As the dust settles after the September 23-26 anti-capitalist protests in Prague, the various left organisations in this country that participated in the events are beginning to give their assessments.
Unfortunately, there still remains considerable confusion about the obscure process of decision-making by the umbrella group coordinating the protests (the Prague-based Inpeg - Initiative Against Economic Globalisation). With a little digging over the coming weeks, it may be easier to build a picture of what exactly the agreed plan was before September 26, of who knew what, and where and when decisions about stewarding were finalised.
Of course, we should not have to be digging. However, if we were to rely on the written material of the left groups, we would remain pretty much in the dark. Two British organisations that loomed relatively large in the actions (given the disappointing numbers on the various events) were the Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power. Predictably, both organisations have attempted to talk up the protests. It was "a historic event - the first truly pan-European, militant, anti-capitalist demonstration" (Workers Power website, October 3). Prague 2000 was a "fantastic demonstration of opposition to globalisation, the free market and the inequality that exists across the world" (Socialist Worker September 30).
Whether or not the events on the day unfolded according to an agreed plan, it is clear that many of the participants were deeply frustrated at the apparent disorganisation. Many came away from Prague highly critical of the organisation of the protests, disappointed that the impact of the S26 march had been blunted by the monumentally stupid way it had been conceived and run. The SWP has so far simply uncritically tailed this movement and attempted to adapt itself to it politically (even to the extent of going along with crassly bureaucratic anarchist bans on the participation of the Czech Communist Party and the Czech section of Workers Power, the SOP). It should thus take its share of the blame for the organisational and political debacles in Prague.
Workers Power has offered some retrospective, but broadly correct, criticisms - although its most recent paper still gushes that, "We did turn Prague into Seattle" (WP October). At the same time however, it also complains that there was a "total lack of active support from the major unions of western Europe"; a failure to "draw in the Czech trade unions and workers' parties" and the dominant anarchistic organisational method of "autonomy and consensus" was "individualistic, moralistic, utopian". All of this deliberately engineered formlessness meant, "the actions were badly coordinated or uncoordinated". WP correctly cites the 'consensual' models of political organisation in the anarchic heads of Inpeg as an important contributory factor to the "organisational chaos" reigning on the streets of Prague.
This was perfectly exemplified in the "badly coordinated or uncoordinated" march on September 26, of course. In its September issue, Workers Power reported that at the August 19-20 Inpeg meeting there was controversy over "whether we should organise a giant demo on September 26". A compromise left this hanging in the air and WP simply advised its readers that "all those going to Prague on S26 should listen out for the rally point for one big demo".
Come S26 itself, our forces were criminally divided into three politically differentiated marches starting out from the rallying point in the Namesti Miru square, allowing the police the opportunity to pick us off one by one if that suited their plans. This idiotic decision was taken after the conference of Inpeg on August 19-20. It seems it was arrived at by individuals in Inpeg, despite the stated objections of important sections of the August meeting. At this gathering, three counterposed positions had been put.
Various extreme libertarian elements from western Europe used their veto at the meeting to block agreement for a single mass demo, arguing instead for a myriad of individual acts of defiance rather than any collective mass protest. British Reclaim the Streets activists pushed the tactic of staging several demonstrations. A bloc composed of revolutionary groups (excluding Workers Power who plumped for the 'several demos' option), anarcho-syndicalist elements, the Italian/Spanish Ya Basta group and the SWP argued for 'one big demo'.
It appears that the compromise agreement coming out of this August meeting was to start the demo unified, then split into three legs at a pre-arranged point. This was bad enough. Quite how, why and by whom the decision was then taken to split our forces three ways from the very beginning has not been made public.
Clearly, we should have stayed together as a single demonstration. The top estimate for marchers is 20,000 - in truth, it was more like 12,000. This number hardly constituted an unwieldy gargantuan mass that could not be manoeuvred around Prague. The declared aim of the demonstration was to surround and close down the IMF-World Bank conference and this has been used to justify splitting our forces. In fact, such an aim was foolish from the start. It set up marchers for futile, wasteful and potentially dangerous confrontations with the police in pursuit of something that had purely symbolic value. As even Workers Power notes, "The congress of 14,000 delegates is there simply to ratify decisions that have already been made. One of the 'reforms' promised by [the World Bank president] as a direct result of the battle of Prague is to drastically reduce the number of delegates" (Workers Power October).
As we reported (Weekly Worker September 28), one of the sections of the march was diverted by its SWP contingent in the direction of a large bridge leading to the conference complex itself. This had been the route the SWP and the Italian/Spanish La Basta group had consistently argued for in Inpeg meetings. Although they had agreed a different route the very night before, they presumably decided to take matters into their own hands on the day. While this was not a bad decision in itself, it underlines the lack of an effective centre with sufficient authority to bring coherence and order to the protests. This is not simply 'regrettable' from a political point of view: it can be positively dangerous in the tense situation on the streets of Prague.
On this bridge, the La Basta group assumed effective control and spent the next four hours in a theatrical stand-off with the Czech riot police, relaying false information about the frontline scuffles back to the main body of the march via a powerful loudspeaker system. It seems now from reports that this 'vanguard' role was allocated to this clique the night before the march, in a small meeting in the so-called 'convergence centre', a sort of HQ/information bank for the various protests open to all (including undercover police, of course). Despite this rather flimsy mandate, La Basta imposed its priorities on this leg of the march, a discipline it backed up with physical assaults on marchers when it deemed it necessary.
We have nothing against order being kept on our demonstrations. In fact, we believe one of the priorities of stewards confronted by the types we saw in Prague would be to confront and expel elements intent on sparking frivolous provocations against the police. But such a structure must have democratic accountability. The bulk of the marchers were manipulated in a totally cynical way by these people and effectively had all democratic initiative, power and authority taken from them.
Similarly, there are suggestions that the three legs of the march actually were allotted different unannounced 'roles' - one to organise a blockade/stand-off, one to 'infiltrate' the conference itself, the other to riot. In the absence of any genuine democratic control of Inpeg, or of open reporting of its deliberations by groups like the SWP or WP, these sorts of rumours are legion. For all the talk of 'democracy', 'participation' and 'non-hierarchical' forms of organisation, the bulk of the movement is thus reduced to mere footsoldiers for the covert priorities of political cliques, decided behind their backs.
Predictably, the SWP has not raised one word of criticism of the march or the organisation responsible for it. Yet, at an impromptu meeting outside the Prague opera house, the SWP's Julie Waterson was heard to comment that Inpeg had "disappeared" on the day, effectively abdicating all responsibility for the marches. The truth is that much of the deliberations of Inpeg had been pretty invisible up to S26 itself. If this movement is not to ebb away, lessons have to be learned.
First, we must have democracy in our movement. All decisions about the routes and aims of our demonstration, their internal discipline, our tactics for dealing with the police or the media must be taken by the elected representatives of the movement as a whole. More than that, the debates, differences and arguments that divide trends must be fully aired. We want to know which organisations and individuals are defending what political positions and why. Only in this way will the mass of people on these demonstrations be able to take informed decisions.
Second, we must institute organised defence of our actions, coordinated through democratically centralised steward structures on actions such as S26. Apart from questions of military expediency, this should be open, democratic and accountable. Such bodies should have the task of defending our protests against external threat from the police and fascists, but also from internal provocation. Individual anarchic destruction of property or provocative attacks on the police should be swiftly and firmly dealt with. The current situation of individualised acts of quite indiscriminate violence alienates wider support and lends itself to the infiltration of our ranks by state agents. The mainstream Czech newspaper Lidove Stuchlik reports incidents of police infiltrating the crowd and sparking violence: "Reporters saw one of the masked policemen hit metal bars on a showcase window with a pole torn off a railing; later he arrested activists" (IndyMedia Centre website, October 3).
Unless the movement is not to be trapped in a fruitless and almost apolitical spiral of confrontations with vastly more powerful state forces, it must radically reorientate. To do that, we must fight for democracy and openness at every level.