National Sections of the L5I:

Fourth European Social Forum a success

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Around 30,000 people attended the fourth European Social Forum in Athens on 4-7th May, a figure larger than the London ESF (25,000) in a much smaller country (Greece has a population of 10.7 million, not the 60 million or so of the other venues. Another factor which might have made it smaller was the very late postponement of the event by a month, forced on the organisers by the Italian elections.

The forum met against the background of a major upsurge in the class struggle across the continent over the last year including a seafarers’ strike and several one day general strikes in Greece itself. Trade union, youth, immigrant and political campaigners spoke vividly of recent or ongoing struggles. There were activists in abundance from Turkey, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

The Forum took place in one of the Olympic sporting facilities on the site of the old west airport. Free accommodation with cold showers was provided in one of the aircraft hangers ten minutes walk across the old runways. The single venue made participation in the hundreds of seminars and workshops easier than in Paris (2003) and London (2004). Concerts on the Friday and Saturday nights attracted lots of young people from Athens.

The demonstration on the Saturday afternoon in central Athens assembled over 100,000. Though it was marred by a clash between sections of the Greek movement and also by a provocation by “Black Block” anarchists. The latter incident allowed the police to teargas the front of the demonstration but this did not stop it completing its route in lively and upbeat spirits.

Given the non-participation indeed venomous denunciation of the ESF by the “hardline” Stalinist KKE and most unions under its leadership, the Greek organising committee pulled off a considerable success. Indeed, rival events stages by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the anarchists attracted only a few hundreds apiece.

Synaspismos (Coalition of the Left and Movements, descended from the Eurocommunist wing of the old Greek CP), its youth organisation and various unions provided most of the Greek Social Forum volunteers. The running of sessions and provision of facilities too were more open and democratic than in London. Once against the heroic work of the Babels translators, giving their services for free, needs to be recorded.

The fact that the fourth ESF was taking place in a country presently undergoing a savage neoliberal offensive from the New Democracy government of premier Karamanlis against the social gains of workers, women, youth and migrants lent the forum a much greater air of radicalism than was the case in London.

Also the reactionary Principles of Porto Alegre, which ban the participation of parties and the taking of decisions were flagrantly and correctly ignored by the dozens of parties and groups from Greece and Turkey as well as others, including the League for the Fifth International. Bernard Cassen of Attac remarked in one seminar that he had seriously considered not coming to Athens. What a loss that would have been!

Given the that the right-wing Brazilian forces that dominate the self-appointed International Secretariat of the World Social Forum scarcely recognise the ESF (they refused to consider it a continental version of the “polycentric WSF this year, like the ones in the Americas, Africa and South Asia) it is time to throw off their tutelage, something that the pan-European organisers of the ESF seem strangely reluctant to do.

Forum debates

Debates centred on the 16 themes, in seminars organised by coalitions of organisations. This once more led to a format where debate was often limited by the large number of speakers who delivered prepared presentations, which often overlapped and repeated each other.

The themes which attracted big meetings – of 400 to 1,000 –focused on anti-war and anti-racist actions, the youth and student rebellions shaking Europe and the various struggles against privatisation and deteriorating conditions of labour – précarité. Many speakers declared their open support for the resistance in Iraq, for open borders and solidarity with migrants, for coordinated action by the trade unions.

Stalls in the vast central hall were dominated by political organisations, trade unions and campaigning groups of women, youth, immigrants, ecologists, human rights activists and revolutionary artists – rather than the big NGOs. Representatives of workers’ parties and major trade unions spoke from platforms as well as repeatedly intervening in debates, boosting the much clearer political nature of many debates.

The 1,000 strong delegation from Turkey greatly added to the radicalism of the forum. Much larger numbers attended from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, including from Moldova, Ukraine and Russia, where the growing social forum movement is linked to independent trade unions, courageously struggling against the repressive Putin regime. Likewise there were brave campaigners from the Arab/Islamic world, from Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iran.

The shadow of the popular front

By way of contrast, Franco Russo of Rifondazione Comunista organised a series of meetings around the Charter of our common principles of another Europe. The charter is a utopian-reformist collection of principles on which “our Europe” should be based. It is not any sort of action programme of resistance to neoliberalism. More precisely, the charter is a fig leaf to cover up the fact that Rifondazione is about to enter a government headed by Romano Prodi, arch-neoliberal and designer of the Lisbon Agenda – an act of class collaboration, which will throw the Italian movement into confusion.

Was this the same Rifondazione, whose leader Bertinotti told a packed ESF meeting back in 2002 that he would never again re-enter a government to carry out neoliberal policies? Of course, Bertinotti was not personally in Athens to explain his change of heart. He obviously prefers the role of speaker to the Italian parliament, than speaker to a forum of European workers and youth!

The French representatives, from the PCF, the CGT, Sud, and the LCR could have led a discussion on how to generalise to the rest of Europe the victory of the anti-CPE movement, the struggle of youth and workers against précarité, the uprising of the racially oppressed youth in the suburbs, and the defeat of the EU draft constitution. Indeed, whenever young, black and Arab participants from France described their struggles in the seminars and assemblies, the audience responded with enormous enthusiasm.

But the CGT and PCF leaders were not interested in building on these successes – except at the polls in the elections of Spring 2007. Indeed, they had barely responded to the rebellion against Sarkozy and his racist cops last year, and were only too eager to call a halt to this Spring’s revolt against the CPE. It seems they would rather leave the right wing in power for another year than go all out to drive it from power with a militant mass movement against all the neoliberal ”reforms”.

In a seminar on “political alternatives to neoliberalism” both Alex Callinicos (SWP – IST) and Leonce Aguire (LCR – USFI) defended the fusion of the WASG (the left wing break from the German SPD) with the PDS (former ruling party of East Germany) – even while the PDS rules in coalition with the SPD in two regions, where it cutting workers’ jobs, pay and privatising services.

There it is a matter of unity with the centre-right reformists against the left reformists and the revolutionaries. Linksruck, the German section of the IST, has not only supported a swift fusion on the right wing’s terms, but also disciplining of the Berlin WASG leadership for trying to stand independent candidates opposed to the neoliberal actions of the PDS-SPD city government!

Anti-Imperialist Space

With the rightward turn of the major centrist forces, leftward moving currents, workers and youth found another focus.

A hundred groups from Turkey, Greece, the Basque Country, Palestine, Belgium and elsewhere organised an Anti-Imperialist Space not far from the main hall. Though the League for the Fifth International had not been invited to sign its declaration, the development of this grouping, prominent among which were the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Turkey and North Kurdistan (MLKP) the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE) and various Basque nationalist organisations, could be an important step in coalescing a left wing within the ESF.

This greater militancy and clarity was displayed in the Anti-Imperialist Assembly on the Saturday morning, attended by 400-500 people. Here speaker after speaker declared their solidarity with the Iraqi resistance, called for the preparation of mass actions across Europe if the USA attacks Iran, stressed the need to act to help the Palestinians facing Israeli-US–EU blockade, and last but not least supported co-ordinated working class struggles against neoliberalism in Europe.

Obviously, the Anti-Imperialist Space contained a broad range of political organisations, some of whom would undoubtedly regard all Trotskyists as agents of imperialism and continue to regard Stalinism and/or Mao Zedong Thought as the purest form of Marxism. While the leading forces in this bloc are most certainly Stalinist, they are clearly of a left variety, which has its roots in Turkish and Greek Maoism-Hoxha-ism.

Over the last ten years these forces have undergone a degree of re-thinking, shedding some of the extreme sectarianism, which these currents were known for. In Athens these militants were willing to discuss with self-avowed Trotskyists. It was not uncommon to find that such militants are opposed to the popular front, believed that the democratic revolution should progress “uninterruptedly” to the proletarian revolution, had dropped “third worldism” and now placed a strong emphasis on winning workers in the imperialist heartlands to fight capitalism and imperialism in the global south.

They stressed too the possibility and necessity of united fronts for action with the reformist leaders in the ESF, where the latter would take action. In discussions they paid testimony to the role of the Turkish and Kurdish immigrant communities in central and western Europe in stimulating their internationalism and interest in globalisation and the movement against it.

The emergence of this bloc, its orientation to the ESF (while criticising its leadership), and the fact that the class struggle – from Nepal to Venezuela – is forcing its participants to examine and develop their political positions, are all reasons for seeking unity in action with it. This must be on key issues like solidarity with the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance, defence of Iran against US-UK attack, opposition to EU imperialism and the neoliberal offensive, opposition to racism.

If these forces and some of the more militant “left Trotskyist” and “independent Marxist” groupings make a determined intervention into the ESF process it could be possible to break the logjam.

ESF Assembly of the Social Movements

The Assembly of the Social Movements is the only part of the ESF able to make decisions. The idea is that the various networks and assemblies should contribute their suggestions for common campaigning over the next year or so. At its best the Assembly has focussed on a major issue, as it did in Florence in 2002, when it called for a global demonstration on February 15. Twenty million responded to this call. Yet in Paris a year later - despite pressure from the German delegation to organise concerted action across Europe against the Lisbon agenda - the Assembly ducked the task. In Athens the daily “working group” whose task was to prepare the Assembly of the Social Movements met on each night with a hundred or so participants including people who form a sort of de facto leadership of the movement, These included —

Haris Golemis (Synaspismos) Yannis Almpanis (Greek Social Forum), Petros Constaninou (SEK, Greek IST section), from the Greek movement. From the French it included Pierre Khalfa and Annick Coupe (Sud), Sophie Zafari (FEN and LCR), Elisabeth Gautier (PCF). Fro Italy it included Piero Bernocchi (Cobas). Luciano Muhlbauer (SinCobas and Bandiera Rossa), Raffaella Bolini (DS). Alessandra Mecozzi (Cgil-Fiom). From Germany it included Hugo Braun (DKP), Judith Dellheim (PDS.Linkspartei) and Angela Klein (ISL. German USFI section, Euromarches). From Britain there was Jonathan Neal and Chris Nineham (SWP). From eastern Europe there was Simo Endré (Hungarian Social Forum), and from the Spanish state, Josu Erigeun (ESK, Basque trade union) and Katu of Batasuna.

The French members of this sort of unofficial leadership were opposed to the Assembly debating any radical proposals for co-ordinated action. The first draft declaration contained nothing concrete beyond mobilisation for the G8 counter-demonstration in Germany in July 2007. Piero Bernocchi correctly argued that something more than this was needed, e.g. active opposition to the threatened attack on Iran, common actions against the neoliberal offensive, defence of migrants, etc.

Against this some of the French and Italians stubbornly insisted that to prioritise these issues would mean downgrading all the others. All they suggested was a vague general statement of principles and a calendar of dates selected by the networks. This was an attempt to maintain the paralysis, which the ESF/ASM has found itself in since Paris (2004). Many were new to “the ESF process”, but this made for some electrifying interventions, which ignored the bizarre postmodernist newspeak that has come to muffle any clear anticapitalist and anti-imperialist language.

However far too little of this language or clear demands made their way into the final declaration of the Assembly of the Social Movements. Indeed the original draft mentioned no focus of any mobilisations before the World Social Forum in 2007 and the anti-G8 in Germany in June of that year.

The final draft was a bit of an improvement, thanks to the doggedness of Piero Bernocchi (Cobas), the arguments of representatives of the networks, particularly the Palestinian one, plus the interventions by representatives of the Anti-Imperialist Assembly, particularly the KOE (Communist Organization Greece). IN addition OKDE (Communist Internationalists of Greece, Fourth Internationalists) and the League for the Fifth International argued strongly for this.

The declaration as amended now ends:

“* We will mobilize for a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, against the threat of a new war in Iran, against the occupation of Palestine, for nuclear disarmament, to eliminate military bases in Europe and we call for a week of action from 23 to 30 September 2006.

* We appeal for an international day of action and mobilisation on 7th October 2006 in Europe and Africa, for the unconditional legalisation of, and equal rights to all migrants across Europe; for the closure of all detention centres in Europe, for an end to externalisation and deportations; against précarité; and for the uncoupling of the link between the residence permit and the labor contract – for a residence citizenship.

* We will mobilize against casualisation and the dismantling of public services, and for social rights, co-ordinating our struggles throughout Europe in the next months.

* In January 2007, the WSF will meet in Nairobi. The growth of the African social movements is crucial for the world. Building for the WSF will be an opportunity to fight against European exploitation and neo-colonialism.

* In June 2007, there will be a meeting of the European Union Council and a meeting of the G8 at Rostock in Germany after the one in St Petersburg in July this year. We will seize the opportunity of these occasions for a general convergence of our struggles.”

The major danger – given the patent lack of enthusiasm of most of the French and Italian delegations, plus the SWP and its Greek affiliate – is that nothing will come of these pledges. Indeed, with no European Preparatory Assembly taking place before September, unless the Greek Social Forum takes the initiative, we can be certain that the “big forces” will do nothing. The meeting of the European Preparatory Assembly in September however remains critical. It must debate how to get out of the state of paralysis the movement is in.

The League for the Fifth International has, since Florence, argued that the ESF must turn itself into a permanent organising centre of struggle against neoliberalism and imperialism, We believe it is vital to break the logjam in how the movement operates, particularly the wretched and hypocritical “consensus principle”, which effectively amounts to a veto, whereby the most right wing forces can paralyse indefinitely the whole movement, and indeed prevent the Assembly of the Social Movements debating any political or tactical differences.

This was particularly scandalous since at the Athens ASM the only difference that was debated was the issue of who was to blame for the minor skirmish, which took place on the march between the Greek Social Forum and the SEK/SWP! The attitude of the SWP to political debate was shown when Jonathan Neal evinced the view that no time should be given to debating the resolution, since nobody reads these documents anyway. Indeed. Certainly the Socialist Worker in Britain will not print it!

To break this logjam it is essential to establish a method of making decisions by debate of resolutions, counterposed where need be, and then voting on them. It is essential to elect a standing committee or council of the ESF, which can respond to urgent tasks arising from the class struggle and begin to develop a political action programme for the movement.

If the ESF stalls (there is no date or venue for the fifth one; it is unlikely to take place again before 2008), then all those forces, including the rank and file activists arising from the ongoing struggles, who do not place unity with the neoliberal parties above the needs of the working class, should press ahead with creating such a forum of struggle.

A programme of action

The League for the Fifth International called for a programme of action at the Athens ESF, which:

“* …demands the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq and the Middle East and encourages and stands in solidarity with the resistance to the occupiers…

* …lifts the blockade on Cuba and halt the threats against Venezuela…

* mobilises… direct action, mass strikes, to halt the warmongers and drive them from power…

* mobilises a continent wide resistance to privatisation and the coordinated attack on our social and public services, pensions and jobs…

* makes the corporations and the rich pay for putting all the unemployed back to work and for affording all the poorly paid and insecurely employed a raise in their wages to levels decided by the unions…

* tears down the prison walls of fortress Europe and gives asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants seeking work the right to enter and enjoy full civil rights within the EU

* gives all the stateless peoples of Europe the right to self-determination, including the right to secede and form their own states…

* liberates women from the burden of childcare and housework, unequal wages and domestic violence and recognizes their right to abortion and contraception…

* Repeals all laws, like the attempted CPE in France and the Biagi law in Italy, which allow employers to hire and fire young workers at will.”

Our programme ends with a call for a United Socialist States of Europe, where the factories and banks, offices and mass media are taken out of the hands of the tiny handful of capitalists, so that they can be owned and run democratically by the workers themselves. For this we will have to break the power of the imperialist powers and establish the rule of workers and small farmers’ councils and of workers’ militia. And finally we will have to place a socialist Europe at the service of the worldwide revolution against capitalism and imperialism.

In the coming months, the L5I will be prepared to co-operate with all those who are not afraid to draw revolutionary conclusions from the struggles that lie ahead. We do not expect or demand that our collaborators agree with every one of our policies, nor do we pretend to have all the answers. We too want to learn from the struggles of others.

But the Athens ESF has shown that an anticapitalist and anti-imperialist European Social Forum is possible. If the unofficial leadership of the ESF process are too paralysed by the prospect of office to organise such a forum, others should step up and take the lead.

The rising tempo of the European class struggle, plus the revolutionary events from Bolivia to Nepal show that it is both possible and necessary to provide an international co-ordination and political leadership to the working class. Gathering the forces to break the logjam that is blocking the ESF from performing this function can be a step towards establishing a new world party of socialist revolution, the Fifth International.