Rift widens in German Greens

Issue 

By Jim Green

Splits are emerging within the German Greens since NATO's bombing of Serbia ended. The Greens became the minor partner in a coalition government with the Social Democrats in October. In February, Martin Hufner, chief economist with Germany's second largest bank, said the Greens were "emerging as the voice of economic reason in a number of areas ... In fact, the Greens and their pragmatic leader, foreign minister Joschka Fischer, are quite fiscally conservative, more so in many ways than the Social Democrats."

Hufner said the Greens are applying the concept of sustainability to economic and social policy. He cited the opposition of the Greens to pension increases, justified with references to "generational equity" — one of the buzz words of ecologically sustainable development. The Greens argue that it would be unwise to add to the financial burden of future generations by increasing pensions now.

Green opportunism and neo-liberalism have come together. Increased taxes on fuel and power, introduced on April 1, have been sold as "eco-taxes" but are having a disproportionate impact on pensioners and others on low incomes.

According to Hufner, the Greens are sympathetic to corporate tax reform to make German businesses more competitive. This benevolence towards the German ruling class has been justified with the tenuous argument that financially weak companies cannot make the necessary investments in new technology to protect the environment.

The official unemployment rate in Germany is over 10% (with the real level much higher). New taxes on part-time workers have encouraged tens of thousands to give notice; up to 1 million jobs could disappear because of the new taxes, according to a report in the May 8 Economist.

Budget measures passed by the coalition government in parliament on June 23 involve massive cuts in state spending (US$16 billion cut from next year's budget alone), reduced payments to pensioners and the unemployed, and a windfall for business with the standard corporate tax rate to be cut from 40% to 25%.

The support of Greens' leaders for German involvement in NATO's war on Serbia created enormous friction within the party. Fischer justified his warmongering by saying: "A revolutionary is no pacifist". True, but he failed to note that revolutionaries wage war against imperialism.

The most extreme left- and right-wing positions on the Balkans war were quickly excluded at the Greens' national delegates conference on May 13. Delegates voted in favour of the motion presented by the national executive, which called for a temporary, limited halt to the bombing in order to give Serbian troops the opportunity to leave Kosova. During the conference, Fischer declared: "If you pass a resolution calling for a unilateral stop to the bombing, without a time limit, I will not carry it out".

The national executive's motion was designed to be so weak as to have no consequences for the Greens' parliamentary leaders, let alone the government. A more progressive motion, calling for a permanent, unilateral cease-fire by NATO, was defeated by 444 votes to 318.

Grown up

The Greens have "grown up" according to the establishment media, their complicity in the Balkans war representing their "matriculation". The division within the Greens is being portrayed as a generational war between "yuppies" and hippies", or the "Realos" (realists) versus the "left".

The fissures are more complex. More progressive currents within the Greens have also been tempted to fall into line behind the neo-liberal policies of the Social Democrats and the right-wing Green parliamentarians, with some self-described Green "leftists" supporting the Balkans war.

According to David Müller, writing in the July edition of International Viewpoint, "By the end of 1991, the traditional left had been pushed out of the Greens. Those who remained concluded a truce with the party leadership. But the new left ... gradually became a job agency concerned with promoting their own clientele into the increasing number of Green positions in government and the civil service. It did very little to oppose the continuing development of neoliberal positions in the Realo camp. The 'Left' accepted the strategic goal of coalition with the Social Democrats and subordinated its own program on every decisive question."

Apart from opportunistic clientelism, the Greens suffer from a lack of experience, which has been exacerbated by several left splits over the years. Müller says, for example, that in Hanover over 70% of the Greens' members have joined since 1995, and some young party functionaries openly admit that they joined because they see the Greens as the quickest road to a successful career.

Public support

Public support for the Greens has dropped, a problem made all the more pressing with the approach of crucial regional elections. The Greens lost five of their 12 seats in the European Parliament in the June elections. They have slipped to 6% in recent polls, compared to 6.7% in last year's federal election and over 10% in polls in early 1998.

A group of 40 Greens leaders attacked the left wing of the party in an eight-page open letter in late June. They blame the left for creating a "crisis" within the party, for the slump in public support and for jeopardising the Greens' place in the governing coalition.

Green parliamentarians Oswald Metzger and Christine Scheel recently called for the resignation of Jürgen Trittin, the environment minister and leader of the left-wing Greens. Trittin is accused of harming the party with his positions on issues such as the speedy phasing out of nuclear power.

A phase-out of nuclear power was a key election pledge of both the Greens and the Social Democrats. The formation of a coalition government, and the efforts of Trittin and others to push ahead with the phase-out, provoked a major backlash from the nuclear power utilities, including threats of legal action.

A compromise has been proposed which would involve a gradual phase-out, the last reactor closing in 2023 or 2024. That proposal amounts to little more than a complete capitulation to the nuclear industry. If the leadership of the Greens capitulates on nuclear power, it could be the spark that drives progressives out of the party in droves.

Split

According to Müller, a network of left Greens and others is likely to form outside the party. Various possibilities are currently under discussion.

Already a small break has occurred. Eckhard Stratmann, a founding member of the Greens, said in May that he planned to launch a national network for peace activists fed up with the Greens. This "Green Left" network was created on June 6. Some of the Greens' refugees imposed a resolution on this network which explicitly rejected voting for the Greens in the European elections. Müller argues that this resolution needlessly polarised the new network and alienated those still inside the Greens.

A few disenchanted Greens have resigned and joined the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the party which was, in a previous incarnation, the ruling Communist Party in East Germany. However, the origins of the PDS, and its contradictory policies, have proved unattractive to the vast majority of disenchanted Greens.

The PDS is involved in coalition governments with the Social Democrats in two eastern states. However, the Social Democrats are also involved in regional coalitions with the right-wing Christian Democrats, and the possibility that this could occur at the federal level has encouraged Greens to be still more tame in order not to jeopardise the coalition.

In the city-state of Bremen, the Greens won 9% of the vote in elections on June 6, down 4% on the previous election. The Social Democrats, who polled well, had the opportunity to form a local coalition government with the Greens, which would have also given the Social Democrat-Green coalition a majority in the Bundesrat, the federal upper house. However, the Social Democrats chose to continue their "grand coalition" with the Christian Democrats in Bremen.

For their part, the Social Democrats are lurching further to the right, alarmed at the stronger links the Christian Democrats have with big business.

It appears that the right wing of the Greens would like to rid itself of the left, but this is not without risks. The right-wing opportunists are primarily concerned with consolidating their position within the coalition government. However, parties must secure 5% of the vote as a minimum requirement for federal parliamentary representation. No doubt some of right-wing opportunists would rather keep left-wing elements within the party to broaden its voter base.