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<nettime> Jamie King: The European Social Forum: Sovereign and Multitude
geert lovink on Sun, 20 Oct 2002 11:01:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Jamie King: The European Social Forum: Sovereign and Multitude

"The European Social Forum: Sovereign and Multitude"
J.J. King

from: jamie {AT} jamie.com

'There are [...] two primary positions in the response to today's dominant
forces of globalization: either one can work to reinforce the sovereignty of
nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and
global capital, or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the
present form of globalization that is equally global.' [1] (Michael Hardt.)

'Rarely has the corruption of political and administrative life been so
deeply corrosive; rarely has there been such a crisis of representation;
rarely has disillusionment with democracy been so radical. When people talk
about a "crisis of politics", they are effectively saying that the
democratic State no longer functions - and that in fact it has become
irreversibly corrupt in all its principles and organs; the division of
powers; the principles of guarantee; the single individual powers; the rules
of representation; the unitarian dynamic of powers; and the functions of
legality, efficiency and administrative legitimacy. There has been talk of
an "end of history," and if such a thing exists we might certainy identify
it in the end of the constitutional dialectic tto which liberalism and the
mature capitalist State have tied us.' [2] (Antonio Negri.)

>From the 6th to the 10th of November 2002, the European Social Forum (ESF)
will take place in Florence, Italy. This meeting of activists, NGOs and
political groups follows the second World Social Forum (WSF) [3] which took
place in Porto Alegre, Brazil during February last year and was attended by
between 50,000 and 70,000 people.

Discussions at Porto Alegre centred largely around organisation against
destructive corporate practice, 'Third World' debt, and the general problem
of global neo-liberal economic policy. But many regarded the way in which
discussions were framed as suffering from a preponderance of party-political
and state-centric interests amongst the WSF's organisers, particularly the
PT (Workers' Party of Brazil, who used the WSF as a stage for their upcoming
elections), ATTAC (with its close links to French politicians, notably
Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who advocate strengthening national sovereignty as
a solution to the problems of contemporary globalization), Le Monde
Diplomatique, and the Association of Brazilian Businessmen for the Citizens.
A wide range of WSF panels were composed of European politicians,
legislators and NGO representatives, including Ministers from France,
Belgium and Portugal who had only recently voted to support the attacks on
Afghanistan and the present 'War on Terror'.

This decoration of the Social Forum by the Center-Left politicians smacked
to some of an opportunist polishing of progressive credentials (three of the
official French delegates, for example, were running for Presidency at the
time), and was vehemently protested by members of anti-capitalist groups
like MRG Catalunya-International, inspired by the People's Global Action
(PGA) [4], as well as 600 attendees of the alternative Jornadas
Anarquistas - 'Anarchist Journeys' - who occupied a three-storey house in
order to emphasise that, as one IMC (Independent Media Centre) poster put
it, 'Porto Alegre isn't the social democratic paradise that the PT makes it
out to be.' By way of confirmation of this position, later IMC posts
reported that local police, under the command of the PT and dressed in full
riot gear, quickly surrounded the house, nearly running over one squatter in
their attempts to clear it.

Undoubtedly the question of whether the State should properly be involved in
resistance against neo-liberalism is one yet to be answered by many
interested in limiting the patent depredations of capitalism. The occupation
of the most visible and dominant spaces of the Porto Alegre Forum by
sovereigntist perspectives, and the accompanying disenfranchisement of the
non-sovereigntist, horizontally organised political formations that make up
the bedrock of today's anti-capital movement, quite simply prevented this
question from being properly framed, let alone answered, at the Forum.

The commitment to multilateral, diverse organisation expressed in Porto
Alegre's Call of the Social Movements [5], is important in this respect.
Proposals at Porto Alegre that 2002's European Social Forum organise itself
as an 'open meeting space for in-depth reflection, democratic debate of
ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and planning
of effective action among entities and movements of civil society' [6] might
be seen as answering, however weakly, the charges of statist/sovereigntist
bias in the organisation of the WSF. Yet hopes that a proper dialogue
between the two positions could take place within the ESF have been
disappointed, as the terms of the ESF's organisation have once again
presented themselves as problematic to many groups on precisely the same
grounds as that of the WSF.

The ESF's organisation has been formulated largely by a co-operation between
the Disobedienti (or 'Civil Disobedience', formerly known as the Tute
Bianche / White Overalls), spearheaded by Antonio Negri, led by Luca
Casarini and based in North East Italy, and the Rifondazione Communista
(RC), a national far-left group which splintered from the previously
encumbent center-left party Democratici della Sinistra (DS), and which sits
in Italian Parliament with roughly 6% of the national vote. Some regard this
alliance between the statist-leftist RC, who have made it their open aim to
'contaminate, and be contaminated by' the anti-capital movement, and the
'Zapatist' Disobedienti to be rather an unholy one, especially since it has
effectively bought the Blairite DS a direct role in the ESF's organisation.

The Forum's location in Florence, locally ruled by the DS party, is not
insignificant in this respect. The resources the DS are able to offer in
Florence - a conference center, accomodation, satellite uplinks, and so on
and so forth - are obviously attractive to the Disobedienti / RC. Obversely,
by cooperating with the Disobedienti and providing access to its own
tax-funded, party-political infrastructure and that of the DS, the Leninist
RC is able to promote itself as being 'side by side' with active
'non-statist' anti-capital groups. And as at Porto Alegre, the organising
Disobedienti/ Democratici della Sinistra / Rifondazione Communista nexus has
undoubtedly been able to allocate time, at the ESF, to groups that fit
within the more traditional statist framework, with NGOs such as ATTAC once
again looming large. Indeed, the ESF is beginning to look like a
straightforward progression from Porto Alegre, a replay of the flocking of
extra-parliamentary groups to a local arm of a statist power, this time in
the shape of the Democratici della Sinistra rather than the Workers' Party
of Brazil.

What is now being articulated in the weeks running up to the ESF is that
this process of alliance-building, underway in Italy since the the Genoa
Social Forum and the 2001 G8 summit and recently derided by the journal
DeriveApprodi in its 'Open letter to the European movements', must not be
allowed to bring the project of articulating non-state modes of resistance
and alternatives to capitalism to a standstill. Many feel that the
uncomfortable alliance between the highly heterogeneous elements organising
the ESF, each with their very different histories and political cultures,
will once again distort the discussions that urgently need to take place in
Florence. It is in this context that calls a for a new plan for Florence
have found voice, one which more closely follows the principles laid out in
Porto Alegre's 'Call of the Social Movements.' People's Global Action,
unwilling to turn its back completely on the ESF, which, after all, will be
a moment of strong visibility in Europe, has been discussing at its recent
European meetings producing a parallel space characterised by
'decentralized, horizontal, assembly-based, and anti-authoritarian'
principles - the same principles through which PGA itself is supposed to be
constituted - 'a space that would maintain its autonomy with respect to the
'official' space of the ESF, but at the same time remain connected, allowing
for [...] intervention.' The idea is that this space would have 'one leg
outside and another inside' the ESF, and that its participation in the ESF
would take place through interventions in the context of thematic proposals
in the official program, the incorporation of new issues, and discussion of
the ESF itself as a political and organizational model.

A very recent meeting in Barcelona by a diverse collection of groups,
squats, social centers, movements, and networks interested in the PGA plan
concluded that the ambitions of this 'autonomous space' might not in fact be
realised as conceived during this year's PGA meetings in Strasbourg and
Leiden.[7] But it seems likely that the need to reflect upon and work
through the processes of political production, to experiment with forms of
expression and communication in the movement, will still be the foundation
of some kind of concrete, alterior activity at the Forum.

Ur {AT} action Hub, the name under which this activity is now taking place,
explains its project as 'the creation of a place of crossover cooperation
where common projects can develop [...] bartering practices and ideas,
sharing transnational horizontal networks, affirming new social and
communication rights, reclaiming public spaces on the net and the city [and]
agitating for new conflicts across constituent Europe.' [8] The content
areas proposed for the Ur {AT} action Hub will probably be less constitutive of
the meetings here than the 'infrastructural', representational, processual
and organisational issues that are becoming critical to the movement as a
whole. One of the reasons for movement's effective political invisibility at
the WSF is that traditional 'centralized' organizations have spokespeople
who represent them and can be recognized; networks do not. The movement must
solve the question of how to 'represent the unrepresentable' to prevent
future WSFs from occuring. The questions of knowledge sharing, community
decision making, possible infrastructures for many-to-many and peer-to-peer
communications, and the status of free circulation of information against
privacy and security, are critical in this respect, since it seems likely
that the movement will have to pose multitudinous political involution
against spectacular representality in order to depotentiate attempts by
sovereigntists to close down avenues for such representation that are anyway
inimical to its form.

Rather fishy in all of this is the intent of the Disobedienti, whose
position in the sovereigntist/non-sovereigntist divide has become
increasingly duplicitous over the last months. On the one hand, the group is
patently working with the statist RC, perhaps thinking to achieve popular
'legitimacy' after the accusations of troublemaking levelled at it
post-Genoa. Such a strategy, apparently unlikely for a group whose resident
autodidact Tony Negri has, along with other members of the Autonomia,
consistently derided State power (see the quote above), makes sense in the
context of the Disobedienti's own recent entry into local state politics.[9]

At the ESF, the Disobedienti have seized the chance to appear as ranking
organisers, the 'movement' representatives alongside the Trots and
Leninist-leftists. But simultaneously, their representatives have appeared
at PGA meetings agreeing spiritedly with the problems of the ESF's
organisation - the organisation they are actively part of - and the need for
an alternative forum. Such political manoeuvrings. which seem to have done
much to being the Forum into such clammy proximity with a center left party
positioning for re-election, further evidence the relevance of the
discussions and investigations into disclosure and information-sharing at
the UR {AT} Action Hub. Indeed, those discussions are necessary at every level,
both to fight the emergence of the crypto-hierarchies that are troubling the
movement at a variety of levels, and to begin to find ways of creating a
public decision-making structure that can truly enact the distributed will
of the multitude that Negri once spoke of so optimistically. Each and every
person still interested in such a process should bring themselves and their
ideas to the Ur {AT} ction Hub space during European Social Forum. [10]

[1] Michael Hardt, 'Porto Alegre: Today's Bandung?' in Alt.media,
republished on A-infos http://www.ainfos.ca/02/jul/ainfos00560.html>

[2] Antonio Negri, 'Constituent Republic', in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt,
Eds., _Radical Thought in Italy, A Potential Politics_ (Minn., University of
Minnesota, 1996), pp. 213-222, p. 214.

[3] See http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/>

[4] See http://www.agp.org> for a description of the PGA and its hallmarks.

[5] Available at, for example
http://www.mediasol.org/xarticle.php3?id_article=1 448>

[6] From the ESF website: http://www.fse-esf.org>

[7] See, for example, the PGA discussion document at
http://lists.myspinach.org/archives/pga-pacifika/2 002-August/000063.html>

[8] See http://www.fse-esf.org/article.php3?id_article=171 > This document
is only available in Italian at the time of writing.

[9] This has taken place through the standing of Italian Social Forums
(which equal, practically, Disobedienti, RC, progressive leftist Catholics
and occupied social centers) in which the Rifondazione Communista and the
Disobedienti are actively co-operating: recognition by the parliamentarian
RC may be an attempt to gain leverage there - crucially for the
Disobedienti, who have not been doing terribly well in such elections to

[10] In order to become part of the formation of this alternative discursive
space, see the Ur {AT} action Hub plan at
http://www.inventati.org/mailman/listinfo/hub>. Check
http://www.inventati.org/hub/calendar/> for the current 'programme'.

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