I’M long enough in the tooth to have been involved in a few political campaigns on issues of international concern. Looking back on the now distant days of my youth through to the present, they’re almost too numerous to mention.

From the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, to warning of insidious US intervention in South and Central America in the 1970s and 80s and more recently the disastrous war in Iraq and so-called “War on Terror”, I’ve marched, fund-raised and spoken out in a personal capacity. In a professional role meanwhile, whenever possible I’ve used my journalism to bear witness.

As I’ve commented before in this column, some of the best journalism in history has often been partisan, whether one agrees or not with the position of the writer, photographer, filmmaker or whatever.

You don’t need communist leanings for example to admire the work of the great American journalist John Reed, who wrote the incredible eyewitness account of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in Ten Days That Shook The World.

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Likewise, you don’t need to be a fascist to marvel at the visual power and dexterity of the documentary film work of the German director Leni Riefenstahl – Nazi propagandist as she undoubtedly was.

Just as journalist Donald Woods’s excoriation of apartheid rule in South Africa and his coverage of Steve Biko’s death in custody exposed the nature of racial and class injustice there, so John Pilger’s investigations into America’s war in Vietnam helped alert the world to what was actually going on in that South East Asia war.

Agree or disagree with the respective political positions of any of these people, there’s no denying that the one thing they all had in common was to put to the fore the cause of those about whom they were reporting or documenting.

It’s a modus operandi I think many of us who take to the streets in support of a political cause could well learn from. Which brings me to the ongoing protests against Israel’s war on Gaza that continue on the streets of Scotland and across the world.

The National:

Last weekend in Glasgow there was another such protest march and how good it is to see the momentum maintained. But while there, I couldn’t help notice that all too familiar trait that has been the hallmark of similar political protests time immemorial. I’m talking about those who attend determined to link other issues – albeit often politically progressive – to the one that has brought so many people on to the streets in the first place.

In itself there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this as those who oppose injustice, flagrant breaches of human rights, acts of genocide – in this case Gaza – most likely would feel the same way wherever it was happening in the world.

That though is only part of the story, for there are always those who attend such large gatherings, determined to grind their own political axes that bear little or no connection to the rally of the moment.

I’m talking here about the pseudo “revolutionaries”, propagandists, knee-jerk activists and outright mischief makers. The sort of blowhards that wouldn’t know a real revolution if it leapt up and bit them on their Che Guevara beret.

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It’s one thing if such folk do as they’ve always done and simply attached themselves limpet-like to any clarion call of the moment in the hope of selling a few party political newspapers – and I speak as someone who once did exactly this – or distribute a few leaflets on the need to rise up and overthrow the government – food for thought there.

But many of these “Citizen Smith” types peddle misinformation, or at worst, views that have a negative or no bearing on the cause in hand.

It took me a long time as a young activist all those years ago to realise that such distractions sometimes only serve to undermine the galvanising factor that often first brings otherwise politically unengaged people out on to the streets over issues like Gaza.

Most who made up the numbers on the march on Saturday like those gatherings before in Glasgow and elsewhere, are by and large motivated by humanitarian concerns. They instinctively and rightly know that first and foremost, alleviating the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is the top priority.

Yes, they might also recognise the wrongs of the Israeli government and our own Tory government’s complicity in this, but the connection in the immediate sense is by and large a human one.

It’s important not to misunderstand me here. Not for one moment am I suggesting that we shy away from challenging the political issues that have left Gazans and the Palestinian people suffering such injustice for so long.

The National:

But some speakers last Saturday seemed more angry with Police Scotland and Glasgow City Council than they did with what Israel is doing in Gaza. As far as I’m concerned there is a time and place for such grievances to be top of the bill, but Saturday wasn’t one of them.

The problem of course is that political causes like Gaza or the war in Iraq that bring so many on to the streets are easy targets for the tin-pot revolutionaries.

Few among them seem to realise too that sometimes all they do is help those in the UK Government hell-bent in their inept efforts to provoke the far right against the protests, or demonise them as “hate marches”.

In this respect the levels of political naivete shown by these self-proclaimed “state breakers”, is at times cringeworthy.

And before anyone thinks such crass political opportunism is solely the preserve of these urban “Wolfie Smiths”, it’s worth bearing in the mind that time and again we have seen elected politicians or those desirous of election jump upon political bandwagons like Gaza to further their own careers and bank accounts.

I’ve spent enough time in places across the world to have heard from people so often in need of global support express their gratitude for the way their cause is taken to the hearts of people far removed from the conflicts, famines and despots that plague their lives.

But I’ve also learned that they are quick to discern between those who genuinely care and those for whom their plight is a political meal ticket or means of axe-grinding for other ends.

In the case of Gaza or indeed any people suffering similarly, the moral of the story here is a simple one. When we campaign in their name, it’s their needs that must come front and centre.