European Social Forum: Put in its place

The second European Social Forum, to be held in Paris in November, is now only months away. Tina Becker and Anne Mc Shane report on the latest preparation assembly, which met in Genoa over the weekend of July 19-20, where they witnessed the Socialist Workers Party taking a knock

Over 300 people attended what was in many respects a disappointing event.

Firstly, although the process has begun to involve representatives from eastern Europe and Russia and has become broader in a geographical sense, its politics remain dominated by the stunted and reformist liberal agenda of the World Social Forum. Political parties still cannot be represented in their own right at the ESF. Instead, they will undoubtedly be present in various other guises.

Secondly, all the projected topics for discussion in the main programme remain the same - anti-neoliberalism, anti-racism and anti-war. In other words, what we are against. Class-based unity is a question that is way down the agenda, despite the talk of involving trade unions. What we should be for - ie, the ideas of socialism and revolution - is not up for discussion either.

Thirdly, it has been confirmed that the event will take place in four venues, which are “very far apart”, as even the French comrades had to admit. While St Denis and La Villette are both in the north of Paris, Ivry is in the south east and Bobigny right in the south. Participants could well spend hours every day travelling from one venue to another.

Last but not least, the atmosphere was pretty tense, especially compared to the rather chummy events in the past. This was in no small part down to the fact that the Socialist Workers Party (showing its Globalise Resistance face, and supported by a number of its International Socialist Tendency sections) was very publicly and embarrassingly put in its place by the French mobilising committee.

The first day of the assembly started pretty uncontroversially with a report-back on the women’s assembly, which will take place on the eve of the forum. The speaker who introduced this item said that some of the main topics would be the representation of women in the social movements and the issue of women and war. She put forward a very feminist perspective, presenting the issue of women’s oppression as something for women only - rather than an issue of vital importance that needs to be taken up by the whole movement, necessarily involving men. Women were pacifist by nature and did not want war, we were told. The aim was for a “non-male-dominated society”.

CPGB comrades have previously called for men who are partisans of the struggle for women’s emancipation to be invited as speakers. But this position has received no support, indicating a hands-off approach on this question.

However, there were some interesting moments. In particular there was the stance taken by the French organising committee in relation to Globalise Resistance. GR - aka SWP - has consistently portrayed itself as the British section of the ESF. The comrades have continually referred to themselves as the official representatives from England or Britain and have tried to stamp on any attempt to put the record straight by the CPGB. Up until now the main components from the French and Italian mobilising committees went along with it.

But there have been a number of social forums set up across Britain - very much against the will of the SWP. Most of them are still small, riddled with reformist and green-anarchist ideas and ill-advertised. Nevertheless, they certainly should be allowed representation in the ESF. But the SWP was having none of it.

Teresa Hoskyns from the yet to be officially launched London Social Forum put herself forward as one of the two participants from Britain to attend the working group which will decide on the ESF programme. The SWP said no - it could only be Chris Nineham and Asad Rehman from GR. These were the two comrades that were nominated by a number of meetings of the English mobilisation committee. However, the reason they were given the approval of the other groups and individuals was that there was no other person who really wanted to attend the rather boring and long meetings which take place every four weeks or so. But people did raise problems with both representatives being members of one of the SWP’s front organisations.

At the last meeting of the English mobilisation committee in Manchester, which was dominated by GR, a third person was put forward as a representative for this working group. Claire Williams’s credentials, as advertised by her comrades: she is a relatively prominent member of Unison, a woman and not from London. It just so happens that she is a member of GR too.

The French organising committee heard about Teresa’s complaints and Christophe Aguiton (Attac) encouraged Teresa to speak to the forum about the problem of representation from Britain. GR comrades, led by Alex Callinicos, were visibly upset by her open criticism of the English ESF, which was received with gratified applause from quite a few participants (many for their own sectarian reasons, no doubt).

A raging Callinicos confronted the two leading French comrades, Pierre Khalfa and Sophie Zafari, who are both members of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Judging by the row that broke out, I would guess that the negotiations between the two organisations to fuse their international sections are not going too well (see Weekly Worker July 17). Of all places, the comrades chose the space right in front of our stall for their fight.

While Alex and Chris were insistent on “not having any of it”, Sophie and Pierre said that the SWP must accept discussion and involve other forces as equals - something they most definitely have not been prepared to do so far. Britain could not just simply be represented by GR - especially given the formation of a number of social forums in England. The French committee finally decided to allow Teresa to attend the meetings of the programme working group as an additional observer from Britain. However, members from GR quite rightly argued that it is up to the British ESF to nominate their own delegates in a democratic way. The question is therefore still to be resolved at the next meeting of the English mobilisation committee, which takes place on Friday July 25 in London.

It was good that the SWP leaders were told in no uncertain terms that they could not dominate in their accustomed way, even though we might criticise the reasons for it and the way in which it was done. Interestingly, sales of the Weekly Worker increased significantly after this very public row, as people came to the stall to ask for a copy of “the paper that criticises GR”.