What's next for the global justice movement?
August 17, 2001 | Page 5
"[Y]OUNG AND handsome and idealistic as these protesters so often are, it is important to crush them--figuratively, of course--if they won't go home and find other means of exorcising their great guilt at their own good fortune."
These are the smug words of New York Times columnist Daniel Akst following last month's protests against the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Genoa, Italy. Akst may have put it more baldly and arrogantly than most, but he was only stating what politicians and pundits everywhere agree on--that we should shut up and accept the poverty and brutality of their free-market system.
But we're not buying it. The mass demonstration of 300,000 in Genoa was the largest yet for the global justice movement that has captured the imagination of people who believe a better world is possible.
For their part, the rulers of the world's most powerful governments sent their own message in Genoa--with the murder of 23-year-old protester Carlo Giuliani and brutal attacks on demonstrators, including a police raid on the Genoa Social Forum, the umbrella coalition that organized the demonstrations.
The battle of Genoa inspired the global justice movement. But it's also raised new debates--with activists everywhere meeting to discuss the future.
The next battleground will be Washington, D.C., when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund hold their joint meeting this fall. These giant financial institutions are feeling the heat--earlier this month, they announced that they were shortening the conference.
YURII COLOMBO, an Italian socialist and editor of a forthcoming Marxist journal, and AHMED SHAWKI, editor of the International Socialist Review, both took part in last month's protests in Genoa. They talked to Socialist Worker about the aftermath--and the challenges ahead.
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WHAT'S BEEN the fallout to the killing of Carlo Giuliani and the repression in Genoa?
Yurii: The impact was huge in Italy. After Genoa, there were demonstrations everywhere. Even in towns with 20,000 or 30,000 people, we saw demonstrations of 300 or 400 people. Many people are on vacation now, but still, you can see pickets and little demonstrations everywhere.
Ahmed: When we got back from Genoa, the press coverage in the U.S. was focused on the violence of demonstrators. But two weeks later, we're beginning to get a wave of reports in the mainstream media about systematic police violence in Genoa.
In Europe, one of the top French daily newspapers, Le Monde, carried articles describing the carefully planned attempt to intimidate protesters with the police raid on the building that housed the Genoa Social Forum.
After beating people for hours, dozens of people were taken to a police station--and Le Monde describes the systematic torture there.
Embassy officials who went to police stations to try to visit the arrested are saying that, when they walked in, they heard police chanting "Heil Hitler" and "Viva il Duce"--the fascist leader of Italy from the early 1920s until the Second World War.
The deliberate police assault on demonstrators is coming out, even in the mainstream press.
WHAT WILL be the impact on the right-wing government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi?
Ahmed: Since his election, Berlusconi has adopted essentially the same program as George W. Bush--tax cuts to stimulate investment, enrichment of the already rich. He's also become the chief supporter of the Bush government in Europe, with the trade-off presumably being his acceptance as one of the pillars of U.S. policy abroad.
But he's also coming under considerable pressure--including from the other major European governments--as a result of the behavior of the police in Genoa. So he'll be sandwiched--between the demand to be the strongman of Europe and the reaction against that.
Yurii: People involved in the movement have an understanding that the problem isn't only the Berlusconi government. We're in the European Union, and many important questions are decided in Brussels, not in Rome.
In addition, Italy participates in many international institutions, like NATO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). So from this point of view, the Italian movement recognizes that it has to be an international movement.
THE GENOA protests opened up a discussion in the global justice movement about our strategy and tactics. How has this played out?
Yurii: The leader of Ya Basta! [the direct-action group that played an important role in the Genoa protests], Luca Casarini, gave an interview to the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto about the future of the movement.
He talked about the Genoa Social Forum being in crisis--and about the problem of connecting the general questions of globalization to the social conditions that workers and the poor face, like flexibility at work, privatization and so on.
I agree with him. The Genoa demonstrations were a surrogate for economic conflicts that haven't taken place in the last few years because of the retreat of the industrial working class.
Now the question will be to develop the resistance across Europe and to bring the working-class movement onto the scene. The social question is the dynamite of movement.
Ahmed: Obviously, the question of violence is central to the discussion now, because Genoa represented the decision by the G8 governments to militarize in order to ensure that they conduct business as usual. They sent a message that they're willing to increase the repression to intimidate the movement.
But there's another question from the point of view of the movement, which has to do with the prominence of the "black bloc" in Genoa. The violence attributed to the black bloc can't just be dismissed as the work of police provocateurs--though undoubtedly some of it was.
But there's a genuine black bloc--that is, a self-selected group that organizes outside the main bodies organizing the demonstrations, with a focus on provoking confrontations with police.
I think Luca Casarini was right when he told Il Manifesto: "They're people who believe that all it takes to strike at capitalism is to break a shop window...We think differently. We believe in a process of social transformation."
But how does a mass movement begin to deal with this question--to protect its demonstrations and set its own agenda in a situation in which the police will attempt systematically to confront it physically, including the use of infiltrators?
I think two issues come up. One is the size and scope and scale of the demonstrations--that is, how to make them bigger. But we also have to talk about attracting groups of people who've previously not been involved--who carry the specific weight of more numbers on the streets, but who also carry social weight beyond the demonstration.
We have to talk not only about the demonstrations, but about going beyond them to struggles in neighborhoods and--even more importantly--in workplaces and through the unions.
Casarini also put it well when he talked about going beyond civil disobedience to social disobedience.
SHOULD WE expect the same level of violence from authorities at the anti-IMF and World Bank demonstrations in Washington, and what does this mean for our organizing?
Ahmed: If the movement mobilizes a certain number of people and chooses to confront their ability to meet, I think that we should be under no illusion that the U.S. government won't engage in whatever level of violence it thinks is necessary to have its way.
The U.S. was embarrassed by the shutting down of the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in 1999, and it doesn't want to be embarrassed again.
The main conclusion should be that we need to build the widest and broadest possible mobilization for Washington, D.C. The key question will be reaching out to people who weren't previously as involved in the movement.
So, for example, it's important to have a large turnout of African Americans from Washington, D.C.--to say that the policies of neoliberalism that the IMF and World Bank pursue abroad are the same policies that people suffer from here.
Plus there's the decision by the AFL-CIO to endorse the anti-IMF and World Bank demonstration. This is a great opportunity to take that call and put flesh on it by mobilizing large numbers of unionists.
Up until now, the movement has had two strands--the bigger demonstrations that are nonviolent and take place away from the security perimeters, and then the attempts at direct action with a smaller number of people.
I think there's a lot of sentiment for uniting the two kinds of actions--with mass civil disobedience of the kind that we're familiar with in this country from the 1960s around the civil rights movement. That has enormous appeal--because it says that we reject their violence, but we insist on our right to make our voices heard.