Tuesday, August 25, 2009

towards an alliance of flames in each indignant heart

towards an alliance of flames in each indignant heart

"You know why everyone loved John Dillinger? Cause he robbed banks!"

by the Claustrophobia collective, Spring 1998

This is intended as a contribution to debates currently going on within the anarchist prison support movement. We hope that it can elicit discussion on all our parts that proves useful in bringing us together to a more effective and stronger movement, by focusing on the themes that resonate in all our experiences and show a possibility for linking the prison struggle with the independent self-definition of movements of various other sectors of the working class. Responses are welcomed.

I. the struggle must be as broad as the class...

We want the coalescence of ABC and other anti-authoritarian prisoner solidarity groups into a tendency which is rooted in class struggle and which makes the re-development of a revolutionary prison movement its aim, while struggling for anarchism/anti-authoritarianism within that movement. We hold this in opposition to a pole of the the PP/POW support movement that, in our view, is mired in an excessive legalism and organization-fetish that effectively isolates it from the anti-control attitudes and experiences of the larger class. This tendency of which we are critical-most visibly and successfully represented by the Anarchist Black Cross Federation-performs a valuable role in the anarchist movement at this time by bringing into movement dialogue the lessons and experiences of the wars (early experiments in people's armed struggle against an oppressive liberal capitalist state) fought across the continent in ghettoes and reservations through the 60's and 70's. We agree that this work is important to carry out, but disagree with the conclusions they seem to draw from these experiences and the ends to which they push the lessons they draw.

When we say working class we are not referring to any one of the selective bigoted class identities promoted by capitalism to divide us against ourselves. We are not referring just to those who have the relative privelege steady employment, but to welfare moms and outlaws as well. We are referring to both those who grew up in neighborhoods that gave to each of its children a class consciousness and to those who came up in neighborhoods designed in everyway to obscure class identity. Our class includes those who never held a wage job in their life and those who always thought they were middle class til one day they realized they'd been working a little above minimum wage for ten years. When we talk about "our class" we mean something more like "the people" than a particular component of any narrow economic analysis of capitalism. The class has both objective socio-economic components and an individual subjective one. The basis of our class identity is both that we own neither capital nor our own lives and at the same time that we make this reality the basis for where we put ourselves, who we align ourselves with, what side we are on. Any revolutionary class identity has to itself be the basis for the dissolution of hierarchies of privelege which divide us.

For us class struggle cannot be limited to the activities of formal political organizations, though we don't deny a role for these. Similarly struggle goes on among those who aren't perfectly politically conscious, whatever we might deem that to mean. Class consciousness for one is not dispensed by the vanguard militants down to the unconsciousness mass (as suggested by Lenin), but develops in different ways among each of us going about our daily activities of surviving and striving. Out of this life we are forced into we unavoidably develop ideas about what is behind our condition, how we'd rather it be, and what we might be able to do about it. To the extent that people confine themselves to more conservative channels, it is often because they do not see the possibility of what we propose. This is not unconsciousness so much as a flawed but practical analysis. We always have a critical attitude to people's consciousness - assessing its particular usefulness and insight - but we don't try to negate that they have one. We make this central to our perspective.

The same way we resist negating the subjectivity (particular self-consciousness, and activity) of members of the class, as a whole and the various specific parts of it, we also resist attempting an arrogant impostion of our views of struggle. Class struggle is seen in many acts, many of them invisible to the politicos. We value each of these activites and struggle to relate to each of them as a radicalizing influence.

Revolution, in our view, is the process by which oppressed groups in society, based on their own internal culture shaped both by the nature of their oppression and the methods of resistance to exploitation they have developed, come to break with state and capitalist domination and build consciously independent, internal, sustaining, and anti-exploitative relationships that can defend against the state and replace their need for state intervention. We are only one of thousands of points within these collectivities working toward those ends. As anarchists, we refuse to see ourselves as trapped in a 'competition' with these other people and groups. Our struggle is to do what is possible to spur the development of these revolutionary tendencies in the communities we live and move in, presenting our opinions on situations that develop from a position of equality.

This is our starting point: looking at the relationships that exist on our side of the class struggle, defining the positive tendencies and working within them. We are only speaking as one political grouping that is based in particular scenes and circuits on the streets, with an interest in reuniting with people who are comrades to us locked up in prison, or separated from us by other forms of state control.

Recognizing class war requires understanding that when slavery was "abolished", they built all sorts of prisons. When we've risen up, the prison was used to crush us. When we've run petty hustles to get out of debt, the prison was there to keep us poor. When we had enough of some cop's hassles and we banged him in the head, the prison kept our revolt contained. When we tried to settle a problem amongst ourselves without going to the state, they imposed the prison on us anyway. When we acted as if the world had no borders and moved where we wanted, they placed the border of a prison cell around us. When we violently struck out against the confinement of a brutal marriage, they subjected us to the prison's brutal confinement. When we tried to escape a painful reality by getting a little buzz on... When we stole a car for a joy ride, for lack of any better revolt at the time... When we robbed a bank in order to avoid working our whole life... Today there are more people locked-up and more people under other forms of state supervision than at any other time in the history of the world. So we understand that the prison is not a special issue for a small segment of the class, but is one of the dominant institutions of our oppression. Class war must destroy all prisons.

Back up for a running start...

When we started out as an ABC group four years ago, the only measure we had for our work was Komboa's Draft Proposal for an Anarchist Black Cross Network. This was written originally when Komboa was in Federal prison in 1979. It was then revised around the time that we first got hold of it, when Komboa was looking towards a unification of the budding ABC movement. Today, the document is a little dated, which actually gives us the extra gift of an outside perspective on current disputes over the direction of the ABC.

Throughout the Proposal, Komboa argues for the defense of "anarchist prisoners," "class war prisoners," "prisoners," "political prisoners," etc., almost interchangably and without at anytime assuming that supporting one group means neglecting the other. Nowadays some might find his use of terms sloppy and "unprofessional" to the extent that clearly defined distinctions are not made between different categories of our people locked up. At the time he was under no compulsion to explain this orientation because it was the common perspective of just about all anarchists, so we are required to explain its logic now that it has been eroded.

In Komboa's depiction of the prison movement, there is a flow of struggle that engulfs all prisoners in one way or another. So we ask, how can we seperate comrades who became political on the street from those who became political on the inside without fragmenting what's going on inside? The struggle always comes from the class as it exists at a given moment, out of its complexity, and not solely from the cadre of particular organizations. Thus he talks about Carl Harp, George Jackson, the Attica Brothers, Martin Sostre, Ojore Lutalo, Assata Shakur, Andaliwa Clark, Shaka Shakur, some of them PP/POWs and some of them not, but all of them comrades. It is also undeniable that the struggle of George Jackson was not simply the heroic struggle of an individual to conquer that which sought to conquer him, though it was that. His was a struggle that reflected the uprising of at least hundreds of other people at the same time, in those lock-ups where George was and beyond. We can't honor George's struggle without honoring the struggle of prisoners in general. What unites this perspective on the prison movement is class struggle against prisons. Komboa writes, "Firstly, we believe in the abolition of both the prison system and the society which creates it and we initiate all our actions with that in mind". The prison "is for State social control and political repression. Thus it must be opposed at every turn and ultimately destroyed altogether. The abolition of prisons, the system of Laws, and the Capitalist State is the ultimate objective of every true Anarchist, yet there seems to be no clear agreement by the Anarchist movement to put active effort to that anti-authoritarian desire". For us, Komboa's pamphlet is still a starting point in our understanding of the role of anti-prison organizations in a revolutionary Anarchist movement.

When we wrote "Prison Abolition in a Neo-colonial Ice Age" a year and a half ago, we talked about the need for true political support of the prison struggle, that is contributing fully to the search for answers to the problems that face us as a class and as a movement. That is the spirit in which we offer these formulations. At the time our break with what we see as a more bourgeois minded politic was largely negative (against the bourgeois politic), in that we had not fully taken up a clear identification of struggle rooted in the broad class, the world-wide toiling class, working class, proletariat, heir to the human legacy of domestication that our class is.

II. the 60's 'movement' didn't just disappear

The mid to late 60s was a time of hope for the world, for people everywhere. There have been plenty of moments of uncertainty since then, when it seemed like anything just might be possible, that any mass of people could break down and become collectivities of free & human individuals. But our generation hasn't yet experienced those moments become a life.

Baltimore-to take just one example-in the late 60's had a scene going on, with communes coming together, study groups everywhere, and always the sense that people were consciously moving towards something: whether you knew where that was or not, it was somewhere, and you were constantly studying to figure out how to determine and destine that path.

There was an experience in radical feminist and anti-imperialist collectives and living experiements around Waverly, there were high-school students at Eastern High joining the Black Panthers and waving their pride and revolutionary spirit in the faces of a reactionary racist system that couldn't hold them down. There were neighborhoods that were a lived collective of communes and families and all kinds of social networks, that worked together against the state and its institutions and its security forces...

These struggles were brutally repressed by the state in all the forms they took. People were killed where the escalation of the conflict allowed and necessitated that. Thousands were captured and silenced by imprisonment, hundreds of whom still remain locked up. Communities of resistance were broken up physically by walls and highways, economically by gentrification and segregation, and spiritually and culturally by a consciously planned mis-education system in the schools, media, and entertainment industries. The most desperate-& therefore potentially the most dangerous-sectors of society were crippled by government-directed floods of addictive drugs and social workers and checked by the most massive increase in policing the world has ever seen.

The point in remembering this history is simply to give respect to the elders of our movements and communities, who remember parts of this history because they built it as their lives. These elders include political prisoners and many others, who experienced directly the building of the movements and then the state repression visited on them. The fact that there are those who remain in prison alone should keep this movement alive for us. All of us somehow experience the repression that was handed down over the last generation, but these are people who are forced to carry it with a much greater level of urgency than others of us might.

The point for us is not to fetishize the particular forms that resistance has taken, as some are inclined to do. Nor is it to build moral or logical criteria in arguments that explain our compulsion to defend these political prisoners; that feeling should come instinctively to anyone who identifies with the "movement" and it's not necessarily linked to our feelings towards the particular actions or ideologies they were associated with. These are our comrades, we have plenty still to learn from them and we need to acknowledge that we owe them a debt that, until we win our revolutionary struggle, we can repay only by our respect, sympathy, and support.

III. Against the Laws We Obey...

Anytime you're gonna talk about something you start by knowing where you stand in relation to it, or else you're just getting ready to lie or be fooled. As proletarians, as revolutionaries, we must not start with an acceptance of the State's law, its morals, its values. From the start we reject these out of hand and refuse to refer to "criminals", as opposed to "Political Prisoners". The argument that PP/POWs are not really criminals because they did what they did for the struggle can become a trap when its corolary is that the rest of the prisoners are "criminals". We reject the idea of the 'criminal' and the 'criminal class' because these ideas do not originate from our own self-understanding and do not give us tools to fight with. Liberals often say that "the capitalists are the worst criminals", this is true enough if by it is meant that the Capitalist is an enemy far worse and more dangerous to us than any small time hustler or thug; but beyond this we are not interested in a redefinition of criminality because its corrolary is Law.

My mom once told me the joke about a dude who said "Just because i suck a little cock now and then everybody calls me a cocksucker!" We start with a rejection of the idea of criminality pushed by the state, if only because we cannot be defined by any selective aggregate of our actions. As soon as one of us is convicted of a 'crime', that mark of criminality is our only public identity. We are nothing but that act, or even less. The guilt that a 'criminal' is judged to feel at committing a forbidden act is supposed to substitute for the lifetime of experience that led her/him to that particular point. But our subjectivity is much deeper than any socially proscribed identity. These identities are the basic units of social control. Each of us is afforded our due accordingly, but none of us is granted freedom in our lived subjectivity, least of all the imprisoned "criminal."

What is often misleadingly identified as the 'criminal class', 'criminal underclass', is really not even a class in itself. It is, like the stigma attached to welfare recipients in this country, just another means for capitalism to prevent one segment of the people from recognizing and allying itself with others. What does exist is a section of the working class who state and capitalist planners have marginalized to the degree that regular sustainable employment is unreliable and survival at times requires something else. This something else, 'crime' - illegal trades, illegal markets, illegal supply routes, etc. - is usually combined with legally sanctioned work. The marginality which promotes criminal employment is itself enforced by the idea of the criminal class. It is this stigma of criminality, imposed on whole neighborhoods or sides of a city, which keeps people in a socially degraded position that matches an economically mandated marginality. The defintion of 'crime' is tied up in the ruling class's business plan of maintaing a cheap labor force (increasingly so inside the prisons). It has been used this way historically. In particular, criminalization of drugs has been used to attack whole communities of workers (usually of particular national communities, e.g. Chinese, Mexican, New Afrikan) who constitute a labor surplus and are threatening capitalist order.

According to the structure of the class in different areas at different times, an ideology defining this 'criminal class' will be developed. The one we are all familiar with promotes Black/New Afrikan working class people in this role. Similar criminalized identities are drawn up for every other community that finds itself at the bottom of the American pyramid. The same stereotypes are used against "white trash"-rebellious working-class people who refuse to or are unable to accept the privelege - separation and distinction - that being "white" is supposed to mean. So "crime" is, first, a code word for a section of the class that's targeted by the state for control and at times elimination.

What is vital and what we know we are unable to do here, is to gain an understanding of state role in the production/reproduction of criminalized economies. The first principle is that the state plays both sides and gets paid on both ends. Underground markets serve many purposes of both State and Capital. Provision of covert revenues, low-maintenance for a section of highly marginalized workers, for example. Also what is the meaning of an 'underground' economy that in some areas is the dominant money flow and employer? These and other related questions are something we need to look at, but they are not the main focus of this essay. What needs to be emphasized for our purposes here is that not only is the concept of 'the criminal class' a creation of the State, but the illegal channels through which people are forced to find part of their survival, are themselves intimately tied to the functioning of State and Capital, some of them directly controlled and created. So again we see how the identity of 'criminal' is a creation and imposition of the State.

Above all else, our values must be rooted in the relations we build-up amongst ourselves. With hearts and minds cleared as much as possible from the conditioning and the moral authoritarianism of this civilization, we become free to develop our own lives and ways of living together. Law and the punishment of "criminality" is one of the main institutions closing off space to this libertarian experimentation.

a working-class hero is something to be

What does it mean for us-supposedly "anarchists"-to impose the idea that popular rebellion can only legitimately take certain forms? The high-born French anarchist Jean Grave made the argument around the turn of the century that to commit crime was to partake of a bourgeois outlook on the world. Now of course the rich share the "criminal" outlook and lifestyle of getting paid by any means available; but the similarity ends there. Can you really say that robbing a bank is the same as owning one? Does the state treat the repo man coming to take back a car the same as the working family who missed a payment or two on it? This idea, so strangely respectful of bourgeois property, was thoroughly critiqued in both word and deed by the Illegalist Anarchists of the day, from the one-legged street orator Albert Libertad, to the invective of Victor Kibalchich (aka Victor Serge) in l'Anarchie magazine, to the famous Bonnot Gang which originated the get-away car.

Fortunately for the anti-authoritarian hopes of humanity, a certain number of people have always sought their own path out of (or simply, against) their oppression, not simply trusting the various programs imposed by revolutionary leaderships (whether anarchist or not). This is not to say that the Bonnot Gang blazed the true path forward - though their path truely blazed - but that rebellion comes up in all kinds of ways. In fact, the Bonnot Gang was a very politicized form of illegality, whose members almost entirely came straight out of the anarchist movement. What about Bonnie and Clyde and a thousand other local criminal heroes, and the antagonism they inspired in hundreds of thousands of poor folks' hearts?

And of course one need not be so grand as Bonnot or Bonnie for the same point to apply. A poor kid who steals is not simply compelled to do so out of poverty - to say that would be to do violence to her, to deny her subjectivity. In fact, one also chooses crime as less submissive, as a better way to live, and as a profound expression of class consciousness. Or at least that is one common way to choose crime. This is not to say we are not forced into the choice itself: washing dishes or stealing bikes, for example. Our consciousness comes from facing a no win situation. If all you can do is try to train people against the dreams of "setting it off" and into a more orderly opposition, without feeling the spark and human impulse that runs through all these million individual explosions, you will lose touch with the thread that has held humanity together from day to day and through several thousand years! Is the class struggle really confined to those who hold membership in revolutionary organizations and can support their actions by reference to Marx, Bakunin, Mao or Malcolm? Is it really our belief that humanity will march four abreast into the new world of our dreams? Or does the true hope of our class rest in the alliance of flames in each person's indignant heart?

Our class needs to know itself. It needs to recognize its power and beauty and its roots in an ancient struggle to break all chains which confine (and define) it. The power of this self-consciousness is itself a revolutionary power. The same way that the State has tried to camouflage and defuse the meaning of the armed struggle of the BLA and other combatants, we are denied a full understanding of the latent rebelliousness underlying so many of our everyday actions. To rip through the veil of the coverup is to allow people to see into their own aspirations and to embolden them. To go back to Bonnie and Clyde for a moment again, why were these bumbling robbers so loved among the people? They've been sung about and adored on movie screens. And wherever they've been talked about people have preferred a fictionalized version that makes their lives more principled than they probably were. So many working people, despite patriotic expressions or other backward consciousness, love Robin Hoods and identify with their actions. Many working people also feel a self-hatred because they see themselves and the class (however its defined) as a failure, as unable to offer any resistance. This sense of failure is thoroughly self-defeating and it need not exist. All around us, there are expressions of resistance. Class struggle is the development of self-consciousness and organization of these rebellions. If we contribute to the masking of these actions then what side of the class struggle have we fallen on?

Our comrade Gregory Hunt, remembered as Rock on the street, was executed a year ago for his killing of a cop over a decade ago. A hustler who shoots a cop to avoid lock-up is not likely to get much back-up from the left. And after twelve years of confinement and a personal transformation that brought a commitment to both revolution and Islam, in all reality Gregory was still without much back up. The socialist group that organized demonstrations against his execution wouldn't go anywhere near supporting Gregory the man, the proletarian rebel. For the fake socialists and communists and the anti-death penalty liberals, Gregory was simply a victim whose actions were best avoided since they could only damage the anti-death penalty cause. No surprise that some middle class wannabe bureaucrats would find no meaning in the life struggles of one of the rebellious damned, in fact, we should hope they continue to be blind to reality as they are our enemies. It was us who failed to push the dialog past the limits placed by these socialist managers. Loud amidst the uninterrupted spew of pacifist liberalism was the silence of Gregory's friends and neighbors who might have been called upon to vouch for the passion for living that drove him to shoot a cop.

An interesting postscript to this thought is the increasingly "political" nature of criminality today "political" even in the sense of the organization fetish that surrounds the definition of "political imprisonment". In a day when innumerable gangs, cliques, and individual ghetto spokespeople are making reference to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and revolution; when the rural white working class and agricultural petit-bourgeoisie are organizing along lines that run the spectrum from outright fascism to a sort of libertarian populism, we are reaching a period when the distinction between the organizations people being arrested today come from ('gangs') and the organizations the political prisoners of the 70's came from may not be as great as activists make it out to be. What is the distinction between a politicized and principled gang of rebels and a "revolutionary" organization of the left? Aside from the obvious differences of their position in the community, the only distinguishing factor is that the gang doesn't need to set itself up as an agent of "law" or appeal to international legal bodies to justify its existence, it knows itself as a necessary element in the conflict of classes.

Is a drug dealer who channeled his profits into community projects a "political prisoner"? How about someone who forged documents for illegal immigrants to be able to survive under American surveillance? Or an activist busted for check scams or welfare fraud, trying to fund the needs of their particular struggle or simply to live on while sustaining a community based on resistance? All of these people are operating on the revolutionary side of the class struggle as it exists today in the North American ghettos and marginal circuits we are based in; it seems much more effective for "us"-the carriers of an isolated movement-to link our efforts against state repression with theirs, provided we can do so on a principled basis that does not spare necessary criticism on either side.

And then, from the other side, these same communities and many others have plenty of stake in the actions and economies defined as "criminal"-from survival to drawing together community to reposession of the capitalist's stolen wealth. There are so many criminal acts that we'd like to defend, or merely give props to which the movement grants little political weight and even less material support. So that those who take risks and often suffer lock up or other forms of state intervention get no back up. Because of this we are forced to look past stereotyped definitions of what is "political", straight at the activity arising from the class that bear a hatred and resistance to the system. What act of resistance is not political? A movement organized around class struggle against prisons is forced to politically defend all these actions and organize itself to aid and abet them.

Neither legalism nor illegalism, but constant struggle against control

Our class is divided by many negative forces within itself which we are forced to fight against. Crime is said to be plaguing and destroying working class communities. But it is not crime, i.e. illegality, that is attacking us. The State names as crime both our damnation and our salvation, so it is up to us to sort through 'criminality', seperating that which is a positive force for the class and each of us individually, from that which is not. It's far from our purpose to simply flip the state's terminology and affirm what it seems to negate. Every act, from habitual shit-talking to stealing bikes in the suburbs, needs to be addressed in a broad class 'dialog'. That the class has no war to fight against crime can be illustrated easily enough by Gulianni's 'zero tolerance' in New York that uses those aspects of 'crime' that weaken us as cover for an attack on our autonomy which is seen as an erosion of the rule of law (squats, street vending, unlicensed cabs, neighborhood gardens, access to public space, street art, etc).

Every significant revolutionary effort has had to address these questions. The Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the German spontenaists of the late 60s, the French illegalists, among many others tried to work out the relationship between cultures of illegality and revolutionary struggle. Each of these need to be studied.

IV. Class struggle Behind Bars

There is already quite a prison movement. Like the movement on the streets, around twenty-five, thirty years ago there was more activity inside than is visible now. But we all know resistance never dies. We are all forced to resist or die in some way or another, and this decision is thrust more bleakly on someone in a cage.

The mass reality behind the walls today flowed directly out of the state's response to our struggles then. The repression that we spoke of earlier created both our Political Prisoners and the thousands of drug war POWs and the 'zero tolerance' for everyone else caught up in the mix. The power void, the loss of direction, that came about with the repression of the Panthers and other revolutionaries, was filled by street organizations whose goal was no longer inter-communalism but drug sales. This massive influx of first heroin and then cocaine, originating within government circles, then distributed as contraband by the most desperate parts of the class, became the pretext for the "drug war". And the drug war has been only one part of a broader extension of state police powers and the reach of law. Perhaps all this is one lens that can unify people's vision of the prison reality, and shatter illusions as to the chasm seperating the lives of political prisoners and 'social prisoners'. On a mass level both came to see the inside of a prison cell born of the same historical forces. In fact, it was crack, the drug war, that got the original Political Prisoner of the '60s, Huey P. Newton; killed in a fight over drug debt on an Oakland street in 1989. So we are faced with attacking the prison, not simply as the cager of movement militants, but as the oppressor of our entire class.

We want to show some of the different elements in motion that form today's prison movement. We represent each of these experiences as outsiders and so our accounts are no doubt flawed. All of these things need to be discussed and studied more. We need to assess the role of outside support in the development of struggles inside and their linking to struggles on the street, where that has happened; and where it hasn't, we need to see what we need to do that it does happen. We would also like to suggest the power that attacking prisons has in not only dismantling prisons themselves but in undermining the various other repressive projects of the state.

federal prisoners revolt

In the fall of 1995 the federal prison system was rocked in a massive rebellion against the drug war (among other things). Shortly following a congressional vote to maintain harsher sentencing of crack, four federal prisons went up in revolt (Talladega, AL, Allenwood, PA, Memphis, TN, and Greenville, IL). Other prisons' around the country saw insurrection for the next week and some days. From Lewisburg, PA to Atlanta, GA, Dublin, CA to Leavenworth, KS. The uprising most often took the form of seizure of a part of the prison and heavy damages to property. In Memphis $5 million in damages were reported and the buildings were rendered useless. Otherwise the rebellions took the form of work strikes and other disobediances. The rebellion included both men's and women's prisons. There was a system-wide lockdown brought by the Bureau of Prisons which itself provoked more rebellions. Towards the end, the rebellion broke out of the federal system when over 100 prisoners in a privately run Tennessee detention facility seized the prison and smashed it up. The prisoners were from North Carolina and demanded to do time in their home state. This system-wide uprising recieved almost no support and had only the most tenuous connection to outside political organization; it has since fallen into obscurity and has not been a lesson for our efforts at organizing. By no means were these the only open insurrections in prisons in that year or since.

INS detention center revolts

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service contracts with other state and county prisons for detention of illegal immigrants. Information on these prisons and struggles going on in them is difficult to obtain. We have seen brief reports on riots and other resistances in various INS facilities. These struggles should be considered part of the movement, studied, and joined with directly. Weakening the State's anti-immigrant program empowers the freedom of movement against borders, which is essential to our worldwide proletarian movement. That 40% of Latinos imprisoned in California are foreign citizens demonstrates the international reality of U.S. imprisonment.

hunger strike at SCI Greene (PA)

After prisoners won recent court litigations, the prisoncrats struck back with a restriction of prisoners' comissary, property, visitation, and phone access. Following this, half the 111 prisoners on death row at Greene (among them Mumia Abu Jamal) initiated a hunger strike which lasted 12 days and resulted in an end to the conditions imposed by the prison. The prison has since back-pedalled on the demands of the prisoners, but the struggle is by no means over.

study groups/literature requests

There are at least a dozen anarchist prison literature distribution projects in North America handling a steady stream of requests for literature covering the Black Panthers/BLA, anarchism, anti-sexism, etc. Many of the requests come from prisoners organized in study collectives.

domestic abuse POWs

The struggle for the freedom of women who killed their abusive partners is another integral part of our class' struggle against prisons. We heard recently of a woman in California who cut off the penis of a man, just released from prison for having raped and killed this woman's friend. We can't help but wonder if she was not emboldened by the relative prominence of support campaigns for domestic abuse POWs in that state. A single act like this gives us great hope in the possiblity of circulation of struggle that can come out of an attack on the prison system.


Recently in Baltimore, a prisoner in the supermax was able to make it out of a window and to the street (but no further) by virtue of a strong hatred of confinement and being pretty skinny. These stories are always inspirations to us (particularly skinny folks) and no doubt to others.

control unit resistance

For four years there has been the development of contacts between prisoners in different control units around the country and from those prisons to activists on the outside. This network has been trying to find a way to build a wide spread public opposition to these particular torture units. As such it works if unconsciously in the direction of building a class movement against prisons. The control units themselves reflect the war going on inside the walls. An element in the ever escalating technology of control responding to the obstinance of human resistance. The most rebellious prisoners, organizers, gang members, etc are the ones sent to these isolation cells. Abolishing these units breaks the isolation of the rebels from the general population and eliminates one of the States sanctions against resistance. In another fragment from Baltimore, a legendary prisoner (originally locked up for beating down a numbers man who wouldn't pay him what he'd won) required the construction of a cell specially for him due to his constant resistance (at 250 pounds he was tearing bars apart).


The prisons in northern Indiana, cages for folks primarily from Gary and Chicago, have burned bright in rebellion for at least a decade. Much recent activity centered around death sentences placed on two comrades who'd been framed for killing a cop in Gary. After the state execution of one of the comrades, Ajamu Nassor, among other resistances a guard was killed in retalliation. Another revolutionary organizer, Khalfani X. Khaldun was then brought up on charges for this retaliatory attack. When Ziyon Yisrayah faced execution two years later, another major round of protest errupted, involving unit-wide silent strikes. This brought another round of repression against prominent organizers, with a sweep of shakedowns and charges against six. People were shipped out to distant prisons or the control unit at Westville. Ziyon was murdered. The intensity of struggle has pushed the state to develop new methods of control more experimental than most of its peers. Units like D cell house at Indiana State Penitentiary, and Westville have been sites of intense repressive violence, if merely in the timing of lights, yet they have become themselves points of resistance and organization as the suit filed by Westville prisoners and current activity at D-ch demonstrate. The dynamics of the Indiana prison movement is directly tied to that of struggles for the politicization of Gary and Chicago youth street organizations. Groups like Brothers United to Save the Hood serve as one link between these two fronts.

V. Links against chains

“Tomorrow I shall go to the High Court of Eagles for … the first time? Does anyone in this strange and terrible land go anywhere, without having been there before in myth or dream? The minister with whom I shall confer will ask me a simple question. Beyond my campaign to free Neveryon’s slaves, whom will I align myself with next? Will I take up the cause of the workers who toil for wages only a step above slavery? Or will I take up the marginal workless wretches who, without wages at all, live a step below? Shall I ally myself with those women who find themselves caught up, laboring without wages, for the male population among both groups? For they are, all of them—these free men and women—caught in a freedom that, despite the name it bears, makes movement through society impossible, makes the quality of life miserable, that allows no chance and little choice in any aspect of the human not written by the presence or elision of the sign for production. This is what Lord Krodar will ask me. And I shall answer…”
“I shall answer that I do not know.” Gorgik’s hand found the little man’s shoulder; the horny forefinger hooked again over the collar. Noyeed, at any rate, seemed steadied. “I shall say that, because I spent my real youth as a real slave in your most real and royal obsidian mines, the machinery of my desire is caught up within the workings of the iron hinge. Slavery is, for me, not a word in a string of words, wrought carefully for the voice that will enunciate it for the play of glow and shade it can initiate in the playful mind. I cannot tell this minister what slavery means, for me, beyond slavery—not because desire clouds my judgement, but because I had the misfortune once tobe a slave.”
— Samuel R. Delany, Neveryona

The consciousness of a revolutionary movement and the consciousness of a ruling elite are two different phenomena; they operate on completely different principles. As revolutionary subjects, the "prison movement" can only know and interpret prison as a part of our individual subjective experience. It is not, as Delany's hero puts it, "a word in a string of words, wrought carefully for the voice that will enunciate it"—prison is nothing more than one limitation imposed on working-class life by the capitalist system which tries to limit our life in all directions. The struggle against prison then is rooted in the experience of every one of the class who has been "caught up within the workings of the iron hinge", and needs no further justification.

To the state, to capitalism, prison is nothing—merely a convenient means of controlling and disposing with its enemies. Their primary interest in the prison movement is that it remain a prison movement. A revolution cannot be successfully fought, or won, in prison. What the spies, informants and counter-intelligence agents they continue to send into our ranks are forever trying to determine and control is the political question: how are these struggles circulating among the different sectors of society as a whole? A movement where prisoners and their allies band together to effect changes in conditions or consciousness is one concern for the power structure, a nationalist struggle which focuses on prisoners' issues is another one, a class front movement of individuals—both imprisoned and not—who see their destinies linked and have agreed to fight together for a new world is yet another. Which of many possible models the "prison movement" chooses to identify with, or rather, how these models interplay with each other, is the question the power structure wants to know-and preferably, before the movement itself is aware of it.

We've heard accounts of one of the first Gay Liberation Front demonstrations in NYC where protesters marching past the Tombs shouted in solidarity with those held inside and made a link between radical gay culture which breaks with patriarchal authority and all other libertarian struggles. This, while being a limited example, suggests some of what needs to happen in linking struggle beyond the boundaries that we are made to live within.

The most recent publication of the Midnight Notes collective employed the phrase "One No Many Yesses" which we think bears reiterating here. Our one No is the rejection of the rule of Capital (in shorthand) and our many Yesses are the diversity of lives and self-creations which compliment this rejection. Links are the vehicle of connection between a particular struggle inside prison and any other sympathetic revolt elsewhere in the world.

We have argued for a political understanding which starts at ground level with day to day particular experiences of the class, and doesn't limit itself to formal expressions of politics. An organization which tries to relate to this understanding of the class struggle cannot be the centralist type of organization that is so familiar. We don't need organizations which attempt to engulf and then represent and coordinate all of these related yet independent struggles according to the leadership's master plan. Struggle comes from the needs of people in particular situations and must remain determined by those from whose will it arises. Though if it is to succeed it must also link with the struggle of others.

This implies a number of things for organization. The first thing is that we must have dialogue among all sympathetic sectors of the prison struggle (with links beyond). And from that dialogue we can begin to see what elements are needed to allow the confluence of each particular rebellion into a powerful insurrectional alliance. The root of libertarian organization is the facilitation of communication and cooperation and coordination horizontally. So it must be self-generating and constantly the servant of the interests of each locality of the network.

And it also effects our ways of thinking about links and circulation of struggles. Circulation of struggles has meaning not only in the Attica Brothers developing their manifesto and demands from one made by prisoners in Folsom a year earlier and the fact that the Attica rebellion was in part sparked by George Jackson's murder, but that on some unknown street an unknown ghetto dweller who heard fragments about George and heard about the heroic uprising of the Attica Brothers felt emboldened and inspired to an unknown act on his own and when he saw his neighbor after hearing the radio reports he called that neighbor 'brother' or 'sister' as the case may be and meant it in a way he couldn't usually manage to mean it. Things like this constitute an equally profound circulation of struggles. These are the things which formulate the characteristics and orientation of each section of the class, and its willingness to act on its own behalf.

Part of what has kept our activities on the outside so contained is the specialized role which it has pursued. We are caught in an as yet infinitely sustainable feedback loop of communication: letters, alerts, discussion bulletins, etc cycled within a closed circuit that only occasionally spills out on the streets or cell blocks. And simultaneously it is the other way around, the narrowness of our activity reflects the extent to which the prison movement has been contained and has not generally broken out in the old hoods of the prisoners. We are limited in the role we can play, in that all 'we' can be is those who are linked together by way of our particular struggles against prison. That is what we should aim to be. As anti-prison activists, the less we are rooted in particular struggles the more irrelevant and bureaucratic we will become. It is similarly true that the more we are limited to the activities of the activists rather than the bad works of the bad workers, the more irrelevant and bureaucratic we will become.

Within each of the programs that we've ever run their is the possibility of making it a vehicle for breaking out of confinements, confinements of consciousness and of alliances. For example, our Emergency Response Network was a linkage of anti-prison activists around the country and so it contained itself within that limit. A more profound organization of solidarity would link struggles to struggles. The Texas Prisoner Labor Organization linked to shop floor organizing in other areas, as an example of an obvious first step. And that such a link be with workers in a stealing frenzy in a Brownsville, TX restaurant, rather than just the activists of the IWW trying to make a revival. Each project can be undertaken in a way that builds solidarity across struggles within the prison, and beyond to struggles throughout the class; or it can be carried out in a way which maintains isolation of objectives and consciousness within the boundaries imposed by the present organization of our everday non-lives.



Claustrophobia collective P. O. Box 1721 Baltimore, MD 21203 claustro@charm.net


reprinted from Fighting Talk, the paper of Anti-Fascist Action



Within months of coming to power in Germany in 1933 the Nazis had :effectively smashed what was perceived to be one of the best organised working classes in the world. The Communlst and Socialist parties and their trade unions, militias and social organizations had been banned: the activists had been executed, imprisoned, exiled or had gone underground. Working class districts were sealed off and subjected to terror raids and house to houre searches.

The Nazi programme of creating a National Community and silencing opposition through the use of terror was to intensify over the next twelve years.

Involvement in the Hitler Youth and National Socialist educatlon policies were intended to ensure that the young became active (or pt least passive supporters) of me Nazi state. Behind the propaganda of the 'National Community' the reality, especially in working class areas, was very different. The more the state and the Hitler Youth intruded into the lives af the young, the more clearly visible acts of non-conformity and resistance became.

Thousands of young people declined to take part in the activities of the Hitler Youth and instead formed groups and gangs hostile to the Nazis.

From 1958, until the destruction of the Nazi state, the authorities (especlally the Hitler Youth, the police and the Gestapo) became increaringly concerned about the attitudes and activities of 'gangs' of working class youths who were collectively known as 'Edelweiss Pirates'.

The activities of these groups encompassed a whole range of resistance to the regime (absenteeism from work and school, graffiti, Illegal leaflets, arguing with authority figures, industrial sabotage and physical violence).
One Edelweiss slogan was "Eternal war on the Hitler Youth". Attacking Hitler Youth hiking and camping groups in the countryside end Hitler Youth patrols and Nazi dignitaries in the towns and cities was a favored activity of Edelweiss Pirate groups.

The actlvities of many young peopl e were so problematic for the Nazis that the Reich youth leadership were driven to declare "The formation of cliques, i.e. groupings of young people outside the Hitler Youth, was on the increase a few years before the war, and has partlcularly increased during the war, to such a degree that a serious risk of the political, moral and crlminal breakdown of youth must be said to exist." (1942)

It is important to remember that there activities were not taking place under a 'liberal' regime but in the years just before and during the Nazi's total war on 'Bolshevism' and the West and after almost a decade of National Socialist education and propaganda in the schools. The gang members wars from the generation on which the Nazi system had operated unhindered.

Although most Pirates had no explicit political doctrine, their everyday experience of encounters with National Socialist authority and regimented work and leisure led them into conflict with the Nazis and into anti-Nazi activity.

The group members were almost exclusively working class being mainly unskilled or semi-skilled workers and most members were aged between 14 and 18 years (most males over 18 were conscripted into the army) and had grown up and been educated in schools and homes under National Socialist rule.

The gangs usually consisted of about a dozen young men and (tome) women who belonged together because they lived or worked in the same area. The Pirates relied on informal structures of communication for support and "developed a remarkable knack for rewriting the hit songs inserting new lines". The songs often expressed a thirst for freedom and calls to fight the Nazis.

The different groups and their structures arose spontaneously and their understanding of the problems they were facing was formed by the day to day realitles of Nazi society. Gang activity revolved around meeting up, socializing, and confronting the regime in different ways.

In the working class districts such as Leipzig, youth gangs emerged in the former red strongholds that, while broadly similar to the Edelweiss Pirates, had a more politicized class identity and drew on the communist and socialist traditions of their neighborhoods. These gangs were known as 'Meuten' (literally 'Packs').

Gestapo reports on the Leipzig Meuten estimated their numbers at 1.500 between 1937 and 1939. The Meuten, probably because of their clearer political positlon, were subject to more detailed state attention and suffered more massive and ruthless repression than some of the other youth groups.

Reports of brawls with members of the Hitler Youth (especially the disciplinary patrols), of assaults on uniformed personnel, of jeers and insults on Nazi dignitaries, are widespread and documents from the time give a fiavour of what was going on.

"I therefore request that the police ensure that this riff-raff is dealt with once and for all. The HJ [Hitler Youth] are taking their lives in their hands when they go out on the streets". (SA Unit report 1941).

"For the past month none of the Leaders of 25/39 Troop has been able to proceed along the Hellweg or Hoffestrasse (southern part) without being subject to abuse from these people. The Leaders are hence unable to visit the parents ot Youth members who live in these streets. The Youth themselves, however, are being incited by the so called bundisch (youth movement) youth. They are either failing to turn up for duty or seeking to disrupt it." (Hitler Youth report to the Gestapo 1942).

"It has recently been ertablirhed that members of the armed forces are to be found among them (the youth gangs), snd they exploit their membership of the Wehrmacht to display a particularly arrogant demeanour. There is a surpicion that it is these youths who have been inscribing the walls of the pedestrian subway... with the slogans 'Down with Hitler', 'The OKW (military high eommand) is lying', 'medals for murder' and 'Down with Nazi brutality' etc. However often these inscriptions are removed, within a few days new ones appear on the walls again." (National Socialist Party Branch report to the Gestapo 1943).

It appears that the authorities response to the Pirates was confused at the start, some seeing them as "delinquents who would grow out of it". However as confrontations and incidents (and Hitler Youth casualties) increased, the authorities took the situation more seriously and repression of the Pirate groups escalated.

Against the sophisticated terror of the Nari state the only advantage that the gangs had were their numbers and meir ability to retreat into "normal" life. Despite this thousands of Pirates were rounded up in repressive mearures which for some ended in the youth concentration camps or public execution.

For example, on the 7 December 1942 the Gestapo bloke up twenty-eight (28) groups with a total of some 130 members. However, the activities of the Pirates continued (and in some cares escalated).

The Cologne Pirates had joined an underground group which sheltered army deserters, concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers. They made armed raids on military depots and took part in partisan fighting. The chief of the Cologne Gestapo fell victim to the Pirates in the autumn of 1944. In November 1944 the Nazi's publicly hanged members of the Cologne Edelweiss Pirates.

On the 25th October 1944 the situation was so serious that the national leader of the SS (Heinrich Himmler) issued an ordinance for the 'combating of youth cliques' at the end of a long series of actions aimed at defeating the youth and protest movements.

Apart from 'ringleaders' the Nazis did not execute large numbers of German youths involved in or sympathetic to the Pirates in the way they executed Jews and Poles. This was partly because they didn't itnow who all of the Pirates were (despite the massive surveillance and repression machinery and volumes of files held by the authorities on known Pirates) end partly because me Pirates were potential workers in armament factories and future soldiers. National Socialist ideological concepts such as the 'healthy stock of German youth' is likely to have also have played a part in the state's response.

Involvement in the Pirates and the Meuten meant that many members moved from non-conformity through to open protest and political resistance against ma Nazi state. The history of everyday life in Nazi Germany is often forgotten against me backdrop of the second world war and successful Nazi propaganda of a nation united behind Nazi ideology. The fact that there was defiance and resistance by thousands should not be forgotten, and the activities of the Edelweiss Pirates and the Meuten, should be of inspiration to anti-fascists everywhere.


Eve Rosenhaft

During the Weimar Republic, popular anxieties about the state of society became focused on a field of problems in which youth, political radicalism and a general brutalisation of social and political relations were assumed to be directly linked with one another in peculiarly threatening ways. In this field were to be found both the Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD), the junior party of the working class, bearer of revolution and political rowdyism, and the cliques (Cliquen or Klicken), or youth gangs, of the urban centres.1 This essay examines the actual and formal relationship between the two forms of working-class organization in Berlin. The points of contact between the two are interesting because they existed on several levels: cliques and Communists met and mingled not only in the rhetoric of the popular press and conservative authorities, but also in the everyday life of sections of the working class. And Communist Party policy was calculated to hasten both these processes. The KPD adopted a style and rhetorical posture which implied that it accepted and even welcomed the role, ascribed to it by its opponents and rivals, of a party of outlaws. It also made periodic efforts to organize and recruit among the cliques. The result was a more than usually self-conscious confrontation between a proletarian culture and the expectations of the party that claimed to represent the proletariat.

The geographical territory on which Communists and cliques met was the old neighborhoods of working-class Berlin. In the 1920s Germany's capital had some 4 million inhabitants, nearly half of whom lived from industry; 41 per cent of the population at the 1925 census belonged to the manual working class.2 The largest single employer of male labor was the metal industry, including both electrotechnical and engineering firms, followed by the building trades.3 With the numerous opportunities for casual labour offered by a metropolitan area in which both manufacturing and distributive operations were prominent (one- quarter of the population depended on trade and transport for its living), Berlin's population included a higher proportion of unskilled and unspecialised labourers than were to be found in the national workforce, about 42 per cent.4 Berlin's working-class inhabitants were concentrated in the north and east of the city, with significant pockets in the centre. The pre-industrial slums of the old city,' Berlin-Mitte, were ringed by districts packed with the tenement houses built to accommodate the workers who had flooded in during the boom years after 1870: Wedding and Prenzlauer Berg to the north, Friedrichshain to the east, Neukalln, Kreuzberg and parts of Schaneberg in the southeast, Moabit and a comer of Charlottenburg in the west. In addition to having heavily or predominantly working-class populations, five of these districts - Wedding, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte and the district in which Moabit lay - housed disproportionate numbers of the least qualified workers." It was in these traditionally proletarian areas that the Berlin KPD had maintained its strongholds since 1919; the most solid of these were Wedding, Neukolln, Friedrichshain, Mitte and parts of Kreuzberg. Here, too, most notoriously in Neukolln, Kreuzberg and Wedding, flourished the cliques. The Communists' attitude to this shared milieu was a contradictory one. Once the cliques have been characterised, the examination of the KPD's response to them and the aspects of working- class life they represented makes it possible to draw out some of the contradictions and their implications for the practice of the Communist movement.


As it was used in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the expression 'clique' ordinarily referred to a category of unofficial hiking clubs, 'the wild hiking cliques'. They were made up of working-class adolescents, usually ii unskilled or unemployed. The image of the cliques comprehended elements of style and cultural consumption as well as behaviour, but it was their capacity for anti-social action that made them interesting and frightening to the public. They drew their sinister cast from a section of their members who had turned to a life of vagrancy or crime and from a still larger number who, without being involved habitually in economic crimes, nevertheless cultivated aggressiveness and physical violence as a function of their organizational life. During 1930 a former clique member estimated that there were 600 cliques in Berlin, 'of which perhaps ten per cent are criminal cliques, while 20 per cent are borderline, between criminal and [merely] hiking cliques. The other 70 per cent are hiking cliques." In the view of one professional youth worker, 'the very existence of a clique exercises an unhealthy influence on the youth of an area'; at worst 'they represent the first step on the road to organised crime."

We cannot be certain where the cliques came from. It is as difficult to identify a coherent reality behind their overwhelmingly negative image as it is to describe the phenomenon of the cliques without reference to it. The spontaneous and unofficial nature of their organisation meant both that they were a priori suspect in the eyes of the authorities and that their internal working are not well documented; it also fixes them in a very much wider range of more conventional, relatively 'harmless' smoking, savings and social clubs, organised by young people in their own neighbourhoods, with which the cliques certainly merged at many points.8 The history of the cliques is the history of the stages by which sections of this unofficial youth movement came to be associated in the public mind with a certain style and the resulting image became a focus for anxieties about the potential, both criminal and political, of working-class youth. The antecedents of this development lie in the events of the first two decades of the twentieth century: the identification of youth as a social issue and the growth of self-conscious and relatively autonomous 'official' youth movements from about the turn of the century, followed by the radical disruption of social norms and expectations during the years of war and revolution. At the height of their notoriety the cliques represented both a degenerate parody of the former and a terrible nemesis of the latter.

It has become a commonplace of the historiography of modern Germany that the years around 1900 witnessed a new concern with youth and its problems on the part of the bourgeoisie, the 'discovery of the adolescent'.9 That this phenomenon is still most commonly approached by way of discussions of the activities and attitudes of young people themselves is very largely a consequence of the successes of the Wandervogel (or wander-bird).10 Perhaps the most remarkable example in modern history of a coherent movement both initiated and led by young people, the Wandervogel was essentially middle-class in character and composition. It originated among students and progressive teachers at a Berlin secondary school between 1896 and 1900, and by 1913 had become a national movement with a bureaucracy of its own and an extensive literary output. The small groups of secondary-school students which made up the movement were regarded by its theorists as providing the ideal milieu for the development of the spirit and faculties of the adolescent striving towards maturity and social leadership. Outward and visible sign of this striving was the practice of wandering or hiking in the countryside, a familiar form of recreation to which the earliest groups gave a new and special character by wearing romantic clothing and accompanying themselves on guitars and mandolins. Wandervogel became a catchword for the whole of the German youth movement, and provided an impulse for the creation, before the First World War, of groups like the government-sponsored and militaristic Young Germany League and the German section of the Boy Scout movement.

The numerical and cultural significance of the Wandervogel has prompted historians to concentrate on relations within the educated middle classes when discussing the problematisation of youth at the turn of the century. In this context, the problem of youth' was defined as the problems that the bourgeois adolescent suffered. But the identification of the middle-class adolescent coincided with new approaches to working-class youth as well, and in these young people appear as a source of problems for society rather than their victims. During the first years of the century campaigns were initiated to create new regulations and institutions for the control of the young and their protection from undesirable influences of all kinds. In Prussia, restrictions on working hours were accompanied by measures to limit the sale of alcoholic drinks to miners." Concern for the moral health of young people was also expressed in a wave of intensive lobbying and literary polemic against Schundliteratur, the penny-dreadfuls and adventure serials bought by schoolchildren in their hundreds, which were blamed not only for the 'systematic stultification' of youth, but also for a series of crimes, many of the most serious kind'.12

In a period when the youthful work-force had increased rapidly while its working conditions deteriorated, and where there was an active and growing Social Democratic movement, the principal fear of German officialdom was the political radicalisation of the young. When this fear was realised, with the launching of the Social Democratic youth movement in 1905, the government responded with both overtly repressive and nominally welfare-oriented measures. The Imperial Law of Association of 1908 prohibited the political activity or organisation of youths under 18, while a ministerial decree of 1911 declared active care for the social needs of youth 'a national duty of the first order', its aim 'the formation of a cheerful, physically productive, morally sound youth filled with public spirit and piety, love of home and fatherland'. At the same time the Prussian government made its first substantial grant of funds to the newly consolidated, non-socialist private foundations for youth welfare.13

All of these developments continued under the Republic, receiving a new impetus from the conditions of war and revolution. In the critical years 1914-19 it was unequivocally the circumstances of proletarian youth that were at issue. As the boom in munitions production for the war effort coincided with the absence of much of the adult male population at the front, there emerged the spectre of an unsupervised economy entirely peopled by youths. The streets of Berlin, it was said, were made unsafe by scores of teenaged lorry-drivers and cabbies.14 Too many young people had too much money to burn, and the fear that they would spend it on drink and debauchery led to the introduction of compulsory savings plans for minors by the military authorities. The possibilities of maintaining such plans in peacetime, along with more conventional measures like curfews and restrictions on alcohol and tobacco consumption, were widely discussed, though ultimately rejected." And where 'artificially' stimulated appetites came up against the shortages that Germany's cities suffered during the last two years of the war, observers began to complain of an increase in the incidence of juvenile crime.'" Germany's collapse in 1918, finally, threatened the structure of authority in this as in other spheres. The Versailles Treaty, by bringing the tradition of the conscript army to an end, removed one of the most effective means of socialisation and control of lowerclass youth. The revolution and the Spartacist uprisings of 1919, in which the threat of Bolshevism was not only raised but institutionalised in the formation of a German Communist Party, fulfilled every conservative anxiety about radicalisation and social degeneracy. By the end of that year, even the Social Democratic daily newspaper, Vorwarts, could treat the interrelationship of debased consumer culture, inadequate moral sense and radical politics as a given:

Many an irresponsible youth who recently took part in [the Spartacist uprising] drew his enthusiasm for violence from the murky dregs of bloody penny-dreadfuls. Not the Communist Manifesto, but the nameless Schundliteratur prepared the ground for this sprouting of political fantasies.17

The Social Democrats who presided over the creation of the new Republic also assumed responsibility for transforming the 'social imperialist' police state of the Bismarckian Empire into a genuine social state in which the interests of the working class would be protected and its conditions of life improved. But their own ambivalence and the continuing strength of social conservatism in parliament and the country were such that the institutions that arose out of this initiative were distorted in conception and practice by a compromise between the purposes of social service and of control. The first five years of the Republic saw the creation and consolidation at the national level of a machinery of youth welfare and juvenile justice through which young people were accorded a special legal and institutional status, while the parties and pressure-groups of the political right continued to press for such measures as censorship and the creation of alternatives to military service.18


This was the context in which the 'dark side' of the youth movement became visible. Although the pre-war years had seen reports of thefts by gang of youths, the word 'clique' itself, used to denote a criminal gang, appears to have found its way into the jargon of the Berlin under- world only after 1918.'9 The earliest use of it in the sources on which the present study is based comes from 1923; only in early 1929 does it begin to be used routinely by clique members, police, social scientists and press alike. The same sources concur in reading the development of the cliques back into phenomena of the war and early post-war years. The hiking aspect of the movement, in particular, is reminiscent of the Wandervogel, and one reporter maintained that their less respectable counterparts, popularly dubbed "Wander-boors' (Wandervogel), had already appeared on the Berlin scene by 1916.26 Their tumultuous appearance at suburban railway stations, conspicuously kitted out with beer and Schnaps bottles, nurtured anxieties about the effects of a war which left lower-class youth overpaid and undersupervised, and contributed to the image of a catastrophic brutalisation of urban youth. The amnesty decrees of 1918, prescribing exceptionally mild treatment for juveniles convicted of certain noneconomic crimes, were criticised on the grounds that, among other thing, they were sure to encourage the criminality of organised youth gangs.2l

By 1923 what Vorwarts called 'that hiking movement whose ranks are filled with the dual morality of today's culture, whose members were exposed to the influence of the low instincts fostered in wartime'22 was an explicit object of concern to the official youth movements of both left and right. Now known as 'Wander-boors', 'Wander-crows' (Wanderkrahen), or simply 'the wild ones', they not only gave hikers-in general a bad name by refusing to use the hostels and permitted camp- sites, drinking and littering the forests, but also behaved in an offensive and sometimes threatening manner to others whom they met during their outings.23 On 25 August 1923 about 30 youths marched to the Silesian Station in Friedrichshain, 'singing and playing the mandolin'. When a policeman told them to get off of the pavement and into the road, they reportedly fell upon him and beat him with knuckle-dusters until two more groups of officers were summoned and-used their revolvers to drive the youths off.24 This is one of the earliest reports in which a particular element of the visual image of the cliques appears: the youths were carrying a yellow flag with a black hand stenciled on it.

Like the war years, the inflation year 1923 was marked by heightened social and economic distress, bringing with it a plague of crimes against property and a new wave of concern for the moral health of city youth: As prices outstripped wages and the urban population suffered from shortages of vital commodities, Berlin's mayor sketched the situation of the young:

Children are often urged or forced by their parents to beg or even steal - hawking, rubbish-picking. . .by children - decline in honesty - increase in greed - currency speculation frequent among children - increasing alcoholism among youths - loss of parental authority - increasing degeneration of morals.25

The conclusion of all this was not far to seek. Referring to the most notorious of Europe's criminal subcultures, the columnist of the liberal daily newspaper Berliner Tageblatt warned:

They say that the Apaches of Paris. . .were descended from the youth that went to the bad during the war of 1871. Considering the length and privations of the last war and the state of war that prevails even in peacetime, we could get a species of Apaches in Berlin that would make the Parisian ones pale by comparison.26

The same newspaper columns that complained of the Wander-boors' now regularly carried reports of the criminal activities of juvenile gangs. Unlike the anonymous bands of Wilhelmine Berlin, but like the cliques as described a few years later, some of the gang of 1923 and 1924 reportedly had names: Association of Bloodhounds of Reinickendorf, May-Column, Noble-Guild of Moabit.27

After an apparent lull in gang activity in the mid-twenties, the years 1927 and 1928 were identified by many observers, most notably by sources close to the police and public administration, as the hey-day of the cliques.28 The question that presents itself here is whether this new perception reflects changes within the unofficial youth movement itself or shifts in police and administrative practice that made the cliques visible. The impact of the recession that set in the autumn of 1925 was such that the answer probably lies in a combination of the two. In the 'urging crisis' that followed the collapse of the inflationary boom of 1923, hundreds of German businesses were liquidated. Between February 1925 and the end of the following year the number of registered unemployed in Berlin doubled three times. Of the more than 112,000 working men in the city who were registered as out of work in the summer of 1926, nearly 15,000 were under 21, a figure which represented something over 15 per cent of working-class males aged 14 to 21. This first shudder of stabilization presented itself, at the time and in retrospect, as a crisis for the young in particular, for juveniles never again formed such a large contingent of Berlin's unemployed.29

Where social analysts recognised 'the first signs of the formation of a stratum of chronically unemployed',30 moreover, they were looking not only at the catastrophic unemployment of 1925-6, but also at the shape of the labour market that survived the crisis.31 The German economy was carried into its brief phase of prosperity on a wave of industrial rationalisation whose earliest and most active proponents included Berlin's largest employers, engineering and electrotechnical manufacturing. The effect of this process was both to compound the contraction that had already taken place between 1923 and 1925 and to make the t employment situation of young workers in industry less stable. Mechanization reduced the demand for skilled labour to a minimum that could be supplied by experienced workers, and at the same time eliminated large numbers of unskilled ancillary tasks. The number of apprenticeships available to ambitious youths shrank, and while trained, half-trained and unskilled young people could now compete for the semi-skilled jobs created by the machines on an equal basis (and often with greater chances of success than older workers), they became equally subject to the intensified fluctuations in size of work-force of plants newly responsive to changes in demand.

For many of the young people themselves, then, the recession meant poverty and the enforced leisure of catastrophic unemployment, to be succeeded by a career in which low-paid work alternated with idleness. In response to this situation there arose a set of new institutions, official and unofficial, that provided the means of surveillance as well as social service. During the winter of 1926-7 it was reported that a number of taverns had opened up in the vicinity of one of the central labour exchanges, which specialized in offering credit to young vagrants and runaways from the reform-school system. Identity- and work-papers or valuables were required as security. By thus drawing young people into a cycle of unemployment, indebtedness and crime, these taverns were held to have contributed to the regeneration of the cliques."' At about the same time, the Berlin youth bureaus began to. establish day centres for unemployed youths. By late 1927 the cliques had been identified by the youth workers as a particularly disruptive element within the centres," and when the day centres were threatened by cuts in public expenditure during 1931, this very function was cited in their defense; they were described as

the only official institution which has so far succeeded in getting close to members of the cliques, to which, indeed, we owe any deeper understanding of [their] shadowy nature... the only tried and proven method of influencing cliques and above all would-be clique members.34

In these years, too, the press played a part in reflecting and shaping changes. During 1927 the incidence of brawling and stabbings among Young people was reported to have increased, and newspaper readers began to learn of youths assaulting passers-by 'for fun', or without apparent motive.35 The year 1928 brought the first reports in which all the elements of the clique image appear and the first generally reported trial of members of a clique.36 In early 1929, when a second such trial took place - this time involving members of what looked like a federation of cliques - the groups were already being described as 'criminal societies', in explicit analogy to the organised 'ring' of the Berlin underworld; these were very much in the news as a result of a spectacular brawl the preceding Christmas.37 There are indications that the police thought they had got the cliques under control after 1928,38 but the depression that set in at the end of 1929, throwing more than 600,000 Berliners out of work in three years and ushering in the Republic's last and most fatal period of distress and disruption, aroused fresh anxieties about juvenile delinquency. In 1931 the correspondent of the left-liberal weekly, Die Weltbuhne, summing up a new wave of publicity in the gutter press, characterized the cliques as 'a phantom, impossible to grasp or to unmask', lurking in the background of all criminal prosecutions of juveniles in Berlin.39


All we know of the reality of the cliques marks them as a product of the culture of the lower-paid working class.40 Estimates of the actual numbers involved in the cliques varied widely; figures of from 100 to. 600 individual groups, with memberships of between 10 and 100 were proposed during the 1930s. Although numbers as high as 30,000 were mentioned, a cautious guess would suggest that something under 10,000 youths were involved at any one time. This represents roughly 7 per cent of Berlin's male working-class population between 14 and 25 years of age, still only a fraction of the total numbers of unskilled or unemployed youths who were known to supply most of the cliques' recruits. In their structure, though, the cliques were none the less typical of a particular and familiar working-class milieu, one in which home life played a limited and precarious part. If new values of domesticity had begun to penetrate the working class during these years, the minimum precondition for their realization was the family's ability to escape the overcrowded conditions that were still the norm in the old working- class neighborhoods. For workers with neither regular incomes nor contacts in the trade union and so-operative organizations that sponsored many of the new, suburban housing projects, the street remained the principal locus of sociability and socialization, the peer group their chief vehicle.' The character and activities of the cliques reflected, often in exaggerated form, the circumstances and values of that section of the working class whose best expectation was a life of physical labour for uncertain return.

Aggressive masculinity was an important element in that character. The sexual composition of the cliques varied; there existed a handful of girls' cliques, as well as a few mixed ones. But a certain male exclusiveness formed part of the image of the most dreaded gangs. The former clique member cited above reported that the female groups had been formed in reaction to efforts to purge the cliques of girls. He interpreted this as primarily a hygienic measure: many members suffered from venereal diseases, a circumstance that reflected the emphasis on the erotic which was one of the most worrying aspects of clique life. Even the all- male groups were ordinarily accompanied on their adventures by one or two 'clique-darlings', whose responsibilities reportedly included looking after the sexual needs' of the boys. One 16-year-old outlined the activities of his group in these words:

We go through the streets and look for girls to take along on our hikes. I am in the hiking clique Storm-proof... At Easter I go with four other clique-boys to Kloster Chorin [a tourist spot about 35 miles from Berlin]. I want to quit the clique, because they whore around too much with girls.42

The programmatic rejection of female company was expressed in such clique names as Girl-Shy and Girl-Haters.

The names which, as has already been suggested, were intrinsic to the public image of the cliques, also offer an insight into their cultural roots. Many of them were taken from the world of the penny-dreadfuls with which, it was said, their club-rooms were crammed. From the same source came many of the nicknames by which the members knew each other and the models for their grotesque rituals and collective adventures. At the same time, the particular names that the groups selected for themselves reflect their own self-image and aspects of their activity. Alpine-Glow and Heath-Flower, for example, refer directly to the romance of the Wandervogel movement which the cliques imitated and caricatured. The principal aim and central experience of life in the 'classic' clique was the weekly camping trip.

The extent to which the Wandervogel element in clique life represented an adaptation of cultural forms that were familiar to all classes in German society is suggested by the value that members placed on having the costumes, emblems and club flag that fitted the traditional image of a hiker or scout. But the form was one that was suited to many con- tents and contexts; it had its own utility for proletarian children. For young workers with limited free time, hiking provided physical recreation and escape from cramped housing conditions; in Berlin, with its extensive parks, lakes and outlying villages accessible by public transport, the flight to the country was a traditional leisure activity of the lower classes." For unemployed youths the cohesiveness and mobility fostered by the experience of camping could provide the basis for a new moral and material way of life. Further aims of the cliques, as perceived by the authorities, included mutual support, a common front against the representatives of the youth bureau, the reform-school system-and the police, or, in the case of truly vagrant gangs, co-operation in the daily search for food and shelter.

No single group necessarily pursued all of these aims at any given time; rather, the cliques provided a context in which problems and challenges could be dealt with collectively as they arose. When and how they arose was largely out of the hands of the clique members them- selves, although a working-class boy might well have known what to expect by the time he was 16 or 17. This is one reason why it is practically impossible to categorize the cliques; the attempt of the former clique member to distinguish amongst essentially harmless, border-line and criminal groups is as naive as the conclusion of criminologists and youth workers that the cliques, however they started out, had an innate tendency to degenerate into the hooligan clubs familiar to the courts. What seems most likely' is that the functions of the clique changed as the circumstances of its members changed. Although one' source speaks of a high rate of membership fluctuation within the cliques, there are examples of groups nominally existing for three to five years with some stability of membership.44 This was a long time in the conditions of the Weimar Republic, and the members of a clique might go through several cycles of work and unemployment. The peculiar liability of their social situation was compounded by the fact that if they were known to have engaged in pilferage or other offenses, young labourers were more likely to be both dismissed and reported to the police than apprentices and skilled workers guilty of the same crimes.45 Finally, it was largely a matter of luck whether any group of youths spending a good deal of time in the open air could avoid coming into conflict with the police.

One aspect of clique life that increased the chances of such conflict was the high value that clique members placed on toughness in word and deed. This was related to the aggressive masculinity characteristic of workers whose livelihood traditionally depended on the exercise of physical strength. It was reflected in some of the clique names: Farmers' Fear, Red-Apaches, Bloody Bone, Sing-Sing, Death-Defiers. The gang was led by a youth known as the 'clique-bull', often its founder. In order to maintain his position he had constantly to prove his ability to keep the group together, to hold his own in a fight, and to work out successful schemes for realizing the aims of the clique and defending the interests of its members. The authority of the Bull' was such that his arrest could mean the dissolution of the group. Toughness was also an important qualification for rank-and-file membership; some cliques reportedly required that new members undertake some act of petty theft or vandalism as a test of aptitude and good faith. 'The regulations of the cliques are usually of a lapidary brevity: The member must always pay for his round..., he must defend an attacked or insulted comrade under all circumstances, he must never "rat".'46

The corollary to absolute solidarity within the clique was an aggressive posture towards outsiders. On outing they would attack or ambush official hiking and scouting groups, seizing their badges or pennants as trophies. Individual hikers, too, were sometimes assaulted. Outsiders spoke of a 'continuous state of war' between the cliques, observing that the landlord who played host to two rival panes on the same evening could expect to have his tavern demolished in the ensuing battle. Press reports suggest a somewhat more complicated picture." If there was a state of war between them, it was one tempered by tactical alliances and diplomatic maneuvers, in which violence was either a ritualized form of self-representation and mutual entertainment or the ultimate sanction for some actual insult or offense against the code of mutual solidarity. When used against outsiders on a sufficiently large scale to be reported in the newspapers, physical violence most often appears as a means of enforcing the right of the clique to some form of entertainment - where fighting itself or the aggressively maintained freedom to intrude on other people's amusements could be construed as entertainment. The most common targets seem to have been landlords who refused to serve ill-dressed or disorderly youths and interfering police officers. In either case, the lines were clearly drawn: two fighting gangs might turn on the officer trying to separate them or - as occurred in the 'North-Ring' case of 1928 - an alliance of cliques might organize a punitive expedition against a tavern where some of their members had been refused service.

The characteristic offenses of the cliques in periods of relative prosperity were thus disturbing the peace, damage to property, assault, robbery and petty larceny, occasionally the theft of a car or a motorcycle for a joy-ride. Even during the depression, when many of them must have been tempted to engage in serious crimes, few achieved the notoriety of Egg-Slime, a Schoneberg clique whose members undertook some 16 motorized robberies during 1931 and 1932, ending with an attack on a wages transport that cost the life of a guard." In spite of popular fears, the cliques also remained largely independent of the structures of organised crime in Berlin, although many of their members clearly aspired to and some succeeded in gaining entree into the influential circles of the underworld.49

The case of Tartar's Blood, which was widely reported in 1928, contains all the elements of the typical clique style. In February of that year 18 members of this gang, unemployed youths from Neukolln, attacked a group from the Academic Athletic Club of Berlin in one of the city's parks. They searched them and carried off their club badges as well as all their money and provisions. When the police caught up with them, the members of the clique were found to be carrying knuckle- dusters, knives and other dangerous instruments - and their banner: red, with a white border and rising golden sun, inscribed W.C. Tartarenblut. According to the report in Vonwarts, the youths were dressed 'in Tyrolean style', with knee-socks, black 'Fascist jackets', open shirts and feathered hats. At the end of a short trial the following December several members of Tartar's Blood received commuted prison sentences. In January 1929 members of the clique were again convicted and again released for their part in the North-Ring affair. Finally, in 1929, the 'bull' himself was sentenced to serve a prison term for brawling, and the clique broke up.50

As long as the clique maintained the hiking tradition - and, again, their capacity to do so was a matter as much of economics as of inclination - their geographical horizons extended beyond the city and into the suburbs. At the same time they were always closely identified with their home districts and neighborhoods. Attachment to the immediate residential area is, of course, a characteristic of young children, and many of the cliques probably had their origins in friendships formed on the block or in school.51 A series of thefts at a Neukolln primary school in 1931 led to the discovery 'that a group of friends in the Pannierstrasse has formed a street-clique, which gets up to no good during their free time. Pupils from all the neighboring schools belong to the clique, even those of differing [confessional] orientation.'"' This says at least as much about the expectations of the educational authorities as about the actual origins of adolescent gang. The question of whether Germany was witnessing the development of child gangs comparable to the besprisomyi of famine-stricken Russia was widely mooted during the depression,53 and while expert opinion remained dubious, it was only too easy to read the clique phenomenon into the associations formed among children. But the structure and demands of the school system were as much a part of the everyday life out of which the cliques developed as the tenements and courtyards of working-class Berlin. The child's allegiance to the neighbourhood was not weakened by the existence of local schools, although in the Neukolln case the ties of friendship and locality were explicitly seen to cross institutional boundaries. At the same time children living in a notoriously depressed area were assumed to be especially susceptible to the temptation to unsocial behavior. And in practice the exercise of sanctions against what looked like the beginnings of criminality (in the case of this relatively liberal school, the transfer of the ringleaders to another school with a note on their records) might actually promote the transformation from 'group of friends' into 'clique' by setting in motion a process of criminalisation in which the individual child's self-image as well as his life chances were affected.54

The element of territoriality in the life and attitudes of the cliques was reinforced by their choice of meeting-places. That choice generally fell within the range of options offered by the traditional forms of working-class entertainment, which were small-scale, relatively cheap and easily accessible within the local neighborhood. The most common meeting-place for a clique, as for any other local association, was the tavern. Gang members met regularly in the same one, either in the bar or, if they had enough money or were on good terms with the landlord, in the clubroom at the rear. If they could not afford to spend much time in the tavern, if there was no landlord willing to harbor them, or if they preferred other forms of amusement, a nearby park, dance-hall or Rummelplatz might provide an alternative hang-out. Thus we read not only about hiking cliques and street cliques, but occasionally about Rummel-, dance-, or park-cliques. Among these unofficial institutions, the Rummelplatze in particular were popularly associated with the genesis and nurturing of juvenile delinquency. These were a kind of small traveling carnival, offering freak-shows, wrestling matches, erotic displays, shooting-ranges and other amusements, which were set up on areas of waste land in the city. Even before the First World War, the Rummel was an acknowledged and deplored future of the old working- class districts of Berlin.55 In its association with the cliques we may identify again a link between the youth gangs and that section of the working class which was relatively backward in terms of the new styles of life and forms of consumption available to better qualified or more secure workers.

'A few cliques', one observer reported in 1930, 'dominate and terrorise whole streets and districts.'6 This may serve to underline both the territoriality of the cliques and their aggressiveness, but it takes us a step further, since it implies a closer and more self-conscious link between the clique and the neighborhood than mere proximity. Like the structure of the clique itself, both the sense of locality and the capacity and readiness to practice physical violence within it were more than simply aspects of style or inherited values. As ways of organizing and exercising power, they could be applied instrumentally to the pursuit of material aims as the need arose. At the most crudely economic level, the clique that supported itself from 'street crime' depended on violence or its threat both in carrying out its attacks and in defending its 'hunting- ground' against rival gang. The early 1920s provide an example of this sort of conflict developing between a gang of youths (the May Column) that persisted in harassing local landlords and shopkeepers, and the underworld ring which was operating a protection racket in the same area - with unpleasant consequences for the youths.57 In a less unambiguously exploitative relationship, a familiar neighborhood could provide cover and support for the gang living by its wits. A clique in the north-east of the city, which called itself at first Death-Defiers and later Gypsy Love, was able to keep its hiding place a secret, avoiding arrest and supporting itself by begging and stealing for a considerable length of time, because its members knew the area and were aided by local residents.58

In principle, the cliques were also available for the enforcement of other people's material interests or of collective values particular to the neighborhood. The forms of enforcement that organized gangs of toughs had to offer became more important as the waves of economic dislocation that characterized the Weimar years both intensified the struggle for material survival and diminished the possibilities for the economic or financial mediation of power relations within neighbourhoods.59 The degree to which the cliques were actually engaged in local networks of power and control must remain an open question, but it needs to be raised, for it is directly relevant to the efforts that were made to involve them in the contest for public and supra-local influence - that is, to politicize them.


By the 1930s, the assumption that at least some of the cliques had identifiable political sympathies was as common as the general rhetorical association between political radicalism and the rising crime rate. The Berlin police characterized the Neukolln cliques as 'Communist oriented', and Vorwarts showed considerable interest in the question of whether the lads of Tartar's Blood were Communists in disguise or simply had left-radical leaning." The best informed of contemporary writers estimated in 1930 that while approximately 71 per cent of non-criminal cliques were apolitical, 21 per cent had left-wing and 7 per cent right-wing sympathies - where left-wing ordinarily meant Communist, right-wing radical nationalist or racist.61

The coalescence of criminal and party youth groups was made a matter of general concern by the combined spectacle of widespread politicization of youth and the rise in the incidence of political violence during the twenties and early thirties. By the end of the First World War, the idealistically apolitical impulse of the Wandervogel had dissipated. Many of its older members became professional social workers, and the bourgeois youth movement collapsed into a welter of organizations more or less militarist and nationalist in character.62 At the same time, the political parties and associations of the Weimar Republic began to make specific appeals to young people. To the Social Democratic youth were added the Bismarck Youth of the conservative German National People's Party, the youth arm of the right-wing veterans' organization Stahlhelm, the Communist Youth, the National Socialists' Hitler Youth, and others. The most radical parties of right and left, Communists and Nazis, even set out openly to organize schoolchildren.63 Young people were also among the most avid recruits to the paramilitary organizations that the parties created during the course of the Weimar Republic, chief among which were the mainly Social Democratic Reichsbanner, Stahlhelm, the Red Front-Fighters' League (Roter Frontkampferbund, RFB) of the Communists and the Nazi Stormtroops (Sturmabteilung, SA).64 These developed out of the insurrectionary troops and vigilante organizations formed between 1918 and 1923, when Germany was in a state of simmering civil war. In the period of relative stability that followed, they became the bearers of a substantially new form of political gang-fighting. During the late twenties, every major political campaign was punctuated by mutual disruptions of meetings or demonstrations and street-corner brawls. The onset of the depression was accompanied by a surge in activity of and popular support for the radical parties, chief beneficiary of which was the Nazi Party; in the general elections of September 1930, the National Socialists won over 6 million votes, their Reichstag delegation increasing from a handful of seats to being the second strongest in the house. This gave fresh impetus to a spiraling 'battle for the streets' in proletarian neighborhoods; as the SA attempted to establish itself in the strongholds of the Communists, knives and guns were brought into the conflict as well as fists. Between May 1930 and November 1931, 29 people died in Berlin as a result of what had become largely a three-way fight between Nazis, Communists and police."" The pattern of arrests and convictions in Berlin during these years suggested that 'the outrages with which the newspapers of every political coloring are filled' were the peculiar province of young men, especially 18- to 21-year-olds.66

Given this development, it was natural that observers should seek links between radical politics and the traditional bearers of youthful violence, drawing parallels between 'awakening' and 'delinquent youth'.67 For the combatant parties themselves, whose credibility depended on their displaying an active and effective response to the threat of violence that each claimed the other posed, the advantages of mobilizing the energies of the cliques in their own cause must have been apparent. Such instrumental considerations played an important part in the attitude of the KPD; The interest of the political left in the unofficial youth movement had a fairly long history. Before the war the Social Democratic press had warned its readers about the dangers of the wild youth clubs whose members allowed themselves to be lured into a life of senseless consumption - 'swilling and "loving" ' - urging them not simply to avoid such excesses but to confront and combat the clubs on their own ground.68 Vorwarts showed a similar attitude of distanced sympathy combined with reforming zeal in discussing the 'Wander-boors' a decade later, and in 1931 Adolf Lau published an article in its columns, countering the claims in the bourgeois press that the cliques as such were identical with criminal gangs. He argued that the cliques, whatever their faults, fulfilled important functions in promoting cohesion and co-operation among working-class young people and outlined the role that Social Democrats had played in trying to educate and organize them.69 All the evidence suggests that in Social Democratic activities the functions of education and moral leadership were deliberately and effectively distinguished from those of political agitation and practical advocacy. During the late 1920s and early 1930s the SPD press displayed an anxiety about the politicization of young people very much in keeping with the temper of bourgeois 'public opinion'." The Communists showed themselves on the whole less eager and less able to keep their distance. Their attitude was never articulated in programmatic terms, but took the more active form of direct approaches to the cliques.

Those approaches formed a very minor aspect of the agitation of the KPD during the Weimar Republic. They are interesting, however, because they illustrate in a particularly vivid way some important contradictions in the party's understanding of its constituency. The cliques represented a proletarian reality with which the Communist movement engaged most vigorously in practice, but which it was unable to comprehend within the understanding of the working class that legitimated its existence.

At one level, the cliques and the Communists could hardly have kept apart. With a party membership that fluctuated between a low of 11,000 (in 1927) and a high of over 30,000 (in 1923), and several thousand more organized into its auxiliary formations like the RFB, the KPD was a highly visible and active presence on the streets of Berlin.71 It claimed as its strongholds the very neighbourhoods in which the cliques were at home, and the milieu of the cliques was reflected in its social composition. By comparison with the population at large and with the SPD, the KPD's membership normally included high proportions of manual and unskilled workers, of men, of younger (though not of the youngest) people, and of the unemployed. These groups were still more clearly over-represented in the party's militant auxiliaries, and with the swelling of the KPD's ranks in the course of the depression (the Berlin membership nearly doubled between 1929 and 1932) the bias towards the young and unemployed became overwhelming.72

The interplay of social conditions and political interests in the constitution of the cliques also gave them an affinity with the Communist Party. The cliques existed as such in the realm of everyday life outside the workplace; they appear to us as a product not only of relative poverty, but of the quality of housing that poverty implied, the neighborhoods in which such housing was to be found and the expectations that the authorities and the press expressed about the behavior of young people living in those neighborhoods. The same general structural conditions applied to Communist residents of the same areas. Among the most important of these was the presence of the state and its direct intervention in daily life. This was more obvious in the neighborhood than at the workplace. Moreover, the attentions of the police or of a system of public welfare which was complicated, under-financed and increasingly punitive in its administration were most likely to be experienced as intrusive or constraining by the least affluent workers. In the late 1920s it was the new state agencies that helped to make the cliques visible and to define them as a fit object of both service and control; in turn, the cliques were portrayed as organizing in opposition to the police and the reform-school system. This represents the 'objectively' political component of the cliques, and it is entirely congruent with the practical concerns of the KPD. The KPD was an avowedly insurrectionary party, whose raison d'etre consisted in providing a revolutionary alternative to Social Democracy As such, it adopted a policy of opposition to the Weimar state, not excepting those welfare measures for which the Social Democrats took responsibility and which, in Prussia and Berlin, Social Democratic officials often administered. An important aspect of Communist activity was neighborhood-based agitation around such institutions as the police, the welfare bureaus and labour exchanges and the schools, involving both direct action - demonstrations or, in the case of the police, the advocacy of physical resistance - and repeated demands for such radical reforms of the system as workers' control.73

In terms both of who they were and what they represented, then, the cliques were characteristic of the KPD's own constituency in the big cities, embodying in distilled form the section of the working class whose immediate grievances were most clearly and vigorously articulated by the Communist Party. But the Communists did not recognize them as such. In spite of their flexibility in practice, the idea of class struggle that the Communists represented had no room in it for specific interests shared by members of the working class but determined by relationships outside the workplace, the sphere of direct confrontation between labour and capital. This reflected an understanding of the working class and its relationship to the party that was problematic in both theory and practice: in keeping with its leading role in-the International founded by Lenin, the KPD defined itself not simply as the vanguard of the working class and leader in the class struggle, but as the embodiment of the class-conscious proletariat. As an axiom, this self-definition implied a denial of the possibility of any legitimate working-class politics outside the party. As a programmatic statement, it directed the Communists to organize the workers within the factories, since these were seen as both the foci of class conflict and the principal power bases in the capitalist system. The 'proper' constituency of the KPD, then, was made up of those workers who experienced their collective interest and their collective strength at the point of production. In fact, Social Democracy and the Free trade unions retained the allegiance of the great majority of organized workers; after 1924 the Communists found it very difficult to operate within the factories and were often compel- led to seek recruits outside the ranks of the organized and employed working class. In its efforts to mobilize various sections of the population, the KPD showed considerable sensitivity to the concerns of specific interest groups; its unemployed agitation and its participation in campaigns against the abortion law are cases in point. But when the movement approached the worker outside the workplace, or the child of workers who had never known a workplace, it always did so with some suspicion.74


The pattern of official Communist approaches to the cliques indicates that when the party leadership thought about the gangs it saw them as possible allies rather than as members of its own constituency. Those approaches were undertaken during the most openly radical phases of party activity. They coincided with deliberate efforts of the Communists to distance themselves from Social Democracy and to extend their influence to sections of the lower and working classes which they construed as being outside the revolutionary vanguard' embodied by the party. Moreover, the appeal to the cliques was sounded at times when the party recognized a danger that young people would be drawn into right-wing movements, and it always accompanied the call for physical resistance to 'Fascism' in its current avatar, through which the workers were to be steeled and schooled for the insurrection.

The earliest of those occasions was in the spring of 1923. The national crisis precipitated by the French occupation of the Ruhr and runaway inflation led the KPD to organize widespread mass protests, to issue loud and frequent warnings about the dangers of an Italian-style Fascist movement engulfing Germany, and finally to begin preparations for a workers' revolution." In this situation, members of the Communist Youth in Berlin reportedly conceived the idea of organizing their own umbrella organization for the cliques which were so much in the news.76 The organization was called the Red Hiking Ring (Rotor Wanderring, RWR), and it issued a paper under the title Der Rote Wanderer (The Red Hiker). The first number of the paper carried an appeal headed: 'Degenerate youth! Guttersnipes! Pimps! Bums! Thieves! Plunderers!' Its authors did not offer a judgment on the accuracy of these epithets, beyond expressing contempt for the bourgeois press that applied them to the cliques and its 'gibbering about the alleged "moral degeneration" of youth'. They emphasized that Vorwarts had joined in the outcry against the hiking clubs. Now 'the only recreation available to the young proletarian who slaves all week' was under threat from inflated transport costs, hostile publicity and attacks of the 'Fascists' (members of the Bismarck Youth and Jungsturm in particular),77 and adherents of the 'Free Guild'78 had resolved to form a common front. It was reported that a delegate assembly had been held in Berlin in April, at which 700 clique members and the representatives of 74 different clubs had agreed on a programme of mutual aid. The only points in the programme that betray the fact that the RWR was more than a cartel of ordinary recreational clubs are the provisions for free legal aid, 'collective defense against our enemies', support for revolutionary organizations and the establishment of a common housing list. According to Der Rote Wanderer, a group of clubs objecting to the radical posture of the Ring split off at the first meeting to form a Free Hiking Ring'. If the very scant evidence can be believed, it was in the 'national congress' of this organization that Social Democratic youth leaders took part during the same year.79

Although the RWR was a sufficiently serious undertaking to merit the establishment of an office and hostels of its own, the moment and occasion of its founding were not directly acknowledged in the main KPD press until many years later." During the late summer of 1923, however, the party's political daily paper, Die Rote Fahne, reported several occasions on which 'comrades' from the RWR stood by Communist and Socialist Youth members in confrontations with police and Bismarck Youth. Sections of the Ring also appear as active - alongside other, not easily identified local social and political clubs - in the 'proletarian youth cartels' formed all over Berlin in the last phase of the KPD's proto-revolutionary agitation.81

According to one police report, members of the RWR were still being arrested for brawling in the spring of 1924.82 But the Ring did not survive long. The collapse of the Communists' revolutionary effort at the end of 1923 and the three-month ban on the party that followed may have weakened the political impulse. It was also reported that the more hard-bitten clique members were alienated by the reforming zeal of the Communists. Others, however, remained faithful to the movement. Some joined the Communist Youth, and when the Red Youth Front (Rote Jungfront, RJ), the youth arm of the RFB, was founded at the end of 1924 clique members showed particular enthusiasm. Although activists in both of these organizations were aware that clique life could involve excesses of behavior that ought as far as possible to be suppressed, it was generally acknowledged that current and former clique members had made important contributions to party life.

Even during the mid- to late twenties, when the Communists made no particular effort to win them over, sympathetic cliques continued to operate on the fringes of the party. With the Nazi movement growing in Berlin from 1926 on, these groups were ever more likely to be drawn into the political fight, as politics took on the character of a ubiquitous public entertainment. The members of the Neukolln clique Eagle's Claw, for example, swore up and down that their club was entirely unpolitical. One evening, they tried to get into a National Socialist meeting but were turned away because they could not pay the admission charge. A short time later they were arrested in a crowd which had attacked a group of SA men.83 This incident occurred in May 1928. A year later the RFB and RJ were officially banned, after illegal May Day demonstrations had ended in serious and prolonged battles between police and residents of Wedding and Neukolln.84 Observers noted that 'a large section' of the Berlin membership of the RJ, loosed from its political moorings, floated back into the cliques.

The year 1929 also marked the beginning of a new epoch in the tactics of the Communist Party; the turn to an 'ultra-left' policy required the development of new forms of mass agitation. In their attempt to gather in the 'laboring masses', and particularly to win the young and . unemployed to their cause, the Communists devoted themselves more vigorously and more self-consciously than ever before to agitation in the neighborhoods. An important aspect of this agitation was the propagation of a movement for self-defense against the terror of the SA, the 'militant fight against Fascism', and among its preconditions were the construction of legal and covert successor organizations for the banned paramilitary formations and the recruitment of young activists to the local self-defense squads.85 At the end of 1930, in the wake of the National Socialists' sensational gains in the Reichstag elections, the leadership of the RJ, already reconstituted as an underground organization, instructed its Berlin and Hamburg sections 'to work out a plan for agitation among the cliques and to compile their experiences in this field in a report to the leadership, so it can be considered for use by the whole organisation'.86

This second initiative in the recruitment of asocial elements', although more obviously part of a national policy, was carried on with less colorful propaganda than the campaign of 1923. Now the emphasis was on co-optation of the cliques rather than public representation of their particular interests as such. From 1929, the party was deeply involved in a campaign against the reform-school system, in which noisy and sometimes violent protests by reformatory inmates were combined with extensive public agitation." But outside this context there was only one widely circulated item of literary propaganda which might have been directed towards the winning over of actual or potential clique members: Waiter Schonstedt's Kampfende Jugend. This volume was issued in 1932 in the 'Red One-Mark Novel' series of the Communist publishing house. The advertisements for it that were printed in other party publications aimed at a youthful audience recommended as 'humorous and interesting' its 'depiction of how Tomcat and Spider and their wild hiking clique become members of the Communist youth'.88 The author was a RJ leader in Kreuzberg, and his portrait of a Kreuzberg clique emphasized the aspects of its mentality that were most relevant to the hopes and expectations of the party. As Schonstedt pictures them, the boys of Noble Sow are temperamentally sympathetic to the Communists, openly admiring the party's leading personalities, but contemptuous of official jargon and the regimentation implicit in party discipline. 'Punch-ups, a little Thalmann [Ernst Thalmann, KPD Chairman], and as for the rest, they don't care... Like caged beasts of prey, with the wildness still in their bones'. At the same time, the value of just such elements in current struggles is unmistakable:

But when word went out: The Nazis are coming through the Nostizstrasse, then the lads were better than many of the organized ones. 'Getting ready to make another speech, Theo? [asks the clique member Spider] Don't bother, man. You know, if anything happens, well be there, we know what we've got to do. Just smash 'em, smash 'em, till the roof falls in!89

The Central Committee member who reviewed Kampfende Jugend for the literary journal of the Communist Society of Proletarian- Revolutionary Writers, Die Linkskurve, recommended that each Communist Youth local should organize public discussions of the book, involving 'not only their own members, but the youth of the cliques'.90

As in 1923, the official press and propaganda organs of the party itself treated this agitation gingerly, if at all. When a l7-year-old brick-layer's apprentice was shot dead by Nazis in Schoneburg in March 1931, Vorwarts reported it as the murder of a member of a 'Communist hiking- club'.91 In successive reports of Die Rote Fahne, the victim was transmogrified from an 'unorganised worker who belonged to a hiking-club' and whose friends had now vowed to join the anti-fascist movenent, to a valiant young proletarian... on the way to joining the Conununist Youth', who organized the comrades in his hiking-club into the [Communist] Red Aid', to 'member of a hiking-club, red "shop-steward" and organizer of the militant fight against fascism' in his vocational school.92 These reports reveal a tension between the wish to provide an example to those outside the party, like the cliques, of how one of their own might make (or be forced into) common cause with the Communists, and the need to reassert the axiom that there was no real proletarian politics outside the organized working-class movement and no anti- fascist politics outside the Communist movement. This ambivalence had other consequences, which will be discussed below; here it may suffice to account for the fact that there were no public declarations about recruitment from the cliques to match the KPD's repeated claims of converts from rival parties.

The evidence available from other sources, principally police records, of the activity of the Communist self-defense formations in Berlin, is fragmentary but illuminating: Erich Irmer, another bricklayer's apprentice, arrested at the age of 16 as a participant in the Eagle's Claw incident, joined one of the early successor organizations of the RJ in 1929; at the end of 1931 he was treasurer of a Communist cell and squad-leader in another anti-fascist formation. In 1926 Alfred Jager, 15 years old, joined Tartar's Blood; he was twice arrested, for illegal camping and assault on Stahlhelm members, and moved on to a Communist formation and a series of political offenses when the clique broke up three years later. During the investigation that followed two shoot-outs between Communists and National Socialists in Friedrichshain in December 1931, the police learned that one local RJ leader was a former member of Apache Blood, while another belonged to a clique which called itself the Ever-Broke Savings Club. The names of two more groups, Wood-Birds and Sea-Pirates, were mentioned in the course of the enquiry.93 There were other cases in which young people took part in clique and political activities concurrently or, as the outline of developments above suggests, moved from Communist organizations into the cliques. The charter members of Egg-Slime, for example, had belonged to the Communist Youth; one of them had been expelled for his clique activities. The clique nevertheless continued to hold its meetings in a Communist tavern, and its members remained politically active, to the extent of provoking fights with Nazis, while pursuing their criminal " More generally, the political organizations that lived shoulder career. to shoulder with the cliques in the working-class districts could not avoid sharing with them in the life of the neighborhood. And at this level it is clear that the Communists were not the only group for which the cliques represented a potential recruiting ground. After the shooting of a Hitler Youth member on the Lausitzer Platz (Kreuzberg), the police initially sought an explanation for the incident in a conflict between members of the clique Gay Blood and other local youths. Although no direct connection could be established, it became obvious as the investigation continued that the boundaries between political and non-political formations were very fluid. Shortly before the killing the newsletter of the Kreuzberg RJ had characterised a local SA leader in these words: 'This character, who is also known by the name of "Scholli", has already made off with the treasuries of the hiking-club Gay Blood and the social club Hand-in-Hand.'95


In addition to its periodic recruiting efforts, there were other, less direct but more public ways in which the Communist movement decked its affinity with the cliques. Right-wing publicists vilified the KPD with such formulae as 'the identity of Communism with the fifth [i.e. criminal] estate'." Even the Social Democrats regularly accused the Communists of having brought an unheard-of coarseness and brutality into political life, on the streets and in the parliamentary chambers, well before the Nazis began to present a threat to public order.97 And in its radical phases the KPD did its best to live up to these accusations. Not only did it openly espouse the causes of delinquent youth through the campaign against the reform schools and its agitation against the police; the Berlin leadership of the KPD also adopted the role of bearer of a culture of proletarian toughness calculated to contrast with the 'respectability' of the Social Democrats. When the Interior Minister remarked in the wake of the May Day riots of 1929 that the Social Democratic police authorities stood accused of behaving like Jagow, the anti-socialist police chief in pre-war Berlin, a member of the KPD delegation in the Reichstag he was addressing intejected, 'Aber Jagow war noch ein Kern!' - 'Jagow was a man!'98 If the cliques can be said to have inhabited what was publicly regarded as outlaw territory, in cultural and social terms, then the party that struck such poses, that was known to be relatively tolerant of ex-convicts in its own ranks,99 and whose chief political newspaper named spies and traitors to the movement and urged readers to teach them a lesson',100 declared itself an outlaw party by inviting itself on to that territory.

A party less constricted in its vision by received notions of class and of politics might have been expected to develop an analysis of the cliques that reflected this anarchic retreat from the traditional categories of acceptable behavior. Logically, there were two lines of argument open to the Communists: on the one hand, they could acknowledge that the cliques and all they represented were marginal to the working class or that they were a symptom of the actual pathology of the proletariat under capitalism, but that the party nevertheless took an instrumental and/or charitable interest in them. On the other, they might adopt an approach analogous to those of more recent revolutionary movements involved in organizing 'lumpenproletarian' populations, arguing that the fact that individuals or groups were categorized as criminal was the result not of intrinsic qualities that disqualified them from participation in the revolutionary movement, but of belonging to a single and universally (if not uniformly) oppressed proletariat, all of whose members were potentially subject to the same pressures and processes of categorisation., In terms of the KPD's preoccupations, this would have meant accepting that the cliques were no less representative of the working class for not being at work. In fact, KPD comments on the cliques and on such related questions as crime, youth and the family hover between these two approaches.

The very idea that the party should actively engage with such issues at all was hotly contested in the early years of the Communist movement. A politics of everyday life concerned with seeking out the peculiarly proletarian elements in social and cultural practice and injecting them with socialist content, which was proposed as a way to shield working-class youth against the influences of the bourgeois media and institutions, was rejected by many as a distraction from the class struggle and a temptation to Social Democratic complacency. Even when the idea of this kind of 'cultural struggle' had been accepted, it took second place in the Communist understanding of politics to the self- evident tasks of industrial action, public agitation and parliamentary activity, and training for the armed insurrection.102 Where we do find the elements of a Communist analysis of culture, it is probably significant that the two bursts of deliberate agitation among the cliques coincide roughly with phases in that analysis when leading representatives of the movement displayed a readiness to re-evaluate the aspects of proletarian daily life conventionally defined as degenerate. In the 1930s, Kampfende Jugend formed a visible link between the clique agitation and a literary movement whose exponents showed a new concern with the analysis of mass cultural consumption. Members of the Society of Proletarian-Revolutionary Writers investigated the popularity of penny-dreadfuls and pornographic magazines, no longer simply to deplore but to consider the possibilities of a socialist analogue, a proletarian novel with mass appeal.103 In the early twenties similar, though more unambiguously hostile discussions of popular literature and film had coincided with the articulation by Edwin Hoernle, a leading figure in the party, of a challenge to the idea that the family as such was identical with the bourgeois domestic unit. The problems of the working-class family, he argued, were those not of disintegration but of being forced into a mold that was inappropriate in the first place; agitation and education should start from the grim reality of proletarian life rather than from attempts to create artificial institutional alternatives to it.104

In the course of the campaign against the reform-school system in 1930-1 there emerged the beginning of a critique of the concept of delinquency that might have implied a readiness to accept the cliques as a normal phenomenon and a legitimate recruiting ground for the parties of the working class. The cliques were generally held to be characterized by a condition of Verwahrlosung, or waywardness. Evidence of this condition was one of the principal grounds on which children were referred to reform schools or placed in care. But the word itself was particularly ambiguous, for in its active form verwahrlosen could mean to neglect, to suffer from neglect, or simply to go to the bad. In its use, active delinquency was automatically identified with lack of supervision, individual depravation with an inadequate family life.105 For much of its history, the Communist movement, when it considered the question of delinquency, used this term uncritically; its representatives accepted that the proletarian child was subject to Vervahrlosung as a consequence of the destructive effect that wage-labor had on the family, or concerned themselves at most with the danger that political radicalism could be interpreted by the authorities as evidence of Verwahrlosung.106 In 1931, however. a spokesman for the reform-school agitation, writing in the party's social policy journal, characterized the term as 'one of the usual elastic concepts of bourgeois society' which could be mobilized against 'any proletarian youth who comes into conflict with the state apparatus', who 'rebels morally or criminally against the capitalist social order'.107 But this was a minority voice. The more popular organs of the party continued to present the simpler, more compelling and by no means unrealistic argument that many reformatory inmates were indeed sick, but only because capitalism had made family life impossible for them.108 Communist critics continued to argue as though true proletarians could not be criminals.109 And the handful of statements about the cliques that the Communist movement produced during its second phase of agitation reflect neither a general shift in theoretical perceptions of delinquency nor a unified view of the nature of the cliques themselves as a class phenomenon. It is characteristic of the Communists' cautious approach to this agitation that none of those statements even offers a direct comment on why the party should have been interested in them.

One of the statements appears in Kampfende Jugend. It has already been pointed out that the usefulness of gang violence to the Communist self-defense movement is one of the central themes of the novel. By way of a general characterization of the cliques, the protagonist, a Communist Youth leader, acknowledges that the activities of Noble Sow represent a form of collective resistance against the depredations of the capitalist system. The fact that they are not content to be passive victims is counted in their favor. But the Communist warns that they are in danger of sliding into the lumpenproletariat if they persist in pursuing their personal rebellion in isolation from the organized workers' movement.110

For Schonstedt's reviewer in Die Linkskurve, there was both rather more and rather less in it than that. In half-conscious acknowledgment that the cliques were not so external to the party's actual constituency as normative declarations about the 'class-conscious proletariat' implied, he described the politicization of Noble Sow as a natural event, 'the confluence of two streams from the reservoir of the street'. But he also displayed Some confusion about what did or should distinguish the two streams, Communist Youth and cliques. In his view, the most important thing the clique had to offer was a kind of instinctual solidarity, 'the feeling that each cares for the other', a personal concern too often lacking in the party organisations. He nevertheless criticised the author for portraying the gang in more vivid and lively terms than the Communist cell, speculating that the hardships of life which gave Schonstedt his insight into the clique had left him 'no opportunity for the thorough... study of historical materialism'.111

Still more remarkable for its obstinate telescoping of ideal and reality was an article devoted to the cliques that Gertrud Ring published in the cultural supplement of Die Rote Fahne in April 1931. The piece was clearly written in response to publicity about the cliques in the non-Communist press, but it does not engage explicitly with any existing analysis of them; it is purely descriptive in style. It ends with the characterization of the cliques as an 'instinctual self-defense against the pressures weighing upon proletarian youth', a sketch of the history of the RWR, and the assurance that many cliques were once again disbanding as their members became 'fighters on the anti-fascist front'. But in the depiction of their structure and activities that precedes these assertions, the cliques already appear as models of Bolshevik discipline and democratic centralism: The 'bull'

is elected at a meeting on democratic principles for an unlimited period. Everyone owes him absolute obedience, every clique keeps the strictest discipline. If anyone puts a foot wrong, he is thrown out, and not with kid gloves, either.. .New members are apprentices and have to go through a strict probationary period...

To be sure, the cliques are boisterous, even violent on occasion; their class-conscious mischief extends to 'embittered struggle' against Stahlhelm, Nazis, scouts and all bourgeois youth organizations. But they always clean up after themselves when they go camping, 'unlike the vulgar petty bourgeois [Spiesser] , who decorate the park with... sandwich wrappers'.112

Appearing as it did in the party's chief political organ, Ring's article is the nearest thing we have to an official statement on the cliques. Its distortions are characteristic of the incapacity of the party's political leadership to come to terms with forms of agitation that did not accord with its self-image as the leader in the struggle between labor and capital. In its clique agitation, the Communist movement sought and gained support from a proletarian group whose defining characteristic was its refusal to conform to normal expectations about the revolutionary working class. The practical confrontation with reality apparently allowed fresh analyses to develop of the way class relations shaped proletarian life, but these either remained inchoate or were confined to the ghetto of the party's special-interest mass organizations, like the one that issued the Communist social policy journal.113


The confusion of voices with which the Communist movement spoke matched the ambiguity of its intentions towards those whom it set out to win. The process of politicization might mean simply mobilizing social resources, resentments and forms of struggle present in the culture for application in the current fight - the instrumental function so obvious in the case of the cliques. It might also, and in the German socialist tradition did, represent an emancipatory process itself, in which, as attitudes and practices were reshaped, the socialist man was formed who would proceed to build socialism. The two aims are not mutually exclusive, but the character of Bolshevist Communism as a movement which strove to transform every action into an immediate concrete struggle for power was bound to bring out the tension between them. The tension was explicit in the debates over the value of 'cultural struggle'. In the clique agitation, it appears as the contradiction between the view that the cliques qua cliques had something to offer the Communist movement and the apparently self-evident proposition that becoming 'fighters on the anti-fascist front' meant dissolution of the gang. The same ambiguity emerges in answer to the question of what politicization meant to the politicized. It is impossible to be sure how many clique members joined the Communists as a means of escape from the wretchedness and constrictions of daily life, seeking to broaden their horizons and realize alternatives, and how many saw in the party's apparatus and material resources an opportunity to consolidate and legitimate their position in the existing local power structure or, less cynically, the means of more easily pursuing aims which they shared with the Communists.

One consequence of this mutual ambivalence can be seen in the problems that arose when young Communists behaved like clique members. The active formations of the Communist Youth engaged in fighting the Nazis in Berlin were characterized by a style and mentality strikingly similar to those of the cliques. Within the Communist organizations, these similarities were modified at certain points by the elements of a deep-rooted political culture. At others they remained a source of conflict between the Communist leadership and the rank and file.114

The least problematic aspect of the defense formations, from the point of view of the leadership, was the fact that, like the cliques, they were explicitly territorial. The party-political context of their activities colored the definition of territory, just as it determined the character of the outsider. Since the electoral successes of Social Democracy in the Wilhelmine era certain sections of Berlin were popularly regarded as 'Red' territory. The idea that all Berlin's working-class .districts were properly the preserve of the 'Reds', propagated by the KPD in its turn, was adopted by the Nazis as the organizing principle for their campaigns in Berlin. The SA men were portrayed by their own leaders as invaders in the neighborhood, determined to break the Marxist hegemony by installing themselves in one area after another. Moreover, the Communist defense movement was organized by street and neighborhood. Within this context, however, the statements of the Communists reveal a very acute sense of the limits of their own districts and their responsibilities within them. They congregated for party and leisure activities alike in the tavern or Rummelplatz, park or other open space - places that were generally recognized in the neighborhood as their own hangouts. Among the most common forms of group activity was the Durchzug, a policing action within the neighborhood: known and suspected Nazis were stopped and searched, usually to the accompaniment of verbal and physical abuse; their badges and insignia (along with any weapons that might be found) were then 'confiscated' by the Communists, who hoarded them as prized trophies. In the realm of verbal and material imagery, the political formations shared with the cliques an attachment to the visible affects of group membership, partly symbolic and partly utilitarian: badges, uniforms, weapons. On this issue the Communist leadership was constantly torn between tolerating the mania for self-presentation and display as a form of behavior natural and attractive to young people and condemning it as dangerous to the interests of an organization in which the capacity to operate inconspicuously and in secret was highly valued. Instead of the anonymous ciphers recommended by the leadership as an aspect of such conspiratorial activity, the Communists often used nicknames. Names like Tarzan, Sinalko (the brand-name of a soft drink), Gypsy and so on are reminiscent of the cliques, and some had even been won by the young activists during their clique days. They did not necessarily guarantee anonymity; their principal function was to underline the specialness of the individual while identifying him with the group. The forms of internal discipline and the structure of authority within the defense formations also show parallels with what we know of the cliques. The fate of Otto Regenthaler illustrates the problematic coexistence of organisational and communal codes:

Since I hadn't taken part in the Communist demonstration at the New Year [1931] ,on my father's orders, some RFB members came to our courtyard in the early hours of the morning, blew on a signal trumpet and shouted: This is where the coward [Regenthaler] lives! Come on down, we'll punch your face in! The very next day I went to the RFB leader and got the shouters expelled. From then on I felt as though I was always running the gauntlet. Because of the constant abuse I cut myself off completely from the Communists and devoted myself.. .exclusively to my girlfriend.

The cohesiveness and collective self-confidence that made this kind of internal terror possible depended to a large extent on the force of individual personalities. In the section of Kreuzberg where the unfortunate Regenthaler lived, the figure to reckon with was Otto Singer, 19, the unemployed son of a construction worker. As organizer for the local Communist Youth he was known to be tough: Because of his extremely radical attitude he was respected but also feared by his comrades. He never suffered hangers-on in his group.' The leader of a Neukolln group, Hermann Lessing, was a similar type. A neighbor reported that he was notorious in the area for his activism and violence: 'If you don't go along with what he says, you're eliminated and can't work in the organization any more.' The importance of strong personal leadership is also illustrated by examples of failure. When the leader of a self-defense group in Berlin-Mitte was arrested, the group began to disintegrate; it continued to lose members until he returned from prison and set it on its feet again. In the plethora of competing organizations, it was characteristic of these leaders that they were able to maintain their own power bases and even to challenge the authority of the party leadership through the formation of new groups. Hermann Lessing was the founder of the Neukolln Fighting Column, which he had led into the Communist movement, and he was sufficiently confident of the support of his members to defy the local party secretary when she tried to enforce the leadership's objections to his violence. Alfred Richter, leader of a street squad in Wedding, was expelled from the Communist Party in 1929; he went on to take over the leadership of the (not otherwise identified) Wedding Youth Defense, and in 1932 he was taken back into his local party cell against the wishes of the KPD's Berlin office. And with the case of Otto Singer we find ourselves once again in the world of the street youth: after he had been expelled from the party several times he resigned himself and founded his own group - 'But only ace lads [knorke Jungen] would be eligible for this.'

The party's attitude to the indiscipline that personal power made possible can be gauged by the repeated expulsions of local 'bulls'. On the general problem of toughness as an organizational style, the views of the leadership were ambivalent. A report of 1928 implies that bullying, particularly of younger members, 'so-called rowdiness', was a well known practice within the Berlin Communist Youth. The leadership did not see such practices as contributing to group cohesion and confidence; on the contrary, the extraordinarily high rate of membership turnover in Wedding was blamed on internal rowdyism. The report concluded, however, that 'although the bullies themselves are often not around when it comes to day-to-day [party] work, and often even disrupt it... they are absolutely revolutionary elements, which we need and must educate'.115

The character of the social bond within the group also deserves comment. From time to time doubts were expressed within the Communist movement about the mechanistic way in which organizational principles were applied in efforts to forge a disciplined solidarity, and this was the concern that lay behind the reviewer's approval of the 'proletarian comradeship' displayed by the clique in Kampfende Jugend. This form of comradeship, however, was inconsistent with a larger political expediency, for it depended on emotional and material reciprocity continually tested and confirmed in immediate experience. The cohesion of the defense formations was often of this kind, resting on a web of sentimental bonds among the members and between them and the neighborhood which could be overstretched and even torn apart by the demands of party discipline. One young Communist fighter had to spend several months in jail following a shooting; in a badly spelled letter from his cell he wrote, mixing the languages of politics and disappointed comradeship:

Dear Comrade Erich the hearings coming up if I get off I can do without the organisation working with you, since youll never make it to a Red United Front and I'd never have thought you'd leave me in the lurch...

Two aspects of group life brought the tensions between leadership and rank and file to a point of open conflict. The first, and less politically dangerous of these, was the male exclusiveness of the defense groups. Communist policy-makers had always regarded women in politics with a certain ambivalence. The whole problem of putting into practice the kind of free and equal relations between the sexes that the KPD's inherited principles prescribed - 'the sexual question' - was an embarrassing one for many Communists and a constant source of inconclusive debate. Where one commentator saw demoralising 'dirty fantasies' arising from the hole-and-corner sexuality that too many Communist youths shared with the cliques and other working-class adolescents, another found 'genuinely proletarian jokes'.116 When it came to strictly organizational relations, women were nowhere more discriminated against than in that section of the movement that emphasized the military virtues. But by 1930 at the latest the official line prescribed that the role of women in all areas of party life, including the organizing of physical defense, was identical with that of men. Very early on, however, the leadership encountered explicit resistance to any form of co-operation on the part of its male rank and file. Significantly, among the Berlin defense formations the toughest and most active of the sections, Berlin-Mitte and Neukolln, were the most tenacious in their opposition;117 the fact that the party secretary in Neukolln was a woman certainly did not ease the tension between Hermann Lessing and the local leadership.

Still more problematic was the violence of certain groups itself. In the form of the deliberate persistence in the practice of 'individual terror' - isolated, gang-style acts of violence - against the SA, this represented one of the most explosive moments of conflict within the party as a whole. The definitive statement by the party's Political Bureau of its rejection of 'individual terror', issued in November 1931 and accompanied by a concerted campaign against all 'terroristic' and 'adventurist' tendencies within the Communist movement, touched off angry debates and even fights within the defense formations and the Communist Youth in Berlin. The party's leaders were openly accused of having abandoned their revolutionary ideals and betrayed their followers; for the maintenance of the party's tenuous legality, they had traded the right of the young Communists to an effective defense against the deadly attacks of the Nazis.118

To these recriminations the leadership responded that tendencies to 'individual terror' reflected a mood of 'desperation' and 'revenge', 'motives that characterize the uprooted, insecure petty bourgeoisie run mad...alien to the socialist working class'.119 In a similar vein, members who resisted organizing women were labeled 'red-painted petty bourgeois [Spiessburger]'.120 Neither of these characterizations is an accurate reflection of the social position of the Communist activists. Nor, of course, were they intended as such; they purport to provide a measure of the extent to which those activists had lived up to - or failed to live up to - an ideal of behaviour appropriate to the working class and, still more, to the tasks of its emancipation. But it is significant that the party had no words to describe those who were neither perfectly disciplined Communists nor members of an alien class, no way of acknowledging that one might be a worker and yet behave in undesirable ways. There was a genuine confusion that arose within the Communist movement whenever a distinction had to be drawn between what was proletarian and what the proletarian ought to be, what the party had to deal with in terms of an actual working-class culture and what it meant to make of it; and this confusion was not irrelevant to the party's own capacity to carry out the political tasks it set itself.

By virtue as much of common socialization as of mutual recruitment, the cliques and the defense formations in Berlin shared a social code and an organizational culture in which the gang style of organization was closely associated with toughness, masculinity, a solidarity based on mutual aid and affection, a strong tie with the local neighborhood and violent competition with or resistance to outsiders. The respective elements of the code were mutually reinforcing and the whole was shaped and sustained by the conditions of life in the working-class neighborhoods of Berlin in the 1920s. In its 'raw' form, as some Communist diagnoses recognized, this was essentially a defensive culture; the style of the cliques and the kinds of consumption they represented reflected the models and materials made available by bourgeois society, and their functions ranged between the enrichment of leisure time and the guarantee of bare survival. They offered no alternative to the existing system of economic and power relations and no escape for their members. Within this culture, though, there were openings to forms of activity that had the potential to attack and change the system; these consisted in the objectively political conflicts that the cliques were involved in by virtue of belonging to that culture and in the ways in which aspects of social behavior were explicitly politicized in twentieth- century Germany. The visibility of the cliques was a function of the presence and expectations of certain state agencies on the one hand and of a long-standing association between social indiscipline, violent crime and political radicalism in public discourses about youth on the other. This was the 'ideological territory' on which the cliques and the Communists met, their affinity compounded by the fact, peculiar to the Weimar Republic, that the state itself was directly associated with a single party and the KPD's chief rival, the SPD, and by the KPD's practice of actively adopting the interests and concerns of the cliques as its own. When clique members began to see the police and other adversaries as part of a system that had to be fought politically, it was not unlikely that they would choose the Communist movement as the framework for their fight.

The aim of the party, in its turn, must have been to hasten the moment when this perception would become inevitable, through agitation and education to transform the defensive culture into an offensive movement. In fact, the Communists showed less awareness of the specific congruence of interests between themselves and the cliques than of the instrumental value of one aspect of clique activities, namely their violence. Whether they were viewed as a proletarian group with particular but legitimate interests or as a ready-made fighting force. though, effectively mobilizing the cliques meant fracturing the unity of the culture they represented. For while the cliques met real needs and nurtured allegiances generated in their common milieu, the political movement as such - a bureaucratic apparatus engaged in action and argument and subject to demands and pressures at every level of politics - had special needs and demanded a new kind of allegiance. In order to sustain a new synthesis, the party had to be able to provide concrete alternatives to the material conditions to which the clique culture was a response, or to offer in some other form the kinds of defense that the clique provided, or at least to make credible the promise that alternatives could be created. To do less than this was to demand extraordinary sacrifices of the party's recruits, the most obvious of which, in the situation of the party in Berlin in the twenties and thirties, were the near certainty of arrest and imprisonment and the danger of political violence.

The party's capacity to realize an alternative society through independent political action, that is to bring about the revolution which was its raison d'etre and which, in the final crisis of the Republic, the KPD presented as the only way to avoid the impending Fascist dictatorship, was limited by forces beyond its control. It would be a mistake (and one entirely characteristic of the KPD leadership) to imagine that a more coherent class analysis alone would have made it possible to overcome those obstacles. But if it was even to assess the prospects for change accurately and present them convincingly to actual and potential followers, the party had first to understand the reality it was aiming to change, to confront the nature of its own constituency as well as the general political situation. And this it could not do with any consistency. The party's self-image was dominated by a view of class struggle that implied that it should not be dealing with the cliques in the first place. This view had no place in it for the analysis of proletarian cultures as they reflected the construction of collective interests outside the workplace. It also tended to block initiatives for the active creation of a 'movement culture' which would provide the necessary alternative for working-class youth before the revolution and would be distinct in quality from both the Social Democratic cultural organisations and the defensive culture of the neighbourhood. There is no question that the elements of a new and inventive approach tothe politics of everyday life were present in the theoretical utterances of some spokesmen for the movement, and even more obvious in the actual practice of the KPD. But as long as the party's leaders continued to argue as though the progressive, politicised culture it expected its members, more or less spontaneously, to represent was the only real culture of the working class, they ran the risk both of blinding themselves to the points of vulnerability in class and movement alike, and of alienating their own followers, who knew better.


This chapter has been presented in different forms on several occasions. I am grateful to the members of the SSRC Research Seminar Group in Modern German Social History, the European History Research Seminar at the University of East Anglia, the King's College Social History Seminar, Cambridge, and to my fellow contributors to the present volume for their comments and suggestions. Special thanks are due to Richard Evans, David Crew, Nigel Swain, Paul Ginsborg, David Feldman and Nick Bullock for shared ideas and enthusiasm.

The presentation above rests to a large extent on the reports of several Berlin daily newspapers, which are abbreviated in the notes as follows: BT (Berliner Tageblatt), DAZ (Deutsche Allgemeine Zeirung), RF (Die Rote Fahne), VW (Vorwarts),, VZ (Vossische Zeitung). (M) denotes morning, (E) evening, and (P) postal editions, where applicable. The following abbreviations are also used for frequently cited sources: ZGStW (Zeitschrift fiir die gesamten Stratfrechtswissenschaften), StJB (Statistisches Jahrbuch der Stodt Berlin). Finally, where archival material has been used, the names of the archives are abbreviated: GehStA (Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Dahlem), LABln (Landesarchiv Berlin), StA Br (Staatsarchiv Bremen).