G8 summit in Germany – Police violence and riots overshadow class struggle

The heads of government of the G8 are meeting in Heiligendamm in Germany. But they are being heavily protected from the harsh social realities that have emerged in Germany. Thousands of protestors are also there. Significantly, there are several important strikes that have affected life in Germany. This may also explain “police tactics” that seemed designed to provoke violent conflict, rather than play it down.

As the heads of government of the G8 states meet for their summit in the scenic German locality of Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast, they are being sealed off from reality in Germany by an impenetrable barbed wire fence. Thousands of angry protestors have set up camps and alternative meetings and rallies in the area, with many of them doing what they can to block road and rail access to the conference venue and to reach the fence. The Anti-G8-movement called for mobilisations to "smash the G8". 13,000 police officers have been drafted in from all over Germany to defend the summit and keep the politicians at a "safe" distance from the protestors.

A broad alliance of political organisations and pressure groups prepared for these protests since early last year. Whilst Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel tries to foster an environmentalist image and presents herself as a serious campaigner against global warming, demonstrators can see through the empty phraseology of the G8 political leaders. Using facts and figures, they explain that the G8 states are responsible for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that their concern for the environment is pure hypocrisy. They know that the G8 countries live off and perpetuate the exploitation of the underdeveloped states in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The week of protests began last Saturday with a demo of some 80,000 in the nearby city of Rostock, called by the Left Party, Attac and many other groups. Instead of reports about the demands and alternatives put forward by the speakers and organisers, the media coverage concentrated on bloody riots and civil war scenarios. Thus, Germany's Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, who had done his utmost for weeks to criminalise any protest, got what he wanted. In advance of the protests police raided and seized computers from left-wing groups, in the name of fighting terrorism. Schäuble will try to use the latest events and the distorted media coverage to wage a further attack on democratic rights.

First of all, last Saturday's demonstration was a successful and colourful mobilisation and manifestation of protest. It was a bit like a carnival. Many had travelled overnight to get to it. The mood was both determined and optimistic. There was also a lot of interest in political material and our journal "Der Funke" sold well.

Yet as the demo arrived at the harbour square where the rally and concert was about to start, trouble began as some individuals set fire to a police car, used refuse bins as barricades, and threw stones and bottles at the police.

On the coaches home, in the camps in the area and on Indymedia, participants have discussed who those individuals were. Were they crazy "autonomen" activists who think that you can accelerate the revolution by provoking police violence? Were they agents-provocateurs and paid agents of the secret services? Were they disguised neo-fascists who wanted to discredit the entire left (let us not forget that the neo-facist NPD is heavily infiltrated by state agents)? Or was it a combination of all of these? We cannot say with certainty, but suspicions are certainly justified.

Marxists are opposed to individual terrorism and rioting as a method of political struggle. Physical attacks on leading representatives of the system and individual members of the state organs have never successfully promoted the cause of the working class and the oppressed. Instead they have always played into the hands of the state and the right wing. In the final analysis only collective and solidly united actions by the working class can bring about a fundamental change in society.

Many of us who took part in the Rostock demo last Saturday witnessed how the massive presence of heavily armed riot police added fuel to the fire. In direct contrast to the official press statements, they did not try to contain the riots on the verge of the mass rally; rather they tried to break into the peaceful crowd. Eyewitnesses felt that the police obviously helped to escalate things so that even the most peaceful demonstrator would be imbued with tense emotion and aggression and shout insults at the police such as "piss off!"

Many participants suspected that an empty police car had been deliberately parked along the route into the square to encourage someone to set it on fire. Yet when that car was in flames, the police water cannons did not turn on the burning vehicle to extinguish the fire but rather turned towards the crowd and sprayed them with teargas and water. Again and again, groups of 10 to 20 police charged into the unarmed crowd causing panic. A police helicopter up in the sky was supposed to monitor and direct the police actions. Its permanent motor drone drowned out the speeches and the music being performed, thus making people even more enraged. Even cool-headed and sober-minded people failed to find any traces of the so-called police strategy of "de-escalation and pacification."

In the aftermath even some bourgeois media have strongly doubted the official police figures of several hundred injured policemen and demonstrators. These figures were obviously spread for propaganda purposes. It was not a question of 2000 violent "autonomens" either, since the vast majority of those dressed in black did not display any violence.

We have to learn the lessons of these events. To make sure that future mass demonstrations are protected against rioters and thugs, no matter where they come from, as well as against police assaults, the question of stewarding is of utmost importance. Big organisations such as the Left Party and Attac who had a very strong presence at the demo must take the initiative. If there are individual rioters and provocateurs, they must be removed from the demo. The consumption of alcohol and drugs must also be banned during the demos.

In spite of the media hysteria, protest against the existing world order of capitalism and imperialism will not be subdued. However, to change the world we do not need "heroic individual acts" but rather a collective mass movement.

When the European Ministers of Defence met in Wiesbaden last March, they were confronted with social reality in Germany as a strike of the employees of the five-star hotel in which they were staying and meeting, disrupted their conference. On the basis of this experience we argued that strike action is the most effective way of disrupting such an event.

Now it is true that there were many trade unionists at the demo and many union flags fluttered in the wind. A striking Telekom worker spoke at the rally before the demonstration started from Rostock central station. Yet it was a major weakness of the demo that the unions were not the organisers of the demo and the working class did not put its stamp on the movement. Some of the organisations involved in the preparation vetoed a speech by Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of the United Left in Germany, although Lafontaine, who has moved to the left in recent years, is a good orator and would have attracted more participants.

While activists are trying to get to the barbed-wire fence around Heiligendamm and are getting beaten with police batons and splattered with tear gas right now, the Telekom strike has been going on for four weeks and has turned into static warfare. In this highly significant and key conflict, Merkel's coalition government of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) is backing the Telekom management's plan to outsource some 50,000 workers to a new company and reduce their incomes by some 40%. The state still holds over 30% of Telekom shares, being the biggest single shareholder, and through its representatives in the supervisory board the Minister of Finance, Peer Steinbrück, SPD deputy chairman, could easily call the Telekom management to order and stop the assault on the 50,000 workers immediately.

This assault by the Telekom management is a back-stabbing form of violence against the workers and their families' lives. We have nothing to do with those hypocrits who deplore riots by some sinister individuals and at the same time want to drive 50,000 Telekom workers down towards the poverty line. This is our message to the workers of the world: Look at this country and look at the shameful role of the German government in this Telekom strike! Line up with the Telekom workers! Their struggle is our struggle!

By the way, although privatisation has proven to be a disaster, the German government wants to sell its remaining Telekom shares as quickly as possible. At the same time, in Venezuela, the government has effectively re-nationalised the telecom company CANTV, and announced measures in favour of consumers, workers and rural poor. This shows that another policy and another world is possible and necessary.

Two weeks ago, the striking workers at the Neuselters mineral water bottling plant suceessfully fought back against the plan by Nestlé management to cut wages and downgrade working conditions considerably. Actions like this are the best and most effective form of fightback against the global neoliberal offensive.