The Birth of Something New

Article excerpt

Recent protests were a reminder that politics is about power, which is always contested.

Among the gloomy prognoses of the protests in Genoa during the G8 summit in July was the view, held by many commentators, that politics itself was under threat. If the world's biggest nations cannot hold a meeting without violent disruption, then what does the future of politics hold? The procrastination and dispute over whether to shift forthcoming summits and meetings -- made even more urgent by the terrorist attacks on the United States -- confirm the unease felt by the global political elite.

Indeed, this unease is apparent among politicians themselves. Tony Blair, for example, has been a constant critic of the anti-globalisation demonstrators. "The issues they are complaining about are the very issues we will be discussing at the summit," he said about Genoa. On one level, his reaction expressed incomprehension of the need to demonstrate at all: it was a juvenile distraction, outside the realm of real politics, and unhelpful in solving the world's problems. On another level, Blair's response betrayed the current government's outlook, and its attempt to replace ideology with "managerialism". In this scenario, focus groups do the research, politicians spin the message and electors consume the product. Politics, such as it exists at all, is contained somewhere in the space between "goals and outcomes."

Genoa revealed that this conception of politics -- that politics consists essentially of what politicians do -- is too narrow. On the one hand, it confirmed in stark and brutal ways the dangerous disparity that now exists, on both a national and global level, between the "leaders" and the "led". On the other hand, it provided a vivid example of the unlimited boundaries of politics in the present era, with the internet facilitating campaigns, solidarity and spontaneous protest, with alternative summits redefining globalisation, and with public murals and other artwork illustrating the huge imbalances of global power and inequality.

In other ways, Genoare affirmed the importance of some core principles of politics. It showed, for example, that ideology remains crucial to politics. The boundaries between left and right may not be as clear-cut as they were in the past, but they remain central in understanding the underlying dynamics of movements that seek change or governments that make policies. …