The recent G20 summit turned into a public relations disaster for its host Angela Merkel, after a violent police operation to pacify the streets of Hamburg stole the spotlight.
The city’s Social-Democratic Interior Minister, continuing a 100 year old tradition of trigger-happy social democratic police chiefs, boasted the summit would be a “showcase for modern policing”. It was more like a live-action show room at an arms fair, with police free to play with all the latest toys. Aerial and underwater drones, impractically oversized water-cannon, and of course thousands of police drafted in from hundreds of miles away who spent most of their time staring at City Mapper and batoning tourists.
Having selected option “iron heel” for dealing with protests, Merkel’s police chiefs, abetted by a frothing press campaign warning of “international anarchists”, had prepared their ground well. The city was on lockdown, thousands of police were drafted in, the right to assemble was de facto suspended.
In their enthusiasm to justify the immense cost of all this hardware, not to mention the corrosion of civil rights, police chiefs ordered their officers to use the anarchist demonstration on Thursday night as a pretext to demonstrate the dire necessity of these measures. In the event the police didn’t even bother to orchestrate a credible provocation, they simply chewed into the protest with all the decorum of a starving wolf pack.
At least eleven protesters were hospitalised with broken bones and head injuries. No doubt police officers have already filed compensation forms for the broken fingers and repetitive strain injury sustained protecting the leaders of the free world (and their enemies).
The decision to mount an overwhelming show of force is derived more from politics than practicality. G20 hosts are embarrassed to stage summits with the modest conveniences of Alpine resorts because it gives the impression they are unable to impose themselves in their own country. Police chiefs need to justify increasing budgets and social democratic interior ministers need to demonstrate their loyalty. All of these factors put together demand a policing operation out of all proportion to the actual ‘threat’ and one which depends for its success on a certain amount of telegenic violence for the weekend papers and rolling news bulletins.
Unfortunately, if predictably, as with previous attempts in Seattle, Genoa, Gothenburg and London, the police, after brutalising a peaceful demonstration in broad daylight provoked a fierce reaction that left them scrambling and made a mockery of the multi-million euro security operation. The footage of running battles, looted supermarkets, vandalised banks, burning cars and barricades across the Schanzenviertel district was hardly the triumph of law and order envisaged.
On Friday night when machine gun wielding special forces were deployed it seemed possible we would witness a repeat of Genoa, when in July 2001, Italian police shot and ran over a young anticapitalist, Carlo Giuliani. Fortunately this time, the police did not open fire.
Though the international press concentrates solely on the titillating footage of burnt out cars, in fact the rioting was peripheral to massive anti-G20 mobilisations within German and across Europe. Though activists travelling from France, the Netherlands and Switzerland were turned back at the borders, a special train starting in Basel, Switzerland, and stopping in cities along the way, including Frankfurt and Cologne, arrived with some 1,000 protesters in Hamburg. Political meetings exposing the imperialist character of the main G20 leaders and their record of war, poverty and environmental destruction mushroomed across the country.
Our sister group in Germany, and the youth organisation Revolution, organised for months in the run up as part of the Internationalist Bloc, with other socialist and youth organisations, plus militants from the Kurdish and Palestinian solidarity movements. At the beginning of the week they set up camp in the Volkspark Altona, creating an Internationalist Barrio, where a series of lively meetings on Palestine, Islamophobia and racism, youth exploitation, and Donald Trump’s environmental wrecking were held throughout the days of tprotest.
They formed a militant internationalist contingent on Saturday’s main demonstration, which had a reduced turnout of 75,000 as a result of the state repression. Given a section of the anarchist-autonomist movement – the so-called ‘anti-Germans’ are virulently pro-Zionist and anti-Palestinian, the Internationalist Bloc had to wage a struggle to defend the presence of Palestinian solidarity messages on the demonstration. This is doubly important in the context of another push to ethnically cleanse the country’s population and the increasing possibility of US-backed Israeli strikes against its neighbours.
Demonstrators also challenged the increasingly dictatorial Turkish government, the ongoing oppression of the Kurdish peoples, and expressed solidarity with the plight of refugees who are faced with the steel walls of Fortress Europe on land and sea and condemned to drown pour décourager les autres.
Germany’s de facto suspension of constitutional rights fits perfectly with other measures across Europe like French president Emmanuel Macron’s plan to lift the state of emergency… by integrating its measures as a permanent feature of French law. Nevertheless the level of repression was greater than has been seen in Germany for many decades and presents a chilling vision of what governments will do to legitimate protest if left unchallenged.
And that is the key. The scale of the demonstrations, despite the violence meted out against activists, despite the photographic and recording the details of thousands of protesters, show this clampdown will not go unanswered. The brave determination of those who defied the tear gas, water-cannon and batons to descend into the streets and blockade the summit, shows that the militants of the labour and youth movements are not deceived by the lies nor intimidated by the violence of the representatives of the ruling class.
These leaders are sowing the wind and will surely reap the whirlwind, not only in Hamburg, but in Istanbul, Cairo, Moscow, Paris, Seoul and Washington. The iron heel of police repression and ‘law and order’ will be met not merely with rioting and rebellion but with revolutionary uprisings and the emergence of a new social order in the years to come.
Organising this resistance and giving it a revolutionary perspective is the task of socialists today, not only in Europe but around the world. As a first step, socialists and labour movement organisations in Europe should convene an international assembly to coordinate resistance to austerity, defeat the racist and murderous Fortress Europe policy and develop links with socialists in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa to frustrate the plans of our rulers and fight for a genuine alternative, based on international solidarity and cooperation.