frontline 18.

The SSP and the anti-capitalist movement

Donnie Nicolson, organiser of Scottish Socialist Youth, was heavily involved in organising opposition to the G8 summit. Donnie was arrested along with other protestors following the decision by police to prevent some coaches travelling to Gleneagles. Donnie joined a peaceful protest in Edinburgh against the police action. He was subsequently victimised by police and re-arrested on charges of breaking bail which were later dismissed. In this article he sums up what the summit achieved and what lessons there are for the SSP in building the anti-capitalist movement in Scotland from now on.

The G8 is over and the spotlight has moved on from Scotland – but in the morass of events that surrounded the summit, one vital question has rarely been asked: What did the G8 summit actually achieve?

Blair’s agenda certainly voiced bold intentions before the summit: tackling climate change and Aids, relieving third world debt and finding solutions for Africa. But apart from a lot of big talk, has anything been done about these important issues?

Yes, according to Bob Geldof, the self-appointed figurehead of the protest movement:

“a great justice has been done ... On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 ... Mission accomplished frankly.”

But does anyone believe this? Immediately after the summit finished, news came from Africa that yet another human crisis had erupted in Niger.

And even those on the most liberal end of the spectrum, such as many important components of the Make Poverty History coalition, have acknowledged that the G8 did not even nearly achieve its goals. So what was Geldof talking about?

George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian reckons Geldof has a lot to answer for:

When (the G8) failed to deliver, he (Geldof) praised them anyway… This looks like more than just political naivety. It looks as if he is working for the other side. I don’t mean that this is what he intended... I mean that he came to identify with the people he was supposed to be lobbying. By ensuring that the campaign was as much about him as about Africa, he ensured that if they failed, he failed. He needed a story with a happy ending. There is just one thing Geldof can now do for Africa. This is to announce that his optimism was misplaced, that the mission was not accomplished... But while he holds his tongue, he will remain the man who betrayed the poor. (1)

And in an article for September’s leftfield, SSY’s Dan Paris (15) from Perth writes:

“If anything, Bob Geldof has probably WORSENED the chance of real changes being made, as his sanitised, suitable-for-Daily-Mail campaign has done nothing except legitimise Tony Blair and even portray him as a champion of the poor.

The truth is that, as the SSP and many other radical groups predicted, the G8 did nothing to address the problems that it ostensibly would tackle. Dan Paris summed it up nicely:

“The G8 leaders did not make any real progress on poverty, because that would not be in the best interests of the system they represent… (it) is not an organisation set up to rid the world of Aids, or to feed hungry mouths – it is an organisation set up to feed the Western Economies and protect the interests of capitalism” (2)

What the protests achieved

So the G8 summit itself achieved less than nothing. But what of the protest movement against the summit? What of the massive mobilisations across Scotland and beyond that saw the biggest ever demonstration in Scotland, and an unprecedented police presence in our country?

Frontline readers will by now be familiar with the composition of the protest movements in the run-up to G8. On one hand you had the Make Poverty History Coalition, marching for peace and goodness around the world if it’s not too much trouble. Then there was the Live8 crowd, the massive egos of Bob Geldof and Bono Making Activism History with their stadium rock concerts in Edinburgh, London and around Europe.

On the radical end of the spectrum was G8 Alternatives, including the SSP, and Dissent! a radical network of anarchists, direct action groups and other autonomous folk.

Before long, the British media had the different groups pigeon-holed into two categories “Good, responsible protestors” and “Bad protestors, out to cause trouble”.

Whatever our political criticisms of Make Poverty History, there’s no doubt that they drew an impressive gathering of people. However, the class make-up of this 250,000 strong march was as disappointing as it was predictable. Everywhere you turned on the meadows there were middle class accents buzzing around in an atmosphere of excitement and “isn’t this wonderful”. People were taking part in what the Situationists used to call “The Great Spectacle”. A phenomenon of the mildest form of militancy. The only theory behind that day seemed to be “let’s hold hands and walk together in a spirit of togetherness, as a symbol of the kind of world we want to live in.”

Everywhere, people were chatting and praising the virtues of Fair Trade and more Aid. I saw one giant white banner which said “Support Free Trade Now!”. I don’t know if that was a confused message or a genuine right wing sentiment but either way it made me laugh.

The various stages in the meadows had events from such radical politicos as Daniel Beddingfield, with the compere gushing non-specific enthusiasm about how great and amazing everything was, and how this gathering was really putting the heat on our leaders to defeat world poverty.

In the end, the march was the most sanitised, state sanctioned protest I have ever been on or heard of.

O would some Power the giftie gie us To see ourselves as ithers see us (3)

But it’s all very well for us socialists to get on our High Horse and denounce the MPH event for having no class basis. But how did the white T-shirt mob view us? Some of them saw us as hard line and absolutist. We go around criticising them, who are actually doing things, and that we are big idealists who say that unless you’ve got a giant plan to change the whole world, you’re not good enough.

We need to be aware that this is how others see us sometimes, and engage them with this in mind. There’s no good in being self-righteous as a socialist, comfortable in the knowledge that we are right and all these middle class charity folk are wrong. It’s much better to try and win them over to our arguments. Sometimes during G8 we didn’t manage that.

Gleneagles

By all accounts, the Gleneagles event seems to have been a success. G8 Alternatives wanted to organise a march that involved many diverse groups, was militant but peaceful, and got as close to Gleneagles Hotel as possible. All of these things were achieved.

Another notable feature of that march is the overwhelming support it got from the local community in Auchterarder. That didn’t come from nowhere – it came from many meetings with local people and reassurances of the protestors’ intentions. G8 Alternatives are to be commended for this.

Despite the shock-horror pictures that appeared in the newspapers, the march itself remained largely peaceful, with the only violence coming from the police, particularly those officers up from London and Manchester, high on overtime bonuses and testosterone. They came up north looking for violence, and when they didn’t find any, they decided to start some of their own.

This was a big surprise for a lot of protestors, and that is a hugely valuable experience for the protest movement in Scotland. Like the various protests in Edinburgh, the true role of the police was expressed in a vicious way.

Protestors, many of them young, experienced the police attacking a peaceful march for the first time. The real face of the police has been driven home in no uncertain terms to a whole new layer of people.

And these same people were made aware of the real role of the media, when the following day, distorted articles praising the police and condemning the protestors appeared in newspapers and on the TV.

Other events like the “Carnival for Full Enjoyment” and the impromptu demonstrations through Edinburgh by those of us who didn’t make it to Gleneagles helped to radicalise people and showed a promising level of radicalism from the protestors most of them youth and many of them local.

Another promising feature of these protests was the way that local working class youth from the schemes around Edinburgh joined in with seasoned protestors in resisting Police charges along Princes Street, linking arms in instinctual solidarity. For a moment I thought that we were about to witness a new revolutionary partnership, but my hopes were dashed when, as the police retreated, several anarchists threw stones at McDonalds windows only to find the local youth – their erstwhile allies – passionately defending McDonalds against their assault. At least it was good while it lasted

G8 Alternatives

It’s worthwhile to spend a bit of time looking at G8 Alternatives (G8A).

The Alternative summit that G8A organised was a big success in its own terms, attracting packed audiences to hear big name speakers, and surviving financially in difficult circumstances. G8A was also responsible for the organisation of the Gleneagles demo.

However, the SSP’s intervention into G8A was sluggish and ineffective. Occupied with internal problems, leading members of the party had no time to either attend G8A meetings, or spend long enough preparing our own intervention. The result of this was that the G8A group had grown and matured to a certain stage without SSP involvement, and so when the party did decide to start attending its meetings, we were regarded – understandably – with suspicion.

One proposal put to G8A by SSP members was about radically altering the nature of the Alternative Summit. The proposal was that rather than an ESF-style event in a number of venues in central Edinburgh, featuring many rallies addressed by established political figures, the summit should instead be held in town halls in working-class communities, where political figures would bring ideas and inspiration to crowds of potentially radical workers and youth. Although this was an admirable suggestion in principle, there was no time to really thrash out the logistics or possibilities of this plan, and so it was taken to G8A half-baked. But an even bigger obstacle for our proposal was that it was at least two months late to be seriously considered as an option. The G8A open meetings had already been thrashing out their plan for the Alternative summit for nearly eight weeks, and the idea of going back to square one because of this group of people whom they hadn’t seen before was given short shrift.

The other problem with this idea was that it was totally against the ethos of the G8A “Steering Committee” – dominated by SWP members and those close to the SWP. Under no circumstances would they be happy to consider this option. So, what was potentially a good idea, was bombed out the water before it had a chance, leaving the SSP looking sheepish.

An even worse example of this happened a few weeks later. Just after Geldof announced that the Live 8 concert at Murrayfield would be on July 6 (the same day as the Gleneagles protest) the SSP G8 group – including many ISM members – came up with the idea to move the Gleneagles protest a day forward - from Wednesday 6 July to Thursday 7 July. The idea was that all those who attended the Murrayfield concert would come out radicalised and hungry for action, and G8A buses would be there to whisk them up to Gleneagles the next day.

This would involve changing plans at very short notice, reprinting posters & leaflets, re-booking buses and sending out new press releases.

A big SSP contingent came along to the G8A open meeting in Glasgow to support this proposal, and we got nowhere. One after another, G8A members machine-gunned the idea, with SWP members scoffing, barely concealing their glee at the intervention of the SSP.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from this. The SSP cannot by virtue of our history, assume a leading role in anti-capitalist coalitions or anything else. Gaining the respect of other groups – like we did in the Scottish Coalition for Justice Not War – comes by hard work and dedication, as well as having the right analysis.

Platforms

Many SW platform members, like Gill Hubbard, Keir MacKechnie, Ian Ferguson etc played leading roles in G8A from the start, and they were central in instigating G8A. This comes from the current SWP trend for operating in United Fronts and Coalitions, along with their traditional thirst for energetic build-ups to demonstrations and events that can be tied into the anti-war movement.

At an average G8A open meeting of 40 – 60 people, you could often count up to 20 SW members. However, they rarely if ever identified themselves as SSP members, preferring instead to say “I’m Angela from Globalise Resistance”, “I’m Dave from the T&G”, or “I’m from the Stop the War Coalition” and so on. This reluctance to identify as ‘SSP’ is not a new phenomenon.

ISM members were almost invisible throughout the G8 Alternatives events. One reason for this, of course, is that ISM members were tied up with keeping the SSP going through a difficult period. However, once again there was the phenomenon of ISM members ‘steering clear’ of the G8A because it was seen as an SW event. There is no virtue in this. ISM members must get involved in these kind of events unless we want to spend the next few years watching from the sidelines as the anti-capitalist movement develops.

Of course, many ISM activists are already up to our necks in political activity, rushed off our feet doing branch work. But with proper foresight, organisation and delegation, our active members can be dispatched to focus on upcoming events – like the ESF in Athens next April – without a great deal of extra burden.

The money problem

The run up to the G8 was also hampered by the party’s ongoing financial crisis. No matter what kind of political event you’re trying to organise, it’s made much harder when you have no money. Even the simplest of tasks - like booking buses and printing posters - becomes really difficult when you have literally zero pounds.

This is an example of why it’s not good enough for the party to continue flying by the seat of our pants financially. Having just a little capital to play with makes it so much easier to organise events properly, and more likely to get a return on the money we invest.

Our sales during the G8 events reflect this as well. Our materials were not punted well enough, leaving us with stacks of wristbands and flags, and boxes of unsold pamphlets. And a lot of the stuff that did get sold hasn’t been accounted for, leaving Socialist Productions and the Voice out of pocket, and some comrades demoralised and scunnered by the whole event.

This isn’t a call for increased activism during these events. But with a more thought-out and co-ordinated plan for selling our merchandise and propaganda we would have done better.

Positives

However, there were many positives which came out of the G8 protests. While we didn’t attract the whole new layer of young members that some people had hoped for, we did recruit a decent number of youth, and those who were involved in the whole event have come out with a great deal of experience, are more politically developed, and identify themselves more closely with SSY and the SSP.

SSY members also got a lot from the various events that were happening. We had members who got involved in the G8 Medics organisation, the Dissent! network, G8 Alternatives and the Stirling Eco camp amongst others, flying the flag for SSY in these groups. We also held a very successful event during the Alternative Summit, attracting over a hundred young socialists from various organisations.

The SSP contingent at the Make Poverty History march was as enjoyable as it was distinctive. Hundreds of our members, decked out in the distinctive red T-shirts with our mass of banners and flags, made a loud, militant contingency, which attracted a lot of attention and was the envy of other organisations. It was also an important confidence boost for many of our members who have been through a very rough ride over the past year.

Despite our problems, there is no better party than the SSP and it was great to have the whole party out in a united block proudly wearing our colours and easily the biggest left-wing delegation on the whole march.

What next?

The total failure of the G8 to achieve any of its aims was largely buried under news stories of ‘violent’ protestors, the London Bombings and the Live 8 performances. The SSP should organise an event to highlight the fact that the G8 achieved nothing, and put it plainly and fraternally to all those who took an interest in the G8, that the whole system must change if we are to get anywhere. These protestors are looking for a political party and would welcome the approach of the SSP. We are, after all, the party thrown out of parliament for defending the right to protest outside the summit!

An event like this would call the G8 to account, and expose their real agenda. It may also attract some of those protestors who were radicalised by the protests, and crucially help to build the SSP as the only trustworthy organisation offering genuine alternatives to the war and imperialism of the G8 leaders. P

Notes

(1) George Monbiot article – the Guardian, 6 September 2005

(2) Dan Paris article - Leftfield # 9 – September 2005

(3) Robert Burns - To A Louse 1786

Top