G8 and the comeback of the alter-globalists
Geschreven door Marco van Duijn
Wednesday, 29 June 2005
A great deal has changed since the alter-globalisation movement put itself in the spotlight during the WTO summit in Seattle. The global mobilisations against free trade summits reached a peak in Seattle and almost a year later in Prague, during the annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank. The end of the alter-globalisation movement was accompanied by an orgy of violence during G8 summit in Genoa (2001) and briefly following the events in New York on September 11. This summer another G8 meeting will take place in Scotland. While the world leaders of the eight most powerful countries entrench themselves in a golfing resort behind seven kilometres of fencing, the alter-globalists are preparing a comeback.
In advance of the summit in Gleneagles (6-8 July, 2005) the G8 announced the cancellation of the debts of the 18 poorest countries - a total of 34 billion euros. The announcement was welcomed by the media and also by many NGO's as proof of the intention of the G8 to make poverty history. What criticism of the G8 proposal there was, was overshadowed by the general jubilation, while a closer study of the proposal gives good reason for scepticism. The relief turned out to concern chiefly debts seen as unrecoverable and already covered by money reserved for development aid. In addition, those wanting to qualify for debt relief would first be required to open their economies to foreign investors (Western multinationals). At the same time the G8 continues relentlessly to arm corrupt regimes which violate human rights. In other words there is still every reason to oppose the G8.
If the omens have not deceived us, in Gleneagles we will be seeing the biggest manifestation of the alter-globalist movement for years. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are expected. Scores of organisations have been involved in the preparation of the protests and a large number of temporary collectives have been formed. A large number of organisations are affiliated with coalitions such as the mainly parliamentary left 'G8 Alternatives', the NGO coalition 'Make Poverty History' and the grassroots network Dissent!. There are substantial differences between the official standpoints of the different coalitions and organisations involved, but at grassroots level the dividing lines are blurred and there is widespread interaction. Well-known millionaires such as Bob Geldof and Bono are also calling on people to demonstrate or be present at special Live8 concerts. Considering the diversity of the protests and the international nature of the organisation and mobilisation it is clear that we are witnessing the comeback of the alter-globalisation movement. Another world is (still) possible!
The alter-globalisation movement has risen from the ashes. When, after Prague, heads of government moved their meetings to inaccessible places and responded to the protests with draconian repression, many alter-globalists realised that the era of 'summit hopping' was over. The movement was literally smashed apart by police action and old sectarian divisions gained the upper hand. For Gleneagles there seems to be a regrouping, a comeback of the once so influential movement. Whether or not the mobilisation will be as massive as expected makes little difference; in Seattle and Prague there were also 'only' a few tens of thousands of protesters. The important thing is that the coming protest embodies the key elements of the alter-globalisation movement: diversity of organisation and methods, successful global mobilisation and criticism of cross-border neo-liberal policies.
The question, however, is whether the comeback will produce more than an adrenalin high, a festival atmosphere and its share of media attention. Will the protests influence the political decision-making and will they contribute to building sustainable counterpower or are the protesters flogging a dead horse? There is no single answer to this question since the different currents within the alter-globalisation movement have different interests and agendas.
Take for example the NGO's. In recent years Western governments have invested heavily in their relationships with popular NGOs. The majority of them are sustained by government subsidies and controlled by the political elite. In Great Britain this recently led to strong criticism of Oxfam (part of 'Make Poverty History'), whose list of demands on poverty issues closely resembles the policies proposed by New Labour. This is not surprising when you consider that the leadership of Oxfam is mainly made up of former advisors of Tony Blair and New Labour peers . The differences between the standpoints of influential NGOs such as Oxfam and the political establishment are a matter of gradation rather than fundamental. This does not detract from the fact that there are plenty of people within these organisations who have the purest of intentions. In any event, the alter-globalisation protests provide a perfect framework for the NGOs to bring in new donors and lobby for the increase of their government funding.
Another example of what members of Dissent! strikingly called "embedded" protest  are the Live8 concerts, organised by Sir Bob Geldof. In the days before the G8, concerts will take place in ten countries with an estimated one million spectators and a tv audience of 2 billion, thus qualifying it for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest petition of all time. Geldof and Bono have put themselves forward in the past few years as leaders in the fight against poverty. They were helped in this by the media, which always in search of leaders, but also by the fact that the political establishment prefers to be seen as allied with popular musicians than to lend an ear to the demands of social movements. Last year, at the request of Tony Blair, Geldof took part in the "Commission for Africa", an initiative bringing together NGOs and politicians to discuss the problems of Africa. Bono attended last year's labour conference and called Blair and his right hand man, Gordon Brown "great men with great ideas". Publicist George Monbiot criticised the flirtation between the pop musicians and politicians. He typified Geldof and Bono as "bards of the powerful" . In the end, the unexpressed message of "G8 + 2" is that petitionism and wise men will solve the problem of poverty, not self-organisation and direct action.
Most of the traditional small leftist organisations aim at recruitment and, just like the NGOs and the philanthropic millionaires, are averse to direct action. They are not opposed to a dictatorship of wise men, as long as it is their wise men. In order to achieve that aim they will go to where the cameras are. After the alter-globalisation protests had passed their peak and two planes had bored their way into the Twin Towers, they simply switched back to ' anti-American' or 'anti war ' mode. Whether they will really benefit from the expected revival of the alter-globalisation protests is doubtful. In the past few years there has been no question of any electoral breakthrough brought about by the alter-globalisation movement, which is ultimately their most important goal.
As far as the grassroots alter-globalists are concerned, it seems that there has been a period of reflection and now, some years later, they are just continuing in the same old way as if nothing had happened. The same applies to the British ' horizontals', lots of whom have joined Dissent!, a network allied to the global PGA network . They have thrown themselves into the preparations for the coming protests an therefore nothing has come of moving the emphasis from summit hopping towards the building of accessible local organisations and alternatives (conclusion of the 2nd European PGA conference in 2002). The grassroots alter-globalists therefore are just as isolated, marginalised and 'exotic' as they were at the time of Seattle and Prague. In most if not all European countries the situation has not improved either. According to the British long standing media activist and alter-globalist, Hamish Campbell, a new batch of activists has taken the lead in Dissent! They are familiar with the stories and images of the notorious worldwide action days against free trade conferences and want to experience it from close by. According to Campbell, many in private of the organizers of the first alter-globalism protests are far from convinced, but, for lack of better ideas, they are going along with it.
There are plenty of reasons for the deja vu effect of the Gleneagles protests. Anyone following the reports on the activist sites can be forgiven for imagining they are four years in the past. On the eve of the G8 top in Genoa (2001), exactly the same war language and rhetoric dominated the discussion. The Italian "white overalls" (Tuti Bianci) declared "war on the G8"  and Dissent! has already announced an action day in solidarity with the expected detainees. The protest in Genoa ended in a battle in which a fascist police force beat hundreds of demonstrators into hospital and the "black block" destroyed bank buildings and other "capitalist property". This is probably why on its website Dissent! prefers to speak of the "inspiring protests" against the G8 summit in Evian (2003) which were less violent affairs. Then as now, the G8 conference was held in a remote area and the protests took place in the neighbouring towns and cities. Just as in Evian, there are calls to block G8 summit. On the Dissent! website you can read, “Dissent feels it is possible for the anti-authoritarian movement to gain a major and inspiring victory against global capitalism by directly shutting the G8 down by blockading the roads going to Gleneagles while other groups go over the hills to enter Gleneagles directly”. In reality nothing was blocked in Evian. Transport into and out of Evian continued undiminished, by water and by air. The protest had little more than a symbolic nature.
All this does not, of course, detract from the fact that protests such as those in Prague and Seattle have played a huge role in boosting the public debate on global neo-liberalism. The spectacular actions inspired many and gave the movement wings for a while. But successes booked in the past offer absolutely no guarantee for the future; there is every reason for scepticism. There is still a huge gulf between resistance and counter-power. In spite of all the inspiring images and increased criticism of privatisation and loss of national sovereignty, the neo-liberal elite is planted more firmly in the saddle than ever. Strong language and flamboyant actions change nothing. The key to grassroots counterpower lies in emancipation by means of self-organisation in sustainable groupings, from which people can work towards directly answering their wants and needs. The major challenge ahead is to build a strong network of these organizations.
 Amnesty report on the G8 http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news/press/16184.shtml
 Why Oxfam is failing Africa http://www.newstatesman.com/200505300004
 PGA website http://www.agp.org