Report from Berlin on

The Fight for Revolutionary May First 2001

Revolutionary Worker #1112, July 29, 2001, posted at

"Ever since the mass rebellion in Berlin's Kreuzberg District on May 1, 1987, the Revolutionary May First Demonstration has represented the aspirations of millions of people for a world without oppression. For 14 years, the words "May First--1 p.m. in Oranienplatz" have stood for a revolutionary overturn of the existing social relations. For 14 years this demonstration has been a living example that people around the world--including in the heart of Europe--are ready to fight for such a radically different world.

"And, for that reason, it is no surprise that the rulers have tried every year to crush this spirit with clubs, teargas and water cannons, and with a reactionary anticommunist and racist political offensive. The struggles over this have marked the last decade in Berlin and Germany. In fact, this fight for Revolutionary May First, 2001 in Berlin will possibly stand as a historic milestone in the development of a revolutionary movement in Germany."

These are the opening words of the special May First report printed in "Aufstand!" (Revolt!), "the revolutionary communist newspaper in Germany." The following article is based on that report. The translation from German has been done by the RW.

Two Irreconcilable Forces

"They are fighting against the ruling powers. That is just not acceptable anymore."

Eckart Werthebach, Senator from Berlin,
TAZ April 24, 2001

"We are not slaves or robots! We are human beings and we demand a world where we can live as human beings."

2001 Call of Berlin's
Revolutionary May First Coalition

Two irreconcilable forces stood opposed in the fight for Revolutionary May First 2001 Berlin. On one side were the oppressed and exploited of this society, together with all those who refuse to make their peace with this anti-people system. On the other side stood the ruling monopoly capitalists of Germany with their politicians, mass media, and their apparatus of repression, the courts, police, prison, etc.

The collapse of the Eastern bloc had opened up opportunities for the German ruling class that they could barely have dared to dream of. Not only were they now thinking of becoming the leading "Great Power" in Europe, but they felt the call to be a new World Power. They call this new powerhouse the "Berlin Republic"--but it is really the Fourth Reich.

They see no room in this Fourth Reich, and certainly not in its capital Berlin, for Revolutionary May First actions which have brought many thousands of people into the streets, year after year. They have no room for that "Kreuzberg mix" of proletarians and middle class people, women and men, Germans with militants from all over the world, veteran squatters of the building occupation together with a new generation of younger revolutionary activists. And they do not just target the notorious demonstration at Oranienplatz, but the whole surrounding immigrant quarter of Kreuzberg, and also the other organized activities on that day--the "Unite Against the Right" street festival, and the anarchist-organized 6 p.m. march (which also calls itself a Revolutionary May First Demonstration).

Anyone who takes the streets on May First, especially in Kreuzberg, is portrayed as "un-German" and an enemy of the state. The alternative daily paper TAZ even wrote: "We have to say, Kreuzberg is just wacko."

The ruling class said they wanted to stop "violence" on May First, but really they wanted to stop people from thinking the unthinkable--that revolution is a possibility and this new Germany is a ticking time bomb.

May First Plans for a Berlin Police State

"The Revolutionary May First Coalition calls on the population of Berlin to refuse to let themselves be locked down by the rulers and their police. What's needed is united and determined resistance to these bloody plans."

from the "Let's Fight Back!" leaflet

The ruling class had a two-fold strategy for the violent suppression of May First: On one track, they carried out a massive mobilization of police forces, and on the other track, they whipped up a massive media campaign to isolate revolutionary May First from public opinion.

Over 9,000 cops and elite border troops were brought into the city, with 1,500 attack vehicles, including water cannons and urban mini-tanks. The city was divided into "zones" for pacification, with barricades and checkpoints--all under a centralized "command." Zone SO-36 (which includes Kreuzberg and the main protest areas of Oranienplatz, Kottbusser Tor and Mariannenplatz) was supposed to be taken over by a massive occupation force of thousands of police. This was not crowd control but counterinsurgency.

The media campaign was even more hysterical than in previous years, with headlines like "May First Horror: Thugs say 'We will attack Everyone!' " Facts simply had no place in the coverage. The history of police attacks on May First was erased. Every event and injury of previous years was blamed on "radical perps and rioters."

The city authorities pulled an especially slippery maneuver: On April 19, they banned any May First gathering by Nazi forces, knowing all along that this ban would be lifted in the courts. And then, when the courts allowed the Nazi march--the media intensified their public relations campaign, saying all this just proved the need for a much more aggressive police restriction of everyone's right to march on May First.

So it should be no surprise that the outcome of April 19 was that the police stepped up their plans to suppress the revolutionary May First actions, even while they prepared a massive police protection of the planned Nazi march. Germany's Nazis, after all, support the new reunified Fourth Reich, while complaining that its rise is happening too slowly and cautiously.

Then on April 23, the news hit like a bombshell: The 6 p.m. May First march was being officially banned. Once that ban was in place, it formed a legal basis for extraordinary new steps against all the expected May First actions: The police imposed intolerable new restrictions on the Revolutionary May First Coalition's rally at 1 p.m. in Oranienplatz. They threatened to ban it outright. And they tried to force the cancellation of the May First street festival.

Gernot Piestertg, a police official in Berlin, promised aggressive police action, saying: "What we have in place is the right of the police to exercise their powers, not the right of people to assemble. Anyone who tries to attend a banned rally is breaking the law." Werthebach said, "Police will act as soon as groups form that could turn violent." (And, if you think about it, that means literally any gathering of people.)

The police were also deliberately hoping to exploit and inflame political differences between organizers of various May First activities. One reporter asked the chief of police if banning the 6 p.m. march wouldn't just cause all the radicals to unite in a single march at 1 p.m. at Oranienplatz. He answered that he was counting on "the two camps remaining separated by huge ideological trenches"--meaning he expected some of the city's Autonomen-anarchist groups to remain unwilling to march with revolutionary communist forces.

The Revolutionary May First Coalition came out strong against the authorities' attempts at "divide and conquer." They called on the masses of people to unite against the ban on the "6 p.m. demo" and to stand firm against all attempts to prevent Revolutionary May First. Fifteen thousand copies of the Coalition's bilingual German-Turkish leaflet "Let's Fight Back!" quickly blanketed key areas of the city.

Criticism mounted against the authorities: allowing the Nazis to march on May Day, while threatening leftist and revolutionary rallies with virtual martial law, was simply too much for many middle forces. The authorities had picked up a stone to drop it on their own feet.

May 1st, Berlin--a Victory for the Revolution

As May First arrived, no one could say what would happen. There was a palpable tension in the air. In the morning, 2,000 cops protected the Nazi march in Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen. Then eyes turned to Oranienplatz to see if people would break through the police clampdown.

As 1 p.m. arrived it was clear that the turnout was even bigger than in previous years--first 400, then 800 gathered in Oranienplatz, until finally as the speeches ended and the march was about to start, over 1,500 people were there--eager to take their stand.

It was a colorful mix of over 20 nationalities, students and pensioners, former political prisoners from both West Germany and Turkey, lots of kids, punks, homeless people--and people from many different political trends: anarchists, Maoists, feminists, anti-fascist activists.

There were Che T-shirts alongside Mao banners, red flags alongside black stars. Rap lyrics and African beats charged up the mood. A crowd favorite was the "Deutschland" song by the band Slime with the chorus, "Germany must die, so we can live." (This song is banned, and anyone performing it risks heavy police charges.)

Professor Haluk Gerger, a respected journalist and human rights activist from Turkey, spoke. He had just returned from a trip to Peru as part of the 7th Delegation of the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Dr. Abimael Guzman (IEC). He described the intense struggle of political prisoners in Turkey against torture and F-type isolation cells. He called on the crowd to build internationalist solidarity against the imperialist world system and stressed the importance of approaching that struggle from the perspective of seizing political power.

The crowd was eager to march. Their lead banner proclaimed in Turkish and German: "Fight Internationally Against Exploitation and Oppression--No Liberation without REVOLUTION!" And behind that, more banners--supporting the hunger strike of prisoners in Turkey, opposing the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the U.S., opposing all forms of women's oppression, denouncing Nazi activities in this "new" Germany. The Maoist contingent marched proudly behind its huge banner with the world-famous symbol of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM)--the beautiful planet breaking free from chains.

As the march moved through the streets, its ranks grew rapidly. By the time it arrived at Goerlizter Station there were over 3,000 people filling Oranien Street. During this same time, a second May First march of about the same size took off from Lausitzer Platz.

The Revolutionary May First march moved from Oranienplatz, through Kreuzberg into Neukoeln. Loudspeakers gave greetings from around the world: From Ramona Africa and the MOVE organization, from the supporters of political prisoners in Germany, from the International Solidarity Forum of Nepal, from the TKP (ML) and the TKP/ML (Maoist Party Center), and from the Revolutionary Communists in Germany.

As the march approached Kottbusser Tor, the cops made a move. They tried to block the street--to prevent the march from holding its closing rally. No chance! People simple broke through the police lines. The marched ended in this historic square with the Internationale, world anthem of the proletariat. A sea of fists were raised.

In the face of the massive police mobilization, the attempts to create splits among the people, the intense media frenzy--despite all that, people had taken to the streets for Revolutionary May First and fought their way to a victory for the revolution--right in the heart of Germany and Europe.

And even with that, May First 2001 in Berlin was not over yet.

Police Attack in "Democratic" Germany

As the afternoon actions dispersed and thousands were moving through the streets, the authorities moved hard to make their point: that they rule, and that there is no room for Revolutionary May First. The police order went out to attack any further gatherings, especially in Kreuzberg. Altogether, 16 attack units with more than 3,000 cops were stationed in Zone SO-36. Nervous cops were openly muttering about being in "enemy territory."

The "Unite against the Right" street festival, which went on into the late afternoon, quickly became a police target. Riot cops encircled the festival, while rooftop spy teams sent live video broadcasts to the central police command.

Police simply started attacking groups of people without warning--beating them with clubs. But each time that happened, dozens (and sometimes even hundreds) of people fought back. What was intended as an exercise of naked police power instead strengthened the widespread determination to defend May First.

At one point, late in the afternoon, cops with clubs tried to "herd" people toward the street festival. They were clearly building up for an attack on the main crowd itself.

Then, suddenly, the youth stopped being "herded."

They simply turned, picked up anything they could find and let the cops have it.

All hell broke loose. People came running from all directions to join the fight.

Over a dozen water cannons and police tanks moved on the Mariannenplatz festival. But, to their surprise, the crowd refused to disperse. In an incredible scene, they stood their ground.

The rulers can condemn and denounce all this. The media can print lies about "mindless rioting" until they run out of ink. But on that day--May 1, 2001--revolutionary history was made.

For over four hours, hundreds and thousands of people stood tight together.

The massive use of clubs, tear gas, and water cannons could not drive them from the streets. Barricades went up. People organized a division of labor on the spot--with some taking the front line, and others digging up the cobblestones of Mariannenplatz. (By one calculation, 50,000 stones were torn up from the pavement!)

Over and over came the shout: "Five, four, three, two,!" And hundreds of arms launched their stones together into the air. With a huge crash, the volley of cobblestones pounded the shields of riot cops and shook the armored police vehicles. The cops, who had bragged about "overwhelming force" and threatened "the most aggressive law enforcement possible," were driven back over and over, farther and farther. One water cannon was so badly damaged that it was abandoned.

This was the "Kreuzberg mix," including many people fresh from the Revolutionary May First march from Oranienplatz. They were there, in the front ranks, united, determined--defending themselves, their community, and their hopes for a revolutionary future. They were shattering the authorities' dreams of a police state on May First . And they were joined by people coming from all over to fight alongside them. Late into that evening, the street fighting spread through the city of Berlin.

This was a "festival of the oppressed." And it showed, once again, for all to see, that when conditions are right there is an explosive mix here--one that the ruling class has good reason to fear. True to its nature, the ruling class took its revenge. Hundreds of people were beaten and injured, including many bystanders. Over 600 people were arrested.

Many different forces will make their summations of Revolutionary May First--each from their outlook and interests. But from the Maoist standpoint, this day was a source of revolutionary hope, and a confirmation of Mao's famous words:

"Marxism consists of a thousand truths, but they all boil down to one sentence, 'It is right to rebel against reactionaries!' "

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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