Shorter international news items from Black Flag #219 (2000)
Four Spanish war-resisters may face up to two years in prison after being judged by a military court (consejo de guerra). Their crime? - putting giant condoms on cannons!
Of course, in order to do this, they had to get into installations, and in the process violated military rues under which they are being charged despite being civilians. The action was part of a larger campaign which aims to take civil disobedience and non-collaboration with all aspects of the war machine into military institutions. It is a new strategy developed by the Spanish and Basque war resisters and the Army is now fighting back with their own laws.
Taxing times in France
In response to a call by four mining unions for action, on November 30th, in Lorraine, East France, hundreds of miners demonstrated against a pay freeze and a £50 end of year bonus. They set fire to police cars and government offices. In Forbach, 400 miners broke through a cordon of riot cops and ransacked a tax office, pulling furniture into the street and setting it (and the building) on fire. Earlier, in Metz, other miners set fire to 3 police cars and smashed the ground floor offices of another tax office. Furniture and files were dragged into the street and trashed.
Free Trade benefits all?
Faced with the protests in Seattle, the Economist opined that the benefits of Free Trade included faster economic growth. Is this true?
The Brazilian economy is often pinpointed as an example of the positive effects of neo-liberal change. However, here the evidence does not support the Economists assertions. Over the last decade, Brazil's per capita GBP growth averaged approximately 2.5 per cent a year. By comparison, according to UN data, it averaged 4.7 per cent during the period 1960 to 1980 when it followed a more inward-looking path to development.
It could be argued that reform in Brazil has not progressed enough, that Brazil is still a relatively closed economy. If we look at Mexico, a nation much more integrated into the world economy, we discover that, according to data from the IMF, over the last 15 years its per capita GBP growth per year has averaged approximately 1.0 per cent.
Of course, both countries have seen the rich grow richer and inequality increase, proof that neo-liberalism works, only for those who matter in a capitalist economy - the capitalists.
Anti-War demos in Moscow
On 12 December anti-war activists took action against the war in Chechnya on 'Tverskaya', one of Moscow's main streets. The idea was to declare ‘Tverskaya' as an area autonomous from the state and the Russian army. Twenty seven people (mostly anarchists and people from Rainbow Keepers) took part but after ten minutes seven people were arrested. The Transnational Radical Party, Russian Democratic Union, Movement against Violence (Ekaterinburg), Tatarian Muslim Party `Vatan' and Revolution Contact Committi (a new group) have organized several actions but usually with only three to twenty people each time. Anti-war stickers have been put up in the under-ground with slogans like "The state is the main terrorist", "No war", "Bring the army home", "War-money-war" on the walls. But it isn't easy: Moscow is full of police and there is a pre-election campaign with the usual attendant propaganda. Most people don't support the pro-tests against the war and the media won't report anti-war actions.
Anarcha Feminists subverting patriarchal order in Bolivia
"There is nothing more like a rightist macho than a leftist macho."
Mujeres Creando ('Women Creating') are, in their own words, "a group of affection and defects, creativity and proposal." Set up with "the intention to be a transforming movement... a movement of cultural space, art and social proposals where we paint, we tell stories, we dance them, we cook them, subverting the patriarchal order. "They draw from their Andean heritage, from feminism, and anarchism to fight patriarchy, power, the State and militarism. "Along with other Latin American sisters," they have "managed to separate what is the feminism of technocracy from the historically useful struggle against patriarchy." The group only has 15-20 members, including the only openly lesbian activists in Bolivia. They run a small cultural centre, as well as publish and agitate. The group is best known for its graffiti, always signed Mujeres Creando. Favourite targets include neo-liberals, smug macho leftists, and mainstream feminists ("gender technocrats"). A website about them describes them as "the country's only organisation that publicly, consistently and clearly speaks up for the oppressed, no matter who they are."
Contact Mujeres Creando at Casilla 12806, La Paz, Bolivia. You can email them at [email protected] There is a website about them at: wwvv.americas.org/News/Features/9906_ Gay_Rights/bolivias_mujeres_creando.htm.
The Zlin Ten
More state victimisation of anti-fascists in Czech Republic
Regular readers will remember the cases of Vaclav Jez and Michal Patera, Czech anarchists arrested for defending themselves against fascist aggression. While Vaclav is now free and Michal is on bail, there is a new case.
In February 1999, a trial began against ten anti-fascists and anarchists in Zlin, a major town in the east of the Czech Republic. The comrades are accused of "ideologically motivated heavy injury and public disturbance committed in an organised group" and could face ten-year sentences. The accusations date back to Spring 1997, when a dozen nazi skinheads from the 'Patriotic Front' clashed with a smaller group of anti-fascists, leaving one nazi badly wounded before they ran away. The police subsequently arrested all the anti-fascists and rounded up well-known anarchists. The police case is that the 10 anarchists attacked without provocation some "innocent citizens" waiting for a bus. Of course, these innocent citizens were nothing to do with the neo-nazis, not even the one wearing a Celtic cross!
Until August 1999, the situation for the Zlin Ten had looked good. Lawyers, paid for by the Czech ABC Fund, proved that several nazis had perjured themselves and it looked like our comrades were not in great danger. Unfortunately, the situation changed, and confidential discussions with lawyers indicate that there is political pressure to give the Ten 5-10 years long sentences.
The Federation of Social Anarchists (Czech IWA section) are asking for international publicity for the Zlin Ten. The Zlin City Court's decision is not final, but it is rare for the High Court to overturn such a sentence.
In the Ghetto
Roma community imprisoned by wall in Czech Republic
Unhindered by the Czech government, a town in the Czech Republic was able to build a wall round an area occupied by Roma, confining them to a Ghetto. The town of Ustinad Labem began to build its two metre high wall of breeze blocks and steel around buildings on one side of Maticni Street at about 4am one morning in early October. It was completed by the evening.
The builders were protected by 80 police. With grim echoes of Nazi occupation, Roma from the new ghetto were not allowed out of their houses while the wall was built. The wall had three brown steel doors to allow access to the block. It was intended that these would be locked at ten at night.
The creation of the Ghetto, probably the first in post war Europe, was fought all the way by Roma activists and Human Rights institutions. Yet the Czech Government displayed extraordinary complacency in its handling of the crisis. The proposal for the wall first appeared in May 1998 and the Czech government was warned that the wall would be a violation of international law.
In March 1999, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination warned that the Czech government was not doing enough to prohibit this unlawful act of racial segregation. More recently, in June, Ramiro Cibrian, the EU envoy to the Czech Republic, said that the Czech Republic could not be considered for EU membership if the wall was built. In May '99, and again a week before the wall was built, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) called on Czech authorities to halt the plans to build the wall.
The first attempt to build the wall took place on 5 October, when builders put up a series of pillars, a gate, and three sections of wall before Roma, acting peacefully, blocked further construction. The next day Romani activists from around the Czech Republic came to Ustinad Labem and dismantled sections of wall, by 7 October Romani activists had taken down the rest. Protests against the wall continued throughout the week both in Usti and around the Czech Republic.
However, other high-ranking Czech officials down-played the importance of the wall and, although legally empowered to do so, Czech authorities entirely failed to prevent its construction. Indeed, the Czech parliament didn't get round to annulling the original resolution of the Ustinad Labem town council to build the wall until the afternoon of 13 October, two hours after the wall was completed.
Rioters Greet Clinton
Greek Anarchists Do it Again!
Athens, 20 November: Almost at the same moment as Clinton arriving at the nearly-empty Athens' airport for his delayed 12-hour visit, hundreds of anarchists rioted through the centre of town and riot cops gassed leftist demonstrators. Clinton's visit was bound to result in this. It was set originally for 17 November, traditionally a day of protest in commemoration of the 1974 Polytechnic Uprising against the US-backed military junta. On top of this the US-backed bombing of Serbia has made Clinton even more of a hate figure in Greece than Bush. Bush visited a few months after the Gulf War — to a similar welcome.
Violence erupted despite the commitment of the KKE [Communist Party] to ensure that anarchists were not able to act. The KKE leadership have a record of attacking, arresting or grassing anarchists. This time they were themselves gassed by the cops as they tried to demonstrate. These arseholes even accused the anarchists of being, "provocateurs in service of the government ... intending to discredit communism and anti-Americanism"!
Social Exclusion in Colombia
Excluded from 'peace talks' by politicians and paramilitary 'leaders', Colombians seek solutions in direct action.
Parties in Colombia are in the middle of peace talks to deal with two armies trying to seize power. The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) thinks it's winning but so does the army and both sides are negotiating for privileges before they will consider talking about peace. Civil society has been systematically excluded from the peace talks, only those in power (including the guerrillas and paramilitaries who have got to the negotiating table by the gun, and union leaders who represent no-one but themselves) have been invited. ELN (National Liberation Army) said they would include civil society in the negotiations and brought in a couple of friends and some representatives of big economic conglomerates but didn't ask a single peasant or poor person to join.
The problem with the authoritarian tradition of the left in Colombia is that it insists on the necessity of a vanguard to represent and make decisions for the people, thus spreading the problem of social exclusion to the political arena.
The response has been massive civil disobedience campaigns that reflect people's need to have a say about their own situation. There have been strikes everywhere, highway blockades, hunger strikes and riots in prisons. People are beginning to find their own way and to distrust their leaders. The indigenous movements have been very influential in this process as they have always had alternative - more democratic and horizontal - forms of organisation. As their lives and interests have been affected by the current situation, they have stimulated alternative ways of responding as well as direct action, which had seldom been an option in the past.
If peace talks are to achieve anything, the common people must be included and the only way of achieving this is through direct action. The armies sitting at the negotiating table do not represent anyone, people have to break into the peace talks and they're doing it now.
Those movements which espouse direct action and civil dis-obedience are the ones to watch. The essential work now is to find a way to confederate and articulate these movements. They had, until recently, been isolated from the rest of the political arena, mainly by the powers in control, but partly by the lack of experience of this kind of organisation in a political arena dominated by an authoritarian tradition, a tradition that is finally beginning to break apart.
'Anti Terrorist' Raid at Mehringhof
The latest in a wave of attacks on the autonomist left in Germany has seen the long-standing autonomist centre, Mehringhof, raided and comrades charged under anti-terrorist laws.
The `Mehringhof Centre in West Berlin, once a squatted complex but now a collectively-owned project, has been home to scores of political projects and initiatives ranging from alternative and ecological collectives, Turkish and Kurdish leftist organisations, and autonomist and anti-fascist groups for well over a decade.
Despite a marked decline in the strength of the extra-parliamentary left in Berlin over the past few years, police repression against the (autonomist) left continues. First the wave of repression against the autonomist periodical Interim, then the elimination of the remnants of the squatters movement, now the recent anti-terrorist police raids on the Mehringhof can be seen as part of the 'green-left' German government's determination to cleanse the new capital of all forms of fundamental opposition.
‘Terrorist Hunt' In Berlin
At approximately 6am on Sunday 19 December, the Gneisenaustrasse in Berlin's Kreuzberg district filled with police vehicles. Around a thousand cops, many masked, including members of the GSG-9 anti-terrorist police, staged a surprise raid on the Mehringhof complex, purportedly to search for a weapons depot.
At the same time, Harald and Axel, two volunteers from the Mehringhof, were arrested in Berlin, and another comrade, Sabine was arrested at her home in Frankfurt. They are being charged with membership of a 'terrorist association', the Rote Zora / Revolutionary Cells (RZ). One is accused of storing and maintaining weapons and explosives in the Mehringhof complex and the other two with a 1987 bombing of a government office responsible for asylum policy in West Berlin. Sabine is also alleged to have taken part in an attack the year before on the chief of the foreigners division of the police bureaucracy in West Berlin, Harald Hollenberg. There are also allegations of involvement in another attack in 1987 on the head judge of the federal court in Berlin, Gunter Korbmacher, who was shot in legs.
During the raid on the Mehringhof, about zo people who had been at a party there the night before were detained for five to six hours, during which time they could not use the phone or the toilets or drink water. Two have since been deported. The cops searched all the rooms in the complex, checked the computers, confiscated papers, tore up the floors, and drilled holes in the walls in an effort to find explosives. And what did they find? Nothing but ai986 phone list which included the name of Otto Schily, now Germany's interior minister.
During the raid, about iso people held a spontaneous demonstration, which was then attacked by the cops. Sabine, Axel, and Harald were carted off to Karlsruhe, and then to jail cells in Wuppertal, Dusseldorf and Cologne. Volunteers at the Mehringhof complex estimate the damage caused by the police raid to be over 100,000 DM. The cops have said further arrests will follow.
It is noteworthy that the accusations about concrete activities all come under the statute of limitations, meaning they were all committed too long ago to be punishable by law. These accusations have been cited by the state only to give extra weight to the actual charges which are concerned with the notion of member-ship of a criminal organisation (paragraph 129a in Germany - now being introduced all over the EU as a means of fighting political resistance groups).
Bill Clinton: Champion Of Labour Standards?
Small-scale capitalism is based on wage labour and alienation just as much us 'big business.' Local elites dominate, oppress and exploit as well as transnational ones.
One of the positive aspects of Seattle was the fact that pre-action attempts were made to get workers involved. For example, a 'Labour Mobilisation Committee' (LMC) was formed mainly from rank-and-file AFL-CIO militants as well as IWW members and other labour activists. The LMC's purpose was to mobilise workers for a mass march and rally against the WTO in downtown Seattle on November 30. Hopefully this joint IWW and AFL-CIO activity will spread the ideas of revolutionary unionism amongst workers affiliated to business unions and point towards a more militant alternative. As for students, there was agitation at seven major high schools and four colleges for a city-wide walkout.
Less positive was the side-tracking of N30 aims and rhetoric from anti-capitalism into ‘anti-globalisation'. Increased decision-making by national governments hardly changes the nature of capitalism and the nation-state is not under popular control. Yes, globalisation does make things worse but we shouldn't be fighting for a return to the 1960s. The social democratic consensus was never that great to begin with (as witnessed by the numerous struggles in the 1960s and 70s). The key point is that that consensus was the product of ruling class fear of a revolutionary wave like the one after the First World War. Nor should we be fooled by a North versus South battle — Southern elites are as happy to exploit and oppress their workers and ravage their environments as Northern ones (and many delegates from the 'developing' countries expressed the wish that the police had broken a few heads from the first to clear the streets).
Ultimately, the issue is capitalism and the state. Small-scale capitalism is based on wage labour and alienation just as much as 'big business.' Local elites oppress and exploit as well as transnational ones. Unless we recognise this, we will be lost in the politics of compromise, ‘transitional demands' and supporting the lesser imperialist powers — in other words, the politics of reaction and state capitalism.
The North v South issue is complicated. The US is happy to share our critique of labour and environmental standards in the South when it suits, i.e. to impose terms on ‘southern' capital. Unless we recognise that processes of imperialism still exist we run the risk of siding with the North against the South. Living standards in the third world are issues for third world workers. We should show solidarity with them, not to Clinton or the AFL.
Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (No. 27) notes that some independent unions in South Korea and Brazil have expressed concerns about spreading (crap) US labour standards across the world. Strong unions and confident workers movements are what raises labour conditions, not sham agreements. Even if the ill-fated WTO meeting had prioritised labour standards, they would fall to be discussed again at the next round of the WTO, typically in six to eight years. If this led to agreement, they could begin to be implemented by 2014. And some people wonder why anarchists argue for direct action, international organisation and struggle!
On to Davos
Davos is an exclusive ski resort in the Swiss Alps. You're more likely to find Fergie and a posse of paparazzi than masked-up militants ordering a Big Mac to go J18 style. Bringing the World Economic Forum to town so soon after Seattle (early February) can't have seemed such a good idea as riot cops had to protect the meeting with tear gas, which sadly does not distinguish between delegates, skiers or demonstrators.
Militants from the French unemployed/ workers' movement Droites Devant, the small farmers' Confederation Paysanne and Italian-based unionists from the COBAS were amongst the 2,000 protesters.
International conferences will attract international protest. In Thailand the government preparations for an international conference next month have included 1,500 arrests. International protests show that our resistance is global and lucky away results like Davos are as heartening as Seattle. However, without grass roots resistance these spectacular events are no more use than a photo of Fergie skiing into a tree.