"Subaltern Nationalism" and the West Berlin Anti-Authoritarians

By Hosek, Jennifer Ruth | German Politics and Society, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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"Subaltern Nationalism" and the West Berlin Anti-Authoritarians

Hosek, Jennifer Ruth, German Politics and Society

The West Berlin anti-authoritarians around Rudi Dutschke employed a notion of subaltern nationalism inspired by independence struggles in the global South and particularly by post 1959 Cuba to legitimate their loosely understood plans to recreate West Berlin as a revolutionary island. Responding to Che Guevara's call for many Vietnams, they imagined this Northern metropolis as a Focus spreading socialism of the third way throughout Europe, a conception that united their local and global aims. In focusing on their interpretation of societal changes and structures in Cuba, the anti-authoritarians deemphasized these plans' potential for violence. As a study of West German leftists in transnational context, this article suggests the limitations of confining analyses of their projects within national or Northern paradigms. As a study of the influence of the global South on the North in a non-(post)colonial situation, it suggests that such influence is greater than has heretofore been understood.

Keywords: transnationalism; postcolonialism; Cuba; Berlin; German national identity; solidarity; fascism; new Left


Left-leaning activism of the 1960s has sometimes been understood as part of a global network, especially when governments took such activity seriously. (1) Of late, more 1960s scholarship is going transnational--researchers are attending both to international relations and to cultural and interpersonal connections across national borders. (2) Such new scholarship can better account for the complexity of this phenomenon than that which considers events solely within national frameworks. Moreover, it can make sense of apparently inscrutable notions of activists in the global North. This perspective is long overdue as a way of understanding certain West German groups, such as the self-defined anti-authoritarians organized around the West Berlin-based student leader Rudi Dutschke.

By global North and South, I mean financially and geopolitically more advantaged contrasted with financially and geopolitically less advantaged nations and areas. (3) The terms are linked to hemispheric geography, their borders delineated by the so-called Brandt Line drawn in the 1980s by then Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Willy Brandt. (4) This terminology, however, also maps its own geography, as some increasingly impoverished northern regions have little in common with their geographic neighbors and are more accurately categorized as part of the South. The terms "Third World" and "First World" and "underdeveloped" and "overdeveloped" were used by both the anti-authoritarians and activists of the South, including Cuba, to describe the unequal distribution of wealth and power within a global context of "peaceful co-existence." I employ them descriptively in this article as a local category.

For the purposes of this article, the term anti-authoritarians refers to those close to Dutschke who were involved in the radical activist group Subversiver Aktion (Subversive Action) and/or the meeting in Pichelsdorf, as well as those who self-identified and worked closely with these groups, but whose names have not made their way into historiography. As is characteristic of grassroots organizations, participation shifted. Subversiver Aktion, which later formed the basis of the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), was founded by Dieter Kunzelmann, Christof Baldeney, Rudolphe Gasche, and Frank Bockelmann. Both Dutschke and Bernd Rabehl were members. (5) Authoritative sources diverge somewhat on the attendees at the Pichelsdorf meeting, a gathering upon which I expand below. Gretchen Dutschke lists: Rudi Dutschke, Wolfgang Lefevre, Urs Muller-Plantenberg, Rabehl, Peter Schneider, Christian Semler, Rolf Stanzik, and Peter Wellert. (6) Siegward Lonnendonker lists: Rudi Dutschke, Peter Gang, Lefevre, Lothar Pinkall, Muller-Plantenberg, Rabehl, Semler, Stanzick, and Walter Weller.

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