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Synthesis/Regeneration 27   (Winter 2002)

A Letter to Greens at Home

by Jason Murphy

Recent conflict here in Germany between the Social Democrats and the Greens (and corresponding conflict within the Greens) are interesting to US Greens, though I would stress that we have not been served the same sort of dilemmas they have. I have received a few e-mails asking how in hell a Green party could have voted for this war so I will try.

Here is the mess that the Greens had to face: Schroeder forced things so that the vote of confidence in his government was tied with support for the deployment of German troops in a combat role outside of Europe for the first time since 1945—despite the fact that no one has asked them to participate. If Greens had voted no, there would be another election. They believe that they are then almost certainly out of a government in which they have been able to make some important reforms.

Weirdly enough, this meant that the Parliament (the Bundestag) looked as if it barely supported such a military role. Mr. Schroeder won the vote of confidence with 336 votes, only 2 more than the simple majority that he needed. This is because the Christian Democrats and Liberals (all supporters of the war) voted against Schroeder’s government. Four Greens voted against the resolution because Schroeder insisted on “all or nothing.” Four Green Party legislators opposed to the war reluctantly reversed themselves and backed the coalition. One Social Democrat who opposed the deployment decided to quit her party and vote independent. The vote looked so close that Schroeder had a fellow SPD’er who is a gynecologist sit next to another member who was due to give birth! Had he split the vote on the war apart from the vote on his government, he would have won both with no problem.

Seventy percent of German Green party members (including me) are opposed to this war.

As I write this (November 21, 2001), the Greens will be meeting to discuss future policy. Looming large will be Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s game of chicken that was clearly designed to either (a) rein in criticism of his “unrestricted solidarity” with the US or (b) force another election in which his Social Democratic Party would probably gain votes and then be able to choose from three coalition partners—liberals, conservatives, or (least likely) the Greens.

One key Green deputy, Hans Christian Ströbele, who voted “no,” said: “This was an enormous decision, almost a martyrdom,” adding: “I’m in the schizophrenic situation that I voted ‘no,’ but was satisfied with the result.” In other words, he didn’t want to flush a number of negotiated reforms that might be scotched by different coalitions. For example, all nuclear plants are scheduled to be shut down by 2020, with one coming down in 2002 and at least one more every year after that. Take a train ride here and you will see hundreds of windmills (sometimes near one of these plants) preparing to fill in the gaps. Also, immigrant laws have changed to allow immigrants’ children born in Germany to have the vote. This will soon deliver the vote to over one million people and empower whole sections of Germany’s largest cities, with more to come. Germany’s population is 80 million; so this is no small deal.

… the Green movement in the US should provide a home for those who would find a home in several progressive parties throughout the world.

Seventy percent of German Green party members (including me) are opposed to this war. Some Party leadership have clearly moved away from the pacifist roots of the party here, especially Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister who is no longer even viewed by the public as a Green. Fischer and the “May 1968 Paris Revolutionary Icon” Daniel Cohn-Bendit wouldn’t even support a statement asking the US to pause in their bombing to allow relief workers like Oxfam to feed people. Greens have consistently endured moribund election results since they have entered this government. The Party convention coming up will be a fight that will make Carbondale, IL look like Club Med. Greens who think conflict only arises from bad attitudes will find very compassionate people making hard decisions and then fighting for them.

I wish to stress a few thing to US Greens. One, the Green movement in the US should provide a home for those who would find a home in several progressive parties throughout the world. This would include ones like the Party of Democratic Socialism, which I myself am considering joining. Two, those who cite the success of the German Greens as a reason to moderate our message or to emphasize professional electioneering are crazy. The Greens moderated after several reforms were laid on the table. Until political reforms are won, the best interests of the Green movement come in acting as a leaven to help lift progressive movements of every sort. No one is offering us a coalition. No one offered the German Greens a thing until after they became one of the hottest activist forces in the country. Now, at the anti-war rallies I’ve attended, I don’t see the word or the color Green anywhere. Very strange, yes, and also a bad sign for elections to come.

“Opportunist” Greens in the US should join those who have decided bombing civilians is wrong in opposing this war. US Green press releases and resolutions so far have been good. The best strategy for American Greens is to combine activism with electoral pressure (called “splitting the vote”) to change our electoral system. Our candidates can act as recruiters for organizations that are dependably progressive. Justice, Peace, and Democracy can be effectively aided with one swooping organizing effort. Pretty neat. Keep it up.

Jason Murphy, is a member of Die Gruenen/Buendnis ’90, and US Greens Abroad, GPUSA

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