Control-freakery provokes 'rival' bid

Tina Becker has the latest news from the European Social Forum

October 19 saw the first public meeting to discuss the proposal for the 2004 European Social Forum to be held in London. Hosted by the London Social Forum at very short notice, it was a welcome and long overdue opportunity to find out what has so far only been debated behind closed doors.

Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament addressed the 50 or so present with a 10-minute presentation on the London bid. Despite previous announcements that it would shun the meeting, the Socialist Workers Party/Globalise Resistance sent Jonathan Neale along to take part in the question and answer session that followed.

That is to be welcomed, although the main purpose of his attendance seemed to have been making sure that comrade Hudson did not make any promises or give away too much. He certainly did not come to make new friends or to pledge that the ‘London bid’ would become more democratic and inclusive. Especially towards the end (at over four hours it was admittedly a long meeting), he got increasingly hostile and made a few remarks that might well return to haunt him.

However, his presence is a clear sign that the SWP is starting to get worried about an emerging opposition. His comrades, particularly Alex Callinicos, have been very active on the email list of the English mobilisation, arguing against the LSF, which “represents nothing” and claiming that the LSF is engaged in an “attempt to sabotage the ESF coming to London”. The only organisation that is sabotaging this great opportunity is of course the SWP. By keeping the process secret and for select invitees only, they have created the opposition, which is getting more organised by the day. An increasing number of groups and individuals are coming together to form a democratic bloc to stand against the exclusive methods of the SWP.

Not unexpectedly, things turned a little sour during the meeting. Perhaps this was unavoidable, considering that the official bidders around GR and CND have so far kept representatives of the London Social Forum away from their London bid. Most people were unhappy about their exclusion, to put it mildly. Initially, however, Kate Hudson was able to smooth some ruffled feather.

She was much more attuned to the ‘non-hierarchical’ atmosphere than comrade Neale and she handled things well in the circumstances. She promised that “of course we will not exclude anybody. Once the bid has been accepted, everybody will be invited on board.”

“I am of course aware that a number of people have a problem with the way our bid was put together,” comrade Hudson explained. But up till now the organisations involved had only been “conducting a feasibility study” and no secret leadership was being formed. “No particular organisation has been excluded,” she said, rather dishonestly. The CPGB for a start has requested various times to be invited to the organising meetings - to no avail.

“We will not only allow observers,” comrade Hudson went on. “Everybody interested will be able to come along. I am in favour of open meetings and the widest possible involvement of all sectors of society, but it is not up to me to decide,” she concluded, rather cryptically.

“Does that mean that other people are in favour of closed meetings?” asked comrade Anita Bressan, a member of Rifondazione Comunista. “I can’t go into that and speak on behalf of other organisations,” comrade Hudson mumbled. Jonathan Neale then barged in: “Of course neither Kate nor I can speak for all the organisations involved” - skirting over the fact that the SWP was the organisation that set up the closed structure in the first place.

Comrade Neale made some more blunders, which did not help to alter the perception that the SWP is determined to prevent democracy interfering with its ESF bid. He held out the prospect of “big, big assembly meetings, in which everybody can take part” and “smaller organising meetings” - which, by implication, not everybody could attend. So when Anne Mc Shane from the CPGB asked if Jonathan could give his personal commitment to fight for the organisational meetings to become open to observers from now on, a tired comrade Neale simply answered, “No”.


There were some obvious divisions between Kate and Jonathan. Comrade Hudson was prepared at least to listen and engage. Not comrade Neal, who prefers to mock. At one point, after LSF comrades disagreed amongst themselves, comrade Neale said rather pointedly (and pompously): “I demand that you do not speak [at the November 10 meeting in Paris to decide on the London bid] unless you have a consensus” - to loud laughter. Comrade Hudson chided him: “It is wrong of Jonathan to demand these things of you”. His response was more high camp than sincere: “Oh, I apologise, I apologise.”

They differed over the timing of the ESF. When asked why we in the UK could not host the ESF in 2005, Jonathan insisted that it would have to take place in 2004, alluding to trade unions, and the GLA itself, who might “have a problem” with supporting the ESF in a general election year: “There is a danger that they might turn away from the ESF and support Tony Blair instead.” Of course, they might not. Kate on the other hand, said that she had “no fixed view when it comes to time and place. Maybe we can change it to 2005 - maybe we can’t.” If the trade unions and the GLA had a real problem with supporting a 2005 ESF in London, comrade Hudson would surely have heard about it.

While most had been sceptical about what they would learn from comrade Hudson, they were certainly impressed with her honesty. She seemed to give as much information about the bid as she knew herself. She even patiently answered the accusations from Gail Chester, Hackney-based local activist, who put it to her that “apparently there has been a takeover in CND”. She had heard that 30-50 Socialist Action supporters had joined CND in the week before the AGM and “installed you as chair”. Kate Hudson replied: “If you had read your Weekly Worker, you would know that I have recently joined the Communist Party of Britain and that I am not a member of Socialist Action. We have examined all the accusations and found no dominant political allegiances.”

Talking about the initial phase of the London bid, she explained that “Pierre Khalfa and Sophie Zafari from the French mobilisation committee approached me and Jonathan at the ESF assembly meeting in Genoa in July, asking if Britain could host the next ESF. Apparently they asked other European countries as well. So we went away and started to think about things.” If this is true, the comrades certainly kept it quiet from other delegates from Britain who attended the assembly meeting. CPGB comrades were present in Genoa for the whole weekend, as was Teresa Hoskyns from the London Social Forum. None of us were informed about this approach.


In fact, comrades Khalfa, Zafari and other Attac members have encouraged Teresa to complain about the undemocratic way in which GR/SWP was running the English mobilisation for the ESF. This was followed by a very public row between the SWP’s Alex Callinicos and comrades Khalfa and Zafari - right in front our CPGB stall (see Weekly Worker July 24). While I certainly would not put it beyond members of the French organising committee to keep their proposal secret from CPGB members, I really think they would have informed Teresa about them. Attac has been very keen indeed to use the London Social Forum as a way of giving the SWP a rap over the knuckles.

Comrade Hudson further reported that Ken Livingstone was first approached to back the bid and “surprised us all by his level of enthusiasm”. Mick Connolly, appointed ‘honorary treasurer’ to the London bid by Chris Nineham, “brought the South East Region of the TUC on board”, and, with Nick Dearden from War on Want also giving his backing, “NGO support is assured”. She said that she did not know if the Greater London Assembly was aware of the mayor’s support, but GLA endorsement was not necessary, according to comrade Neale, because Ken Livingstone has already let the bidders know that “his support does not include direct financial backing”.

This is maybe the best option in any case. Financial support from an elected political body could easily turn out to be problematic, as Jean-Pierre Beauvais from Attac France reported. Comrade Beauvais had travelled to London just for this meeting. He explained how the French region of Ile de France had promised a “substantial sum of money” to run this year’s ESF in Paris, but the decision had been taken at a meeting when the left (Communist Party and Socialist Party) was in a majority. At a subsequent meeting, after the rightwing parties had won a majority in the region, the decision was overturned. Comrade Beauvais reported that “about one tenth” of financial support from the French regions was lost in this way.

The meeting finally fizzled out, without any agreement being reached. In fact, because of comrade Neale’s attitude a fair number of people had unfortunately had their conviction strengthened that “no ESF” was preferable to “a bad one run by the SWP”, as someone put it. A few seem quite prepared to veto the bid at the next ESF preparation assembly on November 10 (such questions are, of course, supposed to be decided by ‘consensus’, which means everybody has a veto). There were others present, including myself, who had hoped that the combined pressure of the LSF and other organisations could be used to make the bid for London in 2004 more democratic and transparent.

However, a majority was of the opinion that there was not enough time to prise open the process. “The SWP will quote time constraints and the need to finish the job” without democracy and transparency, one comrade said. She preferred the ESF 2004 to be held in Athens, with the ESF 2005 coming to the UK (some people suggested that Manchester might be better than London).

A less serious, third option was put forward by a nostalgic supporter of the Morning Star’s CPB. She urged that the next ESF should take place neither in London nor Athens. It should be in “East Germany”. “It was the best bloody communist country that ever existed!”

At a smaller LSF meeting the next day, a majority opinion emerged which wants to defer the London bid until 2005 and ask Athens to host it next year. I was the only one who wanted to press ahead with London 2004, while keeping up demands for openness and inclusion. It was agreed to draft a sign-up statement, to be circulated to organisations and individuals in and outside of Britain. This suggests moving the ESF in London to 2005, but does not threaten to veto London in 2004. In either case, it calls for a “proper consultation process with all relevant and interested organisations” to be set up “immediately” and demands that “all bodies of the ESF process must from now on meet in public, be open to observers, advertise their meetings, agenda items and resolutions in advance and provide full minutes”.

If, as is to be expected, the ‘bidders’ do not accept the document, the London Social Forum intends to present it to the ESF assembly on November 10 as a rival bid from the UK.