More than riots – G8 summit in Rostock Reveals Long Range Strategies

I wear black for the poor and beaten down… And for the prisoner who has long since served his time

(Johnny Cash)

The following text was written by people belonging to the radical left in Germany, who, like many others, have different perspectives on and opinions about the incidents of the 2nd June 2007 in Rostock during the protests against the G8-summit. One thing we do have in common is our will to resist, which in its practical realisations, with their different means of expression, is respected by all of us. Public denunciation and one-sided apportioning of blame are not our means. With this text we aim to engage in positive and negative criticism, of ourselves, and also of those with whom we have worked on a common concept of resistance over the past two and a half years.

By United Colours Of Resistance (with shortening by Slingshot indicated by “…”)

The demonstration on the 2nd June in Rostock was a success. Not despite but because of the Black Bloc and the massive resistance from the different blocks of the demonstration. The confrontation with the cops and the attack on the Sparkasse Bank produced images which unmistakably demonstrated a radical critique of current ruling conditions, as well as a disapproval of the official G8 meeting. There were so many people who didn’t want to “engage in a dialogue” with the rulers, who didn’t want to “be heard”, and who didn’t want to express “constructive critique” (i.e. take part in the organisation of capitalist exploitation).

The Rostock riots were one of the few actions against the meeting of the self-declared rulers of the world that could not be co-opted or re-interpreted. Symbols of the capitalist system were attacked directly, whether cops or banks, in order to say “no” to an unjust and oppressive world economic system.

“Attacking Capitalism” – On the 2nd June this slogan was actively brought to life as a non-conciliatory sign, carried by many international autonomous, left radical and anarchist groups and individuals. “We”, people from small or large organized groups, were not the only ones who took part in this; on Saturday many unorganized people furiously picked up stones.

The riot was not only an expression of anger at the arrogance of power, but also showed the force of our resistance to be incalculable to the police and state apparatus. This anger at the arrogance of power has to be understood against the backdrop of growing state repression, such as the raids on the 9th May 2007, as well as the massive restrictions on the right to demonstrate that have increased over the recent years, e.g. the banning of masks, police filming during demonstrations, snatch squads, regulations on the size of side banners, controls and searches before demonstrations, “walking kettles” (complete cordoning of demonstrations) and so forth.

This campaign has been strategically aimed at preventing, effectively blockading and making impossible the large meetings of rulers (WTO, G8, IMF). In our opinion, due to the militant clashes during the WTO conference in Seattle in 1999, the IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague 2000 and the G8 summit in Genoa 2001, the G8 states decided to hold future G8 summits far away from large cities and metropoles, instead meeting in rural areas where they mistakenly believed the potential for resistance to be weaker. If we can keep up the massive and intensive resistance over the next years, G8 meetings may only be able to held high up in the mountains, at the North Pole.

In Germany, many militant activists joined the “make capitalism history” block organized by the Interventionist Left (IL). This block was a “closed” Black Block, open to all autonomous and anarchist groups. With hindsight, this concept allowed for the joint militant actions that followed later, and made them easier. The character of this block was made clear in the mobilizing posters of the IL, which depicted masked up and helmeted demonstrators.

During and especially after the attacks on the police and banks, representatives of the different organizations who had helped organize either the large demonstration or the blockades planned for the following days made desperate attempts to distance themselves. Together with the mainstream press, they tried to depoliticize this militant form of resistance. The result of these distancing attempts was that the mainstream media reported exclusively about “violence” (that is naturally only acceptable if It’s exercised by the state). This is an old and well-known game, and from the German media organizations like “Spiegel”, FAZ and TAZ we don’t expect anything different. Thus the declaration “make capitalism history” went completely unheard in the media in the next few days.

. . . .

Within an anti-state orientation, the struggle for the acceptance of militant resistance is an important counter-hegemonic struggle. The struggle for the acceptance of militant resistance is at the same time also the struggle for the acknowledgement of how violent the circumstances are that we live in. To speak seriously of racist border regimes, the ruthless logic of capitalist exploitation and wars of aggression, can only mean militant resistance. Of course this is still only about a symbolic struggle. To throw stones at window panes or heavily armoured cops does not mean smashing capitalism. It’s about sending a non-conciliatory message to a system that holds human beings in contempt. No more, no less.

Well-meant but in the end just as distancing is to say “The cops started it”

We know that the police have many ways of manipulating situations: agent provocateurs, direct attacks for trivialities (like wearing a black baseball cap or black scarf), or they invent something. All of this happened in Rostock.

Added to that you have a media which at the first opportunity took on board and spread any lies the cops come up with. At the demonstration there had been 400 injured cops, of which 30 were injured severely – later it materialized that it was 30 injured, of which only 2 were severely injured. The Rebel Clown Army supposedly attacked individual police with acid; in reality this was soapy water, used to blow bubbles. The police denied having used agents provocateurs during the summit; as the police press officer stated: “There are no plain clothes officers at demonstrations”. The same day, many different videos appeared showing how a police officer from Bremen, all clad in black, was exposed as a plain clothes officer on duty. There are many more examples, but the fact that the cops often attack us must not be used at every demonstration as the sole explanation for militant resistance.

We don’t have to apologize for questioning the state monopoly over violence. We wanted to attack and we did so in Rostock, even if that particular time and place was not what we had had in mind! Already in 1999 at the time of the protests in Seattle against the WTO conference, which so many of the people in the anti-globalization movement refer to positively, an anarchist group, the ACME collective, issued a so-called “Black Block Communiqué” titled “Peasant Revolt.” It detailed reasons for the necessity and legitimacy of attacking capitalist symbols in Seattle and smashing windows of multinational corporations such as the Bank of America, US Bancorp, GAP, Starbucks, McDonalds, Nike Town, Levi’s etc.

At last, constructive criticism!

Other criticisms should be more important to us. Yes, not everything went well in Rostock. For example, it would have been much nicer if the “make capitalism history” block hadn’t dispersed at the end of the demonstration and before the attack on the Berlin police unit, but had collectively and resolutely moved into the center of town. There, there would have been enough capitalist targets that “uninvolved” people would have been less endangered. But seemingly this was neither wanted nor planned. Much later there was an attempt by a few hundred mask
ed up people to go to the town center. However, they only got the first bank, which was smashed.

With hindsight, we lacked a new meeting point to continue. The attack on the lone standing police car has to be questioned. Many militants criticize that after the windows of the cop car were smashed, the two unprotected police officers who were sitting in the front of the car were attacked with stones and poles. Severe injuries could not have been ruled out. Some of us believe that the limits of legitimate militancy were exceeded here, because it’s not our aim to (severely) injure police officers.

At the subsequent riot at the Rostock Harbour too many comrades and in some case “uninvolved” people were hit and injured by bottles and stones. We have to find ways to make sure that people are not injured by people throwing things from the back rows. For people that don’t want to be involved with these kinds of militant confrontations there has to be a way for them to retreat properly. Responsible militancy also means drinking the contents of the bottle the night before and not at the demonstration. Here everyone is called on to approach people who booze at demonstrations! We have to admit to ourselves that we haven’t yet reached a point of responsible militancy. This is difficult and was not necessarily to be expected in Rostock; all of us were amazed at the number of people that were there. Lack of experience, however, should not be a reason to not conduct militant demonstrations.

It’s much more the case that a new culture of demonstration is needed to make militancy 1. more accepted, 2. safer for everyone and 3. more successful. This can only happen if afterwards people don’t boast, “I was there and then I gave the cop…”. We need a debate about militancy. This can happen through texts like these, discussions at autonomous plenary meetings, during the preparations for the next demonstration etc. Criticism has to be taken seriously and has to be understood as a call for better militant organization.

Swords to ploughshares, stones to messages…

Not only the actions themselves but also the communication of their intended message has to be better organized. The dictum, “actions speak for themselves” might be true, if attacks on capitalist symbols are successful. Sometimes, like in Rostock, it’s not true. After Saturday, we didn’t manage to communicate the legitimacy of militant resistance against the violence of state and capitalist relations.

This certainly has something to with potential repression. There were numerous requests to get a participant to the riots in front of a camera. The possibility to communicate our motivations and reasons via the media was there, but on the whole there was nobody who had the courage or even thought it right to do so. This is also the case for the Campinski Press Group that was run by people from the autonomous spectrum. Even “our” press group ignored some of the press statements . . .

It has been shown how important it is to better use and support our own structures such as Indymedia, free radios etc. This includes a broad discussion within our radical left spectrum about how to deal with the press and the question of its role as the “fourth power of the state”. In the end it was well-known faces that appeared in the media, whose comments were a relief after the previous media smear campaigns, but they were given by individuals without the backing of groups.

Principally we think it’s more sensible to publish opinions of groups and associations that have been collectively discussed before hand, instead of individuals, mostly men, raising their own profiles with their interpretations of events. This is our starting point for an antagonistic movement. The goal should be to evaluate and publish the events of Rostock together, not to leave this to self-proclaimed or even designated spokespersons. Lamentably, this happened continuously.

Even the left scene newspaper “Analyse und Kritik” only gave space to male individuals to voice their views and comment. . . . This is a step backwards. Obvoiusly it’s neither a coincidence nor the product of anti-patriarchal analysis that primarily men were allowed to speak or wanted to speak. We don’t want to make blanket accusations in this respect, but we think that there was at the very least a lack of the necessary sensibility.

In the end, we have to look to ourselves too. We hadn’t only hoped for but had wanted riots. The media reaction was predictable. With our silence, we left the space to NGOs spokespersons, ATTAC and IL, which led to distancing. We have to face this dilemma and urgently need to discuss how to communicate militant praxis at demonstrations, as well as how to deal with the media.

Dress for the moment

Although he doesn’t want to know, Ulrich Brand’s suspicions can be confirmed: “I suspect (although I don’t know and I don’t want to know!) that people who march in the Black Block and even those who take action, are otherwise part of similar political contexts as many other demonstrators.” Being militant at a demonstration is not about identity – at least it shouldn’t be – It’s a tactic with strengths and weaknesses just like any other tactic. Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s not. In Rostock it was useful in order to give the G8 resistance a non-conciliatory note.

For an Emancipatory Militant Resistance

“There must be a better world somewhere” (BB King)