New parties on the political scene

West Germany's new political party is called the Greens; America's is called the Citizens Party. Information about them is sketchy so far, but they seem to share such concerns as the environment and renewable sources of energy -- and to draw attention to a constituency for such concerns beyond the major parties.

In Germany the formation of the Greens has been seen as one of the evidences that, after a long post-Hitler period of getting accustomed to democratic forms, many Germans are relishing the participatory experience of plunging into politics or working for causes in the democratic spirit. Last fall environmentalists made unexpectedly strong showings in state and local elections.

Early this year environmental groups and some with other causes joined to form a national party, the Greens, looking toward the federal election in October. There was speculation that the Greens would cut into the constituency for existing small parties and might eventually take enough votes from the Social Democratic governing coalition to permit conservative Franz Josef Strauss of the Christian Democratic Party to defeat Helmut Schmidt for the chancellorship.

In the United States, the Citizens Party has sprung up in the wake of biologist Barry Commoner's promotion of the need for political action on energy, environment, social participation in economic decisions, and other matters. Thousands of voters are said to have joined up since the party registered with the Federal Election Commission late last year.

So what? Two new parties that most people haven't heard of and wouldn't vote for if they did.

The point is that, especially among younger voters, there is a sense that the established parties remain focused more on the past than the future. They are seen to pay insufficient heed to the "alternatives" that interest so many of those who feel unrepresented -- alternative energy, such as solar; alternative technology, decentralized and appropriate for serving rather than dominating human beings; alternative economics, stressing meeting of human need rather than growth for its own sake; alternative agriculture, not giant agribusiness but people growing things alone or together in love of the land; alternative development, seeing humankind not as the conquerors of the earth but the stewards of it.

Insofar as a new party addresses such concerns, it has a chance of attracting like- minded adherents. But, realistically, instead of becoming a power in itself it is likely to serve a gadfly function, just possibly alerting the major parties to neglected voters and overlooked issues. In Germany, for example, the stirrings of the Greens are credited with nudging Mr. Schmidt's Social Democratic Party into setting up a party environmental unit, though Mr. Schmidt remains committed to the nuclear energy which many of the environmentalists have been protesting.

We are not prejudging the merits of the new parties on either side of the Atlantic. They will have to prove the soundness of their issues and tactics. Meanwhile, they add a breeze of interest to a long political year.

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