Green Politics
How the Greens are transforming the political
culture of Europe and inspiring a worldwide movement that can
change the course of America's future
Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak
E.P. Dutton Inc., New York, New York (USA), 1984 (1984)
244 pages, including index

A breath of fresh air, although perhaps only on the surface:

A ritual procession of twenty-seven people —including a nurse, a shop steward, a former general, a mason, several teachers, a veterinarian, a retired computer programmer, three engineers and a scientist, a bookseller, an architect, a journalist, a professor of agriculture, and a lawyer— walked through the streets of West Germany's capital on 22 March 1983 with a huge rubber globe and a branch of a tree that was dying from pollution in the Black Forest. They were accompanied by representatives from various citizens' movements and from other countries. They entered the lower chamber of their national assembly, the Bundestag, and took seats as the first new party to be elected in more than thirty years. The new parliamentarians insisted on being seated in between the conservative party (Christian Democrats), who sat on the right side of the chamber, and the liberal-left party (Social Democrats). They called themselves simply die Grünen, the Greens.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. XIII)

Our politicians no longer know where to turn to minimize the damage. They argue about priorities and about the relative merits of short-term technological and economic "fixes" without realizing that the major problems of our time are simply different facets of a single crisis. They are systemic problems, which means that they are closely interconnected and interdependent. They cannot be understood through the fragmented approaches pursued by our academic disciplines and government agencies. Rather than solving any of our difficulties, such approaches merely shift them around in the complex web of social and ecological relations. A solution can be found only if the strucutre of the web itself is changed, and this will involve profound transformations of our social and political institutions, values, and ideas.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. XIX)

So, who are the Greens?

The Greens consider themsleves the political voice of the citizens' movements, that is, ecology, anti-nuclear-power, peace, feminist, and others. Most members of the Green party are also activists in one or more of those movements, and this diverse orientation is reflected in the wings, or factions, of the party: the visionary/holistic Greens, the Eco-Greens, the peace-movement Greens, and the radical-left Greens. A great deal of overlapping occurs with any categorizing of Green identities and some people say there are no actual factions, but clearly there are different priorities among the four clusters.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 3-4)

The cultural and political forces that led to the formation of the Green party have been the subject of much speculation in this country. Several publications have asserted that forming Green-type movements is simply something German youth do every few decades. They compare the Greens to the romantic Wandervögel of the late nineteenth century and even to the Nazi youth groups, who were taught that nature —within German borders— is sacred. A second common assumption is that the Greens have their roots "in the counterculture of the 1960s" (Los Angeles Times, 18 September 1983). That is a projection of the American experience. While Amsterdam, London, and San Francisco were inundated with the colors, music, flowers, blind trust (of people under thirty!), and surging optimism of the hippies, West German youth were enmeshed in the angry, Marxist-dominated student revolt of 1968 and its aftermath. It is true that one can connect certain aspects of Green politics to strains in German culture such as regionalism and a romantic love of nature. However, the Greens must be understood asa a postwar phenomenon because their roots, their context, and their memories lie on this side of the great trauma that severed the continuity of the German experience, the Nazi era.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 3-4)

Principles of a new politics (chapter 2):

Green politics grew out of deeply felt principles long before there was any thought of forming a party. Among the broad spectrum of citizens who rallied to stop the spread of nuclear reactors, the pollution of rivers, and the death of the forests during the mid-1970s arose an understanding that we are part of nature, not above it, and that all our massive structures of commerce —and life itself— ultimately depend on wise, respectful interaction with our biosphere. Any government or economic system that ignores that principle is ultimately leading humankind into suicide. The more that people perceived the interconnections among principles of ecological wisdom, a truly secure peace, an economy with a future, and a participatory democracy with power channeled directly from the grassroots level, the more they noticed the absence of such ideals among the existing political parties.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 29)

The Greens include in their analysis of our interrelated crises the "spiritual decay" and "spiritual impoverishment" of our industrial societies, and they call for the inclusion of "spiritual subjects" in the education of our children. We were especially interested in the spiritual aspects of Green politics because both of us have spent many years of our personal and professional lives exploring the connection between ecology, politics, and spirituality. We feel that deep ecology is spiritual in its very essence. It is a world view that is supported by modern science but is rooted in a perception of reality that goes beyond the scientific framework to a subtle awareness of the oneness of all life, the interdependence of its multiple manifestations, and its cycles of change and transformation. When the concept of the human spirit is understood in this sense, as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels connected to the cosmos as a whole, the full meaning of deep ecology is indeed spiritual.

Many, if not most, of the Greens we met consider themselves Christians but are not often involved with institutionalized religion. When we asked Greens at all levels of the party and in most parts of the country whether there is a spiritual dimension to Green politics, most emphatically answered "Yes" although almost no one could discuss the concept except in vague terms. The main reason spirituality remains largely unarticulated in the Green party is that Hitler manipulated the pre-Christian Teutonic myths, or sacred stories, to serve the propaganda machine of his National Socialist party. Hence, as Petra Kelly remarked, the overt linking of spiritual values and politics is nearly forbidden: "A problem in the Realpolitik of West Germany is that any time you mention spirituality people accuse you of talking about something perverted —because it was perverted by the Nazis." In addition to the Nazi legacy, there is the Marxist insistence among most of the radical-left Greens that the spiritual dimension of life does not even exist so naturally it is not permitted to be discussed in connection with political goals.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 53)

The Greens maintain that the either/or situation created by the emergence of the two power blocs after World War II has resulted in a loss of self-determination for the allies of both the Soviet Unio and the United States, as well as the remilitarization of West Germany. The tensions between the two superpowers have engulfed not only the nations of Europe but also the entire world and even the "territory" of outer space.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 59)

On the politics of peace:

What would it take for the American, European, and Japanese multionational corporations to loosen their grip on satellite regions as well? Different economic structures at home in which enterprises were nonmonopolistic, appropriately scaled, and self-organized, comprising an ecologically aware society that applied its scientific prowess to the challenge of appropriate technology and the minimal use of resources? Widespread consciousness-raising among the public about the plight of the Third World? A postpatriarchal generation of men who were no longer willing to "prove their manhood" in "patriotic" foreign wars?

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 81)

Chapter four, on restructuring the economy:

Belief in the necessity of continuing growth is a blatant illustration of the fallacy of linear thinking: the erroneous belief that if something is good for an individual or group, then more of the same will necessarily be better. The prevailing creed in government and business is still that the common good is best served when all people and institutions maximize their own material wealth —"What's good for General Motors is good for the United States." The whole is identified with the sum of its parts. The fact that it can be either more or less than this sum, depending on the positive or negative interference among the parts, is ignored. The consequences of this reductionist fallacy are now becoming painfully visible, as economic forces collide with each other with increasing frequency, tear the social fabric, destroy the natural environment, and generate international political tensions.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 84)

The systems approach to economics will make it possible to bring some order into the present conceptual chaos by allowing economists to put their models into an ecological context. According to this view, the economy is a living system composed of human beings and social organizations in continual interaction with one another and with the surrounding ecosystems on which our lives depend. Like an individual organism, an ecosystem is a complex web of relationships in which animals, plants, microorganisms, and inanimate substances are all interlinked and interdependent, a network of processes involving the exchange of matter and energy in continual cycles. Because linear cause-and-effect relationships exist very rarely in ecosystems, linear models are not very useful to describe the embedded social and economic systems.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 85)

The long-term goal of Green economics is under lively discussion within the party. What is sometimes called the Bahro-Trampert debate is a representation of the conflicting priorities of the visionary/holistic Greens and the Marxist-oriented Greens. Rainer Trampert and most of his radical-left colleagues are structurally conservative in that they believe a steady-state, no-growth economy can be achieved simply by scaling back the current levels of production. They do not support —at least not with any enthusiasm— the structural shift called for by most Greens to small-scale, overseeable units of commerce and industry. Rudolf Bahro, in stark contrast, calls for a radical shift in our patterns of production, consumption, and living so that we will return to a "preindustrial" society comprised largely of self-sufficient villages of about 3,000 people. Most Greens, although they admire Bahro's thinking in other areas, find this proposal entirely impractical, just as they find Trampert's proindustrial stance unsatisfactory. They bemoan the fact that a truly Green, creative, and pragmatic model beyond both Trampert's and Bahro's has not yet been developed by the party.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 89)

The Green's critique of what is produced includes their rejection of armaments, wasteful packaging, dangerous chemicals, and frivolous household gadgets. One of the most effective ways of reducing and, eventually, eliminating the "need" for production of these dangerous and wasteful products would be through restrictions on advertising, and this is indeed what the Greens propose. In today's economies, in Europe as in the United States, advertising is a crucial element in the ability of big companies to "manage," that is, create, the demand in the marketplace. For the system to work, not only must consumers keep increasing their spending, they must do so predictably. As a consequence of this practice, the frustration created and sustained by massive doses of advertising, on top of existing social inequities, contributes to ever increasing crime, violence, and other social pathologies. The disastrous effects of advertising are especially noticeable on television. In the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Morrow, 1978), Jerry Mander explains how advertising on the American television networks influences the content and form of all programs, including the "news shows," and manipulates the tremendous suggestive power of this medium —switched on for more than seven hours a day by the average American family— to shape people's imagery, distort their sense of reality, and determine their views, tastes, and behavior. The exclusive aim of this dangerous practive is to lure the audience into buying products advertised before, after, and during each program.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 91-92)

Chapter 5, on social issues:

Building a peaceful, nonexploitative society requires progression beyond patriarchal values. In West Germany, as elsewhere, the largest group of exploited persons are women. Hence the title of the committee within the Green Fraktion for social issues is "Women and Society." The programs of the Green party at all levels address the structural and attitudinal walls women encounter in education, wage-earning, and politics. However, the major focus at the national level has been Paragraph 218 of West German federal law, which declares abortion illegal in the first three months unless the pregnant woman can get permission from three doctors on the basis of her health or eugenic proiblems, her economic situation, or proven rape, and illegal in all cases after three months. The current law is a compromise solution passed by the Social Democraic government in 1976. Prior to that, under the Christian Democrats, abortion was a criminal offense under almost any circumstances.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 108)

On the issue of culture, the Greens oppose the development of a "culture industry" because "it breaks the connection between culturally creative people and those to whom the creative expressions are addressed, developing instead pure 'culture consumption,' because it accepts cultural underdevelopment caused by hard working conditions and lack of education, because it keeps a large number of people in a state of passivity, and because it encourages the marketing of culture and the cult of 'stars'. Rather than "professional culture factories," the Greens support the grassroots cultural movement in theater, dance, music, art, and literature. They also want the "classical cultural institutions" —museums, theaters, concert halls, libraries, and movie houses— to concern themselves more than they have with the requirements and daily problems of the population and to feature more traveling exhibits for the suburbs and countryside.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 123-124)

Chapter 6, on bringin grassroot ideals into electoral politics:

In contrast to the major parties, who report to the public on their doings only infrequently, often just before an election, the Greens are committed to relaying privileged information that usually does not get outside the forums of power. Indeed, they have become skilled communicators. All levels of the party produce a flood of printed material —on recycled paper, they hasten to add. There are two main types of publication: reports from the Green Fraktion in legislative bodies, and reports on projects, actions, and issues from the party.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 131-132)

Chapter 7, an evaluation of the first four years:

Few West Germans feel neutral toward the Greens. The two million people who voted for them in the federal election of March 1983 and the hundreds of thousands more who have voted in state and local elections since then believe that the Greens are a necessary voice in government —that they are the personified bad conscience of government as well as ecological guardians of the future. Other citizens feel the Greens are probably right about some issues but are too radical in general. Still others scron the Greens as disrupters of the status quo who lack an understanding of political and economic necessities. Finally, much of the radical left finds the Greens not radical and disruptive enough, criticizing their "bourgeois" goals and tactics in leftist publications.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 143)

In spite of their many successes the Greens are faced with serious problems, not all of which they are addressing effectively. A major problem is that the issues the little party identified and fought for are being co-opted by the big parties. In a few cases the Christian Democratic government has derailed the Greens' momentum by taking action that, although sorely inadequate, lays an issue to rest as far as most of the public is concerned. For example, the Greens called for immediate legislation banning all gasoline in West Germany that was not lead-free because the emissions from leaded gasoline have been linked by scientists to rapidly spreading diseases that now afflict 80 percent of the spruce trees and 50 percent of the firs in many areas, including the Black Forest. Friedrich Zimmermann, Kohl's Minister of the Interior, first said that banning leaded gasoline would be impossible. Later, under the pressure from conservative forest-owners who had listened to the Greens' arguments, he announced that West Germany will switch to lead-free gasoline in 1985. The CDU thereby appears to be responsive while two more years of damage —some of it irreparable, according to foresters— will be visited upon the few remaining forests of Germany.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 146)

Chapter 8, on the worldwide green movement:

The first Green party was the Values party of New Zealand, whose history is very curious and rather sad. It was founded in the late 1960s and presented itself from the very beginning as a true Green party long before the ideas were fashionable, emphasizing not only environmental issues but also values and spirituality, and situating itself clearly beyond left and right. The electoral system in New Zealand is the same as the British and American system —a majority vote is required in a given electoral district in order to win a seat in the legislature. The Values party never gained any seats in national elections, but by 1972 it had established itself as a serious factor in the political dynamics of New Zealand. During the following years it worked out a detailed program that became the first statement of Green politics. It was presented as the 1975 election manifesto of the Values party, titled Beyond Tomorrow, and became an inspiration for ecologists and futurists around the world. The program explicitly stated, several years before the European Green programs were formulated, the need for a steady-state population and economy, new industrial and economic relations, ecological thinking, human-centered technology, soft-path energy systems, decentralization of government, equality for women, and rights of native peoples, as well as for valuing the traits traditionally considered feminine: cooperation, nurturing, healing, cherishing, and peace-making.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 172)

In comparing the Belgian Green parties to the German Greens, we noticed foremost the absence of internal tension between a Marxist and other factions. Roelants [François Roelants, of Ecolo] explained that the Belgian Greens did not feel the need to work with the radical left because the Belgian ecological groups received official recognition by themselves, that is, they were taken seriously by the Belgian government as disciussion partners and never felt the need to form coalitions with leftist groups in order to gain political skills. The Belgian Greens are glad they have fared better in this respect than their German counterparts. On the other hand, they consider the German Greens' unification of the ecology movement and the peace movement to be an inspiring success, one that the other European Greens have yet to achieve. A further contrast with Green politics in West Germany is that feminism plays a very minor role in Belgium, as the women who represent Ecolo in the Brussels region told us. One of them, Cécile Delbascourt, said quite frankly, "This is the big gap."

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 172)

In the last part of their program, the European Greens present their vision of Europe's future. They believe that the European nation-states are artificial units, which were created as the result of wars —that is, imposed by violent action— and have been motivated by national chauvinism, competition, and expansionist thinking. Instead of these nation-states, the Greens want to create a "Europe of the regions," that is, a Europe of "historically grown, self-determined, but mutually interconnected units." In our conversations Green politicians of various nationalities emphasized that Europe has many cultural communities that trascend national borders. These communities were formed by tradition and history; they share a common cultural heritage, are bound by a common language, and often also represent natural ecological units. Cultural communities, of course, may sometimes be more or less identical with nations, and the Europe of the regions will have to show flexibility in taking this into account. However, the European Greens feel that, on balance, regional identity is stronger in Europe than national identity.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, p. 188)

Chapter 9, on how the Green party could also happen in the US:

The roots of Green ideas in American culture reach back to our earliest origins. For more than 20,000 years Native Americans have maintained a deeply ecological sense of the subtle forces that link humans and nature, always emphasizing the need for balance and for reverence toward Mother Earth. Spiritual values are inherent in their politics, as they were for the many colonists who came to this land for the protection of religious pluralism. The Founding Fathers of our government, who were familiar with the federal system of the Iroquois nation, created a democratic federalism that reflects the shared values comprising national identity but entrusts extensive powers to the states and to the people's representatives, who can block the designs of federal authoritarianism. The young nation spawned a network of largely self-sufficient communities that flourished through individual effort and cooperation —the barn raising, the quilting bees, the town meetings. Yet local self-sufficiency and self-determination eventually gave way to control by such huge institutions as the federal bureaucracy, the military establishment, massive corporations, big labor unions, the medial establishment, the education system, institutionalized religion, and centralized technology.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 193-194)

Just as we believe a network to be an insufficient political form for Green ideas, so we believe that moving into electoral politics prematurely would be an error. Considering the political system and traditions in this country, a bipartisan caucus is probably the shrewdest choice, although Green candidates could run at the local level as Independent. However, whether or not a caucus or party evolves later the soundest starting point is a well-organized, grassroots, national Green movement that develops a coherent view and comprehensive programs to present to lawmakers and the public. The structure should respect local and regional autonomy within a framework of shared values and should have only the minimal amount of national coordination necessary to present the movement as a potent element in American politics.

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 203-204)

Some Green-oriented thinkers in this country are strict, almost absolutist, decentralists. They maintain that the general lack of corruption in the federal government would also prevail at local levels if local government was made the focus of our system. Centralists, on the other hand, insist that impartial inspections and investigations, civil rights, control of acid rain, equitable allocation of resources, and countless other matters must be handled by a strong federal government. It is likely that a Green movement would opt for neither of those either-or positions but, rather, for a holistic both-and approach: appropriate governance. Green politics in this country would support a great deal of decentralizing in government, the economy, and energy production. At the same time, it might well support accountable, responsive federal power to safeguard the shared values of an ecological, nonexploitative society. For instance, our federal government would determine that air pollutants must not exceed a certain level beyond which serious diseases result, but would leave the means of compliance up to each state to determine. Of course, the false decentralism of the Reagan Administration is a farce, because it demands, for example, $260 billion from us in 1984 alone to feed a bloated efense budget and then sends only a relatively small amount of our tax dollars back to the states, leaving them unable to address our problems adequately. In addition, the federal government has persistently increased its proportion of tax revenues from sources that overlap with those of cities and states, for example, gasoline tax. Much of our tax money that is allocated for the poor goes instead to intermediary federal bureaucracies, causing many people to wonder whether direct grants to poor families, administered at the state or local levels, might not be more efficient. The tensions between the desire for autonomy and the reality of interdependence are but one conflict a Green movement would have to reconcile creatively. Mark Satin, editor of new Options, suggests that people are decentralists in their hearts but centralists in their heads. Like the German Greens, who call for a global federation to address issues of ecological balance and peace, he feels, "We'll always need a referee."

(Fritjof Capra & Charlene Spretnak: Green Politics, pp. 219-220)

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