Prague S26

Time for control

Anti-capitalist protests in Prague continue, as a dwindling band of activists try to harass delegates to the International Monetary Fund-World Bank gathering.

However, the high point of the protests came on Tuesday September 26 with the march on the former 'official communist' cultural centre where the IMF event took place. While there were many positive things to say about the 10,000-plus march - eg, its enthusiasm, inventiveness and sincerity - its organisation and leadership underlines that the anti-capitalist movement must radically reorientate away from essentially contrived confrontations towards a viable, revolutionary working class perspective.

Farcically, the organisers had decided to split the march into three, each with its own route and composition - blue (anarchist), pink (trade unions and left organisations) and yellow (NGOs and Jubilee 2000). Ostensibly, this started as a tactic designed to facilitate forming a human chain around the conference centre, although by the day of the action this aim had, apparently, been abandoned. Whether these truly stupid arrangements had been accepted beforehand by all on the Inpeg (Initiative Against Economic Globalisation) remains hazy, given the paucity of information about the debates and differences on this self-appointed body.

Come the march itself, the damage was partially repaired by the decision of a majority of the 'pink' contingent (with the SWP and its international sections to the fore) to simply veer off the agreed route. This pink section then partially merged with the yellow to advance on the conference.

Of course, it was blocked by ranks of riot police. There then ensued a four-hour-plus stand-off, with the mass of demonstrators reduced to passive sheep, herded around and quite cynically manipulated by an Italian autonomist group, Ya Basta. This 'leadership' of our march physically manhandled protesters who questioned their instructions.

Replete in white overalls and foam padding, they staged a few theatrical scuffles with the front line of police blocking the road. We were regaled via a powerful speaker system with totally fictitious accounts of this battle and alternatively urged to either pack close together, or to stand our ground. Hair-raising - and utterly untrue - bulletins from the front line were relayed back of police tear gas attacks and the heroic "companeros" standing firm against wave after wave of pig assault.

In effect, the main body of the march had all democratic initiative, power and authority robbed by these self-important fantasists. They fed a steady stream of misinformation and outright bullshit. This pungent mixture was designed to, first, keep everyone on edge - we were told many times that the police were just on the verge of using tear-gas - and, second, to ensure that the march's only role would be as a supporting block to our 'heroes', the thin white boiler-suit line.

The amazingly broad remit these people had granted themselves was revealed when comrades from Workers Power and the Communist Party challenged Ya Basta's megaphone stewards, telling them that they were simply concocting brazen lies. We were shrilly told that if we did not like the way they were handling the march, we could leave it and join one of the two other sections.

As evidenced by events on September 26, the whole movement must be opened up to genuine democratic control encompassing how we want our marches stewarded and by whom, and our tactics for dealing with police attacks, all the way up to the strategic perspective for the anti-capitalist movement itself.

The day of protest ended with the IMF-WB delegates having a banquet and their night out at the opera cancelled. Whether this justifies the claim from the SWP's Julie Waterson's that, "Prague belongs to us - today we have controlled Prague" is highly dubious, to say the least. Comrade Waterson's triumphalism came at an evening rally outside Prague's opera house. She assured us that "we have won". The nature of our victory was put into perspective when later in the same speech she told us that, although "some people on the pink and blue sections have got serious injuries, that doesn't matter. That pales into insignificance in the face of the 19,000 children who have died today from malnutrition."

Anti-capitalist demonstrators need more that a sentimental assurance that their broken heads and cracked bones "pale into insignificance" compared to the suffering of third world children. They need the democratic politics of Marx, not elitist stunts, if this movement is not to ebb away.

Our comrades got a good response for the Weekly Worker Prague special and our other propaganda. Altogether, some 5,000 leaflets and 1,200 papers were distributed and sold over four days of intensive political work, with the bulk going out on September 26.

Comrades were pleased with the numbers of protesters who came looking for our material after reading it over someone else's shoulder. It shows a very healthy appetite for new ideas in this movement, a willingness to think, to be challenged and learn.

Mark Fischer, Darrell Goodliffe