Greening the Whole Earth: Germany and the Greens

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In their call to “think globally and act locally” the Greens are challenging the basic assump­tions of both the left and the right. Called “the most interest­ing and provocative political party in Europe today,” the Greens dub themselves an “anti-party party.” In less than five years, they have rallied an unlikely coalition of housewives, farmers, peace workers, academics, merchants, ex-Marxists, retired gener­als and spiritual types to gain impressive electoral victories throughout Western Europe. Their pro­gram of ecological wisdom, social responsibility, grass-roots democracy, sexual equality and nonvi­olence at all levels offers compelling alternatives to the political stalemate we face in the United States. ^The Greens envision a society in which people have significant control over their lives while living in harmony with the natural environ­ment. The following report is largely derived from articles that appeared in recent issues of New Age Journal and TheNation, excerpted from Charlene Spretnak and Fritjof Capra’s excellent new book, Green Politics: The Global Promise (Dutton).

A ritual procession of twenty-seven people– in­cluding a nurse, a shop steward, a former general, a mason, several teachers, a veterinarian, a retired computer programmer, three engineers and a sci­entist, a bookseller, an architect, a journalist, a professor of agriculture, and a lawyer– walked through the streets of West Germany’s capital on March 22, 1983, with a huge rubber globe and a branch of a tree that was dying from pollution in the Black Forest. They were accompanied by representatives from various citizens’ movements and from other coun­tries. They entered the lower chamber of their national assembly, the Bundestag, and took seats as the first new party to be elected in more than thirty years. Even though they had previously won seats in city councils, county assemblies, and state legislatures, the four-year-old party had surprised nearly everyone by polling 5.6 percent of the national vote. The new parliamentarians insisted on being seated between the conservative party (Christian Democrats), who sat on the right side of the chamber, and the liberal-left party (Social Democrats). They called themselves simply die Grünen, the Greens.

The relatively small Green Party, with 30,000 members, is changing the political cul­ture of West Germany in ways that are inspir­ing alternative political movements all over the world. Most of the media coverage of the Greens in this country has, unfortunately, been sensationalist, negative, or simply inac­curate. The New York Times has called them “volatile,” “messianic,” and “far-left,” a charge repeated in nearly all its articles despite the fact that the Greens emphatically rejected many traditional leftist programs, especially those which lead to unqualified industrial growth. Readers of Time were informed that the Greens are “inchoate and unrealistic,” driven by “romantic and dangerously simplis­tic longing.” CBS’s Sixty Minutes chose to fea­ture footage of several Greens at a costume party on Fasching (Mardi Gras), creating a bi­zarre visual impression.

This is not to say that American journal­ists are involved in a conspiracy against the Greens. The pejorative reporting is due, for the most part, to the usual lack of comprehen­sion that radically new ideas encounter, partic­ularly from political observers accustomed to thinking in terms of left and right. Rather than accepting the fragmentary conservative or liberal/left analyses of society’s problems, Green politics begins with the recognition that the global problems currently threatening our survival are actually facets of one systemic cri­sis. Every aspect of our lives–health and live­lihood, the quality of the environment, social interactions, the economy, technology, poli­tics and government–is, in the holistic view of Green political theory, profoundly inter­connected. Politicians who argue about the merits of various short-term technological and economic “fixes” cannot, in the Greens’ view, effectively address the issues. Resolutions will only be found if the entire web of our social and ecological relations is changed, and this, say the Greens, will involve profound trans­formations of our institutions, values, and ideas–hence the party’s slogan: “We are neither left nor right; we are in front.”

It is not only the Greens’ claim to a new approach to political issues but also the di­verse composition of the party itself that no doubt contributes to confusion among observ­ers. The Green Party attracts members from the entire political spectrum, most of whom are also activists in one or more of the citi­zens’  movements–ecology, anti-nuclear­ power, peace, feminism, and others. The Greens’ purpose is to bring the challenging new questions of the citizens’ movements into the forums of power and at the same time to channel back to these movements privileged information from government bodies. In the words of Roland Vogt, a cofounder of the party, the citizens’ groups act as the “emergen­cy brakes of a runaway industrial society.”

Most of the Greens are the sons and daughters of the “economic miracle genera­tion” who rebuilt Germany from the postwar rubble. But the Green Party also attracts mem­bers who are over 60 and remember a prewar childhood before processed food, extensive pollution, and nuclear weapons. All the Greens, through various paths of political de­velopment, came to realize during the 1970s that there was something wrong in “Model Germany.”

Not surprisingly, as a result of the various orientations and priorities among party mem­bers, several loosely defined factions have de­veloped. There are the visionary/holistic Greens (also called the “ideological Greens”) who are particularly concerned with the “big picture” perception of how the party’s thinking might affect all aspects of life and society. Like the other Greens, they work on specific issues, but are especially interested in the de­velopment of Green political theory. Another group, the eco-Greens (or “green Greens”), focus their efforts primarily on protecting the natural world from toxic wastes, radiation, pollution, and other hazards, as well as pro­moting “eco-development”–that is, the use of renewable-resource technologies for energy and industry. This faction includes liberals as well as “value conservatives,” who are roughly comparable to the Republican populists in the United States today. A third group, the peace-movement Greens, came into the party pri­marily to further the party’s peace program, which includes proposals for removing the Euromissiles, calling on both Moscow and Washington to deescalate the arms race, initi­ating phases of demilitarization, and develop­ing a “Europe of the regions” which would be free of bloc alignments and even of nation-states. Finally, there are the radical-left, or Marxist-oriented, Greens, who have formed their own caucus and emphasize ef­fecting social change by working with the trade unions. This wing–most of whose members live in industrial cities and focus their atten­tion on workers’ issues–is the smallest nu­merically but has assumed several influential positions.

Not surprisingly, melding these groups into a functional political force has been diffi­cult. The Greens’ constitutional convention in January 1980 was wracked by raging disagree­ments. Near the end of the weekend gathering, it appeared that the 1,004 delegates would fail to ratify a constitution. It was only because a few members of the assembly quietly pre­vailed upon the janitor to stop the clock sever­al times (to prevent delegates from leaving to catch their trains) that the new party finally was able to settle on a governing document.

Those proceedings were tame compared to the preliminary congress that had been held two months earlier to establish the basic prin­ciples of the Green Party. The majority of the assembly wanted the new party to stand for possibilities other than either socialism or the capitalist status quo. The radical-left contin­gent, on the other hand, insisted on not only including socialism but also on excluding non­violence as a guiding principle. Various groups shouted their proposals, and it seemed in­creasingly certain, as the frustrating con­vention dragged on, that a party would not be formed.

The breakthrough was achieved by Au­gust Haussleiter, the 78-year-old editor of the Greens’ weekly newspaper who often plays the role of mediator. He recalls that someone from Berlin, whose name he never knew, appeared behind him and gave him the final push neces­sary to shape the chaos into the “four pillars” of the Green Party. “I myself had been almost desperate with the situation because there were three thousand people screaming their own positions in the convention hall. This per­son kept saying ‘Don’t give up. Don’t give up. They’re getting tired.’ Although agreement seemed impossible, I took a piece of paper and wrote four words on it: Ecology, social respon­sibility, grass-roots democracy, and nonvio­lence. Then I called together Gruhl [a leader of the conservatives] and Reents [a leader of the radical left] in the room where the journalists were and said, ‘Sign.’ We then went back into the convention hall and announced, ‘We have a program.'”

These four simple concepts identified by Haussleiter form the basis for the entirety of Green politics. The first of the four pillars, ecology, includes all the ramifications of eco­logical thinking–that is, not only environmental protection but also “deep ecology,” a concept popular with activists in this country. Far more than protecting or repairing the sta­tus quo, which is generally the goal of environmentalism, deep ecology involves the study of nature’s subtle web of interrelated processes and the application of that study to our inter­actions with nature and among ourselves. Manon Maren-Grisebach, a self-assured pro­fessor of philosophy who served for two years on the Greens’ national executive committee, explains, “The emphasis on relations and interconnections–in Gregory Bateson’s words, ‘the pattern which connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me’–is the foundation of Green thought and being, whether it is called grass-roots democracy or something else. This consciousness is simply there in – the Greens.”

These insights have been translated into specific proposals for addressing many of West Germany’s ecological problems –proposals which are believed to have brought the Greens most of their votes in the March 1983 federal elections. The focus dur­ing that campaign was immediate action to lessen and then halt the formation of acid rain, which has caused the rapidly escalating “death of the forests” in several regions of West Ger­many. In May 1983, Green parliamentarian Wolfgang Ehmke presented a four-stage pro­posal in the Bundestag for the reduction of sul­fur dioxide emissions. Though the gradual plan–which would reduce all levels by the year 2000 to 1.9 percent of what they were in 1983–was not approved, the Kohl govern­ment finally agreed to require lead-free gaso­line in West Germany as of 1985. Many Green groups at the local level monitor the emission levels of factories to see whether they are complying with federal law, and some Greens have also initiated successful local ordinances. In Nuremberg, for example, the city council approved a Green proposal to restrict emis­sions from its municipal power plant and process the sulfur dioxide pollution into nontoxic gypsum, which is then sold to the housing industry.

The Greens also recommend protection of farmers. Antje Vollmer, a parliamentarian who holds a doctorate in theology as well as agriculture, reminded the Bundestag that “farmers are the primary environmentalists.” She proposed a revision of federal policy that would support small farmers and organic agri­culture, reversing the trend toward automated farms that produce food of low nutritional value and pollute and disrupt ecosystems.

The second Green pillar, social responsi­bility, has a paradoxical character: it means something different to different elements of the party. Most of the Greens take it to mean social justice and an assurance that the poor and the working class will not get hurt by pro­grams to ecologically restructure our consum­er economy. The Marxist-oriented Greens, however, regard sozial as a code-word for so­cialism (that is, democratic Marxism), which is not the political model that either the vi­sionary, liberal, or conservative Greens have in mind. Despite this lack of agreement, the Greens have worked together to propose more legislation to protect the social and civil rights of women and minorities (such as the four million foreign “guest workers” in West Ger­many) than either of the major parties has ever undertaken. Unfortunately, only a tiny pro­portion of these proposals becomes law, because the Greens constitute a small minori­ty within the legislative bodies where they have won seats.

The third pillar, grass-roots democracy, is reflected not only in the party’s structure, but also in its dedication to serving and empower­ing the citizens’ movements. The Greens have even established a foundation, Oko-Fond, which distributes party funds in projects de­signed to aid various groups. Oko-Fond is ad­ministered entirely at the state level, although funds are derived from national membership dues and from a portion (usually about half) of the monthly salary of the Green parliamentar­ians and state legislators. Typical of the proj­ects Oko-Fond has supported so far are publicity costs for several protest actions; chemical tests of emission levels; wheelchair access to the office of a peace group; appren­ticeships in carpentry, masonry, and roofing for unemployed young people; the deficit from a conference on the problems faced by Gyp­sies; a film about peace; court costs and legal fees for many groups’ lawsuits; an energy-generating windmill; a prison newspaper; a monthly alternative newspaper; a book on the destruction of a moor through the practices of agribusiness; collectively owned businesses such as an alternative bookshop, a theater group, and a natural foods store; peace camps; and shelters for battered women.

Most state branches of Oko-Fond are ad­ministered by a board of five people, at least two of whom–and more often three–are ac­tivists from the citizens’ movements who are not members of the Green Party. They usually meet for a full day once a month to decide on new funding and discuss ongoing projects, each of which is monitored between meetings by a contact person on the board. To any proj­ect that will earn income Oko-Fond usually gives an interest-free loan to be paid back in one to three years. This is called a “subsidy” or “allowance” to avoid violating laws concern­ing political parties. Nearly all grants and loans are under 10,000 DM ($4,000), and most are from 1,000 to 3,000 DM ($400;-$ 1,200). A recurring problem, however, is that many projects, especially the larger ones, default on the loans.

The Greens, in serving the citizens’ move­ments, know that many activists will never join the Green Party, or any other, because particularly strong antipathy toward political parties exists in West Germany. Older people feel the Nazi Party tricked them in their youth with a hidden agenda, while many of the young people feel that all party politics are innately corrupting. Therefore, the Greens’ definition of their grass-roots constituency includes nonmembers who work with and sup­port the party.

Thomas Schaller, a city planner who is a Green member of the city council in Stuttgart, spoke of the practical difficulties one encounters acting as a conduit between the citizens’ movements and the legislative bodies: “Each week council members receive a large packet of papers about issues to be decided at the coming meeting, but the citizens’ movements usually cannot decide on issues that quickly, sometimes because of poor organization.” He feels that working within institutions but wanting to change them is “like walking on a knife.” Schaller spends a good deal of his time offering practical assistance to local citizens’ groups. He helps them frame arguments, orga­nize the community, set achievable goals in small steps, find an attorney, connect with the local press, and realize they are as important as the other people in the news. He stresses that the Greens are fighting to secure policy­making power rather than just consulting roles for the citizens’ groups.

The fourth pillar, nonviolence, means to the Greens the cessation of both personal vio­lence and “structural violence,” that is, vio­lence and oppression imposed by the state and by institutions. They advocate peace education in the schools, which would teach nonviolent means of conflict resolution and show children that the cult of the soldier is a cultural, not natural, condition. The Greens also call for an end to the violence and oppres­sion toward women, children, and minority groups they view as common in patriarchal so­cieties. They want to transform a violent rela­tionship with nature into one of balance and respect.

The Greens extend their principle of non­violence to their active resistance against the most massive and potentially deadly manifes­tation of structural violence: the nuclear arms race. In their national headquarters in Bonn, the Greens have a poster of Gandhi’s adage “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”

Perhaps the Greens’ most impressive spokesperson for nonviolent resistance to mil­itarism in the nuclear age has been Gert Bastian, a former general in the West German army. Bastian is a handsome and charming silver-haired man of 60 who resigned his commission one month before the “double-track decision” of December 1979 to negotiate in Geneva but deploy the Pershing II and cruise missiles if those negotiations failed. He con­cluded that “the ethical justification for a mili­tary force–that those people are protecting and defending what they love–is lost in the nuclear age because nothing can be protected in a nuclear war. In fact, military service in such circumstances becomes undignified and is a threat to everyone.”

In September 1983, Bastian spoke at the National War College in Washington, D.C. When he held up a poster that showed the sig­natures of fifteen retired NATO generals op­posing deployment of the new missiles in Europe, the audience of 280 generals and colo­nels applauded. The college witnessed a rever­sal of traditional roles that day, as a woman, Petra Kelly, presented the military and politi­cal positions and a man, Bastian, related his personal story. Bastian told of having been used in his youth by the Nazi government, who convinced young men to join the army because Germany had been attacked by ag­gressive nations. Because young people can be so easily misled and used, Bastian maintains, it is the duty of older people, with their wiser perspective, to expose the system. His message and Kelly’s were received with genuine appre­ciation, and questions about the moral force of Green politics far exceeded the depth of previ­ous questions from State Department personnel.

Given Bastian’s position as one of the chief architects of the Greens’ program for a secure alternative to militarism, and as one of the most widely known Greens, the party was shocked when he resigned from its parliamen­tary group in Bundestag on February 9. He cited problems with the working conditions in the group (such as inefficiency and power struggles), as well as his perception that some of the Marxist Greens have come to wield too much influence, especially in furthering “a strong anti-American undertow.” He particu­larly deplored their opposition to the party’s evenhanded criticism of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and warned against the possible erosion of the Greens’ position on nonvio­lence. He has remained in the party and func­tions as an independent parliamentarian working for the peace movement.

Most Marxist-oriented Greens have not fully supported the strategy of nonviolence, viewing it merely as a “moralistic” tactic that should be abandoned in favor of escalating re­sistance if it does not prove sufficiently effec­tive. Petra Kelly’s account of the leftists’ attitude on this issue speaks for the assessment of many other Greens: “They do not under­stand that nonviolent action is an extremely subversive force. They think it’s harmless and changes nothing, that it’s like begging from the state. ‘It’s just a strategy, a tool,’ they say. To them everything is to be used. But there are some things you should never misuse–or even use. They are simply integral.”

Jurgen Reents, a Marxist-oriented Green member of the Bundestag from Hamburg, is a tall, attractive man with an intensity and an air of personal power that have served him well in politics. His responses on the subject of nonviolence are representative of the radical-left Greens. “I do not believe that we can win the struggle against deployment of the Euromissiles by militant resistance. But my critique of those who have turned nonviolence into an absolute, inviolable ideology is that it leads to martyrdom, which makes me fear that one will remain morally clean in the end but politically without success. What happens when they won’t let us blockade the gates any longer? What shall we do then?”

This is the dilemma that plagued the West German peace movement throughout 1983. The advocates of nonviolent resistance argued that their course should not be dismissed as simply “moralistic,” since it is also rational: history, they argue convincingly, shows that violence breeds violence, which can scarcely be afforded in a nuclear age. For most mem­bers of the Greens the choice is clear: as Petra Kelly often states, citing Martin Luther King, “We no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence. The choice is either nonvio­lence or nonexistence.”

Kelly’s forceful pronouncements on peace and nonviolence, plus her ability to express complex Green positions succinctly and con­vincingly, have made her a familiar political figure in the media. Many journalists who de­scribe Kelly compare her to Joan of Arc. They note her short, sandy hair and attractive fea­tures, her deep engagement, her urgent speech . . . and her air of a martyr. She does indeed seem almost possessed at moments when she brilliantly condenses complicated Green polit­ical positions into the tight constraints of an interview, gazing over the dark circles of fa­tigue that always rim her eyes and speaking at so rapid a clip that the need for breathing seems hardly indulged. Her leadership role within the Greens, however, is controversial. Since the Hitler era demonstrated the danger of charismatic leaders, many Greens feel that the party should pursue the ideal of a network of people, without functionaries, who are all involved in governing their society. Others feel that the public is more likely to accept Green ideas from leaders who have become fa­miliar and have established some personal credibility over time. Even those Greens who accept the need for leaders complain that Kelly is too enamored of personal publicity. The fact that her impressive performances on Meet the Press, The Today Show, and The MacNeil-Lehrer Hour last year cut through the often sensationalist American media coverage of the party elicits only shrugs from other Greens. She could share the spotlight more, they counter.

Some of the opposition to Kelly almost certainly stems from political differences. Many of the Marxist-oriented Greens consider Kelly an irritation for two reasons: her heroes are Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Berrigan brothers rather than Marx, and she includes spiritual values in politics. One Green parliamentarian who was formerly a Communist remarked that the Bundestag is not the proper place for Kelly specifically be­cause she has “a certain religious tendency” and therefore is not pragmatic enough. That particular objection is not typical of the whole party, since many Greens feel that a spiritual dimension is fundamental to Green politics.

Be that as it may, the resentment toward Kelly is widespread. A frequently heard sug­gestion is that her personality exacerbates the friction: she is considered a high-strung gen­ius, a loner, an impatient theoretician, a bearer of the world’s burdens who is always em­broiled in several crisis situations simultaneously.

Perhaps the Greens’ “Petra paradox” can best be summarized by juxtaposing Kelly’s own perception–“I have no personal life. I am almost married to the Greens”–with a typical response from a member of the Greens’ national executive committee: “Petra Kelly was very important in the formative stages of the party because charismatic personalities are necessary to create stability and to establish the new ideas in the public’s consciousness. However, that function is no longer needed.”

The other leading theorist among the vi­sionary Greens is Rudolf Bahro, whose insight and originality have both exasperated and de­lighted various wings of the party. He evolved into post-Marxist politics all the way from the inner circles of the East German Communist Party. On October 6, 1979, the thirtieth anni­versary of the German Democratic Republic, twenty thousand criminals were released from prison under a general amnesty. Bahro was in­cluded because of public outcry from the West at his sentencing for writing The Alternative in Eastern Europe. Some people had discerned “a hidden Green” in his book, and when he moved to West Germany he was warmly wel­comed by the radical leftists who had joined the Greens. Only a few weeks later he was a keynote speaker at the Greens’ assembly at Offenbach, where he surprised the radical-left Greens by stating, “In our own civilization Christ was incontestably the first teacher of our ultimate goal, the first teacher of the gener­al emancipation of humanity.” He has contin­ued to surprise and confound the Marxist-oriented Greens–and to inspire the majority of the party–with statements such as “The Greens are to Marx and Marxism what Einstein was to Newton and Newtonian physics–in short, a qualitative transforma­tion of a worthwhile system whose time, how­ever, is up.”

Bahro is a charming combination of in­sight, originality, and innocence, seeming rather like a middle-aged, bespectacled school­boy with soft-spoken, almost impish ways. That mild-mannered demeanor, however, gives way to a style of public speaking that can be quite animated and intense. Bahro has framed influential post-Marxist arguments– which are different from antagonistic anti-Marxist positions, he emphasizes–in a number of areas, although some of his sugges­tions are judged too impractical even by his admirers.

Bahro is a member of the Greens’ eleven-person national executive committee. Despite his stature within the party, he is required to rotate out of his position after two years, as are nearly all Green officials at the state and feder­al level. The Greens adopted the practice of ro­tation from the citizens’ movements in order to diffuse the concentration of power among leaders and to prevent their legislators from becoming as insular as the mainstream politi­cians are considered to be. However, the rota­tion principle, too, has been the subject of spirited debate.

Roland Vogt, a sage observer of the dy­namics within the Greens’ Bundestag parlia­mentary group, predicted what will transpire in March 1985, halfway through their first term: “Some people will be glad to leave the pressure and go home, some people will rotate on principle, some people will be dragged out kicking and screaming, and some people will simply not rotate.”

Whatever the outcome of various contro­versies over leadership, the Green Party is likely to remain a force in West German poli­tics, precisely because its strength and vitality rests firmly with the grass-roots. As we traveled the Green network around West Germany, we became fascinated with the end­less diversity of the citizens involved. “What is the glue that holds the Green Party togeth­er?” we asked again and again. The most dis­arming reply came from Helmut Lippelt, a historian and Green state legislator in Lower Saxony: “Success!” He then became more seri­ous and reflected, as the others had, on the pri­mary unifying focus: “We are fighting for survival.” Green politics appealed to so many West Germans because theirs is a densely pop­ulated, heavily industrialized nation where the limits to growth are visible at every turn, where the madness of nuclear deterrence has made them prime candidates for thermonucle­ar holocaust, and where the level of affluence allows “big picture” reflection. They are fight­ing to save the natural world and humankind, not through force but by awakening the con­sciousness that a new orientation for society is imperative. When accused by old-paradigm politicians of being dreamers, the Greens re­spond: “Who is realistic about the future and who is naive?”

Reprinted with permission from New Age Journal (April 1984). This article was origi­nally condensed from Green Politics: The Global Promise by Fritjof Capra and Charlene Spretnak (E. P. Dutton, Two Park Ave., New York, NY 10016). Dr. Capra is the author of The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point (both published by Bantam). Ms. Spretnak is the editor of The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (Anchor/Doubleday) and the author of Lost Goddesses of Early Greece (Beacon Press).

This article originally appeared  in Utne Reader‘s Summer 1984 issue. For more similar, see The Surfacing of Postmodernity, Green Politics in the United States,  Shifting Power from Federal Government to Bioregions, and A Green America

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