Genoa: war against capitalism

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FRFI 162 August / September 2001

On 19 July the leaders of the imperialist world sat down in Genoa for the summit of G8 nations. There to denounce the injustice and inhumanity of global capitalism were 300,000 protesters from all over the world. Within three days, repressive police tactics had brought forth a surge of anger from protesters, turning Genoa into a war zone. The indiscriminate brutality unleashed by Italian police against protesters left at least 500 injured, many in hospital, and one young Italian anarchist dead. At least $45 million worth of damage to property was caused in three days of pitched battles with police. RCG members who were there report.

By Wednesday 18 July borders around the Italian city of Genoa were restricted. 18,000 police were already posted throughout the city. The Ducal Palace zone where the G8 leaders were meeting was declared the ‘Red Zone’, open only to 2,000 government officials, 6,000 mainstream journalists and their police protectors. Steel barricades set in concrete were put up to keep the protesters out and imprison local residents for the duration of the meeting. £300 million of taxpayers money had been lavished on hosting the talks so that the ‘eight most powerful men in the world’, the leaders of the richest industrial nations could play ‘democracy’. As the proceedings got underway so did the action against them. Protesters were arriving in their thousands, determined to enter the city and demonstrate against the G8 summit.

The mass protest was initiated by the Genoa Social Forum (GSF), a network of more than 1,000 associations, organisations, and national and international networks with different political agendas which would express non-violent dissent against the G8 and the international policies implemented by the richest countries. The coalition ranged from the Jubilee 2000 and Drop the Debt reformist lobby to communist parties, Tute Bianche and Corbas (themselves a coalition of anti-capitalist activists). Also in Genoa were anarchist groups who rejected the ‘no sticks, no stones, no fire’ manifesto of the Genoa Social Forum.

On Thursday afternoon, 70,000 people marched through Genoa in defence of refugees and asylum seekers. There was an excited buzz as people congregated and the air was filled with banners from around the world representing a wide range of political groupings. Meandering through Genoa’s streets, the procession was colourful, musical and loud. Despite shops and banks being boarded up and their city occupied, residents showed their solidarity by waving their knickers at the crowd, defying Italian President Silvio Berlusconi who had banned Genoans from hanging out their underwear during the summit! Others waved red flags and held up images of Che Guevara. The police presence was obvious, a military helicopter flew above but the streets, on this day at least, belonged to the marchers.

Around the city on Friday morning different groups and organisations prepared various actions against the G8 summit. 5,000 people moved off from Carlini Stadium, the camp of the ‘disobedienti’ to invade the Red Zone, set the city free and disrupt the summit. The day had started much earlier though with organisation, training and advice from the committee representing a variety of organisations committed to using civil disobedience in protest. Protesters were grouped into medical teams, water distributors, teargas marshals, whose job was to throw back CS gas canisters using protective gloves, disrupter groups, with tools to cut fences, and a vanguard with shields who wore protective headgear and padding to cover and protect the whole march from police. At the sides of the demonstration, stewards with megaphones gave information and advice about what was happening. At the front, the propaganda unit carried puppets and placards highlighting the demands of the protesters and the issues that the G8 leaders would neglect. Others joined behind with their banners, flags and chanting and the march set off under the slogan ‘collective unity will be our strength’.

Despite these preparations it soon became clear that the state had no intention of allowing the march. The police blocked it and immediately deployed batons, teargas and water cannon. Marches starting from other points had already been met with the same police brutality. As the day unfolded the level of repression intensified, but it was clear that the repression was planned since the early morning. By 9am the main squares of Genoa had already been closed and were heavily guarded by paramilitary police forces. At 11am the Convergence Centre of the Genoa Social Forum had been surrounded by police – no one could get in or out. By midday police were using water cannon and teargas against Pink Bloc activists who tried to break into the Red Zone with a contingent of music and dance. At 12.30pm in Piazza Dante a pacifist demo was attacked by police even though the people arrested and beaten were completely passive. At 1.30 there was the first sighting of police guns during clashes with anarchists in Corso Torino. At 2.30 there was an ultimatum for people inside the Piazza Kennedy to leave the square in five minutes or be charged from two sides by riot police.

By 3pm the civil disobedience bloc was fighting back against police attack, dodging gas canisters and being charged repeatedly. Anger was directed back at the state forces and the symbols of capitalist wealth and privilege. Carlo Giuliani, a local anarchist aged 23, was shot dead by a policeman. The crowd was stunned and panicked as the police pushed protesters back towards the stadium with even more force. Chants of ‘assasini’ – murderers – echoed through the streets. As dusk fell there was the continuous sound of sirens and helicopters shone lights down onto the city photographing protesters and monitoring movement. Anyone walking outside the stadium was beaten up and arrested. Protests continued elsewhere in the city. Inside the stadium ‘disobedienti’ held an open discussion lasting hours about the day’s proceedings. The issues raised included the use of violence by protesters, the attacks on property, the relationships of the protesters to local residents and the death of the young protester, Carlo Giuliani. No conclusions were reached, but everyone present agreed that they would take to the streets the next day to continue the struggle.

Unfortunately, not all groups in Genoa felt the same way. Some campaigns decided to pull out of the following day’s planned protest amid accusations that the movement was being hijacked by ‘trouble makers’. Reformist organisations such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Catholic Development Agency were among those that scabbed on the demonstration and held alternative protests. Fortunately their absence made little difference to the turnout the next day, a sign of their irrelevance to the real movement.

On Saturday 22 July, protesters in Genoa came together for an International Mass Demonstration, one huge assembly of 250,000 people, by far the largest anti-capitalist demonstration to date. The vast promenade along the sea front was awash with banners, slogans: ‘drop the debt’, ‘un altro mondo e possibile’ – another world is possible – ‘assassins’. Red flags, Cuban flags, Che flags, black flags, green flags, peace flags all united in a rainbow procession. Despite the fact that the planned route avoided contact with the Red Zone, once again the police would not allow the protest. Without warning, police pounded the demo with teargas and blocked the route. Protesters who fought to move forward were charged by water cannons and armoured cars. At the front banks were destroyed and barricades constructed while those further back, unaware of this running battle, were teargassed by low-flying helicopters. The police were not interested in distinguishing between different types of protesters and police policy was to attack all those present. Clearly their orders were to protect the summit at any cost!

As people left Genoa late on Saturday, news of a brutal attack came through: ‘Two buildings opposite to each other in Via Cesare Battist in Genoa, hosting the Indymedia Center and the Genoa Social Forum were brutally raided by police just after midnight. Police used tear gas inside the buildings and baton-charged people sitting or sleeping on the floor. Police arrested 93 people at the school, 62 of whom were rushed straight to hospital. At least a dozen were so badly beaten they had to be carried out on stretchers. Police claimed to be looking for weapons under Article 41 of the Italian law permitting a search without warrant, but destroyed the legal team’s computers, confiscated videos, floppies and hard drives. Beating people indiscriminately’. (http:// www.indymedia.co.uk)

Mark Covell was one of those attacked by police, three times, outside the building, ‘I heard my ribs break, like snapping matchsticks. I was still conscious at this stage. They take a running jump at you like kicking a football...I thought, my God, this is it, I’m going to die.’

One Italian policeman, shocked by his colleagues’ actions gave an account of what happened to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. He said: ‘They [the police] lined them up against the wall. They urinated on one person. They beat people up if they didn’t sing Facetta Nera [a fascist song]. One girl was vomiting blood but the chief of the squad just looked on. They threatened to rape girls with their batons.’ This attack was both revenge on organisers and a move to confiscate video footage, computer data and eye witness and arrest statements. The horrific pictures of the bloodstained centres shocked the world and by Monday 23 July solidarity demonstrations against the police brutality and the murder of Carlo Giuliani were taking place across Italy and outside Italian consulates and embassies. Within one week there had been marches in 140 cities all over the world against the Italian police brutality and the violation of human rights in Genoa.

Those arrested were kept under armed police guard for days, denied legal or consular access, they were deprived of food and sleep for 36 hours and subjected to a form of psychological torture. Typically, the British Foreign Office did nothing to secure the release of the British citizens: it was more intent on defending the police actions.

Information Box
The G8 Summit


The G8 Summit exists ‘so politicians can pose for a photo opportunity while their aides release a pre-agreed text, packed with harmless platitudes. These summits have an unwritten rule; agreements mustn’t undermine any leader’s standing at home. This prevents serious negotiations but that is not the point. The point is to turn domestic politicians into global statesmen.’ Liam Halligan, Channel 4 News, 20 July.

Clare Short, the Labour government’s international development secretary, lashed out at charities for criticising the ‘aid for Africa’ deal agreed at the summit with Tony Blair’s help: ‘Young, well meaning white people from rich countries say this is nothing; elected leaders from big chunks of the continent of Africa, the continent in deepest trouble, say this is very important...I think the violent demonstrators are deeply, deeply reactionary as well as unforgivable.’

Claire Short claimed to sympathise with the peaceful protesters but said that even they should think again: ‘It costs a fortune to get everybody flying into these summits. The money people spend coming from the rich world to protest on behalf of the poor could be directed into doing more in the developing world.’

What hypocrisy! The celebrated fund set up at the G8 summit to help fight AIDS in Africa contained just £900 million, just three times the cost of staging the summit itself, which Blair justified, saying: ‘It is important that world leaders can come together in an informal setting. If we can’t do that the world is a less prosperous and less stable place.’

Blair reacted with alarm to the suggestion that G8 summits should be abandoned. He said that would be ‘to stand the whole principle of democracy on its head’ handing victory to the rioters over democratic leaders. Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continued to support the Italian police tactics even after news about their brutality had spread around the world.

The Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the host of next year’s summit, proposed holding the ‘2002 summit in a remote Rocky Mountain town that would be more difficult for protesters to reach’. The next World Trade Organisation meeting will take place in Qatar, again to prevent anti-capitalist demonstrations. So this is their version of democracy: hiding from their opponents.

Information Box
Two weeks of resistance


14 June, Gothenburg – 15,000 demonstrate against US President George Bush who has flown in to see European Union (EU) leaders.
15 June, Gothenburg – 25,000 people march to EU Summit Conference Centre. Police stop and attack march, street battles rage and police attack a street party, shooting three protesters. Later police raid schools and other centres where protesters are sleeping.
24 June, Barcelona – 30,000 march past the Stock Exchange despite the cancellation of a World Bank meeting set for that day. Police attack protesters and the Spanish interior ministry justifies the use of undercover police and agents provocateurs.
26 June, Papua New Guinea – five days of peaceful protest by 3,000 students, workers and unemployed people outside the Prime Minister’s office to oppose the World Bank and IMF privatisation programmes end when police attack protesters, shooting three dead and injuring many others. Thousands take to the street in anger, burning buildings and attacking police barracks.

Information Box
Police brutality


Bourgeois commentators in Britain were quick to differentiate between violent and non-violent protesters. They reported that those who were concerned with issues of third world debt had their message hijacked by ‘mindless thugs’ only interested in violence. They rolled out the clowns, starring U2’s Bono and Sir Bob Geldof who had been flown out to Genoa on Prime Minister Blair’s jet, for a photo-opportunity denouncing violence. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said that the umbrella group which publicly renounced violence had secretly connived with the rioters: ‘There was no distinction between the two groups’, he said. Berlusconi’s sentiments were an attempt to justify the indiscriminate police brutality against all protesters.
No ruling class propaganda could hide the shooting dead of the young man or the determination of the Italian state to prevent the marches. Nor could the cameras disguise the sheer numbers that had mobilised in Genoa, the mass anger directed against the G8 leaders and the hatred of capitalism. The violence of the state as always was a weapon to preserve the privileges of the wealthy and powerful, the reaction of the protesters was to defend the right to demonstrate and to exercise their beliefs. And a real anger at the ravages of capitalism and those in uniforms who are paid to protect it.

The press demonised the anarchist Black Bloc for ‘mindless destruction’. Yet within this section there are differences in attitude to damage to property and physical force tactics. A Black Bloc participant on 21 July explained: ‘The majority of Black Bloc people supported damage to property only against important symbols of capitalism. They smashed a window on a Lufthansa office and graffitied ‘Stop Deportations’ because Lufthansa co-operates with states deporting refugees back to countries where they are tortured/ killed. This part of the Black Bloc is strictly against damaging small shops or cars’.

Organised physical destruction of capitalist companies is part of the fight back against the capitalist state. This will take many forms and include a variety of strategies and tactics. The ruling class will always attempt to fragment the movement on this issue. At the same time the state will manipulate situations by using agents provocateurs. This was the case in Genoa where film footage and eye-witness reports showed some individuals wearing combat clothing and face masks talking to and directing police lines.

When a movement is becoming powerful the capitalist state will use any methods to undermine its unity. (See May Day article, FRFI 161)