The Nader campaign, part two: the Green Party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Jun 9 13:07:56 MDT 2000


Since the Green Party US, like many other such parties, would probably not
exist if it had not been for the example of the German Greens, it would be
useful to examine the original.

By the mid 1970s a grassroots environmental of enormous scale had taken
root in Germany. Called the 'Burgeriniativen', it would include 50,000
groups and 300,000 members at its height. Nuclear energy was the decisive
question for this movement, but protests against nuclear weapons rapidly
became a Green issue as well.

In the mid-70s, the German government planned to satisfy 15 per cent of the
country's total energy requirements and 40 per cent of its electrical power
through nuclear power stations over a ten year period. Protestors threw the
government on the defensive, especially at a proposed site on the upper
Rhine at Whyl in Baden-Wurttemberg. In February of 1975, wine-growers from
Alsace and the Kaiserstuhl joined some 8,000 demonstrators who eventually
broke through a police barricade.

Two things helped to intensify this movement. One, was the 1979 'accident'
at Three Mile Island in the United States, which seemed to confirm the
worries depicted cinematically in "The China Syndrome". The other was the
1980 election of Ronald Reagan, which set into motion an escalation of the
arms race, both in terms of "Star Wars" and the grizzly proposals floated
by the White House about the possibility of a "winnable" nuclear war.
Nuclear power plants and NATO bases melded into a symbol of capitalist
irrationality and violence.

By 1979 activists in the Burgerinitiativen had begun to explore their
electoral options since the SPD was not seen as a suitable vehicle for
their demands. One of the first to propose a "Green slate" was Petra Kelly,
who many regard as a founder of the German Greens. Petra Kelly died at the
age of 44 on Oct. 1, 1992 at the hands of her lover and co-founder of the
German Greens Party, Gert Bastian--a 69 year old retired Nato General--who
then turned the gun on himself. Some speculated that Bastian was a
double-agent while others interpreted the tragedy in purely human terms.

Initial electoral successes led Kelly, Rudi Dutschke, Czech immigrant and
dissident Milan Horacek, wack job artist Joseph Beuys, Rudolf Bahro and
others to begin discussions about launching a new party. Dutschke was a
prominent figure in the German student movement of the 1960s, which was
organized as the SDS. The German SDS, unlike the Americans, was Marxist.

Dutschke had been shot by a rightwing gunman in 1968 and died of
long-standing complications in 1979, before he had a chance to see the
success of the movement he helped to launch. Prior to the initial
discussions about the feasibility of a Green Party, Dutschke and Horacek
had been working closely together in order to start a nondogmatic socialist
party. In the late 1970s, there was a generalized phenomenon of Marxists
beginning to try to break free of sectarianism after a decade of abortive
attempts to "win over" the working class in one adventure after another.

In January of 1980, this group submitted the first party program. It was
characterized by Horst Mewes, a scholar of the Green movement,  as
containing "an array of concrete proposals for environmental policy, framed
in what was ultimately a 'utopian' design for a pacifist, environmentally
compatible welfare state, with totally emancipated, self-governing green
republics existing autonomously in a pacified world of international mutual
assistance and political harmony."

Suffice it to say that the rejection of sectarianism so close to the heart
of figures like Dutschke and Horacek had mutated into a rejection of
socialism altogether when pen finally hit paper.

The philosophical underpinnings for much of this initial Green Party
program can be traced to the influence of Rudolf Bahro. Bahro, an East
German dissident, had broken with Marxism in a most interesting way. He
accepted "post-scarcity" on terms almost identical to that of the Frankfurt
School, but claimed that figures like Herbert Marcuse had no influence on
him. His main goal was to achieve a cultural revolution in advanced
capitalist countries against consumerism, in a manner evocative of Abby
Hoffman or even some New Age gurus.

After the Greens dumped the idealism that characterized the 1980 founding
program and turned toward "realism", Bahro stormed off and began to drift
to the right. In 1985 he stated, "The Greens are almost worse than useless.
They have become so much a part of the system that capitalism would have
had to invent them if they weren't here already." He became a "deep
ecologist" and raised the possibility that some aspects of the Nazi "blood
and soil" ideology had merit. He died of cancer at the age of 62 on
December 10, 1997.

>From the very beginning the German Greens divided into two camps: the
"realos" who advocated in 'realistic' terms that the party operate in a
conventional electoral manner; and the "fundis" who backed Green
'fundamentalism' in terms laid down by Kelly and Bahro.

Led by 'realos' like Joshka Fischer, the various branches of the Greens had
begun to explore running coalition slates with the SPD. This led to bitter
faction fights that culminated in the isolation and defeat of the 'fundis'.
While there are various interpretations as to why this took place, I think
it makes sense to see it in terms of being generated by the failure of the
'fundamentalist' program to sustain an electoral institution. Despite the
radicalism of the 1985 program, it never considered any other strategy than
gradualism. If the goal was to provide an left alternative for German
voters, rather than overthrowing the system which used electoral politics
as a means of stabilization, then the 'realos' might make the most sense.
At least they demonstrated an ability to wheel and deal in the dirty world
of German electoral politics.

In 1989, the 'realos' consolidated their grip on the party. They entered a
governing coalition with the Social Democrats in Frankfurt and speculations
about a similar coalition on a national level became widespread. This
eventually came to pass as "realo" Joshka Fischer became a junior partner
in the coalition government whose war of aggression against Yugoslavia.
This marked a turning point, after which the shreds of idealism in the
formerly pacifist party were dispensed with completely.

Just around the time that the German Greens had become transformed into a
conventional left-of-center political party, the American Greens made their
debut. Although a book-length history of the American Greens has not been
written, NY Green leader and Marxism list deep lurker Howie Hawkins has
written about them occasionally in Z. For those of you interested in
learning more about the Greens, I recommend that you check out his articles
at: www.zmag.org.

The most important thing to keep in mind about the American Greens is that
unlike the German party they were born in a period of retreat for the
radical movement. Rather than arising from a powerful mass movement like
the Burgeriniativen, the American Greens represented the efforts of
scattered activists to get something off the ground in very difficult
objective circumstances. Also, rather than attempting to form a national
organization at the outset, there were instead initiatives on a municipal
or statewide level. For example, a Maine Green Party was launched in 1984.
By 1992, affiliates had gained 13 seats in local elections around the
country and total representation stood at 58 seats in 14 states.

Amy Balanter, executive director of Green Party USA, told the Associated
Press in November, 1992 that the Greens want to win "a substantial number
of seats" in state and local elections before running a national race.
"Most people say they don't want to run a symbolic campaign. If we run
someone, we want to win," she said.

This could be described clearly as the American variant of the 'realo'
position although there were no powerful social democratic parties to make
a coalition with. To their credit, the Greens have never looked to the
Democrats as an American stand-in for the German SPD.

In a May, 1995 Z Magazine article ("Can the Greens Unite for 1996?"),
Hawkins discusses key organizational and political problems. Although there
had been successes on a local level, a national party could not seem to
come together. The largest national organization-Green Parties USA
(GP-USA)-had suffered a loss of over half of its membership in the
preceding two years. Resentment toward leaders of the national organization
was widespread in the local chapters, as one might expect from a group that
had such a fetish over local struggles and autonomy. An anarchist
predisposition had marked the American Green movement from the beginning.

To defend itself against the machinations at the top, a Left Green Network
was established. Hawkins writes:

"In response to this immobilization and persistent red-baiting between left
and right Greens, a Left Green Network (LGN) was formed to educate and
advocate its program within the Greens, not as a rival organization. It
hoped to stimulate more coordinated activism in the Greens, reserving the
right to act independently of the Greens if they remained immobilized, as
happened in 1990 with the Wall Street Action to shut down the New York
Stock Exchange to counter the corporate takeover of the 20th Anniversary
Earth Day. By openly declaring its leftism, the Left Green Network hoped to
switch discussion from red-baiting labeling to the substance of the left's
proposals for the Greens: decisions by simple majority with the right of
minorities to publicly dissent (which the Left Greens called democratic
decentralism), an organizational structure with power grounded in the
locals that send mandated delegates to national conventions (confederal
grassroots democracy), an organization that combined electoral and
extra-electoral action (a movement party), and an anti-capitalist economic
program of decentralized social and cooperative ownership and participatory
worker/community control (a cooperative commonwealth)."

Although Hawkins does not mention it, this program seems inspired by the
German 'fundis'. Unlike Germany, their cousins were able to make some
headway. At a 1990 national gathering, much of the LGN program was adopted.
The rightist faction in the Greens counter-attacked, setting up something
called Green Politics Network (GPN). Soon after its formation, the GPN
called on the emerging state parties to form an Association of State Green
Parties, independent of the GP-USA. The organizations have separate
finances and officers and websites.

The GPN-initiated a Third Party `96 conference that, according to Hawkins,
had many Greens and other independent political activists concerned. Its
co-sponsorship by sections of the Patriot Party raised "the question of
what the politics of this so-called 'radical middle' of deficit hawks has
to do with a Green/progressive politics of economic justice." The Patriot
Party was a forerunner to the Reform Party that was launched by Lowell
Weicker and Ross Perot. At some point the machinery was taken over by the
shadowy New Alliance Party cult that operates now in the Reform Party. It
is, therefore, not too surprising that some of the same elements now seem
to be operating in a loose alliance with the Nader forces today.

Louis Proyect

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