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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

Adrienne Gernhäuser

Perhaps because American society suffers from such a strong case of amnesia, I find histories of resistance so intriguing.  The Red Scare destroyed anticapitalist movements in the US, erasing them to a degree unparalleled in Europe, and creating a disconnect between present and past resistance, a lack of continuity and perseverance.  Furthermore, the social fabric is made of such thin stuff, the real estate itself so impermanent, that physical and social markers of past rebellions do not remain.  Looking at the morass of shabby duplexes in the town where I was born reveals no hint of the fact that it was a hotbed of immigrant Italian anarchists a century earlier.  The industrial farms draped over the rolling hills around Harrisonburg emit not a whisper of the people who lived there before, who gave the Shenandoah Valley its name, nor of their brutal expulsion.

While travelling in Europe, I discovered a whole web of rebel stories, secret monuments, and reminders that struggle is eternal.  Some of these histories dated back a century, others only to the last generation, but all of them could serve to inspire, inform, and fertilize resistance now.  Like the US, Germany had its fair share of revolutionary groups in the 70s, driven underground by the state repression of anticapitalist movements.  In the US, these groups were crushed and largely forgotten about, their members killed or imprisoned for life.  In Germany, many people also fell to repression, but the story has not ended so conclusively.

As recently as late 2006, a member of one clandestine group turned herself in to police after decades living as a fugitive.  Adrienne Gernhäuser was a member of Rote Zora, an armed German feminist group that carried out 200 bombings and other attacks between 1977 and 1995.  Their actions targeted the commercial exploitation of women, nuclear power, genetic engineering, landlords, government restrictions on abortion rights, and so forth.  Their statements called on other women to reject the passivity they had been schooled in and fight back against patriarchy and capitalism.  Rote Zora took great care to ensure that people were not hurt in their bombings, though they did not restrict themselves to damaging property.  On a few occasions, their sister organization Revolutionäre Zellen, with which they greatly overlapped, kneecapped kidnapped officials, such as an important judge responsible for deporting Kurdish refugees back to Turkey where they faced severe torture and death.  They also carried out one assassination.

Rote Zora and the Revolutionäre Zellen differed from the more famous RAF in several key points. The RAF saw itself as a military formation fighting on behalf of the armed anti-colonial struggles in the Global South, whereas the former groups connected their actions more directly to domestic social struggles. Additionally, the RAF was Marxist-Leninist in its analysis and more dogmatic in its style, while the RZ were anti-authoritarian.

Gernhäuser, now 58 years old, admitted to participating in two attempted bombings, one of the Berlin Genetic Technical Institute and another of the Adler clothing company in Bavaria in solidarity with striking South Korean garment workers.  Because of the widespread firebombing campaign that cost Adler millions of dollars in damage, the company gave in to the demands of their mostly female workers in South Korea. Adrienne Gernhäuser began trial in Berlin in April 2007, though the maximum penalty is a suspended sentence because of the time that has elapsed and the fact that she turned herself in.