An “Ecological Internationale?” Nuclear Energy Opponents in Western Europe (1975-1980)

Chapter published in Michele Di Donato and Mathieu Fulla (eds.), Leftist Internationalisms: A Transnational Political History (London: Bloomsbury, 2023), pp. 219–232. doi:10.5040/

Extract: The ‘Ecological Internationale’ [imagined by the French Interior Ministry] was never as united as French authorities or their West German counterparts imagined it to be. Indeed, it might well be argued that the opposition to nuclear energy owed its rapid expansion to the presence of multiple internationalisms within its orbit, each espousing solidarities with different scopes. The horizons of many local activists were primarily regional, though they also extended to other affected communities and opened up to a range of outside supporters. Countercultural environmentalists encouraged precisely the kind of decentralized, local action that prevailed within the anti-nuclear movement, and their presence changed the makeup of protest in rural communities especially. Pacifist networks and radical left organizations were more intrinsically focused on international developments and internationalist solidarities, helping to bring the wider world to places and protests that might otherwise have remained consciously provincial. However, despite overlapping and frequently complementary interests, non-violent and left-wing activists often competed with one another for hegemony among anti-nuclear protesters. With its emphasis on the personal concern of directly affected individuals, the anti-nuclear movement effectively fused the place-based nature of environmental protest with the ‘politics in the first person’ espoused by many so-called New Social Movements. It also foreshadowed the ways in which protest movements in the 1980s (from the revitalized peace movement to the decentralized, autonomous left) developed internationalist orientations and transnational networks on the basis of concern that was overwhelmingly understood as embodied, personal and local.