[Marxism] Germany's David Cobb
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 28 07:09:09 MDT 2004
Boston Review, Summer 2004
Does Joschka Fischer really believe in anything?
by Paul Hockenos
8 On November 14, 2003, technicians at the Stade nuclear power plant,
just outside Hamburg, switched off the 630-kilowatt reactor for the last
The facility was the first taken off line since Germany’s “red-green”
government, a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, brokered a plan
to shut down all the country’s nuclear power plants.
Ostensibly, the 2000 agreement between the government and German utility
companies marked a hard-fought victory for the Greens and their leader,
Joschka Fischer, Germany‘s foreign minister. The party coalesced from
regional anti-nuclear groups and other left-wing projects in West
Germany over two decades ago, and no issue is linked to the Greens more
closely than nuclear power.
But the reaction of anti-nuclear activists to the closure of Stade was
anything but jubilant. In fact, the agreement four years ago to phase
out nuclear power over a 20-year period sparked a rash of angry
defections from the Greens. This schedule enables most of the country’s
reactors to operate until the end of their natural lives, some beyond
2020. Green critics blasted the compromise as a sellout and a
“pseudo-measure” that ultimately upgrades existing reactors and leaves
huge loopholes for the industry to backtrack the day the Greens leave
office. This wasn’t what activists had in mind when they braved icy
nights blockading power plants and nuclear-waste deliveries.
Insiders estimate that the deal made with the nuclear industry caused
more members to abandon the Greens than did the party’s spring 1999
approval—muscled through by Fischer, then freshly installed as foreign
minister—of Germany’s plans to participate in the NATO bombing campaign
against Yugoslavia, the first time since World War II that Germany has
sent troops into combat. The red-green coalition hadn’t been in place
for two years and the Greens had managed to lose about a quarter of
their core supporters.
Fischer is the single figure most closely identified with the Greens’
reformist path as well as their electoral triumphs. He is the party’s
uncontested leader and visionary, the country’s most popular politician,
and a foreign minister of international renown. Time magazine recently
listed him among the world’s most important thinkers.
Despite his international celebrity, Fischer is nowhere more
controversial than within his own party.1 The angry response of the
Greens’ grass roots to the nuclear compromise is characteristic of the
intense internal battles that have accompanied the party’s
transformations over its 24-year history. In order to become a governing
partner acceptable to the nation’s political elite, the unruly
“anti-party” party jettisoned more than jeans, wool sweaters, and
beards. Under the Fischer-led pragmatists, it tempered—or betrayed,
depending upon the observer—its stands on virtually every issue from
recycling to NATO.
The final phase of that metamorphosis began in the autumn of 1998, when
the Greens and the Social Democrats captured a left-of-center majority
in Germany for the first time in nearly 20 years. The Greens, with 7.6
percent of the vote, joined as junior coalition partner, taking the
portfolios of the foreign, environmental, and health ministries. The
“long march through the institutions,” as the left’s post-1960s strategy
had been dubbed, was consummated with Fischer assuming the
second-most-important post in the Federal Republic. But even the Social
Democrat–dominated coalition pact only hinted at the compromises that
Fischer and the Greens would have to make to remain in power.
Fischer’s own dramatic transformations dwarf those of his party: from
revolutionary Marxist in the ’70s, to Green politician in the ’80s, to
his present-day incarnation as debonair European statesman. His recent
memoir Mein Langer Lauf zu mir Selbst chronicles his personal
rehabilitation from a 245-pound wreck, crushed after his third wife left
him, to a lean, remarried marathon runner in just one year. The
ostensible ease with which he makes such jumps unsettles even loyal
supporters. Does Joschka Fischer really, passionately believe in
anything? Or is he driven entirely by personal ambition?
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