Discouragement among antinuclear activists a year after new NATO missile deployments began has not led to the breakup of the West German peace movement after all. But it has led to a considerable scaling down of plans for demonstrations next year.
At a crucial eight-hour meeting of the peace movement's national coordinating committee in mid-December, members representing Christian and human rights groups agreed not to walk out if protests are kept modest next year and if the committee withdraws from its previous leading role to a more advisory one.
The threatened split resulted from a year in which public interest in the antinuclear campaign waned - and more radical members of the peace movement shifted the target of demonstrations away from nuclear weapons to NATO maneuvers.
In a front-line country whose defense hangs on NATO - and is perceived as such by three-quarters of the population, according to polls - this shift alienated many middle-of-the-road Germans from the peace movement. It also triggered tactical quarrels within the ranks of the peace movement.
The squabbling increased after an antimissile demonstration in October failed to draw enough demonstrators to form the 100-mile human chain that organizers had planned. They had envisioned a chain stretching from the Ruhr to a projected cruise missile site more than 100 miles away.
The eight Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and associated groups argued that the time for spectacular protests by hundreds of thousands was past, and that the need now was for decentralized local actions.
The strongest advocate of this change of direction was Action Reconciliation, an esteemed Protestant group founded to send young Germans to work or visit in Israel and Poland. It was Action Reconciliation that organized the first big antinuclear demonstration in 1981 - and for the man in the street it serves as the guarantee that the peace movement is not just a leftist front.
The implication to outside observers (though Action Reconciliation spokesmen strenuously contested this interpretation) was that the attempt to block the new NATO deployments politically had failed, and that it was now time to fall back to longer-term consciousness-raising among voters.
Communists and more radical leftists within the coordinating committee opposed any such retreat from mass mobilization. Whatever the dwindling success of large demonstrations once the peak of nuclear angst had passed with the actual start of missile stationing, the leftists wanted to keep on agitating the populace.
Beyond this major tactical split there were numerous other strains within the 30 heterogeneous groups making up the coordinating committee. Many leftists wanted to focus on demonstrations against American intervention in Central America. Some environmentalists wanted to return to blockading nuclear power plant sites.
The Green party wanted to push West German withdrawal from NATO, a goal most of the other groups considered too unrealistic to squander time on. The Greens have clashed repeatedly with Communists over whether the West German peace movement should show solidarity with jailed East German peace activists.
The Social Democrats wanted to recruit voters by maintaining their leftist credentials against the Green competition, and in common with the Communists, the Social Democrats wanted to combine anti-nuclear protests with protests against cuts in social welfare.
Against this background the compromise that is keeping Action Reconciliation and its seven allied groups inside the coordinating committee is two-sided. It involves a breather of unspecified duration from huge demonstrations.
More concretely, it also establishes a veto right on any common action by 15 percent of the constituent members of the 30-group committee. That is, any five groups can block a call for a national demonstration.
The compromise is derided by some left-wingers as a return to ''minimum consensus,'' or the lowest common denominator. But it is gluing the peace movement together for now.