Diary of two anti-capitalists.
By Sacha Ismail and Lee Sergent.
The bulk of our coach, going to Prague for the anti-IMF protest on 26 September, is student members of the SWP. The SWP line is that this is the best thing since soviets. We manage to inject a bit of realism, getting people to agree that, if it is going to go anywhere, the anti-capitalist movement must turn towards the working class.
None of the other non-SWP people on the bus are socialists: one is a sort of anarchist from Portugal; another an artist who has decided to come through sheer curiosity; another an organic farmer from Somerset. In however limited and inadequate a form, socialist and environmentalist ideas are meeting and cross-fertilising each other.
When we reach the German-Czech border, some Spanish demonstrators tell us they've been there for several hours and that other coaches have been held for about 10 hours. The Czech government isn't actually preventing people from coming in, but it is doing its best to discourage us.
Finally, we enter the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have found us anywhere to stay, and the coach organiser advises us to stay in groups of six or more 'in case of roving fascists'. There is general relief when it is announced that we will have somewhere to stay after all, the floor of a youth hostel. This is not hugely comfortable, but the fact that no-one can sleep gives us a chance to talk to people about politics. The first demo will be early on Tuesday morning, with protesters surrounding the conference centre before IMF delegates are even awake.
Everyone gets up early, but no-one seems to be sure exactly where the action is. So much for the pre-emptive strike. Eventually we find ourselves at a gathering of the International Socialists, the SWP's international tendency. There are about 600 ISers here, from Germany and southern Europe, as well as small groups from Poland, Hungary and various other East European countries - enough to make a lot of noise. As we march into town, people lean out of windows and stare. There are friendly smiles and waves and a couple of people even join the march.
The Czechs must be fed up with capitalism; it's just that we expected them to associate the alternatives - our alternative - with Stalinism. A lot of our preconceptions are shattered.
We learn that the Czech trade union demo on the 24th was a success, with several thousand demonstrators and an acclamation of support for the imminent anti-capitalist action.
After about an hour we reach Namesti Miru (Peace Square), the scene of massive demonstrations during the overthrow of Czechoslovak Stalinism a decade ago. The place is buzzing. There are probably ten thousand people there, from dozens of different countries.
We collect an astonishing variety of leaflets, some of them very ultra-left ('Prague represents a step forward... our next demand is the rule of the workers' councils!'). The sheer number of different organisations is a sign of how weak the left still is. There are also a lot of what you might call life-style anarchists: slightly harder versions of the organic farmer on our coach!
The 'real' anarchists have massed behind a church in the middle of the square. Black-clad and masked, with angry red and black banners and (in some cases) planks of wood in their hands, they are ready for action. But, even here, no-one seems to be quite sure what that action will be.
It transpires that the demonstration is going to divide into three parts (pink, yellow and blue), with each marching through a different area of the city. The crowd divides, but we're not sure which march is which and follow one fairly randomly. The streets are flooded with police.
The real confrontation will come at 4pm, when demonstrators try to cross the river to stop IMF delegates leaving their meeting. But we are in the wrong place, and miss it!
We spend the day in marches and minor demonstrations; we have no idea about what has happened until we stumble upon a press conference called by INPEG, the loose alliance which is co-ordinating the demonstrations. The room is packed with a minority of journalists and lots of protesters who want to know what's going on.
The attempt to blockade the conference centre did not succeed; it did, however, disrupt the IMF's meeting and cause the cancellation of an opera which delegates were supposed to attend.
The Czech police have behaved with the expected brutality, beating a number of demonstrators and then refusing them access to medical services. Large numbers have been arrested (850, we later discover, including 600 Czech citizens). Almost every demonstrator was given a number to call in case of arrest, but no-one has called: implying that the police are denying people their right to a phone call from the cells.
Back on our coach, people talk about the day's events. This is a world-wide movement. There have been strikes and demonstrations all across the world, with Prague as the focus and epicentre.
The anti-capitalist demos - Prague included - have proved that the IMF and the rest of the machinery of global capitalism can be shaken. This is what a few thousand demonstrators can do! But what we need is the self-organisation of hundreds of millions of workers.
Sacha Ismail and Lee Sergent
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