It is a shocking image. A 19-year-old protester taunts police ranks during the anti-capitalist actions in Gothenburg on June 15. One policeman draws a gun and the young man turns to scramble to safety. He is apparently shot in the back. As the bullet thuds into him, his face contorts with shock and terrible pain. Moments later, we see him laid out on the concrete with anxious comrades huddled over him. For a moment, the camera picks up a shot of his naked stomach, a small, bloody bullet wound stands out vividly on his flesh.
It is a shocking image. A 19-year-old protester taunts police ranks during the anti-capitalist actions in Gothenburg on June 15.
One policeman draws a gun and the young man turns to scramble to safety. He is apparently shot in the back. As the bullet thuds into him, his face contorts with shock and terrible pain. Moments later, we see him laid out on the concrete with anxious comrades huddled over him. For a moment, the camera picks up a shot of his naked stomach, a small, bloody bullet wound stands out vividly on his flesh.
The workers? movement internationally must condemn this act of police terrorism. Our movement needs to respond to such outrages with mass protest actions, with 24-hour general strikes, marches, pickets and boycotts. We must all stand unequivocally with comrades on the streets on Gothenburg, whatever their ideological affiliations, whatever our criticisms of the tactics they employ.
At least, that is what ought to happen.
In truth, the workers? movement is drawn up in defensive formation across Europe. Our leaderships are compromised, incapable of mounting an effective counter-attack against the new offensives of capital. It was the absence of mass combative working class contingents on these protests that allowed the tragic events to unfold in Sweden.
All credible accounts of the shooting indicate that protesters were responding to crude provocation by Swedish police. A Reclaim the City street party on Vasagatan was threatened by a large contingent of police in riot gear. A smaller group of around five to eight police became detached from the main body and attacked the gathering.
There are different versions of the incident. What clearly emerges from all is that the crowd acted first to defend itself against police attacks and that there was no question of the life of any police officer being threatened - a fact clearly verifiable from the TV coverage we have all seen.
This adds to our sense of outrage. But it is not the key question. We will defend everyone beaten and arrested by the police. We call for protests for all those attacked, whether they were batoned or shot, whether they were engaged in ?offensive? or ?defensive? actions. Yet we also have to be highly critical of the set-piece, semi-ritualised violence that sections of the anti-capitalist movement are ideologically wedded to.
Such provocations are elitist and totally counter-productive. It is urgent that the anti-capitalist movement now re-orientates politically and organisationally. It must turn to the working class, the only class with a consistent interest in genuine anti-capitalism and with the muscle to make it a real force.
Something like the Gothenburg outrage was bound to come. Anti-capitalist mobilisations have confronted state forces in very disorganised and unserious ways. At the September 23-26 2000 demonstrations in Prague, the Italian post-modernist group, Ya Basta, assumed effective control of one leg of the protest, leading people into a four-hour stand-off with the Prague police. As the hours dragged by, comrades on the main body of the march were reduced to passive spectators while the lines of white-overall-clad Ya Basta activists tussled theatrically with police lines, and fantasy reports of the trials and tribulations of the ?compadres? in the front line were relayed by YBers through a powerful PA system.
First, the protest had been split into three legs. This was foolhardy enough. Then, protesters were corralled into very tight spaces by the unrepresentative YB group. This organisation then spent hours frivolously provoking the historically volatile Czech police, while constantly haranguing the crowd to squeeze up to support their comrades at the front. It was disaster waiting to happen.
Most of the revolutionary left is guilty of tailing the movement rather than seeking to engage critically as Marxists with it. Even one of the better groups, Workers Power, combines some correct criticisms with a sort of breathless admiration for the actions of the likes of Ya Basta. For instance, WP?s ?DestroyIMF? website gushes over Ya Basta?s pretentious declaration of ?war? on the G8 summit in Genoa on July 20. ?DestroyIMF says - as in Prague - we?re right behind ya!? it assures our gladiators in white (http://www.destroyimf.org/).
A rather more thoughtful comment appears in a report from Abetarmakt, WP?s fraternal organisation in Sweden. Correctly, it points out that Ya Basta?s tactics - imposed with no real mandate from the mass of protesters - can constitute the group as ?a barrier against the more active elements. De facto, they can become an extra row of police ?? (statement on WP website).
?Right behind ya!? is spot on, comrades - and that is exactly where you will be stuck physically and politically if these groups and the anti-democratic anarcho-prejudices they embody are not vigorously challenged.
It is just hyperbole to suggest that the shooting in Sweden - outrageous though it was - in itself represented a conscious ratcheting up of repression against the anti-capitalist movement. Of course, there were plenty of reports of police excesses over the period of the protests, the shooting of the unarmed demonstrator being only the most dramatic. It seems far more likely that the incident was actually the response of badly rattled individual policemen.
The Gothenburg force as a whole clearly had no real expertise in dealing with civil disorder on a sliding scale of responses. Sweden consigned its water-cannon and riot-control equipment to museums in the 1970s. It jumped straight from batons and dogs to bringing out the hardware.
In fact, the appalling incident on Gothenburg?s streets will be used retrospectively for an attack on the democratic right to protest. Germany?s interior minister, Otto Schily, and his French counterpart, Daniel Vaillant, are to agree a ?coordinated and hard response to this new form of extremist, cross-border criminality? (The Daily Telegraph June 18). Blair has already indicated his willingness to treat political protesters like football hooligans - slapping bans on foreign travel for known ?ring-leaders?.
There is also a far more insidious form of subversion threatening the movement than direct repression - the danger of incorporation. A Guardian editorial draws a sharp distinction between anarchist rioters and the ?thousands whose methods were more peaceful and whose case was more serious? (June 18). A commentary by Madeleine Bunting in the same issue notes that ?while the state fails to re-invent itself, corporations are doing exactly that. They have read the signs of Seattle and Prague and concluded that it is no longer enough for a corporation to create wealth. It also has to claim a moral legitimacy as a powerful agency of social change?. Make way for corporate ?anti-capitalism?!
The anti-capitalist movement is embryonic - nothing more. If it is not to be trapped into a sterile pattern of small-scale, dwindling confrontations with the police forces of various states, it must radically re-orientate.
Programme: There are different strands within the movement. What unites some is hostility to features that - in their distorted way - actually express the progressive side of capitalism. The growing interdependence of the world economy, the ever closer links between peoples, the breaking down of the divisions between languages and cultures - these are phenomena that anticipate communism, a world community of associated producers.
Indeed, despite the gross distortions that accompany them under capitalism, without these trends such a world is impossible. Yet in Sweden, for example, one of the main organisers of the protests was the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist Revolutionaries), an ex-Maoist group. Amongst its demands are: ?For an independent and alliance-free Sweden? and ?Defend international law and UN-statutes?.
Thus, the nationally-based reformist projects of the remnants of ?official communism? and social democracy and the anarcho-parochialism of other groups have united in opposition to globalisation. In contrast, we need a democratic programme that looks forward, that charts a path to genuine globalisation under communism.
- An end to unelected bureaucracies - for a Europe-wide constituent assembly.
- Cross-Europe organisation. To the extent that the European ?super-state? becomes a reality, we need common working class organisations with our brothers and sisters across the continent, up to and including a Communist Party of the EU.
For democracy: Sickeningly, the EU leaders posed as defenders of democracy against the protesters. Swedish prime minister Goran Persson dubbed the protests ?a blatant disregard for democracy?, while French president Jacques Chirac blustered that, ?The behaviour of these rioters is ? the antithesis of all the humanistic values embodied today ? by the peoples of Europe.?
Pretty rich coming from people set to ignore the results of last week?s referendum in Ireland that voted down the Nice treaty, of course. But while we can scoff at the ?democratic? credentials of the likes of Blair, Chirac or Bush, we must be aware that there is a huge democratic deficit in our own movement. We need:
- Fully accountable, elected and instantly recallable leaderships on all our actions and protests. No more imposed leadership from small unrepresentative groups.
- Mass mobilisations. Centrally, the organised workers? movement across the continent of Europe must make anti-capitalism its own, bringing its numbers, its discipline and its programme to the fore of the protests.
- Democratically controlled defence corps. Against anarchist provocations and hopeless confrontations with state forces.
Gothenburg is a wake-up call to the anti-capitalist movement. We need new politics to come to the fore, a new kind of anti-capitalism. That is the way to mobilise millions to sweep away the rotten system of capitalism, its craven apologists and its gun-toting street fighters.