“Let’s Socialize”: A look back

In March 2024, we co-hosted the movement conference Let’s Socialize – socialization as a strategy for climate justice. While most of the debates focused on the specificity of the situation in Germany and the campaign ideas developed at the conference mostly related to struggles within the country, many of the broader motives discussed seem highly relevant to international contexts.

Why socialization?

Over the past few years, the broader climate movement in Germany, including the movement for climate justice, has run into a gridlock situation: Movement groups have suffered from Covid-period disorganization, the Green party once again joined the federal government coalition in 2021 but has not been able to overcome fossil interests, and Russia’s attack on Ukraine triggered a fossil backlash that largely left pro-climate forces helpless.

Against this background, climate activists have taken inspiration from the recent success of the Berlin campaign “Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen” (DWE), which won a 2021 referendum on the expropriation of large real estate holdings that have been found to exacerbate the housing crisis in Berlin. The campaign was a historic attempt to harness the never-applied Article 15 of the German constitution, which allows for the socialization of land, natural resources and economic infrastructures for the common good. Even though Berlin’s government has been refusing to implement its citizens’ majority decision, DWE single-handedly revived the old tradition of labour movement struggles for Vergesellschaftung (socialization), which were particularly prominent in the post-World War I period. Back then, workers hoped to overcome capitalism’s tendency to unleash devastating crises that drove millions to the brink of starvation – by appropriating the basic economic infrastructures that workers depended on for their own reproduction, administering them democratically and running them on a non-profit basis. The current struggle by Berlin’s tenants inspired the first Vergesellschaftungskonferenz in 2022, which brought together more than 1,000 scholars and activists in the city, who spent a weekend exploring the potential to broaden and scale up struggles for a democratic economy.

As the climate crisis is turning into a more immediately existential threat and climate movement actors are searching for new pathways, two related obstacles have become apparent: Established property relations throughout the economy render any progress on climate difficult, and dominant strategies of market-driven ecological modernization have been pitting climate against social justice concerns. So what about socialization as a strategy for climate justice? Socialization struggles, so the hypothesis goes, could bring diverse movements together in an attempt to reconcile social and ecological concerns – and, ideally, break the stalemate on climate.

Towards “Let’s Socialize”

Thus, in our internal discussions at Konzeptwerk, the idea for another gathering was born, one that would be more immediately praxis-oriented and focused on the intersection of socialization and climate. We contacted two other relevant organizations, communia (who were mainly responsible for organizing the 2022 conference) and Movement Hub, and together we decided to share an open invitation for volunteers to join the Orgakreis, the conference organizing team that, beginning in June 2023, worked according to basic democratic, consensus-oriented principles. We decided to hold the conference in a rural location, creating an environment that allowed for intensive collaboration throughout the full weekend, and chose springtime so as to enable activists working in the agricultural sector to join.

The Orgakreis decided to structure the conference into four sectoral tracks: agriculture, care, energy and mobility. By splitting into four sectoral subgroups, the program working group became a seedbed for new socialization initiatives, as the activists involved surveyed the field and identified and invited interesting speakers, all the while thinking ahead and developing ideas to present at the conference.

On Friday, March 15, 2024, 300 people arrived on the shores of Lake Werbellin, about one hour north of Berlin, for the gathering titled “Let’s Socialize – socialization as a strategy for climate justice.” Justus Henze of DWE delivered an inspiring keynote speech, highlighting that transformative socialization projects could do what “green growth” strategies couldn’t: inspire active involvement and achieve not only a less scorched planet but also palpable improvements in everyday life for the many. During the rest of the afternoon, activists got to know one another within their topical tracks and various organizations involved in the conference had the opportunity to present their work in an open forum. In the evening, a “fishbowl” discussion explored the obstacles faced by movements in the current conjuncture, considering the potential for socialization as a key to overcoming such obstacles. As the conference took place in former East Germany, some activists highlighted the particular challenges presented by the complex legacy of real socialism in the region.

On Saturday, the second keynote by Fatim Selina Diaby highlighted the link between property relations and the ongoing history of colonial violence, noting that the room was – not coincidentally, and despite efforts on the part of the Orgakreis to invite a diversity of participants – filled largely by white people. Diaby insisted that legitimate exclusive property is an illusion,and the crowd cheered in agreement. The morning was then spent in workshops reflecting the experiences of recent struggles in each sector, while the afternoon was dedicated to praxis-oriented campaign workshops. Here, the gathering split into almost 20 project groups, as the initiatives by Orgakreis members were complemented by many more creative ideas from various participants.

On Sunday morning, each group presented their pitch to the full auditorium, followed by a round of feedback opportunities. Before disbanding in the afternoon, the participants of each track gathered once again to reflect on the outcomes and discuss next steps. The weekend was too short, then, to find time for a negotiation of political priorities in each sector – that may be for future gatherings.

A brief overview of the four tracks

As industrial agriculture is one of the largest climate destroyers, the conference’s agriculture track addressed the sector’s vastly unequal property relations within the broader context of politically fraught rural—urban relations and ongoing blockages of social-ecological transformation efforts in the sector. Land reforms (beginning with progressive taxation of large holdings) and the animal industry (with its hyperexploitation of migrant workers as well as its destructive ecological effects) had been selected as priority issues. Additional project groups discussed the potential for socialization in food retailing, which has been dominated by the market power of a few large chains, as well as resistance against the sealing of soils for urban sprawl, the organizing of agricultural workers, and the upcoming 500th anniversary of the legendary German Peasants’ War. Moreover, several research and mapping projects to support activities in the sector were initiated. While international movements for agroecology served as inspirations, the legacy of forced collectivizations in socialist East Germany was identified as a complicating factor for democratic socialization initatives. Activists in this strand highlighted the need for building stronger networks within their sector as well as more effective linkages to other social struggles – using the conference as a starting point.

The care track set out from a vision of a care-centered economy which puts people before profit and thus lays the structural foundations for a stringent climate policy. Activists highlighted the need to address both paid and unpaid care work and to connect political struggles for better and more inclusive services with workers’ struggles for better working conditions. Two concrete praxis ideas emerged from the project groups: Firstly, a class action lawsuit over the misuse of public health insurance contributions in Germany, with a view to the eventual overcoming of the profit-oriented German Diagnosis Related Groups health care system. Secondly, the appropriation of the many vacant shopping malls in our cities and their conversion to care centers, as a milestone towards the realization of the ideal of caring cities.

In the energy track, socialization was discussed as a way to create the structural preconditions for decarbonization, for achieving global climate justice and for effective measures against energy poverty. Project groups discussed the socialization of coal companies in Germany’s western and eastern coal mining areas, the potential for the democratization of municipal utilities, and possible strategies out of the social-ecological dilemma in the heating energy sector. While local utilities already have been the subject of several successful socio-ecological campaigns in Germany, last year’s hotly contested building energy law now leaves municipalities with considerable planning responsibility for district heating, which may be another interesting field for social movement intervention. A spontaneously formed group also discussed the role of socialization approaches in the transformation (decarbonization) of the German steel industry.

Finally, the mobility track revolved around the basic right to mobility, asking how socialization might serve to guarantee this right for everyone. The discussions ranged from the democratization of the German railway company, Deutsche Bahn – which is in public ownership but largely run like a private corporation, and involved in destructive projects like Tren Maya abroad – to ecological conversion plans for the automotive industry to the governance of emerging digital mobility platforms. Identifying the need to involve both users of mobility services and workers, voices from both sides were heard. Guest speakers from the occupied GKN auto parts factory near Florence, Italy, shared their experiences, as did organizers of the climate-labour initiative Wir fahren zusammen, in which climate activists support striking public transit workers. Project groups then spanned a similar range of topics, with an additional group addressing the current struggles around Tesla’s planned factory expansion near Berlin.


The evaluation of the conference within the Orgakreis was very positive. The objectives of creating a seedbed for campaign ideas and a space for movement building were fulfilled. For some, it felt like the starting point of a genuine socialization movement, while others saw it more as a productive point of convergence between various movements. In the wake of the conference, a broad diversity of project groups continue to work on their ideas – some more, others less intensely. Some participants, however, left the conference with a desire for greater prioritization within their tracks, admonishing that amidst all the creativity, more space for a political debate on the best allocation of our limited resources would have been helpful.

At the end of the process, many of the organizers found themselves motivated to initiate further spaces for exchange to foster movement building processes and, potentially, work towards greater agreement regarding political priorities. “Let’s Socialize” will not be the last we’ve heard from the socialization-for-climate-justice movement.

We kindly thank our sponsors Sunrise Project, Bewegungsstiftung, Patagonia, Anstiftung, the Foundation Open Society Institute and numerous private individuals for their generous support in realizing this project.

Foto von Lasse Thiele

Lasse Thiele (er)

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