Victory in Prague - IMF and World Bank closed down

Any honest account of the September 26 (S26) demonstrations in Prague would start off by saying that the numbers that took part in the demonstrations, some 12,000 people, were a little disappointing. But it should go on to say that those 12,000 people succeeded in not only completely disrupting the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB-IMF) congress but in causing it to be abandoned by the majority of delegates on the second day and the last day was then cancelled. In short we closed it down. It says a lot that you would be hard pushed to find any media, mainstream or 'left' that makes these two points.

The WB-IMF, who met in Prague, are two of the post-war bodies that seek to ensure that people all over the world obey the needs of western capitalism. Previous coverage in this paper has revealed that they use national debt as a way to force national governments to obey their dictats, the 'Structural Adjustment Programs'. For decades these bodies have been opposed in the 'third world'. In the 1980's there were countless anti-IMF riots in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Czech anarchists, in particular Solidarita - ORA, played a major part in organising the S26 protests and more importantly in trying to mobilise Czech workers for them. The weakness of numbers on the day was in no small part due to the refusal of union officials to pay for organised groups of workers to travel to Prague for the demonstrations. But the work of the anarchists did start a much needed debate within the Czech unions about the IMF. It also helped mobilise the thousands of young Czech workers and students who took part in the demonstration.

In the demonstrations before the IMF summit it became obvious enormous numbers of anarchists had travelled to Prague from all over Europe and in particular from Eastern Europe. On S26 itself around 3,000 anarchists marched as a single block at the head of the blue section of the march, another 1,000 formed a 'pink and silver' section and up to another 1,000 stayed with local affinity groups in other sections of the demonstration. This enormous turn out dwarfed the contingents of the various European Leninist parties.

The limited media coverage Prague received in Ireland tended to focus on the violence in a rather abstract way - as if that was the point of the demonstration. In fact it was an inevitable product of the closing down of the IMF-WB congress. The congress was protected by 11,000 police with riot armour, batons, tear gas, stun grenades, water cannon, attack dogs and even Amoured Personnel Carriers. These were unlikely to step aside and let us through, so we attempted to force our way through their lines. In the circumstances this was the right thing to do, and more to the point it succeeded in closing down the congress.

A report widely circulated on the internet from one of the bankers is worth quoting at length from. It reveals the panic and disarray the furious attempts to storm the centre provoked amongst the bankers. "I saw ex-World Bank presidents walking around not knowing what to do...When I told him about the protests, he became totally disoriented. The following day, very few people went to the Congress Centre. Most stayed away. They just stayed in their hotel rooms. They didn't even want to go out. ... the meeting got cut by a day. ... they denied that the protests were the reason.. The press laughed at this."

Amongst the protesters on the early evening of S26 the sense of victory was something you could almost pluck out of the air. We marched into the city centre led by an anarchist Samba band from Seattle and fire breathers. Locals waved from their balconies and tram drivers rang their bells as we passed. Later that evening the police, furious at their defeat, ran riot in the city centre. They battered and arrested tourists, curious locals and anyone who looked like a protester. Those arrested were further beaten in jail and denied both their legal rights and access to food, sleep and toilets.

The beating the local bully boys of global capitalism inflicted in the aftermath of S26 could not however overcome the defeat that had been inflicted. Our anonymous banker concluded that "I have a feeling that when the WB-IMF bureaucracy assesses Prague they will wind down the annual meetings." As the whole purpose of these meetings is to demonstrate in a very public manner their uncontested power over us this would be a significant victory.

Of course as he also points out this won't put them out of business. They'll just switch to sorting things out by fax, email and in smaller more protected gatherings. But none of us in Prague imagined that this sort of spectacular protest would bring down capitalism. That is why we have returned home to activity in our workplaces and communities. Join us in this.

First published in Workers Solidarity 61, Novemeber 2000

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

  


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