ESF Athens, May 4-7 2006 :: Dangers of disintegration

The European Social Forum is in real danger. All democrats and communists must work hard to prevent the whole thing simply falling apart. Despite our many criticisms, the ESF is currently the only real vehicle that exists for the cooperation of the European left, says Tina Becker

There is still no venue for our next forum, the fifth. Whereas in previous years, delegations from various countries virtually fought for the privilege of staging this huge event, it seems nobody wants to organise it any more.

The lack of a venue reflects very clearly the current nature of the ESF: there have been no great steps forward since our first forum in Florence in 2002. Some of the networks have developed a (sort of) life outside the ESF, but in general there is no more cooperation between our forces than there was before Florence.

There have been no new forces attracted to the preparatory process (which is undoubtedly far more important than the four-day extravaganza itself). The little political debate that there used to be at the assemblies that prepare for the ESF - previously a two to three-hour slot - has recently been dropped. Whether or not you hear a political sentence at the assemblies all weekend will depend on the nature of the network you are involved in.

Clearly, the ESF suffers from a lack of purpose and direction. Most people involved seem to agree that simply staging a carnival every two years is not going to worry the ruling class across Europe too much. But very few of the participants are prepared to fight for what is necessary - ie, the organisation of our class on the highest level possible.

One of the main problems is the current political track of Italy's Rifondazione Comunista, which was instrumental in setting up the social forum movement in Europe and has been the key player in the ESF. However, with Rifondazione now keen to take up ministerial posts in the centre-left reformist government coalition, the comrades' input into the ESF has decreased dramatically and - with the exception of Franco Russo's involvement in the network around the 'Charter of principles for another Europe' - Rifondazione comrades have now taken a back seat. A bad political trajectory (chasing, and subordinating the party to 'the movements') has been replaced by a disastrous one (ministerial posts).

Reflecting the level of class struggle across Europe, the second most important delegation at ESF meetings is the French one. However, the 20-30 representatives are often also the most conservative and even members of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and the Parti Communiste Franà§ais tend to subordinate their politics to the demands of Attac France.

The Greek comrades have been snowed under with organisational tasks and have never played a leading political role in the ESF in any case. All other delegations are small, varied in composition and/or are politically incoherent. Which leaves the ESF somewhat rudderless.

Reforms urgently needed

The fourth ESF in Athens next weekend (www.fse-esf.org) will undoubtedly be a pleasant affair and it is worthwhile pointing out that this year for the first time political parties will openly participate. Nobody contradicted Petros Constantinou from the Socialist Workers Party's small Greek section, Genoa 2001, when he reported at the January ESF preparatory assembly in Frankfurt that there have been many seminar proposals from political parties and that by accepting them the Greek organisers had "recognised the reality of the Greek left".

It is a pity that his comrades in Britain did not do the same when they were put in charge by Ken Livingstone to do the footwork for organising the ESF in London in 2004. Then, Chris Nineham and Alex Callinicos helped ensure the idiotic ban on political parties was kept in place.

Had the ESF allowed or encouraged the open participation of political parties right from the start, there is a chance that today we could have been in a qualitatively different position. But by pretending that most of us only represent semi-organised 'movements' (which cannot possibly be led, but must 'flourish' by themselves), we have actually been digging the ESF's grave.

Nothing ever remains the same and, by failing to go forward, the ESF had to go into decline. Add to that the lack of an elected leadership and the effective withdrawal of Rifondazione, and you can understand why the ESF is approaching crisis point.

Higher form of unity

Our enemies are uniting against us. The ruling classes of Europe are turning the European Union into a quasi-state, complete with its own flag, currency and perhaps in the not too distant future an army. More and more functions of individual states are being taken on by the EU. No doubt, a constitution will be adopted at some point - even if it is under a different name and even if has to be done without a single referendum of the peoples of Europe.

But the unity of Europe is - even under capitalism - progressive. This is not to foster illusions in Blair, Chirac or Prodi - they intend to create a bureaucratic, undemocratic Europe in the interests of capital. We, on the contrary, fight for extreme democracy and the greatest influence of the working class over every aspect of the EU.

A united Europe would bring the working class together objectively - and, if we revolutionaries do our work properly, subjectively, through a common political programme. Capitalism creates its own gravedigger in the form of the proletariat. European integration also creates a hugely powerful potential enemy for capital - the working class organised into a revolutionary party across Europe. Our job is to cement a united core capable of making that a reality.

The ESF is currently the only viable avenue that exists for the cooperation of the European left. The European Left Party, on the contrary, is nothing more than a minimalist lash-up on the basis of the lowest common denominator, its main purpose being to secure extra funding from the European parliament.

A cultural revolution is clearly needed - not just in the ESF, but in the whole of the left in Europe. It remains to be seen whether today's core forces are capable of achieving such a change. In any case, communists and socialists have to go through the existing attempts, pitifully inadequate though they are, in order to coordinate our forces.

As a matter of urgency we need to work towards a Communist Party of the EU. Not bureaucratic centralist, but democratic centralist: transparency, accountability and the right to publish and circulate minority viewpoints are crucial.

If the ESF and the project of European left unity are to succeed, a bold lead is called for. At present, there are few organisations that have the influence, cadre and political strength to spark the process of left unity. Our joint campaign against the EU constitution and for a social Europe is a serious step in the right direction. But much more is needed:

l A democratically elected and accountable leadership of the ESF that can take decisions and act. All meetings at all levels to be open to observers.

l No ban on political parties. For the open clash of ideas in front of the whole movement.

l An end to the 'consensus principle'. It is undemocratic, inflexible and holds us back. For the right of the majority to decide.

l Structures that allow us to debate a joint programme to challenge the Europe of capital and its bureaucrats, as well as our own national ruling classes.

l The recognition that coordinating our campaigns and activities is not just a nice idea, but vital. We need continent-wide campaigns, strikes and demonstrations against cuts, privatisations, war and all attacks on our class and the democratic rights it has won.

l Towards a Communist Party of the EU.

CPGB comrades are involved in the following activities at the ESF

Thursday, 14.30, room S104

Seminar: 'Defending fundamental rights: the UN, EU and international rights'. Speakers include Anne Mc Shane (CPGB), Rafaela Bolini (Arci, Italy) and Vittorio Agnoletto (Italian MEP)

Thursday, 18.00, room S102

Seminar: 'Permanent war and occupation, terrorism and resistance - armed, civil or non-violent?' Speakers include Tina Becker (CPGB), Piero Bernocchi (Cobas, Italy) and Franco Russo (Charter of principles for another Europe).

Friday, 10.00, room F26

Workshop: 'Russia: The 1917 revolution, capitalist restoration and the tasks for the left today'. Speakers: Mark Fischer (CPGB), Boris Kagarlitsky (Institute for Globalisation Studies), Hillel Ticktin (Critique).

Friday, 10.00, room E201

Seminar: 'Which democratic institutions for which democratic Europe?'

Speakers include Tina Becker (CPGB) and Antonis Manitakis (Synapsismos, Greece).

Contact the CPGB

Call us on 0044 7950 416 922 or 0044 7941 083 011. Or come and see us at our stall.