El Viejo writes on Genoa, violence, a new world and respect for each-other.

[21 June 2001]


This summer could be decisive for the future of our movement. The European states have clearly decided to crush us by force. I have no magic solution, but we can at least try to see the trap which they are preparing and avoid making the same mistakes as the last time.

July 1977 was the highpoint of a movement even stronger than today's. It was to be the "Summer of Liberties" and activists were moving south from one mammoth demo to another : Brockdorf, Malville, Larzac... At Malville we were about 80'000. I remember the shock of being woken at 5 in the morning by the " gendarmes mobiles " armed with rifles (just like in Goteborg !), and the incredible violence of a day that left one dead, several maimed and stopped the mass movement against nuclear power in its tracks.

The tragedy exploded the fragile alliance of radicals, non-violents and reformists. Part of the movement veered right into the socialist party (Mitterand was promising an end to nuclear power if elected.), part went home, a minority turned to dynamite as a way of keeping a radical refusal of the " société nucléaire-société policière " on the political map.

In Italy, the movement was even stronger. Absenteism in the Fiat factories was around 18%. Tens of thousands of working class families were " auto-reducing " rent, electricity and telephone bills. " Political " shopping was commonplace.

The government (and the CIA) decided that things were getting out of hand. The secret service started exploding bombs on trains and public places - and of course accusing the anarchists. The police started to fire on demonstrators. Here too, the result was to intimidate part of the movement and radicalise the other, to divide and criminalise. As demonstrations became more and more difficult, sabotage, then armed struggle became the only perspective for those who refused to submit. Many died. The forms of struggle became more and more counter productive politically. More than 6'000 ended as political prisoners, many still in prison today.

And worse yet : we lost. How can we avoid making history stutte?

The strength of the anti-globalisation movement so far has been in its diversity and complementarity. Now stress, fear and political differences could well create oppositions that could be fatal for ALL the movement. Some pretty thoughtless things have already been said. The question of "violence " in politics isn't so simple. I think we should all think more carefully about it, making a real effort to see the truths (or at least half truths) on either side. Lets avoid hyper violent polemics for or against violence which leave the uncomfortable impression that their authors think that there is ONE best way to defeat capitalism. Believe me, they have all been tried already!

Within Peoples' Global Action, the discussion was already launched with the riots in Geneva during the first Global Days of Action in 1998. After Prague, I felt that a discussion on the forms of action of the movement was urgent (some of this was written then). It was obvious that we had had too much success not to merit a vicious counter-attack. Already in the USA, a judge in Philadelphia (during the protests against the republican convention) ordered search warrants of the Convergence center because Peoples' Global Action, "a potentially terrorist organisation" was supposed to be involved (!). Since, there has been the new anti-terrorist law in Great Britain directed against RTS (and which may soon be generalised in Europe), then Nice (huge police mobilisation and differential treatment for " good " demonstrators and the others), Davos (where the repressive arsenal was so excessive that it backfired politically) and now the incredible police provocation in Goteborg. The head of the police and the European governments' attitudes leave no doubt that it was not an accident. It was a political signal (and in particular a green light given to Berlusconi before Genoa). So we mustn't only reason in terms of what we would like to do, but also in terms of what they would like to MAKE us do. And they aren't stupid.

On the one hand, it seems to me obvious that the non-violent but determined, illegal forms of struggle re-proposed to the movement - first by the Indians of KRRS, then by the north American activists - have given a whole new life and dimension to the movement. We saw it in Seattle. There were 40'000 people marching in a symbolic and legal way which wouldn't have even been really noticed all alone (50 Years Is Enough, TOES, etc., had practised that to no avail). There were only a few hundred Black Block people ready to attack multinational property, not enough to really have made a real difference either. The decisive form of action was the one that 8 or 10 thousand people felt ready for : non-violent blockade. Basically, this has remained true in Washington, Melbourne, Prague, Davos, Quebec, etc.

On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore that in Prague part of the movement (particularly many from Eastern Europe) refused and probably will continue to refuse that form of action. What was done in Prague (letting the different tendencies do their different things in separate zones) was probably the only practical alternative while trying to continue the debate. The debate is also continuing among the southern movements of the PGA network, although the perspective is necessarily quite different : in Bolivia, for example, the non-violent roadblocks of the 26th of September cost several dead and 30 wounded by bullets.

Critics of the more radical forms of action argue:

1) That the media seize on these more sensational aspects and thus avoid communicating the actual arguments of the opposition.

This is not really true, as it ignores the fact that this kind of media very rarely communicate the opposition's arguments anyhow ! On the contrary, there is absolutely no doubt that it was ILLEGAL action in the streets (be it blockades or Black Bloc) - and not NGO counter summits or symbolic marches - that has really brought the problems of globalisation into the public eye. One can regret that the media (and our society in general) don't pay more attention to quiet reasoning, but that is how it is.

If nothing else, the broken window of a Macdonald's conveys a minimal amount of information. It says that there are people who think that globalising capitalism must be stopped, and who think that this is so important that they are willing to risk prison to get the message across. That commitment carries conviction. (Of course, some may believe the reactionary rubbish that we are just " hooligans " who have a hobby of travelling around the world breaking windows, but I've noticed that when you question people saying that they usually end up saying that THEY don't believe it, but that other people do.)

2) That the violent image of the movement will turn " public opinion " against us.

This CAN happen. A violent reaction makes people recognise that there is a problem : " There must be a reason why these people are so mad. " But if we appear to ONLY express ourselves by violence, people end up thinking that maybe we are not acting against injustice, but are just violent people.

(In the seventies, the régime was quite successful discrediting us this way. It was also easier because many of us thought that " revolutionary " violence was as such OK and somehow even the " highest " form of action. I guess because it required more courage. Of course that was bullshit. The subcomandante is right, the less we have to use violence, the better off we'll be.)

Obviously, the more haphasard and unnecessary the violence (small shops, etc.), the easier it is to discredit us. People, quite rightly, don't like random violence and are afraid of it. Everyone sees that riots in Jakarta are a political problem. A riot closer to home is something else.

The demonstration in Davos was an amazing political victory in Switzerland because, despite the " riot " in Zurich, it was the police who appeared violent - even in the media. This was partly because the Anti-WTO coordination had the political courage to say publicly beforehand what kind of illegality it was and was not supporting : specifically asking the demo to avoid damaging property of ordinary people in Davos and to avoid violence towards people - including the unnecessary violence towards police which had occurred the year before.

Similarly, we could ask activists to reflect on the political sense of throwing molotov cocktails on police in Prague. (Practically speaking, it didn't seem very useful. Funnily, it was the " soft " side of the demo that actually managed to get through the police lines.) The message suggested on a symbolic, polititical, level (though in reality the police are pretty well protected) was that we were ready to kill, and that WE were taking the initiative in raising the level of violence. I think (hope) that that was not the intention. For every thing there is a season, as an old song says.

After the police riot such an act would have been more acceptable, whereas coming before it probably " justified " the Prague police's atrocities in the eyes of many.

3) That " violence " will divide and reduce the movement.

This can also be true if we cannot arrange political space for all forms of expression and all tendencies.

What is CERTAIN is that unity and diversity of forms of action (which in turn implies mutual tolerance) is the best assurance of survival for any movement. We must be capable of anger, humor, reason, patience and all the rest. Capable of staying mobile and unpredictable. If we stick steadfastly to any form of action - violent or non-violent - they will find a way to neutralise us. (Like the Zurich movement in the '80ties. There was a riot practically every thursday for about a year. But when things got really heavy, the movement would turn to humor or theatre or demonstrate naked, etc.)

Precisely for that reason we must be careful that one form of expression does not make another impossible. In Prague this was largely achieved by planning three different marches for different styles of action. But even there, some people complained of the " Back Bloc " (situations where there were people doing a non-violent blockade in front and others courageously exciting the cops by throwing stones from behind.) The least we can ask is that everyone assume responsibility for their stuff themselves and let others do their thing.

The non-violent demonstrators who stopped armored cars and motorcycles in Prague deserve as much respect as the Black Block, and they can and should respect each other. We must just calm down the people who think that their way of acting should be imposed on everyone.

I think all the " radicals " agree on two fundamental points:

First, we want a less violent society.

Second, we want to start building it by our daily practice, not some day after the Revolution. So, IF we are obliged to use any violence it must be very clearly a legitimate reaction to the violence of the capitalist régime and the MINIMUM violence for a given situation. If we take - or appear to take - the initiative in making this already violent society even more so, people will not understand what we want and will very comprehensibly turn against us.

We must also realise that we must coexist with the larger, reformist movement.

Over and above our very real differences, paradoxically we actually need each other. Without the " radicals " this whole movement wouldn't exist and would now be quickly re-digested by the World Bank, Schwab and Co. Without the " reformists " we would be isolated and wiped out. We are at once opposed and allied (maybe its dialectical ?). Anyhow, the sooner the régime can drive a wedge between us, the more difficult its going to be.

We should be happy that the heads of big unions now feel obliged to demonstrate against globalisation! That means we have helped create real pressure from below. Of course the State wants now to distinguish between the " good " opposition and the " hooligans ", but if we play it well we can keep on pulling the "moderates " left. In Quebec, a sizeable part of the union demo broke away and came with us.

The NGOs and other " civil society " organisations have also taken to demonstrating and their positions are better than before. And although we may not agree with their conclusions, let's admit that their knowledge of the issues is often useful!

To conclude with some practical suggestions on Genoa:

It seems that the city will really be isolated, like a remake of Davos. Some NGOs have already received notification that their flights are cancelled because the airport will be closed. For foreigners, the frontiers will be difficult to pass. People who get by will probably be stopped at the exit of the autoroutes. At least a large part of the delegates will be sleeping on a cruise ship in the harbor, might even be able to meet there, so it seems impossible to actually stop the meeting.

Given all this, we could do what worked well for Davos. Go prepared to demonstrate and block autonomously wherever they stop us, on the frontiers, on the autoroutes, etc. Seal off Genoa, seal off Italy. Force them to shut themselves in as tight as possible. And look as defensive and ridiculous as possible. Bush will apparently be sleeping on a US aircraft carrier. What a beautiful symbol ! He can't even land in Europe. (I have been talking to some movements from the South. They LOVE it !)

Being prepared could mean, for instance, having a short leaflet in different languages to explain to motorists at the frontier what is going on. I would be for a slow up, with explanation rather than a total block of traffic. The result is very quickly almost the same (miles of queue), but when people finally get up to the blockade, they are generally happy to be let through - instead of fighting mad at us ! We will be able to hold out much longer that way and get a message across better. And there is no reason to stop people from going on vacation ! We might even bring some tea and music, like RTS!

Around Genoa on the other hand, the blockade should be as total as possible. Shutting up Genoa was their idea, anyway!

See you this summer!

El viejo