Both Ursula von der Leyen’s “Green Deal” for Europe and the new traffic light coalition in Berlin show what the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci once called a “passive revolution”: One Modernization of capitalist relations of domination and production that does not change the basic income and property relations. To this end, the political leadership takes up individual progressive demands and absorbs elements and leadership groups from social movements and the political opposition. In this way it can secure its power and at the same time prevent far-reaching demands, such as radical social redistribution or socialization, which are directed against the interests of corporations and those who own capital.
In the case of the traffic light government, this “passive revolution” looks like this: ecological concerns are partially implemented and linked to the project to modernize the economy. For companies, if they invest in climate protection and digitization, there are “super write-offs”. However, there is no social redistribution. As Thomas Sablowski, Eva Völpel and Moritz Warnke put it in the Luxemburg magazine, “the broad mass of wage earners should pay for the modernization of the production apparatus so that the German economy can survive the intensified world market competition against producers in countries like the USA, China and Japan can.”
Even the increase in the minimum wage, which is already being circumvented in many cases, will not change the fact that there will be millions of wage earners in Germany in precarious and marginal employment. The Ampel-Coalition safeguards mini-jobs while not taking action against the widespread use of temporary work, sanctions at the job center and precarious working conditions in the platform economy. The one-time minimum wage increase is only consolation for the fact that the German low-wage sector is being cemented further.
After decades of real wage stagnation and redistribution from the bottom up, three quarters of Germans perceive the distribution of income and wealth as unjust. The policy of the Ampel coalition will not change that, on the contrary: While wages stagnate, rents and the cost of living rise; many fear social decline and the threat of old-age poverty.
Alienation from the climate movement
The traffic light coalition poses a dilemma for the climate movement. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the new government is marketing its policy as climate protection. Much of it is pure rhetoric and the government goals set so far are by no means sufficient to meet the 1.5 degree target, but political appeals to the government are even less entangled than before. The climate policy line of conflict that has determined the discourse in Germany in recent years will thus continue to blur.
On the other hand, the alienation of parts of the working class from climate policy and climate policy concerns will increase overall with the traffic light government. Rising cost of living and inflationary tendencies could be linked to the anti-social climate policy, which does not promise any far-reaching material improvements for the broad mass of wage earners and does not change the extreme inequality in the country.
In addition, there is the academic-activist and rather bourgeois base of the climate movement. The social classes that played a central role in the dynamics around the Hartz IV protests from 2004 and the emergence of the Left Party are currently neither part of a left counter-draft nor part of the climate movement. While the Left Party is now struggling to survive, the general alienation of the working class from the social left – which can be observed in most of the early capitalist countries of the global north – is increasing the rise of new right and fascist forces. The shift to the right in Germany, which has only been temporarily halted, can regain momentum at any time, as the lateral thinking mobilizations also show.
If, under a red-green government participation, anti-social politics is sold as an ecological-modern lack of alternatives, an increasing alienation of non-academic milieus from climate policy issues is mapped out. This increases the risk of an anti-ecological mood or even movement from the right, which mobilizes the traffic light with resentment and curtailed socio-political demands against the neoliberal climate and cultural policy.
For the climate – solidarity with the employees
If the traffic light coalition separates climate policy from social justice, the answer of the climate movement can only be to combine the two more closely than before. Special discourses and legal disputes about compliance with the 1.5 degree target will not help to undo the alienation of broad sections of the population from climate policy issues. If the climate movement wants to remain the central opposition voice against the destructive and unjust “business as usual”, it must open a socio-political front against the ruling government policy.
One possibility is joint mobilization and organizing campaigns with employees. In 2020, for example, Fridays For Future joined the bus drivers in the collective bargaining rounds in local transport. The climate movement is currently supporting the fight against job cuts at Bosch. But the merging of collective bargaining disputes and the climate movement remains complicated. Unions still shy away from political strikes. The reason for this are court rulings from the 1950s, in which politically motivated labor disputes were declared illegal. Movements remain only the symbolic reference to ongoing collective bargaining disputes and negotiations in the downsizing. Cooperation becomes particularly difficult in economic sectors such as the automotive or metal industry, which are directly affected by radical climate policy. A common perspective would be particularly effective here. Strategies that aim to work with workers, however, usually only achieve small-scale changes.
At the same time, it would be wrong to reject these strategies for this reason. To claim that after decades of real wage stagnation, social cuts and neoliberal restructuring of society there is no potential for broad social struggles and that the climate movement should therefore radicalize itself in its academic-activist bubble is unworldly. In addition to direct cooperation with workers in the context of collective bargaining disputes and strikes, another form of mutual reference and mobilization that has yet to be developed is needed. A popular climate policy has to be developed that takes on solid redistribution and socialization demands and goes beyond the academic-activist camp in specific organization and mobilization campaigns.
Popular climate policy
In essence, the new popular climate policy to be developed is about the question of how far-reaching and radical the ecological restructuring of the economy should be, how many resources should be mobilized for this and where these resources should come from. Instead of “Who pays for the crisis?” It now says: “Who pays for the transformation?”. The traffic light government’s answers to this question offer plenty of open ground for attack. On the one hand, the debt brake is kept alive under pressure from the FDP, and at the same time obviously circumvented for everyone. The debt brake is an obvious pressure point that the climate movement should set. It takes massive public investment, ideally financed directly by central banks, to stop the climate catastrophe. The debt brake is not compatible with this and if it were to be possible to bring it down, it would have far-reaching symbolic appeal. The fatal (and simply inapplicable) idea that the state must and can only finance itself from its income is at the core of the neoliberal austerity paradigm, around which a central dispute will have to be held in the next few years.
However, debt-financed or central bank financed climate investments are by no means sufficient to stop the climate catastrophe and to socially cushion the ecological restructuring. The resources required for this must also be taken away from those who have benefited from neoliberal redistribution and fossil fuel economies in the past decades: the corporations and the rich. Property taxes and levies, capital and financial market taxes, top tax rates and income ceilings – the demands are all obvious. And finally, calls for the socialization of large companies that are relevant to the climate or the common good and for greater macroeconomic coordination and control should not be missing. Without these instruments, the necessary restructuring and steering of the economy to achieve the 1.5 degree target cannot be achieved.
From climate strike to “real strike”
Class and climate policy do not have to be thought together – because an effective climate policy without the above-mentioned social and economic policy measures is inconceivable in the first place. The climate movement should dare to take up these economic policy demands in order to become the central extra-parliamentary opposition to the traffic light government. But instead of popular climate policy, the climate movement is currently discussing more radical forms of civil disobedience and “peaceful sabotage”. These debates are quite understandable, because there are only a few years left to change course and avoid devastating tipping points in the climate system.
A radicalization of parts of the climate movement on the one hand without a stronger reference to socio-political demands by other parts of the climate movement can lead to a dangerous polarization between activists and non-academic milieus. The government as well as conservative and right-wing forces would have an even better enemy image to mobilize against. Climate policy is already perceived as a moral discourse on renunciation and a topic of a cultural elite. If, on the other hand, climate is not talked about in scientific absolutes and as a discourse about price increases, shortages and renunciation, but rather as a debate about social redistribution, appropriation and justice, the radicalization of parts of the climate movement can be secured. To do this, the climate strike would have to develop into a “real” strike much more strongly than before, in which employees stop working and take to the streets together with climate activists for climate and socio-political demands.