Climate justice action in Germany

| 19th December 2019
Ende Galende
flickr
Extinction Rebellion has a lot to learn from Ende Gelände, the grassroots climate action group that is radical in theory and practice.

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Four thousand people shut down key points of coal infrastructure in the east of Germany at the second Ende Gelände of this year, which took place on 30 November.

Ende Gelände means ‘here and no further,’  and the mass climate justice movement was successful in blocking three train tracks that take coal from the mines to the power stations and three open-cast coal mines in the region (Jaenschwalde-Ost, Welzow-Sued and Vereinigtes Schleenhain).

Read: Naming the System

The thousands of people were divided into ‘fingers’ each with a different remit and target to block. People used their strength in numbers, determination and wit to overwhelm police lines and occupy key points of coal infrastructure to stop the circulation of fossil capital.

Mass action

Many organisers in Ende Gelände were worn out after the huge mobilisation of around 6,000-7,000 people to the Rhineland earlier in June this year. They decided not to commit to organising a second mass action.

Despite this there was lots of enthusiasm from some to organise a second Ende Gelände of the year to disrupt the lignite coal mining operations in the east of the country.

This was the seventh Ende Gelände mass action since it began in 2015. Over the years all but one mass action in May 2016 has focused on the coal mining in the Rhineland.

There was appetite to throw attention back on EPH, the company that operates the coal mines in the East.

Large numbers of people new to organising Ende Gelände were skilled-up to undertake roles within the organising structures for the first time, to fill the gap left by many of the more experienced organisers and to pull off another fantastic mass action.

Intersectional activism 

I was part of the accessible multi-coloured finger that occupied train tracks used to transport coal along with a number of people in wheelchairs.

We were successful in blocking the tracks for hours on a freezing Saturday with temperatures barely getting above zero all day.

This finger took the lead from disabled activists that are all too often faced with the inaccessibility of actions like this. They co-designed the strategy of the finger and it’s implementation. Together we stopped the coal trains from operating on this track for the day.

This is an important aspect of Ende Gelände; to be overtly intersectional and radical in theory and practice.

They deliberately connect liberation struggles such as those of disabled people, women, black and minority ethnic people and LGBTQ+ among others in a decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-colonial way.

Antifascism 

Ende Gelände understands that we must take the concept of climate justice seriously and that we cannot look at the climate crisis as separate from the social conditions that have created it.

It is no coincidence that the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are the worst affected by the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism that relies on (neo-)colonialism, inequality and suffering.

Over the years there have been many manifestations of this approach. The ‘pink’ finger is also known as the ‘queer feminist’ finger. It champions the determination of women, non-binary and queer people in taking assertive direct action against the fossil capitalist system and in undermining the narrative of the male-climate-hero-saviour in direct action.

Their anti-colonial, anti-racist and antifascist approach has manifested in a number of ways including when pacific climate warriors led the Bonn Ende Gelände in November 2017. The social movement has also actively organised solidarity demonstrations with antifascist activists in cities in Germany.

They are not beyond criticism, though.

As with all social movements, people bring with them problematic attitudes and behaviours. In my experience of attending all the Ende Gelände actions of the past four years, I've found that there is an open culture of comradely critique that helps the movement develop and strengthen it’s attempts at solidarity when deliberately connecting struggles under the banner of climate justice.

Extinction Rebellion

This is a far cry from the approach of the leaders of Extinction Rebellion in the UK.  Leaked documents from the group's inner circle show that they are concerned with people within XR articulating the case for a justice-oriented approach that recognises we are fighting the same fight - be that fossil fuel capitalism, patriarchal capitalism, colonial capitalism or racist capitalism.

The document states: “We must however resist moves to co-opt our movement into an 'intersectional, anti-capitalist' focussed movement based on alternative (potentially unclear) theories of change”.

How can we fight against the injustice of climate change without recognising it as a symptom of an ecologically destructive system that has benefited the very few at the great expense of the rest of us, non-human nature and future generations?

XR’s underlying strategy has not only deliberately distanced itself from the left but it is actively appealing to right-wing values in order to appeal to people across the political spectrum.

Beyond politics

One of the dominant arguments for XR taking this explicitly ‘post-political’ approach is to build a mass movement at all costs.

Roger Hallam and the Radical Think Tank have set out a very strict theory of social changeWe are to understand that we must think of the climate movement as a numbers game, which I agree with to some extent.

Their theory demands that the very particular figure of 3.5 percent of the population must be mobilised to engage in civil disobedience to instigate the necessary societal changes to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

We are led to believe that in order to mobilise this precise percentage of the population we cannot dare talk about capitalism for fear of ‘scaring people off,’ we must only make mention of ‘the system’ which in my experience means many different things to XR activists.

If we are to use ‘left lingo’ like ‘feminism’ or god forbid ‘they/them’ pronouns, we put off the ‘normal’ person from taking part.

Social relations

Many leftists within XR are pacified by this approach, having faith in it as a means to an end for mobilising large numbers.

But what is it about the simple and straightforward requirement of respecting people’s basic struggles for equality that a ‘normal’ person would not be able to cope with?

XR has done a fantastic job of educating people up and down the country about the severity and urgency of the climate crisis and how it is not our individual consumption patterns that will save us but a social movement.

It is patronising to assume people can understand the complexities of the climate science but not the social relations that have created the problem.

Ende Gelande, by contrast, knows this too well and has consistently generated vast numbers of people to go to the source of the fossil-capitalist system; to strike a blow to the country’s vast coal mining operations. They have had no trouble in consistently mobilising thousands of people under the banner of climate justice from Germany and all across Europe and beyond: 7,000 people participated in June's Ende Gelände actions. 

Fascism 

People haven’t been ‘scared off’ from the overt radicalism of the movement, in fact it has gone from strength to strength, educating people on the connections of the climate crisis with social inequality and capitalism; skilling people up in mass direct action for climate justice; and operating as a focal point for the European climate justice movement. 

Ende Gelände has inspired the explosion of the climate camp form for organising mass civil disobedience against climate injustice across the continent.

The movement is no walk in the park for the activists involved though. Not only do participants in the actions have to face violence from the German police, but the movement has been consistently targeted by organised fascists, where many are active within the coal mining unions and companies.

There was particular apprehension for organising in the Lausitz region again this year, where in 2016 the camp was attacked by fascists. 

There were fascists this year but they did not provide a significant threat (this time). The approach of Ende Gelände cannot afford to leave conversations regarding fascism at the door when mobilising people to take action against climate change.

Deliberate controversy 

It was at best astoundingly insensitive and at worst consciously hurtful of Roger Hallam to make remarks about the Holocaust, calling it ‘just another fuckery in human history,’ during a recent interview with a German newspaper to promote his book.

It has since come out - according to a leaked document authored by Hallam - that these comments were deliberate and intended to cause a controversy to generate attention.

Needless to say the German climate movement, including that of XR Deutschland, are horrified by these comments. The publishers of Hallam's book in Germany have dropped it.

This and much else about Hallam’s approach and behaviour have led XR Deutschland to distance themselves from him, as have XR Scotland, the Global Justice Rebellion coalition and a number of people in XR Regenerative Culture.

There have been multiple calls for Hallam to step down from decision making within XR.

Climate justice 

We ought to be equally horrified by these comments from one of the founders and leaders of XR in the UK.

Most of the hard right in the UK are climate deniers, but what happens when they do recognise the reality of the climate crisis?

We cannot afford to appeal to the right. Eco-fascist ‘solutions’ are no solutions at all.

I am constantly inspired by Ende Gelände to mobilise thousands to take mass direct action for climate justice in an overtly anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and intersectional way. 

This Author 

Alice Swift has been a radical climate activist for nine years. She helped to found Fossil Free UK and is studying a PhD on the European climate camp movement at Manchester University.

Image: Jens Volle, Flickr.

Right of Reply 

A spokesperson from XR said: "Extinction Rebellion has learnt much from Ende Gelaende, and hope that we will all continue to learn from each other in our shared fight against climate and ecological breakdown.

"People involved in Extinction Rebellion hold a variety of views on the best approach and tactics to take, with many agreeing with the opinion expressed in this article. We admire and respect Ende Gelaende and believe there is room for a diversity of organisations, but we are a deliberately broad church movement. 

"Existing tactics involving radical left-wing politics haven't brought about mass engagement over the decades; we need to mobilise people in their millions, not just thousands, which so far we have all failed to do. We stand by our decision to be accessible to all, across the political spectrum, by not being anti-capitalist or prescriptive about solutions.

"Appealing to both the left and right does not mean appealing to the far right or to fascism; we believe in democracy, as a defence to fascism, and a renewed and enhanced democracy in the form of a Citizens Assembly."

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