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Ozymandias | 18.10.2004 23:01 | European Social Forum | Free Spaces | Globalisation | Social Struggles

Concern has been expressed about the lack of reports of what the ESF was like and what kind of talks there were.... so there's a demand for this. That's why I put the title in capital letters so that it stands out amongst all the other articles. Hope that's ok :-)

This was my ESF, tell us about yours :-)

Well I'm still knackered recovering from three rather intense days but I'll try and convery some of my experiences, observations thoughts and feelings. I'll describe *some* of the seminars (etc) that I went to and also bang on about more general stuff about the ESF itself. I do have criticisms to make. That's not to try and dis the event and all the hard work that went into it, but feedback is important for all of us so there'll be some constructive criticism here, for what it's worth.

Firstly I want to say I thought the event was great. 3 days of discussion debate and plenty of chances to informally swap ideas with a range of different people with diverse perspectives. In addition to some pretty big plenaries (but not as big as those in Paris (apparently)) there were lots of smaller seminars and workshops talking about all kinds of different things.

I chose some events for the prominent speakers such as George Monbiot, John Pilger, Susan George, and Walden Bello. I think that's fair enough - I like reading their books so I want to hear them speak. But I also wanted to go to stuff organised by people I'd never heard of.

One of my favourites was the one on land-rights.

This was in two halves. First we had a couple of economists talking about the economics of land, natural resources, seeds, open-source software and how not just for the sake of equality but even from a purely efficiency-oriented utilitarian perspective, *ALL* these things which come from the COMMONS should remain in the COMMONS. And they talked about how common resources are 'enclosed' / 'appropriated' / privatised. Biopiracy was mentioned. And so was what is perhaps a lesser known concept - that we are PAYING FOR EVERTYING TWICE! How does that one work? Well, the first speaker told lots of good stories / scenarios / analogies to illustrate what would otherwise be quite abstract economic theory, and in the case of the idea I just mentioned here is the story:

A small businessperson wants to bulld a factory. She asks a local property owner for some land. He says yeah I've got a piece that's exactly the right size for your factory. He shows her the land. It costs £10k It's way out of town. They have to walk through forests and marshes to get to this land. There are no facilities there. She says. "Don't worry", he says, "I've got another piece of land, exactly the same size. It's closer to town, it's got good roads - intained by the local council, it's got a big housing estate, there's a brilliant school - people want to move into the catchment area so their kids can go there..." Great, she says, exactly the same size you say - I'll give you £10k for it then :-). "Oh no, not for this one, this one costs £110 grand - sure it's the same size but look at all the facilities!". OK fair enough, she says, so to whom shall I pay the extra £100k, the hospital board?, the school?, the people who maintain the roads?... "No, you pay me" says the landlord.

Some readers may think well bugger that, she's a petty bourgious petty capitalist so it serves her right she's getting ripped off by the bigger badder capitalist. But that's not the point - there is a debate to be had about whether small business can be more benign than big business and whether it should be considered more acceptable by 'anti-capitalists' and others in the global justice movement. But the point this speaker was trying to make was that you pay twice in our society because when land is privately owned, the landlord gets to charge you for land that happens to fall in an area that has benefits which have been provided by nature and / or by the society.

This private ownership of land wouldn't be such a problem if private ownership was reasonably fairly distributed among the people but it's not and when you've got that advantage you can pass it on to your kids so that my kid's will be paying rent to your kids and so on. It's like feudalism in a way.

He talked about how this kind of economics applies not just to land but to natural resources and seeds and intellectual property and all kinds of things which start off in the commons and end up as private property.

So... reclaiming the commons is what we need to be doing. But how do we do that? Some would suggest socialism, some would suggest anarchism, some would suggest something else. But that's another debate.

The second half of this session was given over to two female farm-workers / peasants / 'campesinas' from Galicia and Brazil. They were talking about landless peasants and the lack of access to land for those who want to farm it because of legal problems and the ever-increasing concentration of good land in the hands of big-agribusiness. And there was a woman from some NGO that campaigns for small farmer's rights in Latin America. All of which was fascinating. After the 'theory' of the economists' talks, this was the practical side of stuff. These women talked about their personal experiences and what I found most interesting was their description of the emergence of a feminist movement (particularly remarkable in the rather patriarchal society of Latin America)... a feminist movement emerging within and as a result of the struggle for land. It seems that when people get radicalised fighting one sort of oppression they start to get radicalised against other forms as well.

Other seminars, plenaries and workshops I attended included those on Palestine, Iraq, corporate power (some truly shocking facts about LOBBYISTS and the PR INDUSTRY!), climate change (good relatively grass-roots groups + good discussion from the floor), debt and the G8, "Aid for Privitisation", social/solidarity - based finance and various other odds and ends.

The latter was quite interesting. There was a bloke from the Triodos bank which invests in supporting co-operatives and small local enterprises and social, environmental (eg wind farms) or cultural projects, whilst avoiding funding the big corporations. It provides a (hopefully!) ethical (ie avoiding unethical investments) banking service in its high-street branches, while using the money account-holders deposit to finance socially useful initiatives. So it's not just about avoiding bad stuff, it's also about positively promoting good stuff and it provides credit, including mircocredit to the kind of people who are excluded by the mainstream banks. Instead of making a profit it focuses on the role banks are SUPPOSED to play in a proper economy. This event was called a "workshop" rather than a seminar and I was impressed that it really did live up to that name insomuch as that instead of sitting there listening to people give speeches we spend most of the time asking questions and having discussions as a whole group. And we were all sat around in chairs in an informal circle.

Social finance won't solve all the world's problems but don't knock it :-). What it is is yet another weapon in the fight for a better world. As long as we're going to have a market economy it's good that there are some banks who want to make a contribution to doing positive things rather than being profiteering parasites. So... NUFF RESPECT to the Triodos Bank. Good workshop :-).

I was a bit concerned at the big Iraw (and possibly Palestine, can't remember exactly - those two events seem to merge into one because they were quite similar and were held in the smae place) plenaries at the whole "by any means necessary" ethos that most people seemed to be going along with. Everyone seemed to be saying that you're either with the Iraqis or your with the Occupation. Now where have I heard that kind of sentiment before? ;-). The atsmohere there was electric. Galloway was egging everyone on in his own unique style - which I often admire but I found a bit scary this time.

What else.... George Monbiot tells us that unfair trade rules and international debt are killing even more people (actually quite a lot more people) than the Itaq war and that we must stop politicians from speaking and make their lives a big hassle until they drop the debt and replace global free trade with global fair trade. Sounds pretty good to me. OK it's not exactly WORLD REVOLUTION but if we wanted to stop the way, we should stop debt and the WTO - because they cause damage on a global scale that's responsible for massive death and impoverishment. I reckon it's a cause worth fighting, blatantly it'll make the world a better place. Sure there'll still be a lot of work to do but reformism is worth fighting for - we (obviosuly not eh same "we" in each case) got the vote for men of the elite, then working class men, then women, we abolished slavery, we got better conditions at work (seriously, the trots might disagree but they should try working in a 19th century factory and see the difference), civil rights in America, (just a small selection here)... these have been worthwhile reforms and so is an internatoinal overhaul of the global financial architecture. Maybe one day we'll abolish captalism itself but in the meantime, let's keep up the reforms because they do make real (if only partial) differences to people's lives.

Anyway, back to the ESF. walden Bello (of Focus On The Global South) says he'll be extremely disappointed if the G8 demonstratoins in Gleneagles is not the biggest demo against the G8 ever. We cheered. Let's not disappoint him (and more importantly eachother and even more importantly the peasant and working class people of the global south who deserve out solidarity).

...A bloke from Ghana (I think) made the case that the real debt is not the one owed by the south to the west but the one owed by the west to the south. He made a strong case for reparatoins for slavery and colonialism.

There's way too much to write about. I've got a whole exercise book packed with the notes I took. This has just been a small selection but it gives a flavour of events I went to.

For a bit of variety I will briefly mention the event in the culture tent with Asher D (from So Solid Crew?) and various other representatives of the UK hip-hop scene. They talked about fighting racism and discussed stuff with people in the audience. It was good to hear them making explicitly denouncing "neo-liberalism", "Bush and Blair" and the war on Iraq. I think they went on to do some live performances but there was something else I wanted to check out so I didn't see the second half of that session.

The demonstration was pretty big and colourful. A sea of placards and banners and giant puppets flooded the streets which became a carpet of fliers and leaflets.

OK now here's the constructive criticism bit:

Guys (and it *probably* mostly *was* guys), where were the recycling bins in Ally Pally? And what's with all the corporate food vans. OK so they were NOT uber-corporate (ie not KFC) but they were corporate nonetheless. The food was over-priced, the staff were underpaid (and probably not unionised), there were no (or very little) organic / veggie options. And so on. I heard in Paris, much of the food was organised by Jose Bove. And I heard that at the WSF in India, many of the participating groups had food stalls. That would have been great. The security guards were out-sourced. Ok, you get the idea, it was all a bit 'corporate' in this kind of way. It's all very well having lots of good seminars but the process itself is essential - we should be mirroring the kind of world we want to make possible. If we want an ethical economy we should be setting a good example at the ESF.

The website: £40k??? I heard there were activists with web-design experience willing to do it for free but were turned down in favour of an expensive corporate web-design company. I also heard that the decision to do this was taken in a way that was undemocratic, un-transparent and unaccountable.

The march was (ages ago) originally meant to be "for another europe in another world" but somehow it ended up being a STOP THE WAR COALITION / MAB / CND march. So how did that happen? Where's the accountability and transparency and democracy there?

Did Ken Livingstone buy the right to impose his vision of the ESF with his donation of £480? I heard that the Paris local government donated £3 Million with No Strings Attached. Who are Socialist Action? How come they supposedly wielded so much influence in the organisation of this *massive* conference when no-one's even heard of them??

We've never had anything like this in Britain before. And I wasn't in Florence or Paris. I prefer to be positive about the whole movement thing rather than go in for sectarianism or dismissive of anything that's not purer than pure in its ideological purity. So although the ESF was far from perfect, I want to say emphatically that I thought it was FANTASTIC. But I'm picking up on a lot of the criticism that's coming from not just the anarchists but basically everyone who's not SWP or GLA, and I think legitimate cause for concern.

I know there are those who want to write off the whole thing, but I don't think it's that bad. But I hope things ARE improved in terms of democracy and sticking to the fundamental princples of the ESF, next time we all get together in the spring of 2006 in Greece.

I sympathise with the anarchists who stormed the stage. I think that's cool, I think it's exciting, I think it's daring, I think it's big and I think it's clever ;-). Seriosuly, the SWP people get so worked up about all that but I think it's a healthy form of dissent *within* this movement of dissent. The SWP think they have the moral authority to disrupt the G8 but they don't think the anarchists have the moral authority to disrupt them. I disagree. It was a good tactic for drawing attention to worrying trends in the way the ESF has been organised this year. I thought the end result was pretty good but if the trends continue we could see the ESF go the way of er.... (for example) the Labour Party Conference or something. Let's keep the ESF grass-roots, bottom up, accountable, democratic, transparent, free from corporate influence and as free as possible from the influence of any public money that helps to fund the event (as debt/aid campaigners would put it, NO TO CONDITIONALITY!) and let's make sure the event isn't hijacked or dominated by any one organisation or group of organisations.

Back on the anarchist intervention thing, I am however concerned that they punched one of the speakers (a while bloke punching a black bloke in an anti-racist debate is not cool!) and nicked his mobile and his wallet. But maybe that's not true. But if it is then that sucks.

But I heard that they said they'd only take over for 30 minutes and that they stuck to that and that they also let a translator and a food-selling worker complain about their concerns and that the majority of delegates welcomed the concerns raised by the anarchists and cheered several times. So put that in your pie and smoke it, comrade SWP person ;-).

I reckon we should eventually aim to no longer be taking money from the state. If all hte NGOs and trade unions and left parties (but keep an eye on these guys :-) !), community organisations and activist groups (etc) all put in what they can afford - and try to make sure that the big organisations put in roughly the same amount of money so that none of them are dominant) then we should at least have more autonomy going on than if we continue to rely on public money. If we are going to take public money we should make sure there are no ideological strings attached.

What else... I heard that Ken set up an ESF office with staff that he chose.

Um... ok, you get the general idea.


Well apart from all that, some positive proposals include getting rid of plenary sessions. The WSF is apparently doing that. Let's focus on the smaller seminars and workshops and whil there'll always a place for listening to speakers (especially those from people's movements of the global south, for example) there does need to be a greater emphasis on discussion amongst ourselves.

Anyway, regardless of how much better it COULD have been, this is first thing like this we've had in England - well, there's the Earth First Gatherings, there's Shared Planet (the conference of the student activist network People&Planet, there's Marxism and probably other stuff... but this is the first enormous and international global justice / anti-corporate globalisation / anti-capitalist / green / international solidarity / etc... event that we've had in this country and I think over-all it was enormously positive.

Didn't go to much of the cultural stuff but I liked all the exhibitions of art and photography and subvertising and all the rest of it. And it was good going around all the stalls talking to all the different groups, picking up leaflets and maybe buying a t-shirt (didn't in the end, got quite a few already).



Display the following 5 comments

  1. nice one, thanks! — hamartia
  2. reports — query
  3. Good Report — H
  4. eh? — Ozymandias
  5. In defence of indymedia — mini mouse
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