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The Battle for Genoa
Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2001 in the Guardian of London
The Battle for Genoa
by John Vidal
 
The banners are packed, the tickets booked. The glitter and white overalls have been bought, the gas masks just fit and the mobile phones are ready. All that remains is to get to the parties.

This week will see a feast of pan-European protest. It started on Bastille day, last Saturday, with the French unions and immigrants on the streets, the Welsh trampling their last GM crop and the first demonstrations in Britain and Germany about climate change. It will continue tomorrow and Thursday with environmental and peace rallies against President Bush, move on to the scandal of refugee holding-centers and build at Bonn for the climate talks. But the big one is in Genoa, on Friday and Saturday, where the G8 leaders will meet behind the lines of 18,000 heavily armed police.

Unlike Prague, Gothenburg, Cologne or Nice, Genoa is expected to be Europe's Seattle, the coming together of the disparate strands of resistance to corporate globalization. Should the authorities allow all the protesters into the city (and that is doubtful) then some 120,000 people could take part in a range of debates, festivities and protest about everything from debt to demilitarization.

If Seattle marked the emerging links between the disparate, frustrated movements, then Genoa will show the breadth of European concern. This stretches across trade unionists, fringe parties, greens, reds, social and religious movements, debt and genetic campaigners and a host of non-governmental groups. They will suspend their differences to object to what they regard as the injustice of power, growing poverty and the direction the world is going.

Neither the protesters nor the authorities know what will happen, but some things are predictable. Yes, there will be violence and yes, the mass media will focus on it. The world leaders will publicly condemn the head-bangers, but gratefully use them as an excuse to ignore the arguments of the rest.

What should seriously concern the G8 is not so much the violence, the numbers in the street or even that they themselves look like idiots hiding behind the barricades, but that the deep roots of a genuine new version of internationalism are growing. This is demonizing the global institutions and there's not much governments can do.

They can't dismiss the protests as single issue affairs, nor can they buy them off as they might at home. The charge against them is now too deep. It questions the new role of the state, the distribution of capital and the trajectory of globalization. while at the same time appealing to the broad progressive social conscience.

For the first time in a generation, the international political and economic condition is in the dock. Moreover, the protesters are unlikely to go away, their confidence is growing rather than waning, their agendas are merging, the protests are spreading and drawing in all ages and concerns.

No single analysis has drawn all the stands of the debate together. The new era may yet throw up its Marx and Engels, a defining manifesto or political philosophy. In the meantime, the global protest "movement" is developing its own language, texts, reference points, agendas, myths, heroes and villains. Just as the G8 leaders, world bodies and businesses talk increasingly from the same script, so the protesters' once disparate political and social analyses are converging. The long-term project of governments and world bodies to globalize capital and development is being mirrored by the globalization. of protest.

But what happens next? Governments and world bodies are unsure which way to turn. However well they are policed, major protests reinforce the impression ofindifferent elites, repression of debate, overreaction to dissent, injustice and unaccountable power.

Their options - apart from actually embracing the broad agenda being put to them - are to retreat behind even higher barricades, repress dissent further, abandon global meetings altogether or, more likely, meet only in places able to physically resist the masses. Brussels is considering building a super fortress for international meetings. Genoa may be the last of the European super-protests.

But the dilemma also extends to the protesters. The wiser activists acknowledge that there is a momentum to the protests which no one group can control. But, they are asking themselves, what is the point of expending so much energy risking lives, trying to get people out of prison and making short-lived links with groups they would barely acknowledge at home?

They know the real task is immense - to persuade the majority, create real change and unclog the arteries of states that can still dismiss their cause with such ease. They also know that time is not on their side.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001

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