Review of Hubbard and Miller, Arguments against G8, Pluto, 264 pages, paperback, £11.99
By Paul Hampton
This is a disappointing book on a vital matter. The G8 - the club of world powers - is under the spotlight, with its summit in July expected to be met by counter-demonstrations, meetings and direct action involving hundreds of thousands.
The book is advertised as a “one-stop guide for anyone who wants to know more about the G8, what it is, and why it's a problem” and as “a great tool for activists”.
The editors Gill Hubbard and David Miller are leading members of the G8 Alternatives coalition that is organising some activity around the summit and the main problem with the book is that it does not offer a coherent alternative to the G8 it denounces. In particular it lacks the kind of class-based perspective that does offer both a sharp critique of the G8 and an alternative.
Only Bob Crow puts the case for “strong, independent and militant trade unionism” as the best guarantee for working people against the ravages of global capital. [p.161] But Crow spoils this with his lament for what he calls the “socialist countries” of the USSR and Eastern Europe – those Stalinist prison houses for workers that were no kind of model for the global justice movement.
Colin Leys’ chapter is the closest the book gets to a discussion of what the G8 is. Leys describes the G8 as “the nearest thing we have to a world government” and a “key element in global policy-making”. [pp.57-58] He also explains that the G8 is undemocratic, reflecting the structures such as the IMF and the World Bank that do it’s bidding – and the national governments on which it is based.
Olivier Hoedeman rightly points out that the G8 is “a treasured tool for big business groupings” [p.78] and that “big business has direct, privileged access to the G8 summits” – for example through the International Chamber of Commerce. [p.85] And Mark Curtis from the World Development Movement makes a good case against the Department for International Development and the way it promotes multinational capital abroad in the name of the poor. But these chapters are about as good as it gets.
The two key topics for discussion at the G8 summit in July are Africa and climate change. The book is particularly disappointing on climate change, simply rehashing articles by George Monbiot from the Guardian that name and shame apparent environmentalists such as David Bellamy who deny climate change, without articulating a coherent argument that explains what is going on and how the damage can be prevented.
The book is a little better on Africa, with chapters on debt and health highlighting the plight of the continent, but again there is no clear idea what is needed to improve matters and the voice of African workers is not heard in the book.
But there are deeper problems with the book. For example it is largely dismissive of parliamentary democracy in general and of struggles for democratic rights. Democracy in the G8 countries is described by Leys as ”pseudo-democracy” [p.61] because of the power of mobile global capital and the limited participation in elections, whilst Lindsay German sneers that “‘Democracy’ has become just as much a US export as much as privatisation and intellectual property”. [p.74]
Of course bourgeois democracy is extremely limited, but more significantly there is a crisis of working class representation, with old social democratic organisations openly embracing neoliberalism and unions failing to fight for their policies. To simply write-off democratic structures won in earlier struggles is to close off an important front for present and future battles.
And democracy is largely dismissed for the rest of the world. Leys says that in much of sub-Saharan Africa “the chances are surely negligible that even pseudo-democracy can be established”. [p.66] as if the working class in Africa need not bother to fight for elementary political rights. Similarly the editors denounce the Iraqi elections – even before they could take note of the results or the numbers who took part [p.13]
On the relationship between globalisation and war, the book’s perspective is dominated by the view, promoted by the SWP, that the current period is characterised by a drive to war. [p.7] Thus Lindsey German argues that the new imperialism that began in the 1990s heralds a return to the kind of world wars since in the first half of the 20th century. [p.71] German simply asserts this as if it an obvious truth that requires no argument. Yet in another chapter, Noam Chomsky confidently predicts that there will be no war between the great powers. [p.23]
This reveals an annoying facet of the book, whereby contributions lie alongside each other without engagement or debate. It creates the impression of a consensus, but in reality serves to emphasise the lack of serious discussion on the issues.
A similar example is over what to demand of the G8, the IMF, the World Bank etc. Much of the drift of the book is that they should simply abolish themselves. But others are not so sure. Susan George says, regarding the WTO, “only two avenues are left open” – shut it down or influence its member states. [p.121] Vicki Clayton also she poses the question of whether to influence or oppose these institutions. [p.167] Yet the strategic arguments are not even put forward, never mind seriously debated.
Iraq provides a case in point. According to John Pilger the “only people fighting legitimately are the resistance groups defending their homeland” [p.210] SWP hack Chris Nineham draws their perspective into sharp relief, when he says: “The global movement linked to the resistance in Iraq now has a chance of inflicting a defeat on the US empire”. [p.213] They completely ignore the emerging labour movement, preferring to champion sectarian Baathists and clerical fascists.
The negativism of the book is summed up by Lindsay German, who argues that the Stop the War Coalition is an “alternative to mainstream politics”. In other words, the idea of independent working class politics is rubbed out and the nebulous absence of political representation put in its place – allowing them to plug any old reactionary standing under the Respect banner.
The book uncouples the critique from the solution, the end from the means. The editors rightly argue that the problem is capitalism. [p.221] but their alternative is not specified. The nearest they get to an answer is “public opinion” – with examples such as Cochabamba in Bolivia, the resistance in Iraq, Chavez’s Venezuela and the defeat of the WTO in Cancun. [p.230] Most of the contributors privately believe socialism is the answer, but for reasons of self-censorship – or more likely complete loss of perspective – they cannot bring themselves to put a coherent case. So whilst they find it easy to be against the G8, they don’t bother to spell out what they are for.