European Social Forum: PCF attacked

The PCF was attacked with bottles and fireworks by a gaggle of two to three hundred anarchists. David Moran witnessed events

A good demonstration is always uplifting. The march of over 100,000 communist and left groups from the Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in Paris was certainly that. Paris, it is true, may not have quite matched Florence in atmospheric terms, but one thing is certain - London (or whichever other British city ends up hosting the ESF) will have a lot to live up to in 2004.

Unlike in Florence, Paris lacked the cohesion and guiding influence of a single hegemonic force. Rather the three largest contingents on the demo - the LCR, PCF and CGT trade unions together coloured the event. Lutte Ouvrière, in full sectarian mode, was nowhere to be seen.

Although it was refreshing to see a wide range of militants being drawn in (there were sizeable Basque and Catalan blocs, for example), it was impossible for any communist not to think back to Florence and its almost unbroken sea of red Rifondazione Comunista flags - each proudly emblazoned with the hammer and sickle.

The lack of any clear leading force had another, far more serious, consequence, however. Towards the rear of the march the main PCF bloc was attacked with bottles and fireworks by a gaggle of two to three hundred anarchists. The PCF militants, obviously caught off guard, simply linked arms and bore the attack. The gendarmerie, who had until then maintained a discreet distance out of sight, appeared in riot gear and fired tear gas to disperse the mêlée at the rear.

The potential for such wrecking activities had been foreseen in Florence - Fausto Bertinotti had warned that the PRC would “deal with” any trouble-makers. On that occasion the march passed off entirely peacefully.

Whilst the anarchists in Paris may rightly regard the PCF as bureaucratic, reformist and guilty of treachery against our class, the PCF, like many other organisations contains sincere and honest communists in its ranks. Attacking them during a march that brought together a hundred thousand - including activists from across Europe - served as an alibi for police intervention. In objective terms such a stunt is reactionary: frankly, it is the sort of thing one expects from fascists. It will be working class political struggle that ultimately deals with reformism, class collaboration and bureaucratism in the PCF and elsewhere - not throwing bottles and fireworks.

However, despite these problems the overall character of the demonstration was inspiring. The marchers began to gather in earnest in the Place de la République at around 12.30. Rifondazione, as well as the Italian trade unions, Cobas and Sin Cobas, roused the impressive Italian delegation with cries of “Berlusconi! Assassini!” and “Tony Blair! Assassini!” Comrades from the LCR were busy handing out song sheets - with mixed results, to say the least. A reworked version of Bella ciao, the old Italian partisan song, featuring the refrain “Vive l’Europe - l’Europe sociale” went down well. Less popular was the frankly awful Sans la nommer.

With the weather bright and chilly and no sign of the police (before the anarchist provocation, that is), the march progressed in good spirit. As darkness fell, we arrived in the Place de la Nation. Here one criticism should be made: the lack of any rally meant that the procession ended in something of an anti-climax. The whole demonstration just dispersed, with the various groups either singing their own anthems or just drifting away. Nevertheless the square remained packed well into the evening.

Despite a number of problems Paris has set the bar high for the ESF 2004.