PHIL BUTLAND, Berlin (with the input of KEVIN OVENDEN, Athens) reflects on the Blockupy protest in Frankfurt this week and whether we are at a “Prague moment” opening up a new sequence of anti-capitalist and international mobilisations
Just four days ago, I* was reporting with hope about a few hundred people demonstrating in Berlin for Greece on a Saturday afternoon. Yesterday’s 20,000 strong demonstration in Frankfurt was in the middle of the week at a time when many people will still working. Nevertheless, it was 50 times as big. Before the demonstration, the huge Römerplatz and a neighbouring square were packed with people listening to Naomi Klein, Sahra Wagenknecht and other speakers from the anti-capitalist movement. We need to work out how we mobilise this energy and size into further actions.
Often the last people to ask for accurate reports are the people who were there. There were things happening all over town and where I was we witnessed no arrests and no more argy-bargy than you’d encounter on an average demo. We did, however, hear all sorts of rumours, first of individual arrests, then of mass arrests. Beyond that, I’m not in a much better position to explain “what really happened” than most other people. I can try, however, to give some context.
Be clear: If you’re going to send every water cannon in Germany to a demonstration, police it with robocops and use tear gas indiscriminately (there was the lingering smell wherever you went) you shouldn’t be surprised when things escalate. The real violence is the violence of the state, both in Frankfurt yesterday and in the murderous poverty in Greece and Spain. The real violence is also wars in Ukraine and the Arab world. Yesterday’s damage is small beer compared to the damage caused by the Troika to Southern Europe, or indeed to the destruction wreaked last year on Gaza.
As the Left academic Raul Zelik wrote on his Facebook wall: if you want to speak about the “violence in Frankfurt” now, when there’s 25 percent unemployment in Southern Europe, a million foreclosures in Spain, and when 35 percent of the Greek population have no access to health service, you must be pretty stupid (“Wer bei 25% Arbeitslosigkeit in Südeuropa, einer Million Zwangsräumungen in Spanien, 35% der griechischen Bevölkerung ohne Zugang zum Gesundheitssystem usw jetzt über die “Gewalt in Frankfurt” sprechen zu müssen meint, hat echt einen in der Waffel.”) The Left German daily paper Neues Deutschland has also steadfastly called on us to defend the protests against an incipient backlash brewing on the pages of FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and on the Right.
What we have just witnessed is the crisis of southern Europe making itself felt in the north. It is an important moment. This was a European anti-capitalist mobilisation, yet also overwhelmingly German. That is what people in Athens, Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Lisbon, Dublin and Rome have been waiting for. Frankfurt 2015 seems similar to Prague 2000, which marked the beginning of the last sequence of advance for the anti-capitalist and internationalist movement on the continent. Prague led to the massive protests against the Iraq war and the 300,000-strong anti-capitalist demonstration in Genoa.
This is the context for the urgent and comradely discussion of strategy. Blockupy developed a strategy of quite different groups coming together with a very limited consensus: 1. All action forms are acceptable, even those that we wouldn’t use ourselves. 2. Everyone has the right to defend themselves against attacks by the police. 3. Our side doesn’t escalate. Yesterday, the third consensus point was unfortunately ignored by part of the black bloc.
Cars were set on fire, not just police cars. Bank windows and glass bus stops were smashed. Building materials were taken to build barricades. I don’t have any problem with barricades. I did, however, witness a worker driving a lorry being threatened so that his load could be “donated”. This is not how you build a mass movement, which seeks to organise us all – from the homeless in Greece to German lorry drivers – in the fight against neoliberalism.
Escalation is sometimes necessary, but this does not mean that it is inevitably the correct strategy. It is conditional upon advancing a movement that is both militant and mass. That means actively involving working people, immigrants, and the popular masses who are suffering from austerity, racism and imperialist war. We seek to build a militant movement of them, not a movement for them – which is a social democratic illusion.
This is not a moral point. Directly after leaving a lively demonstration of 20,000 people, I received an SMS from a friend in Berlin who had just watched the news asking if I was safe. The media was able to seize upon the escalation to shift the focus to just talk about violence. It always seeks to do that, of course, and the media bears its own responsibility for its propaganda. But our best counterweight to the media lies in our breadth and unity.
If the escalation from our side comes just from a minority, pro-capitalist propagandists will find it easier to divide us. Where possible, strategy should be openly discussed within the movement, so that the movement as a whole can make those collective decisions. That’s why we need now both to press on and, as a movement, take ownership of our strategy and tactics.
People asked me if this was the work of agents provocateurs. I am more sceptical than many of blaming errors on our side on agents provocateurs without evidence, even if the evidence from Genoa and elsewhere makes clear that the state is quite capable of deploying them. We don’t have information of that at the moment and searching for it is not a priority. Our defence against state destabilisation is radical democratic participation of all wings of the movement and seeking to widen it and act with collective militant effectiveness. That means prioritizing unity and points of consensus over narrow, self-aggrandising concerns.
The role played by my party die LINKE in both mobilising for Blockupy and for our success on the day was exemplary. MPs, local councillors and individual activists from all wings of the party were everywhere. Our block on the demonstration was lively and represented the breadth of society. The movement is much larger than die LINKE, but die LINKE has a crucial part to play in the development of the movement – both on the streets and in its theory.
The next big street actions that we know of are the traditional trade union demonstrations on 1 May (in Berlin we also have the nearly-as-traditional anti-capitalist demo on same evening). For developing the theory, there are 2 important conferences around this time. In the “Left week of the future” (LINKE Woche der Zukunft) at the end of April, speakers like Sahra Wagenknecht, Raul Zelik and activists from other countries will be confronting the problems and chances before us (small personal plug, I, or someone from our LINKE Berlin Internationals group will be speaking at a workshop on international networking). A couple of weeks later Stathis Kouvelakis, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Bernd Riexinger and many others will be continuing the discussion at the Marx is Muss conference.
Incidentally – Syriza was right and the KKE wrong in their responses to the 2008 youth uprisings in Athens following the murder by police of Alexis Grigoropoulos. Alexis Tsipras and the party took a huge amount of flak for not joining in the vilification by every other parliamentary party of the young people on the streets, who the anti-capitalist Left joined in struggle. Alexis and Syriza were right. If the radical Left – from Podemos through Die LINKE to the PdG in France want to learn from Greece, then don’t vilify the Frankfurt protests. Stand with the young people for whom a lost decade is not some flatlining of GDP but a lost third or more of their lives thus far.
The demonstrations yesterday have enabled to go forward and advance our movement. No quarter to the black backlash of the CDU and Troika. Uniting and advancing a mass militant movement requires two things: placing responsibility upon our capitalist enemies for the violence and destruction they are responsible for – directly and indirectly; but also collective, democratic decisions in and by our movement, which, to be effective, must be of and not condescendingly for women, migrants, the old, the very young and… lorry drivers.
*Phil was in Frankfurt, Kevin was in Athens and conveys the response there to the events