The Summit Protests: a dissenting view - Political Matti

An article challening the tactics of set piece protests against summit meetings of heads of state.

From Black Flag #205 (2005). Writen by Political Matti and originally published in Working Class Resistance #10, magazine of Organise! Ireland.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 12, 2021

Well, there it was then. After almost ONO years of planning and approximately £200,000 spent by the 'anti-authoritarian' movement, the protests at the G8 summit came and went in the space of a week. 700,000 attended the Make Poverty History march, 5,000 took part in marches on Gleneagles and hundreds took part in blockades. But was it all worth it?

One thing that everyone accepts is that summit protests are symbolic. No matter how well they go, they are always symbolic and this is for one simple reason: the summits themselves are symbolic. The summits are just pomp and ceremony for the world leaders to show off their democratic and diplomatic credentials. Even if you did manage to shut down the meetings, the decisions will get made anyway. They'll just do it another day, So all the rhetoric of activists calling to "Shut Down the G8!" is, to put it bluntly, absolute nonsense not to mention dishonest. Add to this the amount of well-intentioned activists who have been arrested and those who'll get sent down, all for a symbolic protest.

As its accepted that the protests themselves were symbolic, we come to the main argument in favour of summit protests: that some of those who hear about 'anarchism' on these protests will eventually come around to a more coherent, working class based analysis. This can't be denied. Many libertarian communists got involved in politics after watching past summit protests on TV. I certainly did.

But does this justify almost two years of organising meetings and the £200,000 spent? No, of course not. The reason that those of us who did get involved in radical politics through summit protests did so was because there was no ether point of entry into radical politics. Simply because some of us got involved through that kind of protest, doesn't mean that new people necessarily should if we can develop more effective political alternatives on their doorstep. Perhaps, instead of getting people involved in solid class politics by first sucking them in through dead-end activism, we should just try and create better entry points for solid class politics!

The fact is that summit protests are yet more disconnecting of politics from the lives of working class people. Our politics are only relevant if we ground them solidly in our everyday lives and orientate ourselves towards our workmates and neighbours to solve the problems faced by our class. Through collective struggle to improve our daily conditions, we (as a class) grow in strength and confidence and it is here, in the daily struggles of normal working class people, that libertarian communism is found. This isn't to say we reject a global analysis in favour of some kind of 'localism'. It just means that while we have a global political analysis, we realise that the only way we can fight all the problems of capitalism is by fighting it where it effects us: in our workplaces and our communities, As the old cliché goes, "think globally, act locally".

One thing we can't forget when we are engaging with people is that libertarian communism is not simply an ideology, it is a living, breathing tendency within the working class that needs to be encouraged. We are not trying to recruit people to some rigid ideology; we are trying to promote a fighting spirit within our class. Arid we can't do this through a series of annual symbolic protests with no real substance to them. We can only do it through day-to-day organising where we live and work because it's only through collective workplace and community action that we can encourage that spirit. Things like the Turkish Workers' Action Group1 fighting for better conditions in the Republic of Ireland or the Communities Against the Water Tax network2 are where we can fight capitalism directly and where we can build a strong, independent working class movement fighting for its own desires and not those dictated by trade union bureaucrats or slimy politicians.

Whenever we take part in any form of political action we must always ask: “How will this contribute to encouraging the militant tendencies within the working class?" So, how do summit protests contribute to increasing the sense of solidarity, strength and confidence within working class communities? The simple answer is; they don't. Their effect is at best, insignificant and at worst damaging as it associates radical working class politics with protests taking place outside the daily struggles of our class, reinforcing the ever-growing walls of the activist ghetto.

The British libertarian socialist group, Solidarity, had it right when they described meaningful and harmful action in their pamphlet 'As We See It':

"Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf"

The protests may indicate that a significant number of people are opposed to the policies of the G8, but it in no way demonstrates any alternatives. The protests were little more than a very expensive, human petition. Capitalism is not about powerful men sitting round tables running the world. Capitalism is not something we can gather together from all corners of the globe to protest against. Capitalism is a social relationship played out in our daily lives arid that is where it must be fought.

  • 1See Working Class Resistance #9 for more info on TWAG
  • 2see wvvw.organiseireland,org