Below are six samples of the response of the authoritarian left to last weekend’s G20 protest. For the record, like, and to be critiqued in good time…
Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment was a funny movie, but 100 Morgans running around is a political pain in the neck.
The old movie, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, starring a very young Vanessa Redgrave, is one of my personal all-time favourite movies. The penultimate scene, with the whole world chasing Morgan in his monkey suit all over London, is very funny indeed.
One Morgan is okay, but a hundred or so southern-hemisphere Black Bloc wannabes trashing police vehicles at an otherwise peaceful but relatively small Melbourne demonstration, in the current reactionary Australian political climate, is something essentially quite different to Morgan’s monkey suit.
The essential question [?] is the fact that these irresponsible political adventurers disguise their faces. I agree strongly with Mick Armstrong’s post on this matter on Leftwrites [below], and I defer to his knowledge, based on his investigation as to who these people were. The very act of people from outside a city invading a demonstration in another city with the clear intention of launching a semi-military attack on the cops, with their faces covered, irrespective of the consequences for the rest of the demonstrators, is a calculated political act directed against the bulk of the demonstrators.
People with covered faces who attack the cops, unless they are rather unlucky and their covering falls off, are very dangerous to everybody else at the demonstrations, and quite possibly include fascists and agents provocateur… real agents provocateur certainly do exist, and organised contingents with covered faces clearly facilitate the [activities] of real agents provocateur…
…There is also, obviously, a new set of factors. I attended some demonstrations in Sydney over the past couple of years, several of which had the rubric of closing down some capitalist institutions such as the stock exchange. Despite declaring to myself that, at 67, I wasn’t going to get too close to the physical action, of course I did, and was the one greybeard among many young people squeezed by police horses around the corner from the Market St building, which was effectively closed for a few hours by the demonstration.
I had strategic misgivings about rhetoric on closing down the city with small forces, but those protests went off without too much difficulty. A striking feature of those protests was the appearance of a new breed, at least in Sydney, of obviously specially trained crowd control police wearing distinct blue or grey uniforms, physically as tough as nails, and drawn up in semi-military formation.
To people round about I described them as pit-bull terriers, which raised a bit of a laugh. Incidentally, for no reason that I could fathom, they all seemed to be pretty short. I tried to chiak [?] them a bit, but they weren’t having any, and remained grim-faced and hostile.
These cops weren’t obvious at the protests against the recent Lebanon invasion, which seemed to be policed by more or less ordinary coppers. At the first of those protests there was a very large police presence compared with the size of the protest.
I gave a bit of cheek to one of the commanders in front of his underlings, about why they needed so many coppers for a small protest. He was stony faced, and refused to respond except in monosyllables, but the ordinary coppers around him were cracking little grins. I don’t doubt that some police are hostile to “people of Middle Eastern appearance”, indigenous Australians and others, partly out of prejudice and partly because of the day-to-day contradictions of policing in some areas.
None of these realities seem to me a sound reason for ignoring the contradictions among the police, and instead treating them as a homogenous reactionary mass. Politically, what does that achieve?
Ha ha ha — nice one Bob. But as far as I’m concerned, the truly “essential question” is: was Bob’s choice of filmic revery a coy reference to my own good self? Aside from that, I’m sure that Mick appreciates Bob’s endorsement of his ‘investigative’ skills for — as far as I’m aware — nobody else does.
Like Mick, Bob makes a number of other claims which are, in the end, more akin to slander than analysis, though their shared hostility towards “black bloc wannabes” invading Melbourne is, in Bob’s case at least, hypocritical, at best. (Maybe next we’ll be treated to exhortations for such foreign no-goodniks to ‘Go back to Russia’?) Then again, at least Bob, unlike Mick, has the excuse that he wasn’t actually present.
Finally, the ‘new factors’ Bob discerns as being most germane to a discussion of the activities of the ‘paramilitary’ ‘Arterial Bloc’ — invading towns, trashing cop cars, endangering innocent civilians and acting as a pole of attraction for fascists and agents provocateurs — are neither new, nor particularly relevant. The militarisation of the police, for example, has been well-documented elsewhere, and its history extends well beyond the May Day events in Sydney in 2001/2 that Bob refers to in his post.
- …So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!
2) Jonathon Collerson, International Socialist Organisation (Melbourne), November 24:
‘Our enemies are Paul Wolfowitz and Peter Costello, not Akim Sari’
1. The G20 is part of the global offensive responsible for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustaining world poverty, undermining labour rights and accelerating climate change. The immense harm their policies inflict on our planet and its people put cosmetic damage to one police truck at the 18 November StopG20 rally in Melbourne in perspective. These criminals — and their media allies — attempt to hide their culpability by creating hysteria about protester violence. Their aim is to discredit all militant protest action and, by extension, the legitimate concerns expressed by demonstrators. Criminalising protest will be an important weapon for the Howard Government in convincing the public of the need for an extraordinary state of security at next year’s APEC summit in Sydney. Responding to this is a major challenge for the Left.
2. Unfortunately, certain organisations –- particularly Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialist Perspective -– have completely misunderstood the challenge, lining up with the state and the corporate media to publicly denounce Arterial Bloc. In formal terms, the argument made by these groups –- that mass mobilisation is the most effective form of collective action -– is correct. However, they have elevated this principle to a dogma, meaning they have missed the key issue in this debate, which is the Right’s attack on militant protest in general. The first task of socialists is to take a side. In the present situation, a number of groups have taken the wrong side and reinforced the arguments of the media and the state.
3. At the same time, the StopG20 rally demonstrates that the autonomist or decentralised organising tactic is not the way forward. The largest part of last Saturday’s rally lacked direction at the critical moment when we massed at police barricades on Little Collins and Russell Streets. The real possibility of mass civil disobedience was abandoned in the street with neither the socialist Left, the autonomists, or anyone else taking it up. The vacuum was filled by the fragmented actions of autonomist groups, including Arterial Bloc. Our criticism is not their use of direct, militant action. It is that their politics exclude the need to organise mass collective action. They focused instead on organising relatively small groups of experienced activists to confront the police. The scarves and overalls symbolise this exclusion. Breaching police exclusion zones in Genoa or blockading the World Economic Forum in Melbourne are highlights of the anti-capitalist movement. But the way to turn situations like last Saturday’s rally into this is to involve the greatest number in mass democratic decision-making and arguing for this sort of militant, direct collective action. If 3000 protesters had breached the barricades we would not be concerned with minor damage to one police truck.
4. Even with the debate over tactics, the G20 mobilisation was a real step forward for the social movements in Australia. The mood on the rally was positive, confident and militant. It was diverse and the numbers exceeded the organisers’ expectations. It is to the credit of all the groups and individuals making up the StopG20 committee that such a broad ensemble came together to express a radical critique of the systemic roots of war, poverty and climate change. In this way the G20 protest was in the tradition of the great anti-capitalist mobilisations that began seven years ago in Seattle. As we turn our attention to building a massive mobilisation for the APEC summit, it is vital that we do not exclude, isolate or denounce any part of this movement. Disagreements over strategy and tactics should be dealt with by discussion and debate within the movement, not by one part of the movement publicly denouncing the actions of another part. We need to organise in a democratic and inclusive way and seek to win a consensus for mass, militant collective action.
3) Paddy and Shannon, Socialist Action Group and Solidarity, November 21:
Statement on the G20 demonstrations
The recent G20 protests in Melbourne posed some political questions that are now being explored by different sections of the left. Firstly, and quite immediately[,] is the question of how to relate to the confrontations with police. Second[ly]… the political isolation of the anti-G20 demonstrations from the ongoing campaign work of the activists involved.
Confrontations with police
The fact of the matter is that right now our comrades are being grabbed off the street by undercover thugs. The Victorian Police Commissioner has “vowed to hunt down protestors” and set up a Task Force including the AFP and “other Federal Agencies” to identify and arrest activists involved in the riot. Police have told press about a list of 200 names of suspects associated with the protest who could be arrested. At least one man arrested has not been granted bail. A number of activists have been stopped and searched at the airport attempting to leave Melbourne. One man not even associated with the demonstration was detained by undercovers, tied and beaten in an unmarked van before being released. A small demonstration at the Melbourne Museum on Sunday was baton charged, leaving a woman hospitalised.
It is vital in these circumstances that the left speak out against this repression and help defend those targeted. Many have been involved quite centrally in environment, student and anti-war movements. Comrades need to feel supported to continue being active with or without charge. Moves to increase state power need to be resisted. In the climate of the recent “anti-terror” legislation, there is a real move to curtail democratic rights to dissent and we have to confront this. Arguments about the nature of what happened here are secondary: we support the right of people to protest even when we may disagree with the tactics that they employ.
Contrary to some reports posted in the media and on some leftwing websites, participants in the “violence” were not all “from overseas”, but were overwhelmingly Australian activists, including large contingents from Melbourne. It should go without saying that, on top of this, we encourage people from overseas to join us in protest and defend their right to do so. The response by sections of the left has been shameful. Deploying the racist rhetoric of the media about foreign agitators and ‘mindless violence’ is helping the police to isolate, divide and victimise. It is also undermining attempts to build a radical analysis of how the demonstrations could have been more effective.
The real violence
Over the course of the afternoon, more than 500 people left the main demonstration to either participate in or support pushes on police lines. Much of this action, such as removing barricades and forcing police retreat towards the Hyatt, was inspiring in the context of a showing of police force that kept the warmongers of the G20 miles away from the protestors.
We know well the arguments about the real source of violence. We know that the people sitting in the Hyatt are responsible for the 650,000 dead in Iraq, the bombing currently happening in Palestine, deaths in the Australian workplace, Aboriginal deaths in custody.
We know well that the police are not kind, nor that they were acting with any kind of restraint on Saturday. We know that the police were there to protect the killers sitting behind the doors. Whether or not we think that the actions taken by the “Arterial Bloc” were the way to confront this power – we know that it exists, and that fundamentally this is what needs to be challenged.
Tactics on the day of the G20 demonstrations
People from many radical political tendencies either joined or supported the “arterial bloc”. The action was certainly not confined to the ‘hardcore anarchists’, as the media would have it. With a lack of leadership coming from the other elements of the demonstration, the “Arterial Bloc” led a large section of the demonstration in direct action. This leadership, whilst inspiring in the context of the demonstration, had some serious weaknesses.
The attire of the bloc, dressed in masks and white suits[,] and their secretive practice on the day[,] did little to encourage broader sections of the rally to participate in direct action. Most importantly, not enough effort was made to communicate either to the movement or the media the politics that justify confrontation with police lines at such summit meetings, contributing to the political isolation which is now being exploited by the state.
There was no real attempt to lead the direct action on a mass or explicitly political basis. At no point before, after or during the demonstration did the bloc communicate to the mass of people at the demonstrat[ion] or to the spokescouncils about the reasoning behind their actions. The “Arterial Bloc” gave direction to the mood of the demonstration, but it wasn’t willing to take the political responsibility for doing the hard work that is necessary to make these actions more effective and with a real, broad base in the demonstration.
Leadership from the organised left
The fact remains however that no other section of the demonstration seemed to be offering any kind of political lead… Following directly from this, the other tendencies were unable and even unwilling to engage with what was a (perhaps surprisingly) militant mood on the day. There was no attempt from any other section of the demonstration to argue for or organise any kind of direct action against the conference.
Liz Thompson said on the Leftwrites blog that ‘It was almost farcical that I was chosen to speak on behalf of StopG20 at the rally – so little political discussion seemed to occur that I was unclear exactly who everyone was.’ The lack of political analysis and coherence coming from those involved in planning the day meant that many people – including those involved in or supporting the actions of the “Arterial Bloc” – felt a sense of frustration that their actions were not more effective, more targeted or more widely supported. There clearly needed to be an attempt [to] cohere and direct the militant mood of the demonstration.
The relationship between summit demonstrations and social movements
The results of the lack of leadership and the isolation of the demonstration on the whole are demonstrated clearly by the actions of the contingent from the Sydney Uni left. They believed the G20 meeting called for more than a simple protest outside the conference and, arriving quite late in town and with little organisation, saw supporting “Arterial Bloc” as the best way to do this. But the fact that Sydney Uni, which this year has successfully defended its SRC from VSU, was represented in comparatively big, militant numbers also points some way to the kind of activism that can strengthen strong ranks at the summits.
Stop G20 was built in an extremely abstract fashion, disconnected from social struggles challenging the Howard Government. While the platform at the opening rally featured some good speakers from different movements; a member of the TCFUA, a Muslim cleric, an indigenous activist to name a few; this seemed forced and unrepresentative of the crowd. Perhaps most stark was that in a city with the most active and combative working-class movement in the country there [were] no union banners.
This is a far cry from S11, with its 20,000 people. Off the back of the struggle over the MUA, a success at Jabiluka, the defeat of VSU legislation through mass action and in the context of a growing global anti-capitalist movement, it made sense for activists from strong broadly-based movements to take their struggle to the World Economic Forum. However, even during and out of S11[,] many on the left have demonstrated a tendency to focus too squarely on building the radical “event” of the summit.
The political climate today is substantially different to the time of S11, granted. But the basics are no different. These demonstrations can politicise people, and they can act as the catalyst for ramping up campaigns against Howard. But that will only come to fruition if the demonstrations are built on a solid political basis, from the campaigns and networks where we are active day-to-day.
We need to use these demonstrations to strengthen and generalise the analysis and organisation of our movements. To effectively challenge APEC next year in Sydney we will need ten times this week’s numbers. This will not come however through “building APEC” in the abstract. We need to rebuild the student movement, bringing thousands into confrontation with neo-liberal reforms on campus. We need an anti-war movement which can grow and effectively respond to the barrage of racism and militarism coming so consistently from the Howard Government. We need to build rank-and-file strength in our unions and support growing instances of strike action against the IR reforms.
When we come to APEC it needs to be with wide layers of people in these movements who we work with consistently and have convinced of a more generalised opposition to capitalist globalisation. A connection to the campaigns would make discussions about tactics on demonstrations real and grounded in a more thorough assessment of the political situation, rather than an abstract question. APEC itself needs to be a demonstration that can politicise and harden up these networks.
4) Margarita Windisch, Socialist Alliance / Democratic Socialist Perspective, November 19:
Margarita Windisch, Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray who spoke at the Stop G20 protest on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition, condemned Sunday’s media coverage of the protest which [focused] on the actions of a small group of masked individuals, who were separate from the protest.
“Over three thousand people took part in a peaceful rally, march and street festival,” she said, “Placards, banners and a platform of 7 speakers gave a powerful message condemning the role of the G20 in promoting policies that cause horrific poverty and threaten the world with ecological catastrophe. Unfortunately this message was lost in coverage that portrayed the protesters as mindless vandals.”
She stressed that the white-clad, masked individuals were separate from the protesters towards whom they had displayed “a surly and hostile attitude.”
She added that their actions were “self-indulgent and parasitic in that for the sake of some macho fantasies, they enabled those who do not want our message to get across to portray us as mindless idiots.”
Windisch was particularly annoyed with a commercial TV news report that had footage of her urging protesters to take their message to the streets and then cut to scenes of the masked people brawling with police.
“We did take our message to the streets,” she said, “We had a vibrant, militant but peaceful march which ended with a peaceful street festival next to the barricades that the police had set up near the Grand Hyatt. There were no clashes on the march or at our festival. The clashes shown on TV had nothing to do with us or our protest and involved people whose identity we don’t know.”
Letter to The Age:
Contrary to claims made by Michael Burd in his letter to The Age (Monday November 20) not a single Socialist Alliance member was involved in the senseless violence that took place on Saturday. Neither did the people in white overalls who perpetrated these irresponsible acts carry Socialist Alliance banners. As a matter of fact these people hate socialists. It is also important to point out that this group of people calling themselves ‘the arterial block’ were not involved in the organising of the actual demonstration – they acted separately and outside the rally and march. Socialist Alliance helped organise the StopG20 rally and was proudly present alongside many other organisations and individuals. It is disappointing that the media focused on a tiny group of individuals who had no political message instead of showing the wonderful 3000 strong crowd which was entirely peaceful.
5) Mick Armstrong, Socialist Alternative, November 19:
I was one of the organisers of the G20 demo from the [Melbourne?] Stop the War Coalition and I am also in Socialist Alternative.
The anarchist crazies involved in the ultra-violence were in no serious sense part of the demo. Just like their black bloc mates in Europe they simply exploited the demo for their own purposes.
Right throughout the lead-up to the demo they made clear their hostility to and contempt [for] other protestors. On the day they did all they could to disrupt the demonstration and were hostile, abusive, threatening [and] ultra-sectarian towards people on the demo.
Australia[,] fortunately[,] has not previously been blighted by the sort of black bloc anarchist activities which [have] had such a disastrous impact on demonstrations in Europe. These people are simply provocateurs that open up protests to police repression. In Europe their ranks have been riddled by police agents and fascists.
What gave them a certain critical mass at the G20 was the presence of considerable numbers of anarchists from overseas. One of our members from New Zealand said he recognised at least 40 NZ anarchists. He knew at least 20 of them by name. There were also a considerable number of black [bloc] anarchists from Europe. We know of people from Sweden, Germany and England. These people are like football hooligans who travel the world looking for violence.
On top of that there were also a considerable number of anarchists from interstate.
Because of the behaviour of these provocateurs the media [and…] the law and order brigade are having a field day.
The left should offer no comfort to these crazies. We should do whatever we can to isolate them. They are wreckers. If they grow in Australia it will simply make it harder to build future protests and movements.
Easily the stupidest and most provocative response, Armstrong’s mirrors that of the Australian political establishment: from repeated references to anarchist ‘crazies’, to absurd characterisations of what occurred as ‘ultra-violence’, to (bizarre) allegations of ‘foreign agitators’ secretly masterminding proceedings. Worse yet, Armstrong even claims that he has it on good authority that there were 40 anarchists from Aotearoa/New Zealand present at the demonstration, 20 of whom his Kiwi comrade could actually name — a prospect which will no doubt bring joy to the Victoria Police taskforce (Police vow to find G20 ‘thugs’, Sydney Morning Herald/AAP, November 19) dedicated to hunting down the ‘crazies’ and ‘thugs’ responsible for the awful carnage of “The Battle of Collins Street” (Gary Tippet, Mark Russell and Chantal Rumble[!], The Age, November 19). (And let’s not forget the (non-existent) Swedish, German and English football hooligans!)
Still, like Armstrong’s fraudulent claims regarding the supposed activities and composition of black blocs at demos in Europe (of which, more later), such profound ‘insights’ into the G20 demo should be taken with a grain of salt, and Armstrong’s ‘crazed’, ‘sectarian’ outburst should probably not be taken too seriously: though its resemblance to the rantings and ravings of a right-wing editorialist after one too many beers does not exactly inspire confidence in his critical faculties…
(A recapitulation of Armstrong’s view — minus his absurd claims and concentrating on establishing a clearer political line — is available here.)
6) The Socialist Party, November 19:
Over 3,000 demonstrators attended the main protest against the G20 in Melbourne on Saturday. The demonstration began at the State Library to hear a series of speeches and then marched through the city centre towards the Grand Hyatt Hotel where the G20 summit was being held.
Whilst the press coverage of the event was overwhelmingly negative the gathering at the State Library and the march were both peaceful and vibrant in character. Unfortunately due to the behavior of a small group of mostly anarchists, the media pounced on images of protesters in white jump suits smashing police vans and engaging in minor clashes with police.
The Socialist Party distances itself from this behavior. Our opinion is that this behavior does not take us forward in the struggle. In fact it takes us back as it plays into the hands of the ruling class and the media. The capitalist press will almost never give us favorable coverage but the footage that these fringe groups gave the press yesterday was a right wing editor’s dream.
These actions repel the mass of ordinary people still yet to be convinced [of what? Presumably “that it is the capitalist system that breeds poverty and it is in fact capitalism that needs to be made history”] and play into the hands of the state, justifying their security budget and anti-democratic laws; provoking sympathy for the police; and diverting attention away from the issues of world poverty and the system that creates it.
Treasurer Peter Costello could barely contain himself as he denounced the protesters as ‘crazy’. “Who knows what drives these people” he said. Other right wing commentators argued that the protesters were driven by hate and anger, not politics.
Due to the lack of trade union involvement in the anti globalisation movement the nature of these protests is very loose and lacked proper leadership and direction. It is a disgrace that the G20 forum was not even commented on by the trade union leadership. The policies that this forum pushes will have dire consequences for working people even in the advanced capitalist world.
The G20 delegates would not just [have] used this meeting to discuss the oil crisis and the World Bank but this would have been an opportunity for them to discuss all aspect[s] of their neo-liberal agenda including further privatisations, free trade, and IR laws.
Apart from the negative effects of the clashes, we should take inspiration from the fact that thousands of people turned out for a demonstration that was clearly against the capitalist system. Also[,] whilst on a much lower level[,] 15,000 young people came out on the Friday night to the ‘Make Poverty History’ concert. It is this layer that we need to convince that it is the capitalist system that breeds poverty and it is in fact capitalism that needs to be made history.
If you already agree that capitalism is a system that does not serve the needs of the majority of the people, and that we need to change the system[,] [t]he next question needs to be ‘which forces in society are going to do that’.
The Socialist Party believes that working people are the most powerful force in society. If workers don’t work society grinds to a halt. Therefore we try to draw in these powerful layers into the struggle against the system. Small actions by handfuls of individuals can never be a replacement for mass working class organisation and action.
The task for the anti globalisation movement is not to alienate working people from the struggle against the system but to find ways of drawing them in. This is the task the Socialist Party will take on in the next period.