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Chapter 4 BLACK AND RED PANTHERS “AS I LISTENED to Stokely’s words, cutting like a switch-blade, accusing the enemy as I had never heard him accused before, I admit that I felt the cathartic power of his speech. But I also wanted to know where to go from there.”1 With these words, Angela Davis remembers the speech of one of the leading figures of the Black Power movement in the United States, Stokely Carmichael, during the two-week congress “Dialectics of Liberation” in London in July 1967. For Davis, who later became an icon of the African American protest movement, this encounter proved to be formative for her political development. Together with Angela Davis, a delegation of the German SDS from Frankfurt had also arrived in London . The German representatives were equally impressed by Carmichael’s appearance. As the German publisher Bernward Vesper reflects in his autobiographical novel fragment The Journey, “Berlin, and June 2 [the killing of the German student Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman] are nothing but sandbox games next to the manifestation of the colored races, for which the question of violence is not a question, since they have been living under the violence of racist whites for centuries. . . . How much does one dead person count for the liberation movements in the Third World, where they count hundreds and thousands of deaths each day?”2 The influence of the African American Black Power struggle on the West German protest movement not only consisted in the creation of a transnational protest identity, but also substantially shaped the formation and dynamics of the student activists’ ideological position. For parts of the West German movement, Black Power appeared to be fulfilling Che Guevara’s foco theory as much as Herbert Marcuse’s minority theory and epitomized the liberation from imperialism and capitalism from within the First World. In this context, the model of colonial conflicts developed by Frantz Fanon and adapted under this perspective was of great consequence : West German activists adopted the Black Panthers’ interpretation that viewed the black population as an “internal colony” of the United States, which could liberate itself from oppression only through the use of violence. This interpretation was strengthened by an anti-imperialism accelerated by the escalation of the war in Vietnam, which, for parts of the West German movement, linked the United States and its foreign policy semiotically to the crimes of National Socialism. In a reversal of the offi- BLACK AND RED PANTHERS 109 cial doctrine that the freedom of Berlin was defended in Saigon, West German activists frequently invoked the analogy between Vietnam and Auschwitz. The close transatlantic partnership between the countries was thus regarded as one of complicity in the crimes committed in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, which were perceived through the lens of Germany’s past. In their eyes, the Federal Republic had been transformed into an “external colony” of the United States, bearing at least part of the responsibility for crimes committed on behalf of imperialist suppression. Against this background, solidarity with the African American struggle significantly changed the ways in which members of the West German student movement viewed their country’s history after 1945. The countercultural practices that they adopted from the United States and the attraction to the provocative militancy of the Black Panthers became an integral part of defining their own identity. Solidarity with the Black Power movement and transformations in the image of the United States were thus fatefully combined and utilized as yet another vehicle for coming to terms with the past. Interpreting the transatlantic alliance as a colonial relationship also helped justify even violent resistance against it and contributed to the rise of terrorist groups such as the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, or RAF), who framed their attacks as part of a liberation struggle. The transatlantic activist networks of the New Left and their turn to the African American struggle in the United States therefore had a significant impact on the radicalization of the German student movement and its turn to violence. THE EARLY RECEPTION OF BLACK POWER IN WEST GERMANY The civil rights movement in the United States during the late fifties and, in particular, the early sixties, received the attention of people worldwide. Due to the spectacular nature and imagery of its actions and its moral implications set in the propaganda battles of the cold war, it transcended national borders and was formative for a variety of...


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