Monday 30 March 2009

Why We Should Protest the G20

Should social democrats protest the G20?

The case against: protests like those planned for April 1 and April 2 are largely organized by ultra-leftist groups who have simplistic 'solutions' to the problems of financial crisis and climate change, not to mention a minority who think that progressive objectives are effectively advanced by lobbing bricks at bankers' windows...or bankers...or the police. One should not go on such protests because this sends a message of agreement with oversimplistic analyses of our situation and with morally dubious 'tactics' of so-called 'direct action'.

I think that's a strong case. But what about the other side of the argument?

The case for: political elites are simply not facing up to the urgency of our problems, particularly as regards climate change. While the more progressive of them acknowledge the need for the 'reform' of capitalist institutions, on a domestic and global level, it is not clear that they have grasped the scale of the change that is needed. Events like the protests at the G20 are vital to bring home to the political elites just how urgent increasing numbers of citizens regard these issues and how dissatisfied we are - or should be - with what they are offering thus far. Done properly, they can help to raise wider public consciousness, adding to the pressure on politicians. The fact that some people on the protests might be looking for violent confrontation is all the more reason for non-violent protestors to go on the protests so that such events cannot be dismissed by politicians or the media as expressions of a misguided minority rather than as authentic expressions of popular will.

More fundamentally: history tells us that social democratic reform is not the gift of enlightened elites, but the outcome of popular struggle changing the environment in which elites make their decisions. Elites have to be constrained by popular forces, or else they will be pushed around by the constraining influences that economic elites can always bring to bear.

On balance, I judge the 'case for' to overwhelm the 'case against'.

So shouldn't we be out there on April 1?

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