In a week's time London is hosting the G20 Summit of world leaders with the collapse of the world economy at the top of their agenda. Whatever the meagre outcome of the latest gathering of bourgeois politicians and their functionaries, don't expect it to offer any hope for our benighted planet and its peoples. The only hope lies with us, the 'multitude,' the 'proletariat', in all our diversity; our scream (of rage? fear? despondency?) produced by the new Depression, acting as a sharp spur to exit the years of consumer passivity and to join others in struggle, to get organised. A very loose coalition of the disaffected from trade unionists, through to climate change activists and anarchists are coalescing around the week starting Saturday 28th March to protest and vent their anger.
But is this the spark of the 'Summer of Rage' as predicted by our erstwhile Constabulary? Like the professional, salaried inhabitants of an upmarket Chelsea housing estate from J.G. Ballard's novel, 'Millennium People,' the middle classes, the police predict, will increasingly engage in confrontational protest as the recession hits; the G20 summit could be the catalyst. The scenario is far fetched (for the summer of 2009 anyway); more likely the police are hyping up the threat of violence to justify cracking down hard on protesters in the coming months.
So realistically what can we expect? The TUC organised 'Put People First' demo on the 28th should be large and diverse. Hopefully its atmosphere (but probably quite not its size) will be similar to the 2003 march against the invasion of Iraq. What I'd like to see are hundreds of ordinary working people of all races and creeds taking to the streets for the first time, people who have recently been made redundant or facing re-possession, expressing their anger at the government and the bankers, with home made banners and imaginative slogans. I would like to see residents whose homes or state of mind are threatened by a new third runway at Heathrow mixing with rank and file trade unionists and eco-activists. I would like to see the construction workers who recently went on strike against labour shipped in from abroad to undercut union agreements (but leave that divisive slogan at home, lads!) Here would be a clear sign that a large scale radical movement in the UK based on day to day resistance is at least possible.
And on the 1st of April more militant demonstrators will attempt to bring the City of London to a standstill (dubbed the G20 Meltdown) by converging on the Bank of England from all sides, with a climate camp directly in the heart of the City. What would I like to see happen here? Rather then a clear divide between full-time activists and those who work in the City-office workers, bank clerks, restaurant and retail staff, cleaners etc-a full integration or merging of protest, of those who self-consciously reject the system through counter-cultural lifestyle or direct action and those who are part of 'mainstream' society but oppressed by the relations of capital, facing redundancy, cuts in pay and working conditions. I would like to see workers joining the demonstrators in a non-violent but confrontational shut down of the Square Mile!
Regardless of tub thumbing rhetoric on the G20 Meltdown's website, realistically the likeliest scenario is the hemming in of protesters into confined spaces by ranks upon ranks of riot police; a very successful tactic of crowd control learnt through bitter experience of past demonstrations and actions. No doubt minor skirmishes will occur, with a McDonald's window smashed somewhere along the way, enough to get the odd right wing tabloid and liberal protester hot under the collar, but not exactly the Paris Commune.
What I would like to see less of are the usual travails and self-conforming stereotypes of the Left. Here is a handy list:
1: The paper sellers of the Trotskyite sects, pushing their outdated rigid nostrums and competing amongst themselves for the position of the vanguard party of the proletariat. We all know what horrors that ultimately lead to; rather then representing the workers, they have only succeeded in representing the interests of a hierarchical party-a new ruling class. Meanwhile the proletariat has fragmented and diversified to the point where a revolutionary party of the industrial working class has become meaningless anyway.
2: The anarcho-counter cultural absolutists, isolated from the daily realities of capitalist oppression (work, paying the bills) by either monetary privilege (our Julian is going through his anarchist phase; he'll get over it once he gets that post in daddy's company) or an idealistic and self-rightous willingness to accept poverty, putting up with a grotty student flat or squat; the necessary privations of an uncompromising antagonism with state and society. But the mind-set created by an antagonistic lifestyle can be as vanguardist as the Trots; a sneering stand offish attitude to those millions of people with jobs and mortgages; unthinkingly embracing direct action above and beyond organisation and in consequence glorifying useless gesture politics like breaking Starbuck windows or spray-painting war memorials-easily side tracked into the blind allies of primitivism and animal rights extremism.
3: The opposite but mirror image of 2 above; the leaders and careerists in the NGO's, trade unions and mainstream political parties. Straitjacketed by corporate management theories of efficiency and perceived media respectability, they shoehorn politics into a soul destroying electoral or legalist dead end, cutting off any development of struggle that could lead to structured but libertarian organisations. Keeping protest within the boundaries of ever more restrictive legality they stifle creativity; marching from A to B, writing letters to government ministers and legal campaigns through the courts may be necessary at times but a programme so limited will stagnate and eventually be recuperated as a adjunct of the system rather then a threat to it.
But enough negativity! Let's hope the protests and actions surrounding the G20 Summit will be a success, leading not just to a 'Summer of Rage,' but years of unrest directed against an increasingly failing capitalism and its counterpart and protector, the state. Not a lashing out in pointless acts of terroristic violence, which only reflects despair and resentment, but collective resistance; a movement that really can change the world.
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