Markus Klein, Juergen W. Falter. Der Lange Weg der GrÖ¼nen. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2003. 227 pp. EUR 12.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-406-49417-8.
Reviewed by Monika Bergmeier (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-German (February, 2005)
When Are the Greens Finally Going to Drop Dead?
The history of the German Greens seems to be a success story. They are one of the first Green parties in the world to be elected to parliament and successful in gaining power in Federal government. No wonder, then, that there is a huge amount of literature about the Greens. Many of these books are written by members of the Greens and are more or less influenced by personal experiences. While German historians have rarely researched the Greens, most of the literature is written by social and political scientists. The authors of this book are also political scientists; Jürgen W. Falter is a guest often seen in political talk shows on German television. That the Greens' appearance of success can be deceptive becomes clear by reading the book cover alone: As an aging party bound to one generation, will the Greens become a discontinued model, or will they be able to establish themselves for the long haul? That is the central question of the authors. But the question is not a new one. Rather, it is at the core of almost every piece of research about the Greens. The mere question of whether the Greens are going to die out already indicates the animosities of the public and researchers against this party. From the beginning, the authors of this book do not hide the opinion that they see a dim future for the Greens (p. 11). In this, they follow the mainstream. The authors claim explicitly that they wrote an empirical essay in a popular scholarly way (pp. 7-14). The authors' arguments, however, did not convince this reviewer.
The authors approach their issue in five points. First they analyze the history of the party; second, voting results since 1980; third, the influence of Joschka Fischer; fourth, election results of 2002; and fifth, they speculate about the future of the Greens. Regarding the first point: It takes the authors six chapters to outline the history of the Greens (pp. 15-109). In a flashback (pp. 15-36) the authors point out two developments that encouraged the foundation of the Green party: the student movement around 1968, and the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s that focused on the issues of environment, peace, and women's liberation. Both developments resulted from the profound change of values connected with the rise of a postindustrial society. As Robert Inglehart suggested, the Greens benefited from these arising new post-materialistic values insofar as they made these issues their own. According to the authors, the Greens therefore assumed they could have a safe and even increasing pool of voters, since post-materialistic values would grow steadily in popularity (p. 30). The reader should be provided with empirical proof for this claim, even in an essay. Following the work of Herbert Kitschelt, the authors connect the change of values with changing market and working conditions in a postindustrial society, so that the Greens are described as benefiting from the expanding third sector and public administration since the 1970s.
A short overview of the most important steps in the party's history (pp. 37-51) begins with the establishment of local Green parties after 1977; it describes the difficulties of participating in the government of the Länder for the first time and ends with the Green Party's 1998 entry into the German federal government. Each phase in the history of the Greens was connected with controversial discussions about political goals and strategies (pp. 52-70). In the first years, the eco-socialist group dominated, defining ecological problems as a result of the capitalistic mode of productions. Since about 1983, the dominating conflict was that between the "Realos" and "Fundis," the latter opposing any participation of the Greens in government (p. 57). After the Wende, having lost in the 1990 elections, the Greens defined themselves as an ecological party for reforms.
Ecological problems were defined now not as the result of an economic system, but rather of unrestrained industrial growth (p. 78). To emphasize the programmatic change of the Greens, the authors cite largely from the party programs (pp. 71-86). But the Greens also reformed the structure of the party (pp. 87-98), with the result that, out of all basic principles--like direct democracy, voluntary work for the party, common leadership, separation of office and mandate--only one principle remained: every senior position had to be filled by two people, a man and a woman, who represent different opinions.
The party's changes have always resulted in membership turnover. But as the authors refer only to a study done in 1998 (pp. 99-109), they are not able to see how the composition of the membership changed. Some numbers for the situation in 1998: 56 percent of the members joined the party after 1990 (p. 102). The Greens show the youngest age structure within all German parties: 5 percent are younger than 25 years old, while 40 percent are between 26 and 40. Since 51 percent are between 41 and 60 years old, the authors judge that the party is far away from being a party of the youth, as they considered themselves to be (p. 104). Regarding women making up 38 percent, the Greens are only beaten by the PDS, the SED successor party. The members of the Greens clearly have a higher level of education than all other parties: 58 percent earned a university degree, 22 percent completed a high school degree, and only 7 percent stopped their education after middle school. 75 percent are employed, a comparatively high percentage. 36 percent are employed in public administration, 24 percent in companies, 8 percent are academic freelancers, and 14 percent are self-employed (pp. 104-105).
With the second point, the authors analyze the party based on statistical data and methods (pp. 110-176). They use three sources: election results since 1980, polls called Politbarometer, as well as the ALLBUS social survey. The authors claim that never before were the Greens analyzed based on such a huge mass of data (p. 10). That is why they consider their book to be different from all other literature on the Greens.
Some interesting data and interpretations: the authors discern a trend regarding the election results of the Greens since 1980 (pp. 110-119): Their share of votes increased until the beginning of the 1990s, when it declined and threatened to fall below the 5 percent cutoff point for Bundestag representation (p. 114). The declining trend was primarily due to the small number of votes for the Greens in the new states of eastern Germany (p. 112). The authors claim that because the Greens can only be understood by considering the circumstances out of which they arose, meaning the anti-nuclear and peace movement, citizen's initiative groups, squatters and environmental groups of the 1970s and 1980s, the new citizens of the FRG simply could not put up with the Western Greens since they did not share these experiences. The authors conclude that, despite success in the 2002 elections, in the long term the Greens seem to have passed their zenith (p. 114). One needs statistical proof for such claims, but they are missing. For example, one has to know how many of today's Green voters actually associate the Greens with this history, or how many of today's members of the Greens actually took part in these movements. Since 56 percent of the current members joined after 1990, this shared history is not necessarily to be taken for granted.
The declining voting trend in the Western states is supposed to have resulted from the Greens' 1998 entry into the federal government. Moreover, the authors claim, the decline is due to the fact that the Greens now have as many voters as they are likely to get and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to motivate them (p. 119). The basis for the authors' claim is the analysis of the Politbarometer (pp. 120-142). They show that since 1980, the share of core voters has stayed relatively constant at about 5 percent in Western Germany, whereas the share declined to 2 percent in Eastern Germany. In contrast, the share of potential voters swayed much more, meaning that the Greens could attract independent voters only temporarily. The authors' guess is that the Greens gained support either the further away they seemed to be from gaining a seat in government, or the more realistic their politics were, or the weaker the Social Democratic Party was.
The authors then try to answer the question of who votes for the Greens and why (pp. 144-176). Based on the fact that, until 1988, the Greens got the greatest support among voters in the 18-24 age range (p. 150), the authors discuss three theories that explain how age influences the Greens' following. From 1980 to 2001, the share of voters aged 18-24 declined from 50 percent to 10 percent, whereas the share of voters aged 35-49 rose from 15 percent to about 50 percent, and that of voters older than 50 years rose from 5 percent to 20 percent (p. 153).
Additionally, the authors analyze the behavior of generations at the polls. Two are of special interest. First, the authors treat the so-called '68ers (in America, the "Baby Boomers"), people born between 1946 and 1953. Between 1980 and 2000, an average 20 percent of the Green voters stemmed from this generation, whereas its share of the population was about 13 percent. Second, they discuss the generation of the so-called new social movement, or people born between 1954 and 1971. The authors state that the share of Green voters in this generation declined between 1988 and 2000 from 80 percent to 50 percent, while representing about a third of the adult population. This generation was overrepresented within the Green voters and has always made up their biggest part (p. 158). Here the authors have to be criticized. They point out the year 1988, but as their own graph on page 159 unmistakably shows, this year was a singular exception regarding the share of Green voters from the new movement generation. On average, the share has been between 50 percent and 60 percent. By choosing 1988 as comparison year, the authors try to sell the decline of Green voters as more drastic than it actually was.
In any case, this data supports the authors' claim that the Greens are a single-generation party and the legitimacy of the metaphor of the "graying of the Greens." But it is not much of an insight, with or without such data, that people get old. The authors never explicitly state in the book exactly which generation they mean: only the "'68ers" (p. 151), only the new social movement generation (p. 161), or both together as a generation of protest (p. 145). According to the data offered, there is only one "Green Generation": the social movement generation.
Since almost 80 percent of the Green voters were younger than 35 years old in 1980, compared to only 35 percent in 2001, the authors conclude that most of the Green voters were finally integrated into society. The authors do not explicitly exclude the possibility that a big part of today's Green voters are the same who voted for the Greens twenty years ago (p. 153). But again, there is no statistical proof for this interpretation, so the question of how many new voters the Greens gained from the social movement generation due to their changing political goals remains unanswered. In response to this question, the authors guess that the Greens lost core voters each time they gave up traditional goals and conversely gained new voters as soon as their programs got more realistic. One would like to have statistical proof for these statements. One would also like to know what it means to say that the share of purely materialistic people among the Green voters rose from 6 percent to 20 percent between 1983 and 1997, while the share of purely post-materialistic people declined from 60 percent to 30 percent (p. 169). Further factors that influence votes for the Greens are not discussed. Having finished the troublesome reading of these chapters, one is reminded of Mark Twain's aphorism: There are three kinds of untruths--lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Unfortunately, these statistical chapters, which are supposed to be the heart of the book, do not keep the authors' promise to provide an empirical essay (p. 12). Neither questions nor answers are structured; for each data or trend the authors provide several explanations, but they are written in a way that each seems to be as reasonable as the other, even if they are in part contradictory. Additionally, with a few exceptions, the authors do not compare the data for the Greens with the data for other parties. However, data must be compared to be of informational value, a maxim learned by every first-semester statistics student. The many holes and misrepresentations of these chapters leave the reader helpless and angry. Statistics are often read very selectively. For example, the authors go on in the third section to review the turbulent life of Joschka Fischer, focusing on his importance to the Greens (pp. 177-202). The authors point out that, in the 2002 federal election, Fischer was decisive in the decision to cast a vote for the Greens for 27 percent of Green voters (p. 212). However, from such information, one could also conclude that for 73 percent of the Green voters, or rather, the vast majority, he was irrelevant.
It is no wonder that the authors do not give the Greens much hope for the future (pp. 213-222): they are convinced that the Greens' success in the 2002 election reinforced their crisis. When the authors wrote this book they could not know that the Greens would actually gain support in 2004. The authors complain of a smug complacency in the party (p. 222). One can doubt if the authors really examine the Greens as objectively and without emotion as they claim (p. 12).
To picture the Greens as a party of one generation destined to die out devalues the party as only a temporary appearance. Do the authors intend to devalue the generation also, hoping that the baby boomer generation--with its mass of academics and the challenge that lies in the coming mass of retirees--dies out? There are no thoughts about what it implies for a political system and society when a generation believes it is represented only by the single party they themselves established. What does the term "party of one generation" really mean?
This book might be useful for absolute novices insofar as it provides keywords for researching the history of the Greens. However, the real informational value of the book is quite low. Explanations regarding the context of the Greens are superficial, and more crucially, the authors make no comparison with or connection to the data or the history of the bigger German parties. From this book, the historian learns that only to analyze polls is in no way sufficient to write a history of any political party, and for the environmental historian information about the Greens' environmental politics is missing. This book is not convincing; the long path of the Greens (Der lange Weg der Grünen) still continues, despite the dismissal of these authors.
. Joachim Raschke, Die Zukunft der Grünen. So kann man nicht regieren (Frankfurt/Main: Campus, 2001); Axel Goodbody, ed., The Culture of German Environmentalism: Anxieties, Vision, Realities (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2002); see H-German review by Gesine Gerhard at <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=183741061328093>.
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Monika Bergmeier. Review of Klein, Markus; Falter, Juergen W., Der Lange Weg der GrÖ¼nen.
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