Notes from Blockupy Frankfurt
Monday, June 11, 2012
by SANDRO MEZZADRA
May 22, 2012
1. This is what democracy looks like
The meeting, on Thursday May 17, is in Paulsplatz, a place full of significance in German political history. Here (in the Paulskirche) people met after the March revolution of the 1848 constituent assembly that proposed the first German constitution before being overwhelmed by the reaction. Many of the protestors that approach the plaza in small groups have another Constitution in mind, that of 1949 federal Germany, and they carry signs recalling the articles about fundamental rights. For two days, Frankfurt lives a grotesque state of exception, with the consequent suspension of fundamental rights, principally the rights to demonstrate and freely express dissent, in theory (and for obvious reasons) strongly protected in Germany.
The concentration in Paulsplatz has also been prohibited, called for by a coalition of associations in defense of basic rights. When we meet in the streets in groups of a few hundred, the police shut down all access. Every time that someone speaks through a megaphone, the police loudspeakers repeat that the rally is prohibited, the power of decibels choking the voice of protest.
A few hours later, while groups of protesters are surrounded by police in other parts of the city, many of them detained and driven away from Frankfurt, in the city’s central square (the Römer) three hundred people manage to come together. A tent is erected and suddenly it is made clear that the police won’t tolerate such a thing. Thousands of agents immediately surround the plaza, they intervene forcefully, picking each protester off the ground, carrying them out of the plaza. Many of us continue showing the police the Constitution, the adrenaline of the men and women in uniform, children and old people being dragged out, someone ends up hurt. All of this to dissolve a peaceful sit-in.
These scenes are repeated on Friday but this time the police can’t stop a group of protesters from occupying a small space in front of the fences erected to protect the headquarters of the European Central Bank. The police pressure continues to be suffocating but anyone who has managed to make it here can console themselves with the view of Frankfurt’s financial district apparently paralyzed. A first account begins to circulate that will be used by the historic liberal newspaper “Frankfurter Rundschau,” after Saturday’s protest: the bankers have shut the banks, the police have blocked the city…
Mixed feelings after the first two days in Frankfurt: the press’s reaction is decidedly positive, more than a few will write in the main newspapers that Blockupy Frankfurt has won. Apocalyptic scenes constructed by the police to justify the massive security measures (five million euros, a considerable amount, even in Germany) are superposed with images of old women being grabbed by agents dressed as Robocops. Someone joked about Merkel’s indignation over human rights violations in Ukraine. On the other hand, the sensation is of having participated in a staged event, and, at the same time, in an experiment. There couldn’t be a more effective representation, in the heart of Europe’s financial district, of the gulf between capitalism and democracy, which is one of the themes that underlines the crisis in this part of the world. The crisis of capitalism’s legitimacy in the economic crisis has been made clear in Frankfurt in all of its potential violence, with a kind of experimental anticipation of what could happen if the celebrated “German model” begins to fall apart.
“This is their democracy,” chanted the protesters on the streets of Frankfurt. A slogan with a double meaning: “their” democracy is the police’s state of siege, “our” democracy is the real one, that of the encampments and the Occupy movement, and it is what feeds resistance and struggle in and against the crisis. There weren’t many of us in Frankfurt on Thursday and Friday: many buses were stopped at the city’s entrance and sent back, the climate of fear created in the previous weeks has certainly had its “effectiveness,” and every time you moved you physically felt the limit imposed by the police presence. But the determination and even the joy of those that were there was a great expression of their consciousness of being part of a much larger movement, materially building a horizon of a radical alternative to the crisis.
The day started early on Saturday, with meetings and preparation for the demonstration, the only authorized demonstration among all the initiatives planned by the Blockupy Frankfurt coalition. Once we arrived to the concentration, it was clear it would be a large protest. Buses and trains arrived from the Frankfurt region, from all of Germany, from across Europe. There are the banners of Attac and Linke, some trade unions (especially of services, verd.di), anti-nuclear ecologists, but above all young people. The atmosphere is serene, joyful, but there is also much concern: they are saying that the police will do anything to provoke, to obtain “images” that justify the state of emergency, that would somehow erase the images from Thursday in Römer….
That’s what is repeated during the demonstration. When the “anti-capitalist bloc” joins, the police surround it, attempting to break the protest in two. But this time they can’t: Attac and Linke, who find themselves in the back and at the head of the “anti-capitalist bloc,” reject every attempt by the police to separate the “peaceful” protesters from the “violent” ones. For hours the demonstration travels the streets of Frankfurt and arrives intact to the square where it’s scheduled to end. More than 25,000 protesters (German, therefore accurate, numbers) give a different meaning to the actions of the previous days, and above all, represent an optimal base for a political gamble over the future of the Blockupy movement in Germany.
“A-anti-anticapitalista” is the chant that’s repeated throughout the demonstration, first from the anti-capitalist bloc (the most numerous) and then by everyone. A slogan that’s maybe too “basic” but acquires a precise meaning in light of what’s happened in Frankfurt during the previous weeks and in general during the European crisis: the “real democracy” of the encampments and the Occupy movement can only qualify itself inside the anti-capitalist struggle. Today if we are witnessing a tendency toward a divergence between capitalism and democracy, the reinvention of democracy – far from being located in the sphere of “pure politics” – has to pass through a radical critique of capitalism.
As soon as the Blockupy Frankfurt proposal began to circulate, I began thinking about what was important in that proposal: the reason that it would be worthwhile to go, was precisely because the mobilization was in Frankfurt. The reopening of the initiative of the movement in Germany seemed to me essential from the point of view of struggles in Europe. The rupture of the consensus that the “German model” enjoyed, the development of conflicts and political initiatives around the cracks, like the “reform” of the welfare state put in march by the red-green government (the so-called Hartz IV), the politicization of the precarity that is so widespread today, above all for the youth… all of these are essential steps for the construction and consolidation of a European space of struggles. Obviously, this is not to deny that the impact of the crisis in Germany is different from in the rest of Europe. On the contrary, I think that one of the most urgent tasks is to reconstruct the crisis’s geography, the heterogeneity of its modes of manifestation and its different effects in different contexts (in Europe and at the global level). But this “cartography of heterogeneity” of the crisis’s effects has to be combined with an understanding of its systemic dynamics, of the interdependence based on which it unfolds. Above all in Europe.
From this point of view, the events of Frankfurt represent, without a doubt, as the comrades from Interventionistische Linke (http://www.dazwischengehen.org/) write, “a beginning.” There was important European participation, despite the emergency situation in which we had to move, and there were important moments of discussion between activists from different countries. However, we cannot deny that in the weeks prior to the days of action, communication was difficult; there were continuous problems of “translation,” in the literal sense (banally, the majority of the documents that circulated before and during the days of Blockupy Frankfurt were only in German) but also in the broader sense, in the difficulty to translate not only different languages, struggles, cultures and practices but also profoundly heterogeneous experiences of the crisis. In a way, we can say that in respect to the most recent cycle of struggle of of the global movement of the beginning of the century (being more “rooted” in specific situations), there has been a recession in Frankfurt in terms of working in network and of activism at a “transnational” level. This seems to me where we need to begin to work immediately, as much in the practical construction of transnational encounters for discussion and organization as in the more general problem of a “space” for political action.
From this point of view, the rhetoric of “solidarity” (with the Greek people, the Spanish people, the Italians…), dominant in both the planning and during the days of action in Frankfurt, is decidedly problematic. On the one hand, it proposes a language (that of proletarian internationalism) today that – far from being able to be reactivated in its classical terms – indicates the terrain where it is necessary to put to work the movements’ power of invention and theoretical production and, on the other hand, it suffers, limiting itself to a mechanical reversal in terms of “solidarity,” the representation of power relations within the European Union. The idea of the dislocation that is needed today, the invention of a new common area of struggles and movements, ends up being overshadowed.
4. Blockupy Europe
The days in Frankfurt highlight the problem of Europe, of a new European dimension of the movements’ struggles and actions. Within this dimension, as we have said many times before, we can (and we should) experiment with a combination of rooting the struggles in specific metropolitan areas and the construction of a space in which these same struggles can multiply their force and begin to construct an alternative political program. I’m well aware that this is only stating the terms of the problem, not a solution. But it’s a statement that should first assert its political realism: it’s only through the struggles’ capacity for dislocation within a European dimension that we can oppose the growth of the old and new right-wings in their attempts to “occupy” the spaces and rhetoric of national sovereignty; it is only within the European dimension that we can aim to build a new favorable relation of force with financial capital. In Frankfurt, also from this point of view, we have participated in a new “beginning,” we have seen the potential and difficulties. Already in the coming weeks, before falling to the times of crisis around the Greek question, we will not lack opportunities to test ourselves.
Originally in Italian: http://uninomade.org/note-da-blockupy-francoforte/