Establishment takeover

The mobilisations around the G8 summit in Scotland were highly contradictory, to say the least. There were charities, churches, establishment politicians, music and television celebrities, trade unions, revolutionary and national socialists, anarchists and greens and pacifists of every shade. There was no doubt that this demonstration was largely spontaneous and therefore politically backward. This can be seen by comparing the numbers attending the various events. There were over 200,000 at the main Saturday demonstration in Edinburgh, organised by Make Poverty History and promoted by the strangest mix of forces, from Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to Eddie Izzard and from the Daily Mail to the Socialist Workers Party. Around 5,000 leftwingers attended the SWP-sponsored G8 Alternatives meetings and workshops on the Sunday July 3, with about the same number turning up to the militantly anti-G8 demonstration outside the Gleneagles Hotel on July 6. In between a few hundred anarchists and direct actionists had staged sit-downs, demos and other stunts at various locations. The MPH event was the first demonstration I have attended where the organisers and police gave the same estimate of numbers attending - 225,000. In fact the organisers waited for the police to let them know before giving out any figure. For once I suspect that the police estimate was near enough right and it was left to Socialist Worker to bump it up a bit (to 300,000). Not surprisingly for a coalition of churches, charities and other NGOs, the organisers were intent on keeping their demonstration and march around the city eminently respectable. Much to the chagrin of the SWP, they declined to accept any Stop the War Coalition or Globalise Resistance presence on the two large stages in the Meadows and did their best to stop left groups putting up their non-sanctioned stalls. CPGB comrades were told by stewards we were creating a potentially dangerous obstruction in the middle of the park - although the large charity tents a few metres away were, of course, safe as houses. I was told by a particularly officious steward that I was not allowed to sell anything that was not for charity. Chancellor Gordon Brown, Scotland's first minister Jack McConnell, United Nations general secretary Kofi Annan, the Roman catholic primates of England and Scotland, the moderator of the Church of Scotland - all graced the march with their presence. The stages featured such luminaries as Bianca Jagger and Jonathan Dimbleby, who spoke in between the live music. Brown, in a speech delivered to a Christian Aid rally at the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall after the MPH demonstration, said that the fight against poverty was "the greatest moral crusade of our times" - and got a standing ovation from an appreciative audience. They were of the type that made up a significant part of the demonstration - liberal christians who wanted to do something to help the poor and believed that Brown and Blair would, with a bit of a push, do the business. As far as I know, there were no Tory leaders on the demonstration. But David Davies, Conservative home affairs spokesman and front-runner in the Tory leadership contest, said on July 4 that he had been struck by the idealism of the weekend, not least the Live 8 concerts: "The contrast with Westminster politics is striking." He went on to say that he did not agree with "every policy proposed by Make Poverty History, although I share its sentiment." In view of all this, you could say that the SWP's Chris Bambery was right to refer to the "fantastic coalition" that came together on the Saturday (Socialist Worker G8 protests special, July 3). But not in the sense the phrase was intended. The SWP was intent on portraying the demonstration as much more radical than was the case: "Many of those marching in Edinburgh had never demonstrated before. Some had been politicised through unions, churches or campaigns. Some had followed the emerging anti-capitalist movement - attending European Social Forums and previous protests at summits of world leaders. Countless others had had their first taste of protest through the huge mobilisations against the war in Iraq. "Together they represented a mighty force that is unlikely to be satisfied with half-hearted measures from the G8 leaders meeting behind barbed wire in Gleneagles" (ibid). Maybe he is right about not being satisfied with the G8's miserable programme. But "fantastic coalition"! MPH has been thoroughly colonised by the establishment. In effect it is an arm of New Labour. It has moved to capture and thereby safely head off a mass movement. Under these conditions the task of revolutionaries is to isolate and force New Labour and its friends and agents out of the "fantastic coalition". Of course, street demonstrations are hardly the normal method which bourgeois politicians choose to do business with each other. When 200,000 people march, it is for them a dangerous thing. People learn, and they can learn very quickly. Nevertheless, we have to recognise where we are at the moment. The present level of politicisation should not be exaggerated. It was not as though the majority were eager to get their hands on leftwing political newspapers and leaflets. In truth the left was marginalised on Saturday. The organisers had asked people to dress in white - and they did, in their many thousands. The Scottish Socialist Party, attempting to provide a distinctive working class pole of attraction, called on its supporters to wear red instead. But there were no more than a few hundred who did so, while the SWP merged seamlessly with the rest of the white-clad marchers. The SWP had done all in its power not to be seen as too distinct from the pro-establishment organisations involved. The STWC had produced its own white T-shirts bearing the 'Fight poverty, not war' slogan and the SWP urged all its supporters to wear one. An SWP comrade told the G8 Alternatives workshop organised by the CPGB, the Communist Party of Turkey and Critique the following day that wearing white was "a small price to pay" if it meant being accepted by the great mass of marchers. But was the SWP accepted? In reality it was not particularly noticed and, of course, SWP efforts to be the "best builders" of the movements in which it participates - even to the extent of refusing to directly challenge the politics on which they are based - on this occasion went unrewarded. The SWP - or rather the Stop the War Coalition - was kept off the two large Make Poverty History platforms and instead organised its own stage in the south-eastern corner of the Meadows, under a banner displaying the STWC/SWP/Respect main slogan for the day, 'Fight poverty, not war'. This slogan was ambivalent, to say the least. On the one hand, it could be said to highlight the hypocrisy of the New Labour warmongers who claim they want to 'make poverty history' and alleviate suffering. On the other, it came over as simple pacifism. The rally, featuring George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Andrew Murray and George Monbiot, was surrounded by several hundred police, who were hardly to be seen elsewhere in the Meadows. They faced outwards, away from the stage, as though guarding the SWP from some unknown threat. Or was it that their orders were to throw an intimidatory ring around this left presence to dissuade other protestors from wandering over? Much as the SWP wanted to be part of the MPH "fantastic coalition", then, it was shunned and kept apart in no uncertain terms. However, is it the duty of revolutionaries to merge with an establishment-fronted coalition of liberal charity-mongering? MPH's three agreed campaigning points are for "trade justice" - ie, the utopian call a more equal, 'fairer' capitalism; for the cancellation of "unpayable" debt; and for "more and better aid". A totally inadequate platform, which has at its very core the assumption that the current, imperialist, global order is the natural way of things and that the rich countries simply need to be more considerate and helpful towards the 'third world'. The police 'cordon' around the 'Fight poverty, not war' stage was part of Scotland's "largest peacetime security occupation" costing more than £50 million. Key Edinburgh locations were surrounded by a wall of steel. The main shopping mall, Princes Street, through which the march passed, was cut in two by a three-metre-wide fence, which ensured that no-one could either leave or join. Marchers were kept waiting literally for hours by police, and only allowed to leave the Meadows a few hundred at a time. The organisers cooperated fully in this, constantly announcing that the delay was for safety reasons and because there were such huge numbers on Scotland's "largest ever demonstration". On the Monday the 'security' forces came into their own - launching a full-scale assault on 'Carnival for Full Enjoyment' protestors in response to anarchistic stunts. Ninety were arrested and the rest were kept penned in for hours. They were allowed to leave, one by one, but even then were individually filmed and body-searched. It was an exercise reminiscent of May Day 2001 in central London, when anti-capitalists, as well as others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were corralled for hours. More than 200 were arrested two days later in the vicinity of Gleneagles and in neighbouring towns. It had finally agreed that the July 6 protest outside the G8 summit could pass within 500 metres of the hotel. This followed a protest inside the Holyrood parliament by four SSP MSPs - convenor Colin Fox, Frances Curran, Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie - who staged a demonstration at first minister's question time on July 1 and were suspended from the Scottish parliament until the end of September for their trouble. But on the day, despite the last-minute decision to allow the Gleneagles protest, hundreds were prevented from leaving Edinburgh. The behaviour of the anarchists, whose actions often obstructed other protestors just as much as they caused disruption for the establishment, gave the police the excuse they were looking for l Peter Manson