frontline issue 3


The body of Carlo Guiliani - murdered by Italian police.

The body of Carlo Guiliani, murdered by Italian police

In July, the leaders of the world's seven leading imperialist powers plus Russia met in Genoa. But who will remember what was said and done at this G8 summit?. As the Economist put it, "the summiteers(...) had little to offer but a pledge of anti-AIDS money for Africa and nothing for their own satisfaction but an assurance from Canada that next year's G8 meeting(...) would be far smaller and held in a remote resort in the Rocky Mountains." Even the money offered for AIDS was little more than a sixth of the sum requested by the UN. As for the economy, all they could come up with in the face of the looming world recession was a call to be vigilant. Some of the world's 'deciders', such as US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan still claim to see light at the end of the economic tunnel. But the more they advance the further away the end of the tunnel recedes.

But in Genoa, as is increasingly the case every time world leaders meet, the real event was not in the conference chamber but in the streets. The demonstration on the last day of the summit brought together 300,000 people from Italy and from all over Europe. But the headlines in the media were neither about the content of the summit nor the size of the demonstration. They were about violence. At the start the media chose to concentrate on the 'violent minority of anarchists' who were wrecking the summit, which it counterposed to the majority of peaceful demonstrators.

But it didn't take long to dissipate this kind of spin. It is quite clear where the violence originated: it came from the Italian police who consciously and deliberately set out to deploy massive violence against the demonstrators. The death of one demonstrator was not an isolated incident but the logical outcome of police behaviour. Tear gas grenades were fired at point blank range, plastic bullets were used, armoured vehicles charged into crowds. Demonstrators were systematically beaten, in the streets and in the police stations. The police raid on the Media Centre and the Diaz school was not to search for non-existent arms but to destroy evidence of police brutality and provocations.

As for the role of the anarchist Black Bloc, it should be placed in its context. The methods of these groups consist of latching on to demonstrations in a parasitical way and engaging in provocative acts of violence against the will of the mass of demonstrators. In the past they have often been prime targets of police infiltration, aimed at using them to discredit mass movements. And it is clear that in this case the Black Bloc was infiltrated by both police agent provocateurs and fascists, who were probably sometimes the same people. The Italian left has had a long experience of such methods. It would be a mistake to let the antics of the Black Bloc blind us to the conscious utilisation of violence by the state.

There is certainly a particular Italian aspect to what happened in Genoa, due to the combination of the new right-wing Berlusconi government and the fascist elements who have always been present in the police. But there is more to it than that. Genoa was just a much larger-scale and more violent version of Gothenburg. As Claude Serfati's article in this issue of Frontline makes clear, American policy-makers do not believe their own propaganda about globalisation. They know that the growing poverty and inequality that it produces will lead to revolt. And since they have no intention of suppressing poverty and inequality, they are preparing to suppress revolt. Genoa was an example of that. Furthermore, it clearly involved a co-ordinated action by the police of several countries. More details of that will no doubt emerge in due course. In the meantime, Jack Straw's reaction showed much more solidarity with the Berlusconi government than with British citizens who were beaten half to death.

The movement against capitalist globalisation which developed in the 1990s burst on to the world's front pages and television screens at Seattle in 1999. Genoa may come to mark another turning point by demonstrating the mass character of the anti-globalisation movement. It is not necessary to idealise this movement to understand its importance. It contains many preoccupations and many levels of consciousness. At present only a minority clearly sees capitalism as the enemy and even fewer pose socialism as the alternative. But the objective dynamic of the movement is to bring those who participate in it into confrontation with globalised capitalism.

The main immediate consequences of Genoa will be in Italy. The vast majority of the demonstrators were Italian. As the Economist bitterly remarked, "the culture of the Italian left is largely against capitalism and the market - and against America which represents both". The Genoa Social Forum involved more than 800 organisations, among them the Party of Communist Refounding (PRC), the Communist Youth and the left wing of the trade union movement. Genoa was the occasion for a vast re-mobilisation of the left in Italy and above all for the biggest mobilisation of youth since the Gulf War. The week following the summit saw mass protest demonstrations in all main Italian cities. This will strengthen the growing movement of resistance to the Berlusconi government.

Genoa and the anti-globalisation movement show that people, and in particular young people, are not necessarily turned of politics. They are turned off traditional politics that boil down to voting every four or five years for parties who defend essentially the same policies. The rising level of working-class abstention, the weakening of the links between the unions and the traditional left parties, the development of new forms of political activity are all signs of the profound crisis of political representation of the working class. The task now is to start from this rejection of traditional politics and from the broad movement against capitalist globalisation to build parties that not only reject capitalism but put forward socialism as an alternative.