Socialist Worker

Blair's wrong take on Genoa

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1761

I DO sometimes wonder whether someone as successful as Tony Blair can really be as stupid as he often seems. The Financial Times carried an astonishing article last week that plainly came straight from the great man himself:

'During the G8 economic summit, the prime minister was seized with a fierce determination to take on the protesters whose 'simplistic' message seemed to speak to him of the worst excesses of the old unreformed Labour Party. Mr Blair has told friends that while the events in Genoa were 'unacceptable', they might actually prove 'helpful' to those fighting for the cause of free trade and economic liberalisation. Mr Blair is rarely happier than when taking on the old left and friends say Genoa has given him a useful political compass and that most valuable of assets-a clearly defined enemy...Now Mr Blair feels he has his own fight, on his own terms, that also gives him ammunition against Labour Party members back home who would resist other changes such as his public service reforms.'

What a vain and silly man Blair is. He doesn't seem to have noticed that Genoa has created an enormous political furore throughout Europe whose main focus is not the 'unacceptable' behaviour of the protesters, but the violence of the Italian state.

Blair seems to think the anti-capitalist movement is like the old Labour left. Confused and demoralised by 15 years of defeat, they proved easy meat when he took over the party leadership in 1994.

But the anti-capitalist movement represents, above all, the entry of a new generation into political activity. Far from being demoralised and defeated, this new left has been growing in strength and confidence with success after success-Seattle, Prague, Quebec City, Genoa...

If Blair wants to make explicit the connection between his defence of global capitalism and his plans to privatise public services he'll be doing us a favour. Meanwhile, other more astute social democratic politicians are pursuing another strategy. Compare, for example, the response to Genoa of the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin:

'While denouncing the violence to which a minority resorts on the pretext of denouncing the ravages of globalisation, France rejoices in the worldwide emergence of a citizens' movement, in as much as it expresses the wish of the majority of mankind better to share the potential fruits of globalisation.'

This attempt to embrace the anti-capitalist movement in order to draw its teeth is much more dangerous than the kind of frontal attack mounted by Blair. For Genoa was such a volcanic event that it caused considerable political confusion. The leaders of ATTAC, the movement originating in France against international financial speculation, were already panicky after the riots at the European Union summit in Gothenburg in June. Genoa has made them even more so.

Susan George writes in a piece due to appear in the next issue of Socialist Review, 'I cannot now in conscience encourage our members to put life and limb on the line' by participating in violent demonstrations.

What this kind of reaction fails to recognise is that the police violence was a failure. It did not succeed in intimidating people from coming to Genoa. On the contrary, on Saturday 21 July 300,000 people marched through the city in a united, militant and confident demonstration that denounced the police as murderers.

In other words, Genoa showed not just the ruthlessness with which our rulers will defend the system, but also that the most powerful weapon against them is mass mobilisation.

Interestingly, one group that previously pursued elitist tactics is showing signs of a rethink. The White Overalls movement in Italy has relied on highly trained and specially armoured experts to break through police lines on demonstrations. This strategy went disastrously wrong in Genoa. Massive concentrations of police attacked and broke up the White Overalls march long before it got near the walled-off Red Zone around the summit.

Now Luca Casarini, the leader of the White Overalls, is talking about a shift from 'civil disobedience' towards 'social disobedience', with the recent metal workers' strikes and struggles against neo-liberal policies in health and education. That's a step in the right direction.

With leaders like Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi forcing through privatisation programmes, the fight against global capitalism is becoming a matter of the everyday struggles we have to wage in our own societies.


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Sat 11 Aug 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1761
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