On Christian Klar and Klaus Viehmann’s Criticisms (Inge Viett, February 9, 2011)

Dear Comrades,

Just as Christian and Klaus published their texts, I would now like to publish mine.

“If you happen to read in the papers that Lenin has had me arrested for stealing the silver spoons in the Kremlin, that simply means I’m not entirely in agreement with him.”—Alexandra Kollontai

Since my release from prison, I’ve been repeatedly politically maligned by the left—this time by Christian Klar, with whom I was briefly in the RAF. Christian denounces me in his text. He takes some things that are true, some falsehoods, and his own—fairly spiteful—interpretation and molds them into a psychological profile: “The woman with many faces.”

I will once again publicly address the issues used to defame me for two reasons.

First: because of the extent of the international defeat and the related degeneration of communist ideas and perspectives. Given the sharpening of capitalist conditions, a new generation must decide what approach they will take to revolutionary theory and practice. The first steps are already visible, and both the demands made of us and the reflections on our history are leading people to try to determine how to make connections that can breathe life into the revolutionary process, without repeating the strategic errors and the avoidable mistakes of our period. This politically active generation is not interested in moralizing about our struggle or in holding us up as icons. They’re way past that.

The repressive apparatus is attempting to use a variety of strategies to get a handle on the coming resistance and to use political, police, legal, and technical approaches to destroy it. That’s nothing new. However, the FRG is involved in wars on a number of imperialist fronts, and domestically the proletariat finds itself in free fall, making the social consensus with the bellicose state fragile, so the preventive strategy targeting potential and existing resistance is of the highest priority. Investigations, surveillance, persecution, and encapsulating organizations and individual activists who refuse to let their politics be determined by bourgeois legality mean that as soon as comrades cross the line, be it ever so slightly, they come face to face with the full repressive arsenal: arrest, interrogation, isolation, prison, trials…

The defensive struggle against the repressive apparatus unfolds on a terrain where historically we have had life-and-death experiences, both in our collective rebellion and individually. Part of our responsibility is to pass on our experience without romantic heroics and the related moral hierarchies and recriminations—if we are to clarify what sort of situations can lead to disruption and decline and how they can be avoided.

Second: the political mobbing targeting me also affects the comrades with whom I share a political practice—a sort of “collective punishment.” It’s disgusting. What’s it all about?

First, the facts: I was arrested in the GDR in 1990 as a former 2nd of June Movement and RAF member. During my trial (charges: attempted murder of a police officer and participating in the attack on NATO General Haig), I testified about the relationship between the RAF and state security in the GDR. In that context, I was asked if I had received military training in the GDR. The fact that we had trained there had already been published in Neues Deutschland and had been described in great detail during the related BKA interrogations. However, it was my testimony that allowed the BAW to lay a charge of supporting a “terrorist organization” against four officers and to hold them in remand. The charges failed to hold up legally, and after six months in remand, the officers were released. My testimony meant that I was entitled to some of the benefits of the crown witness regulation, something that I only learned when I was sentenced. In his article, Christian Klar says that my lawyers requested the application of the crown witness regulation. That’s not true; they would never have done so without consulting me.

The objective situation in 1990 and my subjective circumstances: the political and social situation in which my trial unfolded is relevant. The historic defeat at the time was not an abstraction; it affected me in spite of my vehement resistance.

Prior to my 1990 arrest, I had been living in the GDR for eight years. I landed in prison at a point when the counterrevolutionary social atmosphere was having an impact on the radical left in the FRG. Both quietly and loudly, people across the entire left-wing spectrum were distancing themselves from communism, from revolutionary history in general, and from the GDR in particular. Nobody was mounting a defense. There was nothing but disorientation, desertion, horror, and warmongering (the second Gulf War). That was the result of unchecked bourgeois triumphalism and the invective, scorn, and vilification heaped on the GDR, and on socialism in general, every day.

The demonization of the GDR’s state security was central to delegitimizing the GDR and discrediting its officials, along with any pro-socialist forces. It didn’t stop at people distancing themselves; it overflowed (on all sides) into confusion, depression, feelings of guilt, and betrayal. I was very conscious of all this as I sat in my cell, and the information—public and private—that poured in left me alternating between incredible anger and feeling powerless and depressed—and completely at a loss as to how to conduct my trial.

From 1972 until 1982, I was part of the revolutionary armed struggle seeking to overthrow capitalist society. After ten years of guerilla struggle, I went to the GDR. The guerilla struggle as a strategy in the FRG had arrived at a political and strategic impasse. For the final two years, I was in the RAF. I took the general absence of any collective recognition of the impasse we had arrived at among those still active to be a sign that I personally was “done,” but I wasn’t able to admit it. That made constructive communication and engagement with the group impossible. Fortunately, my time underground included much that was more satisfying than my two years with the RAF.

By 1990, I no longer agreed politically with the armed struggle. My eight years experiencing the GDR’s social reality had changed my perspective on revolutionary history, struggle, and strategy. The exclusivity we had assigned to the armed struggle as a revolutionary strategy needed to be reappraised. The military struggle as a political means is a tactical issue related to the balance of class power. That said: I basically approved of the history, despite the errors and weaknesses. However, I thought that a political trial like those I had known when I was active was impossible under the circumstances at the time. This was not a conclusion I arrived at simply because I lacked any real political background in the FRG by that point. The fact is that there was nobody in a position to provide me with collective support. The anti-imperialist scene for whom the RAF was still relevant had descended into appalling conflicts in response to the collapse of the RAF prisoners’ collective, and then bit by bit had faded away. I received a lot of personal support, but everything political was in disarray.

The state security officers were talking with their former enemies, the BKA and the BND, like formerly estranged brothers who were once again united and had nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they explained that in taking in and naturalizing the demobilized former “terrorists,” they had only intended to do the FRG a favor. However, their naïve invitation to fraternize was understandably rebuffed as contemptible. I had known the state security officers and valued them as comrades, so I was more than a little appalled by their feeble class consciousness when they “lost power” and had to face their enemies. Nonetheless, that’s not why I testified about them, and at no point and in no situation did I smear them—neither personally nor politically. I caved in entirely as a result of my own weakness and a temporary loss of clarity about who was a friend and who was an enemy. The ground upon which my history had unfolded, upon which my revolutionary ideas, my political and social practice, and my life had developed, was suddenly overrun with capitalist slime, and this affected even my personal relationships. I regained my footing when I seriously contemplated the history of revolution and concluded that while the current defeat truly is unimaginably difficult, it is still only a phase in a process that is nowhere near complete. In principle, that made me stronger, but it did not shield me from periods of weakness.

I was very uncertain about how to deal with both the trial and the public. I decided to go the legal route, but to not betray my history, my comrades, or communism as my social and political touchstone, and to preserve my personal integrity. I never forgot that my trial was first and foremost a political trial. For the BAW and in the triumphalist media coverage, it was the ideological evisceration of the history of the seventies revolutionary rebellion. The former RAF members arrested in the GDR folded and collaborated, some of them allowing themselves to be publicly used as tools for settling accounts. My lawyer succeeded in legally demolishing the murder charge against me, but that required me to provide a written account of the situation in Paris. This amounted to a written confession in which I took responsibility for the shooting but not the attempted murder. I did not incriminate anyone other than myself in my written confession.

The betrayal and “remorse” of former members serves to criminalize and ideologically neutralize the urban guerilla, just as demonization and criminalization serve to condemn and delegitimize the state security, the GDR, and the struggle for a socialist society. I was also aware of that all along, but nonetheless I agreed to have a conversation with the BKA cops “about the GDR.” Of course, they sent an intelligent, respectful, and courteous young man, with whom you could have a discussion that was not intellectually vapid, but who was actually critical, open-minded, etc. For a few months after my arrest I was in isolation, and then until my sentencing in solitary. Sometimes I felt untouchable and equal to the situation; sometimes I felt isolated and totally under institutional control. My constant preoccupation with my own situation was not conducive to a clear perspective on my part: I could always handle a discussion like this with this young BKA officer, and maybe I could learn something new and get out of the cell and make my position clear to them, etc. These “discussions” turned into statements about my role in the connection to the GDR and about military training in the GDR. Why my specific account was so important only became clear to me when the officers were arrested the very next day. It is clear: the dates of the training were the issue. Did they precede or follow the attack on the NATO general, Kroesen? My statements made it possible for the BKA to issue warrants against the state security officers for “supporting a terrorist organization.” The charges proved unsustainable, but that in no way exonerates me for my role in their arrests—nor does the MfS officers’ present-day cooperation with their former enemies.

I did not at any time—as is insinuated in various ways—make a “deal” with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office or the court or the BKA in exchange for my statements, nor did my lawyers, as Christian Klar claims in his article. What went on, anyone could follow at any time at the trial. That I did not get a life sentence but thirteen years was a nice surprise. It was, however, an unpleasant surprise to learn that my sentence was based on a partial application of the article governing leniency for crown witnesses, in exchange for the information I had provided about the MfS.

Some years ago, taking umbrage with parts of my book, my comrade Klaus Viehmann issued a lengthy paper vilifying me for the way I conducted my trial, for the book I wrote in prison, and for the way I behaved after my release. The paper was a withering polemic against me. The petty aspects of this polemic make it impossible to distinguish valid criticism from insinuation, defamation, and comrades’ hurt feelings, as does the fact that it was written in hatred. His sweeping but subtle insinuations revolve around the following point: I had apparently written the book under the eyes of the BAW, so it was necessary both that I portray the RAF negatively and that I behave well in prison if I wanted to be released after two-thirds of my sentence. In fact, the BAW resisted my release until the very end and only saw the book after it was published. I was the only political prisoner in population. Don’t you think there were ways for me to protect my manuscript from cell searches? The BAW never got their hands on my manuscript. You can see from my correspondence—a summary of which can be found in my book Einsprüche[1]—how well-adjusted to prison I was. Nor was the two years credit I got for the time I did before my breakout[2] a “major” accommodation; that was the result of a painstaking three-year legal battle waged by two lawyers. This victory was clearly related the fact that I was no longer active in the struggle when I was arrested. I still defended armed struggle as part of my history, but (in 1990) I no longer advocated it as an effective strategy.

While in prison, I took my responsibilities as a political prisoner seriously—for the prisoners and myself and in opposition to the institution.

At numerous public meetings after my release, I was asked about the statements I had made about the MfS. What I failed to do was to apologize for my error, withdraw from the social conflict, and retreat into seclusion, as the invisible board of ethics made up of the morally flawless old guard of guerilla veterans and their circle of hangers-on would have preferred.

I failed to conduct a flawless trial at a time when all around me political relationships were out of whack, but I wasn’t a crown witness against revolutionary history, nor was I a crown witness against the GDR—whatever the basis for the legal framing of my sentence.

Christian Klar portrays me as unscrupulous, contends that bit by bit I put together a persona with many faces, and asserts that I’ve always been playing my role (for what and who exactly?). Quite apart from the gigantic psychological feat he is imputing to me, what is the reason for such an over-the-top denunciation?”Concern for the proletariat, he claims. Isn’t responsibility for the world more of an issue? Doesn’t the proletariat have better things to worry about than internal left-wing hostilities? What it boils down to is the continuation of old disagreements about what revolutionary morality is, how it is to be practiced, and where it begins and ends. That may be gratifying for the old guard, and it may be useful for stigmatizing me, but it’s toxic to the development of a new process.

Inge Viett

  1. Inge Viett, Einsprüche. Briefe aus dem Gefängnis [Objections: Letters from Prison] (Hamburg: Edition Nautilaus, 1996).

  2. Inge Viett escaped from prison twice: on June 20, 1973, from Berlin-Moabit prison, where she used a file to saw through the bars of her cell; on July 7, 1976, in the company of fellow 2JM members Juliane Plambeck and Gabriele Rollnik and RAF member Monika Berberich, using a duplicate key and overpowering a guard before scaling the wall of the Lehrterstraße Women’s Prison in West Berlin. The second escape is the escape being discussed here.