Helmut Lippelt The German Case: DIE GRÜNEN Short History - Basic Ideas

Paper presented to the Conference on Ecological Movements and sustained Developement in Latin America and Europe, Institute for Latin American Studies, University of London, November 1991.

Let me start with two personal remarks. As we learned yesterday green parties don't matter in Latin America. And therefore I thought it would be useful if I try to concentrate on the problems of party building, although I have also been very active in the anti-nuclear-movement and the peace-movement. To concentrate on the problems of party-building, of cource in the context of the social movements as its springboard. Secondly: the German Greens startet as a collection of people of very different extraction. Formerly unpolitical citizens gone through the school of citizens initiative groups, people dropped out of old parties, because of frustration, or young radical people from new founded parties, which they discovered to be quite sectarian - they all had very different assumptions, different strategies. Therefore my views are very personal views. I think, although we have quite a lot of studies by political scientists, it will take some years, until we have a comprehensive historical study, which brings together all this different assumptions, different strategies, different strains of thinking.

1. Historical Context:

Although, generally speaking, it can be said, that the 70ties were the years in which ecological ideas came to a breakthrough worldwide - and the 80ties were the years, in which, again worldwide, it was tried to translate ecological ideas into politics, and although ecological ideas by themselves are of course transnational - the development of different movements and even more of ecological parties is deeply rooted in national history and can only be understood from its historical, economic and political national backgrounds.

1.1.: For West Germany it has to be stressed, that the 50ties and 60ties, the time of Konrad Adenauer, was a time of an extraordinary narrowness of the conception of the world, of world- politics, moulded by cold-war-thinking. It was an important contribution of the students movement of 1968 that it destroyed this narrowminded provincialism. It did so along the question how this so much idealised stronghold of democracy, the United States, could be drawn into genocid in Vietnam. The answer was far to easily found in Lenin's theory of imperialism. That by this neomarxism and leninism could win a strong hold on a large part of this student generation is again to be understood from german history. The discussion of marxism-leninism was interrupted in Germany in the 30ties and 40 ties by fascism and afterwards in the 50ties and 60ties put under the taboo of cold-war-thinking.

Therefore neomarxism-leninism in Germany had the power of a rediscovery and could influence large parts of this student generation. Therefore, when the student movement fell apart in the early 70ties, there remained a couple of maoistic, marxist- leninistic small student parties, most of them trying toemulatethe concept of Lenin's New Party, and there remained, of course, the far larger spectrum of nondogmatic left groups. But that small spectrum of marxist-leninist groups became very relevant to the history and to the founding process of the Greens.

1.2.: When the socialdemocratic-liberal coalition of Willy Brandt arrived in office 1969 its first concern was to create a new foreign policy - the policy of detente with the Soviet Union. But when that was done, Brandt proclaimed the policy of inner reform - with the slogan "to risk more democracy". But when confronted with the radical fall-out of the student movement this goverment contradicted itself in a quite extraordinary manner. Panicstricken, without any understanding of the reasons, why this generation was strongly influenced by neomarxism the Socialdemocrats and the Trade Unions closed shop to this generation. And they closed also public offices, especially the teacher's profession to this generation. Against this rose a so called anti-repression movement. The large spectrum of nondogmatic new left students acted in solidarity with the victimized radical part and you couldn't go with those you liked and close the door to the others.

1.3.: The 50ties and 60ties were the years of German industrial reconstruction, industry was regaining the world markets, full employment was reached at the end of the 50ties. The 60ties saw an average industrial growth rate of 5.2 % with only 1.1 % jobless.

The end came with the oilprice-shock of 1973. The following years were marked by an average growth of only 1.9 % and a joblessrate of 4.2 % in the first and 8.8 % in the second half of the 80ties. Inspite of this change of bussiness climate the years of industrial reconstruction had planted into society a deep rooted belief in industrial growth and technical progress.

First doubts sawn for example by the report of the Club of Rome had no chance of influencing the public opinion. It has to be pointed out that the most important ecological literature in the 70ties was written abroad. It was left to an christian-democratic politician, chairman of the parlamentary comittee of enviroment, Herbert Gruhl, to break the ice with his book "The plundering of the planet earth" only 19781), in a year, in which we already founded regional forrunners of the green party2). Of course, this was a book without any original thinking. A compilation of literatur written abroad - now brought to the notice of a wider German public.

1.4.: I wish to stress this, because with this deep rooted conviction and belief in economic growth there developed megalomanic plans of building risk industries. And the most megalomanic expression of this belief in the technological progress was the government's programm of the early 70ties to enlarge the nuclear energy industry with more than hundred plant- sides in consideration by industry and with a planned transition to plutonium-economy with a lot of fast breading reactors in the mind of this energy people and on top of that a reprocessing plant at Gorleben, planed for 1.400 tons/a. For comparison: this plan was wrecked by the growing up of the anti-nuclear movement, and when ten years later, industry made a new try, they went for 350tons. Again it failed. The only working reprocessing plant inGermany is one of 35 tons, which dates from the early 60ties and is standing in a research laboratory. But one has to take in mind, that this megalomanic plan of 1.400 tons was very actually in the planning.

2. Founding Preconditions Quite clearly, the ecological movement in Germany arose as an anti-nuclear movement. Of course, there had been already citizens initiative groups for different ecological reasons, but to become a movement it needed the anti-nuclear-energy-campaign. And the difference between the generation of the anti-nuclear-campaign and the generation of the students movement, which was only some years later, was quite clear cut: the slogan of the students movement was: "unity of theory and praxis". That meant: activity was to be accompagnied by well thought out theoretical vision. Vision of society, vision of social economic development. In search for a worthwile engagement each liberation-movement all over the world was watched and loaded with the hope and expectation of the internationalism of this generation. The contrast: The slogan of the anti-nuclear movement was: "We don't ask, where you come from, we only ask, what you are now doing together with us". That means: Theory was dispensed with. Nuclear sites were the very embodiments of social-economic development going wrong. They had to be attacked. The anti-nuclear movement was a movement of resistance, of practice. But because this resistance was aimed against big goverment and big industry, there had to be responsibility in common action.

Thus a process originated of permanent looking for agreement and consensus, in order not to commit an other group, which had not committed itself. Rules of grass-roots-democracy - in German called: Basisdemokratie - were developing. Again without theoretic concept. Until today it's very difficult to define the concept of basisdemocracy.

The renunciation of nuclear energy combined with this principle, not to ask from which ideological background you are coming resulted in a coalition of quite different strata of society. Resistance against the nuclear site of Whyl was mainly done by farmers and wine-growers. The initiative-groups against Würgassen were formed partialy from middle class people who educated themselves to the dangers of radioactivity, resistance against Grohnde and Brockdorf was mostly organized by left-radical groups, which discovered a new political issue.

There ist still another side to nuclear energy: security. To sustain nuclear energy on that large scale as planned would mean, that a lot of people would come under surveillance because of psychic stability; and that against mass demonstrations the means of mass control had to be enlarged. Therefore the conotation of nuclear energy was: police state.

The day of the founding of the party of The Greens, the 13. January 80, was also the day on which NATO decided to station middle-range-nuclear missiles in Germany. This gave birth to the peace movement in Germany.

Therefore the anti-nuclear movement and the anti-repressionmovement and the peace movement stood at the cradle of the green party. That doesn't mean, that a lot of other movements stood aside: alternativ economy, with quite a lot of projects, was on its peak, womens lib had it's breakthrough some years later in the party and the party acquired distinct characters just by this movement. Groups working for minorities' rights and third world groups were important from the very begining.

But nevertheless, the pluralism of the anti-nuclear movement and the drive for a better democracy by the anti-repression-groups were the most important ingredients for the formation of the new party. And the peace movement enlarged the popular support to such an extent, that in 1983 the Greens were able to arrive in the federal parliament.

3. The Founding Consensus

The Greens inherited two important principles from the anti- nuclear movement: pluralism and gras-roots democracy.

1. They knew very well that they were not the expression of the emancipation of a new class like the conservativs, the liberals, the socialists had been in the 19th century. Of cource, there existed the new middle-classes, and there were the "milieus", where they could locate support. But that didn't answer the question, which was going to be the social basis of the party.

The Greens were foundet on a principle: they attracted people who felt concerned, concerned about the way, the industrial civilisation was moving; in German: they were "betroffen" and the principle was "Betroffenheit".

They attracted conservatives, concerned about environment protection. They attractet christians, concerned about the destruction of the creation; they attracted educated liberals, who learned about global ecology, they attracted technicians, who had insight into risk-technologies, socialists, who looked at the consequences of capitalism, and of course, the new marxist- leninists, waiting for the truely left party and examining, if perhaps they could educate the Greens to become just this party.

They could work together in a one-point-movement, as they did, but could they build together a party?

Therefore the founding principle was "dialog". The party was asking for good will to change entranched convictions and to work out new policies as a common project.

2. If participatory democracy only meant representative democracy european style, as was said yesterday, we could have spared us much trouble. But in our opinion the Greens were the expression of an enlarged participation of society in politics. Unpolitical people had gone through the school of citizens-action-groups. They were eager to get a say in their own destiny.

If we were going to build a party the leading ideas of these times of enlarged participation had to be institutionalized. It had to be truely a party of the 20th century, not emulating thestructures of the parties of the 19th century. That meant: noamassement of personal power in the party. That would be a guaranty for politicians to stay on their whole life in politics and would exclude enlarged participation of society in politics. We wrote into the statute separation of mandat and function, timely limits to the holding of either functions or mandats, a system of rotation.

We did this also, because our experience had been, that our traditional parties, the christian democrats, the social democrats, the liberals had in the field of essential policies, which mattered for the question of survival built a consensus: the consensus of industrial growth, risk technology, nuclear energy, coastly defense industry, chemical farming and so on. This consensus was not to be broken by lobby-politics. And after all, the real questions were not coming through to these parties. Thus we decided: They understood only the language of power, therefore the movements had to build their own party. And last not least of the principles to be institutionalized by the party was openness. A party who was supposed to bring into open the secrets of governments and parties dealing with industrial interests had to take in the society into its own deliberations. That meant: the doors of our steering committees, of our parliamentary groups on every level stood open to the media. Thus society should become involved into our politics. It worked very well for the first five years, and it brought us to the brink of destruction afterwards.

4. Short History of the Greens as a Sequence of Debates For a short look upon the development of the party I will talk about two essential debates, one farcical debate, one lost debate, our answer to that, about new challenges and I will end with some remarkes related to our proceedings here.

4.1.: The first important debate was: Where should the party fit into the existing political system. There were two answers to this. First answer: we are neither left nor right, we are in front of them all. If that meant: to get to the real questions of the century and to define them without formerly ideological prejudice you have to transcend the traditionell left-right orientation, it may be alright. But otherwise it was a nonsensical and rather preposterous defintion.

The second definition was: we are left of the Socialdemocrats. Of course that was a position especially held by the small but very active marxist-leninist groups who had joined the party. If to be left would mean, as in my opinion it means, that we brought together left socialists, left liberals, left christians, left conservativs that would be alright. Because most of us are convinced that a green party has to amalgamate ecological and New Left thinking, because, as I may add, ecology is open to definition: Five minutes before twelve o'clock you may get an eco- dictatorship as well as a breakthrough to democratic ecological policy. But of course this kind of left was not meant by our marxist-leninist-groups. They proclaimed leftwing politics to exclude and drive away all people in the party, whom they judged to be rightwing and of course that went as far as to comprehend quite a lot of people, who felt themselves with some justification to be of left wing extraction. The arguments were very heated and threw us during theprogrammatic debates and during the early party confernces in big tumult. Because this militant groups were by itselfes split up by the founding of the party and by the question, should they participate in this process or was it a bourgouise spectacle, better to stay away. And now, they who had joined, had to prove to their compagnons, who hadn't joined, that it would be possible to change the green project into a left project.

Why didn't we exclude them?

First, we were not prepared to behave like the socialdemocrats and close shop by administrative ore statutory means. Secondly, we thought: if our political ideas were truely the ideas of the future they would prevail. Although being an instable organisation we should undergo this test.

Thirdly, by large the ecological groups, the green-greens as they were called, were organized in the countryside, but in big towns like Hamburg and Berlin and in university-towns, the militant groups were organizing a large part of the social movements. Therefore the possibility existed that we would get a race for two parties nationwide - a green party and a rainbow party, both nationwide, both unsuccessful because we would fail the 5 % requirement of our election law.

Therefore we decided to internalize the contradiction, to put it under the principle of dialog. We were not prepared to exclude anybody, they could exclude themselves, if they were not prepared to take our issues, when this issues would prevail.

We thought, this debate could only last for some two or three years, but it lasted ten to twelve years. And it is open to question for the historians if we lost the impetus of the early years about this debate, or if we got a very stable party after that, a stable party, which can go on and carry on for a long time to come.

4.2.: The second debate was about fundamentalism or realpolitics. About the question, should the Greens participate in government . It was in reality a debate about grass roots policy. Because, as I think, grass roots policy is working to change the conscioussness of society, it's working on the very fabric of society and if you are working there you need clear cut principles. Realpolitics is supposed to be about compromise, to water down principles. Thus there was a real contradiction. It was a debate running about 5 to 6 years. And the solution came in favour of realpolitics, when the party became aware, that people were asking the party to translate their policies into politics. And when the party expierenced that realpoliticians were able to stand on issues and even leave coaltions instead of staying on as a minister, when the issues were important enough. We have been already in some regional coalitions and they broke up. At this time greens are participating in three regional governments and they are just negotiating the terms of a fourth and we wonder, if the first red- green coalition will reach the four-year-time. Thus the approach has become very pragmatic indeed.

4.3.: Now to the farcical debate: We went into federalparliament 1983. And the first term of course was exiting. All our policies suddenly translated into parliamentary papers, into parliamentary propositions, into drafts for legislation. All questions piled up about government secrets, suddenly tabled as parliamentary questions and put to the government. We catched the eyes of the public media. But the second term was repetition and it was said grey. Our colourful image faded away, instead of that, our infights became the dominant issue of the media. In some steering comittees came up the idea to sharpen our image. Public opinion pools said we were highly rated for competence in environmental questions. Therefore it was thought to sharpen this profil and the superfluous debate was raised about the primat of ecology.

It was superfluous, because this debate was decided ten years ago already. And it was dangerous, because the left wing of the party felt endangered and put on the table the question of social justice. They felt, the hidden motiv of this superfluous debate was, that they should be asked politely to leave the party. This was ridiculous und overestimated. But we were not able to tell them, that they got it wrong.

It ended in 50 : 50 votes and in the election of the last steering committee with a small margin in favor of the left.

And suddenly the issue of debate faded away very quickly. Thus it was a very artificial debate. But there was one merit to this superfluous debate: The party became aware, that it held a unique position in the european spectrum of green politics: In many countries there are two ecological parties, one a bit more right wing, one a bit more left wing. We succeeded indeed in building a party of ecologists and left wing people, who transcended their formerly held convictions. And it's the contribution of our left wing, that questions of radical reconstruction of industry came up, the terms "Umbau" which is the german equivialant to "perestroika" was used and formulated into our programms long before Gorbatschow appeared on the stage and our last programmatic pamphlet ist about "Ways to a ecological-solidary world economy", and of course it was an initiative more of the left wing of the party, that these programms were written.3)

4.4.: The lost debate: We lost the debate on German unification. It was not our issue. Greens are an internationaly minded party, a party of the 20th century, they are antinationalists. Therefore we came out for the democratisation of the GDR, not so much for national unification. We thought, the unification of Europe as important as the unity of Germany and we thought Europe could stand better two Germanies, democratic Germanies, than one.

We went into the election campaign with a slogan: "they all are speaking about the nation, we are speaking about the weather" and we spoke about the depletion of the ozon-layer. We badly misjudged the issue and lost 4.9 % and we were thrown out of parliament.

5. Party Reform.

I think, we learnt the lesson. But it was not only our position in the unification process,it was also the problem of our tarnished image. We had to realize, that our concept of an alternativepartyhadn't worked. We had been aiming for a party without power structures which offered the opportunity for all its members and all who were engaging themselves even without formal membership to participate in formulating and executing our policies. Therefore rotation, therefore the separation of party functions and parliamentary mandates. But the result was, that people who felt themselves able to claim leadership where prevented to do so because they held a parliamentary mandate. Prevented to undergo the process of democratic selection they were refered to the practice of establishing secret headquarters where their leadership was never questioned. We had been aiming for a party taking society into its deliberations. Open proceedings, was the slogan. Therefore we opened the doors of even the highest steering committees and of our parliamentary groups to the public.But we had to realize that we were no longer living in a democracy early greek style. We were living under the rules of public media. The result was: meaningful debate of some hours length was shortcut to one minute by television and of course for reasons of dramaturgy the most extreme positions were thrown against each other. People felt,the Greens were an especcially quarrelsome folk unable to put into practice serious politics.Of course that was nonsense. The level of infights is not higher than in other parties.The only difference is, they are doing it behind closed doors.

Thus we used the opportunity of being thrown out of parliament for a reform of the structures of the party. Party reform always means amendement of the statute. For this you need a qualified majority. But with each clause of the statute interests of groups in the party are bound up. Therefore it's nearly impossible in normal times to change provisions in the statute.It needs a crushing defeat. But than you have to act upon it. In our case with all these high ambitions of building a party in accordance with the ideas of the second half of the twentieth century party reform also meant to strike a balance between those ideas and the need for good performance. Not to fall in line with the structures of the old parties, but to find out exactly where we went wrong and to stay nevertheless with the founding ideas. What we did was to abolish only partially the separation of mandat and party office and the numerically restrictions as to party functions in order to reshape the highest body between the party conferences which indeed is the policy-making body of the party which oversees and directs the steering committee. Formerly according to the rules of basic-democracy only people without mandat or function could be elected to this body and they acted without responsibility, just on their own. Now we are able to elect into this body people who bore responsibility in different regions und branches of the party. It's from there where the party now becomes integrated and the policy of the party is formulated The new catchphrase of our greenwatchers amongst the political scientists is "professional frame party"4).By this they understand,if you have a strong movements-environment and a weak party this party should be open to give movements the opportunity to engage, but the party should be managed quite professionally. The definition is open to dispute. I myself don't think, that you are able to restrict people on building a frame without the competition of other people trying to get into this frame in order not to represent movements but to start also bythemselvespolitical carriers.

6. New Challenges

6.1:When we lost on the issue of unification we lost more than our parliamentary group.We lost also a big opportunity for bringing forward into the necessary process of industrial reconstruction of eastern Germany our concepts of an ecologically responsible production. That's not to be underrated, because although we were only a small party in parliament our ideas had influenced policies and public opinion in Germany to a remarkable extent. The debate ecology versus economy was won to a certain degree. The trade unions - formerly fierce opponents with the argument, ecology is destroying jobs- had learnt that on the contrary ecology was producing jobs on a large scale. The established parties had taken over parts of our programms.Qualitative growth was not out of question, although of course nobody except us was prepared for radical measures. And, of course , there was much lip-service. Now unification has thrown us back to square one. The hallmark of the unification process is chauvinism. Not a nationalistic chauvinism, as it has been in the nineteenth century. But the chauvinism of wealth. The East-german people want to acquire the level of western consumption at once, the West-germans won't give away.Thus the government has to finance on the scale of DM 2oo billion a year. To limit the huge deficit-spending they are desperately looking for revenues. Thus industry has to be started as quickly as possible. And thus they fall back upon the old concepts of quantitative growth: Infrastructure has to be built quickly - that means autoroutes instead of public transport; energy is to be produced by the old oligopolic structure- that means atomic energy and centralized distribution, etc.Government behaves as if the rules of ecology would be workable only under conditions of a superfluent society. But we all know, that bringing over the old concepts of quantitative growth with the old patterns of high production and high consumption to eastern Europe and the Third World will destroy the earth. But as western Europa is the leading model of industrialisation we have to change the model before it is to late. And on the other hand we have to develope rules of ecology under the conditions of this big process of reconstruction of industry in eastern Germany. To change the model in western Germany and to bring in those rules in eastern Germany - that together only would be a worthwhile unification process.

6.2:We have been asked by the conveners of this conference to give an example of a national development project.Now, it may be taken from what I said, that the contribution of the German Greens to a sustained development in other parts of the world is resistance. Resistance to projects in our country which in our opinion are leading our industrial society into the wrong direction. We succeeded a bit. We prevented the emergence of a plutonium industry.We amongst many citizens initiative groups organised successfully resistance against the plans to build fast breeding reactors and reproccessing plants. We prevented for example the industrialisation of the North Sea coast. We slowed down the pace of highway construction. And in the same time we piled up concepts for alternativ policies. For example as energy is the key to all new policies a well thought over and by scientists much tested energy scenario 5). But in spite of all those small and wearisome piecemeal gainsit'squite obvious that a breakthrough to ecological policies on a national level is only possible when we arrive in a coalition government

6.3:On this conference we are discussing the problems of Latin America and Western Europe. I would like to draw your attention to the fact, that the per capita indebtness of countries like Poland and Hungary is as high or even higher than that of Mexico or Brazil.And as Russia is going over to market economies and the rubel is in free fall, the impoverishment of East European people is rising dramatically. Starvation is an issue in Moscow under elderly people as it is in poblaciones. But there is one difference:In Latin America the capitalistic sector is well established but also very well known. Thus there exists a rich strategic thinking how to handle it and how perhaps to restrain it- at least some parts of the middle classes are aware of it.But in Eastern Europe capitalism is the rising star, socialism is a dirty word due to it's misuse under the totalitarian regimes.Once again,as examplified above in the case of the unification of Germany, the key to a sustained development worldwide is the question, if westeuropean societies are able to reconstruct of their industrial systems in order to get an ecologically and socially viable way of production and consumption.

6.4:Yesterday it was said, that green parties are irrelevant for the problems of Latin America. The same could be said for Eastern Europe, but again with a specific difference: Three years ago in Eastern Europe was a widespread sympathy for green movements and also for green parties. It was the formative period for quite a lot of green activists, because of massive environment destruction On the other hand the rotten political systems also detected the new issue and of course some partymembers, especcially of their youth organisations and also some secret service people jumped the train.Thus green parties in Eastern Europe are sometimes a mixture of very serious environment protectionists and people looking for different reasons for new carriers. On the other hand two years ago, when it came to the show-down between the oppositions and the regimes, to overthrow the dictatorship of the party was the overriding concern. Thus many radical ecologists who know, that democratisation is the most important precondition for ecological policy found themselves afterwards bound in solidarity with the emerging citizens parties of the first hour. And many of them are still standing there.But I am very much convinced that ecology is the lasting issue for working out new policies. Thus I finish with the conclusion, which perhaps can be drawn not only for Eastern Europa, that it still will take some time, until all the ecologists are in a viable party and that, secondly, it's not the colour green in the name which signals the international compagnionship of all ecologists, which we very much need.


1) Herbert Gruhl, Ein Planet wird geplündert (in: fischer alternativ 4006), Frankfurt 1978
2) Around the end of 1977 and in the first half of 1978: in Lower Saxonia: Grüne Liste Umweltschutz (GLU), Hamburg: Bunte Liste (BuLi), Berlin: Alternative Liste (AL). They participated in the elections on their regional parliaments. 1979 for participation in the first election to the European Parliament of Strasbourg DIE GRÜNEN were founded as a political association. 13.1.1980 DIE GRÜNEN were founded as a party nationwide.
3) Umbau der Industriegesellschaft, als Programm beschlossenaufder Bundesdelegiertenkonferenz 26. - 28.9.1986, Hg. Die Grünen, Bonn 1986; Auf dem Weg zu einer ökologisch-solidarischen Weltwirtschaft, Hg. Die grünen, Bonn 1990
4) Joachim Raschke, Krise der Grünen, Bilanz und Neubeginn, Marburg 1991
5) Das GRÜNE Energiewende-Szenario 2010, 2. Edition, Köln 1991