Resist pull to right

Well over 250 people attended the latest meeting to prepare for the 2003 European Social Forum, which was without a doubt the most disappointing gathering so far. None of the proposals, amendments or statements that were discussed were distributed beforehand. In the name of 'democracy' the two-day meeting quickly deteriorated into bureaucratic anarchism, where everybody was allowed to talk for as long as they wanted about any subject they fancied. What we saw was, in effect, a successful attempt by the French mobilising committee to put its own stamp on the ESF and pull it sharply to the right. Under the guidance of Italy's Rifondazione Comunista, the first ESF was - although slightly chaotic in its attempt to bow before the 'anti-capitalist movement' - in reality a gathering of sections of the European organised working class. Florence saw revolutionary parties, trade unions and large numbers of militant youth make real headway in uniting our forces across Europe. A successful anti-war network was formed, which has been instrumental in organising the huge protests that will take place this weekend. But rather than building on this success and further strengthening our forces across Europe, the French mobilisation committee is instead attempting to make the ESF 2003, which will take place in Paris in November, more diffuse and more attractive to reformist forces, NGOs and the trade union bureaucracy. Apparently, some unnamed trade unions insist that our ESF statement on the war ought not to call for militant action and that we ought not to build effective international networks that can start to organise our forces. While our governments across Europe discuss how best to build a new European superstate, we must remain loosely organised and ineffective. The lack of any effective chairing meant that the meeting did not break up into smaller working groups, where some of the French proposals could have been thoroughly discussed and possibly defeated. People were allowed to read out their own poetry and talked at length about their feelings and desires. The plenary session on Saturday, which should have ended at 1pm, effectively lasted all day and continued on the Sunday. Unfortunately, our attempt to challenge this was without success. To their discredit, the comrades from the Socialist Workers Party/Globalise Resistance were the loudest in demanding that the meeting should be allowed to carry on talking about everything and nothing. When, at about 3pm, we moved that the meeting should take a vote to immediately close the speakers list, well over 80% of the participants voted for it. This provoked a telling response from the SWP's Alex Callinicos. CPGB comrades may have persuaded the meeting to take a vote, but, he shouted, "the ESF works through consensus, not votes". The only reason for comrade Callinicos to want to drag out the painful plenary session seemed to be that most SWPers had not spoken yet. This bureaucratic anarchy was to the advantage of the French mobilising committee. They will now be able to continue organising without any real opposition until the next international gathering at the end of April. By then it might well be too late to reverse some of their key decisions. The pull to the right is hard to understand if one looks at the committee's composition. It is run by a small, well organised group of comrades who obviously work very closely together. The three leading comrades are Christophe Aguiton, Pierre Khalfa and Sophie Zafari. All of them are members of the Confédération Générale du Travail, the trade union federation that has traditionally been associated with the French Communist Party, although Sophie is the only official CGT representative. While comrades Christophe and Pierre officially represent Attac, Pierre and Sophie also happen to be members of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. So again we see revolutionary organisations in name that behave anything but in practice. In Brazil, the Workers Party (PT), which is running and financing the World Social Forum, has 'instructed' all local regional forums to restrict themselves to discussion - they must not take any political action. The PT has its own reasons for doing so - not least its desire to keep calling the tune. At the last meeting of the international council, the Brazilian comrades were defeated in their attempt to prevent the next WSF taking place in India. They want all WSFs to take place in Brazil, in order to stay firmly in control of the process. The French comrades' reasons for attempting to hold back left unity across Europe are similar, although a little more difficult to identify. It seems the comrades are united in not wanting to build an international rival organisation to Attac, which has successfully taken off in a number of European countries. The LCR, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party are all involved in Attac, which with 40,000 mostly young members is much more successful in picking up new recruits than their own organisations. Political parties are not allowed to take part in the French ESF mobilising committee - although the committee is clearly dominated by those three parties. It seems the comrades even want to prevent workshops - which last year were the only events which political groups like ourselves were able to organise - from being listed in the programme of this year's ESF. The comrades want to carry on using Attac as a transmission belt from the amorphous 'anti-capitalist movement' into their own organisations. A strong, international ESF movement that engages with all sorts of political questions and is led by the left in Europe could be a powerful rival to Attac in France, which limits itself to acting as an international lobby group. But there are other pressures as well. There is a rumour that French president Jacques Chirac has promised one million euros towards the cost of the Paris ESF - if there were to be any such funding, it would not come without strings. This development is extremely worrying and needs to be tackled head on by the rest of the European left. So far, the Italian comrades have chosen to go it alone - the meeting in Brussels sometimes seemed to deteriorate into a fight between the French and the Italian comrades. But contributions from all over Europe showed that nobody wanted to go down the 'French road'. At a time when our bosses and their governments are coming together, we cannot afford to let an opportunity for effective left unity pass us by. Tina Becker and Anne Mc Shane * Attac on efficient organisation * Anti-war retreat