The Socialist Unity Network

Launching the Radical Activist Network

Matthew Caygill

Radical Activists Network

‘Remaking Internationalism: Social Forums and the Politics of Global Solidarity’

March 5th 2004


A lot of money (judging from the adverts in the New Statesman and elsewhere) went into the public launch of the Radical Activist Network with its forum on ‘Remaking Internationalism: Social Forums and the Politics of Global Solidarity’ at the LSE on the evening before the important preparatory weekend for the London ESF. 

The precise background to the Network and this forum is unclear, but seems to be related to the recent departure by some of the leading members of Globalise Resistance. It also clearly keyed into the discussions that have been accompanying the plans to bring the ESF to Britain and seemed like a focus for the people who have started to define themselves as the ‘horizontals’ in the movement (in the sense of  being opposed to what they see as the hierarchical structures carried by the people they define as ‘the verticals’). More generally it relates to the continuing development of the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist movement (altermondialiste was suggested as a better term) in the direction of the global social forum movement (last stop Mumbai). The RAN has a very attractive vision of itself of a network of activists in the various movements, giving each other the space to discuss strategic and political issues, encouraging pluralism, rejecting top-down and authoritarian models of political organisation and calling for change to be achieved by collective grassroots organisation, based on solidarity, equality, democracy, openness and respect. It deserves to be welcomed and given positive support. 

The meeting itself did have a certain buzz of excitement as more and more people arrived, clutching their sleeping bags and clearly preparing for the weekend to come.

It did share the common fault of having too many speakers and not enough time for discussion – several people made contributions, loads more wanted to (and respect to Tariq Ali for giving up on his reply in order to allow space for others). 

Marco Berlinguer (Partito Rifondazione Comunista) spoke of the movement against globalization creating a ‘radical new subject’ and of that movement being created by the crisis of the existing system and showing the objective necessity of finding an alternative. The movement is still near its beginnings so we should prioritise experiments, just as we should prioritise self-organisation in a horizontal space and having something wider than parties and trade unions. For Marco politics itself is in crisis (which I took to refer to absence of participation and legitimacy in the mainstream of politics) and he finished by calling for a refounding of politics which would be transnational (i.e. acting at the European level), establishing new forms of democracy, and new ways of being effective. 

Annick Coupé ( SUD PTT Union, France) talked about various experiences of radical trade unionism in France, while John Appolis (Anti-Privatisation Forum, S.Africa) provided an analytical context which talked about us being in a period of defeat of the working classes, in a new phase of imperialism, marked by the dominance of finance capital, which had created new social and class forces, and being in a  period of crisis.  

Annie Porre (No Vox, France) disagreed with Marco about there being a crisis in politics, rather it’s a crisis in political organisation and the social movements mark a re-appropriation of crisis in politics, rather it’s a crisis in political organisation and the social movements are the seeds of a re-appropriation of  politics. Her emphasis was on the autonomy of movements and the need to build alternatives. The experience that Annie focused on was that of ‘No Vox’, a gathering of social movements created by the excluded and those involved in a swathe of direct actions from squatting to setting up social forums. She also spoke about ‘Intergalactic’, a network of youth groups in France. 

Tariq Ali provided a wide-ranging talk that keyed into the tone of the event by starting with the assertion that independents like to work differently and talking about the values of diversity and plurality. Like John Appolis he thought we have been in a period of defeat, but emphasised the need to map a way out, look for new ways. We should learn from our enemies- and be internationalist. He moved on to discuss the degeneration of democracy in the face of the commitment of traditional social democracy to neo-liberalism and the role of privatisation, commodification, the centrality of speculation in economic activity. Tariq also discussed the military leg of these developments and argued that, despite everything, Iraq had been a ‘social welfare republic’ since 1959 and this was one of the first things being undermined by the occupation. He then moved on to discuss migration and the likely future growth of the number of migrants trying to get to the European Union. One of the problems we face is the absence of ‘visible alternatives’ to neo-liberal imperialism. Developments in Argentina since its December uprising showed how political movements can fail to deliver. On the other hand the resistance in Iraq is the main reason why politics in the US and UK hasn’t atrophied. Parallels with the impact of Vietnam on the US and some partial lessons for Israel were raised. And finally in developing our politics we need to be participatory. Tariq quoted an article (*) on the lessons of Mumbai which made the point that the CPI and CPI(M) were welcome to participate, but shouldn’t do it via fronts. 

All-in-all a series of very interesting contributions, although they didn’t leave sufficient time for discussion. What I took to be coded criticisms of the SWP went down especially well with the audience. Participants in that discussion included a couple of representatives of small left-wing groups in the Leninist tradition who both raised the thorny issue of the exclusion of political parties from the World Social Forums and the problematic results as such parties still found ways to participate. Alex Gordon  from the RMT raised an interesting angle on trade unions and spoke about his union opening up to the social movements. Another speaker talked about the way that the situation for many asylum seekers was so bad that she had to rely on the House of Lords as a possible source of relief.  

Who knows whether this Network will fulfil its potential and make a real contribution to the development of a critical left-wing politics in this country, but I hope it does. The e-mail traffic on various lists about the ESF process has been cheeringly happy and optimistic since the weekend, so many of the ‘horizontals’ who came to the RAN seem to feel that their voices and concerns about an open and inclusive process in the lead-up to the London ESF have been met. Socialists really do need to be aware of these issues and I think sympathetic to the attempts to develop ‘new’ responses to the political problems that affect us all.




* The article that Tariq Ali referred to was Achin Vanaik’s ‘Rendezvous at Mumbai’ in New Left Review 26 (March-April 2004)



The Radical Activist Network has a  web-site at https://www.radicalactivist.net


March 2004