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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Controlling contentious politics

The two contentious political mobilizations were the Dissent! network and the G8 Alternatives. These were two distinctive networks with separate organizational and ideological agendas, although it is reasonable to assume that on an individual level there may have been some crossover, with activists attending various actions and events of any of the three mobilizations. Both mobilizations were adversely affected by the MPH coalition and the influx of superior resources which changed their political standing in the AGM field.

The G8 Alternatives mobilization started at 5.30 p.m. on Friday 1 July 2005 and ended at 8.00 p.m. on 6 July 2005. Friday 1 July through to 3 July consisted of plenaries, workshops and rallies hosted by various speakers from a range of organizations. The other part of this mobilization was a protest on 6 July at Gleneagles to mark the commencement of the G8 summit. This mobilization had significant forms of capital; but the agents and the organizations who took part had capital that did not match the now transformed AGM field. The various forms of capital of the public intellectuals had less value than that of the philanthropists, rock stars and politicians involved with MPH. The public intellectuals such as George Monbiot, Susan

George and the leaders of Stop the War Coalition, Globalise Resistance as well as other organizations have very little economic capital, which can affect the dynamics of this field. They have enough to stage small rallies and possibly hire out halls, or even use monies that have been donated, but this is very small in comparison to the resources available to MPH. The cultural and concomitant symbolic capital was very local and particular to those who are interested in contentious politics. These agents and institutions have had little recognition outside of their mobilization. Similarly, the social capital was significant, but only to those who were already involved, which included no more than around 10 organizations and approximately 6000 people.3 If we compare this to the 250,000 people who turned out for the MPH demonstration then the G8 Alternatives are significantly smaller in number. Any mobilization which wishes to mount a significant campaign has to have critical mass; G8 Alternatives was unable to build any such mass because of the restrictions imposed by elites and the purchasing of street trading licences by Oxfam. Furthermore, those in MPH did not connect up with G8 Alternatives as they were already affiliated to the MPH coalition, which was regarded as the main event because of its superior resources and its high profile.

The most significant control imposed, however, was on the day of action - 6 July.

I arrived at Waterloo Place in Edinburgh city centre at 10 a.m. hoping to catch a bus or coach to go to the Gleneagles meeting point. There were large queues, several buses left before it was my turn to board. At 11 a.m. coaches that were due to arrive had still not come. People became agitated by this and the rumour that the police had cancelled them had filtered through the crowds waiting. Trains had definitely been cancelled. Within minutes the crowds held an impromptu demonstration in the city centre, which lasted up until 4 p.m. (Field notes, 6 July 2005)

The coaches and buses to Gleneagles were cancelled, later reinstated, but then diverted over hundreds of miles, as they were now regarded by the authorities as part of an unofficial and possibly illegitimate mobilization. An interview with Colin Fox (leader of the Scottish Socialist Party) provides a first-hand account:

[T]here was roadblocks, there was a blatant attempt to stop coaches leaving Edinburgh, and when they did - the journey to Gleneagles is 41 miles, yet 214 miles we had to travel to get there because they sent us across country and back again. (Fox, interview in Gorringe and Rosie, 2008: 187)

This experience is easily contrasted with the following groups who were part of the MPH coalition:

Some protestors prove more acceptable than others. This was transparent in Chief Constable Vine's assertion that some protestors had been 'whisked...up to the gate [at Gleneagles]'. It transpired that those so facilitated belonged to Friends of the Earth and the Church of Scotland. (Gorringe and Rosie, 2008: 194)

The significance of these accounts is that had MPH connected up with G8 Alternatives, the latter might have been regarded as legitimate and the elites might have continued to be regarded as the opposition. Instead, when G8 Alternatives did reach Gleneagles, they were heavily policed and controlled; their demonstration was miles from the Gleneagles hotel, so those taking part in the summit meeting could neither hear nor see them. At the same time, certain members of MPH and Live 8 were in meetings with the politicians involved in the summit meeting. In short, the various forms of capital the G8 Alternatives had counted for little since the field had been transformed from one where they were recognized to one in which they were not.

The Dissent! mobilization was altogether different. As it was a loose network of affinity groups, there was no central leadership; it was decentralized. Like its forerunners, Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets, they never sought recognition from mainstream electoral politics, nor did they have any desire to connect up with other mainstream NGOs to provide them with legitimization. However, the symbolic status they had previously enjoyed was all the more reduced by the MPH coalition. The fact that the MPH coalition was politically endorsed by high-level government figures as well as long-standing cultural and charity organizations meant that Dissent! actions were seen as illegitimate and something that had to be controlled - as the MPH demonstration was the only official demonstration. At past global summit demonstrations the boundaries between direct action groups and some NGOs were more blurred; this is not to say that they worked together in any strategic sense, but there may have been, say, tacit cooperation, or at least a tacit agreement not to interfere with each other's mobilization. In Prague, in 2000, for example, protesters had separate colours to mark them off from each other, and each mobilization respected each other's stance as an oppositional one towards neoliberalism (Chesters and Welsh, 2004). MPH changed that dynamic and the boundaries between the three mobilizations were more clear, as the organizers of MPH were not willing to share the field equally with those from contentious political mobilizations. There were three key days of mobilizations for the Dissent! network I wish to refer to; each one illustrates the marginal position they occupied within the AGM field.

The first was on the day of the MPH mobilization, Saturday, 2 July, 2-5 p.m. Activists from Dissent! sought to disrupt or radicalize the MPH demonstration, as they viewed it as ineffectual and a march that would be welcomed by the G8.4 Some from Dissent! broke through the barriers the police had set up ahead of the MPH march. They waved banners which stated 'Capitalism Respects Acceptable Protests', the acronym of which is CRAP. This was meant as a satirical critique of the MPH coalition, led by Oxfam, since those who carried out this action believed that the demonstration was a form of acceptable protest which would do nothing to deal with real poverty in Africa or climate change. The protesters were quickly neutralized by the police and penned in for several hours. The media showed very little of this incident.

The next key day of action was Monday 4 July and was in two parts; one included the blockade at Faslane nuclear base, where Trident submarines are kept, and the other was in the city centre of Edinburgh. The former was in solidarity with CND and Trident Ploughshares, who would like US submarines to be removed from Scotland. According to activist writings: 'it was difficult to tell how much of a crossover there was between anarchists and peace activists' (Trocchi et al., 2005: 80-1). The result however was that the base was shut down for most of the day (2005: 80-1).

During this time, I observed part of another action in Edinburgh city centre, on Princes Street. This action was called the 'Carnival of Full Enjoyment'. The carnival intended to draw attention to issues concerning the conditions of work and consumption in a city like Edinburgh, and the resultant conditions of debt and working practices that make people unhappy concomitant to these lifestyle choices. The word 'enjoyment' in this context is meant to deliberately replace the word 'employment'. The following are excerpts from my field notes, which are observations of what happened at this event:

At about 12 p.m. a marching band, the Infernal Noise Brigade, marched down Princes Street, the police surrounded them within a few minutes. As soon as this occurred, some shops put out security guards and locked up premises. The police presence was quite high, and there seemed to be slight panic at the sight of this band. There were around eleven police vans, and nearly a hundred police who surrounded and penned in the band. The band halted and continued to play music. About a half hour later, two other activist mobilizations came onto Princes Street behind the police. One set of activists brought a stereo in a shopping trolley and it seemed that the idea was to have a 'carnival' in the city. This was very much akin to Reclaim the Streets type of action in the 1990s, which involved holding a street party whilst subverting and challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of capitalism.

On hearing the music, other activists and locals who were gathered around the outside of the police pen shifted their attention and started running up the street to follow the music and other activists. The police realized that the band were not the only activists on Princes Street. They quickly mobilized horses to try and disperse the activists further up the street, however, this did not have the effect the police thought. As the horses moved in activists shouted, 'Don't run! Don't run!', so the police stopped short. At this point I moved out of the way as riot police moved into the city centre and surrounded the activists having a carnival or party on Princes Street. Walking well clear of the riot police and the events on Princes Street, I walked around the corner of the Royal Society of Arts building and sat down on the wall. At the back there was a square where some police were standing in everyday uniform. It was here where the Clandestine Insurgent

Rebel Clown Army and other anarchists played games, such as Grandmother's footsteps; they tried to include the everyday police but were told not to touch the officers, and they did not. News reports claimed there were clashes between anarchists and police on Princes Street that lasted up until around 5 p.m. (Field notes, 4 July 2005)

Similar to the G8 Alternatives protests, the Dissent! protests were seen by the police as troublesome; hence the heavy presence (11 police vans and around two dozen police officers arrived within minutes). This is to be contrasted with the observations from the MPH march. It demonstrates that, within the rules of the political field, there is an acceptable form of political practice and, when this is not conformed to, that is, if it is impromptu or simply not sanctioned, then the space is closed down and arrests are made to control the space in which they occur.

In short, the rules of the AGM field had been transformed into something closer to the rules for what is acceptable in the political field, that is, controlled protests, which groups outside of MPH could not challenge as they had done before.

Wednesday 6 July 2005 was the day both anti-capitalist mobilizations (Dissent! and G8 Alternatives) planned to go to Gleneagles to protest against the G8.5 It was referred to as the global day of action. The problems for the Edinburgh contingent of G8 Alternatives have already been outlined; however, some did get to Gleneagles. The main tactic of people involved in Dissent! was to get to Gleneagles, break through the fences and get into the red zone, but also to form blockades outside hotels where delegates were staying who intended to go to the G8 summit.

I did not observe the Dissent! network actions since, as outlined, this network operates through affinity groups and I was not part of the mobilization nor did I have information about when or where exactly they were planning to carry out their actions. Therefore, the following information is from activist writings such as Harvie et al. (2005).

The Dissent! network set up camps in what were termed convergence centres. These are like mini-villages with washing and cooking facilities. Some of the space is designated for holding political meetings. Sometimes the term barrio is used, which is Spanish for neighbourhood; this is similar to the way in which the Zapatistas organized their communities. British anarchist groups have an affinity with these groups and still work with them (see chapter 2).

Some of the activists from the Dissent! convergence centres started to gather as early as 3 a.m., to try to avoid being prevented from going to Gleneagles. At 3 a.m., many of the affinity groups started to leave the convergence centres. Those from Stirling walked to the Ochil hills to light fires which were named 'Beacons of Dissent!' This action was intended to be viewed from the Gleneagles hotel where the G8 were meeting. Also from the Stirling eco-village/convergence centre, anarchists and other activists in affinity groups left to blockade the M9, which becomes the A9 road to Gleneagles. Although there was an overall plan to blockade roads to Gleneagles, this was loosely planned and there was no central direction, which fits with anarchist politics. Therefore affinity groups planned and carried out their own actions and would meet up with other groups if they so wished, or remain separate if they wanted. Activists from the Edinburgh and Glasgow convergence centres also started to leave at a similar time, with the intention of blockading hotels where delegates were staying. According to activist accounts, the Sheraton hotel in Edinburgh was targeted and the Japanese delegates who were staying there were delayed. Later, when the police cleared the blockade and the Japanese delegates were en route, anarchists crashed two cars on the Forth Bridge which delayed the Japanese delegates even further. Because of the blockades on the M9, the Canadian delegates never reached Gleneagles that day (Trocchi et al., 2005: 86).

At Gleneagles itself, a perimeter fence was erected as a barrier to activists. Activists from G8 Alternatives and from Dissent! broke through the fence and then ran up to the inner fence, which denotes the red zone. More police were flown in by Chinook helicopters; they made arrests and pushed the activists back in to the 'safe zone' (Gorringe and Rosie, 2008: 199). This was effectively the end of the protests against the G8 summit.

I interviewed activists from the Dissent! mobilization, and asked them about their thoughts regarding the MPH mobilization and how it affected their actions, the following are some responses:

Right from the start, when we arrived by train [in Edinburgh, evening of Friday 1 July] we were being filmed by the police... we were seen as the troublesome protesters. (Dissent! activist)

We have always held separate mobilizations from the NGOs, but this was different... the MPH mobilization wasn't opposing neoliberalism, unlike NGOs had done in the past. (Dissent! activist)

I now move to conclude this chapter and assess the usefulness of adapting Bourdieu's field concept to show how fields may be transformed by the influx of superior capital.

 
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