National Sections of the L5I:

Athens ESF : Paralysis in Prague

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The European Social Forum has passed up an important opportunity to break new ground in Central and Eastern Europe, to focus on the immediate struggles facing the European working class and, indeed, to co-ordinate those struggles.

As has happened all too often, a handful of “leading” delegates grabbed control of the agenda and ensured that the 150 participants spent the full three days discussing the themes for the next ESF, 11 months away.

The preparatory assembly (EPA), which meets about once a quarter to discuss and prepare the work of the ESF, gathered for the first time ever in a former Soviet bloc country, the Czech Republic, on 13-15th May. As a result, a record number of delegates attended from these states.

We heard accounts of

• workers being exploited at eight times the rate of their western sisters and brothers

• minority nationalities, like the Roma, suffering 90 per cent unemployment rates and physical attacks from fascist

• state-controlled unions and western NGOs setting up rival and fake “social forums”.

The Czech Secret Police even persuaded Prague City Council at the last minute to withdraw its offer of facilities to the EPA, on the grounds that the ESF was “anti-globalisation and extremely left wing”. If only…

The EPA was also gathering at an opportune time.

• Leading activists and organisations within the ESF – especially in France – are playing a prominent role in the campaigns for a “No” vote in the referenda on the EU Constitution.

• Up to a third of a million people – overwhelmingly young – are expected to come up to Scotland to protest against the G8 in July.

• The current pan-European offensive on rights and public services – the Lisbon agenda – is being accelerated.

• Last but not least, the occupation of Iraq poses the urgent need for solidarity with and support for all those resisting imperialism.

Recognising the potential for the working class to score some important victories in the coming months, and taking full advantage of the fact that the Athens ESF was nearly a full year away, the League for the Fifth International submitted a series of linked political proposals, culminating in the call to set up of a European-wide standing co-ordination of struggles.

L5I comrades also played an active part in the Czech organising committee proposing that the agenda, for once, moved away from the structureless talking shop characteristic of most EPAs. Clear blocs of time were marked out for discussion of the big political issues, solidarity work, decision making, setting up a standing co-ordination. The agenda was sent out to all, a month in advance.

But all to no avail.

All attempts to turn the ESF into a forum for discussing key struggles and to provide a strategy and a leadership for them, were blocked. Our proposals were obstructed by the usual bureaucratic methods, masquerading as libertarianism. These methods make a joke of the ESF’s claims to democracy, transparency and openness.

Just as in the reformist trade unions which dominate the ESF, everyone has the formal right to state their opinion – so long as they remain powerless to change anything.

The agenda was unceremoniously overturned. Discussion on the Assembly of Social Movements - the one body in the ESF process that can decide on action – was dumped. Calls to stick with the advertised agenda – were effectively smothered. The chair merely proceeded with the leading clique’s agenda.

The chance to bring in the experience and concerns of the workers and social movements of Eastern Europe was deliberately missed. Sacked workers from the banned ZOOP trade union at Anglo American’s state-of-the-art paper mill in Slovakia were barely granted the right to speak – a couple of minutes for them when union bureaucrats from France or Italy spoke for just as long as they wanted. Even then, the hall emptied as soon as the discussion turned to fighting the bosses.

Time and again calls to take action or clear political positions were blocked by a veto, masquerading under the name of “no consensus”.

• Our resolution against the EU countries’ wars, occupations and colonial projects, and calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Chechnya won a consensus – but was subsequently “forgotten” in the report-back session, then ruled out of order by the chair.

• The international youth organisation, Revolution, put forward a proposal for a youth assembly at the Athens ESF, agreed at a workshop, only to have the chair refuse to read it to the plenary .

• Our anti-racist resolution, opposing all immigration controls and “anti-terrorist” laws, and supporting full political rights, including the right to self-defence, for immigrants was vetoed by just one delegate – who refused to give any reason whatsoever, even when asked for one point-blank.

The meetings and various proposals were not a dialogue, exchange or debate but a series of deadly dull monologues. Utterly without purpose, since, at the end of the day, everyone knows the real decisions are taken and engineered by a number of unelected, informal “leaders” of the EPA/ESF.

These leaders organisations have names though they are rarely spoken names: The Cgil, Rifondazione Comunista, the French Communist Party and the CGT. Their representatives defend the interests, not of their many millions of members, but of the labour bureaucracies of Europe. They want to use the ESF as a forum for their policies and at the same time prevent any structures, decisions and outcome, which makes them accountable to the movement.

Above all, they want to have their hands free to compromise with the European ruling classes, wherever they see an opportunity for it, or wherever they can enter governments. Rifondazione and the Democtatic Left are preparing to form a new coalition with Romani Prodi, the overseer of the Lisbon agenda and architect of the EU Constitution. The PCF would dearly love to crawl beck into office with yet another Gauche Plurielle alliance in France.

In this respect, the ESF is rapidly morphing into an image of its parent, the World Social Forum, the creation of the Brazilian Workers Party and left cover for Lula’s social liberal government - socialist in words, neoliberal in deeds.

These large “left” reformist forces are backed by a number of middle class organisations, like Attac, who search for a “regulated” capitalism, rather than fight the system.

Finally, they are covered up by a whole series of “revolutionary” socialists in various disguises, like the International Socialist Tendency (SWP, Linksruck, etc.) and the Fourth International (LCR, etc.). Also rank-and-file trade unionists like Cobas and SUD, who are prepared to preserve a do-nothing unity with the Cgil and CGT bureaucrats at the expense of the future of the movement.

These centrists and syndicalists hope that the ESF process will - somehow some day - nudge these reformist leaders to the left and turn them into anticapitalists. For them, it is always too early to place clear demands on the reformists in case it provokes a split – until, of course, suddenly it becomes too late!

What none of them are prepared to recognise and act upon is that the class struggle involves a fight against the misleaders who are demobiliisng the fightback against the Lisbon agenda and resisting the formation of social liberal governments, which will turn out to be as disastrous as Tony Blair’s and Gerhard Schroeder’s.

In a final ironic twist – the IST- had been so busy blocking all proposals for political discussion that, they forgot an item on their own agenda. With five minutes to go, after the date and venue of the next meeting had been set and most of the delegates had gone, Chris Nineham called on those remaining to agree to campaign for a “No” vote in the referendums on the EU Constitution.

Unfortunately, this too had been blocked earlier by the Catholic NGO, Caritas. So the best they could get was an agreement for everyone to campaign for a “No” vote – except those that disagreed who would be allowed to… campaign for a “Yes” vote. Ah well, it was in the city of Kafka.