The opening of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) led to massive protests by the anti-austerity and anti-capitalist Blockupy coalition on 18 March in Frankfurt – dubbed M18. Whilst the police mobilised 9000 officers (including special anti-terror units and 28 water cannons) to establish a ‘red zone’ around the ECB in order to secure the city, thousands of demonstrators set up early morning blockades and took militant action against police, banks, and state buildings.
In the afternoon a large and peaceful demonstration of 25,000 people rounded off the day. Over 200 people (amongst them 90 police officers) were injured and there were 26 arrests, mainly from the morning. The city was shut down, with schools closed and access to many areas denied. The protest was reported around the world and pushed the opening ceremony into the political background.
As the dust settles it seems we can learn at least four things from M18.
1. The European crisis policy of austerity (still) has to be stopped.
Since the mainstream press is currently reducing the culmination of three years of Blockupy organising to a question of ‘violence’ it is important to stress the content of the day.
Blockupy is primarily focused on criticising European crisis policy. This policy of the so-called Troika (composed of the IMF, European Commission and the ECB) consists mainly of austerity and cuts, which affect the socially and economically-weaker lower and middle classes in order to preserve national competitiveness on the capitalist market.
This formula shows that the Troika is interested in stabilising profits and capital accumulation rather than the living standards of human beings. Austerity is no longer an emergency reaction to keep capital accumulating in a crisis; rather, it has established itself as a new normality and the new form of life. As Merkel says over and over again, it is “without alternatives” – let the neoliberal spirit of Thatcher walk again!
This normality means saving capitalism by riding over even more dead bodies than usual. It has made more than 1m families in Spain homeless because they were not able to pay the rising rent. It has basically destroyed Greece’s health care system due to cuts and privatisations which have made more than 60% of the population uninsured. And this list is continuing to grow. Stopping austerity needs to go beyond the (neo-)Keynesian counter-model of a more ‘just’ enclosure of the market-economy, which will not solve but instead postpone the actual problems of capitalism. This radical change needs to be brought about by social struggles and the anti-authoritarian vision of self-organising beyond state, nation and capital.
2. So far Blockupy has peaked in Germany, but it is a European initiative.
Whilst there were many problems with the alter-globalisation movement of the 1990s and 2000s, M18 revived a moment when the left in Europe was much better co-ordinated and able to take action on a Europe-wide scale.
Whilst Blockupy was a process initiated in Germany in 2012 its focus on the European austerity regime, with the ECB as one of its managers, has made it easy to build international ties. Blockupy is now an international coalition including activists from Italy, Greece, Spain, Czech Republic and Belgium amongst others. Its participants come from political parties such as the German Die Linke, Syriza and Podemos as well as autonomous radical left organisations like …ums Ganze!, Interventionist Left and social centre collectives.
M18 created a space for the rage against austerity to find its way back to one of the states most responsible for it – but Blockupy is just one part of a broader movement. Syriza has made its aims for a (parliamentary) European-wide progressive force quite clear, and radical left platforms such as Beyond Europe, The Commune of Europe and a large Italian initiative around the idea of the ‘social strike’ all show the desire for more European connection in struggle.
Hopefully it’s not just the clown army that made a come-back in Frankfurt…
3. #prayforcopcars – The usual condemnation of the ‘violence’ misses the point once again.
As always, when militant actions take place on a wide scale, politicians and the media can’t seem to take their eyes, or pens, off it. In the German press, the motivations and content of Blockupy were – at most – only worth two sentences. Predictably, the violence has been documented in obsessive detail across several pages.
This narrow-minded reaction is an effort to denounce the whole protest to its core. It does so by constructing a binary which does not exist in reality: non-violence as normality versus violence as an exception.
Sorry, but we are talking about capitalism here. It would be much more worthwhile for them to try to find moments in the lives of the majority which are not affected by violence.
Violence at its most obvious takes place in the form of inter-state wars, which have caused millions of deaths in the last century alone. Yet it goes beyond this. Violence takes place every day when refugees are being suppressed and killed at or within our borders. Violence happens when gender roles are kept alive in order to reproduce the patriarchal family unit. Violence takes place when you are forced to sell your labour force in order to survive. Violence does not have to be war, but a silent compulsion, as Marx put it.
This is violence – happening every day across the whole world. But when some police cars are burnt or some windows smashed, apparently barbarism is on the horizon! Just to be clear: some forms of militant actions on that day are to be condemned without discussion, for example when a train with people in it was smashed up. But denouncing the whole day and every kind of action has nothing to do with necessary and constructive criticism, but is instead about propaganda.
One more point concerning the criteria of newsworthiness in our media nowadays: whoever thinks that Blockupy and its criticisms of the ECB (outside Germany, it was represented far better) would make world news without militancy can wake up now.
4. The struggle continues, of course.
Cynics keep acting surprised that the revolution did not occur. This criticism is out of line, since no one seriously believed history was going to end on the smoky streets of Frankfurt. But let cynics be cynics.
The truth is that on its own an event like M18 is nowhere near enough to change the course of the political narrative, let alone change society as a whole. In order to succeed the struggle has to continue, and not only on certain dates at movement events. Nonetheless the energy and dynamic of the event-oriented process of Blockupy now has to be taken into regional struggles, put into existing daily life struggles, and used to spur further activity.
The question of if and how to continue Blockupy as a label is still open. For sure, the networks and connections will be kept alive and used on projects to come, probably in countries other than Germany.
This article was edited on 22 March 2015. It previously stated that a young refugees’ centre had been attacked. Blockupy representatives contacted the centre, and the centre confirmed it had not been attacked. It appears that the attack was on a hotel in the same block which refuses refugees from using its entrance. The Blockupy statement is here.