Text: The debate about the protest movement in 1968, set off by the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ participation in the fights of the GRUPPE PUTZ in Frankfurt 1973, remains strangely ISOLATED / In fact, there is a DIRECT CONNECTION to the murder of President Lumumba in Congo, to Vietnam, the protests in American ghettos and in Berkeley, the riots in Paris 1968 / Oskar Negt, a speaker of the protest movement, reports - -

Text: DIRECT DEMOCRACY / Oskar Negt about the 1967-1969 student protests

Voice-over: Then the Shah arrives. As soon as the Shah disappears into city hall, the “beating Persians” attack. The barriers that were separating them from the protesters are suddenly open, no one knows how, and just as suddenly the uncanny guests are armed with blackjacks and clubs.  

Alexander Kluge: In one of your speeches, you cited General Westmoreland, commanding officer in Vietnam. What does he say?

Oskar Negt: He develops a vision of war and says: “I see battlefields where we can destroy everything thanks to the immediate processing of information and the almost immediate use of deadly force. On the battlefields of the future, hostile forces will be localized, identified, and attacked without losing any time. Automated firepower guarantees an almost 100% probability of killing the enemy.” An incredible statement.

Kluge: Today we know that this is a military fantasy. But those are exactly the aspects of the Vietnam war that are so intriguing.

Negt: Yes, they are intriguing. And what he says is not so far-fetched. Because they did drop bombs according to a grid and didn’t bother to make sure whether there were actually Vietcong troops or not. The defoliation strategy was executed based on a grid … But of course this is an element of violence that makes the new generation react with immense moral outrage and protest worldwide.

Text: Oskar Negt, intellectual

Kluge: The protest movement is not a specifically German phenomenon. Of course what happens in 1967 after the death of Benno Ohnesorg is specific to Germany, but it is happening since 1965 in Berkeley, at American universities …

Negt: Berkeley, the civil rights movement, that means the fight against racial discrimination, which already in the Kennedy era was very much encouraged and supported even by Kennedy himself. That means it is a movement that is much broader than what happens in Germany.

Text: Civil Rights Movement in the USA

Kluge: In 1963, this president is shot out of the way. Kennedy, murdered. 1962 is the year of the Spiegel crisis. Augstein is arrested. It turns out that the Minister of Defense collaborated with Spain in order to protect an illegal state secret, to initiate an arrest, to silence the press. There is a long backstory.

Text: Rudolf Augstein’s arrest 1962

Text: Minister of Defense FRANZ-JOSEF STRAUSS, brought to fall by the Spiegel crisis

Negt: And Adenauer’s enormous lie that we are standing at an abyss of national treason, that was basically the determining moment after which people started to question the system, this social system and all the regulations it imposes. That started much earlier than 1967.

Kluge: 62, 63, 65, then May 1968 in Paris. The great conflict which makes it seem for a moment as if – in a movement originating from the capital – De Gaulle’s regime might either be dethroned and Mendès France might return as Prime Minister, or there might be a general destabilization of the situation.

Text: Paris, May 1968

Negt: There are social movements happening in France that merge with the student protests against an outdated, restrictive education system. And it gets to the point where the balance could have shifted indeed, and the republic that De Gaulle founded could have come to its end. De Gaulle himself retreats.

Kluge: He travels to Baden-Baden, visits General Massu, makes sure he has the support of the armed forces, and apparently considers a kind of civil war.

Negt: Yes, well, and since you mention it: Of course the Algerian War is omnipresent for the protest generation in France, just as for this generation the Vietnam War becomes increasingly …

Kluge: Violence, torture, the insistance on colonial conquests  …

Negt: It is completely absurd when politicians nowadays claim that the protest movement was dealing with a completely constitutional, non-violent system. Quite the contrary: decolonization, the belated colonial wars, in Algeria, in Vietnam, all this is part of an environment of violence that the young post-war generation responds to.

Negt: And it is very clear that the official powers in the Federal Republic and Western Europe, in France and England, are covering the Vietnam War, the apartheid system in South Africa, the murder of Lumumba …

Text: Lumumba, Prime Minister of CONGO, before his death

Kluge: Congo. A territory that reaches from Brittany to Moscow. An enormous territory. Now a man is elected there, President Lumumba. And he is arrested by the military, handed over to Tshombe, a separatist who runs the mining province Katanga, and is murdered.

Negt: Is murdered. Lumumba is killed under the eyes of the press and television. And that, too, is part of this global violent atmosphere, which doesn’t stem from those who rebel, those who initiate moral protests.

Kluge: In that moment, you can’t differentiate between this event and the death of Hammarskjöld whose plane was apparently shot down over the same Congo.

Negt: Yes. Well, who knows. But there is a lot of violence in the air in the 1960s, and of course that has to do with it being a time of change …

Kluge: And no one believes that Kennedy was murdered by one perpetrator, or a lunatic, or a hired killer. There’s a suspicion, beyond the violent facts there’s an atmosphere of distrust …

Text: Oskar Negt, intellectual

Negt: An atmosphere of distrust that leads towards revolution, towards demands for rights, towards protest, towards any alternatives to an existing social order. To destroy those alternative solutions from the inside is an explicit agenda of the individual political systems in the 1960s.

Kluge: And in the Federal Republic this is amplified by the generational divide, because there hasn’t been an actual distancing from the Third Reich. Here, too, people argue – partly supported by facts, partly fuelled by distrust and suspicion – that there has been a continuity since the Third Reich.

Negt: This continuity is due to individuals like Globke, or Filbinger who says: “What used to be right back then cannot be wrong today.” And anyway, the beginning engagement with the past happens only in the early 1960s because of the documents …

Text: Hans Filbinger, Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Army Lawyer 1945

Kluge: They call it Cold Amnesty, which is implemented immediately after the war … because of the beginning Cold War, the stable structures of the Third Reich are retroactively recreated.

Negt: And they did not convict any of the judges who issued unconstitutional sentences. “Unpunished Nazi Judiciary” was an exhibition by SDS member Reinhard Strecker. They tore down the documents, and Strecker himself was attacked. The early documentation of Third Reich crimes that no one talked about, that only begins in the 1960s.  

Kluge: So that the Wehrmacht exhibition is basically the final consequence of this movement. A different example – Congo remains in unrest, the destabilization that happened before 1965 is still felt to this day.

Negt: And Lumumba was one of those who said right away: We need Katanga, we need the gold reserves to build up our own economy. And that was fatal for him, because the old colonial masters wanted to keep what they had to sacrifice politically.

Kluge: And all this comes to a head during the Shah’s visit in the Federal Republic. Even today, we still don’t have a balanced relationship with Iran. And if you would like to describe … the Shah is welcomed as an honored monarch, attends a theatre performance in Berlin. Protests outside. Police tactics are used to form corridors, like sausages made of humans that you can easily cut off and arrest. And in the middle of all this, the shot that hits Benno Ohnesorg is fired. A casualty. And this leads to protests at the universities, against this global backdrop that has been shaping up over the past years.

Negt: An in fact, there are protests across all fractions and parties. Even conservatives consider this a turning point in the history of the Federal Republic.

Voice-over: At dusk, a shot rings out.  

Text: Scenes from the film THE POLICE STATE VISIT by Roman Brodmann

Voice-over: The woman taking care of student Ohnesorg after he has been shot in the back of the head is mocked at first: What, you wanna help him? But quickly it becomes clear that any help comes too late. The students are burning Springer papers. The uniformed troops regroup and then head out to new success. Shortly after, they also take down a girl in ‘self-defense.’

Text: Critical University Berlin / Political University Frankfurt

Kluge: Throughout the entire winter, a big-scale campaign of earnesty, of labor unfolds. The Critical University in Berlin, the Political University here in Frankfurt.

Negt: That’s correct. It’s a way of processing the violence. And of course violence plays a role in those discussions, but not as a call for violence, quite the contrary: they reflect on forms of violence in the world, on current power structures. The Critical University in Berlin, the university in Frankfurt are basically large forums where this system can be discussed even in its more subtle forms of violence. Forms of violence that are not merely expressed by police presence, but also in other kinds of oppression. That’s why the anti-authoritarian protest was first of all geared towards shaking up the status quo, breaking up old patriarchal structures.

Kluge: So they are not calling for an end of state power.

Negt: Not at all, as far as I know.

Kluge: The state itself is not being questioned. It is merely doubted in its legitimacy. It is supposed to be a constitutional state.

Negt: Right. It is supposed to be a constitutional state. It is supposed to put into practice what it claims to do, and not merely represent capitalist patriarchy. It was capitalism that was in the center of their critique, not the state.

Kluge: Although that is not true for all students. We hear the term imperialism, or militarism, or: The state is not living up to its own rules.

Negt: Yes, exactly. The claims. It’s about claiming the rights of individuals and groups of people against the sciences, the constitution. It’s about making visible the meaning of academic education and work in this society. That means, democratization is really the positive demand behind these protests. Democratization.

Text: Structural VIOLENCE / Manifest VIOLENCE

Kluge: There is the concept of structural violence. You can starve Africa by cutting Africa off from the global markets. You can scare children away from school by establishing conditions in public schools that only the parents of rich children would be able to meet. You can exclude children speaking dialect through language-related norms, through the language used at school. There is significant pathos in demanding the same path to education for everyone. A democratic element, once more.

Negt: Well, the reform era is after all a direct consequence of these protests. That means education reform, criminal justice reform, all these reforms, the launch of an academic journal, “Critical Justice” …

Text: Oskar Negt, intellectual

Kluge: All these task forces emerge in the winter of 1967 …

Negt: And you are absolutely correct, that’s structural violence. Back then a quote by Heinrich Zille circulates: You can kill a man with an apartment the same as with an axe. The element of cramped living conditions produces these forms of violence, produces a potential for violence.

Kluge: Manifest violence is the opposite pole: that’s what police batons do.

Negt: What police batons do, but also the opposite.  

Kluge: And then there are forms of violence that don’t involve violence against people. The difference between violence against objects and violence against people does not yet exist at that point.


Negt: No. Dutschke mentioned that at some point, even though that notion is in transition and marks a rather difficult line.  

Kluge: It comes from the idea of symbolic violence. That is different from structural violence, or physical violence – that means, beating. Symbolic violence means: Crowds of people appear as a threat but don’t actually attack anyone.

Negt: I mean, it also should be said that never before in this country, people have engaged so much in peaceful debates. Day and night, people engaged with each other via language. And language is a peaceful medium of communication, of understanding. Many of these things also demonstrate the immense significance of the pleasure of conversation. All sides were focused on the question how to support people’s interest in being active members of community. The notion of community is important. And related to that, the decision between representative democracy and direct democracy. Direct democracy would mean that people start to reflect on the conditions of their working environments.

Kluge: That they start to understand those conditions.  

Negt: To understand them, and to recognize themselves in them. That’s why alienated labor, alienated work, self-alienation, or rather the reversal of self-alienation play a role for the question of democracy. That means, the idea that we are not dispossessed of our own words and thoughts.

Kluge: So that I don’t need a representative. Not everything can be solved by representatives, by 500 delegates. Extra-parliamentary opposition means autonomy.

Negt: One thing that continues to be brought up even by the highest government representatives is the notion that we may not have enough plebiscitary elements in our constitution. I think that is because loyalty towards political parties and institutions is decreasing, because the participatory engagement of citizens in the processes that regulate our lives is low.

Kluge: But the plebiscite is not something that is pushed by the protest movements. They would argue that a referendum is too general.

Negt: It is also a risky process. To hold a referendum over the death penalty would be extremely risky. But plebiscitary in an everyday life kind of sense. A French theoretician once said that a nation is an everyday plebiscite. That means, the plebiscitary element in everyday life that allows people to participate in decisions concerning their own situation. That’s what it means, and that’s where it comes from, no doubt.

Text: EASTER 1968 / Assassination attempt on RUDI DUTSCHKE

Kluge: There’s the attack on Rudi Dutschke around Easter 1968. This event puts an end to a peaceful mass movement towards reform that relied heavily on communication. People are scared.

Negt: Yes. A lot of people are deeply affected. The following Easter Marches were influenced by the shock of this violent act. Unlike in the case of Kuraß and Ohnesorg, the police officer Kuraß who shot Ohnesorg …

Kluge: Here it is not a police officer but a mentally ill …

Negt: Yes, a mentally ill but agitated shooter. Fueled by the atmosphere in Berlin, the atmosphere created by the BILD Zeitung, this perpetrator puts into reality something that is already in the air. Because this cultural climate is precisely what Dutschke was critiquing. And Dutschke was attacked repeatedly because of that. It was a second major incision, a violent act, which also radicalized the protest movement in a certain way.

Kluge: Although, in moments such as these, where the global atmosphere is already heated, there is a difference between suspicion, speculation, and fact. Fact cannot be negotiated. That means, if many people believe that it was a premeditated crime, or if they believe that someone’s actions were driven by their midbrain while their cerebrum was turned off, which would have made them susceptible to the smear campaign that was very obviously happening in the newspapers. That is a suspicion that cannot be easily resolved.

Negt: No, that cannot be resolved. That’s why there is always going to be another film about Kennedy where details are being exposed, and where the filmmaker suggests that several people with certain interests planned the assassination rather than a lone shooter who acted on his own. Because it fits into an era where the Kennedy administration was really trying to push the civil rights movement forward.

Kluge: So it seemed logical to assume that reactionaries – not even the mafia, but reactionaries – paid for this murder.

Negt: Exactly.

Text: Self-dissolution of the SDS in Hannover 1969

Text: Women’s Council pamphlet: „— We don’t want to get thrown in with the problem of small groups / Especially since we suspect that these small groups –”

Speaker: We don’t want to get thrown in with the problem of small groups. Especially since we suspect that these small groups simply want to be a part of the very power structure we criticize. On the other hand, yesterday we were able to witness how those in positions of power within the SDS react to those groups: They act as if it was really a fight over the power distribution in the SDS. We demand that small minorities once again ...

Text: From a documentary by Günter Hörmann /

Text: With commentary by Tomas Schmid

Text: The New Center / Willy Brandt‘s coalition (SPD – FDP)

Kluge: A new center emerges, which is neither a protest movement nor the old establishment.

Negt: And they become part of this reform coalition.  

Kluge: So that a “second foundation” of the republic in 1969 is associated with the fact that the emergency laws were never actually put into action.

Negt: And at the same time, in a more positive sense, the school reform is happening, the reform of the criminal justice system, reformist thought …

Kluge: That means, the potential for protest is converted into labor.

Negt: Yes, exactly. Into different fields of action.  

Kluge: And that is accompanied by a form of amnesty where the crimes that happen during this social conflict are forgiven, in a sense. With one exception: The people who later become the first generation of RAF members are all among the so-called department store arsonists, and the amnesty does not apply to them. And this time period between Easter 1968 – the attack on Dutschke – and this amnesty of 1969/70 is basically the final phase, the third act and the final phase of the classic protest movement, which is still somewhat of a united front.

Negt: At that point the protest movement splits up into different moments, you could say. We witness a momentarization of this protest movement. Some groups are invested in the new formation of proletarian surrogate parties – this is when the K-groups are founded, splinter parties with a radical agenda who identify with other communist systems: Some sympathize with Cambodia, some with Vietnam, some with the Soviet Union, and others …

Kluge: … Enver Hoxha …

Negt: … and China. That’s what the first spectrum encompasses. The second spectrum is in fact, as you say, the splintering off of terrorist guerilla organizations, the identification with …

Kluge: Only those who are not covered by the amnesty. At the time when they are excluded from the amnesty, they are involved in educational projects. They are integrated in the work of the left.

Negt: Not all of them. Not all of them, but some of them are part of these collectives. For some of them the break is also related to their personality, their personal affairs. Ulrike Meinhof was never part of the collectives, she was a talented journalist. And we still don’t know why she changed course. But it is clear that the exclusion from the amnesty was responsible for cutting off their connection to the work environments they were integrated in.

Text: Funeral of Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader, and Jan Raspe at the Dornhalden Cemetery in Fall 1977

Speaker: We did not agree with the path these comrades chose in their fight. However, in the face of their deaths and the circumstances of their deaths, this becomes irrelevant. What remains are the things that connected us.

Kluge: These are all movements that are already tied to practical work. The revolutionary in professional contexts is different from a professional revolutionary.

Negt: That is a very clear distinction. That is also something that separates entire groups. The professional revolutionaries cut politics off from social processes of production. But those who start to work in different professions, in the industry, in unions, in schools – they represent the vast majority in this movement. So you could say that the protest movement benefits from their labor, and doesn’t just die a slow death. That means, there is an enormous reservoir of theory which also influences people’s understanding of socialism. It’s a democratic socialism, and anti-authoritarian socialism –

Text: Oskar Negt, intellectual

Text: Principle Motive of Socialism / Zimmerwald Left

Kluge: – which was ignited by the fact that the governments who start WWI in 1914 cannot be stopped. That means, internationalism has failed. That’s the real impulse for the Russian Revolution, for all the oppositional movements driving socialism from within.

Negt: The internationalism of the workers’ movement has failed. And that’s why in 1915/16, the members of the so-called Zimmerwald Left meet again in Switzerland to take stock: What led to this war, and what can be done to make sure that such a war never happens again? And they direct the question downwards, just like after 1970. They say, we need a satisfying work environment, non-alienated labor, the resolution of social conflicts. The people need to become autonomous. That is an actual state of peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war. Peace is something positive.

Kluge: And now we have the Group RK here in Frankfurt, which stands for “Revolutionary Fight.” What are they about? They want to infiltrate an Opel factory and get the working class itself to take action.

Negt: On the one hand, it is a well-meaning attempt to reach the unions, the people in the industry. On the other hand, the fact that it is based on deception, that people have to go undercover, means that this can’t possibly work out well. They are kicked out. The union members are suspicious as well, at best they consider it a joke. But they don’t see it as actual labor. That’s why their activities are limited to handing out flyers every morning. Those are the “spontis,” the Revolutionary Fight is a spontaneously acting group that initially chooses the workplace as their field of action. Later they dedicate themselves much more to so-called urban warfare.

Kluge: But initially this is accompanied by lots of debating, crafting manuscripts … every week, twice a week they come up with a new plan. It would be a lie to say that it didn’t have a lot of potential. If they had taken ten years to realize all these ideas …

Negt: That would have taken a lot of patience which the spontis simply didn’t have. The short intervals were also precisely what was provocative about their work – they were supposed to undermine the system. But the accelerated speed at which they were acting was also a reason for their failure.

Kluge: In 1973, there is a practice in the Westend – the neighborhood in Frankfurt where the university is located and many students lived – to tear down historical middle-class residential buildings and erect new buildings. Real estate speculation in Frankfurt at that point in time is explicitly targeting the neighborhoods where students live.

Text: Occupied buildings in Frankfurt Bockenheim

Negt: First of all, they are defending their living space. And if you look at the violent climate in which this happens – buildings are torn down, living space is destroyed – you can see that the original source of this kind of urban warfare, which also happened in Berlin and other places, is tied to an attempt to create a more humane society.

Kluge: They could have reached a compromise.

Negt: There could have been a compromise, and in fact, later there were some compromises, and things were arranged a little differently. But in other cases buildings got torn down and it took a decade until something new was built.

Kluge: For example in the Schumannstraße at the Bockenheimer Warte. This large old-bourgeois style apartment complex is torn down over night within 24 or 48 hours. There’s a fight. And then the ruins remain untouched for about a decade. Only with great efforts they can find a consortium that ends up placing a bank there ten years later.

Negt: And I mean – against the background of this connection between politics and ethics that emerges in 1968 and throughout the 1970s, this represents an enormous provocation for all the young people who have woken up and are trying to transform society, to make it a better place. It’s the violent expression of the principles of capitalism, and that’s what they protest against.

Text: Eviction of inhabitants of the buildings at Schumannstraße/Bockenheimer Landstraße, February 1974

Demolition contractor: First we are going to take down the front of the building that faces the Bockenheimer Landstraße. That means we are going to take down the roof and the top floor so that we can ensure that pedestrians or passersby or the tram are not inconvenienced. We have been told to be done by 3pm, maybe 5pm, so that from our perspective the tram can resume service. It’s not going to be easy, because the architecture includes different pediments that are only loosely attached on top, which means they are not easy to remove from a technical point-of-view. In a second step, we are going to move to the Schumannstraße, where we are going to proceed the same way as in the Bockenheimer Landstraße: we will take down the roof and the third floor and then use another machine to tear down the entire block. Because of the sheer size of the building, I doubt that we will be able to get rid of everything by tonight. After all, we are looking at 30'000 cubic meters that we are trying to make uninhabitable, or rather even destroy, with the goal of leaving behind nothing but a pile of rubble.

Text: Demolition contractor

Text: How do you expect to learn if you don’t make mistakes? / Vademecum for Managers by Dirk Baecker

Kluge: Many manuals for manager types say: You need to be able to make mistakes. You need to make mistakes. How do you expect to learn if you don’t make mistakes? That is a tried-and-tested dogma in economy. But how about politics? Are we allowed to make mistakes? Is it okay to have made mistakes 25 years ago?

Negt: Of course it is okay. Mistakes are made so they can be processed. Political learning processes are somewhat more complicated than learning processes for managers, because those have specific goal-oriented criteria. But only mistakes that remain mistakes are easy to discriminate. Mistakes that people learn from, as part of their own political biography, are a production factor for societies, a very important stabilizing element for a democratic social order. In that sense, if we fixate on the mistakes, on the accusation of having made an error, then this particular moment which does not yet carry the process of learning remains written in stone. And that is inhumane.

Text: Joschka Fischer

Kluge: You tie individuals down to an entirely different time which by now has radically changed.

Negt: Yes, and in a way, the human being, mankind is naturalized. As if man was caught in a kind of eternal puberty.

Kluge: Exposed to suspicion. Once a criminal, always a criminal. Once wrong, always wrong. Once reckless, always reckless.

Negt: On the other hand, I mean, there’s the entirety of American history and the notion of the second chance: Everyone gets a second chance, or even a third chance, which is a very humane principle of learning that everyone deserves – even criminals, I would argue.

Kluge: When nations undergo rapid change, when societies implode. When a social landscape changes dramatically, and new groups of people enter the equation – such as when the states of former East Germany joined the Federal Republic –, then we see a very particular kind of institutional ignorance. Someone from Eastern Germany cannot have experienced the process which led to the constitution of the FRG. He cannot have witnessed the protest movement from his home in Mecklenburg, he only knows about it from hearsay. How do you resolve this issue?

Negt: First of all, you solve the problem through an emphasis on education, which is necessary – political education is necessary – in order to level the playing field. And second, it is also important that people who step into a new social context need to listen a lot, need to observe and process.

Kluge: This goes both ways. Because people in West Germany also haven’t experienced what people in the East did. They have missed 40 years of experience. And vice versa.

Negt: It would be arrogant to assume that this imbalance means that we can teach them something. Both sides are supposed to be part of these learning processes. But goodwill is necessary; the intention to learn something new, to imagine, at least as a mental exercise, the experiences that we did not make ourselves.

Kluge: And to identify the blind spots of society: when the experience of learning is not shared by all citizens in a society, then something needs to happen – not mercy, but rather a form of tabula rasa, a ground zero. The historical scale of values, the stock market of legitimation, needs to be reset to zero. Not because we forgive, not because a crime is not a crime or an error is not an error; but because it would be impossible to recognize.

Negt: It’s not recognizable. It is indeed a form of disruption. All religions, at least the Christian religions, and I believe also the other monotheistic religions, have a concept of the suspension of guilt. The same thing is true for social systems. You need to be able to suspend guilt and start over – what you described as tabula rasa. You need to be able to roughen up the material again in order to use it as a raw material.

Kluge: And that is not a kind of bonus effect but an essential precondition of society. It would also mean that past injustice would not be met with the words “I don’t know” …

Text: DIRECT DEMOCRACY / Oskar Negt about student protests 1967-1969