vol. 4, nos. 2/3, (issue 11/12) (1998)


James Hart & Ullrich Melle 

On Rudolf Bahro



Dear Editors of Society and Nature:  

We wish to congratulate the editors and contributors for the outstanding work in the inaugural issues of Society and Nature.  It is a fitting testimony and tribute to the work of Murray Bookchin that many talented thinkers take up his ideas in richly critical and creative ways.  We have enjoyed especially the efforts of Takis Fotopoulos to spell out the economics of libertarian municipalism.  On another occasion perhaps we can return to some of these issues.  

For the present, however, we wish to make comments occasioned by the discussion of Rudolf Bahro as it appears in Janet Biehl's essay, "‘Ecology’ and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-right,"  in vol. 5, 1994.  Although the essay is pioneering and impressive in the scope of its research, at least in terms of American presentations of this topic, we wish to offer some dissenting reflections based in part on the views she expresses as well as the sources upon which she draws. Regarding the latter, it is unfortunate that as to Bahro (and equally with respect to Gruhl) she relies almost completely on secondary sources of the so-called anti-fascist research of the German radical Left.  Without wishing to deny that this research has some value, one has to be aware, however, of its blind-spots, especially with regard to Bahro.  This anti-fascist research sometimes borders on paranoia and reflects as well the dismal sectarianism of the radical Left in Germany today.

Many of the sources Janet Biehl draws upon are steeped in a mode of altercation where one has the impression that the person being criticized is ne plus ultra in terms of despicability. This does great injustice to someone like Herbert Gruhl, who for almost twenty years has tried unsuccessfully to convince the public of the apocalyptic dimension of the ecological crisis and who died recently embittered and despairing. Gruhl certainly had a grim view of the future and of what needed to be done to avert the impending disaster. His positions resembled those of Garritt Hardin, and he certainly was not a racist and fascist demagogue.  The German radical Left, we are sorry to say, tends toward a kind of vituperation in which the goal seems to be extinction of the opponent from existence, to say nothing of his or her elimination from a communicative space.

Our main concern, however, is the presentation of Bahro's views in Biehl's article. Let us be frank. We find it a scandalous misrepresentation of Bahro's main positions and intentions. For several years Bahro has been the target of an orchestrated effort by some elements of the radical Left to slander him as an eco-fascist in spiritual and communitarian disguise. This denunciation of Bahro is done in the worst Stalinist fashion of fabricating a case by false and selective citations and by imputing guilt by the languid association of concepts only loosely akin to one another (e.g., subsistence communitarianism with Blut und Boden) or by innuendo, e.g., whom Bahro invited or did not invite to his conferences or where he published. In short, Biehl's article disseminates a calumnious misrepresentation of Bahro's views. This is particularly unfortunate because Bahro's recent works have not yet been translated and the English reader has only this defamation as a source of reference.[1]

Let us acknowledge at the outset that most likely none of us, including Bahro, always conducts him-herself exemplarily in arguing these vital issues. The importance of the matter awakens passion with its dimmers; but if there were not passion one might well wonder about the commitment or awareness of the enormity of the issues. It is in this spirit we discuss Biehl's article. Yet we must ask ourselves, how can we really be said to believe in an eutopian social-ecological future as a real possibility in which we will all work and discuss together in libertarian municipalities if, in the meantime, we treat with disdain and contempt those who hold opinions different from ours?  (Except in this case we are not sure Bahro's own opinions have ever been the issue.) Belief in the truthfulness of our ideas, distinctions and propositions, is a necessary condition for our vision and our decisions; but no one's point of view on political matters reflects adequate or apodictic evidence. The clarity and truth possible in these matters emerge only through a kind of exchange which nurtures and is sustained by a belief in community and common rationality. Ultimately vanquishing the opponents through vituperation is cutting off one's own members.

In what follows we want to show that the accusations of eco-fascist tendencies in Bahro are unfounded and that his rich and provocative ideas do not deserve contempt and rancor but rather careful consideration and debate. We will first give some background to the uneasy relationship between Bahro and the Left. We will do this by presenting Bahro's criticism of the Left's anti-fascism, his ideas about the relationship between Green and Brown, and his own proposal about how to deal with the eco-fascist threat. Secondly, we present Bahro's central claim of the priority of the subjective factor, his conception of an anthropological and spiritual transformation (wherein he shows strong affiliation with New-Age thinking). Thirdly we reflect on the meaning of Bahro's radical anti-modernism, which we suppose is the fundamental divide between Bahro and the Left. Fourthly we will highlight the consistency and credibility of his commitment to communitarianism and we shall summarize his inclusive vision of the culture-revolutionary movement and its philosophy. Fifthly and finally we will address the charge that Bahro is calling for dictatorial measures and we shall present and explain his critique of parliamentary democracy as well as his view of the need for charismatic leadership.

1. Bahro and the German Left

When Bahro was released from prison in 1979 and came to West Germany he was regarded as a potential new leader of the fragmented radical Left. But instead of trying to unite the radical Left into a new separate party Bahro decided to take part in the foundation of the Green party and he called upon the radical Left to do the same. His intention was not, however, a take-over of the newly founded Green party by the radical Left. The Green party, according to Bahro, had to be the political expression of what he called the "other great coalition." It should comprise all forces and represent all people who subscribed to the apocalyptic analysis of the industrial system and were convinced of its fundamental unsustainability. These included not only groups and people from the radical Left. Indeed, according to Bahro, the radical Left had still to learn and accept that not only capitalism but the industrial system of mass production and mass consumption as such was our undoing. Regarding this crucial point the Left could, according to Bahro, take fruitful lessons from conservative and right-wing ecologists like Gruhl and Springmann. Bahro was envisaging a constructive, albeit very difficult, dialogue between the Left and the Right, even the far Right inside the Green party. This would ultimately lead to the new synthesis of a revolutionary cultural movement to dismantle the industrial system and reconstruct human society and cultural reproduction on a communitarian basis. He asked the radical Left to review critically its theoretical heritage as well as its political practice and stragegy.  An integral part of this heritage and political practice was anti-fascism. As the emphasis on class-struggle, the revolutionary mission of the proletariat and the trade-union movement has prevented the Left from transcending what Bahro, borrowing from both Lewis Mumford and E.P. Thompson, later calls the "exterminist megamachine" of the industrial system, so also the focus on anti-fascism has similarly hindered the Left from such a transcendence.

The political practice and strategy of the radical Left was, according to Bahro, limited to a political struggle for power. As such it was exclusive, governed by the logic of friend and foe, of them and us. But as the question is not merely a political revolution but a cultural revolution, the revolutionary practice and stragegy has to be inclusive. The central question is not power but consensus. The still prevailing consensus in favor of the status quo, of the comforts and promises of the imperialist industrial system, has to be undermined and changed into a new consensus for industrial disarmament and a new communitarian subsistence economy. Dissident consciousness is already widespread through the whole of society. Most people already have divided hearts. The struggle between the old and new forms of culture is taking place in each one of us. The objective of the Green movement and Green party should be to strengthen, broaden, articulate and organize this dissident consciousness into a culture-revolutionary movement.  

The dissident consciousness, Bahro claims, can express and articulate itself in two radically different forms. The first takes a positive, life-enhancing, compassionate, anti-authoritarian, pacifist form. This is Bahro's ideal of the eco-pax Green form. The other basic form is a resentful, aggressive, patriarchal one which is the fascist Brown form.  Now quite to the contrary of the eco-fascist charge against Bahro, the main concern of his controversial reflections on the polarity and common ground of Green and Brown is how to prevent a new independent Brown articulation of the dissident consciousness. Bahro makes the provocative claim that the traditional, sterile and ritualized anti-fascism of the Left is rather promoting such a Brown articulation instead of preventing it.

In Germany, in the early part of the century, the dissident consciousness articulated and expressed itself in Germany mainly in a resentful and authoritarian Brown form. Green, pacifist and anarchist motives and articulations were not absent, but were clearly in a subordinate position. The culture-revolutionary movement at that time was mainly Brown and not Green. Most of this dissident consciousness in its Brown articulation was then instrumentalized by Hitler and his Nazi party for a totalitarian perfection of the megamachine.

History, according to Bahro, will not simply repeat itself. The regressive and authoritarian potential is much weaker in Germany today than in the twenties and thirties. There is a real chance therefore that in the face of the worsening socio-ecological crisis we can subordinate Brown to Green this time. But to achieve this we have to do justice and take seriously the existential motives behind the Brown positions. Self-righteous, anxious and aggressive anti-fascism, according to Bahro, prevents the Green moments in the Brown tendencies from being assimilated and integrated into the eco-pacifist articulation of the dissident consciousness; indeed it hinders the Brown moment from becoming the recessive moment in the culture-revolutionary movement.

The self-righteousness of this anti-fascism denies the repressed existential Brown moments in one's own psyche. Bahro's theory here is complicated. The first claim is that fascism is not merely external to us. The second claim is that the protest against the megamachine can possibly reflect this potential Brown side of ourselves.  

How is fascism internal to us? Because we live, in almost every facet of our lives, as more or less compliant victims, and yet nevertheless more or less cooperative and subordinate functionaries, of the exterminist industrial megamachine, we have aspects of our character which are ambiguously Brown or not free of Brown features. We write checks, we vote, we pay taxes, we consume and obey; in short we both empower, legitimate and turn over to the megamachine the fruits of our labor in order that the convenience of our lives as parts of the megamachine not be interfered with.  Thereby we more or less knowingly suppress what the exterminist megamachine does with our endorsement.  In this sense we are all potential fascists.  And when we will revolt against the megamachine, and for Bahro the apocalypse is more or less imminent,  there exist in this potential version of us the seeds of reaction against the monster which can be dominated by regressive violence, aggression and hatred because, after all, this is the implication of our complicity as functionaries of the megamachine.

Bahro has never called for a "Green Hitler" but rather has maintained that in the depth of their hearts many people are already calling for such a "Green Hitler." A central concern of his is how to prevent a "Green Hitler." We do not prevent a dictatorial solution to the life-crisis by hunting and unmasking fascists. We rather have to deal with the soil in which something like an eco-fascist regime could take root. This calls for a study of the subjective motivations, denials, repressions, frustrations and anxieties of those who, not being absolutely strangers to ourselves, would support such a Brown option.

2.  The Priority of the Subjective Factor

In a cultural revolution where it is not only and primarily a question of seizing power but of bringing about a completely new form of human existence and life, the factors of subjectivity, soul, character, sensibility, awareness, etc. are basic. The cultural revolution presupposes what Bahro calls an anthropological revolution by which he has in mind a radical transformation of human subjectivity. The new cultural formation requires a new configuration of our subjective faculties, motives, and aspirations. We have actively to prepare ourselves for beginning a radically new way of living. As with many thinkers aligned with "Deep Ecology" the real work for Bahro is the work of self-exploration and self-transformation. But it would be mistaken to think of this as bereft of "the real work" of a kind of political praxis (see below). Nevertheless it is this emphasis on the anthropological and spiritual perspective which is regarded with great disdain and suspicion by the Left. Is Bahro then a prophet of the New Age? It is undeniable that Bahro has much in common with leading New Age theoreticians like Marilyn Ferguson, Frijdhof Capra and Theodore Roszack. He clearly is a prophet of a new post-modern and post-industrial age, of a new wo/man on a new earth.

Bahro shares much of the anthropological optimism of New Age philosophy. The new cultural formation will be grounded on a new and higher level of consciousness; it will build upon the untapped potentialities of human nature and consciousness. Bahro believes the reintegration of the estranged and suppressed archaic, magical, and mythical forms of consciousness, and the emergence of a higher level of the integral form of consciousness of at least a critical mass of people are preconditions for the exodus from the industrial megamachine.

We have all been socialized and conditioned by the megamachine to be its loyal functionaries, in spite of this often entailing frustration and depression. We are profoundly identified with it. Its authority and its power over our lives are hardly questioned. To break the spell of this authority and power is first of all a psychological problem. The first building-site of the new culture is our own field of consciousness. Specifically our task is to recall our energy from the alienated activities in the big beehive and to reinvest them in a process of self-discovery and self-transformation. A variety of therapeutic and meditative practices can help us to achieve this inner liberation. But because what is at stake is an encompassing ethos, whose style of living directly feeds the megamachine, the healing cannot be merely a turning within. As we know there is a kind of "spiritual capitalism" wherein the megamachine's chief functionaries get re-energized.

Further, it is a radical misunderstanding, Bahro believes, to conceive of this liberation of consciousness as a revolt against reason and rationality. We do not need less but more reason and rationality in the sense that a deeper and clearer understanding and heightened awareness of what we are doing with our energies in our daily life is necessary. This understanding reveals how deeply we are involved and implicated in "the logic of self-annihilation"; it also discloses in what a "logic of deliverance" consists. Bahro does not believe that "mind-numbing rituals" (to borrow a phrase from Bookchin) will deliver us from exterminism. However, what equally needs to be criticized and overcome is the one-sided instrumental form of economic and calculating rationality which has been split off and alienated from the rest of our subjective faculties and which is totally subservient to the reproduction and expansion of the megamachine. Although Bahro on occasion uncritically appropriates ideas of New Age theorists (e.g., those of Jaynes and Wilbur), the thrust, if we may use a vague word here, of his own basic position is not so far removed from the critiques of a modernist form of "reason" we might find in Whitehead, Husserl (and other phenomenologists), and members of the Frankfurter School. We speak here of the "spirit" but not always the "letter."

Bahro's belief is fundamentally "eutopian." The cultural revolution presupposes an anthropological revolution which will lead to a radical new form of the human person. The modern bourgeois form and ideal of the human person is the strong, autonomous, competitive ego which fights for a position of maximal invulnerability, security, control and comfort. Money is the main instrument to secure this egocentric position of power. As Bahro succinctly put it, "We all want to be sun-kings." The megamachine is the objective expression and result of the napoleonic ideal of individual freedom and self-determination. The task of the anthropological revolution is to dismantle actively the ego-fortress and to develop a egoless way of being a self which, at the same time, is not vulnerable to the critique that such a view abandons personal responsibility. Such a lofty project is not to be dismissed by disdainful references to the New Age theorists; it has much in common with the major Western religions and philosophical traditions when they have focused on the question of the most perfect or divine life; it also, of course, is at the center of forms of Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. And, as often is the case with these traditions and with Bahro, the love of the "divine" is not easily separated from love of one's neighbors and oneself.

Thus a further point of agreement between Bahro and the New Age philosophy is that the required self-transformation has a transpersonal, spiritual or religious dimension. We have to rediscover the divine in ourselves, in the cosmos, and in nature. We have to risk calling upon God again. This, according to Bahro is our last chance not only for survival, but equally for emancipation. Bahro mostly does not speak of God but of the "Godhead," thereby indicating that he is not thinking of a personal patriarchal Godfather. Like most of New Age spirituality, Bahro's outlook is gnostic and mystical. He does not ask us to believe in the revelation of somebody, God, with whom we are in conversation and whose commandments we have to obey, whom we should love, etc. Rather he urges that we discover our deepest reality, the original ground of our being (cf. Meister Eckhart, who some Leftists are now calling a fascist!), by which we are one with the universe and with its godly logos. Thus it is a mixture of Western and Eastern (especially Taoist) spiritual-mystical traditions, which are the main inspiration for Bahro's conception of spirituality and religion. An aspect of this is that although the individual needs a master to guide one on the way to God, priests who mediate between the divine and the individual are not necessary.  

It seems to us that although this New Age religiosity is alien to large segments of the Left, the Left qua Left ought no more reject it outright than the present forms of Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist liberation theologies, whose revolutionary and social-justice credentials are as credible as anybody's.  

Bahro knows well that meditation and positive thinking alone will not save us. The New Age movement is partly coopted back into the megamachine as a commercialized subculture. As Peter Sloterdijk says, "Spiritual fastfood from Asia is good business today." Bahro is critical of the individualistic and consumerist forms of the New Age movement and of its shallow optimism. It lacks insight into the logic of self-annihilation and it lacks an articulated social vision and a political awareness and will actually to start to realize this vision. The therapeutic and spiritual experiments and initiatives have to be integrated into the culture-revolutionary project and movement. As the activist political wing of this movement has to be spiritualized, so the therapeutic and spiritual wing of the movement has to be politicized.

3. Bahro's Anti-Modernism  

Bahro's apocalyptic view of the industrial megamachine, his conception of a cultural revolution which presupposes and goes hand in hand with an anthropological revolution and a spiritual awakening, amounts to a fundamental critique of the modern age as such and of all its essential elements such as capitalist economy, modern industry, modern science and technology, enlightenmment ideals of individual freedom and self-determination and of secular democratic party politics. According to Bahro this is all one whole and this has all to be rejected as a whole: "Away with the whole cowardly and fundamentally untruthful 'project of modernity' through which the authors not only flee their own lives but because of which the whole process of evolution is foundering." An example of Bahro's radical rejection of the modern context is his proposal to renounce the defense of the workplace (Logik der Rettung, 486 ff.; Avoiding Ecological Disaster, pp. 338 ff., but note important passages have been excised in the translation.). The defense of the workplace is a defense of wage economy, the employer, the corporation, and the market economy. What is needed is a concerted effort to liberate the worker from the factory and corporation and provide incentives for pursuing a life in a community which is economically self-subsistent. Thus, e.g., instead of government selling off huge tracts of land for mining rights for gold or for subsidized cattle grazing, the land could be made available for associations of, e.g., auto workers in Detroit, to encourage them to pursue a different kind of life. The judicious dismantling of the megamachine by the "government of survival" (see 5. below), e.g., of the auto economy or the agribusiness factory farm, etc. opens up new possibilities for democratic subsistent communities both within and without the urban centers.

This, we suppose, is the central bone of contention between the Left and Bahro, i.e., his wholesale rejection of the modern age, not only of its exterministic dysfunctions but also of its fundamental principles and highest ideals. Bahro is vehemently opposed to any reformist project regarding enlightenment and the modern age. (But, as we saw this is not a position in opposition to all aspects of the Enlightenment; in Bahro reason is appreciated but displaced from being an abstract instrument of quantification and implication in the service of the professions of the megamachine. Further, as we shall see, Bahro is modernist as a child of the revolutionary Left. The wholesale rejection of modernity requires considerable qualification.)  

The modern age, according to Bahro, is built on secular aspirations and ideals which are inherently self-destructive. The modern idea of progress which exalts the individual over community, identifies the better with more, has an allergy toward finite goals, disdains labor of the body, sees nature as merely a resource for humanity or a monster to be slain all these are irreconcilable with the new form of living and a social reproduction which strive for harmony with the microcosm of our own nature and macrocosm of the whole of nature.

But Bahro's anti-modernisn should not be understood as a kind of regressive primitivism. The Stone Age, seen, e.g., through the reconstruction of Marshall Sahlins, was not so bad; indeed, endlessly preferable to modern urban horrors. But we cannot return there; there is no way of simply going back. Yet the modern age is the dead-end of the process of civilization. This picture of Bahro suggests that we turn around and go to where we came from, and then to move on in a different and more promising direction without forgetting our grave errors, especially the repression of the connection of culture to subsistence sources and work. And in this return we conceivably will have had to leave behind many things, such as science and technology, adventure and excitement, individuality, freedom and self-determination, because, in the form we knew them they were causes of the catastrophe. But having taken a new direction we may hope to get many of these back but now all of them radically transformed, adapted and in harmony with the needs of the new form of life. No longer will the megamachinal "culture" and its privileged participants function abstracted from the elemental relationship with nature and subsistence work and be free to determine how all of life is to be led, i.e., as if the cultural life had not its roots in subsistence labor and natural processes.

4. Communitarianism

Bahro's social alternative could be called a spiritual communitarianism. "The commune is the germ-cell of the new social formation which will supersede the existing one, the basic unity of the new social network." The international and even national division of labor has largely to be abolished. Only in small-scale self-reliant social entities can the basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, health and education be satisfied with minimal material throughout. Bahro proposes the ideal of a communitarian subsistence economy and urges, as did Gustav Landauer, if we cannot begin this now we can never expect to realize it in the future.

In his first major publication, The Alternative (German original, 1977), Bahro was arguing already for the transformation of bureaucratic state-socialism into a communitarian form of communism. He has been a radical communitarian thinker ever since. A life-preserving and life-enhancing culture, a non-hierarchical, egalitarian culture in which our communicative, social and spiritual needs can be satisfied and in which we can live in peace with ourselves and nature, such a culture can only be a communtarian culture, a federation of self-reliant communes. However, Bahro became convinced that the viability of the new post-modern, communitarian social order will depend on a new spiritual or religious foundation which transcends the secularism of the megamachine, which itself, in fact, is nothing else than the quasi-religious foundation of the modern age with the scientists serving as the priests of this idolatry of the megamachine.  

The Green, eco-pacifist movement of deliverance (Rettungsbewegung) is a movement of withdrawal from the civilizational dead-end of the industrial megamachine. According to Bahro it is more than a political movement in the modern sense; it is a culture-revolutionary movement with a spiritual motivation guided by a new non-egocentric image of the self, a new vision of a society which is not built on exploitation, alienation, and anonymous, forced cooperation. Rather it is built on mutuality and communal agency, goods, and sharing. Such a society is not secular in the modern sense wherein religion is a private affair of those who have not succeeded in freeing themselves from dependency on it and thereby are not rational and enlightened. Rather it is a society which conceives itself as a city, a tribe of God, which gratefully recognizes and celebrates its bonds with other human and non-human tribes of God, a society that is ultimately god-guided.

(Here parenthetically we may insert our belief in the importance of sustained dialogue between Bahro and those who side with Murray Bookchin and his libertarian municipalism. Bookchin has argued persuasively for the category of the polis as the telos of human social life and, like Aristotle, sees it as something essentially distinct from such social groupings as the family, tribe, or clan. This newly envisaged polis retrieves ideals of the enlightenment, indeed, it is the only form in which radical participatory democracy can unfold, and yet it is sensitive to, and inseparable from, the founding matrix-considerations of the land, nature, community, and subsistence economy. From the side of Bahro (and also the Bielefeld feminist sociologists, Maria Mies, Claudia von Werlhof, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, Vandana Shiva, Mechthild Hart et al) there is either no acknowledgement of the need for the category of the polis, the assumption being that subsistence communities are sufficient and not to be completed or perfected by the polis; or it is regarded with suspicion, in part because of its patriarchal and slave-economical roots, and, in part, because it sounds too much like government from above. But these differing perspectives must engage (not demonize) one another because they are not only fundamental but they are the most finely textured and articulate ones on the Left today.)

Bahro's inclusive conception of a culture-revolutionary movement is a synthesis of social anarchist ecology, deep ecology, eco-feminism and of the New Age movement. Except for Bookchin and the Bielefeld feminist sociologists (Mies, von Werlhof, et al), no one has worked out this vision as profoundly and comprehensively as Bahro. And our presentation here is only a very superficial summary of the sweep and depth of this vision. There is nothing in Bahro's work which does not deserve serious reflection and consideration. He is certainly provocative and at times shocking. And his breaking of taboos is often perhaps not circumspect enough to avoid misunderstanding.  

5.  Government of Rescue and the Apocalypse

We finally want to address the charge that Bahro, if not an eco-fascist, in the fourth part of Die Logik der Rettung seems to argue for dictatorial measures to stop the "spiral of death." This latter phrase is the term he uses for the escalating exterminist process caused by the further expansion of the megamachine. At the very beginning of his book Bahro asks for a new discipline of research which tries to gain insight into all that which is not sufficient to stop the destructive avalanche. We are involved in a race with time. Doomsday, the apocalypse, is not a future possibility; it is already a present actuality.

Bahro's apocalypticism is a matter of both evidence and rhetoric. On the one hand, the evidence for the apocalypse is of a contingent, probable nature. Abstractly speaking we are not talking about evidence for it in terms of logical or formal necessities. On the other hand, because what is at stake is of such inestimable importance, the way probabilities in this matter are so wantonly disregarded in favor of convenience, habit, etc. itself is a complicated cognitive and moral matter. As Sloterdijk has put it:  The extinguishing of our natural planetary light would seem to be the only light of evidence which would present conclusive reasons for changing our life-styles. In which case "only the real occurrence of the demise of the world would be the convincing warning about the demise of the world" (Eurotaoismus, 122). Therefore, for one for whom the  probability is high, the genre of presentation, because of a moral imperative, requires the rhetoric of urgency.Detached academic presentations must be suffused with the sense of the pressure of events. Philosophy as an expression of the pure disinterested desire to know must incorporate, if not yield to, the ancient prophetic and cynic genres of persuasion through forboding.

But Bahro is not merely a modern cynic and prophet; he is also a child of the modern revolutionary Left. For him the urgency of the situation means we cannot wait until the completion of the anthropological revolution and until the completion of the cultural revolution by the culture-revolutionary movement. This will come too late. We urgently need a stay of execution. That is, something has to be done now, as forcefully as possible to slow down and gain control over the forces of destruction. In the first instance this means to regain control over the three-headed monster of science, technology, and capitalist production. If the circumstances are apocalyptic, if we cannot afford to wait until the greater majority is spiritually mature enough to have discovered its integral ecological true self and thereby be itself the source of the decision, then the decision must be made from above in spite of the great number of people for whom this will occasion massive waves of resentment and potentially explosive resistance because their lives are defined in terms of growth, consumption, competition, financial success, upward mobility, etc. At present the only power center strong enough to restrain this monster is the state. The global reach of this overpowering conglomerate of the megamachine necessitates a world government for its control.

Note that Bahro is not proposing something very different from what each of us experiences everyday. That is, it seems paradoxical to us that Leftists and Liberals oppose Bahro's proposal that there be created a statist power to deconstruct the statist agencies, when, typically, day in and day out, they support the nefarious deeds of the statist-megamachinal institutions in which they find themselves by compliance at almost every level, and especially in the form of paying taxes and buying and using corporate products. These parameters of our agency were never legitimated by any seeking of consensus or genuine participatory democracy.

Bahro makes the important distinction between a "government of rescue" (Rettungsregierung) and "emergency government" (Notstandsregierung). The emergency government would be full-blown dictatorship. This, he believes, is what we will get if the socio-ecological crisis worsens. At present there is still the possibility of installing a government of rescue. This would be a government with real but limited power to decisively check the further growth of the tumor and its metastases. Such a government, Bahro believes, would be legitimated by a broad popular consensus to implement painful restrictions on everyone. The power of such a government of rescue, however, would be limited to negative defensive measures. Its only task would be to secure for us the time needed for the achievement of the personal and cultural transformation. The government of rescue would not implement and administer the anthropological revolution from above; the state would not set up and run communes nor would it institute and conduct schools for personal transformation. What, according to Bahro, should ideally come together would be the positive, constructive impulse and initiative from below and the purely negative, defensive protection from above. But, we must ask: in as much as most corporate initiative and positive agency is threatening and destructive, would not Bahro's "defensive" position be one which suppresses this activity from above? (We return to this below.)

The effectiveness of such a government of rescue will depend on how widespread and deeply rooted the new spiritual-social vision is in the minds and hearts of the new women and men, i.e., wo/men.

The problem of a government of rescue is closely connected to two positions of Bahro which seem especially to support the eco-fascist charge. Bahro rejects parliamentary democracy and calls for charismatic leadership. Bahro does not propose to abolish the present institutional system or to bring parliament into line with the dictatorial will of one party as the Nazi's did. Rather he envisages subordinating the whole institutional system to the higher authority of what he calls an "ecological council" or in its more mature form, "a house of the Lord." All the non-human tribes of God, plants, and animals, minerals, and ecosystems would be represented on the council by qualified human delegates. Of course also represented on the council would be what today are the economically and politically powerless human tribes, children, migrant workers, refugees, housewives, mothers, the handicapped, etc. This council would decide by consensus only. Its decrees would set the limits and direction to the decisions of the other legislative and executive institutions and it would have the right to veto any decision of these subordinate bodies. If this is fascism, it would be quite remarkable to find a fascist state in which children, housewives, the handicapped, migrant-workers, the delegates of animals and plants unanimously set the limits to our brutal competition for wealth and power.

Finally Bahro claims that we can break through the layers of civilizational concrete only with charismatic forces. As human history has, at least on occasion, shown, especially in periods of revolutionary transformation, a new vision is in need of a visible personification in charismatic leaders.The quality of this charismatic leader, depends, first of all on the vision he or she personifies; but it ultimately depends on the nature of the projection which, in turn, depends on the character of his/her followers. Thus, e.g., on the one hand, we have a Hitler or a Mao Tse Tung; or, on the other, we have a Gandhi or a Mandela. A Green projection in the sense Bahro gives to Green (cf. 1. above) would not recognize itself in a Hitler or in Pol Pot. It all depends then, on our own maturity and moral character, how far we have liberated ourselves from the vicious dialectic of subordination and domination, of the mentality of the resentful and servile subjects who compensate for their insignificance by identifying with a powerful, aggressive and authoritarian leader.

Bahro's position here has a profound tension. On the one hand, the dictatorial authority of the "government of rescue" will be an instance of the morally problematic heterogeneity of means and ends (cf. Gandhi and Dewey) in terms of non-violence and communitarian democracy, because its ultimate goal is the fostering of these on a widespread basis by way of statist force. That is, it will not have waited for any consensus among the remaining segments of the population because that would depend on the completion of the "anthropological revolution." And therefore it will require violence and suppression of the pockets of resistance to the revolution. But, on the other hand, it seems to us, in as much as this could never be brought about except by a mass, if not unanimous, conversion to something like a social-ecological, bio-regional standpoint, it is almost as unlikely as the liberal democratic procedural disempowerment of the corporate world. (Recall our claim above that the creation of the appropriate charismatic leader depends on the character of the mass of people; in short, it requires for all practical purposes the success of the "anthropological revolution.")  In this sense means would not be in conflict with its ends. Nevertheless, in so far as the first aspect is affirmed, Bahro's position contrasts with the liberal-democratic institutions and procedures. This is not only because these, as we know them, are too identified with the megamachine to aim at its destruction. It is also because part of the culture-revolutionary movement's goal is to gain a large enough political mass to be able to stop with statist measures the megamachine's course of destruction. This, again, is a conflict of means and ends, unless, of course, the application of force could be justified by some principles of legitimate self-defense; this, as we noted, seems to be Bahro's basic belief.


Ullrich Melle                                       
Kardinaal Mercierplein 2
B - 3000 Louvain

James G. Hart
Indiana University
Dept. of Religious Studies
Sycamore 230
Bloomington IN 47405                                         


[1] Since our response was written, Rudolf Bahro passed away in December, 1997, after a protracted struggle with Leukemia.  Bahro's major work after The Alternative (1971) is Logik der Rettung: Wer kann die Apokalypse aufhalten?  Ein Versuch über die Grundlagen ökologischer Politik. A year after our writing of this piece a translation of Logik der Rettung appeared as Avoiding Social and Ecological Disaster:  The Politics of World Transformation, trans. David Clarke, ed. Palden Jenkens (Bath:  Gateway, 1994). Note that this book is "a revised, abridged edition." Gateway has given up its plan to publish the original in its entirety. In the mean time Bahro has published Rückkehr: die In-Weltkrise als Ursprung der Weltzerstörung (Berlin: Altis Verlag and Franmkfort: Horizonte Verlag, 1991); he has also completed the manuscript for Das Buch von der Befreiung aus dem Untergang der DDR: Dabei über das scheinbar abseitige Thema, Ökologie und Kommunismus, ja über das scheinbar noch viel abseitigere, wie die PDS doch einen Sinn machen könnte.