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Hans-Jürgen Krahl - a biography

by Gerd Koenen

Hans-Jürgen Krahl was a leading figure in the "anti-authoritarian" wing of the SDS (Socialist German Student Federation), the organisation that led the German student protest movement. As a doctoral student of Theodor Adorno, Krahl brought many key concepts from Adorno's "Critical Theory" into the movement's political and theoretical discourse. The confrontation between Krahl and Adorno in a public trial was fraught with personal and symbolic resonances. When, under Krahl's leadership, the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt was occupied by a group of students, Adorno is said to have taken a piece of chalk and written on the wall: "Wolves howl out of this kraal".

After the other major student figure, Rudi Dutschke, was shot on the street in early 1968, Krahl at times filled the role of chief charismatic figure left vacant by Dutschke. But he never played a central part in the growing yet increasingly splintered "extra-parliamentary opposition" (APO), in part because of his personal instability. His last attempts to make the SDS an overarching "theoretical organisation of the proletariat", were largely ignored.

All the more legendary were his recorded education sessions, where surrounded by his closer cronies he philosophised on the revolutionary theories of the 20th century. Together with his published and unpublished manuscripts, these recorded monologues make up an apocryphal fund whose hermetic abstraction and multiple connections with German idealist and materialist philosophy have an aura of hidden meanings and messages. Krahl's own version of his biography, with its "very German and Faustian beginnings", as he wrote to a friend, only adds to this mystique.

Following the death of Hans-Jürgen Krahl in February 1970, the SDS was formally disbanded.

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