Nick Clarke looks at the Left’s response to G8
Over a year ago, comrades from the anti-capitalist movement, Globalise Resistance and the Scottish Socialist Party came together to create G8 Alternatives. G8 Alternatives immediately started organising, agitating, and campaigning to make sure that, when the world’s leading imperialists turned up at Gleneagles in July, they were met by an organised, militant, international opposition, in the tradition of Seattle, Genoa and Evian. A programme of events was planned; the G8 Alternative summit, demonstrations at Faslane Nuclear base and at Dungavel Asylum seeker detention centre. The centre piece was to be the Wednesday protest at the Gleneagles Hotel to make sure the G8 leaders heard our opposition. This last event then became the subject of lengthy, Kafkaesque negotiations between G8 Alternatives, Perth and Kinross council and the police – but more of that later.
In December 2004, the Make Poverty History campaign was launched – white wrist bands and a demonstration in Edinburgh on Saturday 2nd July were announced. Dozens of NGO’s and charities joined under the MPH banner. This was followed at the end of May 2005, by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure announcing the Live 8 concerts. By strange coincidence, the one in Edinburgh was due to take place on the same day as the Gleneagles demo.
The challenge to the left, including the SSP, was how to respond to these two belated initiatives. Of the MPH event: Following its launch, numerous celebrities publicly came out in support, including many with a genuine concern for the issues, a record of campaigning, but with a naïve perspective as to the solution. MPH caught a mood and this together with the media coverage that the organisers were able to drum up meant that this event was going to be huge. A glimpse of this was seen by the number of coaches that were being booked by all kinds of organisations, from all over the UK. It wasn’t just the usual suspects.
Hijacked by the right
The SSP’s response, to campaign and mobilise for an intervention on July 2nd, around the slogan Make Capitalism History, was correct. As July 2nd approached, we saw the campaign being hijacked from the right. Following the unprecedented anti-war demonstrations on 15th February 2003, the Labour government had developed new tactics in how to intervene with such mass movements. Government ministers were now insisting on joining the MPH event and speaking from the platform. And the organisers welcomed them – Gordon Brown, Jack McConnell and Hilary Benn all took to the streets.
At the same time as welcoming these representatives of British imperialism, the MPH officials were trying to marginalise the left and the less ‘compromising’ opponents of poverty and global capitalism. They attempted to deny the SSP and other progressive organisations the right to set up stalls in The Meadows – the assembly point for the march. The attempted sanitisation of this event was highlighted by the official call for everyone to wear white – was this a sign of surrender or counter-revolution?
This backfired, as it gave socialists the perfect opportunity to make a recognisable intervention by wearing red – making a distinct socialist section of the demonstration highly visible. The SSP rightly seized that opportunity and we attracted many to our contingent from throughout Britain and internationally. Unfortunately the attitude of the SWP and the CWI meant that the size of the socialist section was not at the maximum.
The CWI adopted a sectarian position, refusing to join up with the SSP contingent. Instead of having a CWI section on the socialist contingent, they chose to march on their own – but at least they wore red! The SWP, on the other hand, appeared to submerge themselves into the white-banded, white-shirted morass. Although some of their platform members marched with the SSP contingent, the official SWP position was not to prioritise the building of the largest, coordinated, united socialist intervention.
Then we had Live 8. According to the official website:
An estimated 3 BILLION PEOPLE watched LIVE 8 the greatest, greatest show on Earth. What was that about bread and circuses? How does 3 billion glued to a TV screen eradicate poverty? How does it pressurise the decision makers? Deliberately or not, the Live 8 initiative took attention away from the mass protests that were to take place. On July 2 and 3, the media was dominated with images and column inches of coverage of the concerts. TV and the print media treated us to photos and comments of the super-rich of the music business – Why were they here? What did they think of poverty? When’s their next album out? Then, following inane answers they tucked into the free, luxury buffet, as well as the complementary bar! Oh, and by the way, 250,000+ travelled to Edinburgh to take part in the largest demonstration in Scottish history.
So the message from Live 8 was leave it to those who know what they are doing; the masses should just sit back and enjoy the music – Sir Bob and Bono will change the nature of imperialism! Added to this was the decision taken by Bono, Bob and Midge to have the Edinburgh leg of Live 8 on the same day as the controversial Gleneagles demo! I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but… Was this a deliberate attempt to redirect protestors away from Gleneagles, as well as to divert the media from the state’s attacks on civil liberties –
Ronan Keating was so marvellous, who cares about the right to march and the right to freedom of movement around Scotland?
Despite, the attempts of Live 8, Perth and Kinross council and various arms of the UK state, (with the US security services lurking behind the scenes) a successful, well attended demonstration did take place on July 6. Those taking part were remarkably patient and self-controlled despite the constant provocations of the authorities. In the lead up to the Gleneagles demonstration, the authorities had continually been obstructive to G8 Alternatives representatives who had tried to get the route and march details agreed with the police and local council. In March, SSP MSPs in the Scottish parliament had got that body to agree that the right to protest at Gleneagles should be upheld. As the G8 summit approached, Jack McConnell, Scotland’s First Minister, failed repeatedly to give assurances to that right.
In response, all 4 SSP MSPs in the parliament that day stood up and in silent protest held up placards behind McConnell demanding he defend democracy and uphold the previous decision of the parliament. Reasonable enough you would think. However, by the end of the day, Parliament had imposed some of the most draconian sanctions against protesting parliamentarians in post war Europe. The 4 MSPs have been suspended for the month of September, their wages and allowances stopped for a month, as well as the wages of their researchers. All of this was imposed without them given a hearing. They were tried and sentenced in their absence, without any right of appeal. Frances Curran, one of those suspended, says she is
absolutely unrepentant. Quite right.
We must be unequivocal in our support – both financially and morally. Although the August meeting of the SSP’s National Council voted almost unanimously to fully endorse the actions of the four MSPss, there are some in the SSP who have been critical of the MSPs’ action. The role of socialists in such a parliament must be different, to the run-of-the-mill careerists from the bourgeois parties. We are not a parliamentary party that believes that change and socialism will come through a vote in a parliamentary committee or First Minister’s Questions. It comes through the actions of those outside parliament.
If the SSP 4 had not protested about the suspension of our human rights to demonstrate against the world’s top 8 gangsters coming to Scotland, then when are we going to be different? They were articulating, not just the rights of people in Scotland, but of all those internationally that wanted to come and make their opposition seen and heard by those closeted away in the Scottish countryside.
Some critics say that the demonstration had already been given the go-ahead before the parliamentary protest. However the SSP 4’s actions were further vindicated by events on the day of the demonstration. Despite an agreement with the police at the eleventh hour for the protest to go ahead, on the day the police were determined to sabotage the event. It was only through the persistence and ingenuity of demonstrators that so many got to Gleneagles.
Rumours of cancellation, police road blocks and intimidation were all used to prevent us exercising our democratic right. In Edinburgh, many were denied the right to join the march and people were arrested when they organised a march along Princes Street to protest against police actions. (See separate article) However, the actions of the SSP MSPs, the draconian penalties and the media reaction meant that many more people were made aware of the Wednesday protest and the way the authorities from the Scottish parliament to Perth and Kinross council to the police tried to prevent the event taking place.
Although the G8 Alternatives slogan was ‘Stop the G8’, this was rhetorical, not a call to disrupt the official proceedings at Gleneagles. Some groups in the anarchist tradition tried to do just that. However, it was clear that the tactics of the combined security and police forces were able to handle all such attempts. Chillingly, it was only the actions of the suicide bombers in London, which brought a temporary halt to proceedings, as Blair was forced to leave the Summit. The ‘please don’t mention the war’ item, missing from the official G8 agenda, was rudely thrust forward. Not that the G8 leaders responded by recognising the enormity of their actions in Iraq (and elsewhere); the bombings just provided them with the excuse needed to ratchet up their attack on civil rights.
Although the Left’s successful defiance of the attempts by the state to obstruct the Wednesday protest was a definite victory; this too was soon swamped by the media attention devoted to the bombings. Internationally, particularly in many ‘Third World’ countries, where democratic rights hardly exist and imperialist violence is a daily reality, it won’t be the Left’s protests that have made an impact. The Left, particularly with its longstanding British constitutionalist tradition, has some way to go before it can make slogans, such as ‘Stop the G8’ a reality.
Nevertheless, unlike many well-intentioned, but politically naive, supporters of MPH, we at least knew the limitations of the G8 leaders. Is it not ironic that the two specially chosen official agenda items – African poverty and climatic change – should so soon explode in the G8 leaders’ faces? Within days of the Summit’s conclusion, Niger was revealed to be suffering abject famine conditions, with little being done officially to bring immediate aid. Within weeks, a hurricane struck New Orleans, revealing that ‘Third World’ conditions exist in the imperialist heartland of the USA, and the nagging worry that capitalist-induced climate change may be responsible. The need to ‘Make Capitalism History’ should now be clearer to many more people, who attended the massive protests in July. The SSP must match its wider political work with the policies, strategy and tactics, which can reach out to these people and make this slogan a reality.