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Issue 41, September 1999

Germany: from radical movement to party of war

    The Red-Green experience
    The next liberal party?

'WITH RESPECT, Vice-President, you're an asshole', said Joschka Fischer, leader of Die Grünen in 1984. The Greens were first elected to the Bundestag in 1983, with long hair, jeans and trainers. They put people's backs up, hoisted banners with provocative slogans, were radical and caused a disturbance. Today, Fischer's trainers are on show in a museum. The minister wears tailor-made suits and sports only Italian designer clothing.

When the Greens were formed in 1980, many on the left in Germany - fed up with the move to the right of the SPD and their youth section - saw a glimmer of hope. The ecology movement came from all sorts of different backgrounds, from the radical left to the conservative right, but the left dominated. And, because of the political vacuum on the left, the Greens quickly gained ground. By the end of 1982 they already had seats in six federal parliaments. In 1983 they were elected to the Bundestag and in 1985 Fischer formed part of the Hesse Land government as minister for the environment.

The Greens had been swept into power by extra-parliamentary movements, mass protests and campaigning. In 1981 alone there had been three major demonstrations of 100,000 people and one with over 300,000, protesting against atomic power and for peace and disarmament. There were plenty of seeds of socialist ideas. In May 1986, for instance, demands for the nationalisation of the steel industry and the banks, a living wage for the unemployed and pensioners, as well as the 35-hour week with no loss of pay for the lower income brackets, were supported at party conferences. Long-term policies included free travel on local public transport and German withdrawal from NATO. In the short term the Greens called for public transport prices to be halved and fuel taxes to be increased.

  However, the Greens never had a rounded-out socialist programme, or a perspective for how a different kind of society could be achieved. Their policies were always aimed at making the working class pay for society's environmental sins, instead of laying the blame squarely on the capitalist system. They played no part at all in industrial struggles such as Rheinhausen - the 1988 fight to save steel workers' jobs in the Ruhr. When there were no working-class movements, the middle-class social base of the Greens and their lack of confidence in the workers meant that the right-wing 'Realists' won out over the left-wing 'Fundamentalists'.

The move to the right and pressure to conform went ahead at high speed. The election victories of recent years reflect more their left-wing image of the past than their current programme and actual policies. The view that the Greens should be more like the other parties in order to become credible and gain more support within the population is an illusion. The opposite is the case. They had their best election result in 1987 when they got 8.7% of the vote. This was when they had a left-wing national council led by Jutta Dittfurth (a 'Fundamentalist') and plenty of contact with extra-parliamentary movements.

This was the time when they had most influence in society. The Greens played an enormous part in raising ecological awareness, and all the parties were forced to incorporate environmental issues into their programmes. Today, 96% of the population collect old newspapers and sort empty bottles. Because of the anti-nuclear movement, 70 of the planned 90 atomic power stations were never built. It was the extra-parliamentary protest that achieved progress, not the participation in government of the Greens.

There were also environmental movements in the German Democratic Republic (the former East Germany), which converged like every other opposition movement under the protection of the Church. Human rights campaigners from New Forum and other organisations joined with the Greens from the West to form Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens).

But politically they were not really left. Konrad Weiss, an East German MP, for instance, believes that violence and neo-Nazism in society are caused by women who choose abortion, because this is the first act of violence with which human life is confronted. It is, therefore, not surprising that some officials of Bündnis 90 went straight over to the CDU.

  Although environmental awareness is traditionally higher amongst East Germans and they are much more economical with the use of natural resources than their West German counterparts, the Greens have never gained a foothold in the East. Many left-wing issues are articulated by the PDS (Partei das Demokratischen Sozialismus). In addition, the moral appeal of the West German Greens to people's environmental awareness only provokes suspicion in the East. Ecology for the better-off doesn't go down too well there. With the Greens' election campaign proposal to increase petrol to 5DM per litre, they really cut themselves off from working-class people both in the East and West. The influence of the East German Greens is, therefore, negligible.
  top     The Red-Green experience

THE BALKAN CONFLICT turned the Greens into a party of war. It was Germany's first military engagement since the Second World War and only with the Greens' support - previously the party of peace - was it possible to carry it through with so little protest. In order to justify sending in German troops, Fischer claimed fascism reigned in Yugoslavia and Milosevic was a second Hitler. 'This is the first time Germany has been on the right side in a war', were his hypocritical words. Notwithstanding the atrocities carried out in Kosova by the Milosevic regime, this is an incredible down-playing of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. Yet many members of the Green Party felt 'torn' during the war and did not question their foreign minister. The smaller left wing of the party only argued that the war should have been waged under UN leadership.

But the Greens have not betrayed just their anti-war traditions. They had always supported the immediate shutting down of all of Germany's 19 atomic power stations and supplied scientific evidence for the argument that this wouldn't mean the lights going out in Germany. (Nuclear energy supplies one-third of the country's electricity). Now, under pressure from SPD prime minister Gerhard Schröder and the nuclear lobby, they are twisting and turning. They will be happy if in the next legislative period, just one atomic power station is shut down - in agreement with the nuclear industry, of course.

While nuclear waste containers were being transported through Germany in 1998, masses of youth and anti-nuclear protesters were battered by the police - under the supervision of a Green Chief-of-Police and a Red-Green coalition at federal level. But last summers mass protests did force the then CDU (conservative) government to stop the transport of nuclear waste - now it back on the agenda, under a Red-Green national government.

  Environmental policy has been reduced to begging favours of industry and has turned into yet another ploy to take even more money out of the pockets of working people. The 'Green Tax' which was introduced this year will add to the financial burden on the majority of the population by increasing the price of electricity, petrol and oil. Yet while energy-intensive companies, such as in the steel industry, are exempted from this tax, the public transport sector has to pay a one-off charge, which will be passed onto travellers through increased ticket prices. And the revenue from the Green tax, which was originally intended to finance environmental projects, is now to be used to reduce employers' contributions.

Social justice was never high on the list of the Greens' priorities: they are often the first to support privatisation and the 'slimming down' of the state. The Greens' spokesperson on economics has opposed a property tax, which would progressively tax the rich more than the poor, as unnecessary and, a 'kick in the teeth'. This at a time when a £10 billion cuts package is being implemented at the expense of pensioners, the unemployed and the poor.

The separation of public office and party positions, the rotation of public representatives, and the reduction of MPs' salaries, have always been fundamental elements of the Green programme. But now they have been thrown out along with other policies which might pose an obstacle to being in government.

Likewise, there is no more talk of the old demand for the fundamental right of asylum. Only a year ago, the Greens expressed concern about the situation in Kurdistan and proved that weapons supplied by Germany were being used to murder Kurds. A year later and the Red-Green government continues deporting them. During his recent visit to Turkey, Fischer didn't even once mention the word 'Kurds', and he was equally sparing with his comments about human rights violations. But this is consistent for a foreign minister who, in his own words, does not recognise Green, only German, foreign policy.

  top     The next liberal party?

FOR A PARTY that used to attract young people, the Greens look pretty old nowadays. In the mid-1980s they had an unusually high proportion of students, school students, apprentices and unemployed people. At national level, these made up almost half the membership. Today, members are mostly professionals or academics, people with a comfortable income. In a survey conducted by the youth magazine, Bravo, in June this year, the Greens scored badly. Only 10% of 14-18-year-olds feel that the Greens represent their interests. In comparison, 30% gave support to the SPD and 16% to the CDU. If they had to vote today, 8% of 18-year-olds would vote Green, but a year ago this figure was 18%.

This situation has produced a 'Young Green' reaction. A document signed by 40 Young Green officials, all of whom are under 30, asked the 'well-fed' generation of 1968 to give them a chance and change the policy of the party. However, even this group expressed the desire to be 'modern', and neither left nor right: 'The success of 1968 was that the establishment was put in question… they were able to break up encrusted social structures'.

What these Young Greens mean by 'a move towards modernisation' is parting with old social policy: 'In the East', they argue, 'people have long since given up their privileges or never possessed them in the first place, but in the West, people still cling jealously to them'. The vision of the future that these Young Greens hold is of a 'flexible', uncertain labour market: 'Today, it is mainly women who have part-time jobs. What will represent a real change for men has been reality for women for a long time'.

They intend to solve environmental problems by charging higher prices for ecologically unfriendly products. But consumers often don't have the choice of buying environmentally friendly products because they are more expensive, while the producers who are the main cause of environmental destruction get away with not paying the penalties.

  Overall, about half of the membership of the party has joined after 1994, without the left-wing traditions of even the likes of Fischer. They have little idea of what the original Green policies were, and seem to be looking for a left-liberal party.

Back in the 1980s the Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV) argued that the Greens were not a force that would be capable of leading a struggle to transform society. In our 1988 pamphlet, Jugend Für Sozialismus (Youth for Socialism), we argued that "The Greens' programme doesn't really represent a way of solving the problems. It contains many reformist demands which are positive, but also some reactionary policies. Even if you take the positive ones, they don't answer the question of how they will be achieved. On the basis of a capitalist society these demands cannot be realised, let alone guaranteed. To do this, a socialist change is necessary. But the Greens don't want that, they don't have a socialist programme. The consequence of this will be that as soon as the Greens get into government, they will increasingly be tied up by capitalist constraints, until finally their policies will be no different from right-wing social democratic ones".

In the past year, the Greens have bent over backwards to follow this prediction. Many Green voters are furious with their party. But because there is no broad, left alternative, the Greens' move to the right has led to disappointment and apathy among sections of the population. Being a party of government, agreeing to send German troops to the Balkans, and throwing out all their basic policies, will destroy the Greens. They will not play a leading role in the forthcoming movements.

The decisive issue is not the fact that people like Joschka Fischer are coldly pursuing their own power agenda, but that there is no serious protest from the ranks against the betrayal. The perspective for the development of the Greens is clear - they will turn into an environmental version of the FDP (Frei Demokratische Partei - liberals).

As long as there is no left alternative and the PDS does not fill the vacuum, it is possible that they will still get votes at elections for a while. But the old enthusiasm and optimism have gone. Election losses will be used by the spin doctors to justify a further move to the right. The trend for an increase in the 'yuppie membership' will continue. Many of their voters will become disappointed and stop voting. The Greens' decay is just one more pointer to the necessity of building a working class, socialist party. But it is not enough to be left wing and radical. A party like this must hold up the prospect of a revolutionary change in society, and it is vital that it has a clear socialist programme, analysis and perspective based on the working class.

Kim Opgenoorth,
Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV)

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