Infighting and internal divisions intensify among German climate activists and their patrons in government, as political momentum shifts decisively to the right
Political movements derive cohesion from the momentum and energy they command. With the wind at their backs, adherents are willing to overlook their divergent interests and fight for a common cause. As these movements lose momentum and face hardening opposition, they suddenly find themselves rent by infighting and factionalism. Being part of a radical activist group fighting to stop oil or a governing coalition committed to realising the energy transition loses its appeal when everybody starts to hate you. In such situations, it is everyone for himself; there is a great scramble to leave the sinking ship, and it becomes convenient to blame erstwhile allies for failures. Thus, ascendant regimes and political organisations can rapidly enter factionalist spirals that bring them down much more quickly than the opposition alone could ever hope to.
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This is happening in Germany right now. Signs of disarray are pervasive in the ranks of their street-level shock troops, the climate activists. For months now, Letzte Generation have had a particularly bad time. Extinction Rebellion, an important source of early inspiration and advice, has been distancing itself from the group, most notably declining an invitation to join them in an October street blockade in Berlin. Finding their organisation increasingly isolated and facing mounting internal discontent, the leadership used an internal call to acknowledge serious tactical and strategic mistakes, including “bad communication, too much bureaucracy, excessive demands, internal conflicts, lack of community spirit and low membership.” Now one of the founding figures at the top of the organisation, Lea Bonasera, has left Letzte Generation entirely, and the rest of the leadership are planning to do much the same. Lars Werner and Kim Schulz have announced they will soon “look for new challenges,” while Henning Jeschke will turn his efforts to “the international level,” whatever that means. Letzte Generation is a strictly hierarchical organisation, with all of its actions planned and directed by this core group. Whether the climate-gluers even survive this upheaval is doubtful; at the very least, it will utterly transform them.
All this is happening as that other great climate organisation in the Federal Republic, Luisa Neubauer’s Fridays for Future chapter, fights to distance itself from its child prophet, Greta Thunberg, and the pro-Palestinian stance she has taken since the start of the Gaza conflict on 7 October. In a recent interview with taz, Neubauer again deplored Thunberg’s failure to acknowledge “Jewish suffering,” and blamed the media for projecting their political hopes on Thunberg, making of her “what no human being can be,” and then objecting that she “is not that which she never wanted to be in the first place.” Neubauer declared that “this dynamic” is “not my problem,” which is deeply amusing, because nobody has fought so hard to make Thunberg the living saint of climate change as Neubauer and her gaggle of carbon dioxide hysterics. When asked whether 2023 was the year when “climate policy was … disavowed … over the building energy ordinances,” while “climate morality” was wrecked on the rocks of Thunberg’s alleged “anti-Semitism,” Neubauer also had an interesting response:
What has failed is climate policy as a niche- and business-as-usual thing. The idea of cobbling together some funding to do a a bit of green economic promotion has been blown. The idea that you can transform a society without it knowing anything about it has been blown. That’s dramatic, because we don’t have the time, but at least we’ve seen very clearly how it doesn’t work.
That is all vague and rather confusing, so allow me to translate from Neubauer-speak into normal language: “What has failed is the mainstreaming of climate activism as climate policy. The political implementation of climate change has been an expensive disaster that has ruined our credibility with our leftist base. That’s too bad, because the earth is going to start melting any minute now, but at least we know our entire project is unworkable.”
When we cast our eyes from the streets to Berlin, we see if anything greater chaos, now that the Federal Constitutional Court have opened a 60 billion-Euro hole in the government budget and the Scholz clown car no longer have enough money to fund their climate insanity.
Finance Minister and liberal FDP chair Christian Lindner announced his plans to recover the funds by declaring a new, retroactive state of emergency for all of 2023 on Thursday. The manoeuvre brought Lindner into direct conflict with his base, who as liberals hate few things as much as deficit spending. That same day, this membership gathered enough signatures to force a member-wide survey on whether the party should leave the coalition, which would bring down the government. Discontent has been building among the rank-and-file since the disastrous elections in Hesse and Bavaria, which merely confirmed a long series of polls showing that the FDP is facing catastrophe over its ties to the historically unpopular Scholz coalition. The day after bending the knee on the debt ceiling, Lindner fired his powerful state secretary Werner Gatzer. Gatzer is the one who came up with the budgetary trick overturned by the Federal Constitutional Court, and so the present crisis is in no small part his fault. As if that was not enough disarray for the liberals, their vice-chairman Wolfgang Kubicki demanded the resignation of the Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck over the weekend. This open attack on a coalition partner was also occasioned by the funding crisis: Because there is not enough money to subsidise the heat pump transition mandated by Habeck’s building ordinances, either the ordinances or Habeck have to go, Kubicki said. This is the very legislation that passed with the help of Kubicki’s vote back in September, of course.
FDP chaos is especially important, because they are the weak link in the coalition and its most likely point of failure. Things are hardly any better for the Greens, though. Their polling has hit a five-year low. Ahead of their party conference this weekend, their co-chair Ricarda Lang rejected the possibility of making up the 60 billion Euro budgetary hole by restricting social entitlements, warned against being “too technocratic” and insisted on the importance of “always putting social matters first.” These are not self-critical remarks, as Welt reported, but rather clear shots at the so-called “technocratic” energy-transition wing of the party around Habeck. If the money isn’t going to be there, Lang would prefer to deprioritise climate goals for garden-variety socialism. Thus one of my prognoses for the future evolution of the Green Party – namely that they will become just another leftoid political operation to fill the shoes of the dying SPD – inches ever closer to reality.
The Green Party conference, meanwhile, has been a raucous occasion for the airing of internal grievances, paramount among them the appeals of the Green Youth to maintain open borders at all costs. These deranged lunatics are offended even at the mild asylum restrictions proposed by the Scholz government, and they harangued their leadership with multiple speeches full of the usual no-humans-are-illegal slogans. To no avail: The leadership succeeded in pushing through their executive motion stating that “Control, order and repatriation are the reality of an immigration country like Germany.” Slowly but surely, the Greens in government are losing their cachet among leftist youth.
For a long time, the political currents across the West flowed always to the left. Angela Merkel cemented her political power by appropriating large parts of the socialist Green programme and making them her own. The catastrophic overreach of the pandemic response, the energy crisis of 2021, the ensuing economic chaos and the decline of unipolar American hegemony have brought about an enduring sea change. The water now flows with growing momentum to the right, and not just in Germany. Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have won an historic victory in the Netherlands, and the carbon dioxide brigade are terrified about the future of climate policies there. His victory comes a week after the self-professed “anarcho-capitalist” Javier Milei won a runoff election for the presidency of Argentina. The leftist parties and their activist organisations find themselves overextended and ill-adapted for this new environment, and they are starting to crack. With the press still behind them and their urban base still shielded from serious economic suffering, they will linger for a long time, but every day I am more confident that, a decade from now, we’ll regard the years before 2020 as the high point of their power.
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