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(en) [caravan99] Evaluation of S26 Prague and Global Day of Action

From OdM <red-red2@span.ch>
Date Sun, 29 Oct 2000 09:31:31 -0500 (EST)


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(This is just a personal point of view, though I've discussed it with
various people in the PGA network. I hope that it will at least start some
more collective discussion.)

Evaluation of Prague and Global Day of Action (GDA) around the world

To me it seems clear that Prague and its GDA were major successes, marking
an acceleration in the recomposition of a worldwide revolutionary movement.
A cycle of struggles which may well be comparable in scope to what happened
in the sixties-seventies.
I was surprised to see some activists talking more of the negative aspects
of the experience. Of course, self criticism is vital, but we should also
recognise our successes and above all the historical opportunity which is
for me very clearly opening up. Successes  and chances like this are much
too rare to miss ! So I felt impelled to put out my own upbeat evaluation.
I will try to get to the negative or dangerous aspects at the end.

Why is Prague such a major success for the radical anti-globalisation and
anti-capitalist movement?

1) We didn't just blockade the meeting. We actually closed it down ! This
has never happened before to a global governance institution. After trying
to hide it, even the mainstream media (Herald Tribune for example) admited
implicitly that the third day was cancelled because of the protests. The
very interesting insiders story from a World Banker shows much more.
According to him, a great number of the delegates were so scared the first
day that they refused to leave their hotels on the second ! And thefirst
day people were looking out the window every time a grenade exploded. So
the immediate, concrete objective was achieved 300%. This just might be
remembered one day as global capital's Bastille day (which went by
comparatively unnoticed at the time !).
2) Just the numbers. There were 8 to 10000 blocking the WTO in Seattle with
the Direct Action Network. By the final media evaluations 15 to 20000
stopped the IMF in Prague. Of course the 40000 union and NGO people  who
were in Seattle were maybe only 5000 in Prague, which points to a weakness
in Europe with respect to North America : the unions have not really
mobilised yet on this level and the relationship of the radical movement
with union workers is much less good. But the radical movement itself is
growing amazingly.
3) This marks the real fall of the Berlin Wall for the revolutionary
movement. For ten years we were still out of pace with the East, where
illusions about capitalist democracy, reaction against socialist ideology
and finally neoliberal regimes destroyed most of the visible opposition
that had briefly bloomed in 1989. In Prague, for the first time we met and
struggled together with a new generation of radicals from Czech republic,
Poland, Hungary and in smaller numbers from other countries East. There
massive involvement (two thirds of those arrested were Czech) was a very
good surprise. So was the often positive attitude of Czech bystanders -
people waving from windows, etc, despite the incredible media campaign
against the " terrorists " and " hooligans ". Afterwards, a handful of
people skilfully managed to largely turn around the Czech media concerning
the police brutality, and brought Havel and other ex-dissidents to take our
side. It is vital now to preserve and develop these contacts. That
shouldn't be so difficult since we won this one !
4) The forms of struggle and non-hierarchical organisation developed in the
anglo-saxon movement jumped into the heart of continental Europe - and
worked ! The " Seattle " model : affinity groups and spokespeoples councils
organising in a convergence center, groups taking responsibility for
specific objectives in the streets, communications, legal observation,
medical care, press work and the independent media center - it all worked.
More or less well, but well enough to defeat 11000 cops trained six months
by the FBI.
This model has shown itself to be more or less immediately adoptable by
people who don't have that political tradition (That surprised me a lot. I
was happy just to see europeans try it for the first time, but was
expecting it to be a much longer process.). It is infinitely more effective
in the streets than the traditional column of demonstrators with only a
little group of organisers (and maybe some little groups of people trying
to do other stuff on their own) who actually have an idea of what should
happen. And it is politically so much more interesting. People don't come
and march around relatively passively. Preparing the demo, taking their
part, draws much larger numbers of people into an active role. It really
organises politically and - most important - it organises them in the way
that we want to organise society : in a more democratic, autonomous and
non-hierarchical way. All power to the affinity groups !

5) The Global Day of Action also worked better than ever before. For the
previous Days of Action (May 16/1998, June 18/1999, November 30/1999, May
1st /2000) there were generally about 70 cities around the world that
announced participation, but afterwards it was a slow and difficult process
to get reports in on what had happened. This time more than 110 cities
announced actions and within a week more than 70 had posted reports on the
Indymedia or S26 web pages. New places, new faces, new practices. It wasn't
just the occasion for established movements to coordinate (which was
already very important), but seems to have stimulated a wave of new young
radical groups, from students to anarcho-punks - a new worldwide movement:
five cities in Australia, five in Brazil, Moscow, Warsaw, South Africa, 40
in the USA ...
6) This was not an accident. Its part of an increasingly self-conscious
crescendo : It started in 1996 with the zapatistas' weirdo call " against
neo-liberalism and for humanity ", which drew a new and odd mix of people
to Chiapas. In 1997 (incredible how things have changed in three years !),
the Second Intergalactic Encuentro in Spain was the occasion for the new
british movement around Earth First and ReclaimThe Streets to mix with
continental, asian and latin american activists. The project of People's
Global Action hatched at the end of that meeting and 8 months later the
first Global Day of Action was already a fantastic mix of some 35 Street
parties and massive demonstrations of southern movements. That inspired RTS
to launch J18, which inspired friends in Seattle... Since Seattle, the Day
of Action idea has a life of its own (there must be about 15 different web
pages, I haven't even clicked them all). That is perhaps the best surprise
: PGA didn't only succeed in creating a " non-organisation ", it sparked
off a real global movement that was quietly gestating. Now PGA doesn't have
to organise everything. It can concentrate on the very important role of
being a global space for political coordination and initiatives within the
larger, spontaneously evolving movement. And some of the tasks that PGA
couldn't (and maybe shouldn't) handle (Indymedia for example) have been
spontaneously " outsourced ".
In this movement there is an increasing circulation of struggles and forms
of struggle : For example the InterContinental Caravan was the occasion for
the indian direct action campaign against Monsanto and GMO to meet the MST
and the french Confederation Paysanne (what a short circuit for capital
when indian and french farmers where seen placidly trashing a french GMO
laboratory on prime time TV !). As forms of struggle, caravans and street
parties have gone round the world. The non-violent blockades of Seattle
inspired imitators around the world. In Italy. Ya Basta, decidedly not
masochist, then invented its variation : offensive non-violence with
helmeted and padded demonstrators who push the police with portable
barricades. And they were promptly imitated in Spain by people who had seen
them in Prague. Activists and ideas are traveling a lot again, like in the
'70ties.

Problems : I see three major ones.
- Violence, non-violence and the coming counter attack. The discussion on "
violence " (against property and/or against people) started with the riots
in Geneva during the first GDA, and will certainly continue.... It seems to
me obvious that the non-violent but determined, illegal forms of struggle
re-proposed to the movement - first by the indians of KRRS, then by the
north american activists - has given a whole new life and dimension to the
movement. We saw it in Seattle. There were 40'000 people marching in a
symbolic and legal way which wouldn't have even been really noticed all
alone. There were only a few hundred Black block people ready to attack
multinational property, not enough to really have made a real difference
either. The decisive form of action was the one that 8 or ten thousand
people could assume : non-violent blockade. This has remained true in
Washington, Melbourne and Prague.
At the same time, it is impossible to ignore that in Prague part of the
movement (particularly many from Eastern Europe) refused and probably will
continue to refuse that form of action. What was done in Prague (letting
the different tendencies do their different things in separate zones) was
probably the only practical alternative while trying to continue the
debate. The debate is also continuing among the southern movements of the
PGA network, although the perspective is necesssarily quite different : in
Bolivia, for example, the non-violent roadblocks of the 26th of September
cost several dead and 30 wounded by bullets.
What is certain is that diversity of forms of action is the best assurance
of survival for a movement. We must be capable of anger, humor, reason,
patience and all the rest. Capable of staying mobile and unpredictable. If
we stick steadfastly to any form of action - violent or non-violent - they
will find a way to neutralise us. Precisely for that reason we must be
careful that one form of expression does not make another impossible. And
that we cannot be collectively tagged and criminalised. After all that was
how they destroyed the european movement of the 70ties. It was easier for
them because at the time many of us thought that " revolutionary " violence
was as such OK and somehow even the " highest " form of action (because it
requires the most courage). Of course that was bullshit. The subcomandante
is right, the less we have to use violence the better off we'll be. But
this is too big a subject for here. Let's just remember that dividing off
and isolating the "terrorists" has been and will be the standard way to
attack the WHOLE movement. In Italy, for example, they very consciously
criminalised mass action, so that the movement broke up into a legal part
and a clandestine, armed struggle part. The new anti-terrorist law in Great
Britain directed against RTS seems to be in the same vein. So we mustn't
only reason in terms of what we would like to do, but also in terms of what
they would like to MAKE us do. And they aren't stupid. It is also evident
that this new movement (and particularly PGA, which is what looks most like
an organisation within it) must already very high on the CIA's list for
repression, criminalisation, infiltration, disinformation, etc. A judge in
Philadelphia (following the protests around the republican convention)
ordered search warrants because PGA, a potentially terrorist organisation,
was involved ( !).

- Global to local. How do we make these " stratospheric " kinds of
mobilisations against global governance come down to earth ? First, we
shouldn't underestimate the impact that they have already had, simply
because by delegitimizing the dominant ideology and putting anti-capitalism
back on the map in the North, they have given new energy to local
struggles. Second, in many places (particularly in North America) people
from the movement are successfully trying to make links with local
struggles. This is probably an exceptional time, in which it is less
difficult than usual to break out of our various ghettos. But the effort
has to be made. We have to go to their meetings, not call them to ours.
Global Days of Action have been an incredible success, but have their
limitations. For one thing they seem sort of quaint to movements in the
South that have about 365 days of struggle a year (most of it quite
directly against WB/IMF, etc.) anyway. Secondly, only mobilising against
global governance institutions is ambiguous. It is a good focalising point,
but can be construed to mean that we only want to destroy IMF/WB/OMC, not
capitalism as such. The PGA convenors discussed this in Prague and decided
that we could now try a step further : " sustained days of action ", global
campaigns against specific aspects of capitalist rule. The first could well
be against militarism and paramilitarism with a special focus on " Plan
Colombia ", the burgeoning regional war in the Andes whose real objective
(behind the anti-drug hype) is the destruction of the popular organisations
that are often successfully resisting transnational neo-colonialism on the
ground level.




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