Citizen movements were an important factor in triggering the peaceful East German revolution that abolished the communist regime and contributed to achievement of elementary civil rights that are taken for granted in Western democracies. However, the movements failed in their efforts to resist quick German unification via the largely uncontested transplantation of the West German institutional system to East Germany. This article analyzes why the movements could not achieve their aim of a new political order, in their view superior to Western type democracy—one that would guarantee radical democracy and extensive social rights for citizens. Drawing on three prominent perspectives in social movement research it is argued that both internal and external factors contributed to the failure of these movements. Although they might have avoided some minor tactical errors, they had few prospects for strongly influencing the course and result of German unification. Because this outcome was overdetermined, it is incorrect to suggest that the movements missed an opportunity to achieve their goal of radical democracy.

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