Socialist Worker

System based on violence

Issue No. 1712

what do socialists say?

System based on violence

"VIOLENCE IS inevitable," claimed a Guardian feature on the anti-capitalist protests against the International Monetary Fund/World Bank annual summit planned for Prague during the last week in September. It claimed such fears exist because of "riots at last November's World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle, and at an IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington last April".

It went on to say: "Special Branch has been liaising with counterparts in the Czech Republic and four officers from the Scotland Yard's Public Order Unit flew to the capital last week for talks with police chiefs. Earlier this year 24 senior Czech officers were sent to the FBI's headquarters in Washington for training. Three months later the agency's chief went to Prague to discuss contingency plans... The Czechs have also been working with Interpol in the hope of identifying protesters from Germany, Poland and Scandinavia."

The Guardian, by the tone of its reporting, attempts to justify an open conspiracy between Czech police chiefs-whose careers started under the country's pre-1989 Stalinist regime-and police and secret police chiefs in the West. The police, it seems, only have to shout the magic word "violence" and anything they then do is excusable.

Yet 95 percent of violence in Seattle was carried out by police using pepper gas, teargas and truncheons against people sitting in the road taking non-violent action.

There was no "riot" at Washington, but the systematic harassment of demonstrators by huge numbers of police. And even the Czech president Vaclav Havel has criticised the police and media scare tactics for making out that "it is as if we are getting ready for civil war".

There will be 20,000 people planning acts of violence in Prague that week. They will be the delegates and advisers attending the IMF/World Bank conference. Their organisations impose policies on countries that lead to rich people getting still richer and poor people suffering.

They do so whenever governments find it difficult to meet the burden of paying interest on previous debts-often incurred by long-overthrown dictators. They lend a little extra money to such governments. But they insist the debts continue to be repaid and "neo-liberal" policies are adopted-drastic welfare cuts, privatisation, reduced taxes on the rich, "labour flexibility" laws, an end to price subsidies, and dismantling barriers to the multinationals.

Such actions have a much more violent impact than breaking a couple of shop windows in Seattle or on 1 May in London. IMF programmes lead many countries to spend more on debt repayments than on the health and education systems combined. People who need medicines do not get them and die.

The IMF has killed them just as surely as if it had shot them in the head, all in the interests of making sure that rich people get richer. But, of course, such routine, institutionalised killing never gets called "violence" by supposedly liberal papers such as the Guardian. The Czech police, the FBI, Special Branch and Interpol do not intend to spy on the IMF and arrest its leaders for conspiracy to cause violence.

Instead, those who run the media and the police are doing their utmost to deter people from going to Prague to oppose such institutional violence.

Bronterre O'Brien, a leader of the first working class movement, the Chartists in Britain in the 1830s, wrote: "The rich are now what they have ever been...merciless and irreclaimable... Against such an enemy it's a farce to talk of moral force. It is the overwhelming fear of an overwhelming force which will alone ever conquer them to humanity." His words remain true today.

This is shown every time the IMF and the World Bank impose their policies on a country in the interests of the world's richest people. We still need to build a movement capable of deploying the "overwhelming force" that alone can stop such behaviour. Seattle and Washington were not riots. They were non-violent protests. They represented steps towards building an overwhelming movement. And so will Prague. This worries media and police chiefs more than a few broken panes of glass. Hence their hysteria.


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Sat 2 Sep 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1712
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