In May of 1989, on a quiet street in Copenhagen, police discovered an apartment that had served for years as a hideaway for Denmark’s most notorious 20th-century bank robbers. The members, who belonged to a communist organization and lived modest lives in the Danish capital, had, over a period of almost two decades, sent millions in stolen dollars acquired in spectacular heists to Third World liberation movements, in particular the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. One of the most puzzling and captivating chapters from the European anti-imperialist milieu of the 1970s and 1980s, Turning Money into Rebellion is the first-ever account of the story in English, covering the events from Middle Eastern capitals and African refugee camps to the group’s fateful last robbery that earned them a record haul and left a police officer dead. The book includes historical documents, illustrations, and an exclusive interview with Torkil Lauesen and Jan Weimann, two of the group’s longest-standing members. It is a compelling tale of turning radical theory into action and concerns analysis and strategy as much as morality and political practice.
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About the Author
Gabriel Kuhn is a Stockholm, Sweden–based author and translator. He is the author of All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics.
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Turning Money into Rebellion
The Unlikely Story of Denmark's Revolutionary Bank Robbers
By Gabriel Kuhn
PM PressCopyright © 2014 PM Press
All rights reserved.
Anti-imperialism Undercover: An Introduction to the Blekingegade Group
For acronyms of political organizations, a timeline, a list of convicted Blekingegade Group members, and currency conversion please see the appendix.
On April 13, 1989, five people are arrested in Copenhagen as suspects in a robbery that shook Denmark six months earlier. On November 3, 1988, five men had gotten away with over thirteen million crowns after holding up a cash-in-transit vehicle at the Købmagergade post office in central Copenhagen. The heist was Denmark's most lucrative ever. It also left one person dead. With patrol cars unexpectedly arriving at the scene within less than two minutes, the robbers fired a shot from a sawed-off shotgun before making a close getaway. A pellet hit the twenty-two-year-old police officer Jesper Egtved Hansen in the eye, and he died in the hospital that same day.
Those arrested in April are Peter Døllner, Niels Jørgensen, Torkil Lauesen, Jan Weimann, and Niels Jørgensen's former girlfriend Helena. The four men have been under on-and-off surveillance by the Danish intelligence service Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET) for almost two decades and are known communist activists with close ties to Third World liberation movements, in particular the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP. It was a collaboration between PET and the Copenhagen police department that made them suspects in the Købmagergade case. While Helena is released the next day, the four men remain in custody, with the police issuing an arrest warrant for yet another suspect still at large, Carsten Nielsen.
With hard evidence missing, superintendent Jørn Moos, who leads the investigation, struggles to get permission from a Copenhagen judge to keep the suspects detained. Eventually, the judge grants Moos and his team three weeks to prepare a stronger case. If they fail, the men will go free.
Producing hard evidence remains difficult, however. Thorough searches of the suspects' homes and interviews with family, friends, and coworkers remain fruitless. There is only one strong lead: identical sets of three keys found on Jørgensen, Lauesen, and Weimann. Officers test them on thousands of Copenhagen apartment doors, but with no results other than frightening unsuspecting tenants.
In the early morning hours of May 2, one day before the suspects' release date, a police patrol car north of Copenhagen receives a call about a traffic accident nearby. A single male driver has run a rented Toyota Corolla off an empty country road into a power pole. He is badly injured and unresponsive. Several items in the car, such as wigs, lock-picks, and wads of foreign cash, arouse the cops' suspicion. Alarm bells go off when the unconscious driver — who will lose his vision, his sense of smell, and his hearing in one ear as a result of the accident — is identified as Carsten Nielsen, the missing suspect in the Købmagergade case. Nielsen also carries a set of keys identical to the ones found on Jørgensen, Lauesen, and Weimann. In addition to this, the police find a bloodied telephone bill among a pile of papers on the Toyota's backseat. It is made out to a first-story apartment at Blekingegade 2, a small and quiet street in Copenhagen's Amager district, not far from the city center.
At 3:15 PM officers arrive at Blekingegade. A couple of minutes later they have opened the apartment with the suspects' keys. This marks not only the beginning of Denmark's most captivating twentieth-century crime saga but also provides one of the most puzzling and extraordinary chapters in the history of Europe's militant anti-imperialist left of the 1970s and '80s.
The Blekingegade apartment has obviously served as a center of sophisticated criminal activity. The police find crystal radio receivers, transmitters, and antennas; masks, false beards, and state-of-the-art replicas of police uniforms; numerous false documents and machines to produce them; extensive notes outlining the Købmagergade robbery and other unlawful activities; and — in a separate room, accessible only through a hidden door — the biggest illegal weapons cache ever found in Denmark. It includes pistols, rifles, hand grenades, explosives, land mines, machine guns, and thirty-four antitank missiles. Curiously, there is also a surfboard stored in the room.
The group that had access to the Blekingegade apartment is soon dubbed Blekingegadebanden, the "Blekingegade Gang," or, less dramatically, Blekingegadegruppen, the "Blekingegade Group." According to Torkil Lauesen, the name is the result of "particularly unimaginative journalism," but it is soon established among the public and used to identify the group to this day.
Beginnings: KAK (1963–1978)
The origins of the Blekingegade Group date back to 1963, when a charismatic literary historian, Gotfred Appel, was excluded from the Moscow-loyal Communist Party of Denmark, DKP, due to his Maoist sympathies. A few months later, Appel and other disgruntled DKP members founded the first Maoist organization in Europe, namely the Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds [Communist Working Circle], KAK. KAK soon served as the official Danish sister organization of the Communist Party of China, CPC, and Appel regularly traveled to Beijing. KAK also founded the publishing house Futura, which collaborated closely with the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen, printing Maoist propaganda leaflets, the Chinese embassy's newsletter, and Mao's Little Red Book. KAK's own newspaper, Orientering, was founded in December 1963; it was renamed Kommunistisk Orientering in September 1964.
During the following years, Appel developed his hallmark snylterstatsteori, the "parasite state theory." In short, the theory claimed that the working class of the imperialist countries had become an ally of the ruling class due to its privileges in the context of the global capitalist system. Its objective interests were closer to those of Western capitalists than to those of the exploited and oppressed masses of the Third World. Therefore, the Western working class could no longer be considered a revolutionary subject. Only the masses of the Third World posed a threat to global capitalism by rebelling against the exploitation and oppression they were suffering. If their struggles were successful, the inevitable result would be a crisis of capitalism in the imperialist world, leading to the Western working class losing its privileges and being propelled back onto the revolutionary track.
The Vietnam War served as empirical evidence for Appel's theory, and in February 1965 KAK organized one of the earliest European protests against the U.S. aggression. The fact that workers remained largely absent from the demonstration — despite strong mobilization efforts at some of Copenhagen's biggest factories — seemed to confirm Appel's analysis of a corrupted and complacent Danish working class. Yet he found numerous recruits among young radicals who were drawn to KAK by the Vietnam Committee (Vietnamkomité) that the organization had established, its militant stance, its uniqueness among the Danish left, and not least by Appel's compelling personality.
In 1968, KAK founded a youth chapter, the Kommunistisk Ungdomsforbund [Communist Youth League], KUF, which published its own journal, Ungkommunisten, and initiated a group called the Anti-imperialistisk Aktionskomité [Anti-imperialist Action Committee] in order to specifically attract sympathizers in the anti-imperialist milieu.
KUF played an important role for the history of KAK and soon counted some of the men among its members who, twenty years later, would be arrested as members of the Blekingegade Group: Peter Døllner, a young carpenter, and Jan Weimann, a passionate birdwatcher and excellent chess player who had just graduated from high school, joined in 1968. Both had grown up in the Copenhagen suburb of Gladsaxe. Another early KUF member from Gladsaxe was Jan Weimann's high school friend Holger Jensen, an energetic and gregarious young man who became a driving force in both KUF and KAK. Niels Jørgensen, at the time only sixteen and still a high school student, joined in 1969. Torkil Lauesen, a medical student from Korsør, about a hundred kilometers west of Copenhagen, became a KUF member two years later.
In 1969, the relationship between KAK and the Chinese government turned sour. Gotfred Appel was not willing to make any compromises in his analysis of the European working class. When Chinese government officials hailed the European protest movements of the late 1960s, Appel criticized them relentlessly for overestimating the movements' revolutionary potential and the participation of the working class. Eventually, this led to the end of KAK's official ties to the CPC and the termination of the Futura publishing house's contract with the Chinese embassy. From this point on, KAK was no longer aligned with any political party and pursued an independent anti-imperialist course, establishing relationships with various Third World liberation movements. It didn't take long before Appel developed a particular interest in a Marxist-Leninist organization that had emerged in one of the world's most volatile regions: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP.
In 1970, Appel traveled to Jordan to meet with PFLP representatives. During the following years, several KUF members were sent to the Middle East for subsequent meetings. Members of the KUF and KAK rank and file were also sent to numerous other regions in order to study the local political and economic conditions and exchange ideas with Third World liberation movements as well as anti-imperialist activists in the Western world. In Tanzania, the young Danes met representatives of FRELIMO, ZANU, and the MPLA; in Northern Ireland, Republican resistance fighters; and in Canada, members of the Liberation Support Movement, LSM.
To further strengthen the connections to African liberation movements, KAK founded the Tøj til Afrika [Clothes for Africa] project, TTA, in 1972. TTA collected clothes, tents, medicine, and money for African refugee camps administered by liberation movements. Soon, a number of TTA chapters were established around Denmark and the project provided a strong support network for KAK.
KAK itself kept a low profile in Denmark during the early 1970s. Following the protests against the World Bank congress in Copenhagen in 1970, during which KUF members were involved in heavy streetfighting, the organization had been targeted by security forces. Appel was furious and scolded the youngsters for their "lack of discipline" and "political immaturity," since KAK's strategy for the protests had focused on targeted militant actions rather than open confrontation with the police. As a result, KAK's focus during the next few years was on theoretical study and the formation of a disciplined organization. Appel had no plans for KAK to become a mass movement. KAK never had more than twenty-five members and was mainly considered a training ground for elite revolutionaries ready to seize the revolutionary moment in the imperialist world when it came. Outward-directed work diminished steadily. Ungkommunisten had ceased publication in 1970, and Kommunistisk Orientering was on hiatus from 1970 to 1974. In 1975, KUF was officially dissolved. The remaining members were incorporated into KAK.
There was also another reason for KAK's low profile during the early 1970s, however. It was the period when KAK developed what was later referred to as the "illegal practice." In plain terms, this meant that robbery and fraud were used to supplement the material support for Third World liberation movements provided by Tøj til Afrika and other legal fundraising efforts. According to KAK's analysis, providing material support for Third World liberation movements was the most effective way for Western militants to support world revolution.
Only a few selected KAK members were involved in the illegal practice. The rest of the membership was not informed. Essentially, this created an inner circle within the organization that consisted of people involved in illegal activities. It was this circle that marked the beginning of the Blekingegade Group. The men arrested in April 1989 all belonged to it from the beginning.
No KAK members were ever convicted for illegal actions committed during the 1970s. Yet they remain the main suspects for a number of unresolved crimes in the greater Copenhagen area, including the 1972 burglary at a Danish Army weapons depot (weapons from the depot were discovered at the Blekingegade apartment in 1989), the 1975 robbery of a cash-in-transit truck with a take of 500,000 crowns, the 1976 robbery of a post office with a take of 550,000 crowns, and a sophisticated 1976 postal money order scam with an unsurpassed take of 1.5 million crowns. All of the crimes shared features that would also characterize the ones that the Blekingegade Group was accused of in the 1980s: highly professional execution, a lot of loot, and no traces.
After discovering the Blekingegade apartment in 1989 and reconstructing the group's history, there was much speculation about whether Gotfred Appel knew about the illegal activities of the 1970s, a fact that he sternly denied until his death in 1992. But former KAK and Blekingegade Group members speak of a tight, top-down organization in which nothing was done without the knowledge of the leadership, consisting throughout the 1970s of Appel, his partner Ulla Hauton, and the young Holger Jensen, with Jan Weimann joining in 1975.
The illegal practice — as well as all other KAK activities — came to a halt in 1977, when the organization hit a severe crisis. It started when accusations of male dominance were raised, in particular by Ulla Hauton. While Appel himself — judging from all accounts, unjustly — remained exempt from the criticism, many other male members were summoned to attend "criticism and self-criticism" sessions. Eventually, the sessions would include physical violence, with male members being expected to act as punishers in order to prove their willingness to change. A few months into what became known as the "anti-gender discrimination campaign," most KAK members, including many women, felt that the campaign had gotten out of control. Their anger now turned toward Appel and Hauton. The latter in particular was accused of manipulating the female membership due to personal and internal leadership issues. Apparently, there had been particularly strong tensions between Hauton and Holger Jensen.
At a KAK meeting on May 4, 1978, Appel and Hauton were expelled from the organization by a majority vote of the rank and file. Some days later, Appel and Hauton expelled everybody else. After much back and forth, and Appel securing the legal rights to the name Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds, KAK split into three factions:
1. Appel, Hauton, and a few allies continued to work under the name KAK and to publish Kommun is tisk Orientering; two years later, the organization dissolved for good.
2. Some former KAK members formed the Marxistisk Arbejdsgruppe [Marxist Working Group], MAG, which intended to reach a new form of political practice by analyzing KAK's history. Members soon drifted away, however, and the group ceased to exist in 1980.
3. Another group of former KAK members founded the Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe [Communist Working Group], KA, which soon became known as Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe, M-KA, named after its journal, which appeared from October 1978 to December 1982. After that, Manifest mainly functioned as a press, publishing political books and pamphlets and printing materials for various liberation movements. Peter Døllner, Holger Jensen, Niels Jørgensen, Torkil Lauesen, and Jan Weimann all joined M-KA. None of them ever spoke to Hauton or Appel again.
In 1980, Holger Jensen died in a traffic accident when a truck hit the van he was sitting in outside a shopping center. Peter Døllner left M-KA in 1985. Jan Weimann, Niels Jørgensen, and Torkil Lauesen formed the backbone of the organization and of the Blekingegade Group until their arrests in 1989.
Ideologically, M-KA did not steer too far from KAK. It largely followed Appel's parasite state theory. However, it also added new Marxist analyses of international relations to its theoretical framework, in particular the notion of "unequal exchange" developed by the Marxist economist Arghiri Emmanuel, who argued that the discrepancies in wealth between the industrialized nations and the Third World were primarily based on imbalances in wage levels and market prices. On various occasions, M-KA members traveled to meet with the Greek-born Emmanuel in Paris, where he lived and taught. Emmanuel also contributed a preface to the 1983 M-KA book Imperialismen idag: Det ulige bytte og mulighederne för socialisme i en delt verden [Imperialism Today: Unequal Exchange and the Possibilities for Socialism in a Divided World], which was published in English in 1986 as Unequal Exchange and the Prospects of Socialism.
The main difference between M-KA and KAK was organizational. M-KA was not focused on an individual leader, allowed more internal debate, and was more open to collaboration with other groups of the left. M-KA remained small, never extending to more than fifteen members. Material support for Third World liberation movements remained a priority. After the turmoil during the last months of KAK, the M-KA members managed to regain the PFLP leadership's trust and reestablish contact with the other liberation movements they had collaborated with. The illegal practice continued. Once again, it was confined to an inner circle, without the rest of the membership being involved. Next to Døllner, Jørgensen, Lauesen, and Weimann, we know of three people who joined the inner circle during the 1980s. Karsten Møller Hansen, a Tøj til Afrika member from the chapter in Odense, was the first in 1982. He faded away only a few years later, but retained knowledge of most activities and contributed on occasion with small tasks. Also in 1982, Jan Weimann's younger brother Bo joined the group, working in particular on the so-called "Z-file" (Z for Zionism), a collection of data intended to help the PFLP identify Israeli agents based in Denmark. Bo left the group in 1988. The Z-file proved highly controversial when it was discovered in the Blekingegade apartment in April 1989, and the media regularly referred to it as a "Jew file." In 1987, Carsten Nielsen, a member of the Tøj til Afrika chapter in Århus, was the last one to be included in the Blekingegade Group.
Excerpted from Turning Money into Rebellion by Gabriel Kuhn. Copyright © 2014 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Table of Contents
About the Authors iv
Craftsmen of World Revolution Klaus Viehmann v
Anti-imperialism Undercover: An Introduction to the Blekingegade Group Gabriel Kuhn 1
It Is All About Politics Niels Jørgensen Torkil Lauesen Jan Weimann 21
Solidarity Is Something You Can Hold in Your Hands Interview with Torkil Lauesen Jan Weimann 93
Socialism and the Bourgeois Way of Life Gotfred Appel (1966) 185
What Is KAK?: KAK (1974) 190
Manifest-Communist Working Group: A Short Introduction M-KA (1986) 194
What Can Communists in the Imperialist Countries Do? M-KA (1983) 203
Acronyms of Political Organizations 210
Convicted Blekingegade Group Members 219
Currency Conversion 219