G20 Protestors Call for An Alternative To the Neoliberal Order
South African activist Patrick Bond says beyond the media focus on burning cars in Hamburg, tens of thousands of protestors called for the G20 to adopt policies that tackle inequality and climate change
D. LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.
On July 7th and 8th, the G20, a grouping of the world’s 20 largest economies, concluded a summit in Hamburg, Germany. At the conclusion of the summit, G20 leaders issued a 15 page declaration. Nineteen of the 20 leaders were able to agree on all points made in the joint declaration, but Donald Trump could not agree with the other G20 leaders on the climate change language.
So the G20 broke with tradition and crafted a separate paragraph on Trump’s stance on the Paris Climate Accord and fossil fuels. That paragraph stated – quote – “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement. The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible.” And it went on to state, “We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris agreement.” The U.S. also managed to insert, however, a piece of text referencing fossil fuels which read – quote – “The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”
German leader, Angela Merkel, said she deplored the decision by the U.S. government to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, but she reiterated that all the G20 states other than the United States agree that the Accord is irreversible.
Now here to discuss this with us is Patrick Bond. Patrick is an activist and a professor of political economy at the Wits School of Governance at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. He was formerly the director of the Center for Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Patrick joins us today from Johannesburg.
Thanks for joining us, Patrick.
PATRICK BOND: Hey, it’s great to be with you. Thanks, Dimitri.
D. LASCARIS: So Patrick, you yourself were in Hamburg during the duration of the G20 Summit. And as my colleague, Jaisal Noor, discussed with you on The Real News a few days ago there were extensive protests in Hamburg and the media has widely reported on this.
I’d like to begin by asking you to describe these protests for us after we interviewed you, and in particular, were the protests largely peaceful or was there violence? And if so, who instigated that violence? And in general, how did the authorities react to these protests?
PATRICK BOND: It’s a very interesting problem because naturally the non-violent protesters – and there were probably 70,000 plus at the big protest on Saturday; a march that didn’t quite get to the site of the G20 Summit that ended a few kilometers away – but those protests and the messages coming out also of the non-violent Summit for Global Solidarity that had preceded the G20, those do naturally get undermined in a sense by the [inaudible 00:02:52] black lark use of a very militant confrontation.
But having been, really, right in the middle of those protests and with the non-violent protesters, there’s certainly evidence that the cat and mouse game that the police have embarked on in trying to shut down … In fact, not even really to arrest and detain them in a mass way; they didn’t do any kettling, they’ve only put 300 or so of the protesters under temporary detention. That, in a way, serves their interests, too.
And the police come in a very, very heavy handed way and they started “Willkommen in der Hölle,” their so-called “Welcome to Hell” initial march which was on Thursday night. And it was there that you could really get a sense that the police desired that kind of confrontation and regularly worked their way into the crowds. And were there was a non-violent street walk, with which I was very much a part of, the police used excessive force to clear. including the water cannons that are so well known now to the protesters. And it’s sometimes laced with tear gas or some pepper spray. But frankly, just outright beatings.
There were many injuries. The police themselves took about 200 of their own out of about 20,000 injured. But you’re right, you know it does overwhelm, those scenes of violence, those scenes for fancy cars being torched. The Jaguars and BMWs and Mercs were up in flames all over the city by Black Block groups. And that does undermine the general critique of the G20, which is a critique of the inability of our global elites to address the problems of the world.
D. LASCARIS: And taking into account the fact that there was some perhaps, albeit isolated, instances of violence, and these images on television of these fancy cars burning and so forth, do you think overall that the net contribution of the protests was a positive factor or a negative factor in the outcome? If so, how did they affect the outcome of the G20 Summit?
PATRICK BOND: I think it only glancingly delayed a few of the delegates, and there some talk that maybe the First Lady’s program was disrupted. Relatively marginal impact, in that sort of directly we had hoped that there’d been enough of the people to form a kettle around that G20, the big pole, the master.
However, that’s not really the point in the battle for ideas. And it’s there that I think the protestors and particularly the groups fighting along the lines of policy debates, we really did in that sense come out very strong. And the reason is simple, that for quite a number of years it’s been difficult to have major counter-summits, major protests at the G20 or G8, or even World Bank IMF events. We haven’t had the people on the ground ready to put their bodies on the line.
And something really happened in Hamburg when the hometown, the native Angela Merkel, born in Hamburg in 1954, brought people to a site very, very close the main autonomous, sort of bohemian zone, the Schanze, near St. Pauli, which is a well known, sort of progressive football and cultural and diversity site; another neighborhood where most of the battles took place, and that’s where I was staying.
And I really felt there the spirit of the critical forces in our societies came to life and were nurtured by each other. And the mutual aid in these processes, and the fact that the non-violent protesters largely wore black so as to make it more difficult for the police to distinguish the Black Fulcrum, the other protestors, all this led …
And the carnivalesque atmosphere of defeating the G20 by blocking many of the major intersections. On Friday, the city was really shut down, and Saturday it continued with that huge march. That really did remind me of that spirit from Seattle, and that was the sort of sense that global leaders are so far out of line with the reality of our world, we need to be in the streets and opposing them in a very public way.
And there we would look, of course as you said, at climate change as the single biggest threat to our and future generations, and to the natural world. And there as you said, the text that was produced was surreal, to have Donald Trump being applauded for trying to increase fossil fuels in a so-called “cleaner way.” The old idea that you could have a carbon capture and storage for coal, for example, was renewed. It was this ringing endorsement of nuclear.
So this text shows just how far out of touch with reality on climate change. And as a matter of fact, the Paris agreement is ridiculed by progressives in the climate justice movement for having no accountability system. And this was again shown very explicitly. Because as Donald Trump did this walk out on June 1st, and as the Paris Climate Agreement really has no provisions for holding anyone accountable, even those who stay in, it became evident that the only real hope to stop climate change, which would be to have carbon taxes that of a very substantial nature by the other 19 countries on the United States. This is something that even Nicholas Sarkozy, former French president, has endorsed, or Joe Stiglitz, the economist.
A strong endorsement for carbon taxes against the United States, it couldn’t even be raised in that polite company of the G20. It’s a real moment where you have to realize how little our world elites are doing, and how, therefore, this must turn now to the popular forces mobilized at the base.
D. LASCARIS: And you know, when I read that language from the communique at the outset, it was remarkable to me that the word that was selected by the 19 states that are purportedly in agreement about the need to confront the global climate emergency to describe the decision of the United States to withdraw from the climate accord was “noted.” They simply noted decision; they used a completely neutral language. There was nothing critical at all in the language they employed to discuss that, to describe the decision of the United States a major [inaudible 00:09:04] to withdraw from [inaudible 00:09:05] accord. And that suggested, at least on the face of the text, that nothing concrete was accomplished.
And you talked about the absence of carbon taxes, some kind of agreement, a meaningful agreement on carbon taxes. Was there anything else of a concrete nature other than this lofty rhetoric that the Paris Accord is irreversible, that was accomplished at this G20 Summit to deal with the global climate emergency?
PATRICK BOND: Not at all. And indeed, speaking to many of the German protesters that renewed their own commitment as they had done last year to do direct action against their own contributions. And the big contribution they’re going to make to slowing German use of fossil fuels is an occupation at the end of next month in a place where a Swedish, and now Czech, company is both mining coal and using it in the coal-fired power plant, the biggest in Germany. And that’s at the site called the EndeGelände Protest which thousands, five or six thousand, went to last year. I suspect it’ll be double or more this year at the end of August to try to block that coal supply, too, and the coal digging.
And this is one of those moments where the call from protesters to have those of us in G20 countries, and indeed, many of us who are not residents of G20 countries, to take much stronger action against the, let me call them “imperialists” and sub-imperialist alliance within the G20. Because the fact that they can so blithely endorse policies and practices that will completely blow the Paris agreement’s sort of mythical targets of one and a half degree Celsius rise in temperature suggests that now it’s really time – as we’ll see by the way in Argentina when they take up the protests at the G20 next year, as well as with the WTO in December – that these social activists from below now must work that much harder since the elites have given Donald Trump a free pass.
D. LASCARIS: Let’s talk about something, a region of the world that is certainly dramatically and detrimentally affected by climate change, but is suffering from a host of other colonial and post-colonial policies, namely, your part of the world, Africa and particularly sub-Saharan Africa.
When you spoke to my colleague, Jaisal Noor, about the summit last week, you talked about a G20 pact dealing with Africa. How in the end did the G20 deal with poverty and war in Africa, and with the refugee crisis that poverty and war have precipitated in the Mediterranean?
PATRICK BOND: Well, I think by any account, even those in favor of G20 legitimation, inadequately. And I say that because their intention when this began, especially with the compact with Africa that the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, began in March. He gathered five African ministers and heads of state, along with the G20 finance ministers, and he gathered them in Baden Baden, a resort, to hammer out how a G20 compact with Africa would ensure public subsidies for public-private partnerships, which are often real privatization strategies that go awry. And go awry for many reasons, including unaffordabiility to the recipients.
Even here in Johannesburg, with one of the very richest sites in Africa, the main PPP, or road system, road tolling, has been completely rejected by all the users. And the Austrian company involved is unable to get its money back, its profits, through the state having more or less conceded huge outflows. And that’s what Wolfgang Schäuble and his G20 finance ministers wanted to do.
The final communique doesn’t give them too much to work with. There are only seven countries from the continent out of 55 that have signed up; that have the sort of requisite capacity to attract multi-national corporations into these PPPs and into infrastructure investment, especially aimed at more extraction.
And since refugees are really crucial, it’s noteworthy that it was only, I believe it was Morocco and Tunisia, the two of the North African countries which have been sites from which refugees have come. But the really big refugee exporting countries, those like Libya that have huge stake payers, they’re not part of this at all. There’s just no way that they’ll have that sort of overarching state capacity. Hence the idea that both Angela Merkel and Schäuble are pushing a sort of supply-side argument against more refugees coming to Europe because, thanks to them, African economies will be much richer and more effective because of the compact with Africa, really makes no sense at all.
I think by all accounts as a result, the time with Africa as Macron did, the French leader, talking in a very derogatory way about Africa’s problems, these problems are largely the looting of the continent and the establishment of comprador elite regimes in various countries that serve western corporate, and also Brit’s corporate interests, the British Motor Machine.
D. LASCARIS: Just to focus for a moment on Emmanuel Macron, I understand he is, of course, the new French president who has been widely characterized in the mainstream media and the corporate press is being a centrist. And he gave a speech apparently in which he described the problems of Africa as “civilizational” and decried the fact that African women were having seven or eight children, something which to many of us sounded like a very bigoted thing; the type of thing you would expect to hear from a right wing colonialist power, not from a centrist who is planning to pursue a more progressive vision for the people of France. Is that what you’re referring to when you talk about his derogatory language about the crisis that Africa [inaudible 00:15:08]?
PATRICK BOND: Indeed. His resort to demography and he is, in a sense, echoing of Nicholas Sarkozy’s famous anti-Africa speech and putting the onus, blaming the victim, when Franc-Afrique, the relationship between Paris and its former colonial powers remains as predatory as ever. This is just shocking, and I think it’s a useful wake up call to anyone who thought that they might have any kind of friends in these two major European countries, France with Macron, and of course, with Germany hosting. But also Germany with a record of centralizing finance. Its destruction of the Greek economy is notorious, and its leaders – well especially its financial leader, Wolfgang Schäuble – trying to pretend that there’s a route for private investment. His multi-nationals like Volkswagen, with its emissions cheating; like Siemens with its record of bribery, to work with African states with public subsidies to privatize more of the decrepit social services. This really won’t fly. And I think when the G20 comes around next year, there’ll just be no progress to report and only seven sort of pliable states will have signed up without much more progress to be expected.
Even South Africa, the only G20 member from the continent, played no role in this. The finance minister more or less dropped out of last month’s proceedings due to his local corruption allegations here in South Africa. These are the kind of signals that it’s all talk. And indeed, you could say that about the entire G20 meeting.
In fact, Lawrence Summers, who was responsible for many crises as the U.S. treasury official, he was the Treasury Secretary and former president of Harvard, he wrote in the Financial Times that we’ll only really know what this G20 and what someone like Donald Trump can do at the point of crisis.
And I think it’s there, not just in the north-south power over Africa, not just in the climate catastrophe that brews slowly. But it’s when it reaches a crunch moment as we saw in 2008 and 9, that the G20 is needed. And I think compared to the last time around, this time when it happens again maybe a year or two years out, a major crisis, it’ll be found wanting. We found absolutely no grounds for any sense that the world elites had the coherence that they did back in 2008 and 9, at least to find a displacement of the crisis; that is, throwing money at the problem. You know, it just seemed chaotic.
I should just add that the major dilemmas on the world stage, like the Putin-Trump relationship and their meeting, or the North Korean peninsula is such a danger, or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Syrian, and now Persian Gulf with Qatar under pressure and the potential for more conflict in Iran, the South China Sea. All of the geopolitical flashpoints around the world continue to get worse and worse without the G20 having any apparent capacity. Not even mentioning aside from a couple of notions of fighting terrorism in unity, not even mentioning any systems, any United Nations Security Council or other means of addressing geopolitical tensions that follow from all of these underlying economic and political conflicts.
D. LASCARIS: This has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking to Professor Patrick Bond about the recently concluded G20 Summit. Patrick, thank you very much for joining us.
PATRICK BOND: Good to be with you. Thanks.
D. LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.