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Part II:Genova and the Antiglobalization Movement

Anonymous Comrade writes: "Part II: Caffentzis: Genoa and the Antiglobalization Movement

Genova and the limits of the Seattle experience

Even with the inevitable repression and the much grieved for death and maimings, the Genova demonstrations were in some respects an enormous success for the antiglobalization movement. Hundreds of thousands came from all over Europe to these demonstrations in the face of very open intimidation. Clearly the message of the movement is increasing in its range and power. Moreover, the mass immigrant march was an important first step in tying together the post-Seattle antiglobalization struggle in Europe with the much longer struggle against globalization in the Third World. After all, many immigrants were forced out their homes by globalization policies they struggled against in the streets of Africa, Asia and South America.

However, there is no doubt that at the end of the Genova demonstrations there was an wave of internal criticism and divisiveness within the movement which for some was much more demoralizing than Carlo's death and the hundreds of broken skulls and bones. It is important to voice some of this criticism in order to see that what is being criticized is not due of the personal failings of people of the GSF, the Tute Bianche or the "genuine" Black Block, but it arises from a change in the struggle against globalization when a number of the tactics that proved so successful in Seattle are reaching their limit.

The major criticism lodged against the GSF is that it put too much trust in the negotiation with the government, underrating the hostility of the G8 against the anti-globalization movement and the previous examples of Washington and Quebec testifying to the growing tendency toward repression; it consequently failed to warn the participants of the risks they ran and to defend the march against surprise attack. The GSF also acted as if it represented the whole movement which it did not, with the result that again it did not prepare the demonstrators concerning the dangers they ran.
The common criticism lodged against the "genuine" Black Blockers (i.e., those who were not provocateurs or camouflaged neo-nazis) is that they failed to realize to what extent their tactics exposed them to being used by the government to attack the demonstration. As a result their tactics provoked revulsion against them among the many demonstrators who found themselves facing a police charge and severe beatings on account of both their belligerence and their readiness to flee after an action.

The main criticism lodged against the Tute Bianche is that they insisted on entering the Red Zone even after it was clear that this would not be possible by any sort of civil disobedience except at a very high cost. Moreover even if they has succeeded they could hardly have counted on the sympathy and applause of the Italian population, especially not the workers who, in Italy, as every other country, have a long history of physical confrontation with the police, but, precisely for this reason, are not likely to appreciate facing the risk of beatings or arrest for sake of a purely symbolic gestures as entering the Red Zones inevitably would have been once the area was iron-gated and guarded by 20,000 police officers.

These criticisms, however just, have arisen, we believe, because two tactics which proved so successful in Seattle are reaching the limit of their effectiveness. First, the flexible, mass nonviolent blockade of globalizers' meetings inaugurated in Seattle-which has been quite successful until recently--is now in a crisis. Certainly as a result of the use of this tactic the globalizers' meetings since November 1999 cannot be held without the equivalent of city-wide shut-down in order to ensure that the meetings go ahead. At the same time, this type of blockade it is becoming problematic. The globalizers have shown that with thousands of police, tons of iron and barbed wire, and dozens of helicopters they can have their meetings and make the protestors pay heavily in terms of the arrested, tortured, maimed and killed. The flexible blockade is not magical. Like any other tactic, e.g., the factory strike or the consumer boycott, it can be thwarted, just as strikes of factory workers can be defeated by the bringing in scabs, as has so often been done in the major factory worker confrontations with capital in the US during the 1980s and 1990s.
What made the Seattle demonstrations so successful, in addition to the broad coalition it brought together, is that they did succeed in disrupting a WTO meeting the movement considered illegitimate and pernicious for the well-being of people across the planet using this tactic. But the globalizers are learning, and if their present ruminations are to be realized they will be soon meet high on the Rockies-the next G8 meeting venue--or (as with the WTO's next venue in Qatar) in similarly inaccessible locations. Under these circumstances the goal of antiglobization demos must be rethought in the sense that more emphasis must be placed on their broader political aspects-in the same way as in the 1980s in front of the wide use of scabs by employers, unionists realized that no strike could win without a broad political preparation which often included making connections with workers in Asia or South America. This increasingly is what is being realized within the antiglobalization movement, which is learning that demonstrations against the WTO in fifty cities around the planet might be more effective than a purely symbolic attempt to blockade the globalizers' meeting in the middle of a desert, on top of a mountain, in the middle of sea or even in outer space! This does not mean, of course, that large antiglobalization demonstrations on the site of globalizers' meetings will be abandoned, in the same way as trade unionists have not abandon the strike as a means of struggle, even in the face of the widespread use of scabs. On the contrary, the very possibility that such blockades could be called by the movement will forever change the nature of way capitalist globalizers will meet.

The second way Genova has also shown the limits of a tactic that proved so successful in Seattle involves the pluralistic approach to demonstrating. The pluralistic-style of organizing adopted in Genova seemed a promising, but ultimately problematic way of implementing the movement slogan, "One No, Many Yeses," i.e., we can agree on rejecting globalization, without agreeing beforehand on our alternative ways of fighting it and on our post-capitalist ways of living. This approach was tried successfully in Seattle where there were simultaneously nonviolent blockaders, "black block" assaulters on Starbucks and Nike stores, and AFL-CIO members marching in a huge parade far from the confrontation zone. This model has been refined since then. In Prague pluralism was formalized, with the choice of three colors (pink, yellow and blue) reflecting different ways of participating in the demonstration, while in Genoa there were five. This "choice" seemed to imply that there many different ways to confront Power and they could co-exist and even potentiate each other, as they did in Seattle.

This model assumes, however, that (a) the opposition will accept the rules of the game and modulate its response with respect to individual demonstrators according to the choice s/he made, and (b) that the demonstrators will also play by the rules under any circumstances. But neither assumption worked in Genoa. The police, it appears, clubbed NGOers, feminists, enviromentalists, and Tute Bianche more than they did "black blockers," who, after trashing a bank, would, according to reports, sail off to a new adventure leaving the unprepared facing a police charge. This was not a momentary lapse on the part of the Italian police. It is now clear that from the viewpoint of the authorities all protestors of globalization are criminals.

Demonstrators were also unable to "honor" their colors and moved from one to another according to the situation. For example, many who had come to participate in a nonviolent demonstration physically confronted the police when attacked.

Again, this is not to say that "pluralism" in demonstrations is to be abandoned, but that the movement must be clear as to the extent and limits of this organizational tactic-and the policies that govern one's participation in such demonstrations must be clarified.
For demos are not just to be measured on a utilitarian basis, they are also prefigurations of the future world a movement wants to build, they offer protesters an opportunity to show concretely, what the alternatives to globalization can be. This, ultimately, is the most powerful "weapon," the most effective consciousness-raising means the antiglobalization movement has, the one that would concretely show not only that this movement is capable of moving an immovable rock, but that it can build a new world. The first thing we can show the world (since it is watching) is that we can engage in common projects without irreducible conflict. If this is not possible, it will be a major defeat for the movement. In that case, the movement will loose its legitimacy as the bearer of alternative to capitalist globalization, a much more dangerous consequence than any police assault. In a word, what is crucial here is not just the police attack on the movement--which was all but inevitable in Genova given their use of provocateurs, Neo-nazis and pre-emptive violence--but the movement's relation to itself. The powerful image of a movement that can bring together determined nonviolent blockaders and black blockers with unionists, enviromentalists, feminists, and NGOers to powerfully say "NO!" to globalization is now being questioned under the pressure of an intense wave of repression. But the limits of Seattle-like tactics are not the limits of the movement.

Finally, we should remember that though demonstrations like those in Seattle, Washington, Quebec and now Genova are important, the fate of the movement does not hinge on their success alone. This movement has far deeper and stronger roots in the daily confrontations of billions of people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas against the globalization agenda and its enforcers. A key question on the movement's horizon then is: how can this multiplicity of struggle in the Third World be expressed and amplified by the antiglobalization demonstrations in the metropoles of Europe and North America?

August 23, 2001

(This piece was written to stimulate discussion about the impact of the
Genova days on the antiglobalization movement. Please send your
comments and criticisms to me at (gcaffentz@aol.com). It was written
with the assistance of Silvia Federici and many other comrades in