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Clown in a group of Autonomists in a demonstration against the security conference in Munich 2011
Black block at a demonstration in Hamburg, 2007

Members of certain left-wing radical unorthodox- Marxist or anarchist movements are now referred to as autonomous ( ancient Greek : αὐτονομία, autonomía , “independence, self-reliance”) or autonomous groups .

Autonomous people are organized in reference groups. There are loose connections and networks among each other . The autonomous people strive to create self-determined free spaces regardless of the existing social order. In general, they pursue anti-authoritarian, social-revolutionary and anarchist ideals .

The dominant perspective from which the autonomists are perceived in the media and in the personally interwoven constitutional protection and extremism literature is that of violence , while militancy only plays a secondary role for the autonomists themselves .

The state security authorities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland classify the autonomous movement as left-wing extremist .

Origin of the designation

In Italy, a social movement called " Autonomia Operaia ", "workers' autonomy ", played a major role in labor struggles in 1968/1969 . The Autonomia Operaia was a militant movement whose demonstrations were marked by violent clashes with the police and which committed acts of sabotage in factories. It included not only workers and students, but also the homeless and the unemployed. It separated itself strongly from the Italian Communist Party and the trade unions and developed its own theory, operaism . One of its central elements was autonomy.

"The autonomy of a workers' struggle that frees itself from trade union control is obviously something different from the autonomy of the constantly armed proletariat that exercises its dictatorship over society."

- Adriano Sofri & Luciano Della Mea : On the strategy and organization of “Lotta continua” . International Marxist Discussion 18, Merve, Berlin 1971

At the end of the 1970s, operaism lost its importance, but this understanding of autonomy, namely self-determined political struggles independent of trade union or party ties, spontaneous movement without organization and leadership, has since become part of the self-image of the “autonomists” outside of Italy.

In contrast to the Italian autonomous movement, concepts and practices of operaism, which is geared towards influencing the labor movement , do not play a prominent role in the German-speaking area.

History of the Autonomous in the Federal Republic of Germany

The Autonomen emerged from the tradition of certain parts of the APO during the student movement in the late 1960s . The New Left , the so-called “ spontaneous movement ” and actions of the “ fun guerrilla ”, for example by members of Commune 1 in West Berlin , exerted a significant influence on the content and actions of the German autonomists.

In the 1970s it was also autonomous groups who had a reputation for supporting or sympathizing with left- wing terrorist groups such as the RAF , the June 2nd Movement and especially the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) and others. In fact, there was a parliamentary group in the RZ network (especially in West Berlin) that saw itself as a social revolution and whose members were assigned to the autonomous.

The first connections and activities in which groups that call themselves “autonomous” appeared in the sense that is still used today were noticed in the major cities of northern West Germany and in West Berlin from 1980 onwards. The first autonomous plenum was formed in Berlin in the summer of 1980. The militant protests against the vow ceremony in Bremen in 1980 are considered an important date for the emergence of the autonomous and are occasionally received as the founding date of the autonomous movement.

Since the 1970s, autonomous groups have often taken part in demonstrations and actions by the new social movements , for example the peace movement or the anti-nuclear movement . They were heavily involved in the disputes and resistance against the Brokdorf nuclear power plant around 1981, the planned reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf until 1986, and against the construction of the West Runway in Frankfurt am Main in the 1980s. To the present day, many autonomous groups have also participated in the campaigns to hinder the Castor transports from the French reprocessing plant in La Hague to the German nuclear waste storage facility in Gorleben .

Depending on the objectives and content of the actions, autonomous people are sometimes welcome and sometimes undesirable by the organizers of the respective demonstrations and actions. Autonomous groups are often involved in the preparations themselves. The reason for the controversial relationship between the Autonomous and other parts of the New Social Movements is, among other things, the militancy of some of the Autonomous or their willingness, depending on the escalation phase of a demonstration or other political action, to use violence , for example in the form of projectiles (stones, bags of paint ) or fights against their opponents, even against the police state authority apply.

In order not to be recognized, members of the autonomous groups appear again and again in subgroups and masked as a so-called black block (because of the preferred black clothing) at demonstrations. The term was coined in 1981 by the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office, who wanted to bring numerous autonomous people to court for membership in a terrorist organization called the 'Black Block' . The uniform appearance in closed rows and as a block secured from the outside prevailed as a strategy against the action of the security forces, since helmets, shin guards, protective goggles and breathing masks as protection against police resources were banned by the legislature as " passive armament " during political demonstrations . Not only the identification, but also the arrest of individual members should be made more difficult by appearing in the black block. In response to this, the ban on masking was enacted in an amendment to the Assembly Act in 1985 .

In the recent present, the squatter movement with occupation of vacant, unused living spaces (for example in Hafenstrasse in Hamburg ), the Antifa ( anti-fascist groups with actions against right-wing extremism ) and the anti-racist movement, for example with solidarity campaigns with immigrants, are the main areas of action occupied by the autonomous - for example under the motto “ no one is illegal ”.

In the late 2000s, regular autonomous general assemblies emerged in several metropolitan areas as an informal networking platform. In 2011, the constitutional protection authorities reacted to this with a considerable expansion of surveillance and the use of informants .

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution puts the number of autonomous people in Germany in the 2019 report on the protection of the Constitution at 7,400 people.

Split / anti-Semitism debate

The Autonomous have always been a melting pot of different factions of the radical, extra-parliamentary left. Depending on the region and time, one direction or the other dominated. So were z. For example, groups that were oriented towards anarcho - syndicalism were dominant at times, or the “Antiimps” (short for anti-imperialists ), close to the RAF, strongly determined the autonomists. The Autonomous have always been a very heterogeneous movement - however, it was possible for the various political spectra to argue with one another and often nevertheless agree on a common approach.

The two opposing poles are roughly referred to as “ anti-German ” on the one hand and “ antiimps ” on the other. The split was sparked by the debate about left-wing anti-Semitism and positioning in the Middle East conflict and the assessment of the 3rd Gulf War . The positions are extremely hardened on both sides, so that when the two factions clash, physical arguments have already occurred.

The “anti-German” camp advocates unconditional solidarity with Israel and often rates the corresponding Middle East policy of the USA positively. This attitude is fed primarily from the Shoah as well as from criticism of fundamentalist Islamism and the suicide attacks .

From their ideological point of view , the “anti-imps” consider the policies of Israel and the USA to be imperialist and therefore criminal. They show solidarity in general with the "liberation struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli oppression".

Central to their worldview is the assumption that the wealth of the industrialized nations is based on the exploitation of the three continents South America, Africa and Asia and that capitalism has thus acquired a geostrategic dimension: since even the poorest inhabitants of the industrialized countries (the "metropolises") are still from profit from the exploitation of the three continents (the “ Trikont ”), there is no longer an objective proletariat in the industrialized countries that has a material interest in a social revolution. The task of the revolutionaries is therefore to support liberation movements and socialist regimes in the developing countries and to fight the military-industrial complex in the industrialized countries through sabotage or intervention in political movements such as the peace movement or the like. Since the class struggle is reduced to a more or less military confrontation (guerrilla war in the Trikont as the highest form of organized class struggle), there is a certain intellectual closeness to the RAF ( Red Army Faction ), which recruited its members in the anti-imperialist scene, but by no means all antiimps or their majority sympathized with the RAF. In contrast, autonomous people who assume the possibility of revolutionary change in the industrialized countries call themselves Social Revolutionaries (Sozrevs). The position of the anti-Germans is to be found weakened among the anti-nationalists, who sharply reject any kind of national identity as an ethnicization of social social relations and, unlike the anti-Germans, do not combine the verdict of German anti-Zionism with a positive or cautious assessment of US politics. Both currents exist both inside and outside the autonomous scene, e.g. B. the magazine is specific and also the jungle world is strongly influenced by the anti-German and anti-national discussion processes.

The groups of the Autonomous, which are oriented towards anarcho-syndicalism and anarchism, reject the use of national flags as well as expressions of solidarity for nations and / or national liberation movements, as they understand rule and oppression as an inherent part of the construct nation . This type of autonomy is probably the strongest in numbers and distinguishes itself from both anti-imperialists and anti-Germans.

Theory and content

The most discussed topics in autonomous groups include the question of self-determination , self-organization and militancy as well as the theoretical and pragmatic dimensions of direct action , propaganda of deed , empowerment and politics of the first person . Whereby the direct action and the propaganda of the deed could be seen as methodology , and the empowerment and politics of the first person as didactics , in order to make goal-oriented processes within the autonomists possible in the first place or ultimately to achieve the desired goals of the autonomists .

In the understanding of the autonomous, it is not possible to ultimately be autonomous (i.e. autonomous in the sense of self-determined) and independent. Every person lives in a web of dependencies, whatever is normal for a social being. The main focus lies on the extent to which these dependencies are foreign-or self-determined, being sought, without possible external determination to live. In the autonomous groups, militancy is literally understood as "combative", not as "military", whereby attacks against objects such as the organization Das KOMITEE are also used as a means of incendiary and rarely explosive attacks . Violence as an end in itself or as an empty ritual is rejected. The state's monopoly of force is being called into question.

In addition to the fields of action described, the targets of militant actions were and are also sex shops , organizers of sex tourism trips and the like ( sexism ), foreigners authorities ( racism ), training centers and meeting places for (neo) Nazis ( fascism and neo-fascism ) or even individual companies that are particularly Be viewed as exploitative in dealing with employees and / or nature ( capitalism ).

The “ triple oppression ” (racism, sexism and classicism , as described in “Three to One” by Klaus Viehmann) is one of the theoretical foundations of the autonomists . This rejects the notion of socialist and communist classics, according to which the main contradiction in capitalism (namely the Conflict between social production and private appropriation of the product), and for which other forms of exploitation and oppression such as racism and sexism are only secondary contradictions. Rather, every person is part of a network made up of all three forms of violence, which only vary in strength depending on the life situation. For some years now, value criticism has also enjoyed increasing popularity in autonomous circles.

Violence or militancy

From the point of view of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and research on extremism , which overlap in terms of personnel, autonomous violence is ascribed to be a legitimate means of political debate. Security authorities attribute the majority of left-wing violent crimes to them. In riots prepared by demonstrations, the targets are often facilities, vehicles and buildings as well as right-wing extremists and police officers who are pelted with fireworks, bottles and stones. A distinction can be made here between this mass militancy and clandestine actions such as fire and explosive attacks against car dealerships, company vehicles, power stations or job centers. These actions are often followed by letters of assurance that are published in autonomous journals such as the Interim or online. The concern here is that the acts can be conveyed into one's own political environment, which is why as far as possible no people should be harmed. The exercise of violence is also experienced by the autonomous community as a release from social constraints and is aestheticized by the scene. It also has an identity and integration function. In the media, too, autonomous people are illustrated, above all, with images of burning barricades and black-hooded demonstrators. For the autonomists themselves, militancy only plays a secondary role in their publications. More important are questions of political goal setting and lifestyle. The Autonomists interpret publications from an outside perspective as the result of the crisis of Fordism and the resulting tendencies towards individualization.

Subcultural Influences

From the beginning of the 1980s, the emerging subcultural punk movement exercised a formative cultural influence on large parts, especially of the relatively young autonomous people, with a lifestyle and music direction that turned against commercialized rock and pop music as well as conventional fashion and lifestyles . However, there have always been conflicts of interest between punks and what they call “machines”.

Rational left theory was combined with a “weird-subversive” humor that found expression in “organizations” like the Spontilists , which were represented in many student parliaments and had names like “The rebels of Liang Shiang Po”, LOLA (list without annoying claims ) and WAHL-list (Truly Alternative University List). The autonomous counterculture was characterized by a preference for “hard” music (punk, heavy metal), sexual promiscuity and often high alcohol and drug consumption. In this scene, both the student autonomous women's movement , the men's movement and the gay movement had their roots. At the end of the 1980s, many women left the “mixed” autonomous scene. The subject of “ sexism ” became more explosive after many women broached the subject of the “sexualized transgressions” and rape committed against them in the scene and demanded or drew consequences. The women in Bochum threw the men out of the joint “autonomous center” after a “sexism discussion” and declared this to be the “autonomous women’s center”. The scene often split in the city-wide “sexism discussions”. The critics of the “autonomous women-lesbian scene” accused them of moral rigorism . In fact, the autonomous scene remained very complex on this issue. In the early 1990s, for example, autonomous gays committed a so-called “sex-in” in front of the cathedral in Fulda as part of the “Tunten Terror Tour ”. At the same time, vegetarianism / veganism became an issue for parts of the autonomous scene. With regard to political militancy, a strong fractionation took place: some clung to helmeted and uniformly masked black blocks as the original autonomous form of demonstration, others declared this to be a "ritualized militancy fetish" and developed new forms of action such as pink and silver and political drum groups such as Rhythms of Resistance .

Autonomous literature and art

Some autonomous people from the early phase of their development in Germany have processed their experiences in literary terms. Bernd Langer's novel Operation 1653 from 2004 mixes the plot of an agent thriller with autobiographical reflections. The same author published posters, oil paintings and texts in the anthology Art as Resistance from 1997, which are supposed to combine to form an autonomous total work of art. The autobiography of the Berlin-based autonomist Tomas Lecorte dates back to 1992, We dance to the end . In her film Die Ritterinnen (D 2003) the director Barbara Teufel processes her own experiences as an autonomous activist in Berlin in the 80s (see below ).


further reading

Literature from the perspective of autonomists

A core of the German-speaking autonomists has developed its own political-historical theoretical approaches, which found their way into the scientific theory of historical research, especially in the context of the Foundation for Social History , which was located in Hamburg until 1998 , here are Karl Heinz Roth , Götz Aly and Susanne Heim . Compare the series “Materials for a New Anti-imperialism” and “Autonomy New Series” as well as Detlef Hartmann “Life as Sabotage”. This intellectual wing of the Autonomous sees itself as the successor to operaism .


  • Die Ritterinnen (D 2003), directed by Barbara Teufel , partly documentary, partly fictional film about life in the autonomous scene in Berlin-Kreuzberg between 1987 and 1989. The film is based on real experiences of the director, who at that time were an autonomous women -WG lived and was instrumental in organizing the anti-IMF campaign in 1987.

Web links

Wiktionary: Autonomous  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Sebastian Haunss: Anti-imperialism and autonomy - left-wing radicalism since the student movement, in: R. Roth and D. Rucht (eds.): The social movements in Germany since 1945. A manual, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, p. 506.
  2. ^ Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution , Germany: Left-wing extremism.
  3. Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Fight against Terrorism , Austria: Constitutional Protection Report 2006. ( Memento of October 7, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  4. ^ Service for Analysis and Prevention , Switzerland: Report on Internal Security in Switzerland 2005.
  5. Federal Ministry of the Interior: Constitutional Protection Report 2019 , p. 116
  6. Ingrid Strobl and a .: Drei zu Eins , ID archive, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-89408-029-9 online edition.
  7. Armin Pfahl-Traughber: Left-wing extremism in Germany - A critical inventory, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2014, p. 146
  8. Udo Baron: The Left Autonomous Scene; In: Ulrich Dovemann: Left-Wing Extremism in the Federal Republic of Germany, Federal Center for Political Education, Bonn 2011, p. 239
  9. Left-wing extremism | Autonomous. State Office for the Protection of the Constitution of Baden-Württemberg, accessed on July 20, 2020 .
  10. Armin Pfahl-Traughber: Left-Wing Extremism in Germany - A Critical Inventory, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2014, p. 148
  11. Armin Pfahl-Traughber: Left-wing extremism in Germany - A critical inventory, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2014, p. 147
  12. Sebastian Haunss: The Autonomous. A social movement between radical social criticism and subjectivism . In: René Schultens / Michaela Glaser (eds.): 'Left' militancy in adolescence. Findings on a controversial phenomenon . Pp. 26-46
  13. Bernd Langer: Operation 1653. Stay rude - stay rebel. Berlin 2004 ISBN 3-9808807-0-2 .
  14. Bernd Langer : Art as Resistance. Posters, oil paintings, campaigns, texts from the Kunst und Kampf initiative , Pahl-Rugenstein, Bonn 1997, ISBN 3-89144-240-8 .
  15. Tomas Lecorte: We dance to the end. The story of an autonomous man. , Vlg. Am Galgenberg, H 1992, ISBN 3-870581-13-1 , online edition.