imperialists.” (Quoted in The Times Oct 21 1977).

So, like the present Eurocommunists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that the section of the population to be overthrown is not the capitalist class as a whole, but only part of that class. (The Eurocommunists would claim that it is the “monopoly capitalists” whereas the Baader-Meinhofs make out that it is the “Imperialists”.) And like the 19th century Blanquists, the Baader-Meinhofs believe that they can change society by confrontation with the state power. But it is impossible for such action to succeed, because they have to take on the ruling power: the existing army, the police force, etc. The existing state machines have access to vastly greater resources to build armaments etc. than any minority group can hope for. Often the result of terrorism is to increase repression. The governments of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have adopted ruthless methods against terrorists; and there has been talk, in the Conservative Party in Great Britain recently, of bringing back hanging for terrorists.

The British government refused to give way to the demands of the Tupamaros when they held captive the British Ambassador to Uruguay Geoffrey Jackson. And the Dutch Government held firm while the industrialist Dr. Herrema was held by members of the IRA in 1975.

Moreover, in the rare event of the minority grouping succeeding in taking over state power by force, it is inevitable that the group will have to maintain power by force, or by being prepared to use force if and when necessary. In the 1940s in China, Mao Tse-Tung and his guerrilla army succeeded in building up a sufficiently strong force to overthrow the legitimate government of the Kuomintang. They were able to do this partly because of hostility among large sections of the Chinese peasantry towards the Japanese who were occupying parts of China. But the Chinese “Communist” party have kept a 2.5 million strong so-called “People’s Army” (which, of course, is not an army of the people, a concept which is nonsensical, but an army which, if necessary, would act contrary to the interests of the people.)

Terrorism is no new force of warfare: the slaves led by Spartacus in Rome were in many ways like the PFLP. But, as a form of “warfare” it does seem to be growing. Richard Clutterbuck, in a recent book on the subject, argues that though as old as civilization, terrorism has replaced old-style wars between armies as a form of international coercion. Whether or not this is true terrorism cannot be an agent of socialist revolution, because Socialism requires a majority understanding and accepting the socialist case. Instead, terrorists are making the task more difficult by bringing into disrepute the word Revolution.

Alison Waters

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