“[I]n 1974 when Germany was still divided into East and West. A group of women got together on the western, democratic side of the wall and formed an anti-patriarchal group named after the red-haired, Robin Hood-like heroine of the 1941 children’s book “Red Zora.”
Their mission was to liberate women from exploitation as sex objects and baby-making machines and to fight the “day-to-day war against women with fire and flames.”
They plotted bomb attacks on targets such as sex shops and bio-technology research centers. The group said doctors who performed genetic engineering and forced sterilizations were equal to “exponents of rape in white coats,” and attacked a pharmaceutical company that produced a drug linked to birth anomalies.
They were women with jobs and children who paid taxes and plotted terrorist acts in their spare time.”
Interview With Two Members Of Rote Zora:
Let’s start with who you are.
Zora 1: If this is a personal question, then we are women between the ages of 20 and 51. Some of us sell our labour, some of us take what we need, and others are “parasites” on the welfare state. Some have children, some don’t. Some women are lesbians, others love men. We buy in disgusting supermarkets, we live in ugly houses, we like going for walks or to the cinema, the theatre or the disco. We have parties and we cultivate idleness. And of course we live with the contradictions that many things we want to do can’t be done spontaneously. But after successful actions we have great fun.
What does your name mean?
Zora 2: “The Red Zora And Her Gang” (a children’s book) – that is the wild street kid who steals from the rich to give to the poor. Until today it seems to be a male privilege to build gangs or to act outside the law. Yet particularly because girls and women are strangled by thousands of personal and political chains this should make us masses of “bandits” fighting for our freedom, our dignity and our humanity. Law and order are fundamentally against us, even if we have hardly achieved any rights and have to fight for them daily. Radical women’s struggles and loyalty to the law – there is no way they go together!
Yet it is no coincidence that your name has the same first letters as the Revolutionary Cells (RZ).
Zora 1: No, of course not. Rote Zora expresses the fact that we have the same principles as the RZ’s, the same concept of building illegal structures and a network which is not controlled by the state apparatus. This is so we can carry out our subversive direct actions – in connection with the open legal structures of various movements. “We strike back!” – this slogan of the women of May 1968 is no longer as controversial today regarding individual violence against women. But it is still very controversial, and most of the time taboo as an answer to the power conditions that steadily produce this violence.
What actions have you carried out and what was the background?
Zora 2: The women of the RZ started in 1974 with the bombing of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe because we all wanted the total abolishment of Paragraph 218 (the abortion law). On the Walpurgisnight (last day of April, “Women Take Back The Night”) 1977, we bombed the Federal Doctor’s Guild because they undermined even this reduced abortion reform. Then the bombing against Schering during its Duogynon trial, and constant attacks against sex-shops. Actually one of these porno stores should burn or be devastated every day! Therefore we think it absolutely necessary to tear the oppression of women as sexual objects and producers of children out of the “private domain” and to show our anger and hate with fire and flames.
Zora 1: We don’t limit ourselves to direct or obvious women’s oppression. As women we are also concerned about social power conditions, whether it be urban or environmental destruction, or capitalist ways of production; the same conditions men are confronted with. We don’t like the left’s “division of labour” under the motto: the women for the women’s question, the men for the general political themes. Nobody can take away from us the responsibility for changing our everyday life. Therefore, for example, we have set fire to the fancy cars of the lawyers of “slumlord” Kaussen, who were responsible for a series of brutal evictions. Together with the RZ’s we printed pirate public transportation tickets and distributed them in the Rulo area to introduce a little bit of zero-tariff.
Zora 2: Our latest bombings were directed against Siemens and the computer company Nixdorf. They promote the development of new domination technology for more sophisticated possibilities of war production and counter-revolution. They also have the function of remodelling labour, especially on the backs of women world-wide. Women here will be exploited with the technology of these companies by working isolated from each other in part-time jobs, without social security. The women of the so-called Third World will be worn out by producing these technologies. At the age of 25 they are totally ruined.
How important is the connection to the Third World, the exploitation of women there, for you?
Zora 1: In all of our attacks we’ve declared this context, also when we attacked the women traders and the Philippine Embassy last year. We don’t struggle for women in the Third World – we instead struggle with them, for example against the exploitation of women as a commodity. This modern slave trade has its equivalent in the conjugal possession conditions here. The forms of oppression are different but they all have the same roots. Nobody can play cards with us any longer. The separation between men and women has its equivalent internationally between people of the First and Third World. We ourselves profit from the international division of labour. We want to break with our involvement with this system and understand our common interests with women from other countries.
Zora 2: First of all the main reason is that these politics were developed by the RZ’s and we still think they are correct. During our development we determined our own content – therefore we organized autonomously as women – but we fall back on the experiences of the RZ’s. We also think that the cooperation of radical groups can strengthen the militant resistance. There were productive forms of cooperation such as the actions against Reagan’s visit or the discussion paper about the peace movement. But there are also stressful discussions. Sometimes men who otherwise transform their radical breaking with this system into a consequent practice are alarmingly far away from realizing what anti-sexist struggle means and what meaning it has for social-revolutionary perspective. Between us women it is also controversial where the limits are, when a cooperation strengthens or paralyzes our women’s struggle. But we think our feminist identity unites us with some women of the RZ’s.
Does that mean that you define yourself as feminists?
Zora 1: Yes, of course, we think the personal is political. Therefore we believe that all things social, economic, and political which structure and reinforce the so-called personal are an invitation for struggle, especially for us women. These are the chains we want to tear apart. But it is incomplete to make the oppression of women here in West Germany the only turning of politics and not to see other oppressive conditions such as class oppression, racism, or the annihilation of whole peoples through imperialism. This attitude never understands the base of misery: that the oppression of women and sexual division of labour are presuppositions which are fundamental for oppression of any kind – against other races, minorities, the old and the sick, and especially against those who revolt.
Zora 2: For us, difficulties start when feminist demands are used to demand “equal rights” and recognition in this society. We don’t want women in men’s positions and reject women who make their career inside the patriarchal structure under the guise of women’s struggles. Such careers remain an individual act from which only some privileged women can profit. Women are only allowed to design and manage power in this society if they advocate the interests of men.
The women’s movement was quite strong in the 70’s. It achieved some things in a legal way. For example: the struggle against the abortion law, publicity about violence against women in the family, and rape as an act of power and violence, the building of autonomous counter structures. Why do you then maintain the necessity of armed struggle?
Zora 1: Of course, the women’s movement achieved a lot and for me the most important is the development of a broad consciousness about women’s oppression in this society. Also women no longer experience their oppression as an individual case or think they themselves are responsible for it, instead women come together and experience their strength. The things that were organized by the women’s movement like women’s bookstores, women’s centres, women’s newspapers, and meetings and congresses – all this has been part of the political reality for some time and is a strong part of the development of the struggle.
Zora 2: Some successes were rather an expression of the situation in a society which can allow women some leeway. Of course when they wanted women in the factories and offices they created more places in kindergartens, but this didn’t lead to a basic change in the lifestyle of a woman. It requires a continuous movement whose aims cannot be integrated, whose uncompromising section cannot be forced into legal forms, whose anger and dedication to non-parliamentary struggles and anti-institutional forms is expressed without limit.
Zora 1: The legal route is not sufficient because the usual repression and structures of violence are legal. It is legal if husbands beat and rape their wives. It is legal if women traders buy our Third World sisters and sell them to German men. It is legal when women ruin their health and do monotonous work for subsistence wages. These are all violent conditions which we are no longer willing to accept and tolerate and which can’t be changed solely by criticism. It was an important step to create a public consciousness about violence against women, but it didn’t lead to its prevention. It is a phenomenon that the screaming unfairness which women suffer is met with an incredible proportion of ignorance. It is a tolerance which exposes male parasitism. This “typical situation” is connected to the fact that there is not much resistance. Oppression is only recognized through resistance. Therefore we sabotage, boycott, damage, and take revenge for experienced violence and humiliation by attacking those who are responsible.
What do you think about the contemporary women’s movement?
Zora 2: We think it’s wrong to talk about the women’s movement. On the one hand the women’s movement is understood as a result of long existing structures, of projects, encounter centres, and of mysticism. There are many currents which do not reinforce each other very fruitfully, but instead partly exclude or fight each other. On the other hand new political impulses start from different contexts where women are becoming aware of their oppression and are radically questioning patriarchal structures and developing politics in the interests of women – for example women in Latin American solidarity groups, in anti-imperialist groups, in the squatters movement. Therefore the saying “The women’s movement is dead, long live the women’s movement!” is accurate. The women’s movement is not one issue like the anti-nuke or squatter movements, which will not survive if no more nuclear plants are built, or no more property is available for speculation. The women’s movement relates to the totality of patriarchal structures, their technology, their organization of labour, their relationship to nature, and it is therefore a phenomenon which won’t disappear with the removal of some cancerous growths, but instead in the long process of social revolution.
Zora 1: The women’s movement has never really analyzed its defeat around the abortion law and around the state financing of projects like shelters for battered women. It lacks a rejection of state politics. Also, it anticipated the turning point in family politics through the wave of the new motherhood in the women’s movement. Also, the class question never existed; social differences were denied by the universalization of sexist oppression. This makes it difficult to find an answer to the worsening of labour conditions, increasing oppression, and reactionary family politics in the present crisis. The lack of a perspective for action in order to react appropriately to the attack leads to the dilemma of either going offensively against reactionary politics or solely preserving the unfolding of leeway for women. We can’t solve this problem in theory, but we don’t think the building of women’s committees (in the Green Party) is an appropriate solution. The experience is that women do not come to power by ways which exist directly to exclude women and to stabilize and conserve patriarchal domination. Therefore, we consider women’s committees which want to organize greater influence in parties and institutions the wrong way.
Zora 2: But in the meantime other important discussions and analyses by women which consider the future development of society have begun to develop. The increasing oppression, with the help of new technologies, is investigated from the point of view of the lowest echelons of our society, new wages and work structures for women are analyzed, the indirect structures of women are understood. Many women understand and reject the everyday war against women – the wave of hardcore porn and propaganda contempuous of women – and the call of the society for increased motherhood and more femininity. They also understand that the setbacks in women’s and family politics are presuppositions for the crisis and the new startegies of capital. The policy of population control, for example the change of the abortion law, is the attempt to have a qualitative influence on the development of the population. Among other things its aim is to mulitply the “healthy” German middle-class together with state sponsored genetic technology, which is a development we have to prevent. Today we need more urgently than ever before a radical women’s movement which has the power to prevent and break open the social and political encirclement, not only of women, but also of foreigners and minorities; a women’s liberation movement which does not reduce the hope for revolution to a nice dream.
Do you understand yourself as being part of the women’s movement, or of the guerrilla movement, or both, and how do you see the context?
Zora 1: We are part of the women’s movement. We struggle for women’s liberation. Beside theoretical commonalities there also exists another unity between our practice and the legal women’s movement, that is the personal radicalization which can encourage other women to resist and take themselves and the struggle seriously. It is the feeling of strength if you see that you can do things which before you were afraid of, and if you see that it brings about something. We would like to share this experience. We don’t think it has to happen in the forms we choose. For example, take the women who disrupted a peep show by drawing women’s symbols and dropping stink bombs – these actions encourage us, strengthen us, and we hope women feel the same way about our actions. Our dream is that everywhere small bands of women will exist, that in every city, a rapist, a women trader, a battering husband, a misogynist publisher, a porn trader, a pig gynecologist should have to feel that a band of women will find them to attack them and make them look foolish in public. For example, that it will be written on his house who he is and what he did, on his car, at his job – women’s power everywhere!
Zora 2: Why is it that people always assume that those who deal with explosives don’t care about what is self-evident for yourselves, for the women’s movement, or for the left? It’s the opposite! Because of the possibility of endangering life we are forced to be especially responsible. You know as well as we do that we could give up if you were right with your question. It would be a paradox to struggle against a system for which life is only worthwhile as long as it is utilizable and at the same to become as cynical and brutal as that system. There were many actions we rejected because we couldn’t eliminate the danger to innocent people. Some firms know this full well, which is why they prefer to move into residential buildings. They speculate with our morals if they move into residential dwellings to protect their property.
What do you say against the argument: armed actions harm the movement. They are part of the reason for increasing surveillance of the women’s movement to denounce it as terrorist, that it’s split and isolated from the majority of women in the women’s movement.
Zora 1: To harm the movement – you talk about the installation of repression. The actions don’t harm the movement! It’s the opposite, they should and can support the movement directly. Our attack on the women traders, for example, helped to expose their businesses to public light, to threaten them, and they now know they have to anticipate the resistance of women if they go on with their business. These “gentlemen” know they have to anticipate resistance. We call this a strengthening of our movement.
Zora 2: For a long time the strategy of counter-revolution has begun to split the radical wing from the rest of the movement by any means and isolate them to weaken the whole movement. In the 70’s we had the experience of what it means when sectors of the left adopt the propaganda of the state, when they start to present those who struggle uncompromisingly as responsible for state persecution, destruction, and repression. They not only confuse cause with effect, they also justify implicit state terror. Therefore, they weaken their own position. They narrow the frame of their protest and their resistance.
Zora 1: Our experience: to stay uncontrolled and to protect ourselves against state attacks, a strong unity is necessary. We can no longer afford to have every group repeat the same mistakes. There must be structures in which we share knowledge and experiences which are useful for the movement.
How can non-autonomous, non-radical women understand what you want? Armed actions do have a “scare away” effect.
Zora 2: Why doesn’t it have a “scare away” effect if a guy sells women, but it does if his car burns? Behind it is the fact that traditional social violence is accepted whereas similar reprisals “scare away”. Maybe it is scary if everyday reality is questioned. Women who get it pounded into their heads from the time they are little girls that they are victims get insecure if they are confronted with the fact that women are neither victims nor peaceful. This is a provocation. Those women who experience their powerlessness with rage can identify with our actions. As every act of violence against one woman creates an atmosphere of threat against all women, our actions contribute – even if they aim only against the individual responsible – to the development of an atmosphere of “Resistance is possible!”
Postscript: Rote Zora, Then and Now
“In 1987, [Rote Zora] bombed [10 locations of] the department store Adler because its corporation–one of Germany’s largest clothing producers–fired women at its South Korean factory for striking. The bombing injured no one and the women were rehired and paid more money.”
“For nearly two decades a German bomb-making feminist lived abroad under different identities. Today, as she returns from exile to live the quiet life, some say she symbolizes how little militancy is left in German women’s activism.“
“Most traces of the group or its influence are gone. But around Berlin, you still catch occasional glimpses of printed T-shirts or sprayed graffiti of a woman with a gun: ‘Watch out rapists,” the slogan reads, “we’re going to get you.'”
Photos from here