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(en) [Pga_europe_resistance] [Detailed] Evaluation of the G8-Evian mobilization… and a debate to be had on violence

From OM <elviejo@greenmail.ch>
Date Wed, 30 Jul 2003 16:47:48 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Four "villages", dozens of debates and conferences, 9 demos (including one
of 100, 000 people), more than 5000 people in a dozen blockades coordinated
all around the lake which stopped all traffic on roads into Evian on the
opening morning, and four nights of violence in Geneva - clearly, the
attempt to bring summit meetings back into the heart of Europe was soundly
defeated. Heads of State of course got in by helicopter, but members of
their delegations (and journalists) arrived hours late. As for the official
welcome of Bush by the Swiss president, that had been already cancelled
under the threat of a massive march towards the Geneva airport.

On the negative side, indiscriminate - and in a few cases life-threatening
- actions of property destruction started to provoke deep divisions in the
movement and pose questions as to how such events can continue to happen.

Frankly, before it happened many feared that it wasn’t going to. The
international preparatory coordinations were not very well attended,
particularly by the radical wing of the movement. The first scenario was
for the main demo to happen outside of town the Saturday BEFORE the arrival
of the G8 (in order to facilitate attendance and to attract the European
Confederation of Trade Unions…). This would have completely abandoned the
founding principle of the movement direct action seeking to really stop,
or at least perturb, the summits and permitted the isolation and
repression of those who insisted on acting the opening day.

Fortunately, the debate ended in a more satisfying consensus: Since it was
obviously impossible to get to Evian (40 kilometers away), or even to its
exclusion zone, the coordination decided that the effort to materially
perturb the summit would take the form (like in Seattle) of a blockade of
all the access routes from the Geneva airports that could be used by
delegations and media (heads of State, obviously travelling by helicopter).

The main demo would be on the morning of the opening and would also
participate (although in a mostly symbolic way) to the blockades, by
stretching itself from the lake to the mountain behind Geneva, thus
blocking the southern approach to Evian. A second demo would block the
northern access via Lausanne and the ferry. The international coordination
also called on all willing organizations to participate in the actions
immediately before and after the demo aimed at making the blockade
effective. The combination of the two forms of action was conceived in
terms of respect for “diversity of tactics” and the intention to avoid all
manipulation : a peaceful mass demo, desired by the huge majority (the
reactions of participants on the day of the demo left no doubt about
that!), but closely associated with more determined blockades for those
wishing to do them.

No “black block” type proposition circulated on the lists before the
mobilization and it seemed that there was a quite large consensus that such
actions were not indicated immediately after Genoa. The Lemanic Social
Forum (FSL) considered that “although it is true that certain material
destructions can be understood as political acts by a large public when
they are precisely aimed and explained (destructions of GMOs, for example),
more or less indiscriminate destruction during the G8 would above all allow
activists to be presented as “hooligans” and would distract attention from
the main political objective: stopping the summit.” That said, the FSL
refused to condemn other types of action in advance and announced that it
would be in solidarity with all activists with respect to legal defense.

The coordination also announced its solidarity with all other non-violent
actions or demos organized by others (No Border demo, etc.) during the period.
Looking back, one can criticize the fact that the political demand to
demonstrate on the spot in Evian was abandoned so quickly, even if from a
military point of view it would have been disastrous to try and force our
way there. A siege of the Geneva airport would have been more realistic,
but such a proposition (a real declaration of war with respect to the
authorities) was not really defended, both in the coordination and in the
more radical reunions. Politics remains the art of the possible, agreed
upon between the actors who are willing to come forward and defend a point
of view! The best criticisms of the preparatory process seem to us to
be: a) Not enough effort was put into communicating the propositions
abroad, including in parts of the movement that were not involved in the
preparation. b) Enormous amounts of time and energy were lost in continual
and generally futile negotiations with the authorities (eg parking for the
buses), which also projected an ambiguous image of the FSL and
coordinations (ideological confusion with the State that we oppose,
negotiation on the terrain chosen by the enemy, quasi-co-organization of
the logistics), without significantly reducing the alarmist campaign of the
media. Too involved in these negotiations, the FSL could not develop a
debate with the more radical parts of the movement. As the comrades of the
anti-WEF have learned, it is better to fix at the start two or three dates
for negotiations and stick with that. c) the lack of a strong local
grass-roots campaign of mobilization left us too dependent on the media.

At the last minute, we feared a total flop! The big French organizations
were not enthusiastic and totally tied up in the massive mobilizations and
general strike to save the pension system and public education. Italian
activists were also announced only by hundreds, rather than the thousands
that we had anticipated. And in Switzerland a very effective media scare
campaign had provoked real hysteria (eg rumors that “children in schools
had been attacked in Genoa” or people planning to not leave their apartment
all weekend. There was even a grocer who boarded up his shop in a village
25 kilometers away from the city!). All the banks and luxury shops (and
many others) were boarded up sometimes up to the second floor! Some 30,000
French, Swiss and German police and troops (and 80 helicopters) were
deployed, while our estimates for the big demo were down to 30 to 50,000….
A great many Genevans even on the left seemed decided to flee.

Then we realized that Geneva had never been so beautiful. Practically no
cars and all the places we dislike the most hidden behind huge yellow
boards. Popular creativity rapidly transformed these into hundreds of
dazibaos, covered with slogans, wit and drawings ("First SARS, then yellow
fever !", "What have you to hide?", a psychedelic portal where the main
door of the Swiss Banks had been, etc.) Then the four alternative villages
(in France, Geneva and Lausanne) started to fill with several thousand
friends from all over Europe. From Thursday, the pace picked up with dozens
of debates and forums in the villages and in the cities. In Geneva there
was among other things a "Debt Tribunal" and two weeks of true public
discussions (very successful initiative!) organized in a park on gender,
"anti-terrorism" as a weapon against the movement, the commons as an
alternative to privatization and bureaucratized public services and other
subjects, with the participation of Zapatista women from Chiapas and people
of the Peoples' Global Action network from Canada (the Postal Workers
Union), the United States, Great Britain, etc.

One of the first demos was a "Not Welcome" demonstration for the support
people of the G8 and various vassal régimes (Saudia Arabia, China, Mexico,
Brazil…) arriving in Lausanne. Friday there was a No Border demonstration
in Geneva against free movement of goods (in front of WTO) and for the free
movement of people (in front of the International Migration Organization
(IOM) a little known organization that polices the forced displacement of
capital's slaves across the globe. Participants generally respected the
organizers appeal to avoid confrontational actions liable to interfere with
the political message concerning the IOM and jeopardize the big demos. For
example, hooded demonstrators managed to open the gates of WTO, but
refrained from attacking the building and the police inside. However, there
were already some people ready to break stuff in a totally mindless way.
They had to be restrained from attacking a pizzeria as an action against…
Berlusconi (racist anti-globalizers ??!!)

Saturday night was worse. A 100 to 200 people in black, apparently from
more than one group, left from the Usine alternative center, where concerts
were going on, for a rapid attack (about 40 minutes in all) on symbols of
capitalism in the center. Some of that happened, however the destruction
was in fact largely indiscriminate. Even some of the participants were
shocked by the level (dozens of cocktail molotovs) and aimlessness of the
violence. The worst happened in the popular quarter immediately beside the
Usine where there were no capitalist symbols at all. Small shops, grocery
stores, a child care center, all the cars in the street had their windows
smashed. A molotov was thrown into a pharmacy in an old building, but
luckily didn't ignite. With the alcohol and other inflammable products
present, the fire could well have killed the people sleeping in the
apartments above (one of which had a banner against the war on the
balcony…) Others were thrown into a gas station (fortunately a neighbor put
it out immediately with an extinguisher) and into ordinary people's cars.

Three more totally destroyed a small motorcycle repair shop next door. All
this in the same small street directly between the headquarters of the
Lemanic Social Forum (FSL) and the Usine! A last Molotov was thrown against
a palisade less than 50 yards from the Usine, as though to leave a clear
trace of their path. (According to the Indymedia people, the police who
raided them violently the next day seemed to really expect to find traces
of the "black block" there, and actually left quickly when they discovered
their mistake. Its true that one group was so tactful as to leave the Usine
by the Indymedia entrance, already hooded and equipped.) Of course, all
this has nothing to do with real "black block" practice and seemed so
perfectly aimed to criminalize the movement and in particular Indymedia
and the Usine that the FSL immediately condemned these actions and raised
the question of a possible right wing or police manipulation. That was the
most positive interpretation! But even if people of the movement were
involved in such criminally stupid actions, that still doesn't mean that
there were not manipulators among them. Or were some people just so drunk
with the power of violence that they wanted to use their cocktails on
anything at all before getting back to the Usine? That would be even worse.

Near the destroyed cars, was a graffiti: “Burn cars!”. Can people seriously
think that they can fight against the car culture by making enemies of all
the ordinary people who today need to have one? Wouldn’t that not be a wee
bit authoritarian and elitist? Unfortunately, according to one
interpretation, the imprecision of the targets attacked might be on
purpose. An ultra avant-gardist situationist position would be to consider
that destroying well chosen targets multinationals, etc. is already
recuperated by the “spectacular society”. A “real” rupture would be to
attack anything at all that participates in our daily alienation (as though
the spectacle of aimless violence was not the daily bread of the
“spectacular society”, and as though the fear of that violence was not the
mainspring of repressive politics!) Let us hope (while awaiting an
explanation?) that they were just too drunk to think. It would be less stupid.

Magnificent blockades!
The response was fantastic. From 5 AM on, more than a thousand people (of a
variety of political tendencies) erected barricades on the six bridges of
Geneva, dividing it in two. Sunrise on the famous lakeside and banking
section the postcard image of their effortless domination but this time
behind barricades! Along the riverside, a column, red and black flags
waving, marching to the rescue of a bridge menaced by the police, belting
out the now traditional slogan “To those who wish to dominate the world,
the world replies: Resistance!”. It was like a dream! In France, about 2000
marched from the "villages" to a strategic crossroads towards Evian, where
they resisted the attacks of the police sent to clear it. In Lausanne, some
3000 organised a Pink block, a Gray block (dedicated to building
barricades), a mobile bicycle block and a non-violent climber barricade on
the turnpike (where Martin Shaw was almost killed when police cut his
rope). All together they constituted a very determined and successful
resistance on the critical road to Evian.

They were successful in delaying the arrival of a first convoy which left
the airport at 9 H. Authorities didn't try to send a second group until
after 10H30 (when the Lausanne blockades were beginning to be cleared
away), and were obliged to organize extra helicopter flights for others.
The last delegations only left the airport at 13H, definitely behind schedule!
In Geneva, the objective of the blockade was respected by all, including
"black block" groups, who refrained from attacking windows, etc., during
this action. In Lausanne, a good part of the "gray" block seems to have
also played the game, even dissuading others from actions outside the
objectives of the demo.

However, there were some remarkably stupid exceptions. A small immigrant's
butcher shop was smashed and painted "Meat = murder"! A nice demonstration
of elitist intolerance and lack of respect for the demo itself, for the
collective expression that it represented. Property destruction, like any
very strong means of action, is a way of exercising power, because it makes
one speak louder than those who just march or carry banners. Such actions,
picked up by the media or seen by passersby the next day, determine in
great part the meaning that people give to the demo as a whole. For that
reason, even using forms of action that a majority of the demo strongly
reject is already quite manipulatory and authoritarian. But if even the
political message of the action is not shared by the rest of the demo, such
actions are totally stalinist! Some people may not appreciate an attack on
a Macdo during a demo, but at least they recognize a common value. But as
long as the vegans haven't even convinced a majority of the cannibals in
the movement, they can’t impose their thing on us. Its just not a shared
value. A demo isn't a kind of free for all where anyone can break anything
he doesn't like! It can be diverse, but it has to remain a common
collective expression. That it should even be necessary to say so shows
just how individualistic capitalism has made us.

A huge and spirited demo
The Geneva blockades were gradually replaced by the main frontier demo
between Geneva and Annemasse, in France. At the hour when most of the buses
could arrive, its function of blockade was mostly symbolic, but the idea
was to have an event to which everyone - new people, old people, families -
could come and express themselves. And a record (for our region) 100,000
people did. Despite the intense fear campaign, people from Geneva came
massively, as did tens of thousands from grass roots committees all over
France, despite their other efforts for the strikes. In both cases, it took
determination and it could be felt in the demo. That made people really
happy to be there.

Although it didn’t really spoil the demo, unfortunately, here again some of
the young radicals who we would normally feel closest too acted with a
great lack of political finesse and respect. First, some actually wanted to
destroy a small post office (one which the local residents are fighting to
keep open !) Why?? Does Post Office = State for some slightly simple minded
"anarchists" ??? In any case, of the 100,000 demonstrators certainly 99.9%
believed that public services should be defended, even if that is just a
first step. So how can a few dozen people try to impose their message over
and against that of all the others, and then be surprised that people
reject them? Is this the more "horizontal", respectful society we are
trying to build?

It was actually less the violence as such than the pretentious and
authoritarian elitism of some of these actions that alienated the other
protestors. At a moment when we could be mobilising with the huge majority
of the population that condemns and suffers from the current state of
affairs, they proclaim their scorn and intolerance for anyone who feels the
need to have a car, eats meat, defends public services… that’s quite a lot
of people! Enough to finally shut oneself up in a tiny minority, very
“pure” and slightly “no future”, because it’s true that if we go at it that
way there’s not the slightest hope of changing anything.

At the end of the demo a BP gas station was also attacked. Here at least
the objective was justified. Unfortunately, although all these actions were
technically well organized, no one had bothered to make a flyer, for
example to link BP to the Colombian paramilitaries or to the environment.
Its as though the people who did them didn't really hope or care about
convincing others by their actions. As though it was more about just
identifying oneself with a radical position or group, than actually trying
to win this war against capital! That is really tragic, because this is
precisely one of those very rare times when we do have a small chance to
win! Direct action can be accepted and even popular when it is seen as
legitimate defense, but for that one has to see to it that the action is
indeed understood to be legitimate! If one doesn’t participate in the
preparation, doesn’t justify the actions, only appears masked and only
replies to criticism with insults or physical menace… one mustn’t be
surprised to be rejected and isolated.

Apart from that, they might have asked themselves if it was a good idea to
attack a gas station with a molotov cocktail in the middle of a crowd of
100,000 people, where the intervention of police or firemen could have made
a real problem. And whether it wasn't better to respect the spirit of this
particular demo, which was intended for the widest range of people. Anyhow,
the demo absolutely howled with rage against this action, some (presumably
non-violent!) people even pursuing and attacking its authors. Of course a
group can always take responsibility to contribute an action, but when it
is so totally rejected even by the demo it is supposed to be part of, it is
clear that one has put one's foot in it ! All demos aren’t obliged to
include property destruction. There ARE other possible forms of expression.
Systematically imposing it in such an insensitive and authoritarian way
will rapidly make the rejection of ALL property destruction an
overwhelmingly popular position in the movement ! Coming after the
disastrous Saturday night, these actions and the sometimes violent
confrontations with other demonstrators and demo organisers provoked a
disquieting divisions and polarisation, some people practically calling for
the police to come to clean the “violent” out of the demos, a caricature of
“pacifism”, mirror image of this caricature of direct action! With just a
little bad will, we could destroy the whole scene.

And yet, a more popular occasion for a muck-up was not far away. As the
demo flowed back into Geneva, the police attacked it (seriously wounding a
photographer with an explosive grenade) and set off a full scale riot and
pillage session that went on all evening. As a shocked policeman told it
"Really all kinds of people got into it! In one street it was black block,
but in others it was ordinary demonstrators or kids from the poor suburbs
or even just ordinary Genevans. It was like everyone had gone crazy. And
all of them mixed in with innocent bystanders, so we couldn't do anything!"

One of the funnier photos is of a middle-aged man with a sweater casually
draped over his shoulders and the anti-theft gadget still on it! There was
general agreement that this “riot”, spontaneous and popular, was quite
another thing than Saturday night. It illustrated above all the fragile and
constrained nature of the “social contract” that keeps a large part of the
population from serving themselves in the insolent mountain of luxury piled
up downtown, particularly for an ever wider fringe of young proletarians
without any real perspectives. (The fact that the poorest of the Genevan
proles come from suburbs that are technically “french” obviously only
increases the gap between their revenues and the objects that they have
been conditioned to desire.) The massive presence of the police (not such a
problem for the average citizen, even left-wing), the same that reminds
them daily of their third class status, was probably for them a very
concrete image of all the violence in the system. Given the provocative
attitude of the police, several thousand people seized the occasion to
break out of bounds. The people who planned Saturday night may claim that
their action contributed to this popular outbreak. That is quite possible,
but it’s really a pity that their action should have been so much more
politically undefendable than the spontaneous action of the “non-political”
kids, contributing in advance to their criminalisation.

Monday, the network against water privatization staged a demo and sit-in
for several hours in front of WTO. After having (maybe intentionally )
totally failed in repressing the more violent stuff of the weekend, the
head of police decided to make an example. German and Swiss-German police
surrounded a perfectly peaceful demo on the main bridge of Geneva, while
two other concentric circles of riot police divided up the popular quarters
between the lake and the station. The demo on the bridge refused calmly but
firmly to be searched or arrested, assisted by negotiators from the FSL and
left wing deputies. As time went by, more and more people of all kinds
started to accumulate in the streets, curious, in solidarity with the demo
on the bridge below or just irritated by the police occupation. Street
musicians started to play, the police tried to disperse and the whole
quarter was suddenly another fantastic, spontaneous demo. Not much
destruction or pillage, the mood that night was more of playing at
resisting the police, who obligingly supplied water hoses, gas, rubber
bullets and ineffectual charges. Around midnight, the police finally
released the original demo (still hostage on the bridge).

Tuesday, a small demo tried to march to the TV station to protest against
the repression, but Sunday and Monday had (understandably!) really got the
right scared and mad. All groups of more than 5 people were declared
illegal, and it was the police's turn to riot. Robocops and masked
plainclothes policemen disguised as black block chased and beat up all the
young people in the neighborhood. Mini state of siege in Geneva! They even
filmed the FSL's emergency meeting from a rooftop opposite, just in case!

Finally, Friday, the FSL managed to hold a (short!) demo against the
repression, despite the interdiction.

In short, it was another "summit" of incredible intensity for the movement.
Thousands of people contributing all kinds of energies and ideas to make
all those debates, villages, demos, etc. happen. No doubt millions of
conversations and reflections over months. WTO summits won't be coming home
to Geneva soon! The movement is alive and kicking and despite all the
violence (obviously the only subject in the media) still well thought
of even by some people who had their windows broken! But that is also
because more and more people distinguish between the movement and the
"troublemakers"- and that is something which should worry the "radicals".

Within the movement too, there is a growing group rejecting all kinds of
"violence" because of some of its more stupid manifestations. For instance,
the FSL had no problem accepting masked people in the G8 demos. That
probably won't be the case next time, unless we can know more or less what
political intentions are behind them. The age of innocence of the movement
may be over.

“Diversity of tactics” doesn’t mean that one can do anything anywhere. On
the contrary, it implies respect for the spaces and moments organized for
other forms of expression in the movement. That diversity corresponds to
the diversity of social situations and outlooks (including gender-based)
that are in this enormous movement. The young “radicals” cannot expect
their point of view and forms of action to be respected if they show
blatant disregard for others (for Indymedia, for the pacifists, for
ordinary Genevans, etc.)

Diversity of tactics recognised in a wide movement also supposes that
"black block" actions are reasonably precise, justifiable and explained as
they were in Seattle, Prague, etc. If they degenerate into a
No-justice-so-fuck-up-everything perspective (one graffiti said “They burn
the world, let’s burn all the cities!”), the movement will split. Our
rulers are actively trying to arrange this. The most radical elements will
then be criminalized, imprisoned, crushed - as they were in the 70ties. The
less radical will be re-absorbed into the regime. Let’s not make history

The anti-G8 was a big and beautiful moment. No doubt this evaluation gives
too big a place to the problems. But it is really important that the
movement discuss very seriously beyond the habitual simplifications for or
against "violence" the very dangerous things that happened Saturday night
in Geneva. This time it could have been "we" who killed people! It seems as
though for some there was at once an escalation in the forms of action, an
abandon of any attempt to explain or be understood, thus opening up the
range of “targets” to include more or less anything. A radicalisation that
is more desperado-nihilist than libertarian. If this kind of thing
continues, wide collectives, able and willing to convening big
mobilizations, will be hard to find or they will take “security” measures
that will eliminate all the subversive aspect of the movement.
In that regard, there must also be debate and auto-criticism in the
movement with respect to the practice of the FSL and the coordinations
organizing the anti-G8: the sort of “co-organizing” with the authorities,
the lack of ideological clarity and of practice which led to errors in the
always perverse rapport with the dominant medias. To preserve the unity and
the nature of the movement, the debate must also criticize certain
declarations of people in the FSL contradictory with its stated positions:
elitist condemnations of the “violent” as not belonging to the movement,
regrets that the police did not better protect downtown or worse the
proposal to invite the police into future demos to root out masked elements.

Action Populaire Contre la Mondialisation (APCM)

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