Italy: Tenth anniversary of Genoa battles against the G8

Big opportunities lost to build new mass party of workers

Ten years ago, on 21 July, 2001, as many as 300,000 workers and young people marched angrily through the streets of Genoa. It was the culmination of a week of protest against the G8 summit held in the city and presided over by George Bush. Their numbers had been swelled by outrage against the killing on the previous day of a young protester – Carlo Giuliano – in Alimonda Square by the forces of the Italian state. This demonstration was also attacked and broken up by police using tear-gas and wielding batons indiscriminately.

The Committee for a Workers’ International had a contingent of 100 members from 12 different countries on that march. On the way to Genoa, all demonstrators had had difficulty getting passed police checks – at the borders and at the entrances to the city. Some were actually turned back. Most of us slept rough – on the beach, in cars or tents, at the Genoa Social Forum base by the sea.

On the demonstration, the CWI then with only limited resources in Italy, carried placards demanding an end to police provocation and calling for a 24 hour general strike in protest at the killing and the police brutality. This was before the bloody attack that night by gangs of carabinieri (special police) on the Diaz School where dozens of organisers and protesters were sleeping. They arrived in armoured vehicles, intent on revenge, smashing heads and breaking bones. It is a wonder no-one else was killed in the process.

It is a disgrace that, to this day, after numerous ’hearings’, no senior members of the state forces have been punished either for Carlo’s death or the Diaz raid. It is amazing that Berlusconi’s second government survived another five years – years of mass strikes and protests against his neo-liberal policies. This included a protest three million strong in Rome against changes to the country’s labour laws that had been won through struggle in the stormy decade of class struggle in the ’70s.

A golden opportunity was squandered for the building of support for and membership of the then relatively new workers’ party – Communist Refoundation or PRC. It had been launched to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the country’s Stalinist ’communist’ party party into a complelely pro-capitalist formation. (See articles on this site from that period and after.)

This lack of a real fighting alternative for workers and young people allowed Berlusconi to return later for a third time in government after a period of ’centre-left’ rule under Romano Prodi, when neo-liberal policies of cuts, war-credits and privatisation were carried through.

Now Italy, the third biggest economy in the Eurozone, is facing a major crisis of confidence in its economy and in its creditworthiness. It is workers and young people who are to be hit with a raft of austerity measures. A fight-back is needed.

The CWI is represented in Italy by Controcorrente, whose members are active inside and outside the fading PRC. Marco Veruggio is a member of the PRC’s National Political Committee and wrote the article below for the Controcorrente website.

2001 to 2011 –

What remains of the anti-globalisation movement?

Marco Veruggio, Controcorrente (CWI Italy), Genoa

In Genoa a series of initiatives, meetings and debates has been organised to remember what happened in this city from 19 to 21 July 2001. When there is an anniversary like this, rather than just remember the facts – there are all kinds of publications, films and initiatives centred on this – it is useful to draw a balance sheet. It seems particularly useful to us to ask not so much what happened at the G8, but what happened after to the anti-globalisation movement and how the Italian Left used the enthusiasm generated by the mass movements in Genoa.

The anti-globalisation movement can be credited with raising and bringing to the attention of millions of people throughout the world issues which only today we really fully understand the importance of. This applies especially to the effects of global market competition, especially on the weaker layers in society and the ‘financialisation’ of the economy, together with the idea that ‘another world is possible’. However, it is precisely in determining a possible alternative that the anti-globalisation movement ran aground, developing a series of theories and models which over the years have been shown to be full of internal contradictions.

Take for example the theories of Toni Negri on imperialism and the centrality of the working class. The idea that there are no longer imperialist powers in conflict over dividing up the world, but a single ‘impero americano’, or that the main force for social transformation is no longer the ‘old’ industrial working class but the so-called ‘multitude’, and that intellectual work is replacing industrial work, have been incapable of explaining what has happened in the last 10 years. There has been an albeit contradictory development of a ‘European imperialism’, which is today playing a leading role in the military intervention in Libya. China has exploded onto the scene as a rival, not just economically, to the USA and the EU. The industrial working class has returned to predominate on the social scene, for example, in Italy, the conflict between the Metal mechanics (FIOM) and the FIAT bosses, and the action in the shipyards. Last but not least is the fact that, precisely because of globalisation, there are today around one billion more industrial workers worldwide.

Impractical ‘solutions’ under capitalism

On the other hand, even the models which were put forward as an example, such as Brazil at the time of Lula and the so-called ‘participatory democracy’, have in the long term revealed their limitations. Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) has experienced serious electoral defeats including in Porto Allegre itself, and has remained in power only by presenting itself as the force most capable of implementing the IMF’s economic prescriptions. The fact that last year Brazil was entrusted with command of the military corps sent to Haiti indicates how this economic development has been accompanied by a similar development of that country as a political/military power with its own sphere of influence and expansion on the South American chess board. In the same way, the emergence of perverse structural mechanisms on the financial markets – speculative bubbles, derivatives etc – reveal the inadequacy of the Tobin Tax (advocated by the ‘No Global’ movement) even just as a regulatory instrument.

At the time, we were severely criticised for raising these objections. But time has proven them correct. The left leaders, including Fausto Bertinotti of the Communist Refoundation Party(PRC) declared that they agreed with the movement ‘regardless’. In reality they used the anti-globalisation brand name and the attraction that the PRC effectively had for layers of the movement in order to gather the bargaining power to negotiate with the centre-left and then use that to enter the government. A reciprocal pact with the bureaucracy of the movement brought valuable votes to the left parties, and in return parliamentary representation for the movement. This was then used to support the war missions and neo-liberal policies of a government led by one of the main exponents of Goldman Sachs, Romano Prodi.

We think that to struggle for an alternative is possible provided that the force, the tools and the objectives are clearly defined. We continue to think that to bring about a process of social transformation, the workers of today and the youth – the workers of tomorrow – in their political and social organisations, are the main force. The tool should be struggle and the objective a society in which the government is an expression of those who produce the wealth and not those who use that wealth to produce economic crises, war and environmental destruction.

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July 2011