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Remembering the ESF

Oxford ESF crew | 08.08.2005 00:39 | Analysis | Free Spaces | Repression | Birmingham | London | Oxford

Good article from a person who's eyes were opened to the dark side of left/reformism social change.

Emma Dowling
July 18, 2005 [last updated July 25, 2005]
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”This is totally unacceptable … ... there is no room for this in our movement1...”

The organisation of the third European Social Forum (ESF) in London was fraught with clashes between the different actors within the UK movements. My contribution here is a short excursion into my memories of the British preparatory process. I don’t intend to provide a political analysis, but rather to give a few glimpses of a personal story of a participant in the process. What struck me most about the organising process was the huge discrepancy between the political and ethical visions held out as alternatives by the activists involved in organising the ESF, and their actual behaviour towards one another in the process. Here, I explore some of the intense difficulties I experienced in trying to participate and describe some instances where my own political and ethical ideas clashed with those of the actors dominating the process. I conclude with a brief reflection on my views about political organising, ethics and social transformation.

In December 2003, the UK networks and organisations wanting to be involved in the ESF had their first meeting at the London Mayor’s headquarters, City Hall, to discuss the possibility of holding the Forum in the UK. On this occasion I entered the room early and watched it fill with people. Noticeable was a core of ‘busy-bodies’ rushing around, arranging the meeting. The first two rows of chairs were filled by people (mainly men) huddled in groups in pre-meeting discussions. I asked my friend to tell me who they were: so and so from the SWP (Socialist Worker’s Party), so and so from x trade union, so and so from the GLA (Greater London Authority). All were sat near the front, ready to rush to the infamous microphone and reel off their political speeches. It was an exciting atmosphere: I felt I was ‘at the heart’ of the UK anti/alternative globalisation movement.

As the meeting began, about forty people lined up to speak and we spent two hours listening to their visions for the ESF. Nothing really happened, except that I began to understand that there were two camps in the room2, both wanting the ESF to be organised their way. On the one hand, were those who were to become dubbed the ‘verticals’: representatives of trade unions such as the RMT (Rail and Maritime Transport Union,, TGWU (Transport and General Workers Union, and NATFHE (National Association For Teachers in Higher Education,, some NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) (e.g. The Tobin Tax Network and CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,, and the GLA. Also in this ‘camp’ were individuals who were unknown to most other activists I talked to, but who appeared to belong to Socialist Action3, (See – a Trotskyist organisation connected to and, in the ESF 2004 process, seemingly acting on behalf of, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. These individuals avoided declaring their involvement with this organisation, but acted as a bloc under the guise of numerous peace, anti-war, anti-racism, and ‘women’s issues’ organisations, as well as for GLA-backed campaign groups for ‘a multicultural London’. Further, there were representatives of the Stop the War Coalition, Globalise Resistance (GR) and Project K. Representatives of these three groups, as well as some of the trade unions involved4, were all also members of the SWP political party, and acted mostly as a bloc in line with their party’s objectives.

On the other hand, there were the as yet unnamed ‘horizontals’ – a loose group of independent activists (associated, for example, with the independent Left publication Red Pepper (see, Indymedia (see, the organisation Just Peace (see, London Social Forum participants (see environmental activists, libertarian-anarchists and autonomist Marxists, human rights campaigners, some NGOs such as Friends of the Earth (see, and ATTAC UK (see, the organisation I was representing5. It was a little tricky to pinpoint precisely who was a ‘horizontal’ and who was not. Certainly there was a core group of self-declared ‘horizontals’ subscribing explicitly to the type of politics associated with the term (see de Angelis, Juris, Laura Sullivan and Tormey, this issue), but included in this group were people who might prefer the broader title of ‘democratic opposition6’to the ‘verticals’, made up of people who shared the same goals within the process, and who increasingly worked together to achieve them. This ‘democratic opposition’ included people from groups as diverse as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB,, the World Development Movement (WDM, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, These two adverse groups – the ‘verticals’ and ‘horizontals’ – left not many ‘diagonals’ in between as time went by and the process of organising became ever more polarised.

The most arduous dispute amounted to a battle for control over the organisation of the event, whereby the ‘vertical’ coalition acted in line with the maxim that the ends (controlling the Forum as event) justified the means of organising. But entangled in this battle for power over the event, was not only a battle over the ESF organising process, but also a battle over the most pertinent question of the anti-globalisation movement, namely how to ‘change the world’. This entanglement makes sense if one recognises that the way the event itself is organised – how decision-making processes are conducted and what thematic content is given to the Forum – is intricately bound up with its politics. These issues are two sides of the same coin. In this process, the outcome of the battle was pretty much determined at the outset, given that some (the ‘verticals’) had more access to resources and political clout than others (the ‘horizontals’). Nevertheless, the struggle continued to play itself out in the organisation of the ESF.

In terms of ideas, the ‘horizontals’ were committed to developing an organisational process that lived up to the ideals of inclusiveness (regardless of whether an individual was from a large organisation or a small network), consensus decision-making in a nonhierarchical way, and an ethics that would reflect in the here and now the kind of world that was to be brought about through the anti-globalisation struggle. Some of the ‘verticals’ were motivated by their ideas for social and political change along Trotskyist-Leninist lines, where the ‘road to revolution’ is paved by those that know best, i.e. the Central Committee of the party. Others had much more immediate interests in either simply ‘getting the job done’ their way, or in promoting the Mayor of London as a progressive force for multiculturalism and ‘good governance’ in the UK’s capital.

The strategic alliance between these so-called ‘verticals’ lay in the desire to have the event organised by a core group of ‘important’ Londoners, in a particular way, i.e. one that was professionalized and centralised, and produced a ‘manageable’, politically uncontroversial event. Thus, for example, the development and maintenance of the website for the ESF was subcontracted to GreenNet, with the whole tender process for this conducted and decided upon by the GLA directly7, and much of the management of the actual event, including security and catering, was subcontracted to profit driven companies. Forum themes also were somewhat predetermined to reflect the Mayor’s and the GLA’s interests, highlighting, for example, the Iraq war/occupation, fascism and racism, and many GLA/Socialist Action/trade union ‘verticals’ (not the SWP on this occasion) even tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent an explicitly anti-neo-liberal thematic axis.

In terms of behaviour and decision-making, the Charter of Principles8 of the WSF is the only external guiding document for the conduct of the process. However, these abstract codes of conduct beg the same question as any international agreements between sovereign states that rely on good will. Namely, in the absence of any mechanism for enforcement or accountability, and given unequal political and economic power relations, how can abuse of such agreements be prevented? In the UK process, much energy and time was spent interpreting the Charter of Principles, where one faction would accuse another of not adhering to its principles, almost like in a court case, where ‘the law’ is called upon to mitigate a conflict as if this carries some sort of external, transcendental and objective reality, when instead ‘the law’ is open to different interpretations, not least in relation to the identities and experiences of whoever is doing the interpreting. In other words, a struggle for meaning occurred, which at times gave the impression of being a genuine search for what the Principles might mean, whilst at others seemed a more opportunistic use of the Charter for certain ends9.

At the same time, there were those who argued that the Charter itself was problematic, requiring revision. For example, representatives of the political party Worker’s Power and representatives of the political tendency League for the 5th International, who were in actual fact the same individuals, argued that the process by which the Charter of Principles had been drawn up was profoundly undemocratic and therefore should be reformed where necessary to include the wishes of the actors involved. In particular, they felt that the policy on excluding political parties should be reconsidered, because this exclusion lead to a ‘dishonest’ participation of parties through other groups and/or trade unions (see Footnote 9). In the midst all of this, the office of the Mayor of London, whose policies for London are predominantly neo-liberal (i.e. hardly in the explicitly anti neo-liberal spirit of the WSF Charter of Principles), was called upon to fund the event, thereby creating a further imbalance through the political and economic power that it could wield as a local authority with greater command over resources.

Having participated only in the ESF 2003 as event, I came to the UK ESF 2004 preparatory process as someone who, somewhat naïvely, thought of the ESF as an ‘open space’, a friendly space in which anyone was welcome and everyone would be heard.

What I found instead was a vicious power struggle and the most exclusionary, intimidating and emotionally draining process I have ever been part of (also see Laura Sullivan on this issue for interpretations of the emotional implications of the ESF 2004 organising process). Sometimes it was like a bad dream, where your perception of reality is turned on its head and you find yourself aghast that the world around you is run on a different logic to the one you thought was in place. At the second European Assembly in March 2004, for example, ‘horizontal’ activists drew up some proposals for the UK process that would include their wishes, arguing that a decision on them needed to be made on a European level. They argued that they needed the support of European delegates due to the fact they were being ignored and excluded in the UK process. When actors of the ‘vertical coalition’ argued that it was not true that anyone was being excluded, Italian delegates from the trade union COBAS (Confederazione dei Comitati di Base, in particular retorted that it had to be sufficient for a person to state that they felt excluded for it to be acknowledged and acted upon. This reasoning was alien to the UK ‘verticals’ who believed that they held the necessary objective insight to decide who was excluded and who was not, regardless of what those who felt themselves to be excluded thought.

Working with other ‘horizontals’ in the organising process, I found myself at best ignored and at worst being branded ‘crazy’. If I were to side with certain groups or individuals involved, push for more openness, or make proposals for the planning of the event that were not liked by ‘the ‘vertical’s’, I was accused of wanting to ‘wreck the ESF’. For example when I, with others from the Babels volunteer interpreting network (, presented a proposal for a process for deciding on office workers, as well as a call for a finance working group, I was accused of being threatening and confrontational. When I drew up some guidelines on minute-taking for the meetings, the discussion of them was put off for so many weeks by the Chair due to ‘lack of time’ that it became irrelevant. Sometimes, when unfavoured individuals raised items for the agenda at meetings, ad hoc procedural rules might even be invented to stop the agenda item being accepted if it did not suit ‘vertical’ interests10.

Participants also found themselves being held to ransom by promises of trade union and GLA money. In Birmingham, at an Organising Committee Meeting, participants of the meeting were told by a representative of NATFHE and the GLA that if the proposal for a company structure drawn up by the lawyers of NATFHE and the GLA were not accepted by the meeting, there would ‘be no ESF’ and the trade unions along with the GLA would withdraw their involvement and most importantly, their resources.

The apparent lack of self-reflection by the more ‘vertical’ hegemonic actors led me to think more about the problems of individual behaviour in relation to political engagement and activism. Too many people involved seemed to have completely dislocated themselves from the worlds they were active in. Thus, imperialism meant the imperialism of a nation-state, notably the United States, over another country – not any attempts to control and manipulate the ESF preparatory process. Being against neoliberalism meant being against the WTO and the GATS or TRIPS agreements, not against allowing money to equal decision-making power in the ESF process. Being for diversity meant adding race/gender/disability/ethnicity or religion and stirring – i.e. a form of tokenism of the worst kind, not acknowledging (and respecting) different political views within the ESF organising process and trying to find a way of working together. Being against oppression meant, being against women being told whether or not they should wear the ‘hijab’, not about whether branding dissent as crazy, violent or racist was oppressive. Being for women’s liberation meant agreeing hook, line and sinker to certain abstract themes that some women invited to a poorly advertised meeting called by the GLA at City Hall had decided they wanted to have plenaries and seminars on; not about questioning the macho discourses and ways of behaviour with which some men and women dominated the preparatory meetings. Another possible world was going to happen sometime in the distant future, not in the here and now through our own behaviour towards one another. And most distressingly, the people behaving like this and dominating the process time and time again took the moral high ground, arguing that anyone not in agreement with them was a selfish misguided individual; part of a minority who did not understand how to ‘change the world’. Their utopia of another world obviously was going to be brought about with big money and professional ‘officials’. Furthermore, conflict was seen as the negative contribution made by ‘crazy horizontals’, not as a possibility through which to forge progressive, creative and dynamic consensus.

For some time, I was able to play an interesting role. Being from ATTAC, a founding organisation of Social Forums, I had some political clout in the process. However, I felt far too intimidated to ever get up and say anything in meetings and, with other people from ATTAC UK, I spent the first few weeks trying to figure out whose ‘side’ we were on. I was taken into the higher echelons of the process (albeit at a distance from any real decision-making) by virtue of being from ATTAC but also by virtue of being an unknown quantity with no history – a good-natured, willing independent activist with very little experience of politics on the British Left and with a good dose of naivety and trustworthiness thrown in. I trundled down to London every two weeks from Birmingham, spent most of my time on the phone to different people involved and rode the wave of excitement obsessively as City Hall became an almost pilgrimage-like destiny, spell-bound by the political fight that was unfolding.

I saw how core people from the GLA, SWP, Socialist Action and some trade unions and NGOs drew up and fixed agendas before meetings and took decisions behind closed doors on how the event (and the imminent meeting) would be organised. The modus operandi was that all organisational matters, from the decision on the venue of the ESF to the design and printing of leaflets, were presented as faits accomplis to the Committee and objections were thwarted as being petty, time-wasting or even malicious obstructions by people ‘obsessed with process’ or, as already mentioned, ‘wanting to wreck the ESF’. From the ‘vertical’ side came constant comments of how this or that ‘horizontal’ was crazy and how the ‘horizontals were the laughing stock of Europe. No holds were barred – everything was fixed at all meetings – there was never any agenda item that was not pre-ordained to be decided in a certain way and all dirty tricks were used to stop dissenters from speaking or when they would, a wave of ‘Nos’ or laughter would seize the room.

Having now figured out who was who and what was happening, I would feed back everything I found out to my ‘horizontal’ ‘allies’ and work with them – to the extent that I succeeded in bringing the Organising Committee meeting to Birmingham and chairing it, allowing for more ‘horizontals’ to speak during the meeting. This led to a complete break down of this meeting: because ‘horizontal’ voices were less stifled than they usually were and the existing conflict could actually feed into the meeting, rather than be crushed by the Chair, the apparent conflicts were brought to the fore. A breakdown of the meeting happened, in my opinion, due to the unwillingness of the ‘verticals’ to make any compromises whatsoever on key issues, which catapulted everyone into entrenched positions, and elicited unmanageable shouting and heckling on all sides.

At one of the European preparatory meetings, I agreed to take official minutes. My minutes included an account of what people had said at the meeting, as well as points of discussion and disagreement, rather than merely listing abstractly what had been agreed at the meeting, which was how the ‘verticals’ wanted minutes to be published. I was shocked to experience them being censored first by the Chair of the meeting, a representative of the trade union RMT, and then again by an employee of the GLA, with whom I had to argue about the nature of minute taking. The trade union representative sent me an email titled ‘private and not to be circulated’, which I already felt was rather intimidating.

The content and tone of the email further led me to feel that he might be attempting to silence me. First, he alluded to the ‘obsessive’ way certain people kept bringing up matters of internal democracy and process, imploring me to not to ‘rock the boat’ at the next meeting and bring up process points like minute-taking, implying that this was a waste of precious time. Secondly, on a point I had raised about how the Chair had moved the meeting on without consensus when some people had tried to speak and introduce a petition of the ‘horizontals’ on inclusion and democracy (see, he claimed that I had completely misinterpreted what had happened at the meeting, stating that he thought I had ‘got completely the wrong end of the stick’. Clearly his memory of events was the correct one – after all, he had been the Chair of the meeting and ‘things might seem a little different than they really are when you’re part of the audience and not actually sat at the front of the room’ (personal email correspondence).

This was my most striking lesson from the process: that the tactics employed were on the level of reality construction, such that when I attempted to question some people’s behaviour, I was told that I was under illusions, i.e. that my perception of reality was skewed whilst they held the ‘truth’. As time went on, I grew tired, exhausted and disillusioned. I also became so nervous before meetings, I would be physically shaking. When arguments became particularly hostile, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, afraid of the aggressiveness that would seize the room, sometimes from both ‘sides’; and also so sad about how people would be silenced through the laughing off of their experiences or their branding as liars or fools. It really was like being in a dystopian film with no external point of reference.

These were two different realities clashing together with no common culture or language to communicate. I did not know how to express how I really felt in the presence of the ‘vertical’ players, as they would just tell me outright that what I was saying was ‘absurd’ or ‘not true’. When finally I plucked up the courage to be more vocal in my opinions at another particularly antagonistic meeting, in which the ‘verticals’ ended up walking out because they didn’t get their way, I received an angry phone call from the Chair of the meeting.

When I uttered my disapproval about what was going on (on this particular occasion that people were being appointed jobs in the office who were all from either Socialist Action, the GLA or the SWP, with no fair advertising process or open call for volunteers), I was told that I was misguided and should not believe the rubbish I heard in the pub. In other words, not only discrediting my interpretation of events as ‘rubbish’, but also not crediting me with the ability to form an opinion at all, portraying me as someone who was merely repeating people’s pub chatter.

In Europe, there were also disagreements on how to react to what was going on in the UK. On one occasion, when the ‘horizontals’ took their grievances to a European meeting in Berlin, some key people just didn’t want to know: the office of the Mayor of London was hosting the event and thus UK internal politics were not to be discussed at transnational meetings. This, of course, elicited smirks from various ‘vertical’ players. It was like being back at school, evocative of plucking up all your courage to confess to the teacher that you’re being bullied and the teacher telling you that s/he doesn’t believe you, whilst you catch the playground bully smirking as he escapes a telling off. Where certain agreements would be forced on the ‘verticals’ at European meetings by those of the more understanding European activists, they would just pretend the decisions were never taken when we got back to London, or punish those that spoke out at the European meetings by making their lives in the organising process even more difficult – like when you get an extra beating from the bully for ‘telling tales’.

On the other hand, there was an intervention from some individuals in the Italian and French delegations. In June 2004, the GLA-SWP-Socialist Action-union axis threatened to call off the ESF. It was suddenly announced that due to ‘lies’ that were being fed to the European delegations, some people from the French and Italian delegations had written letters of concern about the process to the UK Organising Committee. In actual fact, these ‘lies’ were based upon the personal experience of these delegations.

In an unofficial report about a programme meeting in Paris at the end of May 2004, Italian delegates stated that “the meeting was more tiring than the previous ones and was often tense, conflictual and diasagreeable [...] this was due mainly to the more powerful groups in the British delegation (the SWP, Socialist Action, [...] RMT, [...] and other small trade unions), who were constantly unwilling to enter real dialogue, attempted to impose their own way, were often arrogant or used blackmail, repeatedly refusing to accept decisions and titles which had already been decided hours before [...] in general terms, the work is still affected by the provincialism of the British contingent [...] who believe the matters they are dealing with in their ‘province’ are of universal importance and the whole thing is aggravated by their incapacity or unwillingness to discuss things [...] this does not concern the entire British delegation: the other half are not used to shouting and it would have been far more constructive if they had been allowed to play a part [...] before leaving Paris [members of the Italian and French delegations] agreed on sending a letter to the UK Organising Committee outlining our criticisms of the way the ESF process has gone, explaining calmly but firmly that there is a need for them to find a much better way of working together and relating to others than they have at present, otherwise we shall pull out” (‘Italian document 10 June’, translated from Italian).

At a UK meeting, it was argued that as a result of these letters, all of the UK trade union money had been withdrawn and the ESF would not be able to take place. When a week later it was announced that everything was going ahead after all, many of us were left musing whether the original crisis that had been evoked by the ‘verticals’ had perhaps been a desperate attempt to shock all dissenting voices in the UK into submission.

Money was always a huge issue, as unsurprisingly, money equalled power: it was difficult to really know what the financial situation of the ESF was because budget information was never discussed in any detail at meetings and even the little that was, was kept out of all official minutes. I think this was for three perhaps obvious reasons. Firstly, I think that the GLA in particular may have been quite nervous about public opinion with regard to using public resources to fund the ESF, an explicitly left-wing event, especially as local elections were to happen in the midst of the preparatory process.

GLA spending on the ESF indeed was a cause for some turmoil in the local press, prompted by the Mayor’s political opponents. Secondly, I think there were deliberate attempts to implore a sense of gravity and necessary secrecy around the issue of money, so as to be able to centralise decision-making and also, because money was the major ‘comparative advantage’ that the larger ‘vertical’ organisations held in the process, they did not want to weaken their bargaining power by opening up access to information about it, not to mention any wider involvement on deciding how it would be spent. Sometimes, even the ‘fascist enemy’ as the threatening ‘other’ would be invoked to instill a sense of necessity of this procedure in the people pushing for more openness. Thirdly, of course, access to and ownership of resources always is the ‘sensitive subject’ because it is the root of power in a capitalist society, which the ESF organising process, of course, does not exist outside of.

On the issue of secrecy, a clause was even added to the Organising Committee statement to prevent ‘sensitive information’ (money matters) being made public, on some occasions leading to the expulsion of ‘journalists’ from the meetings (which actually meant the expulsion of two specific people who happened to be particularly avid critics of the machinations of the ‘verticals’ and happened to be from newspapers of parties involved in the process).

If it wasn’t the money issue that was used to force agreements on people, then it was criticisms of behaviour; the times I heard the words, ‘this is completely unacceptable behaviour’ are uncountable – it was regarding behaviour that the most stress was placed when trying to de-legitimise people. Many times, the way that meetings were rigged made unsolicited interventions the only way to interfere with the monopolisation of the process. This would play into the hands of the ‘verticals’, as it would leave people wide open to accusations of misbehaviour, which would serve to put someone’s behaviour in the limelight at the expense of the concerns raised. I myself became so angry at one European meeting in Berlin at the persistent manipulation of the process by UK ‘vertical’s that I raised my voice at one of the women from the NUS (National Union of Students, and Socialist Action, who had taken the microphone at the end of the meeting to (it seemed to me) prevent the meeting from deciding in favour of official support for autonomous spaces (by arguing that agreements could not be forced on people last minute with the excuse of there being no more time to discuss the matter).

I raised my voice and accused her of insincerity as, apart from even discussing whether this were even the case on this occasion, this method she was now deploring was precisely the one employed by members of her organisation to force agreements on meetings in the UK. The next day I was advised by a female member of Socialist Action ‘to apologise for my unacceptable behaviour’ (personal conversation), accompanied by the statement that no matter what someone says, such ‘abusive behaviour’ is always uncalled for. I do not wish to unpack the wrongs or rights of either my behaviour or that of the other woman in this situation. What I am attempting to highlight, is that people, like myself on this occasion, cannot help but scream after having been constantly silenced and misrepresented: that they use the only means they have when all other channels of criticism and dissent are always already closed to them by virtue of the way ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ are constructed within a process. And that the occurrence of the supposed offending behaviour should be cause for reflection on its rootedness in a relationship of oppression, not an opportunity to condemn the person behaving in a (supposedly) offensive way; especially by using terminology such as ‘abusive’, i.e. to imply that something is morally unacceptable and very serious, thereby further delegitimising the dissenter and their concerns. Indeed, this was never acknowledged by the women supposedly championing women’s liberation from oppression.

To me, this was incredible and, as a woman, immensely problematic, not to mention upsetting and frustrating. Given the way that consensus was evaded by the ‘verticals’ who implemented their visions for the event with little respect for anyone else involved, the ‘horizontals democratic opposition’ was often left having to claim its role as the ‘oppressed’: constantly reacting to the undemocratic manoeuvrings described in this text, and trying to ‘open up’ the process and challenge the exclusionary discourses and practices of those dominating events, rather than being able to claim a space to put forward ideas that would be taken seriously, although many creative proposals for the event and the process did exist. In a situation of unequal power relations, where a non-oppressive and more inclusive, democratic politics is more likely to be crushed, one of the challenges for a ‘horizontal’ politics thus becomes how to move out of this victim role to an affirmative one in which its ethos can inform modes of being. And to do this without in turn becoming another dogmatic identity position, which is one of the problems that ideas invoked by ‘horizontalism’ seek to address. By this I mean that the organisational process of any Social Forum brings together individuals, organisations, networks and groups of a diverse political background. This ‘diversity’ is heralded as one

Oxford ESF crew


Hide the following 28 comments

agreed, a great article

08.08.2005 02:59

Sounds like a heady dose of bureaucracy and sexism....The process was flawed from the outset - proclaimed into being rather than thrashed out by people who actually understood what social forums were and are about. Meetings called that were impossible for most people outside London to attend. Committees formed and then scrapped without notice. Threats and insults used instead of debate....But It was great to be able to read about it all here on Indymedia. And thank god us horizontal types managed to piss off and pull the plug on the worst excess of the whole debacle - getting Labour party MP Ken Livingstone to talk about 'stopping racism'. My god, these guys organising the whole thing must have started to believe their own lies. And that *unt has still not left the Labour Party, even though they've now given the police carte blanche to selectively stop and search disproportionate amounts of black and 'ethnic' people. Bloody hippocrite.

The level of institutionalisation here for the 2004 ESF was unprecedented and probably wont happen again. It must be a feature of the ways that when push comes to shove, Labour, SWP, and the trade unions (+CND and other 'established' NGOs) happily connive and conspire to promote their own positions: at the expense of their own values and the rest of the libertarian and leftist scene. Thanks be to the success of Beyond ESF! Though I'm not sure whether the politics of opposing the WSF is completely compatible with organising a fringe event that actually rescues the main event...but hey, whether that matters at this point or not, I'll leave that to those involved.

I personally believe that the marginalisation of G8 Alternatives during the G8 convergence is partially down to the behaviour of some of its constituent groups and personalities in the run-up and during the ESF. It leaves the future Athens 2006 event looking very interesting indeed because they also have some highly entrenched political/social forces. While the libertarian/anarchist/anti-authoritarian's are a stronger force, they are far more divided than here in England, Scotland, Wales, etc etc. And the left-political parties, well they're mostly not comparable to those we have here. Oh the joy of it all :)



08.08.2005 04:28

"I personally believe that the marginalisation of G8 Alternatives during the G8 convergence"

yes I remember how marginalised I felt when we organised 10,000 people marching to Gleneagles.

Did you notice something else, not once did anyone from G8 alternatives say anything against Dissent, even though we were being constantly pressed to dissociate ourselves from them. Even when their roadblocks seemed to threated the demonstration we refused to condemn them, we argued that Dissent had a right to struggle as they saw fit and we would not start slagging them off.

I sometimes wonder what was the point.


Remembering taking direct action against the 'verticals'/authoritarians!

08.08.2005 09:33

don't let them co-opt and suffocate our movement again!

Get Real

08.08.2005 11:37

G8 Alternatives organised a very succesful discussion space and conference in Edinburgh. Dissent (the network of horizontals) did not; it was also very poorly attended. You could maybe put this down to the experience of the organisers, but I think it went further than that.

Dissent lacks a political strategy, G8 alternatives has one (although you may disagree with it). This lack of coherent political direction is telling.

There is also a problem of experience. Dissent have not as yet built up the organisational experience to plan and manage larger events - let alone a mature base of cooperating non-hierachs.

So for Dissent related horizontal groups to have wanted to organise the Lodon ESF last year was a joke. They were mostly their as spoilers or to change the nature of the ESF event. They failed of course, being no match for the more established and orgaisationally experienced groups, and put on their own events. Far play but there was a sense that the Horizontals through the dummy out of the pram and seperated off to do theor own thing which they used as a base to criticise the main event.

Good political criticism is important but name-calling (on both sides), and disengenuous slagging off is regressive. This works against building up trust, and destroys it too.

Getting involved in the ESF is an obviuous track for Dissent. Like any other left formation they to would like to have a slice of that cake. I think this may be impossible unless a Dissent network rapidly forms in Greece, and begins co-operating with the more establihed groups there in the run up to 2006, Athens.

To gain influence it is necessary to build up trust. And the SWP and their like certainly do not trust those who claim to be horizontals. I think the SWP and G8 Alternatives have shown good grace, expecially at the G8, something that the Dissent heirarchy has not.

This can be illustrated by the Dissent blockades on the Day of the G8 alternatives Demo. Dissent blocked public access roads and not the roads that delegates used. This was because the police had done such a good job. Bloking the public highways stopped many people attending the wednesday demo.

This demo was obviously the most important event of the whole week, and everyone should have mobilised for it. The fact that Dissent - let´s say at best unwittingly - worked against it was wrong. It was acase of trying to compete with G alternatives - something that Dissent is not large enough, or well orgainsed enouugh to do. A pity.

If I´d have been a G Alts organiser, I´d have been furious. But they showed good grace and did not ctriticise Dissent. They respected Dissent´s space to protest in it´s own way.

This helps to begin to build trust. In doing so groups maybe able to co-operate better, be they vertically or horizontally inclined.

Ed Campbell

mirror, mirror on the wall...

08.08.2005 11:58

hmmm yes...G8 alternatives 6000 people at a counter conference on Sunday after MPH demo, largest political gathering ever in Scotland...25,000 people at the ESF again largest gathering in UK history, organised in 10 months with little inital social forum? manchester social forum? what exactly have they achieved? but then I suppose building the movement and trying to increase the involvement of ordinary people and not just activists who agree with you doesn't sit well when you have a Phd thesis to write, far better to look in the autonomist mirror where everywhere action is unbelievably creative and amazing, and you can pretend your sooo much more radical than anyone else, shut down the only anti-fascist seminar in the ESF and make sure you get a job at Babels and get paid 3000 more than any other ESF worker - ahhh horizontal 'democracy' in action!


The Freaks Come Out At Night

08.08.2005 12:18

"I think this may be impossible unless a Dissent network rapidly forms in Greece"

I am sure there are idiots in Greece too, but I trust they will not be allowed anywhere near the organsing process. And as for the event itself, security should be elected and placed on every door to keep these freaks from attacking meetings.

No substitute for Democracy

power bases

08.08.2005 12:54

Except that keeping the process vertical means nothing will change - anyway it is bourgois vanguardist self--congratulatory crap that has no connection with real life - There are the usual well-off, boring, gobshite suspects, media whores, union leeches, anarcho-lifestylists, trot cliques. You don't speak to us. Like the people whose main concern with protest is a book, PHD, social club, or career in media and journalism. Or the teachers that pretend they are not filling kids heads with shit in the name of edukashun. Middle class pratts. Go on then, fucking ASBO me you self important dicks. Seriously though I think it is time a lot more of you got out into the real world and questioned your motives. I'm sure you're all really nice people - but there can be no compromise against wankers trying to build their power bases and all their lying bullshit. They deserve a punch or two. Maybe a kick. Hippocrites everywhere...Fucking arfrogant ego spoilt brats. Goodbye. heh heh.


Endorsement of this article

08.08.2005 13:15

Discussion of this article seems to have got side-tracked onto the more recent Dissent vs G8 Alternatives debate regarding what happened in Scotland during the anti-G8 protests. I was not there, so cannot comment. I was however present at various stages of the ESF preparatory process, and would like to add that I find this writer's precise and honest observation of the process forensically accurate. As for "getting a life", is it not now, when the agenda for the ESF in Greece in 2006 is being discussed, particularly important that these processes are carefully dissected?


Smoke yourself horizontal

08.08.2005 15:19

While you carefully dissect, we will get on with organising the event. And if you stage any more assaults on the ESF lets just say we won't be unprepared this time.

Bring it on

Are horizontals linked to Co-Counselling Cult?

08.08.2005 15:21

For anyone who took up Emma's suggestion to read the article by Laura Sullivan I append some background information on RC also known as co-counselling.

'RC originated as a result of the work of Harvey Jackins in the early 1950s, and the RC community remains centred around him today. Jackins asserts that RC began as a result of accidental learning he experienced in the course of helping a friend (Rosen, 1978). However, the Study Group presents clear evidence that RC emerged as an offshoot of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics Institute, which later evolved into the semi-religious cult of Scientology, and that Jackins was for a time one of Hubbard's close associates. Many RC assumptions, such as the central importance of the discharge process, are identical to dianetic ideas developed many years earlier by Hubbard, despite the repeated insistence of Jackins and his followers on the distinctiveness of their ideas. There have been several organisational schisms from RC, leading to looser associations of people committed to the core concepts of co-counselling but distanced from the influence of Jackins (Heron, 1984; Evison and Horibon, 1988; Study Group, 1992).

RC as a movement resists publicity, and therefore information about its influence and membership is not readily to hand. Such control of information has been noted by Conway and Siegalman (1982) as a core cult tactic: potential recruits are given hints of a deep lore of transformational knowledge, which they can only access by escalating their involvement with the group. Once in, information is drip fed to them so that many will never know the full extent of the group's belief system, its organisational structure or its past mistakes. However, the main RC journal Present Time routinely lists what are termed RC reference persons, who are designated leaders of organised regions, and where they operate. As of July 1994 this points to a presence in over 49 countries, with the biggest concentration of accredited teachers and regions in the United States, and a considerable number within the United Kingdom.

Typically, people will encounter RC through personal contact with other participants. They will be invited to join what is called a 'fundamentals class'. At this stage the attraction is clear: low cost help for people in distress, alongside the opportunity to learn some simple communication skills of wider social use. The introductory fundamentals class will meet once a week for tuition in co-counselling techniques, demonstrations of counselling in front of the group by a teacher accredited by the RC organisation and for informal co-counselling sessions between class members from week to week. By its nature, much of this activity is harmless or even downright helpful. RC acknowledges the benefits obtained by creating a context in which people are listened to respectfully. A great deal of such activity occurs in RC classes, and at this level provides a considerable amount of support.

During and after fundamentals classes, participants will be invited to local, national and international workshops. They will also be invited to attend ongoing classes, 'support groups' organised around themes such as resistance to women's oppression, religious and age discrimination and distresses experienced in a variety of work occupations. Its recruitment methods are, in essence, similar to those described by Conway and Jackson (1982) as being typical of cults.

In each locality groups of co-counsellors will meet more or less regularly as an organised community, headed up by an appointed area reference person. Groups of such districts are formed into regions, under the tutelage of an appointed regional reference person. Every four years there is an international conference, and between conferences total authority to dissolve regions, areas, and to accredit or remove accreditation from teachers is vested in the International Reference Person. This post is held by founder Harvey Jackins, now in his late 70s, who has nominated his son Tim Jackins as his deputy and heir apparent.

This structure is elucidated in mind numbing detail in the RC community 'Guidelines', which are regularly updated by world conferences and issued to all members. The latest edition of these guidelines dates from 1992. It spells out a structure which emphasises common action to defend RC theory publicly and the vesting of enormous power between conferences in the organisation's leadership. To a considerable extent, this mirrors the 'democratic centralist' or authoritarian structures of old style Communist Parties in Eastern Europe. The implications of this for what we would term the engineering of consent are discussed below.

The key activity of co-counselling is, in theory, one to one sessions between members. However, an enormous amount of time is also spent in the group based activities, and it is on the negative effects of such practices that this paper wishes to primarily focus. In particular, it is necessary to consider the extent to which RC bears some resemblance to destructive cults which have now emerged in such varied environments as the religious, political and psychological fields (Hassan, 1988).


Horizontals need to build trust.

08.08.2005 16:29

Seems my last comment was removed probably because it was critical of the horizontals, I will try again. This time I`ll be less critical so that it might not be pulled. And IM please do not attack the computer from where this comment comes by using the priviledge data use receive we post messages.

Horizontals do not have experience of organising large events. Their attempt at organising a a large counter conference at the G8, in Edinburg, was not successful. For one, it was poorly attended. It also lacked political dirrection. In fact it generated little interest and amost passed unnoticed. It was a bad use of limited resources.

On the contary the G8 alternatives counter conference was very well attended, and turned out to be an exciting and interesting event.

It would have been much better if the Horizontals, mostly represented by Dissent, had tagged onto this event. They need to realise that they are too small to go it alone at these big events. Or they need to scale down their ambition and produce quality not quantity.

So it is a bit of a joke when the Horizontals demand a place at the table to organise the ESF. A lot of them dont like the event, and many even opopse it. Anti - 'ESF slogans using the words "Hierarchical", "Institutionalisation", and ¨Bureaucratisation." are frequent. The horizontals want to control a different event.

Clearly, they need to build trust and be a part of the main ESF, just as they shopuld have done at the G8 in Edinburg. They need to realise that they are to small to do anything substantial on their own, and will fizzle out if they take this marginalised position.

It would be great if they lent diversity to the main ESF, but it is difficult for the so-called "Verticles" since how they trust the so-called "Horizontals" after last year and the G8 in Edinburgh. I dont know how Dissent have managed it - but they have screwed things up, given the willingness of G8 - alternatives and the "Virticals" to work along side them.

The truth is so caled "Horizontals" do organise like traditional hierarchical organisations, but it is done covertly. A central clique (or central commitee in the case of the SWP) just appoints people to positions of responsibility, or positions of access to decision making and information access. So this "Horizontal" versus "Vertical" is phoney, and a little childish.

Those who act as spokeperson for the "Horizontals" (their leaders) should maker the effort to

Ed Campbell

Well nothing changes...

08.08.2005 18:58

The comments speak for them selves after reading the article... click on the link for a companion article about the problem in the horizontal world - a truth filled for many people - look inside the world of Indymedia. I hope people can look and compare and see the very worrying similarities between these supposedly opposite - but parallel roads - of social change.

Oxford ESF crew
- Homepage: http://

Lengthy reply...

09.08.2005 09:45

A few comments about Ed's comments earlier. A brief note first that he doesn't actually deal substantially with any of the issues raised in the initial message. Anyway, here goes with my comments on a few of Ed's assertions...

“On the contary the G8 alternatives counter conference was very well attended, and turned out to be an exciting and interesting event.”

Won’t go into too much detail as I’ve posted on this previously on Indymedia. I’d also stress that I (for obvious reasons) didn’t go to all the events at the counter-conference so my view may not have been representative. However, I felt there was a vast difference between the two workshop sessions I attended and the larger plenary sessions. The workshops involved a fair amount of discussion and genuine interaction among attendees and were conducted in a relatively open manner. The main plenary sessions I attended were most definitely not “exciting” or “interesting”. Each speaker gave largely the same speech about the same issues, there was no meaningful debate about issues between speakers and the questions asked from the floor rarely led to any sort of interesting discussion. In short, it seemed to me like a case of trying to get as many “big names” to attend as possible at the expense of any sort of meaningful discussion. This was a big opportunity to really discuss some of the relevant issues that we’re facing – instead it became an opportunity for moronic applause whenever a speaker made some trite comment about Bush or Blair being bad or neo-liberalism being a bad idea.

In addition, I think the tone of your article and general dismissal of Dissent for being “small” (although it actually mobilised a fair few people) is set early here by your praise of the counter-summit as being well-attended. Yeah, its good to have a lot of people attending your events, but that’s largely irrelevant if the event is so static and involves so little debate that the same information could have been gathered in just as little time by spending five or six hours reading a few magazine articles on neo-liberalism and imperialism. As you may have heard, size isn’t everything…

”It would have been much better if the Horizontals, mostly represented by Dissent, had tagged onto this event. They need to realise that they are too small to go it alone at these big events. Or they need to scale down their ambition and produce quality not quantity.”

Patronising c**p. Perhaps I should argue that as Respect and the SSP are quite small organisations they should “scale down their ambition”, disband, and focus on piecemeal reform within the Labour party? Why should Dissent be “too small to go it alone at these big events” and instead “tag along” with an approach they don’t agree with?

”So it is a bit of a joke when the Horizontals demand a place at the table to organise the ESF. A lot of them dont like the event, and many even opopse it. Anti - 'ESF slogans using the words "Hierarchical", "Institutionalisation", and ¨Bureaucratisation." are frequent. The horizontals want to control a different event.”

If horizontals agree with the basic precepts of the ESF why shouldn’t they be involved? What on earth are you on about? It seems to me that they disagreed with the reality of what the London ESF became, how it was organised and what it stood for, rather than having any disagreement about the value of the concept. I seem to recall a statement from the Wombles making it clear that this was their position. I thought this had also been made pretty clear in the many postings that were made about the ESF in the last few years. I might be reading too much into this but you seem to be implying that some horizontals opposed the whole idea of the ESF but just decided to get involved, presumably to they could wreck it. Is that your position? If so, it would be nice to have some evidence to go along with this assertion.

”Clearly, they need to build trust and be a part of the main ESF, just as they shopuld have done at the G8 in Edinburg. They need to realise that they are to small to do anything substantial on their own, and will fizzle out if they take this marginalised position.”

I agree that Dissent may fizzle out – of course that is possible (just as it is with any other grouping). They may even want to fizzle out and not become a static organisation. However, why are they too small to do anything substantial? Why can they not become larger (if they want to)? Why on earth do you necessarily have a problem with groups being small or, at any precise moment in time, marginalised? Change almost inevitably involves ideas that are small or marginalised becoming accepted. All too often ignoring your values and merely joining in with other larger groups is an error – as an example, the feminist movement grew substantially once it began to organise on its own terms and move away from the centralist class-reductionist approach in many Leninist and Maoist groups in the 1960’s.

Anyway, although they came nowhere near shutting down the G8 or disrupting it in any serious way, the Dissent people came closer to doing so than any other group, they showed many of us the value of actual action and, I dare say, actually empowered those taking part. That's just my view from the outside and I'm sure others can comment more accurately on this than I can.

”It would be great if they lent diversity to the main ESF, but it is difficult for the so-called "Verticles" since how they trust the so-called "Horizontals" after last year and the G8 in Edinburgh. I dont know how Dissent have managed it - but they have screwed things up, given the willingness of G8 - alternatives and the "Virticals" to work along side them.”

Yeah, you’re right to say that the G8 Alternatives didn’t officially condemn Dissent (to the best of my knowledge) and this was doubtless appreciated (although George Galloway did condemn direct action on Newsnight Scotland on the Tuesday evening – but perhaps we should forget about that, eh?). Sure, people in Dissent probably slagged off the G8 Alternatives events to their mates, but I know that comments from people involved in the G8 Alternatives organisation suggested they were at best ambivalent, at worse dismissive, of Dissent. Also, to state that G8 Alternatives showed “willingness” to work alongside Dissent may be overstating things slightly. I’d say there was more of a tolerance on both sides not to interfere with the other. Of course, though, this wouldn’t fit with your theory that all the positivity came from G8 Alternatives alone?

”The truth is so caled "Horizontals" do organise like traditional hierarchical organisations, but it is done covertly. A central clique (or central commitee in the case of the SWP) just appoints people to positions of responsibility, or positions of access to decision making and information access. So this "Horizontal" versus "Vertical" is phoney, and a little childish.”

Firstly, there is a big difference between how Horizontals and Verticals organise and it is definitely not "phoney or "childish" unless you are trying to marginalise the way that Horizontals do things. I’m sure that most Horizontals would admit that there are sometimes difficulties in sorting out how these things work in practice (e.g. ongoing discussions over use of vetos etc) but there is a radically different approach to doing things. Secondly, we’ve seen from the original article how the different viewpoints of each group are embodied in dramatically different visions. One is the vision of openness and ensuring that the means you employ are consistent with the ends you seek. If this ends up with you being “small” or “marginalised” at a certain point in time this may not be the end of the world. The other is a vision where small groups are “marginalised”, need to “tag along” with larger groups, where if the ends (a humane system) are not consistent with the means (e.g. hiring out work to “for-profit” companies with minimal discussion) it does not matter.



09.08.2005 10:25

I am amazed that anything gets passed the AAAnarcho-censors. Given how much they hate the Left. Anything that does not conform to their perverted organisational methods may now be assaulted by them just like the ESF was. There is no place in our movement for these people and they must be opposed wherever they try and poke their heads out from their caves.

I said

what is the anarchist relation with dissent?

09.08.2005 12:07

The sad fact about the London ESF was that from the outset many people who class themselves as horizontals did not want to be part of the ESF and in fact wanted to discredit & jepordise the whole event from the outset..

Having met people from dissent I have come to the conclusion that

i) The back bone of dissent is made up of anarchists (even though they are the minority) i.e. dissent is almost like an anarchist's united front, a bit like STWC & RESPECT

ii) The anarchists hold the most power and decision making in the dissent group and also the most rampant and vocal anti- SWP/ RESPECT/ STWC/ UAF (the anarchist made up most of the group who attempted to disrupt the ESF- the ones who stormed the platform and punched a black anti-racist activists and then claimed it was ordinary members of dissent).

iii) The anarchists are an organisation with leadership, they publish letters and bulletins ect, as a result they try to win people to their ideas and attempt to influence the direction of the dissent group. (this is not a bad thing persay, but they pretend not to have leaders)

iv) The anarchists are not willing to be drawn into the serious united fronts e.g STWC RESPECT, because they are scared they will loose influence over their loose grouping. Even if it is not in the best interest with the movement as a whole, (this is called good old fashion secertianism).

In other words, the anarchist relationship with dissent is like the relationship the SWP has with STWC, a united front- The only diffference is at least the SWP knows this is the case and does not pretend that it isn't.

The non- anarchist in the dissent group need to wake up and smell the cofffee

red letter

What is the link between the RC community and the horizontals?

09.08.2005 13:13

'This structure is elucidated in mind numbing detail in the RC community 'Guidelines', which are regularly updated by world conferences and issued to all members. The latest edition of these guidelines dates from 1992. It spells out a structure which emphasises common action to defend RC theory publicly and the vesting of enormous power between conferences in the organisation's leadership. To a considerable extent, this mirrors the 'democratic centralist' or authoritarian structures of old style Communist Parties in Eastern Europe.'

Interesting. Time and time again during the lead up to the ESF in London the proposal was put by Laura Sullivan and others that facilitation of ESFmeetings be given to the them.

Does anyone have more information on RC and Co-Counselling?



09.08.2005 13:27

A couple of comments on Ed Campbell's article.

1) Dissent had advertised the blockading of Gleneagles months before G8 Alternatives demanded the right to march around the summit. It was a case of G8 Alternatives failing to talk to Dissent to minimise disruption. They had ample opportunity to come to a gathering.

Additionally, the tactic of blockading the G8 is one of non-compromise. It's not 'asking' the high and mighty to do something for us; it says that 'no summit' is better than any summit; it recognises that the leaders of the world are there for themselves and the betterment of the rich and lofty, not the 5 or 6 billion rest of us. It doesn't hold out the view that politicians will ever do anything for us, except when it might save their own positions.

There was absolutely no way most of the blockaders would have agreed to simply march around the summit. It looks like a fair number of attendees of the march (which included a number of 'dissent' ppl) disagreed with its implicit aims to 'shame the G8' (do they have any shame to start with?) and pulled down the fence.

Finally, there was concern raised in meetings that the tactic of blockading would stop the marchers from getting to Gleneagles, but this had been the plan for some 2 years or so...many hoped that the marchers would get out of their busses and join the blockades - perhaps even walk a couple of miles to get to the march if they wanted. Most of the blockaders walked for 10 or so miles to do ther thing - why not other healthy people?

2) You say that Dissent should 'concentrate on quality not quantity' and then also say that Dissent's counter-conference was poorely attended. Looks like it can't win.

Well for one Dissent did not have a counter-conference with the same purpose as G8 Alternatives. It had lots of meetings at the Teviott space to organise logistics, tactics, share information. It wasn't meant to attract thousands - there wasn't the capacity for a start. And organising stuff can get pretty dry too so most people try to stick to just a couple of things.

You then say 5000 going to the counter-conferece (which as we have heard was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of actual discussion) was a huge success. And then say that Dissent's output was small. But there were approx. 5000 at the Eco-Camp, putting politics/ethics into action, organising to stop the summit rather than sitting in debating halls talking. Not to mention some of the large demonstrations organised around the summit. I for one think the time for talk is not when the G8 are meeting - if we want to stop the G8 (which we did to some extent - though the strategy does raise a lot of questions) - then we need to organise rather than debate.

Then again, the strategy of creating talking shops also raises questions about revolutionary strategy as well - does talk REALLY lead to those 5000 working towards suitable end? Or do they fly back to their homes and carry on as normal? Would they not be more inspired by taking part in direct action to help stop the summit? Both blockades and talking raise questions, but in my opinion if you're going to create a huge debate, lets do it when theres a suitable time.

3) You say the division between 'verticals' and 'horizontals' is childish. Yet the main differences between these two traditions or modes of operation is that one actively admits that the centralisation of responsibility (and power in many cases) is necessary, while the other attempts to prevent this from happening (sometimes to deleterious degrees).

You're right that the division isn't quite so clear-cut in theory, but when you read the article about the preparation for the ESF, and then compare the physical organisation and process of the meetings taking place at the main event and Beyond ESF you can see that people very quickly 'take sides' and stick to their principles; the organisers of the two events at the very least set the tone. So although the division is not so clear cut in theory, if you look at people's actions - it sure is.

Ideologically, sure, many council communists and autonomist marxists are far closer to libertarian non-marxist forms of organisation than their fellow marxist groups. But this is theory rather than what happens on the ground.

Finally, to respond to a quite funny miss-quote saying 'hopefully there will be a Dissent in Greece': well that's unlikely. I think things will be far more sectarian there. And if people want to stitch up (and this POV depends on your view of the Social Forum's themselves,) the event and turn it into a rogues gallery of politicians and wannabees I think there will be more resistance to this than in London.

And if you want to get the guns out, threaten violence, 'be ready for it' as implied in a later post, well it won't be the first time now, will it?


Another lengthy reply

09.08.2005 14:52

Slightly less long reply to Red Letter.

“The sad fact about the London ESF was that from the outset many people who class themselves as horizontals did not want to be part of the ESF and in fact wanted to discredit & jepordise the whole event from the outset.”

As noted in reply earlier, it would be really interesting if people could substantiate this particular assertion. Simply because a group of people fundamentally disagreed with other people as to what the ESF should be does not mean that either necessarily set out to discredit it. To suggest, without providing any sort of evidence, that the horizontals deliberately set out (“from the outset”) to “discredit and jepordise the whole event” does not bear any resemblance to the debates that I’ve read about the event and seems, given the current absence of evidence, a gross miscaricature.

I haven’t had all that much contact with Dissent and am sure some of the people involved could defend it a lot better than I could, but here’s a brief comment on a couple of assertions…

“iii) The anarchists are an organisation with leadership, they publish letters and bulletins ect, as a result they try to win people to their ideas and attempt to influence the direction of the dissent group. (this is not a bad thing persay, but they pretend not to have leaders) “

Jeez. I’d imagine Dissent is like many other similar groups that are not organised along hierarchical lines. Of course they presumably try to win people to their ideas and this occasionally takes the form of various publications. And of course they presumably have internal debates that try to “influence the direction” of the group. None of this necessarily means they have leaders (publishing letters and bulletins certainly doesn’t mean you have leaders and certainly isn’t necessarily inconsistent with non-hierarchial organising). The anarchist or non-hierarchical way of organising IS fundamentally different to that of other groups – that is pretty clear (you only need to read reports on different meetings if you can be bothered) and should not be ignored.

"iv) The anarchists are not willing to be drawn into the serious united fronts e.g STWC RESPECT, because they are scared they will loose influence over their loose grouping. Even if it is not in the best interest with the movement as a whole, (this is called good old fashion secertianism)."

Why is it that you cannot see that there are serious differences between anarchists (and other non-authoritarian groups) and more traditional left groupings (although clearly there may well be times when they can work together or tolerate different approaches)? Are you actually seriously suggesting that the reason anarchists do not join in Respect is not because of a massive, significant difference in approach towards such crucial issues as hierarchy, electoral politics, the role of “parties” etc (a difference in approach that has stretched back centuries), but merely because anarchists want to avoid losing influence?? I’d love to know how you justify this point of view.



09.08.2005 17:29

would that be the same Ed Campbell who was attempting to be active in some dissent groups before the G8?

just curious .....


Its almost as if nobody was listening to anyone else...

09.08.2005 23:46

The ESF article is very truthful, from the point of view of a non-dogmatic “horizontal” - the IMC article says many thing that ring true to many (aspesherly older) people who have been involved in Indymedia.

Now look at the comments each has received, direct in the case of the ESF article and more on the linked pages on the IMC article - do you notice something?

1) The hectoring abusiveness is very visible on both - but each supposedly coming from opposite end of the Horizontal/vertical split. This doesn’t only happen on IMC it happens at gatherings and meetings too. On both the H/V side of social change politics the tends to be dogmatic narrowness to proceedings.

2) Very few of the replies attempt to deal with the substances of the article, even when they do they choice (contusly or unconuesly) to mis-read the original - this is the case with “salaud” reply it builds a straw women then pulls it apart. The is a problem with IMC just as the is a problem with the ESF… are they the two sides of a single coin?

the same one

A Very Good Report

10.08.2005 08:38

The analysis in the original article by Emma is, I believe, very valuable. It is undoubtedly honest and attempts to be objective.

However, Emma was also "an actor" in the process, who took sides and probably had an influence on the process itself. So it is very difficult for her to be completely objective.

Regardless, it is an excellent bit of work, and by far represents the most useful analysis of the London ESF process that I have read. All those involved should read it and comment.

However, the next ESF is on the horizon and those who want to be active organisers of the event will be gearing up their tactics and propagada to secure a degree of control and influence over the event. I would be surprised if the process for Athens is much different to London.

This is a shame if it turns out to be true, but articles like Emma´s could have an impact.

I suppose the best to be expected outcome would be that no one clique or body controls the ESF. So what if activists fight for control, and use unfair tactics - that´s life under capitalism. It´s not fair if you are an Iraqi born and living in Iraq over the last 10 years, is it. You get blown to pieces. The wanabee ESF organisers only become a little disappointed and maybe have their ego´s dented a little ( a good thing). They play poliitcal games and lose, or win. Who cares, it does not matter, as long a relatively sucessful event happens.

We dont live in an idealiswed world, "horizintals" sometime forget capitalism (new liberalism) is all consuming. Forming a collective, eating veggie food, trying to use a form of consensus decision making doesn´t mean you are out of the caopitalist loop. Far from. Almost everything done is influence by capitalism. So getting a pure nonn-capitalist influence ESF is ludricrous. But attempting to do the best you can is not. But there is a necessity to be pragmatic at times. Also, on the other hand there is a n need to go out of your way to reject trats and the influence mof capitalism. Fro example, it would be possible not to sub'caontract out food suppliers at the esf, and use the skills of those who attend to produce.
But in London there was a degree of pragmatism employed.

But the struggle is interesting as Emaa points out, like any contest.

What makes me laugh is the self-importance of some of the "Actors". You know if some of them got what they wanted, to contribute to orgaining, they wouldn´t know what to do. Many just want to be involved just to shout and disply ego and a bigger stage, because elsewhere they have marginal significance.

Take for example the social forum movement in the UK 0 it is practically non-existant. London, manchester, sheffield, Cardiff etc. They do nothing and have donme little. A miniscule number of peoole have been involved. Yet, come the ESF, they will be shoulting we want a seat at the big organisers table becasue we are the Social Forum Movment. This is no different to the SWP having a front orginisation like GR. Except that is GR have done quite a lot, havent they. The LSF movement has done jack shit, and shouldn´t be given any responsibility because it just declares itself a movement. It´s a joke really.

Sorry, my criticism of what Emma has put forward are weak and unsubtantial, like the reat of the comments that follow her article, but I do not have the time for anything more than this Ramble. Sorry.

But I would say that i do not completely agree with some of her conclusions. I think the premise of the aricle is that "Horizontals" are more "democratic" than verticles. It is not the case. Or, more acurately, I have not seen the evidence that this is the case. The power that both these attempt to employ is the same. The difference really, is that the "horizontals" were not well organised. This is not because they do not organise because theyare anarchists. NO!. it´s just that thry are as Lazy and as incompetant as you or I and the rest of us.

And their decision making processes are as undemocratic as any "vertical group". Of course there is an ethos behind the "horizontals" that if implimented would contitute a different approach and perhaps a more collective and democratic one. But so far, power relations are key, and domination, persuasion by rhetoric and coercion aare as much part of their modus operandi as it the "verticlels".

The process of reaching decisions can be differnt, but its horses for courses, isn´t t. In the wider political world outside the gheto of sectional activist groups, its fight for influence and for ones voice to be heard. Even in small cco-operative communities there´s always one or two who dominate, coerce the others and
use "intitutionalism", "bureaucratisaton", "oppression" and "coercion" to get their way and dominate. It has been ever thus, and I am sure will continue to be so for some time.

We are living in capitalism and you cannot get away from it, unless you hide in the woods, and remove youreself from reality. All process are going to be floored under capitalism. There cannot be true democracy, or any idealised world under it. So "Get Real" really does have a point.

On the other hand, Emma points out many areas that could be changed to improve the way things are done. Such as the behaviour of activists. They really are the most twisted and degenerate people i have ever come across. Emma points out the behaviour at these ESF meetings. I have been to some myself and have witness it. There is som much hatred, spite, malice, and childishness. And they get away with it, by creating "a false reality" they I feel they sometimes begin to believe in themselves since it is so oft presented. Blak is white and white becomes Black, just as it is in the rhetoric of Blair.

But some groups believe the any means can be justified. There is little honesty on both sides, just like the old politics and just like capitalist politics. Until this changes, nothing will change. But the battle could be interesting just as any contest or battle has interest.

Sorry I really do not have the time to re-read what I have written and make corrections or do a spell-check. I have wasted enough time rambling on as it is.

Another train of thought has come to allow me so to ramble a little more - and clumsily dance, with my fingers, over the keyboard - for another five minutes.

But yes, Dissent wants to get hold of the ESF or a least a reasonble slice of it. The bun fight will be interesting.The Local Socila Forum movement will be a fron t organisation that they use, that has zero substance behind it. They will use the fron of th NO2ID campaign too, and lots of other frontts. So you have to laugh when they acuse the SWP of using fron orgainisations.

Lets be honest. Smoke, Mirrors and Lies are tedious, and get you into a mess. I criticise Dissent now, perhaps because of sour grapes. It was me who had the idea to start such a network, and planned and excuted the start up of it. Now I have been excluded from its decision making hierarchy, perhaps I am to blame for this, since i do not play the old political game, I am critical.

The point is I really do not give a shit about having power. The porblem is that many activists yearn for it, as a substitute for the powerless of their own lives. Oh, they will put on some confident front they are cool and susued. But look straight into the eyes and you can see the fear and insecurity and in somecases gross stupidity. If it gets them through the day then fine, but they fuck things up for others.

You have to belive it. I really could give a fuck about people and their crassnessity

Edward Campbell

excellent article

10.08.2005 17:21 were the majority of the other pieces about the ESF in the publication it came from. The comments seince display the attitudes towards horizontals from the verticals. Go to a council meeting, or a SWP meeting, go to any meeting organised by a hierarchical organisation. There you will experience manipulation of the agenda, of the process, of the right to speak, of the ability to change the course of events. Go to a meeting organised by a non-hierarchical group, maybe a campaign group or a Dissent! supporting group or a peace group. Here the agenda should be written by all present, the process of conducting the meeting should be outlined at the beginning by people experienced in facilitating (not dominating) such meetings, all should be given time to speak, either in order of raising hands or in the case of certain voices dominating, a balance of contributions should be struck. Proposals should be put forward, debated, have clarifying poitns raised, be modified and tested for consensus. Such processes are attempts to increase inclusivity and direct democracy, in the face of disempowering and exclusive experiences at hierarchical meetings (which are often mere 'demonstrations' or lip-service to concepts of consultation and democracy). The conflicts reported on above are the result of people wishing to demonstrate, in the organisation of an event putting forward the idea of another possible world, the means which fit such a search. To make a new omlette, we should not agree to break the eggs of the ideals which we supposedly promote. Or maybe in a horizontal meeting we could come to a consensus that an omlette is not the dish we want if it necessitates the breaking of eggs.


nose is growing

10.08.2005 20:42

''I criticise Dissent now, perhaps because of sour grapes. It was me who had the idea to start such a network, and planned and excuted the start up of it. Now I have been excluded from its decision making hierarchy, perhaps I am to blame for this, since i do not play the old political game, I am critical. ''

so dissent was YOUR idea was it ed.

shame that doesnt really stand up to much in reality.

tell us more about why you have been ''excluded'' from it

is it really as innocent as you make out?

just curious......


Some clarifications and a personal view on wrtitings

11.08.2005 09:09

(I tired to post this a couple of days ago but couldn't, so here it is now)

Just wanted to say...

I agree with most of the first article, but also think that a lot of it is quite simplistic (but then that's what I guess happens when you try to precis a pers view of a political process that trundled along for a full year into a few sides of A4).

However I completely disagree with the author's closing bit (which seems to have provoked most debate) where she says:

"I personally believe that the marginalisation of G8 Alternatives during the G8 convergence is partially down to the behaviour of some of its constituent groups and personalities in the run-up and during the ESF"

Obviously the author did not participate in the preparation process for the 2005 G8 mobilisations up in scotland (or at least not to the same depth as she did with the London ESF), becasue if she had she would have realised that the political landscape was very different from the london (uk) ESF dynamic. A more accurate way to describe what happened in Scotland would be to say that there was a high dose of scepticism from many areas over the involvement of the groupings on the left who had been involved in the ESF. I wouldn't say that G8A as a network of involved groups and invididuals were marginalised at all. For the uk london esf the dividing lines were very clearly split in comparison, for Scotland things were much more fluid - as they should be.

The other important points to pull out of the comments are those that paint G8A as having organised a single counter conference.

EG: "...the G8 alternatives counter conference was very well attended, and turned out to be an exciting and interesting event."

They did in fact do a very good job of organising a large number of venues and allocating those who applied to hold workshops or meetings to the venues. But they didn't organise a single conference. No the rolling programme was done by the plethora of groups large and small who put on the events themselves, many not in G8A at all.

Let's not forget that several other very good one day counter conference events were held in Edinburgh by other NGOs that were NOT part of the G8A programme / process (because they did not want to be associated with some parts of G8A) - or Dissent! either for that matter.

This is the trap that many people fall into, labelling things as G8A this, Dissent! that, when in fact these things are often a collective effort, and often with areas that cross over. Yes, there are many people and groups who engaged in both, and others who engaged in neither! These sweeping generalisations may have been more appropriate when talking about the ESF re 20 people sat in a room at a meeting, but not when talking about mobilisations and planning that involves hundreds of people.

One word - Diversity.

Back to the ESF and Ed Cambell is utterly mistaken when he asserts that the more 'horizontal' folks have no experience of organising large events and that therefore their desired involvement in the london ESF was "a joke". Witness last weekend's Big Green Gathering with up to 15,000 people under canvas in the fields and powered predominantly by solar and wind power - lots of horizontal types there... organising, adminisrating, volunteering, running stalls, workshops, discussions etc etc.

Let's not forget that for the ESF Brig Oubridge from the big green gathering (BGG) initially offered to work towards involving this network and the organisational expertise and capacity from the BGG (since that year the BGG festival was having a year off). Brig eventualy left the ESF organising process disgusted by its authoritarian nature, but it does illustrate the high calibre and resources from the more horizontal networks that had wanted to participate in the esf organising process (and who did not simply seek to wreck it from the outset as Ed faslsy claims).

Ed Cambell's comments about the G8A wednesday demo are also miles off, but there's a good look at this false assertion which says "dissent attacked g8a demo by doing blockades" under a discussion about Dissent! + G8A communicatrion here - (see "Well I thought it was all rather good!! A simple explanation...."):

As the last comment in the above links says, the G8 mobilisations were achieved in a much better atmosphere than the london esf last year - while there's resonance between the two they were in fact very different, and trying to extrapolate from one to the other using the same arguements from the ESF or similar is missing the opportunity to see what really happened in scotland and thus losing the opportunity to move forward - and that would be the biggest mistake of all.


Dissent want to control the world!!

11.08.2005 10:13

Ed: You say "Dissent wants to get hold of the ESF or at least a reasonble slice of it"

WTF?! Are you serious!?

Sure there are some people involved in Dissent who worked on the ESF / WSF projects, and Dissent has in the past had discussions about holding events within the framework of these official events (which it then did in the name of outreach), but to say Dissent wants to "get hold of the ESF" is nonsense. Where are you coming from mate?

On another note, all this stuff about G8A getting 10,000 people to gleneagles is again falling into the trap of seeing everything as isolated monoliths. The fact is that at the Gleneagles demo I saw very large numbers of people from groups involved in Dissent there, some who came on from blockades, others who just went along. In the same way there were people from G8A and Dissent at the MPH march and so on and so on.

While some of the writings here are quite good observations on what has happened in the past, it does pain me to see so much nonsense also written here. That said there needs to be spaces where this can be discussed. During the G8 week I thought Indymedia was great covering all of the main demos, irrespective of who organised or attended them. These periods of mass protest are in my opinion when Indymedia works best - people are reporting and organising and too busy to spend time attacking each other - and this I think reflects nicely what was happening on the ground during that week - I certainly found it inspiring if a little exhausting.


Marathon Consensus - The Untold Story

11.08.2005 10:38

Something that got little attention during the run up the G8, but which is certainly worth mentioning, was the marathon consensus process session at the Festival of Dissent (in april?).

This was the longest largest single sustained attempt at using consensus to agree a compromise which I've ever seen. It related to the setting up of a mass rural convergence campsite.

While it was already proving difficult to find a piece of land big enough to accomodate the number of groups interested in a joint campsite, it was becoming clear that Dissent seemed more determined / committed than G8A to find such a location.

As such the debate that ran over several hours was in essence - if Dissent succeeded in finding a site for a rural convergence would people be able to accept a G8A / authoritarian left / trade union Zone within it beyond participation from other less aligned groups?

Make no mistake this was a rather controversial discussion for many in dissent, and following the bad feeling from the london esf, seemed to many like 'a proposal too far'.

The outcome was that process however was yes, this could be negotiated, but under a set of criteria regarding behaviour in the convergence space including how consensus spokescouncils should work, media engagement guidelines, representation etc etc

The consensus process, that as I said lasted for several hours, also involved splitting down into groups and several feedbacks and then continuing. It was not ideal, but it did allow those who wanted to partiticipate to ensure their views were heard.

What was reached was a compromise aimed at benefitting all, an attempt to keep a very-loose-indeed coalition of differing organisations and networks working in the same direction in order to mobilise, plan and facilitate the protests.

For many it was a difficult decision to stomach, indeed it was one I thought I'd never see. In the end given the police pressure and so on which meant that several possible locations for the campsite fell through (inc the knock on effect of demobilising many from europe), the Bob Geldof Million People Promise that kicked the councils into action and provided the Jack Kane centre, and the fact that the go ahead for the Stirling eco-village location only came at the 11th hour, meant that the compromise position was never necessary / enacted - but that doesn't change the fact that it was made.

Given a lot a the carping going on here, I think this story of the consensus decision reached at the Festival of Dissent is an important one.

affinity group

Remembering the ESF at a distance

20.08.2005 05:52

Since I find myself not to be London Centric, I have taken a little time to get around to reading the posting of 18th July from Emma/Oxford ESF crew.(Re-European Social Forum in London).

I found the article to be informative, interesting, enlightening and, possibly honest. I have also read almost every line of all the postings that followed it.

For whatever they are worth, here are some comments/thoughts on just a couple of things:

It seems clear enough that some people, whether left, right or indifferent appear to believe that they, as people, are more equal than others. Indeed, one contributor who labels other people who disagree, as "freaks", forgetting or overlooking or just plain ignoring the implication that "All freaks are equal(but obviously in his/her) case,"some freaks are more equal than others".

Also, another poster goes on to comment(something like).."If you hide in the woods.......if you take yourself away from reality"
Some peoples reality is capitalism and great cities full of economic wonder(and theft,lies,robbery, cheating, stealing, deception, fear, hatred, intolerance, indifference, beating, oppression, repression, imprisonment, injustice, killing, murder,etc,etc.....all those other wonderful capitalistic led things) whereas some peoples reality is "hiding in the woods" or "living in the woods", which "man"(woman) has apparently been doing for thousands of years in harmony or struggle with/against nature. Get real! Seems pretty real to me. Has anyone here heard of "indigenous tribes"?

Here is more,(undoubtedly, soon to be labelled) "nonsense:

"I will speak out for those who have no voices.
I will stand up for the rights of all the oppressed.
I will speak truth and justice.
I will defend the poor and the needy.
I will lift up the weak.
I will speak out for those who have no choices.
I will cry out for those who live without love.
I will show compassion to the crushed and broken in spirit.
I will lift up the weak"

Powerlesswithoutindymedia?..............Probably not.

Puerile person

thanks and comments

06.02.2006 21:12

hey all,

ok- maybe a few months late, but thought i might comment anyway, even if the discussion has died down -- as the author, i just wanted to say thanks for your comments and thanks oxford indymedia for drawing attention to my article - however, the article's missing the conclusion, which, considering the debates that ensued, perhaps should be read. you can find it here:

also, a correction: pete picks up (and disagrees with) points i supposedly make about the g8 organising process. however, i never mention the g8 once in my article, so i don't really understand the criticisms. i think pete you're drawing on a strand of conversation that doesn't come from the piece i wrote but from the subsequent comments by other people.

on re-evaluation counselling: there are no sect-like world domination fathoming links between the group of individuals that went under the collective name of 'horizontals' in the esf 2004 organising process and people practising the re-evaluation counselling method.

the author
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