Communist influence in peace movement: threat or red herring?

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Active but very far from decisive.

This seems to be the general Western intelligence estimate of the communist role in Western European peace movements in general, and of the crucial West German movement in particular.

The communist role might best be characterized as one of amplifying antinuclear sentiment that is already strong among an articulate group of non-communist peace activists. This conclusion emerges from conversations with British, Norwegian, and American sources and high officials both of the new conservative government and the old left-Liberal government in Bonn.

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The communist aims are said to be two-fold: (1) keeping the movements one-sidedly critical of Western but not Eastern nuclear weapons (and thus blocking NATO's planned mid-'80s missile deployments), and (2) especially in West Germany, helping the minuscule Communist Party to break out of its political isolation by promoting the popular peace issue.

In line with this, evidence of Soviet and/or native communist party involvement in the Western European antinuclear movements include the expulsion of two Soviet diplomats from Norway and Denmark in 1981 for allegedly passing money to peace demonstrators and the expulsion from the Netherlands the same year of a Tass correspondent who was allegedly involved in mobilizing protestors.

Other indications include a recently leaked Dutch intelligence report of meetings in East Berlin and elsewhere between Soviet and East German officials and peace activists from Dutch churches and trade unions; the highly visible (and perfectly legal) plying of the European antinuclear lecture circuit by Soviet diplomats and journalists; and hefty representation in 1982 in the top council of the key British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) - according to George Miller of the Institute for the Study of Conflict - of communists, ex-communists, and extreme leftists.

CND spokesmen, while not denying some specific identifications of CND activists as present or past communist party members, discount their influence in a mass movement in which Quakers, for example, outnumber communists.

In West Germany, says one government official, ''We have enough information that the peace movement and the Greens are supported by organizational help and some cadres of the DKP (the West German Communist Party).'' He named 50 million to 60 million marks ($20 million to $24 million) as the annual sum East Germany funnels into the West German antinuclear movement directly or through the DKP. This money, he indicated, goes for such things as publicity and transportation costs involved in assembling the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators for major peace rallies.

He immediately added, however, that despite the communists' vigorous efforts, ''It is not easy for them (to get) political influence'' in the rather diffuse movement. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes not, he suggested, concluding, ''I'm sure it's the smallest part of the movement, but the most effective part.''

In Norway, Defense Ministry spokesman Christopher Prebensen warns against any urge to dismiss the whole peace movement as communist-led. ''We find little reason to discredit the genuine sentiments of the antinuclear movement,'' he noted in a telephone interview. ''There is (nuclear) uncertainty, and a lot of people support (communist) views or are parallel to those who are for that policy'' of a nuclear-free zone in Scandinavia.''

It's hard for the public to get a very clear idea of the overall scale of communist influence in the European peace movements. The communists do not advertise their involvement. And in West Germany, at least, the government has been reticent about documenting claims of communist manipulation of the movements. The reason for this reluctance is said to be fear of compromising intelligence agents in East Germany.

Basically, however, officials with access to intelligence reports define Soviet and East German means as both financial and organizational. Money is said to be provided for chartering buses or trains to carry demonstrators to rallies, or for organizing antinuclear arts festivals like the Bochum Festival in West Germany this past September. Experienced organizational cadres are also said to be provided for major rallies, with some of them overt and some covert party members. The object is to amplify existing fear of nuclear war and doubts about US seriousness in negotiating arms control.

Sources add a caveat here in warning against regarding all those who demonstrate primarily against the new NATO nuclear weapons planned for the mid-' 80s as communists or communist dupes. The vast bulk of protesters, they believe, feel no loyalty at all to Moscow, but are moved by a real concern about nuclear war - and doubts about American seriousness in negotiating arms control. This means there is considerable existing sentiment against the new American missiles for the communists to amplify for their own purposes.

On some occasions, such as the 300,000-strong Bonn rally of October 1981, communist organizers are described as staying in the background.

In other events, according to Bonn government sources, communist cadres have played a more open role. This was true of the Krefeld Appeal against new NATO nuclear missiles, according to public reports by the North Rhine Westphalia state Interior Ministry. The Krefeld Appeal, which is now said to have gained 3 million signatures, was one of the first and is still the largest of various antinuclear petitions.

Communists are also identified by government officials as having played a key role in organizing the 400,000-strong June 1982 peace demonstration during President Reagan's visit to Bonn. In this case the issue of communist manipulation became a point of contention between the activists themselves. After a preparatory strategy meeting in April the fledgling environmental and antinuclear party of the Greens broke with their communist co-organizers and publicly accused the communists of railroading the meeting. In particular, they objected to the blocking of any criticism or even discussion of repression in Poland and harassment of the Christian ''Swords into Plowshares'' movement in East Germany.

The Greens' accusations are far from universally accepted within the peace activists' ranks, however. To the Christian organizers of the October 1981 rally - who had deliberately not joined in the June 1982 planning precisely because they feared that any protest during Mr. Reagan's visit might turn anti-American - the Greens' accusations of the communists rang false. The Christian activists regarded the issue of communist influence as a red herring that could only split the peace movement - and as a blatant bid for votes by the Greens.

Beyond consideration of any communist manipulation of these specific events, government agencies in West Germany have publicly identified several individual peace groups as communist-controlled, including the German Peace Union, the German Peace Society/United Opponents of War, and the Committee for Peace, Disarmament, and Cooperation.

The groups have organized no major rallies of their own, and apart from the Krefeld appeal, their influence has been mixed.

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