Black Bloc in Rostock during the G8 summit 2007
United Colours Of Resistance, August 2007
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.
The Mass Demonstration on the 2nd June in Rostock
The Rostock riots were one of the few signals 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”; “no” to an unjust and oppressive world economic system.
“Attacking Capitalism” – on the 2nd June this slogan was actively brought to life as an non-conciliatory sign, carried by many international autonomous, left radical and anarchist groups and individuals. “We”, people from small or large organised groups, were not the only ones who took part in this; on Saturday many people furiously picked up stones.
The riot was not only an expression of anger at the arrogance of power, but also made resistance incalculable for 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 sign was 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 or virtually.
Many militant activists joined the “make capitalism history” block organised 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 mobilising posters of the IL, which depicted masked up and helmeted demonstrators.
Already during, but especially after the attacks on the police and banks, representatives of the different organisations who had helped organise either or both the large demonstration and blockades planned for the following days made desperate attempts to distance themselves. Together with the mainstream press, they tried to depoliticise 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). In the end, this is an old and well-known game, and from the German media organisation 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.
The distancing mania of some of the ATTAC spokespersons was no surprise to us. More important for further debate, however, is that at the ATTAC plenary meeting at the Rostock Camp on the Monday, ATTAC members rejected the attempts by coordinating group members Peter Wahl, Pedram Shahyar and Sabine Leidig to split the movement through proposing the organisation of an ATTAC-only blockade separate from Block G8 and in complete agreement with the police. This split was prevented by activists at the grass roots level of ATTAC.
New to all of us were the immense distancings from members of the radical left camp. A particularly low point was the statement of Christoph Kleine (IL, AVANTI and spokesperson for Block G8) about who the participants were: “It was a wild mixture of hooligans, youth from the region and people from abroad” (Die Welt 04/06/07). Doubtlessly more intent on defamation was the totalitarianism theory for beginners by Monty Schaedel (managing director of DFG-VK [United Opposition Against Military Service], co-organiser of the demonstration). He compared the pictures with the 1992 progroms in Rostock Lichtenhagen:
“The biggest failure is that we’re now left with the kinds of pictures that we, as the Rostock Coalition, had tried to avoid: the repetition of the kinds of pictures we saw in 1992 during the assaults on the homes of asylum seekers. This is precisely what we didn’t want, what we didn’t intend and what we certainly don’t condone” (ZDF 03/06/07, Indymedia link to the interview streaming 03/06/07).
Even one of the spokespersons of the IL, Tim Laumeyer of the ALB, a radical left-wing antifascist group from Berlin, tried to distance himself and find a justifiable excuse: “Towards the end the situation escalated in a way that we did not want and explicitly condemn” (Junge Welt, 05/06/07) or, “The vandals were only a minority, we don’t want violence” (Berliner Morgenpost 04/06/07) and, “There must never again be an escalation like in Rostock” (Vanity Fair, dpa, 06/06/07). This is not merely a political distancing, this kind of language also uncritically takes on board the terminology of the ruling regime and thus serves to depoliticise, when for example there is talk of “vandals”. It’s interesting to note that whilst individual spokespersons of the IL distanced themselves from the militant events and confrontations with state power in Rostock, at least some parts of the IL enjoyed taking part in the riot. Since then, apologies and explanations for the distancing attempts have appeared from many sides (e.g. ALB, 05/06/07 http://www.antifa.de/cms/content/view/564/32/). This is good.
It’s nonetheless doubtful whether a sufficient explanation for the misconduct of individuals can be that they were simply ‘overrun’ by the media. It’s much more important to reflect on how it can be possible to participate in broad coalitions that reach far into the middle of bourgeois society without having to succumb to a logic which forces one to distance oneself from radical left struggles. The events prove that the avoidance of a discussion on militancy during the organisation of the Rostock demonstration was not a good decision. This also applies especially to us autonomists.
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 take oneself seriously and speak of racist border regimes, the ruthless logic of capitalist exploitation and wars of aggression, means 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”
Added to that you have a media which in the first instance took on board and spread any, if even completely stupid lies the cops come up with: At the demonstration there had been 400 injured cops, of which 30 severely – later it materialised that it was 30, of which 2 were severely injured. Supposed acid attacks on individual cops by the Rebel Clown Army; 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.
We don’t have to apologise 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-globalisation movement refer to positively, an anarchist group, the ACME collective, issued a so-called “Black Block Communique” titled “Peasant Revolt”, in which 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
With hindsight, we lacked a new meeting point to continue. The attack on the lone standing police car (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDqThVpulAM) has to be questioned. Many militants criticise 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 we 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 just 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.
Swords to ploughshares, stones to messages…
But not only the actions themselves, also their communication, has to be better organised. The dictum, “actions speak for themselves” might be true, if attacks on capitalist symbols are succesful. 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, e.g. the declaration of the “International Brigades” (http://www.dissentnetzwerk.org/node/3040) which was posted on Indymedia on the 6th June. Likewise, the Black Barrio statement from the Reddelich Camp (http://www.gipfelsoli.org/Newsletter/Militanz/2709.html), published in response to the accusations and distancing of the ATTAC leadership.
It has been shown how important It’s 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 those 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 beforehand, 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: from Sven Giegold (ATTAC), Olaf Bernau (no lager), Thomas Seibert (IL), Christoph Kleine (IL), Mchael Kronawitter, Tim Laumeyer (ALB), Ulrich Brand (BUKO), Daro Azzelini (FelS) to Raul Zelik and Geronimo. This a step backwards. Apparent is that it’s neither a coincidence nor the result of anti-patriarchal discussions 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, we 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
For an Emancipatory Militant Resistance
United Colours Of Resistance, August 2007