Comments on mobilisations in Genoa, with an eye to the future

19 July 2001 by Eric Toussaint

1. Mobilisations against neoliberal globalisation and for another kind of globalisation based on solidarity have now reached a turning point. Since Seattle they have followed upon one another at an accelerating pace and with growing success. In July 2001 events in Genoa mobilised over 200,000 participants, which recalls the title of Walden Bello’s contribution to the Social Forum in Genoa ‘Next stop for the anti-globalisation express: Genoa’, and Manu Chao’s latest CD: ‘Next station: Hope’ (Proxima estacion: esperanza).

2. The legitimacy crisis currently undergone by the G8 G8 Group composed of the most powerful countries of the planet: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, with Russia a full member since June 2002. Their heads of state meet annually, usually in June or July. , the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

and the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

is such that they will have to give up such showy meetings. In the future they will meet in smaller numbers and in places that are inaccessible as possible to protest. The WTO will meet in Doha (Qatar) in November 2001. In 2002 the G8 will meet in a remote village of the Canadian Rockies. The world Bank already had to cancel the meeting it was to held in Barcelona in June 2001 and its annual meeting with the IMF planned to take place in Washington in early October will focus more large-scale demonstrations and is thus likely to be the last one of its kind.

3. Those who claim that they rule the world have no intention to concede anything to more and more numerous protesters. Consequently they combine two tactical moves to counter the protest movement: on the one hand, they increase the violence of the repression and spread negative images about protesters, who are said not to be truly representative and to be incapable of suggesting viable alternatives while deliberately confusing the peaceful majority of the movement with small violent groups; on the other hand, they try to recuperate part of the movement, the NGOs in particular.

4. As dictator Napoleon Buonaparte said: ‘You can do anything with bayonets, except sitting on them’ (which Gramsci translated in a less trivial manner by referring to hegemony and need for a consensus to insure the system’s stability). For twenty years, the proponents of neoliberalism, including Reagan, Bush senior and Thatcher, could rely on a genuine consensus and a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of a large part of the population in industrialised countries. This was reinforced by the implosion of the Soviet Bloc and the so-called global victory of capitalism. Also thanks to the legitimacy derived from the Gulf War. Since 1997 elements inducing a loss of legitimacy have been accumulating: successive crises in key countries of the Periphery (South-East Asia, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Turkey), failure of the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments), failure of the Millennium round in Seattle, stock exchange crises and slowdown of the economic growth in industrialised countries, global poverty reaching an unprecedented level for the past fifty years (with women more affected than men), further degradation to the environment, renewed armament race. The legitimacy crisis and the absence of a consensus feed the need to find alternative solutions and explain the increasing success of protest mobilisations. The repeated recourse to police violence with its recurring toll of victims (including shot demonstrators) will further erode the legitimacy of those institutions that claim to lead neoliberal globalisation.

5. Several positive elements are merging within the protest movement. First there is a convergence between social movements associations of a different kind (Via Campesina, Attac, Women’s World March, some trade unions, reflection groups such as the World Forum for Alternatives, Focus on the Global South, movements for the cancellation of the debt such as Jubilee South, CADTM-COCAD), which leads to a common agenda, on this see the declaration of the social movements at the end of the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in January 2001. Second, the movement is weaving networks on a global scale, though they are less developed in some areas such as Africa, Eastern Europe and China. Third, more and more young people are feeling directly concerned and ready to get involved, though again there are differences between various areas of the world: the youth of North America and the south of Europe are more radical than elsewhere).

6. I mentioned above the combination of attempts at recuperating the movement to retrieve part of the lost legitimacy on one hand and the strengthened repression to try to break down the impetus of protest on the other. Let’s look at the recuperation attempts. They emanate mainly from the various governments and from the World Bank. In Third World countries but also in industrialised countries they are essentially moves that aim to compromise civil society in the implementation of structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

policies now renamed ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
Set up by the World Bank and the IMF in 1999, the PRSP was officially designed to fight poverty. In fact, it turns out to be an even more virulent version of the structural adjustment policies in disguise, to try and win the approval and legitimation of the social participants.
). We should also note the increasing number of international meeting in Washington and elsewhere that claim to ‘fight poverty’, with airfare tickets and per diem for all participants. National and multinational corporations have joined the game: remember the ‘global compact’ initiative that brought together the UN Secretary General, several multinational companies and some NGOs (Geneva, May 2000), the common declaration of Belgian NGOs and multinational corporations located in Belgium. Another illustration can be found in the flirtation between Tony Blair and the Jubilee 2000 campaign (now followed by the Drop the Debt campaign), the Belgian government’s conditional financial support to the NGOs’ agenda on the occasion of the Belgian presidency, Jospin, current French Prime Minister and candidate to the French presidency, expressing his support to citizens’ movements after Porto Alegre and Genoa.

7. The Italian authorities (after the Swedish ones at Göteborg) favoured the other element: they used the strategy of confrontation and violence. It is to be feared that other governments will be tempted to follow suit. How will the Bush administration respond when the IMF and the World Bank have their meeting end of September beginning of October? What will be the Belgian government’s attitude at the European summit in Brussels in mid-December? In any case, there will be some combination of repression and recuperation.

8. Let’s come back to the attitude of Italian authorities

They created a climate meant to discourage popular participation in the Genoese demonstrations, even asking the local population to leave the town during the G8 summit. With the help of media that are largely controlled by Berlusconi they set out to scare the population. Over 50% actually left the town and about 80% of shops and cafés had closed for four days.

The most visible element in this confrontational strategy was the erection of a three-meter high barrier around the red zone (historical centre where the G8 meeting was taking place): access was limited to those who could prove that they lived there, police and army forces, and of course participants in the G8 meeting. Italian authorities refused to interact with the organisers of the Social forum of Genoa, which federated over 1,000 organisations around debates and demonstrations.

On Friday 20 July, while participants in the G8 meeting were arriving, over 50,000 demonstrators had decided to move closer to the red zone. The police chose this opportunity to launch an important part of their 20,000 strong forces in most violent sallies against the Tute bianche (White Tunics, a group of peaceful civil disobedience with over 5,000 youths) and the Cobas (grassroots trade union committee). This is how young Genoese Carlo Giuliani (23) was shot dead by a 20-year-old carabiniero. In front of the charging police force, Carlo Giuliani had seized a fire extinguisher and was probably about to throw it onto the land rover of the policeman who fired point blank.

The Italian authorities had deliberately created conditions that led to violence and took practical measures that made it likely that people would be shot by the police force. For instance, they summoned 20,000 men ready to confront demonstrators, they equipped them with firearms, they ordered them to charge non-violent groups.

In spite of this tragic event, on the following day, Saturday 21 July 2001, about 200,000 demonstrators were marching through the streets of Genoa to show their disapproval of the G8 policies. Again the police force were ordered to charge with appalling savagery those demonstrators who were closing the march. Hundreds of these were left bleeding.

At midnight, while the demonstration ended at 5 p.m. , anti-riot squads (getting their orders directly from Rome) savagely crashed into the co-ordination and press centre of the Social forum of Genoa and into a nearby school where about a hundred journalists of the alternative press were sleeping. Officially looking for arms that would have been hidden there, the police deliberately hit whomever they found, whether asleep or awake, aiming at faces and skulls. 63 of them had to be taken to hospital.

I reached the school some ten minutes after the attack. Along with other witnesses I saw the staggering spectacle of bodies with badly swollen and bleeding faces being carried away in dozens of ambulances. Along with others I phoned as many organisers of the Forum and journalists of the international press as I could. A barrage of anti-riot squads barred access to the school: nobody, no MP, no lawyer, could enter the school for over two hours whereas wounded people were still inside. Eventually, the pressure of international media that had arrived fairly soon led the Italian authorities to lift the siege around 2.30 a.m.

The depth of the mobilisation that followed is encouraging. On Tuesday 24 about 300,000 people demonstrated in Italy (100,000 in Milan) to protest against police violence.

Neither the use of firearms that resulted in the death of a demonstrator nor the attack by the police on the seat of the Social Forum were unfortunate slips. They were covered by officers and political deciders at the highest level and these will have to be brought to trial.

9. The presence of small violent groups in the latest demonstrations (Göteborg, Genoa) raises a serious problem for the majority of demonstrators who adhere to a peaceful protest. These groups called ‘Black Blocks’ will break windows set fire to cars, bank branches and the seats of multinational corporations. The methods they use run against the interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. of the movement. Whether they are close to demonstrations or within them when they taunt police forces, they jeopardise the position of all demonstrators as they provide occasions for the police to charge peaceful participants. We saw more than once police forces stop chasing black blocks to attack peaceful groups. As a rule, thanks to their mobility linked to the limited number of their members (and in some cases thanks to the complicity of police forces), the black blocks had no difficulty escaping the police charges.

During the demonstrations in Genoa, police forces systematically participated in or co-ordinated the provocative actions of some of these black blocks. Photo and video evidence was reproduced in the Italian medias, including conservative ones such as La Stampa and Corriere della Serra; those photos and films show policemen either disguising as members of black blocks and/or quietly discussing with members of black blocks. This raises the issue of infiltration.

Our movement, which calls for another kind of world, will have to find an original answer to this new problem. It will have to ensure the right of citizens to demonstrate freely, including for those who demand the right to civil disobedience. In this perspective, we will have to be wary of both the official repressive forces and the black blocks, which are actually part of the same confrontational strategy. It will not be easy.

10. In the context of the Belgian presidency of the EU the right to demonstrate in those towns where official events will take place must be guaranteed; this applies to Brussels on 14 and 15 December in particular. The Belgian government must also guarantee the free movement of people coming from abroad to take part in the demonstrations. The Belgian government and police forces must learn from Göteborg and Genoa: firearms have to be banned from demonstrations. Moreover, the government must commit themselves to serious interaction with organisers from September 2001 at the latest in order to ensure the security of peaceful demonstrators. Organisations involved in the demonstrations must also collaborate between themselves to set up an efficient protection.

11. The protest movement is fuelled by the ever sharper perception that the G7 leaders and the multilateral institutions they control follow a policy that runs against the interests of humankind as a whole, a nefarious policy that is a form of unwitting collective suicide. This perception rests in turn on the decisions made on the occasion of international summit meetings and leads to a sense of revolt that is fully justified. It can also be understood that in some cases this sense of revolt should take on the form of civil disobedience or even outright violence. Revolt will flare out wherever those who decide on such death policies come together. This accounts for the absence of violence in demonstrations organised on the occasion of summit meetings such as those of the UNCTAD UNCTAD
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
This was established in 1964, after pressure from the developing countries, to offset the GATT effects.

in Bangkok in February 2000, of the United Nations in Geneva in June 2000 or of the UNCTAD on Least Developed Countries Least Developed Countries
A notion defined by the UN on the following criteria: low per capita income, poor human resources and little diversification in the economy. The list includes 49 countries at present, the most recent addition being Senegal in July 2000. 30 years ago there were only 25 LDC.
in Brussels in May 2001, whereas it finds a forceful expression when the G7, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO meet.

12. Decisions made during the latest G8 meeting will further fuel this sense of revolt. This is only as it should be. In terms of environment, Bush and Berlusconi asserted again that they would not even implement the Kyoto commitments, which were minimal. With regard to the new armament race Bush achieved a better position for the implementation of his anti-missile strategy (NMD -TND). Blair confirmed his support and Poutine is said to have moved closer to the American views. As to fighting international financial speculation: naught.

With respect to the cancellation of the debt, no alleviating measure was taken. We ought to keep in mind that since the most mediated announcement of a debt cancellation, the third world debt has steadily increased. The deal that is proposed to poor countries goes against the interest of the people there: more trade openings, more privatisations.

The two initiatives that are sometimes presented as kind or generous are actually thoroughly scandalous. An ‘Initiative for Africa’ has been talked about for over fifteen years. Now, none of the UN resolutions, none of the resolutions about Least Developed Countries has ever been implemented. Several UN bodies such as UNCTAD and FAO openly say so.

As to the 1.3 bn US$ intended to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the Third World, this is no more than a public subsidy to the pharmaceutical corporations since the money will go to buy trademark medicines whereas generic medicines could be produced within the concerned countries at a much lower cost. On 23 July the Financial Times had the following on the Genoa proposal: it scrupulously serves the interests of American pharmaceutical companies that had successfully lobbied the heads of state. Moreover, compared with the 9 bn US$ asked for every year by the very undemanding World Health Organisation the amount of 1.3 bn spread on several years is simply ludicrous.

Figures may be worth many speeches: 500 bn US$ is the amount of the G8’s yearly military expenditure (with nearly 300 bn for the United States alone).

13. Beyond protest demonstrations our movement, which has the phrase ‘Another world is possible’ as one of its mottoes, will carry on the elaboration of alternative solutions and widen its global networks of more and more associations. Our next meeting points will be Mexico City from 12 to 14 August 2001, an invitation from ATTAC, Via Campesina, CUT (Brazil) and Focus on the Global South (Thailand); Liège (Belgium), on 22-23 September 2001 with a Citizens’ European Congress convened by ATTAC; the second World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in February 2002, and many more.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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