How do social movements begin

New social movements

1. Concept and general characteristics

The term New Social Movements (NSB) caught on in the FRG in the early 1980s. It refers to political protest groups and social movements that emerged in the wake of the extra-parliamentary → opposition and in particular the student movement from the late 1960s. The adjective "new" marks a temporal and qualitative demarcation from the labor movement as a prototype of the "old" social movement. The student movement forms a bridge between this and the NSB. Anti-capitalist and above all revolutionary positions are no longer formative for the NSB. In contrast, the NSB and the student movement share criticism of bureaucratic forms of organization. The NSB combine radical democratic demands with the goal of solidarity, self-determined ways of life and the improvement of living conditions. Thematic focal points of important individual movements are civil and human rights, the emancipation of women, ecology, peace and disarmament, self-managed forms of life and work as well as hunger and misery in the third world. The NSB environment also includes self-help groups in the health and social sector, gay and lesbian groups, squatters and militant "autonomous" groups.

2. NSB in the old federal states - opposition groups in the GDR

While the NSB based in the West used elementary democratic rights to enforce their goals, the opposition groups and later citizen movements in the → GDR were primarily concerned with enforcing these rights. As a result, the transferability of the term NSB to the opposition groups in the GDR is controversial, albeit not to be completely dismissed.

The supporters of the NSB come predominantly from the younger and middle age groups with above-average educational qualifications. The most important recruiting basis is the so-called new middle class. Left post materialists are clearly overrepresented.

The organizational diversity and decentralization are characteristic of the structure of the NSB. You have developed complex networks that include loose, informal groups at the local level, but also hierarchically structured nationwide member organizations and transnational associations. Typically, NSBs lack formal representative bodies and decision-making procedures, as well as clear membership criteria.

The repertoire of actions ranges from information meetings and lobbying to → demonstrations and forms of civil disobedience to the use of force. The largest protests gathered hundreds of thousands of people; Participation in the collection of signatures against individual large-scale technical and industrial projects and against the NATO retrofitting decision was even greater.

In view of the massive political surveillance and repression, no mass movements critical of the regime or even fundamentally oppositional movements were initially able to establish themselves in the GDR. The beginnings of the opposition groups and the topic-oriented networks that later became differentiated (especially on peace, human rights and ecology) were in the 1970s. At first there were only small, local and informal circles. Encouraged by the policy of perestroika in the USSR, the existing groups broadened and networked from the mid-1980s. The inability to undertake political reforms and the deterioration in general living conditions strengthened groups critical of the regime. Individual repression measures, which often only became known to the broader population via Western media, gave the opposition groups, which were now more open and decisive, more support in the population. This was evident in the protests against the manipulation of the local elections in the spring of 1989 and the echo of the New Forum, whose lists in autumn 1989 included around 200,000 people within two months.

The spectrum of opposition groups ranged from undogmatic Marxists and anarchists to liberal conservatives. The majority of the activists, however, were reform-oriented socialists who kept a critical distance from the capitalist West. Like the NSB, the members of the opposition groups and later civic movements came predominantly from the younger generations with high educational qualifications. There were also people whose career advancement was blocked for political reasons.

Many of these groups moved in the vicinity of the Protestant → Church, which offered infrastructural help (especially rooms) and, however, only limited protection against state access. During and after the "Wende" there was a sudden expansion in the number and size of the groups that are now to be addressed as citizens' movements. The most important ones emerged: New Forum, Initiative for Peace and Human Rights, Green Party and Green League, Democracy Now, Independent Women's Association, United Left.

Up until the fall of 1989, the opposition groups had no direct effects on individual policy areas or even on the overall structure of the political-institutional structure. Their real meaning lay in their mere existence as a visible sign of resistance to state paternalism and arbitrariness. However, they played a decisive role in bringing about the "turnaround" and influencing the course of events, especially in the initial phase. Representatives of the citizens' movements were at the forefront of many protest activities during this phase, initiated the "round tables", took on functions in government and administration and were finally represented as → members of the People's Chamber after the first free elections.

3. The development since German unification

The unification of the two German states had little effect on the NSB in the west. What is striking, however, is the emergence of militant, xenophobic right-wing radicalism. This is stronger in the east than in the west, but has provoked a massive countermovement here and there.

Already in the course of 1990 the citizens' movements suffered a rapid loss of importance. Within a few months they have shrunk to small kernels. Newly created groups, some of which were supported by state funds (for example within the framework of employment promotion at the time), have largely aligned themselves with the NSB in the West. Overall, however, there was no merging of the groups in East and West.

The pressing economic and social problems in the new federal states have meant that traditional "bread and butter issues" overshadowed the concerns of the NSB there. With a slight delay, these issues also gained weight in the old federal states. But apart from a brief peak in 2004, these issues did not lead to mass mobilizations. On the other hand, classic points of criticism of the NSB - above all nuclear energy and infrastructure projects, especially in the transport sector - came to the fore again. There was also increasing criticism of the established parties, the wisdom of experts and the formal planning and decision-making procedures. In the public perception from 2010 the "angry citizens" received an unprecedented level of attention.

In addition to the still existing NSB, a heterogeneous spectrum of groups and movements critical of globalization has developed since the late 1990s. On the one hand, many demands of the NSB are bundled and asserted above all on a transnational level and against international government institutions. On the other hand, questions of the global economic and financial order as well as the transparency and democratic control of international politics came to the fore. The public appearances of these groups mostly take place on the occasion of international summits and intergovernmental conferences. Independently of this, national, continental and global social forums have been held since 2001. Alternatives to established politics will be discussed under the motto "Another world is possible". In the meantime, some demands (e.g. the financial transaction tax) of the initially mostly ridiculed critics of globalization have also found recognition among representatives of established politics.

The NSB have not achieved any far-reaching changes in the basic political and institutional structure. In contrast, they were able to influence individual policy areas - such as → energy policy, → environmental policy and women's policy. At the level of specific individual conflicts, in addition to the few successes of the NSB, there are many partial successes, but also significant failures. The effects of the NSB on → political culture should not be underestimated. The NSB have made an important contribution to cultural liberalization, in particular to weakening authoritarian thought patterns, acceptance of democratic values ​​and greater tolerance towards lifestyles that deviate from the norm.

Source: Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 7th, updated Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer VS 2013. Author of the article: Dieter Rucht