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Synthesis/Regeneration 45   (Winter 2008)

War and Peace and the Greens of Germany

by Victor Grossman

The color green is not usually associated with anger. But some leaders of the Green political party in Germany have turned purple with rage in recent months. And they are still simmering. The party of the Greens is not the same as the related party in the USA or other countries. True, when it developed in West Germany during the 1970s and 1980s it was a militant fighting outfit devoted to environmental protection, feminism, anti-fascism, social improvements and pacifism as well as to opposing atomic energy plants. In those days, it was a leading party on the left, and its unusually informal clothing, taking babies to meetings, and male and female members busy knitting during conferences were ridiculed in the press, but brought some fresh wind into the stuffy legislatures of the day.

Then there was a split between the so-called Fundies — the fundamentalists, who insisted on leftwing goals and slogans like socialism — and the Realos, the realists, the pragmatic wing of the party. The latter won out, and many leftists quit. They were partially replaced after 1990 by members of the “Alliance 90” from East Germany, made up of intellectuals who had been active in bringing about the downfall of the East German government and who were hardly leftist in their views.

It became easier for the Greens to move upwards in the political scene, winning seats in provincial legislatures and then in the Bundestag. In 1998, when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) needed a junior partner to gain a majority in the Bundestag, the Greens became part of the government coalition under Gerhard Schroeder, and were granted three Cabinet posts, including the important Foreign Minister job held by Joschka Fischer.

Sadly, their years in office, lasting until 2005, robbed them of any last claims to political virginity. They made one compromise after another, joining in economic reforms which were devastating to millions of the jobless and even supporting the bombing of Serbia in the name of “humanitarianism.”

Like Schroeder they did oppose the war in Iraq (though not the huge US bases in Germany which serve the invasion) but most Green deputies in the Bundestag have continually supported German involvement in the military struggle in Afghanistan. Alleged reconstruction efforts by German soldiers have thus far been restricted to more pacified areas in the north. They have not been able to accomplish much in the way of reconstruction — or in training Afghan police who often quickly desert to the Taliban or other resistance groups. In addition, the German government sent highly secretive Special Forces units trained in covert attacks and, more recently, Tornado fighter planes for so-called reconnaissance purposes, which means spotting Taliban fighters — or the unlucky civilians nearby — to be bombed by US forces.

All members of the new Left party in the Bundestag opposed sending German warriors abroad on any military mission, pointing out that the German constitution permitted armed forces only for the defense of Germany. The other four parties supported the move, but a small number of independent Greens and Social Democrats defied party pressure and joined the Left in voting against sending the planes.

On October 12 the military mission in Afghanistan was again due for a vote. Since 60–70% of the population voiced opposition to German expeditionary forces of any kind in Afghanistan, and especially to the use of the fighter planes, the Christian Democratic-Social Democratic coalition thought up a great trick. They coupled the decision to send troops for reconstruction purposes with the sending of Tornado fighter planes, forcing deputies either to vote for or against both at the same time or else to abstain.

While the Left party continued its opposition to both, the Green leaders were in a quandary. They wanted to support one half of the decision but not the Tornados — but could not pick or choose. That is when the pressure from below took a hand in the decision-making. It was strong enough to force a very unusual special congress in September in order to determine how party deputies should vote. Most of the top leaders wanted a yes vote, but in view of the strong grassroots opposition, they reluctantly tried to agree on a compromise, leaving the decision up to each individual deputy.

Then came the big surprise. A virtually unknown party member named Robert Zion from a local party group made a motion insisting that the Green deputies should oppose any motion which involved keeping Tornado fighters in Afghanistan. They must either vote against the double motion or abstain. And this motion won by a solid majority.

The Green leaders were both amazed and outraged by such impertinence, while the other parties immediately started sharp attacks against the Greens, who had “removed themselves from political relevance,” to quote one of the gentler statements. They were accused of supporting the ostracized positions of the Left party. And any breech in their military dikes could in the long run prove embarrassing to those powerful elements in Germany who want to expand their military and naval outreach to all sections of the world, over and above the units already stationed at the Horn of Africa, in Bosnia and Kosovo or on the coast of Lebanon.

What happened when the Bundestag voted on October 12? Of course the decision to stay in Afghanistan, with the support of both government parties, won out by a vote of 454 to 79, with 48 abstentions. All 53 Left deputies voted no, without exception. As demanded by their party leadership, nearly all Social Democrats voted in favor; only 13 had the courage to vote no, while 13 abstained.

And the Greens? Only 7 followed the wishes of the majority at the special congress and voted against the motion, while 28 abstained. But 15 of the Green deputies, including two top leaders, openly defied their own congress and voted in favor of the engagement in Afghanistan, Tornado reconnaissance planes and all. This seemed to indicate a growing split within the Green Party — for or against militarism and, in this case, for or against the will of the membership and the majority of the German population.

The Greens finally passed the test during a separate vote on November 15. It was a token measure on prolonging the use of German troops in NATO’s Operation Enduring Freedom campaigns. Here are the results: All members of the Left delegation and all the Greens voted no; 42 Social Democrats defied party discipline to vote no, and 5 abstained; 3 Christian Democrats did the same, with 4 abstentions; and most Free Democrats also joined the government coalition to vote yes except for 3 no votes and 6 abstentions. The total was 414 in favor, 145 opposed and 15 abstentions.

The coming decision in the Bundestag and, even more, in the streets and meeting places all over the country, should both reflect and affect the grass- roots opposition of the German people who want the billions in taxpayers’ money to be spent for urgent needs back home, not wasted in ever bloodier military adventures abroad. Although the Greens are now only fifth among the parties in the Bundestag, their decisions on both foreign policy and domestic developments will affect their future as a party — as supporters or opponents of a worsening status quo. Depending on their actions they can regain strength, split apart or simply lose relevance.

McCarthy era persecution made Victor Grossman flee the US Army in 1952, swimming the Danube and landing in East Germany. He became a free-lancer in East Berlin. His autobiography is Crossing the River, University of Massachusetts Press.

[21 jan 08]

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