Wearing my leftist train-spotting hat while clothed in white overalls, vegan boots, leading a dog on a string, listening to Loikaemie, and reading a copy of the Australasian Spartacist, I give you the wonderful mess that is: Resistance vs. Socialist Alternative!
Statement on G20 protest
On November 18, upwards of 3000 people marched through the streets of Melbourne to protest the meeting of the G20. The rally was organised by the StopG20 Collective and the Stop the War Coalition, in which Resistance participated both in organising and publicising.
The protest was directed at some of the biggest war criminals in the war in particular Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Treasurer Peter Costello, key figures in the Coalition of the Killing, and directly responsible for the deaths of over 650,000 in Iraq alone.
Their discussions, carried out in secret behind closed doors, were aimed at further enforcing pro-corporate policies which have been responsible for the starvation and impoverishment of millions around the world and the increasing endangerment of humanity as a whole, particularly through policies that perpetuate environmental destruction.
The size and mood of the rally is testament to the growing opposition to the policies of the rich G20 nations.
This was despite the corporate media beat-up in the week leading up to the protest about the likelihood of violence, and attempts to derail it – including multi-millionaire Bono whose concert message was focussed on charity not change, and the Make Poverty History events that were specifically aimed at providing a nice gloss to the attempts by the G20 to look like it was doing something for the world’s poor.
Unsurprisingly, the corporate media covered none of this. Instead, as always it preferred to focus on a small group – Arterial Bloc – and the so-called riots which, at most, amounted to a few broken windows.
The corporate media hypocrisy is clear – focus on the tiny bit of damage to private property and ignore the policies of death beginning discussed behind closed doors.
The reason why is also clear – since the Seattle protests in 1999, which prevented the World Trade Organisation from reaching agreement on a new set of trade rules to impoverish the Third World, the global justice movement has grown. The S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum in 2000 and the M1 blockades of stock exchanges in 2001 spurred on this movement in Australia, helping to discredit these capitalist institutions and their “solutions” to global poverty.
‘Global justice movement’ is one of a number of terms used to describe the movements which have arisen in opposition to neo-liberal globalisation. It’s a ‘nice’ term, but competes with others such as ‘alter-globalisation’, ‘anti-capitalist’, ‘anti-globalisation’ and ‘counter-globalisation’. As for ‘its’ history, most would consider its origins, at least in Western countries, as emerging from the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, and the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), formally launched on the same day as NAFTA’s official implementation: January 1, 1994. The links, both ideological and practical, between this, ongoing civil uprising, and opposition in the West to neoliberal institutions such as (GATT/) the WTO, IMF and World Bank, have been well-documented elsewhere.
Still, one of the key characteristics of N30 (or ‘The Battle of Seattle’ — starring Charlize Theron, and coming soon to a local sinema) was precisely the absence of the authoritarian (Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist) left. So too, J18, an event almost completely ignored by this tendency and — not coincidentally — one of the reasons for its relative success. The fact is that ‘the Trots’ only jumped on the bandwagon following ‘Seattle’.
In Australia, the (authoritarian) left’s Colombus-like ‘discovery’ of a global movement in opposition to neo-liberalism triggered a partial recomposition of the extra-parliamentary left in the shape of… an electoral platform: the Socialist Alliance. During the course of its almost six years of existence, SA’s establishment has been of benefit to one party and one party only: the DSP (for which Resistance functions as a not-very-successful recruitment base in the ‘youth’ market).
As for S11 and ‘M1’ — that is, May Day — fuck it: no one cares about the real story anyway.
That is why the media refused to cover the protest, or report on what went on inside (where it was largely barred) and why it kept a low profile of the key warmongers such as Wolfowitz. It is little wonder that an 67% of people responded “no’’ to an Age poll question, “Did the G20 summit achieve anything’’ two days after the protest.
Resistance rejects the corporate media and government arguments against the protest. Importantly we must defend all activists against the campaign of victimization and sweeping up of activists post-rally. All those arrested must be supported, particularly the extremely worrying case of Aki[n] Sari, who has been denied bail until a court hearing next February. This sets a very dangerous precedent.
The brutal attacks by the police against peaceful protesters on the night of November 18, and the following day against peaceful protests outside the Museum, demonstrate on which side the real violence lies.
But this shouldn’t stop the movement from having an honest discussion about tactics. Having played a part in initiating and organising the G20 protest, we do not think Arterial Bloc played a constructive role. Covering their faces, acting in an undemocratic manner and isolating themselves from the majority at the rally, their decision to skirmish with the police played into the hands of the right-wing media and G20 spokespersons, such as Costello.
Resistance is also not opposed to civil disobedience. In fact we, along with many others, helped make the S11 blockade the success that it was, and initiated the M1 protests. But civil disobedience is only a tactic, and its usefulness, or otherwise, has to be judged on whether or not it helps or hinders in building the movement. That is the reason why we criticize the actions of the Arterial Bloc.
Because if we’re serious about building a movement to overthrow the system that G20 wants to prop up – capitalism – we have to win the working class majority to our side, and we’re some way from that.
Carrying out tiny “militant” actions such those of the Arterial Bloc, give a free kick to the real thugs – those holed up inside the G20 meeting.
We have no control over the corporate media, but we are not so naive as to not take into account that the coverage will have an impact on working people, and whether they will be prepared to join us at the next protest or not. We know that the corporate media will always seek to marginalise us, and that scuffles with the state will take priority in their reporting over a peaceful protest of working people against the corporate rich. Similarly, the government will use such actions to push through more draconian state terror laws.
This is not an argument against civil disobedience: as a tactic it can be indispensable when used correctly – when it helps build and inspire a mass protest to become even bigger. In this particular instance the actions Arterial Block did nothing of the sort.
The global justice movement is naturally going to be diverse; but the movement also has to take some responsibility for its actions and work out what helps its growth and what doesn’t. The debate over tactics is useful as long as it stays concrete, and lessons can be learnt from G20 that can be carried into the discussion that has already started about the Stop Bush protest at APEC in Sydney next year.
The left must take a stand against the elitist violence of the “Arterial Bloc”
The lively G20 rally of 3,000 in Melbourne on Saturday 18 November was a moderate success. It was a small step on the road towards building a genuine mass movement capable of involving not just a few thousand, but the masses which can offer a serious challenge to the capitalist neo-liberal agenda.
However, the activities organised and led by the so-called “Arterial Bloc” were counterposed to this aim. The media were able to not just ignore the protest (we’re used to that), but to imply that those at it were responsible for, or at least involved in, the rampage. This is not like S11 six years ago when a peaceful protest with widespread support was attacked numerous times by the police. Then, the Bracks government experienced a backlash of outrage. People watching TV, reading the print media are not idiots. They can tell when protesters are being attacked simply for protesting. It is telling there has been mostly bewilderment at best, or revulsion at the actions of this bloc and its followers. How will this encourage wide layers of people to come to future protests?
The actions of the Arterial Bloc illustrate clearly that they have absolutely no interest in building a mass movement. They made it clear during the organising period that they were intent on their own, small actions. When they marched to the rally they were sneering and abusive towards activists with whom they disagree. If that wasn’t clear enough, they graffitied the city with “kill the socialists”.
Coming to demonstrations with your faces masked can only be justified in a situation of severe state repression. In the present political climate all it does is indicate to workers, students and the oppressed that they have to be involved in something sinister to attend rallies. This and things like whole militarised blocs in gear like chemical suits sends a very elitist message: you are only welcome if you’re in the in-group/s who were organised before the event. They do not just add to images of “diversity” – particularly when those dressed in them behave like apolitical hooligans. Anyone who is committed to building a widely based movement needs to reject such negative theatricals.
Such irresponsible provocation of the police opens up not just the tiny numbers involved in the rampage, but potentially the rest of the rally and others to state repression. There is some suggestion that peaceful protesters on the Sunday at the Museum were the victim of this logic.
For this reason, we need to take a clear and unambiguous stand against these provocateurs. This bloc and those who support it in any way need to be isolated by the left because actions such as this will make it increasingly difficult to build on the growing discontent that clearly exists – reflected in the regular rallies which attract sizeable numbers such as the Environment Day rally, those during the war on Lebanon, Global warming and the G20 to name just some. Hundreds of thousands of workers have mobilised to defend union rights. Actions like those at G20 by the Arterial Bloc will make it difficult to build the necessary links between organised workers and the smaller, social issue campaigns. Anything which weakens our ability to build such a movement makes it that much more difficult to deal with state repression.
The violence at the weekend did not combat that repression, but opens up the left to increased militarisation of policing when we do not have the mass grass roots organisation and support capable of repelling it.
This is not just speculation. We have lessons of very recent history from which we should learn, in particular the experience of the anti-capitalist movement in Europe. British socialist Tom Behan who has strong links with the Italian revolutionary left documented how the Black Bloc, which was known for similar actions as those at G20, gave openings to police violence, police provocateurs and even fascists. They organised around the same combination of mindless violence, contempt for the mass of demonstrators and hostility to the socialist left. They are known for melting into peaceful crowds only to emerge to attack the police, bringing a violent response against the whole crowd. At the Genoa Social Forum protest in July 2001, in one peaceful contingent after another, the arrival of the Black Bloc was similar to what happened in a rank and file labour contingent: “organisers were unable to stop Black Bloc provocations which quickly led to a police charge”. Their provocations opened up a debate on violence. Behan concluded:
The fact that a small minority of demonstrators were intent on violence is an issue which cannot be ignored. The anti-capitalist movement needs to do all it can to engage with genuine protesters and try to convince them of the futility of random acts of destruction. Another related issue is that of the ‘non-genuine’ Black Bloc. There is now overwhelming evidence that not only were the Black Bloc allowed to engage in widespread destruction, the police often used their activities as a pretext to attack peaceful demonstrators. Furthermore, it is now certain that some of the Black Bloc were in reality police agents provocateurs, although it is equally likely that some Nazi and fascist groups pretended to be part of the Black Bloc.
[Source: ‘Nothing can be the same again’, International Socialism, #92, Autumn 2001]
Yeah. Tom Behan: “British socialist”; “strong links with the Italian revolutionary left”; friend to the animals. More to the point, a member of Socialist Alternative’s closest equivalent in the UK — and parent grouping for both SocAlt and the ISO — the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). At the time of writing, Behan was also a leading member of the SWP front group “Globalise Resistance”, and it was in this capacity that Behan first wrote about how ‘the black bloc were really fascists’ (‘Behind the provocations’, Weekly Worker, #394, Thursday, July 26, 2001). He wasn’t alone in denouncing the spoilsports who ruined Genoa for everyone:
- Marginalizing Language in the Movement Post-Genoa : After Genoa, there has been a noticeable increase in marginalizing language in the Left press. Most of this language has been directed at the anarchist black bloc, but some of it has been directed at “militant” elements.
In fact, Behan — when he’s not offering his insights into the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement and the ways in which the SWP might best suck its blood — is the SWP’s “expert” on all things Italian. An example of his historical-revisionism-in-the-service-of-Trotskyism is The Resistible Rise of Benito Mussolini (Bookmarks, 2003). A crazy, ultra-violent, hostile, abusive, threatening, ultra-sectarian, provocative, fascist-sympathising, football hooligan and bloody foreigner intent on wrecking all that is good and profaning all that is holy wrote a review of Behan’s book. And, despite labouring under harsh conditions (such as not having attended a local private school or Melbourne University), they reckoned somewhat different:
As will be discussed, it was only the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists who supported [the militant antifa movement in Italy in the 1920s] wholeheartedly. Not, of course, you would know that from Behan’s account. Which is the reason for this review, namely to reclaim anarchist and working class history from those, like the SWP, who seek to misuse it for their own ends. Behan’s account of the Italian labour movement, the near revolution after the war, the resistance to fascism and the lessons to be learned are all skewed in favour of the SWP’s very peculiar version of anarchism and the needs to justify its non-revolutionary practice and ideology.
So this review is an attempt to reclaim anarchist history by exposing the phoney revolutionary politics and scholarship of the SWP. A thankless task, of course, but an essential one. Anarchists need to care about our history and defend it against those more than willing to distort it as no one else will. To grow our movement needs to learn from and build upon the successes and failures of the past. And that will never happen if we do not know and understand our own history, how our ideas were applied in the past and why the likes of the SWP feel the need to lie about both…
In the 1970s the Italian left suffered increasing state repression when student revolutionaries turned in frustration to small-group violent guerrilla-type actions against the state. Rather than dealing with the lack of a mass response which pushed them in this direction, it accelerated the decline of the mass movements as workers, students, the oppressed turned away in disgust at assassinations and mindless violence. Luca Casarini, the main spokesperson of Ya Basta! – a movement which is descended from the autonomism of the 1970s – spelled out the problem of the “professionalisation” of demonstrations, i.e. activists coming in protective clothing ready for provocations etc: “To accept the logic of military clashes would be both crazy and political suicide. Our movement cannot match their [the state’s] military power. We would be crushed”.
This might seem like a big step beyond what happened at G20. But the actions of the Autonomists in Italy began with isolated violent attacks. The irresponsible provocations of the Arterial Bloc have all the hallmarks of the same destructive dynamic. It is the logic of the actions of tiny numbers lashing out with no reference to the mass of people.
That’s why the left who want to reach out to masses of people need to:
1. Politically oppose anyone coming to protest rallies wearing masks or other forms of disguise. We need openness and accountability in the movement. Such dress creates a sinister atmosphere, breeds distrust, and makes police infiltration more likely.
2. Make it clear that there is a sharp dividing line between those involved in the violent provocations at G20 and the genuine left who want to relate to masses of people in order to change the world.
3. Make no concessions to the idea that this is just a form of “diversity”, just another difference of opinion. These tactics are completely counterproductive and the left will pay the price if we make concessions to them.
These questions are urgently in need of discussion as we are about to begin organising for the APEC forum next September in Sydney which Bush is expected to attend. If we are to maximise our ability to mobilise significant numbers, we have to take this clear stand and prepare to organise on the basis of genuine mass protest with no role for the kind of violent provocation we saw at G20.
“If the anarchists are not careful, their enemies will write their history” — Gaetano Salvemini