Seize opportunity

As the European Union tries to introduce its quasi-democratic constitution, expands to the east, adopts the single currency and looks to a unitary European defence force, our side is left to play catch-up, says Marcus Ström

The European Social Forum provides the left with a space to debate the way forward. We must seize the opportunity. That is one of the ESF’s most important aspects. It allows for the working class, progressive and left forces to re-engage on a continent-wide basis. We must meet the challenge laid down by Europe of capital. The working class in Europe must remake itself or remain a slave class.

While the ESF is a pointer to the future, it is by no means our final destination. Cooperation across Europe among trade unions, left political parties and social movements remains poor. Yet our greatest success in this respect over the recent period actually grew out of last year’s ESF. The massive anti-war demonstrations of February 15 came about as a result of the decisions taken in Florence. More than 30 million people demonstrated across the planet. The movement can be proud of this. It showed that there is a growing resistance to the most rapacious aspects of global capitalism. By no means is everything going the way of the warmongers and imperialists.

However, our actual organisation is minuscule and haphazard in comparison with the tasks we face. We must move beyond spontaneity. Next year’s European Union elections offer us an opportunity to put opposition on a new footing: working class and socialist forces must strike as one. A common manifesto for the European elections is needed. An alliance of socialists across the continent required. Will our forces be up to the task?

That the ESF is in Paris this year is fortunate. We can learn from the successes and difficulties of the French left. The electoral unity of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvrière for the June 2004 elections is crucial. Opinion polls are already putting support for this Marxist bloc at 10% of the electorate. While clearly such levels of support cannot be expected everywhere, nevertheless a united, cross-Europe intervention would undoubtedly have a global impact. Now is the time to reforge European working class unity.

The past three decades have seen the increased globalisation of capital accumulation. The ruling classes of Europe are uniting around not only a neoliberal agenda, but proto-state forms for enforcing that agenda. They have also seen the final degeneration of ‘official communism’ and a string of defeats for the working class. The years of Reagan and Thatcher, followed by Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar, have set back the prospects for working class emancipation, socialism and a world without exploitation and war. There are glimmers of a renewal of class consciousness that has been at its lowest ebb for at least a century. Alongside that slump in class consciousness has been the rise in nationalism, the re-emergence of the far right in parts of Europe and a retreat into the politics of identity by many oppressed sections.

While the working class has been relatively directionless, the ruling classes of Europe are gradually moving towards unity. The chosen method has not been war - as attempted by Bonapartes, kaisers and fuhrers - but peaceful economic and political merger.

Yet our rejection of the capitalistic impulses pushing our rulers to unite Europe should not drive us into separate, national socialist dead ends. The working classes of Europe need to become more internationalist in response to the drive to build a capitalist Europe from above. We need a democratic and social Europe from below.

We have a long way to go. The European ruling classes are way ahead of us. They have their financial cabals and the European Central Bank. They have the undemocratic European Commission and the quasi-democratic European parliament. They have the European rapid reaction force and a battery of immigration laws to criminalise worst paid labour.

Yet the spectre of a united European working class movement haunts them. But that threat cannot become reality without political organisation. The European Social Forum provides an opportunity to begin the difficult yet necessary fight for working class political unity against the European ruling classes.

The ruling classes have told us there is no alternative to capitalism. Some have said so with glee, others with wringing hands and a heavy heart. But in openly celebrating the triumph of capitalism they have produced an unintended response from below. The growing anti-capitalist sentiment is a reaction to the ‘end of history’ garbage peddled by the paid mouthpieces of imperialism.

The opposition to neoliberalism and war has reached its highest form in Italy. Genoa and Florence echo still. Added to that is the millions-strong movement in the UK against the war. If anti-capitalism is not be dissipated or channelled safely into one or another pink or green reformist project, it must merge with the working class movement and take up the political fight for democracy.

As the capitalist class becomes organised at the level of the European Union, so too must the working class. This is the challenge before socialist and working class forces at this year’s ESF. The World Social Forum movement officially eschews political parties and thus unintentionally encourages both dishonesty and backwardness. Political parties simply don different hats and the task of cementing unity at the highest level is put off in favour of currying favour with the reformist wing of imperialism - charities, NGOs, do-gooders, localists and unaccountable intellectuals.

What has happened to last year’s initiative towards organisational unity of the left across Europe? Florence saw a meeting for “a proposal towards a European political party - an intervention by Rifondazione Comunista national secretary Fausto Bertinotti”. Since then, little has happened - in the public eye at least. Rifondazione’s attempt - admittedly made at the last minute - to arrange a meeting of “alternative left parties” in Paris had to be abandoned due to an insufficient response and is now planned for Brussels in December.

The old left bloc around the ‘official’ communist parties is acting as a hindrance to building a united socialist electoral coalition across Europe. Yet without this development the impulse of the ESF can not break out of a reformist straitjacket - which is of course the intention of many of in the movement: from the rightists of Attac to the ultra-lefts in Ya Basta who shun any political intervention.

With just seven months to go before the European parliament elections, the European left must grasp this opportunity to forge the highest possible unity. We should not be hampered by national difficulties or opportunist diversions.

The Socialist Alliance in England and Wales promised much. Yet the misleadership of the Socialist Workers Party has seen the goal of socialist unity sacrificed at the altar of sectarianism and perceived short-term gain. Now there are dangers that the achievements gained will be squandered in pursuit of a non-socialist bloc headed by George Galloway MP. The leadership of the SWP seems to be eyeing a united intervention in the EU elections as merely a means of gaining European parliament money to run its election campaigns. While the cash would be useful, this should not be the determining factor in formulating our plans.

The Socialist Alliance in England and Wales may have hit the sand, but the idea behind it still holds good, as a pointer to the direction the European left ought to go. The Scottish Socialist Party - born out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance - despite its nationalist weaknesses stands as an example to be followed and replicated on a continental scale. Six members of the Scottish parliament point to that. The fact that trends and factions of the left have been able not only to unite in elections and other campaigns, but have gone on to support a single party, shows that with the political will such an exercise at an all-European level is more than possible.

Agreeing a common platform for the European elections in 2004 is a necessary first step. The parties of the bourgeoisie stand common platforms in the EU - that should be a minimum for the parties of the working class too. But time is short. Neither should we leave it at that. We must take whatever electoral unity we are able to achieve to a qualitatively higher plane - a European Socialist Alliance. Ultimately, the aim should be a single revolutionary working class party: a Communist Party of the European Union. With such a party, the vistas of working class liberation on a continental and world scale come within reach. With such a party we can open up the path to real human freedom.