The maverick Green Party that sprang into boisterous existence in West Germany eight years ago now threatens to split up. The showdown could come at party strategy meetings Dec. 8 and 12. Imminent breakup is the chronic condition of a leftist countercultural party that prides itself on letting each adherent ``do his own thing.'' But this time tensions between the pragmatist (``realo'') and fundamentalist (``fundi'') factions may have reached the breaking point.
Fundis such as ex-Marxist Thomas Ebermann dominate the party leadership, largely by virtue of their radicalism and patience for sitting through interminable late-night party debates long enough to command a majority when a vote is finally taken. The realos, who favor compromise, generally hold a majority of the 44 Green seats in the Bundestag .
Two disputes in particular have raised tempers to their present pitch: policy toward Israel and Arabs, and attitudes toward use of violence by demonstrators. The first involves a heated personal clash. The second question is more central to the Greens' whole philosophy of politics and society and of the fledgling party's identity - but it is playing only a subordinate role.
The present confrontation started when three realo MPs - including one of the party's two most prominent pragmatists, Otto Schily - visited Israel a few weeks ago.
While there, Mr. Schily said the Palestinians could learn something about democracy from the Israelis. Since the West German left has closely identified with the Palestinian cause for two decades, the fundis regarded this remark as heresy.
Green foreign-policy spokesman J"urgen Maier charged that Schily was soft on the Israelis and did not properly represent the Greens' position. Schily and his two traveling companions rejected the criticism and what they viewed as an attempt to muzzle them.
When two policemen were murdered at a demonstration outside the Frankfurt airport this month, the current realo-fundi dispute broadened to address once again the perennial feud over resort to violence. Schily repeated his opposition to use of force by protesters, who say they are serving the cause of peace. The fundi party leaders repeated their call for an end to the state's ``monopoly on the use of force.''
At this point Schily and other realo MPs are threatening to break away from the Greens if their opinions are not tolerated within the party. The test is supposed to come at the Dec. 8 committee meeting.
Such a split would have important political consequences. It could deprive the fundi-led Greens of the minimum 27 seats needed to qualify as a parliamentary caucus (and to claim committee assignments) - and give this status instead to a new realo faction.
Until now, revulsion at the comfort a Green split would give to the established parties always has deterred such a move. But solidarity has weakened as the enlarged percentage of the vote for the Greens in their second general election this year gave them enough of a margin to afford a split and still leave one of the Green factions as a recognized caucus.
The current disputes come in the wake of earlier quarrels between fundis and realos such as Schily and the other prominent pragmatist, one-time Environment Minister Joschka Fischer from Hesse. Schily has been taken to task for saying Bonn need not quit the NATO alliance immediately (as the Green platform urges), but could wait until both Eastern and Western blocs dissolve.
For his part, Mr. Fischer - after the conservative defeat of the one attempt at a Green-Social Democratic coalition in West Germany, in spring elections in Hesse - said it was ``unreal'' to demand an instant end to all nuclear power, as distinct from a gradual phase-out. For this, some fundis wanted to drum him out of the party.
Other squabbles among Greens have raged around the various single-issue enthusiasms that move members. These include feminism; senior citizens' rights; animal rights; organic farming; non-exploitive small industry; a leftist Marxism that condemns the Soviets for being too rightist; forms of radical grass-roots democracy, including compulsory rotation of elected officials; the comparative virtues of protest outside the political system and party activity within it; and establishment of a foundation to promote Green values.
On the last issue the Greens first brought suit to challenge the legality of West Germany's unofficially party-linked foundations. When they lost their case, they decided to join the system since they couldn't beat it - only to dissolve into inconclusive quarrels about what kind of a think tank to set up.
In the end, the Heinrich B"oll Foundation, named after the late novelist, was inaugurated this week without Green sponsorship - and without the government subsidies that are available for political education to any party that wins Bundestag seats.