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"New Left" (October 4-5, 1962)

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At the time, the splinter group could not have imagined that the defiance of the SDS would soon lead it to become the initiator and exponent of a student revolt. The SHB goal was basically to establish at the university a social democratic study group that conformed to the party. Radical nonconformists were not welcome in the SPD in the early 1960s. Nonetheless, the prevailing anti-intellectualism within the SPD leadership at the time does not explain the tactics of open defamation and accusations, as were practiced at the SHB press conference in Bonn against the SDS. The newly named SHB federal chairman claimed, for example, that there were some people in the SDS, who had “direct relations with the SED [East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party].” Especially in Berlin, the accusations went on that there was “close contact” between some SDS groups and “communists from central Germany.” And the Berlin state association of the SDS supposedly also frequently supported actions that had been started “earlier in East Berlin.” In addition, SHB functionaries spoke out against the continuation of “elaborate conferences of uninfluential people on major political questions.” According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the SHB would not “wander between two worlds,” but would instead work “decidedly for the cause of the free West.” The provisional SHB federal board expressly supported “defense of the country if at the same time the right to refuse to serve in the military for reasons of conscience was also guaranteed.”

Rarely had a majority social-democratic leadership – and a middle-class, conservative press – been so mistaken about the general mood among left-wing students than in the early 1960s. Although leading SPD functionaries such as Fritz Erler, Waldemar von Knoeringen, and Willy Brandt had themselves been part of the rebellious Workers’ Youth in the late 1920s, they now demanded the unconditional subordination of the SDS to the long-term federal policies of the SPD, which had never even been discussed fully within the party. Dialogue on goals, strategies, and tactics remained a taboo.

At the SHB press conference Maruhn implied, as had Wehner earlier in an interview, that the SDS was a fellow traveler of the communists. Both Wehner and Maruhn themselves of course spoke in the estranged language of Stalinist bureaucracy about the supposedly infiltrated, externally controlled SDS. The coming years would show, however, that an infiltration of the SDS by dogmatic party communists was out of the question. Instead, a focus for new kinds of actions and theoretical contexts of communication developed within the SDS. The SDS succeeded in temporarily translating politics into the everyday affairs of students and young people. As a result, an alternative lifestyle developed in the mid-1960s among major segments of West German youth that was marked by a fascination with autonomous politics beyond the classical mass organizations of the workers’ movement and by cultural and political defiance. But the rebellious subjectivity of the antiauthoritarian student and youth movements had nothing to do with Communist party discipline, Stalinist despotism, or Soviet security and power interests. Not until the tiny Maoist parties were founded in the early 1970s was this antiauthoritarian consensus revoked from within. From a sociological perspective, the withdrawal into a borrowed proletarian discipline meant a return to familiar petty bourgeois notions of discipline and order. Because until today there has never been any self-critical reflection on German Maoism from within, this subject finally needs to be researched from without.

Source: Sigward Lönnendonker and Tilman Fichter, Kleine Geschichte des SDS. Der Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund von 1946 bis zur Selbstauflösung [Short History of the SDS. The Socialist German Student Association from 1946 to their Dissolution]. Berlin, 1977, p. 75-78.

Translation: Allison Brown

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