The more a ruling class is able to assimilate...

Hinrich Kuhls kls at
Fri Jan 19 13:55:47 MST 2001

The circumstance that a man without fortune but possessing energy,
solidity, ability and business acumen is able to become a leading figure of
the bourgeois republic is a valid indicator of the state of the society.
"In a similar way, the circumstance that the Catholic Church in the Middle
Ages formed its hierarchy out of the best brains in the land, regardless of
their estate, birth or fortune, was one of the principal means of
consolidating ecclesiastical rule and suppressing the laity. The more a
ruling class is able to assimilate the foremost minds of a ruled class, the
more stable and dangerous becomes its rule." (Karl Marx, Capital vol. III,
chapt. 36)

Original interview at:

Translation [provided by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of

Interview with Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in "stern"
magazine, 3 January 2001

stern: Herr Fischer, in January you will be heard as a witness in the trial
of ex-terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein, one of your comrades and friends. You
are to testify on how he got involved in terrorism. Klein is facing three
charges of murder...

Fischer: I will testify in court to the best of my knowledge and belief.
What I have to say I will say in court.

stern: An uncomfortable affair for the Foreign Minister of Germany.

Fischer: No. I don't regard it as uncomfortable. It is part of my history.
It's who I am, Joschka Fischer. Without my history I would be a different
man today, and I wouldn't like that at all.

stern: So how would you assess your role in the 1970s today? After all, at
the time you were moving somewhere in the grey area between street protests
and considerable militancy.

Fischer: It wasn't just a grey area, let's face it. Yes, I was a militant.
But I always rejected armed struggle and fought strongly against it
politically. We occupied houses and when they were to be cleared we put up
resistance. We threw stones. We were beaten up, but we also played rough. I
never made any secret of that.

stern: What role did violence play for you on a very personal level?

Fischer: Firstly you were punched, then you defended yourself and hit back.
And then began the fascination of revolutionary violence, which led many of
the 1968 generation to the edge. Most of them shied away from it, but some
crossed the line. And that ended in the murderous tragedy of the "German
autumn", in crime.

stern: Did you throw Molotov cocktails at policemen?

Fischer: Absolutely not! That is an oft-repeated assertion. And it is wrong..

stern: And you never urged others in the street fighter scene to throw
Molotov cocktails?

Fischer: No. Those actions happened spontaneously. That was in the awful
year of 1976, the year Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide. A dreadful time, a
time in which things a lot worse were possible! At the time I was accused
of having been there, but I didn't even have to appear before the
magistrate and was released.

stern: What did fighting mean for you at the time?

Fischer: At the time fighting meant demonstrating, demonstrating against
the authority of the state which we wanted to bring down. Stones flew,
people were beaten up. And you hit out too. But at the same time there was
always also a dispute with those who then drifted off into terrorism.
Within the scene we fought hard to prevent lots of people from breaking
away, from going underground, under the pressure of the events in the
mid-70s. I always believed that was wrong, even suicidal.

stern: Your friend Hans-Joachim Klein was more of a tag-along in the
movement, whilst you were one of the leading figures and for many people
even then a role model. Do you feel like you bear a share of the

Fischer: What you 're saying is well wide of the mark. The efforts went
exactly the opposite way. We were all shocked when Klein suddenly appeared
on the front page of "Bild" after the Opec attack shot in the stomach.
After all, all the time we had fought hard to prevent that step to armed
conflict, to terrorism.

stern: Can you say here and now that the German public knows everything
about Joschka Fischer's past?

Fischer: I don't know what you mean by "everything". I only know what I
experienced first hand, and that I've told you. However, one day I will
certainly write my autobiography, and it will be more comprehensive than
this interview.

stern: We have photos which may show a young Joschka Fischer going for a
policeman with remarkable brutality..

Fischer: What does one see in these photos? It was probably the situation I
remember. In that case we were running away after a demonstration in
Bornheim which had been broken up by force. The police were pursuing
demonstrators and brandishing batons. I was running by myself and with
nothing but my hands, for the first time ran not away from the police, but
towards them. So much for the "remarkable brutality". Others then arrived,
as can be seen in the picture. So it was the other way round if the picture
shows the scene I remember. By the way, there are also photos I know for a
fact I'm in.

stern: And what do those photos show?

Fischer: Me getting a terrible thumping! And how! I still remember it
vividly. I was black and blue. Easter Monday 1968, at the Springer blockade
in Frankfurt.

stern: From that time on you said "It is more blessed to receive than to give".

Fischer: Yes, but that is an observation made with hindsight. At first I
was scared as hell at demos. Really scared.

stern: And then you started beating up policemen?

Fischer: I began to resist and no longer run away, yes.

stern: Today you represent that same order you used to attack militantly.
How do you explain that to a young person who knows the period of
extraparliamentary opposition only from books?

Fischer: Vietnam, emergency laws, the assassination of Rudi Dutschke, the
suspicion of a continuity between the Nazi regime and the Federal Republic.
We had hostile preconceptions in our heads. We met with a great deal of
hatred when we demonstrated peacefully. If you go on a demonstration today
you no longer hear the argument "Get off to the GDR". And that was the most
harmless variant. We often heard "Away to the labour camp!" or "You should
be gassed!". That was the time I first became familiar with police batons,
even though I was still entirely harmless then. I got my first five weeks
without probation for obstructing public authority, breach of the peace and
violation of a security zone. And what had we done? Six of us sat down in
the Schlosshof in Stuttgart and protested against the Vietnam War. We were
caught, five or six of them kicked me, twisted my arms and such like, and
then they claimed I had kicked out, something I was in no position to do.

stern: Was that the birth of the militant Joschka Fischer?

Fischer: All these events were, yes. You have to see the overall context.
It was the time when Rudi Dutschke was shot, a time of the hardest
confrontation, of public instigation to hatred against students, a time
when for us German democracy again seemed to be implying the continuity of
National Socialism. That created hostile preconceptions in our minds. That
created hatred on our side. Then that took us along a road where the
question of hostility against this state was no longer merely a theoretical
one, but where you in actual practice wanted the overthrow of the
constitutional order - crazy as this may sound today.

stern: Would you still say today that there were cases in which the
exercise of violence was justified?

Fischer: Precisely because of my own experiences I accept violence only as
a very last resort - where life and freedom are at stake and where other
means can no longer help. Otherwise violence is extremely dangerous and I
reject it.

stern: When did you reach the point where you could not carry on as a
potentially violent opponent of the system?

Fischer: At some point we noticed that the real danger lay in doing exactly
that which we had accused our parents' generation of having done. For me
one of the worst events was in 1976 when an Air France plane was hijacked,
with the involvement of two Germans from Frankfurt, and the hijackers
collected in people's passports and selected from among the hostages
according to whether they were Jewish or non-Jewish. That was disgusting,
appalling, and led to huge disillusionment, also internally.

stern: You have said that there is an incredible temptation in violence.
What was this temptation for you?

Fischer: Sometimes there are very good reasons to put up resistance. That
is why I have never been and never will be a pacifist, because I never
exclude the ultimate reason, to fight for one's freedom and one's life. But
the moment you hit out a mechanism is triggered which gives you a feeling
of power, and that is tempting, especially for young men. I learnt a lesson
from that. Institutional barriers, democratic controls are needed for the
exercise of violence, it must be limited to a government monopoly on the
use of force. And you also need a moral barrier within yourself. Otherwise
you end up with the crimes of left-wing radical terrorism which pursued the
policy of "the end justifies the means".

stern: Your past is now being instrumentalized in day-to-day partisan
politics. In an interview with "stern" a few weeks ago, Friedrich Merz
said: "No weapon which was used to murder an Economics Minister in Hesse
was ever found in my car".

Fischer: Nor in mine.

stern: But that is what is being insinuated in connection with the Karry

Fischer: Let me explain the story to you. I don't know why, but I can
remember this situation as if it were only yesterday. Perhaps it was
because it was my first car, a rust heap that cost me only DM 500, and
promptly gave up the ghost on its first sortie. Proper alternative
left-winger that I was, I had taken out extra car insurance cover with the
German Automobile Association. Don't laugh - that's what German anarchists
are like. Klein was a car mechanic. So for fifty marks he put in a new
engine. He was to deliver the car when it was ready. But he didn't come at
the agreed time in the evening, he didn't arrive until the next afternoon.
I got terribly worked up about it. In 1983 Federal Public Prosecutor Morell
came to see me and said that in connection with the Karry murder there was
reason to believe that pistols had been transported in my car. There was
not the slightest doubt in my mind that this had something to do with
Klein, not with me. If I had known that he wanted to drive weapons around
in it, I would not have given him the car. I gave a statement, which
essentially bore out the results of the investigation, and as far as I was
concerned the matter was closed.

stern: How often did you have a weapon in your hand at that time?

Fischer: Never. With the exception of an airgun I have never shot in my
life. Nor was I close to doing so, on the contrary I was adamantly against
it. At the time certain circles regarded Daniel Cohn-Bendit and me as
representatives of what they saw as a rotten system because we were so
vehemently against weapons. To that extent there is nothing to discuss with
me here. I personally knew the founders of the RAF in Frankfurt. Klein's
tragedy is that he let himself get involved with that scene. But the RAF
and the Revolutionary Cells were never my thing; - on the contrary, if
Hans-Joachim Klein had stayed in our milieu he would not be on trial today.

stern: But you too threw stones? Or have we got it wrong?

Fischer: I have already clearly told you that in this interview. Are you
sure that you have never thrown a stone?

stern: Yes.

Fischer: That's good. Then ask around in your offices. And feel free to ask
around in the German Bundestag. As for me, I'm a poor shot. Arms are too short.

stern: For years after he left the terrorist scene Klein hid and was
supported by your friend Daniel Cohn-Bendit among others. Did you know
about that?

Fischer: I personally had nothing to do with it. I wished Klein could have
extricated himself at the time and then also given himself up.

stern: Let's take a big jump and come to the present. Whether it's the BSE
scandal, Klimmt's resignation or chaos in pension reform - how many more
years of learning is this government going to need?

Fischer: Look at the reforms we have carried out despite all the
difficulties. There will be no pension reform without difficulties, quite
simply because what is at stake is the interests of millions of people,
some of them contradictory. We pledged to end the standstill, to get rid of
the mildew. This fact is being registered, even in the conservative press.
The "Economist" is full of praise, and you can hardly dismiss that as a
Social Democratic or Green paper.

stern: But the Chancellor seems rather to have lost his reformist zeal.
Painful restructuring measures in the health system and the civil service
have been postponed. Is the SPD/Green coalition now just thinking about its

Fischer: It's constantly a matter of reelection. But one is reelected for
good policies, not for doing nothing. We must not let the dynamics of
reform slacken. We must not say: Let's just sit back now. We are far from
finished with the reforms we have to make. Pension reform, revitalization
of the labour market, making agriculture more ecologically friendly, and
more effective consumer protection are just some of the areas in which
there must be progress.

stern: For the last two and a half years the Greens have been losing votes
at every election.
Can you halt this downward trend at the Landtag elections in
Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate?

Fischer: It will be difficult for us again. We got 12.1 % under ideal
conditions in Baden-Württemberg the last time and it will be difficult to
repeat that. But we will try. However, I am very glad that Fritz Kuhn and
Renate Künast are leading the party. The Greens are at last acting
professionally as a party of social-ecological renewal within the
Government. That is trickling down to the party's grassroots. If we
continue to pursue this course we can hope for more votes at the next
Bundestag elections. However, we've had a tough time. Quite honestly, I
felt exhausted after our party conference in Karlsruhe last year. If I
hadn't been a member of the Government I would have thrown in the towel at
that point. I was drained. My battery was flat.

stern: Let's talk about coalitions ...

Fischer: We have one and we're happy with it. End of message.

stern: There have been approaches from the CDU, from its leader Angela
Merkel to its Secretary-General Laurenz Meyer. These people can easily
imagine a coalition between the CDU and the Greens.

Fischer: There is no question of that at the moment. When it arises we will
have to look at this issue in concrete terms.

stern: Your party colleagues in Stuttgart are talking in very concrete
terms about the CDU/Greens option. Would that not be a good opportunity for
a test run?

Fischer: The Land party in question makes any decision on Land coalitions -
after the elections!

stern: The eastward enlargement of the European Union will be a central
issue in the Bundestag election campaign. The Germans have many fears:
cheap labour and a weaker euro.
Could that cost the SPD and the Greens the election?

Fischer: The euro is in the process of stabilizing in an impressive manner.
It's possible that we'll be having a very different debate in the summer
about the currency being too strong and it being difficult to sell exports.
As for eastward enlargement: immigration is more likely to increase if
these countries do not accede to the EU and there is permanent poverty on
our eastern border. When I think about economic development in the next
ten, fifteen years, I see the potential for growth in eastern Central
Europe. This region acceding to the EU has long since ceased being poor. It
is now one of the most vibrant economic regions in the world. The "Polish
economy" used to be an arrogant German term. Today it is a trademark of one
of the most dynamic economies in eastern Central Europe with growth rates
which we can only dream of. And for us that means trade, jobs, income,
taxes and prosperity.

stern: Poland is experiencing an upswing and yet Warsaw can hope for DM 20
billion annually in subsidies from the EU after accession. Who'll pay for
that - the French, the Portuguese? Or won't the Germans have to fork out in
the end?

Fischer: You're assuming that the agricultural market will not be reformed.
But it will be. What's more, we will have very difficult negotiations in
the EU in 2005. It's clear that we cannot expect one single country to
carry the burden. Everyone will have to make their contribution in a spirit
of solidarity. However, I'd warn against spouting the theory that we above
all are the paymaster general. For our EU partners would be quick to
counter that we've gained most from the single market.

stern: If everything is so advantageous for us, will the politician Joschka
Fischer be going into the election campaign the year after next telling
Germans that the Poles will be acceding to the EU in 2004 and that we'll
benefit from their membership?

Fischer: At all events, there are many reasons why it is very much in our
interest that Poland be among the first group of countries to accede. We
have a very close relationship with our neighbour. We are profiting from
the economic boom in Poland. Above all, attitudes must change. The Germans
must free themselves of an image of Poland which bears little resemblance
to modern Poland. France and Poland are united Germany's two most important

stern: When should the first countries accede? 2005 at the latest? Or could
it be even later?

Fischer: It could be earlier but I don't think it'll be later.

stern: Can the EU Heads of Government carry on making their decisions as
they did at the Nice summit - perhaps tipsy, at all events overtired?

Fischer: I was neither tipsy nor overtired. Nor was the Chancellor.

stern: Is that a model for future European legislation?

Fischer: Not for legislation, but it is for fundamental decisions, as long
as the states alone have a say. It's illusory to believe it could be any
other way. It's always the same with collective bargaining too. It's not
until daybreak that results are produced. There are certain rituals.
Exhaustion strategies are evidently among them. If we had always called it
a day at a reasonable time we would still be sitting round the negotiating
table in Nice. However, it is also true to say that when we prepare a
European constitution another method will definitely be used.

stern: Did the wild scraps of the 15 Heads of State and Government in Nice
not also show that what is needed is someone to represent the common
European interests? What will become of your proposal for a European
President elected by citizens?

Fischer: I don't regard that as a priority at present.

stern: What have you learned about yourself as a German while negotiating
with the French?

Fischer: I've been to France often and it never fails to fascinate me. What
always astonishes me is that we are so different despite our common roots.
And that these differences can be very productive for Europe.

stern: What is Joschka Fischer's relationship with the media? Will you deal
with the public differently in future or do you hope that the public will
deal differently with you?.

Fischer: You have to be realistic. Market conditions are extremely hard,
which means that barriers journalists used to accept are no longer valid,
particularly when it comes to the private lives of politicians. That was
something which worked quite well in the Bonn Republic.

stern: Many in Berlin the political world are now wondering about Joschka
Fischer and his marriage. Or don't you want to talk about that any more?

Fischer: Let me ask you, how is your relationship going?

stern: Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

Fischer: Exactly. That's the way it is, that's life. And of what political
interest is that? None at all. It isn't enshrined anywhere in the Basic Law
that the families of the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister have any
obligations. I've brought neither my wife nor my children into my office.
You've a right to me, every inch of me, my past and my present. Joschka
Fischer yes - the rest of his family no - never!

Interview was conducted with
stern editors Tilman Gerwien, Norbert Höfler and Hans-Martin Tillack.

More information about the Marxism mailing list