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Terrorist Organisation: Red Army Faction

Info: 3835 words (15 pages) Essay
Published: 4th May 2017 in History

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The purpose of this assignment is to produce a profile of the terrorist organisation, Red Army Faction (RAF). It will focus on the Origins, Aims, Ideologies and motivations of the group, and identify how it is structured and explore their strategies. We will highlight individuals who have been identified as leaders. Furthermore the assignment will look at how the group's ideology affects its structure, strategy, targets and tactics. Finally it will provide analysis on the future of the group.

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The Group's Origins

The inspiration for a German Terrorist Organisation RAF came from its name sake The Red Army - a Japanese left wing terrorist group. The word Faction tried to suggest the group was part of a larger, international Marxist struggle" [1] The RAF rose from the late 1960's when the growing German youth; from a post World War II baby boom, carried out protests due to being subjected to industrialised and social upheaval. The students raised issues such as Anti -Imperialism, Racism, old pro Nazi ruling class and the de-nazification in the West and East of Germany. This brought a wave of independent leftist groups which carried out acts of violence for their cause.

On 14 May 1970 Andreas Baader who had been jailed for acts of arson during a protest against the war in Vietnam. Whilst in prison, Baader had been given permission to have regular day release, (of course under close observation of guards) to work with journalist Ulrike Meinhof at a local library (Institute for Social Research), regarding juveniles in detention centres. On one occasion Armed men entered the building and started firing weapons in the general vicinity of the guards, this enabled Baader and Keinhof to escape from a second story window. This leap was symbolic; Baader plunged into a precarious freedom, Meinholf however leapt into an entirely new life of dangers and notoriety, in which bombs replaced words. "They both took a leap of faith; trusting in their cause, each other and their comrades forming the RAF" [2] This was the begin of the RAF which also had a confusing "interplay of names" [3] the RAF in the earlier years was also called Baader-Meinhof Group or Gang during the period 1968-1977, due to the two primary activists (Andreas Baader & Ulrike Meinhof [4] ). Other founders of the group were Gudrun Ensslin, Jan Carl Raspe and Horst Mahler.

The Group's Aims and Objectives:

The RAF had evolved into a Left wing, underground urban guerrilla group, who would complement a plethora of established revolutionary and radical groups in its region. These groups were collectively known as the Fighting Communist Organizations (FCO's). [5] The RAF would carry out attacks within the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG),

Concentrating on establishing a tradition of illegal Guerrilla Resistance to International Imperialism and State Repressions.

They would use terrorism as a tool to reduce affiliation between FRG and the United States (US) of America by carrying out attacks on US targets within German i.e. Military bases.

They wanted to "Destroy Western capitalism through terrorism help precipitate a worldwide Marxist revolution" [6] 

During 1972 - 1977 one of the RAF's main efforts were to carry out terrorist attacks to ensure the release of imprisoned leaders.

Ideology and Motivations of the Group:

It has been documented, that many terrorist groups have been categorised depending upon what their ideologies are and therefore what motivates them. The categories are National-Separatist, Revolutionary, Reactionary and Religious. The RAF has been firmly placed in the Revolutionary/Left-Wing whom uses violence to create a societal change and promotes a Marxist-Leninist ideology. [7] The Marxist-Leninist core ideological issues include an Economic theory, Revolutionary and Sociological change that influences political views and movements around the world. 'Class' struggles have been identified between the Minority, (Bourgeoisie) who own the means of production and the Majority (Proletariat) of the population who are the workers. Therefore, a social change occurs between the two classes and further Marxist analysis leads to the conclusion that capitalism oppresses the majority, which consequently could result in a proletarian revolution. The heart of the Marxist-Leninist ideology "believe in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat which is the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort" [8] The RAF could see that people in FRG could not control their own destiny, workers were being ill-treated and as stated previously, wages and social benefits were cut to enable a profit. The following are just a few statistics that highlighted the need for change:

"14 million people in the FRD and West Berlin were living in poverty.

1.1 million People living in rural areas living on 100-400 marks per month (PM).

600,000 people in low income housing projects.

450.000 in homeless shelters

100,000 institutionalised children, 100,000 in mental asylums, 50,000 adults in prison." [9] 

The Chemical Industry and the Automobile Industry had the same outlook which meant low outgoings, higher profit margins regardless of cost. "20,000 die every year due to the stockholders of the automobile industry…….did not stop to consider technical safety issues for automobiles or road construction. 5000 die every year at the work place……12,000 workers commit suicide every year." [10] 

These facts drove the RAF to channel their thoughts, and motivate the group (stated in April 1972, 'We must prevent the possibility of unnecessary victims'. 'Everybody in the ranks of the revolution must take care of each other, must relate to each other lovingly, must help each other' [11] 

Leadership and Structure:

Due to the fact that there has been 3 Generations of the RAF there have been numerous leaders affiliated with the group, therefore I'm going to concentrate with three of the original leaders who were Andeas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, who were classed as the "historic nucleus of the RAF" [12] :

Andreas Baader: Born in Munich 6 May 1943, he didn't do so well academically due to dropping out of high school. He was one of few leaders who didn't go to university. As a young man he liked life in the fast lane which attracted him to the criminal / violent life style of being a group member. In 1968 he and his girlfriend Ensslin were convicted of the arson bombing of a department store in Frankfurt as protest to the "indifference to the genocide in Vietnam" [13] and subsequently sentence. The pair only served a short sentence and were released on parole awaiting an appeal in November 1969. They were smuggled out of Germany by left wing sympathizers and stayed underground in France, Switzerland and Italy. Again Baader was apprehended for a speeding incident and return to jail. Once in jail he plotted his escape utilising a day release at a local library to work on a book with journalist Ulrike Meinhof. The armed escape was successful, Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof and two gang members fled to Jordan to carryout training at "Fatah Terrorist Training Camp" [14] . On return to Germany, 1 June 1972 Baader and two gang members were captured after a long gun battle in Frankfurt. Baader remained in the Stuttgart's Stammheim prison until his death 18 October 1977, " Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe were found dead in their prison cell killed by gunfire" [15] 

Gudrun Ensslin: Born in 1940 in Baden - Wurttemberg. During High School she did very well and managed to get a scholarship and studied Philosophy, English and Germany. On completion of here studies she moved to West Berlin to study towards a PhD at a local university, which carried out many protests against Nuclear Weapons and the fact that America had a big presents in Germany. During 1967 Ensslin became engulfed by the Left Wing activists movement and went on numerous rallies. It was at one particular meeting which turned violent, as the Left Wing groups came together over a visit to Germany by the Shah of Iran, who's regime had been labelled as oppressive, brutal and corrupt. From this meeting, Ensslin met and formed a relationship with Baader and it was turning point for Ensslin as she decided to stop being a political activist and became a Terrorist. In April 1968 Ensslin and Baader then went onto carry out the arson attack on two large department store and were arrested shortly after. It came apparent that Ensslin was behind the plan to rescue Baader from prison. She concocted a story that Baader was writing a book with journalist Ulrike Meinhof and therefore required day release to a nearby library. The plan was executed successful and Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof escaped. So it transpires that "despite popular misconception it was Gudrun Ensslin who was the female leader of the so called Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang AKA Red Army Faction" [16] rather than Ulrike Meinhof.

In 1972 Ensslin was finally arrest for numerous terrorist activities and remainined in Stammheim Prison dispite the RAF trying to free her by carrying out kidnapping and hijacking key government personnel. Ensslin was found hanging in her cell 18 October 1977. [17] 

Ulrike Meinhof: Born on 7 October 1934 in Oldenburg, Germany. Meinhof was a well educated individual who studied sociology, German studies and philosophy at Marburg. In 1957 however Meinhof started to show her radicalism side by joining the Socialist Student Union and getting involved in anti Nuclear weapons protests. At this point in her life she started to write for newspapers which would start her career. In 1957 she joined the German communist party and became a writer of the left wing magazine Konkret 1962-1964. As her writing career grew her writing style changed and became more radical, this included interviewing Baader and Ensslin regarding the arson attack. "it was this meeting that was to directly lead to her becoming a terrorist and ultimately her death". [18] Meinhof then made a big transition from journalist to terrorist when she excepted her part in Ensslin plan to free Baader. During the period 1970-1972 Meinhof carried out numerous terrorist attacks which includes bombings, shooting and kidnapping. In 1972 Meinhof was detained along with a fellow RAF member. Meinhof remained in prison till her final day when she was found hanging in her cell 9 May 1976.

The structure of the RAF has been split into individual circles:

The group leaders were situated in the centre of the organisation, which for the 1st Generation"hierarchical centre of gravity centred on the prisoners" [19] The role of the leaders were to assign targets to the Commandos.

The next level surrounding the leaders were the Commando Level units containing 15-20 personnel. The Commando level "decided collectively, then individual tasks assigned according to the expertise of the appropriately qualified member of the group" [20] This way of group planning enabled the success and failure to be experienced by everyone involved.

The Commando Level was surrounded by the Illegal Militants consisting of approximately 200 personnel. The Illegal Militants were surrounded by the Political Fighters who were classed as the Legal arm containing approximately 400 personnel.


To achieve their aims the strategy was to target key government and industrial personnel and infrastructure in an attempt to destroy capitalism within FRG, in order to help and protect the proletariat. Targeting US Military personnel and property to attack the close partnership between the US and Germany." The struggle against imperialism (...) has as its goal to annihilate, to destroy, to smash the system of imperialist domination, on the political, economic, and military planes; to smash the cultural institutions by which imperialism gives a homogeneity to the dominant elites" [21] The attacks happened using a variety of methods, consisting of bombings and shootings. The strategy of the organisation changed numerous times during the life of the group in direct response to its current situation. The first being the

Imprisonment of the 1st Generation leaders, the "RAF strategy aimed at kidnapping eminent personalities from politics, industry and the economy, in order to put the authorities under pressure and force them to release the imprisoned RAF members" [22] The following are instances of abduction:

10 November 1974, Gunter Von Drenkmann, President of Berlins Higher Regional Court, fatally injured during an attempted abduction.

27 February 1975, Abduction of Peter Lorenz, Chairman of the CDU in Berlin.

13 October 1977, In a joint operation the Palestinian guerrillas hijacked a Lufthansa airliner en route from Majorca to Paris.

The hijacking of the airliner provoked the government to carry out an assault (18 Oct 1977) on the plane killing 3 terrorists. That evening, Raspe, Baader were found shot in their cells. Ensslin is found hanged and Irmgard Mollor found with stab wounds. This caused outrage with protestors and became the bloodiest period for the RAF, the "German Autumn".

Mid 1977 the strategy changes yet again, instead of abduction they turned to "killing representatives of the 'Military Industrial-Complex' (their M-I-C strategy) and killing representatives of the 'apparatus of repression'" [23] . The following are instances of killings:

30 July 1977, Jurgen Ponto, President of West German, Dresdner Bank, shot and killed at his home.

19 October 1977, Hanns-Martine Schleyer, Germans top Industrialist, President of the Employers Association, and former SS Officer, shot dead.

1 April 1991, Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, Chairman of the Treuhandanstalt, the privatisation agency to restructure the former nationally owned enterprises in East Germany, shot at his home.


In this section you will:

Assess the impact of your chosen group's ideology on its structure, strategy, targets and tactics.

Comment on the future of the group

[40 percent marks have been accorded to this section.]


The group's ideology, aims and objectives have any effect on the group's structure, target selection, tactics and strategy the effects are as follows;

Structure: The ever changing aims and objectives especially the 3rd Generation from 1984 put a lot of pressure on the structure. Due to the Commando level starting to make decisions in targets identification and acting upon them, it produced "fractures in the RAF and differences between the individual circles of the organisation" [24] The prisoners at times had little if any control over what attacks occurred, whether it was due to bad luck, some of these actions failed. Leaders of the group who were not imprisioned decided to "abandon the struggle and demonstrated resignation" [25] This in turn led to them being used as witnesses for the state, which signified a downfall of the group. In addition ideology of the group affected the layout of the group as they saw everyone as equal, therefore, everyone had the right to speak and to be heard.

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Strategy: During mid to late 1980s the 3rd Generation of the RAF realised that their attempts to "Build up a West European guerrilla front had failed" [26] To combat this, the RAF issued a new strategy of a "United Europe" (1989) to try and motivate its terrorist. However, The Italian Red Brigade had split into two making the Red Brigade for the Construction of Fighting Communist Party (BR-PCC) and the Union of Fighting Communists (UCC). Both groups declining the offer of co-operation and decided to distance themselves from the RAF to concentrate solely on their aims and objectives. Other groups such as The French Action Directe (AD) and The Belgian CCC, The Fighting Communist cell had been wiped out by the increase of police units made up by governments to crack down on terrorism. To that end, a crucial problem faced the RAF as it found itself being isolated from the other Left Wing extremists. [27] A major contributing facture to the fall of Left wing terrorist groups was the fall of the Soviet Union and its outer empire, consisting of the six Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe. This action led to the discrediting of the Marxist/Leninist ideology and furthermore declined the Left Wing terrorism in the 1990s.

Targets: The ideology of a group influences how members view the world around them; therefore identifying their enemies. The enemy then become legitimate targets, such as people or institutions. [28] As a Left Wing group they targeted personnel and structures portrayed as symbols / high priority. These being Police (9), Judicial( Officials and Politician)(4), Political Officials(5), Media(17), Others (being attacks on US Military Facilities)(77)and Businesses(post 1985 MIC)(5).(Bracketed numbers equal people killed, wounded or kidnapped by Communist Terrorist Groups in West Germany 1967-1991) [29] The US Military Facilities had the highest rate due to the groups tendency to us bombs when attacking US Military Facilities to produce a high casualty rate due to them being "the centre of the capitalist, imperialist system" [30] 

Tactics: Typical tactics of the group were decided on the actual target. For structures they would use Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) / Explosives to gain the desired effect of damaging property and producing a large casualty rate. Selective targets would be attacked by either Long Barrel Weapons (LBW) at long range being greater than 25meters, or Short Barrel Weapons (SBW) pistols of various types for close quarters. The group tended to be selective in target acquisition when innocent bystanders were in the vicinity of their intended target. Therefore, reducing the possibility of killing/injuring the proletariat they were fighting for.

I believe that the structure of the RAF needed changing, to just one prominent figure who would set the standards and delegate targets and attacks to the leader of a commando level. This would produce a concentrated effort of resources, and would achieve better results. Having a dis-jointed command structure, ie leaders being in jail did not help run organisation effectively. The group needed to reassess its aims / objectives, due to the changes in society and industry over time and change its strategy and focus on entering the political arena to obtain better results, and ceasing its armed strategy.

The group disbanded 20 April 1998 which I believe was due to lose of their aim and objectives, and therefore concentrated once again on the release of the RAF prisoners in 1992. The group were in talks with the government who agreed to release inmates if they reduced their attacks, which they did. Therefore, no future for the RAF was visible.

Conclusion: Words, 2900 + I still need a summary


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