So, what comes next? This week’s protests over the G20 meeting in London’s Docklands have ended and the focus of discussion is on police tactics and civil liberties rather than any of the questions raised by protesters. Their recession has not become our revolution, it looks certain that we will pay for their crisis, and the streets were most definitely not reclaimed.
The violence, most of it clearly provoked by police, distracted from the message of the protests (although the message itself was somewhat obscure). The protests themselves distracted from the real, difficult tasks facing the left. The general public were well-prepared for the violent scenes and police brutality by a media that was stocked full of bombastic rhetoric from “anarchists”, as well as predictions of chaos and a “summer of rage” from police sources.
It’s difficult to gauge accurately the impression that the average person gets of these protests, although one imagines it is not one of positive identification. The Guardian’s Duncan Campbell, by no means hostile to the protestors, describes the crowd as follows:
“playful, peaceful, harmless group of protesters, including rappers, sax-players, jugglers, spliff-rollers, students, CND campaigners, passers-by, and men dressed as police officers and wearing blue lipstick.”
This week was just the latest in a long succession of these anti-capitalist carnivals: J18, Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Evian, and plenty more in between. The question, as after all these events, is what happens now. Taking the J18 protest in the City of London in 1999 as a starting point, we can count this latest spectacle as something of a tenth anniversary. They are clearly not getting any larger, gaining any more social force (even in the midst of the greatest capitalist crises in decades), or becoming any more effective.
How to make them so? Both left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb, say we need bigger protests in future, Richard adding that these should coincide with “a general strike or something” and John suggesting they should be combined with direct action.
But surely both these arguments are to mistake a tactic for a strategy. Without new methods and strategies it is difficult to see these protests becoming any more significant, hopes for a general strike any less remote, nor direct action any more isolated from wider social forces.
It is arguable that there is also a general confusion between defensive and offensive orientation in these protests. Working class communities throughout the country are under attack on a whole range of fronts, the government is preparing a crackdown on welfare, and pushing through fresh privatisations. Yet the left’s rhetoric and tactics would suggest we are in the ascendency. This suggests an urgent reappraisal of our posturing.
Meanwhile, the far more significant news this week was the occupations and protests by employees at Visteon car parts factories in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield after the firm made 565 workers redundant. The company was part of Ford until 2000 and workers are fighting for a decent redundancy package from the company. Our full support goes to these workers. People should email solidarity messages to email@example.com