Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.


Five Fingers Beat 16,000 G8 Cops: Are we winning, again?

From 6-8 June 2007, for over 44 hours, every road into and out of the enormous 'Red Zone' surrounding the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm was blockaded. According to the Financial Times on the opening day, the blockades had 'tipped the G8 summit into logistical chaos'. The mobilisation to Heiligendamm was the return of the alter-globalisation movement. Ben Trott analyses how the event turned out to be such a success? What are its implications? And what next?

June 14, 2007
14 min read

Ben Trott is an editor of the journal Turbulence.

  share     tweet  

For almost two years, groups, organisations and individuals on the left in Germany and beyond have been preparing for this year’s G8 summit. Trade unionists, the anti-nuclear and environmental movement, peace and anti-war coalitions, student groups, anti-fascists, self-organised groups of migrants, anti-racist campaigners, the youth wings of political parties and the networks of the autonomous and radical left have – not always harmoniously – been working together to produce the successful scenes of mobilisation that were witnessed on the streets of Rostock and the roads and fields around Heiligendamm earlier this month.

Two lessons at least were learnt from the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles. Firstly, three parallel and only very slightly overlapping mobilisations (Make Poverty History, G8 Alternatives, and Dissent!) failed to pool resources, coordinate or look for commonality. In contrast, the basis of the mobilisation to Heiligendamm was the construction of a common ‘choreography of resistance’. This ensured events did not compete against one another, and that cooperation – where possible – was maximised. Secondly, there was a determination to ensure that the process of legitimation of the G8 – set in motion by Bono and others, and reaching its climax in Gleneagles – was halted and reversed. The aim was to demonstrate that the G8 is illegitimate full stop. To borrow Bob Geldof’s words after the 2005 summit: ‘mission accomplished.’

On Saturday 2 June, 80,000 people demonstrated through the streets of Rostock in the biggest demonstration the city had ever seen. Under the banner of ‘Another World Is Possible’, they declared the G8 an institution without legitimacy. The demonstration’s largest bloc, with around 8,000 participants, was the Interventionist Left’s ‘Make Capitalism History’. It was both these blocs, which came under attack from police; and from which militant actions of the so-called ‘black-bloc’ are said to have taken place. Debates around the nature and activity of the bloc certainly rocked the coalition over the following days. Ultimately, however, the coalition proved itself strong enough to withstand the question of ‘militancy’. All in all, the demonstration provided a clear rejection of both the political and democratic legitimacy of the G8, as well as containing a clear anti-capitalist presence.

The next day, thousands participated in a day of action on global agriculture, demanding food sovereignty, an end to the genetic modification of food and rejecting the patenting of seeds. Many took part in international networking events on the issues of resistance to racist police violence worldwide, the connections between the issues of precarious working and living conditions and migration, and more.

On 4 June, over 15,000 people took part in decentralised actions around Rostock on the issue of migration (in front of a Lidl supermarket, responsible for the exploitation of migrant labour; in front of the so-called ‘Sunflower Houses’ of mostly Vietnamese guest-workers, attacked in 1992 by neo-Nazis; and in front of a government building responsible for processing asylum applications) before taking part in a demonstration ‘For Global Freedom of Movement and Equal Rights for Everyone’. The day of action organised by both anti-racist activists and self-organised groups of refugees and migrants, came under heavy police repression. The demonstration was banned from the city centre and the police did all they could – (unsuccessfully) – to provoke an escalation which could be used to justify further repression.

On 5 June, thousands took part in the day of action against militarism, war, torture and the global ‘state of exception’ – the suspension of legal rights and freedoms, e.g. that of Habeas Corpus, across the planet. Hundreds gathered at Rostock Laage military airport to ‘greet’ George W. Bush as Air Force One landed.

And then came Wednesday 6 June, the opening day of the summit, the day on which blockades – both mass and decentralised, pre-advertised and spontaneous – would try to shut down the summit itself. The extent of the success of these blockades surprised everyone – not least those who had spent almost a year and a half mobilising for them.

Bloc(k) Parties

One of the most prominent elements of the counter-mobilisation was the Block G8 campaign for mass blockades of the access roads to Heiligendamm. This campaign was made up of over 120 different organisations, groups and networks: from church organisations, trade union youth groups, the anti-nuclear waste transport (CASTOR) movement, over groups from the radical and autonomous left, the youth wings of political parties (both the Greens and the socialist Linkspartei), to anti-fascist organisations and non-violent direct action groups.

The composition of the coalition was, for many, surprising. Most of the groups had never cooperated before and those who had, had not always had good experiences. Nevertheless, the campaign based itself on the notion that cooperation was essential for the blockades to be successful. Moreover, and more interestingly, there was a feeling that as groups moved away from the comfort zones of their traditional action; new forms of action and new commonalities could be produced, despite and beyond obvious differences.

After many months of discussion, the following action concept was developed: a practical rejection of the legitimacy of the G8 could only be achieved through real – rather than merely symbolic – blockades of the summit. The aim was not to stop the heads of state from reaching their destination (everyone knew they would be flown in by helicopter), but to cut the G8 summit off from its infrastructure of thousands of service providers, caterers, translators, journalists and so on. Our first objective was to reach our blockade points: two of three key roads leading to Heiligendamm. We would not engage in an escalation with the police, or allow ourselves to be provoked. At the same time, we would do all that we could to prevent anyone from being injured. Once we reached the blockade points, we would not leave again voluntarily.

In order to ensure the success of the blockades, hundreds of action trainings and information events were organised across Germany and beyond. Thousands were trained in the techniques which would be required: from how to build an ‘affinity group’ (a group of 5-10 people, prepared to act together and look out for one another during an action); through to methods for getting through police lines; to how to resist an eviction and deal with minor injuries. The action concept was published on the campaign’s website, translated into numerous languages, integrated into a PowerPoint presentation, and distributed via various publications. The media were invited to observe – and on one occasion, partake in – some of the action trainings, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung (perhaps an equivalent of the UK’s Guardian) reproduced one of the trainings in an online multimedia presentation.

Block Around the Clock

One of the Block G8 blockades would be made up of people based in the camp near Reddelich, the other by those in Rostock. From Reddelich, the blockaders would be able to reach their desired blockade point by foot. Rostock, however, was too far to be able to rely on people moving on foot alone. So the people from this camp were transported by bus, car, bike and train to a pre-announced destination. On arrival, the crowd of around 4000 began to move along the road in the direction of their secret destination. As soon as the front of the demonstration met the first line of police, the so-called ‘Five-Finger-Tactic’ came into play. Rather than trying to push through the line of police in front of it, the first of the five ‘fingers’ left the road and went out into the field to the right of it, attempting to move around the line of police, stretching their resources as far as possible. The line of police retreated to try and remain in front of the first finger, which was making its way rapidly across the field. As it did so, the remaining four fingers moved forward with it. Once the line of police stopped, the second finger moved again out of the road and into the field, this time to the left. Again, the police were forced to retreat and to spread themselves out over a greater distance. This process repeated itself, with the fingers alternately moving off the road to the right and then the left. As planned, all five fingers (and the 4000 people within them) were able to either move around the lines of police, or else flow through them once they had been forced to spread themselves out so far that large gaps emerged.

Whilst the 6000 plus Reddelich blockaders were able to reach their desired blockading point relatively unhindered by the police – blockading not only their chosen road, but also the railway line which ran alongside (the only one in and out of the ‘Red Zone’) – those coming from Rostock were forced to brave pepper spray, batons and the police’s water canons (some of which had mixed pepper spray into the water) in order to finally – and successfully – reach their destination.

In both instances, as soon as the blockaders reached their desired points, the police appeared to concede defeat. In neither situation were the police well equipped enough to evict either 4000 – 6000 people from the street, nor to ensure that the crowds – which had already proven themselves very determined – would not immediately return. Securing kilometres of road running alongside open fields, or arresting and transporting up to 10000 people was obviously out of the question. At the same time, the social breadth of the blockades (which expanded across church groups, trade unions and political parties), along with the public support of prominent politicians, media and civil society personalities in Germany and other countries also ensured that the deployment of extreme levels of violence against the blockades would have been politically very difficult. This was exacerbated by the fact that repression in advance of the summit (with simultaneous ‘anti-terror’ raids on over 40 offices, social centres and private homes supposedly connected to the mobilisation, along with huge restrictions on the freedom to demonstrate) had been met with heavy criticism. On the day of the raids, over 6000 people demonstrated in Berlin and 4000 in Hamburg alone. The media were tremendously critical, as were a number of prominent politicians on both the left and right. For a while, it appeared that attac Germany (who, incidentally, never signed up as official supporters of Block G8, although some of their leadership and local groups did) would distance themselves from the blockades, following the events of the previous Saturday. Thanks to both the mood of the organisation’s grassroots, who were already present on the camps and geared up for blockading – and a couple of isolated voices higher up in the organisation – this never came to fruition. Had this been the case, the police may have responded very differently.

Another likely reason for success was that police resources were massively over-stretched. Thousands were demonstrating, again, at Rostock Laage military airport. Others had begun to take down the 12-kilometre fence around the ‘Red Zone’. Small, decentralised actions – from passive sit-ins to burning barricades – were taking place in dozens of other locations all around the area. And nobody knew what to expect next. An attempted eviction of either or both of the Block G8 mass blockades would have swallowed enormous amounts of resources, and the police were almost certainly unsure when they would – perhaps more urgently – be needed elsewhere.

The outcome on the first day of the G8 summit was that many delegates were told not to go to Heiligendamm, but to make their way to their hotels and remain indoors. Some never even made it to Heiligendamm while those who did often faced long delays. Others were forced to fly into the ‘Red Zone’ by helicopter at huge expense. Journalists resorted to travel by boat. Some reports suggest that only four journalists made it to the opening ceremony. If the Financial Times report that the summit was chaos, then I believe them.

And now?

The political consequences of the very successful mobilisation around this year’s G8 summit – both on the ‘internal’ movement level, and on the level of global political economy – remain unclear. How can it be that both the movement, and the G8 leaders themselves (claiming to have found commonality in difficult times, as well as having supposedly made progress on both climate change and commitments to poverty alleviation) are proclaiming: ‘We are winning’? How long will the coalitions formed by the movement in the run up to the summit hold out? How will – if at all – those mobilised to take part in the blockades remain involved in movements and struggles? And how far will the different groups that united as the Block G8 coalition continue to experiment with new forms of political practice, outside of their traditional comfort zones?

A few conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, the differences between the various groups, which took part in Block G8 are far less important than the commonalities. This was demonstrated and played itself out in practice. Secondly, the whole of the left needs to recognise that whilst it now needs to enter into a process of critical (self-) reflection, exploring both the victories and the problematics, which arose during the summit, the mobilisation was a greater success than any of us could have imagined. It is a success that everyone played a role in creating, and the fallout from which (in terms of debts incurred, repression and so on) needs to be dealt with collectively. But moreover, it should be recognised that none of us are the same as we were before the summit. The days of action in Rostock and around Heiligendamm were much more than an expression of ‘Unity in Diversity’, they represented a ‘becoming-other’, together. Through coordination, cooperation and the constant search for commonality, we became a more genuine ‘movement of movements’ – more than just the sum of our parts.

And thirdly and finally, we need to recognise that only two years ago, 300,000 people demonstrated in Edinburgh, largely to welcome the G8 summit and its supposed efforts to make poverty history. This year, 80,000 demonstrated their opposition to the G8 as an institution, and well over 15,000 took part in actively blockading the summit. Another world is not just possible. It is already here. We saw it in Heiligendamm. The alter-globalisation movement can once again be seen as a serious social actor, able to influence the direction of global events and politics.

To be sure, it is unlikely that the vast majority of those who took part in the blockades and other events will become involved within organised political structures – be those of the radical-left, of non-violent action groups, of political parties, or of organisations such as attic. In many ways, this limits the ability of those in attendance to be able to act in a coordinated, organised fashion, maximising their agency. But such organisational forms have only ever been a very small element of what social movements are all about. Far more important are the affective connections, which were formed over those 44 hours on the streets, those late nights of action planning, and those often-painful coalition meetings. These are connections, which have the potential to last in the long term.

Foucault once said that a barricade only has two sides. Everyone who was in Heiligendamm will forever know on which side it is that they stand…or sit.A slide show, with music and photos against the G8 summit can be found on Avanti’s website: (Avanti – Project for an undogmatic left, are one of the groups involved with the Interventionist Left)

The Block G8 campaign still has enormous debts. Please Donate!

Account Name: Block G8

Bank Name: GLS Gemeinschaftsbank

Account Number: 400 8700 801

Sort Code (BLZ): 430 609 67

IBAN: DE38 4306 0967 4008 7008 01



Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Ben Trott is an editor of the journal Turbulence.

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali