Carol Mann
Baby-boom revolutionaries

Most of you grew up in to the Soviet and Communist regimes. It must be really surprising to hear to what extent the young generation- my generation of baby-boomers- idealized communist ideology

Just to talk about myself- despite growing up in UK, my mother who was French, her family were hardcore Communists: growing up in the 30s she and my aunts and uncles saw Communism as the only possible alternative to Nazism- even after the war.

Yet obviously, after the take over of countries after 1945 and especially Hungary numbers crashed (Alain)


Very briefly: As you know, the 60s + 70s were a time of huge social movement, Civil Rights in the US for black minority, Women's liberation, student protest, mainly centred against the US intervention in Vietnam, US generally and all their allies deemed imperialist and ruthlessly capitalist. You've hears Bob Dylan, Joan Baez

This was in the middle of the Cold War. communism was idealized

in fact the USSR financed a number of such movements, even though all these protesters did n't want to replicate the way of life in the Soviet Union, but bring about an ideal socialist world, trotskyst internationalist rather than orthodox marxist-leninist.

A cult of heroes, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Mihn- photos, posters, tee-shirts, not just as a gadget (like fridge magnets in BA today) but a way of expressing dissent. That and jeans, long hair and unisex

. Add to this sexual liberation (made possible mainly because female contraception had been put on the market) and an interest in exoticism, Middle East, India (hippies) respectful and inspired by non-European cultures. Today this is seen as cultural approximation (my late 70s Africanish hairstyle, Jewfro)

If the 50s were filled with angry 'rebels without a cause', James Dean, the next generation felt they had great causes to defend, namely the war against capitalism as they saw as the cause of all evils. no real programme, on knew what were against

Some groups were not satisfied with demonstrations, sit-down strikes, music festivals and generally innocuous pacificist expressions.

The most virulent happened in, Germany (Rote Armee faction) and Italy (Brigade Rosse) France (Action Directe) and there was also a Red Army group in Japan (which will not be discussed here except for a mention of one of their leaders Fusako Shigenobu),

First thing to notice, all 3 come from countries which were nazi (Germany12 years 1933-45), Fascist (Italy 22 years 1922-45), in the case of France (1940-5), the best-run Nazi colony with the Vichy regime- and as we know about nationalist imperial Japan. These were the principal oppressors and perpetrators of some of the worst crimes against humanity ever known and there is a direct correlation between the breadth of each movement and its political project and the length of fascist government:

As I have argued elsewhere, All the militants are children of these perpetrators: some born during just before or during WW2 or in the years after. That is to say they parents were involved, one way or the other in the Fascist and Nazi systems.

Note that there were hardly any Jews involved here- except 2 in France, one could have understood the notion of revenge, but this was marginal phenomenon

In fact the most virulent activists were in fact fighting against the parents' generation, the inherited shame and guilt which was just too heavy to bear. They were trying to clean up their own lineage.

The German Rote Armee faction RAF (Ulrike Meinhoff, Andreas Baader) acted as the national conscience and asks the questions that were never asked- and resorts to violent action through the sheer lack of punishment of perpetrators

It was the a case of the young generation taking on accountability and responsibility, bringing things back to the painful memory of the 3rd Reich

Amongst their first targets were former nazis, who happen top be industrialist + capitalist politicians and the reference appears in their writings

Being wealthy in the 1970 in the indigenous upper-classes easily implied war profiteering or war-time contacts and a bit later being part of the much-reviled capitalist system (often linked). These young women bore the shame of their families' money

check Kollontai came from aristocratic background

Women can be only seen as victims, reluctantly sucked into the system

Surprisingly philosopher Luce Iragaray 1987, 59 Différence des sexes

Nous ne devrions pas tolérer que nos mères soient accusées d'avoir été des soutiens au fascisme. Etaient-elles au pouvoir ? Avaient-elles leur mot à dire pour le choix d'un régime

And this was really violent:

in Italy, 14 000 acts of violence, about 400 dead, in Germany 37 (we complain about terrorism today)

These included in bombings, kidnappings, killings. assassinations, bank robberies, and gun battles, a hijacking of a air plane and solidarity with other revolutionary groups, especially Palestinians where they got training. Men and women were equally involved.

But why idealize communism ?

In those days, the Communist parties were strong in all 3 countries (Germany had East Germany next to them) and the opposition to regimes came from a working-class left. Italy was more of a mass movement, 600 militants, thousands of supporters

Women were involved in especially with the extreme violence, which came as shock in the West, because thinking female violence was truly unthinkable because of gender stereotypes of passivity, women as peace-makers etc.

Close to female anarchists in Russia late c19 which culminated in assassination of Alexander II- much of the shock was that women were involved killing of French banker Georges Besse by Nathalie Menigon and Joelle Aubron

- press depoliticizes violence, anecdote, sex, perversion etc

French revolution pushed women back, not allowed to fight, just sell food to soldiers

Despite activists, far less than in Russia or Germany (Zetkin, Luxemburg)

Less opposition to WW1

Women banned from war zones even in, in Russia Nadezhda Dourova (Pushkin made her write her memoirs), female commando in Word War One (Maria Botchkareva)

remember, the West had not experienced, unlike USSR, female resistants and partisankas ; the model of Milicianas was very restricted

Vote arrived late in France + Italy 1945

Near the end of WWI, Canada, Russia, Germany, and Poland also recognized women's right to vote.

In France and Italy Influence of 1930s conservative notions still strong- and that was the generation of the mothers of those that came to be called "female terrorists" after the mid-70s, before they were termed "agitators". You might think Germany was the same- but the situation was different, greater rebuilding more money (Marshall Plan) and Denazification- not very successful

The reference in France was la Terreur, Belle-Epoque anarchists and the word used by Nazis for resistants

In Germany strong tradition for activists, so there is a continuity

Weimar republic 1919 enacted equality in education for the sexes, equal opportunity in civil service appointments, and equal pay in the professions. These changes put Germany in the group of advanced countries in terms of women's legal rights (Czechoslovakia, Iceland, Lithuania and the Soviet Union also had no distinction between the sexes in the professions, while countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Norway held onto restrictions to the professions for women throughout the inter-war period). Germany's Reichstag had 32 women deputies in 1926 (6.7% of the Reichstag), giving women representation at the national level that surpassed countries such as Great Britain (2.1% of the House of Commons) and the United States (1.1% of the House of Representatives); this climbed to 35 women deputies in the Reichstag in 1933 on the eve of the Nazi dictatorship, when Great Britain still had only 15 women members in the House of Commons.

The umbrella group of feminist organizations, Bund Deutsche Frauenvereine (BDF), remained the dominant force in German feminism during the inter-war period. It had around 300,000 members at the start of World War I, growing to over 900,000 members during the 1920s; it has been noted, however, that the middle-class membership was far from radical, and promoted maternal "clichés" and "bourgeois responsibilities".Other feminist groups were organized around religious faiths, and there were many Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish feminist groups.

Difference with USSR

Whereas female figures occupy public space- national figures with swords in Ukraine, georgia, Armenia, no equivalent in W. Europe, no streets, no Partisanka metro

This is not to say that this reflected total gendered equality in USSR but the rights were far more advanced: contraception, pay, male jobs, participation in army, science, creches for kids

OK on paper, the reality was something else, confrontations of traditional gender ideals in the home V. state. the emancipation was especially real in Muslim republics

This is one the reasons for the suffering of women in ex-Communist countries, the loss of what was considered privileges in W. Europe

Choosing violence as women- not as companions of male activists was a real source of empowerment.

Being recognized not as marginal members of a group like during WW2 where Western female resistants received no recognition (2 small streets in Paris, hardly any women, I metro station- but another called Stalingrad) but fully fledged activist and leader was new

Attitude towards feminism

To what extent were these militants consciously feminists ? Female RB members certainly saw women as a distinct group experiencing a particular type of oppression

All rejected the consciousness-raising activities of the women’s movement in the 1970s as time-wasting and fruitless. Like early communists (Rosa Luxemburg) they believed that liberation would come after and through revolution, that this violence was the only means of societal transformation

Many of them were more knowledgeable about theory than men (like Meinhoff compared to Andreas Baader), because they felt they had to prove their dedication and their decision were no just a case of being drawn in by boyfriends which is what the popular press accused them of.

However RAF, action directe, Red Brigades forced feminists to think about agency, in front of so many acts of violence committed by women, they had to think about the different aspects of violence and their relationship to it

They were forced to think about how state violence functions against them and other minorities but also as perpetrators. Basically how what is thought of as private invades public space and social relations, violence included.

Meantime, the remarkable presence of women in all ranks of armed organizations guerillas all over the world in S.American, FARC, Kashmir etc whilst these European violent movements were at their peak resulted in a tendency on part of the establishment to view women’s participation in political violence as inherently feminist in nature and

not of an expression of student or workers or minorities' movements but of the women’s movement itself.

© 2015 ВГО Центр "Розвиток демократії"