one swallow doesn´t make a summer
Not so much might have changed for comrades, who went home after that and followed the things to come mainly through the media. They could not compare the accounts with their experiences, they did not realise that a mean little paradox saw the light of day. While the battle of Rostock grew bigger and bigger in the mainstream media, while everyone was talking about the black
block and even the most ugly smear-sheets started speculating about a renaissance of the autonomous, our own organising process quietly collapsed. No matter no-one outside realised that - those who were there know it.
The aim of this text is to take away the power from this paradox and to reclaim it for our own future actions. therefore I think it necessary to overcome the multicoloured silence, that i found characteristic of the autonomous movement as i experienced it during the days of heiligendamm - to overcome it at least afterwards, in the evaluation of the protests. Critique is love. long, steep, and often stony is the way.
Maybe it is not only bad having destroyed the already a bit musty-smelling myth of the strength of the german autonomous. Aside from the refreshingly offensive actions in rostock on the 2nd of june, we have to admit that almost all of our practical plans failed. Also on an organisational level we did not exactly cover ourselves in glory. The generally announced "autonomous decision-making" inside the mixed camps that we had been discussing over and over again just didn´t happen. Lots of internationals waited days and days for comrades of the german Dissent! spectrum to share more detailed information with them, to get them involved in orienting discussions.
The infosystem didn´t meet our expectations and was not able to make the knowledge of the small insider groups available for the bigger collective - lacking bigger assemblies our comrades now were depending on personal contacts even more. moreover, after the press started stirring things up against the black block only very few still dared to publicly advocate autonomous positions. This was not the least important reason why the Interventionist Left, being heavily under pressure, all of a sudden stood as the only voice of the radical left - a monopoly that we would usually never accept. Instead of coming to common evaluations and actions as autonomous, radical left and anarchists in Heilgendamm, we preventively disappeared in more than one dimension.
Apart from this, seen on a larger scale the protests have not been without successes. There were many situations the police did not have under control. Despite some unpleasant taste this is true as well for Block G8. Lacking their own plans, lots of autonomous and anarchists supported and participated in these actions. in the end some blockades were worked out spontaneously, withdrawing cops from the sitting blockades. actions like the police car being wrapped in tape and carefully deflated kept the spirits high. The sheer masses of people sitting on the streets and roaming through the forests turned the days into something more than the state could have wanted.
Nonetheless there is something perturbing about the "mood swing" in police strategy that - after the show of rudeness at the beginning of the week - occurred just in time for the arrival of the G8. The pictures of the masses of people marching through the fields carrying pace-flags are to me far too compatible with the self-righteous image-cultivation of germany as an oh so democratic country. On the other hand the endeavours of the government not to appear as a police state to the world public opened up rooms to manoeuvre that we could have used much more effectively. Although foreseen by some, we did not manage to collectively talk about what we want to do in this case. The possibility to self-consciously anticipate this situation and to tow state power into a catch 22 situation with our actions was already way off the horizon at that time. as regards the autonomous part of the movement, protest meanwhile came to a halt more or less completely, one just went along with the others...or waited for the next plan that was going to fail.
Far from an entirely different entirety as you can see from this niggling, I guess that we have to confront serious questions in the days to come.
Ok, the last thing i´m interested in is to brand personal shortcomings, the key point is to politicise our understanding of our acting and not-acting. to first of all grasp what happened: to think about how all the things that did not happen are related to developments maybe not fully understood so far, to strategies of domination and peace-keeping to which we obviously haven´t found answers yet.
Speaking less abstract this means for example: how do we counter a police strategy that is not devoted to prosecuting per se all offences, but tries to get some of us to cooperate, to win their support for co-management in the name of the rationality in power? The rationality of a technique of domination that does not depend on ideological consent as long as the flows are not seriously interrupted. a rationality that suggests that militant anti-capitalism can go together well with a life inside of capitalism undisturbed by the authorities of law and order, as long as, yes, as long as "it" keeps within bounds. I guess we all had talks like this the last days. Scissors in the mind [internalised contradictions] - absolutely nothing new, but still, seen against the backdrop of prevailing high-tech concepts of control and the frightening extent of social isolation obtained in society this remains a major problem.
How can we deal with a police strategy, that again and again wants to impose this fear in each and every one of us that eats up all collectivity - is it ME, ME, ME targeted by the camera? is there a microphone taping my voice? - a strategy that again and again wants to implant the timid question into our hearts, whether the moment of liberation that i am fighting for right now will end 10 or 20 minutes later in an arrest backed up by police videos. One answer to that for sure still is the "just do it!" of our clenched fists. and this is what we experienced in Rostock on saturday: that there can always be situations where the cops run away from us, where they have to instrumentalize fire engines to break our lines in the first place, where we manage to collectively jump across their techniques of isolation and intimidation.
Fucking British conditions
Alas, there were also lots of moments during the following days where our communication failed, moments where we anticipated possible repression and denied ourselves to conspire beyond our small circles as international black block. How much more collective fighting strength could have emerged if we had better used the time to exchange different ideas in discussions, to develop actions and turn them into the eminent concerns of all of us - instead of only ordering each other to meeting points here and there in the last minute. At this point we should really think about how to challenge our paranoia, which is paralysing us already on the level of discussion. All the caution so predominant in this country for good reasons must not lead into lonely anxiety and collective silence, or else the other side has won. In order to act collectively we have to recognise each other as militants somehow, to meet for real here and there and to exchange. and by the way: we were talking about street blockades. No-one planned to kill the american president. The risk was limited.
The problem continued into the camps in general, into alliances and the wider public: apart from the declaration of the international brigades and one sympathising newspaper interview there was only silence to be heard from the radical left after saturday. the black block simply seemed to no longer exist. In the tv-show of sabine christiansen speculation was made as to whether it had been in the forests the whole time...as amusing as it is to read expertise articles about "what makes the hooded man tick?" in the yellow press, in the end we were also not visible for unorganised and potentially new comrades in the camps. The autonomous assembly that was established on the reddelich camp on tuesday came way too late and was not really attended by german groups. Except maybe in wichmannsdorf dissent! did not manage to establish itself any forum, and apart from some individuals Dissent! no longer had any influence on the debates in the Interventionist Left or the larger alliance.
Given this situation, remarkably few dissociated themselves from us. Obviously the concept of the big alliance of the Interventionist Left bore some fruit. At least in Rostock the vast majority of the protesters kept together surprisingly well. Besides avoidance of repression another cause of the non-existence of autonomous structures could be described as a kind of organisational rigidity. In view of the 1000s of people to come it was for sure understandable, that - as potentially nervous hosts - we initially were seeking refuge in the security of plans. Too bad that after a while we forgot to think about some really important questions like transport and communication. In nearly all working groups a strong tunnel-view with a tendency to autism developed.
For sure it was due to the chronic shortage of manpower that, additionally to all the things that needed to be done, we spent lots of time permanently mobilising each other, to try and get each other volunteered for ever new task. maybe we should have met in-between some day for a mid-term review [in Heiligendamm?], to check our structures and modify them according to actual needs. also for this we would have urgently needed an autonomous assembly. In retrospect it can be said that some organisational things could have been handled more easily, as a lot of situations above all depended upon spontaneity anyway - unfortunately this was something we had quite often lost already.
Personally I was shocked about how close the situation here got already to the preventive invisibility, that we realised in great britain two years ago. contrary to all lessons we wanted to draw from Gleneagles, we as well were not present in situations in a guiding way, but rather often exuded some undefined uncertainty in our relations to our comrades from other countries, up to open distrust. As pretty good children of the spectacle quite a few activists here wavered back and forth between some abstract euphoric enthusiasm for using harder means in street-fight situations than is usually common here - and the reflex to think of everyone as more or less insane and irresponsible who than in reality wanted to use these means close to them. This contradiction is not always easy to understand for our comrades, could only be insufficiently discussed in the situation and should be scrutinised more closely "amongst us" as well. There must be some kind of way out of here asking myself where to go from here in the time to come, I start to helplessly mumble a bit. The only things coming to my mind are in direction of more common experiences and discussions, less facade and less blabla. To better keep demands at some lower levels, before we only get dizzy and everything breaks down again.
No plans anymore for the moment, and if there will be some, than very minimal and immediate and above all meant to do it ourselves! Small things, maybe an initiative concerning demo-culture: for example to break out of the intimidating practice of assistance in police controls on the way to a manifestation. My heart is bleeding each time I see comrades walking separately with hands up to the police to get searched. We don´t have to put up with that! If the cops were the only ones lining up at the announced starting point of the demo, if they would have trouble again and again with unwilling protesters all around them, they might in the long run think to stop that shit.
Another point are arrests from out of the demonstration: the cops themselves say that this situation basically is difficult for them. Too bad we often make it easier for them doing nothing or taking pictures, which is not better - if people successfully resist, we don´t need videos of it that can later be confiscated. Instead of resigning and documenting arrests we should do our utmost to prevent them. The risk of getting arrested for "rescuing prisoners" diminishes if a lot of people do it and anyways, so what? How much safer could we act knowing our comrades will do their best in the situation to free us?
Besides our comparatively elaborate defensive techniques, we could think again about how to prepare something for a demonstration. To have some spray-paint with us just in case some opportunity arises, for example. We could think about how we could mix or open up our rows here and there to give people protection and support who want to do things or already did things. In Rostock the civil police did not dare to make arrests from within the crowd, and what was possible there will basically be possible in other places as well.
There are innumerable possibilities to get our demos out of the defensiveness of endless debates about the length of banners. We can demand the withdrawal of the cordon (maybe otherwise people could cause some trouble to them from outside), we can refuse to leave central crossroads until all those arrested are out again, we can think about ways to push back the cameras of the cops, or to quit cooperation completely if necessary. Meaning: not to announce demos anymore if the conditions grow too intimidating.
There are for sure a lot more proposals. the second one on this piece of paper is to create a group-crossover-forum to enable us to discuss about things like that, to bridge the actual split in multiple channels and organs. open meetings are one possibility, but they bear some disadvantages. what do you think of freely vagabondizing pamphlets, read, spread and answered all over town, criss-crossing all scenes and teams?
If the unrealised plan B on friday in Berlin showed something, its that we as autonomous, radical left and anarchists need to basically sort ourselves out anew, if we want to see some collective action happening here and there. Crossover exchange could help us to get rid of the often frustrating halfheartedness in realising ideas that are not our own. It would be nice to see well-received proposals of some groups vigourously turned into action also by others, instead of taking the first chance to
Be it as it may - whether we like it or not, There seems to be no other way - so
Let´s go on fighting pigsystem
Plan B continua - Vive la commune des brigades internationales
one of us, 17th of june 2007
The grassroots mobilizations against the G8 summit, held in the northern German town of Heiligendamm in early June of this year, were organized by broad networks of direct actionists, anti-racist groups, anti-border groups, anti-fascist militants, queer activists, squatters, debt-relief groups, trade unions, environmental organizations and many others. Despite the very restrictive policy of the German state that forbid any demonstrations in a large perimeter around the ‘security fence’ protecting the G8 summit, activists successfully disrupted the G8 meeting.[i]
The tiny enclave of Heiligendamm was for two days only reachable by helicopters or with boats from the seaside, as demonstrators blocked roads and train tracks leading to the site of the summit. Impressive were the pictures of thousands of people crossing fields and forests, in their effort to out-maneuver the huge police force, and make their way to the fence.
Heiligendamm will mark another memorable moment in the alter-globalization movement, a movement whose strength is often attributed to its diversity of actors. But this multitude, however, should not be mixed up with arbitrariness, as the movement itself also struggles with the challenges in developing a critique of global capitalism that provides emancipatory possibilities.
Contemporary social conflicts, a widespread sense of alienation, deep feelings of powerlessness, and the increasing intensity of violent conflict sets off a whole host of resentments and oppositions to the global situation that are not emancipatory. Many people who are deeply dissatisfied with the global political and economic order do not gravitate towards progressive or social justice organizations. The rise of racist, nationalist, fundamentalist and other forms of reactionary politics emerge as responses to the global situation as well, and they compete for power and influence on the same social terrain of those on the Left. These are present in the discourses, policies and politics in struggles around globalization/anti-globalization as well, and were therefore are present in the mobilization against the G8 this year.
In Germany, with its history of National Socialism as well as uprisings of neo-Nazism and nationalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the left must struggle with and position itself against critiques of “the new world order,” of “globalization,” and even of “capitalism,” from non-emancipatory positions, including those from the (far) Right. Such non-emancipatory critiques range widely, from proponents of economic protectionism and political isolationism (which can be seen in Right-wing anti-war positions), to the cultural field of “preserving cultural uniqueness from commercialism,” all the way to the far Right and its attempts to solve social questions in hyper-nationalist ways.
The scale of right-wing involvement in anti-globalization politics, or broader sentiments of reactionary anti-capitalism, present facts that have not gone ignored by some on the German Left and can be seen present in the anti-G8 mobilization, whether against the far-Right, the state, or as self-criticism of our own social movements. These groups are employing various approaches, and seeking various goals in their emancipatory aims. In their confrontation with “globalization” on the one hand, and reactionary anti-globalization on the other, transformations can be observed in the analyses and the practices of the Left itself. The international mobilization against the G8 summit in Germany provides a unique look into these struggles in order to consider how left and social justice groups can better confront the complicated and varied challenges we face.
The infrastructure and mobilization for Heiligendamm had been built over the course of two years, connecting activists across Europe and beyond. A week of protests, a counter-summit with international guests discussing major problems of globalization, from climate change and health politics, to gender justice and the right of free movement for all, and plans for physically blocking the G8 summit were some of the major events. People organized three camps to house thousands of activists, which included kitchens, security, showers, and other provisions. Indymedia groups provided infrastructure for a continuous reporting of the news. Information was circulated in leaflets and on the web informing people about police tactics, border restrictions, surveillance and much else regarding what they could expect and how they can get support in case of such a need. Legal aid was provided by a left-wing lawyer’s organization. Mobile groups organized medic services. Additionally, activists organized a hotline in case of sexist or sexual abuse. Groups such as the Hedonist International energized demonstrations with their techno truck and their “Rave Against the Machine.”
Self-organization was the backbone of the demonstrations and infrastructure of the mobilization against the G8 summit. The means are also the ends, and this included an appreciation for joy, leisure and aesthetic desire. The mobilization displays a pre-figurative politics, a vision in practice of the “other world that is possible.”
Despite the intimidation, provocation, demonization and the police’s physical attempts at disruption, the mobilization would not be derailed. Massive showings of dissent towards the G8 and the broader global situation was going to appear at the gates of the G8 summit.
“Nie Wieder Deutschland!”
(Never Again Germany!)
For international activists joining or observing the demonstrations against the G8 summit, the east German city of Rostock where the mass demonstrations and the main convergence center were located, was no reference point at all. But for those old enough to remember, Rostock was the site of a violent 3-day attack on Roma and Vietnamese asylum seekers by neo-Nazis and ordinary German citizens. It was 15 years ago, in the summer of 1992, and it set off a wave of similar attacks across the country, on African, Turkish, Asian and other migrants, with houses burned down and people killed. “What 1968 was for the Left, 1992 was for the Right.”[ii]
This wave of racist violence was a deeply political issue. It came at the time of reunification of East and West Germany, the fall of the Soviet Union and the realignment of international relations after the Cold War. Just decades after the Holocaust, racist mobs and political groups of the New Right were strong in Germany and Europe more broadly.
The host of economic problems following “reunification” were projected onto migrants, as a specific social group causing these crises. This racial skapegoating was not limited to the far-Right, but rather transcended political boundaries, and was therefore expressed in the mainstream discourse as well. “Bonn [the capital of former West Germany], unable to provide the ex-GDR economy with the quick fix that it had promised, shifted responsibility for the country’s economic pains onto Germany’s liberal asylum law.”[iii]
Therefore, while the police brokered a deal with the Rostock mob, allowing them four hours of free reign to attack the asylum center, state policy committed its own attack on migrants, with restrictions that effectively amounted to a revocation of the Asylum Law. It also instituted a hierarchical labor system for those who remained, and sent the message that migrants are the source of Germany’s economic problems.
The new economic and political situation was articulated through a nationalist framework by centrist politicians, by the far-Right and throughout civil society.[iv] But this nationalist explosion and the changing political situation also prompted responses by the radical Left. German nationalism, racism, fascism and the history of the Shoah became major concerns. Seeing them as deeply related, the post-‘89 German Left marched under the banner “Nie Wieder Deutschland!” (Never Again Germany!).
“We Are Here Because You Destroy Our Countries”
“We Are Here Because We Destroy Your Borders”
As part of the protest actions against the G8 summit, an action day was organized under the slogan “Global Freedom of Movement.” In the early morning about 2,000 people took siege to the “Foreigner’s Office” in Rostock, which is where decisions are made about whether or not individuals will receive residence permits or be deported. Informed of the activists’ plans ahead of time, the office was shut down under the pretense of “computer problems.” Activists climbed to the roof of the building and hung banners against deportation centers, reading “No Camp – Not Here and Not Anywhere!”
After this action the activists marched to the Sonnenblumenhaus, the site of the racist attacks 15 years earlier. “By holding this rally we want to remember the incidents of 1992 and show how much worse the conditions for refugees in Germany have become because of this pogrom.”[v] At the gathering police continued their repression against activists. A snatch squad moved into the demonstration and grabbed a few black-clad demonstrators, breaking the nose of a Cameroon refugee and injuring a cameraperson in the melee. Later in the day, as the gathering sought to march towards the harbor in the center of the city, it was blocked by riot cops with water cannons and armed vehicles, but after two hours of negotiations, the march was able to continue.
These demonstrations were part of a week of G8 protests that were specifically highlighting struggles against the regime of global migration management. Activists from numerous countries joined the transnational network meeting, discussing the situations of migrant struggles, whether it be mass demonstrations and strikes by illegalized migrants in the U.S., legalization struggles in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, or protests to shut down detention centers in Germany.[vi] The events and actions are aimed at explaining that migration is part of the processes of international relations of exploitation – whether due to privatization of resources in the global south that makes life more and more unbearable for people in these countries to support themselves, or due to the explicit demands for cheap (often service) labor in the global North. Hence, the slogan, “we are here because you destroy our countries.” But simultaneously, other activists find this portrayal too mechanical, implying that migrants are solely victims, simply set into motion by processes that are wholly out of their control. In response to this “Fortress Europe” position, activists from an “autonomy of migration” analysis, argue that despite the reality of migration management by states and inter-state systems, the barriers are continually defied and subverted by creative actors – therefore, migration could be seen as the “most successful social movement.”[vii]
The relationship and conceptualization of migration as a phenomenon in the age of globalization then, is transformed from a paternalistic relationship of charity and protection into a relationship of support and solidarity. “Globalization” then can also be seen not simply as a one-dimensional plot by the global elite, but rather as a regime born of conflict, resulting from a variety of sources, some of which are self-determining. Therefore, the focus on migration at the anti-G8 mobilization highlights a structural fact of social life despite restrictions – possibly an intrinsically anti-national movement. It therefore emphasizes this fact of migration as a right of mobility, and envisions the practical assertion of global social rights as part of emancipatory transformations.
“To point out the antifascist character of the anti-globalization movement”[viii]
In Rostock on June 2nd, while Left and progressive groups organized a huge international demonstration against the G8 summit under the banner “Another World is Possible,” over 40 busses of neo-Nazis converged on the nearby town of Schwerin for their own demonstration against the G8. In response to the neo-Nazis, civil society groups, trade unions and antifa groups organized 3 different counter-demonstrations, the antifa groups with the intention of physically preventing the neo-Nazis from demonstratin. But on the morning of the protest, the neo-Nazi’s and the antifa’s permits were revoked. The neo-Nazi busses left Schwerin for surrounding towns, holding spontaneous demonstrations, one of which marched through the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin. A group 150 antifa activists who arrived in Schwerin, on the other hand, were surrounded at the train station by heavily armed police and arrested.
Fifteen years after the wave of racist violence of 1992, the far-Right is still an undeniable player in political and social life. They continue to skapegoat migrants as the source of persistent social and economic problems. Additionally, they have increasingly articulated their atrocious politics in anti-globalization and anti-capitalist language. For them, the powerful international institutions – such as the G8 – are seen in personified terms. The complex social arrangements often simplified under the term “globalization,” are viewed as nothing other than a plot by a specific social group. Due to the historical association of international networks with jewish communities, the far-Right personifies this international conspiracy as the “Jewish” rulers of the world.[ix] Against this perceived plot, they draw on an equally imaginary force to defend themselves, the so-called “national community.”
Therefore, the strength of the far-Right has to do with intervening in contemporary political discourses whether those raised in mainstream political discourse, or those raised by the Left. In responding to these issues, they regularly project social crises on specific social groups as the source for such social problems – these groups often being migrants, Jews, or leftists. Therefore, real grievances set off by social, political and economic problems are a source of their support. By combining the anxiety over high levels of unemployment in the East of the country, with a skapegoating of migrants and “global elites” for these problems, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany won over 7% of the vote in elections last year in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, enabling them entry into regional parliaments. It was in this context that the antifa demonstration was organized, “to point out the antifascist character of the anti-globalization movement.”
Militant anti-fascism became a major focus of radical Left politics after 1992, with the organizing of a country-wide antifa network which confronted far-Right groups in the streets. Additionally, concerned about the rise of a broader German nationalism, many took up research about the history of National Socialism. This enabled them to better understand the discursive framework of far-Right politics historically and its continuity (and divergences) in the present. These analyses can be seen in the call to action for the antifa demo in Schwerin. In their leaflet they explained the antisemitic ideology of the neo-Nazis’ as a deranged form of anti-capitalism. The Nazi analysis of society is constructed through a bi-polar opposition of false premises. They believe that a “real, natural, material labor” is threatened by an “abstract, parasitic, financial elite.” The antifa leaflet reads:
“On the one hand, [the Nazi] view [of capitalism] contains the idea of a national economy and it’s “honest, German” labor - the so-called “constituting capital”; and the “money grubbing, Jewish” capital on the other hand. For the nazis this allegedly “Jewish capital” is constituted in the sy[s]tem of interest and the financial world, for example in banks and stock exchanges in general, and in the “Wall Street” in particular.” [x]
Failing to see capitalism as a social whole, a system from which labor itself is constituted, they view capitalism as a foreign imposition from the outside – especially from the U.S. Their response is then a naturalization of something they perceive to be concrete, the imagined, “national community.” This foreshortened critique of capitalism helps explain their simultaneously racist and antisemitic politics, on the one hand as being against the perceived nations which are supposedly invading otherwise harmonious Germany, and on the other hand against the perceived anti-national leaders of this world order, the international Jewish elites which prosper from the disintegration of “real nations.”[xi]
But the electoral support the NPD gained at the polls is only the tip of the iceberg. Their views are influential even if they’re not expressed in such crude and violent terms. Additionally, their themes overlap with some taken up by Left associated anti-globalization groups. Popular support for an alter-globalization movement is common when it is expressed against “American” capital, in contrast to a supposedly more socially responsible European or German capitalism, and when international investors are depicted as parasites looting the “real” economy. Examples abound in Germany of left-wingers arguing in language reminiscent of the Nazi era. These problems have led sections of the Left to criticize the presence of foreshortened critiques of capitalism found even amongst some on the Left.
“Capitalism is No Conspiracy, and the Hamas is not the Rebel Alliance”
The large international demonstration was composed of two feeder marches. In the large, anti-capitalist section, one contingent was led by a coalition of groups including the Berlin-based Theorie, Organisation, Praxis (TOP).[xii] TOP came out of the antifa movement of the 1990s. But as the German state eventually attempted to take over the mantra of anti-fascism, organizing demonstrations under such a banner, the anti-fascist Left was faced with challenges. The need to set anti-fascism within a broader understanding of capitalist societal relations, TOP now views itself as post-antifa. Anti-fascist politics, and the critiques that emerged within this milieu, play their part in the politics of many contemporary anti-capitalist groups in Germany today.
In addition to organizing contingents in the demonstrations, they also engage in the inter-Left dialogues about contemporary social issues. In this regard, TOP distributed a leaflet criticizing foreshortened critiques of capitalism on the Left, and how they lead to non-emancipatory positions. The pamphlet was addressed to their fellow anti-G8 activists, and spoke also about the ramifications of simplistic anti-capitalism on views of the Middle East conflict. Titled, “Capitalism is no conspiracy, and the Hamas is not the Rebel Alliance,”[xiii] the pamphlet argues against a conspiratorial view of capitalism, and suggests instead a view of capitalism as a social system. They write,
Capitalism is not a conspiracy of a few – neither Jews, nor the G8 or other “leaders”. It has not become as horrible as it is because of a few capitalists' intentional plans or because of the interest rates and flow of finance capital. The inherent logic that makes Capitalism work is that of a system that is not oriented towards people’s needs, but towards the realization of capital – it is a game that even capitalists have to play. If we really want to attack the roots of capitalist society we need to understand this mode of production that commodifies every aspect of our lives under the merciless rule of value.[xiv]
Indeed, one doesn’t have to search long at the anti-G8 demos to find examples of conspiratorial, dualistic or personifying social critiques: a 911-conspiracy theory banner, a “Bush is the #1 Terrorist” poster, or the omnipresent G8-octopus with its outstretched tentacles devouring the Earth. The lowest common denominator though, of anti-globalization critics, has often been an opposition to “finance capital.” This can be seen in seemingly opposite sections of the movement: whether it be anti-capitalists smashing banks or reform oriented groups pushing for taxation on international investment. The “common sense” for such broad social movements might be the idea that “money is the root of all evil.”
It is exactly this view of money as the cellular structure of capitalism or globalization that groups like TOP seek to supplant with a different kind of anti-capitalist critique, not only because of the proximity and history of these views to reactionary politics, but more basically, because the theories miss their mark.
TOP argues for a focus on “the game,” rather than “the players”:
If the activist scene starts to question a black-and-white world view that contrasts good “people” with evil finance “capital” it may come to realize that – as is the case with the Middle East conflict – there is no simple dichotomy of oppressor vs. the oppressed in the struggle for liberation and emancipation. We need to come up with new ways and not fight the players but the whole fucking game.[xv]
This analysis of capitalism as a social system, rather than a simple relationship of domination, or a binary struggle between “oppressors” and “oppressed,” leads the group to find ways of expressing a different orientation. Joining other post-antifa groups, they marched under the banner reading “Ums Ganze” which loosely translates into “All of It!” Therefore, while demonstrating against the G8, they reject the idea of equating the G8 to global capitalism, and rather aim to situate the G8 as part of an international, and conflicted system of global capitalism.[xvi]
Therefore, rather than positing a “real labor” against a “finance capital,” a “people’s struggle” against an “international elite,” or other such simplifications, such groups attempt to re-evaluate the forms of social life in contemporary capitalist society. This leads to different kinds of positioning. As demonstrations often demand simple symbolic representations, one attempt to intervene on this level was by using the imagery of leisure, and therefore a picture of a person relaxing on a hammock accompanied with calls for “luxury for all!” While anti-capitalism has been a mainstay in the alter-globalization movement, what it means to “smash capitalism,” and to “fight the G8” is an open and contested terrain. In this way, the mobilization against the G8 is a site of many conflicts on various levels – the analytical, the practical and the symbolic. In these ways this mobilization shows many attempts to push against capitalism, simultaneously grappling with the various forms of non-emancipatory responses that arise along the way.
Despite a total ban on public demonstrations on Thursday the protests continued, and did so with impressive success. Thousands of people from the nearby camp grounds marched towards the fence, dragging trees into the streets to create huge barricades, walking train tracks to prevent transportation to the summit, and hiking through fields and woods to outmaneuver police blockades. The G8 delegates had to reach the summit by air or sea, and even the sea was not completely secure as a Greenpeace boat breached the security zone. This is a tremendous achievement of determination and organization.
Even the mainstream media portrayed the blockades in a semi-positive light, showing video footage of thousands of protestors streaming through fields and hills to reach the fence. Their favorite image were those of the clowns, of course, and made the perfect contrast to the reporting of the heavy clashes between police and demonstrators the day before, in which various news reports described the protests as marred by “foreigners.”[xvii]
While the mobilization was successful in disrupting the G8 summit, as was described above, opposition to the G8 and globalization does not imply emancipatory critiques nor alternatives. Reactionary resentments and ideologies work through oppositional politics, placing many challenges on the efforts to effect positive social changes. The desire to build mass social movements often involves appealing to the lowest common denominator, but the simple populist chant of “Bush Go Home!” brings together a wide variety of actors across the political spectrum, including reactionaries of various types. This reality provides challenges to building broad-based social movements with emancipatory possibilities.
Additionally, while it is imperative to exclude the most abhorrent actors from taking advantage of popular discontent – as the antifa demo sought to do – non-emancipatory views are not limited to the far Right, but rather transcend neat political boundaries. This transcendence is not simply the result of intentionally-disguised reactionary views – though that is sometimes the case – but often due to analyzes autonomously generating personifying analyzes of power relations, dualistic thinking and foreshortened critiques of capitalism. Therefore, this sets an imperative of self-criticism within our own oppositional political movements, in order to prevent unintended support of non-emancipatory views and currents. In this article I sought to show a few examples of how activists involved in the anti-G8 mobilization are grappling with this challenge in their political engagements. For activists in the U.S., similar challenges are at hand.
The level of anti-Bush, anti-war, and anti-globalization sentiment in the U.S. is high. But it is found not only on the radical Left, but also in the political center and the far Right. As these sentiments are quite broad in the U.S., we might ask why this opposition has not produced Left gains. While some argue that this is due to the lack of Left political parties, or the lack of organization and institutionalization amongst Left groups, or to “sectarianism,” it might be worth considering the specific content of the kinds of oppositional politics we experience in the U.S. A few quick suggestions in which these issues might be explored, serve as a way for the G8 mobilizations to provide political considerations for our further pursuit.
Similar to the hostility towards migrants in Germany is a hostility towards Latino migrants in particular in the U.S. As the migration debate continues to occupy mainstream political discourse, restrictive policies and anti-Latino hostility is often founded on the accusation that migrants take the jobs of “real Americans.” The notorious Minutemen are not only against migration from the global south, but are also against NAFTA, and “free trade.” Anti-globalization sentiments of the Right do influence public discourse, and effect the lives of millions. Those seeking to solidarize with Latino migrants might have increasing success when intervening additionally on this level, critiquing the form of globalization-critique involved in the anti-migrant hostility.
Another level in which to counter non-emancipatory critique of power, is to confront the 911 conspiracy theories widespread in anti-war protests and “independent media.” Rather than considering the current system of power as also containing points of weakness, and developments as highly contingent, conspiracy theory seeks to include all social events as part of a vast conspiracy of omnipotent power. Conspiracy theories are very close to modern antisemitic myths, and therefore it is not by chance that the “911 Truth movement” is regularly a magnet for antisemites. The all-encompassing depiction of power that the conspiracists imagine, fail to see the conflicts that exist in society. Their mission to “unmask” power has the opposite effect – it masks the fact that current social relations are constituted by conflict and contingency. As a result, their simplistically hierarchical worldview masks social movements as players – both emancipatory and non-emancipatory social movements.
A final suggestion where we might consider the problematic at hand is in the political orientation of current understandings of U.S. foreign policy. If it is true that neo-conservatism (if the term is even useful in the first place, and not simply neoliberalism in a more militarized form) is suffering defeat, than we might ask what perspective is or will be its successor. One position that has made gains in the past few years is that of neo-realism. A neo-realist sentiment seems widespread, across the political spectrum. It assumes that a state’s foreign policy is always advanced in order to serve the state’s interests. Criticism of the war in Iraq as not serving the interests of the U.S. state or society, has resulted in the popular thesis that U.S. foreign policy is subordinated to
Israeli interests, and is due to the power of the “Zionist Lobby.”
This position spans the political spectrum. The far Right has advanced its’ “Zionist Occupied Government” position for ages. Some in the political center have entertained this thesis, such as that of Ivy League Professors Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Isreal Lobby” paper. And anti-war sentiment on the Left has also drawn on this sentiment – from Cindy Sheehan,[xviii] to Left academic James Petras,[xix] and also in the “Palestinian solidarity” movement.[xx] If neo-realism has or will supplant neo-conservatism, the neo-realist position brings a traditionally right-wing position with it. Rather than seeking an understanding of why the U.S. went to war in Iraq – an issue that still defies simple understandings – U.S. foreign policy is viewed as simply subordinate to foreign political bodies, and its internal foreign agents in the U.S. Some on the U.S. Left have argued against this thesis, such as Bill Weinberg’s “Blaming ‘The Lobby’: AIPAC Takes the Hit for U.S. Imperialism,”[xxi] but mostly, the thesis is “common sense.”
If this is true, then maybe the lack of serious Left movements and effectiveness in the U.S. has to do with the content of anti-war sentiment. Anti-war sentiment does not automatically bring with it an international solidarity with those most violently effected by the war, but rather a conservativism and isolationism instead. And this might have to do in part with a popularly problematic analysis of U.S. foreign policy. And additionally, the Left should not take such comfort in anti-war positions, assuming that what results is necessarily better. We are rather compelled to fight for analyzes that do not simplify complex social relations. Whether thinking about U.S. foreign policy, global power relations or the reality of life in capitalist society, we have the task of simultaneously opposing the simple responses that fail to offer emancipatory critiques and possibilities.
If Left and emancipatory movements are going to gain strength and challenge the current social problems, this will depend on thoughtful analyzes of the complexity of U.S. politics, international relations, and capitalist society. Challenges abound for activists in the U.S. and abroad. It is my hope that this report on the anti-G8 mobilization in Germany this year, may provide some ideas in order to better address challenges we face in our struggles for emancipation.
Rob Augman is a member of the Free Society Collective, an anti-authoritarian group based in Montpelier, Vermont. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany where he is researching the topic of Left politics and antisemitism.
*Many thanks go to Martina Benz for endless ideas and editorial support.
[i]The policing operation in the Heiligendamm area was the largest security operation in Germany since World War II. It included an enormous budget, a $17 million fence, 12km high, a wide no-protest zone, as well as air and sea defense. This operation was also more than defensive. A month before the summit, under the pretext of “threats by Leftist terrorists,” police raided 40 private homes and social centers across the country. The raids were heavily criticized in the mainstream press and the mobilization gained broader support as a result. In Berlin, a spontaneous demonstration brought thousands of people onto the streets for an energetic showing of support for the anti-G8 mobilization, and in Hamburg a huge demo erupted into physical clashes between protesters and the police.
[ii]Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe. Hockenos, Paul. P 30. Routledge. New York/London. 1994.
[iii]Ibid. P 33.
[iv]For a look into the relationships of these different social actors and the changing situation at the time, see “Rostock: or, How the New Germany is Being Governed.” Wildcat, No. 60, October 1992. http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/wildcat/60/w60e_ros.htm
[v]From the “Crossing the Borders of the G8” newspaper, at: www.noborder.org
[vi]Examples from the newspaper, “Crossing the Borders of the G8,” published for the G8 mobilization by No Border. www.noborder.org
[vii]For a background on this discussion, and in relation to the G8 mobilization, see the essay, “Autonomous rear Entrances to Fortress Europe: Antiracist Perspectives in regard to G-8 Summit 2007,” at: www.nolager.de/blog/node/452
[viii]“Stop the nazi demonstration - 2nd June 2007 Schwerin.” www.schwerin.blogsport.de
[ix]In part due to criminal codes in Germany against openly antisemitic speech, as well as the popularity of “anti-Zionism” as a public discourse, the far-Right often calls this supposed elite “Zionist,” “cosmopolitan,” or “American,” rather than “Jewish.”
[x]“Head Off to Schwerin - Distract The Nazi Demonstration!” www.schwerin.blogsport.de
[xi]There are a whole host of other issues involved in neo-Nazi politics in Germany, which can not be adequately explained in the framework of this article. Some resources: For an analysis of Nazi Antisemitism as a form of fetishized anti-capitalism, see Moishe Postone’s “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism” at: http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/postone1.html On anti-Zionism, see Thomas Haury’s “Anti-semitism on the Left” at: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6705
[xii]TOP’s website is at: top-berlin.net
[xiv]From, “Capitalism is No Conspiracy, and Hamas is not the Rebel Alliance” at: top-berlin.net
[xvi]A recent interview by ums Ganze with Michael Heinrich, titled, “There Simply Aren’t Any Easy Solutions to Which One Can Adhere,” helps to explain their attempts to reevaluate the place of the G8 in the system of global capitalism. It was published in Monthly Review zine, here: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/heinrich220607.html
[xvii]A member of the anti-globalization group, ATTAC, also used nationalist skapegoating to blame foreigners, saying the clashes of the protestors was “atypical for German groups.” http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,486330,00.html
[xviii]In expressing completely understandable anger of her son’s death as a U.S. soldier in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan had expressed the idea that the war was fought for Israel.
[xix]A recent review of James Petras’ book “The Power of Israel in the United States” argues against Petras’ Lobby thesis here: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/ruff280507.html
[xx]Mersheimer and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby” was published on Palestinian solidarity websites such as fromoccupiedpalestine.org
[xxi]Bill Weinberg’s article is here: http://www.ww4report.com/node/1803