Rudi Dutschke

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Rudi Dutschke
Alfred Willi Rudolf Dutschke

(1940-03-07)7 March 1940
Died24 December 1979(1979-12-24) (aged 39)
Århus, Denmark
Alma materFreie Universität Berlin
Known forSpokesperson of the German student movement
Gretchen Klotz
(m. 1966)

Alfred Willi Rudolf Dutschke (German: [ˈʁuːdi ˈdʊtʃkə]; 7 March 1940 – 24 December 1979) was a German Marxist sociologist and a political activist in the German student movement and the APO protest movement of the 1960s.[1]

He advocated a "long march through the institutions of power" to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.[2] In the 1970s he followed through on this idea by joining the nascent Green movement.

His grave in Berlin-Dahlem

He survived an assassination attempt by Josef Bachmann in 1968, but died eleven years later from a seizure brought on from brain damage sustained during the assassination attempt. Radical students blamed an anti-student campaign in the papers of the Axel Springer publishing empire for the assassination attempt. This led to attempts to blockade the distribution of Springer newspapers all over Germany, which in turn led to major street battles in many German cities, considered the largest protests to that date in Germany.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Dutschke was born in Schönefeld (present-day Nuthe-Urstromtal) near Luckenwalde, Brandenburg, the fourth son of a postal clerk. He was raised and educated in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic — GDR), obtaining his high-school diploma (Gymnasium Abitur) in 1958, and completed an apprenticeship as industrial clear.

In 1956 he joined the regime-directed Free German Youth aiming at a sporting career as a decathlete.[5] But he was also to engage in the barely tolerated youth organisation of the East German Evangelical Church. Dutschke allowed that religion played an "important role" in his life: that he "incorporated" its "fantastical explanation of the nature of man and his possibilities" into his later political work.[6]

For me, the decisive question, from a real historical point of view, was always: What was Jesus actually doing there? How did he want to change his society and what means did he use? That has always been the crucial question for me. For me, the question of transcendence is also a question of real history, how is the existing society to be transcended, a new design for a future society, that is perhaps materialistic transcendence.[6]

It was in this religious milieu outside of approved party and state structures, that Dutschke developed the courage (at the cost of any of any prospect of further education) to refuse compulsory service in National People's Army and to encourage others to likewise resist conscription.[6] Dutschke also cited the impact of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Its mobilisation in workers' councils suggested to him a democratic socialism beyond the official line of the GDR’s governing Socialist Unity Party.[7][8][9] In August 1961, Dutschke fled to the Marienfelde transit camp in West Berlin, just three days before the restrictions of Barbed Wire Sunday (that culminated in the building of the Berlin Wall) were introduced to prevent such movement from East Germany to West Germany.[10]

At the Free University in West Berlin, Dutschke began to study sociology, ethnology, philosophy and history under Richard Löwenthal and Klaus Meschkat. He was introduced to the existentialist theories of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, and to alternative interpretations of Marxism and of the history of the labour movement.[11][12] In 1965 Dutschke joined the German SDS Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund. Disdaining permanent leaders, hierarchical relationships and parliamentary procedure, the SDS was conceived (like Students for a Democratic Society in the United States) as a broad exercise in participatory democracy. It became the center of the student movement, and mobilizing against the war in Vietnam, grew rapidly.[13]

Political views[edit]

Influenced by critical theory, Rosa Luxemburg and critical Marxists; and informed through his collaboration with fellow students from Africa and Latin America; Dutschke developed a theory and code of practice of social change via the practice of developing democracy in the process of revolutionizing society, collaborating with foreign students.[14]

Dutschke also advocated that the transformation of Western societies should go hand in hand with Third World liberation movements and with democratization in communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. He was from a pious Lutheran family[15] and his socialism had strongly Christian roots; he called Jesus Christ the "greatest revolutionary", and in Easter 1963, he wrote that "Jesus is risen. The decisive revolution in world history has happened – a revolution of all-conquering love. If people would fully receive this revealed love into their own existence, into the reality of the 'now', then the logic of insanity could no longer continue."[16]

Benno Ohnesorg's death in 1967 at the hands of German police pushed some in the student movement toward increasingly extremist violence and the formation of the Red Army Faction. The violence against Dutschke further radicalised parts of the student movement into committing several bombings and murders. Dutschke rejected this direction and feared that it would harm or cause the dissolution of the student movement. Instead he advocated a 'long march through the institutions' of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.[2] The meaning of Dutschke's idea of a "long march through the institutions" is in fact highly contested: most historians of '68 in West Germany[who?][citation needed] understand it to mean advocating setting up an alternative society and recreating the institutions which were seen by Dutschke as beyond reform in their current state. It is highly unlikely Dutschke would have promoted change from within the parliamentary and judicial system, which were populated by former Nazis and political conservatives.[17] This is made clear in the SDS reaction to the Kiesinger-led CDU-SPD grand coalition and the authoritarian Emergency Laws they passed.[18]

Shooting and later life[edit]

Memorial plate for Rudi Dutschke at Kurfürstendamm and Joachim-Friedrich Straße in Berlin, Germany

On 11 April 1968, Dutschke was shot in the head by a young anti-communist, Josef Bachmann.[19] Dutschke survived the assassination attempt, and he and his family went to the United Kingdom in the hope that he could recuperate there. Dutschke and Bachmann corresponded over the next year, until Bachmann's suicide in 1970.[20] Dutschke was accepted at Clare Hall, a graduate college at the University of Cambridge, to finish his degree in 1969, but in 1971 the Conservative government under Edward Heath expelled him and his family, deeming him an "undesirable alien" who had engaged in "subversive activity", causing a political storm in London. They then moved to Århus, Denmark, after professor Johannes Sløk had offered him a job at the University of Aarhus which made it possible for Dutschke to gain a Danish residence permit.[21][22]

Dutschke toured the Federal Republic in May 1972. He sought talks with trade unionists and social democrats, including former president Gustav Heinemann, whose vision of a non-aligned, demilitarized Germany as a whole he shared.[23] In July 1972 he visited East Berlin several times meeting Wolf Biermann with whom he remained friends. He later made contact with Robert Havemann and Rudolf Bahro and other East-Bloc dissidents: Milan Horáček, Adam Michnik and others.[24][25][26] On January 14, 1973, he spoke publicly for the first time since being shot in 1968 at a demonstration against the Vietnam War in Bonn.

In 1979 Dutschke joined the Bremen Green List and took part in their election campaign. After they moved into the city parliament, he was elected as a delegate for the founding congress of the Green Party planned for mid-January 1980.[27][28]

Death and memorials[edit]

Because of brain damage sustained in the assassination attempt, Dutschke continued to suffer health problems. He died on 24 December 1979 in Århus aged 39. He had an epileptic seizure while in the bathtub and drowned.[19][29]

In what was reported as a symbolic laying to rest of their "hopes of the 1960s for social change", thousands attended Dutschke's funeral service at St Anne's Parish Church in Dahlem, Berlin. The service was conducted by Rev. Helmut Gollwitzer, a Protestant theologian renowned as a member, under the Nazis, of the dissident Confessing Church movement. Gollwitzer praised Dutschke as a man who had "fought passionately, but not fanatically, for a more humane world", and had sought "a unity of socialism and Christianity". In a party statement, West Berlin's governing Social Democrats described Dutscke's early death as "the terrible price he had to pay for his attempts to change a society whose politicians and new media showed a lack of understanding, maturity and tolerance".[30]

In 2018, it emerged that Rudolf Augstein, publisher of Der Spiegel, provided financial support to Dutschke so he could continue to work on his dissertations. Between 1970 and 1973, he paid 1,000 German Marks per year. At the same time they started an exchange of letters in which they also discussed the student revolts.[31]


Dutschke was survived by his American wife Gretchen Klotz who he had married in 1966 and by their two children Hosea-Che Dutschke (named after the Old Testament minor prophet Hosea and Che Guevara), and sister Polly-Nicole Dutschke, both born in 1968. They had a third child, Rudi-Marek Dutschke (named after a Bulgarian Communist), born in 1980 after his father's death.[32][10][11]


  • Dutschke, Rudi (1980), Mein langer Marsch: Reden, Schriften und Tagebücher aus zwanzig Jahren (in German), Hamburg, DE: Rowohlt.
  • Dutschke, Rudi (2003), Dutschke, Gretchen (ed.), Jeder hat sein Leben ganz zu leben (diaries) (in German), Köln, DE: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, ISBN 3-462-03224-0 (1963–1979).
  • Dutschke, Rudi (Summer 1982), "It Is Not Easy to Walk Upright", Telos, New York: Telos Press, 1982 (52): 171–177, doi:10.3817/0682052171, S2CID 147179235.


  • Dutschke, Gretchen (1996), Wir hatten ein barbarisches, schönes Leben (biography) (in German), Köln, DE: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, ISBN 3-462-02573-2.
  • Michaela Karl: Rudi Dutschke – Revolutionär ohne Revolution. Neue Kritik, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-8015-0364-X.
  • Bernd Rabehl: Rudi Dutschke – Revolutionär im geteilten Deutschland. Edition Antaios, Dresden 2002, ISBN 3-935063-06-7.
  • Rudi-Marek Dutschke: Spuren meines Vaters. Kiepenheuer und Witsch, Köln 2001, ISBN 3-462-03038-8.
  • Jutta Ditfurth: Rudi und Ulrike: Geschichte einer Freundschaft. Droemer Knaur, München 2008, ISBN 3-426-27456-6.
  • Tilman P. Fichter, Siegward Lönnendonker Dutschkes Deutschland. Der Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund, die nationale Frage und die DDR-Kritik von links. Klartext, Essen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8375-0481-1.
  • Willi Baer, Karl-Heinz Dellwo Rudi Dutschke – Aufrecht Gehen. 1968 und der libertäre Kommunismus, Laika, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-942281-81-2.
  • Carsten Prien: Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes, Ousia Lesekreis Verlag, Seedorf 2015, ISBN 978-3-944570-58-7.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ali, Tariq. Street-Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties. Verso Books. London. 2005. ISBN 9781786636003
  2. ^ a b Huffmann, Richard (March 2004), "The Limits of Violence", Satya, Baader Meinhof, archived from the original on 11 November 2008.
  3. ^ Hockenos, Paul (19 May 2008), "Taz Year Thirty", The Nation.
  4. ^ Sontheimer, Michael (9 April 2018). "Attentat vor 50 Jahren: Drei Kugeln auf Rudi Dutschke". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  5. ^ Miermeister, Jürgen (1986). Rudi Dutschke: mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (in German). Rowohlt. ISBN 9783499503498.
  6. ^ a b c "Günter Gaus im Gespräch mit Rudi Dutschke". (in German). 3 December 1967. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  7. ^ "Wie Dutschkes Weltbild entstand". (in German). Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  8. ^ "Mythos Rudi Dutschke: Der verhinderte Stadtguerillero". Spiegel Online. 7 April 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  9. ^ WELT (28 May 2009). "Studentenbewegung: Dutschke schrieb über seine Angst vor der Stasi". DIE WELT. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  10. ^ a b Chaussy, Ulrich (26 February 2018). Rudi Dutschke. Die Biographie (in German). Droemer eBook. ISBN 9783426451410.
  11. ^ a b Dutschke-Klotz, Gretchen (1996). Rudi Dutschke. Köln: Kiepenheuer und Witsch. pp. 38-, 53-, 172, 227, 459. ISBN 978-3-462-02573-6.
  12. ^ "The Attack on Rudi Dutschke: A Revolutionary Who Shaped a Generation". Spiegel Online. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  13. ^ Hamill, Virginia (26 December 1979). "Rudi Dutschke, 39, Led German Student Revolt". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  14. ^ Slobodian, Quinn, "2", Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany, Duke University Press, archived from the original on 5 February 2013.
  15. ^ Paul Hockenos (2007). Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. Oxford University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-19-029283-6.
  16. ^ Frank, Helmut (16–20 April 2003), "Ich liebte diesen naiven Christen", Sonntagsblatt (in German), Bayern, DE, archived from the original on 18 July 2011.
  17. ^ Davis, Belinda; Mausbach, Wilfried; Klimke, Martin (eds.), Changing the World, Changing Oneself: Political Protest and Collective Identities in West Germany and the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s.
  18. ^ "STUDENTEN / DUTSCHKE: Der lange Marsch". Der Spiegel. 51. 11 December 1967. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  19. ^ a b Burleigh, Michael (2011). Blood and Rage: History of Terrorism. HarperCollins. p. 230. ISBN 9780062047175.
  20. ^ "Lieber Josef Bachmann: Diese Briefe schrieb Dutschke an seinen Attentäter". Der Bild. 27 April 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  21. ^ Halter, Hans (19 August 1996). "Herz der Revolte". Der Spiegel. 34. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  22. ^ (15 February 2018). "Rudi Dutschke (1940–1979)". (in Danish). Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  23. ^ Gretchen Dutschke: Rudi Dutschke. Köln 1996, p. 278 f.
  24. ^ Mayer, Margit; Ely, John (1998). The German Greens: Paradox Between Movement and Party. Temple University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-56639-516-8.
  25. ^ Engelmann, Roger; Kowalczuk, Ilko-Sascha (2005). Volkserhebung gegen den SED-Staat: eine Bestandsaufnahme zum 17. Juni 1953. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 364. ISBN 978-3-525-35004-1.
  26. ^ Cornils, Ingo (2016). Writing the Revolution: The Construction of "1968" in Germany. Boydell & Brewer. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-57113-954-2.
  27. ^ Dutschke-Klotz, Gretchen (1996). Wir hatten ein barbarisches, schönes Leben: Rudi Dutschke : eine Biographie. Internet Archive. Cologne : Kiepenheuer & Witsch. pp. 367–370. ISBN 978-3-462-02573-6.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  28. ^ Gretchen Dutschke-Klotz (1996), Rudi Dutschke. Köln, pp. 467–470.
  29. ^ Wendland, Johannes (2009). "Erinnerungen: Hosea Dutschke über den Tod seines Vaters vor 30 Jahren" [Memories: Hosea Dutschke on His Father's Death 30 Years Ago]. Spiegel Online (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  30. ^ Lentz, Ellen (4 January 1980). "Rites for Rudi Dutschke Attract Throngs Mourning a Lost Cause; Drowned in a Bathtub Protest Against the Shah". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  31. ^ "Bislang unbekannte Akten: "Spiegel"-Gründer Augstein unterstützte Dutschke finanziell". FAZ.NET (in German). ISSN 0174-4909. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  32. ^ Langenau, Lars. "1968 - 50 Jahre danach erzählen die Dutschkes". Sü (in German). Retrieved 18 April 2021.

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