Walter Benjamin and the Red Army Faction (Wohlfarth, 2006)

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by Irving Wohlfarth, Radical Philosophy 152, 153, 154 (2008-9)

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Benjamin and the Red Army Faction – is the subject even worth discussing? Its background, or underground, has, it is true, hardly been broached in the secondary literature. Yet both sides claimed that violence was needed to avert disaster; and Benjamin underwrote an ethics which did not shrink from the ‘revolutionary killing of the oppressor’. But a difficult question remains. Does any kind of fuse or trail lead from his words to their deeds? If so, it would mark a striking instance of the general problem: how responsible is a thinker for the fate of his/her ideas? Such questions were hardly foreign to Benjamin. He had, he wrote only a year before Hitler seized power, not yet considered what meaning might be extracted from Nietzsche’s writings ‘in an extreme case’. But who, or what, determines, precisely when such a case obtains? Does the trajectory of the Red Army Faction (which will here henceforth be termed the RAF) raise in retrospect the question of the political meaning that might be wrested, in an extreme case, from Benjamin’s writings – especially since such states of emergency were their common concern?