The anti-capitalist movement after Genoa

Ardeshir Mehrdad

Foreword: this article was written before the events of September 11 and published in the Farsi language Rahe Kargar no 168 – Spring Summer 2001. It is being translated into English as iran bulletin believes its main messages have been reinforced by the terrorist attack on New York.

There are few social movements without their ups and downs. All go through various phases in the course of becoming and developing. Despite its short life the new movement which emerged in Seattle two years ago to confront global capitalism is no exception.

In its march from Seattle, through Washington, Seoul, Prague, Barcelona, Nice, Quebec, and Gothenburg this movement has come under various pressures from a variety of governments. It has had to face new obstacles at every step. In Genoa, however, these took on a totally new magnitude, fundamentally transforming the space in which the movement breathed and the path over which it moved. The post-Genoa anti-capitalist movement has entered a new phase. It is in need of reappraisal and reassessment.

What happened in Genoa?

The gathering in Genoa was in essence no different from its predecessors. Global political and economic institutions assembled, as they do periodically, to restructure the global order, and redefine the power relations which rule over it, all in the interests of supra-national capital.

The Genoa meeting, however, differed in two ways from its predecessors: First the precautions that took place prior to the meeting to guarantee its security. Second, the way the security forces dealt with the protesting demonstrators during the meeting.

The meeting of the heads of the G-8 took place on 19-21 July this year. The place chosen was the famous Ducal Square in the centre of Genoa, though a high steel wall erected around it made it more like a mediaeval fortress than a public square in a modern city. The defence of this fortress was given to a force which was seven times that sent at the same time to disarm "Albanian rebels" in Macedonia – that is 20,000 gendarmes reinforced by several thousand riot-police and other security forces. Hundreds of armoured troop carriers, military helicopters, destroyers, bulldozers, and water-cannon tankers provided logistic support [1].

The way the demonstrators were dealt with showed that the security preparations did not simply have a deterrent and restraining role. Unlike previously, police action was not limited to filling the chasm between the political elite and the people of the world, or to block the path of the latter’s assault on the former. An entirely different scenario appeared on the scene in Genoa.

In Genoa the aim of the police and the security forces was to take back the streets from the demonstrators. To make it impossible for direct protest action at any price. The elite officials of global capitalism made it clear that they are ready to redefine violence in its "globalised" meaning in order to silence the voice of protest. The message was that they would not only trample on basic rights and ignore the rules of the political game in capitalist democracies, but use classic anti-insurgency strategies against legitimate and authorised demonstrators.

In the heart of civilised Italy and in the cradle of the Renaissance, they took off their white gloves and emulating the Mussolini’s terror squads and the "Robocop" strike forces they not only attacked demonstrations that they themselves had authorised, but also hospitals and dormitories where they thought they might find some footprints of the protestors. Without the least regard or care they pulled out truncheons and randomly smashed the heads, arms, legs, and teeth of anyone within reach. With extraordinary recklessness they soaked the city in teargas. They looted whatever was at hand and arrested whoever was within reach sending them to prisons whose walls were adorned with pictured of Mussolini and Italian soldiers under fascist rule. They did all these under the very nose of the international media to make sure no one missed the message of the global resolve behind these acts.

In the following days the legal persecution of the activists and the officially authorised mistreatment of the movement’s organisers stretched from the Philippines to the United States. It confirmed that what was launched in Genoa was part of a fascistic repression of global dimensions, which has the consent of Bush-Berlusconi and their partners [2].

Why the police brutality?

From its very inception the global anti-capitalist movement had made the executives of the institutions of global capitalism uneasy. This was something to confront and challenge. Initial analysts such as Thomas Freedman had seen Seattle as a singular event and saw no basis for its endurance and growth. Reality belied this analysis, however, as witnessed by a chain of subsequent movements. What took place in Seattle, Washington, Prague etc, rang alarm bells for the police and security apparatus as well as research institutions across the world, and faced them with the question: how can we discredit, isolate and ultimately destroy this emerging global movement? [3]

The first answers came within that framework normally employed by capitalist democracies. They unleashed an ideological battle, with such newspapers as the New York Times and The Economist taking the lead in discrediting its validity and legitimacy. Following that they unleashed political games aimed at activating the differences within this movement and breaking up its root alliances. Simultaneously the movement became the subject of news blackout and dysinformation. The price of belonging to it constantly increased. The legal persecution of its activists and pressure brought to bear on the financial resources of the groups and organisations forming the anti-globalisation movement became more savage.

Yet none of these stratagems worked. The protest movements against global capitalism grew at an unpredictable rate to the extent that over only two years the number taking part in these protests rose from 50,000 in Seattle to 300,000 in Genoa [4]

Efforts to segregate the anti-capitalist movement geographically also failed, as did the efforts to generate rifts within its ranks. In two years the international and global nature of this movement grew. Activists and fighters from the four corners of the earth joined up and transformed it from a movement limited to the middle layers of European and American society to one in which Brazilian, Mexican, Thai, and Indian peasants rub shoulders with workers in South Korea, Argentina and Nigeria.

What enabled this movement to be transformed into a new internationalist movement was the fact that the anti-capitalist movement was no longer confined to solidarity with the struggles of people in one or other corner of this world. This was a new player with an independent role, and a structure relying on growing alliances and emergent networks that was able to link hundreds of single-issue organisations, movements and campaigns across the globe. It was in the ranks of this movement that increasingly communists, syndicalists, anarchists, feminists, priests, and ecologist found themselves side by side and acting in concert against the neo-liberal policies and decisions of the global institutes. [5]

Efforts to marginalise the movement were equally unsuccessful. In the last two years the domain of the anti-capitalist actions has broadened globally. In addition to the demonstrations against global institutions, direct actions against individual multinational corporations have multiplied. A campaign trail against Monsanto, Nike, Chevron, City Group, Shell, McDonalds etc complements the moves against the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation, the G-8, World Trade Forum etc. The battle against the policies, programmes and accords, both now and in the future, that international institutions have imposed to back supra-national capitalism, has been complemented by direct actions against the operation of these very capitals.

The cruel exploitation of the labour of children, women and the elderly, and inhuman working conditions in sweat shops became a core campaign for a number of groups across the world. The ruinous utilisation of natural resources and the polluting of the environment are being challenged with an unprecedented stubbornness and has added hundreds of thousands of recruits to the ranks of the those campaigning against global capitalism. The pressures exerted on such companies as Nike, Chevron, Starbucks, Roebuck has been so intense that they have on occasions been forced on the retreat. [6]

As ineffective was the accusation of being "anti-globalisation". On the contrary the discourse on globalisation was one more arena that came under the influence of global anti-capitalist activities and many of its presumptions and models were overturned. Protagonists of this discourse in key institutions ruling the global economy, especially the World Bank and the IMF, were forced on the defensive and had to distance themselves from the holy grails of neo-liberalism.

According to Walden Bello [7] these institutions succumbed to the classic crisis of legitimacy and with it the fundamentals of the structures of political power in the world were questioned. Its experts and theoreticians were forced to bring such concepts as "labour rights", the environment, "transparency", and non-governmental organisations out of the closet and add them to their work schedules. In a 180 degrees shift the World Bank replaced "enabling markets to work" with "anti-poverty initiative" [8] and brought in such elements as land reform, gender equality, and redistribution of incomes to its lexicon and armoury of solutions. Even people like Bill Clinton and Bill Gates joined the ranks of those who spoke of the failure of the free market to resolve the basic needs of the people of the world [9].

In the battle of words the anti-capitalist movement went beyond protest and counter-posed the human-centred globalisation to capital-centred globalisation. Here the basic concept is not the "multinational corporation" but the "world-citizen". In such a globalisation national and geographic boundaries will not be removed in order to facilitate the migration of capital but for the free movement of labour power and humans. Institutions that are the dominion for the dictatorship of the elite should be replaced by those elected by the people across the world. Whichever power is not answerable should fall and be replaced by those that represent the self-rule of the people at every local, national and international levels [10]. The world civil society should be a living space where labour rights, and not property rights, have the last word. In this society there is global guarantee for a minimum wage. General access to modern technology is assumed and there is no place for monopoly over information and for scientific rent taking. [11]

Global protest

The movement that began in Seattle not only did not lose its power to influence the global political society, but was able to put its mark on the day-to-day struggles of the people of the world. The messages of these movements passed over numerous national borders and empowered many people to see the economic developments of the world through different prisms, and to understand what decisions made by which institutions caused poverty to spread and unemployment and inequality to grow.

The anxiety of the corporation bosses is that anti-capitalist has infused, with a speed that could not have been predicted, the work environment with the spirit of the street. In the four corners of the globe the mass labour movement is standing up to the process of global spread of capital and is opposing the policies of privatisation and the restructuring of public services with an escalating momentum.

In only two months of May and June 2000, six general strikes, in six different countries, took place against neo-liberal policies. In India 20 million workers and peasants paralysed a large part of the country through strike action. The strikers openly declared their opposition to the surrender of the independence of country to the World Trade Organisation and the IMF. Twelve million Argentinean workers struck in opposition to the austerity policies brought about at the instigation of the IMF. In Nigeria a general strike paralysed the country following an increase in fuel prices – an IMF recommendation. A limited general strike in Korea demanded a cut in the number of working days, legal support for temporary employment and opposed the effects of the IMF plans for the country. In South Africa four million workers responded to a general strike against neo-liberal austerity programmes and a projected half a million job losses. IMF-dictated plans were also the target of the general strike in Uruguay.

A common spirit dominated the wave of strikes, occupations and revolts that have involved hundreds of millions of landless peasants, workers and ethnic minorities in Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Turkey, Haiti, Paraguay, and Brazil: namely the spirit of opposition to the globalisation of capital. No one can deny the influence of the global anti-capitalist movement on all of these as well as countless others that have taken place across our planet [12].

The potential this anti-capitalist movement has shown in influencing world events and being transformed into an agent of social change leaves no doubt that this movement is a real threat to the existing system and must be suppressed at whatever cost. This was the underlying logic of a recourse to the classic anti-insurrectionary policy and direct police repression. Alongside this there have been moves to capitalise on the structural limitations of the anti-capitalist movement and to change of venues for the world meetings in future.

How to keep the momentum?

Since Genoa the path over which the anti-capitalist movement has hitherto moved is being ploughed up. The movement is in danger of losing its momentum, creativity and resourcefulness. What should be done? How can one confront police brutality and fear mongering and prevent this weapon form curbing the mobilising power of the movement? How can one overcome its structural limitations and its weaknesses and inner contradictions? And how can one prevent the horizons for this movement darkening and its potentials being destroyed?

In the short time frame it is critical to successfully counter the repression. A premature repression of such breadth and savagery can strangle any movement so young, or at the very least divert it from its path. But challenging repression will only be successful when if it can be transformed into its antithesis. This implies firstly:

Increase the cost of repression for the repressor, and in this particular case not allow police brutality to be forgotten in the midst of public indifference or non-sustained protest. For this reason all those who defend political freedoms in everywhere should be called upon to stand up to the Italian police. All relevant international legal institutions should be pressured to bring to justice the Italian police. The dossier on Berlusconi should be referred to the same international court to which that of Milosovitch and others like him were sent. Amnesty International should be persuaded to come forward as the plaintiff and not allow the most basic human rights and freedoms to be so impudently trampled, and that in capitalist democracies.

Second, to spread support for the anti-capitalist movement among the people of the world. To accomplish this it is essential to unleash a concentrated programme of explanation. In getting mass support and solidarity the importance of winning the battle for words and images should never be underestimated.

Third, the choice of tactics which, while avoiding dogmatism, essentialism and a reactive and emotional response, must neither exceed the potentials of the movement nor become so passive as lose momentum and the ability to mobilise. Experience shows that resorting to non-violent civil disobedience and avoiding a violent counter-response is the most suitable tactic to confront police brutality, particularly in countries where the tradition of democracy runs deep and the political order does not have a totally free hand in attacking individual and political rights. To chose tactics that enhance the consciousness, optimism and self-confidence among people will also enhance the influence, credibility and attraction of the anti-capitalist movement for them. Such an aim is much more difficult to achieve in an atmosphere darkened by violence [13].

Expand appeal

On the longer perspective, the anti-capitalist movement must enter a path that will reduce its internal limitations. The core of the movement has to this date been the chain of protest actions during the sittings of the political and economic global elite, and conditional to these. Thus the time and place of any protest action was determined, by default, by the organisers of these meetings.

This limitation hinders the potential for mobilisation for the movement to be maximised and all those who support its aims and slogans to join in. The bulk of those attending these protest meetings is made up of political activists, organisers of single-issue campaigns, or particular social groups such as the young. Now that it has been decided to move these meetings to remote, forlorn and rural settings or to countries which are politically unsuitable for street demonstrations, the continuation of protest even at the existing level is in doubt.

One of the ways to overcome this limitation is to increase the number of days for global action. This adds flexibility in time and place. The experience of last year’s May Day as a day of action against global capitalism can be repeated on a greater scale, and extended to days that do not necessarily have symbolic value.

The second limitation rises out of the nature of street demonstrations. Such protests are suitable to express opposition and discontent. But they do not necessarily bring the owners of power to their senses and induce them to change their policies and actions. If they cannot be forced to suppress poverty, they would prefer to suppress the protest against poverty. Street protest will only have an ear prepared to listen when it is combined with protests behind the street.

Imagine if the protests in the streets of Genoa were combined with protests in the work-place, in schools and universities, in sport stadiums, cultural and artistic centres, the press and mass media, or neighbourhoods, and not merely confined to Italy but in each and every corner of the world. Then the eight leaders of the capitalist world were faced not with 300,000 but with several hundred million persons and it would be unlikely that they would allow Mr Berlusconi to emulate Mussolini when suppressing the demonstrators. The anti-capitalist movement has the capacity to extent the spirit of the street to beyond the streets and thereby increase its power to influence events ten fold. For this aim no approach is superfluous and none should be abandoned a priori.

The third inner limitation of the anti-capitalist movement is in its social-class makeup. The coalition on which this movement rests is fundamentally the formal and organised sections of social classes and groups. There seems to be no place in this alliance for millions of global citizens, among them the huge unofficial, and hence unorganised, labour force. Yet the absence of job security today is a universal threat and the denial of any legal protection to part-time and unofficial labour is a global issue. Both of these are powerful incentives for protest and actions against capital.

The anti-capitalist movement must overcome the limitations of its grass-root alliance and find ways of engaging the millions of humans who are in the informal economy, without identity card, and who are the real face of the global spread of capital so dear to supra-national capitalism.

In addition the anti-capitalist movement has the capacity to incorporate two other huge forces into its ranks: woman and the elderly. The structural adjustment and economic austerity policies in developing countries, as well as the restructuring of the welfare state in developed capitalist countries, has more than anything left women and the elderly defenceless against poverty and deprivation. Our manner of protest and the mechanisms of action should allow us to utilise the potential of these forces in a global campaign against capital.

If the anti-capitalist movement does not overcome these limitations, and others unmentioned because of space limitations, it will be unable to create the necessary conditions to overcome the expected increasing police repression and to maintain its momentum.

Indeed, if we can gather under its umbrella all the potentials and forces that are able to confront capitalism in its global spread, the new global movement will not only maintain its momentum but will be transformed into a force which can fight for fundamental changes and transformation.

The left forces in Iran must not miss their chance. Without an effective and active presence in the anti-capitalist movement, the Iranian left has little chance of appearing as a force to show the mass of Iranian people a way out of the current political and economic impasse, nor to open up the horizons for the struggles of the working class.

Ardeshir Mehrdad

July 2001


  1. See for example Genoa? She’s like a sister to me. El Flaco. Genoa Report from the streets. July 19, 2001, Urban 75; http://italia.indymedia.organisation. Genoa 20th – personal report, anti-capitalist. July 20, 2001, www.Genova 20th personal report.htm
  2. For the motive and aims of police violence in Genoa see: After Genoa. How do we protest. Michael Albert, www.zmag.organisation/Znetgenoa.htm. After Genoa. Boris Kagarlinsky, TNI Fellow, August 2001, www.zmag.organisation/Znetgenoa.htm.
  3. For the extent of police brutality see: State terrorism in Genoa, Menschen Stall, July 22, 2001, The battle of Genoa, Walter Bello, The Nation July 20, 2001. The battle of Genoa, Walter Bello, The Nation July 23, 2001. Police raid in Genoa. Yaroslor Trofimor & Janson, Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2001. Fascism in Genoa. Starhawk, www.Zmag.organisation/starthree.htm. Democracy at the barricades. Le Monde Diplomatique. August 2001.
  4. See Democracy at the barricades ibid.
  5. For the breadth of the alliance and the social and political makeup of the forces active in the global anti-capitalist actions see: Genoa: first report. Ali, July 19, 2001. www.Genoa first report.htm. Among the thugs, Genoa and the new language of protest. David Graber, www.igc.organisation.htm.
  6. See: The road from Seattle. Jeremy Brecher et al, www.igc.organisation/villageor pillage/Articles.htm. From protest to programme. Michael Massing, American Prospect, July 2, 2000. Marxists and the new anti-capitalist movements. Salvador Cannavo. Socialist Outlook, July 11, 2001.
  7. See: 200, The year of global protest against globalization. Waldon Bello, www.indymedia.organisation:8081
  8. See: From protest to program footnote 6, ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. See: Let the people rule the world, The rich nations must surrender their power to a World Parliament. George Monbiot, The Guardian, July 17, 2001.
  11. See Among the thugs, footnote 5, ibid
  12. See for example: Marxists and the new anti-capitalist movements, footnote 6 ibid. ICFTU calls "Global Unions’ Day of Action". Andrew Pollack,
  13. There are different views on how to confront police brutality. See for example: After Genoa, How we protest, Michael Albert, footnote 2, ibid. After Genoa, Boris, Kagarlitsky, footnote 2, ibid. Time to take off the gloves, Why real change will never happen as long as our disobedience is submissively civil, Si Mitchell, August 25, 2001. Letter from inside the black bloc, Mary Black, AlterNet, July 25, 2001