Die Grnen

The Greens. Forebears of the present German Green party. What has happened to their ideals? Why is the party viewed just as a somnolent giant today? saral sarkar examines

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

Die Grnen

-- in western Europe today, Green parties are an integral part of parliamentary politics; in Germany, whose case has been analysed here, the Green party is a ruling party in coalition governments in some provinces. But Green party politics was significant not for capturing power, but for being radical-ecological, alternative in style and content to all other parties and for standing in solidarity with the Third World.

The German Green party originated in the new social movements of the early '70s, which were the results of various grievances such as those against environmental degradation, dissatisfaction with the established political process which allowed little scope for self-determination and opposition to nuclear energy. In the second half of the decade came the women's movement and the movement for alternative life-forms known as the 'alternative movement'.

The forms of organisation and action were very original (or alternative, as the Germans say). There were innumerable small groups called citizens' initiatives ( ci s) struggling against or for something. They were autonomous and anti-hierarchical and refused association with any party. In fact, they saw themselves as the extra-parliamentary opposition - the real opposition to governments. They also refused to subordinate themselves to a central executive committee, which is why for some years they had no national organisation. And even later, when some central organisations arose, they never had any authority over the local ci s or basis groups.

The ci s had one disadvantage. They were, of course, the best forms of organisation to satisfy the activists' psychological need to be autonomous and anti-hierarchical. But for this very reason, they either had just local, one-point programmes, or, when they took up any global or national issue - such as the struggle against nuclear energy - they were ineffective. When the ecology movement in general and the anti-nuclear energy ( ane ) movement in particular failed to achieve concrete results (despite largescale demonstrations and other actions like occupying construction sites), it was realised that a different kind of organisation and actions were needed.

Consequently, individuals and activists formed party-like organisations (called electoral lists in Germany) and took part in municipal and state elections. The idea was to fight against the rulers on their own terrain and inflict electoral losses on established parties; it was a plausible strategy with the prospect of some success.

But there were also many who saw in this strategy the danger of becoming integrated into the very system they wanted to fight. To make a long story short, this strategy, which began in 1977, brought some eco-alternative groups into a few Lander (provincial) parliaments, inducing them to form a national electoral list called Die Grunen (The Greens) in order to participate in the elections to the European parliament held in 1979. Following encouraging results (they won 3.2 per cent of the votes in West Germany), it was decided to form a proper political party and to participate in all elections, including those to the Bundestag (federal parliament). The Green party of Germany thus came into being in January 1980.
Bitter beginnings
Those who insisted that activists of the movements should not form or join a party, opposed the formation of the Green party. The party, however, aiming to win over its detractors, posited itself as a party of the movements. In its early years, there was a real effort for close cooperation with the movements. But there were substantial grounds for contradictions and conflicts as well. A party that wanted to be part of the parliament and also of movements, that insisted on remaining an extra-parliamentary opposition and was suspicious of any other parliamentary party, necessarily had to have two very different, even opposed, strategies for social change.

The other ground for contradictions and conflicts lay in the degree of radicality in perspective. Many party activists believed that only a dismantling of the industrial society could really save the biosphere. This was a reassertion of the conclusion arrived at by most of the serious ecological thinkers of the '70s such as Herbert Gruhl of Germany. But this view was not popular among the voters.

People wanted to protect the environment and about 45 per cent of them even supported the ane movement, but it was impossible for them to question the industrial society altogether - a society which provided them employment, luxury and comfort. A party that wanted to enter the parliaments, especially in Germany where electoral law accords parliamentary representation only to those parties that get at least five per cent of the votes, could not afford such an unpopular stand.

In the second half of the '70s and the early '80s, these two radical positions had intellectual hegemony both in the movements and in the Green party. Since the movements had no organisation but were a loose conglomeration of many ci s and basis groups, the contradictions there did not matter much. Each group or individual could have its own long-term perspective. For concrete political work, these groups needed only a consensus on particular immediate or short-term issues.

So far as the relationship between the Green party and the movements was concerned, the former could ignore the positions taken up by the articulate radical minority of the latter. A party needs only voters. It is not a conglomeration of basis groups. It must have an accepted programme and strategy. But the same contradictions and conflicts as existed in the movements persisted within the Green party, which had itself partly originated out of ci s and basis groups.

In the Green party, contradictions and conflicts surfaced in the very first year of its existence. Radical ecologists clashed with leftists. Whereas the former questioned industrial society and prioritised the task of saving the biosphere and the environment, the latter's focus was social justice, overcoming unemployment and improvement of the condition of workers and other low-income groups.

Not that the leftists were indifferent to issues of the environment. But they believed that their radical demands (both social and environmental) could be financed by means of redistribution of the national wealth and income, and that a different sort of eco-technological development would take care of both, protecting the environment as well as raising the productivity of the economy for financing all their social demands.

The radical ecologists severely criticised the leftist programme. Gruhl showed its inner contradictions and castigated it as an "alternative castle in the air". But the leftists had a majority in the party, and their programme became the party programme in 1980. Many of the radical ecologists, especially the conservatives among them, soon left the Green party and formed their own organisation.

Fundi and Realo
The radical ecologists who stayed back in the party held that there was no necessary contradiction between leftist and radical-ecological politics; one of the most articulate among them was Rudolf Bahro, who said: "Red and Green, Green and Red go well together." Bahro further wrote, "The socialists need the Greens because survival of mankind must necessarily be ensured in order that their old goals remain attainable. The socialists are needed by the Greens because mankind's survival can be assured only if the driving mechanism of monopolistic competition is put out of operation."

But the majority in the Green party could think only on the basis of an industrial society. In the early '80s, this majority held that there was no alternative to industrial society, but only alternatives within it. It believed also that it could not achieve its goals without the support of the organised working class - the trade unions. Since the middle of the '70s, the ecology movement, and later the Green party, had been trying to win the support of the trade unions. These efforts had resulted in some active trade unionists joining the party and in occasional support from trade unions for particular ecological demands.

The positions of the two sides converged finally, at least on paper, in the mid-80s. In 1985, the Federation of German Trade Unions demanded - in a basic position paper called Protection of Ecology and Qualitative Growth - public investments to the tune of us $30.12 billion over four years for 54 measures in ecologically relevant areas. It expected several hundred thousand new jobs from these investments. At the same time, it wrote that it "gives an unmistakable rebuff to all those who use ecological problems as argument for the demand to opt out of the industrial society". The remaining radical ecologists in the Green party did not like this kind of support. According to them, the trade unions were a part of the problem, because they were one of the strongest pillars of industrial society. Most of these ecologists left the party in 1985.

The terms 'Fundi' (fundamentalist) and 'Realo' (realist, pragmatist) were used in the Green party in two different ways. With respect to socioeconomic goals, the radical ecologists were Fundis and all others were Realos. But among such Realos, there was a subdivision between Fundis and Realos in matters of strategy and the class question. The radical leftists laid more stress on popular movements and mass demonstrations, and stuck to their socialist ideal of a classless society. And they continued to think that the working class was the main agent of societal change.

The Realos, on the other hand, accepted capitalism as an unbeatable system that could only be reformed. This belief was strengthened after 1989 when socialism in eastern Europe collapsed. Moreover, the Realos had little faith in the utility of popular movements and demonstrations as means of attaining goals; they laid more stress on electoral-political strategy and tactics. While radical leftists were totally averse to becoming a ruling party in a coalition government and were, along with the moderate leftists, prepared only to tole-rate a Social democratic government under certain conditions, the realos were keen to become junior partners of the Social Democrats in a coalition government, arguing that only thus could some of the Green demands be net. Besides, the Realos had no special love for the working class, as they believed more votes could be had from an ecologically sensitive middle class.

Through the '80s, the leftists apparently dominated the party, but the latter's political composition was changing gradually. With rapid electoral successes, the party had drawn to it all kinds of opportunists, ordinary people who were well-intentioned but apolitical, as well as several interest groups (like homosexuals and radical feminists) that wanted only to instrumentalise the party for their particular interests. Such people enabled the Realos to get majorities at the local and state levels, so that it became possible for the Realos to make the Green party a ruling party in 1985 - in the state of Hessen, as junior partner of the Social Democrats.

Bitter inner-party wrangles between the left-Fundis and the Realos resulted in a weakening of the former; the moderate leftists reconciled themselves to cutting back on their goals - from creating a socialist society to defending the interests of the lower strata of society. This became very clear after the election to the Berlin state parliament held in 1989, in which the Social Democrats and the Greens together got a majority. The formerly radical leftist Berlin Greens eagerly formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats.

One year later, when socialism and the socialist East German state, the German Democratic Republic ( gdr ), collapsed, the Green party became an established party reconciled to capitalism. Almost all left-Fundis thereafter left the party, and the moderate leftists became Realos. This change in direction was further strengthened after the reunification of Germany, which brought many antisocialist gdr -dissidents into the Green party.

An uncertain future
The Greens today have given up their claim to be an 'anti-party party', but they still cherish the wish to restructure German society ecologically. Having donned the garb of the usual poli-tical party, their only speciality now is that they reserve at least 50 per cent of all leading party positions for women. Having given up their original unambiguous anti-growth position, the Greens' current mantra points out that "whereas some areas of the economy must shrink, growth in other areas is desirable".

Like many other environmentalists, they are also advocating an ecological tax-reform, which would make energy and other resources costlier. This is expected to induce industrialists and consumers to invest in environmental and resource efficiency. These could form the basis for ecological reform, but they are not visionary ideas for an alternative society; this is not even alternative thinking.

Throughout their short history, the Greens have consistently sympathised and stood in solidarity with the third world. These are praiseworthy sentiments, but they cannot be taken seriously. The Greens want to eat the cake and have it too. But it is impossible to really protect the environment and help the third world without demanding sacrifices in material standards of living (in even that of the low- and middle-income groups), and that is something the Greens do not want. In their 1986 document on ecological and social restructuring of the industrial society of Germany, the Greens made many concrete proposals for reallocation of funds in the federal, state and municipal budgets and for redistribution of the national income. But they strangely assumed that the same huge sums as before would be available for reallocation and redistribution. Obviously, they did not know that the enormous national income - which gave rise to those sums - was generated to a large extent through the exploitation of the third world.

In the early years of their existence, the Greens had a great impact on the people of Germany. They did not, of course, get many votes. But the people were shaken out of their complacency and were compelled to think seriously about the great ecological crisis. But today, the Greens are apparently singing themselves to sleep - the sleep of the self-satisfied. They constitute the third strongest party in the country, but the people are again dozing off.

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