Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1759

How Italian state caused the violence

This article is over 20 years, 10 months old
Issue 1759

Genoa 2001

What British media ignored

How Italian state caused the violence

By Chris Harman

THE BRITISH media focused almost entirely on one aspect of the Genoa protests-the violence of a few hundred supposed anarchists belonging to the “Black Block”. They ignored how Berlusconi’s government and the Italian state deliberately encouraged violence as an excuse to attack peaceful demonstrators. This happened again and again. Luana Zanella, a parliamentary deputy for Italy’s Green Party, told the paper Il Manifesto what happened during Friday’s protests.

She was with the contingent of the “White Overalls”, people committed to non-violent direct action who wear foam padding to protect their bodies against police batons: “It all began with the incursion into the contingent of the ‘White Overalls’ of some of the Black Block, who were held in check and disarmed, not by the police, but by the White Overalls. The police could have chosen to deal with the penetration of the anarchists, but refused to and instead blocked the whole march and then charged it.”

After this, lots of young people who were not part of the Black Block began to throw things to try to keep the police back. It was during these clashes that Carlo Guliani was shot. Luca Casasiani of the White Overalls told the press:

“We have collected various photographic proofs that police agents infiltrated the contingent, and there is proof that the so called Black Block and the police acted together. We have photos of police with people dressed in black, coordinating something.”

Around the same time, about a mile away, a pacifist event was taking place. Sinead and Rosey Kirwan were with a group from Globalise Resistance, and saw what happened: “Christian Aid, mostly religious people, were selling T-shirts and handing out leaflets from stalls about Third World debt. There was a stage with religious music and jazz. Everyone was sitting on the grass drinking bottles of water and eating snacks. Then about 50 of the Black Block started coming through the square, stomping in a militarist fashion and collecting rocks to throw. The police could easily have stopped them on the road long before they got to the square but chose not to. Instead the police charged into the square and started firing teargas at the pacifists, while the Black Block ran away. The police hit a priest with a baton. People stood against a wall with their hands up, and the police hit them. People sat down with arms linked, and the police hit them.”

Police attacked peaceful protesters

THE MOST significant police attack was on the rear of the huge demonstration on Saturday. Alessandro del Largo told Il Manifesto:

“When the demonstration of some tens of thousands of peaceful and colourful people turned from the sea towards the Corso Torino, a few individuals hurled abuse at the police. The clashes which broke up the demonstration started a few minutes later. Hours later a police official told the local TV station in Genoa that ‘thousands of anarchists attacked with stones, bars and sticks’.”

Even the TV interviewer was incredulous at such a vulgar lie. “Someone had tried to infiltrate the demonstration, while the police fired teargas at the peaceful demonstrators: the Genoa Social Forum, Attac, the Catholics and Rifondazione. I saw a tall young man dressed in a black T-shirt and a red star talking amiably with a uniformed police officer.”

Sam Ashman from Socialist Worker saw what happened next: “The police fired repeated volleys of teargas and drove two armoured cars straight at protesters. Pensioners were beaten. A young woman had the bottom of her face smashed open and dripped with blood. A young man lay spreadeagled on the floor, with blood rushing out of both of his ears. Groups of demonstrators cowered at the side of the road, their arms raised in surrender, choking from the teargas, pleading with the police not to beat them.”

In Il Manifesto Astrid Dakli points to evidence that forces within the Italian state deliberately encouraged the Black Block: “The Black Block were allowed to act unhindered for days while their most important people were well known. The forces of order could have pinned them up in a small area. But instead the tactic of the forces of order was to allow them to do whatever they wanted, except sometimes they would throw some teargas at them and make small charges against them, which were meant to make them run off to some other place, or to drive them towards some unarmed demonstrators-exactly what the Black Block wanted. There are numerous reports circulating of people seeing police agents putting on the ‘uniforms’ of the Black Block shortly before the first clashes of Friday, and also of seeing many types on the streets who passed from throwing stones one minute to walking peacefully through the police lines the next.”

Who’s on the Italian left?

THE BLACK Block is made up of a very small self selected elite who act in a paramilitary manner. It keeps apart from the organising of mass demonstrations. Then it uses them as cover for attacks on property and the police.

The Black Block’s actions are very different from people who defend themselves against police attacks, like Asian youth in Bradford and Burnley. There are, however, many thousands of young people in Italy who think of themselves in some vague way as anarchists. They are stuck in dead end jobs, forced to squat and subject to repeated harassment by the police.

Not surprisingly, they want to fight back in the most militant way. This has led a few to identify with the Black Block. But others are aware that the Black Block’s methods and use of masks opens them up to police infiltration.

The fastest growing group was the White Overalls, or Ya Basta! as they are often known. They seemed to offer of way of resisting the police without turning to dangerous and counter-productive forms of violence. There were many thousands of young people behind the White Overalls contingent in Genoa.

But the police attacks must have made many wonder if there is any future in the White Overalls’ approach of merely trying to expose the state through non-violent direct action, without offering an alternative in terms of mass workers’ action.

Many youths also look to the Rifondazione. This was formed when most of the old Communist Party turned itself into a Blairite-type organisation. Unfortunately, the Rifondazione has not been clear whether it looks to the old Communist Party policy or to building working class action. It has often not provided a militant focus.

Yet in Italy, as elsewhere, there is a desperate need for a revolutionary socialist presence which helps build the wider anti-capitalist movement.

The strategy full of tension

THE PHRASE on the lips of the Italian left is “the strategy of tension”. This was used by the Italian far right in the late 1960s and early 1970s to justify attempts at massive repression. In the most spectacular and horrific example, the state and the media claimed the left carried out the planting of a bomb in a bank in Milan. One of those arrested was killed “falling” from the Milan police HQ, and another spent several years in prison.

Yet the head of Italian military intelligence admitted recently that the bomb was planted by far right forces in collusion with the secret police, and with the knowledge of the US CIA. The aim was to “criminalise dissent”. This is also the aim of Berlusconi’s government today.

He narrowly won the recent election by making promises he cannot keep as big business presses him to attack welfare provisions. His government is stuffed with hard right wingers, like his vice-premier, Fini- leader of Italy’s renamed neo-fascist party.

But Berlusconi’s government is also very weak. The “strategy of tension” is a desperate attempt to strengthen it. Bush, Blair and the other G8 leaders have given Berlusconi a helping hand.

Nazi is let loose

THE establisment Italian paper La Repubblica interviewed one of the so called anarchists, Liam “Doggy” Stevens from Birmingham. “I’m a Nazi, not an anarchist,” he told the paper. “I don’t care about the G8 or anti-globalisation bullshit. The Italian brothers invited me. They told me we wouldn’t have troubles with the police-they would allow us to do all we wanted.”

Can mass action topple the state? – See page 10

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance