Who killed Carlo Guiliani?
In one sense, a death in Genoa was predictable, practically predicted
by Silvio Berlusconi, the new Italian Prime Minister, who boasted of the
military hardware to be deployed against protesters. In an environment of
militarized repression, armed paramilitary squads, and good evidence of
government-backed provocateurs inciting violence, death was nearly
The G-8 met to mouth pretty words about poverty in the third world,
even as their policies backing multinational corporations and denying
medicine to the third world have murdered millions yearly. So what was one
Progressive observers rightly have debated the actions Carlo may have
taken that led to his death, but in an environment of repression which had
systematically violated legitimate means of protest, anger in the streets
incited by government provocateurs was a recipe for tragedy.
The reality of Genoa was that you had a scared and angry 23-year old
protester facing off against a scared, probably angry 20-year old
paramilitary cop in a militarized zone, where the young cop was issued live
ammunition. You don't have to think that Carlo was a selfless martyr or
that the cop was a demon to understand that the global leaders who set them
both up are criminals. The elite wants to play a game of pitting accusations
of evil culpability as cops denounce protesters and protesters demonize
cops. Those leaders had use for a dead protester as a message and they got
But blaming just the G-8 leaders is too easy, since the warnings were
there for the protest movement. When you know the opponent is coming for you
with live ammunition, denouncing the enemy for carrying out that threat is
correct public relations but empty as strategic evaluation. At a certain
point questions have to be asked what was done or not done by your
leadership to prevent the casualties?
So who killed Carlo Guiliani?
The so-called Black Bloc are the easy ones to blame, promoting a
theatre of violence in defiance of common democratic strategy, ignoring
every sense of solidarity in complete mockery of an honorable tradition of
anarchists in history, and acting as a nicely disorganized body to harbor
police infiltrators and provocateurs. In a sense, the Black Bloc wanted a
dead martyr as their message as much as the G-8 leadership wanted it for
their purposes. Both fed off their mutual violence parasitically.
Ideologically, the Bloc's individualistic acts of store destruction are
merely an angry mirror to the consumerist individualism of those who shop
there. The emptiness of their actions allows commentators to rightly
dismiss them and, unfortunately, dismiss the broader disciplined movement
against global capitalism.
Worse, the violence they attract created the context in which Carlo
Guiliani died and helped justify the police repression against the whole
movement. Without newspaper photos and TV screens of violence as the
police's public relations, the bloody Sunday raid on the nonviolent
headquarters of the broad-based Genoa Social Forum would have caused far
greater global outrage. Instead, much of the public shrugged and washed
their hands of both sides of the conflict.
But again, it's too easy to just blame the Black Bloc, who were really
relatively few in numbers. With tens of thousands of non-violent protesters
in Genoa, any disciplined leadership could have restrained and shut down the
violent wing of the protests. Given the fact that the police had no real
intention of restraining the violence, the responsibility to "keep the
peace" fell to the leadership of the democratic movement. There are
numerous non-violent ways to restrain such sectarian fringes at rallies, but
it takes political will and strategy to confront them. Unfortunately for
Carlo and the other casualties of Genoa, that political will was lacking.
So Who Killed Carlo Guiliani?
Back in June, Bobby Seale and a number of other Black Panther alumni
had a conference in New Haven looking back thirty years on the Panther
trials in that city. They had a lot of fascinating reflections on the
organizing of the day, but the one thing all of them stressed was their own
mistakes in letting violence escalate beyond their point of control, since
the cops can always seize on uncontrolled violence to infiltrate and
discredit a movement.
On the panel was a recent New Haven chief of police who had been on the
force back in 1970. He made clear that the cops themselves were scared out
of there minds back then because FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was feeding
them all sorts of "intelligence" about the supposed murderous goals of the
Panthers. The goal of the elite is always to use clashes between protesters
and working class cops (playing on the sympathies the public often has with
the police) to escalate to the point of discrediting protest. The reason we
as activists have to be concerned about violence, including violence against
the cops, is that our opponents don't care, in fact for all their
protestations, would like nothing better than for a cop to die in order to
justify more repression.
There was, I think, a somewhat unstrategic overconfidence that
developed among protesters post-Seattle. The Seattle cops were unprepared
and played into the propaganda goals of the protesters. As Philadelphia and
now Genoa showed, the cops are no longer unprepared and are developing both
the repressive technology and propaganda to crush the Black Bloc-style
protesters and the rest of the movement if we don't develop some new
strategies to control the escalation of violence.
This is not an argument for reduced militancy, since discipline is the
most dangerous weapon wielded in protest. Disciplined militancy demonstrates
the power of organization, especially when deployed creatively.
Uncontrolled violence on the other hand is a sign of weakness and lack of
organizational power, for if the democratic movement cannot muster enough
political will to restrain its own fringe, the elite knows that they have
little to worry about either from such lack of strategic discipline.
Ultimately, protests of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands,
are not what will challenge global corporate power. Yet if disciplined
resistance is shown at specific points, those protests can publicly reflect
organizing happening in communities across the world. That will continue to
send the message that a growing global movement is organizing for radical
democratic change worldwide.
On the other hand, if the democratic movement cannot exert that
democratic discipline, they will only be promoting a hopeless Childrens
Crusade, sending more young people like Carlo Guiliani off to die without
The choice lies with the movement.
Nathan Newman is a longtime union and community activist and author of the
forthcoming book NET LOSS on Internet policy and economic inequality. Email
firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.nathannewman.org.