Blockupy is in its third and maybe most important year. Sometime in late autumn, the European Central Bank (ECB) will open its new offices in the highly visible and symbolic “Twin Towers” in Frankfurt City. The ECB and EU heads of state will use this occasion to once again try to convince the German and European publics that “the crisis is over” – and the neoliberal model of European economic governance is its successful outcome. Blockupy plans to mobilise tens of thousands of people to come to Frankfurt and stage a bold series of protests, including marches and various actions of civil disobedience, to counter this celebratory narrative.
As we know, the “crisis” is far from over – it is not over for the people who are bearing the consequences economically, socially, politically; not over for the fabric of the social and democratic infrastructure1; not over economically in terms of debt, financial speculation or structural imbalances2. In retrospect, the crisis appears to have been used as an occasion for the further neoliberal restructuring of capitalism and capitalist social relations, of labour and markets, democracy and decision-making in the Eurozone, with all the consequences that flow from that3.
Blockupy started in 2012 (and continued in 2013), targeting the financial district of Frankfurt to expose the crisis’ systemic character and power relations within the Eurozone. Blocking the financial district and taking the squares of the inner city of Frankfurt was intended as a moment of internationalist resistance in the “belly of the beast” of the European economic system.
However, Blockupy is more than a necessary protest in the centres of power. What had been initiated out of a double dilemma for German emancipatory forces (how to politically address the “German role” in the European crisis and how to mobilise around the issue) became in the course of these three years a moment for realigning the left in Germany, as a potential rallying point for those forces, still a minority, opposing the political and social “grand coalition”. Equally importantly, due to its character Blockupy also became a part of a process of European movement rebuilding and common strategising – a space to articulate the necessary unevenness of social conflict and struggles across a Europe in crisis, with a desire to work out commonalities, differences and practices, particularly on the streets. It became a new space in Europe, against the current Europe and for a Europe from below.
Let us reflect for a moment on the dilemmas – the crisis – faced by progressive, left forces in Germany (and other countries in the north of Europe) within the European crisis, and especially in the face of the disastrous policies imposed on the south of Europe by the Troika of the ECB, IMF and European Commission.
The first dilemma the forces opposed to the Troika face is that a coalition of all the major political forces has managed to integrate the majority of the population into the politics of the Troika and the leading role of the German government within it.
While there were exceptions, most notably some trade unions and left wing party Die Linke, there was a “grand coalition” of sorts in wider society before the Christian Democrat–Social Democrat grand coalition (with the support of all major trade unions chapters) became a political reality in September 2013. It is not that there was no compassion for the people of Greece, or that there was no impoverishment and widening of income and class relations in Germany itself4. However, as evidenced once again in the European election some weeks ago, the majority tends to believe that Merkel – and a grand coalition – serves their interest, especially in regards to the export industry and banking sector, and protects “the German economy” from worse.
In this context, how to organise protests against the Troika’s policies, including the German role in them, became an increasingly crucial question. Especially with the emergence of mass rebellions and the movements of the squares in Southern Europe, the linking of those struggles across Europe and participation in these European anti-austerity movements was tricky. For the German left simply to call for the occupation of public squares along the same lines as in Spain, Greece and Portugal would have been not just embarrassing but politically disempowering5. Therefore another strategy was needed – a strategy not necessarily geared towards mass participation but taking aim at a symbolic target (the financial district of Frankfurt and the European Central Bank), coupled with a conflict-based form of action (blocking) that would allow for a publicly recognisable form of progressive intervention.
A significant side effect of that successful action strategy (coupled with publicity provoked by police attacks on the movement6) was the creation of a left wing, progressive alliance – stable, committed and with an interesting model for cooperation between distinct forms of politics. Right now, the German Blockupy alliance is made up of activists from various emancipatory groups and organisations such as the Interventionist Left, Attac, Occupy Frankfurt, youth and student organisations, Die Linke, the anti-capitalist alliance Ums Ganze and activists from the unemployment, peace and other movements. The decision to go for radical direct action in Frankfurt with a stable, committed alliance might mean not becoming a mass coalition (see above). However, Blockupy could evolve into a vocal minority with the potential to attract those who defy the politics of the grand coalition.
The second dilemma concerns the question of nationality and transnationality: the knowledge that to fight the global class and capitalist character of the crisis and its solutions, our struggles and movements need to be both national and transnational. However, given the uneven and hierarchical articulation of the crisis within Europe, and the consequent unevenness of social struggles across Europe (and indeed across the world), this is a challenge. How can we form transnational movements and build alternatives (“Europe from below” as the catchphrase has it) while the conditions are so diverse for fighting, for building new alliances across societies, for reconstructing alternatives, and for finding different nodal points of conflict? How can we define meaningful crystallisation points – meaningful in that it makes sense strategically for a movement to join that event, even if it means more work, resources and no immediate effect for one’s own struggle?
Of course, the interventionist character of Blockupy is only one answer to the challenge for movements in the North, with their internationalist need to attack in the belly of the beast. However, in looking back at the process of Blockupy – from Blockupy Frankfurt to Blockupy International – and taking seriously the symbolic value of Blockupy throughout many chapters in Europe, it seems worthwhile to look at what it managed to offer.
Understanding the unevenness of struggles throughout Europe is the first prerequisite for building a common process with any potential of constructing a “Europe of resistance” against austerity, the Troika and beyond. It is not just a matter of respecting the variety of struggles and conflicts, nodal points and political objectives, forms and strategies, but of building on that variety, differences and experiences as a precondition for its possibility. Only if we share and analyse our experiences, political reflections and potentials in respective constellations are we able to learn and integrate new knowledge into existing frameworks.
But we not only need in-depth debates and discussions, we also need to build links through coordinated practice. The “May of Solidarity”, which emerged out of the Blockupy organising space but went beyond Blockupy, can be seen as one meaningful attempt to coordinate Europe-wide days of action throughout various emancipatory networks in Europe against the Troika’s policies and their consequences – finding a common motto (“Solidarity beyond borders – building democracy from below”), bringing in specific and regional issues and networks, working out common strands transnationally and presenting all of this as a common initiative and a crucial step in a process that goes beyond the coordinated action itself7.
However, Blockupy being taken up by various movements, organised networks and beyond raises the issue of, and I want to say need for, strategically decided central and common spaces on the streets. Through those we can experience what it means to confront power together8, experience a lively transnational physical space, and work for medium-term goals. That does not mean a return to a politics of “hopping” from one event or campaign to the next without returning, or looking at the resources this kind of politics takes. But it means that, yes, it is important to share physical space in confrontations on the streets and the squares. Further, it is important, since – given the transnational character of state and corporate power – one of our main objectives should be to bring back onto the agenda the crises that are supposedly solved, whether it is on the streets of Torino to foil the EU’s show of battling youth unemployment9 or whether in the city of Frankfurt in autumn. What is important is to exchange reflections on the different constellations of forces, the regional conditions to build stable alliances across various forms of politics and beyond the current action, to think through mobilisations as steps in a process, and of course its significance for spoiling the EU’s staging of a success story, through confrontation, intervention and a “different Europe”.
Of course this is not to say that the “Blockupy and Beyond” process is by any means the only one or yet sufficient – this TNI series on Europe’s movements gives evidence to that fact, as well as the need for all those “national” mobilisations, rebellions, movements from below10. The last few years have demonstrated that the Europe of the crisis is also a field in which we can develop new strategies of confrontation against the capitalist restructuring of Europe and democracy – and potentially of reconstituting alternative social spaces that go beyond the national. Yet, this is far from powerful in the real sense of the word. Therefore it is up to us to expand to other organised networks, European alliances and processes from below, as well as to more European regions (especially to Eastern Europe), to politically deepen this process and find those nodal points for effectively confronting the EU crisis regime with its consolidated neoliberal economic governance model – the driving force of “the crisis”. It seems clear that while they want capitalism without democracy and will continue to work for that forcefully, we, however, want democracy without capitalism.
See you on the streets of Frankfurt – let’s continue this process and use Blockupy to move beyond Blockupy!
Corinna Genschel is working for the Left Party (Die Linke) in parliament as a liaison between the party and social movements. As such she is active in the Blockupy coalition – especially right now in the Blockupy International coordinating structure.
1. See the powerful, diverse and clear statements by the witnesses at the “People’s Tribunal Hearing on EU Economic Governance and the Troika”, May 2014 (http://www.tni.org/multimedia/video-peoples-tribunal-hearing)
2. See Ellmers/Hulova (2013) “The new debt vulnerabilities” (http://www.eurodad.org/Entries/view/1546060/2013/11/11/The-new-debt-vuln…)
3. See the in-depth studies of Corporate Europe Observatory, http://corporateeurope.org/economy-finance. Further, Naomi Klein’s work on the “Shock Doctrine”, with its systematic enforcement of “free market” policies through what she calls disaster capitalism, comes to mind (see also: http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine).
4. Even the media reports that there is a growing gap in income, wages and property in Germany. In fact, Germany is leading the way in Europe. There is a growing number of working poor, and high poverty rates especially among children and single parents. (See the German witness’s statement at the Tribunal against the Troika, footnote 1). But even if this is due to the neoliberal labour and social reform called Agenda 2010, which the Social Democrats put underway in the beginning of the millennium, in a bizarre move this is now understood as the necessary “homework we already did” to make the German economy fit for competition in the global market. See the various studies by the German trade unions’ scientific institute, such as Unger, Brigitte/Bispinck, Reinhard/Pusch, Toralf/Seils, Eric/Spannagel, Dorothee, “Verteilungsbericht 2013 – Trendwende noch nicht erreicht”, published as a WSI Report, Nr. 10, November 2013 http://www.boeckler.de/pdf/p_wsi_report_10_2013
5. Of course left forces and social movements took part in the growing European movement against the Troika from the beginning of the crisis. However, the annual marches under the slogan “We won’t pay for your crisis” by 2011 clearly marked a dead end in regards to reaching higher numbers. There were also some attempts by Occupy to take squares, however this was severely limited in numbers and perspective in Germany.
6. In 2012 the police reacted to the call for Blockupy Frankfurt with a ban on all marches throughout Frankfurt on the planned action days; in 2013 police repression focused on the march of 10-15,000 people, “kettling” (surrounding) almost 1,000 demonstrators for eight hours. However, in both instances the alliance stood together – even more firm than before. For the activities and the police reaction see http://17to19m.blogsport.eu/ and http://blockupy.org/en/call-for-action/
7. For the actions, the common call and the final reflection see www.mayofsolidarity.org.
9. On July 11th 2014, the EU will meet in Torino, Italy, for a summit to supposedly battle youth unemployment. Of course, this will not be battling the root causes, but it will be about lowering legal and social standards in the member states as the proposed means to battle unemployment. Social movements, trade unions etc in Italy – plus Blockupy International – will mobilise to counter that narrative. See also http://www.globalproject.info/it/tags/englishversion/desk [Note from the editor: The 20th of June the Italian government decided to postpone the event to September]
10. And the need for movements of the North to also think about the support the movements of the South need to survive and to make a difference. This will be crucial in the moment, for example, when Syriza and the Greek population vote for a fundamental break but “Europe” refuses to let it happen.
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform