What do the Autonomen want? Ruthless Criticism

{MSZ - Gegen die Kosten der Freiheit (Munich) 2/1988}

The worldview of the Autonomen is quite simple. It is only them and the “pigs” with their “system.”

What do the Autonomen want?

With “hatemasks” and “slingshots” ...

The “hate mask” is the identification badge of the Autonomen. Originally, covering the face only served the purpose of concealing their bourgeois identities from surveillance by state agencies, which define any criticism as a potential threat to the state and democracy, preventively recording and carefully filing away any halfway organized statement of discontent in order to be able to apprehend the persons concerned.

For the Autonomen, this defensive act of disguise has become a symbol of resistance, a bit of material that no longer hides the identity, but makes it recognizable: the identity of the Autonomen as “street fighters.” With it they distance themselves not only from the enemy, the state power, but also from everyone else who is not quite sympathetic to them. They pride themselves on practicing opposition to the existing state. Their “combativeness” distinguishes them from all other protesters:

“What sets us apart from others on the left are the stones in hand and the billy clubs against our necks. In the tear gas clouds we feel most autonomous. What holds us together beyond that, we do not know.” (Autonomen Berlin leaflet)

The “hate mask” is an essential part of Autonomen clothing which – supplemented by combat boots, clubs, cushioned leather jackets and helmets – makes up the uniform of the “Black Blocs.” The uniform represents not only their subordination to a common purpose and the absolute right to exercise force, it serves primarily to distinguish between friend and foe in battle.

With their meager protective clothing and “stones in hand,” they oppose “billy clubs against their necks,” clouds of tear gas, mace sprays, and the state's other order-maintaining household cleaning products; at most, with “slingshots” that in bourgeois horror scenarios are built up with chilling admiration into “precision catapults.” The very basic military superiority of the opposing side is no occasion for the Autonomen fighters to consider whether this fight cuts the mustard.

Their fight does not aim at success; it is itself the success. That it takes place at regular intervals is what's important:

“Well, we have failed (But it was fun! And I thank everyone, including the activists who I made a basis for it!). -.! So on to the next fight.” (ACTION 6/87)

“It was always like that, when the external enemy is not immediately visible, the fights go inward ... (but) before you look, there is a clash somewhere – and the structures are good again.” (Didi, Freiburg media workshop in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” 1/15/87)

It is the “external enemy” that holds the Autonomen together, because the fight is the only thing that unifies them and the only purpose of all the Autonomen's ruckus. Anyone who thinks they have to face off against his fellow combatants because frustration arises when “trouble” with the real enemy takes too long to happen, makes it known that he is not interested in anything other than “action.” Skirmishing with the police brings order back to the Autonomen scene, its “structures.” It creates unity. Occasions are provided by regular interactions between the state and people like themselves. House searches, arrests, surveillance, confiscation of papers, but also punishments going beyond the norm for quite ordinary misdemeanors and crimes guarantee that the scene remains in “movement.” Thus the “enemy” ensures that resistance does not wane because it constantly provides evidence of its “pig character,” so that consciousness of the existence of the enemy sharpens and supplies him with his own reason to exist. Andrea, for example, got set up by an informer as launching a terrorist organization:

“Andrea sat up until a few days ago in total isolation ... Nothing came. She had no newspapers or books, could not listen to a radio, not even take a shower. The total isolation was then recently lifted. But she still sits in a cellar which is underground and near a break in the sewer that totally stinks of piss.” (ACTION 6/87)

Autonomen do not mean to destroy illusions about conditions in German prisons, but to prove over and over again that the state will stop at nothing to wear down staunch fighters from the resistance. They are all too aware that this impresses no one but themselves; because they also know that the bourgeois world surrounding them approves of the locking up of “hooligans” not out of ignorance about prison conditions, but out of strict advocacy for law and order. Autonomen even admit the circularity of their efforts to convince:

“... It has been confirmed once again that we can do nothing without the masses / against the masses. On the other hand, the masses have a lousy consciousness. We can do nothing with them at the moment that is of direct value to us ... At first it sounds like an intellectual circular motion: The people are politicized in the fight, and they fight as a result of politicization.” (ACTION 6/87)

This intellectual circular motion nevertheless seems to fit in practice:

“A failed attempt to overcome a police barrier can be a political victory if many people get involved; self-determined to contribute their ideas to this discussion ... If, for example, in the Kleves situation, the majority of people in the convoy would have come forward, the situation would probably have been different for the cops. It is not certain they would have gotten through, but many people would have noticed the cops' mess and gone home with a different feeling.” (West Berlin Autonomen)

According to this principle, Autonomen amass their experiences and want to connect them to others. They are focused on a wrong conclusion: If the state makes each and every question one of violence and police, then one answer is always due: pose the same police problem. In that respect, Autonomen exactly match that “question of violence” which the democratic state begets regardless of the consequences. Their “no!” is just as meaningless and thoughtless as the “yes, sir!” that the state power demands of its citizens.

... against the “Pig State”

The Autonomen can't be accused of letting themselves be duped by genial interpretations of the bourgeois state. They can discover nothing positive in the existing democracy. They have no illusions about the reformability of the system: “The system makes no mistakes. The system is the mistake.” They have nothing but contempt for what passes as criticism or considers itself an opposition in this state: “Liberallallas,” “shocked Green citizen shuffling along demos,” “peace wankers,” “theory shitters,” and “wimps.”

Autonomen do not forget – like normal critical citizens do – that because the state's monopoly on violence excludes, forcibly prevents and punishes the use of private violence, nor that because the state obtains legitimation through regular voting by its citizens, that it is not itself also a matter of violence. However, this hostility towards the state is not based on any insight into the reason and purpose of democratic violence. They don't overlook the violence in any state measure, but that's also the only thing they discover. Apart from its exercise, they do not want to discover any purpose when the state violently enforces its sovereignty or the “good of the economy.” If an Autonome looks at national economic life, he sees only one thing: a collection of techniques to pacify the masses, alternately with the carrot or the whip. And happily it is in tune with this fittingly designed image of the economy that it doesn't function without friction. An Autonome theorist understands by crisis a method of rule which his enemies use to plague humanity:

“The novelty in the phase of mass workers' struggles in the period between 1967 and 1972 is a fundamental change in the relationship between wages and profits. This triggers a real shock to capital, because in the Keynesian era of full employment it had thrived on the fact that wages and profits could rise simultaneously. Now, however, there was a waning in the increase in productivity through which profits and wages could simultaneously rise, and profits and wages became antagonistic again. The class no longer accepts 'more work for more money', but is fighting for 'more pay – less work.' And indeed not only direct wages rise, but also the government expenses with which it reproduces and controls the class (welfare, prisons, schools, 'defense'). These expenses, which are supposed to protect capital from revolutionary developments, are now even a threat to its rate of profit ... Already in 66/67 capital began to feel this revolt” (meaning the liberation of women and youth since the 60s, which had undermined the usefulness to capital of the position of father of the family) “with an economic downturn, a brief period of unemployment was not having the disciplinary effect ... The real significance of the energy crisis therefore lies in its pressure on the recomposition of the class ... The energy crisis has failed ... The new profits exist only on paper, namely in the international debts ... In 1980/83 the 'energy crisis' has been replaced by the debt crisis.” (From a book review of Work, Energy, Apocalypse in Wildcat, Karlsruhe, No. 36, 1985)

So if the bourgeoisie realizes capital growth, they prove the correctness of the Autonome who thinks that everything from the national budget to the rate of profit, up to energy and debts, only enters the picture as machinations that serve to bribe or enslave the masses.

Such theories claim that the introduction of whole technologies, such as nuclear power, are not owed to the calculations of a national energy policy, but to the fact that special dangers are connected with it that allow capital entirely new forms of control of the workforce, including the threat of a “meltdown” against rebellious masses. The safety inspections carried out in nuclear power plants are not to be understood by Autonomen as measures that the state imposes on capital from a sheer cost perspective, so that it doesn't cause the state any disaster costs or even gamble too recklessly with its human material, by which it acknowledges the always due cost calculations of the capitalists. An Autonome understands them as sheer malicious inventions to control the people.

Where the exercise of rule, the control of individuals, and the state's use of violence is so stripped of any purpose, and where repression has become an end in itself, there is no other explanation than what really matters to the rulers is gagging the individual. The only law that the Autonomen uphold against this is the individual's right to self-realization. The fanaticism of individualism lends its fury to the Autonomen. Unlike ordinary citizens, they want no restrictions on their freedom, which is guaranteed to them by the state. But certainly, like them, Autonomen don't want to know anything about the conflicts that the state creates with bourgeois freedom. They do not comprehend the right to self-realization as an obligation that forces the individual to rely on whatever resources he has, but as the “friendship, love, affection” that “humans” would bring to each other were it not for the “pigs” whose only goal is to destroy the dream of autonomy.

Instead, the Autonomen discover in the functionality of state violence sheer bad intentions that can only involve the bad character of state agents who don't share any of the “human” motives, but are driven only by absurd ones. Just like in everyday morality, “pigs” are not animals, but people to whom moral thinking denies the precious title “man” because they violate morality or law. Their own powerlessness against the state's monopoly on violence only supports them in their righteousness, serving their own ruthlessness and the good conscience of violence:

“Anyone who becomes a policeman and muscles in on demonstrations knows what he's doing.” (Autonome in the “Speigel-Gesprach”)

They set their fight against the repressive violence of the state. And for them it is a single act of liberation. The Autonomen reject a strategic calculation which aims at weakening and eventually eliminating the state, such as the RAF intended by destroying bourgeois leadership figures as a way to liberation. The tight, quasi-military organization taken on by the RAF in the underground has for the Autonomen way too much program and discipline, which would cause free individualism and the pleasure of battle to fall by the wayside:

“The people, for example, who come from various places to participate in the fighting here in the harbor, must autonomously decide for themselves on what level they want to participate in the fighting. We can not and do not want to prescribe it.” (From an interview with Hafenstraße Autonomen, ACTION 5/87)

Combat experience versus theory

What seems in the – especially, young – citizen a mere attitude, that he would like to have experiences that are completely his own because for all that they are completely his, and prefers bad experiences that are his own to good ones compelled by others, that he wants to have his own wrong opinion rather than a correct “manipulated” one – and by “compulsion” and “manipulation” he means the same as “emotional neglect” and beating – ; this defiant insistence on independence is developed by the Autonomen into a fixed point of view. In the Autonomen worldview, the true character of the capitalistic state as a huge apparatus of repression and oppression becomes really evident in the activities of the police, intelligence services and courts. In this sense, the Autonomen have always avidly sought to expose: In Autonomen magazines like “ACTION,” there is the column “short and painful” with announcements about drastic punishments for nuclear power opponents, mild punishments for fascists, police upgrades, etc. The meticulously uncovered machinations of the overt or covert security forces operating against their own kind should always speak for itself – as manifest proof of misdeeds by the “pigs.” The fact that resistance is necessary should essentially be “proved” by the machinations of the “pigs” reported from all corners of the republic, whose common thread is the ruthless dealings of the state and capital with “people.”

That resistance is also possible is documented by testimonies of resistance actions, such as “Electric power station destroyed,” “Citygame – actions during the Reagan visit without 'senseless military confrontations with the cops'”, “Flaming greetings for Adler – we document the explanations of Rota Zora for the attack on Adler” (with a map with affectionately drawn fires). (All from ACTION 5/87) That one becomes autonomous through experiences – good as well as bad – is the firm belief of this movement, regardless of the fact that the evidence mounted for the state's violent character leaves the “normalos” pretty cold and, even though most of what is announced is not unknown to them, hardly causes them to think of resistance.

The simple state “theory” of the Autonomen, however, not only doesn't require theory. Because it is not combat, it hurts them – in the Autonomen logic. Any explanatory sentence that does not exhaust itself in signs of the state's swinishness is suspicious to the Autonomen.

In vehement distinction to leftists there is even the accusation that the “unusual language” of an Autonomen paper proves a most disgraceful imitation of seminar-Marxist wanking. Where Autonomen sure enough find outside their ranks a reference to the violent nature of the law, they feel vindicated – even though they immediately afterwards raise the question where that leaves “praxis.”

Anyone who can agitate with police truncheons thinks of further considerations as a mental injury that only distracts from the real agitation tool: the club and the skull undauntedly running against it. With such a practical attitude, material for discussion never runs out. It is just somewhat limited. Specifically, it addresses two questions. One is: Why are others not into combat experiences so that we remain forever among ourselves? The answer: resignation. The second question immediately follows, because it is the same. The necessary will to fight does not appear among the resigned masses only because the possibility of fighting is not presented to them. How can we “put across” our actions to others? is the problem and its solution is action.

“All or nothing”

What do the Autonomen want? Nothing! Their own answer is indeed different, but it is not a bit better: their “everything,” which they have adopted from the spontis, describes a mental state of mind, a kind of general freedom which has nothing to do with trifling things:

“The needs for self-determination and self-realization are not on any market. They can not be bought and sold.” (Radical, March / April 1984)

The only need they see not realized in this society, because it is not to be bought and sold, is the one for autonomy. The radical appearance, the black mask affectation, goes hand in hand most nicely with reactionary spiel about meaning and fashionable criticism of “merely” material needs. They see them – like priests – as things that only distract from the real; here a useful service is performed by the old theory of “consumer terror” – which also revels in the content of an ancient Christian tradition – that humanity is manipulated by artificial consumer needs in order to force it into “meaningless” work.

“Work without relation to anything useful is employment which can no longer distinguish between meaningful and meaningless, showing up at a certain place at a certain time. It is the service that the system demands of its slaves, showing up and pretending do something.” (Radical, March/April 1984)

By the way, Autonomen admit what disdain they have gained during their ego trip for the “normal people”: the masses have it too good. And even if they have it bad, they just want it to get better:

“those who tumble now bit by bit from connection to capitalism ... were happily involved in the vampiric predation of capital, they were, although exploited, with the exploiter (so that) ... the outcasts fight mostly to return to exploitation ...”

They explicitly pride themselves on the fact that they, the Autonomen, pursue no material interests when they rush into their battle:

“... the difference between a decision to choose the front line and being pushed into an opposition to capitalist development is fundamental ... The new sub-classes should be the broth whose existential rebellion should be spiced up by us with anarchy, jokes and militancy, we who have since school preferred not to be in any class anymore, even if our economic existence is usually far below the new mass poverty, but for many of us, this was a matter of choice – we have chosen this place in society ...” (ibid.)

They certainly appreciate the bourgeois existence of fellow militants as a disguise for their “shrewd” actions, on the other hand, they consider the interest to maintain one as an obstacle to participating in “actions.” That's why an existence that makes and expects no demands is the best condition for an Autonomen existence, one with no dependencies and freely able to indulge in the very content of autonomous self-realization:

“The greed of the capitalists, the ambition of the state, its politicians, lawyers, bureaucrats and office workers has created a murderous system of prisons and concentration camps, forced labor and segregation, destruction, subjugation and humiliation in which we are only in the resistance and struggle so we can win our authentic feelings, self-determination and autonomy and collectivity.” (Quicksand 67, Bremen, Nov. 87)

A rhetorical question: And what is the payoff that can be expected from a struggle like this? What's in it for somebody, when someone smashes things up and has no need in mind to be met by the outcome of the battle? Just a lot of fun, those authentic emotions that for an Autonome apparently compensate everything else:

“I throw stones not because of the cops, I throw them for me.” (Der Spiegel 46/87)

That is also why the Autonomen require “wit and imagination.” In inventing original group names, they are unbeatable: “Throw the shit away,” “West German dismantlers,” “Revolutionary artisans,” “Fiery rats,” “Sawing cells,” etc. Sometimes they come up with a slogan that drives the citizens nuts: “Unemployment for all – at full pay!” And all this just to permanently keep in mind their own autonomy over everything that smells like “pork.” Such brain acrobatics – strongly supported by punk music, alcohol and hashish – serves rest and relaxation in the combat lulls for the really quite original Autonomen experience of being able to show up the “pigs.” But for this one also has to be on the ball again. Drugged or drunk, one doesn't look good against the cops. Very narrow-minded criteria count here. Fairness in the brutal struggle of man against man. Nothing has made this success-oblivious calculation of Autonomen fighters clearer than their reactions to a dead Frankfurt policeman: The use of firearms would make the fight completely unpredictable. On the other hand, malicious joy reigns when someone has paralyzed and conned the enemy with quite primitive means:

“On 7/19, police officers took two hours to open their front gate, which had been blocked with a simple flat iron and a screw. The screw had only one left-hand thread!” (ACTION 5/97)

So in struggle they live out their individuality which they see nowhere else in life. They want to have discovered that such (combat) experiences opens the career to true a Autonome personality:

“Who does not know: flirting with the first fine, the first arrest, the first arraignment, the first ruling. This 'pig system' also has it in for YOU, the battle lines are clear, you are suddenly in the group of legally recognized enemies of the state, and bask in the thought of having offered resistance, and is indeed clear that YOU are thrilled. It is a vague probability, but one which usually happens just when you least count on it. " (Radical, March/April 1984)

They call this then “life.”


Autonomen are not a faction in the spectrum of anti-capitalist struggle. They are also not the radical wing of the protest movement.

Autonomen have no criticism of the means used by members of the opposition for their purposes, they do not know a better way.

Aautonomen have no sympathy for the aims of protesters, whose causes they are not interested in.

Autonomen are not supporters in the conflicts taking place. That would be the last thing they want to be.

Autonomen consider rather each movement an opportunity to gratify their need for self-realization in battle.

Autonomen use the conflicts taking place as a good opportunity to exercise their peculiar fighting experience in brawls with the police. That's the only reason why they attach themselves to left-wing movements, which they view and deal with as accessories to their riots.

Squatters, nuclear opponents, anti-imperialists, environmentalists, peace lovers, animal rights activists have to cope with them alike. It all depends on whether they think their movement is suitable for action. Autonomen want to accomplish nothing but a street fight.