Shootings in Gothenburg: Democratic state repression

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Protesters at June's EU summit in Gothenburg were met with the full force of Sweden's liberal democracy. The police attacked with dogs, batons, the cavalry and gunfire. 3 people were shot, 90 injured and 600 arrested. The EU leaders, including Tony Blair and Jack Straw, condemned the "thuggery" of the protesters and backed the police. The Danish Prime Minister thought it a "paradox" that there could be protests at a meeting "where we are working towards a better world". Blair said it was OK for protesters to protest, but, according to him, the way that capitalism was organised was universally beneficial: "The fact is that world trade is good for people's jobs and living standards".

At the same time that capitalist leaders say that they are working for a 'better world' they defend measures that ensure that the conditions of millions are deteriorating. They talk of the benefits of 'globalisation' while the IMF admits these don't extend to the poor. They defend their democracies and the right to protest, while all over the world governments are strengthening their repressive powers. They talk of 'humanitarianism' and the defence of 'civilised' values as they send troops into the Balkans, bomb Belgrade and Baghdad, and tighten the sanctions which continue to kill every day in Iraq.

The weapons of the ruling class

The reasons for the bourgeoisie's hypocrisy can be understood by looking at the way the ruling class dominates society. To maintain social order the capitalist class relies on repression and ideology, state power and propaganda, brute force and lies. Everything they do can be seen as a reflection of both aspects of their class rule.

For example, Blair blamed an "anarchist travelling circus" for being at the root of what happened at Gothenburg (and Seattle etc before it, with Genoa still to come in July). At the ideological level this is the old lie that there would never be any conflicts in society if it wasn't for a minority of 'troublemakers'. At the level of repression governments throughout Europe have swapped intelligence on 'anarchist ring leaders' and propose to treat them like football hooligans and take away their passports. The German and French interior ministers are looking at "a co-ordinated and hard response to this new form of extremist, cross-border criminality" (Guardian 18/6/1). Governments will be prepared to target the movements of anyone who they deem to be a potential cause of difficulty. You don't have to be an 'anarchist ring leader' for the state to keep tabs on you.

With the coming G8 meeting, set for July 20 in Genoa, you can see the bourgeoisie preparing for every eventuality. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, has said that up to 150,000 protesters are expected, and that exceptional measures will be required. George Bush will stay on an aircraft carrier, and other world leaders attending the meeting will be in a cruise ship moored offshore. The protection of meeting places will be rigorous. Access to Genoa will be difficult.

As for the demonstrators it will be an excellent opportunity for the Italian state to practice crowd control. The tactics of the state in London on May Day this year, where 6000 police held 1500 protesters helpless at Oxford Circus for several hours, show one approach. At Genoa they could try anything from cutting the city off from the outside world to a massive display of force to trying out new weaponry. The bourgeoisie is always keen to try out new tools. Even in Northern Ireland, where there has been direct military rule for more than 30 years, the army has just borrowed some water cannon from the Belgium state which might come in handy during any disturbances this summer.

Democracy goes with repression

The one thing that might have puzzled some people about the police violence in Gothenburg is how it tallies with Sweden's reputation as a progressive democracy. In reality democracy in Scandinavia behaves exactly as democracy anywhere. In Ancient Greece democracy was a form of rule by the slave owners. In the modern capitalist world democracy is a form of rule by the bourgeoisie in its exploitation of the working class. It will talk of 'human rights' and 'democratic freedoms' but its central concern is a social order in which it can pursue the goal of capital accumulation.

Violent state repression has been just as much a characteristic of the bourgeoisie in Britain, the home of 'free speech' and 'fair play' as anywhere in the world. It's hard to choose when there have been so many examples. In 1819 there was the Peterloo massacre, a crowd of 80,000 at a political reform meeting in Manchester were attacked by the forces of the state, 11 people were killed and 400 injured. In November 1887 troops fired on a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. In November 1910 the police and military attacked miners in Tonypandy and one worker was shot dead. In August 1911, in a series of attacks on workers' demonstrations and other actions in Liverpool, two workers were shot dead - two warships had been sent to assist. During the 1913 Dublin strike and lock-out police attacks left five people dead and hundreds injured. In the early 1930s the police attacked demonstrations of the unemployed all over the country. During the Labour government of 1945-51 troops were deployed against workers' actions on 18 occasions. In 1972, on Bloody Sunday, the army shot dead 13 demonstrators in Northern Ireland. Within the living memory of many are the police attacks on the miners and printers strikes in the 1980s.

Internationally, even without considering repression in the colonies of the European powers, or the horrors during times of imperialist war, when millions have died in the cause of capitalist democracy, there are even more dramatic examples of the violence of bourgeois repression. When the bourgeoisie defeated the Paris Commune in 1871 as many as 30,000 were murdered. In the repression against the German Revolution in the early 1920s, workers died in their tens of thousands. Against the Russian Revolution the armed forces of 14 countries were sent to back up the White Terror.

The examples from Britain are not as dramatic. This is because the bourgeoisie has a longer experience of maintaining social order than any other, and has developed many sophisticated means for defending itself. Take the situation in Britain in 1919, where there was widespread unrest and the bourgeoisie was deeply worried by events taking a 'Bolshevik' direction. Against a strike movement in Glasgow in early 1919, involving many sectors, there was uncompromising repression. A demonstration on 31 January was brutally attacked by the police. By the next day Glasgow was under military rule, occupied by troops armed with machine guns, tanks and planes. Against other major strikes in 1919, involving the miners and railwayworkers, the ruling class adopted a different approach, explicitly relying on the trade unions to undermine workers' struggles. The confidence that workers had in the unions brought about their defeat.

In Gothenburg we saw both faces of the bourgeoisie. There were the reassurances that they were really concerned with the welfare of all humanity. There were demonstrators being shot in the back. Workers should be aware that these are two sides of the same exploiting class. Barrow 28/6/1