Behind the provocations

Tom Behan is a leading member of Globalise Resistance. He was in Italy coordinating activities and preparations in the lead-up to the protests. He spoke to Mark Fischer about the anarchist black bloc

A number of Italy?s most prestigious film directors were working collectively to put together a film about events in Genoa. A couple of them have reported they saw evidence that the relationship between some of the people in the black bloc and the police was rather ?close?. One of them said that he saw these people walking in and out of police stations quite freely.

I saw a very good photo taken at the gates of a police station with officers beside people in the ?uniform? of the black bloc - bandannas, face masks and so on. They were literally just standing around casually with these police officers, holding iron bars and sticks.

I had some personal experience of problems, too. On Friday, the direct action day, there were a few thousand of us up on a hill somewhere. There were only about 100 police. We were able to push them down the hill quite successfully, without really heavy violence starting up. There was some pushing and shoving, but nothing much more. Then I turned round and there were these two kids: one of them had a stick; one of them had an iron bar.

I don?t know where they came from. The way I put it was that the peaceful demonstrators were like honey and these people were bees. These people come into a crowd confronting the police, throw objects, which then gives the police the justification to attack.

You have to make a distinction, of course. I think the black bloc was a mixture. Obviously there were genuine hardcore anarchists - it has had a history before these demonstrations. Also, either police or fascists infiltrators were involved. It seems clear the black bloc is susceptible to being infiltrated in this way. It?s in its nature. A leading activist with the Genoa Social Forum told the police that they had evidence that the Italian equivalent of Combat 18 were coming into the city. There have also been reports in the press about some nazi from Birmingham who openly admitted that his ?friends? had invited him to Genoa to create chaos and he wouldn?t be touched by the police.

On the Friday, there were six different marches moving towards the red zone. The largest and the most confrontational was the Ya Basta bloc - those in white overalls - who were coming in from the east. I heard a few accounts that there was a clash between the Ya Basta people and the black bloc over the aim of the march. That?s interesting, because the dividing line between one and the other is quite blurred.

Ya Basta come from an anarchist perspective, effectively. A few months ago they made what they called a ?declaration of war? on the G8. On the day before the Friday demo, they were saying, ?We?re going to break through?. So their language and the atmosphere they were pumping up was quite warlike. Although at the same time, they were saying that it was only going to be civil disobedience: it will be non-violent.

I think the tension between them and the black bloc was over violence, trashing things. If there had been this confrontation, it would have been like a civil war in anarchism on the streets of Genoa.

By the Saturday evening, there was mounting evidence of either police infiltration of the black bloc or at least tolerance of it. For instance, the people I was staying with in the north of the city told me that they watched the police stand back and do nothing while people overturned cars and burned down shops. They just let them do it. There?s a real anger among the Genoese that the police seemed to allow these sorts of things.

I think the black bloc made strategic decisions about what ?honey pots? to go to. They chose a very peaceful march of feminists, catholics and pacifists in the north. They turned up on that march, started to throw missiles, then when the police moved in, they ran and left the main body of this march to take a terrible beating.

In the west there was a Cobas march (militant syndicalist federation - MF) of about 15,000 that was heading towards the red zone on the Friday. There again, I have heard tragic accounts of a couple of hundred black blockers that suddenly rushed into the Cobas march, armed with sticks and stones, and started to cause provocations. All hell broke loose. The police attacked and the march actually disintegrated.

What do you do when a highly militarised groups does this? As a method of causing internal division in our ranks, the tactics of the black bloc are very efficient for the police. The scale of it and the impunity with which it was done has caused so much anger.

With all the controls and restrictions at the frontiers, how did these people get in and operate freely when they were obviously armed? It beggars belief that the police were not turning a blind eye. How can we ?police? these people ourselves? What are we going to do? Search everyone that starts to form up on the contingent? That?s just not possible.

We also have to be clear about the aim of these demonstrations. At a certain point, Globalise Resistance could have broken through into the red zone. In the event of that happening, people would have been killed. If you argue that the major orientation of our anti-capitalist demonstrations at the moment is confrontation with the state, to ?break through?, then you are setting up the march for violence. Once that happens, the political message of the action gets lost, as the violence can be focussed on.

Having said that, in Italy itself, the response to the police attacks brought tens of thousands of people more onto the streets. That my perspective - mass numbers of demonstrators are the real answer. They can?t drive 300,000 off the streets.