Who really listened to Rudolf Bahro?
Rudolf Bahro was a dissident from East Germany. During the 1970s he wrote The Alternative in Eastern Europe. The first edition was sold out before delivery, and was widely translated. The book sparked debate in the West European left about the nature of socialism.
Publication in the West was accompanied by a broad wave of expressed solidarity, climaxing in a letter by Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass in The Times of London on 1 February 1978. In the GDR, however, Bahro’s recognition was suppressed and he was told nothing of the reaction to his book. About half of the copies of The Alternative which Bahro had posted shortly before his arrest in the GDR were intercepted by the authorities. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The verdict immediately sparked violent protests and expressions of solidarity in the West. The Committee for the Release of Rudolf Bahro organized an international conference, held 16 to 19 November 1978 in West Berlin and attended by over 2,000 participants. An appeal to the State Council of the GDR appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau of 11 May 1979, organized by a Bahro Solidarity Committee based in twelve countries and signed by a number of celebrities. Bahro was awarded the Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights and made a member of the Swedish and Danish chapters of PEN International.
On 11 October 1979, the 30th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, Bahro was granted amnesty. On 17 October he was deported to the Federal Republic of Germany, where he soon joined the nascent Green Party. A 1980 book formulated elements of a new policy regarding the relationship between ecology and socialism. Breaking from his position in The Alternative, Bahro now felt that classical Marxism was no longer appropriate. When he moved to the West he noticed unhappiness in spite of material prosperity. He interpreted this as a lack of introspection and transcendence, rejecting the traditionally materialistic outlook of socialism.
In 1982, Bahro adopted a more radical position due to the contemporary economic crisis. He advocated a restructuring of society in economic, environmental and social-policy terms, which should be linked to a broad retreat from the world market and a move away from capitalist industry. Bahro also became involved in the peace movement, advocating a nuclear-free Europe.
Bahro established an eco-community during the early days of the Greens. He believed that the transformation of society must begin on a small scale. After the Green Party entered the Bundestag for the first time in March 1983, the question arose whether they would join a coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Germany or remain in opposition. Bahro strongly favored the latter option.
From Red to Green (1984)