- Can’t be bought, can’t be owned…
The G8 protests. Along with the Green Scare, one of the things I was gonna blog about before my machine stopped going ping! As it stands, Indymedia is, to my knowledge, probably the best source for a basic account of events, (largely) unhindered by ideological commitments and (usually) unburdened by editorialising.
Which is quite unlike, say, the efforts of the World Socialist Web Site, who seem determined — despite flimsy evidence and a fair number of accounts to the contrary — to depict the clashes between police and protesters at the G8 as the result of the presence of a significant number of agents provocateurs among the ranks of the black bloc; a political formation which the quasi-Trotskyists in David North‘s mob, a/k/a The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), find highly suspect in any case. See Marius Heuser and Ulrich Rippert, Anti-G8 demonstration violence in Rostock: questions and contradictions, June 7, 2007; “By our reporter”, Four days after the G8 summit: German police raid eleven premises on suspicion of “terrorism”, June 14, 2007; Marius Heuser, Huge security operation exposed in wake of G8 summit, June 20, 2007.
In the first account, Marius and Ulrich ask:
How is one to account for the fact that the police had warned weeks before of “autonomous rioters,” but then allowed a closed formation of “black bloc” anarchists to parade unmonitored on one of the two demonstrations? Why wasn’t this “black bloc” accompanied by experienced police units, as is usually the case? Why was a police vehicle then parked provocatively in the middle of the area leading up to the final rallying point? According to several eye-witness reports, the attacks carried out by some members of the “black bloc” on this vehicle were the trigger for the intervention by police. Why was no attention paid to repeated calls by the organisers of the rally for the removal of the vehicle by the large numbers of police escorting the demonstration?
Who gave the order to obstruct photo journalists from taking pictures during the peaceful phase of the demonstration? Why were the authorities so keen that photos not be taken?
It is well-known that at the start of the year the German authorities intensified the infiltration of undercover agents into the “violent autonomous movement.” In its May 14 edition, Der Spiegel magazine wrote, “At the beginning of the year the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) declared globalization critics to be an ‘operational focal point.’ All preparatory meetings are observed, the groups involved are infiltrated” by undercover agents.
[Markus Deggerich, Markus Dettmer, Holger Stark and Andreas Ulrich, Securing the G8: A Taste of the Coming Showdown: “At the start of 2007, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency labelled globalization opponents an “operative focal point.” Organizational meetings for protests at the summit were infiltrated by government informants, and in March authorities agreed to take preventative measures with other EU governments to keep a hard core of anarchists from Spain, Italy and Greece under control.”]
Just one week before the demonstration, on 29 May, the Bild newspaper reported on “secret police plans” in preparation for the G8 summit. According to Bild, the first point of a three-point plan reads, “Undercover agents who were infiltrated a long time ago by the intelligence services are to provide early evidence of planned disruptive actions.”
The question therefore arises: how many undercover agents were operating in the “black bloc”? What information about acts of violence were communicated to the police command by these undercover agents, and why was nothing undertaken to prevent these acts of violence? Moreover, were undercover agents involved in the outbreak of violence, and to what extent?
These are urgent questions that need to be investigated. In view of the large number of casualties, it is necessary to clarify the role played by undercover agents. Until this information is made available, it is impossible to rule out the use of undercover agents as agents provocateurs on the demonstration.
In the meantime, here’s Ross Clark’s entry in The Upper Class Twit of the Year Essay Writing Competition for 2007, published in Uncle Rupert’s The Australian as ‘Left battling with envy’, June 23, 2007. Incidentally, whichever upper class twit edits The Australian appears to have been inspired enough by Clark’s batshit rant to attempt one of their own just a few days later. Titled ‘Reality bites the psychotic Left’ (June 11, 2007), its appearance also appears to have been a response to the publication in The Monthly of an article about Uncle Rupert’s wife, Wendi Deng.
Anyway, onto fashion.
Hatred of the rich is back in fashion
June 9, 2007
One of the little-remarked side effects of 9/11 was the eclipse of the anti-globalisation movement. It is not easy to remember that in the summer of 2001, the year in which protestor Carlo Giuliani died during rioting at the G8 summit in Genoa, the growing venom of anti-capitalism protestors was seen as such a threat to society that, briefly, on the afternoon of 11 September commentators on the live radio and television coverage discussed the possibility that the attacks could have been carried out by enemies of globalisation.
- If, by “little-remarked”, Clark means “subject to prolonged public debate”, then he’s quite right; the apparent demise of “the anti-globalisation” movement following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was indeed “little-remarked” upon. As for this movement (‘of movements’) constituting a threat to ‘society’, it’s certainly true that, in the months and years previous to 9/11, there was evidence of growing concern, if not panic, among segments of the transnational ruling class regarding the threat to the ideological hegemony of neoliberal doctrines that this movement was widely interpreted as bearing (for further discussion on the concept of a transnational ruling class, see Science & Society, Vol.65, No.4, Winter 2001–2002). And if by “society”, one actually means “society’s rulers”, then on this point he is also correct. And as for commentators on radio and TV initially blaming those ‘against globalisation’ for the attacks, this may be true — as Clark provides no further details, it’s difficult to say — but anti-summit protest and terrorism had already begun to merge in the state and corporate sector’s counter-propaganda campaign in any case, especially in regards to those who, for example, ‘convert storefront windows into vents to let some fresh air into the oppressive atmosphere of a retail outlet’ (see, for example, Anarchists to be targeted as “terrorists” alongside Al Qaeda, Statewatch, February 2002).
After 9/11, however, the movement suffered a precipitous decline. The Mayday riots which had shaken London in 2000 and 2001 were not repeated. With the war on terror swinging into action, taunting the police in street battles seemed a rather less good idea. With security services twitching with the threat of suicide bombers, suddenly there was the possibility that water cannons might be replaced with semi-automatic weapons.
- In this context, the first major casualty of 9/11 were the protests scheduled to take place in Washington in September 2001. Chuck Munson writes: “In order to understand why the North American anti-globalization movement disappeared from the media spectacle in 2001 it is important to know that large anti-globalization protests had been organized for the Fall meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which were scheduled to meet in Washington, DC in late September 2001. There was a six month gap between the March 2001 anti-G8 protests in Quebec City and the scheduled protests in Washington, DC. After 9/11 happened, some protest groups cancelled their plans while others simply changed theirs. The media characterization of the movement as petering out was understandable given the lack of another “Seattle” in late 2001, but it was unfair given the circumstances that activists had to deal with after 9/11.” And despite massive interference from New York police and other authorities, major protests against the WEF meeting did in fact take place in February 2002, barely five months after the Twin Towers were destroyed.
As for May Day, our Anglophilic critic may not realise it, but this day is celebrated around the world, and has been for over a century. That there were no ‘riots’ in London in 2002 should not obscure the fact that semi-automatic weaponry has replaced the use of water cannons in many of these places, and has for some time. Further, the family and friends of Jean Charles de Menezes (1978–2005) are unlikely to be the only group of people rueing the placement of such weapons in the hands of those immune from prosecution for their use.
In Rostock this week, however, the anti-globalisers wanted us to know that they are back in business. A rally involving 25,000 protestors quickly erupted into violence, leaving a reported 400 police officers and 520 demonstrators injured. The violence followed protests in Hamburg the previous week. And that was even before a single G8 delegate had touched down in Germany.
- Despite being an obviously keen-eyed observer of current affairs, Clark has unfortunately managed to avoid noticing a number of massive social struggles to have taken place in the post-911 world, or that much of the time and energy that was previously dedicated to sabotaging meetings of the ruling class and its representatives was transformed into attempting to throw a monkeywrench in the Western war machine.
(Boofhead’s wrong about the extent of injuries to police too.)
It is no accident that the revival of anti-globalisation protest coincided with the visit of the G8 summit to Germany. It is in the German Autonome — anarchist groups of the 1960s and 1970s — that the anti-globalisation movement has its origins. It was Ulrike Meinhof, the journalist turned terrorist who lent her name to the Baader-Meinhof Gang, whose justification of vandalism as a political tool still rings in the ears of German anarchists: ‘If I set a car on fire that is a criminal offence. If I set hundreds of cars on fire that is political action.’
- An interesting thesis, but one completely unsupported by evidence. One might consider, for example, the fact that the G8 summit in Germany was one of the first major international summits of the kind to have taken place in a Western country for some years. After the Seattle summit in 1999, the WTO met in Doha, Qatar in 2001, in Cancun, Mexico in 2003 and in Hong Kong, China in 2005. Annual G8 summits, on the other hand, have been forced to take place in either remote locations and/or repressive conditions; following Genoa in 2001, the rulers of the eight states have met in Kananaskis, Alberta (Canada) in 2002, Évian-les-Bains (France) in 2003, Sea Island, Georgia (United States) in 2004, Gleneagles (Scotland) in 2005 and St. Petersburg (Russia) last year. And Clark’s observations about the political complexion of the Autonomen are as fatuous as his claims that Ulrike Meinhof’s words still ring in the ears of anarchists.
Making Clark something of a dummkopf, really.
The difference is that whereas the Autonome were underground organisations, today’s anarchists are increasingly open about their methods. You didn’t exactly need to be a spy to find out what protest groups were planning for the G8 summit: anyone with an internet connection would have been able to read the detailed plans of where and how protestors were planning to strike — such as outside the Rostock-Lichtenhagen branch of the budget supermarket Lidl, where on Monday 4 June at 10 p.m. a group called the Dissent! Network, along with the Andalusian union of agricultural workers, were planning to gather in protest against Lidl’s ‘lousy working conditions’ and its ‘ruinous price dictates’.
- Hmmm. On the other hand — and notwithstanding the fact that yeserday’s Autonome(n) were not necessarily anarchists — perhaps the reason yesterday’s Autonome(n) didn’t publicise their activities on the Internet was ‘cos, like… there was no Internet? (You don’t exactly need to be a genius to work that one out, but not being an idiot probably helps.) And through the wonders of the Internet — Praise Capital! — I can read that the dastardly anarchists planned to ‘strike’ as part of a day of action on ‘Flight and Migration’:
“10 p.m.: protest action in front of a Lidl-supermarket — with the participation of activists from the Andalusian union of agricultural workers SOC: Lidl has not only become known because of its lousy working conditions. Lidl (together with other supermarket chains) also stands out due to its ruinous price dictates. As a result of this the prices for agricultural products have gone down dramatically. Often it is mainly migrants (without papers) who find themselves being forced to accept the lousy conditions for wage and work in agriculture — be it as day labourers in the plastic sea of Almeria or as someone cutting asparagus in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.”
Anyone who imagines what happened in Rostock was caused by a small rabble disrupting a larger peaceful protest and being picked upon by over-reacting police, should have a look at the Dissent Network’s website. For a self-professed anarchist group, it is remarkably well-organised. Long before the G8 summit it had set up two camps, one in Rostock and one outside, for a total of 11,000 protestors, complete with soup kitchens and medical tents. Prospective protestors were told that the object was to close all entry points to the G8 summit and were given detailed advice as to the most effective way of doing it: you might consider, for example, linking arms with the aid of metal pipes set into concrete blocks which you prepared earlier, and then lying down in the street. ‘There is little you can do against armoured police vehicles,’ it goes on to advise, ‘but they do for example hate paint on their windscreens.’
- Jesus wept.
Clark imagines that mass protest, anarchist organisation, protest camps, soup kitchens, medical tents and tactical advice for protesters began with his discovery of it last month. Further, that his indignation at the mere existence of protest networks constitutes evidence of ‘what really happened at Rostock’. Suffice it to say that German police are not expected to be calling him as an expert witness at any forthcoming trials.
At Heiligendamm, too, eager members of the ‘Black Bloc’ were expected — another German-born-and-bred anarchist outfit which was active in Genoa five years ago and which has its roots in the Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction era. Unlike the Dissent! Network, the Black Bloc doesn’t have a website proclaiming what trouble it intends to cause at G8. Neither does it have a press spokesman. But to give us a flavour of its ideology, one of its top brass, calling herself ‘Mary Black’, posted the following on the internet:
It is not just that police abuse their power, we believe that the existence of the police is an abuse of power …many of us believe in revolution and within that context, attacking the cops doesn’t seem out of place.
In other words, not much point in sending Commander Brian Paddock [sic] out to Heiligendamm to advise on community policing techniques: as far as the Black Bloc is concerned, cops are there to be beaten up and that is that. It isn’t just the cops, either. Mary Black goes on to offer her thoughts on capitalist enterprise:
I believe that using the word violent to describe breaking the window of a Nike store takes meaning away from the word… It is true that some underpaid Nike employee will have to clean up the mess, which is unfortunate, but a local glass installer will get a little extra income.
The vacuity of Ms Black’s self-justification defies belief. How does she know that Nike is going to employ a local glass installer, rather than give the work to a hated multinational construction outfit? And if Nike is going to employ the small man, what on earth is Ms Black moaning about anyway? Presumably, if there is any consistency in her philosophy, she ought to be praising a company which smiles upon the small man, not breaking its windows.
- Clark is here referring to a text published on AlterNet almost six years ago (July 25, 2001) called ‘Letter from Inside the Black Bloc’, which the editors note “was sent to us anonymously (Mary Black is a psuedonym [sic]) two days after a violent protester [ie, Carlo Giuliani] was killed [shot dead by police] in Genoa, Italy”.
Vacuous and unbelievable (or not), it’s worth examining Mary’s remarks more fully. Thus, firstly:
“It is not just that police abuse their power, we believe that the existence of police is an abuse of power. Most of us believe that if cops are in the way of where we want to go or what we want to do, we have a right to directly confront them. Some of us extend this idea to include the acceptability of physically attacking cops. I have to emphasize that this is controversial even within the Black Bloc, but also explain that many of us believe in armed revolution, and within that context, attacking the cops doesn’t seem out of place.”
In other words, Clark consciously and deliberately distorts Mary’s message. For Mary, most — but not all — of those who form black blocs believe that confronting police is legitimate if police get in the way of their activities; further, some of this number — but not most — take this ‘right’ further, to the extent that physically assaulting police is considered to be a potentially legitimate course of action. Finally, Mary feels compelled “to emphasize that this is controversial even within the Black Bloc“, but what makes it relevant is the apparent belief of some in “armed revolution”, which fact renders “attacking the cops” less heinous than it might otherwise appear.
“I believe that using the word violent to describe breaking the window of a Nike store takes meaning away from the word. Nike makes shoes out of toxic chemicals in poor countries using exploitative labor practices. Then they sell the shoes for vastly inflated prices to poor black kids from the first world. In my view, this takes resources out of poor communities on both sides of the globe, increasing poverty and suffering. I think poverty and suffering could well be described as violent, or at least as creating violence.
What violence does breaking a window at Nike Town cause? It makes a loud noise; maybe that is what is considered violent. It creates broken glass, which could hurt people, although most of the time those surrounding the window are only Black Bloc protesters who are aware of the risks of broken glass. It costs a giant multi-billion dollar corporation money to replace their window. Is that violent? It is true that some underpaid Nike employee will have to clean up a mess, which is unfortunate, but a local glass installer will get a little extra income too.”
Again, one simply needs to compare Mary’s actual words to Clark’s spin to find her meaning is quite contrary.
Finally, Clark thinks it remarkable that the ‘black bloc’ emerged in Germany in the Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction era; but then again, so did Kraftwerk. Does this mean krautrock should be banned?
Yes it does.
The rise of violent protest on the Left is not wholly a European phenomenon. Back in 1998, Ward Churchill, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, published an influential book, Pacifism as Pathology, in which he castigated the Left for being too weak in its methods, and implored protestors to turn violent. It was at the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle the following year that the tradition whereby anti-globalisation protestors target international political meetings was born: 50,000 protestors rioted, causing $3 million of damage and elevating Starbucks into an object of hate on the Left.
- Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America was published by Arbeiter Ring Publishing, and is based on an essay Churchill wrote in 1986. Clark’s description of its contents, the relationship between it and the actions of some protesters at the WTO meeting in Seattle, the history of anti-Summit protest, and the place of Starbucks in the hearts and minds of critics, is as false and misleading as Bono Bloody Bono is rich and stupid.
Since then, Churchill — who claims Native American descent — has moved up a gear. [Churchill is a Creek and enrolled Keetoowah Band Cherokee.] Shortly after 9/11 he published an essay entitled ‘Some People Push Back: on the Justice of Roosting Chickens’, in which he suggested that the ‘Little Eichmanns’ who worked at the World Trade Center were not ‘innocent civilians’ but a legitimate target: ‘True enough they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global empire — the “mighty engine of profits” to which the military dimension of US policy has always been enslaved.’ Although little noticed at the time, Churchill later expanded his essay into a book, which at one point reached 100 on Amazon’s bestseller list — suggesting he has a fair number of fans. Recently, attempts to have him removed from his teaching post at the University of Colorado have been blocked by his supporters citing the First Amendment.
It would be easy to dismiss the resurrected anti-globalisation movement as a bunch of incoherent nutters. But that would be to underestimate the influence of anti-globalisation on left-wing thought generally — and not just on the fringes. It has become such a commonplace to blame the oil industry for any meteorological-induced hardship in the Third World that no one seems to protest any more — even though such cheap jibes are polluting serious debate over climate change. Likewise, no one seems to mind any more that Western clothes manufacturers — in adverts by once respectable aid charities — are blamed for creating poverty in the Third World: when the reality is that they only attract workers to their factories by paying higher wages than any other local employers.
A dozen years after Tony Blair ditched Clause Four and declared an end to the politics of envy, it has suddenly become fashionable again to bash big business and attack people for being too wealthy. Last week’s Newsnight debate between the candidates for the Labour deputy leadership exposed a general leftwards shift in the party’s outlook. But what was most remarkable about it was that the most rabidly left-wing remarks came not from Jon Cruddas, the mild-mannered ‘old’ Labour candidate who wants Britons to return to living in council houses, but from Harriet Harman, the former social security secretary and middle-class paragon. Demanding a return of the Royal Commission on Distribution of Income and Wealth, the body set up by Harold Wilson in the days when the government thought it its duty to squeeze the rich until the pips squeak, she complained: ‘You can’t have proper equality of opportunity with a huge gap between rich and poor… Do we want a society where some struggle and others spend £10,000 on a handbag?’
Like so many of Ms Harman’s utterances, her appeal to the Left doesn’t bear analysis. What about the people who sew the £10,000 handbags together — surely the more that the wealthy spend on their handbags, the more they earn? I don’t think, somehow, that Ms Harman would be any happier if the price of handbags was capped at £100 and as a result handbag-stitchers were on subsistence wages.
It is certainly a contrast from the remark made by Ms Harman’s soon to be ex-boss, Tony Blair, when challenged on equality, also in a Newsnight interview, in 2001: ‘It’s not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money.’ But it is a sign of the direction in which Labour is going: away from championing opportunity for the many and not the few — and towards straightforward envy of those who have wealth. It wasn’t just Harriet Harman: Peter Hain too was tempted to take a pop at City bonuses — what he intended to do about them he didn’t quite say, but if he thinks they should be taxed punitively, he perhaps ought to make clear the effect on the British economy were its single largest export industry — financial services — to be driven abroad.
It is a long way, of course, from playing to the left-wing gallery in a debate over the deputy leadership of the Labour party to throwing bricks through windows at the G8 summit. But before respected government and former government ministers start showing contempt towards a particular group of people — in this case the wealthy — they might just care to consider whom they are influencing. A month ago Ségolène Royal, the socialist candidate in the French presidential election, made one of the most disreputable remarks uttered in recent times by a leading mainstream Western politician when she implored the French to vote for her or, in the event of a Sarkozy victory, face the prospect of seeing their country explode into anger and rioting. Fortunately, in the event her implied threat not only backfired on her: her prediction failed to materialise.
One imagines that she was not really egging on her countrymen to indulge in the orgy of car-burning which struck urban France in 2005 following the electrocution of two immigrants in a Parisian suburb [sic]. She may even have been horrified at re-hearing her remarks. But there is little doubt: there are elements of the Left that are getting nastier. Having regrouped after the distraction posed by al-Qa’eda, the rich-haters are back on the march.
Ross Clark is the author of The Great Before, a satire on the anti-globalisation movement, published by www.greatbefore.com…
- The site in question claims Clark’s hilarious self-published scribblings first appeared online on December 1, 2005. As of June 28, the site has received less than 10,000 visitors… which I think means that, while Clark may be deeply in love with the market, the market isn’t exactly infatuated with him. In a rather hopeful note, Clark informs readers that “You can order The Great Before through any UK bookshop for £7.50. Or, save money and buy direct through [Ross Clark] for the special price of £5.00 plus postage & packing.” As for Clark himself, the only trace of recognition I can find of his work is his nomination for an award for journalism in 2004 by a British-based corporate propaganda unit called the International Policy Network.