Learn the lesson

Tina Becker was in Genoa for the Social Forum and witnessed events

Last week saw one of the biggest and most inspiring manifestations of working class militancy in Europe for a long time. On July 21 250,000 took to the streets of Genoa. It was particularly inspiring, because it was much bigger than Prague, much more political than Seattle and much more internationalist than Nice. We got a whiff of the potential power of the organised working class.

But Genoa was also notable for the violence it witnessed. The Italian police had been given carte blanche by Silvio Berlusconi to ?do whatever is necessary? in order to protect the red zone and the G8 summit. And they certainly obeyed orders. The killing of the 23-year-old Genovese, Carlo Giuliani, could easily have been repeated many times over. There are hundreds of reports of crude police violence and naked terrorism. After the storming of the legal and media centre run by the Genoa Social Forum on Saturday night 92 people were detained either in hospital or prison.

Louise Christian represents two British protestors being held. ?None of the 92 have been allowed to contact a lawyer or even make a phone call,? she told us. Many are being held in solitary confinement. Collective charges have been brought against all of them: for possession of offensive weapons and arms, for criminal association and for resisting state officials. A young German protestor is rumoured to be in a coma after the raid and there are unconfirmed reports of another demonstrator being killed.

In response to the violence the Genoa Social Forum, an umbrella group for the more than 1,000 organisations involved in the protests, has called Italian-wide demonstrations. But the whole European working class must act now. Trade unions, political organisations and other groups must collectively condemn the brutality with which the Italian state has reacted against those who dare to protest against international capital.

We must demand the disarmament of all police forces. We should openly state our aim to replace them with working class militia and defence organisations. But we must also protect our movement from the enemy within.

The so-called black bloc acted as provocateurs. They gave the police every excuse to suppress the whole anti-G8 protest. No more than 2,000 anarchists were able to hijack our demonstrations and trigger undisciplined rioting. The pacifistic GSF did its best to steward on the day, but was totally overwhelmed by the determination of both anarchists and police to provoke trouble. The black bloc was made up mainly of Italian anarchist grouplets, backed by a number of Spanish and French co-thinkers .

The bloc is rumoured to have been rife with police agents and other infiltrators. Thomas Harding, a Daily Telegraph reporter, luridly describes how he turned up to a few meetings of the Wombles in London and claims he was easily integrated into the core group which organised the riots (July 23). With their undemocratic and sect-like organisational structure anarchists can easily be infiltrated and manipulated. At a press conference the GSF actually showed video footage that clearly identifies police agents amongst the anarchists. There are also reports of fascists travelling to Genoa, looking to give the commies a good kicking.

None of the anarchist groups took part in the preparation meetings of the GSF and refused to accept majority decisions. They did not attend the migrant workers? demonstration on Thursday, where 30,000 people demanded open borders and an end to immigration controls. Far too political for our anarchists, who hid in the hills preparing for Friday which was labelled ?direct action day?.

Not surprisingly, they split right down the middle during their first big test. The non-violent group Ya Basta had prepared big shields made of plastic, behind which 10 or so demonstrators could hide. The shields on wheels were supposed to push aside the police forces during stand-offs. Dressed up in their usual white overalls and protected by foam and pieces of cardboard, their aim was to peacefully break through into the red zone that sealed off the city centre. The ?real? anarchists, however, were keen to fight the police and unleash mayhem. They soon parted company with their compagneros from Ya Basta, who, to their credit, apparently tried to stop the rioting.

All hell broke loose. The whole city seemed in flames. Streets and squares became battle zones. The anarchists set ablaze dozens of cars, looted offices and fire-bombed a bank, disregarding the flats above. Sometimes they chased after the police, but mostly it was the anarchists who were chased, tear-gassed and beaten up by squads of carabinieri.

Revolutionaries are not pacifists. The overthrow of capitalism will require force. But such acts of essentially individual violence - in a non-revolutionary situation - are nothing more than the expression of rage by a frustrated, impotent and often lumpenised section of society. The vast majority of class conscious workers may feel sympathy for the anarchist rioters but will not want to emulate them.

The Saturday demonstration, however, gave a glimpse of the future, with 250,000 on the march against the G8, against the killing of Carlos Giuliani and against the hated prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. This was not the apolitical pink bloc. Only a few hundred-strong, they threw spaghetti and garlic at the police. Here we had class politics.

The Italian Partito della Rifondazione Comunista mobilised a solid block of roughly 10,000 people to Saturday?s demonstration. The Confederazione Cobas, Italian syndicalists, had around 4,000. Another 5,000 people were brought out by the mainly French-based Attac. This alliance of various left groups, churches and charities campaigns around economic issues like the introduction of the Tobin tax on share-dealing. There were also Greek telecom workers, Turkish revolutionaries and various ?official? communist parties.

The British left had some 500 or so comrades in Genoa, but the SWP was not in control of anything. It clearly suffered from a loss of direction. On the Globalise Resistance train to Genoa leading SWPers advocated the storming of the red zone. Sure enough, they attempted to break down the steel fence. But when the riot police arrived, national secretary Chris Bambery had to negotiate safe passage for his troops.

On a more serious level, the European working class must learn lessons. While the European bourgeoisies are busy building their EU proto-superstate, the working class is still disunited and fragmented along national lines. A united congress of trade unions, European industrial unions and a Socialist Alliance of the European Union palpably meet the needs of the hour.

The G8 leaders were taken aback by the mass turnout in Genoa. Future meetings - and quite possibly meetings of the IMF and World Bank - will be scaled down and assume more the character of ?a fireside chat? (The Times July 23). The next G8 in 2002 will be staged in the remote Kananaskis park in Alberta - in the Rockies, west of Calgary.

A small, symbolic victory. After Seattle, Nice and especially Genoa, the global institutions of capital can no longer boast of their ideological victory with any assurance.