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/affirming the topic DECREASES the conditions they describe—their a priori fatalism DISTANCES us from the ability to challenge technocratic forces



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/affirming the topic DECREASES the conditions they describe—their a priori fatalism DISTANCES us from the ability to challenge technocratic forces


Hager, professor of political science – Bryn Mawr College, ‘92

(Carol J., “Democratizing Technology: Citizen & State in West German Energy Politics, 1974-1990” Polity, Vol. 25, No. 1, p. 45-70)


During this phase, the citizen initiative attempted to overcome its defensive posture and implement an alternative politics. The strategy of legal and technical challenge might delay or even prevent plant construction, but it would not by itself accomplish the broader goal on the legitimation dimension, i.e., democratization. Indeed, it worked against broad participation. The activists had to find a viable means of achieving change. Citizens had proved they could contribute to a substantive policy discussion. Now, some activists turned to the parliamentary arena as a possible forum for an energy dialogue. Until now, parliament had been conspicuously absent as a relevant policy maker, but if parliament could be reshaped and activated, citizens would have a forum in which to address the broad questions of policy-making goals and forms. They would also have an institutional lever with which to pry apart the bureaucracy and utility. None of the established political parties could offer an alternative program. Thus, local activists met to discuss forming their own voting list. These discussions provoked internal dissent. Many citizen initiative members objected to the idea of forming a political party. If the problem lay in the role of parliament itself, another political party would not solve it. On the contrary, parliamentary participation was likely to destroy what political innovations the extraparliamentary movement had made. Others argued that a political party would give the movement an institutional platform from which to introduce some of the grassroots democratic political forms the groups had developed. Founding a party as the parliamentary arm of the citizen movement would allow these groups to play an active, critical role in institutionalized politics, participating in the policy debates while retaining their outside perspective. Despite the disagreements, the Alternative List for Democracy and Environmental Protection Berlin (AL) was formed in 1978 and first won seats in the Land parliament with 7.2 percent of the vote in 1981.43 The founders of the AL were encouraged by the success of newly formed local green parties in Lower Saxony and Hamburg,44 whose evolution had been very similar to that of the West Berlin citizen move-ment. Throughout the FRG, unpopular administrative decisions affect-ing local environments, generally in the form of state-sponsored indus-trial projects, prompted the development of the citizen initiative and ecology movements. The groups in turn focused constant attention on state planning "errors," calling into question not only the decisions themselves, but also the conventional forms of political decision making that produced them.45 Disgruntled citizens increasingly aimed their critique at the established political parties, in particular the federal SPD/ FDP coalition, which seemed unable to cope with the economic, social, and political problems of the 1970s. Fanned by publications such as the Club of Rome's report, "The Limits to Growth," the view spread among activists that the crisis phenomena were not merely a passing phase, but indicated instead "a long-term structural crisis, whose cause lies in the industrial-technocratic growth society itself."46 As they broadened their critique to include the political system as a whole, many grassroots groups found the extraparliamentary arena too restrictive. Like many in the West Berlin group, they reasoned that the necessary change would require a degree of political restructuring that could only be accomplished through their direct participation in parliamentary politics. Green/alternative parties and voting lists sprang up nationwide and began to win seats in local assemblies. The West Berlin Alternative List saw itself not as a party, but as the parliamentary arm of the citizen initiative movement. One member explains: "the starting point for alternative electoral participation was simply the notion of achieving a greater audience for [our] own ideas and thus to work in support of the extraparliamentary movements and initia-tives,"47 including non-environmentally oriented groups. The AL wanted to avoid developing structures and functions autonomous from the citizen initiative movement. Members adhered to a list of principles, such as rotation and the imperative mandate, designed to keep parliamentarians attached to the grassroots. Although their insistence on grassroots democracy often resulted in interminable heated discussions, the participants recognized the importance of experimenting with new forms of decision making, of not succumbing to the same hierarchical forms they were challenging. Some argued that the proper role of citizen initiative groups was not to represent the public in government, but to mobilize other citizens to participate directly in politics themselves; self-determination was the aim of their activity.48 Once in parliament, the AL proposed establishment of a temporary parliamentary commission to study energy policy, which for the first time would draw all concerned participants together in a discussion of both short-term choices and long-term goals of energy policy. With help from the SPD faction, which had been forced into the opposition by its defeat in the 1981 elections, two such commissions were created, one in 1982-83 and the other in 1984-85.49 These commissions gave the citizen activists the forum they sought to push for modernization and technical innovation in energy policy. Although it had scaled down the proposed new plant, the utility had produced no plan to upgrade its older, more polluting facilities or to install desulfurization devices. With prodding from the energy commission, Land and utility experts began to formulate such a plan, as did the citizen initiative. By exposing administrative failings in a public setting, and by producing a modernization plan itself, the combined citizen initiative and AL forced bureaucratic authorities to push the utility for improvements. They also forced the authorities to consider different technological solutions to West Berlin's energy and environmental problems. In this way, the activists served as technological innovators. In 1983, the first energy commission submitted a list of recommendations to the Land parliament which reflected the influence of the citizen protest movement. It emphasized goals of demand reduction and efficiency, noted the value of expanded citizen participation and urged authorities to "investigate more closely the positive role citizen participation can play in achieving policy goals."50 The second energy commission was created in 1984 to discuss the possibilities for modernization and shutdown of old plants and use of new, environmentally friendlier and cheaper technologies for electricity and heat generation. Its recommendations strengthened those of the first commission.51 Despite the non-binding nature of the commissions' recommendations, the public discussion of energy policy motivated policy makers to take stronger positions in favor of environmental protection. III. Conclusion The West Berlin energy project eventually cleared all planning hurdles, and construction began in the early 1980s. The new plant now conforms to the increasingly stringent environmental protection requirements of the law. The project was delayed, scaled down from 1200 to 600 MW, moved to a neutral location and, unlike other BEWAG plants, equipped with modern desulfurization devices. That the new plant, which opened in winter 1988-89, is the technologically most advanced and environmen-tally sound of BEWAG's plants is due entirely to the long legal battle with the citizen initiative group, during which nearly every aspect of the original plans was changed. In addition, through the efforts of the Alter-native List (AL) in parliament, the Land government and BEWAG formulated a long sought modernization and environmental protection plan for all of the city's plants. The AL prompted the other parliamentary parties to take pollution control seriously. Throughout the FRG, energy politics evolved in a similar fashion. As Habermas claimed, underlying the objections against particular projects was a reaction against the administrative-economic system in general. One author, for example, describes the emergence of two-dimensional protest against nuclear energy: The resistance against a concrete project became understood simul-taneously as resistance against the entire atomic program. Questions of energy planning, of economic growth, of understanding of democracy entered the picture. . . . Besides concern for human health, for security of conditions for human existence and protec-tion of nature arose critique of what was perceived as undemocratic planning, the "shock" of the delayed public announcement of pro-ject plans and the fear of political decision errors that would aggra-vate the problem.52 This passage supports a West Berliner's statement that the citizen initiative began with a project critique and arrived at Systemkritik.53 I have labeled these two aspects of the problem the public policy and legitima-tion dimensions. In the course of these conflicts, the legitimation dimen-sion emergd as the more important and in many ways the more prob-lematic. Parliamentary Politics In the 1970s, energy politics began to develop in the direction Offe de-scribed, with bureaucrats and protesters avoiding the parliamentary channels through which they should interact. The citizen groups them-selves, however, have to a degree reversed the slide into irrelevance of parliamentary politics. Grassroots groups overcame their defensive posture enough to begin to formulate an alternative politics, based upon concepts such as decision making through mutual understanding rather than technical criteria or bargaining. This new politics required new modes of interaction which the old corporatist or pluralist forms could not provide. Through the formation of green/alternative parties and voting lists and through new parliamentary commissions such as the two described in the case study, some members of grassroots groups attempted to both operate within the political system and fundamentally change it, to restore the link between bureaucracy and citizenry. Parliamentary politics was partially revived in the eyes of West German grassroots groups as a legitimate realm of citizen participation, an outcome the theory would not predict. It is not clear, however, that strengthening the parliamentary system would be a desirable outcome for everyone. Many remain skeptical that institutions that operate as part of the "system" can offer the kind of substantive participation that grass-roots groups want. The constant tension between institutionalized politics and grassroots action emerged clearly in the recent internal debate between "fundamentalist" and "realist" wings of the Greens. Fundis wanted to keep a firm footing outside the realm of institutionalized politics. They refused to bargain with the more established parties or to join coalition governments. Realos favored participating in institutionalized politics while pressing their grassroots agenda. Only this way, they claimed, would they have a chance to implement at least some parts of their program. This internal debate, which has never been resolved, can be interpreted in different ways. On one hand, the tension limits the appeal of green and alternative parties to the broader public, as the Greens' poor showing in the December 1990 all-German elections attests. The failure to come to agreement on basic issues can be viewed as a hazard of grass-roots democracy. The Greens, like the West Berlin citizen initiative, are opposed in principle to forcing one faction to give way to another. Disunity thus persists within the group. On the other hand, the tension can be understood not as a failure, but as a kind of success: grassroots politics has not been absorbed into the bureaucratized system; it retains its critical dimension, both in relation to the political system and within the groups themselves. The lively debate stimulated by grassroots groups and parties keeps questions of democracy on the public agenda. Technical Debate In West Berlin, the two-dimensionality of the energy issue forced citizen activists to become both participants in and critics of the policy process. In order to defeat the plant, activists engaged in technical debate. They won several decisions in favor of environmental protection, often proving to be more informed than bureaucratic experts themselves. The case study demonstrates that grassroots groups, far from impeding techno-logical advancement, can actually serve as technological innovators. The activists' role as technical experts, while it helped them achieve some success on the policy dimension, had mixed results on the legitimation dimension. On one hand, it helped them to challenge the legitimacy of technocratic policy making. They turned back the Land government's attempts to displace political problems by formulating them in technical terms.54 By demonstrating the fallibility of the technical arguments, activists forced authorities to acknowledge that energy demand was a political variable, whose value at any one point was as much influenced by the choices of policy makers as by independent technical criteria. Submission to the form and language of technical debate, however, weakened activists' attempts to introduce an alternative, goal-oriented form of decision making into the political system. Those wishing to par-ticipate in energy politics on a long-term basis have had to accede to the language of bureaucratic discussion, if not the legitimacy of bureaucratic authorities. They have helped break down bureaucratic authority but have not yet offered a viable long-term alternative to bureaucracy. In the tension between form and language, goals and procedure, the legitima-tion issue persists. At the very least, however, grassroots action challenges critical theory's notion that technical discussion is inimical to democratic politics.55 Citizen groups have raised the possibility of a dialogue that is both technically sophisticated and democratic. In sum, although the legitimation problems which gave rise to grass-roots protest have not been resolved, citizen action has worked to counter the marginalization of parliamentary politics and the technocratic character of policy debate that Offe and Habermas identify. The West Berlin case suggests that the solutions to current legitimation problems may not require total repudiation of those things previously associated with technocracy.56 In Berlin, the citizen initiative and AL continue to search for new, more legitimate forms of organization consistent with their principles. No permanent Land parliamentary body exists to coordinate and con-solidate energy policy making.57 In the 1989 Land elections, the CDU/ FDP coalition was defeated, and the AL formed a governing coalition with the SPD. In late 1990, however, the AL withdrew from the coali-tion. It remains to be seen whether the AL will remain an effective vehi-cle for grassroots concerns, and whether the citizenry itself, now includ-ing the former East Berliners, will remain active enough to give the AL direction as united Berlin faces the formidable challenges of the 1990s. On the policy dimension, grassroots groups achieved some success. On the legitimation dimension, it is difficult to judge the results of grass-roots activism by normal standards of efficacy or success. Activists have certainly not radically restructured politics. They agree that democracy is desirable, but troublesome questions persist about the degree to which those processes that are now bureaucratically organized can and should be restructured, where grassroots democracy is possible and where bureaucracy is necessary in order to get things done. In other words, grassroots groups have tried to remedy the Weberian problem of the marginalization of politics, but it is not yet clear what the boundaries of the political realm should be. It is, however, the act of calling existing boundaries into question that keeps democracy vital. In raising alternative possibilities and encouraging citizens to take an active, critical role in their own governance, the contribution of grassroots environmental groups has been significant. As Melucci states for new social movements in general, these groups mount a "symbolic" challenge by proposing "a different way of perceiving and naming the world."58 Rochon concurs for the case of the West German peace movement, noting that its effect on the public discussion of secur-ity issues has been tremendous.59 The effects of the legitimation issue in the FRG are evident in increased citizen interest in areas formerly left to technical experts. Citizens have formed nationwide associations of environmental and other grassroots groups as well as alternative and green parties at all levels of government. The level of information within the groups is generally quite high, and their participation, especially in local politics, has raised the awareness and engagement of the general populace noticeably.60 Policy concessions and new legal provisions for citizen participation have not quelled grassroots action. The attempts of the established political parties to coopt "green" issues have also met with limited success. Even green parties themselves have not tapped the full potential of public support for these issues. The persistence of legitima-tion concerns, along with the growth of a culture of informed political activism, will ensure that the search continues for a space for a delibera-tive politics in modern technological society.61


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