Personal Information

Hans-Jürgen Krahl addressing students in Frankfurt (AP Photo/Peter Hillebrecht)

Providing personal information does not mean, even when facing a tribunal such as this, that what is defined is what still today is mockingly called “personality.”1 Instead, it involves tracing the background contours of experience which gave rise to the process of politicization and thus also the anti-authoritarian phase of the student movement. And as regards my person, they are much different experiences from those of my comrade [Günter] Amendt.

My origins compelled me to follow a very long path before being capable of betraying the bourgeois class from which I descended. I come from an underdeveloped land, Lower Saxony, and indeed from one of the darkest regions; as such, I was not allowed to receive the enlightened ideology of the bourgeoisie, not even from within this class. Because these ideologies, which I came to know and with which I had to identify myself, are similar to those which make up the theme of this trial, which is to say, the themes of Senghor, it will be appropriate to briefly explain them.

In Lower Saxony, or anyway in the region where I come from, what we could call the ideology of the land still reigns, and as such, in the course of my political education, even I moved only within the framework running from Deutsche Partei to Welfenpartei. I was not even capable of acquiring the ideologies anchored in liberalism and parliamentarism: the villages where I grew up still practice a form of secret meetings which recall medieval witch trials. But if one considers that still today in many areas of the Federal Republic (from the Bavarian forest to Heath in Lower Saxony), the most obscure mystical ideologies are practiced, then it can be understood that my education pushed me, at first, into the arms of the Ludendorffbund, and that I learned to think through the mysticism of Meister Eckhart and Roswitha of Gandersheim: through ideologies, namely, which can be explained in a Marxist sense as forms of utopian thought (as Ernst Bloch has done), but which reproduce a state of total ‘immaturity’ [Unmündigkeit] if they are adopted within the dominant class. In this sense, it was an enormous clarification when in 1961, in my birth city of Alfeld, I founded the Junge Union and joined the CDU (Christian Democratic Union).

It was the first step towards liberating myself from these ideologies of ‘blood and land’, towards passing from the feudal state of nature of an agricultural economy to the modern capitalist industrial society. And I must say that at this point there began, so to speak, an odyssey through the organizational forms of the dominant class. And certainly it must be an extraordinary consistency—and it is, I hope, an extenuating factor—to participate in this obscure province for two years in all of the smaller meetings of the CDU, because, after a short time, hallucinations began to happen like those of Daumier (I am not speaking in metaphor), and the meetings transformed into assemblies of rams, lambs, and cows.

The next step, which was towards a clarification with the CDU, was the Christian church. Here at least, despite the scout ideology that continues to drag behind, I was informed for the first time of the resistance against fascism, both that expressed in internal emigration and in the ideologies of interiority in Bonhoeffer’s sense. But even this was too much for the provincial gymnasiums which had marked my education.

From the school’s headmaster I learned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a perverse homosexual and already for this reason he could not be considered a good German. From the same headmaster, I learned to feel that all of the evil in the world came from the English and the Jews, and that the greatest crime in the history of humanity was the Nuremberg trial. Here then are the people who boasted in public how many times and to what extent denazification had occurred.

But even these anachronistic ideologies did not allow one who lived in this obscure province to see any alternative of conscience, and in this way I had my first experience with justice. When I was older, I was invited to a Burschenschaft rally and met a so-called elder, a trial court counselor, who, while devouring lamb chops, explained to me that the working class was destined to remain juvenile and stupid, and that we were called to educate the elite. The experience did not convince me; however, when I took up my studies, I adhered to a ‘Schlagende Verbindung’2 and this broke any ambiguity. It was natural that first my experience with this kind of an association was elitist, in other words that I could develop only an elitistism when confronted with these categories, because the narrow-mindedness and oppression that are produced there, and what happens in those brainless heads that produce fascism uninterruptedly, can only be interpreted in terms of elitism. I was however expelled from this league after one of my anti-authoritarian revolts against an “elder.”

The reactionary and feudal ideologies that still continue to exist can be purified to such an extent that they become a dominant opinion in ideologies, schools, and universities: from the mysticism of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, it is a short step, in my chosen discipline, to theoretical self-determination, that is, to Martin Heidegger. To clarify the type of ideology that I, like many others, had to detach myself from, I would like to read a quote. Heidegger writes in his Holzwege:

The man whose essence is the essence that is willing and willed out of the will to power is the overman. The willing of the essence that is willing and willed in this way must correspond to the will to power as the being of beings. Along with the thinking that thinks the will to power, therefore, the question necessarily arises: in what shape must the human essence, willed and willing out of the being of beings, place itself and develop so that it will satisfy the will to power and thus be able to undertake mastery over beings? Unexpectedly and above all unprepared, man finds himself placed, on the basis of the being of beings, before the task of undertaking mastery of the earth.3

A philosophy that ventures into imperialism. I must say that eventually, I managed to detach myself from this ideological context and pass over to advanced logical positivism, and finally to the Marxist dialectic. This is a common educational process for many who by their class situation have no need to participate in the practice of the proletariat, but become nauseous when they come to know their own class and their class comrades, the lies and corruption with which they oppress themselves and the proletariat, until they render them unrecognizable. These lies, correctly understood, are not yet ideology, because lies have short legs while ideologies have long legs: ideologies hide. And what you hear when you are a member of the dominant class is nothing but a series of stupid and petty lies. The provincial notables of the CDU, magistrates, and school counselors secure themselves a solidarity transfigured by wine, but actually behave like wolves. In the dominant class, nothing has changed in this sense.

Masking these ideologies is an entirely other question. And I must recall here that Heidegger (the expression of everything Adorno has destroyed as the “jargon of authenticity”) has become one of the decisive ideologues of the dominant class. These ideologies have not yet lost their force of attraction; if one thinks of the 1928-29 global crisis that he celebrated as “being towards death,” and anticipating in this way the imperialist war Hitler would unleash in 1939, preached a decision that does not know what is decided and for this reason has always been linked to the one who commands, to the Führer, one thinks that after 1945 he preached an alliance and did not say with whom one should ally, in order to render the alliance with the CDU even tighter, and certainly also now that [Franz Josef] Strass and [Kurt George] Kiesinger were expelled into the void of being, which is to say into government, he will be able to devise a trick of being in order to explain that in Brandt, Wehner, and Scheel, being also shines.

When the dominant class had cast me out, I decided to completely betray it and join the SDS (Socialist German Student League). In the SDS, I learned for the first time what solidarity means: creating forms of relation that break away from oppression and subjugation to the dominant class. In the SDS we learned, for the first time, that the US and the system it represents exert a frightful oppression in the third world, that when the dominant class says “freedom,” it understands the freedom to take power and repress freedom, that when the dominant class says “tolerance,” it understands tolerance in the confines of its rule and intolerance when confronted with those who have the right to say everything, but change nothing. In the SDS, we learned, for the first time, what it means that exploitation still exists. Exploitation and oppression are certainly not immediately identical. What is experienced in the third world is an open, brutal, and terroristic oppression. The exploitation that we experience here is extremely veiled, and even those who are affected most immediately, namely the proletariat, are not capable of adequately perceiving it. And I would cite Sartre precisely on this, in the dialectic of exploitation in late capitalist industrial metropolises and the immediate oppression that dominates in the colonies and countries of the third world which are held in misery and hunger. Regarding the difference between exploitation and oppression, Sartre writes in the Critique of Dialectical Reason:

And capitalist exploitation and oppression are no counterexample to [mutual recognition]. The swindle of capitalist exploitation is based on a contract. And though this contract necessarily transforms labor, or praxis, into an inert commodity, it is, formally, a reciprocal relation; it is a free exchange between two men who recognize each other in their freedom; it is just that one of them pretends not to notice that the other is forced by the constraint of needs to sell himself as a material object. The clear conscience of the employer is based entirely on that moment of exchange in which the wage-laborer appears to offer his labor-power in complete freedom. And if he is not free in relation to his poverty, he is juridically free in relation to his employer, since, at least in theory, the employer does not put any pressure on the workers when he hires them, and merely fixes a top rate and turns away those who ask for more. Here, once again, competition and antagonism between workers moderate their demands; the employer himself has nothing to do with it. This example shows clearly enough that man becomes a thing for the other and for himself only to the extent that he is initially posited as human freedom by praxis itself. Absolute respect for the freedom of the propertyless is the best way of leaving him at the mercy of material constraints, at the moment of the contract.4

Sartre provides here an extremely focused summary of what was generally passed down as the “kernel” of Marxist doctrine: that exploitation is a domain that poses over another a high degree of mystification, which is veiled in exchange and institutions of oppression (the bourgeois courts) and by the coercive power of the law and state. This means—and this is also the role that in the SDS we must take on, as intellectuals, in carrying out class struggle—that in practical struggle we must develop a theory that makes clear to the proletariat, in its consciousness and linguistic world, the late capitalist rule that is covered by infinite manipulations and supplements. This means that theory must unmask and discover this rule, and that it is our function, as political intellectuals, to use our knowledge in service of class struggle.

Solidarity with the social-revolutionary movements in the third world was decisive for the education of our anti-authoritarian knowledge. There, indeed, oppression is in front of everyone’s eyes, and not yet veiled by the existence of bourgeois exchange. The third world has taught us a concept of radical politics, one without compromise, which is entirely different from bourgeois Realpolitik, pointless and lacking principles. Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong are revolutionaries who have conveyed a political morality that rejects compromise and in this way they have allowed us two things: we have been able to detach ourselves from the politics of peaceful coexistence, which the Soviet Union itself translates into mere Realpolitik, and secondly, we have been able to identify the terror that the USA, and following them also the Federal Republic, carry out in the third world. And here also Sartre has provided a very meaningful framework of oppression in the third world, posing it in contrast to the oppression that is ideologically veiled in late capitalist metropolises, that is to say the derivation of political freedom from economic exploitation not recognized as such in the processes of the valorization of capitalism. Sartre distinguishes oppression from what he defines as exploitation:

As for oppression, it consists, rather, in treating the other as an animal. The Southerners, in the name of their respect for animality, condemned the northern industrialists who treated the workers as material; but in fact it is animals, not ‘material’, which are forced to work by breaking-in, blows, and threats. However, the slave acquires his animality, through the master, only after his humanity has been recognized. Thus American plantation owners in the seventeenth century refused to raise black children in the Christian faith, so as to keep the right to treat them as sub-human, which was an implicit recognition that they were already men: they evidently differed from their masters only in lacking a religious faith, and the care their masters took to keep it from them was a recognition of their capacity to acquire it. In fact, the most insulting command must be addressed by one man to another; the master must have faith in man in the person of his slaves. This is the contradiction of racism, colonialism, and all forms of tyranny: in order to treat a man like a dog, one must first recognize him as a man. The concealed discomfort of the master is that he always has to consider the human reality of his slaves (whether through his reliance on their skill and their synthetic understanding of situations, or through his precautions against the permanent possibility of revolt or escape), while at the same time refusing them the economic and political status which, in this period, defines human beings.5

Even if this difference between exploitation and oppression outlined by Sartre is taken into account, there exists an objective identity which shines through as the also objective motivation of our anti-authoritarian protest in the metropolises. While in the ex-colonies and oppressed countries of the third world, the oppressed masses are reduced to a state of brutal animality, it is true, as several theorists and analysts have said, that also here, at the highest level of technological progress and the most advanced level of the satisfaction of needs, well-beyond physical self-preservation, there exists a kid of animalization of man (and this explains why children of the bourgeois class, who are certainly not spoiled—they did not cover us with sweets, as the bourgeois press insinuates—passed to the class that represents liberated humanity, the proletariat). Otherwise it is not explained why the bourgeois individual, who is educated by means of many coercions and under enormous pressure to perform, was destroyed, fundamentally, by the process of fascism; it is not understood that, as the theorists of the Frankfurt school once said, several men should be ashamed to say “I.” In the bourgeois I, in other words, as Marcuse said, there still existed the capacity to criticize, experiment, remember, and understand, while today, in the middle of technical progress and the anarchy with which few owners of capital administer the frugal industrial machine, men are reduced to mere reaction, to Pavlov’s reflex; today they are only capable of reacting, they can no longer in any way act.

This decadence of the bourgeois individual is one of the essential motivations of the student movement’s anti-authoritarian protest. The beginning of the anti-authoritarian movement meant, in reality, mourning the death of the bourgeois individual, the definitive loss of the ideology of a liberal public sphere and communication free from domination, which arose because of a need for solidarity that the bourgeois class, in its heroic periods such as during the French Revolution, promised to humanity, but was never able to maintain and that now is definitively dissolved. A liberal public sphere, a peaceful struggle for power in parliament, and even the emancipative character of jurisprudence that once had the task of submitting the coercive violence of the bourgeoisie expressed in juridical power to parliamentary rules—all of these emancipative contents of the bourgeoisie have been decomposing for a long time. We mourn for these, and the belief that only marginal groups, of intellectuals and the privileged, are capable of acting in the place of the working class and in this way, initiating a revolution for humanity, without class distinctions. All of this has been revealed as an ideology.

And yet, this need for solidarity contained a decisive truth: that the only way to prevent the proletariat from creating its own solidarity and organization is by repressing its emancipatory movements. The recent wildcat strikes have shown that this will not succeed in the long run, that not even the grand disciplinary apparatus of the union will succeed in impeding the proletariat of autonomously organizing itself. In a process of Marxist training, which has passed through actions against the Vietnam War, against the Axel Springer publishing house, and against the emergency laws, we have learned to recognize the first consciously “classist” criteria of the proletariat. The anti-authoritarian revolt was precisely a process of Marxist training, in which we have gradually detached from bourgeois ideologies, in which we have revealed the purely ideological character of its promises of liberation, and definitively understood that the classic forms of liberalism and emancipation, which still drive the liberal capitalism of competition, have definitively passed away. We have understood that now, in the struggle against the state, against bourgeois justice, and against the organized power of capital, in a long and certainly difficult process, it is a matter of conquering conditions that allow us to enter into organized contact with the working class and to create the historical pressures necessary for the education of class consciousness. It was a long process of education which also had to impose itself within the SDS.

And, regarding this, it must be said still that the decisive experience of the SDA was that domination, today, has destroyed social relations between humans to such an extent as to render impossible a relation in which they are not treated as things, but as singular subjects recognized in their objectivity as particular subjects. And what, in the course of discussions within extra-parliamentary opposition, the nucleus of the SDS, the base of young apprentices, was interpreted by the bourgeois press as self-destruction (our infinite discussions and also those aggressions that occasionally emerge within our ranks), is an expression of the history of an organized education that has not yet existed in the history of the Federal Republic and in German history from fascism onwards: here is a group that through all irrationalities—we ourselves, indeed, are still marked by that capitalist domination we struggle against—fights for relations free from domination, in order to demolish domination and aggression. The SDS is the only group that attempts to rationally discuss the fact that non-violence in this society has always been an ideology (because under the mantle of non-violence, the dominant class carries out violence), the only group that discusses aspects of the concept of violence that are inaccessible to the dominant class, namely situations of social oppression where violence is historically legitimate. The legality of bourgeois courts is no longer able to dive itself legitimation. It has become pure, unfounded violence, without any concept of emancipation and legitimation, limited to carrying out repression in the service of capital.

We, instead, have seen and understood that in the struggle against this society, it is necessary to already develop within the organization of political struggle the first seeds of the future society, of different human relations, of a human relationship free from domination, even at the cost of considerable discipline and repression that we must impose on ourselves. As Marx says, even we cannot anticipate the future Jerusalem in our organizations. Even in our organizations—we can say it openly to the dominant class—oppression continues to reign, albeit a voluntary repression. But there is a difference with respect to the blind oppression of the bourgeois class.

In the bourgeois class and its theories, an antagonistic economic ideology has always existed, according to which stimulating economic progress is either human egoism or the duty of each to radically renounce their individual egoism. In reality, Marx says, in the bourgeois exchange which exclusively aims for profit, every single individual absolutely follows their single and limited egoism (and competition is always a latent state of war), and the general social interest manages to impose itself as the particular interest of the bourgeois class. If we want to reject this society, or rather, negate it, in a determinate form and in such a way that our organization already indicates the first seeds of different relations, this means that each individual, in order to love the freedom of the other, must abstract from their own egoism, must impose by themselves a repression in order to be capable of agreeing with the freedom of every other.

Only the communist organization of political struggle keeps the promises of emancipation of the bourgeois struggle. And along this path forms will arise that will realize what Marx understood by the society of free individual association in the communist sense and that establish reciprocal relations free from domination.

They always say to us: you are not legitimate because you are incapable of identifying what the future society will be. Those who say this think: give us a recipe in the meantime and then maybe we will decide to participate. Those who say this are the hypocrites and cowards who usually sit in the newsrooms of the bourgeois press. The future society cannot be anticipated. We can say what the aspect of technological progress will be a century from now, but we are not capable of saying what human relationships will be a century from now if we do not begin to transform them ad hoc, among ourselves, in the social relation.

What we can do is immanently attack the distorted and repressed relations that bourgeois society has developed. We deny them, which is to say that we are the first who keep in political struggle the promises of emancipation that you—even you who represent bourgeois justice—have made, but not kept. One of the greatest French theorists of revolution, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, has set out this situation of solidarity and the absence of domination that exists inside the organization of political struggle. He writes:

The profound philosophical meaning of the notion of praxis is to place us in an order which is not that of knowledge but rather that of communication, exchange, and association. […] In the communist sense, the Party is this communication; and such a concept of the Party is not a corollary of Marxism—it is its very center. Unless one makes another dogmatism of it (and how is one to do so, since one cannot start from the self-certainty of a universal subject), Marxism does not have a total view of universal history at its disposal; and its entire philosophy of history is nothing more than the development of partial views that a man situated in history, who tries to understand himself, has of his past and of his present. This conception remains hypothetical until it finds a unique guarantee in the existing proletariat and its assent, which allows it to be valid as the law of being. The Party is then like a mystery of reason. It is the place in history where the meaning which is understands itself, where the concept becomes life; and, avoiding the test which authenticates Marxism, any deviation which would assimilate the relationships of Party and class to the relationships of chief and troops would make an ‘ideology’ of it.6

What I have just set out and what anyone can be convinced of who comes to our meetings, which are public, confirms that we are dealing, as a matter of principle, with the relationship between organization and class (which is still to be established), and that it is precisely communication and now what the bourgeois courts continue to attribute to it, a relation between chief and troops; we are not dealing with that very frequent operation consisting in projecting the political apparatus onto our organization. The lack of imagination, the embarrassment in front of concepts, and the stupidity of the dominant class can naturally do nothing other than transfer their hierarchical authorities onto us. They are not capable, they do not want and they cannot believe that for us, these are questions of a communication free from domination.

We go through individual and isolated processes of education, marked by every kind of distortion and scarring, as long as we remain members of either the dominant class or a working class that is disorganized and torn in itself, where every individual is forced to bring his own skin to the market; we go through processes of mutilated and distorted education, as long as we are isolated and disorganized, as long as we must submit to ideologies of the dominant class and the frugal capitalist machine. But at the moment we grasp this society as a system of total exploitation, which wastes the vital productive activity of human nature, our process of education becomes collective, not in the sense of a destruction of individuality, but rather as a constitution of it: it becomes that process that was set out in metaphysical terms in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, in materialist terms in Marx’s Capital, and in psychoanalytic terms in Freud’s theories. We go through processes of education that reconstitute, first of all, an individuality, and reconstruct what individuality is in an emancipative sense, in the measure in which we are unified in the practical struggle against this system.

Marcuse is right when he says that even in capitalist society, where so many live peacefully without material problems, one does not remain human if one does not radically combat this society; and we, moreover, have a legitimation. Those who today hold state power cannot do anything but aconceptually hurl themselves in a struggle for the career. They have power and nothing else. We also struggle for political power in the state, but we have a legitimation, because our struggle for power is accompanied by a permanent process of communication in which the categories of emancipation, which exist only in the abstract principle, reach fulfillment and unfold, becoming practical existence.

But there is something that even this system, where no one today suffers from hunger, has failed to eliminate. This society and its organization, in the course of the development of human history, has not only procured knives and forks for us, but also televisions and refrigerators; it has also produced a high level of culture and a marvelous civilization [Zivilisation] without tensions and needs, i.e., which far exceeds the level of physical self-preservation. But the omnipresence of an authoritarian state and the dependence on capital, which forces the masses to sell their labor-power as a commodity, continues to enchain the consciousness of the masses to these forms of the satisfaction of basic needs, because this state and capital can—and do—goad the masses with the permanent threat that things could also return to being worse. That broad satisfaction of needs was not linked to progress in the consciousness of freedom, to a development of imagination and the creative activity of human nature. On the contrary, even here, with all of this reified social wealth, it is fearfully linked to material security that long ago has made possible a human arrangement that it could go well beyond. This is the authentic servitude of capitalism. This is the moment of social oppression that we have been able to grasp, because we are those who have the privilege of studying.

It is precisely this privilege that we want to break, because it can respond to those who ask why because of their background (and even in the student movement this only goes for a minority) they do not need to pass to rebellion and revolution, and adhere, however, to progressive, social-revolutionary movements. It is not the simple mourning of the death of the bourgeois individual, but the experience, mediated intellectually, of what exploitation means in this society, the total and radical destruction, that is, of the development of needs in the dimension of human consciousness. It is the chaining of the masses to the most basic forms of the satisfaction of needs, when even material needs are substantially satisfied, because of fear that the state and capital will take away the guarantees of security. And it is precisely this that Ernst Bloch—that revolutionary and utopian Marxist on whom the first peace prize was conferred (before it was given to the imperialist Senghor)—understands, when in Principle of Hope, he asks: “Why do those who have no need for it take up the red flag?” And he answers: “It is humanity that understands itself in activity.”


— Translated from the Italian by Dave Mesing

  1. Translator’s note: The following text provides a sketch of Krahl’s political formation. I have chosen to translate it from the Italian, thereby risking the pitfalls involved in working on the translation of a translation. In both the original and Costituzione e lotta di classe, the text has the following introductory footnote: “This political autobiography is Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s response to a request for personal information during the trial for ‘the leadership of seditious demonstration’ etc., in which he, together with his comrades G. Amendt and K.D. Wolff, was indicted for protest actions against the conferral of the 1968 Deutscher Buchhandel peace prize on Senegalese president L.S. Senghor. Krahl’s response, improvised on the spot, was recorded and made public in 1969, in sc-Info 19, Frankfurt.” 

  2. Schlagende Verbinding (dueling fraternity) and Ausschlag (decision): an untranslatable play on words. 

  3. Martin Heidegger, “Nietzsche’s Word: ‘God is Dead,’” in Off the Beaten Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 188. 

  4. Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume 1: Theory of Practical Ensembles, trans. Jonathan Rée (London: Verso, 2004), 110. 

  5. Ibid, 110-111. 

  6. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. Joseph Bien (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 50-51. 

Author of the article

was a leading figure in the West German student movement of the 1960s, and the author of Constitution and Class Struggle.