Genoa: Capitalist democracy is a police state

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In Genoa, during the meeting of the G8 in July, Carlo Giuliani was shot and then run over by a police vehicle. Following the shooting of protesters at June's EU summit in Gothenburg - the first time since 1931 that the Swedish police have used live ammunition against demonstrators - Giuliani's death was the first fatality in 'anti-globalisation' protests.

As had been anticipated, the Italian state was prepared for massive repression, with the acknowledged force of thousands of riot police, the paramilitary carabinieri, snipers, satellite surveillance, a missile defence system, helicopters, planes, boats (including at least one submarine), tear gas, water cannon and 200 body bags, with no doubt other unpublicised weapons and tactics. Alongside the one death more than 500 people were injured, many of them hospitalised. When the police made their raid on the Genoa Social Forum more than 60 people were injured. In custody scores were beaten up or tortured.

Among the protesters there were differences of opinion about what had happened. Many Trotskyists said that some of the 'black bloc' anarchists had been allowed to do what they wanted by the police, had been filmed discussing with the police, were seen getting out of police vans, and were, at least in part, classic provocateurs stirring up the situation. Some leftists criticised the Tute Bianche protestors for being non-violent, or just plain 'clowns'. Stalinists had cast doubt on the credentials of 'Anti-Fascist Action' in Gothenburg; Genoa witnessed further criticisms by the 'conventional' left of the 'anti-capitalist' demonstrators. Meanwhile, a lot of anarchists were suspicious of the left, accusing it of just jumping on the bandwagon.

Seattle, Prague, Nice, Gothenburg, Genoa... the processions continue

Many of the observations from demonstrators were accurate. For example, the role of the 'black block' was suspicious, and the evidence for its links with the state is strong, not least the fact that the police actually acknowledged their infiltration. On another level the activity of pacifists like the Tute Bianche in Italy (or the Wombles in Britain) is futile in the face of state repression. As for the leftists, it is no surprise to see them at 'anti-globalisation' actions, as wherever they go, they always try to direct militant energies up blind alleys, and into the defence of bourgeois democracy.

The media said that the confrontations between police and demonstrators were predictable and not spontaneous. This is not said because the bourgeoisie wants to see unpredictable spontaneous struggles, far from it. The intention is to imply that there's a conspiracy behind every demo, but, more importantly, there's an attempt to portray the demonstrations as alien to the norms of bourgeois democracy. The implicit lesson is 'throwing stones never changed anything - when you're older you'll realise that the only real change comes through the ballot box.' In Genoa the likes of Blair and co. made a point of saying that those inside the conference rooms had been democratically elected. Outside the halls many demonstrators fell into disputing whether the forces of the state could really be called 'democratic', as if Genoa and Gothenburg were a new trend, rather than being typical of the attacks of the bourgeois state.

To really understand what's been happening at the 'anti-globalisation' demonstrations, as with any other question in class society, you have to look at the social forces, the classes and ideas involved. A demonstration can be staged to further the cause of any class. Workers can stage marches as a way of linking up with other workers, or to protest against repressive or other actions from the capitalist state, or, for unemployed workers, it can be a means of struggle when the workplace has been denied. On the other hand, demonstrations by the Countryside Alliance, the BNP and any number of nationalist campaigns show that any bourgeois cause can mount a demo if required.

For those involved in the skirmishes at each successive summit, whatever their motivation or social origin, the spectacular showdowns with the police have been futile confrontations. If there are people who are seriously trying to come to grips with the nature of capitalist society and how it can be overthrown, then any drive they have for understanding will be diverted by the ritual battles.

This is actually celebrated by Roger Burbach, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Americas, in Berkeley, California. He is an advocate of the "carnival of life" against the "opulent and grotesque world that has been foisted on us by the new corporate robber-barons". He says that "Most importantly, the anarchists and the anti-globalisation protests provide an outlet for the pent-up frustrations and the sense of alienation of a new generation" (in Anti-capitalism: a guide to the movement). This is crude stuff, but at least it's honest. When there are 'frustrations' and 'alienation' in 'a new generation' then opportunities to let off steam, without making any threat to social order, are valued by the ruling class. When you're only concerned with the next campaign, the next demonstration, the next battle with the police, then political reflection will not be your main priority. At Genoa the state intended that there should be violent confrontations, to provoke either disgust, pacifism or terrorism - all false alternatives.

The intervention of revolutionary organisations like the ICC, based on the historic experience of the workers' movement, insists that the violence of the modern capitalist state is no exception to some abstract democratic norm. The rule of the bourgeoisie can really only ever be a dictatorship over the exploited class, however democratic the fa�ade in front of it. For those who want to participate in the real struggle against this class rule, there is no substitute for serious political discussion about the nature of this rotting society and how it can be destroyed. The 'anti-globalisation' parades tend to hinder the possibility of such discussion; indeed they consistently march under the banners of the very democratic myths that are such an obstacle to the development of class consciousness.

Barrow, 30/8/01.

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