From Red to Green in the Island City: The Alternative Liste West Berlin and the Evolution of the West German Left, 1945-1990

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2003-12-04

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In October 1978, diverse members of the West Berlin Left founded the Alternative Liste für Demokratie und Umweltschutz (Alternative Ballot for Democracy and Environmental Protection- AL). This new political organization initially stood in fundamental opposition to the parliamentary system. Nevertheless, within three years, the AL had won a significant presence in the West Berlin Parliament, and in 1989, the party joined the Social Democrats in governing West Berlin. This dissertation examines the origins and evolution of this organization. It shows that, from the late 1970s through the end of the 1980s, a significant segment of the radical West German Left grew to accept parliamentary democracy.

This occurred through the interplay of several different factors. First, the AL's parliamentary participation had a moderating, integrative effect on the party and its members. When the radical West Berlin Left decided to try to harness the parliaments in service of their movement, the 5 percent barrier to parliamentary representation forced disparate groups to abandon past dogmatism and find common ground. Once the AL entered parliament, its presence there meant that the issue of violence and its perception of democracy were constantly under debate.

Second, the rise of ecological concerns played an important role in the AL's evolution. Environmental issues proved key in keeping the new organization's diverse components together. In addition, the AL's involvement with West Germany's Green Party meant that the AL was under constant pressure to revise its stance on violence.

Finally, historical events, often focused in West Berlin, led the AL's members increasingly to renounce their radical beliefs. Over the course of the eighties, these events led AL members to distance themselves from violence and question their support for the GDR. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 initially unleashed a flood of utopian hopes by the Left that the end of the GDR regime would mean radical changes in both East and West Germany. When these changes failed to materialize, the AL turned back to parliamentary democracy in a newly unified Germany. Its experiences over the last decade made this not only palatable, but desirable.

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