Nothing Is More Violent than the Return to Normal

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“Hamburg Tidies Up” on July 9

On the afternoon of July 9, 2017, summoned by social media, a throng of fresh-faced members of the middle class descended upon the Schanze neighborhood to erase all traces of popular dissent and self-defense that remained from the preceding days’ conflicts.

For the most part, these were people who had not previously concerned themselves with the G20 or the protests against it. Police violence, the suppression of dissent, poverty, gentrification, and other symptoms of capitalism are fine, apparently, but heaven forbid anything out of the ordinary happens. They hung cute little handmade signs protesting against the “violence” of the black bloc—they were comfortable with the brutal raid on the camp, with the unprovoked attack on the Welcome to Hell march, and with all the police who terrorized random Hamburg locals as well as activists, but when people began to defend themselves against the arbitrary assaults of fully-armored stormtroopers and exert a little leverage back on the government that forced the G20 on Hamburg in the first place, it offended their sensibilities.

Hamburg räumt auf—“Hamburg tidies up”—was the slogan for this stunt. It would be more precise to call it Hamburg räumt träume auf—“Hamburg erases dreams.”

To dramatize just how disinterested they were in anything other than bourgeois sanitation, the stunt was called for the same time as the solidarity demonstration expressing support for arrestees and other targets of the police violence Hamburg has witnessed over the past week. Rhetoric abounded about “citizenship” (a framework that denies the value of everyone who lacks a certain bureaucratic status) and “cleaning up our town.” The middle class feel entitled to treat everything as their territory, provided that the authorities don’t mind.

Yet they did not set out to clean up all Hamburg. They certainly didn’t concern themselves with the parts of the city that the police blocked off in anticipation of the G20 summit, despite the residents of those zones being trapped indoors or forcibly excluded from their homes. They gathered only in the area around the Rota Flora, the squatted social center that has served as one of the mobilization points for the demonstrations against the G20. The message was clear: in the name of bourgeois tidiness, centers of dissent should be swept away like trash, and expressions of dissent should be erased.

When neighborhoods are cleaned like this, the original residents rarely get to stick around to reap the benefits. Such sanitation is a step in gentrification, forcing those who previously lived there to move to more precarious situations and destroying the character of the neighborhood. Talk about violence! This cleaning ceremony is a ritual to cleanse Schanze of the sin of revolt while hastening the investment and “revitalization” that will force out those who call it home. The Catholic Church carried out a similar ritual after the Paris Commune, building the Sacré-Cœur basilica on the very spot where the revolt began. Urban cleansing is always political.

In front of the Rota Flora, two courageous people held signs opposing the cleaning. Contra mundum, they debated a series of self-satisfied property owners who spent the past several days indoors while police beat, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, and water-cannoned thousands of demonstrators, locals, and passers-by.

The partisans of tidiness would like to think of themselves as the mainstream of society, writing off protesters as some sort of negligible fringe. But yesterday’s demonstration against the G20 outnumbered them by tens of thousands, if not more. The way things are going, fewer and fewer people are left sitting on the fence in the supposed center of the political spectrum, struggling to pull a mask of normalcy over a rapidly escalating situation of social conflict.

To be clear, the world we want is not a mess of broken glass and torn up streets. But neither is it the world as it exists today, in which all dreams of another world are suppressed and concealed. Those with brooms and those with batons are two arms of the same beast. We don’t need to clean the façade of this society, the false face that hides all the ugly forms of oppression and exploitation on which it is founded: we need to demolish it.

Good citizens labor to conceal Hamburg’s history of resistance. Long live complaceny?

If not for the riots, these would just be ATMs.

Beneath the concrete, the beach.

Two damaged corporations.

The asphalt melted at the site of one of the burning barricades.

Fixed.