A thumbs-up for Communism in California

Josef Stalin

It may seem like a minor matter – an attempt to repeal an old state law in California barring members of the Communist Party from holding a government position. Indeed, the law itself, which dates back to the early days of the Cold War, may seem unfair and antiquated. Why should political association cause anyone to be denied a state job?

The issue is debatable. But one thing that isn’t debatable is that membership in the Communist Party is treated in mainstream America today far differently than membership in the Nazi Party. You may feel obliged in principle to defend the rights of a Nazi to be a Nazi, but you would not find any pleasure in it. A Communist, on the other hand….

Rob Bonta

The measure to repeal the anti-Communist law was introduced by Rob Bonta, a Democrat who represents Oakland in the California Assembly. Bonta described the old law as “archaic.” At least a couple of members of the Assembly opposed Bonta’s bill. Travis Allen, a Republican who represents Westminster, a suburb of Los Angeles, noted that many of his constituents are Vietnamese-Americans who escaped to the U.S. from Communism. “This bill is blatantly offensive to all Californians,” said Allen. “Communism stands for everything that the United States stands against.”

Travis Allen

In addition to lifting the ban on employing Communists, Bonta’s measure would remove language from California law that identifies Communism as “a world-wide revolutionary movement to establish a totalitarian dictatorship based upon force and violence rather than upon law”; that describes it as having inspired the establishment of “totalitarian dictatorships” around the world that have been characterized by “treachery, deceit, teaching of false doctrines, teaching untruth”; that refers to the existence within the U.S. of “active disciplined communist organizations presently functioning for the primary purpose of advancing the objectives of the world communism movement”; and that notes this movement’s determination “to place its members in state and local government positions and in state supported educational institutions” where they can disseminate Communist dogma.

Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Communist Party

There is, of course, nothing “archaic” about any of this. On this site, we have frequently examined groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, whose ideology is straight out of Marx and Lenin, whose rhetoric is fanatical, and whose leaders have made clear that, if they attained political power, the heads would start to roll. No, the reality of revolutionary Communism in the U.S. is not “archaic.” To people like Assemblyman Bonta, however, criticizing Communism and placing it on a par with Nazism is what’s “archaic.”

The measure, AB22, passed the Assembly on May 8. It’s now in the hands of a committee of the state Senate.

The untrustworthiness of Uncle Walter

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Walter Cronkite at his anchor desk

He wasn’t evil, really, but he was immensely influential, often in very counter-productive ways. In fact, when his career was at its height, few people anywhere wielded the kind of power he did to shape the way in which Americans thought about the world around them. No single person today, in a time when the news media are so highly fragmented, comes close to having as much influence as he did.

His name was Walter Cronkite, and for almost twenty years, from 1962 to 1981 – though it feels like longer – he was the anchorman and managing editor of the CBS Evening News.

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Cronkite (far right) during World War II

It was an era when almost every American’s main source of information about the world was one of the three evening network news shows. And of the three, CBS, during the reign of Cronkite, was the undisputed champion. It had the biggest budget and the highest viewership. And it had Cronkite, who, year after year, was voted the most trusted man in America. It was long before the Internet, which helped people around the world to understand just how foolish it was to place their unreflecting trust in any single news source.

©Globe photos / lapresse 18-07-2009 Washington, USA varie È morto Walter Cronkite, leggenda del giornalismo Usa Aveva 92 anni. Racconto' agli americani i piu' importanti eventi del secolo scorso Walter Cronkite, il celebre anchorman della CBS che per il pubblico televisivo americano fece la cronaca di eventi storici quali lo sbarco sulla luna, l'assassinio di John Kennedy e lo scandalo Watergate, e' morto all'eta' di 92 anni Only Italy WALTER CRONKITE ©DM/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC.
Reporting on Vietnam

To careful observers, it was clear that Cronkite (who, born and raised in Texas, had been a war correspondent in Europe and spent several years at CBS before taking over the evening news) admired John F. Kennedy and favored Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. His reporting during the latter campaign was manifestly intended to reinforce LBJ’s message that Goldwater was a dangerous right-wing war hawk who might well plunge the nation into nuclear war.

Later, Cronkite played a pivotal role in shifting public attitudes toward the Vietnam War. After the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was really a U.S. victory, Cronkite spun it as a U.S. defeat, calling the war itself “unwinnable” and suggesting that American troops be withdrawn. President Lyndon Johnson famously said that by losing Cronkite, he had lost America. There’s no way to know what course the war might have taken had Cronkite stuck to reporting the news instead of commenting on it, but his verdict on the war caused millions of Americans to view it fatalistically and led many government officials to think not in terms of how to win but of how to back out honorably.

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In Vietnam

Similarly, in the early 70s, Cronkite’s relentless attention to the story of the Watergate break-in (he had always hated Nixon) helped to turn it into the political scandal of the century. Indeed, the glorifying of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by the movie All the President’s Men served to downplay the role of Cronkite and CBS in bringing down the Nixon administration. (After all, few Americans outside of the Beltway read the Washington Post.) In this instance, too, Cronkite may have affected the course of history.

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In 1985

Throughout his years at CBS, Cronkite – known affectionately to the nation as “Uncle Walter” – carefully maintained his pose as an impartial, hard-working reporter, digging for the truth and fearlessly following it wherever it led. After his retirement, he dropped the act and made clear his far-left leanings. Among much else, he attacked President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada and his plans for a so-called “Star Wars” weapons system (which, in fact, actually ended up helping to bring down the Soviet Union). Cronkite was also an early eco-hysteric, reporting seriously on “expert” predictions that the planet was on the verge of environmental catastrophe. (Even so, as one critic has noted, “he thought nothing about hopping on the gas-guzzling supersonic Concorde.”)

In his later years, when he gradually morphed into a far-left crank, Cronkite said that he had always considered fear of the Soviet Union ridiculous and overblown, and called for a United Nations-run world government that would strike a balance “between capitalism and communism.”

And that’s the way it was. Alas.

Howard Zinn, Stalinist

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The young Howard Zinn

In 2003, Howard Zinn was described as “the most influential historian in America.” As of that year, his book A People’s History of the United States was selling 128,000 copies annually; total sales have now topped two million. What a remarkable coup this was for Zinn, whose parents were working-class immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and whose father worked as a fruit peddler and ditch digger. Had Zinn’s parents not emigrated to America, any child of theirs would have grown up as a peasant under Communism. And if that child had grown up to be half as outspoken as Zinn, he’d soon have ended up either in the Gulag or in front of a firing squad. That the son of such a couple could end up as a prominent historian and a wealthy man is a tribute to the reality of the American dream.

zinnbookBut Zinn himself didn’t see it that way. Indeed, perhaps the best way to sum up his life goal is to say that he was out to destroy Americans’ belief in the American dream. For Zinn was a Communist. And he wasn’t just any Communist. He was a very active Communist who belonged to a New York branch of the Party and attended Party meetings five nights a week between around 1949 and 1953.

And that wasn’t all. He taught informal courses in Communism to other Communists. He participated in various Communist front groups, such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the International Workers Order, and in a number of Communist-infiltrated organizations, such as the American Veterans Committee. Although, as noted, he ceased being active in the Party during the 1950s, his political views remained the same, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the Castro revolution in Cuba.

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One of Zinn’s heroes

As many observers have noted, the timing of Zinn’s involvement in the Party is interesting. He wasn’t one of those who joined the CPUSA in the 1920s or 30s, when ignorance was still a credible excuse and some of Stalin’s worst atrocities remained in the future. No, he joined up after the Ukraine famine, after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and after the USSR’s postwar occupation of Eastern Europe. By the time he signed up as an agent of the Kremlin, it was clear to any well-informed Westerner that Josef Stalin was a thoroughly evil piece of work, fully on a par with Hitler, and that the people living in the Soviet Union and its satellites were the helpless, terrorized subjects of a monstrous tyranny.

Zinn would later go on to become a prominent academic and a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement. We’ve already written here about his friendly wartime visit to Hanoi with Father Daniel Berrigan, a fellow Communist. But it wasn’t till A People’s History came out in 1980 that Zinn became famous.

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

The Red Mitford

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The Mitford family

In the last couple of days, we’ve examined the lives of Unity and Diana Mosley, the celebrated British sisters who became friends and fans of Adolf Hitler. Today we’ll look at their sister Jessica (1917-96), whose love of totalitarianism, unlike theirs, had a crimson tinge. In 1937, Jessica – known to intimates as “Decca” or “Dec” – eloped to Spain with her “wastrel” cousin Esmond Romilly, who had decided to join the International Brigade and fight for the Soviet-supported Republican side. Two years later Jessica and Esmond moved to America, indifferent to the looming war until Germany invaded their beloved Soviet Union, an act that inspired Romilly to join the Canadian Air Force. He was killed in action in 1941, after which Jessica found a government job in Washington and married her second husband, a “’Red’ labor lawyer” (to quote Christopher Hitchens) named Robert Treuhaft.

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Jessica with her second husband, Robert Treuhaft

Like Jessica, Treuhaft was a Communist. She became a U.S. citizen not because she loved America but so that she could join the Party and work towards America’s destruction. She and Treuhaft moved to Oakland, California, where they took part regularly in Party activities. They remained active CPUSA members for fifteen years, staying within the fold even after 1956, when the Soviets invaded Hungary and Nikita Khrushchev spelled out the horrific crimes against humanity that his predecessor, Josef Stalin, had committed in the name of the Revolution. Jessica (who defended the brutal Soviet incursion into Hungary as a means of preserving the “socialist system” against a “fascist coup”) had two children, but later admitted to a friend that she was so “preoccupied with CP politics when they were growing up” that “while I was v. fond of them, I didn’t pay too much attention to them when they were little.” 

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Josef Stalin

When she left the Party in 1958, it wasn’t because she’d recognized its ideology as evil, but because she felt it had become “rather drab and useless.” Her issue with the Party, then, wasn’t philosophical or moral, but aethetic and practical. (Perhaps the real problem was that Stalin had died in 1953, and, after giving Khrushchev a few years, she finally decided that he just didn’t provide her with the same delicious frisson.) Though she would later say that she could scarcely imagine “living in America in those days and not being a Party member,” she was far happier in America than she’d been in England, which she considered unbearably bleak. (One can only imagine how bleak she might’ve found the Soviet Union, if she’d been forced to actually live there under the system she served.)

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Jessica Mitford in her later years

Her grisly 1963 exposé of stateside funerary practices, The American Way of Death, made Jessica even more famous in America than she’d been as a glittering young thing back in Blighty. She went on to write many other well-received books. When the USSR collapsed, she expressed neither joy nor regret. As with her Nazi sisters Unity and Diana, her politics didn’t keep her from making famous friends – including, in her case, Maya Angelou (herself a longtime fellow traveler) and Washington Post publishers Philip and Katherine Graham.

Nor have her politics kept writers and journalists from treating her with more respect and admiration than some might think she deserves. We’ll conclude this survey of the Mitfords tomorrow with a brief look at this very subject – namely, the tendency of some biographers, memoirists, reviewers, and sundry scribblers to treat the Mitfords’ love of totalitarianism less as a moral outrage than as a curious personality quirk.  

Yet again, the Rosenbergs

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Just over a year ago we revisited the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953. Back then, their case attracted worldwide attention, both because of the seriousness of the charge – they had played a key role in delivering the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, an action that entirely altered the balance of power on planet Earth – and because they were a married couple with two children. More than a few Americans were eager to see them pay the ultimate price for what was, unquestionably, treason; others opposed their execution, either because of a defensible opposition to the death penalty, or to the idea of making orphans of two small boys, or, less justifiably, because they actually viewed the Rosenbergs’ crimes as insignificant, or believed them (despite all the evidence to the contrary) to be innocent, or even, in a great many cases, because they regarded Julius and Ethel as heroes precisely because they were secret agents for Stalin.

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Tony Kushner

The notion that the Rosenbergs were heroes – or, at least, that Ethel, the junior partner in the spy operation, could somehow be regarded as a heroine – was a major animating tenet of the American far left for many decades after the couple’s execution, and endures to this day. (In Angels in America, Tony Kushner turns Ethel into a veritable saint.) The notion has even survived the opening of archives that have provided absolute proof of the Rosenbergs’ activities on behalf of the Kremlin. In 2011, faced with this mounting evidence, one of the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert Meeropol, broke down and acknowledged his father’s guilt, while reasserting his mother’s innocence; but at the same time he expressed pride in both of them, saying that they had “acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals.” Needless to say, those ideals, as Rosenberg expert Ronald Radosh pointed out at the time, included “forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, [and] the establishment of the Gulag.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
The Meeropol brothers holding copies of the New York City Council proclamation lauding their mother

In October of last year, in yet another example of the continuing far-left compulsion to idealize one or both of the Rosenbergs, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring Ethel on what would have been her hundredth birthday, praising her “bravery,” and identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” As we observed at the time, such actions are the work of people who “still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless ‘hysteria.’”

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E. L. Doctorow

Unsurprisingly, the same people on the far left who have persisted in viewing the Rosenbergs as heroes have also depicted the Rosenbergs’ sons as victims. And, yes, they were victims – of their parents’ fanatical devotion to an evil ideology. But the aim on the far left has always been to paint them as victims of a vengeful, heartless America, of “anti-Communist hysteria,” of anti-Semitism, and of other systematic societal ills purportedly afflicting the West. The most notable instance of this effort has been E. L. Doctorow‘s 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, whose memory-haunted title character is based on the Meeropol boys; the novel’s manifest objective is to blame the young protagonist’s woes not on the boy’s Communist parents but on their capitalist executioners.

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The Meeropol brothers

The spin continues. On October 16, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment featuring both Rosenberg sons. The title, “Finding Refuge,” suited the segment’s angle: it was less an objective report on the facts of the Rosenberg case than yet another effort to whip up public sympathy for Michael and Robert Meeropol. The boys (who are now elderly men) admitted that after decades of insisting on their parents’ innocence, they finally came to accept that their father, at least, was a full-fledged spy. But this doesn’t bother them: as one of the sons said, he finds it “more palatable” to see his parents not as victims but as politically committed people who acted on their beliefs.

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Anderson Cooper

Now, pause for a moment and reflect on that statement. If the son of a couple of long-dead Nazis had spoken in this admiring way about their “commitment,” you can bet that Anderson Cooper would have responded on-camera by sharply challenging the idea that there could be anything “palatable” whatsoever about Nazism. But Cooper let that one pass by without a challenge, reminding us that while (of course) admiring Hitler is universally recognized as utterly appalling, in the corridors of Western media power it’s still considered acceptable to admire people for their unwavering dedication to Stalin.

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Ronald Radosh

During his interview with the Meeropol brothers, Cooper reminded them of what the judge in their parents’ case had said: “The Rosenbergs loved their cause more than their children.” Cooper characterized this as “a very cruel thing to say.” No; it was a plain and simple fact. As Radosh, who was also interviewed on the program, underscored, the U.S. government did not want to have to electrocute the Rosenbergs: it was trying to use the threat of execution to pressure them to provide information about their spy network. But they wouldn’t talk. Their loyalty to their comrades – to their fellow acolytes of Stalinist totalitarianism, and, of course, to Stalin himself – was greater than their loyalty to their children. That, not the judge’s statement, was the cruel element in this story. Plainly – and, perhaps, understandably – the Meeropol brothers are still unable to accept the terrible reality that their parents loved Stalin more than them. They still insist on seeing themselves as the victims of their parents’ executioners; in fact they are the victims of nothing other than the breathtaking power of useful stoogery.

Raising Kaine

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Tim Kaine

We have to admit that until Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was not on our radar. Yet a look back at various articles about him over the years has helped mightily to bring him into focus. Our attention was drawn, in particular, to the story of his youthful sojourn in Honduras.

A 2005 profile in the Washington Post put it this way: “teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism.” In a 2010 CNN interview, Kaine told Candy Crowley that he “was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” So he “took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.”

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Their new book

New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that appeared this past September 2 focused entirely on Kaine’s Honduras episode. Headlined “In Honduras, a Spiritual and Political Awakening for Tim Kaine,” the article, in familiar Times fashion, painted America as the bad guy (“Around him, the United States-backed military dictatorship hunted Marxists and cracked down on the Catholic clergy for preaching empowerment to peasant farmers.”) and Kaine’s Jesuit friends, who were devotees of liberation theology, as heroes:

Honduran military leaders, American officials and even Pope John Paul II viewed liberation theology suspiciously, as dangerously injecting Marxist beliefs into religious teaching. But the strong social-justice message of liberation theology helped set Mr. Kaine on a left-veering career path in which he fought as a lawyer against housing discrimination, became a liberal mayor, and rose as a Spanish-speaking governor and senator with an enduring focus on Latin America.

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Ken Blackwell

An article by Ken Blackwell that appeared in The Hill on September 9 helped put the egregious Times spin into perspective. Blackwell – a former mayor of Cincinnati, Secretary of State of Ohio, and ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights – summed up liberation theology very succinctly: its advocates preached peace, but ran guns. As Blackwell noted, documents since uncovered in the Soviet and East German archives have made it clear that liberation theology was nothing more or less than a cynical Kremlin tool, its purpose being to undermine papal influence among the Latin American masses and thus render them more susceptible to Communist belief.

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Father Jim Carney, 1982

One champion of liberation theology was too radical even for the other members of the radical religious community to which he belonged in pro-Soviet Nicaragua. Blackwell identifies this radical priest as an American Jesuit named Father Jim Carney. This is the same man who, as the Times explained, was such a hero to Kaine that the future senator “hopped off a bus in northern Nicaragua, walked miles to Father Carney’s remote parish and spent a memorable evening listening to the priest describe ‘both getting pushed around by the military and getting pushed around by the church.’”

What, exactly, made Carney a hero to the likes of Kaine? The Times, eager as it was to paint a picture of a noble liberal politician whose conscience was forged amidst the religious conflicts of Reagan-era Central America, delicately avoided the uncomfortable details. Blackwell didn’t. He spelled out the hard facts:

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Jose Reyes Mata

In 1983, Carney was part of a 96-man unit that invaded Honduras to bring the Nicaraguan Communist revolution there too. The insurgents were Cuban and Nicaraguan trained and led by Jose Reyes Mata, Cuban-educated, and Honduras’ top Marxist. Reyes Mata had previously served with Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Lest it be forgotten exactly what kind of masters Carney was serving, let us point out that Nicaragua was governed at the time by the Sandinistas – a group founded by KGB man Carlos Fonseca and funded lavishly by the Kremlin, Castro, and East Germany. As Blackwell vividly explained, moreover, the insurgency in which Carney took part was ruthless:

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Carlos Fonseca

Some prisoners were executed by being hacked to death, or by being flayed alive. Others had family members sexually assaulted in front of them. By every measure, the atrocities the Sandinistas committed were far worse than the dictatorship they had replaced.

What blocked them from total victory was the Reagan administration and the Catholic Church.

This, then, was the man whom Kaine was determined to befriend – and whom he has continued, throughout his political career, to cite as a personal moral exemplar and spiritual guide.

Baader-Meinhof: The legacy

raflogoThe Baader Meinhof Group, also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), officially disbanded in 1998, after many years of relative inactivity. But it has never really gone away.

We’ve already mentioned the massive scale of support that the group enjoyed in its day among young West Germans. RAF members were also, as Michael Burleigh has put it, “the darlings of Germany’s left-wing cultural elite.” Among those who defended them publicly were such internationally famous writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Heinrich Böll. When RAF leaders Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader fled for a time to France and Italy, Tennessee Williams reportedly played host to them. Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 song “Broken English” was inspired by the group.  

Then there’s Brian Eno’s 1978 song “RAF,” which incorporates “sound elements from a Baader Meinhof ransom message made by public telephone at the time of the Lufthansa Flight 181 hijacking.” Adorable.

In more recent years RAF has not only been remembered in films (as we saw yesterday) but also celebrated in song and story – and T-shirt.

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The “Prada Meinhof” T-shirt

Aside from Che Guevara T-shirts, the “Prada Meinhof” T-shirt is perhaps the famous sartorial example of what has been called “terrorist chic.” A 2005 exhibit at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin drew widespread criticism. “The RAF’s terrorism is downplayed, if not even glorified,” Friedbert Pflueger, a member of the German Parliament, told the Washington Post after viewing the exhibit, adding that it made “no distinction between culprits and victims.” Another source has noted that “photographs of Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof’s suicides feature in New York’s Museum Of Modern Art’s permanent collection.” Ulrike Meinhof’s story, moreover, has figured in the work of Nobel Prize-winning authors Günter Grass and Elfriede Jelinek. 

If the RAF’s members were outraged that many former Nazis remained ensconced in the West German government of the 1970s, today’s Germans have reason to be outraged that their current cultural, media, and political elite is packed with people who, in their youth, cheered on the RAF. As a 2009 article observed, “many people from the protest movement went into German institutions as judges, lawyers, journalists and politicians, and…had far more impact than Baader-Meinhof’s violence.” 

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Bettina Röhl

In 2001, for example, Bettina Röhl unearthed an archival film clip in which Joschka Fischer, who at the time was German Foreign Minister, could be seen beating up a cop in 1973, when he belonged to a Marxist group called the Cleaning Brigade. Röhl also claimed to possess taped witness accounts attesting that Fischer, back in the 1970s, had been a leading figure among far-left militants in Frankfurt, had advocated the use of Molotov cocktails, and had led a gang of bullies “who would come in and beat up his opponents or anyone standing in his way.” Other sources, meanwhile, alleged that Fischer had hidden RAF terrorist Margrit Schiller in his flat.

BRU102 - 20021025 - BRUSSELS, BELGIUM : German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer pictured during a news conference prior to the second working session at the European Council building in Brussels, 25 October 2002, the second day of the European Summit of Heads of State and Government, due to prepare the financing of the enlargement. EPA PHOTO BELGA/ BENOIT DOPPAGNE
Joschka Fischer

But Fischer wasn’t alone. As Röhl put it, he was just one of many Germans of his generation who suffered from the “Baader-Meinhof complex” – meaning that they were “traumatised by the roles they played during the student demonstrations” and “horrified by the recognition that they enjoyed the violence and are somehow nostalgic for it.” Röhl noted that in an interview with her years earlier, Fischer had bragged about the non-violent activity of his youth, clearly wanting her had “to see him as a hero of the 70s.” Such, indeed, is the mentality of many members of today’s German establishment.