The violence must not be allowed to conceal the mass protests
Three huge demonstrations (particularly for a city with only half a million inhabitants) took place during the EU summit in Gothenburg. 10,000 marched against president Bush on Thursday 14 June, 20,000-25,000 against EU/EMU on the Friday and 10,000-15,000 against the policies of the EU on the Saturday. These was the largest demonstrations in Gothenburg since the big strike and lockout of 1980. It also reflects a growing discontent amongst young people and workers.
The whole of the Swedish left was represented in the largest demonstration on the Friday, including the left within the SSU (Social Democratic youth), the Social Democratic part, and the national trade union federation LO, the Left party (former Communist Party) and various smaller left groups. The anti-EU movement and the Green Party also participated.
The demonstrators and the tens of thousands who witnessed the demonstrations felt the growing strength of the opposition against neo-liberal policies, and that a new left wave has begun. This will turn the labour movement and society as a whole leftwards. The top politicians of the EU once again experienced a massive popular discontent against their policies. The participation in the demonstrations was even larger than expected and this was a major step forward.
However, all this was overshadowed and partly obscured by the riots, the stone throwing and the brutal police violence that must be decisively condemned. It must be stressed that these violent clashes occurred outside the large demonstrations and only involved a very small minority of those taking part in the demonstrations. Having said this, it is true that, unfortunately, these events have left a bitter after-taste that has served to hide what was really achieved, even amongst those who themselves took part in the mass protests. And if this is true for the mass of workers and young people in Gothenburg, it is even more true for the workers and youth in the rest of Sweden and internationally. Logically, the media highlighted the violent clashes, while the huge demonstrations have hardly been mentioned at all.
A spiral of violence and shooting
The violence peaked when the police shot and wounded three protesters. One of the victims of the police shootings was seriously wounded and hovered between life and death for 2 days. The labour movement and its organisations must strongly condemn this police violence.
However it must be said that both the police and the anarchistic AFA (Anti Fascist Action) had been preparing for a violent confrontation, despite some declarations from both sides that pointed in a different direction. The AFA posters read: "Act, block and sabotage" and their home page gave information about the large amount of paving stones in Gothenburg!
The police were the first to break the agreement with the leaders of the demonstrations. They had agreed to dialogue with the organisers before any actions were taken. But they ignored this agreement when the police went ahead and surrounded the Hvidfeldska School with containers and locked in 400 people, many of whom were forced to undergo the humiliation of a body search. The reason given for this brutal raid was that the AFA and other similar groups were reported to be preparing riots inside the school. This police action was what triggered a "trench war" between the police and the demonstrators that lasted the whole day. By the end of the day 240 people had been arrested. It was clearly this police provocation that sparked off the violence that was to continue throughout the weekend.
Thus the police and the various political sects and anarchist on the fringes of the movement were thrown into a spiral of violence. Provocation was followed by counter-provocation. So-called autonomous anarchists (autonomen), but also other young people, were surrounded and arrested by the police. This led to street battles between the police and protesters during Friday, when masked anarchists showered the police with paving stones. Shops, restaurants, and banks were vandalised when anarchists dressed in black rioted on the main avenue in the city centre. Many young people were injured, as well as some policemen. In total 500 were arrested during the weekend and 50 of those have been taken into custody and are threatened with prosecution for "violence against policemen", "violent rioting" and so on.
The AFA does not regret its actions
In the aftermath of the clashes the AFA has defended the throwing of paving stones and the smashing of windows as a "legitimate political method". At a press conference on the June 19th they declared that the throwing of stones was self-defence and the smashing of windows of McDonalds and some banks was a legitimate political action because they represent international capital. Without a doubt McDonalds and the banks are part of the capitalist system, but the autonomen should explain to us how the smashing of a few windows is going to push forward the cause of the genuine struggle against capitalism and for socialism.
The reason why Marxists condemn such acts of vandalism do not stem from moralistic aspects. Marxists stand for the total overthrow of the capitalist system and its replacement with a planned, nationalised economy under the control of the working class. We oppose such acts because they serve only to strengthen reaction. The police in Sweden are already demanding more resources and stronger legislation. This would not reduce the number of clashes but would lead to an escalation of violence between the police and the autonomen. And, more importantly, if the police do get more special powers, these will be used against any strike or demonstration which they think is disturbing public order. Therefore we repudiate the actions of the autonomen because they play into the hands of reaction and while at the same time we condemn the brutal actions of the police.
Let us take a closer look at the role of the police. Did they only act to protect the meeting and themselves? If anybody really believes this they should read the following description of what happened to the children at the Schillerska School while they sat playing cards (among which are also the children of Mats Hulth, ex-mayor of Stockholm):
"Then the doors were ripped open and the police pointed their automatic weapons at them. After that they were forced to lie face down against he wet tarmac for almost an hour, without being allowed to move an inch and with barking dogs all around them. And they received no explanation. The police were looking for terrorists. Of course, if that were the case the police could not go around with kid gloves.
However! The treatment was a shock for our children, not least because of what the police said to them. Here are some quotes from the police:
- 'You had your fun yesterday, now it is our turn.'
- 'If you are so f***ing dumb to stay here, you only have yourself to blame.'
- 'You should have gone home two days ago.'
One policeman pressed one of our boys, who hadn't done anything, against the wall, ripped his muscles so that it would hurt and said: 'Do you think this is fun? You have broken my nose. You are a fascist. You have beaten my friends. Now you are going to get it!'
The police then forced him to apologise for everything that he had not done. And just before they were allowed to stand up an order was given to the police of 'Helmets off!' so it was not possible to see any numbers and identify the police that had behaved badly. In addition the police that filmed them for identification had black masks on."
This is one description among many of the excesses of the police. Mats Hulth and the other parents managed to put their finger on the most serious aspect of the whole event:
"First we thought that there were only individual rotten apples within the police. However, when we read and heard the police chief, we were shaken. He said, 'One has to take the consequences of who one mixes with. Those that were there had chosen to be there together with terrorists.' Our children had absolutely not chosen to be with any terrorists. They had obediently stayed at the place that the (Gothenburg) Council had told them to stay at."
Behind the police chief's statement of guilt by association, one can begin to see one of the fundamental roles of the police - to defend the existing order of things, i.e. capitalism. No wonder he does not distinguish between peaceful and violent demonstrators!
None the less the police, especially the rank-and-file policemen, can be influenced by what happens around them. After the shooting in Malexander, when a group of nazi criminals shot a policeman, many rank and file police, perhaps for the first time ever, began to understood that the real threat to democratic rights comes from the right (symptomatic of this is that in the quotation above the policeman calls the violent demonstrators "fascists"). However, now the risk is that, even this initial understanding among some of the rank and file policemen, will be cut across because of their experience of the anarchists throwing heavy paving stones at them.
The Friday demonstration
Some demonstrators stayed at home on the Friday evening because of the riots that had taken place. This means that the huge demonstration on the Friday evening (20,000-25,000) could have been even bigger. This demonstration was a strong answer to the provocations organised by the police, and to the throwing of stones and the riots. After these clashes everything possible should have been done to avoid further riots. A united and disciplined movement is needed for a victorious struggle. And the bigger the struggle is the more important this is. This was also achieved during the three big demonstrations, but not before and after.
Instead the situation deteriorated during the Friday evening, through the riots on "Vasaplatsen" (a square in the richer parts of the city centre) when the police opened fire and injured three protesters. On the Saturday morning parts of this square and parts of the main avenue and the city centre were sealed off and many shops and restaurants were closed. This is one reason why the participation was lower on the Saturday demonstration and also why the audience was smaller than during the Friday demonstration. Another reason was that the organisers allowed the AFA to take part in this demonstration in contrast to the day before when they were excluded. Many were frightened by the violence and the destruction which had put the whole demonstration in a bad light. The other obvious conclusion that flows from this is therefore that the development of the struggle is hampered and weakened by the throwing of stones, the police violence and the violent riots.
The fatal tactics of the anarchists
This conclusion is of course not drawn by the AFA and the other extreme anarchist groups. They try to apply an anarchist tactic where a small militant group is supposed to precede the great mass. According to this idea, through determined and direct action, workers and youth are supposed to be "sparked" into activity. They also count on, and prepare for, violent actions because they claim that the police have a "fascist" character. They also believe that these confrontations have a positive side because they "reveal the violent nature of the state and the police", and sharpen the conflicts in society and, supposedly, get more people involved in the struggle.
Therefore they were expecting that the police should attack anyone suspected of disturbing the EU meeting, and in particular those who have shown violent tendencies previously. Neither was it surprising that the autonomen should use the demonstrations to get protection and legitimacy, only to break unity and answer the smallest provocation from the police, as soon as this fitted their aims.
For this reason the AFA and other similar groups should be excluded from the demonstrations from the beginning and isolated. This is the best way of avoiding the risk of unnecessary violent confrontations with the police. If these groups want to organise demonstrations with the aim of clashing violently with the police they should organise their own demonstrations and not seek the protection and legitimacy of the mass movement. Unable to hide behind the mass movement, these groups would not be prepared for a confrontation, and if in spite of all this they still end up clashing with the police then they would end up even more isolated.
One of the two networks (Nätverket Göteborg 2001) that organised the Friday demonstration were aware of this problem and that is why masked demonstrators were not allowed to take part. This was a message to the AFA and similar groups that they are were not welcome. There were also hundreds of stewards instructed to stop anyone breaking these rules. It is no accident that this network was dominated by the left in the labour movement, the ex-Communist Party and the anti-EU movement, while the other network (Göteborgsaktionen 2001) was a mixture of different groups with a number of ultra-left sectarians in leading positions.
This other network committed the costly mistake of accepting the AFA into its ranks and of co-operating with them in one school. Replying to a direct question, a spokesperson from this network said that the AFA had signed the "non violence" platform and that he regarded their threats of sabotage as "exaggerated jokes".
The anarchists' tactics are completely counter-productive. The mass of workers and young people do not become more politically conscious as a result of this kind of violence, but are frightened away from the struggle. Even if they had successfully disrupted the EU meeting most people's political consciousness would not have been raised. The conclusion could even have been reached that the workers' mass struggle is unnecessary, that it is enough for a little determined group to act.
As a result of the violent clashes the police have now gained popular support for more repressive measures. But these, at a later stage, will be used against strikes, demonstrations and other protests. Already the day after the EU summit the government created a working group to investigate more effective riot-fighting equipment, increasing the length of time the police can arrest people without charge and increasing the possibility of stopping people at the border.
On the Sunday, Aftonbladets' (Sweden's largest daily, majority-owned by the unions) internet edition asked its readers whether or not the police should use teargas and water canons if demonstrations get out of hand. 92.5% said yes and only 7.5% said no! This, of course, will change once people have had more time to think things through and have more experience of police repression, but it does show how the methods of groups like the AFA can actually lower the level of consciousness.
No to harder methods
The labour movement must reject all demands for "harder methods" from the police. These will mainly be directed against radical forces, workers and youth fighting for their legitimate demands. They will be used against many more than the tiny handful that use violent means. Furthermore, they would not reduce the violence between these groups and the police, but on the contrary would give another twist to the spiral of violence between the anarchists and the police.
We should also oppose the idea of a law that forbids demonstrators from wearing masks. This kind of measure would also be used against workers who have to protect themselves against employers' reprisals or political refugees who protest outside their countries' embassies.
Keeping order on demonstrations should be the responsibility of those that organise and lead the demonstrations, and it is they that should decide whether or not masks should be permitted.
Break with anarchism
Those that really want to develop a mass struggle and radicalise the labour movement cannot afford to flirt with anarchism. Of course, there are reasons why some dissatisfied youth, especially middle class students, are drawn to these ideas. They want to fight against capitalism and injustice but they are given no alternative from the leaders of the labour movement. The leadership of the Social Democracy is upholding the system. Most are drawn to more reformist anarchist groups like the SAC, but some turn to more militant groups like the AFA and Ya Basta. However, precisely because we believe that most of the youth attracted to these anarchist groups, even most of those in the AFA, actually do want a just socialist society, we do not intend to remain silent and not criticise their revolutionary romanticism and catastrophic tactics. Karl Marx himself fought against anarchism inside the First International right back in the 1860s. Since then the Marxist wing of the labour movement has always been against anarchist ideas and methods.
For a fighting socialist labour movement
One of the most important ways of offering an alternative to the anarchists and their methods is for the labour movement to mobilise for a struggle against cuts, privatisation, and unemployment and for a transformation of society. A mass demonstration, organised by the labour movement, with a mass participation of ordinary workers together with a strong organisation of stewards, would completely overshadow the anarchists and the ultra-left sects.
In spite of these incidents overshadowing the real extent of the movement that has taken place, the mass demonstrations that took place in Gothenburg are an important sign that a radicalisation is taking place, and no violent events can change that. There were mainly young people there, as they are always the first to react. Some trade union organisations did participate, although not many. This is due partly to the abstract nature of the demands and partly due to the composition of the organisations behind the demonstrations. However, the main reason is that the enormous dissatisfaction that exists among the workers has not yet matured into an open struggle, not least because the trade union leadership refuses to mobilise.
The most important thing is that the labour movement needs to change course and break with capitalism. Anarchist tendencies are the price that is paid for the betrayal on the part of the leadership of the labour movement. The recession that has begun will change things. When the struggle of the workers and the youth comes together in one common struggle to change the labour movement and the whole of society, the police and anarchist spiral of violence will be overshadowed. The work of changing the labour movement must be intensified, so that it again lives up to what it was founded for: to abolish the unjust capitalist system and create a democratic socialist society.