the Disillusioned kid: Make Richard Curtis History
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Make Richard Curtis History

Lenin has written a good post in response to Richard Curtis' 'Girl in a Cafe', shown as part of the BBC's Africa Lives series and in support of the Make Poverty History Campaign. As I haven't seen the programme (and have no desire to, romantic comedies not exactly being my favourite genre) I'm not really in a position to comment on that, but I do feel qualified to echo many of Lenin's sentiments with regard to MPH, which resonate with things I have written previously (here and - in passing - here).

Lenin argues that Girl in a Cafe "sums up the bleating hypocrisy and political stupidity of the organisers," but concedes, "A slightly more compelling reason for suspecting the Make Poverty History bunch, which Richard Curtis is one of the main driving forces behind, is the extraordinary lengths they have gone to to squeeze politics out of the G8 protests." He points to the sale of the now ubiquitous "white wrist-bands in [Scottish millionaire Tom Hunter's] clothing shops, branded with the logos of clothing companies that violate workers rights" and refers to the recent Sunday Telegraph story about the use of slave labour in the production of these bands.

He also points to the worrying absence of African social movements in the campaign and quotes Kofi Maluwi Klu, a Ghanaian activist, who notes, "We have a saying in the African liberation movement, 'nothing about us, without us'". Lenin points additionally to the exclusion of certain political groups from the campaign, notably the Stop the War Coalition who will be participating in Saturday's big MPH march (under the slogan "Fight Poverty Not War"), but who have been prevented from actually joining the coalition. More worryingly Lenin reports,
One leaked e-mail from Milipedia, an events management company, to MPH advised on the desirability of removing people from the events, if they set up unauthorised stalls and sell newspapers - this was apparently prompted by a Socialist Party plan to involve themselves in the rallies and wear their red 'Make Capitalism History' t-shirts. MPH has purchased a market traders' license to enable them to move unauthorised 'traders' - which will include those foolish enough to sell books, pamphlets or newspapers - off the sites they have booked.
There is no doubt that protests do sometimes attract crackpots and cranks who you'd rather not be associated with (I've had more than my fair share of discussions with unreconstructed Stalinists at such events), but I'm concerned at the idea that the organisers of an event can censor the actions of participants. I've had too many arguments with stewards at demos to be unconcerned about attempts to curtail deviations from the party line.

A related concern which Lenin doesn't point out is the way that MPH has established hegemony over the protests around the G8. They have done a very good job at putting issues of poverty and debt back on the front-pages, but in so doing they have diverted attention away from other areas for which they have responsibility. There are many other very important issues to protests about next week. The issue of climate change has received some attention in the media, but nearly all of this is framed in terms of Tony Blair's efforts to get Bush to act on the issue, as if the PM's own record on the issue was not itself pretty awful.

The G8 are also influential in other areas. James O'Nions points out that "of the G8 nations, only Japan doesn’t make it into the world’s top ten arms exporters." He notes further, "In 2003 alone, the G8 countries exported major conventional weapons worth in excess of $24 billion. Whilst some of these exports were to other G8 or richer countries, the majority were to the world’s poorer countries. Furthermore, the US Congressional Research Service estimates that in 2003 around 89 per cent of arms transfers to the global South came from just five members of the G8: the US, Russia, France, Britain and Germany." It goes without saying that money spent on guns, bombs and missiles cannot be spent helping the populations of those countries. Coupled with the role of such sales in fuelling conflict around the world it is clear that such sales have a major detrimental effect on the lives of thousands, if not millions, in the Global South.

Various groups have taken up the cause of refugee rights and for global free movement, Make Borders History (who have 'imaginatively' continued the Make Bad Stuff History meme started by MPH) being one of the most prominent. Others point to the imperial role of the G8 nations (witnessthe Anglo-US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; Russian oppression in Chechnya; and French, Canadian and US meddling in Haiti). Many groups and individuals, however, argue that central to our campaigning should be a rejection of the legitimacy of the G8 as an institution. This is the position taken by Lenin and (as if your interested) myself.

The idea that 8 men have the right to make decisions for the rest of the world is shockingly undemocratic. They represent something like 13% of the world's population (insofar as any of them can be said to "represent" anyone, but the interests of their national ruling classes) and as George Monbiot has pointed out, "They were all elected to pursue domestic imperatives: their global role is simply a by-product of their national mandate." To be sure, they have such power that if forced they can do good (debt relief and increased international aid as advocated by MPH could save the lives of millions), but the very system which places this much influence in the hands of such a clique must be challenged. Power must be given to the people. A tall order, no doubt, but not, I think, impossible.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm off to Edinburgh next week (Friday actually, but you know what I mean...). Maybe I'll see some of you there.

Update 29/6/05: More here.

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