In the wake of one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Scotland, Edinburgh hosted one of the biggest political debates in the country in recent times. Up to 4,500 people spread over five different venues in the city centre participated in the G8 Alternatives Summit. The subjects of the discussion were the rejection of the EU constitution in France and Holland, the experience of the Venezuelan Revolution, the struggle against privatisation in the developed countries as well as the former colonial countries and the imperialist war in Iraq amongst other.
Amongst the speakers were left-wing leaders of the trade union movement like Bob Crow (RMT); left-wing MSPs and MPs such as Rosie Kane, Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway; progressive journalists like George Monbiot or Gregory Wilpert (Venezuelanalysis.com); relatives of victims of the brutality of imperialist war and the capitalist state like Rose Gentle (Mother of private Gordon Gentle killed in Iraq) and Haidi Giuliani (mother of Carlo Giuliani killed in Genoa 2001) and well-known figures of the Left internationally like Fausto Bertinotti (Partito della Refondazione Comunista). Here we publish a couple reviews of some workshops and plenary sessions.
Fighting corporate globalisation & privatisation
More than two hundred people turned up to this meeting. After the remarks from the chair, Meena Raman (Friends of the Earth) gave an account on how the biggest transnational corporations pollute the environment putting at risk the lives of people and animals. The environmentalist revealed that Philip Morries (Tobacco company) pollutes more than New Zealand as a whole. She expressed her distrust for capitalist corporations by saying "when the scientists that work for companies say 'don't worry be happy, we begin to worry".
Francois Duvalle from the French LCR talked about the defeat of the French referenda and how it represented a "victory for the left". He also exposed the lies about the French referendum by explaining that it was because of the rejection by the working class to the draft EU Constitution that really defeated it. 80% of the industrial workers voted against and 71% of public services workers did the same.
SINALTRAINAL (Colombian Beverages and Food Processing Union) representative Juan Carlos Galvis inspired up what had been a pretty boring seminar. He explained how multinational companies are like "death machines" that have no hesitation whatever to stamp on people's dignity. "When misery is globalised, we have to globalise solidarity to confront this worldwide death machine." He presented the SINALTRAINAL campaign against Coca-Cola as a way "to point out the anti-social, anti-working class and anti-trade union behaviour of this company." The Colombian trade unionist also explained how the multinational companies are undermining workers' rights through casualisation of labour and how his employer (Coca-Cola) was leading the way. He vowed to work for a united fight at a global level against global attacks.
After cracking some jokes at Bono and Geldof, Alex Callinicos highlighted the movement of the Bolivian masses. He correctly pointed out how this colossal movement managed to kick out two presidents in 18 months through the militant struggle of the workers and poor peasants. However, his conclusion was quite far away from reality. He literally said that in Europe where "we do not find ourselves in a revolutionary situation, we have different movements that are trying to change things – like Respect or the campaign against the European Constitution". These three movements have very little in common. It is a gross error to point out Respect as a preliminary step to organise a revolutionary movement. The revolutionary movement of the Bolivian masses was based on the strength of the COB (Bolivian TUC), the organised working class communities like El Alto and the peasant and indigenous organisations. If it is true that leading layers of the Bolivian Revolution have hopes and illusions in reformist solutions like the Constitutional Assembly. Three weeks ago the movement was seriously threatening the very basis of capitalism and enjoyed the sympathy of the youth and the working class at an international level. Respect is far from being a revolutionary mass movement similar to the one headed by the Bolivian masses. We welcome the victory of the French and Dutch workers and youth because they defeated the referendum, but it is also necessary to understand that if privatisation is not going to come through the new EU constitution, it will be through other channels. The British bourgeoisie has never been very keen in this process but it does not mean they are at the forefront of the wave of privatisations that is sweeping Europe. It is necessary to organise the fight in each country and defeat all these attacks on the working class beyond the electoral processes.
In general, the content of this meeting was pretty flat. None of the speakers dared to actually mention capitalism as the reason for of the existence and nasty practices of multinational companies their ruthless behaviour, or the wave of privatisations by the different pro-bosses governments in the world.
Aid, trade, debt: Making Poverty History
A 300 strong crowd went to the Usher Hall in the West End of Edinburgh to attend this seminar. Rosie Kane MSP opened the meeting pointing out how important it is to have the G8 Alternative Summit because the official one is an event that just tries to cover up the real problems of the world. Shortly after pointing out how capitalism was the cause of poverty she introduced the first speaker, Chris Nineham from the Stop the War Coalition. He mentioned how the same people that were carrying out the wave of privatisations in Africa, were trying to plunder the Bolivian hydrocarbons and had plotted to overthrow Chavez in Venezuela are the same ones that were talking about "making poverty history" in a very hypocritical manner. He correctly pointed out that the current discussion on poverty misses the point. "We cannot persuade the rich to end poverty," the anti-war activist said. He ended by saying that he was glad that the movement was growing, but that we had to take power from those who create poverty.
The next speaker was Gregory Wilpert, who presented his book "Changing Venezuela by Taking Power". This Venezuela based journalist pointed out how Venezuela shows how important is to take power. Wilpert said that in spite of the various problems that the Venezuelan government has, it was a government that ruled on behalf of the poor.
He moved on to explain the ways that the Venezuelan government has a new approach with regards to trade and their own resources. The editor of Venezuelanalysis.com explained that Chavez's approach to the oil industry and the strengthening of the role of Venezuela in OPEC is a measure to protect oil. Foreign companies now have to pay 50% more taxes to operate in Venezuela. The journalist said how the Chavez administration had realised that free trade does not make any sense when other countries had stronger economies than Venezuela and they rejected the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas and implemented the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). One of the aspects of this agreement is the exchange of oil for different materials and services with Cuba, Argentina and Brazil without using dollars as currency. The other tactics of Chavez's administration is the diversification of markets. Venezuela is gradually moving away from the US to deal with China and other countries not under the influence of the US. Greg Wilpert pointed out how Venezuela is pointing out a different way forward. This different way is not free from harassment from US imperialism, and he ended his speech by saying, "International Solidarity is key for Venezuela to succeed."
Human rights expert Mark Curtis started by pointing out Britain's policies on Africa. He pointed out how false it was to see Gordon Brown and Tony Blair as the saviours of Africa. The intellectual gave a lot of data on how Gordon Brown's aim was to remove "all barriers for enterprise". He portrayed the "aid" that Third World countries receive as a poisoned chalice that tends to generate more problems. Mark Curtis followed on by explaining the involvement of British imperialism in Kenia, Nigeria, etc. and he invited the audience to keep campaigning.
Waldon Bello from Focus on the Global South devoted his speech to explain all the ins and outs of the WTO (World Trade Organisation). He really went into detail of why the Cancun summit two years ago collapsed. At one point the Philippine professor said that the suicide of a Korean farmer during the protest was amongst the reasons for it. His analysis of inequality was exclusively based on north/south divisions. If it is true that the world is divided into rich and poor countries it is equally important to point out that within the poor countries there are poor people and rich people. In other words, there is a class division in society that is frequently neglected in these "anti-globalisation" forums. Bello's speech was on the same tune as the final speaker Susan George from ATTAC. She also described globalisation as "a brutal competition between nations, regions, companies and individuals". However, she failed to say why competition is so "brutal". This "brutal competition" is inherent to capitalism itself and all attempts to reform capitalism in the last aim will be futile.
She carried on by saying that we are right to talk about poverty but also about the causes. Strangely enough, like other speakers who claimed to look at the causes, the ATTAC representative never actually pointed out the root causes of poverty in her 15 minutes long speech. No wonder she proposed the need of international taxation in order to put the ten poorest countries at the same level as all the other countries. As a concrete step near home she proposed that "we should help the ten new countries that have recently joined the European Union to be at the same level."
This idea of "international taxation" is not new at all. The first time that someone championed this idea was the American economist James Tobin. There is not the slightest progressive content in this demand from the point of view of the struggle against capitalism. The first question that comes to mind is: who is going to implement this? The WTO? The G8? The IMF? Or the UN? These organisations do not represent the majority of the people in the world and they are just outlets for the imperialist powers in the world to disguise and justify their rule. Capitalism is based on inequality between nations and classes. This demand actually gives up the fight against capitalism and the building of a new society. We are not against reforms, but it is important to understand that these are generally the result of the struggle of the working class and the youth. However, this demand for taxation is defeatist because it actually gives up the fight against capitalism – the real cause of the pain and misery that 2/3 of the population live in.
In most of the seminars very few speakers have actually pointed out true anti-capitalist solutions or strategies to fight back the G8. The word socialism has been uttered by very few speakers. However, it does not mean that the audience was not interested at all in these kind of issues. The evidence was put forward by the enthusiastic applause that George Galloway's speech received when he finished by proclaiming Rosa Luxemburg's phrase "Socialism or Barbarism". This reaction of the audience reflected how far removed the speakers were from the feelings of most of anti-capitalist activists. In order to fight capitalism back we must arm ourselves with ideas that really challenge the system. Only the ideas of revolutionary socialism can provide this.