Anti-capitalism: What now after Genoa

Anyone who participated in the 300,000 strong demonstration against the G8 summit in Genoa on 21 July this year will look back on it as an historic day – a high point. After it, nothing will be quite the same – in the lives of those who were there, in the anti-capitalist movement or in Italy.

The nature of Italy’s right-wing government under the tycoon prime minister, 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 to the ideology 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.

Rearranging Summits

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 its own president that it may prove impossible come up with better results than its last meeting in Seattle!). Next year’s G8, it has already been announced, will have to be scaled down. The host government of Canada, under Jean Chretien – 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, Italy’s tycoon premier 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 the 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 that 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. An Earth First activist from Wales told ‘Newsweek’ she was glad she was not there. "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 or DS!

Clear Call

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 noone there, apart from a member of the CWI, even representatives of the Communist Refoundation (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 th July around the country but for a general strike of at least 24 hours. There was no excuse for what happened to Giuliani, a participant before his in the non-violent civil disobedience movement.

He was shot by a young conscript who panicked. The workers’ movement must demand that no live ammunition should be 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, Scajola, to resign. All known fascists should be driven out of the police and army.

Coherent lead

On these issues as well on that of how to protect future demonstrations of this nature, a movement with no coherent leadership will founder. Genuine representatives of the working class and convinced fighters against capitalism would link the international movements of protests with the struggle against the bosses and their system at home and utilise the well-worn methods of the class struggle. Only a handful of active trade unionists in Italy made a call for a general strike on 20 July but this would have been the way to prevent the G8 summit going ahead in the first place. A call by the big trade union federations could have ensured the demonstrations were not only even bigger and more militant

They could have organised effective stewarding against the police and agreed with all other bodies 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 that truly reflects the anger against capitalism that exists in the hearts of young people and workers world-wide, would direct that anger into a political struggle to end the rule of capital. This is something that even bodies like the Social Forums that come together in the course of the anti-capitalist movement is incapable of doing because of the limitations of their programmes.

Alternative world

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 Committee for a Workers’ International 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 8 (people) and we are 6 billion’ was the theme expressed by the Genoa Social Forum – on their programmes, on their T-shirts, pens, notepads and every other piece of promotional material they put out. But what is this if not a call like that of the poet Shelley to recognise that "We are many; they are few!" and to rise like lions against the class enemy?

Time is running short for world capitalism as it goes into yet another 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 also 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.

What happened in Genoa?

The events of 20-22 July in Genoa have exposed the real nature of the state and its apparatus under capitalism. The young people travelling to this city to protest about world poverty and the giant corporations have received a memorable lesson, as did those who travelled to Gothenburg, to Quebec and to all the other anti-capitalist demonstrations. They have seen to what lengths the ruling elites are prepared to go in defending the right of their class to run society and to dominate the world.

Several thousand, predominantly young people had travelled to Genoa a few days before the main demonstration and participated in some of the other forms of protest going on. There had been ‘forums’ and anti-globalisation activities all week. There were visitors from many of the most debt-ridden and crisis-torn countries of Asia, Africa and South America – many of them connected with Church or Non-governmental organisations, with organisations like Jubilee South and with labour organisations and left parties.

Among them were people genuinely looking for an alternative to capitalism. Others, who have accepted capitalism as the only way of organising society, were there to try and get it to act humanely – a bit like trying to get milk from a he-goat! Leaders of some of the world’s largest trade unions were in town, looking for round table discussions with representatives of the biggest capitalist powers in the world. Ageing pop stars like Bob Geldof and other personalities with a conscience about world poverty were there to get some crumbs from the capitalist table to distribute amongst the world’s billions of poor.

Various ‘Drop the Debt’ campaigns were represented. ATTAC – one of the most prominent organisations – campaigning for a tax on all speculative capital organised a symbolic football match on one of the days leading up to the main demonstrations. It was on a very unlevel playing field between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of the world!

On the Thursday evening a massive and good-natured procession of 50,000 people had made its way through Genoa on an anti-racist ‘March of the Immigrants’. In spite of carabinieri and police provocatively loading up their tear-gas guns in front of the demonstrators, there had been no clashes.

July 20

Friday was the day the police showed their true colours. It was the day that Carlo Giuliani was killed and numerous people injured and arrested. As many as 70,000 predominantly peaceful protesters had gathered at different locations around the perimeter of the red zone in which the venue of the summit – a ducal palace – was situated. They were aiming to voice their objections to the G8 in their own particular ways.

There was the gathering of Women’s March activists and members of the Catholic-organised campaign Lilliput. There was the Square of Labour where the contingents of the trade union COBAS were to meet, along with the Network of Global Rights. There was a meeting point for ATTAC, the RC, Jubilee South and others between the red zone and the sea and on the sea front itself were various ‘European Coalitions’, the Pink March and Globalise Resistance.

The "Disobedients" would set out from the Carlini Stadium to carry out their own form of direct action. These would include the Young Communists (of the RC), the Greek and Basque groups and the Italian non-violent anarchists – the Tute Bianche). One group of pacifists had decided to lay spaghetti at the foot of the notorious 13 foot high reinforced steel fences or the outer wall of shipping containers put up to protect the leaders of the 8 most powerful nations.

Direction to the movement

But all these groupings were left defenceless when the battles broke out and the tear-gas, rubber bullets and the live ammunition were brought into the fray. It had rapidly become clear that violence was on the order of the day and most of it at the hands of the forces of the state. There were instances of demonstrators trying to restrain the most irresponsible elements but getting beaten back. Most of the day’s activities were broken up by violence and much of it was caused by the police encouraging so-called ‘anarchists’ to move in on every grouping of demonstrators – even the pacifists. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were scattered through the city, fearing for their lives and for the safety of their friends.

The rout of the peaceful protests and the damage done that day could have been reduced to a minimum by organisation and stewarding. It is the penalty the anti-capitalist movement pays for its leaders believing in ‘diversity’ and actively shunning cohesive and joint action with a purpose and an aim.

Police infiltration

Undoubtedly there were angry youth on the streets in Genoa. It was not only the much talked about anarchists (and not all of them) who had the intention of smashing a few windows. Some youth have grown impatient of the politicians ever sorting things out and want to vent their wrath against the big banks and the multinationals connected with the US. But there were undoubtedly elements out to do damage not only to property but to the movement itself. There is no doubt that police were infiltrating the black bloc along with outright fascists.

The overwhelming majority on the streets that day, wanted to have their say and at most get involved in non-violent protest. But the forces of the state had set out to both intimidate, to criminalise and then to terrorise participants and organisers alike. Big lessons must be learned and the discussion on how to protect future demonstrations pursued.

One commentator – a novelist and veteran dissident who goes under the name of Starhawk – publicised on the internet a scenario of how the state had prepared for Genoa, including making widely known the order for 200 body bags and the siting of missiles at the airport. Indeed, Genoa was like an occupied city, deserted by up to two thirds of the population. By the Saturday it was to feel, to those residents who were left, more like a war zone. Ambulances and police vans were constantly screaming through the streets, as armoured cars lumbered around and helicopters and military planes flew frighteningly low overhead. The harbour and beaches were patrolled by naval vessels and frogmen.

The big demo.

The main organisers of the week-long protests – the Genoa Social Forum – had not expected more than 120,000 to turn up for Saturday’s International March. In the event, it was a massive show of solidarity and protest in the face of an aroused and bloody-minded Italian police force. Everyone in Genoa that day will have got a taste, along with that of the tear-gas, of what it feels like when workers and young people take to the streets, telling their rulers they are no longer prepared to accept the old way of doing things. They will have sensed the potential power of a mass movement and will want an idea of how it can be channelled into creating a different world.

There was the sheer size, the colour and the solidness of the demonstration. There was the dignified outrage over the previous day’s murder by police of a young demonstrator. There was a palpable determination to show the powers-that-be that no attempts to criminalise and intimidate the movement would succeed. Many had tied strips of black plastic from bin-liners around their upper arm as a sign of mourning. Whole groups of young people had pinned targets on their chests to taunt the police with the idea that they could do the same to them as they had done to Carlo Giuliani.

As the march assembled, Victor Jara’s song-tribute to Che Guevara was played from a loud-speaker van. Demonstrators massed towards it and gave one of the most moving renditions of the song imaginable, conscious that the anti-capitalist movement had claimed its first victim and not knowing what the rest of the day held for them. On sight of any representative of the state or a police helicopter buzzing the demonstrators, a shout would go up ‘Assasini!’ and the one finger salute of derision would be raised.

Police obstruction

Lined up along the sea-front, beside the private bathing beaches of the Italian Riviera were seemingly endless ranks of young people and trade union activists from all over Italy and different parts of the world. Near the front of the march, were impressive international contingents – from the CIS (Russia and Ukraine), from Germany, Spain, Ireland, Britain and France (although the big French Unions had not lent their official support). There were large numbers from Greece in spite of attempts by the Italian police to sabotage their participation. (At Ancuna they had not only turned back the organising committee of a large contingent that had just sailed across the Aegean; they went a bit too far and for the first time since Mussolini, deported two Italian citizens along with them. These were two Local PRC councillors who had been interceding. They had to be pursued and brought back to shore!)

There had been police checks and interference even for the vast numbers of Italian citizens who set out for Genoa from every region of the country. As on previous anti-capitalist protests, many taking part had travelled independently of any organisation – often as groups of friends – just determined to say ‘no’ to the big corporations who insist on exploiting and wrecking their world. As also on other demonstrations against globalisation, organised workers and local people took the opportunity to air their grievances against the government of the day. In the case of Italy, July 2001, there is a particular hatred of the new government run by the business tycoon, Berlusconi and his arch-reactionary cronies who will not hesitate to move against the Italian working class with no mercy if the chance arises.

In Genoa on 21 July, huge contingents marched under the red banners of the Rifundazione Communista, the Young Communists and the trade unions – the CGIL metal-workers (Fiom), the COBAS and other workers’ groups. They sang the traditional songs of the socialist and communist movement – ‘Bandiera Rossa’ and ‘Bella Ciao’. The Committee for a Workers’ International contingent, with members from 13 countries, perfected its singing of the ‘Internationale’ and its chanting of demands in Italian for a general strike and for a truly independent workers’ inquiry into the police operations in Genoa. The singing and chanting of every contingent reached a crescendo when the three column-wide procession passed under the railway bridge near Brignole Station.

March attacked

Long before this, however, before even leaving the sea-front, the massed ranks of peaceful demonstrators came under attack from the police and carabinieri. Row upon row of them, like out of control robots, behind visors and the paraphernalia of riot gear, moved in to break up the march.

Many demonstrators, choking from tear-gas feared for the worst. Some groups, cornered by the robocops were forced to walk passed them raise their hands in the air and even crawl along the ground past police lines. Some were chased from the streets onto the beaches and rocks with a cloud of crippling fumes engulfing them. Others were forced to flee through the narrow back streets of Genoa. Every time they tried to regroup and find the main body of the march, they were forced back up the steep sides of Genoa’s mountains, with its cul-de-sacs and its single-file stairways.

Luckily, it was in this part of the town that most Genoese workers live and few of them had had the luxury of leaving town. In spite of all that had gone on the day before, the local population gave enormous material and moral support to the demonstrators. Berlusconi had called on all local residents to make sure there was no underwear hanging on their washing lines when the important people of the world came to town (an edict unheard of since Mussolini’s time). Consequently nearly every balcony was festooned with all shapes and sizes of underwear! Even more welcome to the demonstrators was the sight of water being poured down on them from buckets or spurting out of hoses turned on by residents to cool them down and relieve the worst effects of sun and tear-gas.

Young couples would bring out their supply of bottled water and give them away; old ladies would proffer glasses of ice-cold water to all and sundry passing by. Groups of demonstrators up to 20 strong would be welcomed into people’s flats and the doors closed against club-wielding gangs of police on the rampage. History has long ago provided the Genoese with a deep-seated hatred of the police, and in particular of the carabinieri.

Miraculously, noone was killed in the hours’-long running battles on the streets that day. In total, 560 people were badly injured and at least 250 arrested. There are still reports that a whole number of demonstrators have simply ‘dissappeared’– a phenomenon associated with the darkest hours of military dictatorships in any country.

Bloody Raid

The most notorious police action in Genoa at the time of the G8 Summit, took place on the Saturday night, after the largest contingents of demonstrators had started for home. More than 200 riot police, arriving in armoured cars and with helicopters pounding over-head, stormed the Armand Diaz school. In one part of the building was the Genoa Social Forum media centre and in another was a sports hall being used as a dormitory. First reports said only equipment was being smashed and no people. One man – the head of the GSF legal team advising organisers and demonstrators on their rights – had been taken away. There is no doubt the police set out to wreck two particular machines and take away the hard discs. Stored on them, they knew, were numerous testimonies already given by demonstrators against the police action of the last two days.

Not content with their booty, they then turned their clubs on scores of sleeping and resting activists in the sports hall. They had not made for the camps of the black block anarchists, as widely anticipated, to carry out their revenge attack. Instead they chose the ‘soft target’. Many of the people accommodated in the Diaz school had been simply organising and publicising the activities of the Social Forum – most of them fairly moderate intellectuals and many of them from outside Italy.

Although the gruesome pictures of blood-stained walls in the sports hall were quickly transmitted to the world’s media, at first there were no witnesses available to say what had happened in the raid as everyone trying to sleep there had been either hospitalised or taken to prison cells!

The scenes of terror and mindless brutality in the school have had perhaps the widest publicity of all the events at the time of the Summit. Analogies were immediately made with Latin American police regimes. One British protester reported from his hospital bed in Genoa that he had heard his own ribs cracking as he was beaten and kicked during the raid. Others reported systematic torture in the police stations, being made to sing fascist anthems and salute pictures of Mussolini or take another round of beating.

It is almost a rule that the police will wait for their revenge until the heavy battalions are out of town and then make for people who are unlikely to put up a resistance so that they can mark up a ‘catch’. As in Quebec, for example, they go for people who are doing absolutely nothing illegal and trump up charges of conspiracy and possession of dangerous weapons – like camping knives or tent hammers! In both cases people were held for long hours without food and water and no toilet facilities. Many of those detained were denied their legal rights to contact lawyers, relatives or consular officials.

Truth emerges

Only gradually is the truth emerging of the extent of the police brutality and also of the police involvement in inciting violence at a number of points in the town. We had seen it with our own eyes on the Friday. Men in the casual wear of demonstrators (not even the black of the supposed anarchists) with scarves at their neck to pull up during skirmishes, stood chatting with uniformed officers of the carabinieri. When we tried to get a photograph, the top man rushed across the road to us, swearing and shouting, grabbed the camera and pulled out the film to destroy the evidence. He knew full well that photos of that nature would eventually be used by the movement in a campaign to put blame on the police.

The majority of Italian people in a poll before the events of Genoa said they supported the aims of the movement and as many as 16% supported the use of violence to achieve them. Nevertheless, when news first came out of clashes between demonstrators and the police and of the apparently mindless smashing and looting of shops and show-rooms, a majority of Italians had been quoted in the press of actually supporting the idea of the police taking tougher action.

Today, a majority has come over in disgust to the side of the demonstrators and condemn the police atrocities. But, in a more polarised Italy, there is also a sizeable layer who would support more powers for the police to ‘deal with’ trouble-makers and, no doubt, any future movements of workers. An embassy official in London, responding to a delegation protesting about police brutality, said he saw nothing wrong with the ‘post-fascist’ deputy Prime Minister, Fini arriving in Genoa to take control of operations that week-end.

Police flout law

An important factor in exposing what happened in Genoa was the treatment meted out to protesters from outside Italy, most of whom have been released without the slightest charge being made and whose arrest, let alone as in many cases, torture, was totally illegal. Many of them were told, also against all recognised international law, that they could not return to Italy for five years! Because of the international outcry, as well as the massive protests throughout Italy on the Tuesday 24 July, Italy’s investigating magistrates have been forced to work long hours to get a full picture of all the atrocities carried out in Genoa.

Italian activists were well aware that the Berlusconi-owned media would not give even a hint of the truth. The Prime Minister himself, after putting the blame on every participant, not just the 300 of the ‘black block’, has blamed any excesses there might have been on just three of their commanders. No parliamentary inquiry or removal (sideways!) of these officers will solve the problem of a reactionary and fascist-ridden police force in Italy.

Socialist action

The left will have to organise quickly to prevent disaffected workers and youth from being attracted by their philosophy of strong measures to deal with the various crises besetting Italian society today.

Once blood had been spilled on the streets of Genoa, all those purporting to represent workers and radical youth should have been making a call for a protest strike throughout Italy for at least 24 hours. The idea was well received at a mass Assembly of protesters that evening in the Piazzale Kennedy, when it was put forward by a CWI member from Ireland. It has not, unfortunately, been taken up by the labour movement. Even the RC seems to have accepted, for the moment, the idea of a parliamentary inquiry rather than one made up of representatives of local residents of Genoa, of the participants the demonstrations and of the unions and parties represented there.

The left parties and trade unions need to keep up the momentum of anger expressed during the events in Genoa, through a programme of mass protests and Italy-wide general strike action. They should demand the purging of the state forces of all fascists and the right of the ranks to organise into trade unions and to refuse to be used against peaceful protesters.

Now that things have come to a head over Genoa, the debate that has opened up in the anti-globalisation camp about ‘what next?’ must be taken up with energy. If some are pulling away from challenging capitalism and its institutions, others are calling for more organisation and not less, so that the challenge can have a real effect.

Noone wants to see the movement ‘hijacked’ by people interested only in mindless violence, but the more that comes to light in the eyewitness accounts and video films, the more not only demonstrators but the broader Italian population has come to see that the real perpetrators of violence are the state forces.

Downturn and struggle

If the national budget must be squeezed in order for Italy to stay in the European Union, there will be big class battles on a par with late sixties and early seventies. The left parties, in particular the RC, need to hammer out now a programme that will galvanise the movement of workers and youth into a struggle for genuine socialist/communist change.

Saying ‘no’ to Berlusconi means saying no to his use of fascists in the state machine but also to his pro-big business policies aimed at keeping the top, corrupt and very rich families in control of the Italian economy. Only public ownership and democratic workers’ control and management of the enterprises will establish the Italian economy on a sound base for raising the job prospects and living standards of the majority of Italy’s working class.

Everyone who attended the anti-G8 events of the week had no doubt that neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation and trade ‘liberalisation’ are causing more and not less of a gap between rich and poor countries and between classes within countries. This is despite the bogus theories being circulated now about free trade being better for the poorer countries than protection. Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was recently in Latin America peddling this idea when Argentina had already started putting up defensive barriers around its beleaguered economy and street demonstrations and strikes have become a daily occurrence. What is in store when the world economy gets deeper into the economic down-turn?

Capitalism is not going to roll over and give up its fundamental role of exploiting the world’s working and oppressed people. It is not going to take itself off the scene of history without a gargantuan fight. The anti-globalisation movement adopts the slogan ‘Another World is Possible’ but many of its leaders do not accept that the old capitalist world has to be replaced with a socialist one.

A struggle for the anti-capitalist movement to adopt socialist policies must be linked to a struggle in every country for a socialist alternative to the capitalist governments and states who fight to protect the big corporations, the banks and the land-owners. They are the ones who are wreaking such havoc with the world and its population. Our job is to say No!

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.