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Rudi Dutschke

Rudi Dutschke (March 7, 1940 - December 24, 1979) was the most prominent spokesperson of the German student protests of the 1960s. On April 11, 1968 he was shot in the head by Josef Bachmann, a young neo-Nazi who carried a right-wing newspaper with him, with the headline "Stop Dutschke now!" Rudi Dutschke recovered sufficiently to play an essential role in the formation of the Green Party (established 1980 in Germany) by convincing the former student protesters (including Joschka Fischer) to join the Green movement. As a result in October, 1979 the Greens were able to reach the 5% limit required to obtain parliamentary seats in the Bremen provincial election.

Rudi Dutschke attended school in his birthplace of Luckenwalde and graduated from the gymnasium there, but because he refused to join the army of the German Democratic Republic and convinced many of his fellow students to refuse as well, he was prevented from attending the university in the GDR. He fled to West Berlin in August, 1961 just one day before the wall was built. He studied sociology at the Free University of Berlin under Richard Lowenthal and Klaus Meschkat where he became acquainted with alternative views of Marxism. Influenced by critical theory, Rosa Luxemburg and critical Marxists, he developed a theory and praxis of social change which did not propose a final utopian form of society like Marx. Instead he believed that the direction, form and content of a more just and more democratic society should be developed in the process of revolutionizing society. He also believed the transformation of Western societies should go hand in hand with third world liberation movements and with democratization in Eastern European Communist countries.

An early impetus for student unrest in Germany had to do with questions that the generation born during or after the war had about what had happened under Hitler. These young people wanted to know why their parents had allowed it to happen. But they were met mostly with silence. Early protest actions were directed at removing former Nazis from high positions in the government and courts.

Rudi Dutschke joined the German SDS Der Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund (which was not the same as the SDS in the USA, but quite similar in goals) in 1965 and from that time on the SDS became the center of the student movement, growing very rapidly and organizing demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.

Rudi Dutschke married the American Gretchen Klotz in 1966 and they had three children.

After the attempted assassination in 1968, Rudi Dutschke and his family went to England in the hope that he could recuperate there. He was accepted at Cambridge University to finish his degree in 1969, but in 1970 the Tory government expelled the family and they moved to Denmark.

Rudi Dutschke reentered the German political scene after protests against the building of nuclear power plants activated a new movement in the mid-1970s. Dutschke recognized that this movement had a far broader base than the student movement had, and that its ecological orientation was going to define the progressive direction for the next generation.

He also began working with dissidents opposing the Soviet government in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, including Robert Haveman, Wolf Biermann, Milan Horacek, Adam Mischnik, Ota Sik and more.

Because of the massive brain damage, Rudi Dutschke had health problems and in 1979 he succumbed to complications in Aarhus, Denmark.

The public assessment of Rudi Dutschke's political activities has undergone several changes, from the very aggressive condemnation by the Springer Press in the '60s to a broad recognition today that the movement for which Dutschke was a leading spokesperson played an essential role in the democratization of German institutions in the post-World War II period.

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