My friend Reuben left the G8
Alternatives youth forum spitting chips. He'd gone with a clear plan to discuss
something he's passionate about - getting a real unionisation drive going among
young and casual workers.
He's petrified that there's a new
generation of young people who'll have no access to, or knowledge of, trade
union organisations. But it was not to be, "no one of any interest got to
speak," he told me, "because the speeches from the floor were dominated by
Workers Power and Socialist Worker bickering about Respect."
This self obsession of sections of
the English left discussing England only questions has been extremely
detrimental to the debates in the G8 Alternatives forums which are, after all,
meant to be international. The platforms have been invariably interesting and
focused (or at least those I attended or heard about) but the floor and doorways
have been clogged by the hard left more intent on lecturing on their obsessions
than learning something from this unique opportunity.
On the Sunday I went to a forum on
Globalisation, and heard some really excellent and informative speeches - the
best of which was Alex Callinicos who was particularly incisive. Unfortunately,
Alex's comrades had decided that their job of the day was to get up in seemingly
unending numbers and counter "the sectarians" by making almost identical points
(this perspective was later confirmed in conversation with SWP friends of mine
that they were totally focused on 'countering' other left groups).
The cumulative effect was to drown
out anyone from the movement uninterested in this English point scoring e.g. by
being African, or emotionally well adjusted. Just as I was considering leaving
this stifling atmosphere a real breath of fresh air blew in.
She was brash, inarticulate, nervous
and muddled. She was moralising, badly informed and hectoring - but she was
honest and she was real. "Where are the African voices here? Where are the
voices of the ordinary people?" and brilliantly she ended by lambasting, "why
don't you all just shut up for a change and listen?" Possibly not too persuasive
for this audience - but jeez it felt good.
It's absolutely true that when a
representative sample of the movement get up to speak they often come up with a
mix of brilliance, idiocy and/or mediocrity, but these are genuine voices that
deserve to be heard, they're fresh, interesting and express the issues that the
left need to address, rather than the left dictating to the movement what we
should care about.
Perhaps it's time the organised left
took a chill pill, sat back and listened with open ears to the people it gives
so little opportunity to speak.
I must be fair to the organisers
though. They'd achieved a good balance of topics and speakers from many
different strands of the movement and many different countries. They also made a
good attempt to break up the old habits and began meetings with performance
poetry or music, but the floor was not playing ball.
As the day continued the pattern
seemed undeterred so I thought I'd catch up with the Corporate Nightmares
conference. What a difference!
You could walk in comfortably and
unharangued by a forest of publications and leaflets. The hall was light and
breezy and the tone relaxed. Large screens and good sound quality made speakers,
contributors and video showings easy to listen to.
But perhaps the most important
difference was that the discussions seemed very issued focused - a stark
contrast to the G8 Alternatives where sometimes you felt some catastrophe or
repression was seen as a good way of getting protests and campaigns going, with
the issues being purely incidental.
I'm positive that this issue based
culture was a hundred times more healthy. I'm very glad that I wasn't an
organiser of G8 alternatives because if I was, just like Reuben, I'd be spitting
Maybe it's true, those with a
revolutionary message should do something truly radical and just shut up and