Archive article from The Socialist Issue 400
To make poverty history:
"We need to change the system"
ON SATURDAY 2 July about 250,000 demonstrated through the streets of Edinburgh to protest against the G8 summit and to call for an end to poverty. It became the biggest political demo in the history of Scotland. The CWI was present with a very young and prominent contingent.
Kristof, LSP/MAS (CWI Belgium)
The organisers had asked everyone to wear white clothes. This appeal was followed by about 90% of those present. It reminded us of the White March in Belgium in 1996 when 300,000 demonstrated against the role of the judicial apparatus following the disappearance and murder of several young girls.
Just like at the 1996 White March the white colour in Scotland was used to limit the political character of the demo.
While the appeal to demonstrate found a huge response, the organisers mainly considered the demo as a way to put pressure on the G8 and the world leaders to ask them to make poverty history. The big mobilisation from churches and NGOs meant that this position was shared by quite a lot of those on the protest.
But there was also an open attitude to more radical ideas. The big turnout was an expression of the fact that many are prepared to come out onto the streets to take action against poverty and misery. And many were looking for ideas on how to fight them.
The Scottish paper Sunday Herald mentioned how in between the white masses a lively group of young people wearing red T-shirts were chanting slogans. This was the contingent of the ISR (International Socialist Resistance) and the CWI.
The paper carried a short interview with Sarah Sachs-Eldridge of the Socialist Party saying: "When we live in a capitalist system, there will always be poverty. The G8 works for big business. They are not to be trusted. We need to change the system or there will never be change."
In our contingent we had about 250 members and supporters coming from many different countries, including Scotland, England/Wales, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands and Sweden. With our fighting slogans we were the loudest group. Ours was also the most visible contingent because it was red: red T-shirts, red banners and flags.
The demo itself was pretty short which meant that demonstrators were still leaving the starting point in Meadows Park as we were already arriving back at the same place. Even at 6 pm there were still people starting to demonstrate. In the afternoon the park looked more like the scene of a festival with an emphasis by the organisers on entertaining the audience rather than political speeches.
There was a very enthusiastic response to the ISR and CWI. The CWI intervened with a special paper written by its members in England/Wales and Scotland. It was the only paper giving a clear idea how to end poverty through fighting for a socialist alternative.
'Fantastic' CWI meeting
IT WAS impossible not to be moved by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) rally on Saturday after the main demo. I heard the comment, "That was fantastic" again and again.
A great sea of red filled the hall. About 160 had packed in, and easily half that number again were listening outside, nearly all wearing the brilliant red CWI/ISR T-shirts.
As Philip Stott of the CWI in Scotland reminded us when opening the rally, on the demo earlier our energy, our visibility and profile put everyone else in the shade. We were the most disciplined and coherent organisation on the demo. The ideas expressed in the rally showed why.
Sinaed Daly, from the CWI in Scotland, pointed out the hypocrisy of the capitalist leaders. The leader of the Scottish parliament appealed to the G8 to alleviate poverty in the developing world, and yet a quarter of children in Scotland live in poverty. These leaders cry crocodile tears about the poor in Africa when they carry out massive attacks on public sector workers and public services at home.
Titi from the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI) in Nigeria asked the question; how can you make poverty history under this rotten capitalist system? In contrast to all the bleeding-hearted politicians and hand-wringing rock stars emoting about the poor of Africa, Titi powerfully pointed out that Nigeria today is impoverished because of the deregulation, privatisation and commercialisation of the global capitalist economy.
Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP) in Ireland, pointed out that while the demonstrators were not the most organised layers of the working class, the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of people around the world is hugely significant. The involvement of many middle-class and some quite privileged people is a sign of the coming movement of millions of workers and poor. And among those who marched in Edinburgh were many young people open to socialist ideas.
Joe explained about the battle of the Turkish Gamma workers, assisted by the Socialist Party in Ireland. This was not an exception but the real face of capitalism in Europe. The bosses are bringing in Eastern European workers to undercut the wages of workers in Western Europe. It is vital that we stand shoulder to shoulder and fight to draw these workers in to the unions, or wages will be driven down and ethnic tensions could break out.
Peter Taaffe, of the CWI International Secretariat and general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, said that the demonstration was the biggest in Scottish history. And this was in a year that has seen a million French workers on the streets, and a million Chileans marching in Santiago.
Unlike the anti-capitalist demonstrations in Genoa etc in recent years, this time the church hierarchies and individuals like Geldof have intervened to blunt the natural tendency to ask questions - why is there this poverty and what can be done?
But Peter warned that there is a danger for the capitalists once people are set in motion fighting against poverty. There will be disappointment and anger when the G8 don't deliver. Some will fall into despondency but others will have no choice but to fight.
Asking the rich and powerful is not the way to end poverty. As he said when he met socialists and fighters in Pakistan: "We will help our brothers and sisters across the world, not with a few pennies but with solidarity to organise and mobilise against the system. We will help you to destroy this system that keeps you in these conditions."
Power of ideas
538 people control 70% of the world's resources. 500 companies control the majority of the means of production (the factories, land, banks etc). We can resolve this only by mobilising the power of the working class.
If the CWI gave all our resources to poor people in Asia or Africa, we would only alleviate the conditions of a few people for a short while. But we have a programme, the ideas, that can mobilise the force that can alleviate poverty for good.
Events in Latin America are the first opening lines of a new chapter for the working class. A few years ago the people in Bolivia marched for peace and justice. Today they are prepared to bring down any government that will not nationalise oil and gas. Working-class and young people are moving into action, but they need an idea - why is the system the way it is, how can we plan the resources of the planet.
Peter concluded by explaining that the CWI is a small force but within the germs of this organisation is the solution to the problems of the working class. Combined with events, our work will bring a new generation to socialism and marxism. We'll create a mighty movement against capitalism and new parties of the working class, linked together on a world scale with a new international. No power on this planet will be able to stop a movement of this kind once it is conscious of itself.
Nice music, shame about the politics
AT HYDE Park we were within a few rows of the elite 'Golden Circle' which at a free 'charity awareness concert' did not seem necessary.
The aim of the event was to highlight world poverty, with celebrities making statements about how bad poverty in Africa is and that something needs to be done about it.
The frustration was that the events that were going on across the world could have been an ideal forum for millions of people to have been told about the role of big business and the multinationals in creating poverty. But no, we got Bill Gates on stage, the richest man in the world and head of a multinational!
In Hyde Park alone, there were 205,000 people who as a captive audience could have really benefited from an explanation of the real reasons for the poverty in Africa and many other parts of the world.
At one point it was being described as one of the biggest political events in history. And as there was definitely an interest in politics by some people and a genuine disbelief that the things depicted in the films that were shown can still be allowed to occur in the 21st century, the event could have been used much more effectively.
In general people seem to understand about dropping the debt but it goes no further for the vast majority. Chris Martin of Coldplay introduced some clips and stated that if the BBC cut it from their coverage, they were not doing their jobs properly and yes, they did cut it and they cut him too.
I do get the feeling that Bob Geldof genuinely thinks that he is doing the right thing as do many of the other celebrities that took part in this event. The problem is that the whole Make Poverty History subject seems to be trendy in the industry at the moment. Some of what was said, including Mariah Carey with her 'cute African children's choir', was just plain patronising.
There is no doubt that many people will have come away from the event having learnt from the films that were shown that poverty is an issue far beyond what they could ever have imagined.
The endorsement of the campaign by the music industry and the amount of coverage will have made people think a bit even is it's just for that moment. But it's up to us to fill in the gaps with the facts when the pop stars and industry moguls go off home to their privileged lives and close the front door believing they have done something good.
It was an excellent day from a music lover's perspective but the impact of it on the G8 summit will have to be awaited - another picture with Bob Geldof's head on Mr Blair's shoulder perhaps?
Rich man talking
CONCERT ORGANISER Bob Geldof welcomed Bill Gates, the world's richest man, onto the Live8 stage in Hyde Park. A concert for the world's poorest cheered a man whose personal wealth is estimated at around $50 billion.
This one man, Gates, has nearly as much wealth as a relatively middle-income state such as Morocco ($55.6 billion) produces in a year, according to GDP figures. He gets far more than most African states such as Tanzania ($12.2 billion).
Admittedly Gates gives a fair bit of spare cash away. His Gates Foundation, the world's richest charity, may do some good. But however well-intentioned this super-rich philanthropist may be, this is a bizarre way to run a world!
How can we rely on the world's richest individual making himself richer each year from record profits in the hope that some of the wealth comes the way of billions of the world's poorest people?
Life at the G8 youth camp
The first revolutionary struggle at the camp began with the erection of the tents! With only 45 minutes to put up our tents, have breakfast, buy a stunning ISR or CWI T-shirt and then get on the mini-buses to Edinburgh, the exhaustion of travelling overnight temporarily disappeared.
Suzanne Beishon, Hackney
When I was approached about writing an article on life at the camp, I thought it would be easy. However, we haven't been at the camp as much as in Edinburgh. Everything at the camp has been running like clockwork in the hands of Sarah, Hannah, Tanja and the other organisers.
The camp has given newer members of the Socialist Party the chance to socialise and discuss with members from the other international sections of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).
The chance to really spend some time on the campsite begins today with meetings on education, women, the 1905 Russian revolution, and politics and music. We have also been organising ourselves into football teams for a tournament tomorrow, organised by Rob and Natasha. Karim and the other comrades should be warned, our women's team will run circles round the rest!
The day began, for most of us, in a very leisurely way for a change. However, there are a number of comrades who got up at 5am to go to the Faslane blockade, which shows the level of importance attached to our participation in the G8 protests.
As a whole, the camp has been a great experience, especially for the newer members, as it gives you the opportunity to find out what is happening in the other sections represented - from the actual members, rather than reading it off a page. The struggles of the different parties become more real.
Over 2,000 copies of the socialist were sold on the G8 demo and £170 of literature. Hundreds of wristbands and CWI T-shirts were sold. 60 join cards were filled in, 35 attended the Join the Socialist Party meeting and three have joined so far.