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PR Like PRocess ! Strategy From The Bottom-Up
Massimo De Angelis
The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
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Table of Contents
The Movements of Movements
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition, 2016-17
Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Proem :
Shailja Patel What Moves Us
Introduction :
Jai Sen The Movements of Movements : An
Introduction and an Exploration
1.1 David McNally From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets
of Seattle : This is What Democracy Looks Like
1.2 Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mielants Antisystemic Movements
and Transformations of the World-System, 19681989
1.3 André C Drainville Beyond
: Anti-Capitalist
Dialectic of Presence
1.4 Tariq Ali Storming Heaven : Where Has The Rage Gone ?
1.5 Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel - Being Indigenous :
Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism
1.6 Andrea Smith Indigenous Feminism and the Heteropatriachal
1.7 Xochitl Leyva Solano Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Neo-
Zapatista Social Movement Networks
The Movements of Movements :
Struggles for Other Worlds
2.1 Anand Teltumbde Anti-Imperialism, Dalits, and the
Annihilation of Caste
2.2 Jeff Corntassel Rethinking Self-Determination : Lessons from
the Indigenous-Rights Discourse
2.3 Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson - The Tapestry
of Neo-Zapatismo : Origins and Development
2.4 Roma and Ashok Choudhary - Ecological Justice and Forest
Right Movements in India : State and Militancy - New
2.5 Emilie Hayes Open Space in Movement : Reading Three
Waves of Feminism
2.6 Virginia Vargas International Feminisms : New Syntheses,
New Directions
2.7 Lee Cormie Re-Creating the World : Communities of Faith in
the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds
2.8 François Houtart Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : Islamic Witness
in the Contemporary World
2.9 James Toth Local Islam Gone Global : The Roots of Religious
Militancy in Egypt and its Transnational Transformation
2.10 Roel Meijer Fighting for Another World : Yusuf Al-‘Uyairi’s
Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution
2.11 Peter Waterman The Networked Internationalism of Labour’s
2.12 Cho Hee-YeonFrom Anti-Imperialist to Anti-Empire : The
Crystallisation of the Anti-Globalisation Movement in South
2.13 Emir Sader The Weakest Link ? Neoliberalism in Latin America
2.14 Daniel Bensaïd The Return of Strategy
2.15 Peter North and David Featherstone Localisation as Radical
Praxis and the New Politics of Climate Change
2.16 Guillermo Delgado-P Refounding Bolivia : Exploring the
Possibility and Paradox of a Social Movements State
2.17 Alex Khasnabish - Forward Dreaming : Zapatismo and the
Radical Imagination
Laurence Cox ‘Learning to be Loyal to Each Other’ :
Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of
Compiled, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
Proem :
Shailja Patel Offerings
Introduction :
Jai Sen On Rethinking Our Dance : Some
Thoughts, Some Moves
Interrogating Movement, Problematising
3.1 Rodrigo Nunes Nothing Is What Democracy Looks Like :
Openness, Horizontality, and The Movement of Movements
3.2 The Free Association Worlds in Motion : Movements,
Problematics, and the Creation of New Worlds
3.3 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 1)
3.4 Anila Daulatzai - Believing in Exclusion : The Problem of
Secularism in Progressive Politics
3.5 Josephine Ho Is Global Governance Bad for East Asian Queers
3.6 Jeffrey S Juris and Geoffrey Pleyers Incorporating Youth or
Transforming Politics ? Alter-Activism as an Emerging Mode of
Praxis among Young Global Justice Activists
3.7 Tomás Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates The Anti-Globalisation
Movement : Coalition and Division
3.8 Stephanie Ross The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in
the Global Justice Movement
3.9 Michael Löwy Negativity and Utopia in the Alterglobalisation
3.10 Rodrigo Nunes The Global Moment : Seattle, Ten Years On
3.11 Ezequiel Adamovsky Autonomous Politics and its Problems :
Thinking the Passage from Social to Political
3.12 John Brown Childs Boundary as Bridge
3.13 Chris Carlsson Effective Politics or Feeling Effective ?
3.14 Massimo De Angelis PR like PRocess ! Strategy from the
Bottom Up
3.15 Matt Meyer and Oussenia Alidou The Power of Words :
Reclaiming and Re-Imagining ‘Revolution’ and ‘Nonviolence’
3.16 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 2)
Reflections on Possible Futures
4.1 Michal Osterweil “Becoming-Woman ?” : Between Theory,
Practice, and Potentiality
4.2 John Holloway The Asymmetry of Revolution
4.3 David Graeber The Shock of Victory
4.4 Kolya Abramsky Gathering Our Dignified Rage : Building New
Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood, and
4.5 Muto IchiyoTowards the Autonomy of the People of the
World : Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate
People’s Alliance Processes
4.6 Samir Amin Towards a Fifth International ?
4.7 Rodrigo Nunes The Lessons of 2011 : Three Theses on
4.8 François Houtart – ‘We Still Exist’
Lee Cormie - Another World Is Inevitable… But Which Other
World ?
Complied, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition
made freely available for Discussion and Debate on a Not-for-Re-Publication / Distribution basis !
PR Like PRocess ! Strategy From The Bottom-Up
Massimo De Angelis
Evaluating the London ESF after the Horizontal Posse came to town
From the perspective of those who seek a politics of alternatives, one firmly rooted in a critique of the
beasts we are confronting, capitalism and war, the story of the internal contrasts in the process that
led to the European Social Forum (ESF) in London, UK, in 2004 might seem trivial, far removed from
the high theoretical plateaux that characterise debates on strategy in our movements. However, often
these plateaux turn into platitudes, banal assertions of the ‘right’ way forward, that select out the
motivations and aspirations emerging from the ground-up, of real struggles and lived practices, and
instead follow templates rooted in timeless ideological models. In this piece I want to contribute to
the broad debate on strategy for overcoming capitalism by drawing a connection between the
struggles for democracy, inclusiveness, and participation within the ESF process, and the struggles for
overcoming capitalism as a mode of production, a mode of doing, and consequent social relations.
The story of the battle inside the ESF process in 2004 is the story of the contrast between
those coming from many networks and organisations to make the ESF a temporary space-time
commons that would prefigure alternative practices and multiple non-exploitative doings in a ‘global
city’ like London, with the efforts of those following variations of bureaucratic socialist lines to
monopolise and centralise the event.
This came to be known as the struggle between ‘horizontals’ and
I must make clear to the reader that I have actively participated in this struggle, and sided
with the ‘horizontals’.
Perhaps this distinction caused some confusion, since the definition of ‘horizontality’ or
‘verticality’ did not identify a specific group, organisation or network, but a
mode of doing
on opposite
principles, modes of doing, and relating that were common to many belonging
to a variety of networks and organisations. One, based on participatory, open, and inclusive
democracy, in which participants through their iterative
relational practises sought to reach consensus
on both the means to be employed and the ends to be achieved, and were willing to engage in the
learning process necessary for these practices. The other in which democracy was
identified with a rigid vertical structure within which ends are defined by the few, and means seen
purely as instrumental
to those ends. For ‘horizontals’ the means embody values as much as the ends
(whether we use free or patented software, whether information is posted freely or under a
coordinating committee’s control, whether working groups emerge from the ground up or are
‘allowed’ by a coordinating committee) and indeed, because of this, the shape of ends
negotiations of means. For the ‘verticals’ it was just about ‘getting the job done’ their concept, that
is, of ‘job’ and final outcome.
A brief history here is perhaps useful. The first reference to ‘horizontals’ in the context of the
ESF process was in an email that Stuart Hodkinson sent to the democratise_the_esf list on January 30
This was already a few months after activists from loose networks and movements had begun
growing frustrated with what they saw to be traditional devious and manipulative tactics to
monopolise and push through pre-established agendas by the usual suspects from UK left-wing
politics. In this e-mail, Stuart tells a little anecdote :
Last year, I went to the Argentina Puppetista show as it toured around the UK. It was
a beautiful event for many reasons, but I remember one thing more than any other.
The piquetera sister from Argentina was explaining the political divisions within the
piquetera movement (roadblockersmovement). She was an autonomist and
explained how in her part of the movement, they worked in a non-hierarchical way:
with assemblies meeting, deciding by consensus and then selecting delegates to go
meet with delegates from other assemblies, relaying information and finding a
common agreement. However, they were constantly undermined by Trotskyist parties
who tried to hijack protests, reneged on agreements and would not work by
consensus. She said they had all tried to work together, to find a common way of
working, but in the end, she had found it impossible. Her explanation was simple but
perfect: “Horizontal people cannot work with vertical people”.
He continues with a comparison between the way that this and the ESF meetings were
conducted :
That meeting was organised in a circle, there was a facilitator who simply facilitated
the discussion, ensuring that everyone who wanted to speak could speak, was
respectful of everyone’s views and created an atmosphere of common humanity.
Because we all agreed with the process of the discussion, what the discussion would
be on, what time we would finish, who would provide translation etc, etc, and
because we all wanted to work together to be able to hear about what was
happening in Argentina, the meeting worked beautifully. The ESF process in the UK,
from the moment it began in the minds of the [Socialist Worker Party] SWP central
committee last year, right through to now has never, ever been conducted in such a
way, nor have those people pushing the process forward ever wanted us to work in
such a way. They are not interested in the process of consensus-based decision-
making. They do not respect it, do not agree with it, and will never, ever work in that
way. Neither will trade union officials, nor most representatives from NGOs and
mainstream campaign groups. They are vertical people!
In this original intervention, verticality and horizontality do not define states of being, but
modes of doing
, that is, modes of
of social production. Also, as it became
clear in the months that followed, these modes of doing are not a static set of procedural rules to be
agreed upon once and for all and then applied in various contexts. Instead, they are modes that
develop and emerge from among the interacting agents themselves. The anecdote captured very well
the feeling and experience of the people involved. Soon after this email was sent around, people
whose attempts to democratise the ESF process in the previous months were frustrated immediately
recognised themselves in the experience of the
and started to refer to themselves as
‘horizontals’ and to their opponents as ‘verticals’. A few days later, beginning on February 7, a ‘log of
evidence’ was circulated through lists and posted on the web site, providing a case against
the organisations which had begun to monopolise the process of the ESF. Concerns ranged from the
opaque ways followed in order to make London a candidate for the next ESF without proper
consultations with social movements, to the abolition of working groups that were emerging
spontaneously to deal with a variety of organisational aspects, from the ‘blackmail’ of the type either
this way or without trade unions’ money, to what was seen as the opportunistic management of
general assemblies, little respectful of the democratic principles of inclusion and participation,
principles that many sought to be at the very basis of the World Social Forum (WSF).
On the basis of this document, a Call for Democracy
was then circulated,
signed by 128
people belonging to a wide range of groups, loose networks, and organisations, from the European
parliament, trade unions, and NGOs, to a Northern Anarchist Network, Indymedia, and local social
The signature methodology was revealing : It listed all individuals and affiliations in two
different places, making clear that individuals were not representing organisations and, at the same
time, that “horizontals are everywhere, even in the organisations of the verticals”.
Hence, from the
beginning, the political identity and positionality of horizontality was not defined in terms of a label, or
as belonging to a particular group, but as a mode of doing that was
to a variety of groups
and networks, to a variety of identities and positionalities.
The conflict among what were clearly appearing as two divergent political cultures
explode publicly and openly during the European assembly for the preparation of the ESF, held in
London on March 6-7 2004. The European delegates could bear witness to the accusations made by
‘horizontals’ about the way the meeting was chaired, its blatant tactics to force through a pre-
established, controversial agenda.
The ‘verticals’ were forced to the negotiating table in the middle of the assembly in order to
renegotiate the terms within which the ESF process should proceed. The outcome of what several
horizontals saw as a major victory would, however, in the following months be frustrated by the
continuation of the same practices, in an endless war of attrition between the two political cultures. By
June, only a few months from the event, most people involved in horizontal networks opted to put
their organisational energies and skills in the organisation and logistics of seminars, workshops, and
accommodations in autonomous spaces (, which, as I will briefly discuss below,
become the most diverse, vibrant, and well attended in the brief history of the ESF.
Indeed, the latter spaces showed that the two camps held quite different meanings of
democracy; they
different aspects of it. On the one hand, a hierarchal concept of democracy,
rooted in apparatus, in which the powers of the social body (in this case the people involved in the
production of the Forum) were articulated through a vertical scale of representations and mediations,
which constructed and rigidified roles, bureaucratically defined the boundaries of the subjects’ inputs,
they could or could not contribute to, of
they could and could not contribute, and
confined the free expression of their
within a wall well guarded by bureaucratic socialist
principles. In this country, this vertical line is the mainstream
of politics. On the other hand, a
horizontal plateau of encounters, relations, and doing, through which the exercise of the subjects’
powers, and their reciprocal feedbacks, constructed norms, rules, spaces, and temporarily defined
Keeping in mind this contrast, what can we say post facto about the ‘event’ ESF held in
London in October 2004 ? Ambiguous result. On the one hand, it represented a clear step forward for
our movement. This not only because 25,000 people attended, and all large events like this
encourage encounters across networks, but also and especially because a section of the movement
overcame its insularity at events like this and, working with organising principles based on
horizontality, inclusiveness, and participation, broadened
substantially the programme of, and
participation in, self-managed and autonomous zones. About 5,000 people, many of whom were
wearing the bracelet of the ‘official’ event, are estimated to have participated in the broad range of
activities in the autonomous zones, and defined future action programmes on crucial themes such as
precarity, refugees, and communication rights.
On the other hand, there is also a sense in which the process of the ‘official’ ESF in London
was not a way forward for our movement, but a serious step back. The degree of subcontracting of
various processes at ‘official’ events, culminating with the hiring of an ‘event management’ company;
the environmental unawareness of its practices; the vertical control freakery that dominated all
moments of its production, suspicious of all productive networks within the movement that did not
match the habitual practices of union bureaucracies and socialist parties; the contractual ‘terms and
conditions’ email sent to anyone purchasing tickets; the petty self-promotional splashing of UK union
names on the walls of meeting rooms instead of symbols that belong to all movements across the
globe; not to mention the bullying, the trade unions’ and Greater London Authority’s financial
blackmail, and the monopolisation of platforms such as the final rally these were just an indication
that in terms of these practices, another world was still far away. In the effort to ‘build’ the
movement, to ‘outreach’ to people who have not yet heard about the horrors of the world, the
organisers forgot that a process of radical social transformation takes much more than an increasing
number of people laid down as ‘building blocks’. This relational incompetence is a heavy political
liability in our movement, and cannot be justified by the ends argued, for example, by Callinicos
‘educating’ more people or outreaching into mainstream union organisations.
From the London ESF to the World
We need to zoom out at this stage because the ‘verticals’’ strategy of excluding subjectivities, themes,
and organisational processes not compatible with their ideological templates was not particular to the
production of one specific ESF event. The struggle that emerged in London also happened during the
preparatory process in India for the World Social Forum held in Mumbai, earlier in 2004
and, more
generally, has been reproduced within the movement at many occasions : Within the anti-war
movement in London, on the streets and in the assemblies in Argentina,
and so on. There are
always ‘template strategists’ ready to fly in circles over concrete problems encountered by the
movement and processes such as the social forum, who read the problems in their own terms and
offer solutions that go in the direction of the goals hidden and predefined in their particular political
cook-book. ‘Verticality’ in this sense is not simply the ‘management’ of an event such as the ESF, but
a culture of politics that is managerial
. Let us zoom out then and reach those plateaux of
generalisations that characterise debates on strategy in our movements without, however, losing our
A recent contribution by Susan George
offers a good and intelligent entry point
to tackle this managerial conception of politics, a culture that by and large informs
many of the ‘reformists’ and ‘revolutionary’ tendencies in our movement, to use an old
classification not very meaningful today.
In Taking the Movement Forward, she raises
some serious strategic reflections and confronts us with the problem of how our movement can win
its battles, and push “‘our adversaries backward’ until they fall over the edge of the cliff. She raises
four main points that are “vital for the continuing success of the movement. For mnemonic reasons,
they all begin with PR : “PRogrammes, PRiorities and PRagmatism, ending with a warning about
PRecautions”. PRogramme has to do with the activities at our social fora, which she sees quite
correctly as dispersive and repetitive, lacking focus on strategic reflections, a clear understanding of
the powers of our enemy, etc. PRiorities is where the problems start. They indicate the need for
“defining a minimum, common programme every activist in the world (or, when relevant, in Europe or
another region) can agree on and in whose service political campaigning can be undertaken and
pressure applied, right now”. This is a common programme that not only identifies the most urgent
and strategically important battles, but also states the kind of globalisation we want, “otherwise, why
should anyone bother listening to us, much less joining us ?”.
PRagmatism is a sober reminder that our priorities cannot be a laundry list, that they have to
be selected with intelligence, and that intelligence is to step out of one’s partial world view and
preferred ‘pet issues’ and embrace the perspective of the whole, of what is do-able here and now,
what issue would bring us more allies, what type of victory would most weaken our opponents, etc.
Finally, PRecaution is a reminder that “in order to take the movement forward, let’s not get side-
tracked or bogged down with huge, unwieldy abstractions like ‘defeating the market’ or ‘overthrowing
capitalism’”. Since there is no Winter Palace to seize, any victory we achieve will always be a partial
What Kinds of Victory do we need ?
Let me engage with the type of argument that Susan George puts forward, starting, however, with a
different concept of precaution, one that recognises the fact that there is no centre of power, no
Winter Palace to storm and hence that any victory is a partial victory, but one that, at the same time,
does not want to root its strategic horizon and thinking in anything other
than the overcoming
capitalism, that is the ‘overthrowing of capitalism’ through a process of social radical transformation
and constitution.
Now the recognition that any victory is a partial victory implies that we need to be able to
judge the value of such a victory. In the traditional socialist mythology, there are two ways to judge a
victory. One is to consider a victory as an achievement that goes in the direction of a new social deal
with capital. The other considers a victory as an achievement that goes in the direction of the seizure
of state power. We have here the classic dichotomy between reform’ versusrevolution. A third
option, closer to a horizontal approach than the socialist mythology, is that a victory is something that
goes towards the abolition of exploitation and oppressions, as well as promoting empowerment, self-
determination, and autonomy over our lives and contexts of interaction. Some may say that these
three are complementary, and others would disagree. I say, maybe so, and it depends on contexts
but I am not interested to debate the issue here. What interests me is to reclaim a unit of
measurement, a yardstick by which we can formulate and frame our broad strategic judgments. To
do this, we must ask : Which of these three is our ultimate end, our goal ? What are we really
fighting for ? My stand is that if any generalisation is possible regarding the goals of the people
engaged in struggles, it is closer to the last of these three options, which, given the multiplicity of
positionalities, desires, and needs, means a multiplicity of goals and new relational fields to articulate
them in.
Obviously, one can make the argument that institutional ‘victories’, whether through ‘reforms’
or ‘revolutions’, are means to realise empowerment, autonomy, and an end to exploitation. Fine,
make this argument. In any case, they are means, not goals. The question then becomes whether
these ‘victories’ also become means for our opponents; that is, if they are also means to goals that go
against our own goals, then it is strategically shortsighted to embrace them as our means. For
example, the goal of the ESF event as defined through the means of its verticalisation made it
uniquely an event to be ‘consumed’. The goal of environmental sustainabilitythrough the means of
sustaining business and capitalism, metabolises the original meaning of sustainability and turns it into
a means for ‘competitive advantage’. The goal of ‘poverty reduction’ through extending the realm of
markets and competition turns the discourse on poverty into an instrument to promote a social
mechanism through which somebody else’s livelihood is threatened (this is what market competition
is all about).
It is very dangerous these days to make people think that we are going to have ‘victories’, or
that we even should hope to get them. I mean those types of victories that imply or even hint at a
‘progressive’ institutional
shift of paradigms : Something like the Tobin Tax (Attac), a world
parliament (Monbiot), a Keynesian inspired International Trade Organisation (George), or, broadly, a
system of governance of global markets predicated on a deal between capital and selected
organisations of civil society. This is not a judgment on the merits of such regulatory reforms in the
It is a judgment on the processes that such victories would imply and a rejection of an
approach that aspires
to the institutionalisation of social movements. Within
the boundaries of
capitalist systems, institutional shifts in paradigms never come without some forms of exclusion and
militarisation in our lives because they have to be contained within the limits
acceptable to start a
new round of accumulation.
The last big ‘progressive’ shift of paradigm was the welfare state and Keynesianism, and this
would not have been acceptable by capital without the Second World War, which turned trade unions
into bureaucracies,
coupled with the priorities of growth and global (under)development, that is
capital accumulation.
No welfare state would have been possible without the Cold War, the constant
fear of nuclear obliteration, and the networks of spies infiltrated in our movements, which attempted
to confine struggles within geo-politically compatible limits.
Linear Thinking and the Marginalisation of Struggles
The emphasis on empowerment and autonomy is not simply an ‘ideological preference’. It is also a
question of the constituent social powers we are capable of mobilising when we ground our politics in
this. Thus, for example, we have to realise that not one of us, including the most trained and up-to-
date political campaigner on any particular issue, has sufficient knowledge of what is at stake for any
particular community in struggle, let alone the innumerable priorities of our global movement. Nobody
knows what priorities might emerge from the ground up on the day after some steering committee
has decided a list of priorities as they see fit. Nobody has full knowledge of context, desires, needs,
and aspirations except the subjects themselves.
The swarm’ nature of our movements allows the best use of knowledge of priorities that is
available because it relies on peoples and communities to ground them in their own contexts, to
share that knowledge and articulate their priorities with those of others as they see fit in their own
processes of empowerment, struggle, and production of relational fabrics. Knowledge, including the
knowledge of priorities, can only be conceived in a networked form, as an ongoing relational field
among the many worlds and aspirations we comprise. Hence, while it is tactically important, sensible,
and conceivable that in given times and circumstances, and for short periods of time, we reach
consensus and focus our efforts on specific objectives, it would be a disaster for our broad movement
to strategically prioritise campaigns and define a common programme for which, in the article quoted,
Susan George hopes “every activist in the world (or, when relevant, in Europe or another region) can
agree on and in whose service political campaigning can be undertaken and pressure applied”. This
way of putting it risks reproducing the worst of political parties, the hierarchy between a central
committee (read ‘secretariat’) entitled to shape broad political ends and all the rest who ‘service
political campaigning’ and serve as means to externally defined ends. We would lose our flexibility
and replace the dynamic swarm nature of our movement with a new bureaucracy.
These types of arguments are predicated on a linear, cumulative understanding of social
transformation, with no connection to the dynamics of existing social struggles. In this George is not
alone, she shares much with the many classical ‘revolutionary socialists’ tendencies she seems to
oppose. The metaphor she uses, for example, the idea that by pushing and pushing we can send our
opponents off a cliff, and the representation of this pushing in term of a series of ‘victories’, evokes a
football competition more than the ‘game’ of social transformation. In the latter, there is no
independent recording of the score, the rules of the game are not
accepted by all, and, most
importantly, our ‘scoring’ a victory today may well result (as it has often resulted) in changing some
aspects of the ‘game’ in such a way that the fundamental aspects we are opposed to remain
unchanged ! So, the storming of the Winter Palace implied some real material gains for the Russian
people, but its institutionalisation deep-froze hierarchical social relations (and consequent gulags) for
seventy years in a process of ‘socialist accumulation’. The working of the Keynesian state implied the
institutionalisation of wage rounds and the entrance of trade unions into the ‘deal’ room with
governments and bosses. Yet, women remained confined as unwaged workers in patriarchal homes,
US American black communities were confined to their poverty stricken ghettoes, South East Asian
peasants were bombed and Napalmed in their villages and rice paddies, while the CO
emissions of
the ‘golden age of capitalism’ are choking us all, and are the basis of today’s changing weather
There is a long and variegated tradition of autonomist thinking, rooted in the 1960sand
1970sItalian movements and
but then branching out into a broad range of
contributions worldwide, according to which one does not just come up with strategies. Instead,
strategies must be ‘read from the struggles’ and their evaluation should begin with the present’s
complexity and urgency. Thus, for example, what is the status of the cancellation of debt versus the
Tobin Tax strategies now ? Which of the two has been more effective in recomposing movements in
Africa, South America, and Asia ? How would popular movements be (dis)empowered by a Tax
negotiated and administered from above ? By a generalised refusal to pay the debt imposed on states
by the movements themselves ? What would cause capitalist institutions like the World Bank and IMF
to retreat ? How does the debate around the Iraqi debt cancellation creates a contradiction in the
capitalist structural adjustment strategy ? It is only with a discussion of questions in such detail that
debates between the different strategies can be evaluated.
It is obvious that from the perspective of a concept of social transformation that wants to
promote empowerment, we must abandon linear thinking, since social transformation emerges out of
our actions, subjectivities, desires, organisational capability, ingenuity, and struggles in unpredictable
ways. Indeed, we must be very wary of thinking that the achievement of a victory, of any
victory, is a
move towards the promised land. This is because what we call victories (or defeats for that matter)
represent turning points for both
us and our opponents. And by our opponents I do not mean a
particular set of elites, specifically and contingently defined. From the broad
strategic perspective
social transformation, our enemies are not Bush and Blair, not this or that corporate shark. These
only serve the machine in particular contexts, and they are our enemies within
those contexts.
Strategically speaking, what we are confronting are not personalities but social roles, and roles
emerge out of social relations and the processes of particular forms. When a pope dies, goes an
Italian saying, another takes his place, and the death of a pope does not question the role of the
pope, its position within a hierarchical scale, or the ongoing processes that reproduce that hierarchy.
Our movement, like each and every one of us, has the potential to transform those roles or to fall
back into the old ones.
Tactically speaking, we simply do not know who will take the place of our particular
adversaries in the here and now after a ‘victory’ on this or that issue has been achieved; we do not
know what strategic direction capital will take to perpetrate the social system most congenial to it.
We can identify some general lines on current debates within the elite, we can learn from history;
however, we do not know how whether and to what extent our victory will bring about a re-alignment
of social forces that will help to redefine a new era of capital accumulation, with its inevitable
injustices, exclusions, stupidity, and madness.
Just to make a simple illustration : The Bolkestein Directive, to which Susan George draws
our attention, which “would introduce a new legal principle and allow firms to apply the social and
labour laws of the ‘country of origin’ to workers in all the European countries where the firms might
happen to do business”, is not particularly incompatible with the strategic aspirations of some
tendencies in international trade unions. I am thinking, for instance, about global business unionism,
for which international unions must engage in alliances with global capital to compete against other
global capitalist alliances.
Now who are our adversaries here, the proponents of the EU directive
who set the legal framework within which corporate-union alliances on a global scale would also
become possible, or those trade unionists who work for making such an alliance the policy of trade
unions ? They sound complementary to me, in that they are both ways to understand human social
production as competitive and profit oriented, that is they envisage a process
of doing that is
incompatible with our transformative goals. Such complementarities are discernable only if we
measure the proposal strategically in the sense discussed before, asking whether it will help further
capitalist disciplinary markets or set a limit to them, and open spaces for empowerment and new
modes of doing and social relations.
From the perspective of radical transformation and moving beyond capitalism, our true
enemy, the beast we are confronting, is how we articulate our social doing and (re)produce our
livelihoods, our needs and desires, in a way that is a social process, predicated on a certain
distribution of property rights and access to resources. This is what we call capitalism. This is what
our historical memory and diverse body of knowledge in the form of theoretical and empirical work,
as well as lived experience and biographical narrative, tells us : However regulated and however fine
tuned, capitalism reproduces the same patterns of injustices and delirium.
This form of human doing and mode of articulation of difference through disciplinary markets
has always proved dynamic and flexible enough to absorb, contrast, and co-opt any fixed ‘institutional
progressive’ programme that we come up with. Instead, we need to beat it by spreading alternative
modes of doing,
alternative processes of social cooperation
, and the articulation of diversitya billion
times more creative, flexible, diverse, innovative, and also communal and cohesive, than capitalist
disciplinary markets. But in order to be emancipatory and empowering, these processes can only be
defined by the interacting agents themselves, not by a grand design or by a ‘general programme’.
A programme and the prioritisation of action can only be helpful in concentrating our forces in
specific contexts and situations, in order to build a critical mass
to set a limit to capital
. But even this
limited understanding of programme must
from a process that is alternative to the mode of
doing of capital. Even this programme must be
by an alternative mode of production and
social relations. It is for this reason that struggles for the problematisation of process
within our
movement, like the one that emerged at the London ESF, are so strategically
PRocess !
How can we reconcile our broad strategic goal of the radical transformation of global society beyond
capitalism with the tasks of activism, the nitty-gritty of political campaigning, of defining priorities,
mobilising, agitating, educating, and setting contexts and goals that are workable ? To me, the
answer is centred around the ‘PR’ left out from the list provided by Susan George : PRocess. This in a
two-fold sense.
First, we have to see the whole of our diverse movements as setting a limit, an
insurmountable barrier to the process
of the social doing of capital. This is a process of social
reproduction based on pitting one against the other, one’s livelihood against those of others. The
barrier is a multitude ofNo’s !’ to this type of process. We do this in the diverse struggles that
emerge : Against debt, against further trade liberalisations, against privatisations, for land, for food
sovereignty, and for different relations to nature. And we do this by pushing back the market agenda
from pervading all dimensions of our lives.
Second, from the perspective of a radical transformation of society, these capital-limiting
struggles also
enable us to do two other things. They enable not only to quantitatively ‘build’ the
movement but, more important, to thicken the networks and extend the relational fields of action of
social cooperation
predicated on values other than market values
. Also, and consequently, since
thickening the web implies the extension of relational fields of action, of social cooperation, we have
opened new spaces within which we consolidate our relational practices. Our many powers have
grown, and they have grown not arithmetically, but exponentially.
We can understand these two dimensions of our struggles in terms of “One No, Many Yeses
vis-à-vis capital, a slogan that emerged from the second Encuentro promoted in 1997 by the
Zapatistas. The “One No” that keep throwing spanners at its wheels, seeking to push it back and
keep it at bay. The “Many Yeses” that thicken the web of social cooperation grounded on different
values. The “One No” that dents, challenges, and destroys its drive to colonise life with monetary
values. The “Many Yeses” that push desires and aspirations away from being coupled with disciplinary
market loops. The “One No” that cut back enclosures and the “Many Yeses” that create new
commons predicated on new communities and relational practices. In this framework, we can hail as
victoriesall the moments, opportunities, events, and spaces of empowerment, whether these
achieve the establishment of a new connection among communities in struggle or the winning of a
major concessions from the state that effectively reduces the dependency of people on markets.
The dictatorship of capitalist markets is predicated on a social consensus that makes us act in
ways compatible with them, makes us follow our desires and meet our needs within social forms that
pit our livelihoods against each other’s. To the extent that consensus is manufactured, we have then
to challenge how
that manufacturing takes place, and practice a different type of production process
through which a new consensus emerges. Again, it is a question of process as, for example, our
independent media people teach us again and again. To the extent that manufacturing is the result of
our daily engagements within markets, an iteration that creates and normalises norms of engagement
with the other, we must find ways to disengage, construct a politics of alternatives that focuses on a
reduction of the degree of our dependence on markets, and therefore struggles for different types of
commons. In other words, to the extent that we do not consent – ‘we must interact in these ways
because this is what our livelihoods depend onour struggle must seek to push back our degree of
dependence on capitalist markets, reclaim resources at whatever scale of social action, and on this
basis invent and practice new forms of exchanges across the social body, creating new types of local
and translocal communities. In all these cases, what is required is an emphasis on relational and
communicational processes, as well as on the conditions within which we access resources.
Competition is replaced by communication, and enclosures by commons.
Massimo De Angelis is a critical political economist working at the University of East London. He is
the author of several publications on value theory, the link between capital’s globalisation and social
struggles, commons and social change, and the political reading of economic narrative. His most
recent book, The Beginning of History : Value Struggle and Global Capital, was published in 2007 by
Pluto Press. He edits the web journal The Commoner (, where he also keeps
a blog.,
Content Editors : Parvati Sharma and Jai Sen
Ezequiel Adamovsky, 2017‘Autonomous Politics and its Problems : Thinking the Passage from the
Social to Political, in Jai Sen, ed, 2017b The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our
Dance. Volume 5 in the
Challenging Empires
series. (New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM
Alex Callinicos, 2004 ‘Building on the Success of the London ESF’, available at :
Massimo De Angelis, 2000 Keynesianism, Social Conflict and Political Economy. London : Macmillan
Susan George, October 2004 ‘Taking the Movement Forward’, available at :
Marty Glaberman, 1980 Wartime Strikes : The Struggle Against the No-Strike Pledge in the UAW
During World War II
Detroit, MI : Bewick
Stuart Hodkinson, 2004 ‘Is There a New Trade Union Internationalism ? The ICFTU and the
Campaign for Core Labour Standards in the WTO’, in School of Politics and International Studies
Leeds, University of Leeds
Horizontals, 2004a ‘European Social Forum (ESF) in UK in 2004; What’s Happening ? Log of
Evidence’, available at :
Horizontals, 2004b ‘Call for Democracy in the ESF Process’, available at :
Horizontals, 2004c ‘Call for Democracy Signatures’, available at :
Horizontals, 2004d ‘Horizontals Statement : The Horizontals come to Town’, available at :
Horizontals, 2004e ‘ESF in London : A Celebration For All and An Invitation From Few Horizontals’,
available at :
Les Levidow, 2004 ‘European Social Forum : Making Another World Possible ?’, in Radical
Philosophy, 128, pp 6-11, available at :
Vincenzo Ruggiero, April 2004 – ‘
Orizzontali e Vertical
[‘Horizontals and Verticals’, in Italian], in
vol 15, pp 46-49
Jai Sen, 2004 ‘The Long March to Another World : Reflections of a Member of the WSF India
Committee in 2002 on the First year of the WSF Process in India’, in Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo
Escobar, and Peter Waterman, eds, 2004 - World Social Forum : Challenging Empires (New Delhi :
The Viveka Foundation)
Notes :
Ed : This essay was first published in ephemera, theory & politics in organization, vol 5 no 2, pp 193-204,
available at : I warmly thank the editors of
ephemera for their prompt and generous permission to publish this slightly edited version here, and the author
for working with our Content Editor in the editing of his essay for publication in this collection.
In this context, these included the Social Worker Party and Socialist Action lines, union bureaucracies mentalities
and the directives of Ken Livingston’s office.
For a broad account of this story, see Levidow 2004.
Horizontals define themselves as those “who believe that the most important thing in the politics for a New
World is how we relate to each other in making it happen” (Horizontals 2004d). This means to “recognise and
respect our differences and always strive to find common ways to articulate them in order to meet the challenges
of the day”. Furthermore, horizontals believe that “our organising and getting things done must be founded on
the non-hierarchical contribution of all, including decision making powers”.
The democratize_the_esf list was one of two lists in Britain in which participants discussed, coordinated, and,
often, ranted on themes surrounding the ESF in London. The other list was the ESF_UK list, which attracted a
core of more conventional ‘vertical’ political activists. There was, of course, a lot of overlapping between the two,
as debates occurring in one list spilled over to the other. There were two other lists that were European based :
The ‘official’ FSE_ESF list that pulled together activists from a broad range of social movements, trade unions, and
NGOs across Europe, and the esfdemocracy_eurodebate list, which was set up to inform and coordinate actions
among European activists and social movements who were sympathetic to the ‘horizontal’ case.
See Horizontals 2004a.
Horizontals 2004b.
Horizontals 2004c.
Horizontals 2004e.
Indeed, this is also demonstrated by the resistance I have witnessed by several practicing
‘horizontals’ against
defining themselves as such, perhaps fearing that labels could rigidify identities in such a way as to contradict
the necessary fluidity of ‘horizontal’ practices.
Ruggiero 2004.
Ed : Unlike the ‘world’ WSF process, which is as of the time of publication continuing, with world meetings
held in Tunis in 2015 and then in Montréal, Canada, in 2016, the ESF process which started with a great
flourish with a first event in Florence, Italy, in 2002, and then Paris, France, in 2003 seems to have ended, with
its last meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2010.
Callinicos 2004.
Sen 2004.
Ed : For a discussion of the dynamics and politics of the assemblies in Argentina, see the essay in this book by
Ezequiel Adamovsky (Adamovsky 2017).
George 2004.
I want to make clear that in what follows, I will only engage with one of George’s many short contributions to
the debate in our movement because it is a straightforward piece that poses some very relevant questions and
that enabled me to clarify my own thinking while critically confronting them. My engagement does not pretend to
pass judgment on her overall, valuable work as intellectual and activist, which extends far beyond the short
contribution cited.
Glaberman 1980.
De Angelis 2000.
Indeed, a reading of the end of this era would involve a more grounded analysis of struggles and capital
reactions than those provided by George (2004). She blames it on “self-gratifying hippies” who have abandoned
the movement to get jobs in advertising, thus opening up a space for Maggie and Ronnie ! (Ed : For those from
other parts of the world, this is British shorthand for Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan respectively the
Prime Minister of Britain and President of the US in the early-mid 1980s.)
Hodkinson 2004.