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by Nathan Newman
August 15, 2001
In one sense, a death in Genoa was predictable, practically predicted by Silvio Berlusconi, the new Italian Prime Minister, who boasted of the military hardware to be deployed against protesters. In an environment of militarized repression, armed paramilitary squads, and good evidence of government-backed provocateurs inciting violence, death was nearly inevitable.
The G-8 met to mouth pretty words about poverty in the third world, even as their policies backing multinational corporations and denying medicine to the third world have murdered millions yearly. So what was one more death?
Progressive observers rightly have debated the actions Carlo may have taken that led to his death, but in an environment of repression which had systematically violated legitimate means of protest, anger in the streets incited by government provocateurs was a recipe for tragedy.
The reality of Genoa was that you had a scared and angry 23-year old protester facing off against a scared, probably angry 20-year old paramilitary cop in a militarized zone, where the young cop was issued live ammunition. You don't have to think that Carlo was a selfless martyr or that the cop was a demon to understand that the global leaders who set them both up are criminals. The elite wants to play a game of pitting accusations of evil culpability as cops denounce protesters and protesters demonize cops. Those leaders had use for a dead protester as a message and they got it.
But blaming just the G-8 leaders is too easy, since the warnings were there for the protest movement. When you know the opponent is coming for you with live ammunition, denouncing the enemy for carrying out that threat is correct public relations but empty as strategic evaluation. At a certain point questions have to be asked what was done or not done by your leadership to prevent the casualties?
So who killed Carlo Guiliani?
The so-called Black Bloc are the easy ones to blame, promoting a theatre of violence in defiance of common democratic strategy, ignoring every sense of solidarity in complete mockery of an honorable tradition of anarchists in history, and acting as a nicely disorganized body to harbor police infiltrators and provocateurs. In a sense, the Black Bloc wanted a dead martyr as their message as much as the G-8 leadership wanted it for their purposes. Both fed off their mutual violence parasitically.
Ideologically, the Bloc's individualistic acts of store destruction are merely an angry mirror to the consumerist individualism of those who shop there. The emptiness of their actions allows commentators to rightly dismiss them and, unfortunately, dismiss the broader disciplined movement against global capitalism.
Worse, the violence they attract created the context in which Carlo Guiliani died and helped justify the police repression against the whole movement. Without newspaper photos and TV screens of violence as the police's public relations, the bloody Sunday raid on the nonviolent headquarters of the broad-based Genoa Social Forum would have caused far greater global outrage. Instead, much of the public shrugged and washed their hands of both sides of the conflict.
But again, it's too easy to just blame the Black Bloc, who were really relatively few in numbers. With tens of thousands of non-violent protesters in Genoa, any disciplined leadership could have restrained and shut down the violent wing of the protests. Given the fact that the police had no real intention of restraining the violence, the responsibility to "keep the peace" fell to the leadership of the democratic movement. There are numerous non-violent ways to restrain such sectarian fringes at rallies, but it takes political will and strategy to confront them. Unfortunately for Carlo and the other casualties of Genoa, that political will was lacking.
So Who Killed Carlo Guiliani?
Back in June, Bobby Seale and a number of other Black Panther alumni had a conference in New Haven looking back thirty years on the Panther trials in that city. They had a lot of fascinating reflections on the organizing of the day, but the one thing all of them stressed was their own mistakes in letting violence escalate beyond their point of control, since the cops can always seize on uncontrolled violence to infiltrate and discredit a movement.
On the panel was a recent New Haven chief of police who had been on the force back in 1970. He made clear that the cops themselves were scared out of there minds back then because FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was feeding them all sorts of "intelligence" about the supposed murderous goals of the Panthers. The goal of the elite is always to use clashes between protesters and working class cops (playing on the sympathies the public often has with the police) to escalate to the point of discrediting protest. The reason we as activists have to be concerned about violence, including violence against the cops, is that our opponents don't care, in fact for all their protestations, would like nothing better than for a cop to die in order to justify more repression.
There was, I think, a somewhat unstrategic overconfidence that developed among protesters post-Seattle. The Seattle cops were unprepared and played into the propaganda goals of the protesters. As Philadelphia and now Genoa showed, the cops are no longer unprepared and are developing both the repressive technology and propaganda to crush the Black Bloc-style protesters and the rest of the movement if we don't develop some new strategies to control the escalation of violence.
This is not an argument for reduced militancy, since discipline is the most dangerous weapon wielded in protest. Disciplined militancy demonstrates the power of organization, especially when deployed creatively. Uncontrolled violence on the other hand is a sign of weakness and lack of organizational power, for if the democratic movement cannot muster enough political will to restrain its own fringe, the elite knows that they have little to worry about either from such lack of strategic discipline.
Ultimately, protests of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, are not what will challenge global corporate power. Yet if disciplined resistance is shown at specific points, those protests can publicly reflect organizing happening in communities across the world. That will continue to send the message that a growing global movement is organizing for radical democratic change worldwide.
On the other hand, if the democratic movement cannot exert that democratic discipline, they will only be promoting a hopeless Childrens Crusade, sending more young people like Carlo Guiliani off to die without purpose.
The choice lies with the movement.