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The Internationalist
  July 2017

G20 Summit Police State Terror
in Hamburg

Paramilitary police in Hamburg outfitted for battle at G20 Summit. Placing the city under a state of emergency and systematically attacking protesters, the authorities provoked the “riots” they wanted from the beginning.
(Photo: Bodo Marks/dp)

HAMBURG, Germany – It was straight out of the film Apocalypse Now, right down to the incessant drone of helicopters in the night sky. These included two U.S. Army Chinooks armed with machine guns, grenade launchers and powerful communications jammers – a small taste of imperialist war come to a European metropolis. On July 7 and 8, some 20,000 cops brought in from all over Germany and neighboring countries were unleashed to “protect” the G20 international assembly of potentates. The Germans had their own helicopters, tanks, a fleet of water cannon, plus phalanxes of heavily armed and armored cops.  The dozens of water cannon were of course not directed against any “terrorist” threat but against peaceful demonstrators.

For Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats (CDU) it was a win-win set-up. Merkel could posture as the leader of the world in terms of empty rhetoric about climate protection (the “mainstream” U.S. press noted with dismay that Donald Trump was isolated at this conference, despite his tête-à-têtes with Russian President Vladimir Putin). In view of the upcoming national elections, if there was violence, they could blame the Social Democrats (SPD) who run the city of Hamburg for failing to maintain “law and order.” But the latter, who wanted to make up for losing out with Hamburg’s bid for the Olympic games, could hardly admit they couldn’t maintain control of one of their urban strongholds. 

So, sure enough, they got their “riots.” TV got videos of luxury autos in flames and masked “Black Bloc” protesters throwing stones. The tabloid press got to run screaming headlines (Hamburger Morgenpost: “Hamburg’s Most Dangerous Night,” “Showdown in the Schanze,” “Out of Control,” “Battle in the Harbor”). The police got to try out their arsenal for suppressing mass unrest against demos of thousands and entire neighborhoods. Conservative politicians got to agitate their bogeyman of marauding leftists, to distract attention from Nazis and racist hooligans who have been on the warpath against immigrants and Muslims. The big loser was the SPD, but it soon joined the hue and cry demanding a crackdown on autonomous leftists.

The international press bought the story of rioters unexpectedly disturbing the “festival of democracy” and embarrassing a chancellor who pleaded for “peaceful” protests. But the authorities had programmed in violence long before the summit actually started. The police had from the outset demanded a ban on demonstrations. The cost of bringing in Hundertschaften (hundred-strong paramilitary squads modeled on the Roman centuria), with millions of euros for police overtime, ensured that they would be used. A special jail and court with tiny cells for hundreds of prisoners was set up in containers behind NATO-standard razor wire to mete out rapid-fire sentences. The whole event was an exercise in urban counter-insurgency.

These summits – mere occasions for photo-ops and sound-bites for the rulers – often bring death in their wake. Thus Carlo Giuliani was killed by police at the G8 in Genoa in 2001 and Ian Tomlinson at the G20 in London in 2009. They are always accompanied by massive assaults on democratic rights, as was also the case for the last such summit held in Germany (in Heiligendamm in 2007), and by cop rampages, including the outright torture of police victims as in the case of Genoa. It seems necessary to recall this in view of the cacophony of condemnation of “senseless violence” and destruction of property allegedly committed by some protesters which has been used to drown out any protest against the massive police state terror.

But this was not just business as usual. The “new world order” proclaimed by Washington upon the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe is coming apart. The non-stop wars of the last quarter century unleashed by the U.S./NATO warmongers have not brought “victory.” Instead, the imperialists have gotten bogged down in one quagmire after another – from the Balkans to the Middle East to North Africa and South-Central Asia – and provoked a huge refugee crisis. Meanwhile, since 2007-08, they are mired in a worldwide capitalist economic depression, with tens of millions of unemployed fueling the growth of fascist and racist forces, as well as a surge in left populism.

In this spreading chaos and challenge to “governability,” the hard-fisted bankers in Brussels, Frankfurt, the City of London and Wall Street can bring wayward populist politicians to heel, like Alexis Tsipras in Athens or Bernie Sanders in the U.S., and the same with reformist social democrats like Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. They can handle “peaceful, legal” mass marches and even impotent one-day “general strikes” (work stoppage + parade) against austerity as in Greece. They will call in what the Soviets called the “power ministries” (a/k/a, the “deep state”) to keep mavericks like Trump in line. But they require the rulers from Washington to Berlin to have the police/military apparatus at the ready to crush internal unrest, which they know is coming.

That is behind the police state terror in Hamburg, and also the massive police mobilization to protect fascists in Portland, Oregon a month earlier. It is behind the “paramilitarization” of police forces around the capitalist world – on display in the siege of Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and the occupation of Baltimore, Maryland in 2015. To suppress the Standing Rock Sioux Indians on the plains of North Dakota or protesters in Hamburg harbor, local cops are fitted out with the same armor and heavy weaponry as imperialist forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of emergency imposed on this German port city was announced well in advance. It should have been answered with a mobilization of workers power against the terror-summit, which three-quarters of the local population didn’t want in Hamburg at all.

Instead, we are treated to the sorry spectacle of the housebroken social-democratic and  social-democratized left parroting the complaints of the gutter press and law-and-order politicians against the “senseless violence” of the anarchoid Autonomen. Rather than lamenting “troublemakers” who besmirched the “image” of joyous peaceful demos, panel discussions and dance parties, genuine communists understand the rage provoked by the Summit’s obscene display of imperialist arrogance. We don’t complain that protesters were too “radical,” but explain that throwing some stones and firecrackers won’t stop cops armed for civil war, and the goal of disrupting the smooth functioning of these imperialist conclaves is a very limited and temporary one. To carry out a revolution to rip out capitalism by the roots we must mobilize the millions-strong working class under the leadership of a revolutionary, Leninist-Trotskyist party.

“Fortress Hamburg”

Some of Hamburg's fleet of dozens of state-of-the-art WaWe 10000 water cannon block “Welcome to Hell” march of thousands on July 6. Each of the monster machines with a crew of five costs over 1 million euros. Every German state has acquired them. The imperialists are bulking up military/police apparatus to crush internal unrest.
(Photo: Radio Dreyeckland)

The police warned of an “unprecedented level of violence” around the summit, and made it a self-fulfilling prophesy. They turned the city into “Fortress Hamburg” with “the biggest deployment in their history” (Spiegel online, 19 June). The civilian face of this military operation were SPD mayor Olaf Scholz and interior senator (in charge of the police) Andy Grote. Falko Droßmann (former air force officer, graduate of Hamburg’s military university), the SPD chief of central Hamburg, laid the groundwork by attempting to drive out any and all homeless people. And the Einsatzleiter (operations chief) was Hartmut Dudde, Hamburg’s top cop and architect of the “Hamburg Line” of heavy police repression of leftists. In 2015, Dudde let a fascist NPD sound truck plow through a group of anti-fascist demonstrators.

The police trained for months, “anticipating house-to-house fighting” (Der Spiegel, 8 April). They began by declaring large swathes of metropolitan Hamburg off-limits to protests, a 38-square-kilometer  Sperrgebiet (exclusion zone). Next the cops banned out-of-town demonstrators from camping out in a city park. A court approved the camp ground. But on the Sunday before the summit, July 2, cops barred demonstrators from the park and seized their tents. When the court ruled that they could sleep there, on Tuesday the police sent hundreds of riot police to stop the delivery of food to what they labeled a “safe haven for criminals.” (Of course, when courts allow fascist marches, as is routinely the case, the police enforce those orders to the hilt.)

The day before the conference, Thursday, July 6, Autonomen organized a mass march under the banner of “Welcome to Hell.” Crowds of thousands came out. For days, police had spread scare stories of “8,000 violence-ready leftists” heading to Hamburg. So the demo had barely gotten underway when it was stopped after a few hundred meters by a wall of police with their “Monster” armored personnel carriers and four huge state-of-the-art WaWe 10000 water cannon. (Water cannon are potentially deadly weapons, as shown in South Korea, Turkey – and in Germany, where they killed Günter Sare in 1985 in Frankfurt/Main.) As police attacked them with pepper spray, panicked demonstrators tried to scale a wall but were pulled down and beaten.

The excuse for this attack at the harbor, which was clearly unprovoked (as could be seen in live broadcasts), was allegedly the presence of some masked demonstrators, the dreaded “Black Bloc.”1 Wearing a mask at a demonstration has been illegal in Germany since 1985. This ban is enforced by… black-clad, masked policemen, who can thus not be identified by those they beat. Needless to say, it suffices to smuggle a few agents provocateurs into any march to “justify” its dispersal. Hamburg is infamous for the use of undercover cops who have infiltrated leftist milieus, and it is a matter of record that such agents have been ordered to throw stones or bottles at the police in order to provoke a cop assault (Hamburger Abendblatt, 18 October 2012).

The “clashes” (i.e. police attacks) then continued the next day, Friday, July 7, including harassment and physical assault on first-aid teams as well as on clearly identifiable journalists. This time people were attacked even before arriving at the starting point of the “anti-capitalist” march, “Board the G20 – Sink Capitalism.” While the high and mighty listened to the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the elegant Elbphilharmonie concert hall, outside on the street demonstrators were blasted with pepper gas and drenched with water. Many retreated to the Schanzen district, a traditional leftist neighborhood, while tossing a few water bottles and firecrackers. The stage was set for the police-engineered “riot” that night.

Barricades in the street were set alight, cars and a bank were torched, a supermarket and a drug store were trashed. Around 11 p.m., squads of robocops brought from the Summit meeting site militarily stormed the Schanzen going house by house using special munitions to blast open doors. Later it was claimed that the police had “lost control” of the city. Yet these actions were limited to a few street corners, and the police clearly let them happen.2 They wanted the photos of flaming barricades (which were set on fire and burned for hours right next to the police and their water cannons). Actions by provocateurs – probably including outright fascists – can certainly not be excluded. The goal was obviously to discredit the protests and whip up hysteria against the “Black Bloc.”

The following day, there was a massive wrap-up demonstration of up to 100,000 people, “Solidarity Without Borders Instead of G20,” with a whole range of liberal, environmental and leftist groups, including Turkish and Kurdish contingents, The organizers did not take the police bait to denounce “anti-capitalists” and Autonomen. Yet this parade was also harassed by cops, who even hijacked a bus of social-democratic youth to check identities. Not only masked demonstrators but anyone wearing black was targeted. Police attacked people gathered around the Rote Flora (an old occupied theater used as a center by Autonomen) with water cannon and tear gas, finally provoking the stone-throwing which would then retroactively justify it all.

In the course of the paramilitary police mobilization, cops carried out forcible searches of the B5 international center, a cinema next door and several apartments, on the basis of specious information (from the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s FBI) of “crimes being prepared.” The police organized a detention center in Harburg – previously used for refugees – with 50 individual cells so small that they would be unfit for holding animals. During the operation 228 detentions were reported and 186 arrests. Over 50 were ordered jailed until trial. Hamburg mayor Schulz is calling for stiff sentences for “criminal offenders.” Permanente Revolution says that all those arrested during the summit should be released and all charges dropped.

The criminals are the cops and their bosses who ordered the police-state repression.

Meanwhile, the police claimed that 476 officers were injured, blaming this on demonstrators. Later this figure was reduced to 231, not even one-tenth of whom were unavailable the next day (Die Tageszeitung [taz], 14 July). But of the 150 cops from Hessen reported injured, 130 were suffering from their own tear gas (Allgemeine Zeitung [Mainz], 9 July). Of the 132 “injured” police from Berlin, most were affected by smoke grenades and pepper spray – i.e., due to their own repressive measures. And that was the second group of Berlin cops sent to the G2 summit – the first 220 were sent home after engaging in what Hamburg police called a drunken orgy in the containers where they were housed (Berliner Zeitung[BZ], 28 June).

The Sequel: Witch Hunt Against Leftists

Robocops charge protesters in Hamburg on July 7. It was all an exercise in urban counterinsurgency. 
(Photo: Hamburger Morgenpost)

In the aftermath, there is an immense outcry and demands for a crackdown on the left. Mayor Scholz and his crew claim to have been taken by surprise by the scale and depth of the unrest. Yet they had been trumpeting for weeks about thousands of “violent anarchists” about to descend on the Hanseatic port city, and it was violent attacks by police that over and over provoked the “riots.” Christian Democrats and the tabloids are demanding that Scholz resign, while the SPD’s Green Party coalition partners have taken a dive. In response, the mayor joined in the frenzied denunciation of the Rota Flora Autonomen center, accusing it and other far-leftists of fostering riots, “intellectual arson” and bringing in a “criminal mob,” by which he didn’t mean the G20.

Nationally, the same foam-flecked rhetoric is coming from the CDU/SPD Great Coalition, which holds four-fifths of the seats in the Bundestag. Federal interior minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) denounced the “Chaoten” (chaos-mongers) and called to take a “hard line against left-wing extremism, just like right-wing extremism” (Stern, 10 July). We assume he didn’t mean funding left-wingers and giving them free rein, which is how the government treats far-rightists. Rather, he wants to evict leftists from Rote Flora, occupied houses in Berlin and Connewitz in Leipzig. Not to be outdone, federal justice minister Heiko Maas (SPD) called on other European Union governments to quickly execute German arrest warrants to stop “riot tourism,” and called for an EU-wide data base of “far-left extremists.” The press played up the number of non-Germans arrested.

The SPD/CDU and media witch hunt against far leftists even targeted the social-democratic Left Party, which softly criticized some of the police tactics. These reformists, however, joined in the chorus reviling the protesters, with co-chairman Sahra Wagenknecht condemning “violent excesses” that could only discredit peaceful protests. A Left Party Bundestag deputy denounced “riot-idiots” while Berlin Left Party chief (and state culture minister) Klaus Lederer called to “decisively go into action against chaos-mongers.” (Der Tagesspiegel, 11 July). A wing of the Left Party youth group Solid in Hamburg threatened to finger anyone who “uses force” the “colleagues of the GdP” (the cop “union”) and turn them into the authorities, grotesquely threatening in a July 7 Facebook posting: “We know where you sleep” and “would not shy away from” leading police to their tents or sleeping places!

Another wing of Solid, around the SAV (Sozialistische Alternative, part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) Led by Peter Taaffe), criticized this shameful call and efforts by the police to “divide protests into peaceful and violence-prone.” Yet the SAV claims that cops are just workers in uniform and criticized “Autonomen tactics that provoke clashes with the police” (sozialismus.info, 9 July). Two days later, it attacked the organizers of the “Welcome to Hell” demo for their “martial mobilization materials” which “gave the police ammunition” to attack demos. Instead of defending leftists being witch-hunted, they called to “distance ourselves from the idiocies of sections of the Autonomen milieu” (sozialismus.info, 11 July).

This is par for the course for social democrats of the Left Party, and the various Trotskyoids who dog-paddle in this reformist swamp, from the SAV to the followers of anti-Trotskyist Tony Cliff and pseudo-Trotskyist Ernest Mandel (formerly RSB and ISL, now united in the ISO on a policy of tailing Die Linke, mainly within its ranks). You get much the same from the social-democratized ex-Stalinists, like Junge Welt(8 July) which in its G20-Blog published a commentary (“Free Riders of the Revolt”) denouncing the “orgy of violence of the Autonomen,” and the “marauding of the modern lumpenproletariat” aimed at “tripping up the organized left.” It criticized the authorities because “riot-tourists were able to arrive unhindered,” while “police officers, workers in the public safety sector, were misused for a demonstration of power.”

The pale-pink reformists repeat the same treacherous illusions that Leon Trotsky polemicized about against the Social Democrats who looked to the Prussian police as a bulwark against the fascists, with tragic results. “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker,” Trotsky insisted (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat[1932]). Genuine Leninists and Trotskyists are light-years removed from the Biedermänner-Linke (philistine leftists) who in their eagerness for bourgeois respectability join in the witch hunt against the “violence-prone leftists.” The blind rage of anarchoid Autonomen is no program for revolution, but those who command the violence of the capitalist state and those who carry it out are on the other side of the class line.

The “riots” during the Hamburg G20 Summit were the inevitable result of plans by local and federal authorities to put the city under siege. They were directly provoked by the actions of the police starting days before the meeting as they systematically attacked groups of protesters, large and small, and even local residents. The next time around police plan to hermetically seal off the civilian population from “violence-prone” protesters. Facing such preparations for civil war, there is only one force that can prevail against the assembled forces of capitalist state repression: the organized power of the working class. Class-conscious workers should have mobilized well in advance to use their power against the looming threat of the police-state Summit.

The Hamburg Summit brought out tens of thousands of protesters – Black Bloc and “Red Blocs,” Kurds and Turks, liberals and leftists, labor activists and environmentalists – in perhaps the biggest outbreak of mass unrest in recent years in Germany. Popular-front parades (which in fact beg the imperialist to clear up their act) and random rage are both expressions of impotence in the face of the provocations of the arrogant ruling class. They will keep happening so long as there is no effective mobilization of the power of the exploited and oppressed against their exploiters and oppressors. The CDU/SPD politicians can ignore the peaceful demonstrators and use overwhelming armed force against rioters. But if workers shut down the Hamburg harbor and take over the streets, then it’s a different story.

Can it happen, given the thoroughly bureaucratized labor movement that seeks to subordinate workers’ power to the dictates of capital? That depends above all on the struggle to build a proletarian vanguard, a Leninist and Trotskyist party that seeks to oust the bureaucrats and break the chains of class collaboration with a program of class struggle leading to workers revolution and a socialist united states of Europe. This is the key to defending immigrants and refugees, and to smashing the growing rightist and fascist threat. Forging the nucleus of that vanguard is the task that the League for the Fourth International has undertaken. As every class-conscious Greek or Spanish worker knows well, revolution in the heart of German imperialism is key to the fate of the entire continent.■

  1. 1. In fact, demonstrators at the head of the demo had reportedly already lowered their masks at the time that the march was attacked from behind by a squad of police from Berlin (Die Tageszeitung [taz], 13 July).
  2. 2. Operations chief Dudde later absurdly claimed the commanders of the heavily armed Special Arrest Teams feared for the lives of their cops, so they had to wait for the Anti-Terror Units (Hamburger Morgenpost, 10 July).