"I cannot tell you why you must fight, I can only tell you how I solve contradictions" • Karl-Heinz Dellwo interview with Jose Rosales


Jose Rosales (JR): We’d like to begin with something you mentioned in another interview regarding the status of 68 in Germany since it is a moving anecdote regarding the relationship between the founding and subsequent generations of the RAF: “A letter from Gudrun Ensslin always remains in my memory: ‘I cannot tell you why you must fight, I can only tell you how I solve contradictions and if it is correct, you recognize something in it.’” [1] What was it that you recognized in the means employed by Gudrun Ensslin and her cohort in the course of the resolution of West Germany’s contradictions?

1. Karl-Heinz Dellwo, “An interview with Karl-Heinz Dellwo: Aborted Liberation”, Crisis & Critique, vol.5.2, p.363.

Karl-Heinz Dellwo (KHD): For me, it was not about the means, but about the attitude. The attitude was: we are making an irreversible break with the social relations of capitalism. That is what the RAF’s founding generation had conveyed to us as their decision: we use our whole lives to change the world. That was radical, uncompromising, and determined to keep and develop the revolutionary potential of the 68 movements. For the first time since the October Revolution of 1917, real antagonism had re-emerged in the Western industrialized countries. It had previously been extinguished as a real position, for different reasons, in Germany by the brute victory of the Nazis and their 12-year rule. In other states in Europe, such as Italy and France, it still existed latently through the major communist parties, which at the same time remained trapped in the conditions of the bourgeois State. The 68 movements had brought the revolution back as a real moment into people’s private as well as social lives, but then stood still and began to lose its principal claim, that it was about revolutionizing the living conditions as a whole. It stopped at the moment when the irreversibility of the decision to oppose the whole capitalist system should have become material. That is why the armed groups came into being. They wanted to continue to hold on to the revolution as a real moment in society but had understood that it would be a long-term struggle. With the RAF, the revolutionary content of the 1968 movements had only come to an end in 1977. Without them, it would have ended in 1969.

By the way, we were never concerned with the “dissolution of the contradictions in West Germany.” What is that supposed to be? At that time, capitalism had entered into its highest stage, that of imperialism. We were internationalists who knew without an international movement we would lose.

Gudrun Ensslin’s sentence refers to the voluntariness with which this decision can only be made, and adopted as an attitude. It was all about politics, not as pedagogy, liberation, not as decree or instruction of some by others. With voluntariness, responsibility is also assigned to everyone. That is just as true today.


The aim of the RAF is to dissolve the RAF

JR: You once described the RAF’s theoretical position as being anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. What were the reasons, both theoretical and practical, for having arrived at this position? Suppose the RAF was anti-socialist—i.e., defending an anti-State variant of communism—how would we begin to define the particular vision of communism it sought to help bring about?

KHD: We need to clarify this here. Of course, the RAF was not anti-socialist. Those who rejected state socialism were not anti-socialist at all; they were against state socialism. We must not have any illusions about this: The October Revolution was a true revolution. But at the moment when statehood takes precedence over social emancipation, every revolution tends to lose its radical core. The development in the Soviet Union can be explained and partly excused by many things: by the years of white counterrevolution, by the macroeconomic fact that its productive forces were not sufficiently developed for the rule and takeover of the working class, by the threat of National Socialism and many others. But the development was nevertheless not without an alternative.” In any case, ‘real socialism’, by combining its ideas of progress with the industrialization of life, much like capitalism, failed because it lacked the compensating source of warmth of another social, that concrete experience of people of a new world slowly building up, which helps them to get through the span between social hardships and a hoped-for other life as a temporarily unavoidable one… This was recognized by the New Left, which the 68 movements had represented. This became openly apparent with the invasion of the CSSR by Warsaw Pact troops to stifle the “Prague Spring”. The New Left refused to live an external collectivism in which the individual could not develop its potential. The armed groups in Western Europe were against Stalin, not Lenin. They appreciated many things about Lenin. In a sense, history produces and needs such courageous, determined people. But we did not adopt Lenin’s party model. The new socialism was to be found out and built upon in concrete struggles. It was about developing collectives that “self-determined” their history. Of course, this self-determination is senseless without the process of learning from others. There can be no recipe book of communism. Communism’s modellizations and manifestations in 100 years will have completely different content from today’s. We only have to think about the nightmares facing humanity today, such as the unstoppable destruction of nature, the reality of the all-encompassing emptiness of life of people structured by consumption, or the announcements of transhumanism. If you ask me what communism means to me today, then I would say, echoing Marx: socialized production, work’s minimization for the necessities of life, the regeneration of nature and the possibility for all to enjoy it, the equality of all people in access to the production of goods and, the once and for all domination of politics over the economy, and above all: the development of social, cultural, and intellectual competences of people.

At this point, I don’t want to be too specific about the form of the struggle at the present moment. It has to be found and developed. But regarding its condition: the contents must represent a break with everything that has gone before, and it must be ungovernable and not be integrated. Everything, absolutely everything that can be integrated, will lose. Only on what resists total subsumption today can we build a different future.

JR: The 1971 publication of Das Konzept Stadtguerilla (‘The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla’), remains one of the RAF's most publicized and cited texts, both for the clarity of its theoretical and political intentions and for summarizing the group’s practical principles in the lead up to what is now known as the “May Offensive”. That said, by virtue of critically assessing your participation and experience as part of the Kommando Holger Meins, you arrived at a position that views the RAF’s concept of the urban guerrilla as having exhausted itself. Or as you put it: “the armed struggle of an avant-garde, the concept of a city guerrilla in the metropoles, ends here.” [2] Given that this is something that you, to this day, frequently reassess, if the urban guerrilla was shown to be trapped wholly within the aporias of the State and the RAF's revolutionary capacities, we are inclined to ask what comes after the urban guerrilla?

2. Ibid., p.367.

KHD: Well, I don't know what comes after the urban guerrilla. After van Gogh's painting was dismissed as a “smear of paint” in his lifetime, later generations of painters have tried to approach his colourfulness…
Our struggle had, indeed, exhausted itself. We could always hold on and reproduce ourselves. But our intention to drive forth a great movement did not succeed. Che in Bolivia already failed because of that. The times were not yet ripe.

Nevertheless, the armed groups are the ones who have made a definitive break with society. They drew a line between an old world and a possible new one. They have raised the question of power in the world of reigning capital and the bourgeoisie. They have acted as a counter-power to State sovereignty. Without these countervailing forces there will be no possibility of a fundamentally different world.

JR: From 1972 until the official dissolution of the RAF, the group would find itself oriented, or perhaps torn, between three different sites of struggle (civil society, anti-colonial struggle on the Third World, and the prison) that it was unable to bring together in a manner that furthered the revolutionary potential of the period. It would seem that after 1972, it became increasingly difficult, if not wholly foreclosed, for the second and third generation RAF members to make good on Baader’s dictum on self-abolition: “The RAF aims to dissolve the RAF.” Interestingly enough, you have argued that the RAF’s dissolution was conditioned, if not determined, by the end of the US war in Vietnam. With its end came the ultimate revelation that “a central politically-mediating thread of our practice broke away. The reference to the now-ended war-imperialism no longer really explained our war. The normal state of the system” now became the central problem. [3] What prevented the RAF from maintaining its internationalist orientation and alignment with the Third World's liberation struggles? Did Vietnam mean something particular within the West German context of extra-parliamentary struggles that was not true of other groups such as the armed struggle for liberation in Palestine, PLO (with whom the RAF had connections), or with Vietnam's neighbouring guerrillas in the Philippines who were, at that time, engaged in a liberation struggle against a neo-colonial government whose implicit subordination to US interests was made explicit with the beginning of the US-backed dictator, namely Ferdinand Marcos? Or was it simply the fact that the struggle over the lives of imprisoned comrades began to interfere with the requirements for establishing material relations of solidarity with struggles outside of the global North?

3. Ibid., p.363.

KHD: Actually, this question puts forward the thesis that if we had brought together all the possibilities inherent in the concept of urban guerrilla, we could have won. I cannot share this opinion today. We had - in retrospect - only the choice of how to lose: with fewer mistakes and more heroically? But this question is only important for subjective vanity. We would have lost anyway. Revolution’s ripeness that guided our “voluntaristic” attachment to militant radical praxis was simply not there. We were unable to approach the goal of the RAF dissolving into a larger - international - movement. With the military defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, the Third World's liberating countries were given new possibilities, including those of their own state-building. Their role in the global anti-imperialist struggle became defensive and was often bogged down in local disputes. The metropolitan guerrillas faced the problem that they would now have to intensify political contradictions within their centres. It was more challenging to link the struggles in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, or the Philippines with the reality here.

Conversely, these movements were also unable to push fundamental contradictions here in their struggles. You can see it, particularly in Central America. The armed struggle there was supported at that time by those leftists in the FRG who were in the process of defecting to the FRG political system. For years they promoted the campaign: “Weapons for El Salvador” and transferred millions of dollars there. The leftists had become liberals who saw misery and oppression elsewhere, and elsewhere they saw the need for revolution, not here. This marks the political weakness of the urban guerrilla: capitalism appeared to a large part of society, including the working class, as constantly prospering. But it also brought the representatives of the New Left much in the way of material improvements and the lure of an all-encompassing world of consumption. For many, this was experienced as an expansion of their personal freedom. The revolution was no longer necessary for the vast majority of society, including the former 68 revolutionaries.

Vietnam had a special significance. The war imperialism in Vietnam was also directed against people here. Associated with it was the practice of mass murder in the name of their own society, with all the consequences in terms of authoritarian and militaristic structures in society. In supporting the Vietnamese liberation struggle, it was decidedly also about their own liberation. After the US withdrew militarily from Vietnam, other struggles never again had this significance. You can see it today also in the example of Rojava. Many people here support this struggle. Individuals decide to go there and fight on the ground.  But there is no spark because there is no real identification with the people fighting there. In Vietnam, people felt that their own society and their own State were a common enemy and fought against them together with the Vietnamese. In my opinion, the struggle for the prisoners did not hinder anything here. On the contrary, the prisoners’ struggle played a significant role in keeping a fundamentally revolutionary aspiration real here. But for a long time in the 1970s, it was the field in which the question of power with the State could be posed most directly.


Germany in Autumn

JR: Of the various critiques and analyses regarding the ‘German Autumn’ and the RAF’s uncompromising commitment to armed extra-parliamentary struggle, Guattari’s remarks remain one of the best examples of what a principled and comradely disagreement looks like:

“In my view, what should be questioned is not the principle of armed struggle, nor its methods that are a part of all revolutionary movements, but, at the heart of each specific situation, its real influence on the totality of anticapitalist struggles. Clearly, the liquidation of a leader like Schleyer could never derail the functioning of the system. Instead, by providing power with the opportunity to fully deploy its police brigades and its media arsenals, it helped to further ensnare millions among the exploited. In other words, the real drama is not that a man was killed, but that these actions were conducted in a way that simply does not break free of the repressive bourgeois system, fascist assassinations, or kidnappings carried out by unofficial police gangs, and that in the final account, their only result will have been to echo the collective melancholy that has present-day Germany in its grips.” [4]

For myself, I remain of the opinion that any possible critical and rigorous engagement with organizations such as the RAF forces one to acknowledge the particularities of each situation characterized by a cycle of armed struggle against the State and capital: revolutionary violence necessitates a related and parallel struggle against the propaganda that seeks to delegitimize the desire for the abolition of capital. With the State’s propaganda campaign against the RAF, in particular, we see the attempt to recode the concrete, everyday, reality of armed revolutionaries into an image of the “left-wing terrorist”. It is in this way that the circulation of the urban guerrilla, via German media outlets, functioned as the spectacular (in the Debordian sense) governance of every nascent and larval hint of revolutionary desires on the part of a not-yet armed public. When you reflect upon the RAF as both a spectacular phenomena and a lived reality, to what extent do you see the press/media (newspapers, journalists, public intellectuals (e.g. Sartre), etc.) as having contributed to the groups separation from the substantial degree of popular support harboured by the general public from the 70s up until the end of, say, the “May Offensive”? While some outlets maintained a more paternalistic relation as seen in the way the media reported on the meeting between Sartre and Andreas Baader, [5] a tacit agreement was to be established between Left-wing and Right-wing parties via instances such as public denunciations of the RAF by Oskar Negt, a figure whose ostensible “leftism” and public importance is as clear as it is altogether lacking. [6]

4. Felix Guatari, “Like the Echo of a Collective Melancholia”, Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977-1985, trad. Chet Wiener & Emily Wittman, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2009, pp.106-112, p.111.

5. cf. Felix Bohr & Klaus Wiegrefe, “When Sartre met RAF leader Andreas Baader”, Spiegel International, in https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/transcript-released-of-sartre-visit-to-raf-leader-andreas-baader-a-881395.html.

6. Oskar Negt would rise to the fame of the public intellectual partially due to his prior stint as assistant to Jurgen Habermas and would go on to denounce the RAF—a public statement that implicitly suggested an equivalence between Negt’s position and that of the German left in general. All the better to separate the legitimate (legal) from the illegitimate (illegal) form anticapitalist struggle may assume in the course of its development in West Germany.

KHD: You are absolutely right in your analysis of the role of the bourgeois media. They are as important to any ruling system as the police, the secret services, the judiciary, the army, the bureaucracy, etc., if not more important. They will always be the mouthpiece of the ruling conditions, no matter how moderate they sometimes appear to be, especially when there is a political crisis and they hope to undermine its demands with feigned concern for the poor. But it always turns into hatred and contempt when the appeasement does not work. It is their task to permanently define the basis from which to speak, i.e. to negotiate. For them, it is always the basis of the system. Never that of communism. As long as we struggle, there will only be a continuity of denunciation towards us on the part of the bourgeois media. 

This is what revolutionary action breaks through first: the basis that is spoken of. Without that, no action is revolutionary. This what it conveys from within itself. This is what revolutionary action wants: the end of negotiating from a bourgeois, i.e., capitalist, basis. Either we want to abolish capitalism or not. This is a banal truth, no matter that it seems to be a monstrosity to many. But the only monstrous thing is the continuation of capitalism.

For me, it seems there is a dichotomy when you say that revolutionary violence requires an associated parallel struggle against the propaganda of the enemy. I agree with you that there must be permanent communication on the part of the revolutionaries with a large section of society, perhaps with as many as possible. Not with all. That goes without saying. But armed action in the class struggle only reaches others in society if there is already an experience there that corresponds to it. If that is not there, it will not be produced by a struggle against the propaganda campaigns. This was the dilemma of the armed groups in the FRG after the end of the Vietnam War.

The attempt of the armed groups in Western Europe to start a revolutionary movement here as well failed not because they did too little propaganda or because they were not able to follow Guattari’s theoretical precept of reconciling the principle of armed struggle with the reality of anti-capitalist struggles in its totality, whatever that might have been. It failed because the time for such a step had not yet come for society’s great majority.

The time was not ripe. We know that today, and that’s what it’s all finally about. And perhaps it is also about the asymmetry in the subjective perception of conditions that are the same for everyone but are recognized differently. For those who led the revolutionary struggle, it was already physically and psychologically unbearable to integrate themselves into living conditions under capitalism. But there were so many from the new awakening in ‘68 that the collective thought of overthrowing the system took on such a weight of its own that one could consider the time ripe. It had to be tried.

JR: Looking back to this period of activity there was a well known statistic regarding the public’s perception of the RAF, which you previously qualified [7] as having been cited by RAF members in a manner that had little to no effect on the groups organization and operation.

We bring this up, not simply because it gives us some insight into the various affects and positions regarding the RAF throughout the social field, but because it is indexed to the existence of something that was possible at that time and became increasingly impossible in the years that followed: in 1971, 40% of West German’s viewed the RAF’s “violence as political, not criminal, in motive”, 20% said “they could understand efforts to protect fugitives from capture” while 6% “confessed that they were...willing to conceal a fugitive.” [8] Given this level of popular understanding, if not tacit or outright support, do you think that it remains a real possibility to use and modify this public perception into a future, concrete, expression of a collective desire instantiated in the political forms adequate to what is demanded by waging a struggle on many fronts? If not, were there other factors that made the realization of such a possibility particularly difficult for the RAF? [9]

7. Back then, we liked to often quote this opinion poll ourselves against this compulsive attempt of politics and the state apparatus to turn us into criminals and de-politicize [sic] our struggle. But it did not have any great internal significance. One cannot really rely politically on such a thing. This rendered an atmosphere in society, a solidarity with all that fight, because the people saw themselves inspired by 68 to change many things in their life. Such moods reflect a moment, but not a whole life-decision [...] In the end though, the transformation of the atmosphere into...open hatred as in 1977 was caused by the RAF itself. Its military severity was no longer politically mediated after the end of the Vietnam war”. “An Interview with Karl-Heinz Dellwo: Aborted Liberation”, op.cit., p.368.

8. As recounted by Smith and Moncourt: “40% of people did not view the RAF as acting upon criminal motives but on political motivations and interests; 20% sympathized with the two RAF members; and 6% admitted to their willingness to conceal a fugitive from the law (i.e. a member of the RAF).” J. Smith and Andre Moncourt, Red Army Faction: A Documentary History vol 1: Projectiles for the People (PM Press: 2009), 108.

9. Of course, this is a question that we can only ask with the privilege of hindsight. In the months immediately following the events of May, both the RAF’s founding and subsequent generations increasingly divided its time and energy between the symbolic and armed campaign against the imprisonment and treatment of their comrades and the continued escalation of tactics against key sites for the continuation of imperial and neo-colonial wars abroad. Holger Meins, Jan-Carl Ape, Andreas Baader were captured by the police after an armed standoff (June 1); Gudrun Esslin is arrested in Hamburg (June 7); Ulrike Meinhof and Gerhard Müller were outed by the left-wing unionist and arrested while still in possession of a suitcase that is said to have contained “forged passports, gun oil, a four and a half kilo homemade bomb, two homemade hand grenades, a semi-automatic pistol, two 9mm handguns, numerous fully loaded magazines, and more than three hundred rounds of ammunition in Meinhof’s luggage”(June 15). On September 30, 1974, RAF members would occupy the offices of Amnesty International as an act of solidarity with the hunger strike of forty RAF prisoners.

KHD: I could name many concrete criticisms of our practice at that time, including those for which I myself am directly responsible. But it doesn't lead me and us any further today. We cannot change the past struggles and the RAF will not repeat itself in this form. There are reasons why the revolutionaries were the way they were. And of course we were inadequate in everything, just as otherwise. Something new appeared with us in the metropolises, which was often very flawed at the beginning. We had no class struggle tradition to build on. We were a small group that could fight because liberation movements had broken out all over the world to overthrow the global system of imperialism. We were not a group that could relate to the metropolitan working class, least of all the German one with its historical specificity as a war participant with the Nazis. But that was only a specificity in our initial social situation. The Brigate Rosse, who unlike us could relate to a politicised working class ready to fight, also went from being the expression of a class to being the proxy of the class and then fell short. And yet we had an important historical role: our task was to bring the rupture into the metropolitan world of the time, which pointed beyond the demarcation line that existed between East and West after World War 2 in terms of content. We raised the question of power with capitalism. That is the reason why we are having this conversation today. Otherwise it would all be just a moment of past history, at best still interesting for a few historians.

Perhaps today there is a different maturity of the times that, unlike then, is not tied to the consciousness of a radical minority, but to the things themselves that capitalism produces. The shocks that increasingly accompany capitalism today represent a different starting point for those who want to survive as human beings. We certainly do not yet have a complete overview, but such events as the global pandemic or global warming will change the basis of life for billions of people. The question of the maturity of time takes on another dimension today. Action is becoming necessary for survival, especially for the younger generation, who in 10, 15, 20 years - all an extremely short period of time when they will not even be in the middle of their lives - will be fully caught by the destructive backlash of capitalist exploitation of the world. In our time, it was a minority who realised that capitalism was destroying us and who acted out of this realisation, then failed to act against the system’s promises of a prosperous future. Today it has become an obvious fact that the destructive energies of the system will dominate the lives of all. What appeared to be “voluntary” on our part may now be forced on others.


Life as scandalous manifestation of the truth

JR: Life after the RAF, and after being served two life sentences in prison, has seen you assume another form of living in the scandal of truth via your work as an artist; your most recent work being a film piece on Pasolini, Allegories of Power, which was included in an exhibition marking the 45th anniversary of Pasolini’s death alongside works by Alfredo Jaar, Ming Wong, and Elisabetta Benassi among others. [10] And for a video whose runtime approximates that of a feature length film, it is a work that could not be more different—and precisely because it presents a renewed approach to questions of abolishing capital and the nature and function of Italian fascism, through a combination of voice overs complimented with stills from Salò. Can you say a little about what led you to taking up an artistic practice, why video/film was selected as its medium of expression, and why Pasolini in particular? Before your recent artworks, you founded and ran the publishing house Laika-Verlag: an independent press that, among other things, was invaluable for establishing lines of alliance between comrades, among which we are lucky to count ourselves. [11] Whether it is the production of books as aesthetic objects in their own right or explicit art works that circulate in the gallery space, would you say that these are simply various ways of finding the means to live the possibility of the true life at the heart of the life of the militant, even if it now takes place through different means? This is not to ask if you believe there to be a revolutionary kernel to individual lifestyles and consumer choices. Rather, it is to inquire into how you, or comrades of yours, maintained the relentless refusal of this world after the vertiginous heights of armed struggle; after both the revolution and revolutionaries have burnt out and are forced back into the societal blackmail of having to make a living. How to take up, under new conditions, the search for the conditions that allow one to develop collective practices of freedom?

10. “After PASOLINI—Visions of Today” at the Center for Contemporary Art — Plovdiv, The Ancient Bath.

11. Dark Deleuze German Translation Book Launch, b.books, 27 March 2017, Berlin, DE.

KHD: There is no substitute for a struggle to liberate the human being. After prison, I realized: Life in illegality was a positive liberation. The struggle in prison is that of a negative liberation. The new life outside, which was never planned by us, is that in positive bondage. Especially in the long years in the maximum-security prison, sometimes separated for a long time in complete isolation, images interested me the most. For me, they sometimes had greater depth than texts. Sometimes I could no longer read anything. But I could always look at pictures. It took a few years until I was able to make small films after prison. The films allowed me to stick to a truth about life. Later I founded a publishing house with a friend, Willi Baer. We published about 170 books there in the field of left theory, history, interventions, and cinematic representation of the left liberation struggles in the world. We published 142 films there, beautiful films, many of them had sunk into oblivion, similar to the left and its history of revolutionary awakening in general.

For a long time, I knew Pasolini only peripherally. Then his film teorema fascinated me. I can recognize an important aspect of our history in him. For me, the film raises the question: what happens when liberation is experienced in real terms but then disappears and leaves our reality of life? In teorema, a figure similar to a young god rushes into a middle-class family. In this clan, he puts every of its members in turn into a state of change and happiness. Then this “god” disappears, just as he came. And with him, the fulfilment experienced disappears. Every attempt to replace this happiness with something different ends in trauma for all. For liberation that really was, there can never be a substitute after its absence.

We know this. There is survival in false circumstances, in which one may find a somewhat meaningful activity, but it does not replace what is fundamentally missing in our lives.

There is much that I appreciate in Pasolini, especially his radicalism, with which he, who still hoped for the power of pre-capitalist culture for a long time, recognizes the ruthless destruction of man in a world against which there seems to be no hold. The all-encompassing doxa of production and consumption occupies, dominates, and reshapes everyone for itself. In retrospect, it confirmed childhood premonitions of mine. For many of us, childhood was a time of refusing to conform and take over because we suspected: we no longer belong to ourselves afterwards. The modernization push that emerged in the sixties of the last century wanted to access our whole lives. Not only labour power was to be capitalized, but life as a whole. Many of us first recognized this intuitively. That’s where the need and idea to oppose everything old with the whole of your life came from. As I saw much later, Pasolini understood it and saw the anthropological mutation into which modernized capitalism was driving people. For him, this State was more destructive than the old fascism. That’s why he spoke of consumer fascism. And that is understandable. The old fascism still needed the openly appearing power from outside, which subjugated and intimidated, coupled with an ideology of individuals and nations' superiority. It was at least still recognizable and thus perhaps even more humane. Modern capitalism has long since occupied people, making them see as “voluntary” what in reality is nothing other than an expression of colonization. A new law of life characterizes this reality: everything exists only based on its utilization. In it, the inhuman is taken to the extreme. Nothing has any validity of its own anymore. Life is universally subject to trade, to sale, to surplus-profit maximization. The cultural history of humanity falls into the stage of non-culture.

Our installation, Allegories of Power, in which the two friends Gabriella Angheleddu and Fabien Vitali have an equal share, is an examination of the question of domination, power, and agreement in a world in which the roles are different. Still, the dreams are similar since they spring from the same life that has become universal. In his film, "Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom", a film version that is to a certain extent baroque, more a theatrical production than a classical film, Pasolini does not allow any sentimental feelings towards the victims to break out. This world is closed. It is caught in the antinomy of never being able to satisfy what it promises as satisfaction and only continues from one excess to another, interrupted by the pauses that follow the empty space after the excess that has just been carried out.

I enjoy my work, but I have no illusions about its limits. We survive in it, but we do not liberate ourselves. To turn this desire into reality needs another work of art. That would perhaps be a criticism of the armed groups that I could accept today: that we have not seen, or have seen far too little, that the struggle for liberation is also a work of art.

JR: This idea of making visible the possibility of a true life amidst its falsification is a theme that appears in various parts of your work. I am thinking here of the scene where you show Pasolini comparing the effects of fascism with respect to the architecture in Sabaudia with what Pasolini calls the “true fascism” of capitalist society:

“[I]t is from the roots of provincial, rustic, pre-industrial Italy from which Sabaudia emerged, not fascism. But now exactly the opposite is happening. The regime is democratic, etc., etc., but that cultural assimilation and homologation, which fascism did not achieve in any way, is however, being easily achieved by the power of today, i.e. the consumer society, namely by destroying the various partial realities, and removing the foundations of the various possibilities of human existence that emerged from Italian history...And so I can say without further ado that true fascism is precisely the domination of the consumer society which is destroying Italy.”

To what extent can we say that it is by rendering the artistic and political interventions of Pasolini’s life indistinct; by showing their coincidence in one and the same creative act; that the film makes visible what distinguishes a false life from the truly false life? We ask this for the simple reason that, If it is Foucault who has shown that forms of life are an expression of the desire for the true life, then, for us, this version Salò, which seemingly treats the difference between the artist and the political militant of Pasolini’s life as indistinct, allows us to glimpse Pasolini as a form of life that asserts the existence of what we might call the truly false life. And we find this ‘truly false life’ exemplified by the lives of the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate, and the President; lives that finds their only true source of pleasure, satisfaction, and enjoyment in the “destruction of various partial realities;” for whom “the most exciting thing” is to be the direct cause of the one who pleas, “kill me, before you dishonour me.” In the life that is personified by these figures of sovereign power (monarchic, clerical, juridical, electoral), there is no higher source of pleasure than “in removing the foundations of the various possibilities of human existence.” And so, to speak of a truly false life refers not to the life that is lived in complicity with power but to the one that is lived in the service of elevating complicity into the absolute rule of the arbitrary. All that is solid melts into air—perhaps there is no better formulation of the ethical maxim that defines what is truly false in this life.

KHD: Yes. But please remember, the central phrase of the four powers is: “We are given no choice. All our pleasures, we must subordinate to one gesture.” There is no resolution with domination for nothing. They, too, are the subjects of this world. Even if they torture and exploit others - they remain pathetic creatures. This could easily be applied to creatures as gruesome as they are uninteresting as Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, and many others who probably have no awareness at all of what life could actually be. Understanding of this is not transmitted through domination. On the contrary. Only in a state of non-domination are we able to recognize ourselves as the same subject in the other. Everyone is subjected to the “truly false life” in globalized capitalism.

Of course, Pasolini was right that fascism was not born in the old culture. Fascism is the political-social incarnation of the world principle of permanent exploitation that broke through with industrialism, i.e., also the objectification of everything. As long as this principle continues to dominate life, it will also always be its brother or sister. In other words, fascism will not disappear without the overthrow of this principle of utilization, that is, without the overthrow of capitalism, in whatever variant (we constantly hear talk of “green capitalism” today).

We do not know what is coming. But if nothing comes from us, then destruction will come through the expansion of the false into the limitless.


The shape of politics to come

JR: Before the RAF, you were part of the squatters’ movement. Is that correct? Would you say that this period of your political life directly informed your decision to go underground and join the RAF? To have a portion of one's politics education in both the squatting movement and in the RAF is interesting if only for the fact that the RAF’s militant discipline and underground yet vanguardist approach to revolutionary politics and groups such as the Autonomen, who sought to prosecute a revolutionary procedure via forms of decentralized and self-organized direct action, constitute two distinct positions within the history of Germany's extra-parliamentary and non-electoral Left. Was there a consensus or intragroup position of the RAF on the Autonomen and the generalization of autonomism within German?

KHD: The squat was an essential experience in my life because we openly exposed ourselves to the outside world. We were both courageous and therefore vulnerable through the simple attitude: “We do not accept your property order.”

As a consequence of this ethos, I was in prison for a year under harsh conditions and connected with many struggles. We defined ourselves as "undogmatic leftists" in distinction to the new student party foundations, which believed in the myth of the white working-class proletariat. But “undogmatic left” did not refer to a degree of reliability in struggle or action. It referred to the question of whether politics rules over us or we determine politics. We wanted to be the auto-nomous subjects. Of course, living outside bourgeois social forms of relations, i.e. so-called illegality, requires a different discipline. Our own lives and those of our comrades depended on it.

But at the same time, it is also a condition there that one is the subject of politics and does not fall into an independent logic, which can quickly end up in militarism. The autonomous movement only came into being later. At that time, I was convinced in the first place that it would strengthen the structures outside of bourgeois society. For many years, we saw other groups operating in or out of legality more as a transitional phase for people who wanted to join the armed struggle in the end. They could make their political experiences there and also decide concretely how far they would go. For me, the armed struggle had primacy. In the 1980s, that changed. Our attitude developed so that we assumed that there would be an interplay of different struggles, tactics, and strategies.

JR: What is striking given the current State of extra-parliamentary politics practiced among the German Left is the extent to which its modes of intervention and struggle respond to particular historical and material conditions that one already saw to be the horizon of struggles to come. In a statement issued by one group of the Autonomen, regarding the situation of housing in Kreuzberg from the perspective of both militants and the Turkish community alike, they write:

Since October 3 [1990 is ‘German Unity Day’], the government has been blowing a storm against the Left… A new phase of the confrontation is now beginning. In the future, we will have to deal with even stronger repression. But repression breeds resistance, and this much is clear: We will give no quarter. If their goal is a capital city Berlin, we will build a front-line Berlin. They will gain no peace and quiet in which to conduct their disgusting behaviour, and this is no empty threat! [12]

12. Georgy Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life, pp.154-155.

This legacy of autonomous politics persists even in the recent struggles against the recent eviction of the Meuterei in Kreuzberg and Kiez pub Syndikat in Neukölln, in formations against the eviction of the Rigaer 94 in Friedrichshain, in the protests against the construction of a new Google headquarter, in the links established between leftists from city centres and workers at Amazon warehouses that line the urban periphery, in struggles against increasing property prices and unaffordable rents, and in the public defiance of the State's anti-Kurdish laws that have made it illegal to publicly display the Kurdish flag, and so on. And yet, even though the concept of the urban guerrilla seems to have outlived its use while decentralized modes of organization remain limited in what they can achieve, to wager on revolution via parliamentary politics is to condemn oneself to live off appearances. Given this situation, how do you view the current and future possibilities of extra-parliamentary politics within the German Left? Is there anything from the “German Autumn” that you continue to find relevant in light of the recent cycle of struggles?

KHD: Yes, this Left has never lacked declarations of intent. Nevertheless, even today, it is not a relevant force in society. You can’t cover that up with pathos, even if it is never wrong to declare one’s courage. We need a farewell to the past century, at all levels. First real socialism fell, now, the sham winner of that time, western capitalism under US leadership has its rapidly intensifying downturn. Surprisingly, it turned out that all the other left and communist movements had also come to their end with real socialism and dissolved. This shows how dominant the Russian revolution was for over a century. The critics of real socialism also swam on its long waves and became stranded as they ebbed away. Now the structures of domination of the West are crumbling. Here, a change is imminent that is gigantic but not sustainable, as long as it only aims to modify it superficially and non-fundamentally. Capitalism has become global and independent of all previous hegemons. The independent logic of capitalism now rules all. Real subjects no longer exist within the existing system. This is where States’ aggressiveness comes from: Even those who thought they would always be the winners of globalization are finding that its consequences are disempowering them as well. Due to its crises, which capitalism unleashed and has allowed to sweep over the world, the rate of profit for capital is getting smaller and smaller, and those that are still on the upswing are in a better position than those that assumed they would be a world-power. I can put it another way: the non-subjectivity of the free market has replaced the sovereignty of states, confederations of states, and transnational corporations and institutions as the ultimate hegemon of capitalism. Its rule is complete (and also in decline) in the independence and autonomization of its laws, which subject everyone equally. We need an answer to this. And, of course, it is called socialism. Only what it will look like is the question.

JR: Given the importance of Nazi Germany and the incomplete attempt at “de-nazification” that followed, your generation felt obliged to hold the previous generation accountable for this failure, which was viewed as a failure to fully atone for the horrors of the past and absolve itself in the eyes of United States and Western Europe. Do you see a similar phenomenon playing out today given the resurgence, and increasing support for, more or less explicitly, neo-Nazi views? Amid this resurgence of the far-right in Germany, both in terms of parliamentary representation in the AfD (‘Alternative for Germany’) and terms of its more traditional, street-politic, formations. The latter was exemplified by the mass demonstration of fascists and fascist sympathizers in Chemnitz in August 2018. And all of this comes in the aftermath of the scandal caused by the German public’s discovery of the National-SozialistischerUntergrund (National-Socialist Underground, NSU) and the news of its seven year killing spree explicitly targeting Turkish and people from immigrant communities—a killing spree that included cities as historically charged as Rostock [13] and Nuremberg, to Hamburg. In light of the lessons to be drawn from the experience of both the RAF, in particular, and the extra-parliamentary Left in Germany, in general, what remains of relevance from this period in the face of the recent consolidation of parliamentary power and the increased desire for a neo-fascism in its ascendency? According to some German scholars who place themselves on the Left, and despite the State's seeming unwillingness or tacit acceptance of this mass of neo-fascist violence, the far-right in Germany is approaching its internal limits (in terms of the AfD's inability to deliver on its campaign promises despite becoming the third largest political party in Germany). [14] Is this too optimistic of an assessment of the German far-right?

13. “In Rostock, a building used as a youth centre was taken away from local people and turned into a temporary housing facility for refugees. The resentment over this building’s transfer to foreigners could have been easily allayed by allocating an alternative site, but none was provided, and in August 1992, Rostock became the scene of the next major pogrom. More than a thousand people attacked a refugee centre containing hundreds of Romanian Gypsies and Vietnamese workers… the crowd stayed in the streets for nearly a week, attacking foreigners and strutting in the media spotlight and support of the populace—and of the local police [...] The police chief made a deal with the mob” the police would withdraw from the city for four hours, during which time the rightists would have free rein. When the refugee centre was set on fire with at least a hundred Vietnamese inside, the fire department refused to answer the call for help, and the police were nowhere in sight [...] As neo-Nazis roamed the city, the pogrom spread to at least a dozen other towns and cities. Only when Autonomen converged in force on Rostock did the attacks cease (and the police appear in large numbers). After nearly a week of terror, there had been only about a hundred arrests, but on the first day of the Autonomen counterattack, the police detained more than the number of antifascist activists” (Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics, 160).

14. For example, see Michael Heinrich’s 2020 article, “The Rise of a new extreme Right-Wing Party in Germany — and the Beginning of its Decline”, in https://gaurilankeshnews.com/the-rise-of-a-new-extreme-right-wing-party-in-germany-and-the-begin-of-its-decline/.

KHD: The resurgence of right-wing and radical right-wing positions is, in my opinion, related to what I mentioned earlier. When the world fell apart, one of the first reactions was trying to maintain the status quo. Nevertheless, globalized capitalism's destructive repercussions are too significant and overwhelming to be simply covered over ideologically. Even if nationalism can still be activated as a legitimizing component for the egoistic security needs of the respective natives, there will be no new strengthening nation-states. The train has left the station, and the people know that, too, at the end of the day. Of course, we have to fight right-wing radicalism.

In contrast to the Left, violent structures always develop in the right-wing radical milieu, which combines with parts of the state apparatus and are dangerous. But beyond open right-wing radicalism, we must not overlook the fact that the majority in society has for years held attitudes that coincide in content with the slogans of the right-wing radicals. For them, their wealth is earned, and it is the poor's own fault, and they should stay where they are. With one brief exception, in 2015, when refugees were “welcomed” in Germany as if on a whim, the social brutality has returned to “normal”, the effects of which can be measured in 40 thousand deaths in the Mediterranean or the camps in the border districts of Europe such as Greece or Libya and North Africa. Whether they like it or not, the livelihoods of all people will change. In the meantime, a virus is already putting everything out of kilter. So events are occurring whose consequences are no longer determined by humans. But that is no reason for optimism when one looks at the time frame of one's life span. In perspective, capitalism is already dead, at least dying. But until it is finally only a corpse and no longer twitches, and even its putrefaction no longer poisons us, a lot can still happen.

The fight continues.



April, 2021



Karl-Heinz Dellwo

Born in 1952, was and is: an RAF member, author, documentary filmmaker, publisher and video artist. He hopes that the "angel of history" in Paul Klee's painting will someday be able to turn to the future. The present is just brutal and boring. He lives in Hamburg.


Jose Rosales

Is a writer and researcher based in New York City, currently residing in Lisbon, and is co-editor of Hostis: A Journal for Incivility.



1. The “Battle of Tegeler Weg” in Berlin-Charlottenburg, ©Ludwig Binder/Stiftung Haus der Geschichte, 1968.



This interview was conducted over the course of a month and touches on Karl-Heinz Dellwo's experiences and reflections during his participation in the Red Army Faction; in the squatters movement prior to the days of the RAF; the significance of the Vietnam War and anti-colonial struggles in general; his criticisms of the RAF's concept of the urban guerrilla; his analysis of the German State's strategy of counter-insurgency; his experience serving a double-life sentence in prison; and his work as a publisher and filmmaker afterwards, as someone who remains a militant in everyday life.


Technical info

Date of publication: 14.07.2021

Edition #32 • Summer 2021 •