An assessment of the recent environmental justice movement camp held in Germany from rs21 members who attended and argue that the left and climate movement in Britain should learn important lessons from the successful event.
On 29 July, in the shadow of the University of Hannover, hundreds of activists began setting up camp on the grass. Over the following days, an estimated one to two thousand activists came to visit this campsite.
The latest in their yearly mobilisations, this was Ende Gelände’s 2023 ‘System Change Camp’ – a gathering for the environmental justice movement to debate, learn and discuss.
This year would be slightly different from the others, which traditionally follow of model of camp trainings and workshops, followed by days of mass action (usually invading a coal mine site). Instead, there would only be discussions and workshops, a meeting of minds of the radical environmental movement.
Whilst action is still planned in September against the International Motor Show and the fossil gas industry, the focus of this meeting was strategy – whilst polluters double down their efforts, environmentalists were debating what to do.
The discussions and infrastructure
The camp itself is substantial, having developed after several years of difficult learnings from the volunteer activists who put it together. There were facilities to run around 10 different workshops side by side. A large-scale kitchen and washing up area, again run entirely from volunteers.
On top of this, there was a radical creperie (All Crepes Are Beautiful) with library, as well as a pizza restaurant. This food, along with the soft drink bar and regular tea and coffee, ensured that the camp was survivable across a week of regular intense rainstorms.
If you were caught in a rainstorm whilst walking through the park, you could jump into what was usually an extremely packed tent for a workshop. For those unable to follow German, translation was “live-whispered” in English, or even done through headsets for larger sessions.
The range of topics allowed effective engagement on various key topics, with a food-systems change tent focused on the politics of agriculture, to sessions on international solidarity with frontline communities. Activists could attend sessions hearing from those facing LGBTIQ+ repression in Uganda or conversations about what socializing care work in climate breakdown might mean.
Conversations about ending euro-centricity, ending colonial and imperial extraction from the Global South, and the need for solidarity with frontline communities were frequent. In particular, Debt for Climate held an engaging session on their campaigning for debt cancellation as a key demand in the struggle against imperialism and environmentalism.
Regular conversations were held about responding to escalating state repression, from films about activist resilience to discussions of the different ways activists could support each other when new laws attempt to criminalise their protests. Increased engagement could be seen between environmentalists and abolitionist ideas around policing and border systems, a welcome sight.
There were also industry specific focuses, from conversations about coal to a presentation on the role the car industry has under capitalism. All these sessions allowed activists to learn from the various different struggles, but also consider the kinds of global solidarities they could organise.
More widely, there were activists from a dizzying array of groups engaging with each other. From Last Generation (the German sibling organisation of Just Stop Oil) to various autonomist and Marxist groups like Ums Ganze!, Interventionist Left, and the Revolutionary Internationalist Organisation. All could put forward various strategic contributions and debate where next for their activity.
The labour-turn in environmental justice
A notable sentiment that kept emerging within conversations across the movements present was the need for greater engagement with the workers’ movement. Whilst Germany is seeing a lower inflation rate, it is similarly experiencing an upturn in strike activity.
A notable example of the coming together of workers’ organising and environmentalists has been the joint calling of action by German Fridays for Future groups and public transport workers on strike. Of interest, and highlighted at the camp, was Transnational Social Strike’s Climate Class Conflict project.
At the same time, in a similar vein to Britain, there remains few activists who have done the sustained organising necessary to put arguments around worker ecosocialism to rank-and-file workers – with only a few of the Marxist, anarchist and autonomist crews who have such experience at the camp. As with us here, it will take time and sustained links being built between workers at the sites of pollution and environmentalists to build the kind of roots desired by many at the camp. Time will tell if such work results.
Whilst the camp brought a dizzying array of activists from across Europe and the wider world to discuss organising, it was notable how few British participants there were at the camp – a mere handful out of the thousand. Compared to our relatively large environmental movement, this is a shocking indictment of our parochialism.
Without sustained engagement with comrades experimenting from across the world, we will not learn the various tactical and strategic successes occurring around us. More crucially, we will struggle to build realistic links of international solidarity against companies and states that operate internationally to destroy workers and the environment.
With environmentalists from across Europe learning from the mass mobilisation of Les Souvelements de la Terre, as well as watching in anxiety at its repression, many British activists are failing to look beyond their own islands. For ecosocialists, who believe the working class has no nation, we could do more to help develop a greater culture of internationalism.
Lack of dialogue
The week saw regular and ultimately intense political debate between various different groups, such as Last Generation and Ende Gelände activists themselves. Of course, such conversations rarely led to complete agreement, but they made their varied strategies comprehensible.
Britain, despite the existence of camps like the one recently held in Scotland, lacks such a space and our movement is weaker for it. We don’t need all the environmental groups to liquidate themselves into one big formation, but there is currently a lack of cross-group strategic exchange which could allow learning, refinement and messy solidarity.
Overall, the ‘System Change Camp’ provided a great insight into the European environmental movement, both the challenges it faces and the possibilities open to us. For ecosocialists, committed to uniting the worker’s movement around ecosocialist politics globally, there was much to learn and many interventions still to be made.