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Only what could that mean in the world of and the early s? A revolutionary movement? In what fashion? In the Western countries the New Left, stroking its chin, contemplated three main alternatives. The crudest of those alternatives, the least imaginative, was simply to revert to the old-fashioned sectarian Marxism of the s and to go about fighting Nazism in exactly the way that people had done in the past, by organizing disciplined, Leninist structures based on obedience, dedication, and self-sacrifice, the dream words of the Great Depression, and in this manner to sink into a sepia-toned memory of long ago.

Leftism, too, can be a nostalgia cult. Leftism may be the greatest nostalgia cult of all. Resurrecting the s turned into quite an enormous campaign around the world. Even in the United States, where the Marxist and Leninist traditions were venerable but never especially strong, some fifteen thousand New Leftists are estimated to have enlisted in the minuscule retro-Marxist sects, Trotskyist or Stalinist though the Stalinists called themselves Maoists , which is no small number, if you consider that enlisting meant accepting the rigors of party discipline and not just sending in a dues payment or showing up at a meeting now and then.

I do not know exactly how many people embarked on that sort of project in West Germany, but the figures would have been larger, much larger.


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The yearning for a heroic Marxist past — for the heroic past that had failed in Germany to be sufficiently heroic, that had failed to beat down the Nazi challenge — became irresistible in the German student movement. Rosa Luxemburg, the martyr, became a goddess. And the students were drawn to old-fashioned Marxism for another reason. The principal west german student movement happened to be called SDS which, coincidentally, were also the initials of the principal American organization of the New Left. In , under the pressure of the revolutionary mood and the worldwide student uprising, the German SDS dissolved.

The students from that organization, in their search for an adult politics, went about forming any number of brand-new Marxist-Leninist parties — a new party in every city, it sometimes seemed. That became a big tendency in West Germany, bigger there than in France and the other countries of the West.

A much larger number of people took up the second alternative, a Marxism that was distinctly of the s and s: the Marxism of Castro, Che, Ho, and Mao, mixed with a few doctrines of the Frankfurt School. This was a modern Marxism, free of retro touches. The people who took it up sometimes went about organizing militant parties of their own, but mostly they cultivated their radical aspirations in a cheerfully provisional mood, awaiting the arrival of the true, well-organized revolutionary party of the future, and meanwhile biding their time in the agreeable fashion of the young.

But most often it drew on nothing at all, on a breeze blowing through the university neighborhoods and on rumors from the California counterculture. The libertarianism was typically less than libertarian. It was anarchist-leaning — or, as the French say, anarchisant — cultural more than political, oblivious to economics, a libertarianism under constant siege by the doctrines of the retro-Marxists and especially of the modern Marxists — a libertarianism that turned out to be, as a result, blithely inconsistent.

The anarchisants of the New Left kept falling for the Third Worldist fantasies of the modern Marxists, kept wanting to celebrate Ho or some other tropical Communist as a hero of the libertarian cause — an odd thing to do.

The anarchisants spoke about freedom and personal autonomy and, at the same time, nodded respectfully at the self-sacrifice of Che Guevara, whose unmentionable achievement was to have established Soviet-style prison camps in Cuba. An anarchist salt and a Marxist pepper, sprinkled together. Cohn-Bendit spoke for this third alternative. His own libertarianism was more sophisticated, and therefore more frankly anti-Communist, than that of almost everyone else in the New Left outside of the tiny, old-school anarchist sects. He could draw on a solid acquaintance with the old-time anarchist groups and the revolutionary tradition that in France went back to Proudhon, a venerable heritage.

And the venerable heritage did have its wisdom, which was available to him even as a college student. They already knew the awful truth. Cohn-Bendit knew better than to sigh for the Popular Front. He was not a man for Mao buttons. He was a lot clearer than Fischer on these questions, back in the New Left days. Cohn-Bendit has explained that, when he arrived in Frankfurt after his expulsion from France, he was surprised by how great the Stalinist influence on the German left was, by how little the German radicals knew about the true nature of communism.

He filled his writings with all kinds of angry denunciations of the Soviet Union and Lenin and the Marxist-Leninist political tradition. Le Grand Bazar, the book that got him in so much trouble in the early months of , was largely an antiCommunist tract. Then again, in the spirit of inconsistency, even Cohn-Bendit made himself at home with all kinds of people who could never have postulated anti-communism as a New Left principle. Those were his limitations.

4 - The European Nexus

Or perhaps those were the limitations of the movement: CohnBendit would have cut himself off from an enormous number of people if he had insisted on anti-Communist principles at every moment. He was a great fan of the freak scene in the United States, which he instinctively knew to be anarchist at heart, allergic to bureaucracies, allergic to anything like a Marxist-Leninist centralized organization — a movement devoted to individual expression and to the expansion of personal freedom in every possible dimension, plus a few other dimensions.

The freak scene in America was surely the biggest of all the libertarian currents around the world in those years, and its size and friskiness excited his enthusiasm. He recommended their virtues in Le Grand Bazar. You could see the confusion in someone such as Abbie Hoffman, whose level of education in matters of left-wing lore was fairly low, and who therefore tended to be rather gullible about Third World communism. Hopelessly gullible, in fact. Hoffman was an anarchist who knew zero about anarchism.

I do not mean to suggest that those three grand tendencies of the New Left, post — retro-Marxists, modern Marxists, inconsistent libertarians — kept themselves in neatly separated columns. Events and fads came in torrents, and atop the waves people bobbed about from one tendency to another.

Still, the debates that went on within the New Left, the crucial argument over violence and non-violence, had to take place within categories of thought that were shaped by those fluid tendencies. The outside world sometimes had a little trouble in making sense of the New Left for that reason. But the Red Army Fraction was not an anarchist group, nor was anarchism a main inspiration for New Left violence.

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A minor inspiration, yes. The June 2nd Movement in West Germany which kidnapped a Christian Democratic politician , the Angry Brigade in Britain, and the Direct Action group in France were armed action groups that could plausibly claim an anarchist background. Some of the people in the Black Liberation Army in the United States which came out of the Black Panthers likewise invoked an anarchist origin. The bourgeois press had it wrong. The true inspiration for the guerrilla or terrorist groups on the New Left was overwhelmingly Marxist — not in the retro-style of the traditional Marxist organizations traditional Marxism, dating back to Marx, always regarded terrorism with absolute disdain , but in the modern style.

The modern Marxists looked on life in the Western countries as hopelessly tainted and on Western society as inherently dreadful. They subscribed to the economic analyses of dependency theory, according to which the Western exploitation of everybody else around the world appears to be unavoidable, owing simply to the laws of economic survival under capitalism, and not to some streak of cruelty or thoughtlessness that could be overcome.

The modern Marxists, having studied their Frankfurt School texts, saw in Western culture an impermeable wall of total oppression. Hopelessly exploitative in economic matters, hopelessly mendacious and manipulative in cultural matters — that was Western society. What could anyone do but heave a bomb and hope for the best?

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A proper bomb might blow a hole in the Western web of total oppression. Some people did manage not to draw those particular conclusions. Herbert Marcuse himself stood up against the Red Army Fraction, and did it in The New York Times to boot, just in case anyone might fail to notice what position he was taking. Still, the terrorist logic, such as it was, drew on a Marcusean social criticism: the criticism that saw no hope at all in Western society.

There was another line of argument: guerrilla action seemed a useful way to support the Third World liberation fighters, who were guerrillas themselves. Then, too, in the case of the Irish and Basque terrorists and a few other people fighting miniature wars of national liberation, violence offered an encouraging sign that Ireland or the Basque country or some other benighted province of the West might be able to slip away into the Third World, where the sunny rays of a beautiful social revolution were far more likely to dawn.

They had the curious effect of leading the guerrillas and the people who supported them to look sympathetically on the Soviet Union, even if without much enthusiasm. The armed Marxist organizations in the Western countries, if they intended to be at all serious, did need a helping hand — logistical support, military training, a place to which hard-pressed guerrillas could flee.

And where to find that kind of help if not from East Germany, or Czechoslovakia, or Cuba, or some other country of the Soviet bloc, or else from one of the Arab countries that enjoyed Soviet backing? And what is logistical support if not moral support? That was definitely how the guerrilla argument ran in West Germany. The Soviet Union: a progressive force in world history. Really, how could she think otherwise? The East German secret services paid good money to keep the Red Army Fraction afloat in West Germany, and there was every reason to feel grateful.

The gap between the New Left terrorists in their modern Marxist version and the New Left libertarians was, in a small word, big. The libertarians detested the Soviet Union, even if they deceived themselves about the un-Soviet nature of Communist regimes in tropical regions of the world, about which everyone felt free to fantasize. The libertarians never imagined that Western society was hopelessly oppressive. The libertarians never expected to storm the Winter Palace.

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The hippie-dippies — they were much too culturally minded for that. The several modern Marxist reasonings that led to a New Left terrorism therefore tended to escape them. Then again, like the Marxists, the libertarians did find themselves in a fury over local events and foreign wars and the state of modern life. They chucked rocks at the police, and the police clubbed them back, and then some. And from behind their overturned cars and makeshift barricades, the libertarians, nursing their bruises, had to wonder: why stop at rocks?

Or at Molotov cocktails? They scratched their long-haired heads. They were not entirely resistant to the terrorist argument. So they dithered. That was the characteristic response. Meanwhile they labored at building their communes, kindergartens, food co-ops, new gender relations, and other elements of the New Left utopia in its counter-cultural version. Or else they followed the retro-Marxist example and colonized the factories in search of proletarian followers.

They mooned nostalgically over the anarcho-syndicalist vision of a revolutionary general strike. And they never did take the terrorist plunge. Or they dipped a toe in and out. This was the situation in the early and mids. And at that moment the great black clouds of New Left moodiness and rage that had been gathering for a good ten years began to break up, all over the Western world.

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The mood changed because the United States began pulling out of Vietnam, beginning in , which tamped down the New Left hysteria; and because President Nixon, who managed to incite panic everywhere he went, soon enough began his long, slow fall from power. And just as those encouraging American trends were getting under way, two very shocking developments took place, which quickly sobered up large numbers of people in the New Left all over the world, and perhaps the libertarians most of all.


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The first of those developments involved the Palestinians and their struggle against Zionism, and it requires a little explanation. The war of Arab nationalism against Zionism had been going on since the turn of the twentieth century or even earlier, and, in ideological terms, had already flip-flopped several times in the eyes of the European left, such that left-wing had turned into right-wing, and vice versa, and back again.