Leadership needed

In the build-up to Florence, November 6-10, Tina Becker and Anne Mc Shane report on last weekend's final ESF preparatory meeting held in Barcelona

The final organising meeting before the European Social Forum - to be launched in Florence from November 6-10 - took place in Barcelona last weekend. Only 150 or so people participated, which is less than half of the normal attendance. This seems to be mainly down to the fact that none of the political organisations on the Spanish left have taken on the task to build mobilisation for the ESF. Izquierda Unida, for example, is keeping its distance. So it was up to four individual comrades, some of them linked to the Socialist Workers Party's sister organisation in Spain, to build this last organising meeting. Also, there was the distinct feeling that most of the decisions have already been made - mainly by the Italian organisers. This is of course natural, seeing as they deal with the day-to-day tasks of building the ESF. However, a number of comrades complained, in the words of a comrade from the Communist Party of Greece, that "a lot of decisions seem to have been made behind closed doors by an inner circle". This criticism is not without foundation and we have to make sure that we build our movement very democratically. The Italian comrades in particular were sometimes a little stressed and impatient when they had to explain something for the umpteenth time, because they sit through so many meetings where matters have already been discussed. These minor issues could, of course, be resolved with the election of a democratic and accountable leadership. Britain was represented by eight SWP comrades from Globalise Resistance, two from Workers Power and two members of the CPGB. The meeting began on the Saturday with Chris Nineham of the SWP in the chair. Introducing himself simply as a representative of GR, he explained that the aim of the meeting was to democratically agree the final arrangements for Florence. All participants with ideas should raise them in the relevant group and unresolved matters would be brought back to the plenary sessions on the Sunday. However, nothing was as open and straightforward as comrade Nineham made it appear. There was no written agenda for the two-day event and no clear idea of how to put forward proposals and make decisions. There was a lot of time wasted on the first day, with the meeting beginning over an hour late and then adjourning for a two-hour lunch break - which in effect became three hours. Then we divided into four workshops. There was no timetable for these groups and, with some finishing sooner than others, many comrades hung around for several hours, not knowing what was to happen next. Even comrades from the Italian contingent (in effect the organisers) had to admit that the day was a mess. Sunday was better, as the Italian comrades realised the need for them to give a stronger lead. Overall, however, this is a political problem. The ESF needs an elected leadership, which is accountable and can take decisions. It needs clear structures and written agendas. There were numerous instances over the weekend where a final decision could not be made by consensus and was remitted back to the Italian organising committee rather than having a vote. We need written proposals, which can be amended and voted on by the meeting, with the leadership accountable for the implementation of these decisions. Despite these problems the timetable for Florence was almost settled by the end of the weekend. There will be six conferences each morning, covering the themes of neoliberalism, war, and participatory democracy. In the afternoon there will be seminars - or "windows to the world" - where groups and individuals can speak to "the movement". There is only one 'window' where political groups are allowed to openly speak on behalf of their organisation, entitled 'Movements and political parties'. The draft had Chris Nineham down to speak on behalf of Britain in this seminar. Anne Mc Shane from the CPGB argued that the Socialist Alliance should in fact be the group representing Britain. This caused some consternation among the organisers. We were informed that it had been decided at a non-public meeting of the programme committee two weeks earlier to invite half of the speakers from parties and half from movements. From the response of others in the meeting it seemed that this decision was news to most people. However, it was accepted. But, as the party spaces were already taken up by Rifondazione Comunista, the social democratic Parti Socialiste of Belgium, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire from France and a representative from the Christian Democrats, there was no room for another party. Chris Nineham was successful in convincing the organisers that Globalise Resistance is a 'movement', despite admitting a few months back that GR has "less than 100 members" (Weekly Worker July 18). So, no room for the Socialist Alliance, because "it seems to be more a party than a movement", as comrade Salvatore Cannavo, vice-editor of Rifondazione's Liberazione and chair of this particular meeting, put it. You might have expected that the SWP, which already has a number of individual comrades speaking as part of the main programme, would have pushed for the Socialist Alliance to speak in this forum. But the reaction of leading SWP members after the meeting showed how wrong you would be. An irate and agitated Alex Callinicos berated us for launching an "unprincipled attack on Chris Nineham" and informed us that we were "unaccountable and opportunist sectarians". He then rushed off, refusing to discuss this with us, and we were blanked by the SWP for the rest of the weekend. Chris Nineham had said in his introduction at the beginning of the day that this was an open process, where all ideas could come forward. In the obviously naive belief that this was the case we proposed the Socialist Alliance. The response was telling. The 'Role of religions in the critique of globalisation' also caused some controversy over speakers. Tariq Ramadam, an academic in islamic studies in Geneva, was put forward by the English mobilising group for the ESF. On the ESF email list it had been argued by George Waardenburg, a member of Attac in Switzerland, that Ramadam advocates the Sharia law and is strongly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Naima Bouteldja of GR in Britain replied that he should be included, as "His work is orientated towards a reflection on islam in contemporary and western society and on the necessity for fundamental reform" (ESF email list, October 4). The debate continued in Barcelona with Eric Decarro, leader of the Syndicat de Services Publics in Switzerland, asserting that Ramadam is a reactionary anti-imperialist. Ramadan's brother advocates female lapidation and Ramadam himself has never come out against such practices. Decarro, who is also a member of the Solidarity group, argued that we are an alliance for the future and therefore should not allow Ramadan onto an ESF platform. Chris Nineham heckled that "Ramadam is a progressive". This did not seem to be accepted by Allessandra Mecozzi, who was leading this session, but she resolved the issue by proposing that another muslim representative should be invited to "put forward more progressive views in order to counter Ramadam". This was accepted. Other seminars planned include Palestine, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Afghanistan. Trade union struggles, non-violence and institutions will be also be discussed. An overall problem is that there are on average six speakers per seminar, which will not allow much time for debate. The Sunday meeting ended with a general report from Raffaela Bollini of the trade union organisation Archie, which is linked to the Party of the Democratic Left (DS) in Italy. She said that the ESF's relationship with the World Social Forum was still "very, very sensitive". Political parties are still not allowed to officially participate in the ESF and "we had to find a way around this, because in Europe it is not possible to totally exclude all parties". She reminded comrades that the leading body of the WSF, the international council, is very unhappy about the European compromise, which allows parties to organise workshops. Still, most representatives from across Europe seem to adhere to this undemocratic ruling by the unelected IC - almost without exception they chose to hide their political affiliation. Comrades from Rifondazione spoke as trade union representatives. SWP members wore their Globalise Resistance hats. And the majority of participants did not mention their name or affiliation at all. Exceptions were representatives of the communist parties in Greece, Portugal and Italy and of course the CPGB. For the same reason, the CPGB was the only organisation that was visible with a stall. Comrades from Workers Power and the Spanish section of the International Socialist Tendency simply left their papers on a table. Our leaflet on the way forward for the ESF was distributed widely and well received, with many agreeing with the need for an elected leadership body. Unfortunately, however, there is currently no other organisation that is prepared to openly fight for the need to make the ESF and the WSF more accountable, more democratic and more effective. The Italian comrades on the international council of the WSF have started to challenge the 'Charter of principles' and the ineffective nature of the body (see Weekly Worker September 12) - without, however, tackling the real organisational and political problems of the ESF. The ESF will be an interesting experience. It is bound to be the case that, despite the best efforts of the WSF, the left will dominate. Hopefully the left and the workers' movement in Europe will begin to recognise through this process the need for the highest degree of political unity. * Workshops sidelined * Opposition to war * Draft ESF statement