In 1963, the Communist Party of Denmark excommunicated one of their promising officers, an activist and political educator named Gotfred Appel. The Communist Party of Denmark was quite loyal to the Soviet interpretation of Marxism, and Appel was increasingly favoring the Chinese communist theory of Mao Zedong. Appel decided to found a new communist organization rooted in Maoism, and established Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK) shortly after. As a rare European Maoist organization, KAK quickly became quite close with the Communist Party of China. KAK spent the next few years printing and distributing Maoist literature in Denmark, while Gotfred Appel himself developed his own unique interpretation of Marxism.
See, Appel was always somewhat of a restless soul, even on the spectrum of left-wing revolutionaries. He had already embraced and renounced several varieties of Marxism that never seemed to encapsulate his total worldview. Appel eventually began to promote a new ideology that he called the “parasite state theory”. This conception of Marxism argued that the working classes of Europe and America had been neutered, stripped of their desire for revolution by basic social welfare programs and the extraction of wealth from underdeveloped countries. The long leftist struggle in developed countries had secured basic concessions from the capitalists, but this seemed to placate the people. In essence, the Western capitalists had bribed the working classes enough to protect their own power, selling the working class just enough rope to hang its own revolutionary anger. Would the masses of America or Europe be willing to overthrow their capitalist rulers if it would cost them their cars?
Therefore, Appel argued, any socialist interested in revolution should seek to ally themselves with the working class of the underdeveloped countries, the so called Third World, who had not yet been bribed into submission and still held onto their revolutionary fire. KAK did not view the working classes of the imperialist countries as enemies, but considered them unreliable when it came to the hard truths of class warfare. For Appel and KAK, this idea would become the driving force behind decades of struggle.
Appel’s deviations from standard Maoism and his intractable stubbornness eventually angered his sponsors in China, and his KAK lost all direct Chinese support in the late 60’s. Now independent, KAK began to turn inward. They subsequently operated on the basis of Appel’s theories. Publications released by KAK ceased production, the youth wing of the party was folded into the main organization, and Appel counseled members to educate themselves and refrain from public protests or violence. Gotfred Appel had decided to reorient KAK toward promoting socialist revolutionaries in the Third World, and its flagship program would be the new Clothes for Africa aid campaign. While KAK members and affiliates funneled clothing and supplies to African refugees, members of the KAK inner circle began meeting with an eclectic crowd of leftist revolutionaries, including Irish freedom fighters and representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
November, 1970. KAK member Niels Jørgensen is arrested for tagging a building with pro-PFLP graffiti.
When observed from the outside, KAK appeared to be a small group of barely militant communists with an eccentric take on theory and a focus on African aid. The public viewed them the same as they would view any other communist group that seemed to be more study circle than revolutionary vanguard. Covertly, the core of the group was composed of hardcore members with quite a bit more revolutionary zeal than the rest. This inner circle of less than twenty members was beginning to lay the groundwork for a sustained, stranger-than-fiction campaign of direct action.
The KAK inner circle were committed Marxists and had developed a well-structured analysis of the political situation as they saw it. Regardless of any opinion on the group, KAK could never be accused of poor preparation. KAK held Appel’s parasite state theory to be gospel truth, and were intelligent enough not to engage the Danish state in open or guerrilla warfare, knowing that they would be demolished. KAK ideology emphasized the promising socialist movements of Asia, Africa, and Central/South America as the only viable vehicles for world communism, so to the south they went. Strong, secret links were then forged with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and KAK members regularly made trips to the Middle East in order to negotiate. Discussion took place in the group about the best way to aid foreign socialist movements, and methods such as investment or electronic scams were considered. However, the group decided they did not possess the expertise to successfully carry these plans out.
On January 10, 1973, a weapons depot near the Jaegersborg suburb of Copenhagen is robbed by a well-organized gang. The burglars make off with several machine guns and high powered rifles.
Most KAK members were oblivious to the existence of a secret circle at the top of the organization, but Gotfred Appel, his lover Ulla Hauton, their lieutenant Jens Holger Jensen, and a few companions had decided to really put their money where their theoretical mouths were. What better way to aid the Palestinians, they thought, than to send a little liberated cash their way? And who better to liberate that cash from than the parasite state itself?
The KAK inner circle began what they called “the illegal practice” in the early 1970’s. They would conduct robberies in and around Denmark in order to furnish the PFLP and other liberation movements with weapons and money. In order to remain covert, the inner circle operated under a set of strict rules. Obviously, absolute secrecy was first. Any crimes would be conducted professionally. All operations would be meticulously planned, and the robbers would be as efficient as possible. The core members would also be trained rigorously in tactics and weapons handling. No weak-willed liberal arts students here. The crimes would appear completely apolitical. Jumping on top of a bank counter and shouting revolutionary slogans is a good way to get the door of your little activist group kicked in by the cops. Better to let the police believe that you’re simply in it for the money.
During the period from 1974-1977, the KAK core carried out a series of robberies and fraud schemes that seemed to increase in complexity and ambition over time. In fact, the group members tried to top the haul of the previous robbery with each attempt. On December 9, 1975, KAK intercepted a cash delivery truck in Copenhagen and made off with half a million Danish krone (kr). After a nearly yearlong cool-off period, the group struck again by storming a Copenhagen post office and escaping with 550,000 krone. These crimes confounded the Danish police, who assumed that they were related, but did not know what to make of this heavily armed and professional gang of thieves. Robberies were the main component of the “illegal practice”, but like any efficient business the KAK core knew the value of diversification. A postal fraud scheme running throughout 1976 resulted in a take of nearly 1.5 million krone, their largest yet. Appel, Hauton, and Holger had incubated a hierarchical, efficient illegal aid organization that was now smuggling cash and weapons to foreign liberation movements at an astonishing rate. Their heist-movie style scheme ran smoothly until, like many a revolutionary clan, they fell upon each other.
When they had initially joined Appel and Hauton’s KAK, many of the members had been relatively inexperienced but earnest young revolutionaries. However, by the end of the 1970’s, they had gained quite a bit of political and militant experience. Many began to question the rigid hierarchy of KAK, in which nearly all power emanated from Appel and Hauton. Meanwhile, the issue of gender discrimination had essentially brought all legal and illegal KAK activities to a grinding halt. Hauton and the female members of the group began to demand that the male members participate in self-criticism and reeducation sessions, in order to combat the perceived male domination of KAK. This policy continued for several months, and the inner turmoil strained many of the longstanding relationships between members. Eventually, a purge of selected male members was proposed. From available accounts, rank and file KAK members, men and women, began to feel that this anti-patriarchal campaign had strayed from its noble intentions and that it threatened to destroy the group.
In May 1978, core members called on the leadership of Appel and Hauton to discuss the anti-gender discrimination campaign. When core members suggested ending the self-destructive program, Hauton balked and Appel’s plan to suspend KAK activities for six months was rejected. This split would be permanent, and the core members voted to boot Appel and Hauton from the organization.
Appel and Hauton retained the KAK name after this schism, which meant that the remaining members had to form a new organization. Months of self-criticism and circular arguments had frustrated the core members, who were chomping at the bit to resume both legal aid and less-than-legal activities. They rapidly constructed an organization that inherited most of the former KAK connections and political convictions, but operated under a rotating leadership instead of Appel and Hauton’s iron grip. Manifest–Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe, or M-KA, was established by 10-15 former KAK members in late 1978. M-KA continued to support the Clothes for Africa campaign, and updates to Appel’s original theory gave M-KA stability and purpose. This allowed them to resume the “illegal practice”.
The 1980’s were the core members’ most active years, but began with a kind of slapstick tragedy. Jens Holger Jensen was an integral member of KAK and M-KA, and on September 15, 1980 he was sitting in a van with Niels Jørgensen on a stakeout mission in central Denmark. The mission, and Holger Jensen’s life, were cut short when a truck slammed into his parked vehicle. Jørgensen had inexplicably stepped outside the van, and exploited his newfound luck by returning to the scene for lost equipment (explaining to the police that he was Holger Jensen’s next of kin). After this setback, M-KA began to really hit its stride. In 1982, M-KA hit a Copenhagen post office for nearly 800,000 krone, and recruited several new members for its small circle. They followed this up with a daring raid on a Swedish armory, in which group members hopped the border and stole enough military grade explosives to cause some real havoc. This increased activity was partly in response to the plight of the Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine, who had been driven from their Lebanese headquarters after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. M-KA was still sending every ounce of profit from their heists to the PFLP and other movements, and money was easy enough to smuggle. The rocket launchers, antitank missiles, and grenades smuggled out of Sweden were a different matter, and were buried in the forests of Europe for later pickup by PFLP agents. One of these caches was actually discovered by French police in 1986, but no evidence linking it to M-KA was present. Plans were made to duplicate this robbery in Norway, but the dead-drop method of smuggling weapons proved too unreliable and the preparations were scrapped. One other scuttled plan deviated from M-KA’s usual methods, and involved the kidnapping of the heir to Swedish food packaging company Tetra Pak for ransom. M-KA members stated later that empathy and the general logistics of kidnapping someone caused them to abandon the “idiotic” plan.
Legally, M-KA’s public volunteer wing supported as many aid projects as it could. The “illegal practice” was still a secret closely guarded by the M-KA core. Clothes for Africa continued to send supplies to refugees, and the group assisted or helped found liberation movements in El Salvador, South Africa, and beyond. Eventually, the Clothes for Africa project was dismantled and reborn as a coffee shop that sent all of its profits to these movements. This shop folded in 1997, but M-KA can’t be faulted for being a few years early to the café trend.
M-KA activity would only intensify throughout the 1980’s. In March 1983, a bank truck is stopped by a gang of armed men. They threaten the workers and leave with a massive take of 8.3 million krone. Two and a half years later, a Copenhagen post office is held up by a similar group of armed men. 1.5 million krone.
Likely due to the fact that business was booming, M-KA core members obtained a new hideout in Copenhagen in 1985. Rented under fake names, bills paid in cash, the standard procedure. Professionalism can slip however, and in 1986 Niels Jørgensen is arrested in the process of stealing a car. He avoids jail time suspiciously easily, although this was not the first indication that M-KA was being watched. Members had assumed they were being tracked for years, and took steps to hide information and direct links to any crime. M-KA operatives had been living extensive double lives for up to 15 years at this point. They became extremely well practiced in covering their tracks and destroying evidence. Danish police, despite their suspicions, had no grasp of the full scale of M-KA activities.
December 22, 1986: M-KA members steal the pre-Christmas profits of the Daells shopping center as they are being passed to a bank transport. Several store employees attempt to stop the robbers, and M-KA is forced to fight them off in a dramatic escape. No fatalities occur, but M-KA fractures the skull of the store security chief with the butt of a pistol. In response, the group constructs a “soft” baton designed to incapacitate unruly bystanders without braining them. Theft is one thing, but hardened murderers these were not.
Any good heist movie ends with a shootout, although the events of the 1988 Købmagergade robbery probably don’t qualify for that title. Several M-KA members disguised as policemen talked their way through the gate of a post office that was about to receive a high value mail shipment. This shipment was worth over thirteen million krone and would be their biggest score by far. Once the shipment arrived, the robbers drew sawn-off shotguns and threatened the workers as they loaded the shipment into their own van. M-KA knew that the target vehicle would have an onboard alarm, but made a crucial error in not expecting that alarm to be directly connected to the local police. By the time the loot was loaded, the robbers had run out of time and were taking fire from police already in position on the street. As the robbers peeled out of the post office one member of the crew fired a fateful shotgun blast. This shot killed one of the pursuing policemen, and began a chain of events that would truly end M-KA.
While the Danish government had been monitoring M-KA for some time, it had been content to sit back and observe. Whether this was a ploy to gather intelligence on groups such as the PFLP or a simple lack of evidence, no one can be sure. However, the death of an officer during the previous robbery had tarnished M-KA’s heretofore spotless fatality record. This could not stand, and the Danish police arrested five members of the M-KA core in April of the following year. Police recovered two sets of keys, but no clues as to what address those keys unlocked. M-KA may even have survived this, due to their careful planning and the lack of any hard evidence against them. Luckily for Danish law enforcement, M-KA member Carsten Nielsen’s lack of diligence in security would soon seal the group’s fate. Just over a week after the arrests, a paranoid Nielsen managed to run his car into a lamppost. When police sent a now blind and half-deaf Nielsen to the hospital, they happened across lockpicks, bundles of cash, and a telephone bill that Nielsen had forgotten in his car’s back seat. A telephone bill for M-KA’s previously mentioned hideout.
Now that the police had an address to match their keys, they conducted a search and made the discoveries that turned the Blekingegade Gang (so named by the press after the street which housed their hideout) into Danish celebrities. Disguises, forgery equipment, evidence tying the occupants to robberies, everything needed to make a case against the suspects in custody. One particular file found in the apartment concerning suspected Israeli intelligence operatives drew brief accusations of anti-Semitism, but M-KA members have always claimed that the file had nothing to do with the religion or ancestry of those named within it. In an adjacent room lay enough weapons to outfit an entire guerilla group. Handguns, machine-guns, antitank missiles, you name it, M-KA had included it in this awe-inspiring weapons cache. The Danish press lost their collective minds.
Mountains of evidence had been revealed at the Blekingegade apartment, and the “gang” had indeed killed a policeman. While their reign as the kings of Danish revolutionary crime was over, the accused members fared far better than one would expect. Gotfred Appel and other 1970’s-era KAK members were questioned, but Danish law excluded all crimes prior to 1980 due to a statute of limitations. Attempts to charge the accused with “terrorism” or to tie them to the violent German Red Army Faction fell flat. Prosecutors could not even conclusively prove that any single M-KA member fired the shot that killed a police officer during their final robbery. In the end, seven M-KA members served prison sentences related to the robberies or lesser infractions. Thanks to a combination of weak evidence and lenient Danish sentencing, no M-KA member served more than ten years in prison.
The actions of KAK/M-KA did not result in a great wave of revolution fueled by the Marxist movements of former colonial subjects. Clearly. Their 20th century communist Robin Hood act did benefit several foreign resistance movements, but it would simply never be enough to tip the scales of global struggle. However, the saga of KAK/M-KA is a fascinating slice of leftist (and criminal) history. Appel’s theories encourage a complete redirection of the energies of serious revolutionaries in the developed world, and the KAK/M-KA focus on African, South American, or Asian leftist movements was based in a clear framework that went beyond any kind of racist cultural fetishism. Since the fall of the Blekingegade Gang the Western working classes have stirred, but only slightly. The actions of KAK/M-KA can fall anywhere on one’s personal moral spectrum, but it is hard to dispute the prescience of their analysis.
Appel, Gotfred. 1971. Class Struggle and Revolutionary Situation. Köpenhamn: Futura.
Appel, Gotfred. 1972. There Will Come a Day: Imperialism and the Working Class. Richmond, B.C.: Liberation Support Movement, Information Center.
Knudsen, Peter Øvig. 2007. 1 Blekingegadebanden: Den Danske Celle. Kbh.: Gyldendal.
Knudsen, Peter Øvig. 2008. 2 Blekingegadebanden. Den hårde Kerne. Gyldendal.
Kuhn, Gabriel. 2014. Turning Money into Rebellion: the Unlikely Story of Denmarks Revolutionary Bank Robbers. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
LAUESEN, TORKIL. 2018. GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance. Place of publication not identified: AK Press.
PET’S SURVIVAL OF THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEFT-wing 1945-1989 PET’S SURVIVAL OF THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEFT-Wing 1945-1989.