A German View of the German Greens                    

                                                                                                                                       A review by David Orton                 

                                                                The German Greens: A Social and Political Profile
                                                                    by Werner Hülsberg. New York: Verso, 1988.

                    This is a book which should be read by Canadian greens for it is the best book in English available on
                the greens in West Germany. Whether we like it or not, in every country where there is a green movement,
                the West German greens are a basis for comparison. Like many others in Canada, this reviewer returns
                again and again to the question of why the West German greens help shape the political agenda in their
                country, while here at home Canadian greens remain on the periphery of political life. Reading Hülsberg’s
                book gives some understanding of how the green movement in his country evolved. It is not easy reading,
                but one should persevere because there is much to learn.

                    There is also much to criticize in this book. The criticism is of particular interest as the Left in Canada
                and the United States starts the process of trying to understand and determine its relationship to the
                emerging green movement. Despite the battle hymn of the B.C. Green Party, “We are neither left nor right;
                we are in front,” Hülsberg convincingly gives the evidence that the German greens are a left-wing party
                AND left of the German social democrats. The German Greens is also a good counter to the book by
                Capra and Spretnak, Green Politics, which ‘analyzed’ the German greens from an American, middle-class,
                anti-communist perspective, thus helping to set the stage for an American green movement/party from which
                the Left could be excluded.

                Greens from the Grassroots

                    Hülsberg points out that the German greens, as a political organization, arose out of a grassroots green
                movement based in ecology, but with ties to anti-militarist/anti-nuclear and feminist struggles, and the
                alternative movements. The defense and protection of the environment was linked by the greens to the
                deterioration in the quality of life of the  individual. The German green movement, unlike in Canada,
                first had local political representation. This book clearly shows that the green movement was successful
                in breaking through a social and political consensus based on anti-communism/pro-Americanism, a
                belief in continuous capitalist economic development, trust in NATO, and a depoliticized population.
                This legacy was bequeathed by the Allied Powers following W.W.II.

                    Terms like “realist” and “fundamentalist” have entered our green vocabulary in North America. Hülsberg
                defines these terms when he outlines what he sees as four basic tendencies contending within the German

                    On the right of the party are the eco-libertarians, who advocate a radical politics without reference to class and
                declare war on the “dictatorial jacobinism of the socialists.” On the left are the eco-socialists who insist on the
                relationship between social and ecological questions, and on the need to resist and defeat the bourgeois state. In
                the middle are the political realists, who argue for compromise with the SPD (German social democrats) and
                feasible “policies of reform,” to one side; and the fundamentalists on the other, closer in temper to the eco-
                socialists but divided from them over the issue of relations with the labour movement.

                    Hülsberg is an eco-socialist, so for him “the eco-socialists are the really dynamic wing of the Greens.” For
                Hülsberg, the centrality of green politics is not ecology, and he is arrogant and contemptuous towards groups
                drawing from an ecologically-based world view. As a rather traditional leftist (Trotskyist), he brings a left/right
                dichotomy into the analysis of the German green movement, which is often not appropriate. Concern for wildlife,
                nature in itself, or non-human species, comes through in The German Greens as part of a general right-wing
                orientation. It seems that Hülsberg does not write as a green, but as a left-wing person now in the green
                movement. A footnote (p.232) in the book notes that the Trotskyist political group he is associated with, as late
                as 1985, was “hostile to the Greens and called for critical support for the SPD.” Also, when groups on the
                German left are commented upon who are designated as “Stalinist” by Hülsberg, there is no pretense at

                    The explanation of proportional representation in West Germany is welcome. Appendix 2 outlines the federal
                electoral system, where each voter has two votes and “the total number of seats allocated to each party is a
                reflection of its overall percentage vote.” German voters have one vote for an individual constituency candidate
                and a second vote for a party list. Of particular interest for Canadians is that Hülsberg shows that the electoral
                success of the greens is influenced by a significant number of social democrats giving their second vote to the
                greens. The required 5% of the vote needed to enter the federal parliament was exceeded by greens for the first
                time in 1983. The German greens have never yet won a first-past-the-post race at the federal constituency level.
                Yet one needs to remember - with all the talk of electoral success - that the greens are a movement, not just a
                political party. Here in Canada, it has become obvious that some people tried to “copy” the West German
                model by establishing parliamentary federal and provincial political parties, yet these withered on the vine
                because a grassroots, green oppositional movement was not first built.

                Gaps, but on the Leading Edge

                    The West German greens seem a human-centered movement and political party. A deep ecology or
                biocentric perspective is absent. Reading The German Greens, it also becomes clear that there is, as
                yet no “green” economic model. On what basis a green society would organize its economic activity is a
                crucial question for greens everywhere. What the German greens have succeeded in doing is, however,
                impressive. They have developed democratic movement and party structures. Also, they have inspired
                green women the world over because of the leading roles played by green women. Whatever the conflicts
                within the movement and in the German federal and state green parties, the West German greens remain
                on the leading edge. Werner Hülsberg’s  book helps us to understand why.

                Reviewed in April 1989, The New Catalyst, Lillooet, B.C.

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