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RECOMMENDED DAILY REQUIREMENT

DATELINE: 3 MAY, 2000

Transmitted by: Al Dunsmuir, United Kingdom

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RDR logo.THE SADNESS OF LONDON - "If capitalism is to be made more responsible, then so must its opponents."

The last line of Marx's Communist manifesto is "Workers of the world, unite!" Had he witnessed how his beliefs were interpreted and applied in particular in China, Russia and Cuba, that line may have had a more depressing tone attached to it: "Workers of the world, unite! But only if you really feel its necessary."

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Had he seen the "anti-capitalist" demonstrations in London on May Day, as I did, I would expect a more seething ending: "Workers of the world, unite! And sod off and stop bothering me." The romantic notion of global solidarity, a common goal binding London not just with Seattle or Washington, but every city in the world to make capitalism more responsible, was completely lost on a large group of people who had only one thing in common: they were angry about something.

For over a hundred years up until 1999, May Day in London had been the scene of peaceful demonstrations by the International Left. For various reasons, including the growth of the Internet that aids organised protests, and a strengthening in feeling from some interest groups that they have no representation from any mainstream political party, it all changed last year. Then the "Carnival Against Capitalism", or to put it accurately a group of unprincipled thugs seeking to act on violent impulses, occurred. This year was even worse.

Arriving at Parliament Square at 11.00 in the morning, it wasnot obvious to me that violence was to follow. What was clear was that any hope of seeing an intelligent and unified group of people exerting pressure on London's politicians and businessmen to make capitalist societies more considerate, vanished within minutes. This was not the same London that had seen anti-Vietnam War or CND demonstrations in the past. In those days responsible people peacefully aimed to get those in power to follow their lead. Even violent poll tax riots, born out of police oppression and a sense of despair, had principles, hard felt grievances and unity attached to the anger, that similar to Seattle, won them as much support as people they alienated.

After 15 minutes of talking to some of the thousands gathered, I had been told cannabis must be legalised, Britain should leave the EU, abortion was murder, all government is evil, animals are equal to humans, music is the best form of communication and --- most commonly --- that the environment is the greatest concern facing the world. I was handed a leaflet asking me to join the Socialist Alliance, another warning me about the perils of Gentically Modified crops and a flier about "guerrilla gardening". I was also given a veggie burger for free but on the condition that I did not go to McDonalds for the rest of the day. (I have not been to McDonalds for about three years now, I don't know why on May Day of all days that would change.) I even saw a large group of people calling themselves the catchy "Reclaim the Streets Organisation" trying to plant flowers in one of the worlds most urbanised areas. I would not have been surprised had I been confronted by a group of exiled Miami Cubans demanding the return of Elian Gonzalez. It might not be unified but at least its principled I thought. For about twelve seconds.

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I met a man who unconvincingly claimed he was called Steve who said he was marching for several reasons. One of them a cause I care about passionately, was Jubilee 2000, also known as the cancellation of Third World Debt.

G21: Are you primarily hoping that a demonstration opposing Third World Debt is witnessed by the other G7 nations?

Steve: Yeah, I hope the capitalists in America take note and realise they can't screw the rest of the world much longer. I want this Government to stop trying to serve the US economy.

G21: But Gordon Brown (Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer) is the only G7 Chancellor who openly supports the cancellation of Third World Debt. Clare Short (Britain's Secretary for International Development) gave more aid to victims of the Mozambique floods and has campaigned more vigorously than any other Western Statesman for the Debt to be cancelled. Shouldn't you be supporting this Government as it tries to put pressure on the rest of the industrialised world to follow suit?

Steve: But this Government is just a puppet of the US economy.

G21: But what about what I just said?

Steve: We should cancel Third World Debt now.

Just as one swallow does not make a summer, one unpractical, pig ignorant demonstrator unaware of the facts of his cause does not make a failed demonstration. There were some I had hoped to see, those that were an extension of Washington. Some chose to highlight the alleged role of the World Bank in particular, in creating Third World Debt, others were rallying against capitalism's iniquities. A music student called Andrea told me, "the general theme is that people want to have something of a say. No one has any free land any more. It's always owned by someone else."

The following interview was just about the most characteristic conversation of all those conducted however, particularly before the May Day violence erupted. I spoke to a young looking girl with orange and black stripy face paint, who hilariously called herself "Tigger", and described herself as an eco-warrior.

G21: What are you protesting about?

Tigger: The way the Government and multi-corporations are so obsessed with making money. They don't care that they're destroying this country's environment.

G21: Would you like to see capitalism banned or made more responsible?

Tigger: I want the head of McDonalds to go round London planting trees.

Maybe because that did not happen, by about 12.30 in the afternoon a bond between a minority of the protesters developed. The police, who had been careful not to provoke anger, were all of a sudden perceived as hate figures by a group of thugs desperate to address narrow-minded grievances. First stones, then bottles, other missiles and even bricks were thrown at the police, and that was just the start of escalation into hours of violence.

One local McDonalds was completely trashed. You would think that all this anti-McDonalds sentiment was because the restaurant - if you can call it that - is a major symbol of global capitalism whereby all over the world exploited workers are paid badly to work in rotten jobs that help pay fat cat Americans go on another holiday. Yet asking those cheering on the McDonalds murderers why they were in support, the answers varied from "because of the treatment of animals" to "because green areas have been replaced with these money making buildings."

Perhaps these people were not quite as impressed as I was with the way the opposition movements in Zimbabwe have maintained support by remaining peaceful in the face of unbearable provocation. Therefore seeing thugs in London deface the statue of Winston Churchill and a memorial to Britain's war dead made me feel sick. And the fact that the police, often a symbol of fascist interference, were so passive as more missiles were hurled at them and cars and shops were ransacked meant that the whole exercise was totally self-defeating.

At about 3.00 I asked a man who called himself the Duke of Wellington, who I had seen throw cans at the police and call for others to do the same, a question.

G21: Do you condemn the attack on McDonalds?

DoW: I can't answer that question.

G21: Why not?

DoW: Ask me something positive.

G21: Are you pleased a policeman has been attacked? [Duke walks off.]

The Duke may have voted for the socialist candidate for London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in this week's election. But even Red Ken, one of the few Western Statesman to support the Seattle riots last year, was outraged by what he saw, saying he utterly condemned the violence.

However, the thugs were the minority. I left at about 5.00 and by then the vast majority that I spoke to disassociated themselves from the violence and were visibly shaken and angry at what had occurred. But by then the damage had been done.

The following day the British press carried pictures of violence or the defaced statues on their front pages. The French press showed images of national Front protesters, in Germany scuffles between neo-Nazis and left-wingers dominated the news and rioting also broke out in Zurich. Although Berne, Istanbul and Ankara saw mass peaceful demonstrations against the IMF that have unified and institutionalised support.

As for London, I do not know what I found the most upsetting. The fact that the opportunity to protest and make the case for such a useful and important cause was lost due to the disparity of interests involved. Or that despite the broad church of anger, anything worth protesting about was missed: Britain's two main Parties attitude towards asylum seekers has been astonishingly right wing of late, and a car making factory in the Midlands is to be shut down, creating unemployment. Or the fact that some people seem incapable of making any noise without resorting to violence. Ironically, one man seeped in the established elite, a man perceived so alien to the protesters that if there had been a statue of him it would almost certainly would have been attacked, did more for the whole cause than any of the thugs put together. On May Day, the Pope in Rome called for the reduction in, or cancellation of, Third World Debt. Maybe they could learn from him.


RDR RECOMMENDED SITE OF THE DAY: Check Al-Ahram, my newspaper of choice when I lived in Egypt.

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