This issue of Green Perspectives is devoted to a series of reports: from a Russian eco-anarchist, a U.K Green, Italian social ecologists, and a German radical ecologist. They provide glimpses into how people in different cultural contexts are working with ideas familiar to North American social ecologists.
First, Sergey Fomichov, one of the founders of the former USSR’s all-Union Green Party, talks about the relationship of eco-anarchism and Green politics. He is followed by Tim Andrewes, an editor of the British periodical Green Line, who reports on a recent conference of the U.K. Green Party in which the radical decentralist ecologists suffered a serious setback at the hands of the party’s largely realo tendency. The next article summarizes the views of Italian confederal municipalists who call for building a “new assembly” along ecological and democratic lines; an appended article explores the importance of the traditional small cities of north-central Italy to this project. Finally, Jutta Ditfurth explains the reasons for her departure from the German Green Party (which she had helped found in Frankfurt) last spring.
The ideas and activities presented here express the views of the individuals in the context of their own cultural settings and political development. We believe that they provide remarkable insights into the way that radical ecological ideas have developed in major European centers. ¤
Dzerzhinsk, Former USSR
An Interview with Sergey Fomichov
Editors’ note: Sergey Fomichov is one of the founders of the Green Party in what at the time was known as the USSR. He is today editor-in-chief of the independent Green magazine Trety Put (The Third Way); co-chairperson of the Green Parties League; and operating council member of the Rainbow Keepers, an ecological direct-action group. He was recently invited to the United States by the National Toxics Campaign. Green Perspectives interviewed Fomichov on November 16, 1991, in Burlington, Vermont. The interview, as presented here, has been amplified with excerpts from Fomichov’s unpublished 1991 manuscript, “History of Soviet Green Movements and Initiatives” (translator unknown).
GP: Tell us about the eco-anarchist Greens, and about the Green movement generally in the former USSR. What are the different tendencies in the Greens and the relationships among them?
FOMICHOV: Unlike most of the current oppositional trends in our country today–including the Green movement–the ecology movement was not an immediate product of perestroika and glasnost. It has a longer history than the Gorbachev reforms. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was already a great deal of nature protection activity in the USSR, mainly on the part of humanities students and upper-class tourist groups. More than forty nature protection brigades were formed between l960 and l972. Initiatives such as these had to be nonpolitical at that time–any political groups would have been terminated by the KGB.
In the 1980s, the ecology movements gained a mass character and developed a wide variety of forms of activity and a broad spectrum of political and ideological trends. After 1985, as the “democracy” movement and the national-cultural movements developed, ecological activists could become political and adopt radical forms of struggle. When the West European Green parties entered the political arena, they won the sympathy of many people in our country because of their radicalism and their rejection of traditional politics. The Chernobyl disaster (among others less widely reported) greatly strengthened the antinuclear and ecological movements and gave them a mass character. This catastrophe was the first instance where publicity was finally given to an acute ecological problem that had been silenced for a long time.
Today the broader ecology movement consists of a variety of groups, clubs, cooperatives, and associations. There are single-issue groups, such as antinuclear groups, or groups to save, say, a particular river. And there are broader groups that embrace the whole spectrum of the ecological problems of a locality, region, or country. Their scope varies from local to regional to all-Union to international. Their politics also varies widely, and they have many different ideologies and forms of action.
By the end of 1990, there were more than twenty-five all-Union ecological organizations in the USSR, but most of them today are all-Union on paper only–they exist mainly in Moscow. Of the all-Union organizations, one of the best-known to the West is the Social Ecological Union. It publishes and distributes a lot of ecological information
GP: Does the Social Ecological Union have anything to do with the social ecology of Murray Bookchin?
FOMICHOV: No, there is no connection. The Sierra Club is the analogous organization in the United States, except that the Social Ecological Union takes active part in elections.
The politically oriented Green movement in our country is pluralistic, with many different ideological tendencies–even monarchist tendencies–in it. . . . . But among the many and various tendencies, eco-anarchism is certainly one of the most developed. Eco-anarchist principles are accepted, for example, by the Movement to Found the Green Party, the Samara Union of the Greens, the Green Party of Nizhny-Novgorod territory, the anarchist wing of the Green Party, and others.
As an ideology, eco-anarchism (which is also called eco-socialism in our country) is based on the idea of a stateless, self-managed, free ecological society. Eco-anarchists see the roots of the ecological crisis in social causes that gave birth to an industrial model of society. They completely reject the logic of industrialization in any form (both the private market-economic system of the West and the state-bureaucratic planned system of the East). As an alternative, eco-anarchists offer a base-democratic society characterized by an absence of domination of human by human and of human over nature. Eco-anarchists support the communitarian movement as a translation of their ideas into life. Murray Bookchin is known in Russia as the founder of eco-anarchism.
The first important document issued by the eco-anarchists in our country was the “Ecosocialist Manifesto” by Vadim Damier, which was published in Third Way (no. 8). In formulating the communitarian model of social structure, this manifesto reads: “The principal social unit of eco-socialism is self-government and a maximally self-reliant commune, providing itself with basic products. In such a commune any person freely, without bureaucratic and economic dictates, determines his own life and comprehensively develops his capabilities. The self-governed communes would be united into the regional federation, and the Earth would be a federation of the regions, with all their natural and cultural peculiarities.”
There are different points of view among the eco-anarchists. For example, I myself am in favor of decentralizing the large cities into smaller sectors. But there are also people who will only work outside the city, in a kind of rural anarchism. A lot of our actions are supported by traditional anarchists.
GP: Where did all the anarchists come from?
FOMICHOV: Well, there was a syndicalist movement in 1987-88. Other anarchist groups began to appear after that. They didn’t have much strength in the workers’ movement, but they tried to establish anarchist unions. This didn’t work out because their own organization is very centralized. They formed a very small anarchist union in Nizhny-Novgorod that didn’t have a centralized approach. I’m not a supporter of pure anarcho-syndicalism. For myself, I try to unify the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism.
There is also an eco-libertarian tendency in the Green movement–it has a capitalistic orientation. It wants to dismantle the socialistic totalitarian state in favor of a democratic state based on private business activity and a market economy. Eco-libertarians think that only as a result of passing through the market capitalist system of the Western type can we convert to a post-industrial society. Only then can the problem of the relationship between humankind and the environment be solved. At the same time, they often support the idea of a powerful state that will effectively develop the economy. For their political program they rely on the “democracy” movement. Elements of eco-libertarianism can be found in the programs of the Green Party of Ukraine, the Democratic Green Party, the majority of the associations of the Baltic republics, and the Transcaucasian republics.
GP: How did you come to be involved in ecological politics?
FOMICHOV: I first came into the Green movement without any ideology, but then gradually I came to the opinion that the cause of all ecological problems is centralized power. I’m not very strong in theory. I’ve been mostly involved in direct action. But a few years ago some of my friends and I began to publish this journal, Third Way (whose title of course means “neither state socialism nor capitalism”), in Samara. It publishes many theoretical works and discussions, including translations of works by Greens in Western countries. It has been important in the development of the Greens in our country.
In 1988, when I was studying in Samara, I and two or three close friends in the area founded the Movement to Found the Green Party. My friends were inspired by the Parisian New Left of 1968. I was already in the Greens, in the Samara Union of the Greens. We tried to work out a synthesis. When we created the Movement to Found the Green Party, its main goal was to draw up documents and organize local groups to establish a Green Party. We found people who agreed with us from about twenty different cities in Russia and Ukraine and brought them together, all within about two months. Besides theoretical work, the members took part in ecological conferences. The movement was decentralized, and Third Way served to coordinate it.
At an open conference of the Movement to Found the Green Party in Moscow in March 1990, the Green Party was proclaimed. We formed our Green Party after the model of the German Greens of the 1970s. We laid down principles of democracy that resembled theirs, such as rotation of leading people, separation of office and mandate, and the accountability of elected people to the membership.
GP: The German party isn’t organized that way anymore!
FOMICHOV: I know, but we had the 1970s German party in mind.
GP: Even in the 1970s the Green Party was not very libertarian. They were willing to engage in national politics, and they were willing to be in the Bundestag. Whatever national politics may mean in the former USSR, do you accept engaging in it, as an eco-anarchist?
FOMICHOV: In our party there are people who would like to run for higher elective offices, but they are not eco-anarchists. Our group is against participation in any national parliament, but we don’t mind if others participate in local politics.
But in the opinion of those of us who belong to it, the Movement to Found the Green Party has been a failure, because the party that has gradually evolved out of it is not what we had in mind. Our people used to be the majority, but not anymore. In fact, most of the members of the Movement to Found the Green Party have left the Green Party in disgust. Those who have not left it–like myself–are still active and are trying to bring the party back to its original practice of base democracy and eco-anarchism. But we constitute a minority.
GP: What is dominant in the Green Party now?
FOMICHOV: “Democracy”–that is, traditional democracy, parliamentary government.
GP: In other words, belief in a republican system.
FOMICHOV: They call it democracy. After glasnost was allowed in Russia, a lot of people came flooding into the Green Party, so that since 1989, the party has become pluralistic. And as in all the new Russian parties, there are a lot of people in the Green Party who want to make careers for themselves as politicians. In fact, more than half the people in the Green Party today are realo-type politicians who are out to make careers for themselves.
We now think we made some mistakes from the very beginning. We frightened away good people because many people in Russia don’t like the word party. And the majority of those who do agree with us are anarchists who do not believe in parties.
Still, even though eco-anarchists are not a very large group in the Green Party now, eco-anarchism is spread all over the country. My group still puts out Third Way, and we’re working on some programmatic documents. Besides that, we’re engaged in direct action with other Greens. I belong to several different organizations. One of the radical organizations, the Rainbow Keepers, does radical ecological direct-actions, such as picketing, blockades, and the like. In fact, they are interested only in direct action. They are interested in political action, but they don’t follow through on this matter.
GP: Are they prepared to run candidates?
FOMICHOV: They don’t even register to vote!
GP: They are pure anarchists?
FOMICHOV: They are “pure” Greens! The “fundamentalist” tendency among the membership in the Green movement is very large–about 80 percent. They reject political activity–they even oppose taking part in elections. . . .
GP: Not voting is a mass movement in the United States–we count at least 60 percent of the population! But seriously, many anarchists here don’t vote and believe only in doing actions. Often they don’t even form organizations.
FOMICHOV: That’s why I belong to several organizations, including a project for refugees that establishes alternative ecological settlements.
GP: We believe in running candidates in local elections, calling for direct local democracy in the municipalities and uniting them into regional confederations.
FOMICHOV: Three years ago, some people in Moscow who were close to eco-anarchism started to form microregional councils. They had a very large social ecological-type program. But they gradually integrated themselves into the official Moscow councils, and the development came to an end.
FOMICHOV: The microregional councils began very spontaneously–they arose as a result of ecological issues. But the people did not have a strong ideological basis. Those who started to lead these councils were very active, but they were gradually integrated into official institutions.
GP: A movement must have a program and an ideology–it can’t be organized around individuals. The fact that this Moscow movement began spontaneously reveals that it really was organic, but unfortunately, as with so many such movements, the people didn’t learn how to create a movement. That’s the tragedy, we think, among anarchists to this very day.
Education is very important. Even if you can’t do much today, the one thing we think people can do is form study groups so that ideas solidify and become strong. For us, education and publishing and spreading ideas–even to only one out of a thousand people–is as important as blockading a nuclear reactor or staging a demonstration. If people aren’t educated, they will eventually just go back into the system or drop out of public life. Unless they develop a coherent outlook, a good theory, one that develops and is capable of keeping abreast of events, and are prepared to work even under the most adverse conditions, then everything will fail. In Russia everything will be run by Yeltsin, whom many Russians, we are told, call a new Mussolini.
FOMICHOV: I agree. But because of the terrible economic situation in our country today, we can do practical work mainly on the level of immediate needs and in small communities. The theoretical work in Third Way is very important to us. Today we publish it in Dzerzhinsk, near Nizhni-Novgorod, every two months, and we issue a few hundred to a thousand copies. Money is always a problem, and since we’re not an officially registered organization, it’s hard for us to find a place to do the printing. Legally, I could put a photocopy machine in my house and print as much as I want, but that would cost several years salary. This is the basic problem of all movements our country.
GP: Thank you very much for this interview. ¤
For more information:
Sergey Fomichov, editor-in-chief
Trety Put (The Third Way)
606005 Dzerzhinsk USSR
U.K. Greens Battle over Centralization
Editors’ note: If the realos in the German Greens succeeded in turning die Gruenen into a conventional party last spring at Neumunster, realos in the U.K. Greens won a major battle at Wolverhampton this past September. In the several years since the U.K. Greens won an unusually high 15 percent vote in Euro-Parliament elections, the party has been plagued not only by financial mismanagement and the presence of embarrassments like New Ager David Icke (see Green Perspectives 24), but by an aggressive realo tendency, typified by Sara Parkin. Parkin, who excitedly warned U.K. Greens against leftists in their midst, admonished the party not to “fear” power but to take it–and called upon Britons to pay their poll tax, like well-domesticated rate-payers.
Like similar realos in Green parties elsewhere, the U.K. realo Greens have demanded that the party do what the system requires it to do in order to send representatives to Whitehall and keep them there–even if it means that the party “cease to be ‘alternative’ and instead mimic key features of the New Look Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, with Neil Kinnock as role model in more ways than one,” as writer and critic Derek Wall puts it.
But while many European Green parties embraced professionalized statecraft and a top-down ethos nearly from the outset, the U.K. Greens’ technocratic, professionalizing, and managerial tendency has met with resistance from the more radical membership–even if that resistance is not on the same scale as in the German Greens. In recent years, a radical, decentralizing tendency rooted in an alternative culture and direct action has contested the influence of the managerialists and debated and explored alternative political directions. A certain degree of ideological uncertainty and a lack of clear political direction have plagued this radical tendency.
But the managerials had to put up a fight: they formed their own faction, called Green 2000, that advocated streamlining and professionalizing the party through strong leadership. For this past September’s party conference in Wolverhampton, the Green 2000 group proposed a motion that would create a new, highly centralized, and hierarchical organizational structure for the party. This structure would consist of a small group–two speakers and a nine-member Executive Council–at the top of the hierarchy. The Executive Council would “wield almost total power within the party,” as Derek Wall describes it. “Rather than separating out the decision-making from the administrative elements in the party’s organization, the new executive [would] not only carry out decisions, but [would] be responsible for the ‘overall and day-to-day direction of the party.'” The new structure would even allow this Executive to conduct purges of its own members: people elected to the Executive could be suspended if there were “evidence of sustained conduct which in the opinion of the Party Executive is against the interests of the Party” (in the words of the motion).
The proposed Green 2000 structure would also create a thirty-two-member Regional Council, which would be more accountable to the local parties than the Executive Council. But its powers would be so limited that it would be “a mere rubber-stamping body–able only to ‘support and advise’ the all-powerful executive,” says Wall.
Over the summer, Green 2000 waged an all-out campaign to assure the passage of this organizational motion through mailings, expending large amounts of money. One of their slick circulars, calling itself “a personal appeal, from one member of the Green Party to another,” argued rather hysterically that the Green Party’s “very survival is at stake.” It tried to demonstrate the existence of a “deeper malaise” in the party that underlay such problems as “missed opportunities; procedural paralysis; creeping marginalisation; a constant haemorrhage of talent, expertise and commitment.” The solution to the problem? Pass the Green 2000 motion–the organizational proposal–at the fall conference, said the circular. The appeal asked Greens not only for money and for the addresses of other Greens who would be sympathetic, but for their proxy votes.
Some proponents of the motion turned up the emotional heat–a psychologically coercive tactic that seems popular among right-wing Greens in many places when fighting leftists. High-profile Green Jonathon Porritt made a veiled threat to leave the party if the motion didn’t pass. On a more upbeat note, the originator of the motion and a leading Green Christian, Tim Cooper, announced that he had the goodwill of several “top businessmen” on the motion’s behalf.
Unfortunately, as the following article reports, the results of the conference were not those that Porritt feared–the mountain of proxy votes accumulated over the summer by Green 2000 assured that the motion would pass. But opponents of the motion turned out in surprising numbers. The grassroots decentralist members of the U.K. Green Party are now faced with the problem of how to give future expression to that still-living oppositional consciousness. The direction they adopt has a great deal of bearing on the direction of ecological politics in the rest of Europe and North America.
With a level of articulateness and incisiveness that we can only hope the U.S. Green movement might approximate someday, Tim Andrewes reports on the Wolverhampton conference.
Greens Fade in Slow Motion
by Tim Andrewes
Classical Greek tragedy can be relied upon to provide a gruesome fate for the characters of a play: the only uncertainty lies in its timing and the precise number of corpses left onstage when the curtain falls. As with Greek tragedy, so with the Green Party’s autumn conference. The outcome was inevitable: that the “Green 2000” motion, to put the party under the direction of an executive committee, and to entrust its public persona in two speakers, would be passed; only the shape of the battle was left undetermined.
The awesome decision was met, predictably, with humor and calm by party members: ironic banners hung from the balcony among those of local parties, announcing the presence of representatives from the “Central London Managerial Grey Party,” another from a fictitious local party in Medium-on-Dull. But the usual backdrop of blooming sunflowers was absent from the platform–at least until the final day–and constant allusions, throughout the four days, to [the organizational] Motion 25 reminded members of the seriousness of their task.
The certainty of success for Green 2000 came from the scale of that faction’s organization. By collecting proxy votes all summer, two members of the faction had collected more votes between them than the rest of members present put together. . . . The cards were stacked–quite literally–against the opponents of constitutional change.
A whole day’s plenary sessions had been allocated for the debate on the twelve-page motion, which included over one hundred amendments. Even with so much time, only a fraction of the amendments were discussed; whereas on the continent, Green parties are prepared to stay up into the small hours to debate matters of principle, in Britain, it seems, everything stops for tea. Such important issues as the number of national speakers, and the abolition of the Three-Year Rule (restricting the length in office of Party Council members) were left to be steamrollered through on the final card vote.
But consensus reigned at the start of the session, as conference voted through a series of uncontentious amendments–leading to a string of almost unanimous votes that must surely have soothed much of the rancor and bitterness expected in the debate. Nevertheless, the ensuing sessions were at times both heated and personal: Jonathon Porritt attacked opponents of the motion as “wreckers,” while Sara Parkin ominously called on the conference to examine the “past history” of those opposing Green 2000. Remarks, both verbal and written, by Green 2000 organizers display a paranoia about the supposed conspiratorial nature of those who disagree with them that does not bode well for future relations within the party. Such remarks, however, were the exception to a general debate that focused mainly on the accountability of the new structure, and the introduction of “gender balance” as a constitutional requirement.
Overturning the Votes
The degree of opposition to Green 2000 on the conference floor surprised both the backers and the opponents of Green 2000. Nearly every vote–whether on the executive’s accountability, gender balance, or the substantive motion–was lost by Green 2000, who resorted to calling card votes in order to make their mass of proxy votes count. Green 2000 themselves seemed taken aback both by the scale and–as importantly–by the arguments of the opposition, and their reliance on proxy votes left them open to accusations of corrupt and undemocratic tactics. Wit, passion and rational argument were all on the side of the opposition, and Porritt, in summing up for Green 2000, sounded flat, doggedly insistent, and above all rattled, following on from long-standing activist Gundula Dorey, who, wearing black for the occasion, mourned with infectious grief the abandonment of cherished green principles and the acceptance of leadership.
The final vote on the motion again proved allusive for Green 2000: deprived on the conference floor of the two-thirds majority needed, they once more called for a card vote to steamroller their proposals through. The debate over, the conference broke up in a wave of emotion and members wept openly in recognition of treasured principles so ruthlessly voted out.
The upshot of the motion remains unclear, particularly the financial implications of a huge new organization on an already bankrupt party, and the precise roles and rules of conduct for the newly created bodies. The party now has the job of electing two national speakers with no formal power but much influence, and an executive committee with almost total power to run the affairs of the party.
In the words of veteran party member Sid Rawle: “When you find yourselves in the shit, the first thing to do is realize that you’re probably only there because you weren’t looking where you were going. The next thing to do is to get out of it, then clean yourself up, and take avoiding action in the future.” But the result of the conference cannot be reversed as easily as wiping off muck, and the question remains, for all those members who joined the party when it was something different: Will the Green Party ever be the same again? ¤
Reprinted from Green Line, 34 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1HZ, United Kingdom. Quotations and information used in the Editors’ Note are drawn from Derek Wall, “Goodbye to the Green Party?” Green Line (August 1991).
Italian Experiments in
Communal Democracy and Confederalism
Editors’ note: Little news of Italian politics reaches the American press, so few here are likely to be aware that Italians’ disaffection with their state-political system has reached crisis proportions. A notoriously bureaucratic and rampantly corrupt patronage system, or “party-cracy” (partitocrazia), has kept the same right-wing party–the Christian Democrats–in power since the end of World War II; indeed, the current prime minister has held ministerial office since 1947. Meanwhile, in large parts of southern Italy, basic republican liberties like freedom of political choice are now nearly defunct because of the prevailing organized gangsterism, which buys and controls elections–often with the complicity of corrupt party machines. “The mafia of the parties is against the people,” reads a placard at a demonstration of the Piazza Gramsci Committee in Milan. “With pessimism, resignation, and indifference,” writes radical ecologist Lucia Pavesi, “people today see the political world as an expression of a corrupt party-cracy.” Adding to the social-political turbulence, a sudden intolerance for immigration, such as is now rife in most of Europe, is also flaring in Italy.
Many Italians respond to this volatile situation by rejecting politics altogether and cultivating an interest in private life. Others call for reform of the political system, such as by greater reliance on popular referenda or by ending proportional representation. Still others challenge the continued existence of the Republic itself and are rethinking the political system altogether: The Lombard League in northern Italy, most notably, has called for the division of Italy into three parts. The League seeks autonomy for the wealthy industrial north and thereby has made the issue of decentralism a pressing one. But it casts its appeal to northerners by exploiting racist attitudes against southerners and “extracommunitarians”–that is, people from outside the European Community (“extracommunitarians” is often understood to mean Third World people). Sympathy for the League’s revolt against is growing. In May 1990, the League won almost 20 percent of the vote in Milanese city elections, while in Brescia in November 1991, it even edged out the long-dominant Christian Democrats in that city’s municipal elections.
But not all decentralizing appeals in Italy exploit ethnic and cultural animosities. Radical ecological calls for direct democracy are also being heard. For one, the Institute of Autonomous Locals and Minorities, located in Mantua, calls for “the reconstruction of the social relation” along direct-democratic lines. Democracy as it exists today is “an illusion,” writes the editor of the Institute’s journal, Radici (Roots), Pietro Toesca. The “democratic” state itself preserves and institutionalizes the distinction between the governing and the governed. “The entire apparatus of a ‘democratic’ but centralized State–its laws, its regulations, its tools, in sum, its institutions–places itself between the citizens and the community like a filter. . . . The citizen is correspondingly impotent, rendered extraneous to political life. Politics is reserved for professionals, whose extraordinary cynicism and scorn are camouflaged behind ideologies that are supposed to express ‘the people’s’ various aspirations.”
As an alternative, the Radici group calls for direct democracy– not in the sense of instituting popular referenda but in the sense of “elaborating from the base–even from life itself–the tools of a new assembly.” Its members would “recognize in community–at its various levels, from the smallest to the largest. . . –the immediate implications of individuality and the civic relation”; they seek “to provide a voice and the tools for self-government, understood as communitarian government” and to organize a network of radical ecological direct-democrats. Creating a “new assembly,” to them, “means rediscovering the right and the possibility of direct democracy.”
Although the right-wing Leagues, seemingly like the radical ecological democrats, call for a more decentralized society, they make little attempt to define the political nature of the autonomous localities they demand or to restructure society along ecological lines. The radical ecologists, by contrast, explicitly call for a popular direct democracy and the ecological reconstruction of society. Where the League appeal has quasi-racist elements, radical ecologists explicitly call for the protection of minorities in communities.
Influenced to varying degrees by social ecology, the radical ecologists are not necessarily anarchists or Greens in their political practice. But they do agree that it is necessary to “enter the fray beyond the parties,” as one Radici writer puts it, from a direct-democratic perspective. Attempting to work outside party structures, they are experimenting with different kinds of nonparty political formations such as popular assemblies, associations, citizens’ initiatives, intramunicipal and intermunicipal networks, civic committees, in addition to nonelectoral social movements–that is, a local electoral politics that calls for the democratization of society at its very base–the municipal level.
People associated with the Radici group began with a process of group education in 1989-90, when they conducted a series of seminars around north-central Italy that presented some ecological and democratic aspects of the small Italian city, which they view as a social-ecological model. Out of these and other seminars came newsletters and associations that call for the formation of democratic municipal groups and their confederation.
To take one example, a new grouping called Nuova Citta (New City) participated in the Veronese municipal election in May 1990. Nuova Citta, says the group’s program, seeks to “change the facade of the party-cratic system that, in the end, simply tends to restore to the big parties power lost over recent decades.” As a municipal electoral list, Nuova Citta seeks to present “new political modalities, new forms of representation capable of breaking with the degraded but pervasive phenomenon of party-cracy, by developing new forms of democracy, by affirming as citizens’ rights things that today are granted as favors to various groups and clients–by rendering the public administration transparent, impartial, and efficient.”
Radici writer Bruno Miorali regards the Nuova Citta effort as “probably the most significant” of the electoral lists among “the political entities that participated.” Green lists, to their credit, writes Miorali, have “introduced new institutional rules such as the rotation of elected delegates and officials and have proposed a new organizational model based on federalism.” But the Italian Greens have not been exempt from centralizing, elitist, and corrupt political processes (see Green Perspectives 19). Writes Miorali, “The presence of centralizing tendencies points to the formation of a class of professional politicians in the Greens.”
The following article, excerpted from Radici, delineates some of the ecological dimensions of the small city that groupings like Nuova Citta tend to emphasize.
Communes and Federalism
by Bruno Vettore
In recent years Italy has come to be dominated by the “centrality” of industry and models of urban social economic development from the Po Valley [i.e., large cities like Milan]. But the small historic cities of central Italy–and their way of relating to the surrounding countryside–offer a different model of development, a model “on the human scale,” a communal and federal model. The small historical cities of this area offer an alternative, a life “more human” than life in the megalopolitan beehives of the northern plain and in the coastal areas of the south. “The civilization of the small cities in central Italy defines autonomy as the opposite of isolation and communication as the opposite of homogenization and conformity,” says [Radici editor] Pietro Toesca. Here three fundamental needs of the human being–individual, social, and environmental–can be maintained in equilibrium. Here there is an immediate contiguity between city and country, a uniqueness that, at the end of the Middle Ages, grounded nature and history in a relation of reciprocity and symbiosis.
The important elements of these small centers are easily identifiable: the management of space, the relation with the land, the aesthetic creativity of form, the notion of culture as reflecting and elaborating social communities, the institution and restitution of renewable resource cycles (energetic, nutritional, and biological), and differentiated means of production founded on a material culture that contributes to the expansion of human existence. During the Italian Renaissance, these cities were outposts of direct democracy in a territory surrounded by the more brutal elements of feudal barbarism. Today, they are still of exemplary value with respect to the more negative aspects of the surrounding metropolises, where population is concentrated, as demanded by the industrial/capitalist development of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The social fragmentation of urban space is reflected in today’s large industrial megacity. Here, the historic city center has become “the city” of business and government offices, while the hinterland is relegated to a marginal social dormitory. The megalopolis “absorbs” the energy, people, and products of the surrounding territory by creating and reproducing within itself large financial and capitalistic concentrations; already in this conception, the megalopolis puts itself outside all concepts of direct citizen participation.
The small city, by contrast, dilutes urbanism as a living manifesto of productive and decision-making decentralization. The concept of reclaiming life is innate in the small peninsular cities: revaluation of the local wealth. . . . The reuse of basic materials and local resources, appropriate technology; socially controllable means of production. The small historical cities must be restored to their civic centrality, in contrast to the dominating models of metropolitan concentration.
Direct democracy mediates between local identity and a broader reality: it can be realized only by revaluing models of development of the small centers and by building a network of contacts among different urban realities, all with their problematic affinities. Direct democracy also implies new forms of political management in a society that places itself in antithesis to the concentration of power and functioning, in a real decentralism at various peripheral levels, mutually coordinating themselves, in harmony with the needs and exigencies of the local situation.
A real decentralization, then, and not merely a formal one, is realized in the form of communitarian self-management [autogestione] at the various levels of society, not in an autonomous space that is “clipped off” from the rest of society. . . . The small cities of central Italy, then, are another kind of “political laboratory” in which there can be experiments in direct democracy.¤
Translated by Janet Biehl. Thanks to Bruno Miorali for providing material in this section. For more information, write: Radici (Roots), c/o Istituto delle Autonomie Locali e delle Minoranze, Casella Postale 52, 46100 Mantova, Italy
Radical Ecology after the German Greens
Editors’ note: Jutta Ditfurth, a cofounder of the German Green Party, was a leading spokesperson for its so-called “fundi” faction and for the radical ecologist group based in the city of Frankfurt. This past spring, at a Green Party congress in Neumunster, she and her associates decided to leave the Green Party (as reported in “Farewell to the German Greens,” Green Perspectives 23). Green Perspectives interviewed Ditfurth on August 10, 1991, in Burlington, Vermont; excerpts are presented here.
GP: What happened at the Neumunster Congress last spring that made it impossible for you to stay in the Greens any longer?
DITFURTH: Neumunster was the last step in a long process of the party’s development. Especially the last two or three years, certain decisions had been made that had been destroying the party’s alternative culture, step by step. We said before the congress that Neumunster would be the “High Noon” of the Green Party. And some important decisions were made there.
In the first place, the party’s basic principles were to be discussed and redecided anew at Neumunster. Three programmatic papers–statements of principles–were brought up for debate and decision. The first of these was a very right-wing paper that came from [former Bundestag fraction speaker] Antje Vollmer and Co.–it was partly reactionary and partly nationalistic. The second was a so-called “middle” paper, which was actually a kind of realo paper. It was put out under the name of the so-called “Left Forum,” which is actually a moderate group. This Left Forum had about forty or fifty functionaries who closely collaborated with the realos–in fact, you couldn’t really distinguish them from the realos anymore. The Left Forum’s job was to be moderate but to say, “We are the left,” so the realos could get rid of the party’s authentic radicals.
And the third paper was by us [the Frankfurt radical ecologists]. We knew it was going to be rejected, so we produced a paper that was very clearly radical, uncompromising–for the first time, I would say. It very clearly stated our analysis of the world and of society, the purposes of a left-ecological movement, and our analysis of the Green Party–a clear paper with our authentic position.
It wasn’t a question that we would leave the party if our paper didn’t get the majority–that would have been naive. Rather, one of the most decisive points for us was not what would happen with our paper but what would happen with the other papers. Would the right-wing paper be accepted, or would the Left Forum paper be used to establish a compromise with our position?
The interesting thing is that although the Left Forum paper would have received a majority if it had been voted on as it was; the authors simply didn’t put it to a vote. They stopped short before voting because they wanted to make a deal with the right wing of the party–deliberately, voluntarily. They would have had a majority for their paper, but they withdrew it “for the good of the party,” so it would get an even bigger majority after being modified along lines acceptable to the party’s right wing. Rather than have a debate with the left, the Left Forum made deals behind the back of the congress with the right wing. So the one that was passed was a mixture of Left Forum and realo views. It used some of the not-so-dangerous left words of the Left Forum paper as a kind of decoration. The Left Forum was very proud when this compromise paper was passed.
But the central ideological points were that the party gave up any position on the necessity of radical change. The paper had some things in it that say, in effect, “capitalism is sometimes bad,” or “capitalism has to be changed–in part.” The recent papal encyclical on the economy was actually more radical than the paper adopted by the Greens at this meeting. At least the pope said that the victory of capitalism doesn’t mean that everything is all right with capitalism.
Up until now, the Green Party had always been an alliance of tendencies ranging from reformist to revolutionary. But with this statement of principles, all revolutionary positions and radical positions have been given up. That means that most politics for radical or revolutionary change have no place in this party anymore. There had even been different left tendencies within the Green Party–there was an anticapitalist tendency that opposed growth and social injustice and the destruction of nature, and then there was also a left in the more radical sense. And all of these tendencies have been jettisoned. They will not be in the party anymore.
Two important decisions about the party structure were made at Neumunster too. First, they decided that in the future, the Green executive committees in the provincial parliaments [Landtag] can decide by a simple majority to close the door and not work in public. Up until now, all meetings and all committee sessions were open not only to all members of the Green Party but also to the press, the public, and to whoever wanted to go to them. Now these executive committees have the right to decide by a 5l percent majority to close meetings even to Green members. . . .
Since we [the radical ecologists] had no majority, and since we had not been elected to the parliamentary fractions or to the executive committees, this meant that we would not even be able to go to their meetings anymore and watch what they were going to do and decide about the party we belonged to. We could not participate anymore that way, even as members.
There was also a decision that we won, but it was not a victory, because in earlier times that decision would have been passed by 80 percent of the votes. But here we won it by only twenty votes, around 50 percent of the vote. This decision was whether to get rid of the separation of office and mandate. Separation of office and mandate means that if someone is on the executive committee, he or she is not allowed to be in a fraction [party caucus in a legislature] and vice versa–so that too many functions are not vested in one person.
Our position, of course, was to keep this separation, and it was kept. But our opponents fought intensely to eliminate it by saying, “We have some people”–meaning [Joschka] Fischer and Vollmer–“who should be able to go to the executive committee while also being in the fraction. We also need the kind of media and press that they get because they are so prominent.” They also officially gave up rotation of offices, and all this will create an elite within the Green Party, because any new person who joins the party will be told, “We have been doing this now for ten years, and we are very experienced. You cannot come in here and hope to get this job. You want to get another job.” It’s a kind of an elite then. To retain the separation of office and mandate by only a twenty-vote majority was a serious loss.
GP: What happened that made it possible for this kind of coalition between the so-called Left Forum and the right to come together, and for the membership to disappoint you to such a degree? What changed inside the party?
DITFURTH: A combination of different things. A lot of objective developments take place in every radical movement that takes part in parliamentarism. We knew before we founded the Green party that to found a party is an ambiguous undertaking: On the one hand, you get a chance to spread radical ideas to the public for a period of time, but on the other, you are in effect making an offer to integrate your radical movement into the state. But we went ahead and started it anyway in 1977-79 because of the historical situation, the large extraparliamentary movement of that time. We thought we had a chance to reach a large public. We thought we would be happy if it lasted maybe ten or twenty years as a kind of a radical alliance.
We didn’t underestimate people’s opportunism, but we did underestimate the time it would take for their minds to become completely transformed. It’s a subjective factor. After a point in l983 or 1984, when we became “successful” in the Federal Republic, new people started coming into the party from tiny, dogmatic Marxist-Leninist groups. In the antinuclear movement, we had been fighting these same people. They had called us petty bourgeois, saying we were fighting against technological development by rejecting this cheap and clean power. They told us we were too radical and that we didn’t understand anything about ecology. They came in after we became somewhat successful and proceeded to connect the whole project of Green party with their personal careers.
Another point was German unification, which smashed all the things we [i.e., the radical ecologists] were working with on the left. But these plans have been smashed by German unification. If we could have had two states, with open borders, we would have had a chance, but not this way. And the Gulf war entirely split the Greens. . . .
GP: Was there a corruptive careerism going on in the large Green bureaucracy–for jobs, for privileges and financial emoluments? We know, for example, that some people were funded by the Greens to form institutes, and when they got money from the Greens, they moved toward the realos. Was this a widespread phenomenon?
DITFURTH: Very widespread. A small example that characterizes the whole party: In the last month that I was a member of the party, if I went to the local party organization in Frankfurt, and there was a debate about constructing the highway that we have been fighting against all these years, I could have made a speech against the highway by giving all the many economic and rational reasons not to build it. My argument could have been terrific. But I would have seen the expressions on their faces as they were looking at me while I spoke, and they would be thinking, “She’s right, but we can’t vote with her because to do so would break the [governing Hessian] coalition [between the Greens and the Social Democrats], and we would lose our jobs.” Sometimes out of maybe eighty people in a local party organization, sixty of them had jobs.
Another example: The Greens in the Bundestag were supposed to give away a lot of the money they received there–and they get a lot. That was the decision of the party. But these Bundestag members didn’t give it away. Some of them suddenly had three ailing grandmothers whom they had to support, and others had something else, and still others didn’t make any excuse, they just kept the money. After a number of years of this they formed their own commission to investigate, and even this commission–made up of them, of people from their own ranks–said that 2.5 million Deutsche marks were missing from the different eco-funds. That’s about half of the money that was really missing–that’s just their count. My count would be between 4.5 and 5 million marks missing.
In any case, that is corruption. They suffered from ideological corruption, social corruption, material corruption–a lot of them have very attractive and costly homes now. And they changed personally as well–self-interest permeates their delusions. Some of them you would not recognize now if you knew them before.
GP: What do you foresee for radical ecological politics in Germany in the years to come?
DITFURTH: We need to develop a counterpower within society and build movements to prepare a higher level of left-radical political opposition. Going beyond the Greens, radical ecology has to fill the enormous vacuum that once constituted the left–our movement must be against capitalism, it must be independent, and people in it must be accountable. With the Greens we were too naive–it was too easy for people like Joschka Fischer to take over the Green project for his own purposes. Now we have to keep this from happening again. And we must be prepared to work patiently to build this movement.
On the one side, the country needs immediate, objectively radical interventions against the worsening situation. There must be a stop to their assault on our political culture. But on the other hand, we also need a lot of time, which is the opposite of the objective need to intervene. There are a lot of young people who are really interested in reading, learning, having discussions with other people, in debating about analysis and theory. We have to do both.
But if we do not build our movement, Germany will become a political desert in which only the Right will offer “radical” proposals, and those of a terribly reactionary kind. Today we are already seeing the reemergence of Nazis. Look, Germany has never worked out its fascist history. Now that Germany is unified, the Germans are never going to work out that history. That means that there will never be a consensus about how and why fascism happened earlier in this century. Some of the state leaders are now saying that there is a need for Germany to become the leading nation in Europe. Germans are preparing themselves economically and militarily to take their place in Europe, preparing for economic and militaristic fights against the United States and Japan, fighting over natural and human resources in the rest of the world. You feel this every day. They talk about Africa, for example, as if it were a colony, and they do it very openly, much more openly than they did a decade ago. The social situation is incredible now, compared to crises a few decades ago. The situation for the Trikont is getting worse and worse. (Trikont, or “Three Continents,” is our new word for the so-called Third World countries.)
Internationalism has become more important now than ever before. That doesn’t just mean affirming internationalism as a concept, but affirming our responsibility as leftists to be aware at every step of the consequences of what we are saying for the Trikont. And we have to fight the increasing feeling among leftists that things are hopeless. We need a political culture so that people don’t return to private life, so they can have a chance to function politically. One thing we learned from the Greens experience is, start from the beginning with organized international contacts. Rainer Trampert and I used to make fun of how Petra Kelly flew around the world to Tibet and wherever. We said her contacts weren’t political, just frivolous bullshit. But we ourselves were a bit ignorant about international contacts–we see internationalism differently now. ¤
The Bottom Line . . .
Sieg Heil to Biocentricity!
“The left doesn’t have a monopoly on ecology. We at the National Front respect life and love animals. I myself have a white rat whom I kiss every day on the mouth.”
–French semi-fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, on his current pet issue, environmentalism (quoted in Newsweek, November 18, 1991)
Is Capitalism Real?
“Our society is structured around the telling of stories. Religion tells stories, politicians tell stories, business is in a large way a storytelling profession. . . “
–David Spangler and William Irwin Thompson (in Re-imagination of the World: A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture)¤