Hans-Jürgen Krahl: From Critical to Revolutionary Theory

adornokrahl

Hans-Jür­gen Krahl died in a car crash in 1970, at the age of twen­ty-sev­en. By that time he had weath­ered the rise and decline of the Social­ist Ger­man Stu­dent Union (Sozial­is­tis­cher Deutscher Stu­den­ten­bund, or SDS), among whose ranks he was, arguably, both the most sophis­ti­cat­ed the­o­rist and, after Rudi Dutschke, the most incen­di­ary ora­tor. The SDS had been found­ed short­ly after World War II as the youth wing of the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (SDP) of Ger­many. As the lat­ter moved towards the cen­ter, how­ev­er, the SDS rad­i­cal­ized, even­tu­al­ly lead­ing to expul­sion from its par­ent orga­ni­za­tion in 1961. It would soon become the most impor­tant stu­dent group in Ger­many, even as its offi­cial pol­i­cy shift­ed fur­ther towards rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marx­ism.1 Krahl’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance lies in the role he played as a lead­er of the SDS in the few years imme­di­ate­ly before and after 1967-68, when the West Ger­man stu­dent move­ment reached its high­est pitch. Yet his the­o­ret­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions are by no means incon­sid­er­able – nor, in any case, can they be divorced from the prac­ti­cal polit­i­cal activ­i­ties with which Krahl was occu­pied at the same time.

In this sense it may be argued that Krahl brought to a head the dis­tinc­tive rela­tion between the­o­ry and prac­tice that had long been ges­tat­ing with­in his milieu. Cru­cial to the devel­op­ment of the SDS was the atten­dance of var­i­ous mem­bers, includ­ing Krahl, at the Insti­tute for Social Research in Frank­furt am Main. It was here that West Ger­man stu­dents with lit­tle or no per­son­al mem­o­ry of the Nazi peri­od encoun­tered the ear­ly works of Georg Lukács, Karl Korsch, and oth­ers, as well as the still-evolv­ing thought of the Institute’s own fac­ul­ty. As such the Frank­furt School was a liv­ing con­nec­tion to a Weimar-era left that had been utter­ly destroyed under Hitler. By the same mea­sure it also demon­strat­ed the exis­tence of a Marx­ist tra­di­tion dis­tinct from that of the neigh­bor­ing Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic. New recruits belong­ing to the Frank­furt School’s so-called sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, such as Jür­gen Haber­mas and Oskar Negt, fur­ther enhanced the Institute’s pres­tige among would-be anti-author­i­tar­i­ans.

Yet for young rad­i­cals the Frank­furt School’s lega­cy was far from unam­bigu­ous. Its pro­tag­o­nists had made var­i­ous com­pro­mis­es mere­ly to sur­vive the pre­ced­ing decades of Nazism and Cold War recon­sol­i­da­tion. Notably, both Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the Institute’s lead­ers, had over the years retreat­ed to posi­tions that came to seem qui­etist if not open­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, at least to stu­dents begin­ning to take cues from the era’s decol­o­niza­tion move­ments, anti-rear­ma­ment cam­paigns, and protests again­st the Viet­nam War. By the end of the 1960s this led to direct con­fronta­tions between Adorno and his own stu­dents, most dra­mat­i­cal­ly in Jan­u­ary 1969 when Adorno called in the police to break up an occu­pa­tion of the Insti­tute that had been ini­ti­at­ed by Krahl him­self. Of the Institute’s pre­war cohort only Her­bert Mar­cuse – based at the time in San Diego, rather than West Ger­many – main­tained a con­sis­tent­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary stance. If, then, the par­a­dig­mat­ic rela­tion­ship between post­war Ger­mans and their par­ents was inevitably frac­tured by the ques­tion of com­plic­i­ty with Nazism, by the mid- to late-1960s it appeared that a sec­ondary divide was start­ing to open between the first and sec­ond, or more prop­er­ly the third, gen­er­a­tions of crit­i­cal the­o­rists.

It was in this con­text that Krahl made his deci­sive inter­ven­tions, both the­o­ret­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly. He began writ­ing a dis­ser­ta­tion under Adorno’s super­vi­sion in 1965, at the same time as he was becom­ing involved in the day-to-day oper­a­tions of the SDS (he had in fact pre­vi­ous­ly belonged to the polit­i­cal Right). Yet by the time of his for­mer teacher’s death in 1969 he was capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a bit­ing cri­tique of the “polit­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion of Adorno’s crit­i­cal the­o­ry” – in the guise of an obit­u­ary, no less.2 Krahl pub­lished lit­tle dur­ing his life­time. Oth­er than read­ing notes for per­son­al use, most of his sur­viv­ing texts are sem­i­nar papers or speech­es, or were pre­pared as dis­cus­sion mate­ri­al for teach-ins.3 Krahl was nonethe­less a dis­tinc­tive voice in the Ger­man New Left’s frac­tious intel­lec­tu­al cul­ture, the fla­vor of which one can now gath­er from the pages of jour­nals such as Das Argu­ment and neue kri­tik, where imme­di­ate strate­gic and tac­ti­cal con­cerns of the day tend to lie in close prox­im­i­ty to the­o­ret­i­cal dis­course at the high­est lev­el of abstrac­tion.

Krahl epit­o­mized this mobil­i­ty. In his writ­ing, points that at first seem straight­for­ward often lead to intri­cate the­o­ret­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, while dry­ly philo­log­i­cal mat­ters take on the tex­ture of every­day strug­gle. Nowhere is this two-step more strik­ing than in the noto­ri­ous speech he deliv­ered joint­ly with Dutschke at an SDS con­fer­ence in Sep­tem­ber 1967, in which analy­sis of recent eco­nom­ic trends quick­ly leads to a call for the “pro­pa­gan­da of gun­fire in the Third World” to be com­ple­ment­ed by “the pro­pa­gan­da of the deed in the metropole.”4 The effect can be ver­tig­i­nous – “like Hegel on acid,” Anders Ram­say has said.5 What­ev­er the defects of his prose, though, Krahl’s basic impulse is always clear. The Frank­furt School as he knew it had passed down a tro­ve of the­o­ret­i­cal tools, but the­se had become trans­fixed in a con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tude that denied the dialec­ti­cal medi­a­tion of the­o­ry and prac­tice. It was Krahl who most insist­ed on tak­ing up the lega­cy of crit­i­cal the­o­ry from the per­spec­tive of rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry (again­st the likes of Haber­mas, it bears men­tion­ing), that is to say – to quote the essay trans­lat­ed in this issue of View­point – from the per­spec­tive of a “doc­trine the propo­si­tions of which describe soci­ety in terms of its rev­o­lu­tion­ary trans­forma­bil­i­ty.” His work is thus an imma­nent cri­tique and eclipse of the very intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tion in which he was pro­found­ly immersed. This per­haps accounts for the some­what estrang­ing effect of many of Krahl’s essays. In his col­lect­ed writ­ings pub­lished posthu­mous­ly as Kon­sti­tu­tion und Klassenkampf (Con­sti­tu­tion and Class Strug­gle), it may seem that he is only jug­gling quo­ta­tions, or draw­ing links from one Marx­ist author­i­ty to anoth­er, yet his con­clu­sions are always, inevitably, noth­ing if not rad­i­cal with respect to any given polit­i­cal con­junc­ture. Pre­ci­sion and philo­soph­i­cal rig­or some­times give way to polem­i­cal effect; on the oth­er hand, con­crete analy­sis often bogs down in obscure jar­gon. Yet, if this is regret­table, it is also the surest index of the inten­si­ty with which Krahl set him­self to the work of build­ing a the­o­ret­i­cal­ly ambi­tious post-Frank­furt School Marx­ism ade­quate to the upheavals of the few years in which he was writ­ing.

So it is with the text at hand, “The Phi­los­o­phy of His­to­ry and the Author­i­tar­i­an State.” (The Ger­man title, slight­ly dif­fer­ent, is “Zur Geschicht­sphiloso­phie des autoritären Staates.”) Krahl’s aim here is to review Marx­ist the­o­ries of the state – specif­i­cal­ly, of the author­i­tar­i­an state dur­ing peri­ods of eco­nom­ic cri­sis – in order to bet­ter describe the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion in his own moment of the late 1960s. This effort takes the form, notably, of a recov­ery of Max Horkheimer’s essay on the top­ic from 1940 – one of the author’s most insis­tent­ly rad­i­cal state­ments, which was read fever­ish­ly by anti-author­i­tar­i­ans in the 1960s (much to the old­er and more con­ser­v­a­tive Horkheimer’s dis­plea­sure). We hope Krahl’s piece will speak for itself, in spite of its dif­fi­cul­ties, and hence we will mere­ly ges­ture at the prob­lems it seeks to address. The fol­low­ing strike us as among the more sig­nif­i­cant: the changed rela­tion of base and super­struc­ture in late cap­i­tal­ism; the neces­si­ty that his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism apply its method to itself; the obso­les­cence of the tra­di­tion­al Marx­ist cri­tique of vol­un­tarism; the degen­er­a­tion of Marx­ist the­o­ry fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry; and the sta­tus of both fas­cism and the wel­fare state as inter­me­di­aries between cap­i­tal­ism and social­ism. The piece cov­ers tremen­dous ground, then. Not every­thing is equal­ly well devel­oped. Hence the read­er is encour­aged to approach this essay in part as a snap­shot of Krahl’s think­ing caught in midair.

So what exact­ly is the author­i­tar­i­an state accord­ing to Krahl? We might take a cue here from the author him­self and approach the author­i­tar­i­an state as he did, both the­o­ret­i­cal­ly as well as prac­ti­cal­ly, with the aim of grasp­ing how its man­i­fes­ta­tion shapes the form and hori­zon of polit­i­cal strug­gle. While Krahl’s essay makes ref­er­ence to myr­i­ad the­o­rists, two trib­u­taries are essen­tial: Horkheimer’s own thoughts on the author­i­tar­i­an state, and the the­o­ry of monopoly cap­i­tal­ism. For Horkheimer, writ­ing in 1940 in a vol­ume ded­i­cat­ed to the mem­o­ry of Wal­ter Ben­jam­in, the author­i­tar­i­an state could appear in fas­cism as well as in its sup­posed alter­na­tives, the cap­i­tal­ist wel­fare state and, espe­cial­ly, state social­ism. What defined it was not its form of appear­ance, but the dri­ve to sub­sume the con­tra­dic­tions and cri­sis ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal­ism to delib­er­ate polit­i­cal con­trol. The author­i­tar­i­an state’s exis­tence not only inten­si­fied and expand­ed mod­es of extra-eco­nom­ic coer­cion, but, by sus­pend­ing capital’s ten­den­cy toward cri­sis, it also abol­ished the very con­di­tions on which cer­tain Marx­ist tra­di­tions had thought the pos­si­bil­i­ty for revolt depend­ed. Yet rather than lead to res­ig­na­tion, Horkheimer’s analy­sis moved him to embrace – how­ev­er briefly – a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prax­is for which the argu­ment of prop­er­ly mature con­di­tions hard­ly applied. In his remark­able essay, we see Horkheimer pro­mote the need for the mass­es to spon­ta­neous­ly cap­ture the forces of pro­duc­tion, bypass­ing and aban­don­ing the state entire­ly. “For the rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” Horkheimer declared bold­ly, “con­di­tions have always been ripe.”6

Krahl’s descrip­tion of the author­i­tar­i­an state is in most ways the appli­ca­tion of Horkheimer’s the­o­ry to a speci­fic his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, defined by what Krahl would describe – informed in the first instance by Lenin’s analy­sis of impe­ri­al­ism – as the shift from com­pet­i­tive to monopoly cap­i­tal­ism. In con­trast to the clear influ­ence of Horkheimer on Krahl’s con­cept of the author­i­tar­i­an state – he even book­ends the essay with quo­ta­tions from Horkheimer – the main source for his under­stand­ing of monopoly cap­i­tal­ism is not specif­i­cal­ly stat­ed; it seems instead an amal­ga­ma­tion of clas­sic works by the likes of Engels, Lenin, and Hil­fer­d­ing mold­ed by the many post­war pro­po­nents of the monopoly cap­i­tal­ism the­sis. While fre­quent­ly named in the essay, the term “monopoly cap­i­tal” is, notably, unde­fined by Krahl. This is no doubt a reflec­tion of the par­tic­u­lar West Ger­man rad­i­cal milieu in and to which Krahl was writ­ing, one that took it for grant­ed that cap­i­tal­ism had entered a new his­tor­i­cal stage defined by monop­o­lis­tic busi­ness inter­ests. There were (and con­tin­ue to be) var­ied takes on what monopoly cap­i­tal­ism is, but to give a sense of Krahl’s intel­lec­tu­al con­text we might do well to gloss the influ­en­tial work of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, whose 1966 book Monopoly Cap­i­tal left a pro­found mark on the Ger­man New Left’s Marx­ism.7 Accord­ing to Baran and Sweezy, the world fol­low­ing the Sec­ond World War was dom­i­nat­ed by large cor­po­ra­tions pro­tect­ed again­st com­pe­ti­tion from small­er upstarts by gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion. In such a land­scape, states worked togeth­er with enter­pris­es to cre­ate sites for absorbing eco­nom­ic sur­plus­es gen­er­at­ed dur­ing the so-called gold­en age of cap­i­tal­ism, although the­se out­lets were most often mil­i­tary endeav­ors and the finan­cial sec­tor. Krahl’s under­stand­ing of monopoly cap­i­tal­ism cer­tain­ly encom­passed more than Baran and Sweezy’s book; and given his study of val­ue the­o­ry, Krahl like­ly even took issue with their con­tro­ver­sial notion of “eco­nom­ic sur­plus.” Yet the point to be made here is this: the author­i­tar­i­an state of inter­est to Krahl is the state for­ma­tion prop­er to monopoly cap­i­tal. As he explains, the author­i­tar­i­an state con­sists of the entire “repres­sive instru­men­tar­i­um” nec­es­sary “to delay defin­i­tive eco­nom­ic col­lapse and to sab­o­tage the real pos­si­bil­i­ty” that uni­fied strug­gle by the pro­le­tari­at could bring an end to cap­i­tal­ism. Ulti­mate­ly Krahl’s the­o­ry of the author­i­tar­i­an state amounts to less a revi­sion of Horkheimer – or, for that mat­ter, Marx­i­an under­stand­ings of the state – than a refusal of past the­o­ries of the cri­sis and col­lapse of cap­i­tal­ism, as well as what he names in a relat­ed essay the “fatal social demo­c­ra­t­ic ide­ol­o­gy of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al that pre­dict­ed cap­i­tal­ism would bring social­ism into being by nat­u­ral neces­si­ty.”8 Such tra­di­tions had lost their lus­ter in the years since the First World War, though cer­tain of their pre­cepts con­tin­ued to hold sway among the intel­lec­tu­al men­tors of the Ger­man New Left, many of whom looked askance at the younger generation’s polit­i­cal will and worked intense­ly to con­vince them to change course. It is into this dis­course that Krahl looked to inter­vene.

Left unstat­ed in the trans­lat­ed por­tion of this text are the cir­cum­stances of its com­po­si­tion, which clar­i­fy Krahl’s prac­ti­cal intents for it. The essay was meant to be includ­ed in doc­u­men­ta­tion of the “polit­i­cal uni­ver­si­ty” that Frank­furt SDS mem­bers had attempt­ed to estab­lish in May of 1968, in the mid­st of stu­dent strikes again­st pas­sage of the noto­ri­ous Not­stands­ge­set­ze, or emer­gen­cy laws. The­se were a major pri­or­i­ty of the rul­ing Grand Coali­tion between the SPD and the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tian Democ­rats. They pro­vid­ed for abro­ga­tion of basic civil rights in the event of ill-defined states of emer­gen­cy, and were seen by the Ger­man Left as revivals of Nazi-era poli­cies. Despite enor­mous nation­wide street protests and strikes, the laws were passed on May 30 of that year. Fail­ure to sway the course of the leg­isla­tive process was then an impe­tus for fur­ther rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the New Left milieu and was tak­en to prove, as Krahl notes in the essay’s pref­ace, here untrans­lat­ed, that the “dialec­tic of reform and rev­o­lu­tion” had been “his­tor­i­cal­ly exhaust­ed.”9 It was the evi­dent para­dox of a Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment push­ing through repres­sive leg­is­la­tion that was pre­sum­ably the imme­di­ate prompt for Krahl’s analy­sis. But the inter­ven­tion he sought to make with it tar­get­ed an ingrained belief that suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tion­ary action depend­ed on the mat­u­ra­tion of prop­er objec­tive con­di­tions. As the 1960s wore on and the SDS grew increas­ing­ly mil­i­tant, its mem­bers were bom­bard­ed from all sides by innu­mer­able cri­tiques, the fiercest of which emanat­ed from the halls of the Insti­tute for Social Research itself. It was nei­ther Horkheimer nor Adorno, but a young Jür­gen Haber­mas who dis­tin­guished him­self as the SDS’s most vir­u­lent crit­ic. In a heat­ed debate with Rudi Dutschke in June 1967, Haber­mas infa­mous­ly accused the SDS not just of “sub­jec­tive inso­lence” in their appar­ent dis­re­gard for the absence of prop­er con­di­tions for rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, but of “left fas­cism” as well. It is as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for con­tin­ued and esca­lat­ed strug­gle in the face of charges of vol­un­tarism that we might read Krahl’s essay.10 If noth­ing else, it is a pas­sion­ate defense of the the­sis that the con­di­tions for strug­gle will always be ripe so long as the “exploita­tive essence” of the cap­i­tal rela­tion per­sists.11

This is the crux of what Krahl’s essay con­tributes to the the­o­ry and prax­is of his time. It is a cri­tique of the cri­tiques of vol­un­tarism that faced West Germany’s anti-author­i­tar­i­an Left. But here we run up again­st the trick­i­est aspect of Krahl’s argu­ment. At the time he was writ­ing, crit­ics of the monopoly cap­i­tal­ism the­sis, like Paul Mattick, charged its pro­po­nents with sug­gest­ing that the gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion made nec­es­sary by monopoly cap­i­tal­ism could also make the pos­si­bil­i­ty of abol­ish­ing eco­nom­ic cri­sis and col­lapse a real­i­ty. In his 1966 review of Monopoly Cap­i­tal, Mattick insist­ed that even if one were to accept the fleet­ing actu­al­i­ty of monopoly cap­i­tal­ism, the state that sup­ports it could only be “capa­ble of post­pon­ing, but not of abol­ish­ing, cri­sis con­di­tions.”12 Whether Mattick is cor­rect in his accu­sa­tion that Baran and Sweezy argued state inter­ven­tion could elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cri­sis is cer­tain­ly beyond the scope of Krahl’s essay. Yet it does force us to ask a ques­tion that may nag con­tem­po­rary read­ers of “The Phi­los­o­phy of His­to­ry and the Author­i­tar­i­an State”: does Krahl’s descrip­tion of the author­i­tar­i­an state take as a premise the pos­si­ble end of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, on this top­ic, the present essay is ambigu­ous. But keep in mind, the West Ger­man reces­sion of 1966, which marked the end of the so-called post­war “Eco­nom­ic Mir­a­cle” and rein­tro­duced the coun­try to the vicis­si­tudes of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, was still fresh in the mem­o­ry of the New Left. It was clear to most, Krahl includ­ed, that the pos­si­bil­i­ty for eco­nom­ic cri­sis sure­ly had not passed. And yet Krahl joined the ranks of those who viewed the for­ma­tion of the Grand Coali­tion between the SPD and CDU as part­ly a polit­i­cal respon­se to the return of such eco­nom­ic tur­bu­lence. Thus, instead of accept­ing the author­i­tar­i­an state as what Krahl describes here as “capital’s polit­i­cal exit from the eco­nom­ic cri­sis,” we might bet­ter grasp it as the “repres­sive instru­men­tar­i­um” that allows cap­i­tal to medi­ate eco­nom­ic cri­sis polit­i­cal­ly.

Over half a decade into the cur­rent glob­al cri­sis – itself the post­poned ful­fill­ment of the cri­sis of the 1970s – evi­dence of its medi­a­tion by the state is every­where and takes vary­ing forms, from so-called aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures to the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police. There is no way to “fix” cap­i­tal, and there is cer­tain­ly no fix­ing it via state inter­ven­tion. Every mea­sure the state takes to solve the cur­rent cri­sis and pre­vent its recur­rence will only favor cap­i­tal. As Krahl might have insist­ed, the only hope we can place in the state is the chance to destroy it. But alas, destroy­ing the state – even the author­i­tar­i­an state – will nev­er, on its own, bring about the destruc­tion of cap­i­tal. By the same mea­sure, though, nei­ther will eco­nom­ic cri­sis auto­mat­i­cal­ly lead to the over­throw of capital’s state.

“The Phi­los­o­phy of His­to­ry and the Author­i­tar­i­an State” ought then to be con­sid­ered in tandem with Johan­nes Agnoli’s con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous work on the same top­ic, some of which is also trans­lat­ed in this issue of View­point: they are joint attempts to advance a the­o­ry of the state that does not suc­cumb to one vari­ety or anoth­er of Marx­ist reduc­tion­ism (the state as either ful­ly autonomous from, or ful­ly sub­servient to, the inter­ests of cap­i­tal). As such, the essay can also legit­i­mate­ly be con­sid­ered part of the pre­his­to­ry of the 1970s “state deriva­tion debate,” in which con­text the­se mat­ters were to be the­o­rized at much greater length. It was pre­cise­ly to, or again­st, inter­ven­tions by Krahl, Agno­li, and their con­tem­po­raries around 1968 – in addi­tion to the ortho­dox the­o­ries of the state ema­nat­ing from both east­ern and west­ern Com­mu­nist Par­ties – that thinkers such as Claus Offe and Elmar Alt­vater were to respond a few years lat­er. It is also the­se slight­ly lat­er devel­op­ments that help to fill out what is a miss­ing link in Krahl’s writ­ings on the state. His great­est the­o­ret­i­cal lega­cy, in fact, does not lie in this field at all: it was rather the themes broached in Krahl’s attempts to recon­struct the log­ic of the com­mod­i­ty and its val­ue-form that were to be tak­en up in the body of dis­cours­es known as the Neue Marx-Lek­türe (New Read­ing of Marx, or NML), val­ue-form the­o­ry, and the so-called “cap­i­tal-log­ic” school.13 This is in part a mat­ter of con­ver­gent evo­lu­tion rather than direct fil­i­a­tion. Like Krahl, Hans-Georg Back­haus and Hel­mut Reichelt (key names in the ear­ly his­to­ry of the NML) had stud­ied with Adorno in Frank­furt; in all three cas­es, the events of the 1960s stim­u­lat­ed a return to the basics of the Marx­ist cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, at the expense of the cul­tur­al pre­oc­cu­pa­tions that had dom­i­nat­ed much of Adorno’s lat­er work. Their point of depar­ture was there­fore sim­i­lar.

Back­haus and Reichelt, though, have had the lux­u­ry of anoth­er forty-odd years to fur­ther devel­op the impli­ca­tions of their ear­ly insights. Krahl was not so lucky. His untime­ly death in Feb­ru­ary of 1970 deprived the SDS of one of its bright­est stars. By then, though, the orga­ni­za­tion was already on its last legs. The era of the K-Groups fol­lowed soon there­after – minia­ture Marx­ist-Lenin­ist par­ties, gen­er­al­ly also Maoist in ori­en­ta­tion. The “anti-author­i­tar­i­an” stu­dent revolt was then most­ly liq­ui­dat­ed in favor of sup­pos­ed­ly nec­es­sary rev­o­lu­tion­ary dis­ci­pline. Or else it flipped over into armed strug­gle, or dif­fused into the anar­chis­tic Spon­ti (“Spon­taneist”) scene, or into the apo­lit­i­cal coun­ter­cul­ture. There was also, of course, what remains today the most last­ing polit­i­cal lega­cy of the Ger­man New Left: the “long march through the insti­tu­tions,” the path of which led direct­ly to found­ing the Green Par­ty, who, like the SPD before them, would prove their will­ing­ness to gov­ern alongside the Chris­tian Democ­rats. The per­son­nel respon­si­ble for the­se devel­op­ments had in many cas­es passed through the SDS orbit. Sub­se­quent con­tri­bu­tions to Ger­man crit­i­cal the­o­ry also often read like a who’s who of its for­mer activists. But the uni­ty that the group had once pro­vid­ed was irrev­o­ca­bly lost. The SDS itself dis­solved bare­ly a mon­th after Krahl’s decease. Though col­lect­ed and pub­lished the next year, his writ­ings of neces­si­ty quick­ly passed into the realm of the mere­ly his­tor­i­cal.

He had not been, at any rate, a uni­ver­sal­ly adored fig­ure. The most tren­chant cri­tique arrived via toma­to: in Sep­tem­ber of 1968, the fem­i­nist Sigrid Rüger land­ed one on Krahl’s neck at an SDS con­fer­ence in Frank­furt. Rüger was act­ing again­st male dom­i­nance with­in the orga­ni­za­tion. Ulrike Mein­hof soon wrote a column approv­ing the “attack”; it has since been rec­og­nized as a foun­da­tion­al moment in Ger­man fem­i­nism.14 Though it would exceed the scope of this intro­duc­tion to con­sid­er the episode at greater length, per­haps we can at least rec­om­mend an apho­rism from Marx that Krahl him­self was fond enough of quot­ing – to wit: “The weapon of cri­tique can­not indeed replace the cri­tique of weapons.”


  1. A piv­otal moment came with the entry of Rudi Dutschke and Bernd Rabehl in 1965. Both were mem­bers of Sub­ver­sive Aktion, a Munich-based group that itself had ori­gins in an ear­lier artis­tic-polit­i­cal col­lec­tive, Grup­pe SPUR. Between 1959 and 1961 Grup­pe SPUR was the Ger­man wing of the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al. 

  2. Krahl, “Der poli­tis­che Wider­spruch der kri­tis­chen The­o­rie Adornos,” Frank­furter Rund­schau, Octo­ber 13, 1969. 

  3. The only texts of his that have pre­vi­ous­ly been pub­lished in Eng­lish are: “Czecho­slo­va­kia: the Dialec­tic of the ‘Reforms,’” New Left Review I/53 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary, 1969), 3-12; and “The Polit­i­cal Con­tra­dic­tions in Adorno’s Crit­i­cal The­o­ry,” Telos 21 (1974), 164-167. 

  4. Dutschke and Krahl, “Das Sich-Ver­weigern erfordert Guer­ril­la-Men­tal­ität,” in Dutschke, Geschichte ist mach­bar, ed. Jür­gen Mier­meis­ter, Berlin: Wagen­bach, 1980, 91. 

  5. Ram­say, “Marx? Which Marx?” trans. Steven Cuzn­er and Michael Koern­er, Eurozine, Dec. 21, 2009. We owe this invalu­able ref­er­ence to Alexan­der Locas­cio. 

  6. Max Horkheimer. “The Author­i­tar­i­an State.” Telos 15:2 (Spring), 1973, 3-20; 11. 

  7. A Ger­man edi­tion of Monopoly Cap­i­tal appeared from Suhrkamp as Monopolka­p­i­tal in 1967, and the book was much read by anti-author­i­tar­i­an stu­dents of the time, espe­cial­ly those who were, like Krahl, com­mit­ted to broad­en­ing anti-impe­ri­al­ist cam­paigns in West­ern Europe. See, for exam­ple, Sieg­ward Lön­nen­donker, Bernd Rabehl, and Jochen Staadt, Die Anti­au­toritäre Revolte: Der Sozial­is­tis­che Deutsche Stu­den­ten­bund Nach Der Tren­nung Von Der SPD, vol. 1: 1960–67 (Wies­baden: West­deutscher Ver­lag, 2002).  Read­ing cir­cles orga­nized by the SDS and relat­ed group­ings in the late 1960s also fre­quent­ly includ­ed oth­er work by Paul Baran, like Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Growth (1966), which was untrans­lat­ed at the time. See the read­ing list for Berlin SDS group ‘“Third World’ and the Metrop­o­les,” orga­nized by Dutschke in 1967, avail­able at the Ausser­par­lia­men­tarische Oppo­si­tion Archiv of the Freie Uni­ver­sität Berlin (Fold­er: “Mueller-Planten­berg SDS Pri­vatarchiv. Sept 1965 - Sept 1968”).  

  8. “Anhang: Au ein­er Diskus­sion über Horkheimers Kri­ti­tis­che The­o­rie (Mai 1969),” in Krahl, Kon­sti­tu­tion und Klassenkampf: Schriften und Reden 1966-1970, Frank­furt am Main: Ver­lag Neue Kri­tik, 1971, 235 (this col­lec­tion also con­tains the source text for the present trans­la­tion of “Zur Geschicht­sphiloso­phie des autoritären Staates”). 

  9. Krahl, “Zur Geschicht­sphiloso­phie des autoritären Staates,” 204. 

  10. Jür­gen Haber­mas, “Meine Damen und Her­ren, ich hof­fe, daß Herr Dutschke noch hier ist…,” in Frank­furter Schule und Stu­den­ten­be­we­gung: von der Flaschen­post zum Molo­tow­cock­tail: 1946-1995. 2, Doku­mente, ed. Wolf­gang Kraushaar (Ham­burg: Rogn­er & Bern­hard, 1998), 254. 

  11. Krahl, “Zur Geschicht­sphiloso­phie des autoritären Staates.” 

  12. Paul Mattick, “Monopoly Cap­i­tal.” 

  13. See in par­tic­u­lar Krahl, “Zur Wesenslogik der Marxschen Ware­n­analy­se,” in Kon­sti­tu­tion und Klassenkampf, 31-81. 

  14. Mein­hof, “Wom­en in the SDS: Act­ing on their Own Behalf,” in Kar­in Bauer, ed., Every­body Talks About the Weath­er… We Don’t: The Writ­ings of Ulrike Mein­hof, New York: Sev­en Sto­ries Press, 2008. 

Authors of the article

is a PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Art, Yale University.

is Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London. He received his PhD in Performance Studies from UC Berkeley and is writing a book titled The New Spirit of Performance: Antiauthoritarian Aesthetics and the Refusal of Work in Postwar West Germany.