Tag Archive: direct action

Me And Mrs Meinhof

Protest is when I say this does not please me, resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.” – Ulrike Meinhof

It is difficult for me not to have both some admiration as well as sympathy for Ulrike Meinhof, especially after seeing the portrayal of her by the very excellent (and lovely!) Martina Gedeck in the recent German film The Baader-Meinhof Complex.  Gedeck herself explains that she found it intriguing to play her and to try to understand her but that it was in many respects a dream job for an actress.  Ulrike Meinhof can be characterised by her passion, her determination, and her clear belief that the end justified the means no matter what those means were.  I cannot help but admire her, I admire her ability to put literally everything on the line because the cause she stood for was sufficiently important in her mind.  I even admire her choice to choose her own fate, although I think more than a little responsibility has to be taken by the West German government for driving her mad by the conditions in which she was held that led directly or indirectly to her decision.  I would, I think, stop short of asserting that she was murdered within the prison rather than having committed suicide only because I don’t currently quite see how the deaths all fit together if planned by the government.

There is usually a clear polarisation of opinions towards Ulrike Meinhof, anyone to the right of a socialist is likely to brush off any of her actions as mere terrorism with no redeeming factors whilst anyone to the left is likely to have considerably more sympathy for her than that, whether or not they agree with the actions themselves.  Indeed when compared with Andreas Baader, a more abrasive figure, who may only have come round to the political side of things later on, Meinhof comes across as more thoughtful and ideologically committed someone who has made a conscious choice to follow her beliefs.  What is without question is that she inspired two generations of radical students to participate in a direct action that had not been seen in West Germany before or since.

As I approach the age that Ulrike Meinhof died so it makes me think on the contrasts between my own life and that of such a figure.  The difference between Meinhof and myself is a combination of opportunity, of bravery and single-minded political belief, (some might say dogmatism).  It just so happens that our politics are not that dissimilar which got me to thinking how her path ended so differently to the way I suspect mine will.  Meinhof has the classic bourgeois academic background of activism, getting involved in left-wing causes at university that then led to writing for one of the radical papers Konkret through which she met both her husband and Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin.  The beginnings of her more active engagement came in Berlin in 1968 at the time of the protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin where fights broke out between demonstrators against the visit and the pro-Shah group sent to drown them out.  It culminated in one of the student protestors being shot and shortly after activist Rudi Dutschke narrowly survived an assassination attempt leaving him severely brain damaged.

I can’t claim quite the level of outward turbulence for my continued path to more engagement but having gone through political activities at university including writing for the college paper it was another Stop the War campaign the one leading up to the demonstration on the 15th of February 2003 (which was and remains the largest political demonstration in UK history) that cemented it.  My background is hardly that dissimilar from Meinhof’s other than the fact that due to certain external factors I did not follow the journalism path but ended up in a low level form in the sort of job and environment that pays barely lip service to the politics of my youth and thus sits uneasily at the arrival of each paycheque.  It is not tainted money, nor is there a great deal of it but it is precisely the sort of mundane middle-class existence against which I ranted and raged as a teenager, including a fight that resulted in my not seeing my father for some years.  I did not become a senior figure in any organisation nor joined any group that were especially militant, certainly not openly and deliberately violent.

Whilst was Meinhof who first used the name Rote Armee Fraktion and designed the now famous (at least across Germany) RAF logo:

     she played an active part in the activities of the RAF but her level of influence is seen to not have been such to justify the characterisation of the RAF as the Baader-Meinhof group.  Gudrun Ensslin who had left her husband and young son for Baader is most commonly considered to have been the lead of the RAF along with Baader but perhaps did not have the same profile or shock value to the public as the media exploited with Meinhof.  What such actions in the open might have had behind closed doors to the relationship between Ensslin and Meinhof can only be speculated on since those who might have been able to shed light on it are dead.

I found it particularly interestedly that in The Baader-Meinhof Complex it is shown that there is a clear moment of choice where, having helped organise the violent freeing of Andreas Baader from the research institute, Ulrike Meinhof has the option of staying behind and effectively claiming not to have been involved or to jump out of the window with the fugitives and become one of them.  There is a tangible pause in the film for dramatic effect as if witnessing each synapse in Meinhof’s brain working out the combinations for the decision she is about to make.  It is effectively the pivotal moment that which precipitates everything that is to happen next and could be regarded as the one that defined much of West German history for the next fifteen years.  I don’t know whether this is in fact how it happened but there must have been a time when the road forked and she had the option of continuing along the one she was on or taking the road less travelled, it is that one she chose and it did indeed make all the difference.  The consequences of  Meinhof’s decision on Meinhof herself were cataclysmic, but perhaps not as much as for those around her, since they led to at the very least a complicity in the deaths and the injuries of many but also the breakup of her marriage and the loss of her children who were removed by their father to prevent them being sent to a Palestinian orphanage.

Some might say that to define the difference between me and Meinhof is to ask the question of whether I in all conscience as a father could and would do the same as leave my children as she did for her beliefs?  This is a difficult question to answer in a specific binary one way or another.  What I can say is that I love my children and that I would miss them heart-wrenchingly were I not to be able to see them.  That much I can state unequivocally without any fear of internal contradiction within me.  What I cannot answer is given that love for them were I to think that the sacrifice that I would have to make for them by my absence were to create a better life for not only them but other children here and potentially across the country, continent or world would it not be an irresponsible act if I did not choose that course of action?  Naturally faced with such a situation you would have to be careful not to seek factors to justify a decision you might have already made in your own mind for which you need assuaging tenets to ease your conscience.  This is true of both sides of the argument and the question once confronted cannot be rescinded, were I to go I would have to have convinced myself that this would in the end lead to my children having a better future, were I to stay I would have to believe that in doing so it would be the right thing for them, and by extension therefore me, to reject that path.

It is the sort of situation that I have not had to face and therefore wrestled with only in the hypothetical what if’s that we consider at times as we get older and the mental and physical strains of this begin to show us things we have probably left behind.  Most people accept this and move on with their lives, I cannot  state though that I do not see my life as having less meaning for having not spent more of it in direct activism rather than the indolence of premature middle-age.  Since as a parent failure goes with the territory such thoughts will always come to light at such times when I cannot see myself as making or having made a tangible difference to solve dilemmas even in the daily tedium.  Perhaps crucially unlike Ulrike Meinhof if I have been faced with the two paths in the road I had not the awareness to see it, there was no jump out of the window moment.  I have therefore continued upon this path well-trodden that of at times ever more defeated personal development caught up with fatigue and frustration at the world around me, wondering often wondering whether there had been a path further back that I missed, one which might, had I taken it, have made all the difference.

Song Of The Day ~ Ride – Leave Them All Behind

Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine — the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, whereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you.”  – V For Vendetta

Do not let the media whitewash dictate what you believe, do not let the media or your leaders tell you what you should be thinking.  If in another context someone was consistently failing to be able to build something and charging you a fortune for the privilege of their mistakes you might think of getting another builder.  Capitalism isn’t broken, it was never the raw materials to build a fair society.  It is time to tear it down and start again, what the new structure will look like we’ll have to discuss and try some things out, but let’s not live in a house with no roof just because we’re scared we’ll have to live in a tent for a while whilst we build a proper house.

These are our countries, our cities, our streets, our homes.  We owe it to our children, our children’s children and our disenfranchised and dispossessed brothers and sisters across the world and their children.  It may be the only way we may look ourselves in the mirror.

Song of The Day ~ Moloko – The Time Is Now

Live At Derby Assembly Rooms

Rob Newman & Mark Thomas

Date: 14/11/05   —   £14.50   —   Other

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There isn’t really anything better than laughing a lot and learning at the same time. Besides when 2 boys come up to the frozen North from my part of London it’s only fair to give them some support!

I haven’t seen Rob Newman for a long time, he used to do a double act with David Baddiel who went on to worse things with Frank Skinner. In those days Newman had long hair like mine and wore the clothes of something of a dandy including a rather fine long crimson velvet jacket. These days his hair is shorter and his attire looks as if he is to be appearing in ‘Waiting For Godot’ soon. I hadn’t expected his act to be quite as sharp and satirical and politically to the left as it was. Funny, yes, Newman was always funny, there is a gravitas that comes from the product of a fervent mind for the good and bad things this entails. The modern day Rob Newman is a very astute political activist. A comedic campaigner who is all too aware of the contradictions of the modern world and the ignorance under which we are expected to live. He describes the First World War as being caused by an invasion of Iraq (then Mesopotamia) and not as we are led to believe in the history books the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand.

The historical context is this. Prussia, (most of what constitues modern day Germany) the great emerging military and economic power did not have the oil reserves for the mechanisation it required. It therefore needed the Berlin to Baghdad railway link. Since the Orient Express route already covered the route as far as Istanbul it was only necessary to complete the remaining section. This was of course not the sort of thing the British could allow since there was no way the British could compete with a Prussia running at full tilt. Thus the British mobilised, ironically in Basra, in order to stop German plans. To bring across this sort of information is usually the domain of such investigative heavyweights as Pilger and Chomsky, to make it funny and bring in such gems as the Samarian version of Rock Around The Clock as part of a way to avoid harm when kidnapped in Iraq is first rate.

Newman’s anthropomorphic illustration of the US as the backyard bullyboy with baseball bats mooting out a punishment beating on Iraq for daring to consider changing their oil currency from $ to €, whilst looking up to China saying “I got dis under control, Sur” at the same time Venezuela looks on saying “ey gringo, I think you losin’ your to’ch, years ago you bury this alone, now you got to do it with yo’ beetch” and North Korea drives by in their Hyundai giving the finger out the window and “Fuck you ‘Mericaaaaaaaa” is both very funny and a startlingly good analogy. The dependence on the universal oil currency being $ is rapidly becoming a fragile one for the US and shows all too graphically just how short-term the US’s dominance will be. When Iraq switched to € the value of the € went up by 25% over the following 6 months. Other countries, Iran, North Korea etc. have attempted to follow suit. Miraculously the list of the countries that have sought to make this change is remarkably similar to the ‘Axis of Evil’

Newman is very well-versed on environmental issues and his meticulously researched presentation on the oil situation is tantamount to apocalyptic. Sadly it is all too true if only people can be bothered to research the facts. Someone has done some of the work for you here Figures exist that show we have passed peak production

If I had to some up Rob Newman’s message using his own words it would be that in the light of the impending crisis there is “No Way Out.” The conclusion is clear they might say there is nuclear but the cost and fallout and cycle is not a solution merely another problem. There is hydrogen, but there are no hydrogen reservoirs, hydrogen has to be made and to make almost anything in the mechanised world you require oil.

To be fair Rob Newman was an added bonus, I’d have been happy to see him but I paid my money predominantly being a huge Mark Thomas fan. I have been so for many many years now and every series he does on Channel 4 seems to go from strength to strength and is a far cry from the old Friday Night Live days, when he took to the stage along with another of the then new men of the alternative new left comedy scene Ben Elton. Whilst Elton has gone off to write bestselling novels and musicals with Andrew Lloyd-Weber Thomas has stuck to what he does best and has both retained integrity and developed hugely as a performer into a man approaching the influence and genius of the late great Bill Hicks and that is not an accolade I confer lightly.

Thomas starts his set recounting his gig in Belfast, his opening joke “What’s the difference between Saddam Hussein and the IRA? -Saddam hasn’t got any weapons!” he says went down well after a pause before someone shouted now “we’ll have a joke now about the Unionists for parity so we will!” He duly obliges launching one at Ian Paisley “Preacher of Hate” and how he finds it strange that whilst he refuses to believe that the IRA have given up their weapons he is happy to believe that Jesus was the son of God and the pope is the devil! Paisley, Thomas says, is a scary man who could make anything sound sinister, he proceeds to recount Paisley’s shopping list in barking Belfast tones “2 tins of tomatoes…a packet of oven-ready smily faces.” There is also the fact that Paisley does not believe the IRA has given up its weapons “the man who think Jesus Christ is the son of God and the pope is the devil, we’re only now asking you to believe one little tiny thing here!” Not stopping just with the leader Thomas lambasts the Orange order, a group he describes as “paramilitary homepride men” for marching to almost anything and yet not prepared to fight on the issue of the public right to roam.

Thomas is one of the great do-ers, he researches things and then enacts them much to the chagrin of the establishment. There is without question a lot of serious substance in Mark Thomas’ material, his particular bete-noir at the moment is the arms dealing, Britain is the 2nd biggest arms dealer in the world. There is now a law banning the involvement of any British citizen from any dealings involving stun batons, called the “torturer’s weapon of choice” by Amnesty International. Thomas not only sets up a deal involving British citizens but brokers it in the name of the Minister in charge of arms sales!

Thomas says he likes heckling, (though it would be a foolish person that were to heckle either of the men on this bill) he says how sometimes even if you haven’t thought it through it can be powerful. He regales us of the story of a friend from Newcastle who was supposed to be group heckling the former Secretary for Work and Pensions whilst he was still in office. Upon finding that she was alone on arrival when the Minister arrived she was gripped with passion and bellowed in strong Geordie tones “Blunket, you cunt”. The effect, apparently was that the driver of Blunket’s car was so surprised he reversed into a wall!

Thomas does an encore and then both he and Newman ad lib in a musical poetry slam. This is Newman’s territory and he soon has the audience and Mark Thomas in fits. Not to be overlooked entirely, Thomas shows he is a really quite accomplished harmonica player!

OK, I’ll grant you this was always going to be the ideal comedy gig for me, it has everything I need, it’s very funny, very politically charged and they talk proper like! That being said it will be the yardstick by which all other comedy nights are measured.

You can find the remaining dates on the tour here and because I enjoyed it so much, if you happen to be at one of the Warwick gigs you might just run into me.

Song Of The Day ~ Sky Parade – Losin Control