The run up to Prague reminded me of the big C.N.D. marches in London in the mid 1980s. You started off thinking that thousands of people marching around London somehow made a difference. In the end you went just to see other political activist friends from around the country. I don't think it's right to parachute into a place as a political tourist. I think it is more revolutionary to organise anti-capitalist activity where you live. I helped organise the anti-I.M.F. / World Bank demo in Glasgow. However, I still went to Prague because I wanted to see a friend who was going to be their, travelling with a Hungarian non-government organisation delegation.
FRIDAY September 22nd
I ended up going to the Vltavska Cultural Centre and listening to Silvia Federici speak as part of the INPEG organised counter summit. She put me in mind of a female Noam Chomsky and I mean that as a compliment. She made a number of good points including how the World Bank had incorporated green and feminist language into its P.R., without actually changing what it did on the ground. Non-government organisations have also been incorporated into the World Bank system, particularly in health care, giving the World Bank credibility it doesn't deserve. Another good point she made was that anti-capitalist movements need to include women, the subsistence farmers, the homeworkers, not just the interests of certain sectors of the white male working class. She also referred to a debate within the movement, about whether to scrap or reform the World Bank. To me this is a False debate. If the World Bank is scrapped with the rest of the capitalist society intact, the ruling-class will simply create another institution to ensure the rich get richer off the backs of the poor. I did plan to go to several presentations from people like Andrew Flood of the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland and Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, as well as the trade union and labour movement workshops. As usually happens on these occasions any plans went out the window on the first day.
SATURDAY September 23rd
I went to the INPEG Convergence Centre and took part in a street action workshop. there was a great deal of confusion at the start as new arrivals were briefed, as to what had already been decided. The march would split into three sections to make sure all sides of the I.M.F./ world Bank Congress Centre were blocked.
The intention this time was to block the delegates in. It was obvious that the marches could be blocked by the police at any time. But there was room for autonomous affinity groups to make their own way to the congress centre. Other contingency plans were also being made for blockading the World Bank Opera and banquet as well as the hotels where the delegates were staying. I was impressed by the level of organisation for the demonstration. What does concern me is that all the facilitators were white males from the west and almost certainly middle-class backgrounds. To put it simply the capitalist system is an unfair economic system. It requires an unfair social hierarchy i.e. the class system fore it's maintenance. So it is more than just a little ironic that people from privileged backgrounds should take on leadership roles in an anti-capitalist movement. I tend to find this type of direct action elitist. It is mostly the preserve of healthy young men. Where are the people with families, a large part of any population. Where were the ordinary local Czechs who weren't part of the political activist ghetto? This is a very real problem.
SUNDAY 24th September
I attended some of the panel discussions at the Domovina Cultural Centre that included Naomi Klein, Mark Levine, an American activist, Andrew and Silvia Federici. Maybe its good to have people who are good at articulating ideas, but I can't help feeling suspicious of a movement that creates stars and puts them on a platform. it was also unfortunate that, generally speaking, the revolutionary / radical panelists were from the West while the reformist panelists were from the East. Boris Kagarlitzky called himself a socialist, but was basically a reformist politician who played to the crowd by making cliched jokes about the soviet system. One good point he did make was to compare the planned soviet economy to that of the western capitalists who would deny there was any similarities. he told the story of how the Russians built an airport for a country in tropical Africa. Some of the locals looked at some strange vehicles and asked what they were. They were snow-ploughs, the airport was based on a siberian model and everything had to be included. Today World Bank schemes are just as inappropriate.
The S.W.P and other authoritarian Marxist-Leninists tried to hijack the Counter Summit. Rather than contribute to the debate they used their time at the microphone to lecture the audience reading out long, boring party statements. I'm wary of criticising INPEG, because of the massive amount of work they put into organising the whole event. Although the chair asked people not to read from prepared statements, but to address the points made by the panelists he would not stop them when they started their lecturing. A more workshop based discussion would have produced a more in depth debate.
I didn't make it to one of the counter-summit venues so maybe I'm not being fair and the level of debate was better their. I'm not a liberal. these people should not have been allowed in. Their recent propaganda has tried to make their authoritarianism, but their actions show that their main concern is still the gaining of political power for their leadership off the backs of ordinary people.
During the panel session it became known that a train of 1000 Italian comrades had been stopped at the border. 20 of them had been refused entry and everyone else refused to leave the train, in solidarity. We went off to the Ministry of Interior to protest. We missed the demo, but things were still at a stalemate, as INPEG refused to talk to government officials in private.
Fortunately we were next to the starting point of the Parade Finale. Unfortunately the march turned out to be like every other drab leftie demo I had ever been on. There was only about 2000 people on it. Where was the promised carnival atmosphere? The march was supposed to be a rehearsal for S26. I began to have serious doubts that it would be a success. I stopped worrying after going to the Art of Resistance Festival that night. There were excellent drummers and fire eaters and I felt relieved that someone here knew how to have a party.
MONDAY 26th September
I went to some N.G.O. organised video organised video showings. I watched a documentary about a coal plant project in Singrali, India funded by the World Bank. 390,000 people have been dispossessed of their land to make way for the coal plant and its pollution of local farmland. Their land was their only real means of staying out of poverty.
I have read all about the Structural Adjustment Programmes and such like in the N.G.O. reports on the World Bank. They are quite simply boring. To me all you need to know is that the World Bank/I.M.F. are just two more mechanisms for the rich to get richer off the backs of the poor. Why should I give a fuck about people living thousands of miles away that I know little about? What relevance has it for the people where I live. The images of human suffering and resistance brought it home to me.
Many of the NGO people had not considered taking part in the demonstration until my friend persuaded them otherwise. Many of them are disillusioned with the reformism and lobbying of their organisations. I joined one of these NGO affinity groups. It was amazing to be in a group of Hungarians, several Latvians, a Malaysian and the odd Pole. In fact a very odd pole. Even if I did nothing else mixing with people from all over eastern europe was extremely enriching in itself. At the end of the day I'm an ordinary person from a small city with a lot of people with very small minds. I would never have imagined when I was growing up I would be mixing with such a rich variety of people. Special mention must be made to the Georgians for their special contribution to international cooperation by bringing two bottles of Georgian vodka to the NGO party on the Friday night. it smelt like hair spray, but tasted amazing, straight, and that's from someone who doesn't normally like vodka.
TUESDAY 26th September
The march started off in the same disappointing manner as the march on Sunday. Apparently too few people, too many trots, not enough carnival. Then we hit the road bridge to the to the Congress Centre and everything changed. announcements were made in at least six different languages telling people exactly what was going on and where they needed. Ya-Basta were at the front lined up against the black-clad czech riot police in their white home-made riot suits. for those people who think rioting is carried out by a lot of macho dickheads I will have one enduring image in my head. A tiny Italian woman wandered around the crowd trying to find a stick from a placard, that she was hardly bigger than, to defend herself from the riot police.
No-one in the affinity group I was part of wanted to get arrested so we continued with the pink part of the march to the south-side of the Congress Centre. when we arrived we found the riot police already blocking one of the exits. We had agreed not to risk arrest by taking part in the blockades. But when we got their new possibilities opened up to us. We spent a couple of hours running back from spokescouncils trying to get people to blockade both nearby exits and get reinforcements from other areas. The Pink section was supposed to be the biggest blockade but we were pretty thin on the ground. Looking back I think this was used as a bluff to the authoritiers, but it also meant many of the demonstrators were probably being manipulated by the organisers.
The blockade of the two exits did happen eventually, but by that time we had gone off to help a small group of Spanish comrades blockading another two exits. World Bank delegates were trying to sneak out by these quieter exits on foot. In many ways this was a good thing, because you could see the look on their faces when we sent them back. Their safety bubble had been burst. Idid let one aggressive guy on a bicycle through, because he appeared to only have an ordinary czech ID. However, after he had gone a local czech said he was a plainclothes cop. I still felt good. For once we were the ones asking the cops for their ID and we were deciding who could pass.
As 6p.m. approached things started to look as if they were about to kick off. The World Bank Congress was scheduled to finish at six and most of the delegates were expected to leave then. Riot police were moving down the main road clearing the exits, chasing the Pink/ Silver Samba band. A cyclist warned us that we should leave because of the approaching riot police. We decided to stay.
For a few hours these streets were ours and we weren't prepared to give them up so easily. the riot police cleared the main road below, but it was then claimed back. We managed to stop a water cannon. I had to respect the non-violent views of the rest of the group, but I wasn't into getting my head caved in when it looked like the riot police were moving out and the group sat down to blockade them. To me this was a gross stupidity. The riot cops were not going to respect the high moral ground. Sitting down would make their job easier as they batoned people on the head. Fortunately this scenario didn't occur. As 7pm approached the riot police were withdrawing and it was being confirmed that most delegates had found other ways out. News reports the following day stated the rest of the conference was cancelled as most delegates were too frightened to return.
We returned to the original exit to find some idiot Norwegian women negotiated under the veil of non-violence. The police offered the demonstrators the chance to march down the road to the Congress Centre at 7p.m. What was the point of dancing to the police's tune ? It was a good time to leave.
A number of people blocked had insisted in entering into discussions with the delegates. What's the point? These people may spout the rhetoric about creating wealth in the market place to let it trickle down, but they knew it's bullshit. They know they do very nicely from the unfair social and economic system we live under. They knew if they continue to perpetuate the myths of their peers in the ruling-class they will move up the ladder to even greater privileges. I know if these people are killed they will be replaced and the system will continue but the world would be a better place without them. I know its a dangerous road, to be motivated by violent emotions alone. The demonisation of ordinary people in Iraq and Serbia to justify murder disgusts me. But I would have really liked to punch some of these fuckers while I had the chance. Most of them know the decisions they make result in millions living and dying in misery. They might not pull the trigger or put people in gas chambers, but just how much do they differ from the Nazis ? For future reference a number of high-ranking I.M.F. / World Bank officials attend N.G.O. forums with no apparent security.
A few hours before the rest of the people in my affinity group abhorred violence, but most of them were now curious about what the passing Black Bloc was about to get up to. The rest of us went for a meal, but curiosity was to get the better of us. We went to view the aftermath of the window smashing in Wenceslas Square. The idiot order taking police were told to form a ring around the smashed up McDonalds for no logical reason, but it didn't stop them pushing people around to achieve this powerless manoeuvre. We accidentally walked past one of the hotels where some delegates were staying as a bus drew up. Behind the bus some dickhead cop screamed from his car window to the handful of police on the streets. Two American tourists were pushed up against a wall. About a dozen delegates walked into the hotel. they were still in their business suits. It was 12 o'clock at night, They had been stuck at the Congress Centre all day. My friend had also been pushed out of the way, by the dickhead from the car, and called a cunt. We don't even look like what the police would perceive a demonstrator would look like. Apparently cunt is an even greater insult in czech. Unfortunately my friend couldn't remember the czech word for small penis at that precise moment !
Later we would see dozens and dozens of police vans on patrol and riot cops humiliating the people they had arrested. congratulations Mr Havel for sitting on top of a police state as bad as the soviet one. Luckily we made it home without getting arrested. Others didn't.
My friend helped organise a coach from Budapest. Efforts were made to get the people on the coach to form into groups to look after each after it became apparent that the police were likely to arrest people and become violent. The message was deliberately not passed on by a S.W.P. One member in Budapest. He was more concerned with pretending he had filled the coach from Budapest, to his political bosses. He claimed he accidentally took the coach to the wrong meeting place which just happened to be where the S.W.P, march to the main assembly point started. The Hungarians were not S.W.P. supporters. Several of the Hungarians ended up under arrest by a police force particularly eager to degrade people in custody. Another problem was the lack of local involvement outwith INPEG. 70% of Czechs had no idea what the World Bank/ I.M.F. was but thanks to the media they knew what cars the delegates were driving to the Congress Centre. coming back from the hive of activity at the Convergence centre, on the metro you suddenly realised that most people in Prague were just going about their daily lives as normal, oblivious to what the world Bank was doing, never mind the activists.
Links should be made with eastern europeans, but care should be taken to not become alternative western imperialists. I started off by saying its better to organise anti-capitalist activity at home, but i ended up concluding that it can be too easy to ignore the whole international aspect of capitalism. The internet is all very well, but it doesn't match direct personal contact.
Globalisation is the new buzzword, but it's just a continuation of hundreds of years of european ruling-class colonialism dating back to events like the conquering of Ireland, the enclosures, the highland clearances and the conquering of the americas.
Today the ruling class in the west doesn't want to waste it's resources by using the military directly all the time, instead it uses an unfair economic system and the local cops to impose it's will.
I've spent a great deal of my life trying to inspire others to take action. Sometimes I need to be inspired to carry on. even though it only lasted a matter of hours it still deals fucking great that we managed to seriously piss-off so many members of the world's-ruling-class.
'MM' via friend's e mail