Rudolf Bahro: Wikis


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Rudolf Bahro

Bahro in 1991
Born November 18, 1935(1935-11-18)
Died December 5, 1997
Nationality German
Occupation Philosopher and politician

Rudolf Bahro (November 18, 1935 – December 5, 1997) was a philosopher, political figure and eco-socialist author who was a noted East German dissident and who became a leader of the West German party The Greens and a founding member of the Party of Democratic Socialism.


Early Life and Academic Training

He was born in 1935 in Bad Flinsberg in Lower Silesia, Germany (today Świeradów-Zdrój, Lubań County, Poland). He joined the East German Socialist Unity Party in 1954 as a student of philosophy at East Berlin's Humboldt University.

From 1959-1960 he took part in the campaign to collectivise agriculture in the Oderbruch region; then, after a period as editor of a university paper at Greifswald he became an official of the Union of Scientific Employees in Berlin. He was also deputy editor of the Free German Youth magazine Forum. In 1967 he published an article by Volker Braun which the party regarded as slanderous, leading to his dismissal. Bahro spent the next 10 years working on labour organisation in a rubber factory, during which time he completed his PhD work (on training of specialists in state enterprises). He would, however, actually end up receiving his habilitation at the University of Hanover in West Germany rather than at a university in the East, due to his problems with the East German authorities because of his publication of writings critical of the regime.[1]

Dissidence in East Germany and The Alternative

Bahro was shocked by the East German government's unwillingness to defend the Prague Spring reforms in Czechoslovakia, and throughout the 1970s he became increasingly critical of the Communist regime, though he kept these views to himself for some time. While pretending to work solely on his dissertation, Bahro wrote instead a wide-ranging critique of East German state socialism called "Die Alternative. Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus".[2] This book was later translated into English as The Alternative in Eastern Europe by NLB/Verso. There were translations available in Norway (Pax), France (Stock), Yugoslavia (Globus) and elsewhere.

Upon completion of the book, he allowed the manuscript to be smuggled to West Germany, where it was published. Beyond serving as a criticism of the Eastern Bloc's version of socialism, his work is credited as being crucial to the development of Eco-socialism.

After the book was published in the West, Bahro was arrested by the East German authorities in August 1977, causing widespread and international protest. On June 30, 1978, Bahro was found guilty of "treasonous collection of news" and "betrayal of state secrets" and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Bahro's defense counsel in this case was Gregor Gysi.

As a result of his work he was charged with being a West German spy and was sentenced to be imprisoned for eight years. A worldwide solidarity campaign for the release of Bahro mobilised. President Jimmy Carter demanded his release, along with Gerhard Schröder, Herbert Marcuse and Wolf Biermann. The TV news Tagesschau devoted a whole evening, which has only previously occurred when President John F. Kennedy was shot. Heinrich Böll, Graham Greene, and Arthur Miller wrote a Letter for Bahro in The Times appearing on 1 February 1978. An International Congress for and about Rudolf Bahro took place in Berlin in November 1978. He received the Carl-von-Ossietzky-Medaille[3], the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize, and became a member of the Danish and Swedish Pen Center and the New York Academy of Science. His call for a change was heard and accepted around the world. It was discussed in many books, articles, speeches and meetings. He was released under an amnesty on 17 October 1979 and deported to West Germany.

Political Activity in West Germany

In West Germany Bahro denounced Marxism, and joined emerging party The Greens (Die Grünen), and was elected to its steering committee. During this time, Bahro became a spokesperson for the fundamentalist wing of the party and an opponent of the reformist wing of the party which would later become more dominant within the party.

Ultimately, he became critical of the direction into which Die Grünen were moving, leaving them in 1985, denouncing party politics. "The Greens are almost worse than useless," he said. "They have become so much a part of the system that capitalism would have had to invent them if they weren't here already."[2]

After leaving party politics, Bahro worked as a lecturer and researcher in the alternative scene, denouncing its sectarianism, yet claiming the necessity of a spiritual reorientation to replace rampant consumerism. He praised the Rajneesh movement, as well as Benedictine monks, and explored yoga. Many of his former friends and associates reacted with hostility to this development.

Themes in his work

Bahro's position was firmly against the economic and spiritual basis of "industrialist" civilization. In a famous phrase he claimed that the disintegration of the industrial world "is the best thing about it and...we must say 'yes' to it and assist it as far as possible".[4]

In Bahro's view, both the Capitalist and Communist blocs had pursued policies aimed at promoting unlimited economic development on a planet with limited resources. "One cannot have an essentially expansive development of humanity that is governed by the multiplication of money on a finite planet," he told an interviewer for the Berliner Zeitung.[5]

The Irish TD Trevor Sargent summarized Bahro's contribution to both ecological and socialist thought this way: "Rudolf Bahro was an East German Marxist who later became a leading figure in the West German Greens. He shows [in The Alternative] how Eastern Europe's 'non-capitalist' road to industrialisation has been shaped by the same growth-based ideals and methods as Western capitalism. He also shows how the working classes of both West and East have the exploitation of nature and the "Third World" in common. Defending their own societies' privileged positions on the world market, they add to global inequality. Bahro sees the division of labour as the key to oppression at work and at home, and examines ways of breaking it down and rebuilding society from the bottom up, starting with self-governing neighbourhoods and workplaces."[6]

Return to East Germany

At the time of the first East German democratic election in 1990, Bahro returned to public life in the East, participating in the founding of the new Party of Democratic Socialism, which was the successor organisation to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. He also returned to Humboldt University to teach classes describing aspects of the ecological crisis situation he describes in his works.

Bahro continued to live in Berlin after the unification of Germany, and worked through Humboldt University on social ecology projects, such as the experimental intentional community ecovillage called LebensGut[7] located near Dresden and commissioned by the government of Saxony.

In spring of 1994, Bahro was diagnosed with leukemia. He lived for three more years, during which time he tried various alternative medicine approaches for dealing with his illness, ultimately to no avail. He died on December 5, 1997.

Publications Available In English

  • The Alternative In Eastern Europe, New Left Books/Verso, ISBN 0-86091-006-7 [1977 (German), 1978 (English)]
  • Socialism and Survival [1980 (German); 1982 (English)]
  • From Red To Green [1984]
  • Building The Green Movement [1986]
  • Avoiding Social & Ecological Disaster: The Politics of World Transformation [1987 (German), 1994 (English)]

Selected publications

  • "Rapallo? Why Not? Reply to Gorz". TELOS 51 (Spring 1982). New York: Telos Press


  1. ^ Biography of Rudolf Bahro at the Rudolf Bahro Archive, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany [1]
  2. ^ a b Edmund L. Andrews, "Rudolf Bahro Is Dead at 62; Dissident in Both Germanys", New York Times, 11 December 1997.[2]
  3. ^ German Wikipedia entry for the Carl-von-Ossietzky-Medaille.[3]
  4. ^ Rudolf Bahro: Building the Green Movement. GCM Books, London 1986 p. 9
  5. ^ In Wirklichkeit wollten wir alle Sonnenkönigen werden, Berliner Zeitung, 13-14 June 1992, page 35.
  6. ^ Trevor Sargent on ecology and socialism, An Caorthann 1996 (The Rowan Tree; Irish green-alternative magazine).[4]
  7. ^ LebensGut website.[5]

External links



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