Issue 255 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
'I am more convinced than ever that we need to stay on the streets'
Since Genoa there has been lots of healthy debate about where the movement needs to go. The large scale protests are becoming more dangerous and difficult. The summits are moving to inaccessible locations. The IMF, the World Bank, the G8 and the WTO continue to do their business. Are we being effective enough to justify the risks we're taking? Should we be focusing more on local work, building our day to day networking and organising?
I was in Genoa. Because of what I experienced there, including the moments of real terror and horror, I am more convinced than ever that we need to stay in the streets. We need to continue mounting large actions, contesting summits, working on the global scale. Our large scale actions have been extraordinarily effective. I've heard despairing counsels that the protests have not affected the debates in the G8 or the WTO or the IMF/World Bank. In fact they have--they have significantly changed the agendas and the propaganda issuing forth. In any case, the actual policies of these institutions will be the last thing to change. But for most of us on the streets, changing the debate within these institutions is not our purpose. Our purpose is to undercut their legitimacy, to point a spotlight at their programmes and policies, and to raise the social costs of their existence until they become insupportable.
Contesting the summits has delegitimised these institutions in a way no local organising possibly can. The big summit meetings are elaborate rituals, ostentatious shows of power that reinforce the entitlement and authority of the bodies they represent. When those bodies are forced to meet behind walls, to fight a pitched battle over every conference, to retreat to isolated locations, the ritual is interrupted and their legitimacy is undercut. The agreements that were being negotiated in secret are brought out into the spotlight of public scrutiny. The lie that globalisation means democracy is exposed, and the mask of benevolence is ripped off. Local organising simply can't do this as effectively as the big demonstrations. Local organising is vital, and there are other things it does do--outreach, education, movement building, the creation of viable alternatives, the amelioration of some of the immediate effects of global policy.
We can't and won't abandon the local, and in fact never have--many of us work on both scales. No one can go to every summit--we all need to root ourselves in work in our own communities. But many of us have come to the larger, global actions because we understand that the trade agreements and institutions we contest are designed to undo all of our local work, and override the decisions and aspirations of local communities. We can make it a conscious goal of every large scale action to strengthen local networks and support local organising. Aside from Washington DC, Brussels, or Geneva, which have no choice, no city is ever going to host one of these international meetings twice. Even now we hear rumours that Washington is considering relocating or limiting the upcoming IMF/World Bank meeting. But if we find ways to organise mass actions that leave resources and functioning coalitions behind, then each grand action can strengthen and support the local work that continues on a daily basis.
Summits won't remain the nice juicy targets that they are for long. Over the last two years we've reaped an agenda of meetings that were set and contracted for before Seattle. Now that they are locating the meetings in ever more obscure and isolated venues, we need a strategy that can allow us to continue building momentum. As an example, some of us have been talking about linked, large scale regional actions targeting stock exchanges and financial institutions when the WTO meets in Qatar in November. The message we'll be sending is, 'If you move the summits beyond our reach, and continue the policies of power consolidation and wealth concentration, then social unrest will spread beyond these specific institutions to challenge the whole structure of global corporate capitalism itself.' Marches, teach-ins, counter-summits and programmes of positive alternatives alone can't pose this level of threat to the power structure but, combined with direct action on the scale we've now reached, they can.
Of course, the more successful we are the meaner they get. But when they use force against us we still win, even though the victory comes at a high cost. Systems of power maintain themselves through our fear of the force they can command, but force is costly. They cannot sustain themselves if they have to actually use force in order to accomplish every normal function.
Genoa was a victory won at a terrible price. I hope never to undergo another night like I spent when they raided the IMC and the Diaz school, knowing that atrocities were being done just across the way and not being able to stop them. I ache and grieve and rage over the price. I would do almost anything to ensure that no one, especially no young person, ever suffers such brutality again.
Almost anything. Anything except backing away from the struggle. Because that level of violence and brutality is being enacted, daily, all over the world. It's the shooting of four students in New Guinea, the closing of a school in Senegal, the work quota in a maquiladora on the Mexican border, the clear-cutting of a forest in Oregon, the price of privatised water in Cochabamba. It's the violence being perpetrated on the bodies of youth, especially youth of colour, in prisons all over the United States, and the brutality and murder going on in Colombia, Palestine, Venezuela. And it's the utter disregard for the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain us all.
I don't see the choice as being between the danger of a large action and safety. I no longer see any place of safety. Or rather I see that in the long run our safest course is to act strongly now. The choice is about when and how we contest the powers that are attempting to close all political space for true dissent. Genoa made it clear that they will fight ruthlessly to defend the consolidation of their power, but we still have a broad space in which to organise and mount large actions. We need to defend that space by using it, filling it and broadening it. Either we continue to fight them together now when we can mount large scale, effective actions, or we fight them later in small, isolated groups, or alone when they break down the doors of our homes in the middle of the night. Either we wage this struggle while there are still living forests, running rivers, and resilience left in the life support systems of the planet, or we fight when the damage is even deeper and the hope of healing slim.
We have many choices about how to wage the struggle. We can be more strategic, more creative, more skilful in what we do. We can learn to better prepare people for what they might face, and to better support people afterwards. We have deep questions to consider about violence and non-violence, about our tactics and our long range vision.
But those choices remain only so long as we keep open the space in which to make them. We need to grow, not shrink. We need to explore and claim new political territory. We need the actions of this autumn to be bigger, wilder, more creatively outrageous and inspiring than ever, from the IMF/World Bank actions in Washington DC at the end of September to the many local and regional actions in November, when the WTO meets in Qatar. We need to stay in the streets.
Starhawk is a veteran activist from the US west coast who was at the battle of Seattle
|The Genoa protests marked another massive leap forward for the anti-capitalist movement|
'Freedom of the rich is accompanied by repression of the poor'
What we saw in Genoa was the force behind market forces. The economic freedom the G8 leaders claim to support is made possible only through political repression. Let's not forget that sitting comfortably beside the neo-fascists in Italy's cabinet is Renato Ruggiero, formerly director-general of the World Trade Organisation, or that the next world trade talks will take place in one of the most repressive nations in the rich world.
We have known for years that the freedom of the rich is accompanied by the repression of the poor. The attacks on protesters in Genoa have broadcast this lesson to the rest of the world. We must make use of this enhanced awareness to redouble our challenge to the legitimacy of the G8 and the other self selected and unrepresentative bodies which run the world. We must start to sketch out the forms that genuine global democracy might take, examining the means by which the rich can be restrained so that the poor might be free.
George Monbiot is an activist and writer
|Trying to get the message across to the G8 leaders|
The escalation of state-sponsored terrorism and violence, although it may show that the social movement is definitely having an impact, is nonetheless beginning to terrify ordinary people. It's easy to understand why. At least in Europe, we all now know--or know of--people who were clubbed, arrested or tortured in Genoa. My own dilemma, one surely experienced by numerous comrades, is this: I am partly responsible for a major anti-neoliberal globalisation association (ie vice-president of Attac France--30,000 members, 200-plus local committees). I cannot now in conscience encourage our members to put life and limb on the line, to participate in demos where we are going to have the police trapping people and shooting live ammunition on the one hand, and on the other the Black Bloc, completely infiltrated by police and fascists, running wild and apparently unable or unwilling to police its own ranks. We have positive proof of infiltrations of the Black Bloc by police and far right opportunists from Seattle onwards, but this infiltration was particularly remarkable and noticed in Barcelona on 24 June and above all in Genoa.
If the Black Bloc could somehow be persuaded to invest its energy in protecting other parts of the movement I would welcome them and feel much easier, but their reactions thus far do not seem to indicate this is possible. I hope I am wrong.
In any case I assume, since they say they have a political analysis, that they are asking themselves why the police love to infiltrate them and use them as an instrument of choice to foment violence in all our demos. If the cops do this it seems to me that: (1) they must have orders to do so as police forces do not act autonomously; and (2) stirring up violence is to the advantage of our adversaries and makes good pictures of the 'flavour' of the movement, which is all most ordinary people see.
If I were the far right, the neo-Nazis, the cops, the Berlusconi government, etc, I would be happy to finance the Black Bloc. In Barcelona the mainstream press reported on cops dressed up as Black Blocers getting in and out of police vans, discussing tactics with their cop comrades. In Genoa it went even further. We now know that fascists used the bloc as cover, and everyone knows now that the police were like fish in water in their ranks. The police allowed the (probably authentic Black Blocers but who knows?) to trash for several hours on Friday, without any intervention. This must have served 'someone's' interests. We have the duty to ask why they tolerate this. We must try to make contact with them and discuss how they can contribute to the movement in more positive ways. If anybody knows how to reach them, not just physically but morally, please try. I can't--they've just flooded my e-mail box with hundreds of messages meant to be intimidating because I have dared to question their tactics.
Let's try to keep focused on our goals, on how we can 'win', how we can defeat corporate-led, corporate-driven globalisation which is undermining all our societies and all our causes. The system is actually in crisis, much more than one might believe. People are at least potentially on our side. A poll published in Le Monde (19 July 2001) showed that nearly two thirds of the population think globalisation benefits the rich, and endangers jobs and small business, and benefits transnational corporations and financial markets. Only 1 percent said globalisation benefits 'everyone', and a stunning 76 percent said there aren't enough rules in the global economy to protect the rights of individuals.
This shows that our ideas are advancing, becoming popular. The only way we can lose now in the longer term is by shooting ourselves in the foot, dividing the movement, splitting off from our base over the issue of violence and danger. Foot shooting is an exercise in which the left, it is true, has had plenty of practice. What if we actually tried to win this time without any death wishes or other psychoanalytical baggage? Just win, with the support of the millions of dissatisfied people who know that globalisation is a threat? Can't we try to win politically by showing we are the majority, the most determined, that another world is possible?
Susan George is the vice-president of Attac France
|The Black Panthers were a challenge to the whole system|
At some stage in every great movement for freedom, those who hold power in our society use that power to try to crush it. Sometimes they succeed--the threat of violence, prison, even death, breaks the movement and leaves it isolated. But at other times it seems that nothing they can do will stop the movement. The repression engenders feelings of fear, anger and confusion among many activists, yet above all it reinforces a sense that they are right, and that they have to continue organising to win their demands. This surely is the stage marked by the protests in Genoa in the week running up to 21 July. Every obstacle and threat was put in the way of protesters. Railways and motorways were closed, people were turned back at airports, the whole of Genoa's centre was turned into an out of bounds armed camp to protect just eight world leaders. The city's harbour was permanently patrolled by mini-submarines and military divers. Genoa became a meeting place not just for world leaders but for the world's secret services. The police presence was over ten times its normal level.
The result was one dead, many brutally beaten and injured, hundreds arrested. Peaceful demonstrators were teargassed. No doubt the forces of law and order drew heart from the recent election of Silvio Berlusconi's right wing government, with its fascist deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini. But the police actions were only part of a growing escalation of repression which has marked the development of the anti-capitalist movement. This was the biggest and bloodiest confrontation, but it is clear that our rulers internationally had decided they would try to take on the movement. In Gothenburg, Sweden, in June police fired live ammunition for the first time, injuring three demonstrators. Swedish courts have handed down severe prison sentences to those arrested. This followed the unlawful imprisonment by police of several thousand protesters in London's Oxford Circus for up to nine hours on May Day. Restriction of liberty and police brutality have everywhere marked the response to the growing tide of demonstrations since Seattle nearly two years ago.
Since it is no longer possible for our rulers to meet in any of the large cities of the countries they supposedly represent without meeting wide opposition and protest, they are looking for safer venues. The desert dictatorship of Qatar hosts the next WTO meeting in November, and mountain resorts seem popular summit destinations, with future meetings being moved to venues including the Canadian Rockies and Mount Athos in Greece.
What response has there been to these developments? There is no question that in Genoa itself the killing of Carlo Giuliani on the Friday did nothing to demobilise the mass demonstration on the Saturday--in fact the opposite was true. The turnout of 300,000 ranks at four times the turnout in Seattle, the vast majority from Italy. The Saturday demonstration was working class, it was young. It was the first major protest since the election of the Berlusconi government in May, and it marks the rebirth of the Italian left. Demonstrations which followed Genoa in protest at Giuliani's death and the repression attracted tens of thousands in cities across Italy. There is talk of a mass demonstration in Rome in November.
But not everyone has reacted that way. Many of those most associated with the anti-capitalist movement in recent years have been shaken by recent events, especially those in Genoa, and have begun to retreat from their previous positions. Susan George refers to her concern at sending people on demonstrations where they might risk life and limb. Drop the Debt pulled out of the great Saturday demonstration the night before because of the danger of violence. Even the Tute Bianche have been disturbed by their lack of success in breaking through on the day. What all these concerns represent is the failure of different groups to come to terms with the changes in the movement. Old tactics appear to have failed. The danger then is that some activists abandon the old tactics without putting anything in their place.
Yet every movement comes up against these barriers at certain points. The black civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s was committed to non-violence, was prepared to compromise, and was raising demands which, at least initially, on the face of it seemed eminently reasonable and winnable. But the movement was met by vicious repression, violence and racism. It could have been crushed by this, but instead it continued and radicalised. By the late 1960s some blacks were challenging the whole system, and concessions which a few years earlier might have been sufficient to placate the movement satisfied no one.
We need now to learn those lessons today. Non-violent direct action can be highly effective. But if the other side raises the stakes--by using live bullets as they did in Genoa, for example--then we have to raise the stakes too. One response to this is to raise our level of action by becoming more militarised and better equipped--an understandable response, but essentially one which will end in failure when met by the state machine of any capitalist power. Another is to retreat into non-confrontation--but this means conceding the streets to those with power rather than to the protesters. The third possibility is to deepen and broaden the nature of the mobilisation, which can have two effects. One is to bring sufficient numbers onto the street so that it is impossible for them all to be repressed. On 21 July the large numbers meant that many marched peacefully and successfully--although the police took terrible revenge on a minority for the size and success of the demonstration. The other is to confront the state power with an alternative power. This means turning towards the power of organised workers. There are two main centres of power in capitalist society: the monopoly of arms and violence of the police and army; and the control of workplaces where the wealth is produced. Both are in the hands of the ruling class at present, but workers can begin to challenge that power by organising collectively where they work, and thus beginning to seize back power from the capitalist class.
This is why the rebirth of the working class movement internationally is so important after Genoa. The crucial task now is to firm up the links between the working class movement and the other protests.
Here in Britain we must link the Genoa protests with the fight against the Blair government. Blair is already making the connections, claiming that anti-capitalist demonstrators are his new enemy, and that he wants to defeat them as he defeated the left in the Labour Party. Blair and Jack Straw praised the police in Genoa, with Straw claiming that coverage of the demonstration was 'invidious' because it 'insinuated that there is some moral equivalence between protesters, including violent protesters, and democratically elected governments'. Yet over major issues such as privatisation or Third World debt the protesters are closer to the mass of the population's thinking than are the 'democratically elected governments' (whose mandates, as in the case of Bush or Blair, are often questionable).
The conference against globalisation and the demonstration against the Labour Party conference in September are both important dates in the fight against globalisation and Blair's enthusiastic espousal of this agenda. The WTO meeting in Qatar should be greeted with huge demonstrations in every country, and walkouts and stoppages from workplaces, colleges and schools where it is possible to win them. There needs to be a major shift in the strategy of the movement towards winning industrial action. Our slogan must become 'if they close a city by force, we can close a city by strike action'. Whether our rulers meet in deserts or up mountains, they have to know they will be challenged by protests. We must continue to protest against them wherever they meet, and we have to mobilise so they cannot just defeat us by violence. But most importantly we have to bring the movement home, from one big demo into thousands of smaller protests and campaigns which can swell to a crescendo in every country, and make it clear to our rulers that Genoa marked a turning point towards a much bigger movement from which they cannot hide.
Lindsey German is the editor of Socialist Review
|The G8 leaders in Genoa|
When one mentions the very name of Genoa these days, the historical significance of its Columban roots mixes with its newfound renown as the site of the G8 meeting, and the state killing of a young anti-globalist demonstrator, Carlo Giuliani. It is now a historical marker of another kind--one of the state's brutality. The images from the teargas-streaked streets of the ancient Italian city mark a transformation in the growing anti-globalist movement. It marks a new low in the violent savagery of police, who will go to any lengths to protect those they are sworn to really protect--the rich, the wealthy and the established.
Much less is known or reported about the vicious unprovoked attacks on young people who were working out of the Independent Media Centre in Genoa. Squads of hooded Genoan cops unjustly raided, beat, brutalised and terrorised independent journalists covering the massive protests. Some bystanders reported hearing screams emitting from the building for hours. Others on the scene reported that activists were taken to a room, shown a picture of the late Italian Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, and ordered to shout, 'Viva Il Duce!', at a nearby police station. This is a scene that reflects the hidden fascist heart of Genoa. Where were the millionaire star reporters, who love to gather in five-star ritzy hotels to lament what happens to their brother journalists in the Third World or Bosnia? When have you heard a peep out of the corporate punditocracy about the assaults on poor, independent or radical journalists who were at the frontlines of Genoa? When young activists who were peacefully assembled to write, to interview, to report, to prepare and to broadcast what they witnessed at the Wealthfest (G8 summit), their persons were attacked, their freedoms were shattered, and their terrorisation at the hands of a repressive state was all but ignored. Their shocking treatment at the hands of neo-fascist hooded cops for capital was simply not news. 'So sorry,' the gentle corporate press sniffs. 'We don't see a story here.'
And in truth there is no story, simply because it is not in the interests of their bosses to do such a story. That way they can continue to engage in useless prattle about 'freedom of the press', or the 'right to peaceful assembly', or even the 'right to dissent' and the like. For aren't the G7 (plus Russia) 'industrial democracies'? They cannot afford to report what happened in Genoa, for it tells us too much about what really happens in democracies--the terror, the torture, the brutality that lie at the heart of all 'industrial democracies.' 'Viva Il Duce!' indeed, for great dictatorships have ever been great bedfellows of capital. The Nazi state worked with a cruel efficiency that used Jewish, Romany and other Untermenschen (German for subhumans) as slave labour that earned healthy profits for the wealthy ruling industrial class.
Genoa, which sent forth the greed of Columbus to pilfer and colonise and enslave, unleashes its corporate army upon those who now look unkindly upon the neo-colonialisation and exploitation hidden under the rubric of a New World (Economic) Order. The anti-globalist movement, so young, so precious, spawned just a few moments ago in Seattle, must now come of age. That is the gift of Genoa.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner on death row in the US. © 2001 Mumia Abu-Jamal