Charting the way forward

European Social Forum: Discussion around the programme for the next ESF showed that important lessons had been learnt from the previous two events.

Discussion around the programme for the next ESF showed that important lessons had been learnt from the previous two events.

In particular participants were critical of the large number of plenary sessions in Paris. These meetings featured far too many platform speakers and very little participation from the floor. They were also often about subjects of no interest to delegates - dusty and abstract academic debates with little by way of analysis or even any real exchange of ideas.

The seminars were in contrast more lively affairs. With platform speeches kept short, there was far more involvement from the audience. And, as seminars were put together by political groups and movements interested in debating an issue of common concern, they were far more real. For example, the sessions on war and the debate between Toni Negri and Alex Callinicos on the working class and the multitude were packed out.

Pierre Khalfa of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, who is also a leading member of Attac France and last year’s French mobilising committee, has also recognised this. He made similar points in his analysis of the Paris event in an email circulated on the ESF lists. He proposed reducing the number of plenaries and making seminars sites for genuine debate, aimed at clarifying differences between organisations working together on European-wide projects. He also believes that the aim should be common action, not debate for the sake of it.

It would, of course, be a profound mistake to judge every debate according to the criteria of whether or not it promotes common action. Nevertheless Khalfa’s emphasis on action clearly marks a step forward compared with the speechifying characteristic of the World Social Forum and his call for genuine debate should not only be welcomed, but actively promoted as the guiding principle for the next ESF.

In that context it was good that the programme group agreed that we needed to move away from a system that determines the speakers by national quotas. This bureaucratic and nationalistic method added to the boredom factor at plenaries in Paris and created a situation where national groups vied with each other to get the most speakers. What we were actually discussing was often lost sight of.

The idea from Workers Power that seminars are divided into themes and given separate sites was rejected. It was felt that a mixture of debates throughout the forum would be far better. Another suggestion was that the whole ESF event be a way of enabling the movement to come together and unite around practice. One comrade argued that proposals for action could be formulated within seminars - to be then decided upon by the participants. Yet the more things become orientated towards practice the more problematic becomes the so-called consensus principle.

Unless the ESF is simply to be a useless talking shop for NGOs, media worthies and a chosen circle of leftwing tops - something that many recognise as a far too familiar problem - it needs to be able to take decisions through voting. Again and again, the WSF’s principle by which it insists on consensus and frowns on organising joint activity, will be challenged.

Finally it was agreed that the programme working group meeting would be open and minutes circulated. The first meeting is on January 10 at a venue to be arranged.