Germany, mass protests against meetings of the international elite date
back to 1985, when the G7 was held in Bonn, West Germany’s capital.
The forms of protest used there were remarkably similar to those used
15 years later: the radical left organised ‘action days’,
there was a counter-conference, and a big demonstration with 30,000 participants,
with smaller events in other cities.
For the autonomists, however, the campaign against the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and World Bank Meeting in West Berlin in September 1988 was
to have far greater meaning.
The mobilisation lasted three years and attempted to combine mass militancy
with clandestine actions, to formulate and express radical analyses, to
bring different tendencies within the radical left together, to interact
with the broader left and to publicly oppose all that the Conference stood
Here’s what happened…
it All Began
+++1985: The IMF and
the World Bank decide to hold their 1988 autumn Meeting in West Berlin.
The city government and the media are ecstatic: tens of thousands of Summit
visitors and journalists will come to the city. A tourism boom is expected.
The city hopes to be put back in the spotlight as an international metropolis.+++
The autonomists’ attitude was somewhat different. With more than
10,000 Conference visitors and journalists scattered across the city in
hundreds of hotels, driven through countless streets to the Conference
Centre and the official events, there were so many targets! We knew that
the powerful would not be able to keep the ‘security problem’
under control. The more effort they made in advance, the more politically
embarrassed they would be afterwards. And at the same time, the more they
downplayed the threat we represented, the greater the danger that they
would lose control of the Conference.
A few days after the Summit was announced, groups in West Berlin began
to voice their opposition. The Berlin Alternative List (a part of the
then-radical Green Party), peace activists and left wing union branches
criticised the politics of the IMF and planned an official counter-programme.
Two small groups from the autonomous scene in Berlin were also quick to
respond; one was active against the G7 Meeting in Bonn and wanted to combine
theory (including being openly critical of the traditional left) with
practice, whilst the other hoped to strengthen the radical left by building
a well thought out, long-term campaign.
The majority of autonomists who knew about the mobilisation continued
at this stage to focus on the day-to-day projects they were involved in,
and found it somewhat strange to begin organising three years in advance
of an event.
Eventually, as people from the most diverse tendencies within the radical
left sat together at the same table, the autonomous campaign against the
Conference began to develop a character. Differences in priorities emerged
as soon as the direction and purpose of the campaign began to be discussed.
One group wanted to physically prevent the Conference from taking place,
by building effective resistance throughout the mobilisation. The second
regarded this as ‘illusionary action-ism’ and placed more
importance upon the development of theoretical discussions. [Note: three
of the authors of this article were part of the ‘activist tendency’;
as a result this aspect is given far more weight here].
A second point of conflict was the possibility of working with ‘reformists’.
Whilst the ‘activist’ tendency prioritised organising effectively
amongst the autonomists, they also sought dialogue with the broader opposition
to the Summit. The ‘theoretical’ tendency, however, condemned
this as ideologically dubious coalition-building.
The differences were clear at the National Conference of Development-Politics
Action Groups (BUKO). It brought together very different groups (fair
trade groups, faith-based solidarity groups and more practical campaign
groups) and had become more radical over the preceding years. The days
of action against the IMF and World Bank were among the items on the agenda.
Representatives of the Alternative List/Green Party were heavily involved
and pushed their agenda: campaigning for debt relief for the poorest nations
and reform of the IMF through increased involvement of poor countries,
and organising a big, peaceful rally and counter-conference to the Summit.
BUKO brought to light a major point of conflict among the Berlin autonomists:
should they use the conference to put forth their position - that the
IMF and World Bank can’t be reformed, and should be attacked, because
it’s not about peaceful protest, but actively disrupting the capitalist
spectacle? Or would attendance at the conference just amount to an attempt
at currying favour with the reformists?
In the end a small group of autonomists took on communication with the
BUKO people, who confirmed that they were preparing to mobilise in West
Berlin and would call for people to take part in the autonomists’
actions. The autonomists were also invited to take part in their mobilising
conference. The issue of coalition-building with BUKO always remained
a point of contention amongst the autonomists.
The shape of the mobilisation eventually emerged from discussions about
objectives, content and forms of action. The decision was summarised by
the slogan, “We will disrupt this Conference!” and was signed,
“Autonomous Groups of West Berlin”. The slogan was adopted
by all the autonomous groups and used from this point on.
In March 1987, the newsletter, Unzertrennlich #4 announced, “In
September they’re all coming here - the financial bosses of the
capitalist core from Tokyo to Frankfurt to New York… executives
from the headquarters of multinationals such as Toyota, Lockheed-Martin,
and Siemens along with ministers, Secretaries of State, ‘experts’,
journalists and their observers. More than 14,000 of them will be here
for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Conference. For a few
days, Berlin will be recognised in the eyes of the world as a symbol of
capitalist imperialism. All hotels will be fully booked; streets and entire
sections of the city will be blocked off. Berlin will be rebuilt in the
name of ‘security’. The message is clear: those responsible
for hunger, profit, terror and war throughout the entire world are coming
to this ‘capital of the free world’. To this, we object. Our
suggestion: Disrupt the Conference!”
The spectrum of those involved was becoming broader and broader. Activists
from numerous women and lesbian groups - who had until then viewed anti-capitalist
politics as conflicting with campaigns against patriarchy - joined in.
[Translator’s note: There is a tradition of women’s groups
within the German radical left describing themselves as ‘women and
lesbian’ in response to the fact that many lesbians felt marginalised
and not visible enough within women’s organisations]. The anti-IMF
group at the Latin America Centre (LAZ) also became very active, and a
regular co-ordination meeting was organised. An important objective had
been achieved: Despite all the differences, a core of autonomist groups
was now actively involved in the campaign.
‘The other side’
offered an important contribution: Hans Klein, the CSU (Conservative)
National Development Minister, warned that BUKO were preparing a campaign
to disrupt the Summit and were “announcing violence, even if in
a restricted way. The recently freed potential from the struggles at the
fiercely defended Hafenstrasse squat, Runway West [a camp squatting land
to prevent a runway being built at Frankfurt Airport] and the nuclear
processing plant Wackersdorf [the target of a series of big, very militant,
demonstrations] is being exposed to a new terrain of action.”
This was extremely encouraging. From that point on, on top of regular
co-ordinating meetings, private discussions were being held around the
kitchen tables of communal houses. The campaign slowly began to establish
itself, and not just in West Berlin…
Anti-IMF/World Bank groups were formed in cities across Germany, attempting
to build links with local projects, groups and structures. This was not
a smooth process. When all these groups met for the first time quarrels
developed between ‘newcomers’ and ‘old-timers’,
and between Berlin groups and those from West Germany. These were added
to the existing divisions between ‘theoretical’ and ‘activist’,
and between ‘anti-capitalist’ and ‘anti-patriarchal’,
tendencies within the movement. Despite this, the campaign continued to
develop, with a fair bit of interest being expressed at the Libertarian
Days Conference in Frankfurt in April 1987. The IMF/World Bank Conference,
however, was still just one issue amongst many.
In West Berlin, in the early summer of 1987, two events demonstrated the
movement’s strength and made a large mobilisation against the Summit
by the autonomous left seem much more likely - the May Day uprising, and
Reagan’s June visit.
The May Day uprising created an atmosphere of rebellion, as well as a
police response: an ‘anti-thug unit’ was established and armoured
cars were deployed on the streets. When Reagan visited, the police laid
siege to Kreuzberg - the heart of West Berlin’s squatting district
and radical left scene - creating an unprecedented level of solidarity
from the rest of Kreuzberg’s (mostly working class) residents towards
the autonomists. A few weeks earlier the anti-nuclear movement - in which
a lot of autonomists were involved - successfully held a large illegal
demonstration against Siemens, KWU and the Deutsche Bank on Berlin’s
Ku’damm - the city’s major high-end shopping street.
The attendance of Berlin autonomists at the BUKO conference in Fulda in
May 1987 was, by this point, no longer causing conflicts within the radical
left. Some still thought it unnecessary, but were no longer worried about
false alliances being built - the differences between the autonomists
and ‘the reformists’ had become clear enough.
Within BUKO there were two equally strong factions. One believed that
the organisation should adopt a reformist position, so as not to endanger
funding from churches and other institutions, and the other thought it
necessary to follow up their criticisms of the World Bank with action
on the streets. BUKO finally decided to support not only the big demonstration
and counter-conference, but also the autonomist days of action.
Campaign Takes Shape
The main goals of
the mobilisation became clear soon after the BUKO meeting. The heads of
the large NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] and church organisations
were planning a big, peaceful, demonstration before the Conference started,
and organising a counter-conference. The grassroots activists from these
organisations were planning their own protests during the Conference,
parallel to the autonomists’ days of action. The autonomists also
were planning a large, militant demonstration to mark the end of the Summit.
The bottom line of the autonomists’ position was finally clear:
there would be no official linking up with reformist organisations, but
co-ordination would be possible with everyone interested in taking action
during the Conference. A framework for the days of action was drafted
by a small co-ordination group within which there were no party or organisation
leaders, just autonomists and grassroots activists - and a few who refused
to be classified as either ‘autonomist’ or ‘reformist’.
One sign of ‘unity’ within the campaign appeared when the
Rote Zora, a women’s guerrilla group, carried out arson attacks
at the HQ of Adler and eight of its other buildings. Adler were targeted
as an act of solidarity with striking workers in their South Korean factories.
The communiqué referred directly to the IMF/World Bank campaign.
The autonomists saw the action as an example of an action form worth repeating,
and, surprisingly, there were none of the usual condemnations by the reformists!
The last straw was one man’s lengthy paper, which strongly
emphasised the classical Leninist-Trotskyist position of the central
role of the proletariat (always thought of as male) in the revolutionary
movement. The women felt their criticisms were being ignored in
two ways: In the preceding months there had actually been a consensus
that the critique of the patriarchal structure of society would
take a central position in the IMF campaign. Also, the behaviour
of us men in discussions corresponded exactly with the women’s
critique of male-dominated culture. The women were fed up with our
hypocrisy and established a women’s meeting.
At first we men were pretty much at a loss. But time was pressing
on. We just had to get on with it. So I found myself in a men’s
group, although I had never been interested in being in a men’s
group. It was interesting that men and women met up for chats in
the pub after the meetings. This was important, because at the time,
there were no other ‘official’ meetings in which both
groups could exchange information on how the preparations were going.
What seemed from the outside to be a huge argument between women
and men seemed a lot less vehement from within.
Rifts between the
mixed autonomist meeting and the women’s group become increasingly
obvious. The women’s group concentrated on three issues: government
policies on population, genetics and the development of patriarchy, as
well as issues to do with the daily experiences in social and ‘private’
relationships of those within the left. Essentially, debate within the
women’s group was focussed on whether mixed political work and organisation
is possible (or desirable), or whether women need instead to organise
themselves without (and against) men, even when the political issues involved
aren’t directly based around conflict between the sexes. In the
summer of 1987 the big split came: the women left the IMF meeting.
The division of the IMF campaign really got tongues wagging. Everybody
had something to say, and the whole scene became involved. It wasn’t
just about boring issues like Bretton Woods anymore. Whilst the ‘theory
group’ and the men’s group had had big plans for formulating
analyses, they only managed to publish a few ‘concepts’ by
the time the IMF arrived. The women, however, published a pamphlet called,
Attempts to Become Reality: Without Us Women, Nothing Goes. It read, “Our
position on how imperialism and patriarchy are linked has only been outlined
in the course of our discussions… There’s no less incentive
in the metropolis for the class struggle, for ongoing resistance to capital,
whose attacks reach to every last corner of society, than in the so-called
Third World. This could only mean to us women that we need to organise
and build resistance to capitalism’s attack on women, on the female
labour potential, their submission in their role of reproducing the commodity
of labour. The subjugation of women is the material basis for the exploitation
of labour. Wage labour is not possible without the unpaid reproductive
work of us women, considered an individual matter and hardly recognised
by leftist theories. In this sense, the anti-patriarchal struggle is not
part of the anti-imperialist struggle, but its starting point. That is
to say, class struggle is only anti-imperialist in our definition if it
understands itself as anti-patriarchal at its core.” They illustrated
the significance of the split: “Because of this issue, the West
Berlin meeting divided into a women’s and men’s meeting a
year ago. Our group was not only divided over theory, but also in the
reality of our discussions. […] Their [the men’s] inability
to listen to women, to be interested in their point of view and to follow
their thought processes leads to us always being forced to see the men’s
ideas and theories and help them develop them with our questions and objections,
but not to develop our own ideas. This is what we call exploitation. That
we haven’t withdrawn ourselves as women, but realised a split into
a women-only and men’s meeting was an important step for us, because
this shows that theories developed by men always will only be male theories.”
The pamphlet continued, “Women are neither as patient or powerless
as they are presented in many analyses. We are convinced that the main
strategies that are currently being examined within the IMF campaign are
shaped significantly by the fact that they will have to react to forms
of women’s resistance, whether invisible (or perceived to be invisible)
or open.” This is evident throughout the pamphlet. “We have
tried to draw up the different areas of society, from genetics and population
policies to sex tourism and immigration politics, through to the worldwide
re-structuring of capital, in which women’s struggles against our
submission and exploitation are played out. We ourselves still do this
too much, with the view that women are the eternal victims. This is because
it’s difficult to liberate female subjectivity from the domination
of patriarchal theories, and this is an important part of our struggle.”
An attempt at international networking began in late 1987. There was a
meeting in Zurich with representatives of seven liberation movements from
South and Central America and the Philippines. Meanwhile, there were also
mobilisation tours in Italy, Spain and Greece. People from Holland and
Denmark kept up-to-date personally with visits to West Berlin. Groups
from across Europe were definitely planning on travelling to West Berlin
for the Summit. Movement meetings and newsletters began including discussions
and information about the IMF campaign - there were even contacts formed
in East Berlin.
Despite a none-too-encouraging political climate created by repression
(following a series of Rote Zora bombings), the autonomists’ militant
campaign against the IMF kicked off in April 1988 with arson attacks on
six banks (and three more having their windows broken) in a single night.
Meanwhile, a more public mobilisation also took place with an anti-imperialist
tour of the ‘centres of domination’ in West Berlin. The tour,
organised by autonomists, visited factories, corporate stores and institutions
seen to ‘organise and profit from exploitation worldwide’.
The bus trip was forbidden, and was accompanied and disrupted by the cops.
It got a huge amount of publicity. Altogether, 20 anti-imperialist tours
were organised in the run-up to the Conference, with over 1,000 people
The TAZ, a liberal newspaper, planned to organise its own conference in
spring 1988, inviting both critics and representatives of the IMF and
World Bank. After threats from the autonomists, the conference was eventually
As the Summit approached, fears began to grow, as did a spirit of defiance!
People began warning about the dangers of escalating conflicts, warning
that a defeat would divide the movement and that ‘they’ would
close down everything, attack actions and demonstrations, forbid everything
and arrest everybody if people stuck to the slogan “Disrupt this
Conference!”. The on-going court cases and persecution of those
accused of being involved with Rote Zora and Revolutionary Cells (another
guerrilla group) added to the atmosphere of fear. Some people even rescheduled
their summer holidays for the autumn, so as not to have to witness the
+++4th May 1988, the national daily newspaper Die Welt runs the headline:
“Terrorists threaten a massacre in Berlin.” The article quotes
the head of the National Crime Authority as saying, “Terrorists
are joining up with autonomists and non-aligned groups to commit acts
of violence during the IMF and World Bank Conference in West Berlin in
September.” The Senator of Berlin commented in the article that
the cops are faced with their “most difficult task since the war”
in protecting the 10,000 delegates, and that the entire borough of Kreuzberg
would, “if needed” be sealed off from the rest of the city.
The Senator declares that he will have “solved the autonomist problem”
The Interim, a Berlin-based weekly paper which published movement discussion
documents, commentary and flyers, carried an article titled, ‘On
the Current State of the IMF Campaign’. It commented, “In
the campaign against the IMF and World Bank a new form is developing:
In both main tendencies - the reformists and the radical left - an alliance
is rejected because theoretical as well as practical differences forbid
this. At the same time - and this is remarkably new - both parties are
pointing to the danger of the shared opponent distracting us by making
the differences between reformists and the radical left the main issue.
From this, the practical conclusion has been made that there will be exchanges
of information on the campaign, and a ‘schedule’… which
has found approval in both camps. The first rule is: False common interests
weaken us, blur things and benefit the opponent - this is why they should
be separated by space, time and form of action… The forms of action
will not be limited in a one-dimensional way: The radical left will participate
in the legal, non-violent resistance where and when they feel it makes
sense, and also many ‘reformist groups’ will not desist from
examining the legitimacy of police and state measures on their own initiative.
This highly charged mix of very different actions - legal, but also unwanted,
mass actions down to illegal small actions - is to increase in effectiveness
and disruption until the Conference ends… the radical left claims…
to demonstrate that resistance to imperialism is more worth acknowledging
and reporting in the metropolis of capital, than the hypocritical declarations
of the IMF and World Bank.”
+++26th June 1988: On the pretext of searching for the Red Army Faction
[West Germany’s most well-known urban guerrillas] the cops set up
three ‘Special Control Points’, to check people’s IDs
and carry out searches. It is obvious to everyone that these points are
part of the state’s preparation for the Conference.+++
The autonomists hoped that the mobilisation would be broad enough, and
the range of potential targets large enough, that the cops wouldn’t
be able to prevent actions from taking place by shutting down certain
parts of the city. Nevertheless, the situation was prepared for. A statement
was issued, explaining, “For everybody to have unhindered freedom
of movement during the Summit, we are calling for everyone to quickly
get themselves smart clothes and maybe even second homes.”
Militant actions really got going in the last few months before the Conference.
One day in June, all Metro travel was declared ‘free’ and
ticket machines and ticket sales offices were glued shut at 11 Metro stations.
In July, five Shell garages were attacked in one night.
By early summer, 1988, both the women’s and the men’s groups
were suffering from internal problems so serious that they were barely
capable of organising the infrastructure for the actions. It became increasingly
clear that those ‘responsible’ for the campaign would not
get much together themselves. In response, a lot more people began to
take on responsibilities, freeing up those who had been involved for longer
to start preparing what they were personally going to do.
As the Conference drew closer, preparations became more intensive, and
more people began taking on tasks, initiating discussions and (finally)
forming action groups. In one large meeting a framework was developed
for carrying out the days of action, organising sleeping spaces, an information
and news systems, a legal team, autonomous first-aiders and people to
keep an eye on the movements of the cops. The whole lengthy, lethargic
preparation process was over.
In August there was an arson attack on the villa of a banker who was involved
in the PR department of a credit institution’s development sector.
The communiqué was signed, “Committee for a Flaming Resistance
to the IMF/World Bank Conference”.
+++11th August 1988: Using anti-terrorist legislation, a state of emergency
is declared in West Berlin for the period surrounding the IMF and World
A few days after this, a clandestine group visited a West Berlin hotel
planning on hosting delegates. They spray painted the walls, cut the phone
lines and poured oil over the furniture. Reformist groups were questioned
by the media about the actions, and were asked to distance themselves
from autonomists and ‘terrorist actions’. They explained (as
agreed): “Every group is responsible for choosing and justifying
their own form of resistance themselves.”
In mid-August, rumours abounded that representatives of the city of Berlin
and the IMF/World Bank were discussing re-locating to Tokyo at short notice,
if resistance to the Summit proved to be too strong. Meanwhile, the head
of the National Crime Department commissioned from the secret services
a list of ‘travelling, violent offenders’ to be stopped on
their way to West Berlin, and a series of raids was carried out across
Germany on the pretext of searching for the Red Army Faction, and those
involved in the IMF campaign.
+++East Berlin: Nothing is to be read about the IMF and World Bank Conference
in the East German media. Especially nothing about East Germany’s
support for the bankers meeting in West Berlin. Both Interhotels in East
Berlin, and the newly opened Grand Hotel, are fully booked. Representatives
of international banks did this on their own initiative. Luxury limousines
are to take these men to the Conference Centre in West Berlin every day.+++
By the time September ‘88 arrives there was a lot of preparation
going on. The counter-conference was prepared, with high-profile scientists
invited. The peaceful mass demonstration taking place the day before the
Conference got widespread support, and the majority of the autonomists
agreed to join under the agreed principle of ‘no different forms
of action at the same time and place’.
Grassroots activists formed the ‘Office of Unusual Measures’
and planned to carry out a large number of public actions and ironic spectacles.
Preparation and agitation for the days of action was carried out in close
co-ordination with the autonomists.
The closer the date of the Conference got, the more active the militant
opponents of the IMF became. On September 5th, 13 company cars belonging
to Siemens, and three cars belonging to a car hire company catering to
the Conference delegates were set on fire by an autonomous cell. A few
days later, nine arson attacks were carried out against banks. More attacks
were carried out over the next few days. On September 19th, the offices
of the company responsible for laying telephone lines and installing computers
at the Conference site were set alight.
The preparation among the autonomists themselves was, however, not unified.
Many of the theoretical groups failed to produce their analyses with the
practical conclusions for resistance that they’d promised. Some
individuals from these groups withdrew altogether, while others got stuck
in the practical preparations - especially for the final demonstration.
The groups surrounding the Latin America Centre managed to produce pamphlets
and flyers for the mobilisation at the last minute, which would not have
been possible without the help of those who had recently become involved.
A lot of people were asking themselves exactly why the years of preparation
had been necessary.
On September 20th the Red Army Faction fired a shotgun at the armoured
limousine of the Secretary of State. The next day the Senator of Justice
claimed that the delegates’ security was guaranteed. Nine thousand
cops were on duty and all people, hotels, banks and corporations considered
to be ‘threatened’ were either overtly protected or covertly
surveyed. The cops in Kreuzberg stepped up searches and relied heavily
on evidence gathered by undercover spies who ‘fit in’ to the
and ‘The Silent Meeting’
Activists were strangely hesitant to get down to preparing concrete
actions. In hindsight, it seems that the intensive discussion
around the issues for the days of action was just an expression
of an attempt to hide the fear of carrying out actions. Throughout
the spring of 1988, the media created a lot of hype about the
actions, and people felt very threatened by repression, but nobody
felt able to talk about these fears. This all came to a climax
in what became known as ‘The Silent Meeting’.
The meeting was held in a community hall which was full to the
brim and was supposed to be an opportunity to discuss action ideas
- but nobody from the preparation groups was willing to present
the concept. After a while, everyone left. It was more than de-mobilising,
it was a catastrophe. It was amazing how intimidating the repression
of the rulers could be for us. For me, it was clear from the start:
we were risking quite a lot, we could go to prison. But we had
so much to win, so much strength and personality. We could show
that the world was still changeable - and that’s worth a
few years in prison. Our mistake was never speaking about our
fears and doubts in a larger circle and never making this an issue
that we dealt with.
+++350 detainees in a deportation prison are relocated. According to the
police, the free prison cells will now be available for demonstrators
during the IMF/World Bank Conference days.+++
+++The World Bank Committee holds a pre-Conference meeting
and decides that it will not be necessary to relocate the Conference to
The counter-conference began in the University of Art. The opening event
against the Summit, a taxi demonstration, was successful. Many people
were nervous about potential arrests, attacks by reactionary colleagues,
the seizure of taxis and the like. Despite these worries, more taxis than
expected took part.
Saturday 24th September
The reformists remain active: At 8 am the counter-conference resumes.
10 am: The Zahltag newspaper about the Summit mobilisation is distributed
across the city. During the days of action there are up to 50,000 up-to-date
editions produced every day.
12 noon-8 pm: The BUKO pharmaceuticals campaign bus parks up in a city
square and performs street theatre, other theatre groups also take part.
8:30 pm-9 pm: Drummers from across the world meet in the city square for
a performance organised by ‘The Office for Unusual Measures’.
The cops are everywhere, but the drumming provides cover for people, disguised
in suits, to create all kinds of chaos.
Meanwhile, in the late-afternoon the autonomists hold a final meeting,
where they discuss various kinds of worst-case scenarios. There are rumours
of entire parts of the city being sealed off, the mass arrest of anyone
who looks ‘alternative’, and people being preventatively detained.
A few people dress up smart and head off to check out the city. They come
back with good news and - at last - the autonomists join the action.
Sunday 25th September
The pre-Conference demo is one of the biggest in the post-war history
11 am: The march to the Conference Centre begins. The mood is aggressive
and 80,000 people are there! The demonstration is colourful and surprisingly
militant. The cops hold back, as do the few black-clad demonstrators (in
accordance with the no-different-forms-of-action-in-the-same-place-at-the-same-time
agreement). Everyone’s confidence rises, and even those who were
most afraid now find the courage to take part in the up-coming days of
8-9 pm: The forbidding of the ‘fire-drumming’ event doesn’t
have much effect upon it. Loads of people turn up, and head off to track
down and insult Conference delegates, blow whistles in front of hotels
and pull faces at people eating in posh restaurants. In a few restaurants,
tables are looted and over-turned.
In short: The day is a victory!
Meanwhile, on the other side of The Wall: On Sunday evening, around 800
mainly young people occupy a church in East Berlin to put their criticisms
of the IMF and World Bank into practice. The East Berlin week of action,
organised by autonomous groups and various grassroots church organisations
began on the Friday with a benefit concert. On Saturday and Sunday a seminar
was held to question the idea of a ‘just’ world economic order.
Representatives of national liberation movements, and experts from the
Eastern Bloc were invited. Almost 80 participants discussed the future
of capitalist industry and the developing world, the role of the IMF and
World Bank, and whether it is possible to ‘democratise’ the
world economic order, or whether it needs to be abolished.
Go to the Opera!
What should you do when you’ve had nothing to do with the
anti-IMF preparation? When you haven’t been to any of the
hundreds of meetings? When you have no ‘insider info’?
I decide, with a mate, to go for the decadent option. We spent about
£350 each on shoes and a suit and headed off to the Opera!
Outside was a ring of demonstrators and a tight line of cops. The
Opera was completely sealed off and nobody was coming in without
a ticket. Except for us. Dressed up smart, we explained, helplessly,
that my father was inside with tickets and was waiting for us. We
had cleared the first hurdle. After that, getting past the second
checkpoint was easy. They thought we wouldn’t even have gotten
there if we didn’t have tickets. But the final checkpoint
was impossible to get past without actually having a ticket.
What were we to do? We were completely surrounded by cops. We could
either start a fight with a yuppie, or start shouting slogans and
get kicked out. It looked, for a while, like we weren’t going
to be able to do anything. It was gutting. Outside everyone was
having a laugh, and here we were standing around like idiots.
Then came our saving grace. We spotted the Chief of Police, standing
around joking with a group of people. We were off! We mingled into
the group, then quickly slapped him on the back of the head. He
turned around, but saw nobody but yuppies. As we tried to leave
we were stopped just before we reached the last line of cops. The
one that grabbed me punched me and threw me against a wall and tried
to search me. I was furious, and demanded that he let me go so as
I could remove my jacket and stop it getting damaged. Unbelievably,
he let me go and apologised. We were arrested and eventually released.
We went back to dressing like normal people for the rest of the
+++The Conference begins.+++
The programme for the next day remains fairly united: The early-risers
gather from 7 am in front of the airport and hotels, equipped with all
the instruments and costumes imaginable. Throughout the day, prepared
and pre-publicised actions and rallies are held, despite an enormous police
presence. By night, the Conference delegates and their luxury cars are
10-12 am: The day’s actions begin with rallies in front of HQ of
Adler and the ADIA temping agency.
12-4 pm: Anti-nuclear action at Siemens office - “No Energy for
5-6 pm: Actions against sex tourism at travel agents and porn shops.
7 pm: At the same time as the Gala Evening at the German National Opera,
an alternative cultural event is organised by ‘the anarchists’,
and more bankers are harassed. Alongside the ‘official’ actions,
groups continue to suddenly appear at banks, sex shops, insurance companies,
restaurants and hotels, leaving behind traces of their mood.
+++In the meantime, the Conference delegates and the security forces become
nervous. Instead of going to the opera in their luxury cars, they are
shipped there - on grounds of security - in their finest clothes, in ordinary
buses. They are returned to their hotels amidst a massive police presence.
Some delegates, however, still thought it possible to have a look around
the city. The newspapers go wild when outrageous stories hit the headlines,
such as the former Japanese Foreign Minister being ripped from his car.
Some delegates begin to consider a hasty departure, others suggest that
the Conference be cut short.+++
National day of action
The anti-IMF Women’s’ Group wants to repeat a successful piece
of action theatre. The piece is, however, forbidden due to ‘disturbances’
the previous night. All the women who attempt to take part are detained,
identified and arrested, and - after a long wait - released. To celebrate
their release, many of the women take part in the ‘re-designing’
of a travel agency. The Korean Ambassador, who happened to be visiting
the agency at the time, later complained to the Conference organisers
and the press about the unfortunate damage done to his expensive suit.
Demos also take place in front of pharmaceutical and insurance companies,
and the German Institute for Development. A bicycle action takes place
in Neukoeln and Wedding (districts on the outskirts of West Berlin) whilst
Latin American Solidarity Groups hold actions in the centre of the city,
highlighting the exploitation involved in coffee production, the activities
of the Contras in Nicaragua and the power of large landowners.
In the meantime, a huge bike convoy is making its way to the Conference
Centre. The cops had barely noticed, and ended up having to chase the
convoy, in full riot gear, on foot. Some bikes were eventually blocked
at an intersection by cop vans, but others made it all the way to the
In the evening: The ‘fire drumming’ action of previous nights
+++ It was now too late to move the Conference, that would have meant
‘giving in’ to those on the streets. There was also no real
option of clearing ‘the mob’ from the streets through force
- that would have been too chaotic. The only solution was to keep the
delegates in their hotels, shipping them around the city in secured convoys,
and pleading that they keep their criticisms of the organisation of the
Conference until the closing meeting.+++
+++”I’m totally impressed by the other side.” said one
Berlin cop, ironically. “Their plans are working. Every target that
they set themselves, they’ve achieved.” In contrast, the cops
were in total chaos.+++
Wednesday 28th September
7 am: Bankers are harassed leaving their hotel, whilst meandering demos
visit dole offices, deportation police headquarters and the Stock Exchange.
There was chaos across the entire city - and all of it was being documented
by the world’s media.
In the afternoon, a huge convoy of cars drives through the city looking
for bankers, whilst ‘ordinarily’ dressed people wander around
the city with little boxes of matches in their pockets hoping to create
as much chaos as they can. They were fairly successful.
Due to the amount going on during the day, very little took place that
This was intended to be the ‘highpoint’ of the mobilisation.
Early in the morning, numerous routes from the delegates’ hotels
to the Conference Centre were simultaneously blockaded by barricades of
burning cars. Despite delays, however, the Conference eventually gets
At 4pm the Berlin cops show the Revolutionary Internationalist Demonstration
their military superiority by battering their way into the demonstration
using highly trained anti-terrorist police. Despite inflicting a lot of
injuries, they aren’t able to stop the demo from leaving - and the
very intelligent decision to end the demo early meant that the clashes
in the city centre planned by the cops were avoided.
+++The official programme and the boring resolutions were barely mentioned
at the IMF and World Bank’s closing press conference. The main question
addressed was whether or not the next Meeting should be cancelled.+++
Off the IMF
Among the many great ideas we had in September 1988 was the plan
to cut off the power supply for the IMF Conference. We did have
experience in making molotovs and timed explosives, but we weren’t
too up on Berlin’s electricity networks. Of course no one
could just go to the electricity companies and ask where the important
lines were. But our research beforehand could have been more thorough.
In the end, we were convinced that some principle of circular flow
existed: If one junction failed, a second would jump in. So if the
ring for the Conference Centre was interrupted at two points - we
hoped - the supply would collapse, apart from any backup generators
that, of course, probably existed. But just a short flickering of
the spotlights in the Conference Centre would have been a nice success.
We found the two nearest transformer stations and tried to set them
on fire at the same time. Of course we were quite nervous, as the
city was on the highest security alert and there were cops everywhere.
Something didn’t seem to work. We never found out what went
wrong. Did the ignitions fail? Was the fire not fed enough? Were
the fire brigades too quick? Or, is this the best kept secret of
the IMF: that the delegates now always go places with candles in
their pockets - just in case?
The Pitfalls of high demands- or why did everyone split up afterwards?
were almost 1,000
arrests during the
days of action - all but one were released. Three hundred cop cars and
40 bankers’ cars were damaged, and 150 windows broken. In West Berlin
alone, police counted 110 arson attacks in 1988 in connection with the
IMF Conference. Representatives of the autonomists and anti-imperialists
declare that the days of action and Thursday’s demonstration were
“a complete success”, as they managed to “conduct a
political and practical attack on the ruling class.”+++
+++The TAZ newspaper reports in early October, “There was a debate
yesterday in Parliament about the limitation of the freedom to demonstrate
and the freedom of the press during the IMF and World Bank Conference
in West Berlin. Members of the CDU/CSU and FPD claim that the Green Party
and the Alternative List, among others, fabricated a civil war-like situation
in West Berlin. The CSU member Zeitlmann said a “dangerous situation”
had been created by “the anarchists”, that only led to one
conclusion: “We had 8,500 soldiers in the city to protect the lives
of the 12,000 bankers.” The Senator of Berlin justified again the
police’s handling of the situation.”+++
Compared to the broad discussions before the Conference, only a few autonomists
participate in the evaluation of the campaign. There is consensus on considering
the days of action as a success. An activist writes in the Interim of
October 7th, 1988: “If we are talking about success, we must ask
ourselves what our goal was. We didn’t prevent the IMF Conference.
That was ‘successfully’ held. The actual prevention wouldn’t
have been possible short of a people’s uprising. Of course we knew
this beforehand. But we did succeed in attacking the IMF and World Bank…
We saw scenes taking place here in West Berlin that we previously only
had seen on TV when US State dignitaries visited Latin America. It was
reported in El Pais, the most important Spanish daily newspaper, that
“the city collapsed” on two evenings in a row. They report,
miffed, that the Spanish Ambassador’s car was totalled. The Ambassador
was lucky enough to get out of the way seconds before. The English Guardian
reports that the Conference would not have been possible without massive
police protection against “radical opponents” and that the
city scene had been dominated by protest. We have probably managed to
send out a picture of resistance to the whole world. And this has a significance
that we shouldn’t underestimate… As to the declared goal of
autonomous and anti-imperialist groups - that of focusing beyond the Conference
on the structures of imperialism here in the metropolis - there is much
food for thought. Our demonstrations and actions were carefully prepared
theoretically over a long time. Even so (or maybe because of this), we
remained amongst ourselves during the actions. We were obviously not able
to mobilise many with this. The main trigger of mass resistance, the drumming
on the Breitsheidplatz, didn’t even belong to the autonomist action
plan… But now the success must be measured in what comes after.
First, this campaign is probably a turning point for us. For many it was
an important radicalisation, allowing for new political perspectives and
structures to be developed. There are also probably many who are just
glad it’s over without having been a disaster.”
Looking back now, it’s amazing that people put so much energy into
producing discussion documents and holding meetings to mobilise, yet hardly
any serious evaluation exists. The last issue of the Unzertrennlich looked
extensively at the division between ‘old and new internationalism’,
and compared their different analyses - but that’s about it.
The autonomists worked towards the IMF/World Bank Summit for a long time.
For weeks, the IMF opponents had been in the spotlight of the world’s
media. As things returned to ordinary political life, it was difficult
for people to come down from the fight against the Big Bosses and return
to the struggles against the small property owners and dealing with the
porn cinema next door.
The structures built up for the campaign dissolved, and the others returned
to their usual level of activity. Unfortunately, none of this was done
in a pre-planned process of bringing the campaign to an end. Many had
the feeling of having ‘fallen into a big hole’ after September.
‘Where now?’ was the thought - not only of many new-comers,
but also of a lot of the old-timers from the internationalist scene.
text is a translated and edited excerpt from the excellent book, Autonome
in Bewegung: aus der ersten 23 Jahren. The book was written by an anonymous
collective of five, writing under the name A.G. Grauwacke. All five were
involved in the autonomist movement in West Germany in the 1980s and 1990s.
The book, which unfortunately is only available in German, is published
by Association A. (ISBN: 3-935936-13-3). The book, and more, can be viewed
online at: http://autonx.nadir.org