42. Anti-Capitalist Movements



The anti-capitalist movement burst onto the scene at the end of the 1990s, indicating the general discontent against globalised capital and the conclusions that youth and working people were beginning to draw from their new experiences of the economic crises analysed earlier. The movement in Chiapas, Mexico from 1994 represented the first stirrings against the seemingly unstoppable forward march of globalised capitalism.

William Greider, in his book One World, Ready or Not, summed up the mood that capitalist globalisation was unstoppable: “Imagine a wondrous new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys. It is huge and mobile, something like the machines of modern agriculture but vastly more complicated and powerful. Think of this awesome machine running over open terrain and ignoring familiar boundaries. It plows [ploughs] across fields and fence rows with a fierce momentum that is exhilarating to behold and also frightening. As it goes, the machine throws off enormous mows of wealth and bounty while it leaves behind great furrows of wreckage.

“Now imagine that there are skilful hands on board, but no one is at the wheel. In fact, the machine has no wheel nor any internal governor to control the speed and direction. It is sustained by its own forward motion, guided mainly by its own appetites. And it is accelerating.”1

This view, which prevailed in the late 1990s amongst the capitalists, was shattered by the huge demonstrations against this machine of uncontrolled capitalism and globalisation. The first movement came from the heartland of capitalism itself, the US. As the high priests of global big business met in Seattle in 1999 at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit, 100,000 marchers showed their opposition. The Port of Seattle was shut down. The International Longshore Workers Union (dockers) closed all the ports on the US West Coast. Unionised construction workers walked off downtown building sites as Seattle was effectively closed down. The crowd were demonstrating their anger at the 300 multinationals that dominated world trade while a quarter of the world’s population lived on 60p a day, together with a colossal growth in the gap between rich and poor. Even uS President Clinton was compelled to say “globalisation must have a human face”.2

In Seattle itself police used armoured personnel carriers and teargas against the demonstrators. The capitalist press tended to write off the anti-capitalist/globalisation movement as the work of students and other “marginal groups”. Yet 20,000 demonstrators were brought to Seattle by the main trade union federation, the AFL-CIO. At this demonstration there were large contingents of steel workers, construction workers, dockworkers, public employees, farmers, truck drivers, teachers, machinists and every type of unionised worker in the US. There was a glaring and obvious contradiction in the fact that they were brought to Seattle by the AFL-CIO and yet this union had recently endorsed the Democratic Party and its free trade supporter, Al Gore, for the presidency in 2000.

This demonstration was the biggest mass protest and police crackdown in the US since the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and civil rights marches of the 1960s. Arguments to the effect that the students and demonstrators were prone to instigate violence, because of a few smashed shopfronts, were answered by one Filipino leader: “They are worried about a few windows being smashed. They should come and see the violence being done to our communities in the name of liberalisation of trade.”3 Seattle was a disaster for Clinton. He was shaken, like the capitalists as a whole, by the strength of the anti-WTO demonstrations and especially by the fact that the protests were unmistakably directed against corporate capitalism.

Clinton already had an atrocious record on workers’ rights. As with his ‘buddy’ Blair, anti-union measures, introduced under Reagan, had not been reversed, while casual, low-paid employment and prison labour had spread enormously under his administration. Union leaders who were present in Seattle were not there to oppose the WTO, let alone its neo-liberal, free trade philosophy. They fully endorsed this but wanted a ‘place at the table’. Yes, some of them were swayed by the strength of feeling of the demonstrators. Seattle showed that beneath the surface of prosperity, there was a huge growth of class anger at the conditions that workers were facing.

The consciousness that was emerging through these first anticapitalist demonstrations was not yet fully formed and did not draw clear class conclusions. However, big attention was being focused on Karl Marx, including by wealthy investment bankers: “The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced I am that Marx was right… Marx’s approach is the best way to look at capitalism.”4 Statements like this became quite common, even in capitalist circles from then on and particularly following the crisis of 2007-08. The violent eruptions of the system demanded an explanation, which even the capitalists themselves found in the writings of Marx. They could accept some of the diagnosis of the maladies of the system but it was another thing entirely to draw the same revolutionary conclusions as Marx. Nevertheless this favourable publicity for his works widened the possibility of extending the number of supporters for the ideas of the genuine Marxists.

The year 2000 saw further widespread anti-capitalist demonstrations: 10,000 protested in Washington against the World Bank and IMF’s exploitation of the Third World. Again, there were arrests – 1,300, including six members of Socialist Alternative, the US co-thinkers of the CWI. In London on May Day a very significant and impressive 10,000 strong anti-capitalist demonstration took place which saw the participation, for the first time in a long time, of a new generation prepared to confront the system.  This represented a break from the consciousness of the 1990s, which was dominated by triumphalist capitalism. Then, single issues tended to dominate the outlook of young people, making it difficult to generalise and pose the need for the socialist alternative. The ‘apathy’ of young people towards ‘politics’, constantly played up and exaggerated by the press and the rest of the media, was in fact an expression of the rejection of capitalist politics.

Taken aback at the scale of the May Day demonstration at first, the outbreak of clashes generated a campaign of vitriol from press and politicians who attacked the participants. New Labour, as well as the press, seized on the trashing of a McDonald’s and graffiti sprayed on the Cenotaph to justify their venom. They also used the term ‘riots’ to describe the events on May Day in an attempt to smear the anti-capitalists.

We countered this: “Of course, the painting on the Cenotaph will understandably have upset many ordinary working-class people, particularly the generation who fought or lived through World War Two.”5 However, as a protester was defacing Churchill’s statue, a former soldier said: “Churchill was an exponent of capitalism… The Cenotaph is a monument to ordinary soldiers and I’m an ordinary soldier.”6 The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, predictably expressed outrage at this ‘violence’. Yet he still had blood on his hands from the cowardly bombing campaign in the Balkans, with worse to come in the obscenity of the invasion of Iraq.

The real violence came from the police and the state on that day. Members of the Socialist Party were illegally corralled and detained, denied the right to go to the toilet for hours in a police cordon. Lois Austin, a prominent Socialist Party member and active in its ranks since she was a teenager, was amongst those who were prevented by the police from collecting her child from nursery. As a result of this police harassment, she took legal action in the British courts and right up to the European Court of Human Rights. She and the Socialist Party did not get justice from the inherently biased capitalist legal system, which was used to justify the vicious methods of the police on this day. However, the publicity generated helped to make people, particularly the labour movement, more aware at the encroachment on civil liberties presided over by Blair and his Cabinet. In other cities and on other continents, the anti-capitalist demonstrators dogged the footsteps of the leaders of capitalism wherever they met. A three-day protest against the capitalist World Economic Forum in Melbourne, Australia took place in what was one of the biggest anti-capitalist demonstrations in Australia’s history. Ten thousand, mainly building and manufacturing workers, came out on strike for the day to march in solidarity with young people. Socialist Party members rose to the occasion, resisting the political pressure from government and media and the beatings from the police. This represented a big change in Australian politics.

Thousands of workers and even more young people came out onto the streets for 72 hours of continual action against capitalism.

The meeting of the World Economic Forum at the Crown Towers Hotel, which was blockaded, saw 1,000 of the world’s richest chief executive officers meet to discuss furthering their neoliberal agenda. ‘S11’, coordinating the protest within which the Socialist Party operated, independently visited 60 schools to build support. This prompted the police to visit schools warning of “left-wing terrorists” in S11, singling out in particular the Socialist Party. Australia’s highest-selling paper said about the Committee for a Workers’ International: “This international linking of extremist groups is a true threat to globalisation.”7 Within S11, it was only the Socialist Party who had members in the unions and was therefore able to lobby them to strike and march with the students: “The school student strike was brilliant with 500 students jogging down in formation at 9am to join the blockade that had begun two hours earlier”. Ten thousand unionists downed tools and marched in four separate rallies to the blockade, with divisions opening up between the more militant workers and unions and the conservative official leadership.8

Later in the year, a massive demonstration of up to 100,000 trade unionists and young people, socialists, anti-capitalists and environmentalists marched in Nice, France, demanding a “different agenda for Europe”. There were big trade union contingents plus youth and organisations from across Europe, including Poland, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey, indicating how the movement had spread on a European and world level. 10,000 protested in Washington against the World Bank and the IMF’s exploitation of the Third World. At the same time, stock markets lost £2 trillion in share value worldwide in what the financial press wrote off as “jitters”. In fact, the stock market falls showed that the bubble of the world share boom was bursting.

In early January, nearly 5,000 delegates from 117 countries gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil– most of them however, from Brazil itself – to attend the World Social Forum and debate the issue of globalisation and an alternative. For many at the forums, their alternative consisted of ‘humanising globalisation’ or ‘democratising the international institutions’. On the principle ‘if you can’t beat them join them’, the French government sent a minister to the gathering, who argued that Porto Alegre was not in opposition to Davos – where the billionaires of capitalism met regularly – but was complementary! This was answered by supporters of the CWI, particularly at the Intercontinental youth camp, where socialist ideas dominated and attracted more than 2,000 who camped out, discussed and debated. This camp agreed a manifesto: “A different world, a socialist one, is possible.”9 This indicated the divisions taking place within the anti-globalisation movement between those who wished to confine its role to just criticising ‘unacceptable’ aspects of capitalism but not the system as a whole and those with a class analysis who wished to go much further.

We welcomed the development of this movement which, as we have seen, was international in character with demonstrations and movements reverberating from one continent to another. We saw it as an opportunity to develop a more rounded-out class consciousness, although in the first period in particular it included large sections of idealistic young people with some participation of workers. However, the working class did not dominate this movement, partly because the trade union leaderships largely stood aside allowing muddled radical intellectuals to set the tone. There was no question that the working class was open to the ideas that were raised by this movement and in some cases did participate in the demonstrations in large numbers, as was seen in France and later in Genoa. Despite this, it was those like Susan George and Walden Bello whose ideas were to the fore in the first stage of the movement.

Walden Bello had at least been an activist in the struggle to oust the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines as well as a commentator. He predicted the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which he described as the “Stalingrad of the IMF”, the implication being this was that organisation’s ‘beginning of the end’. Unfortunately, this is still not the case decades later. Like all the institutions of capitalism their demise is linked to the struggle against the system as a whole. Walden Bello also made trenchant criticisms of the WTO and correctly pointed out that the founding of this organisation in 1994-95 was “the apogee of capitalism in the era of globalisation”. He was clearly pessimistic: “Socialism had collapsed and the Washington consensus seemed to carry all before it.”

Susan George, Naomi Klein and Walden Bello made valuable contributions in denouncing neoliberal policies. However, Susan George was wrong to suggest in a speech at Porto Alegre that neoliberalism and its policies – the application of new technology, privatisation, depression of wages and part-time working – was a “totally artificial construct”. We pointed out that these policies had grown out of the largely unconscious economic developments in capitalism itself, dating from the late 1970s. They began to be implemented in a big way in the early 1980s and particularly in the 1990s.

A huge boost to the capitalists’ ability to implement these policies was furnished by the collapse of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. This made possible the ideological commitment to ‘the dictatorship of the market’ made by ex-social democratic, ex-‘communist’ leaders of mass workers’ organisations. A more serious deficiency of Susan George and others who sought to lead the anticapitalist movement was the lack of a viable alternative from these writers and thinkers. She declared in her Porto Alegre speech: “Let’s  make clear that we are ‘pro-globalisation’, we are in favour of sharing friendship, culture, cuisine, travel, solidarity, wealth and resources worldwide. We are above all ‘pro-democracy’ and ‘pro-planet’, which our adversaries most clearly are not.”

Yet their alternative did not go beyond the system itself. She was a member of ‘ATTAC’10, which originated in France and was among the most prominent proponents of the Tobin tax. This suggested a levy on certain currency transactions, which we supported as a step forward, but recognising it would not seriously undermine capitalism, even if it was implemented. In Porto Alegre however ATTAC, if anything, stood on the right of the conference. It was they who were invited to the event with the French ‘socialist’ ministers and past ministers, who were roundly booed by the participants. Susan George also declared: “I’m sorry to admit it but I haven’t the slightest idea what ‘overthrowing capitalism’ means in the early 21st century. Maybe we will witness what the philosopher Paul Virilio has called the ‘global accident’ but it would surely be accompanied by enormous human suffering. If all the financial and stock markets suddenly collapsed, millions would be thrown out onto the pavement as large and small firms failed, bank closures would far outstrip the capacity of governments to prevent catastrophe, insecurity and crime would run rampant and we would find ourselves living in the Hobbesian hell of the war against all. Call me reformist if you like – I want to avoid such a future.”

This “hell” actually came to pass later in the wake of the 2007-08 crash. We, the Marxists, prepared for this and warned the working class in broad outline that this was the likely outcome of a continuation of capitalism. We support all reforms which benefit working people, contrary to what Susan George implied but we recognised then and now that the struggle for such improvements in the lives of the working class is inextricably bound up with the need to change society in a socialist direction. Susan George and those who led the anti-capitalist movement at this stage were blind to the ruinous economic and social trends within capitalism, which were to explode later. The anti-capitalist movement posed indirectly the question of world socialism. The global struggle for this was and remains the real answer to globalised, rapacious capitalism. This is the message that we sought to drive home in our intervention in this important movement.

The working class was then, and even more so today after the tumultuous events of recent years, evidently the main force in society which can bring about change. It was not perhaps as clear when the anti-capitalist movement first developed, but it is striking today the way the working class, when it asserts its power, is the strongest force in society. Witness the number of general strikes and near general strikes in Europe – over 30 in Greece alone – the mass revolutionary demonstrations in Egypt, Brazil and elsewhere.

Naomi Klein wrote: “Direct action is all that is left between Exxon and the Alaskan wildlife reserves.” The highest form of ‘direct action’ – as opposed to ‘directionless action’ – is the mass mobilisation of the working class in struggle: the strike, mass demonstrations, the general strike and the taking power out of the hands of the tiny band of billionaires and placing it in the hands of working-class people.11

Before May Day 2001, the traditional international Labour Day, Mark Seddon, editor of the left-wing Tribune newspaper, writing in the Independent pointed out: “The TUC will be elsewhere. No official demonstration is planned. With the honourable exceptions of the rail unions and their supporters, the streets may echo to smashing glass and raucous tones… this may be the shape of things to come.”12 In other words, the absence of the organised trade union movement, orchestrated by the right-wing, for movements like this meant that others could steer it in a false direction. We declared that the time was ripe to move beyond the mood of “anti-the system” to a specifically socialist approach. Mass demonstrations followed in 2001 in London again, in Québec, Canada, in Gothenburg in Sweden and above all in Genoa. The latter stood out, firstly, because it signified the huge opposition against capitalism involving big sections of workers as well as young people and secondly, unfortunately, because of the death of a young worker, Carlo Giuliani, which had enormous political repercussions in Italy and beyond.  Millions protested on May Day worldwide against capitalism. Yet Blair said this was because they wanted to confront the police in unsupported “spurious causes”. The Socialist answered this slander by pointing to the attacks that were being made against working people: “20% of the world’s six billion people to live on less than $2 a day; ten million children under-five each year to die from preventable diseases; half a million mothers to die in childbirth from complications that can be prevented with proper healthcare; 113 million children globally get no chance to go to school; 100,000 IT workers across the world to be sacked in the space of ten days. The combined wealth of the world’s seven richest people (according to the UN) to be worth more than the poorest 48 countries.”13

As mentioned earlier, on May Day itself hundreds of Socialist Party members joined thousands in defiance of over-the-top policing, with threats to use rubber bullets, to demonstrate against capitalism in London and other cities in Britain. However, the thousands who turned out were not intimidated. At all the demos there were many young people who had never been to a protest before and over 10,000 people demonstrated. All day police tactics hemmed in people in protest gatherings around the capital, using a technique known as ‘kettling’ (because it builds up pressure). One line of riot police would block the road while others drove protesters back, trapping people in between. Nevertheless, over 400 copies of The Socialist were sold with over 50 people filling in forms to join the Socialist Party. Shamefully, women were forced to go to the toilet on the streets; the singer Billy Bragg was compelled to argue with police officers to get one woman out. Sympathetic barristers mobilised pressure for the release of demonstrators.

At the mass rally on May Day in the Hackney Empire, workers gathered to hear the only Labour councillor to support the borough’s workers in their recent struggle. He condemned his Labour Council leaders as “‘political whores’ who had an ‘odious coalition with Tory crooks’”.14

Next was the turn of Québec, with 34 leaders from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean convening in Québec to establish a new ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’ (FTAA). This free trade zone generated huge anger and created one of the most radical movements in recent Canadian history, with over 50,000 young people, workers and environmentalists converging on Québec City to oppose it. Some union leaders said they wanted to reform this body but most demonstrators wanted it abolished. Québec City was turned into a battlefield with confrontations engulfing the city and police carrying out 400 arrests. A huge barricade, the ‘wall of shame’, to protect ‘America’s leaders’ was torn down by youths while tear gas floated above the city. Unbelievably, the labour leaders in the city refused to march to the area of the summit. Instead, they marched out to the suburbs, leaving the militant youth on their own to confront the police.

Socialist Alternative was critical of the organisers, who did not have proper stewarding for the demonstration. Clare Doyle on behalf of the CWI reported: “Quebec was indeed an event that none of the residents of that historic French-speaking city will quickly forget. Eye-witnesses were shocked at the ferocity of the police attacks on predominately young and peaceful demonstrators. They looked on, full of admiration for the courageous demonstrators making a stand against what they believe to be an unfair society.”

She reported the comments of a former federal government minister who observed the events: “To my horror, the police… fired teargas canisters directly at those sitting or standing on the road… (We) felt our eyes sting and our throats bake.” Clare observed: “Many protesters saw themselves as socialists, even if they were not sure what socialism was and exactly what was needed in order to achieve it. This must, to some extent, reflect the fighting, revolutionary history of France, as well as of the French-speaking people of Québec. Québec has all the militant traditions of the French, without the negative experience of Jospin – the [then] ‘Socialist Party’ Prime Minister of France – who has carried through more privatisation and anti-working-class policies than the previous Conservative regime. Canada too, as a whole, has strong traditions of struggle and powerful trade union organisations. All these traditions will be revived as the economy moves into recession”. The New Democratic Party (NDP) – once a party of labour – made a point of being on the streets of Québec, although they failed to put forward a socialist alternative. Only Brazilian President Cardoso and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela dissented from the final communiqué.15

George Bush, the illegitimate occupier of the White House because of the fiddling of the ‘hanging chads’ in Florida following the presidential election, went to the European Union leaders meeting before their Gothenburg summit to sell ‘Son of Star Wars’ to them. At the same time, in a calculated insult to anti-capitalist demonstrators, he made it clear that his government did not care about the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The response was 15,000 participating in a demonstration, making it clear that “Bush was not welcome.” On 14 June, the day after Bush left, 20,000 took to the streets to protest against the EU and the European Monetary Union. This mainly peaceful demonstration was the biggest held in Sweden for many years. Yet the police shot three people and then utilised this to unleash a propaganda barrage against the growing anti-capitalist movement in general and socialists in particular.

Per Olsson, on behalf of our sister organisation Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS – Socialist Justice Party), reported: “One quarter of Sweden’s total police force were in Gothenburg to protect Bush and politicians attending the summit – the biggest police mobilisation ever in Sweden”. The establishment used the riot that erupted on Friday, 15 June, the destruction and the vandalism that followed in its wake, to attack the anti-capitalist movement in general and the socialist left in particular. Nearly 1,000 demonstrators were arrested and held by police for six hours during these three days. Three people were shot by the police, one critically injured and more than 60 were taken to hospital. The ‘democratic’ Swedish media reported that the police simply said the demonstrators were to blame!

We made it quite clear that socialists do not advocate smashing shop windows as a means of political protest, as some of the left-anarchist types of organisations do. These events came as a shock and there were even people from the main protest organisation ‘Gothenburg 200’, who argued that the following day’s demonstration should be cancelled. Despite this, members of RS were instrumental in convincing others that the demonstration should go ahead.16

Joe Higgins, Irish Socialist Party td, spoke at the demonstration, to applause. He denounced police brutality. This ‘police riot’ went down in Sweden’s history as ‘Black Friday’. The violent clashes that took place shocked Swedish society with its tradition of social peace and pacifism. These events had made a mockery of the claim of the Swedish ruling class that they wished for ‘dialogue’ with the anticapitalists. A campaign of denigration ensued with Blair, predictably, joining in and attempting to criminalise the anti-capitalists.

These events produced a split within the anti-capitalist movement itself. The CWI issued a statement condemning the state violence against demonstrators and its attempt to use the events “to unleash a propaganda barrage against the growing anti-capitalist movement in general and socialists in particular”.17 On the other hand, one of the organisations behind the demonstrations, ATTAC, split on the issue. Many condemned the provocations of the Gothenburg police. Others condemned the demonstrators and defended the police who “fired – in self-defence – at violent hooligans”. Susan George, who was at the Gothenburg protest, claimed that the police were provoked by “acts of violence”. She did not condemn clearly the Swedish police, even though she had explained the day before that the rioting was in response to the police breaking prior agreements on the demonstration. The effect of George’s statement was to aid the campaign to criminalise the more radical anti-capitalist campaigners.18

The more serious strategists of capitalism, however, were beginning to recognise the strength of the movements and the damage it had inflicted on their global institutions. George Soros, the notorious speculator, admitted that there was “considerable justification” for criticism of global capitalism’s “present arrangements”. The antiglobalisation movement, he said, “may have a violent fringe, but there’s some very serious forces and movements involved.”19 This indicated that they were losing the argument as more and more workers and poor peasants worldwide were losers and victims of capitalist globalisation.

After the violence of Gothenburg there was enormous tension in Italy and beyond as a major demonstration loomed in Genoa. This proved to be the high point of the movement as a 300,000 strong demonstration mobilised in the city on 21 July and the days following. The main organisers of the week-long protests, the Genoa Social Forum, had not expected more than 120,000 for the international march. In the event, there was a massive show of solidarity and protest in the face of an aroused bloody-minded Italian police force. Huge contingents marched under the red banners of Rifondazione Comunista (pRC) and the Young Communists, and there were massive contingents from the trade unions: CGIL, metal workers (FIOM), the independent union COBAS and many other workers’ groups.

Lined up along the seafront, before the private bathing beaches of the Italian Riviera, were seemingly endless ranks of young people and trade union activists from all over Italy and different parts of Europe and the world. They were met with teargas, with many demonstrators choking and fearing that the violence of Gothenburg would be repeated by the police or worse. Some groups were cornered by the Genoa cops and forced to walk past them, their hands raised in the air. Some were chased from the streets onto the beaches with a cloud of crippling fumes engulfing them. Others were forced to flee through the narrow streets of Genoa. Every time they tried to regroup and find the main body of the march, they were forced against the steep sides of Genoa’s mountains.

Clare Doyle, who participated in this demonstration with many other members of the CWI, commented: “Luckily, it was in this part of the town that most Genoese workers live. Few of them had the luxury of leaving town. In spite of all that had gone on the day before, the local population gave enormous material and moral support to the demonstrators. Berlusconi had called on all local residents to make sure there was no underwear hanging on their washing lines when the important people of the world came to town (an edict unheard of since Mussolini’s time).”20 In fact, the population did the opposite, just as they did when Mussolini invited Hitler to Genoa. There was massive violence by the forces of the state, particularly the police. Medical organisers said that 150 medics had been called out 500 times. One young demonstrator, Carlo Giuliani, was murdered by the riot police and the perpetrators of this crime are still walking free today.

We were unaware at the time that a police spy had been deployed within our ranks. He was known to us as ‘Carlo Neri’. He accompanied Clare Doyle and me when we later visited Italy to discuss with co-thinkers! He was present in Genoa, ostensibly in our ‘camp’ but gathering intelligence for the state and police. The full scope of underhand and anti-democratic methods by the police was only revealed in 2016.

Protests were organised outside the Italian Embassy in London against the police attacks. Hannah Sell, who had just arrived back from Genoa, was interviewed by BBC regional news and commented: “If the world’s capitalist leaders are so keen to hear our socialist views on ending world poverty and the anti-capitalist alternative, why did they send in police to smash our demonstration?”21

The repercussions of Genoa were felt throughout Italy, Europe and the world. Metalworkers held a half-day strike. Demonstrations took place in Milan, Turin and Bologna, with thousands participating, against the Italian state violence. In Genoa, the memory of past fascist-inspired violence immediately provoked more opposition. In reality, the Italian trade union leaders should have called for a general strike, first in Genoa and then preparing similar action on a national scale. This was not just an attack on Carlo Giuliani, but an attempt to intimidate the working class and labour movement as a whole. There was also a savage attack on the Genoa Social Forum’s media centre and the illegal detention and torture of protesters by clearly fascist members of the security services.

On 24 July, there were protest demonstrations in many Italian cities. Robert Bechert pointed out in the Socialist: “Many remember that in the 15 years up to 1960, 94 Italians were killed during strikes or protests. Then, as the workers’ movement gathered  strength in the late 1960s and 1970s, the fascists and their police supporters started their ‘strategy of tension’ that led up to the August 1980 fascist bombing of Bologna railway station that killed 85 people.” Fini, the ‘post-fascist’ Deputy Prime Minister to Berlusconi, suddenly took command of security operations. There were reports that some of those illegally arrested in the media centre raid were forced to salute pictures of Mussolini and sing the fascist song Faccetta Nera!

An important factor involved in these events was the role of the PRC, the workers’ party that many looked towards. However, the PRC had supported the ‘Olive Tree’ government, formed from ex-communists, socialists and Christian Democrats, that attacked living standards. In its paper Liberazione, it admitted: “We have voted for cuts amounting to 100,000 billion lira”. Little wonder then that in the previous May elections, its vote collapsed. There existed at one stage great potential for this party. Moreover, its supporters were predominant in the huge contingent of Italian workers who attended the great Genoa demonstration.22 However, moving towards the right, supporting different bourgeois coalitions, combined with a failure to work out a clear revolutionary programme, has meant that this party has now (effectively) disappeared from the Italian political scene.

It is a warning of what could happen elsewhere, especially when new parties of the working class are formed then fail to work out a rounded-out socialist perspective and programme. The anti-capitalist movement was not completely crushed by the events of Genoa, but the writing was on the wall. However, the experience in this movement was an important, even a necessary prelude, in preparing for the important workers’ movements that developed in the course of the next decade. It was also a training ground for the development of a new generation who went on to intervene and play a key role later in the workers’ movement.