The remarkable story of Horst Mahler…
Few revolutionary organisations of the seventies and eighties evoked the sense of myth, danger and misguided romanticism which the Red Army Faction (RAF) could claim to have possessed. Founded in 1970, the anti-imperialist and self-proclaimed “urban guerrilla group” led by Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Horst Mahler would spend the next twenty eight years fighting with armed force the perceived fascist state of West Germany. The history of the group can be seen in the context of three periods; the founding members of 1970 to ’74 whose imprisonment led to a new generation of supporters from amongst others, the Socialist Patients Collective. They proved extremely active in the mid to late seventies with high profile bombings and kidnappings. From the 1980s until their dissolution in 1998 their cause, though not without violence would become focused on the release of former and current members still in custody. By the end of the Cold War, the collapse of Leninism and the knowledge that the hated Stasi had funded much of their activities would make their demise seem inevitable.
The story of Meinhof and Baader has become legendary in post-war Germany with their apparent suicides cementing their cult status but for another founding member his road would prove radically different. Horst Mahler was a German lawyer who earned a reputation for defending young left wing activists in the late sixties. His record was impressive; Willy Brandt’s eldest son, Peter was a client as were Fritz Teufel and Rainer Langhams as well as both Baader and Ensslin. As his politics grew more radical he helped mastermind Baader’s prison break in 1970 and a subsequent series of bank robberies designed to fund their movement. By the end of the year he along with the other members fled to the terrorist training camps of the PFLP in Jordan.
His return to Germany led to his arrest and a fourteen year prison sentence. In 1975, having been expelled from Baader-Meinhof for his alternative views an allied anarchist group headed by Fritz Teufel called 2 June Movement kidnapped West Berlin mayor hopeful, Peter Lorenz and demanded Mahler’s release. But despite the offer of liberty Mahler refused it and by 1977 he announced that he had been “freed from the dogmatic revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism”. Step in, one year later the lawyer Gerhard Schröder who declared his services to Mahler “on humanitarian grounds”. Not only would Schröder help to secure his release but also go on to win his right to practice law which the courts stripped him of at his original trial.
By 1980 Mahler had been released from prison having cooperated with various government driven propaganda programmes warning the German youth against political violence. But here we see, to Schröder’s undoubted embarrassment a huge U-turn in Mahler’s political beliefs. Gone were the doctrines on anti-fascism and all that he and the RAF had stood for and instead a seismic shift to the far-right and what would be known as the “third position”. This alternative view was based principally on holocaust denial and the charge that Adolf Hitler was “the saviour of the German people”. But Mahler made no attempt to hide his past, that would have been impossible but instead he insisted that had Meinhof in particular lived she would have also become a neo-nazi. There can be few outside of the ultra far-right who would subscribe to that theory. By 2009 following a series of trials and brief periods of imprisonment Mahler, aged seventy three was sentenced to eleven years without reduction for holocaust denial and the attempt to ban Nazi war crimes. One cannot help but now wonder that had Mahler’s shift to the right not been so extreme what part might he have played in the Schröder government. It would seem unlikely that a politician would not seek political gain from the ‘cleansing’ of an extremist, the problem with Mahler was that extremism was all that he knew.