Practical peace policy through civil intervention in everyday life

Andreas Speck, Patchwork, Oldenburg (Oldb.), Germany

initial lecture at the European Peace Congress, Osnabrück 1998

Contact: Patchwork, Kaiserstraße 24, D-26122 Oldenburg, Germany

Tel.: +49-441-17111 Fax: +49-441-2489661 email:

Civil intervention in everyday life as a form of peace policy, this term is so broad, that it somehow cannot be caught anymore. It includes individual activities known as "civic courage" – for example individual and brave intervention against racist or sexist attacks for example in buses or the underground – on the other hand it includes activities by groups that are embedded in the local daily life, for example support for refugees, building networks to support illegalised people, and demonstrative actions such as daily or weekly vigils, boycotts, "giroblew" (1), going shopping with coupons for refugees (2), etc. ...

The term "peace policy" at first is also not really clear, and in my view it remains unclear in the draft manifesto of the congress. Peace policy demands, for me, a policy, actively aiming against existing or developing ruling structures, because they in the end are all built on violence. Violence that very often – especially in this country – disappears behind anonymous state structures, that becomes invisible in form of structural violence. Therefore peace policy in its conclusion is aimed not only against the military as an institution and against military forms of conflict resolution, but against the idea of statism itself that stands behind them. Peace policy is the result of an active struggle against the state, and this is not only a struggle over the means – civilian or military – on the basis of the same aims as the state’s policy, no, I would claim that peace policy and state policy are incompatible. I don’t want to go into this more deeply here, but this leads to the conclusion, that one aspect of peace policy always is the conflict with (one’s own) state, a conflict that mustn’t be pacified, but escalated.

I write this in the beginning, because this approach effects my view on civil interventions in everyday life. I roughly want to categorise them into four groups:

  • Civic Courage mainly means intervention in conflicts between persons or small groups of persons: racist attacks by individuals or small groups, sexist attacks, exclusion and libelling of persons, mainly in public spaces. Civic Courage mainly wants to pacify inner-sociatial conflicts, but is also an exercising field for a future society with less violence. But Civic Courage has only limited impact on the conflict between sociaty and state about the institution of military or about the state’s racism, that means in conflicts about the means of war and exclusion. In this I don’t want to deny that Civic Courage very often is a preposition for political engagement.

  • the second group consists of dayly local activities, mainly to raise awareness or to educate the public. This means regulary vigils, information stands, distributing leaflets, collecting signatures, etc...

  • the third group of civil interventions I want to call the concrete support for the exclused. This mainly is support of refugees, of homeless persons, of victims of violent structures as racism, sexism, and heterosexism. To set up and maintain a women’s shelter or a help line for attacked gays and lesbians is a form of civil intervention in everyday life too, a civil intervention against sexist and heterosexist violence, as well as the hiding of illegalised refugees or deserters is civil intervention.

  • the fourth group are dayly actions that are meant to escalate the conflict with the state about the institution of the military. This includes war tax resistance, conscientious objection, especially as total objection, but also the objection against the plans to recruit specific professions in war, for example health services, and other forms of maybe dayly civil disobedience.

Practical peace policy through civil interventions in everyday life cannot be separated from the context of the social movement – that means the peace movement in ist broadest sense – in which it is practised. That especially is the case when we talk about the relevance of small dayly activities.

I want to explain this with some examples:

1. out-of-area activities of the German army

To me it seems to be quite clear that the peace movement faced and faces the increasing militarisation of German foreign policy, which lead to Germany military engagement out-of-area today, without knowing how to react. The peace movement – if you can talk about such a movement at all – changed very much since the mid-80s, it moved from the big confrontational actions against NATO armament to very often promoted small actions in everyday life. I don’t want to ask for the reasons here, there are surely manifold, but the consequences are not only positive, and this marks the limitations of civil interventions in everyday life.

Since the end of the 80s the German military expanded its action field by using a very successful step-by-step tactics. This is marked by: the BGS (federal police, "Border Protection Forces") in Cambodia, German military in Somalia and today in Croatia/Bosnia. Although the peace movement argued against this development and promoted civilian conflict resolution as an alternative and presented it in many local meetings, but something was lost: the escalation with the German state about the German military. Only through this escalation a basis could have been built to make the small local activities political effective, a highly escalated conflict with one’s own state would have been the resonance ground for civilian intervention in everyday life, for collecting signatures, postcard actions, public discussions, conscientious objection, etc... Without this conflict only very few were prepared to intervene against out-of-area operations in everyday life, and there was lack of public awareness and interest for the few small interventions that happened. And one more very important point: without this escalation of the conflict with the German state the public had the impression, the discussion was not about fundamental differences out of interests, but only a quarrel about the right means to achieve a mainly common goal. This "expert discussion" made it difficult for people to engage themselves.

2. The war in former-Yugoslavia

Probably no war since the Second World War lead to so many actions by the peace movement and the broad public as the war in former-Yugoslavia. Nearly all aspects of civilian interventions in everyday life were widely practised. There was many work to inform the public, above all there was direct support, both humanitarian aid for victims of the war in the successor states of Yugoslavia, and support for refugees here: I only want to name the activities of "Den Winter überleben" (To survive the winter), hosting refugees from the war in many cities as result of initiatives of peace groups.

But, what was still missing were activities against the aggressive interest policy of the German Government and of NATO. From the beginning the peace movement finally capitulated in regard of the question of a military intervention – I say this inspite of manifold press releases by peace organisations – and did focus on the more or less humanitarian work. I don’t want to make this small – this work was and is important – but nevertheless the escalation of the conflict around the interventionist policy of the German military was missing. The peace movement’s constructive and local policy lacked the public confrontation, which would have built the resonance ground for this policy.

The peace movement is too peaceful!

As a conclusion I want to focus my evaluation on one point: the peace movement is presently to peaceful to become politically relevant. At first this sounds like a provocation, and it is meant to be one. But with this I don’t mean that the peace movement should abandon its nonviolence and should start to act with violent means – this certainly wouldn’t lead to success and surely would be counter productive – I mean something different: the peace movement much to much seeks to de-escalate, to pacify conflicts. This might make sense for some kinds of conflicts, but the main conflict peace policy is about, the conflict about the existence of the military and of etatist structures, this conflicts mustn’t be pacified, the movement massively has to escalate this conflict – especially in everyday life!

Some examples for this too:

War Tax Resistance

The campaign against war tax – if you can call it a campaign at all in Germany – from its character is indeed a confrontative action. But I don’t see it as such an action, because it is mainly carried out in a juridical way around the question of freedom of conscience. But a "right to refuse war taxes" is simply – and I willfuly use a strong wording – at least naive. The important question is not if a state is allowed to use the taxes of a certain individual on military expenditures, but the existence of the military in general. As well as the right to conscientious objection doesn’t really challenge the existence and legitimation of conscription, but is only an individual exemptual right, as well does a war tax resistance understood in this way not generally challenge the legitimation of military expenditures.

As a radically understood civil disobedience, which is not aimed at legal recognition but at denying the legitimation of the military alltogether, war tax resistance can become politically relevant. An example for this is in my view the war tax resistance in the state of Spain. Here the individual refusal of taxes becomes an individual civilian intervention against the state’s armament policy as part of a collective campaign. Here this civilian intervention enfolds all its strength, because at the same time it is linked with concrete support to antimilitarist projects out of the refused taxes.


Civilian interventions in everyday life, in all the four formes described at the beginning, are a necessary part of peace policy, but they are not enough. Only in combination with larger demonstrative and confrontative actions – be it the blockade actions of the peace movement of the 80s or more up to date hopefully the interruptions of public soldiers’ vows in Berlin, Mainz, Guben/Gubin or wherever it is necessary (3) – civilian interventions in everyday life are able to be effective, at the same time they are a preposition for larger confrontational actions. What would actions to de-fence deportation prisons be without action of civic courage against all to dayly racist attacks? What would interruptions of soldiers’ vows be without luckily almost dayly conscientious objections and not that dayly total objections? What would ploughshare actions be without the manifold information stands, vigils and distribution of leaflets? As well as it should be quite clear that this radical actions would have no effect without this civilian interventions in everyday life, as well is important that without such radical actions civilian interventions in everyday life too wouldn’t be able to change the violent statist structures. Together they have the power that hopefully in the end makes it possible to abolish the state and the military!




(1) "giroblew" is a form of action against electrical companies to protest against their policy. It means to pay your electricity bill, but in a way that causes a lot of work for the company to get it into their accounts. In the 80s "giroblew" was used to promote cleaning of coal power stations, today it is discussed as a means against nuclear power stations.

(2) in Germany many refugees don’t get money to buy the things they need, but only coupons that only can be used in some shops and are very often only valid for special goods. This denies them the right to use the little bit of "money" they get where and for what they want. Support initiatives buy this coupons to sell them to Germans who do their shopping by using the coupons then.

(3) a few days after the congress public soldiers’ vows took place in the cities mentioned above. This was part of a strategy of the German military to win over public support and to occupy public places, to win them back from the peace movement.