Party ban compromise

The question of the participation of political parties was finally resolved in Thessaloniki after a heated debate

There was quite a lot of confusion on this issue, because the 'Charter of principles' of the World Social Forum, to which all regional forums have to subscribe, implies that all political parties are banned from attending the launch of the ESF in Florence: "Neither party representations nor military organisations shall participate in the forum. Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of this charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity."� Most participants of the ESF criticised and challenged this point in Thessaloniki - and it seems clear that further challenges to the rather clandestinely agreed charter are only a question of time. The current formulation means that if, for example, Gregor Gysi speaks in Florence, he will not appear in the programme as a member of the German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), but only as Gregor Gysi, lawyer and cattleman. However, this ban not only affects promient personalities, but also the most organised sections of the working class. This is of course an impossible position if one considers the role of socialist and communist parties across Europe. They are at the core of the anti-capitalist movement, especially in France, Spain and Italy. The foundations for the ESF were laid by the mass demonstrations of Genoa and Rome, led by Rifondazione Comunista and Cobas. The ESF will be established in Florence, precisely because the Italian workers' movement is highly organised and political. There was also the implication that this formulation would prohibit political parties from participating at all - ie, they would not even be allowed to organise or take part officially in any of the 200 or so small autonomous workshops, which will take place in the afternoon. This was the perceived situation, as presented by the Italian comrades (most of them members of Rifondazione Comunista) when discussion started in the organisation workshop that I attended on the Saturday. "If we want to use the name 'Social Forum' we have to comply with the regulations of the WSF and they are very clear,"� comrade Stefano explained. "Political parties cannot organise any meetings."� However, after a lively debate on this controversial question it turned out that things are not so clear after all. The previous ESF organising meeting in Vienna agreed that political parties would be allowed in Florence if their national ESF umbrella group decided this was acceptable. Surely that would mean that parties could at least organise workshops in the afternoon, I argued. Most of the participants agreed. A couple of comrades argued that the ban was necessary to safeguard the forums from parties that are or were part of neoliberal governments and who without a doubt are interested in infiltrating and neutralising the movement. "We will not get young people from Germany attending the forum if the German Green Party or Social Democrats participate in Florence,"� argued a furious member of the German section of Attac (paradoxically he later confessed to me that he is also a long-standing member of the German Communist Party, the DKP, but that he had to argue this anti-party position, "because Attac paid for me to be here. The DKP has hardly got any money these days"�). In reality, the formulation will not protect the forums. Quite the opposite: it actually makes it easier for social democratic organisations to infiltrate them. It would be much better to confront these parties openly and challenge their politics in Florence in front of the movement. Social democratic and green parties will participate in any case - surely it would be preferable for the movement to know where and who they are. People are not stupid. If somebody does not want to be 'exposed' to the politics of the PDS or the Greens there is one easy solution - don't go to their meetings. That only works of course if we know who is a member of which party. Banning parties will serve to obscure and confuse the politics. Bigger parties like the Italian PDS, who pay a lot of money towards the ESF, will have no problem in getting their message across - even if they do not appear officially in the programme. That also explains why the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), which was instrumental in the setting up and running of the first two World Social Forums in Porto Alegre in 2001 and 2002, were happy to allow such a formulation to be included in the charter. It is the smaller communist and socialist parties that would actually be excluded from the ESF. They would have to hide behind NGOs or other non-party formations in order to be able to participate. SWP comrades have anticipated this by identifying themselves only as Globalise Resistance (which has, according to leading GR member Chris Nineham, "only 100 or so real members"�). Unfortunately, Rifondazione Comunista is also infected by the anti-party bug. It has not criticised the formulation at all, but has actually been instrumental in defending it, although RC's motivation is undoubtedly different from the PDS's or PT's. It just seems that the comrades are taking their policy of 'contaminating' the movement a little too far. In the discussion, a Rifondazione member stated that "any political party that is integral to the movement would have no interest in promoting itself, only the movement"�. The comrades are very much in the minority. A fair number of people from across Europe were in favour of challenging the WSF ban - "they can hardly throw us out,"� one Austrian comrade stated. But the comrades from Rifondazione acted as mediators between the ESF and the WSF once again. The plenary meeting of all participants adopted the compromise suggested by Raffaela Bollini: political parties will be allowed to organise workshops. But all proposals must go through the programme commission of the ESF, which has the final decision on all meetings: "If this commission feels that a party just wants to promote itself in a workshop, it can say no,"� said Raffaela. The disputed workshop will then be put before the next ESF organising meeting, which will take place in Barcelona on October 5-6. It seems that, although comrades from Rifondazione have so far succeeded in preventing an open challenge to the WSF on this issue, the ESF and other regional forums are moving more quickly to the left than was anticipated. In Asia for example, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) with its big membership in West Bengal and Kerala is de facto leading the Social Forum. A rebellion of one sort or another on this issue seems almost unavoidable - especially if one considers how the 'charter of principles' came into being: "The committee of Brazilian organisations that conceived of, and organised, the first World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre from January 25 to 30 2001, after evaluating the results of that forum and the expectations it raised, consider it necessary and legitimate to draw up a charter of principles to guide the continued pursuit of that initiative"� (Preface, charter of principles). So it was in effect only the Brazilian organisations which drew up this charter, which is now being used as a kind of 'holy text' for participants from all over the world. Everybody who wants to come to Florence has to "accept"� it (the original plan was that participants would have to "agree"� with it, but it was changed after I pointed out the rather large difference between the two words). The charter has been confirmed by a meeting of the WSF international council - but that only consists of a couple of delegates from each regional forum. The Social Forums offer a historic chance to unite the left on a global scale. But we need to learn from our past: without democratic and open decision-making at all levels the project will not survive. In the long run it will clearly be impossible to keep political parties out of the process of remaking the left. Tina Becker * Rifondazione takes the reins * November 6-10 2002, Florence * Greek left divisions