Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies

Gerhardt on Varon

Jeremy Varon. Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, The Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. xiii + 394 pp. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-520-24119-0.

Reviewed for H-German by Christina Gerhardt, Hamburg Institute for Social Research

Representative Democracy, Political Action, and Armed Struggle: The Weather Underground and the Red Army Faction
Analyzing the relationship among leftist activism, armed struggle, and democracy, Jeremy Varon's well-researched volume is the first comprehensive study to compare post-World War II left-wing violence in the United States and in West Germany. Drawing on a range of primary source materials, including interviews, letters, and FBI reports, Varon not only provides a historical account of the era's events but also questions critically "the origins, purpose, and effects of political violence" (p. 4). In its assessment of political violence, the book lingers as much on the actions of the terrorist groups examined as it does on those of the state. Unlike previous studies of either the Weather Underground or the Red Army Faction (RAF), Varon's is a comparative analysis of both. Furthermore, Varon's study is not merely a chronology of the RAF's first generation, as in the work of Stefan Aust and many other journalists, historians, or commentators. Varon adds a nuanced, substantive exploration of the limits of political action and the tricky subject of political violence.

In his introduction, Varon presents the decidedly internationalist politics of student and armed struggle movements and the commitment to anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist self-determination struggles in the late 1960s and 1970s. Despite this internationalism, Varon argues, national history, politics, and experiences played a decisive role in shaping armed struggle in each context. Thus, beyond the first chapter, Varon examines the Weather Underground and the RAF vis-à-vis their respective national contexts. In the United States, the Black Panther movement as well as the killing of student demonstrators at Kent State University and at Jackson State University figured centrally in the Weather Underground's alignment with the civil rights movement. In Germany, the fascist past was pivotal in the rhetoric both of the RAF and the state. As Varon puts it, "West German terrorism was a tortured form of Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung--a symptom of Germany's difficulty in confronting and working through its Nazi past" (p. 15).