Liz | 01.11.2004 10:46 | European Social Forum
It also claims that the whole ESF organising process was inclusive from the start.
29 October 2004
We consider the organisation of a European Social Forum involving more than 20,000 people in Britain, one of the countries where neo-liberalism was born, is a considerable achievement for which we would like to congratulate and thank everyone who contributed.
The London ESF, like Florence and Paris, will stimulate discussion of a wide range of issues of policy and organisation, including many lessons and criticisms, and there is plenty of time for that discussion in the months to come.
We think it is important for the future of the movement, that a sense of proportion is retained when discussing differences, recognising that we have collectively organised the third of the most inclusive, diverse and internationalist conferences for social justice in Europe.
One issue, however, requires an immediate response – that is the introduction of physical violence by a very small minority to undemocratically suppress people’s views within the ESF. An equivocal or apologetic position on the use of physical violence to suppress views within the ESF would risk legitimising behaviour which, in reality, attacks the democratic rights of every participant in the process.
Inclusion and Exclusion
The European Social Forum in London was entirely inclusive with more than 20,000 people attending 500 plenaries, seminars, workshops and cultural events with more than 2,500 speakers representing every shade of opinion within the social justice movement. The topics and speakers for the plenary sessions were agreed by consensus at the European Preparatory Meetings. The seminars were merged through a European-wide process of agreement between those proposing sessions. The workshops were open for anyone to propose and organise. Provision was made for autonomous spaces and these were advertised in the programme. The entire process at every level was open to anyone who wished to participate. Minutes of the agreed consensus decisions were taken and were published on the European-wide mailing lists as well as on the website of the ESF.
The only attempts to exclude anyone were by two small minorities. One, a group of anarchists, who are opposed to the ESF and WSF and urged people to boycott it, made a series of threats of physical attack on Ken Livingstone and others, called for, and carried out the storming of the anti-fascist session of the ESF and tried to storm the platform of the rally following the ESF demonstration.
In an unrelated incident, a different set of people, numbering 40-50, made up of various groups and individuals, prevented the plenary opposing the occupation of Iraq from taking place because they objected to one of the speakers.
These two groups do not represent even one per cent of the 20,000 people who took part in the European Social Forum in London and fully respected its democratic principles. They were not even half a per cent of the 70,000 or more people who took part in the demonstration.
The censorship of views by premeditated physical violence at the ESF is completely unacceptable. If such methods were introduced into our movements they would destroy all democratic functioning. We hope and expect all participants in the ESF to make clear that physical violence to exclude different views has no place in the process.
Threats of violence before the ESF
The threats of violence started with the publication of calls for people to physically assault Ken Livingstone on one of the websites involved in the Beyond the ESF alternative events. This website ( http://www.ourmayday.org/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?Beyond_ESF) called upon people to:
`ATTACK RED KEN’, `THROW A DART AT RED KEN’, `ATTACK ALL SWP STALLS’, `GET IN A GROUP OF 12 PEOPLE AND THROW HUMAN EXCREMENT AT KEN AS HE SPEAKS’, `200 OF US NEED TO STORM THE ESF OFFICIAL CONFERENCE AND PUSH KEN OFF THE STAND AS HE SPEAKS (press: http://esf.gn.apc.org/downloads/9ddec3f280478d6f93933eaff10149d5/Press_accreditation_for), `WELCOME RED KEN WITH KICKS’.
These were not idle threats as shown by the subsequent storming of the platform upon which Ken Livingstone had been invited to speak (and, like every other plenary speaker, the invitation was agreed through the democratic processes of the ESF structures).
Total opposition to the ESF as such, not the way the London ESF was organised
This website and that of an anarchist organisation called the Wombles ( http://wombles.org.uk), published a document, which they say is the result of six months discussion, entitled `A short analysis of the socio-political role of the WSF-ESF’. They state explicitly that they are hostile to the ESF and WSF as such and not just, as those who have tried to justify, excuse or explain away their actions claim, to the way the London ESF was organised.
They condemn the ESF as one of `the contemporary institutions of domination’. They say: `the ESF is incapable of achieving revolutionary change because it accepts the current hierarchical system and seeks minimalist-reformist change inside current governmental structures.’
They condemn: `the inclusion of organisations i.e. non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are a-critical and directly facilitate capital’s expansion.’ They also single out for criticism the refusal of the ESF and the British anti-war movement to engage in violence.
Their total political opposition to what the ESF and WSF stand for, not some supposed failure of the organisers to include them, is why they did not participate in the London ESF.
As part of their campaign of threats of violence leading up to the ESF, the day before the opening of the ESF, both the London ESF offices and City Hall, were fly-posted with posters threatening Ken Livingstone, Lee Jasper and Redmond O’Neill.
Storming the anti-fascist session at Alexandra Palace
On the Friday of the ESF, the Wombles circulated an email in which they urged people to meet at Alexandra Palace at 6.30pm on the Saturday just before the anti-fascist plenary at which Ken Livingstone had been invited to speak and ‘storm’ the ESF.
They carried out their threat. About 100 people, who had not participated in the ESF, some masked, charged into the anti-fascist session and stormed the platform, punching the chair, snatching his mobile phone and pushing him off the platform.
This was in spite of the fact that he had given them the microphone to speak – the organisers having already agreed that, to avoid violence, they would not prevent the demonstrators from entering the building.
It has been suggested that the organisers of the ESF may have asked the police to intervene against the demonstrators after they left Alexandra Palace. This is not true.
Unsurprisingly, given this group’s very public threats of violence and calls to storm the ESF on the internet, the police arrived with the anarchist demonstration at Alexandra Palace. ESF stewards asked the police not to intervene and the police left the building.
Violent attack on the ESF demonstration
The next day in the middle of the rally in Trafalgar Square following the entirely peaceful ESF demonstration of more than 70,000 people, a group of 100-150 anarchists who had not been on the demonstration, most of whom had been involved in the previous day’s attack on the ESF, some masked, arrived at the front of the square, accompanied by police.
Shortly after their arrival, this group made a series of determined attempts to storm the platform of the rally while Aleida Guevara was speaking. In the process they attacked the stewards and tore down crash barriers around the platform. This violent attack continued for a considerable period of time and at a certain point the police intervened. (We have no reason to disbelieve Javier Riuz when he says that he was trying to mediate at the time of his arrest during this incident.)
It has been claimed by Piero Bernocchi that the police were asked to intervene by the ESF stewards. This is not true. The police arrived with the anarchist group and intervened on their own initiative when the group started trying to storm the stage, attacking the stewards and tearing down protective fencing.
Prior to this attack on the rally, some of the anarchist group had asked the stewards to announce that a number of people in this group had been arrested while en route to the demonstration. It was agreed that this would be done and an announcement about the arrests was made from the platform.
Is it irrelevant that the anti-fascist meeting was attacked?
The fact that an anti-fascist session with Black and Jewish speakers was stormed or the Black person chairing the meeting was punched and pushed off the platform is not to suggest that the attack was racially motivated. Nor is there a suggestion that the attempt to storm the stage of the rally (after the demonstration) which took place while Aleida Guevara was speaking, was because the attackers’ goal was to stop Guevara from speaking.
Having said that, it is not irrelevant to note that the perpetrators were so obsessed with their own concerns that they paid no attention to whose meeting they were disrupting, nor who was speaking when they attacked nor who would be hurt by their preparedness to use physical violence.
Disruption of the Iraq plenary
At the Iraq plenary, a different group of 40-50 people who objected to one of the speakers, Subhi Al Mashadani from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, shouted down the platform and tried to storm the stage. The facilitators spent about an hour trying to reason with them to allow all of the speakers, who had been democratically agreed through the European process, to speak. The overwhelming majority of those attending the session made clear in a show of hands that they wanted all speakers to be allowed to speak.
The facilitators explained that they would not allow one speaker to be undemocratically prevented from speaking and that they would close the session if the demonstrators continued to prevent it from starting. The session was then closed. We agree with the decision of the facilitators to close the session rather than allow the platform to be censored.
Conclusion – there is no place for violence within the ESF
The London ESF was open and inclusive. The UK Organising Committee excluded nobody. All of its meetings were open. Every viewpoint wishing to be there was given space in the programme – including autonomous spaces. The debates were open and often vigorous. The experience of 99 per cent of participants was highly positive and the demonstration was a huge success. At the same time, there was a premeditated attempt by a small group opposed to the ESF to impose its views and suppress other peoples’ views by aggression, intimidation and physical violence. That must be unequivocally rejected.
Billy Hayes, General Secretary, Communication Workers’ Union
Paul Mackney, Gen Sec, National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education
Barry Camfield, Asst Gen Sec, Transport and General Workers’ Union
Rod Robertson, National Organiser, UNISON
Mick Connolly, Secretary, Southern and Eastern Region TUC
Megan Dobney, Chair, SERTUC Women’s Rights Committee
James Lloyd, National Secretary, National Union of Students
Kate Hudson, Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition
Simon Woolley, Black Londoners Forum
Muhammad Sawalha, Vice President, Muslim Association of Britain
Milena Buyum, National Assembly Against Racism
David Hillman, Tobin Tax Network
Alex Gordon, RMT
Anne Kane, Abortion Rights
Pav Akhtar, NUS National Black Students Officer
Caroline Gooding, Trade Union Disability Alliance
Martin Collins, Agreed Ireland Forum
Kirsten Hearn, Regard
Carole Regan, Chair, Palestine Solidarity Campaign