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European Social Forum in Sweden: a lost opportunity

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The fifth meeting of the European Social Forum was held in Malmo, Sweden in September. Participants from various social movements, a number of left wing groups and NGOs all gathered together in around 280 seminars and workshops, along with a large number of cultural activities. Alongside these meetings, there was a demonstration with 10-15,000 participants on Saturday, and a number of smaller demonstrations and protests.

The youth group REVOLUTION arranged an anti-racist meeting together with the Turkish group Revolutionary Proletariat, Hungarian Social Forum Coordinating Committee, the Russian NGO Rule of Law Institute, and Network Against Racism.

The meeting, which gathered over 70 people, was marked by a radical atmosphere and a desire for united resistance to the racist wave that is sweeping across Europe. The mood was very anticapitalist, and the understanding that the fight against racism must be part of the class struggle was shared by most of the people that made speeches at the meeting.

The seriousness of the situation facing immigrants, refugees and minority groups in Eastern Europe and Russia was discussed. We hope that in the future, we will be able to take part in and have more reports of what happens in countries, such as Russia (where the anti-fascist movement is subject to frequent violent attacks), and that the contacts will lead to continued cooperation.

The forum - criticism

Overall the forum was a positive contribution to the development of the Swedish left. The forum saw a number of meetings where trade unions met and discussed joint opposition to the European union's attack on the right to strike, and it brought together climate activists planning a mobilisation against the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. Activists in the antiwar movement discussed the coming actions against the Nato summit in Kiel/Strasbourg in April next year, and also against the G8 summit in Italy in early July. Also the demonstration on Saturday was the largest in Malmˆ for a very long time and showed the continued broadness of the forum movement.

However, there is good reason to remain critical about the progress made in the social forum movement. The ESFs have become smaller. It has increasingly become an event for established activists and the leading strata within the unions and social movements. There was no unifying central place organised in Malmˆ; instead, the forum was spread out across smaller sites, leading to fragmentation. The demonstration thus became the only event where participants could feel their joint strength.

Lobbying instead of class struggle

During the ESF there was no possibility of a common democratic discussion of the lessons learned from the past years. This meant that the forum's potential to become a centre for organising pan-European resistance was largely neglected. Instead, it continues to serve largely as a discussion club. This was clearly reflected at the Assembly of Social Movements, which is the part of the process that actually makes campaigning decisions. It produced a final declaration, which was already worked out beforehand. This described the ongoing right wing offensive and the seriousness of it, then set out the campaign the leading forces want to see in response: a European mobilisation of social movements "reaffirming the alternatives that do exist for global justice, peace, democracy and for the environment", whatever that is supposed to mean.

Nevertheless the proposed campaign will include mass lobbying in Brussels in December against attempts by the European courts to undermine the right to strike, as well as the convening of a European "strategic" conference of social movements in March 2009. In essence, this is conceived as a protest campaign linked a reformist strategy of lobbying.

The need for workers to counter the offensive by setting up an international network of militant trade unionists to coordinate strike action, blockades and occupations is an absolute necessity, but is completely absent in the declaration. The ìsocial Europe ì being talked of is not defined either. What they really mean is a social democratic Europe: a capitalist Europe plunging into recession but ruled over by reformist parties like Labour in Britain or the Socialist Party in France.

This is utopian nonsense. A "social Europe", if it is to mean anything, can only be a socialist Europe run by the working class, which means new workers' parties and new working class governments based on the mass organisations of resistance, not on the capitalist institutions.The reformist forces' influence is dangerous and, if not challenged, will result in serious defeats. The example of Italy, where a racist government has come to power largely as a result of the betrayal of Rifondazione Comunista, which entered the former neoliberal government, should serve as a warning.

With the coming economic crisis it is nothing less than a betrayal for left party leaders to take positions in capitalist governments. Whether the parties' representatives like it or not, they will be forced to pursue anti-working class policies.

The future of the forum movement

Unfortunately, the ESF is becoming less important as an instrument for organising the class struggle. That doesn't mean that the forums have nothing to offer but, if they are to play a more productive role in the class struggle, they must become more than just a discussion.

As an activist from Turkey put it in one of the Swedish leftwing papers: "They must present a real alternative for the poor and oppressed." That can only happen if the more radical forces of the forum go on the offensive in the coming period and in preparation for the next major forum (which promisingly is to to be held in Istanbul in 2010).The year ahead will see a deepening of the capitalists' offensive against the workers. Young people together with the most oppressed groups will pay the biggest price if the bourgeoisie get their way.

In the coming mobilisations against the Nato and G8 summits next year, REVOLUTION and our comrades in the League for the Fifth International will continue to raise the need for a revolutionary alternative, a Fifth International to fight back against capitalism.