This year’s annual Group of 8 summit is almost upon us. From 7th-9th July, the leaders of the G8 countries will meet at Lake Toyako, on the northern island of Hokkaido, here in Japan.
Over the next two weeks I am going to be writing about various G8-related events, with special regard to world agriculture, domestic Japanese issues, and the alter-globalization/anti-capitalism movement’s reaction to the current world crises.
For a very detailed summary of issues regarding this summit please read “The 2008 G8 on Hokkaido, a Strategic Assessment”, written by activists, scholars and writers based in the United States and Western Europe.
It is a long piece, but reading it would be time well-spent. It actually preempts a lot of what I wanted to say in this post, (even down to my not-so-original title) and so I will intersperse my writing with some quotes from it.
The end of globalization
2008 should be a crunch year for the G8 and their detractors. The future of the current world economic system is looking decidedly shaky due to commodity shortages and the resulting price rises. These are problems which nobody is predicting an end to any time soon.
There have even been suggestions in the mainstream media that we may be seeing the death-throws of the neoliberal project. In The Times we hear “Oil price crisis threatens to reverse globalisation”. From Bloomberg we have had “Free Trade in Food Is `On the Ropes’ Amid Shortages, Price Rise” and also the following commentary:
The liberalization of global trade has come “to a screeching halt,” said Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “It’ll take years to rebuild the foundations of free-trade policy…
Fueling the backlash is a convergence of trade-related anxieties: national-security concerns, worries about food safety and sufficiency, the desire to protect local jobs and the environment.
Victory for the protesters?
What does this mean for the anti-G8 movement? For years they have been protesting against neoliberalism, so-called “free trade” agreements and the exclusively profit-driven market economics which have lead to a growth in inequality across the world. Now these systems are apparently on the brink of collapse.
The G8 Strategic Assessment has this view on the causes of the situation (Chapter XIV):
To a large degree, it is the effect of a sudden and extremely effective upswing of popular resistance—one all the more extraordinary considering the huge resources that had been invested in preventing such movements from breaking out.
On the one hand, the turn of the millennium saw a vast and sudden flowering of new anti-capitalist movements, a veritable planetary uprising against neoliberalism by commoners in Latin America, India, Africa, Asia, across the North Atlantic world’s former colonies and ultimately, within the cities of the former colonial powers themselves. As a result, the neoliberal project lies shattered…
At the same time, the top-heavy, inefficient US model of military capitalism… has proved so wasteful of resources that it threatens to plunge the entire planet into ecological and social crisis. Drought, disaster, famines, combine with endless campaigns of enclosure, foreclosure, to cast the very means of survival—food, water, shelter—into question for the bulk of the world’s population.
“Another World is Possible”, the slogan of the World Social Forum among others, should now read “Another World is Inevitable”. But what sort of world will this be?
This is a vital question, as there is no certainty that the turbulence ahead will yield the positive changes social activists would like to see.
The G8 Strategic Assessment comments on this danger (Chapter XX):
…a different world is inevitable because capitalism—a system based on infinite material expansion—simply cannot continue forever on a finite world. At some point, if humanity is to survive at all, we will be living in a system that is not based on infinite material expansion. That is, something other than capitalism.
The problem is there is no absolute guarantee that ‘something’ will be any better. It’s pretty easy to imagine “other worlds” that would be even worse. We really don’t have any idea what might happen. To what extent will the new world still organized around commoditization of life, profit, and pervasive competition? Or a reemergence of even older forms of hierarchy and degradation?
I can’t help feeling that there is a real possibility of the anti-G8 movement being caught unawares by the pace of the change beginning to sweep the world.
It is likely that the global powers will fight to retain their positions of privilege, and that they will take the planet down with them. Policies such as their continued acceptance of biofuels (despite all of the recent condemnation) and the promises of accelerated coal extraction to fuel their continued denial of the limits to growth, will lead the planet towards drastic shortages and severe climate change. Activists will want to continue battling these policies with all their might.
However, this might mean that they are distracted away from what is occurring among a much wider group; the world’s population at large, suffering under the destructive policies of the elite. Governments are rightly scared of the unpredictable nature of civil unrest caused by that most fundamental of worries; shortages.
The time is now
Fuel related labour strikes are sweeping Europe and food riots are reported across the world as people starve for want of a domestic food industry unravaged by transnational corporations and the World Trade Organization.
Last week in Japan, squid fishermen went on strike, their profits being hit as the fuel needed for their boats and lanterns continues its inexorable price climb. This unrest is now spreading, with the whole fishing industry here agreeing to a one-day strike in July.
In a economic depression such as that which is likely to follow world-wide energy shortages, there is the danger that extreme anger will lead to some extreme political positions gaining popularity among the masses.
What is beginning as anti-immigrant violence in South Africa and a drive to fingerprint Gypsies in Italy could lead to a far worse situation if unchecked. People will need to be offered an alternative, but how will the anti-G8 movement harness the world’s anger and confusion and divert them towards positive change?
The G8 Strategic Assessment on the need for an alternative (Chapter XIX):
The last time the system really neared self-destruction was in the 1930s, when what might have otherwise been an ordinary turn of the boom-bust cycle turned into a depression so profound that it took a world war to pull out of it. What was different? The existence of an alternative: a Soviet economy that, whatever its obvious brutalities, was expanding at breakneck pace at the very moment market systems were undergoing collapse. Alternatives shatter the sense of inevitability, that the system must, necessarily, be patched together in the same form; this is why it becomes an absolute imperative of global governance that even small viable experiments in other ways of organizing communities be wiped out, or, if that is not possible, that no one knows about them.
It is more difficult to provide alternatives when global leaders are able and willing to use powerful state apparatus to repress dissent.
The Japanese government is not showing quite the same level of repression as was present in the early 20th century, when anarchists were executed and left-leaning publications and political parties were banned (the Special Higher Police from that period, introduced to deal with wayward political opinion, were known by the Orwellian term “The Thought Police”).
However, there are a few examples of what can be considered heavy-handed police action in the build-up to the summit. Last month 38 students were arrested for demonstrating against the G8 at Hosei University’s Ichigaya campus, close to where I live. Also, 3 weeks ago, an anarchist activist named Tabi Rounin was arrested in Osaka on a minor charge, but was later released.
Meanwhile, as activist Arudou Debito has brought to public attention, the police have been stepping up their use of racial profiling in Hokkaido, frequently stopping foreign-looking people because they fear that they might be “terrorists”.
Also from Debito’s website are these interesting flyers, which were apparently handed out on Friday 13th June in Roppongi, a popular area for foreigners in Tokyo:
One of the things that the Azabu Police Force say they want to prevent is “radical activism”. The Japanese flyer has in its place simply “gerira”, Japanese English for guerilla. This term is quite vague and could cover pretty much any activity the government disagrees with.
Despite all of this, there are a series of anti-G8 activities planned, and international protesters are surely to be involved in various ways. Last Sunday I went to a meeting regarding the campsites being organised for Hokkaido. A good summary of what was talked about can be found in a copy of email on Gipfelsoli entitled “Japanese Mobilization G8 2008″. This is the introduction:
Everything is in full swing here in Tokyo. The atmophere is vibrant and the Japanese are very well organised, although there are far too few of them to get everyting done. For the Japanese activists it is nearly the first time ever to have an international protest. So any and all help from everywhere is greatly appreciated. Also it is still not too late to come to Japan! Everybody is looking forward to share experiences and get more international connections and networks.
To sign up for the use of the Independent Media Centres in Sapporo, Hokkaido, visit G8 Media Network.