Rifondazione takes the reins
The organisation of the first European Social Forum in November is well underway, reports Tina Becker
Since last weekend the official website has been up and running, registration has started and the first workshops and seminars are being prepared. As usual for these ESF meetings, debate in Thessaloniki was very fraternal and democratic. Contributions were not limited to one or two minutes, as is so common with the left in Britain. A system of self-discipline has proved much more successful. Even when a conflict between Greek comrades broke out, the plenary meeting listened patiently. The most significant decision of the meeting was to clarify the situation of political parties within the ESF. A number of minor decisions concerning the numbers of translators, deadlines for workshop proposals, etc were also taken. My suggestion of an ESF newspaper (in which, for example, the Greek comrades could have explained their dispute or the role of political parties could be discussed) was picked up and referred to by the organisation committee. However, a discussion about the nature or frequency of such a publication is still to be had: these organising meetings are not conducive to political debate - proceedings are dominated by organisational and technical matters. However, during breaks, outside the meeting hall and in the evenings, there was plenty of lively discussion. Meeting other European socialists and communists is surely the most positive experience of the whole ESF process. It was very inspiring to see how many comrades in Europe have heard of the Weekly Worker and are aware of the CPGB as a major force in the drive to unite the left in Britain. Almost every time I left the room I was approached by comrades from other European countries who wanted to introduce themselves, suggest a publication swap or closer cooperation. Almost 100 Weekly Workers were sold as well as a few copies of the CPGB book, Towards a Socialist Alliance party. In addition our Draft programme was taken by the score. Over 150 Greek comrades attended the meeting, together with about 60 from eastern European countries and around 50 from western Europe - overwhelmingly these comrades represented the main socialist organisations on the European left. There were also two dozen Palestinian comrades. There were no NGOs present, no environmentalists, no anarchists. The organisation of the ESF is down to Europe's revolutionary organisations - in the main Italy's Rifondazione Comunista. The only non-revolutionary organisations of any kind were the Greek trade union organisation, GSEE, and Attac, which mainly campaigns for the introduction of the Tobin tax on financial transactions. However, in most European countries Attac has been set up and dominated by revolutionary organisations and has steadily moved to the left. The delegation from Britain was sadly rather small, pretty accurately reflecting the level of class struggle in this country. Workers Power, despite its call to "build Social Forums in Britain now"ï¿½ in an article comparing them with the Russian soviets of 1905 and 1917, has yet to show up to any of the international meetings (Workers Power summer). Three of WP's Austrian comrades managed a small stall at the previous organising meeting in Vienna, but none of them intervened in the debates or handed out any ESF-specific literature. Even on a British level WP has not exactly been prominent in driving the project forward or even turning up at the regular organising meetings. In Thessaloniki, apart from the CPGB only the Socialist Workers Party was present. Or rather was not present: all five SWPers spoke as members of Globalise Resistance. Although the comrades have argued strongly against the ban on political parties, their self-identification as GR members seemed to accept it as a fait accompli. They also appeared to condone the unfortunate petty nationalist divisions of the British left. Chris Nineham always spoke as "Globalise Resistance, England"ï¿½, whereas his two female comrades stressed in every contribution that they were from "the SSP and Globalise Resistance, Scotland"ï¿½. The content of their contributions, however, along with those of a number of other European comrades, gave them away as members of the SWP's International Socialist Tendency. The dozen or so comrades from Poland, Germany, Britain and Greece were quite obviously told to argue for the same thing: "We need lots and lots of demonstrations in Florence"ï¿½, argued Carrie Marwick, ex-SWP student organiser in Scotland and now SSP full-timer. "In Globalise Resistance we have 90% action and only 10% politics,"ï¿½ she declared proudly. Chris Nineham backed her up: "If we don't have lots of demonstrations against the war, ordinary activists won't come to Florence,"ï¿½ he warned. Luckily, nobody apart from the IST comrades agreed with what is actually an apolitical and pessimistic approach. "Surely, one big demonstration is enough,"ï¿½ said filmmaker Leo Gabriel from the Austrian organising committee. "We don't want to take too much time away from the political debates."ï¿½ In the end, comrades from Rifondazione basically ignored the SWP's pleas and suggested quite correctly that it would be up to the Italian comrades to decide the subject of the demo. "If the situation in Palestine deteriorates, then we might want to call a demo on that,"ï¿½ comrade Raffaela Bollini, the main delegate from Rifondazione Comunista, argued. "We must be flexible."ï¿½ It is interesting that the comrades from Rifondazione have now taken up a more active role in the ESF. Back in May in Vienna, they pretty much stayed in the background and hardly ever intervened. But as organisational questions become more complex and the launch date draws closer, the comrades are now openly guiding the process. They intervened several times, making suggestions on how to resolve disputes and proposing a number of compromises. Rifondazione's leading role is, however, a little ambiguous and will soon need to be clarified. Its 100,000 comrades obviously play an important part in the Italian class struggle. They are heavily involved in the leftwing trade union federation, GCIL, and the local Social Forums, which have sprung up since last year's huge demonstration in Genoa. There, thousands of young people have been propelled into politics by the rightwing Berlusconi government that is openly challenging trade union rights and working conditions. This is quite different from the rest of Europe, where anti-capitalist protests have found their expression mainly in the established political organisations. In Britain, Germany and other northern European countries of course there is no real anti-capitalist movement to talk of. A few years back, the comrades from Rifondazione consciously decided on a policy of 'contaminating' the movement, whereby they are attempting to draw the newly politicised anti-capitalists into their orbit, but also want to be 'contaminated' by them in turn. Maybe that is why in the ESF they actually play a rather conservative role. It seems they want to represent and substitute for all the non-revolutionary anti-capitalists, anarchists and environmentalists that could not make it to the organising meetings. The comrades have almost taken on the role of mediators between the more openly revolutionary organisations in Europe and the World Social Forum (based in Brazil), which is far more dominated by rightwing NGOs such as Oxfam. However, on the other hand, representatives of Rifondazione met last week with executive members of the Socialist Alliance and Spain's United Left to discuss how to build a strong revolutionary left inside the ESF. Unfortunately, none of this actually transpired in Thessaloniki. The comrades tell us behind closed doors that of course they are interested in establishing closer organisational links. However, our proposal for democratically elected and accountable ESF commissions on various subjects fell on deaf ears and was not taken up. "We are not preparing the ESF to become a party formation,"ï¿½ comrade Bollini said in a plenary session. "We want to use the ESF for discussions on our agreements as well as our disagreements,"ï¿½ she argued, implying perhaps that a party might not allow disagreements within its ranks. Her own organisation of course does actually allow the open expression of disagreement. Although it grants the right to form temporary factions formally, in practice Rifondazione allows them on a permanent basis. More likely comrade Bollini is reflecting her organisation's orientation towards the anti-capitalist movement in Italy. Draw them into your orbit without scaring them with party membership. Rifondazione will need to resolve these questions pretty soon. If the comrades want the ESF to move to the left, they need to start debating this process in front of the working class. We should fight openly against the influence of the NGOs, the reformist and social democratic organisations that still have a strong grip on the World Social Forum.