In Germany, farmers had swung into mass protests. Their angry slogans – even the incitements to violence against Germany’s progressive government – encouraged the country’s vast petit bourgeois conservatives and its adjacent right-wing and Neo-Nazi milieu. It created an unsavoury coalition between German farmers – Bauern, meaning both peasants and farmers at the same time – and Germany’s right-wing extremists. However, their protests were no longer simply about fuel, diesel, state subsidies, and taxes which Germany’s government was set to cut.
Last year, the average German farmer made a cool €115,400 ($127,000) profit – up 45% from the year before! Thanks to the EU subsidies which amount to around €6 billion ($6.6 billion) a year, when distributed through the family members normally running a farm, it still amounts to €82,000 ($90,000) per person. This is further beefed up by Germany’s very own farm subsidies of €2.4 billion ($2.6 billion). These subsidies are important to German farmers. In fact, 40% of the profits that German farmers make, came from these subsidies – in 2023.
The subsidies have – over the last sixty years favoured big farmers, to the detriment of small farmers. Over that period, Germany’s government was – most of the time – run by the traditional ally of farmers: Germany’s conservatives (Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel). The conservatives run Germany over twice as long (2.4 times) as progressives (Brandt, Schmidt, Schröder, Scholz).
Despite – or because of – the fact that German farmers tend to vote for the conservatives, the number of farm businesses has declined from, for example, 905,000 in 1975 to just 250,000 in 2022. My own little hometown in Southern Germany used to have, from my memory, about 25 farmers. In 2023, one single farmer is left.
On this cold winter morning in early January, farm tractors, trucks, and other agricultural vehicles could be seen blocking the streets, roads, and the Autobahn throughout Germany.
The imperial red-white-and-black Reichs-flag with a red eagle in the middle flies in the wind. Of course, the majority of farmers came from Germany’s countryside – the heartland of Germany’s conservatives (the CDU) and its neo-fascist AfD. One farmer carried a sign saying, death to slavery. In the mix was the right-wing extremist youth organization of the AfD – the Young Alternative. Another tractor’s sign was written in bright AfD colours: blue – this time around it is not the traditional brown (the colour of Hitler’s SA) but the innocent-looking blue. The sign said, banning the alternative is not a policy. It implied that the “alternative” to democracy, i.e., the AfD fears the much-debated banning of the right-wing extremists party because of its Neo-Nazi tendencies. Another poster came with this, those who catch farmers should hang in the gallows.
Meanwhile, Germany’s farmers’ association had called for a week of protests to demonstrate against the tax plans of Germany’s progressive-environmental-liberal government. These rallies also included road blockades which consisted of 10,000 participants and thousands of tractors. In many cities, the police accompanied tractors from the surrounding regions to a rally in Germany’s cities – from Munich to Hamburg to Berlin. Farmers declared to fight against the government’s plan to abolish the vehicle tax exemption on agricultural machinery.
Farmers also rejected the planned cancellation of a tax discount on agricultural diesel that is set to come in gradually in 2026.
Germany’s farmers’ association is set to fight Germany’s so-called traffic lights coalition – named after the colours associated with political parties: red for progressives, yellow for the neo-liberals, and green for the environmental Green party. The boss of the farmers’ association stressed that the government’s plan would result in the death of farming businesses and this comes in instalments. It conjures up images of an impending food insecurity. He said, the government’s plans are unacceptable.
Yet, the radical right inside the farmers’ rallies is prominent. One poster said, there is money for foreigners! – implying but not for farmers. Others said, there is a shortage of skilled workers – in Germany’s federal government! Yet others – Green idiots – stop them! Another one asked to Kill Özdemir! – Germany’s environmentalist minister for agriculture. One cardboard sign said, the traffic lights must go!
Interestingly, there often is a little mention of diesel fuel and subsidies. Yet, right-wing anti-government messages were dominated with posters saying, for example, your politics pisses us off. It’s enough!, and not with us!
Too much colour was written on one of the posters on a tractor. It implies that Germany’s ruling coalition of progressives (red), neoliberals (yellow), and environmentalists (green) is too much colour. It can also mean that the red-green-yellow governments should be replaced by ‘one-party’ rule, i.e. black for conservatives, or brown for Germany’s Neo-Nazis. Right-wing farmers argue that this cannot go on. And that Germany needs a change of government. In addition, they claim that our country no longer works.
Right-wing famers hallucinate that some people who only sits at home are getting the same money as we [farmers] do. Recently, Germany’s government had increased the Bürgergeld – a citizen’s benefit for Germany’s poorest. Right-wing farmers see the hated traffic light governments as responsible for all ills, like higher gasoline and material costs, and a CO2 tax. Farmers are convinced that Ukrainians come to Germany to collect social welfare money. We (farmers) are paying for some green projects in Colombia, but there is no money left for local farmers.
Farmers argue that, my country comes first followed by other countries.
One farmer said: I want to be proud of my country again. In reality however, having a small farm is no longer economically viable.
Anti-environmental farmers also carry signs that says, it’s like this: you can’t eat solar fields. It rejects agricultural fields to be converted into land for solar power structures.
German farmers also argue that, when more farmers die, we will have to import the potatoes from Africa at some point – and that’s not environmentally friendly either. Meanwhile, German farmers are also enraged about falling milk prices – as supermarkets exploit their market power – ruthlessly.
At the protests, Germany’s neo-fascism AfD had set up propaganda tents. At one of them, about a hundred people showed interest with some waving German flags, and with most, applauding the protesting farmers. Also in the mix is the (of course, once) outspoken anti-Semite Hubert Aiwanger. Unsurprisingly, the right-wing demagogue agrees with the farmers on their fight against the traffic lights coalition.
Meanwhile, regional state bosses like Hendrik Wüst (CDU) and Saxony’s Michael Kretschmer (CDU) accused the traffic lights coalition of polarizing the country. While CDU leader Friedrich Merz said, the government’s plans are a discrimination against German agriculture … it must come to an end. The hypocrisy is breath-taking. It was Merz’s conservative party as well that enshrined the so-called Schuldenbremse – to put a brake on government debt – into Germany’s constitution (2009). And it was also his party that went to court over its violation when the progressive-liberal-environmental coalition broke the Schuldenbremse because of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Germany’s supreme court issued a judgement forcing the current government to save money. Among others, German farmers, too, were asked to face some cuts to their generous subsidies.
As a consequence, the government argues that everyone in this country must make their contribution to this – not just about one individual professional group. Yet, the radical right claims that Germany’s traffic lights government is causing permanent uncertainty. Meanwhile, right-wing farmers’ protests have also taken on other forms.
A few weeks ago, Germany’s minister for economics – Habeck – was harassed at the Schlüttsiel ferry pier when returning from vacation at Hallig Hooge. Right-wing farm protesters had tried to storm the ferry, which had to turn back. It wasn’t until late at night that Habeck was able to return to shore. Their attack hit the wrong man. Still, right-wing attacks are frequent against progressives and environmental politicians even though:
- Habeck did not invent the Schuldenbremse – conservatives did;
- he did not go to court over it – conservatives did;
- he is not Germany’s finance minister who cut subsidies for famers – a neoliberal politician did.
Meanwhile, large parts of Germany’s far-right are calling for participation in the farmers’ nationwide protests. Germany’s AfD, the Neo-Nazi party Die Heimat, the violent III. Weg – the 3rd way towards a new 3rd Hitler-Reich – the brutal Free Saxons, right-wing extremists One Percent, the far right network of the Compact magazine, and other right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazi organisations – all have joined in. Recently, several thousand people walked through East-Germany city of Dresden led by the far-right Free Saxons. The right-wing group called for a day of resistance.
Yet, they weren’t actual farmers. Instead, one of the speakers was from the Free Saxons screaming from a stage that the rally was no longer about agricultural subsidies, but about ending this policy, i.e. democracy. At this rally, Saxony’s xenophobic AfD-mini-Führer Carolin Bachmann grabbed the microphone to tell her adoring far-right crowd, a big thank you. It was one of the biggest rallies of Germany’s far-right in recent years.
Meanwhile, Germany’s federal police had warned against right-wing extremists’ instrumentalisations of farmer protests. In right-wing Telegram channels and far-right X (twitter) accounts, the far-right called for a general strike and an upheaval.
Officially, Germany’s farmers’ association distanced itself from people propagating coup d’état fantasies and glorifying violence.
Meanwhile at the rally, symbols such as gallows and right-wing extremist emblems featured strongly. There was a banner that said, your democracy is our death, and we will demonstrate as long as you interfere with us. Away from all this, researchers into right-wing extremism are not surprised by far-right’s attempts to use farmers’ protests. Thuringia’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution noted that right-wing extremists have been constantly and consistently trying to infiltrate every form of civil protests. The right is penetrating ever deeper into the middle of society – often by posing as the true representatives of the people – a classical right-wing populist strategy.
Germany’s secret police is not surprised that the farmers’ protests are used by right-wing extremists. Nearly every “emotionally”-charged topic complements right-wing extremists’ strategies. Many of Germany’s current right-wing milieus were formed or significantly enhanced during the COVID-19 years (2020-2022) ranging from anti-vaxxers to esoteric Neo-Nazis, and from “back-to-nature” romantics, to Reichsbürger. These have been attaching themselves to the farmers’ protests. In another case, farmers have already become part of Germany’s right-wing extremism.
While farmers were issuing a legitimate criticism of political decisions, Germany’s right-wing extremists and the enemies of Germany’s democratic constitution have other ideas.
We are entering the Reichstag, in order that we may arm ourselves with the weapons of democracy from its arsenal. We shall become Reichstag deputies in order that the Weimar ideology should itself help us to destroy it.
In the end, it remains to be seen whether Germany’s right-wing extremists “used” the farmers’ protest rallies during January 2024 for their goals. Their goals are laid out by their idol – Joseph Goebbels. Alternatively, farmers’ rallies and Germany’s right-wing extremists may have marched in unison against a much-despised progressive-environmentalist government.
Whatever the case, German farmers were protesting against a – perceived – common enemy (Germany’s progressive government) of farmers and Germany’s far-right with its domineering organisation found in the political party of the AfD.
Yet, a recent DIW study – the economic research institute of Germany’s powerful employers’ federation (the voice of Germany capitalism) – found that the farmers’ supposed ally, the AfD, will sell farmers down the river.
The AfD party’s programme is staunchly neoliberal. In sharp contrast to the government’s modest reforms, the AfD party will end all subsidies and tax concessions.
As the novelist Berthold Brecht said at the dawn of Nazism, Nur die dümmsten Kälber wählen ihre Metzger selber. It means: only the stupidest calves choose their own butchers. Brecht was right in 1935 and he continues to be right almost 90 years later: in the year 2024.