Why Attac tries to apply brakes
Under the leadership of the French organising committee, the ESF has made a sharp turn to the right. Tina Becker explains
Under the leadership of the French organising committee, the ESF has made a sharp turn to the right. In the last 12 months, the comrades have proposed and fought for a number of policies aimed at slowing down the process. The lobby group Attac has been instrumental in pushing through almost all of them:
- They were calling for the period between ESFs to be extended and want the forums to be “less gigantic”.
- They have argued against holding a united political demonstration at the end of this year’s ESF. Instead, they want two small ‘carnivals’.
- They vehemently opposed the formation of the anti-war network that built the worldwide demonstrations on February 15. They have also argued against the setting up of other theme-based networks across Europe.
- In a number of anti-war statements they have rejected calls for “militant action” against the Iraq war. Instead they pushed through statements that appealed to the United Nations to sort things out.
- The comrades are to the fore in keeping the ban on parties in place - even though many of the most active people on the organising committee are members of the Socialist Party, PCF or LCR (they are usually Attac members too). France is the only country with a real workers’ movement that bans political parties from openly participating in the social forum. Greece, Italy and Spain all recognise the need to openly engage with parties.
To understand why the French behave in the way they do, one needs to examine the Attac phenomenon a little more closely. The organisation was founded four years ago by the radical intellectual, Bernard Cassen, in order to give organisational form to the growing anti-capitalist mood in France. The existing political parties of the reformist and revolutionary left (Socialist Party, PCF, LCR and Lutte Ouvrière) had not been able to change their bureaucratic and often sectarian ways of working sufficiently to attract many newly politicised young people.
All of these parties (apart from LO) are now heavily involved in Attac - though officially political parties are banned from participating. What sounds problematic is in fact an ideal situation for those groups: they aim to use Attac as a transmission belt from the amorphous ‘anti-capitalist movement’ into their own organisations.
Initially Attac only campaigned for the introduction of the Tobin tax, a levy on share dealings. Soon it expanded its sphere of activity to anti-privatisation and anti-Gats campaigns. Today it claims 90,000 members in 50 countries, describing itself as “the international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions”. The main graphic on the Attac website is a world made up of bar-codes, covered by a big yellow sticking plaster. This really does sum up Attac’s politics: it does not want to radically change society, it merely wants to patch things up: ie, make capitalism less destructive.
Needless to say, the group is against the European Union, because it “opposes any new abandonment of national sovereignty on the pretext of the ‘rights’ of investors and merchants”. It clings to the notion that we should defend existing nation-states against encroachments by the nasty EU. Similarly, what is missing from Attac’s platform (as from that of most other European socialist groups) is a vision of a united, strong European working class movement that could build its own, social, Europe.
Instead, Attac limits itself to lobbying and does not actively engage in politics. In the French presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003 it did not call for a vote for any of the candidates or parties. This shows just how fragile and impotent the organisation actually is. Because so many political parties are involved, it would blow the organisation apart if Attac officially called for a vote for any of them. This is of course not serious politics and does not make for a stable group that can give a lead. Now that the LCR and LO have announced that they are going to stand together in the 2004 European and regional elections, in opposition to the PCF and Socialist Party, the contradictions within Attac will be increased further.
The trade unions assert another kind of pressure on Attac - for example, in the discussion around the setting up of long overdue international networks that could take decisive action. Pierre Khalfa, official representative of Attac France (and a member of the LCR), stated in an ESF assembly meeting in April that there were “some organisations involved in the ESF process that do not want to be part of the social movements” and are therefore against the building of networks. Apparently, those organisations want to come to the ESF and sponsor it, but they do not want to build effective European-wide organisations that could strengthen our forces. Later, it was admitted that the comrade was referring to “a number of trade unions”, which have remained unnamed.
More likely, a number of trade union bureaucrats seem to be able to exercise a certain amount of pressure on the committee. The PCF in particular has very close links with the largest French trade union centre, the CGT. The CGT bureaucrats back the parties of the ‘pluralist left’ and hope that the next SP-PCF administration will be more open to their pressure. They are not interested in building a strong, European-wide movement from below that could take united political action against the various national governments.
It must be said that the two most prominent members of the French mobilising committee, Pierre Khalfa and Sophie Zafari, have rather different politics from the majority of their fellow members of Attac on the committee. Although comrade Zafari is officially a representative of the CGT, she, like comrade Khalfa, is a member of the LCR. To what extent their politics have been compromised by having to front for the Attac-dominated mobilising committee is another question.