Overturn party ban

The participation of political parties has become one of the most controversial issues within the ESF, says Tina Becker

The current ban goes back to a ruling by the international council of the World Social Forum and has since been defended mostly by… political parties.

The international council was set up after the first WSF in January 2001 in Brazil and has taken the lead in establishing regional bodies like the European Social Forum. Its composition is a little arbitrary, to say the least. The secretariat is dominated by the Brazilian Workers Party. It consists of eight Brazilian comrades, who have taken it upon themselves to appoint 68 further council members. None of the 76 have been elected at any time. Nor are they accountable to anybody.

But that has not stopped them producing the ‘Charter of principles’, which everybody who wants to take part in any social forum anywhere in the world must abide by. The international council has also ruled that the regional forums cannot make any real decisions, produce any documents or take any action. That is why the international anti-war demonstrations on February 15 2003 could not be called by the ESF - although in reality they were planned and organised during ESF meetings.

The charter also states that political parties cannot take part in the ESF - no distinction is made between revolutionary communist organisations on the one hand and on the other hand Tony Blair’s Labour Party or Burma’s military dictatorship: “Neither party representations nor military organisations shall participate in the forum. Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of this charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity.” That means in practice that the CPGB has been unable to organise a seminar or send an official speaker to any of the forums.

This is of course daft if one considers the role of socialist and communist parties across Europe. They are at the heart of organising the anti-capitalist sentiment, especially in France, Spain and Italy. The foundations for the ESF were laid by the huge demonstrations of Genoa and Rome. The first ESF in 2002 took place in Florence, precisely because the Italian workers’ movement is so highly organised and political and has produced Rifondazione Comunista. This year’s gathering takes place in France, because of the historic strength of the Communist Party of France (PCF), the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvrière (although LO is stupidly boycotting the ESF as a “non-revolutionary” event).

It has been argued that the ban is necessary to safeguard the forums from parties that are or were part of neoliberal governments and who without a doubt are interested in infiltrating and neutralising the movement. In reality, those parties are not just among us - they often lead the social movements in their countries.

The list is long. All of the above are playing leading roles in the local, national and international social forums. As Elisabeth Gauthier, a member of the French organising committee, said in an interview with the Weekly Worker, “We will only be able to organise the ESF 2003 in Paris because local and city governments have agreed to let us use public areas and meeting halls. The mayor of Paris is a member of the Socialist Party, while the other three localities where there will be ESF meetings have Communist Party mayors. We do need their financial and administrative support” (Weekly Worker July 24).

Reality shows that the WSF formulation will not protect us from the right. Quite the opposite: it actually makes it easier for social democratic organisations to infiltrate. It would be much better to confront these parties openly and challenge their politics in Paris in front of the movement. Participate they will in any case - surely it would be preferable for the movement to know where and who they are.

People are not stupid. If somebody does not want to be ‘exposed’ to the politics of the French Communist Party or the PDS there is one easy solution - do not go to their meetings. That only works of course if we know who is a member of which party. Banning parties serves only to obscure and confuse.

Bigger parties have no problem in getting their message across - even if they do not appear officially in the programme. The Brazilian PT comrades have effectively been running the WSF. They financed and organised it - and were able to use the forum for their own political purposes, like the election of Lula for president. In France, the PCF and the LCR are running the show, and helping to build Attac in the process. In Italy, Tuscany and the city of Florence both have centre-left governments, and the DS donated hundreds of thousands of euros to the running of last year’s ESF. All these parties hide their affiliation within the social forums and pretend that they are simply ‘part of the movement’.

It is the smaller communist and socialist organisations that have in fact actually been excluded from the ESF. They have to hide behind NGOs or other non-party formations in order to be able to participate. In reality, this simply encourages and rewards dishonesty. Socialist Worker Party comrades from Britain identify themselves only as Globalise Resistance. There are to be a number of SWP speakers on various platforms and dozens of members of the LCR and PCF are booked for seminars and conferences - not, however, under the names of their organisations.

Unfortunately, Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) has also been infected by the anti-party bug. For months, it did not criticise the ‘no political parties’ formulation at all and has actually been instrumental in defending it, although the PRC’s motivation is undoubtedly different from the DS’s or PT’s. Perhaps the comrades are taking their policy of being ‘contaminated’ by the movement too far. For example, Alfio Nicotra, a leading member of Rifondazione, stated in one of the preparatory meetings for the ESF that “any political party that is integral to the movement would have no interest in promoting itself - only the movement”.

While preparing the first ESF, comrades on the Italian organising committee actively supported the ban on parties - although many of them were members of Rifondazione or the DS themselves. Only after months of intensive and heated debates at the international ESF assemblies did they change their position. The compromise, agreed with the World Social Forum in 2002: political parties are allowed to participate, but they can organise workshops only. But the workshops themselves were sidelined in Florence and it looks as though they are not being listed in this year’s official programme.

The Social Forum offers an historic chance to unite the left on a global scale. But we need to learn from our past: without democratic and open decision-making at all levels the project will not survive. It is clearly impossible to keep political parties out of the process of remaking the left.