Issue 231 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Nato's bombing has put the centre-left parties which govern most of Europe under severe strain. The political crisis was expressed in its sharpest form at the special conference of the German Green Party last month. Delegates came to blows as the party's leaders, who are the junior partners in a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party of Gerhard Schroder, struggled to head off calls for an immediate halt to the bombing.
Riot police smashed up an 800 strong anti-war demonstration outside the conference hall. Inside, hundreds of demonstrators denounced Green leader Joschka Fischer as a 'hypocrite' and 'warmonger'. Fischer was struck on the head by a bag of red paint thrown by one protestor.
Fischer, who is also the German foreign minister, eventually won a narrow endorsement for a convoluted compromise which backed the Green ministers' handling of the Balkan crisis, but which also called for a temporary ceasefire to encourage Serbia to negotiate. The vote was 444 to 318.
Fischer said that to adopt a clear anti-war position would mean the end of the Red-Green coalition with Schroder and would condemn the Greens to the margins of German politics. The result, he claimed, would be a more right wing government which would continue German participation in the bombing. This convinced a majority of conference delegates to support Fischer, but it also exposed the central contradiction of the Greens' strategy.
The Greens have followed a twin track strategy of presenting themselves both as a radical, anti-establishment force and as an electoral party which seeks office through coalition. They emerged as a movement and then as a party in the late 1970s. Core Green activists had, like Joschka Fischer, been radicalised by the student movement of the 1960s. Many had joined leftist groups, but by the late 1970s and early 1980s they were becoming disillusioned with 'traditional forms' of radical organisation.
The Greens mushroomed in the mass anti-nuclear protests which swept Germany in the early 1980s. The peace movement brought the Greens hundreds of thousands of supporters. Their failure to stop the deployment of Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles pushed the Greens increasingly to emphasise electoral politics. They passed the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in the national parliament in the 1983 general election. That same year they won seats in the state parliament in Hesse and went on to form a coalition with the SPD.
The greater the drive to win elections, the sharper the divisions became within the Greens between the so called 'Realos', who wanted to abandon radical policies to make the party more respectable, and the 'Fundis', who wanted to stay as a protest movement.
Joining Schroder's coalition in October of last year was the Greens' high water mark. But membership of the government has led to appalling compromises. Aban doning opposition to Nato and to the deployment of German troops abroad is the latest U-turn. Since taking office Green leaders have also watered down support for giving immigrants dual citizenship, and have been unable to win the government to phasing out nuclear power.
Support for Nato's bombing campaign cuts deepest in a party which was united in pacifism even when bitterly divided over its strategy. Jurgen Trittin, a government minister and leader of the party's left, said the decision 'marks the end of the party's pacifism'. Activists in Berlin and eastern Germany, where most people oppose the war, say the party is dying on the vine and haemorrhaging support to the former Communist PDS. Five Green councillors in Hamburg resigned from the party within days of the conference.
Opinion polls showed rising opposition across Germany to the war. Disappointment with the Greens' role in the coalition government in the state of Hesse led their vote to plummet in elections there earlier this year. Party leaders now worry that the Greens will do badly in the Euro elections this month.
The debacle of a party which for most of its existence was for the dissolution of Nato now backing the alliance's greatest act of military aggression has more than just electoral consequences. It comes at a time when large numbers of young people in particular are becoming radicalised. Under those circumstances the Greens' retreat can push many of those who would in the past have been their natural supporters to look to far more radical alternatives.