Solidarity Bulletin interview with John Blair (arrested in Genoa)


July 21st to 23rd 2001 saw the G8 annual meeting at Genoa. John Blair, a member of the Syndicalist Solidarity Network, who took part in one of the Black Blocks and who was arrested by Italian cops is interviewed about what he witnessed in Genoa.

SB: Why did you think it was important to attend the protests in Genoa against the G8 summit?

I went to show that there is not only anger at the policies of the G8 and other international tentacles of Capital but also against the whole exploitative system which spawns them. I wanted to help shut down the G8 summit as a symbol of Capitalism, not just a symbol of globalisation. The whole organisation of the protest showed the great international solidarity in this struggle. To maintain this I think its important that the movement as a whole speaks out against xenophobic and nationalistic elements jumping on the anti-global band wagon.

SB: What were your first impressions on arrival in Genoa?

On arrival I met up with some German comrades and we made our way to a camp on the edge of the city where we were told the Anarchists and Black Block were staying. When I got there I went straight to sleep.

I woke up find a rather noisy multi-lingual meeting going on. This was great as everyone could participate and even though everything had to be translated into about four different languages it never became boring. After a while the meeting broke up and everyone went for food.

I was really impressed with how the catering was organised. A donation was left to cover the cost of the food and everyone mucked in. You could either cook something for yourself and others or share in food that other comrades had prepared. Everyone did their own dishes. They also had very cheap wine at 500 lr, about 18p, a glass.

This was in complete contrast to the Genoa Social Forum Centre, which we visited later. The Centre left me with mixed feelings. It was very professional and had a massive stage and floodlights, but it reminded me of a corporate music festival. Only here, instead of corporate images and advertising there were hammers and sickles, Che Guevara's face was everywhere along with 'Drop the Debt' banners and other Bolshevik and liberal bollocks. Sorry, I forgot to mention the compulsory Trot paper sellers.

My real gripe, and the real contrast, was in the catering. It seems, to me, rather hypocritical for people opposed to Capitalism, however loosely defined, to invite in capitalist catering firms, using wage labour, to feed and clean up after them. The prices these firms charged was close to extortionate. A bottle of wine you could have bought in a local shop for 6,000 lr was sold at the Centre for 18,000 lr.

I much preferred the approach at the anarchist camp, with its shared tasks and collective responsibilities. Everyone played their part. There was no division between workers and consumers.

The next day, Thursday 20th, I attended the anti-deportation march. This marched was planned to be non violent and non confrontational, and gladly it stayed that way. What really impressed me was the self discipline of the Black Block. To me this showed that the Black Block decided when to engage in property destruction and confrontation with the police. It showed me that we are not a mob but a disciplined group. The Black Block in Genoa recognised violence as only one tactic among many. Certainly violence was not seen as something to be engaged in just for the sake of it. It also showed respect for the anti-deportation group who had invited us onto the march.

SB: This seems at odds with the media reports of the Black Block and mindless violence, what more can you tell us about the actions and tactics of the Black Block?

The first thing that has to be said is that on the Friday, which was the march committed to shutting down the G8 conference, there were two Black Blocks. By this stage I was staying in the Irish campsite at Albora and had met up with an Irish affinity group, many of whom had travelled to Genoa with Globalise Resistance and Gluaiseacht. The Black Block that our Irish affinity group joined up with comprised of a strange mixture of Anarcho-Syndicalists and Anarchists along with Autonomists, insurrectionists and Maoists.

The G8 met in a palace near the city centre, the entire area around it had been cordoned off with a 14 foot high and was guarded by police and Caribineri.

Our Black Block started out with about 2000 people. The first thing I noticed was a lack of organisation and co-ordination in the group. Only the comrades from the FAU-IWA and the Autonomist sections of the Block appeared to be really organised and to have a sense of direction. Somewhat ironic as I later learned that the Guardian had portrayed German Anarchists and the FAU in particular as drunken street fighting hooligans. As far as I saw it was largely down to the FAU and mainly German Autonomists that violence was initially restricted to banks and other corporations.

We were tear-gassed, the first of four times, and our Black Block got split up. Somehow our affinity group got separated from the FAU and a lot of the Autonomists. The people we were left among seemed to be insurrectionists, who thought that broken windows and burning cars were tantamount to social revolution, and Maoists, who are mad militarist bastards at the best of times, some Autonomists and Anarchists, including members of our affinity group who together with other Anarchists and Autonomists tried to prevent the senseless destruction of bus stops and peoples cars.

With hindsight, and more importantly photographic evidence, it is now apparent that many of the arseholes engaged in this behaviour were agent provocateurs. Many later commented on the fact that large numbers of those engaged in the most senseless acts of destruction were left well alone by cops, indeed people dressed as Black Block members were seen freely making their way across police lines and talking to cops.

As the day went on we became more and more disillusioned with the lack of direction of our Black Block or purpose to the property destruction which did nothing to effect the G8. We set off to find the other Black Block.

We arrived in time to see a scene of desolation. A burning bank, a torched Caribineri van and hundreds of spent tear-gas canisters.

Changing out of our Black Block attire and into something a bit more 'normal' we made our way past the heavy police presence and back to the Convergence Centre.

On the way back there was much discussion about the days events. A sombre and fearful mood seemed to take hold of the city as we heard of the assassination of Carlos Giuliani.

SB: You were reported in the local media as having been arrested during 'violent clashes' in Genoa, what were the true circumstances of your arrest?

I was actually arrested at 11.30am on the Saturday morning as our affinity group left the campsite to join the workers demonstration. I was picked out by under cover cops, who, no doubt provoked by my red and black flag with a circled A on it, cracked me round the head and bundled me into an undercover cop car.

Initially charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest I was held for 36 hours, was beaten by cops and made to stand spread eagled against the cell wall for 12 hours with no food or water, until I collapsed. Everyone was strip searched on the way in. The psychology of brutality was worse than the beatings. Hearing the screams of other people while only being able to look at a wall and all the time expecting a baton in the kidneys or a boot in the balls.

A large amount of the police holding us were openly Fascist, displaying an almost malevolent hatred of the protesters and forcing many of us to goose step and shout 'Viva Duce'.

I count myself lucky not to have got a worse beating than I did, many people got the shit kicked out of them. Others had drugs and petrol planted on them, many, like Joe Moffat from Dublin, are still being held on bogus charges.

It is important that people support prisoners of the Italian state like Joe in whatever way they can. I was not allowed contact with a lawyer for the first 24 hours, and no phone calls were permitted, but apparently telegrams have been getting through to Joe.

SB: Following the events in Genoa, and other cities where anti-capitalist protests have taken place, do you have any thoughts on how the anti-capitalist movement should develop? Can it be made more effective?

The events in Genoa have made me all the more aware of the need to build a strong working class labour movement. While confrontations at such events are useful in keeping issues in the public consciousness, and for keeping our 'world leaders' on their toes, they are mainly of symbolic importance. We can't fool ourselves that they will ever be enough to overthrow Capitalism. If we're serious about that we need to organise ourselves in our workplaces and communities, making the links with other workers internationally. We need to build were we have the potential to win in the future, where we have won in the past. We have to realise that the power of Capitalism doesn't flow from international summits, or the parliaments and palaces of the world. It flows from the robbery of workers which takes place on the shop floor, in all the places were we work to produce the wealth of society, and were we have the power to make a real difference. We must stem the flow of Capitalist power at the source.

We can't afford to go down the dead end roads of Parliamentary Socialism or Fascistic Bolshevism. Thankfully very few in this young movement hold faith in these ideas, and while Anarcho-Syndicalists have differences with much of the movement we are greatly encouraged by the widespread taking up of the libertarian ideas of direct democracy, direct action and opposition to hierarchy which set this movement well on the road to the realisation of a new world already.

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Posted by the Syndicalist Solidarity Network

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