Prague 2000, September 26th (S26) demonstration - Analysis and eyewitness reports from around Europe

The demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, London and Prague are an indication that something is changing. For the past twenty years, Capital has been on the offensive. On its banners are inscribed the new slogans: Liberalisation, Globalisation, Downsizing, Outsourcing, Flexibilisation, and a host of other reactionary neologisms. The fall of the Soviet Union gave a further impulse to this offensive. The bourgeoisie was filled with confidence and optimism in the future. But now, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the whole thing is beginning to come apart at the seams.

The meaning of Prague

"It was very impressive," said Colin Rice from Glasgow, an eye witness at the Prague protest. "Thousands of youth were there expressing their disgust towards big business and capitalism in general. The anti-capitalist protesters blockaded the delegates preventing them getting to their meetings in a normal way."

The demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, London and Prague are an indication that something is changing. For the past twenty years, Capital has been on the offensive. On its banners are inscribed the new slogans: Liberalisation, Globalisation, Downsizing, Outsourcing, Flexibilisation, and a host of other reactionary neologisms. The fall of the Soviet Union gave a further impulse to this offensive. The bourgeoisie was filled with confidence and optimism in the future. But now, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the whole thing is beginning to come apart at the seams. Opinion polls in America reveal a groundswell of discontent and criticism even at the peak of the boom. An ever growing number of people—not just workers but also middle class people—are beginning to question the market economy and all its works. If this mood is developing even now, what will be the situation when the boom eventually collapses—as it inevitably will—in a new slump?

The contradictions are being piled up one on top of another. But in the absence of a suitable vehicle, organisation and leadership, the tensions that are building up within society find no outlet. The labour and trade union leaders everywhere are playing a reactionary role, surrendering to the bosses and holding back the movement of the working class. In such a situation, it is hardly surprising that the discontent of the youth takes all kinds of anarchistic and convulsive forms. With nobody to represent their views, without a clear programme and perspective for changing society, many young people are attracted by the idea of direct action. They are impatient with society and feel that they must give it a push by "taking to the streets". Their intentions are of the best, but they have not yet learned that the ruling class and its state will not be overthrown by a demonstration, no matter how numerous and militant. It requires something more....

The prostitute press naturally highlights the violent actions of a few protesters as a means of discrediting the protest movement as a whole. Of course, Marxists do not advocate or condone acts of blind violence which do not harm the bourgeoisie or its state but, on the contrary, merely serve as a convenient pretext to clamp down on demonstrations, step up repression and introduce new reactionary laws. Such actions are both stupid and counter-productive, and lay the movement wide open to manipulation by police agents, hooligans and provocateurs.

However, we must put the blame for this where it lies: with the right wing labour and trade union leaders who, by their open collaboration with big business, have alienated the youth and driven them towards such despairing forms of protest. As Lenin once remarked, ultra-leftism and anarchism is the price the movement has to pay for opportunism.

We publish below eye-witness reports from youth in different European countries who took part in the Prague demonstration, from Scotland, Germany, Greece and one by a young Czech, Jana Borkovec, who is now living in Austria. We are also publishing an article published in the Russian Marxist journal, Rabochaya Demokratiya, together with an analysis of the Prague demonstration that appeared in the British Marxist journal, Socialist Appeal, in the October 2000 issue, and also the text of a leaflet that was distributed on the Prague demonstration by YFIS (Youth for International Socialism).

Jana's is a first hand account by a participant who is, moreover, intimately concerned with the situation in the Czech Republic itself. While clearly committed to the demonstration and the anti-capitalist movement, Jana, like many other participants (see also the other reports, in particular Colin Rice's from Glasgow) keenly feels the limitations of such protests and is particularly critical of the elements who resorted to senseless violence, thus alienating many ordinary Czechs and playing into the hands of the enemies of the movement.

"Of course, it is important to demonstrate," Jana writes, "but even more important than demonstrating itself is to demonstrate in such a way that we get people's sympathy and support. Otherwise the demonstration won't have any positive effects or consequences."

More importantly, she draws the conclusion that demonstrating is not enough: "In any case, demonstrating is good, but it isn't enough. You also have to find the ways and means of reaching the people and entering into a dialogue with them. If you want to change people you have to share your knowledge with them. And you also have to be prepared and able to listen to them. And it is important to show that you don't want just to change or abolish the IMF and the World Bank. It is about more than that. It is a fight against capitalism."

These lines show how the best of the youth are drawing all the necessary conclusions from their own experience. It is not enough to protest and demonstrate. The bankers and capitalists can shrug off such things, which do not touch the fundamentals of their system. Jana is probably right when she writes that: "The people inside didn't care at all about the protests outside. And even if they did care, so what?"

So what indeed! The good thing about these demonstrations is that they have aroused a whole new layer of youth to struggle. That this is only a partial struggle against certain manifestations of the brutal and inhuman "market system" is, of course, true. But through their experience, the youth will come to understand the need to overthrow the capitalist system itself, and that to do this it is necessary to be armed with the programme of revolutionary Marxism, and to face towards the working class - the only calls that can carry out the socialist transformation of society.

The only way forward for the protest movement is to link the struggle to the movement of the working class, to appeal to the rank and file of the trade unions and labour movement in every country, to convince them with arguments, facts and figures of the need to break with capitalism and join the fight for the socialist transformation of society, nationally and internationally. Once they are armed with this idea, young people like Jana will play a key role in the fight for a better world, with their enthusiasm and fighting spirit: "Actually it should be the easiest thing in the world to turn working people into globalisation opponents just by explaining them what globalisation means for their and everybody else's lives. So let's start now!"

by Alan Woods,
London, 30.9.00

Praha 2000 - An eye witness account from Scotland

"I know what they're against but have no sense of what they're for"
Trevor Manuel, Finance Minister for South Africa (quoted in the Daily Mail, 27.09.2000)

Tuesday September the 26th saw the unification of the discontented from all over the world: Anarchists, Environmentalists, Trotskyists, Stalinists and 'left' liberals, Reformists and even some Christian groups. Usually hostile to one another, the many, and diverse, left factions put aside their ideological beliefs for one day and united under the banner of 'Anti-Capitalism'.

The march was organised by InPEG (Initiative against Economic Globalisation) and was chiefly designed as an expression of the discontentment at Global Capital's inherent destructive nature.

Though much was talked about how evil and wrong this system is, next to nothing was discussed about a possible system to replace it. Perhaps this is because the diversity in the coalition was so great that the leaders of the movement did not want to do anything that might have been detrimental to the movement. It is clear that serious discussion would have raised fundamental differences between the various socialist factions who would also be collectively opposed to the Anarchists' solution to the problem.

The March

We left the Strahov Stadium, which doubled up as one of the major campsites holding the protesters, at around 9 o'clock. There were nearly a thousand of us, but just from looking at the differing banners of the marchers you could already see who was who. The Italian Communists, for example, held banners of the South American revolutionary hero Che Guevara. There were also Italian anarcho-syndicalists named Ya Basta, dressed in the style of Michelin Men, though not as a fashion statement. It had been made clear to all the protesters who had attended the previous days' events at the InPEG headquarters that violence from the police should be expected. We were told to dress accordingly. Thus, the Italians wore gas masks, and water protective suits, padded with ripped up mattresses, liberated from the camp site.

As we marched, we gradually met up with other groups of demonstrators. Huge cheers and whoops went up as we gradually merged into one, with us all marching up the main street in Prague, with it's neon lights glaring as symbols of capitalism, as if they were almost gloating over their defeat of 'communism' ten years earlier. Well, on that day, the masses of youth from all over the world had gathered to express a wide scale discontentment with capitalism, and, more importantly, to show that resistance to Globalisation was not dead and buried as the bosses had hoped 10 years ago, but was alive and kicking.

The security forces were out in great numbers. Though, it is necessary to point out, there was not one drop of violence, or violent action during the main protest. Not even from the anarchists. The violence would, obviously come later.

The police, to some of our amusement, chose only to barricade and protect certain buildings: namely KFC and McDonalds, those bastions of international Capital, and, subsequently, the symbols of hatred for many of the protesters.

As we marched, many slogans were chanted: 'What's the solution? Revolution!', was a favourite one. But this very slogan further made clear the deep ideological differences to me, even amongst the Socialists, when a comrade from Edinburgh said 'Nice slogan, but of course it's nonsense. Then again, I suppose Reform does not really rhyme with solution.'

It was to be expected that most of the shouts of solidarity came from the more elderly section of the Czech people. Indeed, the suited youth simply looked on in bemusement. This is totally understandable, as the elderly have been affected most from the transition from Stalinism, which could at least offer them a degree of security to it's citizens, to a system that is unstable and inwardly contradictory.

We finally stopped marching, and laid down our placards on a green five minutes north of the city. After a rest, and some leafleting by the various factions, we split into three groups. This caused a little unease with some of the protesters, but it was tactical and was proven to be a wise decision later on.

Blockading the Delegates

My group had been given the task of ensuring that the delegates did not leave with their cars by the main exit. When we arrived, we saw that the riot police had already set up camp and were looking as menacingly as they could, with their tear gas and batons and shields. The sight of this temporarily caused a breakdown in our morale, as the sight of the determined forces of the state blockading us from marching to the Conference Centre was hard to take when we had been marching since the early morning and it was now the middle of the afternoon.

However, an impromptu meeting of representatives from each country was called. The decision was taken to sit down in three rows, stretching right across the road. We were organised and started to chant our anti -capitalist slogans.

This continued for a few hours until reinforcements arrived. At first they were welcomed, as it meant that we could redistribute some of our people to other blockades around the centre. But the new arrivals were clearly intent on disrupting the perfectly peaceful demonstrations and creating a riot. From the back, someone threw a rock and it landed right in the middle of the crowd of riot police. Fortunately, it did not hit anyone, and the demonstrations carried on peacefully. However, I am convinced that if it had hit anyone, the Riot Police, who clearly would have beaten us, would have destroyed the blockade. They, after all, had tear gas and water cannons. I am also pretty sure that the same people sparked the rights in the city centre later that night.

During the sit down protest, the runners, who were relaying messages between the different blockades, continually updated us on the changing situation. We heard stories of the Germans being attacked with water cannons and even one report of a group of protesters breaking the police lines, but this was later discovered to be inaccurate. Nevertheless, our strategy of peaceful protest was maintained, even with the intimidation we received when the water cannons were driven to the front of the police lines.

At around teatime, a van came round with a huge tureen of a dish made up of mixed vegetables. This was most welcome, as it looked, at that point, that the protest would continue for some time.

At around 7 o'clock, the police decided to negotiate with us. The decision was made as we had won a victory in stopping the delegates getting out the exit to their Opera, which had been specially laid on for them. Instead, they had been forced to take the Metro, though they were spared the prospect of mixing with the commoners as the Metro was closed off for several hours to ensure that they got to their destination 'safely'. We sent two delegates and an interpreter in to negotiate. The police agreed to use 'non-violent' tactics if we agreed to be escorted by them off the grounds. This caused some anger with the protesters, as they were not prepared to be 'escorted' anywhere by the police. They preferred to go their own way out of the area, and not be told what way to go. Eventually, we all agreed that we should march our own way, together, back to the city centre.

On the way back, we shouted our slogans, blew our whistles and sang our songs. There was a genuine feeling that we had won: we had stopped the delegates from getting out the main exit, and subsequently cancelled the Opera. What made it sweeter was the fact that we had done all of this through non-violent tactics.

In the city centre

As we marched back, we passed a Czech Bank that had been attacked by some protesters. This caused some anger amongst our people, who did not want to see any acts of violence carried out at all. But, a few others did, and I could understand that while it was not preferable that property be damaged, it was not mindless thuggery, as some in the capitalist press would have liked to paint it as. I believe that they were symbolic attacks: it was only McDonalds, KFC and banks that were attacked, to my knowledge, these are all symbols of International Capital, which we were protesting against.

We eventually worked our way back, and then held a meeting at about 500 yards away from the Opera House. We held a meeting to discuss what to do next. Some wanted to protest at the Opera, others wanted to go to where the banquet was being held. Then, we received word that some people were attacking a McDonalds just down the road, and, I quote, 'Two windows might have been smashed'. Someone suggested that we go down and encourage them in the ways of 'peaceful protest'.

When we got to the McDonalds, we saw that it was slightly more than 'two smashed windows': The world famous M sign had been hacked down, all of the windows had been smashed, and the insides of the buildings had been completely gutted. As the job had just been completed, we were a little to late to conduct a class in non-violence.

A few moments later, word quickly spread that Police had started marching up the street. We started to run for a hundred yards, and then stopped, and looked round just in time to see hundred of bodies, scattered out running towards us. We heard loud bangs, there were tear gas and fire crackers going off. We all linked arms, and calmly, but quickly ran straight ahead.

We ran for about five minutes, and then stopped, when we lost sight of the clouds of tear gas. With the assistance of our maps, we gradually made our way back to Camp Strahov.

There, we swapped stories over copious amounts of alcohol. We learnt that some of our comrades had got caught up in the violence, one was coming up the escalator of the Metro Station, right in the middle of the town square where all the riot police were marching up.

The next day, as we were travelling through Prague on our way back to Scotland, we saw one McDonalds that had been covered in army camouflage by the police, who were lined up against the windows inside.

Thoughts on the Protests

My feelings towards the Prague protests, and the whole 'anti-capitalist' movement in general, are mixed.

As socialists, we should support any progressive movement against capitalism, as a step in the right direction. However, this support should not be unequivocal and unquestioning, as other so-called socialists believe through their actions in relation to the movement.

The movement is broad and certainly broadly based, as many people, myself included, would call themselves an 'anti-capitalist'. I, however, would not call myself an Environmentalist or Anarchist or Reformist. This is undoubtedly where the movement will break down, and not progress at all, as all the factions within the movement have a distinct ideology and distinct tactics that identifies them as what they are politically. They also have distinct solutions to the recklessness of International Capital, which will make debate, proper debate, on what to put in place of capitalism difficult, and a recipe for the movement's collapse.

On the subject of the violence in Prague, of course it was a shame that the capitalist media sought only to report the violent actions of the anarchists. This, however, is to be expected, as we were all campaigning against the system on which the press barons create their wealth from. We would be naïve to think that there will be any balanced reporting from the mainstream media.

But there is no escaping the fact that the violence happened, and happened for a very precise reason. It was not a 'mindless few' that attached themselves to the protests, as one protester said. It was anarchists. The same faction that was being warmly welcomed into the movement, as anyone was who had even an ounce of discontentment at capitalism was, by InPEG.

I have found it alarming to hear no condemning sentiments towards the anarchists from anyone in InPEG. I have heard nothing from the so-called socialists I was with about the violence, and how it is no way to win over the Czech people, and especially the Czech youth. I am sure that they do not take kindly to 10,000 or so foreigners invading their city for a few days, tearing it to bits, creating a riot and clearing out, leaving them to pay the price. And pay they will. The Czech establishment will take it out on them, in the form of tax rises to pay for all the damage done. This will cause more bitterness from the very people we want to win over. The fact of the matter is that we are turning away many people from the movement because of this violence.

The next Protest will be in Nice, in France. I call on all Marxists to attend and protest. But, be clear in what we are protesting for: a socialist society based on workers control of the means of production.

The Spanish press were quick to jump to conclusions in comparing it to the heroic uprising of the French Proletariat in Paris 1968, when Students marched en masse days earlier. Unfortunately, this was not the case this time, and, due to the way the protest was organised, it could never have been the case. While it is true to say that the protesters were mainly youth, they were not all revolutionary. They may have gone there intent on 'creating' a revolution, but revolutions are not 'created' by youth. They are created by the social conditions and consciousness of the working class. Even if there had been the slightest hint of revolution, InPEG would have had no way of controlling or leading it, as they had purposefully not set the organisation up to be revolutionary, or to provide 'leadership': Indeed, one protester even boasted of InPEG having 'No hierarchy, no leadership'. Had the Russian Revolution not had any 'hierarchy' or leadership in October 1917, would the workers have managed to take control? Revolutions will not be successful unless there is the vanguard party that organises and subsequently leads the working class to victory.

By Colin Rice,
Glasgow, 30.9.00

 

Prague, an eyewitness account
from a young Czech participant

Time to resist economic globalisation

At least everybody who was there is going to remember it - not only the demonstrators and the police, but also all the citizens of Prague, the city council, Vaclav Havel and hopefully also some of the congressmen/women. And although my intention isn't to play down the importance of this day, I think that it is necessary to show that much more than that was happening in Prague during the IWF congress.

It doesn't surprise me that the Czech and international media is just reporting the violence of last Tuesday. For them there was nothing of interest besides the smashing of windows at Mc Donald's and protesters fighting with the police in the old town of Prague. But for me it is important to write about the days before Tuesday, to show that the movement had many different faces. It is really a shame if everybody only sees the violence and nothing else.

There were protesters who just came because of the 26th, the global action day. But a lot of people had spent weeks or even months preparing a diverse week of protests, non-violent creative action, cultural resistance, festivals, and education. I came to Prague on Friday the 22nd and so missed the first day of the counter-summit which was taking place from the 22nd to the 24th of September.

The counter-summit started off the week of activities with a three-day forum that explored the real costs of development policy and structural adjustment programs. The summit provided a platform for trade unionists, philosophers, writers, activists, and economists to report about the situation from all around the world and to discuss alternatives. The counter-summit took place in three locations and encompassed five thematic blocks: economic globalisation, labour movements, people's global action, campaigns and ecological problems. Everybody who wanted to was welcome to listen, to ask questions or make comments.

Some sessions centred on the campaign to cancel foreign (external) debts. On another day, representatives from all around the world - e.g. India, South Africa, Central- and South-America, Indonesia and many other countries - tried to inform about the history and effects of ecological debt and pointed out the connection of the environmental destruction that flowed from IMF and world bank policies, explaining this with the help of examples from their own countries.

Speakers like Walden Bello and Alex Callinicos argued that economic globalisation is not the pathway to more democratic freedom and economic justice. Boris Kagalittzky, Eric Toussant and many others focused on eastern Europe and structural adjustment programs. Labour movements were concentrating on how globalisation affects labour rights and the lives of workers. All in all I really enjoyed this counter-summit. It was incredible how many interesting people you could meet there and talk to. It is sad that now nobody seems to see all the people who are fighting against capitalist globalisation and social injustice on both levels (which is really important in my view): on the intellectual level of the spreading of knowledge and information, and also on the activist level (e.g. of street demonstrations).

Officially the aims and objectives of S26 were to disrupt the meeting and show open resistance to IMF and World Bank and other global corporations; and also to highlight the issues of economic globalisation, who is profiting and who is dying, and to unite, diversify and broaden the movement for global justice.

However, I personally am not sure if on Tuesday S26 anything positive was actually achieved. Yes, it is true that the IMF and the World Bank finished their meeting earlier than intended. But it is unclear if this happened because of the protests. I am not so sure about that. There were a lot of rumours going on. One of them was saying that all the congressmen/women were able to leave the occupied congress house very easily by taking the underground.

I also talked to some people from the press who had been inside the congress centre talking to the delegates and who insured me that the people inside didn't care at all about the protests outside. And even if they did care, so what? Of course it depends on what you want to achieve. I am not trying to say that the whole demonstration was bad. In the beginning I was very proud of being a part of this (in the beginning) so beautiful and strong a movement. I just think that as soon as it became violent the whole movement lost its power. The power of a peaceful, united and strong demonstration, the power of reaching people and convincing them.

There is no need to talk about the police. I think everybody knows how the police generally behave. Now you have to consider that most of these policemen who were in Prague on the streets these days had been there more than ten years. That means that most of them had been taught how to deal with demonstrators more than ten years ago. Some things change but some don't. I don't think that the police and its practises have changed that much. So, of course, the police were violent during these days. Unfortunately, it must be said that it was not only the police. The conduct of a section of the demonstrators played into their hands.

Such methods lead nowhere. I just don't think that e.g. smashing the windows at McDonalds and Co. is the right way if you really want to fight the IWF and WB by getting supporters in the working class and middle class of society (Czech society).

I personally think that it would have been very important to win over the Czech population to the side of the protests and to inform them about the politics of the IMF and World Bank. As far as I can tell, that didn't happen at all. There were very few Czech people at the counter-summit and no Czech people at all in the convergence centre. (The convergence centre was the main location for action co-ordination, communication, and creativity: legal, medical, and action training, skill sharing , street theatre etc.)

During the demonstrations announcements were made in almost every language, except in Czech. The mobilisation of the city council against the protests and protesters started a long time ago but nothing was done to counter that from our side. So it doesn't surprise me that the majority of the Czech people were against the protests even before they started. That was what the city council tried to achieve for months by systematically frightening the people. Just a few examples: All the kids were given holidays during the week of the conference and the working people were advised to take the day off and leave the city. Some retired people were sent away at the expenses of the city

Every single household in the most affected areas of Prague got an information paper with ten pieces of advice how to behave during the week of the protests. They were officially advised to buy extra supplies of food, medicines, and water. No wonder the people of Prague were scared, and no wonder their dislike of the protests grew even greater on Tuesday. They saw, on the one hand, the biggest demonstration since 1989, and, on the other, they saw violence and destruction on their streets. The fact that it was mainly caused by foreigners didn't make them any happier.

So it is very hard for me to believe that the protests achieved anything positive. The only thing I see is that a few months ago almost nobody in Czech Republic knew about the IMF and WB. Now they still don't have any idea what these two organisations are all about. But after the 26th of September it might be very difficult to get people interested against capitalist globalisation. They don't know what the IMF is, but they know the people who are against it- and they don't like them. They are angry with them and they cannot associate or identify themselves with them. In their eyes all protesters are violent (among other things).

Of course, it is important to demonstrate, but even more important than demonstrating itself is to demonstrate in such a way that we get people's sympathy and support. Otherwise the demonstration won't have any positive effects or consequences.

In any case, demonstrating is good, but it isn't enough. You also have to find the ways and means of reaching the people and entering into a dialogue with them. If you want to change people you have to share your knowledge with them. And you also have to be prepared and able to listen to them. And it is important to show that you don't want just to change or abolish the IMF and the World Bank. It is about more than that. It is a fight against capitalism. Actually it should be the easiest thing in the world to turn working people into globalisation opponents just by explaining them what globalisation means for their and everybody else's lives. So let's start now!

by Jana Borkovec
Prague, 26th of September

Eyewitness account on the Prague demonstration
from Greece

The all European demonstration in Prague against the IMF summit was the third major protest against globalisation, against the increase of inequality on a world scale, against the environmental and social consequences of the destructive role of capitalism.

However, the demonstration was not as big as the organisers were expecting. The most obvious thing that struck us about this demonstration was the absence of workers and the confusion in relation to the social and political aims of this demonstration.

The organisation of this event was under the control of the ultra-left and anarchist activists who made up over two thirds of the approximately 15,000 demonstrators, who had come mainly from Italy, Spain, Britain, Germany, Holland and Greece. The absence of trade union organisations on the demonstration (with the exception of some small representations such as the delegation from the Athens Trade Union Council) left the initiative in the hands of some ultra-leftists and anarchists who proceeded to adopt adventurist methods together with their meaningless slogans.

There were clashes with the police under the general slogan of "confrontation by any means". The slogans that dominated were those aimed against the IMF and the other world capitalist organisations and, of course, the police which was present in big numbers.

The absence of activists from the Czech movement, with the exception of a very small number from the Czech Communist Party, was striking. The reasons must be the adventurist character that was given to the demonstration in advance, and the conditions of near martial law that existed in Prague during the three days of the event.

The Greek representation was made up of 800 people. Some ultra-left groups took along a number of young people, mainly students, giving them the perspective of riots with the police together with a very general opposition to the international capitalist organisations. A small group of Synaspismos youth was also present, and different groups of anarchists and ultra-lefts also participated. The Greek Communist Party participated in a different demonstration on a different day. There was also the participation of the PASOK youth, although with only a small number of about thirty people who went on the demonstration with the slogan "People above profits".

Although there was a lack of trade union and worker participation on the demonstration, overall we think the trip was well worth going on.

by Stamatis,
Athens 30.9.00

Eyewitness report from two German youth

The two of us travelled to Prague (for the September 26th demonstration), a city in a state of emergency. Weeks before the date, the Czech Minister of the Interior had warned the population that civil war was looming ahead. School students and OAPs were sent out of town, theatres and restaurants were closed. The reports and pictures of Seattle, Washington, and Melbourne made the Czech state adopt drastic measures: thousands of policemen and troops were called in to combat left wing demonstrators. On the Czech borders, numerous coaches were stopped, some of them were not even allowed entry at all. On the trains, passengers were searched for propaganda material - like in the old days. We were lucky and got through to Prague without any problem. Having arrived there, we met a group of action (mainly Spanish) that organised pickets outside hotels and sang protest songs.

At 11 o'clock, all the different groups met. After a while we also met Greeks, Italians, Austrians... We handed out our little handy stickers which contained the marxist.com Internet address. They were received quite well, and we explained to people that marxist.com contained articles in different languages.

The demo was mainly composed of activists from different left groups, left wing grassroots groups, "Communist" groups and anarchists. It was difficult to find someone not organised. The few local organisers were pretty busy trying to ensure a smooth running of events, because prior to the demo "autonomous" groups had called for violent action.

12,000 demonstrators marched towards the Congress Centre. But on a bridge, which was of strategic importance, we were stopped by two tanks and hundreds of soldiers and policemen. The demo stopped there for hours, well aware of the fact that there was no way through. Autonomous and anarchist groups, mainly Czech, Polish, and German, had already set out hours before to get to the Congress Centre. From afar, we saw heavy street battles which lasted for hours; the whole area there was covered in smoke. The Polish anarchists were particularly reckless since most of them were street children who have nothing to lose anyway.

After long hours of waiting some other groups went off in order to somehow get through to the Congress Centre and support the autonomous activists there. There was no central leadership which announced what was to be done or put forward any organisational alternative. There were no speeches at all, no rally, nothing. After three hours, those remaining were called upon to retreat. As we arrived at Wenceslaus Square, some speeches were delivered, yet it was a bit late since by then many people were pretty tired.

As we headed back for the night train after 8 o'clock p.m., we found ourselves in the middle of violent clashes. We saw the McDonalds´ restaurant being demolished. A bit later, we heard that the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant had also been demolished. A branch of a foreign bank was only slightly damaged. The clashes with the police continued till after midnight. Result: dozens of injured persons on both sides. Some 40 demonstrators managed to somehow get into the Congress Centre but were thrown out by the police in an extremely violent manner. The Czech police acted with the utmost brutality. Although the city appeared to be empty, even some ordinary tourists got affected by the clashes, some were even arrested and harassed. Participants of the demo told us about cases of police brutality.

On September 23rd, there had been a separate demo against the IMF and World Bank called by European Communist Parties and trade unions. There was no common call, and only 2000 people came along.

by C.M.,
Germany, 29.9.00

The political situation of the youth in the west

(translated from the Russian Marxist paper Rabochaya Demokratiya)

The demonstrations in Prague are a continuation of recent protests in Seattle and London. They are an expression of the impasse of capitalism in an epoch of senile decay, and the reflection of this impasse in the psychology of young people. Their international character shows the ripeness of the socialist revolution world-wide.

They are also an expression of the impasse of the reformist parties in the west which are incapable of mobilising the aspiration of young people to live in a better future. As a result of this, we see youth with ultra-left, anarchist ideas, and workers with a narrow, trade union consciousness, in a process that Lenin explained in What is to be done?

Like in the riots in St Petersburg in the 1890s that Lenin described, the events in Prague are still a reaction of frustration against the system and not an attempt to change it. Many demonstrators smash up MacDonalds and fight with the police. They campaign against the IMF, WTO and World Bank but there is no clear idea of what their alternative is. Their activism is primary, their theory in the background.

The spontaneity represents the origins of consciousness, mainly among middle class students. This is not a surprise. It is not poverty that rouses consciousness but the instability for a generation that is worse off than their parents with an uncertain future.

At the same time, even among student activists, in national student movements there is a feeling that the students will not be able to change anything. There is no contradiction between a weak national movement and having more than 100,000 people in Prague. Within the countries themselves, the activists are small in number. In Prague they gathered together.

The youth do not have any experience of successful mass movements to give them confidence in their collective power. While the majority of students are passive, the frustration of a minority bursts out in spontaneous acts.

Or the minority of activists mobilise around single issue campaigns, against racism, third world debt, the destruction of the planet etc. The class questions are often put to one side in the belief that these immediate problems can be solved without the socialist revolution.

There is also scepticism in the power of the working class to change society and therefore a lack of unity with the working class. Even in France for example, despite the unity of students and workers in 1968 and a general strike in 1995 which radicalised students, the militant student union does not seek unity with the working class, and has been defeated by the Jospin government because of this.

The pessimism, programme and attitude towards the working class could have been transformed by a fighting, socialist leadership of the mass parties of the working class. However, instead of this, like in France, these parties in government attack the youth, in Germany, Italy, Britain, Austria (until last year) etc. In Greece, this has happened for 16 of the past 19 years under the Pasok Party.

And when they are not in government they still alienate the youth. In the US the CP is supporting Gore in the elections. In Italy, the RCP spoke a lot about Seattle. This was not because they wanted to put forward a socialist alternative. On the contrary, they have used the anarchist ideas of some of the protesters to disorientate the party.

In fact, it is precisely because the protesters in Prague are not a part of the traditional working class movement that they have not been held back by the reactionary leadership of the reformist parties and trade unions. Also, it is because of their lack of experience of mass movements that they do not have the memory of past defeats, which explains why their pessimism can be overcome more quickly and convulsively than that of older workers.

Instead of being alienated by the rotten reformist leadership of the working class parties and organising outside of them, militant youth need to turn towards them and win them to a revolutionary socialist programme. This needs to be an international struggle against the international phenomenon of reformism.

If the youth movement continues as it is, it will remain fragmented, divided by single issues, often with a local character, and isolated from the working class. Yet the youth movement will inevitably change as activists draw conclusions from their own experience.

Activists need the perspective of world revolution to guide their activism. Even if the youth are successful in some campaigns they will not have changed anything fundamentally, unless they link the struggles of today with the task of overthrowing capitalism. The youth especially need to combine an understanding of Marxism with their energy and enthusiasm. Otherwise, in their impatience to change the world they can also become frustrated with trying to change it.

Today the youth are asking the question, what is to be done? The answer is to study the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and the example of the youth in the 1917 revolution, to test these ideas and methods against their own experiences, and to organise for an international socialist revolution on a higher historical basis.

The Prague Events

(from the Socialist Appeal web site www.socialist.net, October 2000)

In the 1970s the names Len Murray and Jack Jones were widely recognised. Anyone in Britain would have been able to tell you what the initials TUC meant. If you had asked the meaning of the initials GATT however, not many would have answered confidently General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Yet this body established by the Bretton Woods Agreement after the second world war played a major role in forcing open the barriers to world trade which in turn played an important part in the post war economic upswing and America's domination of the world market.

GATT's successor, the World Trade Organisation, established in 1993 along with its associates the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, on the other hand, have achieved international notoriety. A recent opinion poll claimed that a majority of young people did not know what the TUC is, while around the world thousands of young people turn out to protest against the global capitalism that the Bretton Woods institutions represent. This should tell us two things. Firstly, that the leadership of the British trade union movement and their class collaboration policy have driven the mighty TUC into anonymity, totally failing to offer young people a lead. Secondly, that those young people are not as apathetic as we are often told, they are more than prepared to protest when given the opportunity. Meetings of the IMF etc. provide just such an opportunity giving the free market a recognisable face.

As we go to press just such a demonstration is taking place in Prague at the 55th annual meeting of the World Bank Group and the Board of Governors of the IMF. The police estimate that 30,000 young people from across Europe set out for Prague. Far fewer reached their destination as border guards and their reinforcements tried to prevent demonstrators getting through and repeating the scenes in Seattle earlier this year. 11,000 Czech police have been mobilised in Prague. They have announced that they are prepared to use tear gas and water cannon if necessary. According to the Prague Post six armoured personnel carriers, six troop trucks, two fire engines, two Mi-17 helicopters, and two W-3A Sokol helicopters are also on standby.

This may sound heavy handed but there can be no doubt that the capitalist class are becoming increasingly concerned by these regular protests. The establishment of GATT after world war two was a precursor to the economic upswing of the 50s and 60s. However there were very real reasons for that upswing, beginning with the political precondition the failure of the leadership of the workers organisations to mobilise the movement to transform society. The growth of international trade played a major role, as did technological advances in plastics and electronics. These served to fuel the major factor, investment. This was the engine that drove capitalism forward. The fall of Stalinism combined with the boom in the west created the illusion amongst many capitalists that the establishment of the WTO would be the launch pad for another upswing. However in the end trade agreements are only pieces of paper. Much of today's growth in trade takes place between different branches of the same big companies, leading not to increased investment as a result of competition, but rationalisation through the increasing power of monopolies. The WTO and its associates have become the public face not for the glorious achievements of globalisation, but the impoverishment of third world debt, low pay, child labour and the destruction of the environment.

Whatever happens in Prague these demonstrations will not go away. They will be repeated at the Summit of the Americas next April and around the world next May Day.

These are no longer simply single issue protests against a war, or for debt relief. However unclear their demands, they represent the genuine and growing opposition to the international capitalist system. These demonstrations remember, like the protests across Europe against fuel prices are taking place at the height of a boom in capitalism. In other words against the background of the best situation this system can offer us.

A few thousand young people cause chaos at a meeting of the world's most powerful bankers. A few hundred lorry drivers and farmers bring Britain to a virtual standstill. These forces led by the organised working class could effortlessly and peacefully transform society. The workers movement, in Britain the TUC awoken from its anonymity, united with this militancy and enthusiasm on the basis of a socialist programme would be unstoppable.

Seattle, Washington, Prague,...
Global Capitalism - Global Resistance

translation of a German language leaflet distributed by YFIS
(Youth for International Socialism) at the demonstration in Prague

Since the protests against the WTO in Seattle we have seen the development of an international movement against global capitalism and its institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO etc.). The movement follows the capitalists to all their meeting venues &endash; from Seattle to Washington to Melbourne and now to Prague &endash; and spreads internationally. What we have seen so far, is only the beginning...

The media try to denigrate this movement by presenting all the demonstrators as mad, violent anarchists disguised as ecologists. These bourgeois commentators can say whatever they want, but this movement has a clear root cause &endash; the obvious crimes of the capitalist system.

The movement is against the SAP policies introduced by the IMF, the aggressive trade policy of the imperialist states, the waste of natural resources. The social consequences are devastating: mass unemployment, reduction of workers' rights which leads to a situation where increasing numbers of the global working class have to work under inhuman conditions and the unequal allocation of income and wealth.

In 1960 the richest 20% of world population disposed of an income 30 times higher than the income of the poorest 20%. Today they have 82 times more. Poverty has reached unknown dimensions. Although the world-wide production of food is high enough to cover the needs of the whole world population, 30 million people starve to death every year and 800 million are suffering from malnutrition. The increasing number of wars and military conflicts, not only in Africa but also in the Balkans or in the states of the former USSR, worsen the situation even more. In the epoch of globalisation the dependence of the countries of the south is bigger than ever. Through the policy of open markets, the privatisation of key sectors, these economies have no chance of developing independently from the interests of imperialism. The national bourgeoisie of these countries has completely surrendered in the face of imperialism.

However, also in the industrialised countries, first of all in the USA, we see a growing social polarisation. In the USA the richest layer of the population controls more than 42% of the national wealth. On the other hand real wages are only 80% of what they were just 15 years ago. Stress, fear and pessimism wherever you look. In Europe the bourgeois try to destroy the welfare state. The ruling class has one aim: all aspects of life, education, health and pension systems have to be privatised and have to become fields of investment.

The roots of the movement

This system provokes resistance. However, it is not enough to fight against some single symptoms of the system. The multinationals try hard to transform humanity as a whole into a commodity. The real question in today's society is the following: who is to decide what, how and for whom things are to be produced. And here we have to say clearly that we no longer accept a society based on the maximisation of profit.

Seattle was the beginning of a new period of anti-capitalist struggles. This movement is full of creativity and spontaneity. Because of this lots of youth take part in these protests. At the same time we can see a lack of understanding of the real causes of all this social injustice, all this destruction of the environment and the domination of capital. Many activists accuse the so-called "global players" on the financial markets (i.e. big capital) and their short-sightedness, or their lack of any "economic ethics".

Here we should ask ourselves if such a thing as the "social market economy", which many left-wing activists are calling for, is actually possible. Linked to this is the question of how to proceed with our protests, how to develop the movement. What strategies, what tactics, what programme do we need for our struggle against capitalism?

A lot people support the idea that it is only possible to overcome capitalism by boycotting the system. Step by step one is supposed to build a new, alternative chain of production and trade. The small producers of environmentally harmless goods (especially from the south) should be supported by a movement of critical consumers. The building of anti-capitalist freedom would thus force back the power of the multinationals and finance capital.

From our point of view this is a completely utopian idea. It is impossible to change the whole mechanism, the whole functioning of the capitalist system by starting from the last link of the chain (namely consumption). This idea of "fair trade" cannot compete with mass production and the modern systems of distribution &endash; at least not under the conditions of a market economy. This plan is, in reality, an expression of the interests of social groups, like small farmers or small shopkeepers, which are facing decline because of globalisation and the power of big business. Of course it is very positive that even these sections of society develop an anti-capitalist mood. However, it would be a big mistake to take up their demands as the only alternative to modern capitalism.

In the end everything is reduced to the question of changing the consciousness of the people who are just seen as consumers. This strategy completely neglects the real social interests of the overwhelming majority of the population, the working class, and makes it impossible for our movement to win this decisive section of the population. We have to be clear that only the methods of class struggle (like strikes) can bring this system to a standstill. Without the strength of the organised labour movement and its potential capacity to change the system, which is due to its position in production and distribution, our protests will soon end up in a blind alley.

The attempt to obstruct the conferences of the IMF or the WTO obviously has a big symbolic power. However, it would be a dangerous illusion to believe that we are able, in this way, to disturb the whole mechanism of the capitalist system. In the end we reduce our struggle simply to a confrontation with the police. And the police will improve its preparations from conference to conference. If this is the only perspective we can offer to the activists the movement will soon peter out.

Is protectionism the way out?

Important representatives of the movement against "neo-liberalism" can imagine only a way out through a policy of protectionism and the regulation of the international financial system. They do not question capitalism as a whole but only "globalisation". According to them free trade and the boundless freedom of movement of capital are the real causes of poverty, inequalities, economic crises and social cuts. What they demand is a policy to restabilise capitalism following the example of the era of the post-war boom.

The call for a higher taxation of financial speculation (for example the introduction of the so-called "Tobin Tax") and new barriers on trade. In the end these leftwing-liberal economists (like those writing for Le Monde Diplomatique) are in favour of protecting the European markets from cheap raw materials coming from the "Third World". The fortress of the European Union should defend its living standards simply by cutting itself off from the rest of the world. If we look at the imperialist policies of the EU, which is greatly responsible for the misery and undemocratic regimes in the ex-colonial world, it is quite difficult to understand how such "intellectuals" can come to such conclusions.

The experiences with protectionism in the course of the world economic crisis of the 1930s show that these ideas cannot be an alternative for the working class and the middle classes. World trade would drop and this could spark off an international recession of enormous dimensions.

On the other hand the free trade policies imposed by the multinationals and by the major imperialist powers mean disaster for the ex-colonial countries. Far from resolving the concentration of capital and the growth of inequality, protectionism would only make things worse. The problem does not exist because there is trade but because this trade is carried out following a capitalist logic and the principle of the maximisation of profit. Those who want to turn back the wheel of history, imagining that it is possible to dismantle the international division of labour and to limit the exchange of goods to local markets, is putting forward a reactionary utopia.

Expropriate the multinationals!

Radical problems call for radical solutions. As long as the key sectors of the economy are concentrated in the hands of a small number of multinationals it won't be possible to control the production and consumption in a democratic way. Here we come to the question of who owns and controls the means of production.

Today a small elite of owners of capital has the power to decide on the fate of humanity ignoring all social, environmental and democratic standards. They have the power to do this only because the right of private property of the means of production is not challenged by anyone.

If we want a world without exploitation and oppression, without pollution and wars, we have to have control over the economy, the political system and the international financial system. This is only possible through the establishment of a global planned economy, democratically controlled by the workers and consumers. A society based on the satisfaction of needs and not on the maximisation of profit is only possible when we expropriate the multinationals, banks and insurance companies.

The international working class has a key role in this struggle. Seattle was the best example of how the trade unions can make a qualitative difference when it comes to stopping the dictatorship of the capitalists. We, the Marxists, will fight within the organisations of the labour movement, the trade unions and the workers parties, for a revolutionary, anti-capitalist programme and for a socialist alternative. The protests against the IMF in Prague are a further step in the building of an international movement against this system of exploitation.

"Youth for International Socialism"

"Youth for International Socialism" is a group of workers and youth that fight for the end of capitalism, and for democratic socialism, as explained in the ideas of genuine Marxism. We have links world-wide, and are in political solidarity with the ideas presented at the In Defence of Marxism web site at www.marxist.com.

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