Luke Howie is a Research Intern at the Australian Homeland Security Research Centre and a lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University. He’s also the expert the ABC’s PM turned to today in order to help explain the origins of the groups Marcus Greville of Stop G20 (and the Democratic Socialist Perspective / Socialist Alliance) has publicly-identified as being “responsible for the violence at G20”.
LUKE HOWIE: It’s most likely that this group has come out of student clubs and societies at universities as violent groups often do, as they did during the Cronulla riots.
They often unify along some collective ideology, which on this occasion seems to be anti-globalisation.
What they tend to do is tag themselves on to the edge of non-violent protests and they have the safety of the crowd then.
And indeed, I heard Arterial Bloc were shedding their uniforms at any appropriate opportunity and disappearing into the crowd, which is a very effective tactic.
JOSIE TAYLOR: Do you believe that this group had international links, or were they copying movements overseas?
LUKE HOWIE: They probably most resembled the Seattle riots, what’s now called the Battle of Seattle, from 1998, with the World Economic Forum riots there, where anarchists from Oregon had come to Seattle dressed in blue anoraks and gas masks so they couldn’t be identified.
Leaving aside Howie’s flawed understanding of the ideology and practice of the ad-hoc formation known as the ‘Arterial Bloc’…
1) The idea that those responsible for the racist mob violence at Cronulla last year “c[a]me out of student clubs and societies at universities” is — like the furphy about anarchists from other islands acting as ‘generals’ in a civil-insurrection-in-a-teacup — complete and utter nonsense, for which there exists not a single shred of evidence.
2) The state is the most violent ‘group’ in Australia, and it didn’t originate in a student club, but as a penal colony for the British Empire.
3) The “Battle of Seattle” took place in 1999, not 1998.
4) There were no World Economic Forum (WEF) riots in Seattle in either 1998 or 1999. In fact, the WEF has never met in Seattle. Although it has met in New York. Which is, like, on the same continent. (Even if it was in 2002.)
5) The World Trade Organisation, on the other hand, did meet in Seattle, from November 28 through to December 3, 1999.
6) Attributing responsibility for the damage to property that occured during the “Battle of Seattle” to a group of “anarchists from Oregon” is false, whatever tabloid headlines happened to scream at the time, and however much this myth remains in circulation among commentors, whether in the media or scholarship. Why Howie believes that this mythical group “had come to Seattle dressed in blue anoraks” I’ve absolutely no idea — it’s the one aspect of his claims that is novel — but the use of “gas masks” might better be understood, not as a means of obscuring one’s identity, but of avoiding the debilitating effects of inhaling the gas / pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum) the police did in fact use during the course of the “Battle”.
Members of the black — not ‘blue’ — bloc in Seattle responded to this kind of nonsense at the time: “While a few may be anarchists from Eugene, we hail from all over the United States, including Seattle. In any case, most of us are familiar with local issues in Seattle (for instance, the recent occupation of downtown by some of the most nefarious of multinational retailers).”
JOSIE TAYLOR: They’ve obviously had a huge amount of negative publicity now.
Is that what they actually set out to achieve?
LUKE HOWIE: They have had widespread negative publicity, but this will still lead to people wanting to join their group.
Their membership will swell in the aftermath such as this. So any publicity is good publicity in such a context.
A better glimpse into the motivations of some of those who assembled at G20 to form an ‘Arterial Bloc’ is freely available on the Internet, but is otherwise available in a previous blog entry.
Finally, another terrific example of the confused and hysterical (in more ways than one) commentary which the corporate media has produced in response to protest at the G20 may be found in Mark Dunn’s scribbled thoughts on the ‘Hard-core gang intent on violence’ (Herald Sun, November 19). According to Dunn, “The gang was inspired by a notorious international anarchy movement known as Black Bloc”.
But the Australian Arterial Bloc group appears to have chosen its white uniforms based on another militant European [sic] group called the WOMBLES — an acronym for White Overall Movement for Building [Libertarian…] Effective Struggles.
WOMBLES and Black Bloc have been responsible for much of the ugly violence at May Day marches in the UK, G8 summits in Scotland and Canada, and the fiery World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle in 1999.
Black Bloc originated in Germany in the 1980s, but is a movement of diverse groups based on tactics rather than a specific organisation.
Serious students of the anti-capitalist movement, on the other hand, would recognise the white overalls as having their origins in Italy among the Tute Bianche (White Overalls) in 1994, a product of Italy’s recent history of autonomous social struggle:
>> September >> Italy’s infamous Tute Bianche [white overalls] movement is born, when the neofascist mayor of Milan orders the eviction of the squatted social centre, Leoncavallo, saying: “From now on, squatters will be nothing more than ghosts wandering about the city!” Activists respond humourously, dressing in ghostly white overalls and taking to the streets; riots ensue, and the squat is saved. The white overalls, symbols of the invisibility of those excluded from capitalism, spread across the world, from Finland to Mexico…