Has a Maoist movement ever been successful?

K groups in West Germany: When Mao conquered the FRG

50 years ago in a Hamburg pub: 33 people founded the KPD / ML. China is not only a role model for the party - the People's Republic is also involved.

With Marx, Mao and Lenin for socialism: Easter March 1969 in Essen Photo: Photo archive Ruhr Museum

BERLINtaz | On New Year's Eve 1968, 33 men and women gather in the back room of the Hamburg restaurant "Ellerneck". Large black and white cotton pictures with the heads of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong lean against the wall. Most men drink a glass of beer.

The 45-year-old Ernst Aust had the big say in the meeting and conjured up, with a slight nasal tone and with an Eimsbüttel tone, “socialist China, the lighthouse of the world revolution”. The slender man with his hair combed back has been publishing a hectographed monthly newspaper called “Red Morning” for a year, calling for the “unification of all Marxist-Leninists”.

On this day his long years of service as a functionary of the KPD, which was banned in 1956, are forgotten. Now Aust is lamenting the “revisionist betrayal” in the party's leadership, in the GDR and above all in the Soviet Union. The People's Republic of China is the new fatherland of all working people, followed by the loyal ally Albania.

His comrades in the Bramfeld pub talked about the "establishment of the proletarian dictatorship" that day and founded Germany's first Maoist party, the KPD / ML. In the weeks and months that followed, the first so-called K group expanded quickly, finally organized a few thousand permanent trailers, distributed their leaflets in front of almost 100 companies in the mid-seventies, moved to the employee representatives of Opel and Siemens with “Red Works Councils” one, agitates and demonstrates in continuous use. And provides the model for the other K groups that formed from 1970 and dominated the radical left in West Germany for a few years.

Mao's western communists - not an invention of students

To this day, the German K groups and their Maoist sister parties around the world are regarded as the dogmatic endpoint of the student movement - and at the same time as the product of the break with the ideals of the sixty-eight. In truth, its origins go back to the late 1950s and early 1960s - and its development was initially completely separate from the student movement. Only from the beginning of 1970 did former SDS leaders such as the later taz editor Christian Semler or Joscha Schmierer (later chief strategist of the Foreign Office) take over the management of Maoist organizations. When the KPD / ML was founded in “Ellerneck”, not a single one of them was there.

In addition to Ernst Aust and his wife Waltraud, the choleric muddlehead Günter Ackermann belongs to the innermost circle of the founders, a former people's police officer from the GDR, who temporarily earns his money as an insurance agent. Around a third of the delegates, who often do not represent more than themselves, join the new Mao party from the old KPD, which is loyal to Moscow. These include, for example, the Mannheim Daimler worker Emil Ludwig and the 54-year-old Werner Konczak from Hamburg, both of whom distributed the first Chinese propaganda in West Germany between 1960 and 1962.

The chief ideologist of the founding core, Klaus Schaldach, also comes from the old KPD. The municipal official from Düsseldorf stays away from the New Year's Eve round for "security reasons" and only sends his wife. Not without reason: In the Maoist circle, an employee of the secret defense apparatus of the old KPD loyal to Moscow, the “Central Party Control Commission” (ZPKK), is busy writing down every word. The ZPKK protocols, in turn, promptly reach the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Bonn through a West German spy in East Berlin.

In the short founding declaration in “Red Morning” from January 1969, the name Mao Zedong is mentioned six times

Students from Kiel, Tübingen, Hanover and Berlin can also be found among the KPD / ML founders - but none of them play a significant role in the SDS or other radical university groups. At most, the very young leaders of a radical group of schoolchildren have a few prominent figures in the left-wing camp, who side with Aust as the Red Guard Berlin and are promptly rewarded with top positions in the new party. Your spokesman is the son of the writer and publisher Rainer Maria Gerhardt, the 18-year-old Ezra Gerhardt. The new "youth commissioner of the KPD / ML" brings a few dozen students from the former "terror group Neuruppin" (self-designation) and various Berlin high schools into the party, but they do not last long there.

The main denominator that connects the men (and very few women) of the new KPD / ML is communist China. In the short founding declaration that Aust published in January 1969 in the “Red Morning”, the name Mao Zedong is mentioned six times. It begins with a long quote from the “Great Chairman” and ends with a commitment to his “revolutionary theory”. Only one paragraph deals with the situation in the Federal Republic. The KPD / ML pretends to be the “brother party” of the CPC from the beginning and sends a greeting telegram to Mao in which his German supporters celebrate the “successful detonation of the second hydrogen bomb” as a “great encouragement for the revolutionary masses of the whole world”.

But only one person in the excited group in the Hamburg pub really knows the People's Republic: a very short, corpulent man with a bald head, who in his dark suit looks more like an accountant than a revolutionary. But “Comrade Gerd” with the surname Flatow stayed in the background on this day; a participant of the New Year's Eve meeting, which was still very young at the time, remembers today: “Gerd took us from Düsseldorf to Hamburg in his car, more than a chauffeur. That was actually his most important part in this matter. "

Mao's liaison officers in Europe

The 33 present did not elect the 58-year-old to their central committee like Ackermann and Aust. Together with Schaldach, Flatow joins the Central Control Commission - a kind of supervisory board that is primarily responsible for compliance with the statute. The old comrade could not only talk about his own time in China between 1934 and 1956, but also about Mao's plans to create a mini-international of parties loyal to China in Europe. Born in Berlin with the real name of Gerhard Ludwig Flatow, who speaks fluent Chinese and only recently did good business with China as director of the steel company Otto Wolff in Cologne, has been one of Mao's most important liaison officers in Europe for years.

Since his return from China, Flatow has been trying to expand the influence of the largely isolated People's Republic in the Federal Republic. On September 7, 1957, the businessman and his old friend founded Wolf Schenke - a former China correspondent for the Nazi party newspaper National observer - the German China Society. Above all, she advocates the swift establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic. As director of the Asia department of the Cologne steel company Otto Wolff, Flatow is also trying to expand economic relations, which have come to a standstill almost completely under pressure from the Americans since the Korean War 1950–153.

Gerhard Ludwig Flatow, KPD / ML co-founder

"As far as I'm concerned, I am deeply ashamed of my lack of critical thinking."

In 1963, the extremely busy businessman, together with his CEO Otto Wolff von Amerongen, prepared the establishment of a German-Chinese trading company in Düsseldorf - the first of its kind in the Federal Republic of Germany. But the western secret services, which Flatow have been watching for many years, are cross. His next attempt to boost business from Hong Kong also fails. The authorities of the British Crown Colony at the time declare Flatow, as an agent of influence for the Red Chinese, to be a "security risk" and deny him a residence permit.

Flatow went into business for himself in 1965 - and took on a double role: on the one hand, the man was looking for China's fellow campaigners for the establishment of a Maoist party in the Federal Republic, on the other hand, he was doing vigorous trade with the Chinese on his own. His new office in Luxembourg will temporarily become an important hub for the People's Republic of China's efforts to break political and economic isolation. In 1963 Mao made the break with the entire Soviet camp public and started a shrill "polemic about the general line of the world communist movement". In Western Europe, the Chinese are now using all their might to split the respective communist parties.

How China is looking for allies in Western Europe

The embassies in Bern, London and Stockholm - at that time the only official representations of the People's Republic of China in the capitalist countries of Europe - use old connections and some money for it. 1964 reports the Beijing Rundschau First successes: In Belgium the old communist Jacques Grippa announces the founding of the first Mao party in Western Europe. Shortly thereafter, the veteran Viennese party functionary Franz Strobl follows with his Marxist-Leninists of Austria (later renamed MLPÖ). Other organizations were set up in the UK, France and Italy in no time. At the end of 1966, the Maoist mini-international was established. And with the sender “Guozi Shudian, PO Box 399, Beijing”, the Chinese are delivering tons of Mao Bibles, tin plaques and propaganda brochures to their new European branches free of charge.

To finance the pro-China parties, the Cultural Revolutionaries in Beijing are relying on capitalist practices that they have copied from the Moscow-loyal communists and the CPSU a shop steward of the respective party controls secretly. The British Jack Perry founded the London Export Corporation, which first siphoned off funds for the magazine “The Marxist” and then for the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). In Belgium, Grippa's people pull the strings at the trading company Sodexim. Both companies still work in China trade today, even if the parties involved have long since disappeared. In Italy, the Maoists even secure a lucrative oil contract for the state energy company ENI through their agent in Beijing. Between 1965 and 1968, the German Flatow established connections to some of these leading figures of European Maoism and dreams of a similar double role in the Federal Republic: party functionary and at the same time China trader.

But the German Maoists are late in an international comparison - and the Chinese have already had bad experiences with their money for their Western European offshoots. In Belgium, Jacques Grippa and his party officials approve princely salaries from Chinese sources. And when visiting Vienna, German Maoists notice the grand five-room villa in which their comrade Strobl resides. But they prefer to keep their criticism to themselves: the Austrian arranges for the later KPD / ML founder Ackermann to visit the only ally of the Chinese in Europe - the Albanians. The attempt by the German Maoist to collect money there for building a party and for himself, however, fails shamefully. The Albanians inform their friends in Beijing, who for their part are not making any money either. First of all, “all Marxist-Leninists should unite in one party”, Ackermann brings home as a message to his comrades. Then see what happens next. But the German Maoists are unable to reach an agreement.

Division belongs to the party

Even before it was founded on New Year's Eve 1968, the KPD / ML lost several of its most active founding fathers. Hans Kolbe from Hamburg - actually intended to be the chairman of the association - fights into the bushes. Conversely, before the round in the “Ellerneck”, the Austro-Hungarian couple hangs out for the last few meters on the bumbling 48-year-old innkeeper Werner Heuzeroth from the Westerwald, who runs the “Friendship” restaurant there with his wife Ruth and has already incurred the ire of other Maoists : The former locksmith is just a "regular's table spit with a very thin red lacquer on the surface", one of his critics successfully rushes.

This is the tone of voice that continues after the Mao party was founded: as early as January 1969, a co-founder changed sides and waddled Aust as a “charlatan”. After a few months, the chief ideologist Schaldach also says goodbye.

In the years to come, the party split so often that even the intelligence agencies of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution gradually lose track of things. In the early seventies, at times six groups were fighting over the name KPD / ML. 1973 claims a renegade ex-editor-in-chief of the party newspaper Red morning undisputed, no one of the 33 founders is on board - “except Ernst Aust and his wife”. As the head of the party, the man from Hamburg creates a lasting personality cult around himself ("Raise your fist for Ernst Aust!") And just carry on despite all the divisions.

The Albanian communists receive Aust several times as the “leader” of their “brother party”. In May 1975 the functionary traveled to the People's Republic of China for the first and last time, where a member of the Politburo served green tea. That ended when his KPD / ML railed against the new party leadership in Beijing a year later after Mao's death. The shocked members then leave Aust in droves. The little chairman dies in 1985, and his party dissolves a year later.

After several divisions, his comrade Flatow found himself in another K group, the KABD (today's MLPD), which, however, excluded him in the summer of 1978 because of his support for the “Chinese revisionists”. In a private letter dated October 8th of the same year, the 68-year-old wrote: “As far as I'm concerned, I am deeply ashamed of my lack of critical thinking.” Gerhard Ludwig Flatow died on his last trip to China on December 31st March 1980 in Hong Kong.

The author, former editor-in-chief of the Handelsblatt and himself a member of a K group in his youth, is currently writing a book about the steel director, agent and Maoist Gerhard Ludwig Flatow.