Florence success

There was a justifiable self-congratulatory mood at Saint-Denis due to the success of Florence. Over 60,000 people from across Europe had taken part in a huge and inspiring political event. They had crammed into hundreds of meetings and rallies and taken part in the million-strong demonstration against war on Iraq. In the jargon of the Italian organising committee, the first ESF provided "unity, radicality and open space" for a mix of nationalities to experience a positive political atmosphere - even if many might have left Italy at a loss as to what ought to be done next. For the SWP's Chris Nineham, the event had "caught the imagination of the people of Florence", who had "welcomed the ESF into their city". There had been a "real, creative dialogue between the traditional left and the new movements", as well as "between activists and experts". He said that people "felt it was our forum: they owned it". What is more, the subsequent spin-off had been positive, with a "sense of excitement and engagement" at dozens of feedback meetings. After he calmed down a little, he did allow himself to make a criticism or two: there had not been enough "engagement with racism" and there should have been more time allowed for speakers from the floor. Continuing this theme, Anne Mc Shane agreed that too few had been able to participate and in fact there had been little real debate. This was because most of the meetings were more like rallies and were far too big to allow any genuine interchange of ideas. Comrade Mc Shane said that Florence ought to be seen as the first step for the left towards "programmatic unity against the European Union of the bosses". Our aim must be the promotion of an alternative vision and the coming together of the entire European working class movement. This did not go down too well in some quarters. The coordinator for eastern European countries said that, although 300 had attended from Hungary and 500 from the rest of eastern Europe, many had been "frightened" because there had been "too many communist emblems". One Hungarian catholic organisation had decided not to take part as a result. Didn't people realise that the hammer and sickle "symbolised dictatorship"? This was effectively answered by a comrade from Poland. The red star and hammer and sickle, he said, were for many people in Italy and elsewhere, "not connected with oppression, but with liberation". All symbols should be welcome, including the christian cross, so long as the bearers are coming together against war and neoliberalism. * Preparing for Paris ESF * Parties are part of the movement * Setback for unity * Chaos theory