Real message

Various meetings and workshops took place on the Sunday, organised under the Socialist Workers Party-dominated G8 Alternatives umbrella. I was one of about 200 people who gathered to listen to a debate on war and imperialism. We were welcomed into Ushers Hall by a Latin American band playing Buena Vista Social Club-style music and the audience appeared ready for a good discussion. Rainbow-coloured lighting across the stage reflected the peace flag and set the mood for a meeting which was to be devoid of any class politics. The chair began things with an explanation of the G8 Alternatives project. It was, she said, to deliver the "real message" to the G8 leaders. The meetings were aiming to look at "where the problem lies, who is responsible and what the answer is". To an extent, this did happen. We learnt all about the different problems in Africa and how not all of them were caused by that nasty drought and those other climatic and geographical difficulties. Hmm. We also heard how corrupt leaders in Africa were responsible for squandering western aid and it was even alluded to that aid might not be the answer after all. As to what the real answer to the African question is, though, no useful conclusion was actually drawn, although French guest speaker Susan George did manage to plug her new book. Despite having lost his voice from too much shouting on the Saturday, a speaker from Globalise Resistance gave an interesting background to poverty in Africa. Helpful comments on the dangers of free trade and exploitation received applause and cheers. "To combat poverty without confronting the masters of war is a fantasy," he croaked and insisted that "our movement is growing and deepening". His was probably the most serious challenge to the liberal politics that was oozing from the stage - but that is not saying much. At times, it seemed he was using all the well known phrases just for the sake of it and failing to place any real meaning behind them. What exactly is "our movement", for example? The politics of the weekend in general could be described as vaguely leftish, but, as for being united in a movement with common aims and understandings, he was seriously mistaken. If nothing else, this meeting showed up firstly the diversity, but also the incoherence, of the numerous groups in Edinburgh. Our official Venezuelan speaker focused on trade. Venezuela, he explained, would not be saved through working class efforts, but through "free but fair trade". Why hadn't we thought of that? We were urged to pay attention to Venezuela and "see the alternative". Try as I did, however, I could not discern any alternative to the rule of capital, or even to the economics of the G8 leaders themselves. His solution to poverty was for 'third world' countries to give priority to trading amongst themselves rather than the western giants, suggesting they somehow have a choice. His assertion that "international solidarity is the key" turned out to be a reference to the need for Venezuela to diversify its trading partners rather than working class action to challenge the structures that create and maintain the severe poverty in Latin America. 'Britain's very own Noam Chomsky', aka Mark Curtis, spoke very well on the contradictions of aid and the problematic results of neoliberal policies. He was certainly popular with the audience. Unfortunately, though, his interesting comments on Britain's connections with Colombia and the UK sponsoring of state terrorism became inane when the answer he offered us to the question of how to eradicate poverty was "Just don't be so polite". Lobby your MP, he recommended, send campaign postcards and get your voice heard. Once again, there was no mention of class politics or any vision that pushed past charity as a way to solve poverty in the 'third world' l Emily Bransom