Issue 92 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Autumn 2001 Copyright © International Socialism
Many commentators have compared the growing anti-capitalist movement to the student rebellions of 1968. It was therefore fitting that the latest major anti-capitalist mobilisation took place in an Italian city. Although most observers when discussing 1968 talk about the student riots in Paris, in many ways Italy had the longest '1968' of major world powers--the Italian maggio strisciante, a 'long, drawn-out May', lasted up to ten years.
Mass student occupations started in early 1968, and were then eclipsed by a massive working class upsurge in the 'Hot Autumn' of 1969. Explosions then continued for several years--a militant women's liberation movement arose in what was then a very Catholic country, together with environmental, pacifist and civil rights movements. Workers achieved huge pay rises and very advanced employment protection, along with widespread rights for trade union activities and recognition within the workplace. Women achieved the right to divorce and abortion. Corruption and plotting at the highest levels of the state was continuously exposed by a vibrant left wing press.1
Then, at the end of the 1970s, came the left wing terrorism of the Red Brigades. And in October 1980 there was a serious defeat for the most militant section of the working class movement, Fiat car workers. As in many countries, there then followed long years of 'downturn', which were regularly punctuated by explosions of anger and some successful fightbacks.
Then came Seattle, in November 1999. And 18 months later the 'European Seattle' took place in Genoa, roughly five times bigger than Seattle.
The Genoa Social Forum (GSF) was created soon after the founding of the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in Brazil in January 2001, and consciously tried to replicate its structure and programme.2
The largest European delegation at Porto Alegre was made up of about 100 Italians, who were mainly trade union officials, rank and file groups, leaders of left wing political parties and even local councillors. Although this was the biggest delegation from Europe, it was probably the most divided. But the exciting nature of the Porto Alegre forum, and perhaps an awareness of the task that faced them, created far greater unity by the end of the four-day conference. As the delegation spokesman explained, 'We needed an extraordinary event like this forum to bring everything together, as in Italy we're often divided by jealousies and squabbles.' He also added that all representatives had agreed they should drop their differences and build the Genoa demonstration together.
So a whole series of organisations which had often bitterly ignored one another during the years of 'downturn' were galvanised into working together due to their common awareness of the responsibility they had. The underlying reason for this newfound co-operation was the common awareness that Genoa was going to be far too big a mobilisation for just one organisation to be able to swamp and dominate. In other words, all organisations understood that walking away from the GSF on some point of principle would mean severe political isolation from a rapidly growing mass movement.
The main organisations which made up the GSF were as follows: (1) ARCI. This cultural association was founded in the post-war period, and was always closely linked to the Italian Communist Party until the party dissolved itself in 1991. Its level of activity had declined noticeably during the 1990s, although it still has close to 1 million members, mainly through the existence of a whole series of satellite organisations. Of all the organisations it probably had the most prominent role, partly due to the hope that their central role could persuade the Left Democrats (DS) to support the demonstrations.3 (2) Local Genoese groups such as the Network Against G8 and the anti-racist group Association for Open Cities. These had a largely pacifist orientation. (3) Ya Basta!, a shorthand term for the autonomist political current and, organisationally, the social centres which exist in all major Italian cities. (4) Communist Refoundation, a left wing party which claims 110,000 members, and which gained 5 percent of the vote at the May 2001 election under a proportional system.4 (5) COBAS, CUB, SLAI-COBAS. These national rank and file trade union groupings collectively claim over 500,000 members, and are variously influenced by autonomism, Marxism and syndicalism. (6) The Lilliput Network, a Catholic activist organisation. (7) ATTAC Italy, formed just a month before the Genoa demonstrations, largely on the French model.
One of the signs of the growing strength of the anti-capitalist movement, and of the GSF in particular, was the decision of the newly elected right wing government of Silvio Berlusconi to set aside £3 million to facilitate demonstrations and counter-conferences in Genoa. Another sign was the government's apparent willingness to engage in negotiations with the GSF, during which it made two solemn promises--border checks would not be reintroduced, and no public transport disruption would be created in Genoa. A week before the demonstrations this dialogue was revealed as totally fake when the government broke these two promises. The two big railway stations in the city, Brignole and Principe, were to be closed for several days, which forced protesters to come in by road from several miles away.
Berlusconi suddenly revoked the Schengen agreement, which effectively eliminates border controls within EU countries. This move illustrated not only the duplicity of our rulers, but also that laws and treaties mean nothing to them when they want to protect their own position. The point behind revoking the Schengen agreement was the hope of turning back large numbers of demonstrators, but again they were unsuccessful. A few individuals were turned back, but they were unable to stop large numbers, such as the Greek protesters who had to virtually fight their way onto the quay in Ancona, and the special train chartered by Globalise Resistance in Britain.5
One of the most remarkable events was the Public Forum, a series of debates held in a large tent overlooking the sea. There were hundreds of speakers over seven days which showed more the breadth than the depth of the movement's ideas. Some of the speakers invited included Samir Amin, Walden Bello, Hebe de Bonafini of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, José Bové, Alex Callinicos, Bernard Cassen, Susan George, Colin Hines, Vandana Shiva, Eric Touissant and the mayor of Porto Alegre. Impromptu debates also broke out at the convergence centre.
Free concerts were put on at the convergence centre in the evenings, and elsewhere in the city there were theatre and film shows. On the night before the Red Zone was closed, GSF members organised a rematch of the 2000 World Cup final in a central square. This France versus Italy match was billed as 'A Kick up the G8'.
This march, the first of three organised by the GSF, was held in order to highlight the problems faced by migrants and illegal immigrants, and opened with a banner which read 'Freedom of movement, freedom without frontiers'. The march included migrants from up to 50 different countries, particularly Kurdistan. And, apart from migrants, there were large delegations from the Genoa docks, COBAS, 50 Russian trade unionists, ATTAC Tunisia and ATTAC France, the Young Communists of Communist Refoundation, the Greens, the Anti Nazi League, Globalise Resistance and the International Socialist Tendency.
Not only were the large numbers and broad range of organisations indicative of the nature of the following two demonstrations, the generalised politics also showed the broad politicisation of the anti-capitalist movement:
All elements of the anti-capitalist movement were there-it was very united and joyful. People were singing 'Bandiera Rossa' and 'Bella Ciao'. It was a very militant demo, like a show of strength. But it quickly turned into an anti-Berlusconi and anti-fascist demo.6
For local people the most enjoyable moment, possibly a world first, was the use of underwear as a form of protest. Three weeks before the summit Berlusconi, visiting the old town in which the G8 was due to meet, had asked residents in the Red Zone not to hang their underwear out as normal, as he thought it was unsightly. The DS mayor of Genoa, Giuseppe Pericu, then immediately backed him up by dusting down an ancient council law which prohibited displaying washing in public places. Some Red Zone residents responded by hanging out their underwear throughout the three days of the protest and, in one instance, from a balcony directly in front of Palazzo Ducale, the summit venue. Other local residents deliberately hung out their underwear along the route of the march in a sign of solidarity, while some demonstrators paraded along with eight different items of underwear, each representing one of the G8 countries, shouting, 'A single protest from the Pyrenees to the Andes--keep your hands off our undies!' One of the Communist Refoundation banners read 'The G8 are the only ones with dirty linen'.7
Most predictions on the likely number of marchers oscillated between 10,000 and 20,000. At the end of the march, which took up to four hours to pass, Vittorio Agnoletto told the crowd, 'Police headquarters have just told us that there are 50,000 people--in reality that means there are 70,000!'8
The numerous political ideologies which made up the GSF emerged clearly during the direct action day. As it had proved impossible to reach an agreement on a unified march and a unified method of protesting, a series of marches would be held. There would also be a number of piazze tematiche--literally thematic squares--meeting points for people who shared a common vision or ideology. However, the GSF had stipulated that protesters should not engage in acts of physical violence, while the only act of destruction which would be allowed was that of the fence which encircled the Red Zone. The following description recounts events using the four points of the compass. The issue of violence will be dealt with later.
West: Organisers claim that over 10,000 people took part in this march, with the majority belonging to various national rank and file trade union organisations (CUB, RDB and SLAI-COBAS), although there were also sizeable numbers of the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI), plus Greek and Serbian anti-capitalist groups. There were also large delegations from the Alfa Romeo factory at Arese just north of Milan, many teachers and public sector workers.
There was no violence, and speeches included one by a member of ANPI, the association of anti-fascist partisans who fought the German Nazis and Italian Fascists in 1943-1945.9 There were also lots of local people, as it was the only march authorised in the western half of the city.
North: Rather than marching, this area was largely set aside for piazze tematiche. So there were squares where pacifists were due to meet, Catholic activists, feminists, the World Wildlife Fund and so on.
One very interesting event occurred in Piazza Marsala, where the Network Against the G8, a local group of Genoese activists, managed to create some brief fraternisation with the police. Two pacifists began by walking in front of the police lines with their arms raised in the air as a sign of non-belligerence. Several women then stretched out in front of police jeeps. Several hundred others, sitting in the road, started to chant rhythmically at the police, 'Helmets off, helmets off.' Huge applause erupted from the crowd when the first policeman took his helmet off, shaking his head with an air of resignation. He was quickly followed by many others. The crowd could suddenly see how young they were, and walked up to embrace them, offering them water and bread. 'Why do you beat us up?' one of the demonstrators asked. 'We're both on the same side.' A policeman agreed: 'Do you know how much a packet of baby milk costs nowadays?'10
Half an hour later, after the arrival of the Black Bloc activists in the area, the helmets were on again and the truncheons were swinging. One of the more outrageous police attacks occurred in nearby Piazza Manin, which included demonstrators such as Nobel Prize winning actress Franca Rame (wife of Dario Fo), and the Catholic pacifists of the Lilliput Network. One eyewitness reported:
Teargas was drifting into the square, and the Christians were standing across the road with their hands raised (many of which were painted white). Most of us joined this group in the road. The police smashed into this group with teargas and batons. As the gas cleared I found lots of people in severe distress (including an elderly local man) as they were not prepared for teargas and truncheons.11
There are even some reports of baton-wielding riot police attacking protesters in wheelchairs. Elettra Deina, a female Communist Refoundation MP who tried to negotiate with police, ended up in hospital and was given six stitches to a head wound.12
South: Perhaps the most successful piazza tematica was Piazza Dante, part of which was blocked off by the Red Zone fences. The most numerous group here was ATTAC France, but there were also sizeable numbers of ATTAC Italy and left wing cultural association ARCI. The fencing was briefly attacked in a determined fashion during the morning.
The main march in this area, made up of Globalise Resistance, the International Socialist Tendency and Proposta Comunista (a Trotskyist grouping within Communist Refoundation), and totalling 3,000-4,000 people, left the convergence centre in Piazzale Kennedy with the stated intention of reaching Piazza Dante. Along the way a determined but brief attempt was made to destroy the fencing in Via Fiasella. The march then doubled back, and went up on a hill into Corso Podestà, pushing some carabinieri several hundred yards down the hill to a five-metre gap in the Red Zone fencing. Although the overwhelming numbers would probably have enabled this march to break through, it was decided not to try to enter the Red Zone due to the potentially bloody consequences of a successful breakthrough. The march then made its way to join those already in Piazza Dante, where the fence was again attacked in a determined fashion.
A 'pink march' of up to 800 left the convergence centre earlier than the march described above, with the aim of using 'tactical frivolity' as a means of demonstrating. They launched an attack on the fence in the north, in Piazza Corvetto, before withdrawing to Piazza Manin.13
East: The two marches in the east were likely to be the most tense, as the two groups organising them had made the most radical-sounding statements.
The COBAS rank and file grouping had called for its own labour-inspired piazza tematica in Piazza Da Novi. Following violent police action at a demonstration in Naples the previous March, they had made it clear they would be prepared for self defence. Yet even while several thousand people were arriving in Piazza Da Novi, including José Bové, the Black Bloc made their first major appearance in Genoa. From their demeanour and behaviour it was clear their intentions were different to that of COBAS, and organisers immediately tried to limit their actions. One COBAS leader, Vincenzo Miliucci, tried to reason with them, but ended up with seven stitches to a head wound inflicted by an Italian member of the Black Bloc. In any event, organisers were unable to stop Black Bloc provocations which quickly led to a police charge. Pandemonium quickly engulfed the square, and both the demonstration and a planned march towards the Red Zone were abandoned.
The biggest march of the day, of about 15,000, left from the Carlini stadium, and was largely made up of the autonomist grouping Ya Basta!, but also the young communists of Communist Refoundation and about 300 members of the French Trotskyist LCR organisation.14 This march had attracted the most media attention as the main spokesperson, Luca Casarini, had made a series of provocative statements. Six weeks before the demonstration he announced a 'declaration of war' on the summit, and stated that his group did not recognise the validity of the Red Zone and would break their way into it.
However, he also made it clear that they would do so using 'civil disobedience' rather than violence. As they had done previously in Prague and other major demonstrations, on this march Ya Basta! activists would don protective padded clothing as a means of overcoming police violence.
Events turned out rather differently from their elaborate plans. The march proceeded peacefully towards the Red Zone for two miles, until at about 2.20pm the carabinieri launched an unprovoked attack on the corner of Via Tolemaide and Corso Torino, just to the east of Brignole station. (This area had become very tense in any event, due to the fact that the Black Bloc had passed through the area about an hour before, creating a riot situation.) The carabinieri launched wave after wave of teargas against Ya Basta!, charging repeatedly to try and split the march.
The carabinieri often pulled their guns in this area, and fired many rounds of live ammunition. Very close to these clashes, in Piazza Gaetano Alimonda at 5.20pm, Carlo Giuliani was shot by two bullets fired by two different carabinieri. Although they were still nearly half a mile from the Red Zone, by sheer coincidence Ya Basta! decided to withdraw back to the Carlini stadium at roughly the same time. They were now attacked by the police rather than the carabinieri, and were charged for the last time just 200 yards from the entrance to the stadium.15
A mass meeting, involving thousands of Italians, was held in the convergence centre in the early evening. Vittorio Agnoletto told the angry and tense crowd that one demonstrator had died, and some sections of the crowd quickly called for a march to be held through the city there and then. But the mood was sombre, and Luca Casarini's speech was clearly in favour of no more action that day.
Yet at both this meeting, and during a live television debate later in the evening, Agnoletto had the presence of mind to make the following appeal, saying words to the effect: 'You've all seen on your television screens what happened in Genoa today. So I'm asking all Italians to change their plans for tomorrow: get in your cars, jump on a bus or train, and come to Genoa and demonstrate in support of democracy'. Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Communist Refoundation, made a similar appeal on the main public television channel, RAI 1: 'It is essential that a massive peaceful demonstration takes place in Genoa tomorrow. It is vital that the movement's underlying reasons--mass democracy--are able to prevail'.16
While all this was taking place in Genoa, people were reacting in other Italian cities. On the same evening as Carlo Giuliani's death there was a demonstration in Trieste, 100 people marched in Brescia, in Naples there was a march and a brief occupation of police headquarters, in Bologna 70 people, mainly trade unionists, demonstrated in front of the main government building, and 300 people marched in Milan.17
The most significant response occurred in Rome. A spontaneous street meeting of 200 developed in the working class area of San Lorenzo, and after an hour it was agreed to march to the spot where Giorgiana Masi was murdered by police in 1977--the last demonstrator to be killed in Italy before Carlo Giuliani. The march moved off and grew to about 500 by midnight, when demonstrators reached the plaque in memory of Masi, returning to their departure point at 2am. Nearby, at Tiburtina station, 1,000 people were waiting to catch the special overnight train to Genoa. Vittorio, a Communist Refoundation activist, said, 'We're all worried. But we've also understood that the answer we've got to give the police in Genoa tomorrow is to bring absolutely heaps of people.' Just after midnight not one, but two special trains started pulling out of the station, packed full of Communist Refoundation members and young people from autonomist social centres.18
The response of activists that Friday evening concerning the need to demonstrate was running in parallel with another reaction emerging throughout the whole of Italy--that the G8 summit should be cancelled. On Friday evening the largest selling daily newspaper, La Repubblica, ran an instant opinion poll which revealed that 66 percent thought that the G8 summit should be immediately abandoned.19
The expectations for the Saturday demonstration had been between 100,000 and 150,000. The doubling of the expected numbers is a testimony to the courage and commitment of the anti-capitalist movement. Perhaps it also illustrated an instinctive understanding among some new activists concerning the nature of capitalism--that it must be resisted, whenever and however it presents itself. Arguably the most encouraging thing about the whole demonstration was that 80 percent of marchers were under 30.
However, there is no point in being triumphalist about the size of the march, as many Italians have admitted to either leaving Genoa on Friday evening or not coming as planned on Saturday. And of the foreign delegations, Drop the Debt refused to march on Saturday due to the violence the day before. On the other hand, many more people were probably actively mobilised by the scale of violence and the murder of Carlo Giuliani. Overnight, T-shirts had been produced with CC AE217 printed across them--the registration number of the carabinieri jeep which had driven over Giuliani's body and from which one shot had been fired.
Having said that, the composition of the 300,000 who poured into Genoa needs some discussion. It has been estimated that 30,000 came from outside Italy. Of the remaining 270,000 the largest single contingent was undoubtedly that of Communist Refoundation, which currently claims 110,000 members--it is possible that in total the party may have mobilised close to this number. For example, ten full buses and two special trains came from Florence20, whereas another two special trains and dozens of buses came from Turin. The engineering union FIOM, which was the only trade union to formally join the GSF, claimed it had 10,000 people on the march.
A huge ocean of people and colour formed up at Piazza Sturla and marched along the sea front. Chanting in all major European languages, at least the front section of the march resembled the migrants' march of two days before. Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Communist Refoundation, and other political leaders were at the head of the march, whilst the 'spirit of 1968' was represented by Franca Rame. As the march turned away from the sea, at certain points it spread out a hundred yards wide across the boulevard of Corso Torino, stretching back hundreds of yards. One disabled woman had driven to the demonstration with her wheelchair in the back of her car, and at one point switched her engine off, and was then pushed along by the crowd.
One of the most remarkable things was to see the reaction of local people. Many stood at their balconies waving at protesters, whilst a few threw flowers down on demonstrators. Others bathed hot demonstrators with buckets and hoses of water. One or two old people even brought out the banner from their long-demised branch of the Italian Communist Party to massive applause.
All of this occurred towards the front of the march, whereas the back half had a very different experience. About halfway along the march the police launched a savage attack, eventually succeeding in splitting the march and driving people back towards the assembly point. One participant recalls, 'The march back, of at least 50,000 to 60,000 people, was totally silent. Our return [to the assembly point] was experienced as a defeat'.21
While all this was happening in Genoa, elsewhere in Italy and the rest of the world people were protesting. On Saturday evening 1,000 people protested outside the parliament in Rome, shouting the slogan which dominated both Saturday's demonstration in Genoa and protests around the world: Assassini, assassini! One banner read, 'We fight for life, you kill for money'.22
Soon after the end of the 300,000-strong march, the GSF announced it had masses of evidence of gratuitous police violence which it would make available to all interested parties. A few hours later the police launched an unauthorised raid on two schools being used by the GSF. At the Diaz school the computers of the legal office were destroyed, while computers and video footage of media organisations such as Indymedia were either destroyed or confiscated. Across the road at the Pertini school, the police launched a horrendous attack on sleeping protesters: 60 out of the 93 people arrested (none of whom ever faced any charges) had to have some kind of medical treatment. As had been seen in the streets throughout Friday and Saturday, the Italian state showed that it had no compunction about suspending 'the rule of law' when it felt it was in its own interests to do so.
In the days immediately following the Genoa demonstration one phrase reverberated around the anti-capitalist movement in Italy, and the left in general: 'Nothing can be the same again.' One person's response, obviously a practising Catholic, is revealing:
When I saw Carlo's dead body on the television, lying on the ground like an animal, 'protected' by men who looked like they were from Star Wars, I cried. I cried because I've got a son and you don't die like that. You're not born to die that way. For whoever is a believer, Carlo had been conceived by God, created by his hands, and at that moment, He was on the ground... I was in Genoa on Saturday morning as stubborn as a mule...to defend a right we had been demanding for months-the right to demonstrate... I thought the police looked after people (I know I'm naive). I now know it isn't true. In Genoa I had to run away from them, even though I had deliberately dressed entirely in white... The forces of law and order treated us like animals. We will resist. We are resisting.
PS Let me know if something is being organised in Lecco tomorrow, because I'll be there. Not like I was before, though. That person no longer exists.23
While the three big demonstrations were certainly inspiring, they caused a reaction up and down Italy in the following two weeks which laid the bases for a mass anti-capitalist movement.
All of this was taking place in a country which, historically, has had one of the most militant working classes and extensive far lefts in the world. For example, the daily paper Il Manifesto, roughly equivalent to a daily version of the 'old' New Left Review, has an average print run of 85,000, whilst Liberazione, the daily paper of Communist Refoundation, prints an average of 55,000 copies per day. In periods of heightened activity their readership can increase sharply. In the days following the Genoa demonstration Il Manifesto was printing up to 130,000 copies per day.
However, the anti-capitalist movement was moving in uncharted territory. Officially the trade unions had not supported the Genoa demonstrations, and neither had the social democratic DS, the main party of government until Berlusconi's election victory two months earlier. Organisationally, only the GSF could respond to Italy's biggest and most violent demonstration in many years, as well as the biggest anti-capitalist demonstration the world has seen so far. What followed, particularly in the first week of demonstrations, shows the capacity for an anti-capitalist movement to suddenly become the most dynamic political force in a country.
On Sunday morning Vittorio Agnoletto spoke at an emotional press conference at the Diaz school, vandalised during a police raid a few hours earlier:
If the presence of some suspicious people (sleeping) here can justify a bloodbath, then no Italian can feel safe... We are certain that the events of the last few days were not coincidental. This has been a pre-ordained and scientific attack against a mass movement that was able to bring 300,000 people into the streets... This is the calling card of a government which intends to destroy the right to democratic mobilisations. And nobody who defines themselves as a democrat can avoid facing up to this challenge.
As on Friday evening, the GSF responded to repression by mass mobilisation. Agnoletto, an unknown figure just three months earlier, called for 'huge democratic demonstrations in all Italian cities on Tuesday'.24
The anti-capitalist movement rose to the challenge once again, and in the course of doing so, discovered both its strength and, more importantly, that it was now a permanent national movement. Some cities, particularly Milan, couldn't wait until Tuesday, so a spontaneous demonstration of 30,000 came together on Monday 23 July, with the 'non-spontaneous' demonstration due to take place the following day. One of the main banners read 'Our blood, your profits'. In Rome 2,000 people protested outside parliament as the home minister made his first statement about Genoa. And in the steel town of Brescia the Stefana steelworks went on strike, demanding the release of Bruno Pasolini, a shop steward still under arrest in Genoa.25 The Turin Social Forum called a rally and press conference at 5pm on Monday, followed by a mass meeting at 9pm to decide how to organise the following day's demonstration. In Bologna another demonstration saw the presence of DS leader and former prime minister Massimo D'Alema, who was loudly booed, so much so that he didn't come back the following day.
Here is a selective list of demonstrations held on 24 July. Some 20,000 people protested in Genoa, including many local people outraged at police and government behaviour and who had not gone to the demonstrations. A huge banner was unfurled in front of Palazzo Ducale: 'You think you killed him--Carlo lives through us'. Almost 50,000 marched through Rome, including 60 workers from ISTAT alone, the government's official statistics office. At the rally a tape was played of the live broadcast made by Radio Gap in the Diaz school, as the police were busting their way in to close it down. In Naples the second half of the 15,000 marchers walked through spray-painted squares and streets, which now carried the names of people murdered by the police down the years, including Giuseppe Pinelli, the anarchist who suffered an 'accidental death' in Milan in 1969. Florence also saw 15,000 demonstrating, as did Bologna. Padua saw 7,000 in the streets, along with over 6,000 in Venice, including Luca Casarini. In Sicily 5,000 marched in Palermo, and at the opposite end of the peninsula another 5,000 in Brescia. Over 3,000 demonstrated and marched in the Alpine town of Belluno. Although 'only' 2,000 marched in the port of Ancona, the main banner was made up of several bloodstained T-shirts, which were hung on the gates of the main government building at the end of the march. In Parma demonstrators invaded a council meeting, demanding that councillors do something about four activists who had been caught spray-painting the previous night and were beaten up in police headquarters. And last but not least, over 500 marched in the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, including the singer Manu Chao.26
The biggest demonstration on 24 July, probably 100,000, took place in Milan. One eyewitness reported:
Tuesday night was amazing. Piazza Duomo was practically full-it was so packed that organisers had to move the demonstrators on by improvising a (non-authorised) march, which went round the city centre for a couple of hours, returning to Piazza Duomo where things wound up after midnight. There wasn't a policeman in sight. It was a brilliant demo.27
It has been estimated that on 24 July alone 500,000 people demonstrated in dozens of Italian towns and cities, all at just 48 hours notice.28
A full week after this big wave of demonstrations local anti-capitalists were still engaged in activities. In the town of Imperia activists distributed over 400 white bedsheets with the slogan 'Resign' written on them, inviting supporters to hang them from their balconies. Imperia is the home town of the home minister Claudio Scajola. The Molise Social Forum was launched in the central Italian hill town of Campobasso by 14 different associations, including Communist Refoundation.29 On 12 August, a period in which Italian cities are normally deserted, over 100 people demonstrated in front of government offices in Genoa demanding the release of demonstrators still in custody.
Not for nothing can a member of Communist Refoundation in Genoa conclude:
I'm optimistic. The pall of gloom that has surrounded any fightback against the free market for the last 20 years has now lifted. The FIOM has 'disowned' the CGIL, the DS is all at sea--it was before--but now it can no longer hide the obvious.30
In this short period the nascent Italian Social Forum put a government with a comfortable majority on the defensive. On 23 July the home minister and prime minister Berlusconi made smug and self confident statements to parliament, defending the police to the hilt. Three days later, after the mass demonstrations and the ending of television censorship of police violence, Berlusconi's demeanour during the next parliamentary discussion on Genoa was described as 'ashen-faced'. Shortly after that the government sacked the deputy national police commissioner, the head of the anti-terrorism branch and the Genoa police chief.31
The first thing to be clear about is that violence was one of the issues which brought so many people to Genoa--to protest against a system built on premeditated mass violence. Drop the Debt had paid for a massive poster campaign throughout Genoa, including the Red Zone, detailing a statistic which no world leader has denied--that 19,000 children die every day in the Third World due to the need to repay loans to Western banks. In the three days of the G8 summit 57,000 died as a result of this conscious and cold-blooded plan. To try to compare the violence of a few hundred demonstrators to this carnage is to simply pile one obscenity on top of another.
The fact that a small minority of demonstrators were intent on violence is an issue which can not be ignored. The anti-capitalist movement needs to do all it can to engage with genuine protesters and try to convince them of the futility of random acts of destruction. Another related issue is that of the 'non-genuine' Black Bloc. There is now overwhelming evidence that not only were the Black Bloc allowed to engage in widespread destruction, the police often used their activities as a pretext to attack peaceful demonstrators. Furthermore, it is now certain that some of the Black Bloc were in reality police agents provocateurs, although it is equally likely that some Nazi and fascist groups pretended to be part of the Black Bloc.
The discussion about violence will obviously take a sharper form in Italy due to its very immediacy. Some demonstrators will obviously have very strong subjective opinions--many were traumatised by vicious police attacks on the Friday, only to endure the highly sobering experience of being forced to march back to the original assembly point the following day. An autonomist or COBAS member in particular, who had their march disrupted by police attacks on the Friday, and similarly on Saturday, could understandably feel some sense of defeat, and some have concluded that the best response would be to prepare better 'self-defence' measures for demonstrations in the future.
Yet the hypothesis of organising better 'self-defence' on future demonstrations needs to be argued out thoroughly. After all, where will the logic of the 'professionalisation' of street protests lead? Will we all have to come equipped with protective clothing and means of self-defence? The likely discouraging effect of this on the large numbers of less 'professional' demonstrators needs to be stressed as a matter of urgency.
It must also be mentioned that Italy has a tragic history of ultra-leftism. When the theory of autonomism arose in the mid-1970s, part of its ideological stance included tolerance for demonstrators who would regularly engage in armed shoot-outs with the police. Even worse: 'Within the "1977 movement" a widespread climate of support for armed struggle was created',32 so much so that the movement became a recruiting ground for left wing terrorists such as the Red Brigades. The fact that autonomism and left wing terrorism were initially quite close helped the state to launch a witch-hunt against the entire far left, from which it has only recently recovered.
This is why it is encouraging to see Luca Casarini, the main spokesperson of Ya Basta!--a movement which is in essence descended from the autonomism of the 1970s--taking a step back from the 'professionalisation' of demonstrations: 'To accept the logic of military clashes would be both crazy and political suicide. Our movement can not match their military power. We would be crushed'.33
The huge scale and speed of events is probably pushing Casarini, and many others, to grapple with a whole range of issues which were previously not part of their agenda. From being probably the most 'semi-detached' member of the GSF household, he now appears to be a firm supporter:
It's a positive thing that Social Forums are being created in different cities. The formation of alliances is also something that is absolutely basic, although I prefer not to think of them as alliances but as a social process in which the movement becomes a pole of attraction for individuals and social realities which are currently far away from it.
The white overalls are never to be worn again: 'The phase of civil disobedience is over. Now we need to move on to social disobedience'.34 Although some of the reasoning behind Casarini's statements may be due to an exaggerated stress on the potential of police repression, he is nevertheless expressing himself in very different terms to just two months before. Autonomism, the political ideology which influences both Casarini and many other anti-capitalist activists in Italy, came into existence and grew in a period in which a mass movement was declining slowly but steadily. Today, with a mass movement rapidly rising in terms of both its actions and ideas, many activists are naturally reassessing their own political allegiances.
Just a few days after the interview above, Casarini outlined his search for a new direction: 'We've got to make a third choice between giving up on changing the world, and ending up as a small number of militarised demonstrators.' This latest statement would find little objection among readers of this journal:
The movement will fight--against the military rearmament that Berlusconi wants to organise with NATO and against the privatisation of the health service, in defence of workers' employment contracts and for free education. Nobody can stand on the sidelines--Berlusconi wants to attack a fundamental right, that of freely demonstrating your dissent.
At the end of the interview Casarini is asked what his solution is, and his answer would have been unthinkable without Genoa: 'An even bigger mobilisation. I'm appealing to everyone, the unions, Cofferati himself--make up your mind which side you're on. You can't sit on the fence any longer. Your rights are going to be threatened soon as well'.35
Such is the potential for growth in the anti-capitalist movement, both individually and collectively, that union leaders may well find themselves with no alternative but to open up to the movement. A major union such as FIOM has already joined the GSF, and large numbers of CGIL activists and local trades councils organised unofficially to bring people to Genoa. It is too early to make firm predictions, but the conditions seem to be emerging in which, if the union bureaucracies fail to openly support the anti-capitalist movement, the rank and file may simply create these links themselves from below.
Genoa proved beyond doubt that the 'Teamster-Turtle' alliance forged 18 months earlier in Seattle is now a permanent feature of the anti-capitalist movement. At no point was there any dispute within the GSF that workers should take a prominent role in the protest--quite the opposite--and over the three days tens of thousands of workers took 'individual strike action' and came to Genoa to demonstrate.
While tens of thousands of workers took time off work, with many of them coming to Genoa, the harsh truth is that on Friday 20 July no workplace in Italy was shut due to industrial action. Groups such as COBAS and CUB generally put the argument for strike action in a broad propagandistic sense, and did relatively little leafleting, flyposting and public meetings. Others, such as the Work and Society faction within the CGIL, took detailed preparatory work more seriously. (This faction identifies with Communist Refoundation.) In some ways lack of strike action was understandable. Workers had been coming out of a period of industrial downturn, and in a broader political sense the left was still coming to terms with the victory of arch right winger Silvio Berlusconi two months earlier.
Hopefully anti-capitalist strike action will be the next qualitative leap taken by the movement. And the support for neo-liberalism by the established parties of the left may well provide the impetus for this to come about.
So far the response of social democratic parties to events in Genoa appears to have been influenced by two factors: the level of class struggle at home, and any recent electoral successes or defeats. In France the Socialist Party is electorally consolidated but, crucially, faces probably the highest level of class conflict in Europe together with a fast-growing anti-capitalist movement. This explains why prime minister Lionel Jospin has referred to 'the ravages of globalisation', and could respond to Genoa thus: 'France rejoices in the worldwide emergence of a citizens' movement, in as much as it expresses the wish of the majority of mankind better to share the potential fruits of globalisation'.36
Circumstances in Britain are, relatively speaking, near the opposite end of the European scale--a lower level of class struggle than France, a smaller anti-capitalist movement, and a government recently elected for the second time with a huge parliamentary majority. Hence Tony Blair's response has been far more hostile to Genoa.
On tour in South America shortly after the summit, Blair's mindset was reported in the Financial Times thus:
During the G8 economic summit the prime minister was seized with a fierce determination to take on the protesters whose 'simplistic message' seemed to speak to him of the worse excesses of the old unreformed Labour Party.
Mr Blair has told friends that while the events of Genoa were 'unacceptable', they might actually prove 'helpful' to those fighting for the cause of free trade and economic liberalisation.
The prime minister believes that for the first time his views on the issue are gaining public attention...
Mr Blair is rarely happier than when taking on the old left, and friends say Genoa has given him a useful political compass and that most valuable of assets--a clearly defined enemy...
Now Mr Blair feels he has a fight, and one on his own terms, which also gives him ammunition against Labour Party members back home who would resist other changes such as his public service reforms.37
Whilst leaders such as Tony Blair appear to be in denial concerning the growing opposition to neo-liberalism, the equivalent party in Italy, the DS, has taken up a permanent position on a political psychiatric couch. The detachment from reality can even be noticed in the opinion of one of the party's joint leaders, Pietro Folena, concerning the nature of the British Labour Party: 'It is a mass party which organises demonstrations, and which has radical elements within it which the DS can just dream about'.38 The political disorientation currently engulfing the DS has been caused by a different combination of factors: a resilient working class which frequently launches significant fightbacks, a large far left which has thrown itself into a rapidly growing anti-capitalist movement, and--as opposed to the French Socialist Party and the British Labour Party--a severe electoral defeat.
The defeat of the DS coalition government in the May 2001 election had been widely predicted over the preceding two years. The scale of the DS's electoral decline, down to 16 percent, nevertheless surprised many observers and the DS leadership. And since then opinion polls have placed the DS at 13 percent, now 3 percent behind their main rivals in the constellation of centre-left parties, in the shape of Francesco Rutelli's Margherita grouping. But the DS's problems are much deeper and longer term than those caused by the events of 2001--party membership has been haemorrhaging. In 1990, one year before it split, the Italian Communist Party had 1,319,905 members, yet now the DS has under 200,000 members.
The issue which finally sent the DS over the edge was what attitude to take towards the Genoa protests. On the one hand, they had made all the arrangements for the summit--ie until their defeat in the general election two months earlier. And crucially, as the main party of government over the previous four years, they had enthusiastically embraced neo-liberalism and privatised many areas of the economy. On the other hand, however, they could sense the growing size of the anti-capitalist movement and knew that their own rank and file, just as with the Labour Party, were becoming increasingly sympathetic towards it.
Initially the leadership stubbornly tried to hold its ground, up until the eve of the first demonstration. Leadership co-ordinator Pietro Folena then suddenly announced the DS would be supporting the protests, as he explained, 'Bearing in mind that dozens of (DS) branches and local groups are organising for it'.39 Not only was a mass left wing movement developing independently of the party, the party rank and file was declaring independence from the leadership. Yet after the Friday 20 July demonstration Folena again changed tack, announcing that the DS would not be joining the Saturday demonstration.40 And in the eye of the storm, in the late morning of Friday 20 July the DS mayor of Genoa Giuseppe Pericu even called the GSF and asked them to immediately call off all actions for the rest of the day.
The massive scale of protest in Italy since Genoa has plunged the DS into a deeper bout of self analysis, with Folena showing a remarkable consistency in appearing to be out of touch. He seems blissfully unaware that other sizeable left wing forces such as Communist Refoundation, a party which gained nearly two million votes, or 5 percent, at the May 2001 elections, and which played a very active and prominent role in the Genoa demonstrations are growing: 'A new generation is taking the field. And the left is surprised, afraid, left behind and detached'.41
However, when discussing his own party Folena is more accurate and self critical, admitting its shortcomings when the GSF tried to encourage the party into supporting the protests: 'We have to recognise our delays and mistakes. It certainly is true that not only in the last few days, but also in recent weeks, we sent out confusing and contradictory signals.' The GSF 'was dealing with an uncertain, divided party without any leadership, engaged in a harsh internal struggle--which went up to the point of short circuiting.' He lamely, and hypocritically, concludes, 'We have to quicken our pace, by listening to the youth who are fighting for a better world'.42
But the pace and the appeal of the anti-capitalist movement may be too fast for the DS leadership. At a major DS public meeting on globalisation held in Florence on 22 July the audience repeatedly booed any attempt by Tuscan regional secretary Agostino Fragai to defend the DS's decisions over Genoa. The only speakers applauded were those who had joined the demonstrations in Genoa, and in the end the 1,000-strong audience stopped Fragai speaking through their boos and whistles.43
Although the movement is in its infancy, there are many signals that the Genoa experience is being repeated in many other cities such as in Bologna, which created its own Social Forum (BSF) in May. Gianmarco De Pieri of the TPO social centre hopes it will become an organisation which will 'create greater communication between and enlarge all the organisations which already exist within the city: Catholics and non-religious groups, trade unions and associations fighting for a better quality of life.' Communist Refoundation councillor Valerio Monteventi comments, 'Those people who are fed up with the DS are already looking upon us favourably. This is why it's important to be better organised.' He then explains what the next major campaign is likely to be: 'We will have to talk about immigration again because the new temporary shelter centre could open in Bologna this Autumn, but also because Bossi's new law on immigration is really frightening'.44
The last piece of this particular jigsaw is FIOM, the engineers' union. Bologna secretary Maurizio Landini explains what motivates all these different groups:
Basic democratic rights, such as the right to demonstrate. What we are all mobilising about in this period is the right to decide your own destiny. At a global level there are those (and in particular American multinationals) who are trying to propose a model in which only big capital decides things. So in some ways even our (engineering) national contract is based on this same principle.45
What many people have noticed about the anti-capitalist movement is that many activists are young. Union leaders sympathetic to this movement such as Landini also make the fairly obvious point that many union members are young too: 'The engineers' demonstrations are full of young and very young people, many of whom have just started working'.46
In some senses the world anti-capitalist movement still seems to be in much the same position as before Genoa. Its main impact so far has largely been 'symbolic and ideological'. Yet the scale of the victory represented by Genoa should not be underestimated. The numbers of people around the world who would have been convinced of the merits of neo-liberalism as a result of the G8 summit could probably be counted on one hand, whereas the number of new anti-capitalists created by Genoa could be five, six or seven figures on a global scale.
And if one just looks at the worldwide scale of protests immediately following the summit, it is clear the movement is still rising. By the evening of Saturday 21 July there had been small demonstrations in Athens, Berlin and Tokyo; whereas in Paris over 500 protested at a demonstration called by ATTAC France, the French Communist Party, the Greens and the LCR. Around 100 people demonstrated outside the Italian embassy in Vienna and 400 in Stockholm. Several hundred demonstrated in front of the stock exchange in Mexico City, while a similar number protested outside the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Buenos Aires. In Brazil thousands demonstrated outside the US consulate in Sao Paolo, while there was another march in Rio de Janeiro.47 In all, there were 124 protests around the world (excluding Italy) in the week following the G8 summit, including three demonstrations outside the Italian embassy in London and an occupation of the Italian embassy in Amsterdam.
The other side look rattled. They tried repression, now they are trying to run. The cancellation of the World Bank meeting in Barcelona in June 2001 was a clear victory for our side. The decision to hold the next G8 meeting in the small Canadian town of Kananaskis in June 2002 is another sign of the overall impact of protests. So too is the decision to hold the next WTO meeting in the desert kingdom of Qatar in November 2001. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi now wants to reschedule the November food summit of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation from Rome to an unspecified location in Africa. He said he could not afford another public relations calamity and police brutality.48 However, the neo-fascist party in government, National Alliance, wants the summit to go ahead in Rome and to ban all demonstrations. And after more than 50 years as the host city of NATO's southern command, the mayor of Naples has recently said she doesn't want to host a NATO conference on the 'Son of Star Wars' missile programme in late September. Although this was likely to be the next focus for the anti-capitalist movement in Italy, following the violence in Genoa some organisations are getting cold feet about demonstrating. Marco Bersani of ATTAC Italy has argued that there should be no demonstrations in Naples, just meetings and rallies, in order 'to refuse to play their game of massacring us in the streets'.49
Although world political and financial leaders might be running scared, they are still running the world. They can easily hold summits in obscure places or have discussions via video-conferences. The main concrete victory scored by our side thus far was the decision of the pharmaceutical companies in South Africa to back down from their court case over AIDS drugs.
Mass campaigning is likely to remain a constant of the anti-capitalist movement, and rightly so. Another recent victory has been scored after South Africa, this time in Italy. Monsanto has recently announced a change of plan in a city on the eastern coast of Italy, Ravenna. It had planned to build a factory to produce a weedkiller named Round-Up, which would be used in GM food production. Ravenna is already a highly polluted city, so opposition grew quickly and a national demonstration was held on 10 March 2001. A national conference then followed in Ravenna on 5 May, in which it was decided to organise an international blockade when building work was due to start on the factory. An international demonstration had also been called for late September. But in late July Monsanto and the local council announced that the factory would not be built. The timing of their announcement had a lot of symbolic importance--it was made on the same day the funeral of Carlo Giuliani was taking place in Genoa, on the western coast of Italy.
However, Monsanto may well try to build the factory in South America. One of the reasons for this is that one of the chemical agents used in the weedkiller is a defoliant similar to Agent Orange which was used by the US in the Vietnam War, and which is also permitted as part of the US's 'Plan Colombia'.
The challenge for the anti-capitalist movement is to move beyond mass campaigning and demonstrating, and fighting the propaganda war, which will all be necessary in the future. We need to try to stop capitalism in its tracks, albeit initially on a small scale. For example, if Monsanto tries to build its factory, activists in South America need to argue with construction and transport workers not to touch the work, for the government and local councils to break off all negotiation with the company. And back in the 'First World', there is no reason why anti-capitalist workers should not take strike action against the plans their bosses have elsewhere in the world.
In the final analysis capitalism depends on workers for its continued development. Workers move the goods, build the factories, produce the goods and services of the system. If we cease to do so, we're unlikely to see an army of sweating multi-millionaire CEOs erecting scaffolding, or slaving away at the production line of polluting factories in order to keep their system working.
The immediate political fallout from Genoa obviously had a particularly Italian flavour. But the same actors exist on the political stages of many major countries--social democracy looks increasingly discredited, rank and file social democrats are desperately looking for an alternative, trade union leaders are unwilling to provide a focus for the deep anger in society, and the far right is waiting in the wings. Events might have played slightly differently elsewhere, different lines might have been spoken, but the plot line would have been broadly the same. On 20 August, exactly a month after Carlo Giuliani's death, there were commemorations in 250 cities around the world, including Berlin, Melbourne, New York, San Paolo and Warsaw. In Piazza Gaetano Alimonda, the site of Carlo's death, where hundreds of people had been coming every day since 20 July, a public ceremony involving several thousands was held, including his father, Giuliano.50 Carlo Giuliani was a fan of Roma football team. At the opening game of the season supporters from the capital's other main team, Lazio, held up a banner on the terraces in his memory. And at the opening match of Roma, at the Olympic Stadium, both sets of supporters took turns to taunt the police with the chant heard again and again at Genoa: Assassini, assassini.51 Elsewhere in Italy an ex NATO base was symbolically occupied in Irpinia. In Turin 500 people demonstrated behind a big banner which read, 'To stop more Carlos dying, there need to be many more of us'. In the town of Bari in the far south the main banner read, 'You've killed Carlo--you won't kill the movement'.52 500 people assembled in Rome to unveil a plaque in memory of Carlo and Giorgiana Masi--murdered by the police in 1977. Part of the inscription reads, 'Dedicated to the memory of two young people cut down by the same violence, and the common ideals of these two generations'. One generation on from Giorgiana Masi, for perhaps millions of activists around the world, capitalism is again in the dock. However, it will only be these millions, often as organised workers, who can carry out the sentence capitalism fully deserves.