I. The New Social Formation as a Hypersubject
On April 2, 1968, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin–the granddaughter of the granddaughter of Hegel–Thorwald Proll and Horst Sohnlein created what became known as the Red Army Faction when they exploded bombs on the shelves of two department stores in West Germany: the Kaufhaus Schneider and the Kaufhoff store. Nobody was injured but that same night the four were arrested as a result of materials the police found that linked them to the bombs.
The power interests of big business and the American government was viewed by the group as merely placating shoppers with material contentment that left them too narcotized to even bother realizing they were being subjugated by capitalism. Galvanized by the police brutality which had occurred a year earlier when the Shah of Iran had visited Germany on June 2, 1967 and one of the pacifist protestors, Benno Ohnesorg, had been shot and killed by police, the group began to form a year later. The night after the shooting, Gudrun Ensslin had remarked: “It’s the generation of Auschwitz–you cannot argue with them!”
West Germany had thus generated a new internal proletariat, the Red Army Faction, which now proceeded to invent itself by going to war against the capitalist imaginary and its various anthropological types.
On October 31, 1968, the four defendants were sentenced to three years in prison, and it was while in prison that Ulrike Meinhof, an editor and writer at the leftist periodical konkret, met and first had discussions with Ensslin. On June 13, 1969, they were released from prison, having served only 14 months of their 3 year sentence.
But in April of 1970, Baader was arrested and sent back to jail to serve out the rest of his sentence. Gudrun and Ulrike then devised a plan to rescue him: they developed the idea of Baader and Ulrike collaborating on a book together, a plan that would get him transferred from prison and moved into a research facility, the Institute for Social Issues. Ulrike arrived and pretended to work on the book with him at a desk, but then four members of the RAF entered the institute, fought with the guards, fired teargas and shot one of them, Georg Linke. Baader, meanwhile, together with a disguised Ensslin jumped out the window. Hesitating for only a moment, Ulrike Meinhof then jumped out the window after them, effectively ending her career as a journalist.
The RAF had declared war on the World Interior of Capital, but once they fled out the window of that research institute, their ontological status shifted from what Giorgio Agamben has termed “bios,” or the realm of inscriptions in the social order, to “zoe,” or “bare naked life,” unprotected by socially coded flows inscribed into one’s subjectivity.
Once they are on the Outside of the World Interior of Capital, their physical somatic bodies must now be taken up by mediatized place holders in the semiotic vacancies left behind by their vanishing. These become the Wanted posters of the Baader-Meinhof group that are found immediately hanging up all over Germany.
The terrorist, in going underground, is determined to unplug him/herself from the realm of bios, or cultural representation, which is essentially the realm of the state apparatus’s ability to code the flows.
The terrorist miniaturizes the state apparatus’s ability to code, decode and uncode the flows, and this is why the terrorist must be immunologically targeted by the state, since the state reserves for itself the right to code all social flows, especially identity flows. It cannot have its citizens usurping its ability to code the flows and create new assemblages at will, especially unprecedented assemblages such as those created by the terrorist.
The terrorist is always creating new assemblages between himself and machinery: man-weapon-transport assemblages, for instance. The terrorist removes himself from the coded flows that the state apparatus imposes precisely by severing and rupturing all Synaptic Identity Connections so that the terrorist is able to move through the state machinery with increased mobility.
The terrorist captures the state’s ability to code all flows, removes it from the monopoly of the state and uses it to maximize his freedom of movement–i.e. appropriating assemblages with helicopters, planes, weapons–by autonomizing the ability to form new identities and new assemblages with machinery and apparatuses at will.
Thus, the terrorist as a disruptive social formation is a miniature version of the state itself, and the only way to stop the terrorist is to capture him and put him on the inside of a system–i.e. prison–that freezes all his motions by servering all his Synaptic Identity Connections with assemblages. Thus, frozen in place, his identity is now fixed and locked into immobility, because in prison the terrorist can no longer form man-weapon-transport assemblages that maximize his motion through the system.
If the terrorist can no longer sprout assemblages like new organs out of his body at random, then he is no longer a threat to the state, for his movement can then be carefully tracked. No new flows can be coded by him.
Indeed, the terrorist identity is an unstable one that is part of a larger Hypersubject that captures and collects identities, using them as so many masks to hide itself. The terrorist Hypersubject is composed of members who have very morphically unstable identities that can slip, slide and disintegrate and reform at a moment’s notice so that his identity cannot be coded and locked into a fixed assemblage.
There is thus a direct relationship between fixity of identity and coded flows: with a stable identity, the subject can be tracked with social security numbers, birth dates, health records, etc. that capture and code all flows emanating from him and leading back to him.
Terrorism can only emerge in an age of Hypersubjects with liquefying identities that are constantly morphing and dissolving. The terrorist must be able to sever himself from all assemblage points imposed by the state and become a modular unit unto himself. He must be capable of plugging into and unplugging himself from any and all assemblages with state functions. He becomes a Modular Subject which sprouts identities at will, for his subjectivity can be broken down into units which can be moved about and unplugged or replugged into novel flows with new entities.
The first person to die by the Baader-Meinhof group was a police officer who was shot by Gerhard Muller during a nighttime shootout. It was at this point that authorities began to regard the organization as “criminal” rather than just “political.”
On May 11, 1972, in reprisal for a fresh wave of US bombings in Vietnam, the group began a wave of bombings that spread throughout Germany, in Karlsruhe, Munich, Hamburg. In Frankfurt am Main they set off three pipe bombs at the Fifth US Army Corps stationed at the IG Farben buildings. Thirteen people were injured and one man was killed.
But then on June 1, 1972, Andreas Baader and Holger Meins were both arrested–while TV cameras rolled–and taken into custody at the siege of Hofeckweg. Holger Meins would later die by fasting in prison, and his death would become the first RAF martyr that would inspire a whole new, Second Generation of increasingly more and more violent killings, bombings and kidnappings of various government and civic officials.
On June 7, 1972, Gudrun Ensslin was arrested at a boutique as she was looking for new clothes with which to disguise herelf, and on June 15, they arrested Ulrike Meinhof.
But inside prison, the group became more powerful than ever as their mediatized icons began casting ever larger and larger shadows into the mediascape, icons which began to inspire further imitators. Before their imprisonment, the police had been looking for some 30 people, but after the death of Holger Meins, they were after 300 people, and the Criminal Investigation Office estimated that their sympathizers now numbered over 10,000.
Thus, the immobilization of their physical bodies now begins to shift to the sphere of effectualities of images and icons–via the gigantifying effect of TV and newspapers–across the West German landscape. While in prison, the members of the RAF become works of art, transformed by the powers of the media into action-generating icons that radiate out across the socius.
In the metaphysical age, it was the artist who had the power of creating icons out of martyrs by painting images of saints or Christ as larger than life characters across their tesserae. But in the post-metaphysical age, it is the media which have taken over the martyr-machine function: for simply by casting their images via the transmission of electrons at light speed (instead of tesserae), their image icons are a creation not of the artist who, in contemporary art, is no longer given the power or legitimacy of doing this (Andy Warhol did not create icons out of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley; he came upon them as phenomena that had already been created by the amplifying power of electronic media). So, as Russian theoretician Boris Groys has pointed out, it is the media themselves which have now taken over the icon-generating power of the traditional artist simply by projecting the images of terrorists and martyrs whose acts become inscribed in our mind’s eye by beaming them through the electronic landscape.
III. Second Generation
With the First Generation all now locked up in Stammheim prison, the Second Generation of the RAF, inspired by the death of Holger Meins, proceeded with ever more violent and reckless deeds: first, on February 27, 1975, they captured and kidnapped the political lawyer Peter Lorenz and demanded the release of Horst Mahler, Verne Becker, Gabriele Krocher-Tiedemann, Ingrid Siepmann, Rolf Heissler and Rolf Pohle. None of this group were accused of murder and so the demands, which were reasonable, were acceded to. The group then released Peter Lorenz in a park. Ensslin, Baader and Meinhof watched all of this unfold on television and decided that the success of it would inspire them to try something bigger.
For their next act, the Second Generation of the RAF stormed the German Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden armed with pistols. Six RAF members took eleven hostages up to the third floor of the embassy and laid them on the floor. They called themselves “the Holger Mein Commando” and they said that if the police approached the building they would blow it up. When there was no response, they shot the German attache and the police dragged his dying body down the stairs. They then demanded the release of the original Icons: Ensslin, Meinhof and Baader. State Chancellor Helmut Schmidt denied them. They then insisted that they would kill a hostage every hour if their demands were not met and proceeded to shoot and kill another hostage, Dr. Hillegaart.
Then, at 13 minutes to midnight, a bomb went off in the building and blew out the front windows, from which several hostages escaped and most of the terrorists as well, who surrendered.
The group was put on trial on May 21, 1975, but on May 8 of 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her cell. She had committed suicide without leaving any note, by tearing blue and white prison towels into strips and then tying them together. Then she pushed her bed away from the window, laid the mattress on the floor and put a stool on it. She tied the rope around her neck, climbed onto the stool and put the other end of the rope through the close mesh over the window grating and jumped.
On April 7, 1977, the Second Generation murdered the Federal Prosecutor General Siegfried Buback as his car pulled up to a stoplight: a man on a motorcycle armed with an automatic rifle pulled up beside his Mercedes and filled it with bullets, killing both him and his driver.
Brigitte Mohnhaupt was now in charge of operations, and she wrote a letter claiming responsibility for the murder at the hands of “the Ulrike Meinhof Commando…”
The verdict for Baader, Ensslin and Raspe was read out on April 28, 1977: life imprisonment for each.
In retaliation, on July 30 of that year, Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar visited the residence of the banker Jurgen Ponto with his family. When Klar pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the banker, he told him it was a kidnapping and when Jurgen protested, both Klar and Brigitte shot him to death.
In creating a history of violence for the group, they are inscribing themselves into the socius. In his essay on “Art in the Age of Biopolitics,” Boris Groys suggests that it is only narrative documentation that enables one to discern the difference between a natural and an artificial object. Like the replicants in Blade Runner, of whom one cannot tell by looking at them whether they are natural or artificial, it is only the photographs that give them a fake subjectivity that inscribes them into life and history. There is no objective way of determining the difference between a GMO and the real thing except by showing the documents or the blueprints which enabled the product to be produced.
Likewise, with the RAF, in exiting from the World Interior of Capital, they have entered into the realm of Agamben’s “bare naked life” in which they have no political or cultural representation (bios, in other words) that would inscribe them into history and give them political rights. Part of what drives the anxiety and violence of the group is that, in exiting from the World Interior, they are in an ontologically perilous situation in which they have no valid documentation to prove their existence as a social formation. Therefore, the violence is meant to inscribe their existence onto the body social of the host culture in lieu of works of art or other narrative documentation that would confer upon them the right to exist as a separate political entity.
Hence, the original importance of Ulrike Meinhof to the group: she was their only valid means of contact with the world of narrative documentation that they possess, despite their scorn of her fear of violence. In reality, they needed her to inscribe them upon the body social of the GDR, but ultimately, it turns out not to be enough, for violence must be used as narrative documentation, an alternative means of giving them the right to exist. The media, in reporting on these violent acts, does not give them political legitimacy (“the right to exist”), but it does confer upon them the ontological status of actually existing entities. In other words, their existence is “recognized” by the media, but not legitimized.
IV. Final Act
The Second Generation of the RAF continue with their attempts to get Baader, Ensslin and Raspe liberated from Stammheim. To this end, they decide to kidnap Hanns Martin Schleyer, head of the Federation of German Industries and the Confederation of Employers’ Associations, and a member of the board of Daimler-Benz. This was all organized by the brilliant strategist Brigitte Mohnhaupt, who herself was not allowed to participate in the acts so that a surplus remainder of the group would always exist if the others failed.
On Monday, September 5, 1977, the RAF kidnapped Schleyer at his cortege of cars. They intercepted it, shot all his police escorts and pulled him into the VW minibus and made off with him.
But the GDR dragged their heels and would not accede to their various demands, so they turned for help to the PFLP, who hired four people to hijack an airplane, forging for them fake identities as Iranians.
The entire thing was a huge debacle, with the plane landing at various locations throughout the Middle East until finally, at Aden, the plane was stormed by GSG 9 commandos, who killed the four hijackers.
In Stammheim, when Baader, Ensslin, Raspe and Irmgard Moller heard about the failure of the plan, they all agreed–as one version of the story goes–on a suicide pact. In his cell, Baader supposedly faked a violent struggle by first shooting a bullet into his mattress and another into the cell wall and then he picked up his gun and held it, awkwardly it seems, to point at the back of his head, whereupon he shot himself. But many are skeptical of this, and Irmgard Moller, who stabbed herself but survived, said there was no such suicide pact.
Gudrun Ensslin hung herself in her cell with a piece of loudspeaker wire cable and Jan-Carl Raspe sat on his bed and put his 9-mm Heckler & Koch pistol to his temple and fired.
The RAF’s response was to shoot and kill Hans Martin Schleyer. They took him out to the woods and shot him. On the afternoon of October 19,1977, the French newspaper Liberation received this communique: “After 43 days, we have ended Hans Martin Schleyer’s miserable and corrupt existence.”
In the end, 28 people had lost their lives in assaults mounted by the RAF, while 17 RAF members were killed. A Third Generation of RAF members, however, continued for the next twenty years assassinating heads of corporations and US military personnel all the way down to 1998, when they called it quits.
In targeting heads of state–i.e. lawyers, judges, bankers, military men–the RAF were essentially performing acts of erasure, like the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten’s crossing out of the icons of the previous order and installing his own name or the name of his sun god in their places. The RAF likewise, were crossing out the icons of the global world order and installing icons of themselves as urban guerillas in the semiotic vacancies left behind by the destruction of these previous icons.
The various bombings are the equivalent of a Samson-like attempt to pull out the pillars of the World Order of Capital. It is an art war in disguise as a war of political representation: one order of signifiers is pulled down while another is installed in their place.Through their various assassinations and bombings, they were attempting to install a new set of signifiers inside the capitalist imaginary: thus the Anthropological Type of the urban guerilla replaces the type of the CEO or the banker or politician. It is a war that proceeds by destroying an order of icons and replacing them with the new. One sign regime of a disaffected internal proletariat attempts to recode the older regime with its own semiotics.
German art was doing something similar at this time with the art of Gerhard Richter and Josef Beuys: both artists were busy erasing images and constructing new signifiers to overcode the old Modernist iconotypes. Richter erases the photograph with his photo-realist paintings and recodes them as theorized images. Beuys erases the ready mades of Modernism and reterritorializes them with his own private semiotics. The RAF were essentially performing something similar at about the same time in the sphere of political representation.
For the postmodern age that is now fading off over the horizon behind us was an age of liquefactions, dismantlings and deconstructions of all previous narratives that had their roots in the metaphysical age. Derrida with deconstruction in philosophy was busy dismantling the logocentric age, while the political Left was busy, all over the world, launching terrorist operations aimed at dismantling all narratives whatsoever.
The postmodern age was an era of assault on all previous narratives. But that age, with its ideologically motivated terrorists, is disappearing now. New disaffected social formations have come along to replace them, but they aren’t ideologically motivated: they are motivated by White Power on the one hand, or Islamic extremism on the other.
Terrorists guided by Marxist narratives have now become an artifact to be studied by the collector of ideas.