RAF: The October Revolution and the Third International: Summary of the Discussion In Stammheim

One of the most ambitious, interesting and welcome book projects regarding the Far Left that has appeared in the past few years (and there have been many) has been The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History – Volume 1: Projectiles For the People, edited by J. Smith and André Moncourt. Through beautiful prose, fantastic translations of primary documents and nuanced analysis it has introduced the RAF to a new generation of communists, and re-introduced them to those who may have lived through those hot years in Germany and abroad. The following is an interesting document that is available in English (its an old translation and not very good) that was not included in the book as it was not an official RAF document and was just one of millions of documents that the prisoners at Stammheim prison produced. It briefly examines the foreign policies of the USSR and China  and arrives at what I think is an odd and partially incorrect, albeit interesting, analysis of them. It simply argues that the Chinese foreign policy in the preceding years misunderstood the essential content of the Third International and resulted in a model of development that neutralized anti-imperialist struggle, whereas the USSR concentrated on heavy industry but supported anti-imperialist struggle. I don’t agree with this analysis but it seems to me that there has been little analysis that I know of, from the Maoist movement or otherwise, as to why Chinese foreign policy during the GPCR was so problematic, especially in its support for some incredibly reactionary regimes (like Pakistan) and repudiation of the national liberation struggles of several places like Bangladesh. The full analysis is below:

The October Revolution and the Third International: Summary of the Discussion In Stammheim [1]


This is what we have said.

The October Revolution determined the structure of the revolutionary process in the West; that is to say that from that point on the development of capital became an explicitly political process, which has an effect upon the relationship between revolution and imperialism at the international level. Second point: the long and painful process of Soviet accumulation led to the creation of the military and political dividing line, the East-West line.

The third line, that which contains within itself its point of revolutionary departure, consists of the struggles of the peoples of the Third World for their liberation. It was the Third International, organized as a result of the October Revolution, which allowed them to organize themselves in an internationalist way, that is to say, allowed them to raise their struggle to the political level, which proletarian politics requires if it is to be effective.

This was one of Lenin’s central theses regarding the world revolutionary process of organization, put forward during the first congress (maybe the second? – this can be found in that detestable Comintern [2] book that we have – check it or send it to me – if not, shit, I’ll forget again) of the Third International, that the revolutionaries must anticipate, according to him, from the first instant, the counter-revolutionary process. If they do not anticipate, in their initiative, the level of counter-revolution, they anticipate their own defeat. To say it otherwise: they will inevitably fail.

The defense of the conquest of power in one country – as in the case of the October Revolution – and the organization of the world revolutionary process was, for Lenin, a single thing.

Meanwhile, because we are discussing Lenin, we would not do justice to this figure of the Russian Revolution if we did not point out that one of the essential aspects of Lenin’s conception of internationalism was the notion of revolutionary morals. That is to say that by “serve the people” he clearly meant “serve the world proletariat” and didn’t mean by that himself personally. He determined, on the basis of this position, the correct inter-state process for Russia as the instrument of the world revolutionary process, “subordinated to it” in a functional way. We mention this in passing because a large part of the nationally-bound left continues to refer to Lenin, and because quotes from Lenin play a role in the slander that the revisionist left is carrying out against the internationalism of the RAF. Meanwhile, the non-revisionist left’s aversion to Lenin, developed in their fantasy world, has little to do with what Lenin effectively did or with that for which he struggled in the international Communist movement – proletarian internationalism.

The historic manipulation of the Marx-Engels Edition from the Moscow Institute of Sciences is, naturally, also a part of this, but, as we said, only in passing. What interests us here is not the theoretical reception of Lenin, but the actual processes by which the October Revolution and the Third International were begun.

Marxist orthodoxy was and is still today, one must say, white. So much so that even today in its critique and its analyses of the policy of the Third International, it consciously contributes nothing to the development of the anti-colonial struggle in East Asia. If it did so, it would be obliged as well to relativize its picture of Stalin, because, regarding the colonial question, Stalin was a Leninist to the ultra-left, and it couldn’t accept placing Stalin and Hitler on the same level. So it is perhaps necessary to reinforce that, or to put it aside so as to respond to the M-Ls and analyze the identity of the anti-communism of their policy against social-imperialism.

The scum reclaim Stalin – how or why? G [3], say something. Or Stalinism and China’s foreign policy?

Schlesinger [4] says, “To appreciate the political support that the October Revolution could give colonial revolutions, and must give, so that it can simply maintain itself, how the Russian Revolution is perceived is without importance” and “The question of the eventual isolation of the revolution is no longer relevant, because they already have the support of the Soviet Union.”

When Brandt [5] today organizes, in the name of the Socialist International [6], the counterrevolutionary project of Social Democracy, and his development project has no other goal than to make the states caught in the American system of domination submit to the development model of US capital. Meaning capital investments in exchange for giving up national sovereignty. Concretely, this means the integration into NATO of Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal and rapprochement with NATO in the case of Yugoslavia. It is necessary to remember that the Social Democrats have their roots in the Second International. As such their position on the colonial question was always unequivocally racist and chauvinist. Their position, as opposed to that of the Third International, always favoured imperialist exploitation and opposed the liberation of peoples.

And is it necessary to remind the revisionist left that claim Lenin, as well as the anti-revisionist left that object to him, that Lenin’s theory regarding imperialism, his theory on the role of the state, was developed after the conquest of power by the proletariat in opposition to Social-Democracy, the Zimmerwald Conference [7] and the Second International. On the basis of his position regarding the world proletariat, Lenin unequivocally sided with the liberation movements in the Third World against imperialism.

And this was not based on some abstract theory. The focus of Lenin’s analysis was the organization of the insurrection at a global level, as such, the organization of armed struggle against imperialism. It is a dirty little opportunist calculation that portrays the writings of Lenin about left radicalism as his principle writing; they were writings against left-wing communism, of which the sponti left [8] today is a caricature, and for whom the international dimension of revolutionary struggle is of as little importance as it is for all the other sects. Or, to put it another way, how is it possible that a leftist of the KBW [9] prefers to be killed, or at least risk being killed, in Portugal, working on an agricultural commune [10], rather than fighting against the system here in illegality? Against the same system that could always decide to shoot the workers, as was the case during previous periods in Portugal, or as has unfolded with clockwork precision in Chile [11]?

The Third International organized the communist parties as operational bases for armed struggle and, finally, for peasant revolutions in China and Indochina. The Korean and Indonesian Communist Parties succeeded, with the support of the Communist International, in organizing anti-colonialist revolutions. While the Latin American Communist Parties, which were the product of intellectuals focused on Europe, did not succeed in touching the Latin American base, the Indian population.

The Third International – and this is essential – was anti-white, so that when one today asks what the basis of the Soviet Union’s prestige in the Third World is – apart, of course, from delivering arms to the liberation movements – it comes from this historical line, to which it can and does connect itself.

The Chinese attempt, at the beginning of the 60s, to develop the Sino-Soviet conflict as a conflict between white communism and the communism of the black, yellow, red, etc. populations in South America, Africa and in Asia was an attempt, it must be said in retrospect, to usurp for China the solid tradition of the Third International so as to strangle it.

To such a degree that Chinese foreign policy does not organize liberation movements of people of colour against imperialism, but neutralizes them. Going so far as to support reactionary regimes like that of Mrs. Bandaraneike in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) against the liberation movements, which are accused of “Guevarism” by the reactionary forces. Going so far as to deliver military equipment (helicopters, etc.) to the counter-guerrilla forces to liquidate the guerrilla.

Finally, we’ll see. This text could go with another about the M-Ls and others, and there is a lot more to say about the Chinese foreign policy.

So, there are, in fact, two lines; that which dominates today is the three models of development:

  • the Chinese model, which neutralizes the independent states in the North-South front and is, as such, an effective agent of imperialist politics;
  • the Soviet model of construction of heavy industry and – not necessarily simultaneous – support for armed struggle;
  • the social democratic model of economic aid and counter-guerrilla politics.

Or, more clearly:

  • the model of development, which neutralizes;
  • the Soviet model, which supports anti-imperialist struggle;
  • the social democratic model, which organizes the counter-revolution. Finally, white communism.

All of this remains to be seen.

Summary of a discussion byRAF prisoners in Stammheim prison in 1976


N.B. All footnotes in this document were added by the translator and editor. None are originally from the RAF.

[1] The October Revolution – the revolution by which the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in October 1917. The Third International – the Communist International under Lenin, and subsequently Stalin. Now dissolved.
[2] The Comintern – another name for the Third International.
[3] Presumably Gudrun Ensslin, founding member of the RAF and a prisoner in the high-security prison at Stammheim.
[4] Schlesinger – former head of the Comintern.
[5] Willy Brandt – head of the West German SPD (Soclal. Democratic Party) and leading figure in the Second International.
[6] Second International – the international of Social Democratic Parties.
[7] Zimmerwald Conference – 1914 conference that established the patriotic, pro-war effort position of the Second International.
[8] Spontis – derived from the word spontaneous, the name of the second major tendency of the German New Left. They were critical of aspects of Marxism, Leninism, and anti-imperialism as practiced by the RAF and their supporters. They tended to ally themselves with the 2nd of June Movement, a clandestine organization in West Berlin, which was influenced by anarchism, and/or the Revolutionary Cells, a Sponti-Autonomist clandestine organization active throughout West Germany.
[9] KBW – a Marxist-Leninist Mao-Tse-Tung Thought organization.
[10] The KBW organized solidarity brigades to support the popular revolution in Portugal, while remaining profoundly anti-RAF and anti-armed struggle in Germany.
[11] Reference to the 1973 CIA-backed coup led by General Pinochet against the elected United Left government under socialist president Salvadore Allende.


2 thoughts on “RAF: The October Revolution and the Third International: Summary of the Discussion In Stammheim

  1. Yes, this really is a strange document – especially in the context of other RAF Stammheim documents that were very Maoist sounding. As you pointed out, China made some strange internationalist choices during certain points of the GPCR but, at the same time, its general theorization and overall position regarding internationalism was far more progressive than the Soviets. The idea that China’s internationalism was an attempt to “usurp” the Third International in order to “strangle” it is utterly absurd… It kind of feels like another “yellow peril” argument.

  2. I feel like the position reflects some of Meinhoff’s KPD background and the fact that the RAF members in Stammhein did not take a clear position in regards to the Sino-Soviet split although they did rely on Mao’s thought. This is reflected in the RAF’s political line being that of Marxism-Leninism rather, than Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. But an odd document to say the least.

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