Genoa is a turning point for the movement against globalized capitalism. The tactics and overall style of our very loose coalition of forces have reached their limits after huge sucesses, and now if we really want to stop the capitalist take-over and produce a social revolution, we must find a new political relation to the inevitable presence of violence.
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 Scajola.
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.