The 1st LSF: What have we achieved?

Massimo De Angelis

(October 2003)



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 means.

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 then?


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 . . .