Members of Germany’s radical 1968 generation, who criticized the remnants of fascism and Nazism in West German politics and society, would in later years become members of the political elite. Figures like former chancellor Gerhard Schroder or his foreign minister Joschka Fischer are two prominent example of this political metamorphosis.
In his new book, Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust, Hans Kundnani explores the ideologies, beliefs, and political journey of Germany’s 1968 generation via the left-wing terrorism of the seventies and the Social Democrats and Greens in the eighties, to political power in the nineties in the form of the first-ever “red-green” government in Germany.
The book just received a very positive review in the New Statesman. The reviewer Lesley Chamberlain, writes:
Hans Kundnani’s superb chronicle of mainly West German politics over the past 50 years shows the country’s remarkable transformation since the war – from a land of Hitlermenschen to that of model Europeans. In the past decade or so, Germany’s participation in Nato’s intervention in Kosovo and its refusal to go to Iraq established the paradigm for a global player that can never forget the disaster of war. Now is Germany’s moment of confidence.
The book also explores the 68ers complicated relationship to the United States:
The friendly power that had delivered Germany from Hitler in 1945 and subsequently kept the Russians at bay became, with the Vietnam war, the arch-enemy of the younger generation. While the post-1966 coalition government gratefully co-operated with Washington, the students saw Germany as a repressed colony of the American hegemon. Liberation movements in South America and the Palestinian struggle became the models for resistance, as Baader-Meinhof gave way to the ruthless Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) that almost destroyed the post-1974 Social Democrat administration of Helmut Schmidt.
The review ends by exploring the impact of the evolution of the German left, its ideological battles, and the country’s struggle with its Nazi past on today’s Germany:
It was out of these hopes and passionate arguments that the red-green agenda emerged. And it has been taken up by the almost non-partisan Merkel. The result has been a sense, accompanied by an inevitable whiff of superiority, that modern Germany has something to teach the world. You may find it galling, but there is a story here, not told before, about a straightened-out social left that might also triumph elsewhere. Kundnani tells this tale lucidly.