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Mayday: Rise and fall of anti-capitalist movement (The Scotsman)

m hor | 20.04.2004 11:24 | May Day 2004 | Analysis | Globalisation | London

Interesting / off plot article from The Scotsman on the demise of the autonomous big London Mayday demo reflecting the demise of the anti-capitalist movement - ahem. Since of course the london mayday demos were the high point of the movement :-) well anyway, their analysis of numbers demonstrating post 911 is simply not true, they fail to mention the big mobilisations just last year in 2003, like 100,000 people marching and blockading in Geneva against the G8, the 2-300,000 who gathered for the Lezarc "the world is not for sale" festival in France, and the other hundreds of thousands who protested at the EU summit Thessaloniki, the WTO summit in Cancun, the FTAA protests in Miami... or for that matter the 120,000+ who met to discuss alternatives at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, and the 100,000 or so at the Paris European Social Forum... and so on and so on. It seems newspapers keep running the same story each year, but the reality on the ground speaks against this. The rest of the article is interesting, but I'd also say some way off the mark.

Oh yeah, and OF COURSE they don't mention EU Mayday in Dublin.

Reproduced here for comment:

Rise and fall of anti-capitalist movement

TWO WEEKs on Saturday, a group of young people from all around Britain will take a gamble on the weather and hold an afternoon picnic on St James's Park in London. They may well be mistaken for a church youth-group outing, but the real content is far more serious: this is the 2004 anti-capitalist protest.

After much hand-wringing, the Mayday Collective has cancelled their annual march in the capital - its newsletter says the decision was taken "only after several disappointing and poorly-attended meetings". It complained that recent rallies featured "neither slogans being mouthed nor speeches being listened to - there was just, well, people dancing."

So what was once a loose but dazzling coalition of would-be revolutionaries, window-breakers and street-partiers will this year be represented by a band of earnest picnickers collectively chewing cucumber sandwiches in the London sunshine.

This is all a far cry from the scenes at Seattle in November 1999, when the World Trade Organisation's annual meeting drew thousands of protesters who were dispersed with tear gas. Scenes reminiscent of the 1968 Paris student protests were beamed around the world - acting as a clarion call to protesters worldwide.

The 2000 Mayday march in London saw thousands descend on Whitehall and deface monuments, including Sir Winston Churchill's statue and the Cenotaph. Similar scenes attended the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the European Union summit in Gothenburg, and the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001. This was what Tony Blair called the "anarchists' travelling circus"

Then two hijacked planes destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York, and the world changed. Attendance at such demonstrations has plummeted since then: the game of political violence (which already claimed one life in Genoa) had lost its innocence.

Anti-war protests sapped much of the anti-capitalist momentum, but even their marches thinned after the capture of Saddam Hussein. As the brutality of his dictatorship became better-understood, the logic in protesting against its removal became less clear-cut.

Rather than return to the anti-capitalist movement, the marches have just given up. Anarchy seems to have lost its vogue.

A number of factors are at work - and the most important is a battle of ideas which did not exist during the "Battle of Seattle" but is now raging. Then, the required text was the bestselling No Logo, by Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist who argued that big companies and their brands were exploiting the world's poor by introducing sweatshop labour.

She hit a zeitgeist. By 2000, the high street had completed its own globalisation revolution - greatly helped by the South East Asian currency crisis which rendered quality textiles dirt cheap. Shoppers were regularly turning the labels of their new clothes to see the names of faraway countries, even on the wares of self-proclaimed patriots such as Marks & Spencer.

And when they went abroad, they saw Gap, Zara and Starbucks line up on high streets the world over. They smelt a rat - and Klein gleefully pointed them to it.

No one but politicians and corporations opposed Klein's interpretation. It became received wisdom that globalisation meant exploitation and that multinational companies were profiting on child labour, aided and abetted by the World Bank etc.

For years, Klein was hailed as the queen of the small people versus the big people. And this made it all the harder to understand why, in Paris last year, when a 21-year-old activist led a protest of 8,000 in praise of "liberty." And by liberty, they meant capitalism.

They had come to "reclaim the streets" from the strikers then blocking the Paris traffic. The protest was started by Sabine Herold, a student who had set up a centre-right think tank and called her movement "libertarianism".

"People were so fed up with the unions blocking the country they wanted to demonstrate and say 'No - that's enough - we want to go to work. We don't want some very small unions to block the whole country,'" she said.

"We wanted a demonstration that was not just against the unions, but that was also pro-reform."

France, the country where unions are the strongest, had thrown up a counter-cultural heroine - and she was returning capitalism to vogue.

But the main force in the pro-globalisation battle comes from an even more unlikely quarter: Sweden. The country with the highest taxes in Europe has produced Johan Norberg, a 30-year-old former anarchist who has scored an international success with his book, In Defence of Global Capitalism.

Hailed as a 21st century manifesto of individual liberty and international development, it has been translated into seven languages and sells worldwide - praised as the most powerful work ever written about globalisation. Unlike No Logo, it is entirely based on facts - drawing from the United Nations' own data to show that, thanks to globalisation, more progress against poverty has been made in the last 50 years than in the past 500.

The facts he produces speak for themselves: progress has been led by the globalised east Asian countries, whereas poverty is on the increase in the anti-globalised African countries. Trade, not aid, is the key.

"Protesters have never rejected the pro-capitalist arguments. The problem is, they've never heard them before," argues Norberg. His daily internet blog - - now has a worldwide following which is fuelling the new radicalism.

What had been a Leftist monologue has become an burning internet-based debate where the likes of Norberg and Herold say the world's problems stem from politicians obstructing free trade both at home and abroad.

The lessons which Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment taught the world more than 200 years ago have new voices, breathing fire into the principles which have lost none of their revolutionary fervour.

So why side with the politicians and the protectionists? A good question for the anti-capitalists as they search in vain for the members who so happily rallied with them in Seattle.

Student protesters are, by definition, constantly regenerated as the old ones move into employment and new ones leave school. But today's potential recruits are seeing a fierce debate about globalisation - not the monologue which existed four years ago.

Heavyweights like Joseph E Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winner, have entered the debate. His bestseller Globalisation and Its Discontents argues that free trade can be a tremendous force for good - but the World Bank has no idea how to best use it.

A fresh salvo in the debate will be fired from the World Bank, whose figures will show later this month that globalisation has lifted 400 million out of poverty in the last 20 years - greater progress than at any comparable time in world history.

Cries that globalisation means exploitation - the creed of Seattle - has become a the tired manifesto of yesteryear. Politically, it is the political equivalent of wearing flares and a tank-top: young people are seeing the fresh debate lying somewhere else. The anti-capitalist arguments have gone from being unlikely to demonstrably untrue. Who will believe the West is exploiting India when the main concern now is of Bangalore software engineers stealing white-collar jobs from our workers?

The pity once felt for the people of India and China is being replaced by fear from the inefficient western companies. In buying their goods, we shared our wealth with them: now they are pulling themselves up, and fast.

Even Leftist commentators seem to have grasped that trade barriers, not company profit, is the menace. They are uniting behind the new radicals in targeting protectionism: specifically the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidises farmers to ensure developing countries cannot compete.

The Guardian newspaper, often regarded as the journal of the anti -globalisation movement, not only agrees but has started a website against agricultural subsidies. And the loudest voice belongs to organisations such as Oxfam and the Jubilee Network.

Rather than rail against corporate profit, they are more likely to join the attack on trade barriers and the obstacles to free trade. Although they would be loathe to admit it, they are now fighting from a pro-globalisation perspective.

So who will line up against Oxfam? Another problem for the Mayday Collective: it is has been forced to swap street riots for a picnic because the facts have finally caught up with its economically illiterate ideas.

And the battle is raging. The force which Herold unleashed in Paris is laden with untapped potential: the ideas pouring out of Norberg's website are fresher than most championed by European politicians.

The new radicals are laying claim to the future - and their idea for helping the world's poor is fast proving more convincing than dancing to ethnic music and smashing up McDonald's.

London's police have no plans to set aside hundreds of extra troops to police this Mayday. "We have other priorities, like counter-terrorism," said a Scotland Yard spokesman. The Mayday Collective's newsletter feigns delight: it has, at least, managed to "disappoint Met officers who had already factored their overtime into this year's summer holiday budgets".

But for a movement which was claimed to have harnessed a global power only four years ago, this is a pathetic victory. As the anarchists unpack their picnic bags in St James's Park this Mayday, will have the distinct feeling that the zeitgeist has now passed them by.

m hor


Display the following 16 comments

  1. crossing over — sheff-bod
  2. This is why there is no anti-capitalist event this year. — autonomous anti-capitalist
  3. dear mr autonomous — ni
  4. Mr autonomous needs a new brain — Peter Kropotkin's herbaceous border
  5. Seattle ???? — ac
  6. reply — autonomous
  7. my hobby has become my full time job — bobby
  8. not convincing — anarcho
  9. The WB's Poverty Stats are Dodgy — Tom
  10. Mr Autonomous and DIY — Andy Trotter
  11. autonomous you moron — Bakunin's cigar collection
  12. Oi Coppa! — Been there....
  13. You are all dirty flea-bags — fuck it off and get on with it
  14. trade barriers? — Adshead
  16. Bita's comments — Peter


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