Learning from Hambach

Ship’s log of an Italian activist at Ende Gelände

16 / 11 / 2017

The lignite mine that jeopardizes what remains of Hambach forest, nearby the city of Bonn, is a sci-fi landscape, a boundless chasm that broadens as far as the eye can see.

Since the pit’s width, it’s hard to sense immediately its depth. Then, with growing awe, the gaze falls into soil for hundreds of meters, from terracing to terracing.

Each step downward, each shade - ochre, brown, white - of the clay loam leads our spatial coordinates to update. A feeling of estrangement takes shape, it is a sensation that the preparatory look to Google Maps let foresee, still being unable to fully reconstruct.

The crater is populated by machines, so tiny from afar, striking from up close. I found on the web that the mine holds (or held) the record for the biggest terrestrial vehicle. Bagger 293, that’s his name, is a giant bucket-wheel excavator «96 meters tall and weighs over 14.000 tonnes. The mechanical arm is 225 meters long and the bucket-wheel itself is 21 meters in diameter with 20 buckets , each of which can hold over 7 tonnes of material».

Beside Bagger, I feel as beside a big cruise ship, one of those that crosses Venice, the city I live in. The mental epiphany does not come from a conscious simile, it moves rather from a common feeling of dystopia provoked by the two machines.

On the background, at an undefined distance in the Rhine flatland, power stations burn the coal extracted on site, limning the sky with thick white smokes, compact and static. Flat color fields not capitulating neither in front of the gloom, the rising wind nor the cold rain that begins nourishing again the mud we are surrounded by since many hours.

The feeling of estrangement is not the one typical of the non-places, it’s impossible to pass through this mine thoughtlessly as humans are here to stay: arrived decades ago and expected for the next twenty-five years. In a pit the mining requires verticality, the digging is not intended to lead to another spot as for a metro station: here we are stubbornly moving towards the place where everything begins and ends, at the core of the Earth.

I contradict the above: it’s technically not possible to see in this place the embodiment of a dystopian reality. It is indeed, I do submit it, a domestic place we already know thanks to science fiction movies. We are on the desert planet of Star Wars, a battle field patrolled by the huge war machines of the Empire, we are facing (a bit, at least) Dune’s desert, whereas the sky, burdened of smokes as it is, reminds the oppressive atmosphere of Blade Runner.

Well, the imaginary is no doubt vintage, nor surprisingly: we are talking about fossil fuel, a power source vintage just as much. So, while knee-deep in Hambach’s mud, the whole rhetoric of a a “German european primacy in alternative source of energy” shatters and one asks itself how was it possible, even just for a second, to have had faith in that tale.

I referred to sci-fi not to linger on literary stances, but rather because the qualities of this space, their adherence to a fictive geography instead of a realistic one, with their ecological, political, social and economic implications, mirror the nature of Ende Gelände.

The thousands of people, young for the better part, that occupied Hambach mine for one day during the last 5 November have a clear mind. Their main goal is not the closure of the pit, or better, this claim is implied. What Ende Gelände aims for is the end of capitalism in its actual form. That simple.

What surprised me the most, and which may not affect who usually frequent german activists, is the “naturalness” with which each finger (i.e. each group that left the authorized demonstration attempting to reach the mine) expressed this claim.

There is no vintage allure in this subjectivity, that I perceive as completely “intersectional”: ecologist, anticapitalist and queer. Yes, queer too, but let me explain. There were no feminist or lgbt activists quite into environment issues, nor it was a matter of adherence to pink-block aesthetic. Ende Gelände is queer as far as the Anthropocene is chauvinist and patriarchal, as far as the capitalist development’s model based on fossil fuel meant colonization, systematic rape, sexism, marginalization of social reproduction, care work’s lack of acknowledgment and so on.

We learn from Hambach then, where we saw in action an environmentalist movement over environmentalism. Ende Gelände told us it is possible to rethink a new phase of autonomous movements starting from the main issue, the one introduced by the geological era we are living, and that it is indeed possible out of any NIMBY temptation.

Well, since quite a lot we are saying (and we act consequently, as long as we can) that “capital VS life” is the new “capital VS work”. Plus, we started thinking years ago that in order to act this fight we needed, at least, a continental net. Ende Gelände is not fixing anything, but it shows a path, a bounce of light. A model that works even with a difficult background, made of national and european policies affected by the return of reactionary pushes and extreme right wing.

We know it, Italy is an incredible source of controversy against major works, environment destruction, overbuilding. NO TAV movement inspires since almost 30 years national and international struggles, often working itself as a kind of catalyst for other movements, even unrelated to development models and ecologist implications.

Nevertheless, the spread of this kind of fights is limited in its potential by its organizational system: the committee or the popular committee structure.

It is evident that it is still necessary to create, partecipate and fight together with committees, just as much it is clear that a double transformation will be required.

On the first hand, the structure “committee”, with its cultural heritage in debt with the institutional environmentalist, has to be exceeded. We are talking about an organizational format characterized by a crossover that, no doubt, makes it inclusive, but that too often restricts its political horizon, beyond the praxis. We are talking about a model that, insisting on local spatiality, creates important hotbeds of counter-information, biased knowledge, local resistances, but that contains the limits of the spatial and identity-giving fragmentation of its political geography.

On the other hand, an analogous transformation of independent movements will be needed and they will have to face, without delegating the committees, the climate justice’s challenge as the key struggle against capitalism nowadays.

A challenge that, among other things, links one more time the present moment to the future, put on the line again a constituent perspective, keeping together the need of an urgent transformation of the current life/production model imposed by the capital with the fantasy of a world post-Anthropocene (that, not by chance, somebody calls Capitalocene).

In the field, Ende Gelände has displayed an inclusive praxis wherein, thanks to the “fingers” structure - typically north-european -, everyone could find a practice the closer to its own sensitivity and almost choose the risk-level to face.

During the parade, we have not seen on the job heroic vanguard, nor we attended to the imposition of unbearable legalitarian bonds on behalf of a transversal dimension: there was no place for that kind of distinction between good and evil.

Conversely, thousands of young people got involved into the practice of mass illegality, which implied continuing occupation, police contact, possibility of detention and collective decision  to refuse the identification not providing any ID. “Civil disobedience”, that’s how we used to call it, but here we were finally able to see exactly how it works with a long series of innovative contents.

During the occupation, that lasted approximately five hours, many briefings were called in order to decide each step of the demonstration collectively. But let’s not point out methodological details. After all, the first reaction of an experienced Italian activist (not really keen on participation while knee-deep in mud, with his face beaten by the cold rain and burnt by the polizei’s spray) consisted in being horrified stated the bureaucratization of a parade and in blaming a certain stereotypical German inclination to formality. Nevertheless, with time, the feeling is that this exercise of prefiguration, beyond the implicit limits and potentialities of the prefiguration itself, was working on a more immediate plan.

A plan wherein majority and consent are held together, wherein any action is proceeded horizontally  and still, in the meanwhile, everybody relies on the authoritativeness of those activists who stood as valuable references. So, in the end, everybody muddle through, let me say it. It is just few hours later, on the train that bring me from Cologne to Dusseldorf, where I will spend the night before coming back to Italy, that I let my mind flow and I fix my thoughts this way, a bit in disorder and on an hypothetical guise, but corroborated by the experience’s closeness.

Well, it is not possible to “proceed as” in Germany or Spain or Greece. We cannot haul subjectivisation’s experiences from a side to another as parcels or metadata, neither at the time of nets and web. However, the movement of struggles, the changing point of view, the building of the common as common fight, sometimes, let theory and praxis merge and mutually enlighten, so that a breach can be open. Ende Gelände and (even if in a different way) the metropolitan insurrection against the G20 in Hamburg tell us, for instance, that it is necessary to look carefully at what is happening nearby Berlin.

We passed through the European struggles of the last years, and the last edition of Blockupy has ratified a sort of conclusion of an European course agains austerity. On the contrary, in Germany, blocks and police clashes of Frankfurt have perhaps triggered a subjectivisation process that led the movements to overstep a behavior of predominant solidarity with South-Europe in favor of a new layout. A new structure then to rely on while facing and fighting the contradictions of the German model.

I go back again with my thoughts to the huge mine of Hambach, this time imaging the global logistic prosthesis. I conceive the complexity of the algorithm that steers the carbon mining, its movement, the combustion. Is it indeed the summa of our era?

This merging of power regime and communication regime, medley of mechanical machines and computational machines. And well yes, I feel a bit down again while finally tasting a sought beer stein that, due to my weariness, provokes a kind of laudanum pint effect. I feel a bit down because I am so tiny compared to Bagger 293, and I am even tinier in the tangles of technosphere, which treats each of us as very active veins, as inexhaustible mines to extract datas from.

Carbon silicide machine and cyberfossil capital, as a friend writes in the attempt to describe the world flow and to renew the interpretive tools of marxism and critical thinking.

Anticapitalist-environmentalist-queer-hacker…sounds hard, in this time. Where is it, this new politics-bearer subject? Probably anywhere, and this is precisely why it is better to point the action, the time frame that easily shows the link between these qualities.

From this point of view, Ende Gelände seems to be a not negligible discontinuity spot, even if circumscribed. Ok, fair enough, but it keeps sounding hard, especially if I think of that tiny plot of Padan Plain that surrounds the lagoon I chose to live in. That, in fact, may look like a less apocalyptic and still more messed up Rhineland. A small, dense Rhineland, where warehouses and districts stand in for huge industrial plants and mines, where everything showed up by chance, according to a tacky aesthetic.

I am quite hesitant and demoralized then, but I think I am in good company and that I have not lived the way I have done to spend my days fighting on social networks, waiting for a leader to resurrect the left-wing people. Fuck off! Let’s go for the anticapitalist-environmentalist-queer-hacker option, which, come to think of it, means to not give up to this era of sad passions nor to my filter bubble.

(traduzione Anna Clara Basilicò)