|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Learning from Genoa
THE NATURE OF Italy’s right-wing government under the tycoon prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been exposed under the spotlight of the world’s media. A new generation of Italians will have been shocked and angered by the extent of police provocation and brutality that has been revealed. They have seen what the Berlusconi-controlled media has tried to hide – widespread police infiltration into a demonstration, their provocation of violence, and brutality on a par with that of Latin American dictatorships. They will have had a warning of how riddled the state forces still are with adherents of the ideology of fascism.
But they will also have seen how a show of strength from ordinary people on the streets can shake governments, nationally and internationally. Big lessons are to be drawn from the experience.
All sides of the conflict have been forced to take stock and consider major changes in their approach to future summits. Following on from their cancellation of a meeting with business people in Barcelona, the World Bank and IMF have decided to shorten their next meeting in Washington at the end of September. The meeting of the WTO in November will probably go ahead, located as it is in the almost inaccessible Qatar. (This is in spite of warnings by the WTO president that it may prove impossible to come up with better results than its last meeting in Seattle!) Next year’s G8 summit, it has already been announced, will have to be scaled down. The host government of Canada, under Jean Chrétien, has chosen a remote venue in the Rocky Mountains, hoping to avoid a repeat of the clashes in Quebec earlier this year, let alone of the Genoa debacle.
A row has also broken out over whether September’s UN food conference should go ahead in Rome. In the wake of Genoa, Berlusconi tried to offload responsibility for the violence onto his predecessors in the Olive Tree government. They had chosen the unsuitable venue, drawn up all the security arrangements and appointed those police chiefs he has subsequently scape-goated for allowing things to get so out of control. Now he is coming under fire for suggesting that the UN food conference should be moved out of Italy to somewhere in Africa. The right say he is giving in to ‘hooligan-protesters’ and the left say he is cutting across the right of protesters to make their voice heard. This reflects the huge polarisation in Italian society that has emerged over the handling of the G8 Summit and the protests against it.
International Riot Squad?
GOVERNMENTS IN EUROPE are also reviewing their policing tactics for such events, floating the idea of some kind of international anti-riot force. Trying to put German police onto the streets of Paris or French riot police into Vienna could prove somewhat problematic but it is clear that much consultation and collaboration is already going on between different national police forces.
In the run-up to the week of protest in Genoa, when hundreds of Greek, Spanish, German, Austrian and British demonstrators were turned back at the Italian borders, activists in Germany were visited by police and warned not to go to Italy. A train from London was banned by the French authorities from going through France - a decision only reversed at the insistence of French rail union members. It is also ironic, given the shooting dead of 23 year-old Carlo Giuliani in Genoa, that Italian police were heard, before the summit, criticising the Gothenburg forces for using live ammunition during the protests in June this year!
Since Gothenburg, and even more so since Genoa, the organisers of counter-summits and international marches against globalisation have also put their own tactics under scrutiny. The debate has opened up inevitable contradictions within a movement which has so far made a virtue of diversity. When the battle gets heated, those not prepared to challenge the system begin to get cold feet and denounce ‘anarchists’ and ‘hooligans’ for shipwrecking their project. Susan George, one of the leading thinkers of the movement, talked in these terms after Gothenburg, though softened her position somewhat after witnessing the police carnage in Genoa.
Naomi Klein, another prominent anti-globaliser, was not present. "Hooligans have come along and hijacked the whole thing!", she complained. A number of organisations withdrew from the Saturday protest, including ‘Drop the Debt’, CAFOD (a Catholic aid agency) and also the one-time Italian Communist Party, the Democratic Left (DS).
The writer and ‘anti-capitalist’, Walden Bello, chaired the massive Sunday press conference at which a call was made for demonstrations throughout Italy in protest at the police attacks of the previous days. But no one there, apart from a member of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), even representatives of Rifondazione Communista (PRC) or the unions, made a call for general strike action to demand the resignation of all those responsible.
A clear call should have gone out not only for protests on Tuesday, 24 July but for a general strike of at least 24 hours. There was no excuse for what happened to Carlo Giuliani. He was shot by a young conscript who panicked. Firstly, raw conscripts should not be put into those situations and should have the right to refuse. Secondly, there should be no live ammunition issued to state forces involved in ‘crowd control’. Ordinary police personnel and conscripts should be allowed to have their own trade unions and the right to refuse to be used against workers and youth on demonstrations.
The call should also be pursued for the removal of all commanders, police provocateurs and infiltrators involved in the Genoa operation along with the demand for the interior minister, Claudio Scajola, to resign. All known fascists should be driven out of the police and army.
ON THESE ISSUES as well on that of how to protect future demonstrations of this nature, a movement without coherent leadership will founder. Genuine representatives of the working class and committed fighters against capitalism would link the international movements of protests with the struggle against the bosses and their system at home and utilise the tested methods of the class struggle. Only a handful of active trade unionists in Italy made a call for a general strike on 20 July. A call by the big trade union federations could have ensured the demonstrations were even bigger and more militant.
They could have organised effective stewarding against the police and agreed with all other groups involved in the demonstrations on a policy for dealing with infiltration from outside and with the excesses of those in the movement who see violence as an end in itself. An organising body which truly reflects the anger against capitalism that exists in the hearts of young people and workers worldwide, would direct that anger into a political struggle to end the rule of capital. This is something that even bodies like the Social Forums which come together in the course of the anti-capitalist movement are incapable of doing.
Socialists have to draw all the conclusions of the events in Genoa and build an effective movement of resistance to capitalism. As members of the CWI have been constantly hammering home, another world is possible – as all anti-globalisers say – but only on the basis of a struggle to replace capitalism with socialism.
‘They are eight – we are six billion’ was the theme expressed by the Genoa Social Forum – on their programmes, T-shirts, pens, notepads and every other piece of promotional material they put out. This has to be translated into class terms however, for the mass mobilisation of the working class and other exploited strata against the class enemy, the ruling capitalist minority.
Capitalism is sliding into another world economic crisis. Hot on the heels of the anti-capitalist protests will come the movements of workers in country after country. We have seen it in Argentina and we will see it throughout Asia again as the crisis deepens. We will see it in Europe, the United States, Latin America, Africa and Australia. Conclusions must be drawn and they must be drawn quickly.
Now is the time to build new parties of the working class and to strengthen the cadre forces of Marxist revolutionaries within them. The forces now protecting the capitalist state can be torn apart and immobilised as the class struggle gathers pace and a conscious appeal is made to the ranks to come over to the side of the working and poor people. History has shown in the course of revolutionary movements that this is entirely possible. History is on our side and today’s developing opportunities must be seized to make a socialist world a real and tangible prospect.
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