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Peace Magazine is the successor to the Peace Calendar. Go to the Peace Magazine homepage
By Robert Penner
As one of the strongest and most effective peace movements in the world, the powerful peace movement in West Germany provides an ideal case study for peace activists in other countries.
The peace movement in West Germany has mobilized over a million people for a on~day d~ monstration, elected members to federal parliament, helped to put the deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe on the world-wide political agenda and caused a severe break in the previously existing defence consensus among those who are powerful in West Germany.
The recent resurgence of the peace movement in Germany grew out of a strong local base built up through a decade of strong environmental and anti-nuclear organizing. That base became the foundation of the peace movement at the time of the NATO “twotrack” decision of 1979.
But the German movement has found that the principles adopted when it was much smaller do not necessarily address its needs now that it has achieved some of its primary goals and is many times as large. The contradiction between the organizational theory on which it is based and its present practise presents one of its most serious challenges to date. The resulting problems are particularly obvious in the constant debate on one of the most prominent facets of the West German movement: the Green Party.
“We are facing our most serious crisis,” says Petra Kelly, the most prominent individual in the Green Party and the focus of the current debate. Kelly stubbornly adheres to the fundamental principles adopted in the infancy of the Green Party, despite mounting opposition within her own party and the peace movement in general.
Kelly and others, for example, see the role of the Greens in Parliament as a kind of “fundamental opposition,” and criticize those who have suggested that the Green Party could form anti-missile coalition governments with the S0cial Democratic Party on either the provincial or the federal level.
Opinion runs high not only on this question but also on other possible compromises. Three public spokespeople who are supposed to represent the opinions of the Greens in Parliament have publicly expressoo differing views on these issues to the outrage of other party members. The relationship of these three (Joschka Fischer, Otto Schilly and Kelly) was of great concern and they were rotated out of the speakers’ role and replaced by a team of 6 women. It was felt that this team, although not as experienced, would represent the view of all Greens, and would work together more effectively.
This effort, as well as other attempts to avoid the creation of a party hierarchy, while seeming good in principle, have failed miserably when implemented. One such plan was the “office community.”
In an effort to avoid hierarchy and stagnation within the party leadership, it was decided that those elected first for the Greens would leave their post half way through their term and be replaced by their alternates. In addition the sitting member and alternate would work together and share salary and office staff during the entire term.
However, this system has resulted in competition and frustration rather than cooperation. The sharing of salaries has caused financial difficulties for some, and the prospect of future roles within the party has caused some competition between members and their alternates.
The main problem, however, is that making the most effective use of the parliamentary process is difficult and rotation after two years wastes most of the lessons learned. Committee work on parliamentary projects may lose momentum as active and familiar Greens are replaced with alternates whose expertise and involvement may be different. A continuation of this process might mean that many of the most able Greens will be rotated out of the most important positions.
Most Green MPs now agree that the rotation period should have been the entire four year term, rather than two years, but the possibility of reversing a principle so fundamental to the Greens’ philosophy is causing a highly divisive debate within the party.
In addition, process questions which deal only with the few Greens in leadership and how they get along with each other leaves out the millions of supporters of the peace movement in West Germany. It is probably mistaken to define the main issue of the interaction among party leaders, rather than the interaction between the party leaders and the movement that supports them. This latter definition of the process problem would have the advantage of dealing with the overall effectiveness of the party in advancing the concerns of the disarmament movement.
In a recent provincial election the Green Party did not campaign effectively. Preoccupied with internal debate, they simply forgot to field candidates in some of their strongest districts. Despite this, they doubled their vote while all other candidates declined in popularity.
“The typical Green is looking to the issue behind the Greens and not the internal debate,” says Andrea Zurnach, one of the key organizers in the West German peace movement who is active outside the Green party in the Action Reconciliation for Peace.
Zurnach is critical for many reasons of the Greens, but acknowledges that the role they have played in Parliament has been extremely valuable, particularly on occasions such as last November’s parliamentary debate on the deployment issue in ‘which millions listened to the speeches of the Greens and other parties on live radio.
Zurnach is an inactive member of the Social Democratic Party who is becoming more active in the Greens, as are others outside the party who see this as a p0litical experiment too important to fail.
Many people like Zurnach feel that if the Green Party falters any similar initiative would be doomed for years to come. “With the Greens, their responsibility goes much farther than their own experience,” says Zurnach.
The Greens are a vital part of the movement in West Germany but they do not represent all or even a majority of it. “To see the Green Party and the peace movement as identical is absolute nonsense,” adds Zurnach.
The major campaigns and demonstrations are organized by the Co-ordination Bureau, which represents 30 national peace groups and is elected by “action conferences” of up to 2000 delegates from West German peace groups. The action conferences set the direction for the movement and the Co-ordination Bureau implements the decisions. The Green Party participates in this process, but not as actively as other group because they set their own work as a priority, have a distrust of some of the other elements involved in the Co-ordination Bureau and generally favour a more decentralized local approach over mass action.
“The Green Party is a party within movements,” says Roland Vogt, one of the leading Green parliamentarians. “We should try to be servants for these movements; to find out what is wanted. “ V ogt favours a closer int~ gration of the peace forces and regrets the “many misunderstandings between the Greens and the Co-ordination Bureau.”
Despite these reservations, the situation in West Germany approaches one of the ideals set out for many years by West German activists. A large extra-parliamentary mass movement supported by a parliamentary wing that can be used as a vehicle to argue for and advance their positions. Unfortunately the internal disputes and differing ways of organizing have hindered the development of this situation.
The internal debate in West Germany has been the focus for observers who are quick to pronounce the death of the movement. This is clearly not the case. Despite its difficulties the movement is extremely strong. It is just not as strong as it could be. It is a movement that has developed more quickly than its understanding of itself. As a result it is held back by concepts that require re-evaluation. The increasing power of the movement in the broadest sense is forcing that re-evaluation to occur. The question for the West German peace movement is whether that re-evaluation will occur quickly enough to achieve the pressing task that it has set itself.