In spring 1987, a political document caused a stir in the Federal Republic of Germany: the Mothers’ Manifesto produced by a section of women in the Green Party. Some passed on to the business of the day with a feeling of kindly satisfaction—there was no longer much to fear from the political strength of the Green women. Others set angrily to work to restore the unity of left women with a scathing critique, and yet others warned with righteous dismay of the threat of fascism and the impending extinction of ‘Rainbow Culture’. After all, the Nazi cult of motherhood is firmly fixed in historical memory. Even those who know hardly anything about the period are as familiar with the Mother’s Cross as with the title of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. No one wants to have anything to do with all that, except perhaps on Mothers’ Day, when the younger generation still shamefacedly tries to strike an uneasy balance between disavowal of the fascist legacy and a bad conscience over neglect of their mothers.

But what is so alarming about the Mothers’ Manifesto of the Green Women, apart from the fact of mothers appearing as a political subject at all? The text itself reveals a movement still in its infancy; it is as uneven, contradictory and given to compromise as the grouping that drew it up. Frequently it is possible to grasp the intended meaning only from what it is articulated against. To that extent, a reduction of the Manifesto to one or two principal theses does it an injustice. Nonetheless, the essential point seems to me the demand for a renewal or overturning of society in the name of mother and child—‘a society for the child at one’s side’. Public life is to be organized in such a way that it can accommodate children. Mothers should be able to find places where, by exchanging child-care time with other mothers, they can lead a life of their own with children. A partnership in which fathers participate in child-raising is no longer a demand, since evidently this is taking too long to become a reality.

Postponed or discarded are the following goals of the women’s movement: the necessity of women’s paid employment; the dominance of questions of individual development and individual happiness; the reduction of the problems of motherhood to the socialization of child-raising, at least as a common task of the sexes; the emphasis on education and professional training; the question, above all, of equal rights. Priority is now attached to a direct demand for social structures which will provide a feminine sphere for mother and child. However, society will have to be transformed from its very foundations if the mother–child relationship is to be made the standard of all values. Such protest can be anti-capitalist. But the set of demands is such that it is possible to conceive of practical reforms here and now, while structural change remains a mere utopia. In this way, a great number of viewpoints can be brought together in the motherhood formula.

The Mothers’ Manifesto is a provisional outcome of earlier struggles among Green Women and is intended to be the platform for the newly formed Arbeitsgemeinschaft (working group)—which means money, delegates and political influence within the party. The trigger for the mothers’ movement in the Federal Republic was Chernobyl, an event of worldwide importance that had direct effects on everyday activity and was beyond the distinction between capitalism and socialism. The scandal made it evident that mothers could not discharge their allocated task—taking care of the health of future generations—without governmental power of their own and without policies on technology, in short, without regulating the world as a whole. In a flash it became general knowledge that decisions about the food on the dinner-table are not made in the kitchen, and this realization took practical shape in the protest against nuclear energy. Since milk and vegetables were most affected at first, mothers literally did not know what to give their children to eat without poisoning them. The protests of the women’s movement, which interpreted the destructive powers in the male intellect and in male technology as gender-specific, were still familiar. Drawing on this, the mothers’ outcry became a political force which for several months disrupted political meetings, events and speeches. Men, it was said, have no right whatsoever to participate in the discussion about Chernobyl, because they do not know what is at stake. As with the subsequent Mothers’ Manifesto, women with and without children belonged to the mothers’ fraction, just as there were many mothers among its alarmed opponents. It was a question of principle.

It is politically absurd to question the right of an emerging movement to exist or—as in a common response of the working-class movement to the new women’s movement—to condemn it as essentially divisive and middle class. On the other hand, it is just as questionable simply to observe events, for history demonstrates that popular movements are not necessarily emancipatory, or need not remain so. To that extent, it is an appropriate moment to study the question of women and mothers at a focal point of history, in fascism.

Claudia Koonz’s Mothers in the Fatherland is a really excellent starting point. footnote1 Her questions are addressed to history out of the women’s movement; her doubts about the existing historiography are simultaneously doubts about the historical innocence of women. Her position allows her to see in the very denial of female guilt that same old male pen which continues the oppression of women in general. While the archives are full of the acts of male Nazis, she only rarely found women there, and then only as exceptions: as the mistress of a Nazi leader or a quite untypical ‘heroine’, as a pilot or as witch of Auschwitz. The actions of the millions of women who made up the everyday normality of fascism remained as nameless and faceless as ever. Koonz’s book shows that such an absence to be made the standard demonstrates the fruitfulness of research guided by theory. If women were not present in the politically recognized sphere, then perhaps they were to be found where their social activity found acknowledgement: in church welfare organizations and community work. Her research was carried out in church archives and with survivors of the period.

Koonz’s principal thesis runs as follows: not race alone, but race and gender were the pillars upon which National Socialism was erected. This combination allowed an integration across, and in spite of, class barriers. ‘Germanic life of the future,’ according to a contemporary communication, ‘will be dominated by two absolute axioms: laws concerning race and laws regulating the polarity between the sexes’ (205). As the biological replaced historical struggles over the relations of production, it was relatively simple, on the basis of the existing biological difference between men and women, to legitimate the same kind of distinction in the question of race. The aim was to expel Jews from political society. This thesis is both provocative and productive. It leads on to her central question: How was it possible to gain the consent of millions of women to a politics and an ideology which were profoundly hostile to women?