In West Germany as in other capitalist democratic countries in what now is called the Global North, an increasing number of students were more and more radicalized in the 1960s. They were not exceptional: in some countries—think for instance of Italy—some workers underwent a similar evolution. Moreover, some students and workers met and communicated in various forms and place like cafés, dorms, or factories, where some students had to work. And both students’ and workers’ radicalization led them in various ways away from established social democrat, socialist, and communist parties.
But there were differences, too. In West Germany, so-called “new leftist” German students like Rudi Dutschke (1940-1979) were from the early 1960s most distinctly influenced by texts by decolonizing actors-intellectuals like Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). Their worldview was shaped by fellow students from recently decolonized and postcolonial countries, as Quinn Slobodian’s Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (2012) shows. Among these students were Iranians, for many Iranians wishing to study abroad opted for West Germany following World War II. This pattern built on sturdy modern political, economic and cultural Iranian-German relations from the nineteenth century to the early Second World War. Hence, in the 1960s, West Germany became a key arena for Iranian exile politics. In the university town of Heidelberg, Iranian students with France- and Britain-based colleagues in 1960 founded a body that would be known as the Confederation of Iranian Students, National Union (CISNU) from 1962, when US-based Iranian student bodies joined and Tehran students were associated. CISNU was in the 1960s-70s a leading force outside Iran opposing Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980; r. 1941-1979)—a story told by Afshin Matin-Asgari’s The Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah (2002). In parallel, in the 1960s the shah was able to become the autocratic ruler he had wanted to be from the 1940s.
In West Germany, one analysis of the shah’s state was the ironically titled Persien, Modell eines Entwicklungslandes [Persia: Model Development Country], publishedin spring 1967 by Bahman Nirumand. Born in 1936, Nirumand was a high school and then university student in Germany from 1950 to 1960, then moved back to Iran to work as an academic and journalist, and in 1965 escaped back to Germany fearing arrest for co-leading the underground Marxist-Leninist group Goruh-e Kaderha. In his book Persien, he argued that changes like the land reform of 1963 are a reformist façade hiding an anti-democratic repressive capitalist regime, which is backed by equally repressive capitalist Western states led by imperialist Washington. In fact, to him, Iran illustrated how Third-World and First-World elites together repress their people—a truly global pattern.
To be sure, Vietnam constituted the key anti-imperialist cause for organizations like the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), which in 1961 had been evicted by the mainstream Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) and by 1966 was part of West Germany’s ausser- (i.e. extra-) parlamentarische Opposition. Even so, when the German government announced a visit by the shah for early June 1967, the SDS soon decided to support Iranian student protests. These were legally “problematic” because West Germany’s 1965 Aliens Act drastically limited foreigners’ right to political activism. What began as a teach-in about Iran in West Berlin on June 1 and as a protest against the shah on June 2 became aturning point in postwar German history. On June 2, the police did not only condone pro-shah loyalists’ violence against the demonstrators. It also shot dead a demonstrator, Benno Ohnesorg, intensifying students’ fears about a fascist rebirth and causing the student movement to grow swiftly and become more radical.
The text printed here is a translated excerpt from the German-language audio file of the teach-in on Iran of June 1 at the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin. Opened by Gabriele Kuby (born 1944), a member of the FU’s General Students Committee, the teach-in featured Nirumand, who spoke for about an hour and a half on the world’s current economic-political condition for which Iran was a case in point, and Hans-Heinz Heldmann (1929-1995), a German lawyer representing Iranian and other foreign students politically active in Germany. Followed by a few notes on other political matters, these two lectures were then discussed by the students; Dutschke, since 1965 a leading SDS member, drew a parallel between Vietnam and Iran. Attended by about 2,000 students, the teach-in had a strongly mobilizing effect on the protests the next day, June 2.