1. The G20 is part of the global offensive responsible for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustaining world poverty, undermining labour rights and accelerating climate change. The immense harm their policies inflict on our planet and its people put cosmetic damage to one police truck at the 18 November StopG20 rally in Melbourne in perspective. These criminals – and their media allies – attempt to hide their culpability by creating hysteria about protester violence. Their aim is to discredit all militant protest action and, by extension, the legitimate concerns expressed by demonstrators. Criminalising protest will be an important weapon for the Howard Government in convincing the public of the need for an extraordinary state of security at next year’s APEC summit in Sydney. Responding to this is a major challenge for the Left.
2. Unfortunately, certain organisations – particularly Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialist Perspective – have completely misunderstood the challenge, lining up with the state and the corporate media to publicly denounce Arterial Bloc. In formal terms, the argument made by these groups – that mass mobilisation is the most effective form of collective action – is correct. However, they have elevated this principle to a dogma, meaning they have missed the key issue in this debate, which is the Right’s attack on militant protest in general. The first task of socialists is to take a side. In the present situation, a number of groups have taken the wrong side and reinforced the arguments of the media and the state.
3. At the same time, the StopG20 rally demonstrates that the autonomist or decentralised organising tactic is not the way forward. The largest part of last Saturday’s rally lacked direction at the critical moment when we massed at police barricades on Little Collins and Russell Streets. The real possibility of mass civil disobedience was abandoned in the street with neither the socialist Left, the autonomists, or anyone else taking it up. The vacuum was filled by the fragmented actions of autonomist groups, including Arterial Bloc. Our criticism is not their use of direct, militant action. It is that their politics exclude the need to organise mass collective action. They focused instead on organising relatively small groups of experienced activists to confront the police. The scarves and overalls symbolise this exclusion. Breaching police exclusion zones in Genoa or blockading the World Economic Forum in Melbourne are highlights of the anti-capitalist movement. But the way to turn situations like last Saturday’s rally into this is to involve the greatest number in mass democratic decision-making and arguing for this sort of militant, direct collective action. If 3000 protesters had breached the barricades we would not be concerned with minor damage to one police truck.
4. Even with the debate over tactics, the G20 mobilisation was a real step forward for the social movements in Australia. The mood on the rally was positive, confident and militant. It was diverse and the numbers exceeded the organisers’ expectations. It is to the credit of all the groups and individuals making up the StopG20 committee that such a broad ensemble came together to express a radical critique of the systemic roots of war, poverty and climate change. In this way the G20 protest was in the tradition of the great anti-capitalist mobilisations that began seven years ago in Seattle. As we turn our attention to building a massive mobilisation for the APEC summit, it is vital that we do not exclude, isolate or denounce any part of this movement. Disagreements over strategy and tactics should be dealt with by discussion and debate within the movement, not by one part of the movement publicly denouncing the actions of another part. We need to organise in a democratic and inclusive way and seek to win a consensus for mass, militant collective action.