Rudolf Bahro  (1935 - 1997): A TRIBUTE


"The earth can belong to no one."

"I believe that the ecological crisis will bring about the end of capitalism."

            Rudolf Bahro, the German green philosopher and activist died of cancer in a Berlin hospital on Friday,
        December 5th. He was buried on Friday, December 12th. Newspaper reports say about 200 people
        attended the funeral oration. I was upset and very sorry to hear of his death. Since hearing of it, I have been
        thinking about the importance of Bahro's work for radical ecology, his contribution to the green movement,
        and have been re-reading parts of his books.

            Personally, his thinking and the evolution of his jarring ideas inspired and influenced me, and gave me
        strength. He explored with a ruthless honesty the real contradictions for a left wing person of becoming a
        green. For Bahro, the working class along with the bourgeoisie are intrinsic parts of the industrial system:
        "In the case of capitalism the workers are part of the carousel of the capitalist formation." The trade
        unions belong to the most conservative societal forces and are opposed to the transformation of society.

            Bahro's writings gave me the courage to say things which I believed and needed to be said, but which
        I knew would not be well received. Bahro was against that reformism which passes itself off as
        oppositional activity, but which prolongs the illusory life of industrial society.

            Bahro, a founding member of the West German 'Die Grunen', in 1980 was elected to the Federal
        Executive. For him, green politics was about capturing people's consciousness, not accumulating votes.
        By 1985 he had resigned from the Party. His resignation statement noted how the Greens did not want
        to get out of the industrial system: "Instead of spreading consciousness they are obscuring it all along
        the line." Bahro particularly repudiated the continuing justification of animal experimentation by the
        green party.

            For Bahro, industrialized nations needed to reduce their impact upon the Earth to one tenth of what
        it was. "Development" was finished. Like the Norwegian deep ecology philosopher Arne Naess,
        Bahro had a biocentric, not human-centered world view. Unlike Naess, Bahro was steeped in the
        culture of the left.

            Bahro came to critical awareness in the former German Democratic Republic, East Germany. There,
        a  communist party Marxism was the taken-for-granted official view. Bahro himself joined the Party in
        1952 at age 17. After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, he withdrew his identification from the
        official regime. He was imprisoned for writing his first major work, The Alternative In Eastern
, published in then West Germany. He was deported in 1979 from the GDR after serving
        two years in jail.

            Bahro moved intellectually from a critical communism/Marxism, to eco-socialism, to Die Grünen party
        spokesperson, and finally to a Green movement fundamentalism and concern for personal spiritual
        transformation. On this path he demolished left, green party and bourgeois orthodoxies. He made many of
        his supporters uneasy as he explored the links between environmental politics and spiritual transformation.
        Humans, he believed, need to look inward in order to find the strength to break with the death course of
        industrial society. Bahro sought to establish communal liberated zones within industrialized society which
        would provide "institutional security for the experience of the self."

            He was also deliberately misunderstood and slandered. Radical dissenters are never loved. There is no
        slot to place him in. It was said of Bahro that he was still sitting in the train between the East and the West.
        Since 1990 he had a marginal teaching position as professor for social ecology, at Humbolt University in
        East Berlin.

            Bahro had sent me a letter, dated December 20, 1995, saying he was in agreement "with the essential
        points" of the philosophy of left biocentrism, the orientation of the Green Web.

            His physical body is no more, yet his ideas remain. His books show his ideas about the needed new
        coalition of social forces for a new world order. The following books are available in English:
        - The Alternative In Eastern Europe, 1977. Bahro called this book "A Contribution to the Critique
           of Actually Existing Socialism"
from a revolutionary standpoint.
        - Socialism and Survival, 1982
        - From Red To Green, 1984. Particularly recommended.
        - Building The Green Movement, 1986
        - Avoiding Social & Ecological Disaster: The Politics of World Transformation, subtitled An
          Inquiry into the Foundations of Spiritual and Ecological Politics
. 1987 (in German) and 1994 in

                                                                                                               David Orton - December 14th, 1997

        This Tribute was published in the Socialist Studies Bulletin No. 50 (Oct.-Dec. 1997); Canadian
, March-April 1998, Vol. 32, No. 2; and in abridged form, The Way Ahead, No. 36,
        January 1998.  It was also translated into Spanish as "Rudolf Bahro (1935 - 1997): Un tributo".
        For more on Bahro, see the Rudolf-Bahro-Archiv (in German).

        Further discussion of Bahro's ideas can be found in Green Web Bulletin # 68, "Ecofascism: What is It?
         A Left Biocentric Analysis"

To obtain any of the Green Web publications,  write to us at:

Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
E-mail us at:

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 Last updated: November 19, 2006