Anti-war retreat

A debate over a proposed new statement on the impending war shed some more light on the political road that the French comrades would like to take the ESF down. Presented by comrade Jean-Pierre Schermann, it seems to have been supported by the French mobilising committee as a whole, because no French comrade spoke against it. This is hard to understand, considering the truly revolting nature of the long statement. In a badly translated English version, it argues against UN involvement in the war because "the United Nations credit would further be weakened". It would be "giving in to pressures from the United States" and "confer a semblance of formal legality to a decision to which would remain on the contrary of the aims of the United Nation charter". Although a UN-backed war would still be "illegitimate", the duty of the UN was to stay loyal to its own worthy aims. What was needed instead of war was "the revival of the world and regional disarmament processes" - presumably organised by our governments. "What we need is balanced global development "¦ rather than the policy of resorting to strength which United States try to impose." This anti-American reformist piece of nonsense seems to have been drafted in order to bring on board more rightwing forces. If the comrades have not come under direct pressure from the Socialist Party or "the trade unions", they are certainly doing a good job of self-censorship. The statement is also an attempt to distance the ESF from the more leftwing leadership the Italian comrades provided last year and to overturn a much better and shorter statement that was drafted in advance of the ESF in Florence, where a large number of organisations signed up to it. It condemned the imperialist war drive of Bush and Blair, stated that the people of Iraq were "suffering because of the embargo and the Saddam Hussein regime" and called for militant action against the war. This earlier statement and the resulting mass anti-war demonstration in Florence helped to spur the coordinated action across Europe which will take place this weekend. It gave confidence and a sense of common purpose to the most politically conscious sections of the movement. It also showed the potential for the ESF to play a leading role in building political unity across Europe. Political unity that the French comrades now want to slow down, if not bring to a halt. The debate on the statement showed that there must have been some prior discussion on it. The Italian comrades presented amendments to the statement, although it had not been officially circulated before the meeting. While this bad practice of backroom dealing needs to be criticised, the Italian amendments certainly helped to clarify the political nature of the French proposal. Raffaela Bollini, leading representative of the Italian mobilising committee, put forward three points. Firstly she argued for an insertion that the would clarify that "this war is wrong - with or without a second UN resolution". Secondly she proposed that national movements should pressurise all political parties in their respective parliaments to vote against the war. And, last but not least, she argued that our statement should call for "European-wide strikes against the war". Although these are hardly revolutionary demands, they attracted immediate rebuttal from the French committee. Comrade Schermann refused point blank to include any demand for militancy. He said that we "could not possibly include a call for European-wide strikes". He wanted "the largest number of union leaders and NGOs" to sign the statement and they would not want to back such a call. Since we in the ESF were not in a position to be able to call strikes ourselves there was no point in having such a demand. Although he agreed to "make some word changes", essentially the statement would remain as it was. Unfortunately the response of the SWP to this statement was muted. To begin with they treated it as irrelevant. This was illustrated in the debate on the text, when Chris Nineham insisted on speaking on "the fantastic demonstrations we will witness on February 15", and did not address the statement at all - despite calls from the meeting to do so. Eventually at the end of the debate comrade Samantha from Globalise Resistance protested lamely that "bombing will not make anything better - whether by the UN or the US". Considering the fact that the SWP has focused so much recently in the pages of Socialist Worker on the corrupt nature of the UN and the need for militant action against the war, it was a poor performance. The comrades in the SWP have obviously no intention of circulating the statement via the Stop the War Coalition or their own forums. Tina Becker for the CPGB made it clear that the UN "consists of the big powers - Britain, France, Russia, China and above all the US, who proceed to bribe and bully the other members - therefore we must not sow any illusions in the UN as a progressive force". She backed calls for militant action made by members of Rifondazione and argued for the Florence statement to be retained instead of adopting this new rightwing position. Despite a meeting with the Italian comrades to redraft the statement, which lasted well into the night, the French comrades only accepted a few superficial amendments. Like the World Social Forum, the ESF does not accept anything as oppressive as democracy and taking votes. So the French committee had little problem in pushing through what they wanted and presenting it as a common call from "members of the ESF", to which individual organisations can sign up. This is a clear step backwards and, although the statement is more for the internal purposes of Attac and the Socialist Party, the fact that they will be distributing it in the movement in France as a quasi-official ESF position is tremendously damaging. The debate must be revisited and this rightwing statement overturned. Tina Becker and Anne Mc Shane * Attac on efficient organisation * Resist pull to right