During the second half of the twentieth century, Germany was ideologically divided: east and west, communism and capitalism. What happened when left-wing extremists lived in the capitalist west? The Red Army Faction was a militant group that took matters into its own hands. But who were they, and what were they so angry about?
Red Army Faction Germany
The Red Army Faction (RAF) was an extremist left-wing organisation with around 20 core members that set about disrupting the Federal Republic of Germany (usually known simply as West Germany) through terrorism.
A person or group that holds extreme political views. They often resort to violent action to defend their beliefs.
A political philosophy that focuses on supporting social justice and equality where the state controls assets. Marxism and communism are examples of extreme left-wing politics.
A person who uses indiscriminate violence against specific targets or the general public to deliver their message.
Their ultimate aim was for an ungoverned, classless society of equals. The West German police were not prepared for it, so the Federal Border Guard was given the thankless task of stopping them.
Let's examine the RAF ideology and see how it gained prominence in the 1970s.
Red Army Faction Ideology
Despite the relative prosperity of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), there were pockets of anger about the young nation's direction since its inception after World War II. The mass media of the 1960s raised awareness of world events in an unprecedented manner. The United States' involvement in Vietnam caused particular fury as shocking images of the brutalities of war were more accessible than ever before.
The use of military force to gain more power and influence worldwide.
West Germany was experiencing high levels of economic growth and educational opportunities. This allowed students to think critically, and some believed that the FRG was simply an extension of US capitalism and had inherited the Nazi thirst for imperialism. Their beliefs were so ardent that they mobilised violently to disrupt the state through bombing, kidnapping, and murder.
The Red Army Faction (RAF) was also referred to as the 'Baader-Meinhof' gang as a tribute to some of the prominent first-generation leaders: Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. It is widely accepted that the catalyst for the birth of the RAF was the release of Andreas Baader and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin from prison in May 1970 by Ulrike Meinhof and other terrorists. But why did they need to be released?
Let's look at some significant events for the first generation of RAF and their members.
|April 1968||Andres Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and other accomplices bombed a department store in Frankfurt, West Germany, to protest Western capitalism in the face of an unjust war in Vietnam.|
|October 1968||They were caught and sentenced to three years in prison. After their appeal was rejected, they escaped to France and Italy before ending up in Jordan, where Fatah (a Palestinian guerilla organisation) trained them with terrorist tactics.Fig. 1 - Logo of Palestinian terrorist organisation Fatah, who worked with the RAF in 1968|
|February 1970||Baader and his gang returned to Berlin with the knowledge and intent to create their terrorist organisation.|
|April 1970||Baader, Ensslin, and other members were arrested again. While in jail, they began a correspondence with left-wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof on the pretence that they were collaborating to write a book.|
|May 1970||During day release, Meinhof and her accomplices helped free Baader, Ensslin, and other RAF members. A month later, she published the 'urban guerrilla' strategy of the organisation in a left-wing magazine.|
|1970 - 1972||Bank robberies and shootouts with the police caused civilian casualties.|
|May 1972||During the May Offensive, US forces in West Germany, FRG police headquarters, and media targets were bombed.|
|June 1972||The leaders and important members of the Red Army Faction were once more caught and arrested after a lengthy shootout in Frankfurt. They were put in the maximum-security Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart.|
|1973 - 1975||Imprisoned, members of the RAF went on hunger strikes to oppose their torture and solitary confinement. In 1974, Holger Meins died as a result of this.|
|May 1976||Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide in her cell in Stuttgart.Fig. 2 - Stuttgart, the city where the founders of the RAF lost their lives|
|April 1977||Baader, Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe were sentenced to life imprisonment after a lengthy trial. They all committed suicide in October 1977.|
These suicides ended the first iteration of the Red Army Faction, but the movement was not over, and the anger was still there.
Red Army Faction Members
We will now dig deeper into the personalities that made large contributions to the organisation.
Red Army Faction Andreas Baader
A loose cannon, Andreas Baader was born in Munich in 1943. He was a perpetual underachiever at school, and his pursuit of criminal thrills led him to drop out. Baader never studied at university and thus broke the mould of the archetypal left-wing anarchist from the 1960s.
For Baader, involvement in terrorism was more about carrying out his violent urges than having a political belief. He found a justification to do this in the form of his new girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, in 1967.
Red Army Faction Gudrun Ensslin
Baader's girlfriend was, in many ways, the brains behind the operation. Born in Baden in 1940, Gudrun Ensslin was a high-flyer who had excellent grades and studied in Berlin. In 1967, she became involved in the large-scale student protests in West Germany against the visit of the Shah of Iran due to their oppressive regime.
Fig. 3 - Gravestone of Baader, Meinhof and Raspe
Until she met Andreas Baader, she was an activist claiming West Germany was a fascist state. Their union led her evolution from activist to terrorist in the department store bombing of Frankfurt in 1968.
Red Army Faction Holger Meins
Another vital member of the Red Army Faction was Holger Meins. Meins was a filmmaker who claimed he did not want to work for TV, only for cinema. He was with Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe in the May 1972 attacks against the state of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Upon his arrest, Meins was the member who had the most grievance at the treatment of the RAF members in prison. Such was his disdain for the authorities that he went on hunger strike and starved to death. Despite being over 6 feet, he died weighing 45kg without access to prison doctors.
I read a blissful triumph in his face as if he had taken death upon himself.1
- Harun Farocki, 'Working on the Sight-Lines', 2004
Red Army Faction Ulrike Meinhof
Ulrike Meinhof, born in 1934, began to gain recognition in left-wing circles for her contribution as editor of the magazine 'Konkret' in 1960. It was radically inclined and propped up by East German funding and gained popularity among students in West Germany. She had a great breadth of awareness and expertise after studying Philosophy, Sociology, Pedagogy, and German studies.
Becoming more radicalised, she got in touch with Andreas Baader. In 1970, while Baader and Ensslin were on day release, she aided their escape, thus becoming integral in the formation of the Red Army Faction. This was the moment when Meinhof herself became a terrorist. She became fully embroiled in a war against the state with Baader and his accomplices. One quotation sums up the anger and alienation Meinhof felt in the FRG and her transition from the pen to action:
Protest is when I say: this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.2
- Ulrike Meinhof, quoted by Celia Rees, 'This Is Not Forgiveness', 2012
The second generation of the Red Army Faction sprung out of the fury at the imprisonment and maltreatment of the first, particularly the hunger strike and resulting death of Holger Meins. The Socialist Patients' Collective, a team of psychiatrists, was a hotbed for new members as their philosophy centred around curing the ills of a capitalist society. In 1974, they kidnapped politician Peter Lorenz in exchange for the release of some members. The life imprisonment of other RAF members in 1977 led to the bloodiest period of the organisation's history, known as the German Autumn.
The first casualty was Siegfried Buback and his entourage, but this was just the beginning. The RAF demanded the release of its founding members Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe in exchange for their hostage, Lorenz. The German Autumn reached its climax when the founding members committed suicide in prison. The following day, the RAF murdered the abducted former Nazi Hanns Martin Schleyer in response.
The actions of the second generation were not confined to West Germany. As part of the German Autumn in October 1977, members of the RAF also collaborated with Palestinian terrorists once more.
On an international Lufthansa flight from Mallorca to Frankfurt, the Palestinians took control of the plane and steered it to Mogadishu, Somalia. They demanded not only the release of RAF members, mirroring the requests of those who had abducted Schleyer, but also millions of dollars and the release of some Palestinians who had been detained in Turkey. With 86 hostages on board, it wasn't until an intervention from counterterrorist forces known as the GSG9 and Somali authorities intervened that the plane could be safely returned.
Between 1978 and 1982, there were assassination attempts and bank robberies from the RAF, including an unsuccessful one on the chief of NATO. However, as time progressed, some of the members began to go into hiding in left-wing East Germany. The Red Army Faction were responsible for ten murders between 1985 and 1993, including that of the manager of Siemens, Karl Heinz Beckurts in 1986. In total, they killed 34 people.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany, it became clear that the RAF had accepted help from the notorious Stasi (East German secret police). Now that the Stasi was no more, RAF activities dwindled, and the organisation disbanded in 1998.
Red Army Faction - Key takeaways
- Born out of university campuses, the Red Army Faction (RAF) was a left-wing terrorist organisation that sought to attack the West German state and the United States' imperialism through violent means.
- It is widely accepted that the RAF began when Andreas Baader and his accomplices were released from prison by Ulrike Meinhof.
- During their second stint in jail, which began in 1972, Holger Meins died of a hunger strike, causing outrage from RAF members and stoking the popularity of their cause.
- Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide in prison in 1976.
- The "German Autumn" in 1977 was the height of RAF activity. They attempted to bargain with the state to get their comrades released. In the end, these negotiations failed, and prominent members Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe all ended their own lives, while Hanns Martin Schleyer was murdered by the RAF a day later.
- Activity continued until 1998, with 34 confirmed fatalities resulting from the RAF. It was revealed that the Stasi had been involved in their activities.
- Harun Farocki, "Staking One’s Life: Images of Holger Meins (chapter)", Working on the Sight-Lines: Amsterdam University Press (2004) pp. 83 - 91.
- Celia Rees, 'This Is Not Forgiveness', Bloomsbury (2012) pp. 139.
What was the Red Army Faction fighting for? ›
The RAF described itself as a communist, anti-imperialist, and urban guerrilla group engaged in armed resistance against what they deemed to be a fascist state. Members of the RAF generally used the Marxist–Leninist term faction when they wrote in English.Is the Red Army Faction still active? ›
Authorities found documents and cases with unknown liquids purported to belong to the defunct far-left terrorist group Red Army Faction, dating back to the 1980s. Three members of the organization are still at large.Why was the Red Army successful? ›
In short, the Bolsheviks were able to win the Russian Civil War because the Whites failed to secure the support of the different national groups, key foreign powers, and the peasantry, while Bolsheviks enjoyed much more authority within Russia and were therefore able to assert their power over the Whites.What is the ideology of the Red Army faction? ›
Ideology is an obscure mix of Marxism and Maoism; committed to armed struggle. Organized into hardcore cadres that carry out terrorist attacks and a network of supporters who provide logistic and propaganda support. Has survived despite numerous arrests of top leaders over the years.Is the Red Army Russian or Chinese? ›
Red Army, Russian Krasnaya Armiya, Soviet army created by the Communist government after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The name Red Army was abandoned in 1946.How big is the Red Army today? ›
|Workers' and Peasants' Red Army|
|Type||Army and Air force|
|Size||6,437,755 total that served in the Russian Civil War 34,476,700 total that served in World War II|
The Soviet Army was principally succeeded by the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation in Russian territory along with the rest of the Ground Forces in post-Soviet states.Did the Red Army ever lose? ›
The years 1918–21 saw defeats for the Red Army in the Polish–Soviet War (1919–21) and in independence wars for Estonia (1918–20), Latvia (1918–20) and Lithuania (1918–19).Did Russia shoot their own troops? ›
The soldiers were shot "to maintain military discipline and prevent the spread of panic among personnel," the report said. The shooting of deserters is not a part of official military doctrine in Russia, but evidence is mounting of its increasing proliferation as a practice.What percentage of the Red Army was Ukrainian? ›
According to researchers, during 1943-1945 about 4.5 million Ukrainians became Red Army soldiers. After June 1944, almost 40% of the Soviet Red Army consisted of Ukrainians. The losses of the Ukrainian people during World War Two account for 19-35% of the total losses of the USSR.
What is the meaning of Red faction? ›
noun. a group of left-wing West German terrorists, active in the 1970s, who were dedicated to the violent overthrow of capitalist society. Also known as: Red Army Faction. Collins English Dictionary.What was the Red Army in simple terms? ›
Red Army – the official name of the armed forces of Soviet Russia, later Soviet Union. It was founded in February 1918; it fought in the civil war and the war with Poland. Until 1924 it was commanded by Leon Trotsky. It had then a record number of 5.5 million soldiers.What does Red Army stand for? ›
Proper noun. the Red Army. (historical, military) Name of the Soviet army in the period 1918–1946. (historical, informal, military) The Soviet Armed Forces.What is the White Russian army? ›
The White Army had the stated aim to keep law and order in Russia as the Tsar's army before the civil war and the revolution of Russia. They worked to remove Soviet organizations and functionaries in White-controlled territory. Overall, the White Army was nationalistic and rejected ethnic particularism and separatism.What does Cheka mean in Russian? ›
noun. che·ka. ˈchā(ˌ)kä plural -s. : secret police (as in a Communist-dominated country) having virtually unrestrained power over life and death.Was the Soviet Union stronger than the US? ›
As of 1945 (before the Cold War), the USSR had the strongest conventional land-based military and, after the US withdrew most of its troops, essentially dominated in Europe (the US returned some of the troops, but the USSR still held vast numerical advantage, especially in tanks).What does Z mean on Russian tanks? ›
Since mid-March 2022, the "Z" began to be used by the Russian government as a pro-war propaganda motif, and has been appropriated by pro-Putin civilians as a symbol of support for Russia's invasion.How many tanks does Russia have left? ›
Military analysts and armchair generals watching the conflict generally agreed in February 2022 that Russia had about 3,300 main battle tanks of late Cold War or early 2000s vintage assigned to combat units, and somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 in storage.What is the highest rank in the Red Army? ›
We believe there is no need for additional military ranks above Marshal. However, in the final document, the two komandarm ranks were replaced with Colonel General and General of the Army, with the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union on top of them.What are the six principles of the Red Army? ›
Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality: these seven Fundamental Principles sum up the Movement's ethics and are at the core of its approach to helping people in need during armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies.
Who beat the Red Army? ›
Matt Pavelich, who was the linesman at that game, approached the Soviet bench and saw Clarence Campbell and Alan Eagleson heading to the Soviet dressing room and did not see Ed Snider going with them. They eventually complied and lost 4–1. The Flyers were the only NHL team that managed to defeat the Red Army that year.Was the Red Army successful? ›
The Red Army did attain numerical superiority on the Eastern Front. Slowly and at great cost, drawing on a smaller available population than that of the United States, it was able to gain a 2:1 advantage over the Axis by 1943 and a 4:1 edge in 1945.What was the goal of the Japanese Red Army? ›
The Japanese Red Army (JRA) is an international terrorist organization that was established by a faction of an extremist group who committed felonious crimes, such as attacks on police stations, bank raids, and the like in Japan with the objective of revolutionizing the country based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, and ...Why did the Red Army and White Army fight? ›
The two largest combatants were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favouring political monarchism, capitalism and social democracy, each with democratic and anti-democratic variants.Was the Red Army was the army against the Communist? ›
Red Army, Russian Krasnaya Armiya, Soviet army created by the Communist government after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The name Red Army was abandoned in 1946.What was the Red Army vs White Army? ›
The warring factions included the Red and White Armies. The Red Army fought for the Lenin's Bolshevik government. The White Army represented a large group of loosely allied forces, including monarchists, capitalists and supporters of democratic socialism. On July 16, 1918, the Romanovs were executed by the Bolsheviks.Why it is called Red Army? ›
This organisation became the army of the Soviet Union since its establishment in 1922.'Red' refers to the blood shed by the working class in its struggle against capitalism.