Preparing for Paris ESF

The first organisational meeting for the second European Social Forum took place in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis over the weekend of December 7-8. The CPGB's Anne Mc Shane and Peter Manson were there

Those gathering in the Bourse du Travail (labour exchange), owned by the Communist Party of France-dominated CGT union centre, had come together both to reflect on the success of Florence and to look forward to building the second European Social Forum - to be held in Paris and Saint-Denis in November 2003. Of the 260 or so people who took part in the weekend conference, around two-thirds were from France, with comrades from Italy, Britain and Spain making up the largest contingents from overseas. Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Russia and Bulgaria were also represented, and there were about 20 people from European-wide networks, trade unions and 'social movements'. As usual, very few speakers openly identified themselves as belonging to a political organisation, since of course parties are banned from officially participating. In fact one over-zealous member of the French mobilising committee tried to stop CPGB comrades from handing out our amendments to the French structural proposals - "If every organisation started giving out leaflets, where would we be?" On the road to real, meaningful debate and democratic decision-making, I would suggest. This person said that we were free to speak on our amendments in the debate on structure, and those who wanted to study them would then be able to approach us and ask for a copy. We ignored him. Although this individual's peculiar viewpoint was no doubt shared by a minority, thankfully nobody else actively took his side. Nor did anybody complain about our unofficial, but well patronised stall - we were the only organisation to set one up, although the comrades from Workers Power borrowed a corner of our table for their literature on the second day. Copies of Socialist Worker, the French Communist Party's L'Humanité and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire's Rouge finally came out from under wraps at the very end of the conference. Nevertheless, undoubtedly there was much progress made on the question of political parties. Those wanting to maintain the ban were very much on the defensive, mostly conceding that this question would have to be revisited soon. But the same cannot be said when it came to injecting some structural and organisational democracy into the social forum movement. The French mobilising committee - an alliance of Attac, a sprinkling of NGOs, the LCR, PCF and various environmental, anti-racist, gay and lesbian campaigns and so on - went into headlong retreat over its proposals for the setting up of an international steering committee to oversee the process. With the Socialist Workers Party leading the assault, the proposals also came under attack from Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) and a whole range of anarchoid individuals in alliance with a handful of actual anarchists. The revised proposals dropped the idea of any steering committee or comité de direction - several speakers complained that it was the inalienable right of individuals not to be 'steered' or 'directed'. The only bodies declared by the chair to be recognised by the "consensus democracy" of the conference were the French mobilising committee itself and the European preparation assembly, which would convene "three or four times" between now and November in different European venues. Even the recommendation in favour of national mobilising committees in countries other than France was too much for some people, who wanted to be able to mobilise as they liked - or only turn up themselves. When Pierro Bernocchi of Rifondazione pointed out that working groups would be needed, the chair, Sophie Zafari of the LCR, stated that these would indeed be set up, although she did not say who would decide their composition or who they would answer to. So, while people at the European preparation assemblies will be able to sound off about anything under the sun ("consensus democracy" dictates that no votes are ever taken), the real decisions will be taken by unelected and unaccountable cliques and working groups. The Socialist Workers Party's Alex Callinicos thanked the French mobilising committee for withdrawing their proposals. They had responded to what was undoubtedly the majority who wanted things to proceed in the same old chaotic way ("Sometimes chaos is creative," he said). His only nod in the direction of democratic accountability was the plea for "a minimum of four" preparation assemblies. * Parties are part of the movement * Florence success * Setback for unity * Chaos theory