London Indymedia

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


Hide the following 16 comments

crossing over

20.04.2004 13:26

ah yes, i wondered when we would see the first former middleclass (schoolboy radical) cross over to the darkside and to the wilder shoers of Ayn Rand declaiming thend of the AC movemnt. Step forward the new Richard D North.Does'nt he realise that things never stay the same, they mutate, eg social forums around the world.

maybe this is his motivation, a good career move?

'All this attention has suddenly had me touring the world and presenting my ideas to such varied audiences as politicians, anti-globalists, business men, school classes and television viewers. Suddenly my hobby and my passion have become my full-time job, which is nothing short of fantastic. I have even had the honour of being met by anti-demonstrators. When I was in Quebec in March 2003 to present my book, some 25 trade union activists had gathered to protest against this Swedish free trade extremist. Since their objective was to stop competition from South America, I find it very flattering that they chose me as their enemy'


This is why there is no anti-capitalist event this year.

20.04.2004 15:07

There will be no Mayday anti-capitalist action in London this year precisely because as it is on a Saturday it would attract tens of thousands of people and could dengenerate into a mass riot. The middle class organisers of these anti-capitalist protests don't want a revolution that they are not in control of. If people take automonous action outside of their control then they are dead against it. As happened when the Liverpool Dockers demonstration degenerated into a mass riot in April 1997.

autonomous anti-capitalist

dear mr autonomous

20.04.2004 15:39

Well not quite...

there's still the official mayday demonstration for workers and trade unionists organised by
glatuc and supported by Globalise Resistance and the Stop the War Coalition, which will also have an autonomous block:

Assemble Clerkenwell Green - 12 noon
March to Trafalgar Square

and at least three other events in london.

I'll be off to dublin thanks.


Mr autonomous needs a new brain

20.04.2004 15:57

A riot is not a "revolution", buddy-boy. A revolution requires sense and direction and a purpose.

Just roaming around "breaking stuff" 'cos you're oh-so-angry about things is not going to help anyone or anything, least of all the bystanders battered by the cops and the poor working-class sods who have to clear your mess up the next day.

Please think twice before going down the route of the selfish yobbo who hides beneath a veneer of politics. Sort out your psychological probs in private.

Peter Kropotkin's herbaceous border

Seattle ????

20.04.2004 16:26

This person claims that the anti-capitalist movement started in Seatle,
in 1999 (!!!), and then tells us we are illeterate ???? Haha !




20.04.2004 16:53

Quote : "A riot is not a "revolution", buddy-boy. A revolution requires sense and direction and a purpose."

You better tell the Palestinians to pack in their Intifada then, the Iraqis to stop their resistance against allied troops and oppressed people everywhere to stop fighting back until they come up with a highly detailed masterplan for a revolution!


my hobby has become my full time job

20.04.2004 18:49

Unlike indymedia, 'the meeja' fill space in their publications by contacting friends and acquaintances and saying 'hey Jim, could you do me an article on such-and-such?'

as long as the thing sells enough copies it doesn't matter how far off the mark the piece is.

I look forward to Private Eye rubbishing this bloke (rubbishing is different from smearing - it requires no distortion, just compiled, linked quotes).

Scotsman journos might like to read No Logo again, and then check out Adbuster's stuff about "Teaching Economists to Subtract" - increasing GDP does not automatically equal a better life for producers.


not convincing

20.04.2004 21:22

"more progress against poverty has been made in the last 50 years than in the past 500."

Of course, for most of those 50 years we had Keynesianism. There is
a sharp difference in growth rates before and after the rise of
neo-liberalism -- higher before, lower after -- in most developing

But why let facts get in the way?

Also, of course, "libertarianism" already exists in France -- it is
anarchism, libertarian socialism. Given the size of the French anarchist
movement it will be much harder for the right-wing to appropriate the
term as they did in the USA. But when expect them to be politically

- Homepage:

The WB's Poverty Stats are Dodgy

20.04.2004 21:46

"more progress against poverty has been made in the last 50 years than in the past 500."

The World Bank's poverty figures are really dodgy - see attatched .pdf

Of course the reductions in poverty that have occured were largely due to social keynesianism rather than neoliberalism, as mentioned above.

The corporate media feel obliged to declare anti-capitalism dead every few months because after all THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. all possibilities are expressed in hegemonic global neoliberalism and if anyone suggests otherwise (especially the majority of the world's population) then they're a radical minority who doesn't know that the powerful always know best.


Mr Autonomous and DIY

20.04.2004 22:32

1./ If Mr autonomous is 'autonomous' he should realise that autonomy requires the knowledge and thirst for DIY action and not to rely on spectacle. Mayday is not television. ie. Are you turning up just for somebody to entertain you?
2. The Mayday Collective is just one group involved in organising Mayday and not a central hub as it were. There are many different groups doing different actions every May in London.
3. I suggest you read the communique from this years Mayday Collective where they state their reasons for their decision for that group not to organise something ( which is different from 'Cancelling' Mayday - perhaps a misjudged headline, I agree, but read the actual article.
4. I can recommend the Anarchist FAQ V.10 at
This might clear up some of your misconceptions regarding revolution and riot. While it does not speak for every anarchist it is as close as you are going to get without total planet-wide concens on what should be in it;-)

Andy Trotter

autonomous you moron

21.04.2004 11:07

Oh right, the Intifada and the Iraqi resistance are directly comparable with a few spoilt nobheads and special branch agent provocateurs smashing up a Starbucks and runnning away.

Silly me.

Seriously if you think that the situation in this country is at all similar to that in occupied Palestine or Iraq then you're as stupid as you appear from your messages.

Britain is NOT on the verge of revolution, most people here are currently brainwashed into thinking that things are mostly OK, and its gonna take an awful lot more consciousness-raising before any kind of meaningful uprising can take place.

Now go away, take deep breaths and rise above this juvenile analysis that you seem to think makes sense.

Bakunin's cigar collection

Oi Coppa!

21.04.2004 21:16

Oooh Mr Auto you're so hadcore, dissing London mayday organisers for being such cowards for not doing anything this year!

I remember the Liverpool Dockers thing Sep 1996 if my memory serves me correctly. I don't remember any riot (sic) but I do remember us blocking that busy dual carraigeway that Monday morning during the PICKET, as well as the usual argy bargy with the Scouse filth.

As you were obviously there auto did you see the sliding door of that meat wagon getting busted when they were nicking people? Still makes me chuckle! Pherhaps you were one of those that stormed into the dock after that hole was cut in the fence, or maybe you were even one of those that got onto the roof of the main admin building?

Still dont remember no riot.

Been there....

You are all dirty flea-bags

21.04.2004 23:52

stop talking shit and bitching about bullshit

fuck it off and get on with it

trade barriers?

22.04.2004 08:56

OK a few things worried me about this article, but I wont go into it too deeply as its a nice day and I want to enjoy it before the rain!
But back to the point Oxfam and such companys opposing trade barriers? Well lets slow down and not class all trade barriers into one big group. So if Oxfam try to bring down barriers obstrucing the trade of a small farmer does this mean that Oxfam are a captalistic company/charity? But wait someone must of put that barrier in place so lets see the World Bank or the IMF must of put up a trade barrier, therefore they are trying to halt globalisation, silly us the WB/IMF are anti captalist?!
Why cant people see that globalisation = imperialsim = oppression = reaction = action
I know this is a simplified but wasnt Sept the 11th action/terrorism? so infact im sure if you could get people pre Sept 11 and post Sept a year on that there will be more anti-capatlist, but ofcourse there is no offical firgure so the media can say what they like. But in there terms, you can judge peoples thoughts by what they buy and I dont ever remember quite so many books about the movement?

mail e-mail:


22.04.2004 16:39

This is why there is no anti-capitalist event this year.
20.04.2004 16:07

There will be no Mayday anti-capitalist action in London this year precisely because as it is on a Saturday it would attract tens of thousands of people and could dengenerate into a mass riot. The middle class organisers of these anti-capitalist protests don't want a revolution that they are not in control of. If people take automonous action outside of their control then they are dead against it. As happened when the Liverpool Dockers demonstration degenerated into a mass riot in April 1997.

autonomous anti-capitalist

Thank you dear Autonomous anti-capitalist,

Interesting how this is the EXACT same POLITICS that ayatollahs are using these days in their anti riot propaganda in Iran and around the globe. We had no doubt such 'directions' come directly to the mullahs from London. And here is your proof now!

Also interesting how easy it is to pick the capitalist thugs dressed as 'activists' even here in Indymedia site! They are foolishly trying to focus all your attention to some 'zionist plot', 'palestinians', 'Bush' and so on, just so the main focus is shifted from Britain to elsewhere!

Frankly, every nation should first and foremost involve themselves in EFFECTIVELY DEALING with the CAPITALIST HANDS in their own land. Afterall, they are all linked together!

Start from yourselves, and spread the word and motivate other nations for a popular rise against Oppression of the Masses, worldwide.

the more power to all TRUE activists around the Globe


Bita's comments

23.04.2004 10:05

I think the comments of Bita should be heard by all who cry Bush is an idiot, why yes Bush is an idiot but hes not our idiot are we able to change that fact no but perhaps we can change our country and through this change America with our "special" relationship! Perhaps the hope for us here is that we can get independance from London and start changing our country, but here I am just reiterating Bit's point but very good post



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