Issue 255 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

After Genoa


Genoa was a staging post in rebuilding the left. Chris Bambery looks at some of the main players
Part of the huge demonstration
Part of the huge demonstration

Genoa was more than the 'European Seattle'. It put all the major participants in the protests to the test, has thrown some into confusion and crisis, and has hopefully seen a rebirth of the Italian left. Confusion and crisis is at its highest in the various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which generally rushed to distance themselves from the protests, identifying themselves with the initial media chorus about violence, and then falling silent as that chorus gave way to press revelations about the extent of police repression.

Drop the Debt, which was specifically formed to build for Genoa, promised that thousands of its supporters would march on the Saturday. In the event it announced on Friday evening that it would not march, and restricted itself to a vigil in a church. Many of its supporters got no further than Milan and Turin where, to their credit, they organised spontaneous demonstrations. Too many of the NGOs seem content to seek a dialogue with the G8, WTO and IMF/World Bank.

The first thing to be stressed about Genoa is the huge size of the protests. The second thing is how 'red' and overwhelmingly Italian these demonstrations were--85 percent of those on the streets were from Italy. Mr Blair, please note, this was no 'travelling anarchist circus'. The single biggest political presence on the Genoa protests was that of Rifondazione, the Refounded Communist Party. The trade union presence was also there from the start, reaching a crescendo on the Saturday march.

Rifondazione is a party that still points in two ways. Its paper, Liberazione, gives a real flavour of the mounting resistance to Berlusconi and identities fully with the anti-capitalist movement. Not for it the hectoring and dismissive tone which marks so much of the left. The party's leader, Bertinotti, was the only major Italian politician who was in Genoa identifying with the protests, addressing an impromptu meeting on the seafront after Carlo Giuliani's murder. Its youth wing played a highly visible and highly militant role in Genoa. But Rifondazione's leadership has not clearly distanced itself from the historic legacy of the Italian Communist Party, the PCI. The PCI was responsible for disarming the resistance movement which liberated the bulk of Italy at the close of the Second World War, and ensuring that the movement limited itself to creating a parliamentary democracy. The initial postwar government in which the PCI played a major part ensured there was no real purge of fascists from the police, secret service, judiciary and civil service. In the 1970s the PCI entered into a 'historic compromise' with the Christian Democrats, which helped restrain and defuse the most powerful working class upsurge of the period in Europe.

Rifondazione groups all sorts of ideas, from revolutionaries to unrepentant Stalinists. Which way it develops will be crucial for the reforging of the Italian left. It will undoubtedly gain from its role in Genoa and in the subsequent protests. In contrast, Genoa has discredited the DS, the Democratic Left, which emerged from the majority of the old PCI.

For the Tute Bianche, the 'White Overalls' movement of which Ya Basta! is part, Genoa was a crucial test. They mobilised thousands of people in what was the single biggest bloc on Friday's attempted blockade of the Red Zone. Their strategy was to use their disciplined bloc, which was padded up against police batons, to push through police lines. After some initial confrontations the police response was to saturate them with teargas before they could reach the fence surrounding the Red Zone. The Tute Bianche was broken up and rioting developed. The Tute Bianche's approach has in the past verged almost on street theatre. The stress is on the disciplined ranks of activists in white overalls (although it was decided not to wear these in Genoa), padding and helmets. At Genoa, many of those who joined their bloc found themselves passively watching the initial confrontation. The commitment of the Tute Bianche to non-violence was impossible to maintain in Genoa.

Luca Casarini is a high profile spokesperson for the Tute Bianche and a key figure in Ya Basta! He gave his assessment of Genoa in an interview with the Italian left paper Il Manifesto. He argues that Genoa was 'the conclusion of a phase'. Casarini points to the possibility of major struggles in Italy this autumn, arguing: 'It's these last factors that bring me to say that the phase of civil disobedience has been exhausted. Now that needs to change into social disobedience.' Casarini points to the example of Fiom, the metal workers' union, which in the week before Genoa held strikes against a new contract during which members of the Genoa Social Forum addressed mass meetings of union members.

New strategy

For him the Tute Bianche were 'an experiment which attempted to make the idea of conflict legitimate again... As Tute Bianche we have covered a lot of ground and questioned ourselves as to what we were doing... A positive experience but one which now seems inadequate to deal with the imperial system that faces us, where politics is the continuation of war and not vice versa, as Karl von Clausewitz has written.'

There are strengths and weaknesses in this analysis. One strength is the rejection of any idea of adopting 'armed struggle' in reaction to the police and the creation of 'armed vanguards'. This was a disaster for the Italian left in the 1970s. But Casarini is influenced strongly by the Italian autonomist Toni Negri. Negri, in the course of the 1970s, turned his back on organised workers, arguing that they benefited from the system at the expense of the unemployed and others at the base of society. Casarini in the interview with Il Manifesto still looks to what he calls 'the disobedient', and it is unclear if he includes trade unionists within this vague grouping.

More evidence of Negri's influence is shown by reference to globalisation creating 'an imperial system'. This draws on the analysis of Negri and Michael Hardt in their book Empire. They argue that nationstates are powerless faced with this global system, that the industrial working class globally has all but disappeared, and that we have to unite as 'citizens' to fight for basic rights. Casarini echoes this in implying that this 'imperial system' is too strong for us to directly challenge it. The notion of 'citizenship' and reducing the fight to simply appealing for basic rights fits with this pessimistic view, and dovetails with those on the right of the anti-globalisation movement.

Genoa has left Berlusconi's divided coalition looking much, much weaker and more exposed. The job of anti-capitalists is to create a fusion between the day to day struggles of workers in Italy and elsewhere against the consequences of globalisation with the wider movement which rejects capitalism, the politics of Berlusconi and Blair, and poses an alternative to it. The decision of the Genoa Social Forum to carry on can create a force for unity.

Beyond Italy the single biggest mobilisation was from Greece. The Greek Communist Party mobilised 2,000, and Globalise Resistance and the Greek Socialist Workers Party brought 1,000 despite literally having to fight their way ashore at Ancona when the Italian authorities tried to stop their ferry docking. Most disappointing was the turnout from France--the country until now in the vanguard of the European anti-capitalist movement. Attac seemed paralysed by the issue of violence after Gothenburg, and rather than mobilising their 20,000-plus members brought around 700. The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), one of the most important revolutionary groupings in Europe, brought just 200 or 300 members. Along with others on the left they joined the Tute Bianche bloc on the Friday and found themselves reduced to spectators as the organised Tute Bianche units entered into their own form of street confrontation.

The cancellation by the French government of the Globalise Resistance train from Britain threw things into confusion. The victory in winning the train's reinstatement at the last minute, and the imaginative means by which people found alternative ways to get to Italy, meant there were about 1,000 Globalise Resistance supporters there--despite the deportation of several who had been arrested (but not charged) on the Faslane blockade. Beyond the many Socialist Workers Party members on the train, what was marked was the absence of any other left presence on it. The Scottish Socialist Party did not mobilise (although members of the Socialist Worker Platform in the SSP and other Globalise Resistance activists did do so). This was a mistake given the high profile the SSP has on the European left.

On the Friday the Globalise Resistance contingent got to the Red Zone fence, twice being greeted with water cannon, high pressure hoses, pepper spray and baton charges. After that we linked up with the Attac contingent in the Piazza Dante. On the Saturday Guy Taylor from Globalise Resistance spoke at the rally at the end of the 300,000-strong march.

The International Socialist Tendency made a real impression in Genoa. On Saturday morning a rally organised by the SWP and the LCR, and addressed by Alain Krivine from the LCR, Panos Garganas from SEK in Greece and myself, drew over 1,500 people. We have continued on from Prague and Nice to show that we are fast becoming a leading force on the European far left. Our hope is that we can be a smaller force in a much larger left which will hopefully emerge from Genoa.

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