We'll need more than orange paint to stop fossil capital

The Brandenburg Gate is orange. Good, says Nathaniel Flakin. We need much more radicalism in the fight against climate change

  • Nathaniel Flakin
  • Lesedauer: 4 Min.

On Sunday morning, activists from »Letzte Generation« (»Last Generation«) sprayed orange paint all over the Brandenburg Gate. As a historian, I enthusiastically approve. Our cultural patrimony is already taking a beating from extreme weather. Even better, of course, is when the orange paint lands on private jets or mega yachts.

Listening to German politicians and police talk about this kind of minor property damage, you'd think that »Letzte Generation« were the second coming of the Red Army Faction. The Bavarian government has been putting dozens of activists into »preventative custody« (before they've done anything at all!) for 28 days at a time.

Yet the demands of »Letzte Generation« are almost amusingly moderate. Everyone agrees that humanity is facing an existential crisis – not in the distant future, but right now, as we saw with the unprecedented floods and fires all summer. In the face of this, they're only calling for is a speed limit of 100km/h on the Autobahn and a continuation of the 9-Euro-Ticket. I support these demands, but they're not exactly radical.

Not all leftists in Germany are happy when the Klimakleber*innen superglue themselves to the asphalt. Some object that this antagonizes the masses: »They're making people late for work!« To me, this seems like a doubly dumb argument. First, floods and fires are going to cause far greater delays for commuters. And second, I can't think of many forms of civil disobedience that avoid all disruptions. Isn't that sort of the point?

Column »Red Flag«

»Red Flag« is a column on Berlin politics by Nathaniel Flakin. It appeared in Exberliner magazine from 2020 to 2023 and found a new home at the Berlin newspaper »nd« – as their first content in English. If you like a regular dose of very local communist content, please share. Nathaniel is also the author of the anticapitalist guide book Revolutionary Berlin.

You'll find the German version of this text here.

I wonder what these leftists would have said during the French Revolution: »I can't condone the storming of the Bastille, because that's going to make a few sans culottes late for work!« There's no progress without struggle, and there's no struggle without at least minor traffic jams.

»Letzte Generation« has perfectly unobjectionable tactics. But what about their strategy? To me, their theory of change seems naive and frankly bourgeois. For years, the German government has made solemn speeches about the danger of climate change. And then, the »Green« ministers decide to demolish villages to mine coal or to spend an extra 100 billion Euros on Autobahns. »Letzte Generation« thinks that a bit of pressure will be enough to convince politicians to follow words with deeds.

The problem is that these are capitalist politicians. Their only job is to make sure that German billionaires increase their capital from one quarter to the next – if the planet burns in the process, well, that's someone else's problem. As Marx said, »›Après moi, le déluge!‹ [After me, the flood] is the watchword of every capitalist.« I wonder if Marx realized how literal that quote would become.

The climate movement needs to be more radical than »Letzte Generation«. We need an anticapitalist program to expropriate fossil capital. Only when we put the car factories and the energy companies under democratic control will we be able to radically reduce carbon emissions. The only people who can do that are workers – the billions of people who keep the gears of capitalism running every day can take over their workplaces and lead the transformation.

At the climate strike last Friday, hundreds of workers from Germany's public transport sector joined the protests. This is part of a campaign called #WirFahrenZusammen (We Ride Together) demanding better working conditions and massive investments in public transport. In the fall, these workers will be going on strike, with the support of climate activists.

The easiest way to stop burning fossil fuels would be to make busses, trams, and trains available to everyone, and for free. Electric cars won't help, because it's simply not a good idea to use 2000 kilograms of steel to move a single person. Centuries-old technologies like rails have an efficiency that can't be topped.

This new campaign is a small step towards a working-class movement to transform the economy. That's a lot more promising than all the orange paint in the world.

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