Le Monde of May 26  entitled its editorial “Bombs in Europe.” Since then, the attack on the airport at Lod, the arrest in Germany of Andréas Baader, one of the principal leaders of the Red Army Faction, has been front-page news. The bourgeois press and the press of the reformist workers’ movement yelp in unison and denounce the specter of terrorism. The label is handy. Through the classic procedure of the amalgam they are able to get around the fundamental problem of revolutionary violence, which is posed with new acuteness at a time when imperialist genocide is being unleashed in Vietnam, when torture is systematized by the government in Brazil, and when even the French bourgeoisie begins to arm its hired killers of the SAC [Service d’Action Civique – Civic Action Service] and CDRs [Comités de Défense de la Républic – Committees for the Defense of the Republic]
Banditry Yesterday and Today
Minority, even individual, action cannot be judged outside of its social context. In a small book recently published by Maspéro, Hobsbawn sets forth the essential characteristics of social agrarian banditry. Bandits of peasant origin, who acted for honor, expressed profound popular resistance to the development of feudalism, later to the penetration of capitalism in the country-side. Representatives of a small peasantry, incapable of smashing the system which strangled them, these bandits were condemned to a certain isolation. Their action was a desperate protest. The masses were able to identify with it, as is attested by the success that popular literature accords to Robin Hood as well as the haidoucs of Romania, sketched by Panait Istrati. But they cannot directly participate in it.
On the other hand, it is not unusual to see these bandits join in the revolutionary struggle when the proletariat manages to come to the head of a national or social struggle of emancipation. During the long march, Mao Tse-tung attracted and reeducated a not insignificant number of them. In Russia, the collaboration between the Bolsheviks and groups of outlaws in the Caucasus in the big expropriations from 1905 to 1914 is well known. This is also true for the participation of the celebrated bandits of the Aurès in the Algerian revolution and the role played by Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution.
The working class has not expressed its resistance to capitalism in the form of urban banditry, analogous to agrarian banditry. While a certain sort of Anarchism, that of the Bonnet gang, appears to follow in this tradition, it is much more a part of a political current that expresses something beyond a confrontation with the existing social order: the idea of its destruction, even if this plan borders on utopia. Rather than a workers’ banditry, the ascendant capitalism developed gangsters in the cities, which far from challenging capitalist society, is installed in its midst, the better to subsist on it. Agrarian banditry constituted resistance to oppression; gangsterism is only a form of parasitism on capital, without popular sympathy.
What is emerging today, beyond the limited case of the Badder gang, is a new form of social confrontation which already in part constitutes an international phenomenon. A series of social layers made up of technicians, intellectuals and students find themselves on the warpath on the line of division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The workers’ movement, dominated by Stalinist or Social-Democratic reformism, does not permit them to express their radical break with the decaying society, with its hypocritical values and its legalized violence. This makes up a part of the despair which has developed into urban terrorism. The groups that embark on this type of action constitute micro societies living apart from official society, justifying their action by a revolutionary plan which they do not have the forces to bring to realization for the lack of real connections with the masses. The only link is that of encouragement by exemplary action and not organized resistance to capitalist exploitation.
If it is genuine, the document of the Tupamaros (MLN) [Movimiento de Liberación National – National Liberation Movement] published by the Uruguayan police confirms the hypothesis. “The MLN remains a subversive but no revolutionary organization,” declared this document of self-criticism. In other words , what is involved is a movement of violent confrontation, assured of broad sympathy among the masses, but up to now incapable of organizing them for a decisive assault upon the bourgeois state power.
It is clear to us that instead of howling against terrorism, the role of revolutionists is first of all to show the responsibility of capitalist society, a society of legal and organized violence, as well as the responsibility of a workers’ movement that capitulates before its historic tasks.
Minority Violence and Mass Violence
But the problem does not stop there. If the denunciation of terrorism takes so prominent a place in the bourgeois press, it is because the minority violence of some groups demonstrates the vulnerability of a system that wants to be immune. The workers demonstrate this every day: by showing that a strike-stoppage in a workshop can paralyze a highly automated factory . The Vietnamese give a like example on a very different scale by holding at bay the most formidable apparatus of destruction equipped with computers, giant bombers, electronic apparatuses. Kidnappings, skyjackings of airplanes also help to demonstrate that the more the capitalist system in centralized, organized and automated, the more it is at the mercy of a grain of sand.
For revolutionists, the problem posed by the action of the Baader band is not one for moralizing judgment, but of the links that can be established between mass violence and minority violence. A first and particularly enlightening example is provided by factory struggles. It is clear in fact that the occupation of a factory that mobilizes a mass of workers to control the means of productions and that may pass over to active administration has a fare greater significance that the kidnapping of a supervisor or a boss. The occupation attacks the boss’s power at its roots, the ownership of the means of production. Kidnapping only attacks the physical person of an easily replaceable oppressor. But if the kidnapping expresses a genuine anger, if it is not presented as an end in itself, a pure revolt, but rather as a means of breaking up the passivity and resignation of the masses, beginning with the overthrow of its hierarchical idols, then kidnapping can be a correct initiative that the workers ought to defend and even, in certain cases, to promote.
One of the latest actions attributed by the police to the Baader gang is an explosion of a bomb at the head-quarters of the American forces in Europe in which three American soldiers were killed. The question is not one of principle but of tactics. So far as we’re concerned, we have not hesitated to resort to violent minority actions when these actions were tied up with mass activity. In December 1970, the Ligue Communiste supported, at the time of the Burgos verdict, the attack of a group of militants against the Bank of Spain, but that was parallel with the mass campaign conducted on behalf of the Basques threatened with death. We also led actions against General Ky when he visited Paris, against the U.S. consulate (an action that led to the indictment of Alain Krivine), and supported the actions led by militants against the American firms profiting from the war. But this was parallel with systematic mass work within the framework of the FSI [Front Solidarité Indochine] in particular, on behalf of the in Indochinese revolution. We have taken responsibility for the direct attack against the meeting of the new Order, March 9, 1971, at the Sports Palace, physically imposed our presences upon the hirelings of the CFT [Conféderation Française du Travail – French Confederation of Labor (a “union’ dominated by fascist goons) at Rennes, and revealed the anti-crisis plans of the Ministry of the Interior. But that was parallel with a campaign of systematic propaganda against the armed bands of capital, particularly in the trade unions where we are active, particularly through the army committees created in 9170 for the defense of imprisoned conscripts.
As we see it, revolutionists ought not to await the insurgence of the masses to oppose their won violence to the daily violence of Capital. In strikes, we propose to workers who have learned from the assassinations of Overney and Labroche, to organize workers’ self-defense against the threats of the CRS [riot police]. To prove it is possible, we provided an example to the extent of our capabilities. In the same way, our Spanish comrades of the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) have popularized the idea of worker self-defense but they now pay particular attention to themselves ensuring protection for the mass demonstrations, as they did on May Day at Madrid with chains and Molotov cocktails.
We do not think that the way chosen by Baader and his comrades is one that leads to revolution. But we understand that they could think so, hard-pressed by the unleashing of imperialist violence and made desperate by the inertia of the reformist workers movement. That is why we defend them, first against their bourgeois judges but against the slanders of the frightened bureaucrats as well.
The following article has been translated from the June 10, 1972, issue of “Rouge”.