[i]Last week, iShotTheDeputy’s Nathaniel Mehr met Guy Taylor, an activist from the left-wing campaign group Globalise Resistance (www.resist.org.uk). Globalise Resistance originally formed in 2001 to organise UK activists travelling to Genoa to demonstrate at the G8 summit that year. It has since taken on a prominent role in the global justice movement in the UK, forming one part of the Stop the War Coalition, and engaging like-minded groups and individuals, both from within the UK and from abroad, for discussion forums as well as public demonstrations.[/i]
Nathaniel Mehr: You have just recently returned from the international anti-war conference in Cairo. What was that like?
Guy Taylor: It’s an interesting conference – quite unique. A while ago, John Rees from the Stop the War coalition was invited to speak at a left/socialist conference in Cairo. They asked him to book George Galloway to go out there – it turned out that Galloway was already going there, for a different conference, which was more of a radical Muslim conference. The organisers were persuaded to join the conferences together, so you basically had the Muslim Brotherhood and lots of radical Muslim groups on the one hand, and the radical left on the other, both in one place. This has been going for four years now. There’s this real mix of people, in a place where both groups are quite repressed – it’s given us space….for people in Egypt to get active. And because there’s so many international delegates, it’s hard for the Government to really clamp down on it.
NM: Norman Kember (the peace activist kidnapped in Iraq, who was rescued by the SAS) was in the news today, he gave his first review since being rescued. Some people have suggested he shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place, that he was selfish to do so, because he caused anxiety to his family and he endangered the lives of the SAS men who saved him. This is of course utterly ridiculous. The story does raise legitimate questions, however, about how best the peace movement can deploy individuals wishing to make a contribution. With the conflict increasingly depicted in the media as an unavoidable fact of life, what would you say is the most effective way in which an ordinary person can make a contribution?
GT: What we’re seeing now in the anti-war movement is that we’ve got many different tools at our disposal. One of the most interesting things is the military families. Soliders, ex-soldiers….there was that bloke who was recently gaoled for eight months for refusing to serve in Iraq. Lots of people in different situations. Obviously someone with a job, a mortgage and a family here in London isn’t going to be able to go to Iraq, so they can do things like march and demonstrate and all the rest of it. There’s many different tools at our disposal, and we should use whatever we can. Some of that will be signing petitions, some of it will be going out to Iraq. It’s a diverse movement, and that’s the strength of it really.
NM: In Italy, it looks as though Silvio Berlusconi will finally admit defeat in the elections there. The mainstream press are sceptical, to say the very least, as to whether Romano Prodi would be able to hold a government together for very long. They point to Italy’s divided history, and contrast Berlusconi’s long tenure of the premiership. What will Berlusconi’s defeat mean for Italy?
GT: Well immediately there’s the elation of getting rid of him at last. This is quite a joy for many people in Italy. I will be very interested when I go to the European Social Forum where I’ll be meeting up with some Italian activists and finding out what they think. People have been willing this day for quite some time. How the Prodi government fares is another matter, because he is the head of a coalition that’s too broad to keep together, unless he starts to deliver, and I don’t think the Italian activists are going to call it a day and think: This is our government, everything’s going to be alright. So the tensions will continue, it’s a very divided country. There’s a significant fascist organisation there, and a lot of activists, so it’s hard to tell which way it’s going to go, but I think Prodi will have a tough job, unless he actually delivers some serious reforms, which I’m not sure he’s that keen on doing.
NM: Ken Livingstone’s just been in China, where he made some rather facile comments comparing Tiananmen Square with the Poll Tax riots in Trafalgar Square. China has opened itself up to big business, without making any substantial concessions on human rights and freedom of speech. To what extent can the country be described in any sense as a socialist or a communist state? Is it not just a totalitarian capitalist state?
GT: It is a totalitarian state, absolutely. I think the idea that China of China as communist or socialist…it was never the fact – I think it was never really a particularly progressive place. Obviously the events of Tiananmen Square demonstrate that in one way. It was a regime imposed from above rather than people trying to get something for themselves. So I’m not sure it was ever a communist state in anything but name. But now, you see it opening up. It’s massively industrialising. I was out in Hong Kong just before Christmas, for the World Trade Organisation protests, and talked to some of the Chinese activists there. You know last year there were 74,000 riots in rural China, because they’ve got this massive urbanisation programme, just laying waste to people’s rural lifestyles. Obviously if there’s no organisations, no network of trade unions, then there’s a potential for a massive fight back and hopefully some changes. But at the same time it’s rushing towards capitalist development that will, obviously, buy off a few people, as there’s a lot of money to be made by a few. Hopefully we’ll be able to see some form of resistance very soon.
NM: Russia says it will grant the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority urgent financial aid, in opposition to the policy of the EU and the US. Some commentators have drawn comparisons between the involvement of Hamas at the ballot box and the position of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and suggested that there is cause for optimism. Is the blockade on financial assistance an attempt to subvert meaningful progress? The new Hamas government has been unable to pay its policemen at the moment, and the policemen were demonstrating this week. If the next step in the policy is bankrupt the Hamas government in order to cause it to implode, what long-term consequences will this have?
GT: In Cairo I met with a couple of Hamas MPs. Now obviously there is the question of terrorism but, the basic fact is that America and the EU have been trying to trumpet the idea of democracy coming to the Middle-East, and when it comes to electing a government….they’re using every pressure they can to try and get that government to act like the old government they’ve just defeated – it completely flies in the face of anything democratic. Any liberal capitalist state in the West should be saying: Let’s see how it goes, continue with support and give them a run at it. You see the ANC in South Africa, and Ireland as you said, these organisations have had a “terrorist/freedom fighter” aspect to what they do. To take the example of the ANC, they carried out neo-liberal policies, so there shouldn’t be that much to worry about really! They haven’t even waited to see what happens – I think it’s gross hypocrisy. What will happen? Hopefully the Russian money will be enough, I doubt it. They’ll appeal to Arab countries. Obviously it’s not a tenable country in many ways – Israel is changing the borders constantly, and build that wall and what have you…and denying Palestinians the right to exist. And there’s the quite central question which needs to be addressed – Palestinian refugees: will they be given the right to return? Hamas hasn’t got the power to do that. Israel stops them. So it is seemingly a hopeless case, but the thing is that a lot of these people who voted for Hamas, I don’t think they did it because they were devour Muslims. I think they have to join, really, with the non-corrupt parts of Fatah and the PLO, and see if they can organise a new opposition. Hamas isn’t going to deliver it, armed struggle alone isn’t going to deliver it, they’re going to have to unite.
NM: In the UK, the Employment Minister Margaret Hodge told the Sunday Telegraph: white working class voters are being attracted to the British National Party as they feel that Labour is not listening to their concerns. She says “The Labour Party has not talked to these people”. She’s right, isn’t she?
GT: She’s right that they haven’t talk to them and she’s finally realised how out of touch the Labour government is with ordinary people. But what she’s said is extremely irresponsible. To actually say that the BNP are an alternative, viable or not, is really irresponsible. A stupid thing to say.
NM: I don’t think that’s necessarily what she’s saying – it wasn’t an endorsement. She was commenting on certain conditions that exist that could make them appealing to some people.
GT: Margaret Hodge has given more interview than I have, and she should know that you’ve got to pick your words very carefully. She knows it’ll get blown up….but at the same time I think you’re right, I think she has pointed out a truth. You know, they are out of touch and therefore something’s got to happen…
NM: She made references to housing in Barking. White working class people feel they were being compromised in order to accommodate asylum seekers. It’s difficult to see where she’s going with a remark like that – what she’s suggesting should happen to alleviate or reverse this…to stop people being lured, as it were, to the British National Party. It’s far from clear.
GT: Exactly. It’s not clear where she’s going with it – I think she’s scared of it, and rightly so because they do stand to make some gains (in the forthcoming local elections). But the fact is that if she’s worried about it she should be out there with Unite Against Fascism handing out leaflets and making sure people vote any which way but Nazi.
NM: The local elections are coming up very soon. Where do you think that a group like Respect fit in? Are they the Ralph Nader of our domestic politics, or do they represent a protest vote? Mightn’t it be better to concentrate on reclaiming the Labour party for the Left, rather than starting from scratch?
GT: There are elements within the Labour party that want to reclaim it. If you look at the demographic of the Labour party – when Blair got elected, the party had nearly half a million members. There are less than half that number now. If you look at the people who have joined and the people who have left, it’s very much the case that the old activists have gone. The people who are canvassing now, they’re not linked to the Labour party, it’s a very different organisation. So when it comes to Respect, obviously having only one MP is a big problem in many ways. Respect isn’t George Galloway. He’s done fantastically well in the anti-war movement, but he’s obviously made a couple of mistakes along the way. If a significant number of Respect councillors can get elected at this local election, then it’ll cease to be a one-man band and will really become a viable alternative. So I’m hoping for a really big breakthrough for Respect.
NM: You were at the Genoa (G8) Summit in 2001. I was there demonstrating as well. Around that time I felt, and I think a lot of other people felt, that something was happening. That the movement had some momentum. Then September 11th happened – they say terrorism benefit’s the ruling class more than anyone else. I certainly feel that the climate has changed, not just in terms of the mainstream news but in terms of the sense of optimism among campaigners. Has this actually happened, or is it just that the “anti-capitalist” issues have been marginalised by war and terrorism in the mainstream media and in campaigning?
GT: When you look at the people who demonstrated in Genoa, they’ve all been on the streets, and they’ve all been demonstrating against the war. We’ve never been able to dictate our own agenda – we have to react to what’s happening in the world at large. So certainly when we came back from Genoa, we were putting posters all over the place, we were going to launch ourselves as a mass organisation. And then 9/11 happened and it all went pear-shaped. But since then we have seen the biggest protest this country’s ever seen, the biggest social movement. And I think also there is a lot of optimism. The thing about demonstrations is that, in a way, they’re slow to take effect. Earlier we mentioned the Poll Tax. The Poll Tax demo happened at the end of March 1990, and it was a good eight months before Thatcher went and the Poll Tax was repealed. When you look at the state that Tony Blair’s in, and the popularity of the Labour party….I think that it is actually working. We’re all impatient and rightly so, because we’ve only got one life on this planet and we’ve got to enjoy it. So basically I think things are moving forward but it’s happening at a different pace.
NM: Do you think it’s become harder since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as it’s easier to be marginalised, as a single-issue campaign. What was great about 2001 in Genoa, and the demos that preceded that, was the sense that they weren’t reactions to any one specific thing. It was a broad movement and now all those people have necessarily been forced to come under the anti-war banner. So it’s a high hope for a low heaven: now all we demand is an end to the latest imperial aggression – in Summer 2001 we were demanding “another world”.
GT: Last year in the UK, the Make Poverty History campaign, linked to war in many ways, as where is the biggest provider of poverty. Look at the World Social Forum, the WTO protests – all these things are big and people pay attention to them. In the UK, the war is a bigger issue than it is, say, in France or Germany, because we’ve got the second largest number of troops in Iraq. There is so much going on. Look at the best-selling books – No Logo, Michael Moore’s books, the stuff about debts. All of this is very big, and people are becoming very aware.
NM: Where now for Globalise Resistance? Does it remain a campaign group, or do you consider forming a Popular Front for participation in elections? Or is that what the Respect party is?
GT: Globalise Resistance won’t become an electoral thing. A number of people involved in GR are members and supporters of Respect or the Green Party. Like I said earlier, if you want to build a successful resistance you have to use every tool at your disposal, and elections are just one tool. We’re asking ourselves the same question, actually – we have a discussion coming up in May about which way to go. I think we will continue to be a campaigning/mobilising body. We’ve certainly got our eye on the G8 coming up in Germany (in a town near Rostock in East Gremany) in June next year. We’re looking at that, we’re looking to keep people on the streets. We’re looking to bring the spirit of the World Social Forum – the main one that was held in Caracas this year, an amazingly big event – there is an international movement. Although we are, as we said, stuck on the question of the war, we want to get these issues re-ignited in the UK.
Guy Taylor is a campaigner for Globalise Resistance – http://www.resist.org.uk