A Flare in the Void: notes on the G8 summit in Germany and beyond.
by Jack Weir
If we’re not causing trouble, we’re not doing it right. This is everything we are. This is all we have. And I’m proud to be a part of it – the travelling circus, the whispering conspiracies, the deafening global roar, all the chaos and wonder, courage and warmth, never once, in the face of brutality and murder, doubting itself, the madness and togetherness, the desire and danger and damage done.“
- Paul Robinson, while locked up in Gothenburg Prison in 2001.
(Gothenburg, Sweden is twinned with Rostock, Germany.)
Prelude to a miss
We had already won. The strength of our blockades had successfully curtailed the summit, all the forces of state repression had been defeated by solidarity and sheer moral fortitude. We had only to wait six weeks for the summit to actually begin and we would declare victory.
Who what where
At the beginning of June the leaders of the G8 countries met for their annual summit in the seaside resort of Heiligendamm near the city of Rostock on the Baltic Sea coast. Rostock, once the primary port of East Germany it has declined economically and in population since reunification. Three protest camps of varying size and composition in the countryside at Reddelich, Wichmannsdorf, and in Rostock itself accommodated an international mobilisation of G8 opponents for demonstrations and direct action, around issues including migration, wages and working conditions, militarism, GM crops and global warming, spread over eight days of activity, with mixed results including at least 1200 arrests.
Tutti siamo black bloc
The largest demonstration of some 80,000 people took place in Rostock on the Saturday before the summit. There were two starting points, with the traditional left-wing parties and NGOs leaving from a park on the western edge of the city, and an ‘alternative’ rally built around the slogan ‘Make Capitalism History’ (which ended up equalling the numbers of the ‘official’ section) massing at the central station, both groups eventually converged on the harbourside for a concert and political speeches.
Although a bank had its windows put in and paint bombs were thrown at the American delegation’s hotel, it was only at the end point that trouble really started, the stoning of an isolated police van by some of the black bloc of anarchists and autonomists escalated the alter-march into pitched battles with the police, whose water cannons and gas canisters were swiftly deployed. There was a temporary calm until chaos was restored by the arrival of a second black bloc, estimated at no less than 5000 masked protesters. Sporadic rioting happened over a wide area of the city centre for several hours.
In the aftermath, spokespeople, self-appointed and duly-elected alike, from many of the more authoritarian groups, including ATTAC Germany, were quick to denounce those involved in the violence as “worse than the neo-Nazis” and promised to grass up “possible offenders”, or attempted to place all the blame (or credit) with police agents provocateur for leading innocent protesters astray. These attempts to always portray the protester as the victim is based on the pacifist myth that the sympathy of an equally mythical ‘ordinary person’ will always be with the peaceful flowerchild pitted against the nasty jackbooted brute, which ignores the alternative conclusion that when the police beat you and you don’t defend yourself, it usually looks like the police are winning – because they are.
At the time, we should recognise the limitations of this event. We shouldn’t pretend that the Rostock riots were a strategic victory, or a model to be reproduced except in the most abstract sense – that we should stand and fight when we can win. These were not the interventions in the flows of capital some had prepared for, only a training day. Or as they say in Paris, one burning car doesn’t mean it’s summer.
No risk, no fun
On the following Tuesday, what was effectively the central committee of Block G8, a theoretically horizontal coalition of most of the groups planning to blockade the summit, took divisiveness a step further by declaring that: “We will not allow any use of material blockades or violence even in self-defence and in the event that anybody tries we must direct all of our energy into disrupting them instead of blockading the G8.”
This was a great leap backwards from the original Block G8 call which had stated that, “It is not our intention to limit the diverse ways in which the movement expresses itself … we are convinced of the necessity to leave divided conceptions of action and blockade forms behind and to look for new forms of commonality in action.“
Five fingers make a fistula
Much has been written about the ‘five finger tactic’ used by Block G8, where a mass of people split into five groups to spread police thin as they simultaneously move in different directions to a common destination, and how it represents a great leap forward for disciples of Gandhian non-violence and passive resistance. The bulk of this writing might as well have been prepared beforehand for all its resemblance to the actual events of the 6th, 7th and 8th of June.
In the morning of Wednesday 6th, thousands of blockaders left the camps of Reddelich and Rostock to head for the security fence surrounding Heiligendamm, once past the bulk of the police lines they were mostly concentrated at two road gates in the fence whose location had been published in advance. At the Eastern of these gates in spite of much awful singing there was little attempt by police to prevent blockaders sitting down in the road in the hippy tradition, and it is this blockade that is celebrated endlessly. Less talked about is the Western gate where police used gas and water cannons to clear thousands of fingeristas, and where many of the blockaders far from being pacifist fought in vain to regain control of the road, eventually mostly withdrawing to the camps they had left that morning. Even less mention is made of the other gates into Heiligendamm, which were all but ignored by Block G8, or the vital black bloc blockade of the press centre.
At the recent Heathrow Climate Camp, much mention was made of the “enormous success” of this tactic, and it was suggested it be recycled in complete denial of the vastly different terrain, and even when some groups vigorously broke through police lines, this was again declared a victory for non-violence.
Screw you guys
By the evening of the Wednesday the central committee of Block G8 feared not only the total collapse of their blockades but worse still their pollution by marauding autonomistas, and so they formulated a daring stratagem – recently put to good use by the British army in Basra – retreat and declare victory. They quickly negotiated an exit plan with the police (some have suggested that the smoothness of this transaction indicates the withdrawal was actually planned in advance of the blockades in collusion with the police), promising a march to the nearest town culminating in a rally featuring exciting speeches from the usual suspects. This glittering prize was rejected by many of the blockaders who chose instead to stay put overnight even after Block G8 withdrew material and moral support.
The morning sad
The extent of the facesaving propaganda campaign run by Block G8’s supporters after the summit became clear when a veteran Indymedia activist praised their organisational abilities particularly in planning a march to the West gate on Thursday 7th June.
The reality was that at 8am that day, Block G8 held a large meeting on the Reddelich camp where they called for people to forget the West gate, and go to the East gate to reinforce the blockade there and ignore any thought of an effective total blockade when we could have a great press-friendly partial one, this smug stupidity was too much for one UK anarchist who commandeered Block G8’s megaphone to ask that people instead prepare to leave the camp at 9am for the West gate with her. Some 2-3000 agreed and left as suggested, the lack of preparation exemplified by the those leaving first stopping a hundred yards from the camp boundary to ask if anyone actually knew the way…
Clowns on acid
For a short time one of the more interesting questions on the camps concerned the claim by German police that the Clown Army had been spraying sulphuric acid into riot cops’ eyes from water pistols.
Was this just the latest lie from an increasingly weary force or were a splinter group of hooligans in make-up using their apparent frivolity to fool and fight at once?
In an about-turn from their customary tactical ambiguity the clowns bizarrely refused to build on this confusion and hastily put out a press release denying any mischief.
Plan B and little maddy
The future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, industrial parks, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of our world.” – US Army War College
Before and during the blockades there was much talk of a ‘Plan B’ if they failed which would involve attacks, symbolic and otherwise, on centres of capital like the financial districts of Berlin or Hamburg, but it came to little practical result, although the idea seems to have since been put to good use by the former inhabitants of the Ungdomshuset social centre in Copenhagen who have taken to disrupting the city’s tourist trade.
I would argue that it is not potential failure of our blockades which should make us look away from the summit locations, but the success of our propaganda – the G8 summit is supposedly about economics but most of the published agenda now makes the arguments for trade and environmental justice which were once the stuff of countersummits and NGO press releases, of course we know that these promises are as empty as the ghost convoy of helicopters which flew over demonstrations at Rostock Laage airport to Heiligendamm pretending to ferry George Bush to the summit, while he flew in at another airport unmonstered, but we should not underestimate our achievements on this front and the need to take the struggle forward by confronting the capitalists at a place of our choosing.
We may be left with no option but to turn to such a strategy anyway, after heading to Japan in 2008, the next G8 summit in Europe will be in 2009, when the G8 leaders are scheduled to return to Italy for the first time since Genoa. But there will be no red zone like that of 2001, as the venue chosen is the tiny military island of Maddalena, even more than Japan’s Lake Toya accessible only by sea and air.
Schmeißt nicht von Hinten
Finally, on violence, although there is much to be said for confrontation this should not be taken as a fetish for any particular tactic. An always-violent campaign is just as bankrupt and predictable as never-violent, it’s not the brick which scares the state, but our willingness to throw it.
This article doesn’t attempt a complete analysis of the events in Germany, or summit mobilisations in general, for wider commentary from anti-authoritarian perspectives the articles collected by the WOMBLES provide a good starting point: http://www.wombles.org.uk/g8/. The Indymedia overview page of the events is also worth checking for background information: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/05/371754.html