Skip to content or view screen version

ESF 2004 to be in London!

Glasnost | 11.11.2003 00:56 | European Social Forum | London

Here is a first-hand account of the meeting today in Paris to decide on the next venue for the European Social Forum 2004. I will try and send a daily report which you guys might make a feature if you have time xxxxx

Monday 10th November

The 2nd ESF officially begins in 2 days time, but it is clear that politically and practically, Paris is in a degree of chaos.

Today saw the European Assembly of the ESF to effectively decide on when and where the next ESF will be held.

After 4 hours of fraught, hostile, and at times, plain dishonest 'debate' in which noone actually debated with each other but spoke at a largely disinterested audience, the outcome was an 'agreement' that the UK will hold the ESF in 2004, on condition that an open European Assembly Meeting takes place in London on 13-14 December involving those involved in the Italian and French movements to agree on a venue, timing and, most importantly, methodology/process. London is currently the only 'bid' on the table - other cities have one month to put their hats in the ring. Given that this is unlikely if nigh on impossible, the ESF will be held in London 2004, some time in October or November.

That was the outcome. Now for how such a decision was arrived at, and what it revealed about both the groups and individuals involved in the 'bid', and the real politik of the ESF decision-making process.

The meeting was due to start at 2pm. Between 2 and 3pm, everyone stayed outside huddled into groups while two sets of UK delegates - one from the London 'bid' group, and one from activists associated with the London Social Forum - entered into a form of 'negotiations' with the same European activists about the next ESF.

It emerged that Refondazione Communista were going to back the London 2004 bid, that the Greeks were not able to host 2004, that Austria were withdrawing their bid.

At 3pm, the meeting began with an introduction by Sophie Zaphari of ATTAC France, Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire (LCR) and the French ESF Organising Committee. She was the 'facilitator' for the marathon session. She was also clearly not a democrat, often making long interventions trying to guide the room to a decision, suggesting what was 'reasonable' and what wasn't.

The meeting was supposed to decide the timing and frequency of the ESF, but the whole thing was dominated by the London 2004 bid.

The Bid group had come well-prepared: Jonathan Neale & Chris Nineham of GR-SWP, Kenny Bell & Claire Williams of Unison North-East Regional, Louise Richards of War & Want, Kate Hudson of CND/CPB and, significantly, Lee Jasper representing the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. They circulated a new statement, which boasted about the number of trade unions and NGOs 'on board'. What was remarkable was how few organisations there were, some even having been removed. The statement contained no facts, figures, no political objectives, just that the Mayor was involved and that the process would start after the decision, and it would be 'open, inclusive, transparent, democratic' etc

There was also in attendance from the UK a network of activists associated with the London Social Forum and Indymedia UK, including the anti-capitalist group The Wombles, the CPGB, Signs of the Times, writers for Red Pepper magazine, and Workers Power.

The meeting then proceeded as follows for 2 hours: individuals who wanted to speak would line up one by one and declare their positions. Up went the bidding group, followed by the London Social Forum activists, followed by more bidding group, followed by the occasional French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Irish and Austrian delegate.

I don't want to go into what was exactly said, but in simple terms, the bidding group put the most incredibly positive spin on their proposal for London, which the London Social Forum activists then tried to deconstruct and explain what had happened in the UK during the putting together of the UK bid since July.

Ultimately, the bidding group claimed legitimacy and greater representativity than those 'questioning' their presentation; time and time again, they stressed how many people had elected them, who they were, how big their organisation was, whilst forgetting that this was irrelevant to the nature of what the ESF was; they also denied the process had been closed, denied that people had been excluded; denied that there had ever been secret meetings.

What was lost in all of this was why they wanted the ESF to come to the UK, how they planned to open the process up, what practical arrangements had been made so far.

The debate became exactly what we have witnessed in the last few months: the ESF as a political space to be contested by groups trying to control versus groups trying to open up.

To be balanced, some of the contributions from the London Social Forum activists were at times needlessly sectarian and personalised, however true they might have been.

A proposal for a compromise came from the Refondazione Communista who proposed that a December meeting of the European movements be held in London to help the UK sort out the process and so on.

Eventually, after speaker after speaker had supported London 2004 but raised concerns about the process, the London Social Forum activists agreed they would not block any consensus on the issue, and supported the Italian compromise, but wanted the bidding group to commit to the WSF charter of principles and to allow a period until the December meeting for other UK cities to come forward with a proposal for the ESF. Even though it was obvious that London would be the venue, the bidding group refused this, and at this point the meeting had descended into a private row outside the tent with some of the bid group acting at times in a very aggressive, arrogant manner, not helped by constant sniping from some individuals.

What struck me was how ultimately, the bid group saw the ESF as an event to 'have' for very traditional party political reasons; while the critical voices saw the ESF as a process of social movement dialogue and synthesis for far more radical purposes.

The whole day had been conducted in a manner befitting the 'old politics' - it wasn't about building a movement, it was about holding an event.

I have more thoughts on this soon, but for now I'll just bite my tongue.

Perhaps the most significant part of the day was near the end when it emerged that the accommodation situation was in crisis - it was full up and there was every expectation that thousands of people could be left stranded on arrival from Europe. This brought home the logistical nightmare of organising such an event with two years notice - and noone seemed to even care.



Hide the following 13 comments


11.11.2003 08:40

How was this ever going to work? It certainly could never be democratic when a lot of the key players don't believe in democracy but dictatorship. Waste of time and resources.


very clear report

11.11.2003 08:51

excellent point at the end, let's see red ken and the swp gang deal with convergence centers.


Good objective report

11.11.2003 12:17

I attended three of the English mobilisation meetings, for the ESF. They were tortuous events, and were controlled by the SWP. When the British plenary speakers and representatives of the European organising committee were decided in a London meeting last august, the SWP bussed in 50 of its members, including several leading members of its central committee to vote for all their proposals. These were the same 50 who attended the Peoples Assembly in London the day before, and for all I know the same who pack Socialist Allince General meetings. It was disgraceful, because they heckled and bullied anyone one who contradicted them.

The London bid is an SWP bid with a few liberal/authoritarian supporters and fellow travellers.
The SWP is a now a tiny organisation. It has withered away like the rest of the authoritarian left, but it still has a few well-funded full-time activists who are skilled in bureaucratic manipulation, and with years of experience of attempting to control united fronts and campaigns.

Their motivation is to gain power, control and dominate; and to expand their organisation. Perhaps if they had a progressive ideology it wouldn't be so bad, but with them politics comes last, and theirs is redundant, confused, and without strategy - it just consists of meaningless slogans.

They are now adopting some of the tactics of the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist movement, which might be seen as positive, but history shows they are opportunist, and that in this case they are probably doing so just out of desperation because their old methods have brought them to the point of total collapse. Let's hope I am wrong for their sakes, but their recent centralised control of the Stop The War Coalition and the Socialist Alliance and their consequent failure, has shown the leopard has not changed its spots.

That is not to say these unreconstructed Trotskyites/Leninists do not have a future. For some it is just an unfortunate phase you go through, like juvenile delinquency, but for those that become hardened it is a life long condition, of lies, manipulation, and control freakery.

So, they are seeking to control the ESF bid in London for all the wrong reasons: social forums are about individuals, social movements not political parties - not least because left political parties have failed disastrously. If the ESF in London is going to develop progressively from the event about to begin in Paris then the numbers from any one political party involved in organisation has to be limited.


yes, let's keep moaning about the SWP.....

11.11.2003 13:21

>If the ESF in London is going to develop progressively from the event about to begin in Paris then >>the numbers from any one political party involved in organisation has to be limited.

what was that you were saying about inclusivness, and democracy?


right on!

11.11.2003 14:02

In the name of inclusiveness, we should purge all the tiny unrepresentative sects like CND, trade unions and the Mayor of London, in favour of mass organisations like the WW-CPGB, Workers Power and the Wombles!


Not a contradiction.

11.11.2003 17:08

The original report stated:
'The Bid group had come well-prepared: Jonathan Neale & Chris Nineham of GR-SWP, Kenny Bell & Claire Williams of Unison North-East Regional ...'

Jonathan Neale, Chris Nineham, and Claire Williams are SWP members, and Kenny Bell a supporter, albeit a critical one, and are not official representative of mass organisations. In any case the ESF is not, as you imply, about representing mass organisations, like UNISON, CND or sects like workers Power or the SWP; it should be about individuals, social movements and non-hierarchical networks.

The majority of a representative bidding committee, or any organisational committee, in the Social Forum movement should not be members of one party. How can anyone disagree with this, considering political parties are forbidden to operate within the ESF?

Wouldn't it be sensible to have one representative or maybe two from interested political parties, on representative bodies, as long as they were able and independent minded people. The same could apply to other kinds of groups.

It would be better if a genuine attempt was made to resovle the serious problems in the Social Forum movement, otherwise it not be progressive force.

I look forward to the reports from GLASNOST about the Paris ESF.



outcomes and plans

11.11.2003 20:46

What ever happens in term of the outcome, both groups were talking about the same thing - ESF in London - just the dates were different - 2004 Vs 2005.

Either way the task is the same. Some say it would be better to leave it to 2005 so that in can coincide with the assumed G8 summit somewhere in UK in 2005, and to allow more time to develop a proper participative process involving a much wider section of society. There is a lot of worth in this position. But I can also see that this country really needs catalyst initiatives to shake up the political landscape - by having the ESF in 2004 it brings a sense of urgency which is needed, especially when you could view it as an essential building process leading up towards 2005 and the G8 summit.

I understand the criticisms and objections to the way events have developed thus far, but if it ends up being 2004 then hey, let's just get on with it. All of the social forums before have been dogged by criticisms and fights between differing groups - I don't think putting it off until 2005 would make that any different. That said, the forums (and big international summit type mobilisations) have produced some amazing collisions and collaborations between differing groups, and with G8 scheduled for 2005 isn't it better that people in this country get down to the serious work of planning and discussing and working out differences as soon as possible?


More Glasnost on the Decision Meeting

11.11.2003 23:43

Just a few more comments on what happened at the meeting to decide the next ESF. Talking today to Pierre Khalfa from ATTAC France, it is clear that at the European level, the SWP-GR have a very different reputation than in the UK. They have apparently turned up to every meeting of the ESF for the last 2 years and always worked in a constructive way, gaining a lot of respect among fairly unnatural bedfellows. While their reputation goes before them, there has been little evidence so far of this in ESF meetings. So when activists from the London Social Forum starting turning up to European meetings, challenging GR's monopoly of the UK representation, it was the LSF and not GR that got a bad reputation. The European movement reps like people who can bring solutions, not new problems. Thus, during yesterday's meeting, the LSF was really talking a different language to the rest of the European assembly and this will hamper attempts to radicalise the ESF UK organisation because we could very well see the SWP and the European actors working in tandem.

Another strking issue was the incredible political arrogance of Lee Jasper, the Mayor's 'Senior Political Adviser', who we in the ESF English network saw for the first time yesterday at a European meeting. In fact, it appears he only paid a flying visit to give the bid some kind of 'official' respectability. He stated categorically that with the support of such a progressive Mayor and with all the resources the GLA could provide, the ESF was looking a 'gift horse' in the mouth. He gave a business-like presentation, in hist suit and tie. But the most curious part of his address was his claim to represent, in effect, the 40% of the London population who were black (he is black). Jasper is of course chair or president of around 16 black organisations in Britain, but it was this notion of 'representation' and 'size' that kept cropping up. It was the same with the trade unions - the bid group kept talking about the 'millions' of members they represented through their union support. But no actual trade unionists have been consulted - just used as part of a political project 'on their behalf'.

More tomorrow folks



13.11.2003 12:56

If you want to see what an arrogant opportunist pratt lee jaspers is then checkout his interview with Keenan Malik on his documentary about multiculturalism in the UK.


Why London 2005 makes sense for next Euro Social Forum

13.11.2003 19:36

It would seem to be in the interests of everybody - at least everybody whose interests are transparent - that the ESF take place in London in 2005 rather than 2004.

The perennial organisational problems of the WSFs (I attended WSF2002 and 2003, ESF2002), plus those already reported from ESF2003 strongly suggest the value of a longer preparation period.

It would also allow for conflicting opinions and interests to be expressed on a common website - thus not only allowing the European (and Latin American, Asian?)organisers to obtain full information from the parties concerned, but to feed in their own experience and opinions.

I would have thought that this had every advantage for the Socialist Workers Party/Globalise Resistance. It would demonstrate their willingness to make concessions to their critics, as well as providing THEM with more time for preparation.

It seems evident that SWP/GR has 'power'and, apparently,'influence', but it also has a bad name in at least the UK for instrumentalising the Forum process (and other UK movements)in a traditional vanguardist manner. (As someone who was in the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1951-70, and who worked for it in front organisations both national and international, I have to say that it reminds me more strongly of the CPGB a half-century ago than, say, the Fourth International or the Rifondazione Communista today).

In India, one vanguardist Communist Party, the CPI (Marxist), has major influence on the coming WSF in Mumbai (Bombay), January 2004. Other vanguardists (national and international Maoist parties) are planning some kind of anti-Forum, called Mumbai Resistance 2004.

Whilst not wishing to either ignore the money/power complex represented by the major NGOs, nor to exaggerate the impact of the Antediluvian Vanguardist Left, I do think that that those who take the Forum process, and the Charter seriously, and who have some real identification with the new ways of being and doing suggested by the global justice movement more generally, need to be seeking out each other, seeking new allies, localising the WSF process. And, of course, remembering, anyway, that Another Forum is Possible.

Peter Waterman
mail e-mail:

sectarian & personal

14.11.2003 14:26

i suspect the reference about being sectarian & personal is directed at me.

I have absolutely no problem in calling chris nineham a liar in public. I do have a problem in false unity, creating an artifical atmosphere of consiliation & solidarity, in a situation that at least deserves a degree of honesty (from everyone involved).

the paris esf doesn't even pretend to hide its authoritarian bullshit presense. London will be considerably worse. You work with shoddy & suspect material you end up with a shoddy & suspect 'product'. The death of the esf is unfortunately not premature.



14.11.2003 14:53

just read gladnost's second comment. What a bewildering way at looking at things. We pretend, we deceive, we lie, but as long as people like us we're not 'a problem'.

Particular people from particular groups with particular agendas may indeed like solutions - as long as it is the solution that mosts suits them.


Bright future for ESF

14.11.2003 20:54

After a successful 2004 ESF in London, chaired by Ken Livingstone and Tony Blair, it could broaden its scope to include entrepreneurs and other global stakeholders. It could then change its name to the more appropriate "World Economic Forum", and from 2005 it could meet annually in Davos.