Matthew N. Lyons
The Grassroots Network in Germany, 1972-1985 - IV: ANTI-MILITARISM AND THE PEACE MOVEMENT. Second part
Article published on 24 July 2018
zuletzt geändert am 5 August 2018
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After 1980, several factors contributed to a political climate which was more favorable to nonviolent action than the 1970s had been.


First was the precedent of the ecology movement: here nonviolence had been discussed, debated, and practiced by many individuals and groups that remained active in this area or that became involved in the peace movement.

Second, starting in about 1978, many youth groups and church groups began to study and talk about the philosophies of nonviolence, beginning with a theoretical interest in Martin- Luther King, social defense, or other topics. These groups drew on the work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of the "Ebert School" of nonviolence theory as well as on the work of the Grassroots network. (21)

Third, many leftists who in the 1970s had pressed for revolutionary change through violent action had begun to seek other approaches. The K-Groups declined sharply. The failure of physical combat in the ecology movement in 1976-77, as well as the disastrous experience of the RAF, had convinced many that a tactical endorsement, at least, of political nonviolence might be more effective.

Fourth, the Green Party emerged as a serious political force. Its four central principles were "nonviolent, grassroots-democratic, social and ecological" change. Not only did the new party draw in many activists from citizen initiatives and related groups, it also absorbed many former members of K-Groups, particularly in northern cities such as West Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen. In practice the Green Party was generally reluctant to organize for nonviolent civil disobedience, but many individuals within it did take an active role in such actions.
These developments did not signal the end of political violence in the FRG’s new social movements. In the early 1980s, the squatters movement, centered in West Berlin, fought back in numerous street battles against police evictions. Autonomist groups remained active in this and other political campaigns. But in the emerging peace movement, at least, practitioners of violence remained isolated.


The peace movement of the 1980s, the largest social movement in the history of the FRG, emerged in response to NATO’s December 1979 decision to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe. The cruise and Pershing II missiles were part of a new generation of "first strike" weapons designed to strike their targets with a high degree of accuracy and preempt an attack from the other side. Military leaders portrayed the cruise and Pershing as a necessary response to the advantage in intermediate-range nuclear weapons that the USSR’s new SS-20s supposedly gave the Warsaw Pact. To peace activists, and eventually to millions of people in Western Europe, the cruise and Pershing represented a dangerous new escalation of the nuclear arms race: a technological innovation that sharply increased the threat of nuclear war.

The first of the new missiles, the Pershings, were scheduled for deployment in the FRG in 1983. But the first protests began in other parts of Europe, notably Scandinavia, and spread to West Germany in 1980. The new movement in the FRG grew quickly and drew in a broad range of organizations and political tendencies.

Many new peace initiatives formed in response to the new missiles. One, The Women’s Initiative for Peace, collected 80,000 signatures within the first few months on a ’petition for peace.’ In many respects such groups resembled the citizen initiatives which had formed the backbone of the ecology movement in the 1970s: they were decentralized, independent of political parties, and organized around specific concerns.
Church groups, too, took a leading role. Among these were the AGDF (Action Comrnunity Service for Peace), Pax Christi, the ESG (Evangelical Student Community), and particularly the ASF (Action for Reconciliation/Peace Services). These groups, many of which received financial and logistical support from the churches, organized many public events on peace issues. Peace also became an important topic of discussion within the Evangelical (Lutheran-Calvinist) Church itself, one of the FRG’s two major churches. The Catholic Church played much less of a role.

Groups oriented towards the pro-Soviet DKP (German Communist Party) were a well-organized faction within the peace movement. These groups, such as KOFAZ (Committee for Peace, Disarmament and Cooperation), the DFU (German Peace Union), the SDAJ (Socialist German Workers Youth), and a large contingent within the DFG-VK were often referred to as the "KOFAZ Spectrum". In line with the DKP, they advocated disarmament in the West only, regarding the Warsaw Pact’s arms build-up as a necessary defense measure.

The national Green Party, formed in 1979-80, quickly made nuclear disarmament one of its central areas of focus. In the federal elections of March 1983, the Greens received 5.6 % of the vote, and 27 Green members entered the Bundestag (federal parliament). This gave them a significant national forum for their position, and federal matching funds designed to cover campaign costs enabled the Greens to channel money back into other movement organizations and campaigns.

The SPD was split over the issue of the cruise and Pershings. The Social Democrat-Free Democrat governing coalition and most of the SPD leadership welcomed NATO’s decision in 1979. But the left wing of the SPD, including the Jusos (Young Socialists), opposed the new missiles, and it was joined by some sections of the DGB (German Federation of Labor Unions). In 1982 the SPD-FDP coalition collapsed, and the FDP entered a new coalition with the CDU/CSU. Once in opposition, the SPD was pulled by its own rank-and-file, by the broader peace movement, and by fear of the Greens’ electoral threat into a belated anti-Pershing stance.

The BBU (Federal Association of Environmental Citizen Initiatives) also joined the new movement. Originally independent of political parties, in the 1980s the BBU steadily gravitated toward the left wing of the SPD, and toward a more conservative political stance.
Other groups active in the peace movement included feminist groups, Third World solidarity organizations, autonomists, and nonviolent action groups. Although the Maoist K-Groups had declined in influence since the 1970s, and some had dissolved, the KB (Communist League) maintained considerable strength in northern cities such as Hamburg and Bremen.

There were ongoing efforts to organize this diverse collection of groups. Organizers met periodicaily in large national „action conferences", and in 1983 elected a national „coordinating committee“ for the peace movement. However, such meetings were arenas for sharp political debate.

The KOFAZ-Spectrum and SPD-oriented groups (with partial support from some of the Christian peace groups) generally formed a bloc as the "traditional" wing of the peace movement. They advocated moderate forms of protest with a broad appeal, such as petition drives, mass rallies, and other means of demonstrating numerical strength. For purposes of "unity", they argued, the peace movement should maintain a narrow political focus: stop cruise and Pershing. This became known as the "minimal consensus" of the peace movement.

The minimal consensus represented a point of agreement between SPD and DKP policies. Although most Social Democratic leaders in the peace movement were on the left wing of their own party, they challenged few of its fundamental positions on military policy. The SPD supported the Bundeswehr (the FRG’s federal army), the NATO alliance, and a conventional arms buildup in Western Europe. The DKP, meanwhile, supported the policies of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Both saw "peace" in terms of traditional detente (Ostpolitik) and agreements between governing elites in East and West. Neither was willing to challenge Europe’s military bloc system, let alone the social structures that supported it.

These political assumptions extended also to the organization and strategy of the West German peace movement itself. Social Democratic and KOFAZ spectrum kaders alike tended to regard movement supporters as an inarticulate mass to be "mobilized" and directed by an elite of political strategists (23). Many of the traditional peace organizations were highly centralized. The KOFAZ spectrum in particular used its tight discipline to bring out a disproportionate number of participants to action conferences. Because of this, and because it commanded more money and resources than most other peace groups, the traditional wing was in a strong position to set the agenda for the peace movement.

In the face of this powerful bloc, the Greens and a broad range of leftist and "independent" peace organizations including FÖGA and other Grassroots groups sought closer ties with one another. The minimal consensus, many of these groups argued, obscured the root causes of cruise and Pershing and of the nuclear arms race in general. They raised other issues that were deeper and more politically controversial: the structure of the West German State, the FRG’s role in Europe’s military bloc system, militarization and the Third World, the dangers of a conventional military buildup, the role of the capitalist economy, etc.

Many of the independent groups, furthermore, favored more confrontational forms of political action than rallies and petition drives: including civil disobedience and other forms of illegal protest and resistance. There were also major conflicts between different independent groups. Debates over nonviolence were carried over from the 1970s. Another debate developed between "anti-imperialists" and "anti-militarists." The "anti-imperialists" emphasized the United States’ aggressive role in the Third World and tended to regard the USSR largely as the defender of national liberation struggles. In this context the USSR’s nuclear "deterrent" was often seen as a legitimate protective umbrella for these struggles against the US. The "anti-militarists", including most Grassroots activists, criticized the whole concept of nuclear deterrence as illusory and emphasized grassroots solidarity between independent peace groups within both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. (24)

However, these conflicts were circumscribed by the conflict that all of these groups felt with the peace movement’s traditional wing. Independent peace groups developed a number of working alliances, both locally and nationally. Their first attempt at a national coalition, the Federal Congress of Autonomous Peace Initiatives (BAF), was unsuccessful and disbanded in 1983. A second coalition formed in early 1984 proved more fruitful: the Federal Association of Independent Peace Initiatives (BUF) organized some important actions in the later period of the peace movement.

In the face of this powerful bloc, the Greens and a broad range of leftist and "independent" peace organizations including FÖGA and other Grassroots groups sought closer ties with one another. The minimal consensus, many of these groups argued, obscured the root causes of cruise and Pershing and of the nuclear arms race in general. They raised other issues that were deeper and more politically controversial: the structure of the West German State, the FRG’s role in Europe’s military bloc system, militarization and the Third World, the dangers of a conventional military buildup, the role of the capitalist economy, etc.

Many of the independent groups, furthermore, favored more confrontational forms of political action than rallies and petition drives: including civil disobedience and other forms of illegal protest and resistance. There were also major conflicts between different independent groups. Debates over nonviolence were carried over from the 1970s. Another debate developed between "anti-imperialists" and "anti-militarists." The "anti-imperialists" emphasized the United States’ aggressive role in the Third World and tended to regard the USSR largely as the defender of national liberation struggles. In this context the USSR’s nuclear "deterrent" was often seen as a legitimate protective umbrella for these struggles against the US. The "anti-militarists", including most Grassroots activists, criticized the whole concept of nuclear deterrence as illusory and emphasized grassroots solidarity between independent peace groups within both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. (24)

However, these conflicts were circumscribed by the conflict that all of these groups felt with the peace movement’s traditional wing. Independent peace groups developed a number of working alliances, both locally and nationally. Their first attempt at a national coalition, the Federal Congress of Autonomous Peace Initiatives (BAF), was unsuccessful and disbanded in 1983. A second coalition formed in early 1984 proved more fruitful: the Federal Association of Independent Peace Initiatives (BUF) organized some important actions in the later period of the peace movement.

The concept of movement "unity" became an issue of debate in the peace movement as it had been in the ecology movement. In the late 1970s, militant activists had criticized advocates of nonviolence by saying that they were endangering the "unity" of anti-nuclear coalitions. In the 1980s, KOFAZ spectrum spokespeople took the same line toward the independents. In practice this "unity" meant political conformism on their terms.

Groups of the independent spectrum did not seek to impose their positions on the movement as a "unified" stance. (Even if they had wanted to, they had much less organizational influence than the traditionals.) Rather, they sought to encourage a broad range of discussion and action within the movement. Through their own actions they attempted to extend the political possibilities for the movement as a whole. The Peace Section (Friedensbereich) of the West Berlin Alternative List (a local political party affiliated with die Greens) voiced this perspective in a statement they published in late 1983:

We did not leave our different political perspectives and identities at the door when we joined the peace movement. In this sense there has never been a single uniform "peace movement." Disagreement does not weaken our power to act, bot strengthens it, when it serves a praxis which is both diversified and shared.
We must not let ourselves be restricted to the lowest common denominator, but must seek the greatest common diversity? (25)

In this context, Grassroots groups played a significant mediating role, as they had done in the ecology movement. As a part of the independent spectrum, they exerted a leftward pull on the peace movement by advocating a radicalization of political discussion and, in particular, encouraging peace activists to go beyond traditional and legal forms of protest. Their primary means of doing this, through nonviolent civil disobedience, was a simple concept that lead thousands of people to re-think their relationship to the state and to the movement, and expand the "repertoire" of actions for broad sections of the movement. But in the process civil disobedience was partly coopted by the traditional spectrum, which challenged some Grassroots activists to seek other forms of action.

The Grassroots network had an intermediate position in another sense as well. Whereas some Grassroots activists were prepared to work closely with Leninist militants of the KB (Communist League), others were far more oriented toward Christian peace groups such as Ohne Rüstung Leben ("Live Without the Arms Race"). To some extent this reflected regional differences: Grassroots groups in southern cities such as Heidelberg tended to keep at a greater distance from autonomists and K-groups than did their counterparts in northern cities, where the militants tended to have a stronger presence. (26)

(The tension within the Grassroots network did not necessarily fall out along geographic lines. The 1984-85 situation in Göttingen illustrates this. The Grassroots Work Center (Werkstatt) in Göttingen worked largely with BUF, which included many Marxist and other leftist groups. The local GA Göttingen however, tended to distance itself from these groups, working largely with Christian pacifists and other moderates. (Interview with Axel Buchholz, Werkstatt Coordinator.))

In any case, political styles, approaches, and concepts of nonviolence varied substantially within the network. This had some advantages, for example in that it provided the network with access in more groups and political tendencies, but it also made it difficult to find clear common ground and formulate unified political statements and plans.


Almost from the beginning members of the peace movement debated relations with independent peace groups in the GDR. In the GDR, as in other Soviet-bloc countries, "peace" is practically a State theme, and traditional peace groups in the FRG have long maintained friendly relations with the GDR’s official Peace Council and related organizations. Bot such groups have directed their campaigns solely against the West’s military policies.

GDR independent peace activism goes back to 1962, when 3,000 men refused induction under the new military conscription law. Two years later, the Evangelical Church convinced the government to set up a noncombatant alternative service within the military for conscientious objectors. Beginning in the late 1970s, East Germans began to organize many peace "circles," seminars, and discreet campaigns, often focusing on the militarization of daily life: military education in high schools, the sale of war toys, civil defense training, etc. In 1981, 5,000 signed a petition calling tor creation of a "Community Peace Service" as a civilian alternative to military conscription. In 1982, over 2,000 people signed the "Berlin Appeal", which called for a nuclear-free Zone in West and East Germany and for the removal of both NATO and Soviet "occupation" troops. In the same year, several hundred women signed a letter protesting a new law which called for conscription of women in times of "emergency." And "Homosexuals for Peace" was formed to promote gay rights as well as peace. (27)

Such efforts received substantial support and protection from the Evangelical Church, one of the few major institutions in the GDR which is independent of the state. The Church sponsored large peace events, such as the Dresden Forum in 1981 with 5,000 participants and the Berlin Peace workshops in 1982 and 1983 with 3-5,000 participants. (28)

Church-affiliated groups in the FRG were among the first to seek out contact and dialogue with independent peace groups in the GDR, under the auspices of inter-church relations. Some of the Greens also offered prominent support to the GDR groups: in May, 1983, six Green Party leaders held a peace demonstration in East Berlin using the slogan of GDR independent peace groups, "Swords into Plowshares." They called on both the FRG and the GDR to work for disarmament. (29) Some Grassroots activists, however, charged that the Greens supported GDR activists more as a publicity effort than as a sincere political commitment. (30)

The KOFAZ spectrum, meanwhile, argued that calls for solidarity with the GDR groups worked to divide and weaken the FRG peace movement, which should concentrate on opposing NATO’s military policies. At action conferences they consistently tried to block any statements of recognition for the GDR’s peace groups. (31)

Grassroots activists began in the 1970s to develop personal contacts with independent peace groups in the GDR; they were the first non-church groups in the FRG to do so. They shared with many GDR activists a commitment to oppose militarism in all spheres not just nuclear weapons and a vision that popular activism in East and West together could help to undermine Cold War barriers and tensions. Thus, Grassroots activists promoted "peace agreements" between individuals in die GDR and the FRG. Originally proposed by GDR peace groups, these agreements committed the signers to renounce violence and to work for peace in their own countries. (32)


During the first period of the peace movement’s growth, from 1980-82, most peace groups concentrated on educational work and legal demonstrations of popular support for peace and disarmament. About two million people signed a petition for peace called the Krefeld Appeal. Several large rallies for peace, such as those in Hamburg (June 1981) and Bonn (October 1981), helped to bring the movement to international attention. Nonviolent civil disobedience particularly blockades of US military bases became the critical factor as the movement intensified its activity in the second period, lasting from July, 1982, to November, 1983. The impetus for this shift came primarily from grassroots activists.

Beginning in 1980, many Grassroots groups began to shift their main focus from ecology to anti-militarist work. Some new Grassroots groups, e.g., in Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Augsburg, formed specifically in the context of the emerging peace movement. During this period, Grassroots groups took part in organizing the first nonviolent civil disobedience action at a US military base in the FRG: a 1981 blockade of the Ramstein Air Force base, which was organized in conjunction with the International Nonviolent March for Demilitarization. (33)

GA Berlin had focused on anti-militarist work for several years. Its greatest effort was given to the International Nonviolent March. By the end of 1981 anti-militarism had become the group’s main area of work. They concentrated largely on the foreign military presence in West Berlin itself. From 1980 on, the West Berlin group organized a series of small but highly visible protest actions against the Allied Powers’ (Britain, France, USA) annual military parade in June. In 1982, the group enjoyed a major success:
Their intensive well-publicized plans for nonviolent actions at the US military’s annual open house at the Tempelhof air base caused the military to cancel the event. (34)

GA Hannover, which in 1980 included only three people, reached a peak size in 1982 of 30-35 active members and about 50 less-active supporters. The group took a major part in protests against the "International Defense Electronics Exposition" (IDEE) which took place in Hannover in May 1982. The IDEE was a highly influential yearly exhibition for manufacturers of electronic weaponry and surveillance equipment. The Grassroots group coordinated civil disobedience actions over several days, in conjunction with vigils, rallies, concerts, and distribution of a special "IDEE newspaper" which reached tens of thousands. (35)


The first large scale nonviolent blockade of a military installation in the FRG took place at Grossengstingen, in the Swabian Alps of Baden-Württemberg, in July-August 1982. Approximately 700 people took part. The initiative and central organization of this action came primarily from members of GA Tübingen. They drew on the experiences of nonviolent actions at Gorleben, Brokdorf and Ramstein, the International Nonviolent March, and several large nonviolent actions in the US: especially Seabrook and Diablo Canyon. The form of the action at Grossengstingen in turn set the pattern for many blockade actions throughout the FRG in the following 15 months.

The Swabian Alps are an area of rural, conservative, locally oriented communities. The members of GA Tübingen, in a university town, believed that communicating with people of the surrounding villages was important, despite the difficulties. This influenced their planning and discussion of the action: they hoped to make the peace movement and the concept of civil disobedience as accessible as possible to local residents.

While one goal of the action was to hinder military operations by blocking transports to and from the base, the action was largely intended to have a symbolic, educational function. The organizers hoped to (a) make more people aware of the danger of nuclear weapons; (b) demonstrate nonviolent civil disobedience as a viable form of action; (c) practice and develop democratic forms of decision-making and collective living; and (d) communicate with soldiers, police, and local residents about nuclear disarmament and nonviolence.

The organizers of the Grossengstingen blockade wanted to demonstrate, on the one hand, that nonviolence did not equal obedience to the law and, on the other that civil disobedience could be conducted in a peaceful way. Thus they designed an action which was tightly planned and as clear as possible. As at Gorleben, participants were organized in affinity groups, which sent representatives to a speakers’ council. The blockade was conducted continuously for one week in small shifts. No other acts of civil disobedience took place aside from the blockade. In keeping with the goal of communication with the local communities, the blockade took place in conjunction with a week of educational events and discussions.

The action "handbook" was an important tool in preparing for the action—inspired by examples in the US. This provided detailed explanations of how the blockade was to be organized; articles about nonviolence, antimilitarism and the base at Grossengstingen; guidelines for how participants should conduct themselves; and information about legal procedures, equipment to bring, songs, etc.. The handbook was distributed to local organizers planning the event (36)
In the handbook, organizers laid out their ideas about nonviolent action. They emphasized an "ethical-Christian" outlook on nonviolence and avoided mention of anarchism or socialism.(For example, in discussing the origin of the affinity group concept, the organizers wrote, "The affinity group idea originally came from the Spanish Civil War" (Grossengstingen Handbuch, 31). This is both an ommission and a distortion of fact: actually it was Spanish anarchists, specifically, who organized "grupos de afinidad"—beginning many years before the Civil War.) They cited a nonviolent tradition which included the early Christians, Etienne de la Boetie, the Quakers, Thoreau, Gandhi and King. This tradition, they wrote, "teaches us to place conscience and morality above the laws of the state." (37)

Organizers asked that everyone taking part agree to certain guidelines (in particular, not to use violence against people during the action). In order to ensure that everyone follow the guidelines, they asked, additionally, that only affinity groups organized before the action take part.

Both the affinity groups and the speakers’ council made decisions by consensus. As in the Gorleben occupation, consensus-process was designed to draw on the insights of all participants and to avoid the win-lose split that voting tended to create:

Consensus does not mean that everyone considers the decision made to be the best one possible, or that they must be convinced of its success. It means that everyone has been listened to and that no one feels that his/her opinion has been misunderstood. It also means that fundamental moral values may not be violated; if that should occur, the affected person would be forced to exercise a veto and block consensus.(38)

Since most of the substantive decisions had been made by the organizers beforehand, consensus process was not put to a severe test at Grossengstingen. Thus the plan for participatory democracy at Grossengstingen had built-in limits that the organizers themselves may not have recognized.

But the Grossengstingen handbook did address some specific problems of inequality within groups, such as sexism. "Sexism is a concrete oppression and we need to approach it concretely. The handbook offered suggestions for counteracting the tendency for men to dominate discussions and group activities“.(39)

Openness was another central principle: in an effort to foster trust among all parties, secrecy was avoided in almost all situations. Plans were shared not only with the general public but with the military and the police as well. To do otherwise, organizers believed, would encourage suspicion and fear of spies among the protesters and block efforts to communicate with soldiers, the police, and others.

The action at Grossengstingen also emphasized the importance of local or regional campaigns. „Grossengstingen is not necessarily the most important site, but it is the nuclear weapons site closest to us.(40) For the organizers, personal involvement and concern (Betroffenheit) were important elements in political work: everyone, and especiaily people in the FRG, were confronted by the threat of nuclear war. Abolishing structural violence required that "we as affected persons organize ourselves now and take our interests into our own hands..." and create the forms of organization and life that we want.“ (41) In the long term, the authors continued, this approach would also be the basis for civilian-based social defense.

The effectiveness of the Grossengstingen blockade, and its implications for the peace movement as a whole, are complex questions. On the positive side, the blockade helped to broaden the sphere of activity of large sections of the peace movement: It focused attention on military bases themselves, and it demonstrated that 700 people could take part in civil disobedience without a violent confrontation with the police. It also politicized a large number of participants for whom nonviolent action was something new. Some of these people became committed activists in the Grassroots network and elsewhere.

The action’s emphasis on calmness and orderliness, whatever its limitations, was also well-calculated to win over local support. Two Freiburg activists, writing about peace actions during the following year, pointed out that people living near military bases were often suspicious of peace activists or ready to dismiss them completely. Many depended on the military for their jobs. And
unlike the struggle against nuclear power plants or other big projects, the issue here is not guarding against a coming threat, but attacking something which is already firmly anchored in people’s daily lives.

Thus local peace initiatives, when they existed, tended to be cautious. The Freiburg activists urged city dwellers to be sensitive to such concerns. "We need to recognize that it is a privilege to be able to change one’s location after an action.“ (42)

However, some participants felt that the Grossengstingen action had important weaknesses. Their comments often paralleled criticisms which autonomists and others who were not committed to nonviolence had made about the Gorleben occupation. But Grossengstingen participants made their criticisms within the context of nonviolence philosophy. A number of these criticisms were included in an "evaluation handbook" published after the Grossengstingen action.

The strict emphasis on affinity groups, some argued, resulted in an exclusionary attitude that encouraged divisiveness and bordered on elitism. "The only groups which feel included are those with a high level of education or a great deal of free time. (Farmers, for example, could not participate.“) (43) Some affinity groups also isolated themselves from other participants in the action. In certain situations, lack of communication between groups developed into tensions that the police were able to exploit. (44)

Several participants criticized the policy of complete openness toward the police. One pointed out that nonviolence could not be absolutely identified with openness: in planning a nonviolent property-destruction action such as that of the Plowshares Eight, for example, secrecy was required. The policy of openness did not automatically lead the police to act in the same way.

In practice, the police exploited openness in order to counter the blockade more effectively. At the protesters’ camp, the police were treated exactly like other visitors. As a result, they openly and freely copied down the blockade plans of the different affinity groups, and noted which tactics were planned at which time. In this way they were able to minimize the blockade’s disruptive effect. Thus the policy of complete openness interfered with one of the action’s basic goals: hindering the functioning of the military base. A better way to treat police when they visited the camp, one protester argued, would be "like a Russian soldier in the [1968] occupation of Czechoslovakia, who asks for directions.He gets no answer or a false answer and ends up on some distant cow path". (45)

(The Plowshares Eight were a group of eight Christian peace activists in the US, including Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, who entered a General Electric plant in Pennsylvania in 1980 and destroyed blueprints and nose-cones für nuclear warheads. Their action received close attention from many peace activists in the FRG, particularly religious ones.
The nonviolent resistance by the Czechoslovakian people to the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 is a model closely studied by Grassroots activists and others in the FRG who are interested in social defense.)

A common tenet of nonviolence philosophy is that one should distinguish between the person and the role of a political opponent. But in trying to counteract the tendency to see the police only as opponents, some participants argued, the blockaders at Grossengstingen offen ended up ignoring (and thereby accepting) the political role of the police entirely. This failure to acknowledge the police as political opponents led to a blurring of the conflict. Many erroneously regarded the police’s friendly or "gentle" manner during the action as a successful result of this policy:

A widespread feeling developed that we must not "endanger" the "good relations" with the police. Therefore every kind of escalation and "provocation" should be avoided. In the end, "provocative actions" were taken to mean everything which had not been done in the first few days of the blockade, without considering whether it fitted our concept of nonviolence or not. (46)

Perhaps behind this attitude, one person argued, lay a conception of nonviolent action solely as persuasion: if we can simply convince the police, the soldiers, etc. through our actions that they are in error, then we can effect lasting change. This conception ignored the fact "that there are groups in society which have a firm interest" in protecting their privilege and maintaining the status quo.(47)

Such attitudes, these critics argued, did not represent a misplaced faith in nonviolence, but rather a misunderstanding of nonviolent action itself. As the members of one affinity group put it: We have followed a strategy of avoiding conflict. But nonviolence means dramatization of conflicts." And as another participant wrote about the policy of "openness":

Openness must not be confused with being sweet and nice (Lieb-Kind-Tuerei)! Openness can definitely mean, for example, that we tell an unpleasant policeman: "I don’t want to talk to you." Openness does not mean blurring differences or avoiding conflicts that have a substantive basis. Openness means the opposite: that we argue, that we make it clear, for example, why we reject certain functions of the police. (48)

By responding to the demonstrators generally in a friendly or "gentle" manner, the police were able to exploit this attitude. Sometimes they confused blockaders by telling them that they were violating the action handbook or that they were using tactics out of line with the other groups. In particular, they succeeded in playing groups off against each other by raising the specter of "disruptors" trying to sabotage the action. Some demonstrators apparently trusted the word of the police more than that of their fellow protesters.(49)


In the aftermath of the Grossengstingen action in the Summer of 1982, people across the FRG suddenly became interested in nonviolence and civil disobedience. In Heidelberg, for example, there were about ten affinity groups by the end of 1982, and 22 groups by the fall of 1983. Including "close sympathizers", this represented a total of about 600 people. (50)

In Stuttgart, the number of nonviolent action groups zoomed from one to over forty, and they were coordinated through a city-wide speakers’ council. (51) In all, there were perhaps 1-2,000 affinity groups in the Federal Republic and West Berlin by the fall of 1983. (52) To meet the new demand for nonviolence trainings across the FRG, new trainings collectives formed in many cities, and the number of nonviolence trainers swelled to a peak of about 300-500." (Erich Bachman, first nonviolence trainer in the FRG, estimated that there were 300 trainers in 1983. Heinz Puster quoted Ulrich Wohland estimating 500. (Interview with Erich Bachman; Puster, "Ziele, Inhalte...," p. 57—see Note 26.))

The new peace groups sought points of protest locally or regionally. In response to a call to action sent out by participants in the Grossengstingen blockade, political actions took place in over 50 cities on December 12, 1982, the third anniversary of NATO’s decision to deploy cruise and Pershing. There were nonviolent civil disobedience actions in thirty cities most of them blockades of nuclear weapons facilities. On Easter Weekend in 1983, civil disobedience took place at twenty locations.

In June 1983, peace groups within the "independent" spectrum created an informational "Civil Disobedience Coordinating Office", headed by longtime Grassroots activist Dieter Schöffmann and funded by the Green Party. This office published a monthly newsletter (Civil Disobedience), offered support to local groups, and helped to coordinate actions across the FRG. Its formation reflected the growing cooperation in some regions between Grassroots activists and other leftists within the peace movement. (53)

During the summer of 1983, peace camps were organized at a number of locations and used as a base for further actions. During the Peace Action Week in mid-October, tens of thousands took part in blockades and related forms of civil disobedience. Not all of these actions followed the pattern set at Grossengstingen. In a number of cases, protesters tried to counteract the movement’s narrow focus on nuclear weapons. Protesters in Freiburg, for example, blockaded a munitions factory to emphasize that militarism is perpetuated not only by government decisions, but also by "capitalist profit interests and workers’ concern for wages only." (54) Protesters blockaded the facilities of a Hamburg coffee import firm and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation in Bonn. Both actions drew attention to the FRG’s economic exploitation and militarization of "Third World" countries. (55) Such actions, however, tended to be small and to receive less attention than the blockades that focused on nuclear weapons.

Some of the actions, too, went beyond symbolism of the Grossengstingen blockade in a concerted effort to directly impede the military apparatus. Grassroots activists cited the "mass" blockade at Bremerhaven on October 13-14 as a prime example of this. This action involved over 3000 people and was organized by a broad coalition of traditional and independent peace groups. The police response ("in part quite brutal") indicates that the authorities perceived the action as a greater threat than the Grossengstingen blockade.(56)
In the majority of cases, however, what was careful experimentation at Grossengstingen became a ready-made formula for political action: more or less symbolic blockades (participants themselves were often vague about their own goals in undertaking them) targeting US nuclear weapons bases with nonviolence training, affinity groups, speakers’ councils, and consensus process.

Some advocates of nonviolent action applauded the use of the Grossengstingen model. Wolfgang Sternstein, a non-anarchist liberal oriented toward the "Ebert school" of nonviolence theory, regarded civil disobedience strictly as a symbolic act and a way to bring the government "back" within democratic limits. He helped to organize an action at the NATO’s European Headquarters in Stuttgart in December 1982, in which protesters conducted a symbolic blockade for twelve minutes every hour. Sternstein praised the emphasis on affinity groups, the orderly and disciplined progression of blockade "shifts" each hour, and the cordial relations with the police. "An escalation toward violent conflicts," he wrote, "was only averted through the prudent conduct of the police and the affinity groups", which quickly broke off the action when tensions mounted in the late afternoon. (57)

Thus the proliferation of blockade actions cut both ways for the Grassroots movement and for the peace movement as a whole. On the one hand, it meant that more and more people were gaining new experience with nonviolent action, were going beyond the boundaries of legal protest, and were symbolically withdrawing their loyalty from the State’s military program. It represented an unprecedented extension of extra-parliamentary protest in the FRG and a proliferation of Grassroots influence beyond anything in the network’s history. On the other hand, as it spread "nonviolent action" was largely divorced from the Grassroots network’s radical content and goals. It was "ritualized" in ways that ultimately contributed to the peace movement’s collapse after November 1983.

One of the most extreme cases of ritualization of the blockade approach took place at Mutlangen in September 1983. A group of 150 nationally-prominent activists joined the members of the Mutlangen summer peace camp for a blockade of the nuclear weapons base there. Here, as at Grossengstingen, the authorities used a "gentle" approach in an effort to defuse the protest. On the day before the blockade, the US Army transferred nuclear missiles from Mutlangen to another base at Schwäbisch-Gmünd. This completed, the police gave the protesters wide lattitude for conducting the well-publicized action. Most of the blockaders celebrated the "success" with which confrontation was avoided. When some of the participants proposed actions outside the boundaries set by the police, these suggestions were vetoed by other members of the action. As writers for Grassroots Revolution pointed out, not only did this represent a serious misunderstanding of nonviolent struggle, it also violated a basic principle of grassroots democracy the autonomy of affinity groups.(58)

Grassroots influence in the larger peace movement was limited because: (a) Some in the peace movement were greatly concerned to keep even illegal protests within "respectable" limits; and (b) most of the protesters had only a tenuous connection to the Grassroots network, and only a cursory knowledge of nonviolence philosophy, let alone nonviolent anarchism. Many groups, one Hannover activist commented, called themselves nonviolent "because they were afraid of violence not because of their convictions, not because of political considerations." (59) Many people— supporters as well as opponents— equated "nonviolence with passivity, and "nonviolent action" with blockades. "Blockades," meanwhile, referred to a range of actions, including legal demonstrations. (60)


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