Social Forums: Feel the Rhythm

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Around 150 people gathered for the launch of the London Social Forum at the start of October.

There were discussions about the role of the media, the Tobin Tax, the anti-war movement and student activism. It was generally critical of the mainstream of the movement. Many speakers argued that the movement relied too much on mass demonstrations and on the power of the unions - in the words of one participant, on the 'ideology of mobilisation'. There was not a clear agreement about what an alternative strategy might be. In fact one of the main speakers in the opening plenary explained that the organisers had not decided whether the meeting should be explicitly against the war or not.

One organiser used the meeting to announce that Bernard Cassen, honorary president of Attac France, was expressing serious concern about the European Social Forum (ESF) coming to London. The organisers invited Christophe Ventura, one of the leading figures in the French movement who has resisted holding the ESF in London. Both of them have been campaigning to slow the rhythm of the movement by making the ESF biennial and to distance the social forums from the growing radicalism of the grassroots in France.

Apart from this worrying link-up the main problem with the meeting was that it was not representative of the movement in London. There were very few trade unionists present, the mainstream peace movement was underrepresented and the Muslim community was virtually absent. There appeared to be no one there from the anti-racist movement and very few students.

Because there was no voting the meeting took no decisions. The clear danger is that because the London Social Forum is conceived as an 'open space' rather than as a vehicle to build activity, it will become a talking shop on the margins of the movement.