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(en) The First London Social Forum* (October 2003): What have we achieved? - by Massimo De Angelis

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 21 Dec 2003 09:58:51 +0100 (CET)

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Achievements and ways of seeing.
At the end of the first London Social Forum (LSF) meeting on October 4th, we were
challenged to answer the question: what have we achieved? Judging from some e-mail
correspondence and comments circulated after the meeting, some of our "revolutionary"
critics believe we have achieved nothing at all.
How should we assess the achievements of our action? By comparing the results of our
actions to the intended results. Of course, we all share the aim to create a world
of peace and justice without exploitation. Among our movements, however, there are
different understandings of what are the intended results of concrete moments like
the LSF. Depending on your political outlook, you'll interpret it differently.

So, let us assume one firmly believes what our "revolutionary"
critics believe, that the possibility of another world is real only
through a classical model of revolution in which political power
is seized. And that in order to do so one needs a political party
with such and such ideas and interpretation of the world, a
party that takes the leadership. But that in order to build such
a party, its existing leadership must promote it through the
masses. And that in order to promote it through the masses
(meaning in order to get the masses accept the legitimacy of
the party as their leaders), you need to unify the masses
around few slogans provided by the existing leadership. There
it is, our critics are absolutely right here: according to these
intended results, the first LSF has achieved nothing at all!! We
met for a day, and talked and talked, but no common platform
was voted on the final plenary, nor have we "united" on a
common goal. Worst of all, we refused to use the word
"anti-capitalist" , and this was even seen by some as giving in
to the reformism of the Third Way. Finally, the "revolutionary"
interpreters of our day could certainly imply from our silence
that we were against the formation of local social fora,
perhaps because nobody rallied with passionate speeches for
the need of building organisations.

But now, let us think it in another way. Let us assume that one
firmly believes that the possibility of another world begins not
after a mythical revolution, but that the revolution to free
ourselves from the chains of ignorance and oppression,
exploitation and indignity, environmental pollution and torture,
starts here and now with the building of new social relations.
Such relations are not instrumental to liberation but rather
correspond to these processes. Thus for example, to fight for
refugees’ rights in this and other countries means getting
to know their communities, working and organising together,
reaching out with our values and being reached by theirs,
building a community of differences and meshing with "them".
It means finding concrete ways to help them overcome their
well-grounded fears of being kicked out a second time in their
lifetime (the first time was when "our" foreign direct
investments ruined their communities in their homes).

It also means reaching out to those individuals and
communities ruled by the self-deluded fear that their
livelihoods is threatened by refugees weighing on our "scarce"
state resources, when instead their pension funds are invested
in companies that lobby governments for cuts in social
spending, when instead the busyness of transnational
companies leads to fractures in world communities, wars and
environmental destruction thus producing refugees. To be
"anti-capitalist" here is not a declaration, but a practice of
building bridges, communities and human communication. It
involves questions of organisation, effective and imaginative
campaigning, building of alternative media, inter-personal
skills, open-mindedness, listening, knowing and learning when
to step back and when to push forward. Each of these involves
certain ways of relating to others. It requires that we all learn
from each other, that we are self-critical and that we keep
asking questions about the concrete goals and concrete

Or think about our fight for democracy, both as a way to make
collective decisions, and a way of relating to each other. This
implies that we must be vigilant that our collective powers to
do things (the decision making aspect of democracy) is
preserved in such a way that we do not reproduce rigidified
structures of power over individual minds and bodies. And
again, if we believe in a world of difference and dignity,
democracy cannot be postponed till ‘after the
revolution’, but must be constituted here and now through
concrete practices. Democracy must be learned by ourselves.
There is no teacher out there who can give us the model that
satisfies all the needs and aspirations of our pluralities, so
democracy must be self-taught. Again, we learn through
reflecting and acting on the ways we relate to each other.

Another mobilisation is possible!

When seen from this angle, the first LSF meeting has
achieved a lot, and we should recognise these achievements
as the foundations of more to come. What have we achieved

* First, we have achieved the first political gathering, for at
least a decade, in which a wide spectrum of movements small
or big have met on a plurality of issues with the openness
towards and prospect of reciprocal contamination.
Contamination here means not only that we interchange ideas
and actions, but that in the process of doing so we begin to
look at the world with each other eyes and begin to develop
corresponding ideas and actions. Is it sufficient? Of course
not, many movements were not "represented", many issues
were not dealt with. But within the political philosophy of
inclusiveness, this is only a start.
* Second, we have achieved the first political gathering in
which difference is not stigmatised or subordinated to this or
that priority; rather, it is fully recognised in equal dignity.
Trade-union activists and direct action groups, independent
media and political philosophers, parents’ groups and
anti-GM campaigners, feet-on-the-ground groups emphasising
the material aspects of our oppression, and heart-in-the-hand
groups reminding of the spiritual needs we all share. These
and others have begun to talk to each other. What will be the
outcome of their talk if they continue talking and acting on
what they talk about? Watch -- and participate in -- this space!
* Third, we have achieved the first steps in the direction of
meshing our identities and concerns. All these diverse
individuals and groups, each with their own language, systems
of signification and political culture have started a long
overdue process in the London (and indeed British) political
horizon: not "winning the argument" ¾ although many
arguments have taken place ¾ not recruiting ¾ although
some have attempted precisely that -- but rather, looking for
ways to bridge unconnected shores, and consolidate the
existing bridges.
* Fourth, we have therefore achieved the promotion of
network building among different struggles and issues,
expanding not only our awareness of the horrors of the world
in which we live in, but, more important, of the processes of
collective question raising: who are we? What do we want?
How do we organise to get it? (Yes I know, someone out there
has got all the answers already, . . . this is precisely their
* Fifth, we have achieved a rare political event in which we
were NOT rallied by VIP speakers into identifying ourselves
with their rhetorical slogans. Instead we spoke by talking to
each other, producing thoughts and contacts, plans for future
actions and dates for future encounters. In other words we had
a meeting in which we started to reach out. The next meeting
will continue the process of reaching out, and this is a
different mobilisation than the stereotype promoted by our
‘revolutionary’ newspaper sellers. Understand the
* Sixth, some of us achieved hope, others cunning, others
insights, and yet others a bed for the night.
* Seventh, we have achieved the delivery of a nice piece of
news to the friends and acquaintances of the participants.
Namely, London now has a space within which unity is not a
slogan, but rather a longing for a world that makes sense. The
working out of this sense is the process ¾ in which all are
invited to participate ¾ through which we discover our
differences, learn where they come from, translate political
and cultural vocabulary, ask difficult questions, recognise that
there are not easy answers, walking difficult walks, keep
asking questions, keep trying finding answers, and turn our
common answers into new organizational energy and
* Eight, we have achieved a good day. Therefore we hope
the space we have created can be repeated and can inspire
others to create their own space in their localities,
neighbourhoods, regions, and so on, so we can better spread
our dreams and coordinate our actions.
* Ninth, we have achieved new links on the LSF website
(www.londonsociaforum.org), behind which there are real
people connected to real struggling communities who want to
continue and extend this process.
* Tenth, we have achieved a gathering the organisation of
which DID NOT require voting, DID NOT exclude anybody,
DID NOT ask people to adopt a list of slogans, and DID NOT
ask people to join an organisation which has all the answers.
In this sense, the first LSF is the demonstration that another
mobilisation is possible, and another political culture is a
growing necessity.
* Eleventh, we have achieved the first step of what several
"revolutionary" critics said was not achievable in London or in
the UK.

Organising, but not an organisation.

Despite all those achievements, as the start of a promising
process, the pressures around us to turn our dynamic and open
organising efforts into a closed and static organization are
already mounting. We must be aware of these pressures, and
guard ourselves against them. We do not want to become a
clone of existing organisations or coalitions of organisations,
nor we want to be manipulated in serving other
organisations’ ideas of "revolution". Our way of doing
things has to be invented along the way as a creative process
of answering the questions posed by our organising journey.
Creativeness requires we are humble enough to admit we do
not have all the answers, honest enough to recognize that
among ourselves there are many different views, and firm
enough to stick on a difficult inclusive and participatory
process that does not alienate minority positions among
ourselves with voting defeats. On this last point, on the
contrary, we must be able to look at the dissonances of
disagreements and see in them not the opportunity to win the
argument, but a problem to acknowledge and to take on board,
a challenge for imaginative common ways forward. Organising
as open process thus requires time, and the building of trust
among us, and time and willingness to build trust is precisely
what our critics do not seem to have.

Thus for example, the final plenary session included a
resolution which sought to push the LSF into becoming ‘an
organisation’ by adopting a common platform -- or else we
would be and achieve nothing. Similar criticisms go back to a
year ago, when some of us started the process of constituting
a LSF. In public or in private, we were already accused of
simply advocating a talking shop, thus diverting energies from
the main task of ‘mobilizing’ people for the European
Social Forum (ESF) in Florence or for various campaigns.
Even worse, we were not even intending to lead the mobilised
masses towards some objective. In short, whatever our
numbers may be, we were a political non-entity.

We now encounter such responses again. There is a proposal
that the ESF should be hosted in this country next year, so
some of us have been trying to influence whether or how this
happens. We have criticised the way that majority voting was
used to exclude diverse views from the ESF this year (e.g. in
selecting UK plenary speakers), and we fear that such
‘mobilisation’ of majority votes may be used to seize
political control over the ESF in the UK next year. Towards a
possible solution, we have sought a commitment to open
procedures that encourage diverse participation and
Europe-wide accountability. In response to such concerns,
however, we have been told that we must get ‘serious’
and make a commitment to the UK bid to host the ESF, if we
want to have any influence or role. In other words, we are told
to become an organisation with political positions, to mobilise
or recruit members, and to elect delegates who will represent
them -- or else we are nothing.

Such a move would soon destroy our special achievements.
Instead we should continue the effort to create spaces in
which interchanges and contamination lead to new links
among struggles, so that diverse groups gain greater capacity
to represent their own views and aspirations. In other words,
the LSF can stimulate more creative and subversive ways of
organising, yet without becoming an ‘organisation’.
Just keep it open, inclusive, participatory and practice
democracy not simply as an efficient way to make decision as
in the case of our masters, but as an effective process to build
and meshing communities: there it is, the anti-capitalism that
it is "anti" by virtue of learning to be beyond it.

. . .the list of achievements is open . . .

. . .the open process is open to change . . .

. . .but it is closed to closure . . .
* [Ed. Note: An antiauthoritarian initiative the authoritarians
failed to take over - Copied from http://www.commoner.org.uk]

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