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Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 14:25:22 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Cohn-Bendit attacks German novelist Gnter Grass...
Cohn-Bendit attacks German novelist Gnter Grass for opposing war against
By Stefan Steinberg
14 December 2001
At a conference held last weekend in Berlin to commemorate the work of the
philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt, Green Party leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit
lashed out at German intellectuals who have spoken in opposition to the
US-led war in Afghanistan. He singled out the writer and 1999 Nobel
prize-winner Gnter Grass, author of The Tin Drum. Cohn-Bendit likened the
position adopted by Grass and others to the stance adopted by Britain and
France in 1938, i.e. appeasement with fascism.
Grass has published a series of comments and interviews criticising the
Bush administration's war on Afghanistan. Declaring that "revenge" was not
a justifiable motive for waging war, Grass pointed to the "religious
fundamentalist background" of the American president. The war in
Afghanistan, according to Grass, would endanger many ordinary Afghanis who
have nothing to do with the conflict and would serve merely to aggravate
hatred and further terrorist actions. He also warned of the dangers posed
to democratic rights by the anti-terrorist security laws introduced in
Germany by Social Democratic Interior Minister Otto Schily.
In an interview with the newspaper Mrkische Allgemeine, Schily accused
Grass of anti-American sentiments, referring to the "really terrible
anti-American faux pas, which are to be heard in certain circles."
Grass responded with a speech at a meeting of the Berlin Academy of Art, in
which he emphasised his "great sympathy" with the victims of the terror
attacks on the World Trade Centre, but added, "No one can force me to
express sympathy with the American government. In simplistically dividing
the world into good and bad, US president George W. Bush, and all those who
argue in a similar manner, are descending to the level of the
fundamentalists themselves." Schily responded by describing Grass' comments
Leading Green Party European parliament deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of
the closest confidantes of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (who
also belongs to the Green Party), has joined the fray. He naturally sided
with his ministerial colleague Schily, who himself was a founding member of
the Green Party until he switched to the Social Democrats.
Cohn-Bendit first came to prominence as a leading figure in the 1968
May-June student revolts in Paris. As a veteran of radical student politics
at the ripe old age of 23, he wrote the book Obsolete Communism, The
Left-Wing Alternative *, dealing with his experiences of the 1968 events.
In his book, he describes the calamitous and treacherous policy pursued by
the French Communist Party, but at the same time makes clear that his
version of a "left alternative" excludes any sort of genuine socialism. In
Obsolete Communism, Cohn-Bendit also took up his cudgels against the
Russian revolution and Lenin's Bolshevik party, mendaciously declaring that
the latter was responsible for Stalinism: "As far as we are concerned,
there is no break between the ideology of the Bolshevik Party and that of
the new bureaucracy."
Even in 1968, at the time of the publication of his book, Cohn-Bendit
opposed the revolutionary implications of Leon Trotsky's struggle for
genuine socialism against the Stalinist bureaucracy. He wrote, "No matter
what Trotskyist historiographers may tell us today, it was not in 1927 nor
in 1923 nor even in 1920, but in 1918 and under the personal leadership of
Trotsky and Lenin that the social revolution became perverted, a fact
Trotsky could never understand, simply because he himself was one of its
Cohn-Bendit search for a "left alternative" continued in Frankfurt,
Germany, where together with Fischer he founded a student group named
"Revolutionary Struggle". Both men dedicated themselves to sponti politics
(derived from the word "spontaneous"). Eclectically drawing from elements
of anarchism and Maoism, their group favoured "gut politics" and were
hostile to any far-reaching theoretical considerations.
Rejecting the working class as a force for social change, and the class
struggle as the basis for an understanding of society, the adherents of
"Revolutionary Struggle" vehemently railed against superficial aspects of
capitalist society in the manner of a petulant child revolting against his
or her parents. The group's main political activity was squatting in
unoccupied houses, which they subsequently defended in street battles with
As the leading sponti, Cohn-Bendit, who had already become a media
favourite in Paris, functioned as a sort of spiritual godfather to the
younger Joschka Fischer. According to Sibylle Krause-Burger, one of
Fischer's biographers, the "son of a petty bourgeois, Fischer, was
fascinated not least by the big bourgeois Cohn-Bendit, his love of good
food, his French savoir vivre, his worldliness. To live life like Danny,
meant, for Joschka, transcending his own background into a much broader
framework. His own social revolt acquired more dignity".
Following spells working in an alternative nursery and the Karl Marx
bookshop in Frankfurt, Cohn-Bendit, dissatisfied with his efforts at
developing a new life-style in "Revolutionary Struggle", joined the Green
Party in 1984.
Cohn-Bendit's support for imperialist war is not new. He was one of the
pioneers of the German Greens who argued for a policy of ditching the
organisation's traditional adherence to pacifism. Already in July 1992, he
called for the dispatch of a military force to Bosnia against the Serbs and
fully supported the first intervention by German troops in a European
conflict since the Second World War.
Since then, Cohn-Bendit has found his place in the most belligerent wing of
the Greens and has played a leading role in the party's reorientation,
spearheading its support for imperialist militarism. Arguing in a similar
manner to Fischer, he regularly evokes the spectre of fascism and the
crimes committed at Auschwitz to argue in favour of broad military
intervention. In a speech he made at the Hannah Arendt conference in 1995,
at a time when most German politicians were arguing for a limited and brief
engagement by the military in Yugoslavia, he pleaded for the stationing of
troops in Bosnia for a period of "10, 20, 30 years".
With regard to the US-led war in Afghanistan, Cohn-Bendit has made his
views clear in an interview with the German taz newspaper. He declared his
preference for an expanded United Nations-led military operation to unseat
the "fascistoid, anti-women Taliban government", with support given to "the
liberation struggle of the Afghan opposition, with planes, weapons and
At the recent Green Party conference, which voted emphatically in favour of
supporting the war in Afghanistan, Cohn-Bendit managed to stand even
further to the right than the party leadership. Together with Ralf Fcks,
he introduced a motion which went much further than that favoured by
Fischer and the majority of the Greens parliamentary faction. In order to
avoid a split with the declining pacifist faction inside the party, Fischer
was forced to oppose the Cohn-Bendit/Fcks motion, which called for blanket
support for military intervention.
His advocacy of military intervention has not proved an obstacle, however,
to his participation in the anti-globalisation and ostensibly pacifist
movement Attac. He has been a member of this organisation for the last four
years and has spoken at a number of its meetings and conferences.
From this brief sketch of the career of Daniel Cohn-Bendit it should be
clear that we are dealing with a man who pays little attention to
historical truth or the development of a rounded argument. His claim that
opposition by German intellectuals to the current war in Afghanistan is the
same as the position adopted by France and Britain in 1938 is simply
absurd. Despite their political limitations, those such as Grass are
motivated by serious concerns about the move towards war and the
restrictions being made upon democratic rights in America as well as in
Germany, a country which was primarily responsible for two world wars and
the rise of fascism in the twentieth century.
Cohn-Bendit's motive in raising the spectre of appeasement proceeds from an
entirely opposed standpoint. He demagogically raises the bogey of fascism
and "totalitarianism" to stampede impressionistic petty-bourgeois layers
into supporting new wars and attacks on democratic rights, enabling German
imperialism to forward its own interests on the European and world arena.
He likes to pose as a good European, but it would be more correct to
describe him as a Euro-chauvinist. His support for the current US-led war
is stimulated by the realisation that the only possible way to pursue
German interests (and in particular in Europe) is provisionally under
Washington's wing, given America's present military and economic
superiority. He has made it clear, however, that the long-term interests of
German and European imperialism are diametrically opposed to those of the US.
In a recent interview with taz headlined, "With a new EU against the USA",
Cohn-Bendit outlined his own view of European developments:
"This Europe can only be an alternative to the USA. Basically the
neo-liberal project is historically represented by the US, with a Trojan
horse in the EU and that is England. We have to strengthen these [European]
institutions in such a way that we can deal with this Trojan horse and at
the same time define ourselves as a counterbalance to America."
In response to a question from the taz interviewer, he went onto explain
what he regarded as a "good" European and a critic of globalisation: "He
must be a radical European. I also want us understand ourselves in a
political and cultural sense as a counterbalance to the US."
In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Cohn-Bendit revealed that his
version of Europe and the world was one in which German interests played
the defining role: "After recognition of the German role in the Balkans and
also in the Middle East, German Foreign Policy must now take up the
challenge of shaping globalisation."
Gnter Grass has an uneven record with regard to German militarism. In
1995, he supported the intervention by German troops in the
Balkans. Following his latest critical comments on the Afghan war, Grass,
together with a brace of prominent German intellectuals, was invited to
dinner with SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schrder. Since the meeting, Grass has
maintained his criticism of the war, but at the same time, in a comment to
Die Zeit newspaper, pledged his loyalty to the SPD. This is not enough for
Cohn-Bendit. With his ferocious attack on Grass, he is not only attempting
to intimidate certain intellectuals who have misgivings about the current
course of the war but is seeking to forestall more widespread popular
With the possibility of participating in Great Power politics, and
representing a certain layer of Green Party politicians prone to hysterical
demagogy and unpredictable opportunism, Cohn-Bendit has long since
abandoned his "adolescent differences" and reconciled himself with his
parent. Tossing aside his kindergarten uniform and sponti politics, he is
now putting on the garb of a crude Prussian military bully.
* Obsolete Communism, The Left-Wing Alternative, Penguin Books,
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