German Greens set sights on parliament

Issue 

The founding conference of the Alliance 90 Greens Party was held in Leipzig on May 14-16. It marked the unification of the West German Greens and Bündnis 90, from the former East Germany. Frieder Otto Wolfe, a lecturer at Berlin University and a Greens activist well known in European progressive movements, spoke with Green Left Weekly's Catherine Brown about recent developments in Germany and the Greens Party.

In 1990 the Greens, in the first post-unification elections, failed to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament. The following year, Jutta Ditfurth and some of the "fundis" walked out of the Greens conference to form the Ecological Left. Ditfurth said the party had become "hierarchical, centralist and dogmatic".

Now, two years later, a conference in former east Germany elected a new party leadership. Optimistic preparations were made for the 1994 federal election. The Greens, currently with 7-9% in the polls, are expected to be returned to the Bundestag. Many Greens dare not consider the effect of another electoral defeat, because electoral success is seen as essential for the party's future.

Some Greens predict an electoral victory for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1994 and are open to considering a governmental alliance. Wolfe disagrees strongly on both counts. "I think we need to accept that for the time being we have to be an opposition force", he says, "and a good opposition force in 1994 will be important for the future of our country".

The fundis who left the Greens in 1991 were radical ecologists and anti-imperialists. Their departure, he feels, has left the Greens weaker on North-South questions — that is, the linking of ecological questions with global justice.

In Wolfe's opinion, the Greens face serious problems. "We have been losing activists. In the last three years since unification, perspectives for many have become uncertain. The downfall of socialism has blurred the picture. The alternatives for some people are no longer tangible, no longer an aim of concrete action. So there's a lot of demobilisation and disorientation."

This has hit the Greens hard, because only a "very are involved in extra-parliamentary activity". Yet such activity has become more important since 1990, with the Greens no longer in the Bundestag.

"In Germany, the Bundestag is not just the parliament", said Wolfe. "It is one of the central places for political discourse, of the possibility of making links between social and radical science and political practice. And we lost that."

The Greens Bundestag group, including all the collaborators and freelance people around it, was about 500 people. "They constituted a field of experimentation, of debate, which was also interesting for all sorts of academics and intellectuals who participated. This we have to regain by coming into the Bundestag again."

In Germany the red/green discussion was very much centred on the tactics of the so-called fundis and realos. "It was a debate on government coalitions", explained Wolfe, "and government coalitions that are red in Germany can only mean the SPD. So the problem of red/green in Germany was always a problem of government coalitions, not the labour movement and new social movements."

This debate became a question of what kind of green to be. "In the German Greens we had a large consensus that we wanted the kind of green that includes the tradition of the labour movement and includes eco-socialism as an option.

"On both counts the situation has changed rather deeply after unification. First, it has become even more difficult to talk about socialism with inhabitants of the former so-called socialist states. They think socialism was what they had, and it's very hard to convince them to even consider that this may not be the case. "The other point is the SPD itself. The SPD is in no way a socialist party; it is a social democratic party of the most reformist, and not transformist, kind. The SPD has adapted to the new situation after 1990 by behaving as a kind of silent participant of the government coalition. So it doesn't seem to make any sense to talk about constructing an alternative government with the SPD, as it is in large part responsible for what is happening now."

Meanwhile, red/green in the sense of an ideological orientation which tries to link ecological and labour movements, and emancipatory movements like women's liberation, has become more difficult, according to ast they have no tradition of that.

"East German greens who joined our party in 1990 have already made some steps in that direction and have begun to understand that it is necessary to link ecological and social demands to gender emancipation demands and the rest of it. But there is still a long way to go.

"The Alliance 90 people have still to begin that process. I hope that they will undergo that same process of learning, to develop a shade of green which includes the tradition of social emancipation. But as they have a tendency to be extremely shy of conflicts, extremely consensus oriented, in fact extremely conformist to the mainstream of society, it will be difficult to convince them of the necessity of going in that direction."

In fact, the radical image of the West German Greens, though a bit tarnished, leaves many in Alliance 90 a little nervous about the united party. The conference included almost no political discussion, largely as a concession to the Alliance 90 people.

"The main problem is that a kind of pragmatism is getting ever more dominant." Wolfe argues there has been a concentration on issues that can actually be implemented in existing municipal, regional or national governments. "Of course, these are very limited and will lead us to neglect constructing a social opposition movement which would be able to carry out the deep kind of changes we need." He says that perhaps this evolution is in keeping with predictions of the departed fundis.

Wolfe argues for maintaining "a more radical scope and practice". The electoral defeat of 1990 perhaps contributed to this development of pragmatism in the party, but the main factor was the general acceptance of the "everyday kind of pragmatism".

With public attention focused on the tragedy of the former Yugoslavia, the Greens have been debating the question of military intervention. "It is necessary", points out Wolfe, "to say who is responsible. It's the western governments, including Germany, that have a large co-responsibility in the wars in Yugoslavia in general and in Bosnia specifically.

"The other point is whether it helps to intervene with military force. The Greens in mid-March took a t we are against military intervention; we do not think it will solve anything. If there is no political solution, there will be no military solution.

"For us it is very important not to re-legitimise war as an instrument of politics. This is the sort of situation where humanity can make the transition to a kind of international politics which is not based on war to solve conflicts.

"I think our governments are using the horror of Yugoslavia and Bosnia as an instrument, an ideological preparation of our populations to accept the sending of English, French and German soldiers to places everywhere in the world to defend the interests of European capital and European growth industries."

Wolfe stressed that opposing intervention doesn't mean you can't do anything. The Greens advocate active humanitarian help and concrete political pressure to oblige all the warring parties to stop and to accept a workable peace. The Greens say that although the Owen-

Vance plan is unjust and imperfect, they do not see any alternative to starting from there — a position many on the left dispute. The Greens are opposed to German "blue helmets" — United Nations peacekeeping forces. "We think 'blue helmets' are an ill-defined institution. We would prefer to have a clear distinction between humanitarian help, mediators, police forces and military forces. In blue helmets we see this blurring of boundaries between military and non-military intervention."

The May 29 racist murder of five Turkish residents has focused attention on the question of the rights of immigrants. Only three days before the murders, the government, with SPD support, changed the constitution to restrict the right of asylum.

Most Greens reject the changes to the constitution. The right to political asylum is seen as "one of the positive lessons of German history". Many Germans are outraged by the move, as it was one of the central demands of the neo-nazis who terrorised asylum seekers' hostels last year.

Despite the recent murders, Wolfe says, racist attacks are less frequent. The days when life was unsafe for anyone who looked foreign or merely different seem to be over.

"But a laissez faire approach still exists when ivities. It seems to be extremely difficult for our justice system to pursue these fascist terrorists. In some respects the [authorities] seem to be so close to them ideologically, seeing them as individual cases who are sort of disoriented and should be brought back to the right path. This kind of belittling of the problem is still not overcome."

In the March state elections in Hesse, the Greens won 14% and the extreme right Republican Party, led by former SS officer Franz Schonhuber, came from nowhere to get 9.3%. The electoral advance of the extreme right is causing growing concern.

It is important to understand, explains Wolfe, that there are links between respectable parliamentarians and the disreputable street fighters, but there is also a division of labour. "They manage rather well to keep the parliamentarians with a clean and civil non-violent image when, in reality, they have organised contact with the street-fighting terrorists."

There is a return to the situation of the late 1980s, when the extreme right's electoral support started to develop, says Wolfe. This was temporarily halted by the nationalist euphoria around unification. Today, with the deepening economic crisis, the euphoria is over.

"This means we have to anticipate a kind of well-

behaved, formally civilised extreme right is going to be elected to all German parliaments. I'm afraid it is very probable this will include the next Bundestag too."

The biggest problem isn't their electoral support, which Wolfe thinks will peak at between 10 and 15%, but the adoption by mainstream parties of the extreme right's demands.

In late 1992 there were mobilisations at two levels: demonstrations of hundreds of thousands clutching candles and parallel mobilisations organised by the left and progressive movements. The latter have created quite a functioning network.

It was not only the huge general mobilisations that brought about a change of climate but also the grassroots activism.

In most cases, the Greens are providing the meeting places and in some degree the organisational framework for the mobilisations against racism, according to Wolfe. On the asylum question, the Greens have played rather a central role. "For some people who left the party in 1990 or 1991, it has provided a new way of cooperating with the party in these mobilisations and coalitions."

Wolfe says that "the Green Party as such, without any help from outside, is very limited in its capacity to mobilise". A joint protest against Berlin's candidature for the Olympics in 2000 reflected the relationship of forces; the autonomous left movement mobilised 10,000, and the Greens 5000.