Activist Intellectuals and Counterterrorism Debates in the Federal Republic of Germany (1968-77)

Change log
Corke, Catriona 

During the 1970s, the Federal Republic of Germany faced a series of attacks by groups motivated by left-wing revolutionary goals, the most famous example being the Red Army Faction (RAF). Much has been written about these groups and their actions, but this thesis situates the phenomenon of left-wing political violence in its historical and cultural context by focussing on the heated debate that ensued in the public sphere.

Intellectuals (such as authors, journalists, and academics) who intervened in these debates were often labelled as ‘sympathisers’ by the CDU/CSU alliance and in the Springer press. The thesis builds on previous scholarship on the so-called sympathiser debate by looking at the role of the ‘sympathiser’ in less passive terms; many intellectuals felt absolutely compelled to intervene as a means of holding the West German Rechtsstaat to account. The way that the Federal German government treated suspected and convicted members of terrorist groups, especially once imprisoned, for example, was seen by some as a sore reminder of how West Germany was yet to divest itself of its Nazi past and prove itself a legitimate German state.

This thesis explores where activist intellectuals stood in relation to the public sphere(s), the political establishment (both the SPD-led government and the CDU/CSU opposition parties), as well as to the prison system in the Federal Republic, exploring the motivations that drove writers to campaign on behalf of the radical Left.

The contrast between the assumed and actual motivations of intellectuals who intervened in counterterrorism debates in the 1970s exposes among other things the Federal Republic’s uncertain place in the world at the time. Terrorism was an international phenomenon, yet the domestic debates in response tell a specifically West German story.

Colvin, Sarah
activism, political violence, Red Army Faction, terrorism, West Germany
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Newnham College Major Studentship; Tiarks German Scholarship Fund; Hanseatic Scholarship