Editorial [EN]

The journal Autonomie (Autonomy) was established in 1975. It emerged from the agitational newspaper Wir Wollen Alles (We Want it All), which was published by the Operaist-oriented groups ‘Arbeitersache’ (‘Workers’ Cause’) in Munich, ‘Revolutionärer Kampf’ (‘Revolutionary Struggle’) in Frankfurt and ‘Proletarische Front’ (‘The Proletarian Front’) in Hamburg. Two political lines soon developed within the editorial board. On the one hand, there was the ‘first-person politics’ proposed by those in Frankfurt. On the other hand, the Hamburg group in particular insisted on a ‘working-class standpoint’: for this group, relating to the subjectivity of the ‘class’ and building a social-revolutionary organisation should take priority over policies related to the individual. In 1979, the Frankfurt group issued the last journal (No. 14) of the old version of Autonomie. Between 1979 and 1985 the Hamburg group published Autonomie: Neue Folge (Autonomy: The New Edition). It is now available here online for the first time. In fact, issue No. 12 of the old version of the journal was conceived in Hamburg and thus has been included in this digitised edition. This issue was devoted to the subject of regionalism. Alongside this theme, there was an article on ‘the moral economy’, which took up the British New Left’s writing on social history.

The Hamburg editorial board was made up of a core of former members from the ‘Proletarische Front’ organisation. This core was expanded by a number of people who joined in connection with a campaign for a suspended sentence for Karl Heinz Roth, a member of the board.1 During the first two years, Roth carried out an important and integrative role on the editorial board. Smaller editorial teams – in which external authors also played a part – were formed for each individual issue. All articles were regularly discussed by the main editorial board, which was supported by a salaried senior editor. The board’s offices were located in Hamburg-Altona. In 1982, several members left the editorial board in connection with the ‘Position Paper’ published in issue No. 10.

Apart from issue No. 1, the magazine was self-produced and financed by donations from the editorial staff. The journal’s circulation was three thousand – four thousand for some issues. The majority of its readers came from the protest movements of the 1970s and were predominantly from North Germany. But there were also some readers from around several university cities in South Germany, as well as from Berlin. Reading circles occasionally sprung up and the editorial board organised a series of events centred on the journal – for example in the context of the prisoners’ and anti-nuclear movements.

Autonomie: Neue Folge aimed, on the one hand, to develop an expanded concept of structural violence which referred to the interweaving of technological violence into every-day life. On the other hand, the journal sought to work out a new, social-revolutionary understanding of internationalism and anti-imperialism. Behind these aims stood the political concept of placing in a broader historical context, and strategically expanding, the various partial movements active in the wake of the ‘anti-authoritarian’ revolts of 1968, which mainly agitated in selective and situational ways.

Autonomie: Neue Folge began in May 1979 with an issue on the Iranian Revolution. With regard to the People’s Mujahedin and the theoretician Ali Schariati, the issue attempted to explore the potential of ‘Iranian mass autonomy’ – as a non-Bolshevik path to social revolution. This subject was revisited in issues No. 6 (on the Iran-Iraq War, 1980) and No. 8 (on the People’s Mujahedin, 1981). As is well known, the Iranian Revolution ended in a counterrevolution of the reactionary Ayatollahs, in civil war and terror. Back then the editorial board could not anticipate that the Iranian Revolution was possibly but the first episode in a revolutionary epoch, which would flow into the Arab rebellions. The interest in the ‘Middle and Near East’ lapsed.

The theme of social-revolutionary anti-imperialism carried over into issue No. 10 (‘Anti-Imperialism in the 1980s’, 1982) in which concepts drawn from the US Operaist left were further developed and the primacy of the social was contrasted with the classical theory of imperialism. The topic further found expression in the article ‘Genocide against Social Revolution’ in the final issue, No. 14 (1985). Not until many years later was this concept explicitly back-referenced to the Russian Revolution, which was always implicit within the approach in the mid-1980s.2

In the thematic issues No. 2 through No. 7, there was an attempt to enter into an exchange with single-issue movements and currents, as well as to ‘set out markers’ for the reconstruction of an overarching social-revolutionary agenda. The ‘workers’ standpoint’ was projected onto a new social subject – the ‘factory society’ became an explanatory model for the entirety of the social terrain. This began with the issue on prisons (No. 2, ‘The New Prisons’, 1979) which presented materials on the prisoners’ movement and recent developments in the detention systems. This topic was complemented in 1980 by a special issue on preventive detention. This theme was followed by that of urban planning in issue No. 3 (‘The Second Destruction of Germany’, 1980) which reached from the 19th century architectural utopias to the house occupations of the 1980s, and the issue on the anti-nuclear movement (No.4/5, ‘Resistance Against Nuclear Factories. The Nuclear State’, 1980) which alongside references to the movement against nuclear power included a polemic against the institutionalisation of politics by the Greens. The issues dedicated to medicine, such as special issue No. 2 (‘Medicine and National Socialism’, 1980) and No. 7 (‘Healthcare Reform, Rape, Forced Sterilisation, Sick Leave’, 1981) were to provide historical and contemporary material for the debates in the ‘health movement’ in the context of the ‘health conferences’ held in Berlin and Hamburg. This topic was taken up again later in the journal Beiträge zur nationalsozialistischen Gesundheits- und Sozialpolitik (Contributions to National Socialist Health and Social Policy).

It was not until the Fiat issue (No. 9, ‘Factories and the New Class Composition’, 1982) that Autonomie: Neue Folge chimed in with the point of departure of the 1970s, as expressed in the subtitle ‘Materials against Factory Society’. The ‘Arbeitersache’ group had related to the workers at BMW with an anti-Taylorist, anti-Fordist programme. ‘Revolutionärer Kampf’ had done the same with the Opel workers, and ‘Proletarische Front’ had focused on the ports, shipyards and the Volkswagen workers in Hannover. The experiences of this wave of struggle, which had culminated in the 1973 Ford strike, were now to be recalled in order to arrive at a new analysis of the reality of class in West Germany, of the exploitation of labour and of the regional labour markets. However, this systematic approach failed to materialise. Instead there was a separate issue (No. 12, ‘The Italian Model: Revolutionary Movements at an End?’, 1983) in which the topic of Italy was broached once more. The matters of labour markets and technology were differently dealt with in issues No. 11 and No. 13 under the common title of ‘Imperialism in the Metropolises’ (No. 11, ‘The Compulsion to Work. New Poverty, 1982) and issue No. 13 (‘The Assault of Technology’, 1983). In parallel with the quasi post-Operaist focus on the metropolitan class and global mass poverty, since issue No. 3 a debate had emerged regarding subjectivity and technological violence, which found its way into various issues. The reference point for this was a book published in 1981 entitled Leben als Sabotage (Life as Sabotage).3

Since 1982 there had been difficult disagreements on the editorial board. Issues No. 13 and No. 14 were only published by smaller editorial sub-groups who continued to work together informally. Some members of the editorial board no longer believed that it was possible to reconstruct social-revolutionary processes in the global north from a metropolitan standpoint and therefore focused more on the social-historical paradigm of mass poverty and anti-imperialist struggles. This implied different ideas of organisation. The divergent points of view no longer led to fruitful discussions, but rather to the dissolution of the editorial board. Appearing after a two-year break with a new design, the final issue (No. 14, ‘Class History – Social Revolution?’) was published in 1985. It contained three separate essays: a historical study of mass poverty and the right of existence; a contribution to reproductive labour (catching up somewhat, since a feminist position had not been able to prevail in the editorial board until then) and a portrayal of the Bretton Woods system as a weapon against the social revolution.

  1. Cf. Ein ganz gewöhnlicher Mordprozess, Berlin 1978
  2. http://www.materialien.org/worldwide/russia/Hartmann_Russ_Revol.pdf; http://www.materialien1917.org
  3. Detlef Hartmann, Leben als Sabotage. Zur Krise der technologischen Gewalt, Tübingen 1981