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(en)The European Social Forum: [Authoritarians & reformists of the left] Sovereign and Multitude

From "anarcho sando" <anarcho_sando@hotmail.com>
Date Fri, 18 Oct 2002 07:38:39 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

'There are [...] two primary positions in the response to today's dominant 
forces of globalization: either one can work to reinforce the sovereignty of 
nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and 
global capital, or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the 
present form of globalization that is equally global.' [1] (Michael Hardt.)

'Rarely has the corruption of political and administrative life been so 
deeply corrosive; rarely has there been such a crisis of representation; 
rarely has disillusionment with democracy been so radical. When people talk 
about a "crisis of politics", they are effectively saying that the 
democratic State no longer functions - and that in fact it has become 
irreversibly corrupt in all its principles and organs; the division of 
powers; the principles of guarantee; the single individual powers; the rules 
of representation; the unitarian dynamic of powers; and the functions of 
legality, efficiency and administrative legitimacy. There has been talk of 
an "end of history," and if such a thing exists we might certainy identify 
it in the end of the constitutional dialectic tto which liberalism and the 
mature capitalist State have tied us.' [2] (Antonio Negri.)

>From the 6th to the 10th of November 2002, the European Social Forum (ESF) 
will take place in Florence, Italy. This meeting of activists, NGOs and 
political groups follows the second World Social Forum (WSF) [3] which took 
place in Porto Alegre, Brazil during February last year and was attended by 
between 50,000 and 70,000 people.
Discussions at Porto Alegre centred largely around organisation against 
destructive corporate practice, ?Third World? debt, and the general problem 
of global neo-liberal economic policy. But many regarded the way in which 
discussions were framed as suffering from a preponderance of party-political 
and state-centric interests amongst the WSF's organisers, particularly the 
PT (Workers' Party of Brazil, who used the WSF as a stage for their upcoming 
elections), ATTAC (with its close links to French politicians, notably 
Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who advocate strengthening national sovereignty as 
a solution to the problems of contemporary globalization), Le Monde 
Diplomatique, and the Association of Brazilian Businessmen for the Citizens. 
A wide range of WSF panels were composed of European politicians, 
legislators and NGO representatives, including Ministers from France, 
Belgium and Portugal who had only recently voted to support the attacks on 
Afghanistan and the present 'War on Terror'.

This decoration of the Social Forum by the Center-Left politicians smacked 
to some of an opportunist polishing of progressive credentials (three of the 
official French delegates, for example, were running for Presidency at the 
time), and was vehemently protested by members of anti-capitalist groups 
like MRG Catalunya-International, inspired by the People's Global Action 
(PGA) [4], as well as 600 attendees of the alternative Jornadas Anarquistas 
- 'Anarchist Journeys' - who occupied a three-storey house in order to 
emphasise that, as one IMC (Independent Media Centre) poster put it, 'Porto 
Alegre isn't the social democratic paradise that the PT makes it out to be.' 
By way of confirmation of this position, later IMC posts reported that local 
police, under the command of the PT and dressed in full riot gear, quickly 
surrounded the house, nearly running over one squatter in their attempts to 
clear it.

Undoubtedly the question of whether the State should properly be involved in 
resistance against neo-liberalism is one yet to be answered by many 
interested in limiting the patent depredations of capitalism. The occupation 
of the most visible and dominant spaces of the Porto Alegre Forum by 
sovereigntist perspectives, and the accompanying disenfranchisement of the 
non-sovereigntist, horizontally organised political formations that make up 
the bedrock of today's anti-capital movement, quite simply prevented this 
question from being properly framed, let alone answered, at the Forum.

The commitment to multilateral, diverse organisation expressed in Porto 
Alegre's Call of the Social Movements [5], is important in this respect. 
Proposals at Porto Alegre that 2002's European Social Forum organise itself 
as an 'open meeting space for in-depth reflection, democratic debate of 
ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and planning 
of effective action among entities and movements of civil society? [6] might 
be seen as answering, however weakly, the charges of statist/sovereigntist 
bias in the organisation of the WSF. Yet hopes that a proper dialogue 
between the two positions could take place within the ESF have been 
disappointed, as the terms of the ESF's organisation have once again 
presented themselves as problematic to many groups on precisely the same 
grounds as that of the WSF.

The ESF's organisation has been formulated largely by a co-operation between 
the Disobedienti (or 'Civil Disobedience', formerly known as the Tute 
Bianche / White Overalls), spearheaded by Antonio Negri, led by Luca 
Casarini and based in North East Italy, and the Rifondazione Communista 
(RC), a national far-left group which splintered from the previously 
encumbent center-left party Democratici della Sinistra (DS), and which sits 
in Italian Parliament with roughly 6% of the national vote. Some regard this 
alliance between the statist-leftist RC, who have made it their open aim to 
?contaminate, and be contaminated by? the anti-capital movement, and the 
?Zapatist? Disobedienti to be rather an unholy one, especially since it has 
effectively bought the Blairite DS a direct role in the ESF?s organisation.

The Forum?s location in Florence, locally ruled by the DS party, is not 
insignificant in this respect. The resources the DS are able to offer in 
Florence - a conference center, accomodation, satellite uplinks, and so on 
and so forth - are obviously attractive to the Disobedienti / RC. Obversely, 
by cooperating with the Disobedienti and providing access to its own 
tax-funded, party-political infrastructure and that of the DS, the Leninist 
RC is able to promote itself as being ?side by side? with active 
'non-statist' anti-capital groups. And as at Porto Alegre, the organising 
Disobedienti/ Democratici della Sinistra / Rifondazione Communista nexus has 
undoubtedly been able to allocate time, at the ESF, to groups that fit 
within the more traditional statist framework, with NGOs such as ATTAC once 
again looming large. Indeed, the ESF is beginning to look like a 
straightforward progression from Porto Alegre, a replay of the flocking of 
extra-parliamentary groups to a local arm of a statist power, this time in 
the shape of the Democratici della Sinistra rather than the Workers' Party 
of Brazil.

What is now being articulated in the weeks running up to the ESF is that 
this process of alliance-building, underway in Italy since the the Genoa 
Social Forum and the 2001 G8 summit and recently derided by the journal 
DeriveApprodi in its ?Open letter to the European movements?, must not be 
allowed to bring the project of articulating non-state modes of resistance 
and alternatives to capitalism to a standstill. Many feel that the 
uncomfortable alliance between the highly heterogeneous elements organising 
the ESF, each with their very different histories and political cultures, 
will once again distort the discussions that urgently need to take place in 
Florence. It is in this context that calls a for a new plan for Florence 
have found voice, one which more closely follows the principles laid out in 
Porto Alegre?s 'Call of the Social Movements.' People?s Global Action, 
unwilling to turn its back completely on the ESF, which, after all, will be 
a moment of strong visibility in Europe, has been discussing at its recent 
European meetings producing a parallel space characterised by 
?decentralized, horizontal, assembly-based, and anti-authoritarian? 
principles - the same principles through which PGA itself is supposed to be 
constituted - ?a space that would maintain its autonomy with respect to the 
?official? space of the ESF, but at the same time remain connected, allowing 
for [...] intervention.? The idea is that this space would have ?one leg 
outside and another inside? the ESF, and that its participation in the ESF 
would take place through interventions in the context of thematic proposals 
in the official program, the incorporation of new issues, and discussion of 
the ESF itself as a political and organizational model.

A very recent meeting in Barcelona by a diverse collection of groups, 
squats, social centers, movements, and networks interested in the PGA plan 
concluded that the ambitions of this 'autonomous space' might not in fact be 
realised as conceived during this year's PGA meetings in Strasbourg and 
Leiden.[7] But it seems likely that the need to reflect upon and work 
through the processes of political production, to experiment with forms of 
expression and communication in the movement, will still be the foundation 
of some kind of concrete, alterior activity at the Forum.

Ur@action Hub, the name under which this activity is now taking place, 
explains its project as ?the creation of a place of crossover cooperation 
where common projects can develop [...] bartering practices and ideas, 
sharing transnational horizontal networks, affirming new social and 
communication rights, reclaiming public spaces on the net and the city [and] 
agitating for new conflicts across constituent Europe.? [8] The content 
areas proposed for the Ur@action Hub will probably be less constitutive of 
the meetings here than the ?infrastructural?, representational, processual 
and organisational issues that are becoming critical to the movement as a 
whole. One of the reasons for movement's effective political invisibility at 
the WSF is that traditional 'centralized' organizations have spokespeople 
who represent them and can be recognized; networks do not. The movement must 
solve the question of how to 'represent the unrepresentable' to prevent 
future WSFs from occuring. The questions of knowledge sharing, community 
decision making, possible infrastructures for many-to-many and peer-to-peer 
communications, and the status of free circulation of information against 
privacy and security, are critical in this respect, since it seems likely 
that the movement will have to pose multitudinous political involution 
against spectacular representality in order to depotentiate attempts by 
sovereigntists to close down avenues for such representation that are anyway 
inimical to its form.

Rather fishy in all of this is the intent of the Disobedienti, whose 
position in the sovereigntist/non-sovereigntist divide has become 
increasingly duplicitous over the last months. On the one hand, the group is 
patently working with the statist RC, perhaps thinking to achieve popular 
'legitimacy' after the accusations of troublemaking levelled at it 
post-Genoa. Such a strategy, apparently unlikely for a group whose resident 
autodidact Tony Negri has, along with other members of the Autonomia, 
consistently derided State power (see the quote above), makes sense in the 
context of the Disobedienti's own recent entry into local state politics.[9]

At the ESF, the Disobedienti have seized the chance to appear as ranking 
organisers, the ?movement? representatives alongside the Trots and 
Leninist-leftists. But simultaneously, their representatives have appeared 
at PGA meetings agreeing spiritedly with the problems of the ESF's 
organisation - the organisation they are actively part of - and the need for 
an alternative forum. Such political manoeuvrings. which seem to have done 
much to being the Forum into such clammy proximity with a center left party 
positioning for re-election, further evidence the relevance of the 
discussions and investigations into disclosure and information-sharing at 
the UR@Action Hub. Indeed, those discussions are necessary at every level, 
both to fight the emergence of the crypto-hierarchies that are troubling the 
movement at a variety of levels, and to begin to find ways of creating a 
public decision-making structure that can truly enact the distributed will 
of the multitude that Negri once spoke of so optimistically. Each and every 
person still interested in such a process should bring themselves and their 
ideas to the Ur@ction Hub space during European Social Forum. [10]

[1] Michael Hardt, 'Porto Alegre: Today's Bandung?' in Alt.media, 
republished on A-infos http://www.ainfos.ca/02/jul/ainfos00560.html>

[2] Antonio Negri, 'Constituent Republic', in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, 
Eds., _Radical Thought in Italy, A Potential Politics_ (Minn., University of 
Minnesota, 1996), pp. 213-222, p. 214.

[3] See http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/>

[4] See http://www.agp.org> for a description of the PGA and its hallmarks.

[5] Available at, for example 
http://www.mediasol.org/xarticle.php?id_article=1 448>

[6] From the ESF website: http://www.fse-esf.org>

[7] See, for example, the PGA discussion document at 
http://lists.myspinach.org/archives/pga-pacifika/2 002-August/000063.html>

[8] See http://www.fse-esf.org/article.php?id_article=171 > This document 
is only available in Italian at the time of writing.

[9] This has taken place through the standing of Italian Social Forums 
(which equal, practically, Disobedienti, RC, progressive leftist Catholics 
and occupied social centers) in which the Rifondazione Communista and the 
Disobedienti are actively co-operating: recognition by the parliamentarian 
RC may be an attempt to gain leverage there - crucially for the 
Disobedienti, who have not been doing terribly well in such elections to 

[10] In order to become part of the formation of this alternative discursive 
space, see the Ur@action Hub plan at 
http://www.inventati.org/mailman/listinfo/hub>. Check 
http://www.inventati.org/hub/calendar/> for the current ?programme?.

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