New Social Movements

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Gisela Kaplan

Social movements in Europe are a phenomenon of the modern era. Indeed, although there were many movements before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they were not called movements or analyzed as such because they generally failed to be based on important seminal ideas or ideologies. Instead, they tended to focus on specific grievances or specific goals. Such actions lacked any conscious intention of overturning the status quo. It is worth remembering that the Latin word revolutio signified the restoration of order, not its overthrow (as turning about, a return of the same). The term gained its new meaning only after the French Revolution. Nevertheless, in social history it can be very important to ascertain when and how a new idea started and so be able to answer the question why it became relevant and significant at a certain time in history.

The French Revolution (1789–1791) created an important baseline for modern social movements because of two very important ideas. One revolutionary idea argued that vested interests were not in the interest of the people and therefore should not be the foundation of the state. While the French Revolution did not succeed in overturning class divisions it succeeded in challenging the interests of the aristocracy and, in particular, their political power. It also challenged the church, which provided the other most powerful representatives of parliament. The "third estate," the people, were hence to be considered as gaining new status in the politics of their nation. The second important idea, originating in seventeenth-century England, discredited, then to be later supported by the French Revolution, was to issue a Declaration of Human Rights. The important element of this declaration was the assumption that people had rights rather than just duties and that they had equal rights, no matter what their status might have been at birth. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's point well before the Revolution that "man is born free but everywhere he is in chains" referred to the social and political ills of his time, as he perceived them. However, to "unshackle" each individual, as revolutionary idealism desired, proved to be difficult in practice. This was so partly because vested interests are not given up without a fight and partly because the broad restructuring of Europe in the nineteenth century favored a politics of oppression, domination, and imperialsim, fought out also in two world wars and driven by fascism. It took well into the second half of the twentieth century before democracies in western Europe were on a firm footing and the ideals proposed before and during the French Revolution could be raised again.


The first events that we may see as precursors of social movements occurred in the seventeenth century, a century of great instability and of a particularly long-drawn-out war (the Thirty Years' War, 1618–1648). These first movements of the 1640s and 1650s questioned the authority of the aristocracy and the kings. Sometimes more generally referred to as the "seventeeth-century crisis," they affected England, France, the Spanish Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Poland. They had in common that, for fleeting and yet impressive moments, the world turned upside down and traditionally accepted social orders were suddenly overturned. When, in Catalonia and Naples, the populace took to the streets to fight against the aristocracy, led in Naples by a mere fisherman (Masaniello), contemporaries felt that these disturbances were qualitatively different from the riots of years earlier.

More ominous to the aristocracy (and even the common people) of Europe than this were the events simultaneously taking shape in England. Here it was not just a revolt but a battle cry by radical clergy and learned burghers, who claimed that great changes were required in England, not just in politics but across the entire spectrum of society. The rebellion succeeded insofar as it led a king to the executioner's block. The beheading of Charles I of England in 1649 stirred an immediate controversy, in which completely new concepts were debated by a small but powerful minority. Groups like the Diggers and the Levelers advocated something akin to a public health insurance system, maintenance of common land, communal life as opposed to individual ownership, and a participatory democracy based on the idea of equality. Between 1647 and 1649 the Levelers drafted an Agreement of the People, a type of constitution that was to form the basis for the American Declaration of Independence (1776)—perhaps the best index of the "modernity" of their ideas. By 1660 the Levelers and their ideas had been driven underground, but they would find an echo in the ideals of the French Revolution, which would change social and political thinking in Europe forever.


Large-scale unrest arose again with the Enlightenment period and the French Revolution. In the eighteenth century the French philosophes as well as English and Scottish thinkers developed the confidence to think that everything could be ascertained and explained by reason. The belief that human institutions and systems of government could be rationally analyzed, assessed, and reformed gave new justification for overturning the status quo. One group receptive to these ideas was the bourgeoisie, which emerged along with a new economic system and thinking: capitalism. In England and France, in particular, economic developments had led to the strengthening of a group of people who did not fit well the traditional three–tiered society composed of the king, the church, and the people. The "third estate" had consisted of powerless peasants, but the growth of cities and of trade in western Europe saw the rise of a class who were city dwellers, businessmen, merchants, traders, professionals (particularly lawyers). Increasingly they felt ignored by a political system entirely run by church and aristocracy. The bourgeoisie demanded more space, more freedom, and greater participation.

While some scholars no longer view the French Revolution as primarily class-based, in the classic interpretation it was led and motivated by the bourgeoisie while the common people of Paris and rural France were coopted to secure the numbers. A charter of human rights was declared, embodying the principles of the Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité that were the catchwords of the Revolution. Maximilien de Robespierre, later executed, pronounced the right to work, and the first feminists argued for equal rights for women. Despite countless backlashes after the Revolution, the brief revolutionary Reign of Terror, and Napoleon's dictatorship, the idea and expression of individual rights were to become the ethical benchmark for Europe and later for the industrialized world in general. Moreover, the forms that political action took during the Revolution defined the shape of social movements for the next century and more.

Several European uprisings and revolutions took place after the French Revolution—one set between 1830 and 1831 and another, involving large numbers of people across all of Europe, in 1848, fought over the principles of individual and national rights. These revolutions were crushed, but the social movements associated with them began to address new issues, no longer just those of a politically frustrated bourgeoisie. By the mid-nineteenth century the industrial revolution had taken off in many western European countries and, in the advanced case of England, had shown its first stark fatalities. A new social group made its entry into the history books: the factory workers. Their often appalling living and working conditions were described by Karl Marx's collaborator, Friedrich Engels, in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. The labor movement coalesced around the struggle to improve these conditions and establish basic rights for workers. This movement, influenced by the writings of Marx and Engels and fanned by the socialist parties of western Europe and then Russia, put forward the most popular and powerful program for political and social change between 1870 and World War I. Its influential powers as a liberatory force for the working classes and as an advocate for an experimental egaliatrianism in Europe began to decline in the 1920s, due to rising fascism and, in the East, to Stalin's totalitarianism.

One other major movement developed in the nineteenth century—the women's movement. Women's movements emerged at various times and in various places throughout Europe, culminating in most western European countries (led by England) in the suffragette movement toward the end of the nineteenth century. Suffragettes demanded the vote, as Olympe de Gouge had during the French Revolution, changes in property laws and marriage laws, and a right to work.

For most Scandinavian countries, the cause of women's rights was associated with an almost continuous agenda of social change throughout the nineteenth century. In Sweden in 1810, well before anywhere else, women gained permission to enter trade and sales occupations. In 1845 they obtained the right to inherit property. Other milestones followed, including the right to attend universities as fully enrolled students in 1873. Although many of these rights were implemented before the rise of a significant social movement, its emergence in the late nineteenth century spurred even more change. Before it died down in the 1920s, divorce by mutual consent was made possible (1915), women gained the vote (1919), and a new family law of 1920 abolished the husband's guardianship of wife and children. Norway was the first sovereign state in Europe to give full citizenship rights to women, a process that began in 1901 and ended with full suffrage for all women in 1913. As early as 1908 the country passed a law granting women equal pay for equal work. Many of these improvements, including amendments to family law that granted women rights to control and inherit property, were the result of a widespread suffrage movement which had been active since the mid-1880s.

Another noteworthy case of very early consideration of women's rights and issues was Italy, despite its strict Catholicism. Italy had developed a strong bourgeois city culture during the Renaissance, when women filled with distinction several of the most important chairs in the universities of Italy. This past became a model for Italian women much later. After the unification of Italy in 1870, women played an active role in politics, whether in grassroots workers' movements or (usually) on the political left, even before the existence of an organized women's movement. Before the elections of 1897, the socialist Anna Kuliscioff gained fame by calling for an end to the dehumanizing working conditions of 1.5 million Italian women. Anna Maria Mozzoni, by contrast, stressed the need for the liberation of women. As early as 1864 she advocated the right to divorce, and in 1881 she founded a league for the promotion of women's interests. In 1897 the first National Women's Union was formed in Rome, followed by other local and national organizations. One organization, Unione Donne Italiane, founded in 1944, existed throughout the post–World War II years and retained an important voice even at the time of the "new" women's movement of the 1970s.

Since universal suffrage was eventually achieved in all European countries, the issue of citizenship receded into the background, even though its importance was not entirely lost. Almost naturally, because of the idea of women's moral superiority that was common among the movements, many of the national women's movements joined together prior to World War I and became internationally associated in peace movements. Renewed feminist and libertarian ideas were proposed between the world wars, but they were largely confined to the brief period between the end of World War I and the rise of fascism. Renewed feminist and liberationist ideas were proposed long before the two world wars. Although their expression was driven underground by fascism, ideas of earlier generations never died and resurfaced in the second-part of the twentieth century. Historically, then, with a couple of exceptions, it is rather incorrect to conceive of the women's movements of the late 1960s to 1980s in Europe as "second" or "new" women's movements. It is possible to trace back feminist ideas to the nineteenth century or even earlier.

Europe has had a dual legacy of revolutions and authoritarian traditions, and throughout the modern era these forces have been played out against each other. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tradition prevailed more often than radicalism, but progressive ideas and the social movements associated with them flourished in particular periods. It is impossible to understand how the "new" social movements after World War II would have taken place without the humanism of the Renaissance and the revolutions attempting to unshackle the chains that traditions, vested interests, and even the church had foisted upon the individual. It is especially difficult to think of the new social movements without the Enlightenment and the rise of the ideological left, with its dreams of equality, liberty, and a social contract to gain and maintain personal freedom. In a sense, the new social movements are the logical extension of the long-drawn-out Enlightenment projects. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution made slavery and serfdom unsavory, inequality problematic, and a self-sustaining wage a basic right.


The "newness" of the social movements after World War II has to do with the focus of their grievances. There had always been uprisings by poor farmers and poor urban dwellers in times of famine but their revolt was usually not aimed at the political and social fabric. By the early twentieth century, Europe had also become familiar with protests by workers against bosses and by the working class against the ruling classes. However, it was entirely new to see protests for specific issues forging alliances across class and even political parties. The old revolutionary dictum of justice, equality, and liberty for all was supplemented by a new awareness of one's neighbor, community, and world. Indeed, the new movements forged, temporarily at least, a new sense of community and new identities. The threat of nuclear armament, the many problems of the environment, and, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the perceived threats of globalization, repeatedly gave rise to strong protests and to protest movements. Other new concerns of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries were movements concerned with celebrating and wishing to protect individuals and individual differences. Laws were challenged as unjust if they were found to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of sex, age, able-bodiedness, sexual orientation, ethnic background, religion, or any other social markers. In other words, from the 1960s to the 1980s, in particular, but also thereafter, the new movements were concerend with turning the table on society and its norms and values.

After World War II, a number of movements arose that some thought were qualitatively different, to be discussed in their own right, and thus should be labeled "new." Others have claimed that these new movements were really continuing and concluding unfinished business of the nineteenth century. The emphasis on historical processes characteristic of social history would support the latter view, at least to some extent. The French Revolution and the European working-class movements were certainly precursors of the various women's movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most autonomous women's movements of the postwar era were associated with the left. Some called themselves marxist and others socialist. The Korean War and the Vietnam War also brought into sharp relief the role Western societies played in the affairs of people far from their own legitimate bases of power. Through their activities, the new movements addressed questions of citizenship, the possible trajectory of personal freedom, and the nature of the communal good to which they hoped to contribute.

The first set of these movements of the 1950s and 1960s involved the labor movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, nuclear disarmament, and the student movements. These movements were characterized by claims concerning class, race, anti-imperialism, and the power of the state. Later they were to be called the "classical" movements, while the movements of the 1970s and 1980s are generally referred to as the "new" social movements. The new social movements included the peace movement, the environmental movement, the women's movements, and the disability movement. While these two sets of movements have been distinguished by different names, certain continuities in social criticism, driven by a desire for a new orientation of society at large, can be observed. All "new" movements went through several phases, from a preparatory incubatory stage (usually in the mid-1960s) to a revolutionary phase (from the end of the 1960s to the mid-1970s), ebbing to reformist phases thereafter and to a diffuse phase of pragmatic politics from the mid-1980s to the present.

The features specific to the new movements included, first, a new identity politics that was defined not by class but by the self-identification of the movements' members as women, as gay, as disabled, and so on. Second, such identity politics made it possible to combine forces with groups whose individuals were formerly separated across class lines and at times also across political affiliations.

The economic and welfare context was also important. Notably, the new movements occurred within a context of full employment. For the fifteen years between 1948 and 1963 unemployment in most European countries averaged around 1.9 percent or rose, at the most, to about 5 percent. In short, this period was one of "entrepreneurial euphoria," uninterrupted by crises. The postwar years also saw an expansion of the welfare state. Service industries underwent a boom period and heralded the growth of the service sector throughout the remaining decades of the twentieth century. Sweden was hailed as the model welfare state, and most European countries had some policies in place to protect the individual from personal hardship and to offer support services of some kind for specific life situations. There were two additional factors, at least for the onset of the postwar women's movements. One had to do with the fact that during World War II women were asked to fill men's places in manufacture and most other civilian positions once thought to be the prerogative of men. The same women were not always entirely satisfied with returning to home duties. Their daughters were well aware of the tensions and conflicts and took up the fight that their mothers could not or would not fight. A second decisive factor was provided by an unlikely source: the pharmaceutical industry. The invention and sale of birth-control pills in the early 1960s delivered into women's hands freedom from worry about unwanted pregnancies. A side effect of the pill was a promise for women of greater social freedom, even the option of having careers without premature pregnancies. Family planning became a new field of service support for women and young couples.

The impetus for the movements hence did not arise from hunger and want. Germany experienced an economic "miracle" and was for many years in a state of boom. Even economically troubled Spain experienced its own "Spanish miracle" in industry. Between 1950 and 1956 its industrial production tripled, and in the 1960s Spain's industrial growth rate was exceeded only by that of Japan. Not all European countries were in quite such a privileged position. Portugal was still poor. Greece was also predominantly an agrarian society, with more than 50 percent of the labor force still employed in agriculture in 1960. But here and in Portugal the new movements were considerably weaker. In that sense, the movements were the last vestiges of an unusually long and comforting economic summer. The quest for careers, independence, and fulfillment of one's abilities fell on fertile ground. Shortages of labor, expressed in guest-worker conscription and a rising demand for female labor, created favorable circumstances for discussions of women's equality with men in the workforce.

However, crises fell upon the movements in almost all countries with a change of economic fortunes. By the early 1970s inflation was the chief concern, having jumped from 2 or 3 percent in the immediate postwar decades to over 10 percent in most and over 20 percent in some European countries. These increasing signs of an imminent crisis were coupled with fiscal disasters in 1973 and 1974, caused by the oil embargo. Stock-market declines greater than those in the Wall Street crash of 1929–1932 were recorded. From 1976 to 1983 unemployment for women in member states of the European Economic Community rose by 15 percent, as compared to a rise in unemployment for men of only 0.6 percent. In all, a total of 7 million women in eighteen western European countries lost their jobs in less than a decade.

Student movements. The influential American civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had substantial repercussions throughout Europe. Then, in the 1960s, student movements and hippies created an atmosphere of general upheaval against the state. The entire basis of western European life came under review. Student demonstrations took place in Madrid and Barcelona as early as 1965. Like other countries, Spain had massively enlarged its educational institutions, opening eleven new universities since the 1950s. Britain had opened a total of twenty-eight, and throughout Europe the number of student enrollments had risen astronomically, growing by more than sevenfold in some countries in the span of less than fifteen years. The student movement, particularly in France, was strongly associated with the union movement and to some extent (as in Italy) with political parties of the left. Ironically, the German student uprising of 1968 originated from the Free University of Berlin, the one West German university which had been founded after the war as an explicitly democratic institution. The students understood that the ideals were not translated into practice.

The student uprisings in France, Italy, and West Germany were not just campus revolts but uprisings against the establishment and the state generally. Ultimately, they were not just "student" uprisings but represented the discontent of an entire generation, the generation mostly born after World War II and the Holocaust. They were not going to take the lead from their parents and grandparents, who, they felt, had given them no reason for pride. They wanted to see substantial changes, not just at the level of university administration, but in society at large so that they would see democracy in practice, transparent politics, and a complete abolition of traditional social hierarchies. Their influence on other movements was significant, partly because some of the same people who had been active in the student movement would later emerge in one of the other movements.

The "new" women's movements. The new wave of women's movements arose simultaneously in European countries, as in the United States, Australia, and Canada, often within just a few years of each other and, at times, without knowledge of the others. In national analyses, one finds quite often that specific triggers for the mass-scale movements were unique to one country. For instance, Norway had the resistance movement of the Lapps, who were fighting for self-determination (as they were also in Finland and Sweden). Denmark had a movement against joining the European Community that led to the so-called people's movement against the EEC in 1972. Finland's first movement for women's liberation occurred in the context of Finnish nationalism and calls for secession from Russia. In Berlin, it was the visit of the shah of Iran, general imperialism, and the fight against outmoded institutions that gave rise to the student movement there, and this merged almost seamlessly into the autonomous German women's liberation movement. In all the above-named cases women actively participated in these movements and hence learned to organize politically. It was easier to shift people from one cause to another than to mobilize politically inactive or inexperienced groups. But such a national analysis cannot account for the enormous similarity and the timing of movements across national and continental boundaries.

It is generally agreed that the so-called new women's movements in western Europe began in France and West Germany around 1968. By the end of the international Decade of Women (1985), every western European country had had some exposure to women's protests and demands, sometimes leading to a drastic revision of thinking on individual liberty and political participation. In 1988 leading women declared that the European Community was, legislatively, the most progressive political community for women in the world. Credit for these advances was primarily due to the tens of thousands of women who developed a keen eye for strategy, for the impact of protest, and for political organization. They mobilized in sometimes spectacular protest events (Reclaim the Night, smile strikes, or the dramatic strike actions by 90 percent of Icelandic women, refusing to do their chores). However, the European political powers were also keen to take some credit for this apparent achievement. They argued that the foundations for gender-fair legislation were laid in 1957 in the Treaty of Rome, which sealed the formation of the EEC. The Treaty of Rome espoused the principle of economic parity and fair competition, and this included the rights and costs of female employment. Equalization was to avoid any distortion of competition stemming from a lower-paid female workforce. The second wave of the movement happened well after these politico-economic European networks were in place. Although grassroots movements did not at first take much notice of this European framework, nor did officialdom take note of grassroots movements, both levels of activity moved in the same direction of change.

All women in western Europe are now formally equal before the law, a right that in most countries existed before the second-wave movements started. They all have a right to equal opportunity in education and to careers once thought to be the sole domain of men. The problem was, and partly still is, that the gap between formal legal and political equality and daily practice has not been entirely bridged. Thus a culture of dissent and protest spread throughout western Europe and, to a point, became respectable. Such a culture of dissent was stronger in central Europe than in the Scandinavian countries, where much had been achieved in a quiet step-by-step program of reform over most of the twentieth century. The protests were nearly absent in countries behind the Iron Curtain because women's demands so much fought for in the West had already been fulfilled, in a fashion.

Abortion and the women's movement. Abortion was clearly the issue around which the greatest support in the women's movement was collected in the 1970s. Women marched in their tens of thousands, including many women who otherwise took no active part in the women's-movement activities. Abortion and reproductive technologies have been themes since the nineteenth century. New antiabortion and anticontraception regulations, perceived as necessary to boost populations, were enforced either toward the end of the nineteenth century, or at the beginning of the twentieth. Most western European countries introduced antiabortion laws for the first time in the twentieth century. Antiabortion laws occurred at a time of nationalism and racism, fascism, and preparation for war. Many countries had criminalized abortion by the time World War I broke out in 1914, and several others, such as Germany and Italy, had tightened the laws by the 1920s or 1930s, introducing strict penalties and long prison sentences for offenders and for those who volunteered to become accessories.

In such areas as sexuality, contraceptives, and family counselling, the Scandinavian countries, except for Norway, were in general far ahead of other Western nations, both in legislation and in policy initiatives. The issue of abortion was also decided earlier there and usually with far less public uproar than in other countries. Thus, in Scandinavia, abortion never became the catalyst for women's movements that it did in other western European nations. Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark liberalized their abortion laws in the interwar period (1918–1939), Finland in 1951, and Norway in 1965. Abortion on demand was introduced in Denmark in 1973 and in Sweden in 1975. One of the main reasons, one suspects, why Sweden never developed a strong new feminist movement is that most demands that brought women together in other countries had actually been met in Sweden.

Elsewhere in Europe, the case was different. Although the abortion issue was hardly new in Europe, it was "novel" again in the 1960s and 1970s because the issue began to acquire new meaning through the rise of the women's movement, which viewed the right to abortion as a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Eastern European countries provide a useful contrast. Abortion was freely available and encouraged, but in the absence of methods to prevent conception.

Gay liberation. The new gay liberation movement started some years after the women's movements in Europe, but it, too, had a long history of struggle. Broadly, in western Europe the existence of libertinism among the European aristocracy had traditionally enabled the maintenance of a permissive subculture. In this sphere secret expressions of a sexual diversity were possible and not uncommon, especially in a bawdy and celebratory court culture of the seventeenth century and thereafter. There were rituals and occasions both for women and men to seek and maintain same-sex lovers. The aristocracy generally deemed itself to live above the strict moral laws of its age. Such practices and favors were occasionally extended to members of the bourgeoisie, usually when these were either wealthy or beautiful. The most famous of these affairs became scandals not because they existed but because they had been flaunted in public, as in the case of George Sand (1804–1876), especially in her affair with Marie Dorval, which Sand conducted while dressed in male attire. Then the full force of nineteenth-century French laws, written largely by the aristocracy for the "lower classes" (including the bourgeoisie), had to descend on her. In another famous case, which led to the conviction of Oscar Wilde for homosexual offenses in 1895, Wilde's unforgivable error had been to have stepped outside his class. But these scandals aside, a gay subculture never stopped flourishing. An openly gay woman like Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) or Collette (1873–1954) would have been unthinkable in Australia or the United States. Women such as Sylvia Beach (1887–1962), Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), and her lifelong companion Alice B. Toklas (1877–1967) moved from the United States to Paris in order to live a life that was possible in Paris but still rather unlikely or impossible in New World countries.

Legally, homosexuality was not always forbidden. The situation was extremely uneven between countries, and policies changed within countries from one regime to the next. For instance, the French criminal code of the Napoleonic era permitted any sexual activities between any consenting adults. Repression occurred only with the Vichy government during World War II, when the age of consent was raised to twenty-one. Prosecutions for anyone below that age were then conducted on the basis of pedophilia, and women were usually not prosecuted. In the Soviet Union of the 1920s homosexuality was considered normal, and Soviet legislation stated so explicitly. However, with the Stalinist reaction also came severe repression. Likewise, the Netherlands had persecuted and executed hundreds of homosexuals in the early part of the eighteenth century. But following the French Revolution, the law penalizing sodomy (under which any male homosexuality fell) was abolished in 1811, removing all restrictions on consenting adults. German occupation of the Netherlands under the Nazis imposed a brief reign of terror, but immediately after the war (1946) there was a Dutch campaign to liberate gay people from the oppression. As early as 1944 homosexuality was decriminalized in Sweden, and about ten years later the High Court ruled that sexual preference was an irrelevant criterion for parental fitness. Unparalleled anywhere else in the world, the Swedish Riksdag actually decreed in 1977 that two people of the same sex living together "shall be fully accepted by Swedish society." Between 1951 and 1960 there existed an International Committee for Sexual Equality, which many western European countries joined.

Explicit mention of lesbians occurred much later, largely because it was believed that homosexual relationships between women either did not exist or were not possible. Lesbians suffered from the veil of invisibility so completely that they often did not come to the attention of the public and very little was known about them. Radclyffe Hall's novel The Well of Loneliness (1928), which dealt openly with lesbianism, was widely translated into European languages in the late 1920s, and it had a major impact on local subcultures by testifying to their existence.

Despite the ongoing existence of a gay subculture in the large cities of Europe, the degree of oppression against homosexuality should not be downplayed. In the 1950s and 1960s homosexuality was considered a perversion within internationally defined disease models. When offenders were not sent to prison, they came to the attention of the medical profession for treatment, which usually entailed an attempt to "cure" them. Aversion therapy was practiced in most Western countries from the 1950s to the 1970s, using electric shock or administering emetic agents that caused prolonged bouts of vomiting.

Surprisingly, despite the long French tradition against criminalizing homosexuality, France did not lead the way to gay liberation. The Stonewall riots of gays against police in New York in 1969 gave the impetus for change throughout the entire Western world. In France, the beginning of the gay liberation movement is commonly identified as the protest on 1 May 1971 that interrupted the May Day celebrations. A small group of people participated in that protest, but a decade later, in 1981, there were mass demonstrations (over 10,000) against legal discrimination. A gay liberation movement began in Spain in 1977. In Italy the most successful gay and lesbian organization was ARCI-Gay, a wing of ARCI (Associazione Ricreative Culturale Italiana), a cultural association affiliated with the Communist Party. By 1989 they had a national office in Rome.

However, the fight for rights of gays and lesbians was not without severe problems and violent reprisals. The first (post-Stalinist) underground gay organization in Leningrad lasted for just two years (1984–1986) before the KGB disbanded it, exiling, firing, or imprisoning its members. But Stalinist draconian laws were dropped between 1991 and 1993 in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Uzbekistan. In 1993, under Boris Yeltsin, the criminal penalties against homosexuals in Russia were dropped, freeing over a thousand prisoners convicted on homosexual charges. In Greece, it was found that the Greek gay organization AKOE and its journal "offended public morality," and in 1991 the editor was sentenced to imprisonment. In Cyprus and Turkey the laws on sodomy were declared invalid in 1992, but gay organizations had suffered police attacks, bashings, systematic beatings, and prosecution (1987–1992), and not only there. Gay bashings were on the increase through the early 1990s in other countries that had decriminalized homosexuality.

The HIV and AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s gave new impetus to the movement, which was becoming increasingly international. The gay liberation movement was never a uniform or politically clearly demarcated group. It was diverse in social composition and consisted of competing schools of thought, nationally and internationally. Since 1995 gays and lesbians have obtained full legal rights throughout Europe, although social rights have not been achieved everywhere, let alone with the same breadth as in Sweden or Denmark.

Environmentalism. Environmentalism encompasses not just conservation but also broad issues of lifestyle. From the mid-1990s onward, for instance, urban activism sought to reclaim cities from the car. It is generally agreed that the oil crisis of 1973 sparked the European environmental movement, although other events were important. In 1972 the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess began the "deep ecology" movement, and Greenpeace staged its first major action against whaling. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring (1962) alerted the public to the dangers of DDT and the rampant use of pesticides. The rise of the environmental movement is reflected in the substantial shift from traditional to nontraditional associations that occurred in the period from 1980 to 1994. Membership in unions and in established political parties declined, while organizations working for third-world countries, refugees, and human rights increased their membership twofold in this period. Organizations dealing with nature and the environment experienced a fourfold increase. In 1994 Greenpeace had 600,000 members, Amnesty International 164,000, Medecins sans Frontier 500,000, and World Wildlife Fund 600,000 members.

Like the women's movements, the green movement consisted of many different groups and political persuasions. It is difficult to speak of "left" or "right" political positions or to assign a specific class profile. Under the single heading of environmentalism we may find strains as diverse as pop ecology, mysticism, and economic rationalist approaches to "resource management." There were deep ecologists, supporters of Earth First!, spiritual Greens, bioregionalists, spiritual ecofeminists. And like the women's and gay movements, they too resorted to unconventional, extraparliamentary forms of mobilization.

In most countries "green" ideas were readily translated into political parties. The Greens, founded as a party in Germany at the beginning of 1980 and in Austria and Switzerland in 1986, quickly gained a respectable number of seats in Parliament. The Greens argued for an entire renewal and revision of society, economy, and politics. They argued that the ideology of profit and the economic principles of growth had inbuilt the seeds of its own destruction because, if proceeding unchecked, this thinking was destroying the physical basis on which economic success was built. With hindsight, the Greens have been extremely successful insofaras modern economies have at least introduced the concept of sustainable development and have begun to seriously deal with a series of environmental problems. Their founders were former leaders of the student movement and thus represented an ambivalent mix of a traditional leftist revolutionary orientation and a new "catastrophism." The new catastrophism was fanned by people who believed that the planet was doomed unless something was changed very quickly. They argued that human societies came perilously close to destroying their own world by orchestrating the largest wave of extinctions since the age of the dinosaurs and the wholesale destruction of forests, particularly rain forests. They were usually regarded as doomsday prophets and dismissed as too radical although, today, we know their predictions were largely correct. They revealed the potentially disastrous consequences of a bigger-is-better philosophy and urged societies to revise their destructive practices. Increasingly, however, the Greens acquired a mandate from the population to deal with environmental issues. By the late 1990s they were no longer regarded as alternative lifestyle and marginal. The Green Party of the United Kingdom made the sudden "greenness" of European politics visible when, in 1989, it won over 14.5 percent of votes in the elections for the European Parliament.

While in Britain the movement was aided specifically by people with a concern for the remaining wildlife, in Eastern European countries it contributed to a sense of liberation from overbearing state power. In Eastern European countries the environmental movement started to become a cause célèbre, largely because environmental protest could be closely identified as a protest against the power of the state. A Bulgarian environmental group called itself Ecoglasnost. Charter 77 in Prague, a human-rights dissident organization, turned green. The Polish Ecological Club became active in 1980, and demonstrations were held in Hungary in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachev's repudiation of the Brezhnev Doctrine led to a rapid liberalization throughout the countries of the communist bloc. With the disintegration of communist regimes in 1989, nongovernment organizations rose to new prominence in the East. In short, by the late 1980s the environmental movement had spread throughout all of Europe. Moreover, it had become a recognized international concern. In 1987 the Brundtland Report, called Our Common Future, was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. In 1992 Rio de Janeiro hosted the world's first global environmental summit.

The peace movement. If the environmental movement makes it difficult to tease out the political and class affiliations of its members, the peace movement adds a problem of categorization as "new" or "classic" movement. The modern post–World War II peace and antiwar movements began their mobilization in Europe in the 1950s and were generally very active throughout the 1950s and early 1960s but then died down, to reemerge as a strong "new" movement in the 1980s. Antiwar sentiments were directed against actual military interventions (Korea, later Vietnam) and oppression (the 1956 uprising in Hungary), while peace movements tended to look closely at security policies and the nature and purposes of armament. There were also marked differences between East and West. In Eastern Europe, peace movements were at first undifferentiated and broadly anti-imperialist, directed against those outside the Soviet bloc. Western movements, by contrast, put their own governments and policies under scrutiny.

In the late 1950s Britain was one of only three nuclear powers in the world. By 1957 there was noticeable opposition to the path that Britain had chosen, evident in the formation of a National Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests (NCANWT) and a British Peace Committee, which presented a case against any use of nuclear weapons at the Stockholm Peace Appeal. The important Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was formed in 1958, with the philosopher Bertrand Russell as its first president. In 1972 the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1) between the United States and the Soviet Union was signed. Although it was considered a flawed agreement by many, it drained the peace movement and the CND of some of their urgency and momentum.

The rekindling of the peace movement's concerns in the early 1980s followed two very different routes and was sparked by different events. One was the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher, who, in concert with President Ronald Reagan, publicly expressed her belief in increased arms spending. Then there was the war between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, with its inevitable military rhetoric. Another source of revitalization came from the women's movements, particularly from Germany, where the government proposed in 1978 that women should be conscripted into the army in the same way as men, for a compulsory military service of eighteen months. In May 1979 this resulted in a series of demonstrations. In Germany it signaled, in fact, the beginning of a new peace movement. By 1980 the West German contribution to the international women's peace movement was substantial.

During the United Nations world women's conference in 1980, "Women for Peace" organizationspresented General Secretary Waldheim with 500,000 signatures of European women against nuclear weapons and militarism. This opposition, particularly tonuclear power stations and nuclear weaponry, steadily drew wider support and began to spread across Western Europe, involving men and women alike. The largestmass demonstrations against nuclear weapons and the arms race were held in October 1981 and again in October 1983. From Helsinki to Brussels, from London to Rome, and from The Hague to Madrid, vast numbers of people took to the streets at the same time. Over 3 million participants were estimated to have taken part, clearly suggesting that the environmental and peace movements had become truly European rather than just national events. It is important to add that the end of the cold war ushered in a period in which the tense "stand-off" tactics between East and West diminished. The processes that led from the Stockholm Peace Appeal to the 1992 environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro indicate the long road that had to be traveled from local and national protest to mainstream international summit meetings.

The twentieth century saw humanity degenerating into practices of large-scale planned elimination of human life and into the most destructive warfare in human history. Yet in response there emerged strong liberatory movements that remembered the Renaissance, humanitarianism, the individual conscience, and the French Revolution. At no time, as at the beginning of the twenty-first century, have the peoples of Europe enjoyed so much personal freedom.

See also other artices in this section.


Bobbio, Norberto. The Future of Democracy. A Defence of the Rules of the Game. Translated by Roger Griffin, edited by Richard Bellamy. Minneapolis, Minn., 1987.

Byrne, Paul. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. London, 1988.

Cant, Bob Han, and Susan Hemmings, eds. Radical Records: Thirty Years of Lesbian and Gay History, 1957–1987. London, 1988.

Conca, Ken, Michael Alberty, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko, eds. Green Planet Blues:Environmental Politics from Stockholm to Rio. Boulder, Colo., 1995.

Grünewald, Guido, and Peter van den Dungen, eds. Twentieth-Century Peace Movements: Successes and Failures. Lewiston, N.Y., 1995.

Hayward, Tim. Ecological Thought: An Introduction. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Heller, Agnes. Renaissance Man. Translated by Richard E. Allen. London, 1978.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the EnglishRevolution. New York, 1972.

Kaltefleiter, Werne, and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, eds. The Peace Movements in Europe and the United States. London, 1985.

Kaplan, Gisela. Contemporary Western European Feminism. London, 1992.

Lauritsen, John, and David Thonstad. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement(1864–1935). New York, 1974.

Lovenduski, Joni. Women and European Politics: Contemporary Feminism and PublicPolicy. Brighton, U.K., 1986.

Lubasz, Heinz. Revolutions in Modern European History. New York, 1966.

Melucci, Alberto. "Social Movements and the Democratization of Everyday Life." In Civil Society and the State. Edited by John Keane. London and New York, 1988. Pages 245–260.

Minnion, John, and Philip Bolsover. The CND Story: The First 25 years of CND in the Words of the People Involved. London, 1983.

Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, Calif., 1988.

Sartori, Giovanni. The Theory of Democracy Revisited. Vol. 1. Chatham, N.J., 1987.

Steinberg, S. H. Five Hundred Years of Printing. New ed. London, 1996.

Tourraine, Alain. Return of the Actor: Social Theory in Postindustrial Society. Translated by M. Godzich. Minneapolis, Minn., 1988.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System. Vol. 1 of Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York, 1974.