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15 Aug 2001
some thoughts

Hi All,

Here's my two-cents' worth, about to be published as an introduction to the comment/analysis section of a post-Genoa activist zine about to be released here in the UK. It's not necessarily addressed only to pink blockers and their kith, but I still think it could contribute to our current deliberations, especially viz. mutual conceptions and communication among groups. Please notice that there is a graphic attached, referred to during the article. Looking forward to your comments and criticism.

All the best,


Introduction: Looking Forward

Uri Gordon

For many of us the experiences of Genoa have not easily been swept away by the return to everyday life. To me it is beginning to look like one of those life-changing events that leaves one seeing things in a qualitatively different way. But at such a time it is as crucial as it is difficult to pull back, just for a moment, and think about things coolly. In the following pages, several of our prominent anti-capitalist voices will be looking at the events and beyond them, each from her or his own perspective, and will try to offer some observations that can take our understanding and action forward. These voices speak well enough for themselves, so this introduction will not be a summary or commentary. Instead, I want to offer some observations of my own which I think are worth making.

Genoa displayed, in my opinion, many of the strengths and weaknesses of our movement condensed into a few days. On the one hand creativity, hope, determination and solidarity; on the other hand confusion about immediate and longer term goals, perplexity in the face of repression and, perhaps above all, communication difficulties. I think we need to find ways to strengthen the former and deal with the latter, based on a realist outlook that assesses the current internal and external context in which we operate. However, far from forcing the facts into the Procrustean bed of the ready-made formulas that some of us hold, I think there are some very new perspectives to be considered.

I pointed to communication difficulties as what I see as the most acute problem in the movement. Stating it in these terms rather than in terms of 'lack of unity' already indicates the direction I am going in: it seems to me that the reality in which we are working makes any notion of a uniform or even united movement unreal. The fact of the matter is that our shared mobilisation is made up of forces so diverse in their values, in their stresses on what is wrong with the world and in their notions of how to tackle it, that we cannot hope to reconcile their differences and mesh them into a whole. This means two options: either isolating those who we disagree with, or working with what we have. Now the notion of isolation is, at least for me, unpalatable. It represents a capitulation to precisely those divide-and-conquer tactics that the system wields so well. It was no accident that on the Monday following Genoa the Herald Tribune, hardly an ally of the protesters, reported that now the main concern of the core of the movement is how to isolate the violent or anarchistic elements - attributing to the entirety of us a certain frame of mind which is by no means shared, as a prophecy that would fulfil itself. The same goes for the all-out denunciations of reformism or lobbying that have been surfacing lately among some more militant-minded activists. I think we need to resist this temptation from both sides - but this is difficult without a workable alternative.

And the route to such an alternative begins with simply talking to each other. Genoa was an amazing opportunity for me to expose myself to different points of view, and while I may have been critical of elements in all of them, the prevailing atmosphere of solidarity enabled me to put my qualms aside for the moment and think about how we can work together. This was not, I am sorry to say, the prevailing attitude. For example, when coming to Genoa many activists discovered that there was no political and physical space allocated to those international activists who wanted both a creative and a direct-action edge to their mobilisation, a situation that was solved only due to the sweat and sleeplessness of many good people who created the Pink Bloc. With the Black Bloc the situation was much more difficult: as far as I know, the Genoa Social Forum which took overall responsibility for the days of action made no attempt to even talk to its members and find out their plans. This prevented the possibility of either trying to offer people in the Black Bloc the option of shifting their tactics to the defensive mode which was so successful in Washington in April or, if not, to at least allocate them a space in a way that may have prevented the police from running their dispersed forces into the other groups as an excuse to attack everyone.

What is important to realise is that these communication difficulties are not accidental or a merely technical matter - they pertain to the structures and ideologies of the parties involved. Based on my examination of the situation in Genoa, I think the main inter-group ties can be represented as follows.

This is admittedly a very rough sketch: there may be more links and sub-divisions that I am being insensitive to. But what it does point to is the fact that there did not exist in Genoa (nor does there exist in the movement at large) a 'campfire' situation where everybody is talking to each other. Some people simply don't want to - the amount of suspicion which many people in the Black and Pink blocs harbour for people of a Marxist orientation, and vice versa, simply won't go away just to make room for constructive debate. In other cases, people haven't had the opportunity to establish ties that they would otherwise be completely happy with, mainly people arriving from different countries. This is a difficult situation, but I think we should try to work with this model instead of trying to change it. Unlike the Breton-Woods structure, it isn't something that people sat down around a table and created, but rather an organic outgrowth of the ideologies, sensibilities and terms-of-trust that already exist in the movement. It indicates who we are, and departing from it cannot happen without deep changes in the identities of the participants - changes that are impossible besides. Within this kind of setting, it is important to begin looking at different options for coordination and communication, even indirect ones. We need to begin by knowing who is talking to who, and by understanding that sometimes we can only talk to people through trusted mediators. One idea could be for each affinity group, cluster, movement, union or whatever to delegate or designate persons whose main function is outreach and networking. These would not necessarily be representatives - in some cases they could focus on understanding the 'working environment', so to speak, either at a certain mobilisation or in everyday activity, and to become more sensitive to other contingents' plans and beliefs. The next step could be actual co-ordination, but this surely cannot begin until we really know who is out there. This is not an easy way to go about struggle, but it is the only one which can accommodate everybody and ensure the decentralised and democratic model which is the only one that everybody is prepared to accept - although for some it is a second-best. The only other direction leads to exclusion and fragmentation.

In these efforts to communicate and provide space for each other, global days of action (the so-called 'summit hopping') play an important role. As has been pointed out by others, beyond creating a world-wide identity and point of reference for activists through a visible praxis, they are actually bringing together individuals and groups that would lack communication otherwise. But I think it is important at this point to note the broader function of mobilisations like Genoa: they first and foremost serve to widen the crisis of legitimacy surrounding the system. When we actually halt a summit, or even raise enough hell around it to get the world's attention, it is a victory not just because the progression of a new trade agreement is delayed (they will meet again, if not in Qatar then by video-conference) but because we are publicly forwarding our powerful critiques, while at the same time forcing the leaders to remove their democratic masks, either by retreating to more and more secluded meetings or by unleashing the Robocops. It is through these events that more and more people come to realise that our world is in fact not democratic, and is becoming less and less so. Anyone who was in Genoa and experienced the sheer weight of the state-sanctioned police brutality that was let loose there would find this claim obvious. Seeing that the world is beginning to listen to both our critique of the prevailing system and to our embryonic visions of alternatives, the Italian state (which, like any state, is the institution monopolising the means of organised violence) removed all masks of ostensible democracy and defence of human liberties and rights, and exposed its real face of oppression and tyranny.

Maintaining and enhancing the crisis of legitimacy with more global days of action is certainly a good idea. But the next question is what we all do at home - and this question becomes all the more important now that we see the real possibility that opportunities for mass-mobilisations like Seattle, Prague and Genoa will become scarcer as the summits move to obscure locations. In this sense, I think our success in the next stage depends on enhancing the struggle in everyday life. Already many of us are involved locally in manifold forms of activism, and it is behind this that I feel we should put our thrust. Taking the inspiration of Genoa into the campus, the workplace and the street can really make a difference - as long as we stay connected and find all the opportunities we can to regroup and communicate in ways like the ones I have spoken of above. Again, I am certain that this 'next stage' is actually very much existent in the present. But we could really benefit from almost daily contact with others working in different places and contexts, from border-camp activists in Germany through striking workers in the UK and on to anti-dam Satyagraha activists in India and indigenous strugglers in Colombia - and the list goes on and on. Our experiences of the local can contribute immensely to the process of mutual learning that we engage in, whether in terms of action or in terms of vision. In this process, sensitivity to difference is at least as important as sensitivity to similarity.

Finally, I believe we can begin thinking about transforming the local struggles into something beyond protest - into a proactive engine of change. This is a very embryonic thought, but if we seek historical opportunities to create, within the existent world, spaces within which we can begin living together like we envision, with democracy, equality, mutual aid and environmental responsibility, then we might be on the right track. Beginnings will always be hard, but if they are bent on strengthening themselves and each other then such networked, radically minded, communicating islands of the future within the present could become regions, countries, continents. And they would already begin experimenting with the end which they seek to achieve, thus posing an alternative to both reformist and vanguardist models and showing that the future begins today.

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