G8 no-show proves hard left is in tatters
Published 22/06/2013 | 05:00
VLADIMIR Ilyich Lenin may have used the German imperial war machine to help him get to Petrograd in time for the October 1917 Revolution but he was dismissive of the Germans' own ability to follow the Bolsheviks. If the Germans had turned up at one of Berlin's major train stations in preparation for a red putsch for power, Lenin noted with contempt, they would have first ensured that each and every one of them had bought their rail tickets as good citizens.
Something similar happened to some of the 21st century revolutionary vanguard with Lenin's dismissal of the Germans coming back to mind albeit concerning buses this week rather than trains.
On the Monday night of the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne resort around 100 to 150 anti-capitalist radicals stormed the far exterior fence erected to protect the world's eight most powerful people. The demonstrators sat down in the green hinterland between themselves, razor wire and riot police. However, the organisers of the march from Enniskillen to the barrier had called for peaceful protest. Then someone cried out that they would miss their buses back to the Fermanagh town. Rather than retrace their three mile journey to the fence, the fringe who broke through went for their bus. As the BBC's Nuala McCann wryly noticed, somebody in the crowd joked: "At least the revolution has a bed tonight."
There was no doubting the sincerity of many of those protesting on the road to Lough Erne and on the previous Saturday in Belfast city centre, whether their "cause" was opposition to fracking or global poverty. Nonetheless, two social forces suffered a major setback during the G8 in Northern Ireland: the far left and the republican dissident terror groups.
It is important, though, to decouple one from the other: the majority of far leftist groups are, to their credit, opposed to violence as a political tactic whereas the republican dissidents are almost addict-like in their devotion to arms. The hard left in general alongside the mainstream trade union movement, which organised Saturday's rally, have been consistently critical of the "armed struggle" and the use of violent street disorder as a manifestation of anti-capitalist rage.
While the unions deserve plaudits for keeping their march peaceful and dignified, the poor turnout and the lack of radical action at the fringes down in Fermanagh reflects the present weakness of the Irish hard left. Unlike their Greek, and to a lesser extent Spanish, counterparts they have no influence to force general strikes or force any government, north or south, to alter course and retreat from the politics of austerity.
The last major revolutionary upsurge in western Europe (leaving aside the popular Anti-Communist uprisings of 1989) took place as far back as 1968. From Frankfurt to Paris, London to Amsterdam, an educated but disenfranchised young generation rebelled against their parents and the establishment. The '68ers were the cream of the baby boomers, many ending up as foreign ministers in Red-Green coalitions, or newspaper editors or respected European broadcasters etc.
Their closest equivalents today were on display inside the concert arena of Belfast's Waterfront Hall last Monday morning; their enthusiasm for a black president, an American president, was obvious to all watching there and at home on TV.
This generation of the most educated and articulate pre-university students are not rushing into the arms of old revolutionaries with their Bolshevik slogans and insurrectionist rhetoric. They appear more attracted by the liberal gradualism of a black American Democrat than any new Lenin.
On Wednesday morning Matt Baggott, the PSNI chief constable, looked like a happy man. He had just presided over policing the most peaceful G8 in its history. Baggott was shrewd enough to remind reporters that there was still a real and present danger posed by the dissident republicans. Yet G8 was their golden opportunity to steal global headlines by staging a terrorist attack. They failed to do so because of the weight of an unprecedented security operation.
As someone who has met with the new IRA and other republican recalcitrants it would be extremely foolish to dismiss their capability to cause carnage and mayhem. They will be back. They are impervious to the pleas from clergy, left-wing veterans, politicians, policemen (even Matt Baggott asked them to stop this week) and least of all their former comrades, to ditch "armed struggle."
Above all else the trouble-free G8 in Northern Ireland underscored how marginalised and isolated the dissident republicans have been, supported by a minority although one whose socio-economic needs need to be addressed urgently.
As for the far left it has been a sobering experience that they cannot fire up the young with the type of anger and energy on the streets of Madrid, Athens or Istanbul.
The BBC 'Newsnight' correspondent Paul Mason has charted the "global revolution" in his book 'Why It's kicking Off Everywhere' – everywhere that is except the island of Ireland.