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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.