Knowing your audience

Over 900 were in Usher Hall for the launch of the G8 Alternatives summit on Sunday July 3 - although I doubt that many had been attracted from amongst the thousands new to politics who had been out on the streets the previous day. The first speaker, Sami Ramadani, described in the event programme as "an expert on civil society in Iraq", as well as a member of the Stop the War Coalition, said it was a major mistake to argue that protests such as those taking place in Edinburgh were futile, because capitalism would collapse under its own contradictions. They were vitally important in demonstrating "the people's will to resist" capitalism and imperialism. It was not altogether clear who might actually have advocated the view he was arguing against, however, nor how he thought marchers such as Gordon Brown or Cormac Murphy-O'Connor fitted into the picture. Next up was Fausto Bertinotti, national secretary of Italy's Partito della Rifondazione Comunista and a member of the European parliament. Speaking through a translator, the comrade argued that the G8 demonstrations were part of a number of recent developments that should encourage us in our struggle against imperialist war and global capitalism. He linked the events in Edinburgh with the French and Dutch votes against the European Union constitution, which he described as a rejection of the neoliberal agenda - "a class vote, a left vote, an anti-capitalist vote". The left, he felt, had become stronger through these 'no' votes and was now in a better position to demonstrate that "another Europe is possible". Hisham Ghenayen, a Palestinian living in Scotland, said that imperialism was a "product of greed". Although Blair and Bush claimed that they wanted to help Africa, their policies offered only "symptomatic relief of poverty" and failed to address its fundamental causes. "Fair trade" was needed, but the United States claimed that 'reform' was required first of all. Ghenayen reminded the audience that the US had promised change if Yasser Arafat went, but since his death nothing had been done to improve the situation for Palestinians living under Israeli oppression. He could not pity the Israeli settlers who were losing their homes as part of the withdrawal from Gaza because those same settlers had taken his home away from him. Finally, he mocked the US administration's criticism of the recent elections in Iran. The US could hardly complain about the democratic process being subverted by the Council of Guardians when its own legal equivalent, the Supreme Court, had done exactly the same thing in handing victory to George Bush in the 2000 presidential contest. Lindsey German was billed solely as national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition (her role as a senior figure in the Socialist Workers Party and Respect not rating a mention). She said that the previous day's demonstration had been much bigger than the police estimate of 225,000. The police had repeatedly downplayed the size of such protests, she maintained. The comrade was also disappointed that the Live 8 concerts had attracted more media coverage than the demo itself. Moving on to the war in Iraq, comrade German argued that "everything we said about the war was right". She did not believe that the majority of those involved in the Iraqi resistance were 'terrorists' - they were just people at the end of their tether who had a right to resist the illegal occupation of their country. She was appalled by the appointment of neoconservative ideologue Paul Wolfowitz to lead the World Bank. Regarding the Iranian elections, she said that, whilst she did not share his views, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had been elected as president because the people of Iran had wanted a leader who would oppose US imperialism. I have the feeling that millions of Iranian workers, democrats and secularists also do not share his views. In fact some might even be dismayed at the outcome of the rigged elections. Respect MP George Galloway was the star turn. He had felt sickened by the newspaper photographs of Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof with his head on the prime minister's shoulder, looking more like Cheri Blair than a campaigner against poverty. With Geldof's assistance, the New Labour government had sought to coopt the Make Poverty History cause, thanking and congratulating the demonstrators who were protesting against their own failure to address the problems of third world poverty. "We can't permit this grotesquely cynical manoeuvre to continue," exclaimed the comrade, because Blair was "no champion of the poor in Africa". The so-called debt relief being promised was linked to demands that gave the International Monetary Fund control of these countries' policy. The debtor nations, argued Galloway, "should tear up the bills and say, we've already paid - you owe us money." Britain should be paying Africa "massive reparations" for the damage inflicted on it through colonialism. He saw encouraging signs of resistance in Latin America, with the people of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela rising up against the neoliberal demands of the IMF and WB. In conclusion, the Respect MP quoted Rosa Luxemburg: "Socialism or barbarism is the choice facing the world today." This was definitely a case of George knowing his audience. But I wonder why he did not support the CPGB motion to enshrine socialism as an aim at the Respect conference earlier this year. Surely he does not prefer barbarism? l Steve Cooke