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When Sartre met RAF leader Andreas Baader


Der Spiegel has just published excerpts from the recently unearthed transcript of a meeting between John-Paul Sartre and Andreas Baader of the Red Army Faction. The meeting took place on December 4, 1974 at Stammheim Prison, where Baader and his fellow RAF militants were being held in solitary confinement. Although it was the RAF who requested the meeting after hearing Sartre publicly praise the group, the conversation was tense, especially after Sartre criticized Baader for the RAF’s extremist tactics. Here’s a portion of the Der Spiegel article, which includes an excerpt from the transcript:

The tone of the meeting didn’t get any friendlier from there. Several times Baader snapped at the visitor: “Any questions?” The scholar appeared not to be showing enough interest in him.

After two heart attacks, Sartre was no longer at the high point of his creative power. But the RAF leader too was suffering from the effects of the hunger strike. Sartre said he seemed “very weak.”

Ideological questions had never really interested Baader, whom the writer Hans Magnus Enzenberger once described as resembling a “pimp.” Yet he produced a three-page-long, typewritten text that he read out to Europe’s star intellectual.

The LKA official wrote: “Upon follow-up questions from Sartre, he read out the same sentence again. When asked to explain certain sentences, he clearly had difficulty. He would then often move on disjointedly to the next sentence.”

Baader: The objective process is in conflict … in the offensive the German Left is encircled and isolated. They will be destroyed. That is the deprivation of rights that we are experiencing. They’re the implementation of the emergency laws combined with the employment ban for socialists. The emergency state is being prepared in Germany . The offensive in Germany isn’t being seen. The tools of capitalist power apply quite naturally. The policies of the class enemy …

Sartre: I can’t quite understand that, the policies of the class enemy?

Baader: There are two lines, the faction of capital, that, shall we say, within the framework of parliamentary democracy, and that of weak reformism. We do not equate social rule and politically directed violence. We see the possibility of an openly creeping dictatorship. That is the special situation in Germany. US capital directly enforces that policy.

Image: Jean-Paul Sartre after his visit with Andreas Baader in 1974. Via Der Spiegel