Czech anarchists and the S26 Prague protests against the World Bank/IMF

This is the text of the talk given in early October 2000 by Vadim Barák, international secretary of Solidarita as part of his Irish and British speaking tour

When it was decided in 1996 to organise the 55th annual conference of IMF and World Bank in the year 2000 in Prague, IMF and World Bank described our country as the most successful transitional country of all the ex-soviet bloc. Thus the IMF and World Bank's conference should have confirmed a global victory of private capitalism. The fact that global rulers of IMF and World Bank choose for their meeting Prague Conference Palace symbolised very well this change of masters, as originally it was constructed by former rulers of the Communist Party to provide for their own conferences. At that time only a few Czech workers knew about this or about a rather smaller loan of almost 4 billion of US dollars, which a post-revolutionary government of ex-Czechoslovakia received in 1990 in turn for its promise to liberalise and restructure the economy.

For workers a gradual implementation of this capitalist reforms has lead to a series of belts tightening periods. In 1998 compared to 1989 real incomes of Czech working class families dropped by 13% (in case of agricultural workers by 28%). A value of basic social benefits was by 44% lower in 1997. A purchasing power of a minimum wage dropped by 60%. 63% of workers receive wages lower than an average, which is about 290 Irish pounds per month. During two last years unemployment has rocketed from about 5% to almost 10%. As in the rest of the former East Block a lot of companies in troubles save money by not paying wages for months. So for example during the last Christmas about 130,000 workers were without any pay. Many schools, hospitals and public transport lines were closed down. Privatisation of the Czech railways is going to take the jobs of some 10,000 railway workers. A direct financial involvement of the World Bank in structural reforms of Czech steel industry has recently put in danger about 20,000 jobs of steelworkers. Now IMF and World Bank force the government to freeze wages in a public sector again and to reduce social benefits, mainly for the unemployed, even further. They also demand a reduction of a too excessive health care system.

So, as you might see, IMF and World Bank have been interfering a lot with a general position of the Czech working class. Nevertheless, their demands and actions have been hidden from the sight of the Czech working class. Reports of them have always appeared only on economic pages, which almost no one reads. Trade union bureaucracy has never been able to link the painful social and economic reforms with their true sources: global capitalism and its institutions such as IMF, World Bank and EU, and even less to really resist them. Actually, most of workers had not even a slightest idea what IMF and World Bank are. Only several radical youth groups were willing to challenge the Prague conference.

First proposals to do something came from some anarchist and radical environmentalist groups including our Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists - SOLIDARITA and it was during Global Days of Actions in 1999 with anti-capitalist protests in London having strong repercussions among us.

On November 30th 1999 revolutionary anarchists and other radicals joined a call for another Global Day of Actions and organised two small solidarity actions of some 50 people for protests against World Trade Organisation in Seattle. Hundreds of leaflets were distributed, posters put on and tens of newspapers sold. The Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (INPEG) was formed to organise S26 protests. Events in Seattle, the formation of INPEG and our small solidarity demos were starting to attract public attention.

Some members of ORA-SOLIDARITA also joined INPEG and threw themselves into a whirl of activity. Together with other anarchists they drafted the basic statement of INPEG and started to co-organise the counter-summit for Prague 2000 and street medical groups for demonstrations. We saw it as very important that our members are involved in INPEG activities, thus opening there a space for revolutionary anarchist ideas and organisational methods. But besides that ORA-SOLIDARITA called for a formation of an independent class struggle anarchist campaign against IMF and World Bank.

While working in INPEG was going on pretty well, our proposal for a united class struggle anarchist campaign has unfortunately never fully materialised. Other Czech anarchist groups were either absorbed by their work in INPEG or could not make up their mind, whether they will do something about IMF/World Bank conference or not. Thus a specifically anarchist campaign has been very limited, mostly based on an ad hoc, local co-operation of ORA-SOLIDARITA with other anarchists and anti-fascists.

Major workers struggles of the late 1999 and early 2000 slowed down our activities around S26 in a decisive manner, because all members of ORA-SOLIDARITA were very much involved and played an important role in them, fighting against non-payment of wages and mass redundancies. But on the other hand in this way revolutionary anarchists have become the only radical leftwing tendency with real links to working class struggles, not only providing a solidarity for them, but also deeply involved in their organisation. Thus when we were able to fully return in the late spring 2000 to activities associated with S26 mobilisation, we could utilise these links in some areas and gain a limited working class support for S26 protests.

In the meantime our two members egged the US state secretary Madeleine Albright to protest against US imperialism manifesting itself not only in wars in Kosovo and Iraq, but also in multinational institutions of global capitalism, such as IMF or World Bank. This action was highly popular among Czech working class as many of them were strongly against NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia and so we were able to use echoes of this action in mainstream media's to highlight S26 actions.

ORA-SOLIDARITA also started to use internet as a powerful weapon for instigating international anarchist resistance against global capitalism. Anarchists from France, Spain, Ireland, Britain, Italy, South Africa, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and so on responded to our calls and decided to either come to Prague or organise their own protests at home.

On April 16th Global Day of Actions ORA-SOLIDARITA endorsed a statement of the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc, which was organised by US anarchists for Washington protests against IMF and World Bank, and thus we became its overseas part. In this way we hoped to manifest a truly internationalist nature of anarchist resistance against global capitalism. In Prague we and other anarchists formed lead a solidarity demo. This time several hundreds of people took part.

For May Day 2000 we published an Appeal of the ORA-SOLIDARITA towards unionists and 5,000 copies of a special issue of our paper, which included this. In this we were giving facts about effects of IMF/World Bank actions in our country, examples of an international workers resistance to these institutions and asked rank & file unionists to mobilise for a union demo and a one day general strike on S26. We were distributing them in front of factories, where our organisation already had some credit. We also bombarded union headquarters with this appeal. Many Czech and Moravian cities have been continuously covered with our posters.

Leaders of the second largest trade union confederation in our country, the Association of Independent Unions (ASO), invited ORA-SOLIDARITA to discuss S26 Global Day of Actions. Earlier this year ASO considered organising a union demo on S26, but though it was still supportive to our actions, its leaders were looking for ways to avoid a union presence at S26 demos. Being in the middle of negotiations with the government and employers associations about co-opting ASO into the National Tripartite Council, the bureaucratic leadership was not willing to risk another confrontation with the State and be aligned with "left extremists".

We decided to incite a campaign of an international pressure on Czech unions to join S26, that might change the mood within the unions. We hoped that such a campaign might help us with a promotion of anti-IMF/World Bank ideas and mobilisation in the unions. We targeted also the largest union confederation in the Czech Republic. To open up a possibility that Czech unions would take part in S26 protests, ORA-SOLIDARITA agreed that it is vital to intensify the international pressure until September 19th, when this Czech and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions was to held its extraordinary Union Convention on possible actions against IMF and World Bank. In this campaign especially anarchist unionists from France, the Canadian Postal Workers Union or Italian COBAS were very helpful.

Since August we organised several anarchist infostalls and postering actions each week in three largest cities. Through this means anarchists tried to counter a propaganda of the government and capitalist media, which were trying to stir up a mass hysteria directed against S26 protesters as purposeless looters coming to destroy our beautiful Prague. In this way they wanted to hide real criminals coming to Prague and staying there at Czech workers expense. Altogether working class paid some 89 millions of Irish pounds for luxurious limousines, dinners and cocktail parties and other needs of global financiers in Prague. 11,000 policemen were called to Prague, which is more than a quarter of an entire police force. Hundreds of police provocateurs were reported to be trained for S26.

World Bank paid for a really moving public relations campaign in Czech media with slogans against world poverty and IMF/World Bank representatives crying crocodile tears about starving children in Africa and calling for a public dialogue with their opponents. Of course, participants to the dialogue were carefully chosen by IMF and World Bank, topics and limits for discussion were set up by the media and the public discussion itself was going on in a shade of police batons.

In this situation a handful of Czech activists around INPEG, all together some 100 people, were trying to mobilise Czech working class people against capitalist globalisation. ORA-SOLIDARITA with its 12 members and 10 supporters was able to bring our case into radio news and major newspapers. During the last weeks before S26 our anarchist infostalls were attracting a great interest of workers. Hundreds of anarchist materials were sold or distributed.

Moravian aircraft workers whom we had been helping to fight against their multinational employer were supportive to our calls to come to Prague - they had only one problem: money, and bureaucrats of their local union branch would have refused to fund such a trip. Also workers of steelworks in a town of Bohumin were demanding at their union meeting a collective participation to S26 protests, but their union leaders refused.

So although groups fighting against IMF/World Bank were able to get some 28% of an entire population to support S26 protests, our own efforts to bring there Czech workers in any significant number failed, mainly because of a pro-capitalist union bureaucracy. Union bureaucrats cowardly decided to avoid being linked to the protests. ASO recommended to their members to attend Prague protests in individual capacity and the largest confederation organised its timid bureaucratic demo of public sector workers against a wage freeze for the next year on September 18th, of course failing to mention, that this wage freeze was advised to the government by IMF and World Bank. Nevertheless, we feel about those 28% supporting S26 and approximately 2,000 young Czech workers and students attending S26 demo quite victorious. We have been successful with raising workers attention to problems of global capitalism and to a fright of many leading politicians and bourgeois journalists we introduced revolutionary anarchism as a viable alternative.

To sum up: personally, what I learned from those days of protests, discussions and carnivals around S26 is, that anarchists need to be better organised and some of them need to get clear about what our real aim is: to shut down a particular capitalist conference or shut down all the capitalist system and replace it with something other and better? For me the later is the real goal. And to reach this goal we need a global social revolution that would involve a whole working class. Towards this end we need appropriate means to spread anarchist ideas among the working class and incite its self-managed organisation and struggles >from below. At the end of the day what counts is not a number of injured policemen, smashed McDonalds, or whether direct actions were non-violent or not, but a number of working class people at least partially won to our cause.

I believe we must continue to involve ourselves in day to day social struggles around various issues concerning working class people bringing there anarchist methods of direct action and direct democracy experienced during Global Days of Actions. We should aim at uniting all those social struggles and use global mobilisations as opportunities for linking social movements and struggles internationally into a mighty revolutionary anti-capitalist movement. And everywhere we must agitate for an anarchist alternative of Freedom, Self-Management and Socialism. But for this end anarchists definitely need their national as well international organisations with agreed politics and strategies and co-ordination networks to make their interventions more effective through agreed joint strategy, tactics and resistance. We need greater anarchist unity.

After S26 Czech anarchists find themselves in a very difficult position. The State and capitalist media are doing their best to stir up mass hysteria aimed against anarchism and use anarchist and Ya Basta! clashes with the police on S26 and damage on property to discredit anti-IMF/WB protests and anarchism, hide real criminals who were sitting in the Conference Palace and excuse police violence and a possible introduction of even more authoritarian laws getting our country again a bit closer to a totalitarian police state of pre-1989 period. Laws which would allow Czech police to prosecute people for spreading "class hatred", to use rubber bullets against demonstrators and which would forbid demonstrators to wear scarves and masks on their faces. Rightwing politicians of the Civil Democratic Party (ODS) headed by Vaclav Klaus call for zero tolerance to anarchism, which they consider to be a new bolshevism, and for an open fire into demonstrators ranks.

Nevertheless, a certain percentage of those 28% of Czech people we had been able to get to support S26 prior to the demos, can see beyond all those police and media mystification's and to some extent still supports us and the protests. In relation to the police attack on Wenceslaw square on S26 in the evening, when the police was firing tear gas grenades against people gathered in front of the National Museum building, relatively many older working class people from Prague have recalled the memories of 1968, when Soviet tanks were firing against National Museum. Just this time we have been experiencing Western imperialism and not a Stalinist one, defended by Czech police and not by foreign armies.

We will not give up! We are returning back to our activity on workplaces and in communities to tell people the truth about what was going on in Prague and to build up on this and on our former successes. We believe that you will do the same, that you will get involved in our common efforts so that we can bring around what we all desire for: a better world.