Setback for unity

In the aftermath of the successful first ESF, discussion of the way forward dominated the Saint-Denis conference: in particular, what organisational form should the ESF take? The French mobilisation committee had put forward proposals for a European-wide steering committee of about 100 people and a secretariat of around 20. The comrades stated: "In order to create the most representative structures possible to carry out the preparations, both at a European and an individual country level, we need to bring together the continental networks of the diverse movements, as well as the national mobilisation committees." They also committed themselves to a fundraising body and encouraged the setting up of national mobilisation committees throughout the rest of Europe. The CPGB welcomed these proposals as a step forward from the situation that had existed before Florence, where the organisation had been carried out by an unelected group of people. They had haphazardly reported to monthly European meetings, which were themselves unrepresentative and disorganised. We put forward amendments proposing that the steering committee should consist of 10 elected delegates from France and five each from other European countries. Also we argued that the meetings of the steering committee should be open to participation from observers and that there should be the facility or option to coopt new representatives wherever necessary. Basically we argued for an effective, democratic and accountable structure - something which the French proposals pointed towards. Unfortunately, however, they were opposed by Rifondazione Comunista and their allies on the Italian mobilisation committee. In view of their work in preparing for Florence, the Italian comrades carried influence beyond their numbers in Paris. Pierro Bernocchi of the PRC said that the first ESF had no structures and "we didn't miss them". He also warned the French mobilising committee about "getting into a polemic where the organising country puts forward rules for the whole ESF". His Rifondazione comrade, Luciano Muhlbauer, argued that, since we were only just starting to build up the process, we "should not change it much", as people would not understand. He said we should be reaching out for young people to be involved and a more permanent structure would somehow stand in the way of this. It was the same line put forward by leading members of the SWP, whose comrades, as usual were wearing their Globalise Resistance hats. They claimed, in the words of Jonathan Neale, to be "representing the overwhelming majority of the English mobilising committee", who "asked us to come here and say that they do not want a committee of 100 and want to continue the Italian method of organisation". Having been at the English mobilisation meeting, CPGB comrades could not recall anybody asking the SWP to represent the committee. And it was a little ironic that these same comrades who were arguing against the setting up of a representative structure were themselves masquerading as semi-delegates. The real reason why both the SWP and Rifondazione are opposed to a democratic structure has nothing to do with any fear of frightening away new young supporters coming into the movement. Rather they believe they can influence things behind the scenes. As Peter Manson said, "No structure is a recipe for bureaucracy, not democracy - unless we have democratic and efficient organisation, young people will become disillusioned and go away". A strange notion that democracy meant not having leaders and elections was put forward by a number of speakers in the course of the debate. It was argued that a steering committee, referred to by a Russian comrade as a "politburo", would mean a "closed structure". The French proposals were distorted to make it appear that they were trying to foist a bureaucracy on the movement, which would prevent new forces becoming involved. This despite the repeated assertions of comrade Zafari that the intention of the French mobilisation was to create an open - but effective - body. The SWP comrades did seem a little uncomfortable to find themselves in a bloc with openly anarchistic forces. Chris Nineham claimed that, "If the Social Forum was organised everywhere, we would be for elected committees". However, since the movement was just starting to grow, the only way to "pull people in" in the meantime was through what SWP comrades consistently referred to as an "open and inclusive" process - ie, a combination of disorganised free-for-all and bureaucratic manipulation. It is interesting to note that the 'Italian method' does not seem to have pulled people into the heart of the ESF. The same (old) faces were present in Saint-Denis as had been at every organising meeting prior to Florence. The majority of the meeting, despite the arguments of the French mobilisation committee and the CPGB, were firmly behind this line of reasoning. Replying for the French, Sophie Zafari said that she was surprised to have been so misunderstood. They had not had the intention to set up a closed and bureaucratic body, but thought that an all-European representative body would be far more democratic and effective. Indeed, as Anne Mc Shane had pointed out, there is "no contradiction between democratic representation and inclusivity". Comrade Zafari said the mobilising committee would reformulate their proposals in the light of the discussion and present them again on the Sunday. By the next day it was clear that they had backed down significantly under pressure. Instead of a steering committee, now there would be three or four all-Europe assemblies in the next year. These bodies would not be delegate-based and would be non-voting. They would, it was claimed, make the main decisions regarding the political direction of the ESF, but would do so by consensus. National delegations would not be encouraged to set up mobilisation committees, but could do what they wanted. The main work and decision-making would be down to the French mobilisation committee and specialist working groups (presumably these will be set up by the French or arranged by an inner circle). Although it was agreed that the minutes and membership of the secretariat would be circulated by email, it was not clear how either the committee or the working groups would be accountable to the assembly. It was all a bit of a fudge. Unfortunately those who wanted to continue the anarchistic method of 'organisation' got their way. You could not blame the French for retreating, especially as they were being painted as bureaucratic Stalinists for suggesting a simple and democratic solution to the chaotic and closed organisation that had existed hitherto. A political opportunity lost. Unfortunately the political project of the majority of the left in Europe remains narrow and sectarian. The chance to overcome national boundaries and create a meaningful political unity across Europe has been temporarily set back. Although Rifondazione has made a call for a European working class party, as Marco Berlinguer of the PRC admitted to CPGB comrades, this process is seen as completely separate from the present ESF project. And for the SWP the social forum movement provides an opportunity to recruit to "the revolutionaries" - ie, to themselves and their International Socialist Tendency. * Preparing for Paris ESF * Parties are part of the movement * Florence success * Chaos theory