Back in 2004 I attended the London European Social Forum. I had been writing and involved in activism and campaigning for a few years by then, and was beginning to struggle with notions of party politics. At the time the Green party was positioning itself as the egalitarian and progressive voice in the UK but with little electoral success, while the Labour party was still firmly in the clutches of the neoliberals, and the socialists within the Labour party had been all but silenced within Westminster. At that time, it was quite obvious that democracy in the UK did not represent progressives. I went to the London European Social Forum looking for solutions.
With the wars still raging,the globalisation agenda of the neoliberals and organisations like PNAC on the radar of the left, the World Economics Forum was fast becoming a focus for the progressives. Historically the meeting of the ‘Masters of the Universe’ at Davos had been largely overlooked by the mainstream media. But as the the anti-globalisation movement gathered pace, and the ‘Masters of the Universe’ seemed to be unshackling themselves from even the illusion of democracy and humanity, a confrontation seemed inevitable. After Genoa in 2001, even the mainstream media began circling, albeit with an air of blood lust about them.
In Florence in 2002 and then Paris in 2003 the various movements were increasingly finding their common ground. The WSF and the ESF were bringing together campaigners against war, arms, capitalism, climate change, poverty, racism, sexism, and even classism. Many have since argued that the 15 February 2003 global day of action against the war, only became a realistic possibility due to the negotiations held in Florence in 2002. So by the time ESF reached London in 2004, the anti-establishment fervour was simmering nicely.
At the time, I was personally going through a series of realisations. It was increasingly apparent that many of the campaigns I gravitated towards, were focussed on constituent mechanisms within a wider framework of inequality and the disproportionate apportioning of power. Climate change, war, democratic illusions, institutionalised racism and sexism, class inequalities … all of them seemed to be stemming from the same overarching framework, the global alliance of international free-market capitalists and domestic ruling classes, often hiding behind undemocratic electoral systems. Time and again, the more I looked into the driving forces behind the worst crimes against humanity,the more I kept finding the same architects and the same beneficiaries.
For me, the European Social Forum represented the potential of the powerless coming together, on equal terms, and finding areas of agreement to work together to better the lives of everyone. I expected to find true democracy and egalitarianism at work. I was wrong, and according to some not just a little naive. The problem isn’t that some think they know better than others, it is that some think that they can coerce or bully others into supporting their position. Those most vocal on the right will always be power hungry parasites, it is fundamental to their world view. But for me, I expected better from the left. And for the vast majority of attendees that was the case. But there was a small minority that sought to subsume the energy of everyone else to bolster their own egos.
In more recent years I have come to see just how often, the undercover secret police use, what is a fairly transparent strategy. Coralling dissent into hierarchical groups, infiltrating the controlling minority within those groups, and then shepherding them towards discrediting or weakening themselves. It has been the bread and butter of the establishment. One need only look at the recent history. But it is not just the establishment, there is also a small minority within the progressive left that see large groups of people coming together as an opportunity to elevate their own status. It is not surprising in political parties, it is the underlying principle of heirarchical party politics … but when people are putting their lives on the line for a cause that means everything to them, I take issue when others try to coerce and corrupt them.
The London European Social Forum was a turning point for me politically. If an organisation that claims to be progressive, demonstrates what I would consider anti-democratic or authoritarian behaviours I want nothing to do with it. From the international to the national, from the local to inside the home, it can never be about a minority dictating to a majority, after all, that is exactly how we got into this mess.
In October 2004 I wrote an article about the history of the ESF, the event in London, and my feelings towards it. The article was just under 1,800 words long and PeaceNews published it in December 2004. To read it here or to download a .txt version please click through to the page.