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Journal of Social History 38.3 (2005) 776-780

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Protest Movements in 1960s West Germany: A Social History of Dissent and Democracy. By Nick Thomas (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2003. xvi plus 277 pp. $79.95 [cloth], $26.95 [paper]).

A scholarly research literature is only slowly developing around the contexts and significance of 1968, either country by country or on a general European front. The thirtieth anniversary produced a couple of major conference volumes and a wide range of commentary by former sixty-eighters, together with a few substantial monographs.1 A reasonably dense historiography has also begun retrieving the intellectual genealogies of the movements concerned, as for instance in the extensive literature on the contexts of the British New Left from the mid-1950s. But in contrast with the literature on the United States for the same period, which is far more richly developed in scholarly terms, these European discussions are still dominated to a striking degree by the writings of the participants themselves, whether as nostalgia or disavowal. Indeed, the most complex historical works have tended to focus less on the events per se than on Sixty-Eight's subsequent histories as memory and myth.2 For Germany there is certainly an extensive literature focusing around the so-called "new social movements" and the prehistories of The Greens, most of it produced within sociology or political science. With respect to the student movement, Wolfgang Kraushaar's works have also become an indispensable resource.3 But there is still remarkably little in English in the form of an overall analysis or a detailed narrative account.

In this well researched study of extra-parliamentary protest movements, Nick Thomas sets out to remedy this deficit, situating his analysis in the now well established context of the Federal Republic's democratization in the 1960s. In the complex conjuncture of the middle of that decade, as the heightened expectations of an increasingly affluent consumer-citizenry itched against the authoritarian habits of an exhausted Christian Democratic governing culture, the student-based activism of the self-styled "Extra-Parliamentary Opposition" [End Page 776] (APO) began crystallizing a direct challenge to the given forms of democratic consensus. A number of enabling conditions encouraged this coalescence of dissent. One came from a building up of demands during the early sixties for a more vigorous pluralism and a liberalizing of the public sphere, which registered the concerted impatience of the so-called "1945ers," those cohorts of intellectuals who came of age during the foundation years of the Federal Republic and were now demanding their voice.4 A second was the rising pressure of greater permissiveness and the loosening of social mores, itself associated with the growth of a youth-based consumer culture of pleasure and entertainment.5 Above all, thirdly, the great higher education expansion produced a far-reaching ferment in the universities. Thomas touches on each of these processes, but focuses them through the particular frictions arising from the unresolved legacies of the Nazi past, which increasingly dramatized the broader socio-cultural tensions of the period.

Thomas takes an appropriately broad view of his subject, including in his definition of protest "all liberal, left-liberal, social democratic, or socialist organizations, coalitions and individuals engaged in oppositional activity outside the parliamentary process that took a critical stance toward the parliamentary system, parliamentary parties, or government policy," while stopping short of terrorist strategy and armed acts (p. 8). After a cursory look at the APO's origins in the period 1945-64 (32 pages), the bulk of the book examines the dynamics of radicalization during 1965-67 (74 pages) and 1967-69 (70 pages), before closing with two chapters on the 1970s, "The Descent into Terrorism" (18 pages) and "The Women's Movement" (16 pages). The two central parts observe a common structure, each with two chapters on "University Reform" and "The Vietnam Campaign," followed by a discussion of "Conspiracies and Counter-Conspiracies?" and a chapter on the pivotal acts of violence respectively driving forward the radicalization—namely, the street execution...


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