"An Invasion of Peace", "An endless succession of colours" is how Liberazione - the paper of the Italian Communist Refoundation Party (Prc) - described the gigantic anti-war procession that made its way across 25 kilometres of Umbrian countryside last Sunday (14 October). Estimates range from 250 to 500,000 participants. One thing is certain: in the 40 years since it was inaugurated, the annual peace march from Peugia to Assisi has never been anything like as big! CWI participant Clare Doyle reports.

War in Afghanistan

CWI anti-war activities

Italy: Perugia to Assissi - 500 000 demonstrate against the war

The organisers and the authorities were overwhelmed. When part of the march was less than half way, the road to Assisi was full. Mobile phone lines were totally clogged up. Perugia railway staion could not cope with the volume of travellers. An armada of coches were still collecting passengers and cramming the tiny streets of the ancient towns at 9 o’clock in the evening.

The marchers were predominantly young - many dancing and singing all the hot and dusty way! The weather was uncharacteristicaly hot for October - even in Italy. In scenes reminiscent of the anti G8 protersts in Genoa this July, local residents along the way provided the scorched and thirsty marchers with water from hoses and buckets. The very youngest were pushed in buggies, carried on backs and shoulders, in boxes on bicycles or in a special childrens cart. Some of the ‘red’ 60s and 70s generation were also there.

Bus and train loads organised by the Cgil trade union federation and the Fiom metal workers union, by communes (local councils) and Social Forums were there from all over Italy. There were peaceful anarchists mixing with crowds of scouts and catholics, Marxists with catholics, Greens with moderate ’lefts’. And there were tens of thousands who had come independently of any organisation. The wealth of slogans included sentiments like ’Neither with Bush nor with Bin Laden’, ’Let’s globalise peace!’ and ’No War; No Terror - Build an alternative to Capitalism!’.

In spite of the grim hatred of war shared by all on the demonstration, the atmosphere was for the most part extremely good humoured even jovial. Ocasionally, when a police helicopter circled overhead, the youth remembering Genoa, shouted and raised their fingers in anger and defiance. Thousands of CWI leaflets were distributed during the long days march.

The only other sour note was caused by the the participation in the peace demonstration of leaders of parties who, only days before in the parliament, had voted in favour of the military action in Afghanistan. Other parties in the Olive Tree electoral alliance - the Pcdi and the Greens - voted against. This spells a deep split and probably the end of the Alliance. D’Alema, the leader of the Democratic Left (DS) and Rutelli of the Margherita Party were whistled and shouted at on the demonstration by angry participants for their outright hypocrisy. Rutelli left the march early. D’Alema stuck it out to the end, embarrassed but insisting he on his right to be there as he has always been in the past!

The Cobas trade union federation refused to go on the march because of these leaders’ participation and Rifondazione decided not to proceed the final 4 kilometres or so to Assisi in protest. Cobas assembled at that point but not in very large numbers. Rifondazione was the party most in evidence on the Perugia peace march with its red banners and revolutionary songs. Many marchers not belongiong to any organisation said they had voted or would vote RC. The treachery of the DS and Margherita will no doubt be boosting their support.

A feature article in the special edition of their paper, Liberazione, finished with the comment:"Have we not known since 1914 that war, terrorism and violence are endemic tendencies of this (capitalist) system and that for this reason, communism was the only card of liberation that we have been given. This is what, in its simplicity, has been given by the people of Perugia-Assisi."

The massive demonstration on Sunday, together with the strikes that have taken place and are planned, in the schools, the car factories and elsewhere theroughout Italy, the scene is set for a hot autumn. Berlusconi must be getting a strong message that resistance is growing to both his domestic and foreign policies.

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