Parties are part of the movement

While in terms of ESF organisation most participants at Saint-Denis demonstrated that they were still wedded to backwardness, when it came to the official inclusion of political parties, there can be no doubting the momentum for change. The SWP comrades - to the fore in opposing any democratic structure - started to come out more forcefully against the party ban (the two Workers Power comrades adopted a similar stance on both questions). Alex Callinicos was the first to raise tentative arguments in favour of parties, when he responded to the previous speaker from Spain - who, having first declared himself to be "a communist and not ashamed of it" - then posed the movement, with its "new form of politics", as a polar opposite of parties. Comrade Callinicos pointed out that there was a "fundamental difference between political parties that are part of the system and socialist parties that take part in the movement". At this time he did not make any explicit call, but in a later contribution, he was much more to the point. The official exclusion of parties, he said, "leads to hypocrisy", since members are clearly taking part anyway. That is why it we "shouldn't fetishise the charter of the World Social Forum". Quite right. The comrade went on to put forward explicit proposals. The ESF should, firstly, be "open to individual members of all parties except those of the extreme right". Secondly, in terms of their official participation, we should make a distinction between the "good parties", who had shown by their actions and words that they were against neoliberalism, and the "bad parties", who were for it. He placed Rifondazione, despite its former support for the Olive Tree coalition, in the first category and "the parties of the plural left" from France in the second. Comrade Callinicos warned against any attempt by the French Socialist Party to "attach itself to the Social Forum" - part of the SP local authority apparatus in Paris is certainly eyeing the ESF with a view to colonising it for its own ends. He did not mention the Parti Communiste Franà§ais, for whom the stance he proposed would pose big problems. Presumably comrade Callinicos imagines himself as some kind of gatekeeper majestically pronouncing on who is to be allowed entry and who is to be kept out. Of course, his whole anarcho-bureaucratic approach is completely wrong. We should be for democracy and accountability, yes. But we should also be for inclusivity, especially when it comes to working class parties. The ESF should definitely not go down the road of bureaucratic bans and check-lists. Instead we should promote frank dialogue and unrestricted debate - including, if need be, harsh criticism. That way the proletarian base can be separated off from any neoliberal or opportunist leadership. Comrade Mc Shane took up comrade Callinicos's earlier reference to "hypocrisy": everybody knew that many of the speakers in Florence were leading members of political parties. It was absurd that they should not be able to take part as such openly. However, representatives from two French NGOs took up an opposing position. The speaker from the Human Rights of Men claimed that parties were of a "different nature" from "the movement". The "ultimate goal" of parties was "to hold the reins of power". He was not against talking to them, but they should be kept out. Another delegate echoed him: the participation of parties would turn ESF events into "political meetings". Speakers from eastern Europe were prominent in combating this nonsense. A member of the Committee for a Workers' International in Russia, comrade Ilya, stated: "If we really want to change society, we need open and honest discussion" about the different problems we face - and that meant owning up to your political affiliation. A Polish comrade backed him up: "Political parties are part of the movement - it's crazy to exclude them." A supporter of Attac made the rather dubious claim that, while parties might be all right for other countries, in France they were traditionally separate from "the movement". However, it was clear that the "consensus" - if I may use the term - was moving away from such views, even amongst Attac members, who up to now had been adamant that parties must not take part. Such people were now admitting that perhaps there was a need to discuss this question again. We must pursue this matter to its logical conclusion at the first 'preparation assembly' - likely to be in Brussels in the new year. * Preparing for Paris ESF * Florence success * Setback for unity * Chaos theory