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07/01/2008

Back to Rudi Dutschke's pram

1968? Delayed offshoot of European totalitarianism or groundswell of liberalisation and democraticisation. Talking to Stefan Reinecke and Jan Feddersen, historian Götz Aly and educationalist Katharina Rutschky cannot agree.

taz (die Tageszeitung): Ms. Rutschky, what scenes do you recall when you think of 1968?

jfjfj jfdKatharina Rutschky. Photo: Ezzelino von Wedel
Katharina Rutschky: One wonderful scene was the Berlin International Vietnam Conference of February 1968. We had the feeling that the future belonged to us, that it was our turn now. I experienced two wonderful things: 1968 and German reunification.

So was 1968 a kind of festival?

Rutschky: A festival? Well... We felt the wind beneath our wings. We SDS (German Socialist Student Movement) members were elitist. We were few, but always the best; we'd read the most books, were the best informed, etc. And then we suddenly realized that we were being carried along by a groundswell. What we didn't know was that the [left-wing publisher and activist Giangiacomo] Feltrinelli had arrived with explosives that were transported in Rudi Dutschke's pram. (1)

And you, Mr. Aly – what do you remember?

xxxGötz Aly. Photo: Michael Schmitt
Götz Aly
: There are the photographs by Michael Ruetz, where you always saw the same thing: a few wildly gesticulating protesters, usually bearded, and one quiet woman. That's the language of those images: three men and one woman. Back then, fewer than 25 percent of university students were women. Among other things, that provided considerable impetus for the revolts.

Would there have been no revolts if there had been more women at the universities?

Aly: If the ratio of men to women had been more balanced, things would have gone differently. It was like the dance of the monkeys. There were few women at the universities, and at the same time there was the Pill and the sexual revolution. Reimut Reiche has noted that Freud said protesting men have a very special sexual attraction – they are XXL men. With this in mind, there was a very clear purpose to sexual liberation. It was fun, but it had little to do with emancipation.

Didn't you perceive 1968 as a liberation?

Aly: Of course. In 1967 German students still addressed one another formally, as Fräulein Schmidt or Herr Aly. They wore pleated skirts or ties and jackets, and had nervous breakdowns every time they had a meeting with a professor. But all the writing about emancipation from that era is unbearable junk. Not only the theoretical stuff, even publications about private kindergartens. They don't contain one reasonable sentence, nothing that one could profitably read today.

What about "Sexfront" (1970), the famous sex education book for students and schoolchildren by Günter Amendt?

Aly: Oh please. It's ludicrous. Silly and old-fashioned.

Did the men in those photographs serve as role models for you, Mr. Aly?

Aly: Of course. In Berlin there was the SDS trio of Rudi Dutschke (photo), Bernd Rabehl and Christian Semler (photo). And of course in those days we were all reading "Die Rebellion der Studenten" (the student revolt by Uwe Bergmann/ Rudi Dutschke/ Wolfgang Lefèvre/ Bernd Rabehl - 1968). But there are things in that book that would make your hair stand on end. For example, Rudi Dutschke says something like: "After the death of Benno Ohnesorg (a student killed by the police during a protest against the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin -ed.), if we don't continue our resistance we are turning ourselves into Jews."

Imagine if a mayor in Brandenburg would say today: "If we don't continue our resistance against a new waste incinerator or an immigrant asylum, we are turning ourselves into Jews"!! The man would disappear tomorrow in a political hurricane. But back then Dutschke was a role model. Radical was beautiful. You could explain the world, and always be right. It was wonderful. If we look today at how we filled our own cultural space back then, we're overcome with horror.

For example?

Aly: The cult of personality, the enthusiasm for Mao. The children of German mass murderers were running after another mass murderer. I myself carried a Mao placard. 1968 was a delayed offshoot of European totalitarianism – especially the German variety.

Rutschky: Excuse me, Mr. Aly, but now I'm getting worked up! At that time, a new kind of pedagogy was invented in alternative kindergartens, damn it. Mr. Aly, as renegades often do you're generalizing from your own personal experience. What Communist splinter group were you in? I wasn't in any. Here, I've brought along my membership card from the "Falken", [the German socialist youth organisation known as the Falcons] signed in 1960 by Holger Börner. And my SDS membership card, too.

Unlike you, I don't have to apologise for anything. I did not run after Ernst Thälmann, and I never understood Dutschke. He was nice, and charming, but no one understood him. I went through a brief Mao phase – the books of Swedish author Jan Myrdal and American journalist Edgar Snow were popular back then. I didn't know about the extent of the famine in China. Neither did you.

Aly: True, I didn't know about it either.

Rutschky: But now you're acting as though 1968 was symptomatic of German fascism – the 'children of mass murderers'. I'm not the child of a mass murderer. My family has been more or less affiliated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) since 1906. And I was always political, like so many people who demonstrated back then. Some of them followed the popular leaders, joined Communist splinter groups or even landed with the revolutionary RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion).

But that isn't my history. I went to university as the child of a working-class family. It was difficult for a woman back then. Even at the liberal Freie Universität (FU) in Berlin, as a woman one could never rise higher than a HiWi (student job as assistant scientist or Hilfswissenschaftler), never to assistant professor. That simply wasn't possible. Nevertheless, many women did rise in the ranks of the SDS and the unions. Between 1969 and 1972, some 300,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 joined the SPD. But the picture usually painted of 1968 doesn't show that, it's all hyperactive youth, rebellion, picturesque sexuality with Uschi Obermaier. It's all been hyped up, and still is today. Sex and violence. And it makes me furious how much attention those RAF gangsters still have today, those Inge Vietts and Irmgard Möllers, who still have the microphone.

Aly: You asked about my biography. Well then: I was born in 1947, came to Berlin in November of 1968. In 1970 I was one of the co-founders of the periodical "Hochschulkampf" (university struggle), which was a publication of the Rote Zellen (red cells). A dreadful rag, when I look at it today. From 1971 to 1973 I belonged to what was then the very radical Rote Hilfe (red aid). Back then we found comrade Horst Mahler, who founded the RAF [and is today a leading ideologue of the extreme-right National Democratic Party], absolutely wonderful – and we considered Hans-Christian Ströbele, then still a member of the Social Democrats [and now a member of the Green Party] far too reformist to fill the big empty shoes of the imprisoned Mahler in the Socialist Lawyers' Collective. I've studied my own writings from the time, which were mostly anonymous. I didn't have to own up to my authorship, but I thought that I wanted to be able to explain to my children just what I was about in those days. So I wrote a book with the title: "Unser Kampf: 1968 - ein irritierter Blick zurück" (our struggle: 1968 – a look back in vexation)

I see. Were the Rote Zellen Maoists too?

Aly: Naturally, we were all Maoists. Ms. Rutschky maintains that it was just a phase, that we were excited about something far away, and could not have known about the reign of terror in China. But I'm a historian, and I've looked very carefully into what we could have known. The leading China expert at the time was teaching at the Free University of Berlin (FU); his name was Jürgen Domes. From 1966-67 onward, he systematically published writings about what was going on there: who was driven to suicide, figures on the famine in China (citing 10.5 million dead – which was too low).

Hans Magnus Enzensberger's 1967 textbook contained a text by Joachim Schickel about the Cultural Revolution, which was based mainly on the testimony of the German economist Max Biehl, who had been a leading official in the German Economics Ministry in Cracow, in Nazi-occupied Poland. He had travelled through China and was greatly pleased by what he described as its somewhat stringent development policy, its capital accumulation at the expense of the masses. Those were the kinds of sources we had! Back then we asked our parents: What could you have known about the crimes perpetrated under the Nazis? But we ourselves didn't want to hear anything about the violence and mass murders in China. This is appalling. We could have known about all kinds of details. The destruction of churches and temples, the suppression of Buddhist monks – all of that was publicized in 1967-68. We could have known about it. But no one wanted to know.

Rutschky: No, Mr. Aly. I, for example, was no Maoist. I was an anti-anti-Communist, and China served to a greater or lesser extent as a political orientation point in the West Germany back then. You're completely overlooking that now, in retrospect. We didn't pursue policy in China, we didn't write books about China. We simply hoped that an alternative existed to the gruesome socialism in East Germany. As an anti-authoritarian, you only needed to cross the border to have a fit. Mr. Aly, you were 20 at that time, and I was a little older. I came from the highly theoretical SDS, and from a Social Democratic background. And I came from the lower classes and had a great deal to lose.

Aly: There are major differences in our biographies...

Rutschky: Yes, and there was more back then than just enthusiasm for Mao. In 1969, when the Social Democrats and Free Democrats won the election, we and all the left celebrated.

Aly: Ms. Rutschky, the fact that you, with your Social Democratic family tradition, did not go along with totalitarianism, does you great credit ...

Rutschky: No.

Aly: You don't have to always contradict me.

Rutschky: Yes, I do. Because you're trying to marginalize me. But I'm nothing special. I represent '68, the majority of the movement, not the leading lights.

Aly: No, you don't represent '68.

Rutschky: Yes I do. You believe that you represent '68 because you have feelings of guilt, because you did something wrong.

Aly: Eighty-five percent of university students came from middle-class families. Back then, within the university system people with your family background were marginal, Ms. Rutschky. You belonged to a minority who rose up through the SPD unions. The majority of students at the Free University were hooligans. They mostly came from South Germany, from relatively authoritarian homes. They were quite literally refugees from repression. And those conservative South German states, incapable of reform – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and also North Rhine-Westphalia – "outsourced" their problem, shunted their potential rebels off to the relatively free West Berlin with its reformist, Social Democratic government. And actually, they should still be paying compensation to Berlin today. South German politicans Strauss and Filbinger said back then: "Those incompetent Berlin politicians." Yet the rebels were the children of the supporters of Strauss and Filbinger.

Can you be more specific about the repression those students were fleeing?

Aly: Take the beatings administered in schools. We were thrashed by our teachers up to the age of 14 or 15.

Did you find it liberating to join the West Berlin university scene?

Aly: Yes, of course.

Then what was so terrible there?

Götz Aly in the sixtys. Photo: privatGötz Aly in the sixties. Photo: privat
Aly
: For example, the way we regarded Richard Löwenthal. He was a professor in Berlin who had been a Communist in the Weimar era, fought in the underground during the Nazi period, then distanced himself from Stalinism, fled to Britain and finally returned [to Germany] as a journalist and later as an adviser to Willy Brandt.

When I came to university I didn't even notice him, because he was regarded as right-wing. Instead I ran to the feet of a man named Johannes Agnoli – who admitted to us that he had belonged to the Fascist Party in Italy. What he didn't tell us was that, during the occupation of Italy by the Wehrmacht in 1943, he volunteered for the German army and spent two years fighting against the partisans in Yugoslavia. He kept silent about that. He lied about himself and hid the really important thing in his biography. In his critique of parliamentarianism, Wolfgang Kraushaar showed how Agnoli followed the lead of Fascism's critique of parliamentarianism. But we were very susceptible. Not you, Ms. Rutschky, because you were older and had a different background. But that was my experience, and it hangs over me today. There were excellent professors at the FU, such as Ernst Fraenkel or Kurt Sontheimer, who wrote an outstanding book about anti-democratic thinking in the Weimar Republic. But we weren't interested in any of these as possible teachers.

But, after all, was the attraction to the ex-Fascist Agnoli and the rejection of the returned emigrant Löwenthal typical? In 1967-68 there was also a re-discovery of expelled Jewish intellectuals – Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno. Wasn't that the main thing? And 1968 also saw the trial of [former Nazi judge] Hans-Joachim Rehse, which ended with an acquittal – for a judge of the so-called Volksgerichtshof! (people's court). That was regarded as a scandal by the movement.

Aly: I know. I was present at the SDS demonstration which followed the acquittal. But that was purely functional. It was part of the SDS campaign against the judiciary. There were some 3,000 trials of so-called rioters. The SDS wanted to drum up opposition to the judicial system.

Rehse was, after all, a symbol for the continuity of the Nazi elite in the Federal Republic.

Aly: No. It was about the de-legitimation of the judiciary system, not about the Nazi past.

Rutschky: Mr. Aly, for whom are you actually speaking?

Aly: For myself.

Rutschky: Good. Then say so. Because there was a tradition of confrontation with the Nazi era not only in the SDS but in the Left in general. The protest against the Rehse trial was part of that, as was Peter Weiss' Auschwitz play "The Investigation" (1964) and the preoccupation with the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt. As a teenager I watched Resnais' "Nuit et Brouillard," and it affected me deeply.

Aly: Me too. We agree on that point.

Rutschky
: No! The awareness of keeping the fatal legacy alive was a strong moral motive of the '68-ers. Even the RAF knew that, when it murdered Hanns-Martin Schleyer who was a Nazi criminal. The RAF knew that this was the weak spot of the '68-ers, the point where they could get to us. And ... you're always talking about files and texts and your post-facto wisdom. Back then, those texts were of no interest to me, and they still aren't now. Life was my reason for studying. We practised anti-authoritarian education. Why? Because we wanted to dispel the fascist character. Even in the alternative kindergartens, the kinderläden, the National Socialist era hovered in the background. The kinderläden are still around today, and they are a wonderful model – just as they were in '68.

Aly: Ms. Rutschky, I'd like to ask you something: What about the Nazi trials? Which of the trials do you remember?

Rutschky: There was the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt. But I wasn't there.

Aly: Frankfurt lasted from 1963 to 1965. Were there any others?

Rutschky: You know, I find your questioning unpleasant. And your line of argument to too. It has something...

Aly: Interesting ...

Rutschky
: You don't just ask, you insinuate. You have a whole theory behind you. On the basis of your guilty conscience, you use historical texts to try to prove a continuation of fascism in the German social character. That's operating with guilt to point of no return, based on suspicions of totalitarianism. The unpleasant thing is that now, with hindsight, you're so insanely clever. Don't you see how young you were back then? And that most of the people who studied with Agnoli didn't suffer spiritual damage?

Aly: I merely wanted to say that we had some very fine teachers at the FU, who were a hundred times superior to the "discount professors" that we students later dragged into the universities.

Rutschky: You're too Jesuitical and too inquisitorial for me.

Aly: Tell me, why are you being so nasty?

Rutschky: Because that was an important time in my life. Besides, back then we weren't just 68-ers from morning till night. We fell in love, we had career anxieties, exam stress. It wasn't as if the police were constantly at our doors.

Aly: The question is: Why were young Germans so taken with Agnoli's critique of parliamentarianism, a critique which had its roots – both in terms of content and biography - in Fascism. And why we disregarded the warnings of Richard Löwenthal, Ralf Dahrendorf and others. And why today no one knows that 1968 was the year in which the most Nazi war crime trials were held in the history of the Federal Republic, and the most life sentences handed down. Thirty huge trials ended in 1968, and 23 life sentences were issued. Also close to 3,000 new investigations were launched in 1968. But the student movement didn't talk about those things. There were no teach-ins about them, no articles about them published in the periodicals of the radical left. There was open talk about Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen. Articles about these matters appeared in the newspapers every day, and about the attempted gassings by the Reichskriminalpolizei. The students weren't interested ...

How do you explain that?


Aly: The student movement fled from the Nazi era into a theoretical construct, and into internationalism. And internationalism - as it said in the slogan "USA - SA (Stürmabteilung or stormtroops) - SS" - meant exporting the burden of the German past, watered down and generalized – for fascism is everywhere. This was a flight from our own national history; it made the thing attractive. Not because our society kept silent about the Nazi period, but because it spoke about it.

Rutschky: Mr. Aly, you're aware that there were many Nazi trials during 1968. Fine – but the judicial system couldn't do justice to the accumulated guilt. It could put the criminals in prison for life, but that wasn't enough. We all felt guilty back then. We travelled abroad, spoke English, because we knew, "Shit, we come from this country." During my first trip abroad with the Falken, people hurled all kinds of abuse at us. I understood why, of course, even though we, as Socialist Youth, felt the injustice of it.

Aly: If you think that in principle Social Democrats had nothing to do with National Socialism, you're mistaken.

Rutschky
: Look, you're using a moral magnifying glass which is thoroughly anti-life and anti-people. In that respect there's not a glimmer of agreement between us. You maliciously look for traces of past guilt, and you don't see the broad impact of '68, which was a groundswell of liberalisation and democratisation.

Mr. Aly, how could what you call a totalitarian movement such as the '68 movement lead to cultural liberalisation?

Aly: Through its defeat. You have to keep the history of the Federal Republic in mind. Historically speaking, the conservatism of the post-1945 Adenauer period was necessary. Eighteen million men had been soldiers, they had laid waste to all of Europe. They returned home traumatised because the violence had backfired on them – thank goodness. After the Nazi era's delusions of grandeur, the German people had to be calmed down and kept quiet. That explains the lack of reform during the Adenauer era, the inability to generate movement. After 1945 the climate among German youth was incredibly violent; it's almost impossible now to believe how sadistic it was in school yards.

The interim generation – of Helmut Kohl, Peter Wapnewski [Medieval German academic], Ralf Dahrendorf – felt that apathy and wanted more liberal reforms. Those were people who had initially sympathized with the student movement. Even Kohl, in his memoirs, found positive things to say about the student movement. But Kohl's generation turned its back on '68, because it realised that there had been something wild and totalitarian in it, that it had missed its big chance and had fallen back into totalitarianism, into the tracks of our fathers of 1933, who had also created a student movement that had operated with similar methods. The "bewegung" or movement – a hateful Nazi term – denounced serious reformers as "shitty liberals." That's why the student movement tended to slow down the liberalisation of the Federal Republic rather than accelerate it.

Ms. Rutschky, Mr. Aly: Seen from a distance, what effect did β€˜68 have on the Federal Republic?


Aly: 1967-68 was the expression of the Federal Republic's social crisis, and the students showed the clearest symptoms of it. Our society underwent a renewal in the course of the crisis – in the education system, the schools, in what we understand by the term freedom of the press, in our openness to our own history.

So it is, after all, a tale with a happy ending – driven by the rebellion?

Aly: No, not driven by the rebellion. The student rebellion was just a symptom. The so-called '68-ers did not make a great contribution.

Rutschky: Yes, they did. Many societies undergo crisis without anything changing. It's true that there was back then a mix of political gangsterism and narcissistic delusions of grandeur – especially among the men. Historian Gerd Koenen wrote about it in "Das Rote Jahrzehnt" (the red decade). And perhaps the phenomenon still hasn't been processed completely.

But despite all the madness on the radical left, the Federal Republic needed wind beneath its wings. And that wind was the student movement. It may be that many young people demonstrated for false heroes, but they at least showed that it was possible to demonstrate. The crisis alone did not bring change. It was the young people who did that back then, people who saw that something could be done – in education, in the behaviour of government officials toward citizens, in opening the lower middle class to the outside world. They were individuals who later launched citizen initiatives instead of waiting for government to act, people who didn't hide behind their net curtains.




(1)
According to the biography of Rudi Dutschke's wife Gretchen, Rudi put the dynamite brought to him by Feltrinelli in a pram, laid his baby, Hosea Che, on top and wheeled it to a safe house.


*

This article originally appeared in die Tageszeitung on 29 January, 2007.

Götz Aly, born in 1947 in Heidelberg, is a historian. He has worked as editor at the Tageszeitung and the Berliner Zeitung. Since 2002 he has been visiting lecturer for Holocaust research at the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt. Götz Aly has published widely on national socialist history and social policy.
Read more articles by Götz Aly at signandsight.com here.


Katarina Rutschky, born 1941,
is an educationalist and author who has published a number of books on education and feminism. She coined the term "poisonous pedagogy" in her eponymous book "
Schwarze Pädagogik" (1977).


Stefan Reinecke and Jan Feddersen are both editors of die Tageszeitung.

Translation: Myron Gubitz

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