14 Aug 2006

Rudolf Bahro, green prophet

Rudolf Bahro, green prophet.

"The earth can belong to no one."

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

'. . .Realpolitik -- and our groups concern themselves with very little else -- means that we try to make the dragon's armor-plating a little lighter, to clean his teeth and deodorize his bad breath and sort his excrement. If he is still not purring like a cat, that's only because of our still somewhat unaccustomed ways. In Leverkusen, where the dragon has the Bayer cross on his coat of arms, he will contemplate his new Green deputy mayor for awhile and then he will feel at ease and get to appreciate the service. For a while the fools among the parliamentarians he keeps will get worked up over how we want to change the system, while we meantime proffer our services as teeth-cleaners. . .'

'Let us assume we were living at the time when one of the many Central American civilisations that produced steadily growing pyramids was in its death-throes. Would it be snesnble to expect help from those very priests who represented the law by which that culture was born and grew up, then blossomed, declined and died? (Bahro 1982: 146)

I had the pleasure of seeing Rudolf Bahro, he was speaking at a Schumacher lecture in Bristol and felt bad apart his carbon crimes in travelling to the UK!

Rudolf Bahro was an astonishing figure and in the end a sad one. He worked as a political bureaucrat in the East German Communist Party and wrote a utopia 'The Alternative in Eastern Europe'. The 'Alternative' sketched a green vision of how 'acutally existing socialism' could be humanised. He was imprisoned as a dissident, then after a campaign of protest in the West he was freed and expelled to West Germany.

He amazed everybody by joining the German Greens. 'Socialism and Survival' a collection of his speeches, translated into English, was published in 1982, it contributed to my ecosocialist education. Bahro argued that the central question was how to overcome the ecological crisis, a crisis that he believed was impossible to solve in a capitalist system. He argued that capitalism represented what Hegel called a bad infinity, where we simply add one to one for ever, rather than seeking qualitative change. The no growth message was important to Bahro and in some sense, I suppose as an ecosocialist he was greener than the greens.

He was a 'fundi' arguing poetically that if the Greens participated in coalitions with other parties and failed to change things fundamentally they would be merely 'cleaning the dragons teeth' making it easier for the dragon of exterminist capitalism to complete its destructive work, its bad infinity.

The German Greens to some extent were a social movement, to some extent the left of the SPD, to some extent a way of Marxists and Anarchist to make themselves respectable citizen (one thinks of Fischer), but to a little extent they were a revolutionary visionary network that recognised just a little bit that things were not working.

The Greens as we know elected leaders, participated in governments and acted as a slightly greener force in conventional politics, cutting nuclear power but fighting wars, Fischer was the one person who confronted Donald Rumsfeld over Iraq (the TV footage is well worth seeing) but also a rather Blairite politician.

There will always be a bitter fight for the soul of a green party, green politics leads to inescapably radical conclusions, that the way we live is unacceptable, but greens swim in the dirty waters of the present, leaders, bureaucracy, undue caution, threaten.

Bahro split from the Greens over the question of animal experiments, if animals could be used instrumentally for human benefits, what of the ecocentric demand that we should respect the whole of creation, he reasoned.

Trotsky went into exile chased across the world to death at the hands of an assassin singing a punk song in 1941. Bahro simply seemed to have become more eccentric calling for a spiritual revolution, flirting with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh...calling but not being heard. He died of cancer in 1997 in Berlin.

Experiments with deep ecology and the kind of the apocalyptic socialism of Thomas Muntzer the peasant theologian, brought accusations from Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl that he was an 'ecofascist', I saw no evidence of this.

His writings though remain impressive....the point is to read on them and act, the alternative to ecosocialism is even more than in the 1980s simply unthinkable, if Lamont's victory over Liebermann defines the limits of radical politics we are all in trouble.

Here is an interesting tribute from David Orten

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