ITALY: G8 rulers turn to violent repression

August 1, 2001


What is clear after the Genoa G8 summit is that the world's rulers have made a conscious policy decision: it is time to violently repress the anti-globalisation movement.

Many of the individual elements of the state terror employed in Genoa have been there at earlier anti-summit protests: enormous fences sealing off the city and indiscriminate tear-gassing, for instance, were also used in Quebec City in April. But in Genoa all of these "innovations" of earlier police operations against the movement were used with a brutality, and on a scale, never before seen.

Italian police even plumbed new depths: they murdered a protester, imposed a pre-emptive state of emergency over the whole city, carried out brutal revenge attacks on the Indy Media Centre and launched a post-protest wave of raids and arrests which is still going on.

What Italian authorities deployed in Genoa has all the hallmarks of a classical counter-insurgency strategy, as used by the US military in El Salvador or Colombia:

1. Terrorise the opposition. Police operations at other such major protests had somewhat limited, tactical aims: blockading-busting (Seattle, Melbourne), containing (May Day in London) or repulsing (Prague). Brutality was just a fringe benefit for the police at these protests.

This time, the police's tactical aim was explicitly to terrorise.

The attacks they carried out were not directed, they were indiscriminate. It didn't matter who you were with, where you were or what you were doing — everyone demonstrating in Genoa was attacked on one point or another, especially on July 20, the day Carlo Giuliani was shot dead.

They didn't even stop when the protests stopped: they're still going on.

2. Refuse concessions. Up until now, the ruling class's basic strategy towards this movement has been to placate it with declarations of concern and promises of action on issues like Third World debt relief. This strategy has largely failed to dampen the movement; quite the opposite.

Now, they've decided to stonewall. In Genoa, they refused to offer any concessions of any substance whatsoever.

There were no offers of further debt relief (let alone cancellation). The promises for support for the South African government's New Africa Initiative were vague and evasive, and the headline-grabber. US$1.2 billion for a global AIDS fund was a tenth what the United Nations estimates is needed to do anything about the pandemic.

3. Deny the opposition public support. Months before the G8 summit, Italian authorities, with the connivance of the Italian corporate media (most of which PM Silvio Berlusconi owns), launched a concerted and planned propaganda war against the movement, with the aim of intimidating those who might be leaning towards it.

The security preparations, including even installing surface-to-air missiles at the airport, were designed to bring about a climate of fear which would make the need for violent repression "inevitable", no matter what protest groups did.

While it enjoyed only limited success beforehand (300,000 still marched on the streets), this propaganda war has grown even more hysterical since the summit and is making some headway.

Authorities are even claiming that it is the protesters, not the police, who have Carlo Giuliani's blood on their hands. Some protesters face charges of attempted murder.

4. Split moderates from radicals. The authorities have deliberately sought to cow the more moderate forces in the movement, such as the big non-government organisations and the trade unions, and force them to withdraw support from the protests.

Given that such groups base themselves on negotiations with governments, the authorities have held over them the ultimate threat: if you protest, we'll declare you "illegitimate" and will never speak to you again.

This line enjoyed some success: after building up to Genoa for months, Drop the Debt, for instance, at the last minute chose to discourage its supporters from marching on July 21. But many other such groups, such as ATTAC or those organising in the Genoa Social Forum, stayed reasonably solid.

The pressure on these groups from here on will drastically escalate.

5. Split the radicals. The authorities cunningly used a fissure between the radical groups to foment maximum internal division.

While the 15,000 strong "Civil Disobedience Bloc", including the Tutte Bianche and most of the socialists, determined on a tactic of penetrating the red zone using non-violent civil disobedience, the Genoa Black Bloc refused this path and took another: limited property damage aimed at multinational companies.

Such a tactic evidently proved very easy for the state to subvert, using scores of black-clad, masked-up provocateurs, who turned limited, directed property damage into extensive, indiscriminate property damage, thereby setting one part of the movement against another.

Since then, the Italian state has use these frictions to justify criminalisation of the Black Bloc — with some success.

6. Reduce the size of the target. The corporate elite and its politicians are even considering abandoning the giant summits altogether, or retreating into even more massive fortresses to have them — in the belief that the smaller the target, the harder it is to hit.

The next G8 summit will be more "informal", for example, and will happen high up in the Canadian Rockies, while European Union summits will now all happen in the bunker that is Brussels.

The movement will have to come up with counter-strategies for each of these aspects of the elite's new strategy.

We will have to learn better self-defence techniques, cement stronger ties with working-class communities, find ways to create cohesion within the radical wing, exert pressure on the moderates to stay the course and designate new targets if summits become scarce.

But most importantly, we must keep going. Everyone involved in this movement has to keep their nerve.

As scary as all of this is, and while it might not have felt like it on the streets of Genoa, the capitalist rulers' turn to repression is not a sign of strength. It is a sign of weakness, and of panic.

The rulers' long-stable "consensus" for capitalism, the very basis of their power, is crumbling under them. Our rulers haven't come up with a way to stop us: repression seems their only hope.

The way to beat this wave of repression is not to swim away from it, it'll only dump on us; it's to dive through it.

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