Brian Holmes on Tue, 24 Jul 2001 20:53:13 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Genoa: Target & Turning Point

Genoa: The Target and the Turning Point

In London on June 18th, 1999, someone taped up a poster of a target - a
crossed-out target actually, a protest against the recent violence of the
Kosovo war - onto the display window of a Mercedes dealership. Crossed-out
or not, the target guided one of the blows that shattered the window.
Nearby, the glass portals of the huge LIFFE building (London International
Financial Futures and Options Exchange) were also smashed - a direct attack
on what is arguably a nerve center of globalized finance capitalism.

>From the start, the movement against corporate globalization has thrived on
the ambiguous relations between political-economic critique, non-violent
carnival, and urban guerrilla actions involving battles with the cops and
destruction of private property. The ability to bring these things together
at strategically targeted places and times has lent the movement its
startling, seemingly inexplicable strength and agency, its force of
attraction and its sense of a multivalent threat to the dominant order. But
that dynamic suddenly changed directions, in Goteborg and above all in
Genoa. Through the use of undercover agents, provocation and the cynically
good timing of their charges, the police were able to turn the
street-fighting and destruction of private property into an excuse to
attack the movement as a whole, in a calculated attempt to destroy not only
its agency on the ground, but also its credibility in the public eye. In
Genoa, at the height of what is now clearly a mass movement - able to bring
200,000 people of all kinds onto the streets - suddenly WE became the
target, both of violence and of a deliberate defamation campaign.

Of course the cops themselves are unfathomably stupid, in Genoa as they
were in Prague, and police acting without any political direction carried
out a bloody and totally unjustifiable raid on the headquarters of the
Genoa Social Forum/Indymedia on Saturday night after the demos were over,
savagely beating people up, smashing equipment and confiscating computers
from the legal and medical teams without proper warrants - a blunder which
will cost the Berlusconi government dearly. Demonstrations are planned in
at least 30 Italian cities today (June 24) and the center-left opposition,
which actually organized the G8 in Genoa before the recent arrival of
Berlusconi, is now calling for the resignation of the Interior minister

It is no accident that this is all coming to a head in Italy, where one of
the key members of the Genoa Social forum - the splinter political party
Rifondazione Communista - also withdrew its support from the center-left
coalition in the recent elections, denouncing the false alternative offered
by the pseudo-left but at the same time indirectly helping Berlusconi into
power. The idea is to break a useless consensus, whereby the left sits in
governments at the cost of ceasing to have a left politics. The
participation of working-class Rifondazione, but also of elements of the
center-left, of the religious drop-the-debt campaign and of pacifist
ecological and fair-trade networks like Reta Lilliput, in an unpredictably
violent anti-globalization demonstration has finally placed the new forms
of capitalist domination at the center of a full-scale national debate -
showing that the price of breaking the ruling consensus is a small-scale
civil war.

There is a before and an after Genoa. The death of Carlo Guiliani, an
essentially innocent young man caught up in a political firestorm, marks
this turning point. The value and the extreme danger of mass movements in
our intensely alienated cities leaps out into daylight, precisely in the
country where the strategy of leftist political violence was tried and
failed in the seventies. From this point forth everyone must be much more
clear about the kinds of coalitions, voluntary or not, that they engage in.
I want to be precise here. In Genoa, there was a clear target for the
destruction: banks and corporate headquarters. At least some of the street
fighters were acting politically, in their way. But dozens of private cars
also became burning barricades while many more were damaged, and far too
many small shops were also trashed (by police provocateurs or not, we may
never know for sure). All that looked very bad in the media. And anyone
honest has to admit that the generalized violence originated not only from
the agent-provocateurs and not only from the consciously anticapitalist
anarchists who have been part of the movement from the start, but also from
disaffected youth, apolitical gangs, Basques and other nationalists, and
even a few Nazi skins looking for a good time. Relatively small groups are
enough to draw whole crowds into the clash, especially in a country like
Italy where that's just what the police are looking for. Can the violence
be kept on target, when the movement against capitalist globalization rises
to the mass scale that it must reach to become politically effective?

"According to authoritative American sources there were 5 thousand violent
demonstrators in the Black Bloc," said Interior minister Scajola in
parliament on July 23, dramatically upping the count from the three to four
hundred serious window-smashers that most people saw during the
demonstrations. The hard line from Bush, Blair and Berlusconi is clear:
criminalize the movement, paint over critique into terrorism and aimless
rioting. This is what Berlusconi finally means when he says "fiction is
better than reality." And it's a tactic that can work, that has already
worked in the past. The only answer is to politicize the movement much
further, to give it a powerfully dissenting voice within a public debate
that has been reduced since 1989 to substantive consensus between left and
right. That's the strategy that the Genoa Social Forum has brought into
play. I think it requires that the violence of Genoa, Goteborg and the
movement as a whole must not be denounced or explained away, but recognized
for what it is: the harbinger of a far wider and more intense conflict to
come, if the exploitative and destructively alienating tendencies of
capitalist globalization are not reversed. But to make that claim,
politically, in the parliamentary and media arenas, also means backing it
up with a more deliberate and legible relation to the violence on the
ground during the demonstrations. And that in turn means walking a
tightrope, between the chaos of urban warfare in which we become the
target, and the more insidious slide back into a gentle consensus that just
stretches a veil over the deadly contradictions of globalized capitalism.

The more coherent and serious organizations know this very well, but they
can neither control nor do without the mass movement on which they depend.
The civil-society associations are getting scared. The cops, the hard-line
neoliberals and the apolitical gangs will clearly not change their tactics.
A lot depends on the people in between: the genuine anarchists, the Tute
Bianche style direct actionists, and the average person in the demo who
sees red and picks up a stone. It's time for everyone, not to pull back
from the movement - not after the vast success of the Genoa demonstrations
- but to think a lot more about what their targets really are, and exactly
how to reach them. The ambition to block the summits is attaining its
limits, and the tremendously productive balance between critique, carnival
and illegal action has come to a point of extreme fragility. The political
debates in Italy, the social movements that are likely to ensue there this
fall, and the diffuse, worldwide protest against the unreachable WTO
meeting in Qatar this November may help set into motion a new language and
a new strategy - which we urgently need before the next inevitable mass
protest on the dangerous European streets.

Brian Holmes

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