Left-wing terrorism in the First World

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2001

2 Pages


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The urban guerrilla groups in Latin America during the 1960¹s were products of strained (straperiert) economic times or formed in reaction to regimes that were clearly corrupt and repressive. At almost the same time the insurgencies (Aufständischen) in Latin America got underway, countries in Europe and North America found themselves playing host to small terrorist groups operating in the midst of affluence (Wohlstand), in defiance (Mißachtung) of elected governments and the rule of law. There were superficial similarities between the two types of groups. Both drew most of their membership from the ranks of disaffected (entfremdeten) students and intellectuals. Both used the same tactics of bombing, kidnapping for ransom (Lösegeld), assassination, and bank robbery. Both were left-wing and revolutionary, having decided to change society through violence and terror rather than by peaceful methods.

The difference was that in Latin America the urban guerrillas managed to exploit (ausnutzen) popular discontent (Unzufriedenheit) with the social order and provoke the government into widespread repression. If they had managed to survive the contest of terror and counter-terror with the government and gone on to build more public support, the end result might have been different.

In North America and Europe, there was little to rebel against. Democratic governments refused to shut down and become the fascist states the rebels wished them to.

The wave of student protest that peaked in the summer of 1968 in Europe and the United States, and its ultimate failure to change society, persuaded many young radicals that since the Establishment would not listen to their demonstrations, it was time to resort to violence.

Groups that emerged from the student protest movement were the Red Brigades in Italy, the Japanese Red Army, and England¹s only home-grown terrorist organization, the Angry Brigade.

One of the first such groups to be formed was the Red Army Faction , also called the Baader-Meinhof gang after two of its leaders. It was formed in 1968 in West Berlin, and carried out a series of bank robberies, attacks on US Army installations, bombings, arson, and kidnappings. It reached a maximum strength of 60 combatants, and had a large network of sympathizers in West Germany. By 1972 most of the leaders had been arrested or killed in shootouts with the police. The remnants of the terrorist group worked with Palestinian terrorist groups and the Red Brigades of Italy during the latter 1970¹s, while other groups carried on the fight.

One of these groups, called SPK (Socialist Patients Collective), actually was made up of former mental patients from the Heidelberg Neuropsychiatric Clinic in West Germany. Dr. Wolfgang Huber, a psychologist working at the Clinic, was convinced that the structure of capitalist society itself created mental illness. It therefore followed that the destruction of capitalism would cure all mental illnesses, and that fighting capitalism would be a therapeutic act. A number of patients were recruited (rekrutiert) and taught how to use firearms and make bombs instead of weave baskets. After their release from the Clinic, six of the former patients acting as the Holger Heins Commando occupied the West German embassy in Stockholm in April 1975 and demanded the release of 26 Baader-Meinhof members. They murdered two diplomats and blew up the embassy building as the police prepared to attack.

The Red Army Faction was revitalized briefly by the emergence of the radical conservationist

(Umweltschützer) movement in the early 1980`s, with its anti-American, anti-NATO, and pacifist agenda.

They tried to assassinate General Alexander Haig in 1979 and General Frederick Kroesen (then commander of all U.S. forces in Europe) in 1981. The movement¹s only real achievement (Errungenschaft) was to force the West German government to pass stronger laws against terrorist actions and to encourage the Western European governments to cooperate more closely on security matters.

The Red Brigades sought (seek-danach streben), at least in theory, to create enough social anarchy for the government to fall and be replaced by a communist state. Their strength reached a maximum of 200 combatants in the late 1970¹s. They worked closely with members of the Red Army Faction. Their main tactics were arson (Brandstiftung), murder, bombing, and kidnapping. The group was most notorious for the kidnapping and killing of the former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978. The public reaction to Moro¹s murder deprived (entziehen) the Red Brigades of their sympathizer network and most of the members had been arrested by the end of 1980.

In 1969 the Japanese Red Army was formed by a small number of students active in the anti- American and anti-Vietnam War protest movement. After a series of robberies, kidnappings, and one airplane hijacking (with samurai swords!), the most committed members of the Red Army went to Lebanon to work with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Three of them were responsible for the massacre of 26 people at Lod Airport in Israel in 1972, the first of the transnational terrorist attacks. The Japanese Red Army was officially disbanded by its leader Fusako Shigenobu in 1981, but members of the organization are still active with other terrorist organizations.

The Angry Brigade of England, an anarchist group composed entirely of university students and graduates, numbered less than 50 in all. From 1968 to 1971 they planted a total of 27 bombs, robbed several banks and post offices, and made infrequent machine-gun attacks on public buildings in London.

In the United States, student radicalism created two revolutionary terrorist organizations of note, the Weathermen (also known as the Weather Underground) and the Symbionese Liberation Army. The Weathermen were formed in 1969 as a splinter group of the Students for a Democratic Society. Several hundred Weatherpeople staged violent demonstrations in Chicago in October of that year, and then went underground. Over the next few years they conducted bombing attacks on Establishment targets such as the Capitol, the Pentagon, the State Department building, and university buildings. After the end of the Vietnam War, the organization became inactive. One of the last original members of the groups was arrested in October 1981 after a failed attempt to rob an armored (gepamzert) bank truck.

The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was a tiny movement, never numbering more than 40 people, that claimed to represent all oppressed minorities in America It was formed in early 1973 in Berkeley, California. The SLA was notable for its astute use of the media for maximum effect. Their two most memorable actions, indeed almost their only actions, were the assassination of a black school superintendent in November 1973 and the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, daughter of the influential newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, in February 1974. The publicity generated by this incident, Patricia Hearst¹s ideological conversion to the side of her kidnappers, and her willing participation in a bank robbery assured that the SLA would never be forgotten. Six SLA combatants were killed in a shootout with the Los Angeles police in May 1974, and the group finally ceased activi ty when Hearst and three other SLA members were arrested in September 1975.

None of the terrorist groups mentioned so far had any lasting effect on the countries or societies in which they operated. This was due to their unacceptably violent methods, the rarefied atmosphere of extremist politics in which they lived, and their failure to exploit any grievance that would win them any amount of public support.

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Left-wing terrorism in the First World
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Left-wing, First, World
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Anonymous, 2001, Left-wing terrorism in the First World, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/102616


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