The Socialist 16 October 2004 |
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A Socialist Guide To The ESF
THE EUROPEAN Social Forum (ESF) is now celebrating its third year,
following previous gatherings of over 50,000 people in Florence and Paris.
With its slogan "Another world is possible", the ESF can attract many,
particularly young, people who are questioning the system as it stands and
wondering if a better one could exist.
As the ESF gathers in London, Judy
Beishon examines its significance and looks at how it's organised.
THE ESF is an off-shoot of the World Social Forum, (WSF) which following
its first event in Porto Allegre, Brazil in 2001, drew up a description of the
WSF as being: "an open meeting place for reflective thinking, free exchange of
experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements
opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any
form of imperialism".
The issues discussed at the forums are a reflection of a wave of mass
protests internationally in recent years - especially in Latin America -
against the effects of neo-liberalism and globalisation.
Together with these has been the rise of the anti-capitalist movement,
which began with a huge demonstration against global capitalism in Seattle in
December 1999 and continued against every meeting of the major international
capitalist institutions since.
ESF participants coming to London will have the opportunity to hear leading
campaign activists from around the world, who will graphically describe the
hardships and attacks on living standards suffered by ordinary people in
Europe and world-wide today.
But unfortunately, while many have earned authority in the
anti-globalisation movement through their work, there are few who will offer
an analysis of why the capitalist system is an increasing nightmare to live
This would require a Marxist analysis, as it was Karl Marx who laid bare
the workings of the capitalism, providing an essential tool for explaining its
past achievements and present failings.
Some speakers will propose measures that can be campaigned for, with
welcome aims such as to reduce the gap between rich and poor, or to improve
the environment. However, they are often unable to explain how their goals can
be won, partly because many of them don't base themselves on working-class
struggles, which are vital for winning major concessions from the capitalist
Also, despite the slogan "Another world is possible", virtually all the
main speakers will speak in reality only of a continued capitalist world, with
attempts to improve this or that aspect of it.
But many of the improvements they argue for would not be achievable for
even a limited time, never mind on a permanent basis, while we live under
capitalism - a system that is run on the basis of a drive for profit by a
super-wealthy minority in society.
It is even less possible for them to explain how gains can be won and
maintained at a time when the world economy is far from healthy - both from a
Marxist estimation and according to many top capitalist economists, it is
hovering on the brink of further crisis.
A number of leading speakers are even members of major pro-capitalist
political parties that are carrying out attacks on workers' living standards.
For instance, Ken Livingstone is Mayor of London for New Labour, a party whose
leaders are in the forefront of the neo-liberal onslaught in Europe.
How does this fit in with the Charter of Principles of the WSF, which
declares opposition to "neoliberalism and to domination of the world by
The WSF and ESF were originally intended to be anti-capitalist forums, but
as with any event, 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'. It is not just
workers' organisations, such as trade unions, that are financing the London
ESF. The chief financial backer is Ken Livingstone's Greater London Authority
(GLA), which is far from being an anti-capitalist body.
It is also true that despite the fact that the WSF Charter states there
should be democracy with no censorship or restrictions, the finances of the
London ESF are shrouded in secrecy, instead of being open to inspection and
Unfortunately, the Charter expresses confusion on the role of political
parties. It states that parties can have no part in the forum process, but
also that "government leaders and members of legislatures" can participate in
a personal capacity.
To try to abide by this, the London ESF has selected many speakers who are
members of political parties, but have presented most of them as representing
themselves, or a campaigning organisation they belong to.
They sweep under the carpet the fact that they are also leading members of
political parties with specific ideas.
A desire to exclude pro-capitalist parties from the ESF is understandable.
Why include members of parties that are supporting or carrying out
privatisations, public sector cuts, intervention in Iraq and so on? But
excluding anti-capitalist parties makes no sense in a forum that is discussing
how to achieve a better world.
The Socialist Party and our sister parties in the Committee for a Workers'
International are involved in many campaigns internationally that are
generally in keeping with the WSF Charter. We can also play a vital role in
promoting Marxist analysis and a socialist alternative. However, we, like
other parties, are only supposed to participate on the basis of covering over
our central ideas and concentrating purely on some of the many campaigns we
are involved in.
Decision-making in the ESF should be more democratic. The Charter is
ambiguous on how decisions should be arrived at, but it has become a general
rule that decisions are made by consensus with no votes taken. Having full
democratic discussion to reach consensus where it is possible to do so, should
However, in a movement that encompasses a large number of organisations
with very different ideas, it is impossible to arrive at consensus on every
issue in every meeting. Unfortunately, in the UK forum, when consensus has not
been reached, a small group of organisers (mainly from the GLA, backed up by
members of the Socialist Workers Party) have steamrollered through their own
Rather than taking this authoritarian approach, even though some practical
decisions may have to be based on the views of a majority of organisations
present, great care should be taken to ensure that all minority views are
heard at the ESF events organised.
When a minority (including a Socialist Party representative) in the ESF
Programme Committee argued that general secretary of the PCS civil service
trade union, Mark Serwotka, should be invited to speak at the London ESF, the
proposal was rejected by the group in effective control of the meeting.
The PCS is entering the front line of the struggle in defence of public
services following the government's announcement of 104,000 civil service
redundancies. Having the PCS leader speak would have helped mobilise support
for this vital battle. But the mistaken approach shown in the ESF preparatory
meetings can lead to lost opportunities for building for victories in the
Young people, in particular, are horrified to be facing a world of
increasing inequality, war, unemployment, discrimination and pollution. In
addition, there is now the threat of terror operations internationally on the
scale of 9/11 and the Beslan school attack of this year.
With the fear for the future all this generates, the idea of the ESF is
attractive to those looking for an alternative. Socialist Party members and
members of our sister sections in the Committee for a Workers' International
will be campaigning during the ESF to publicise Marxist ideas, explaining
clearly how a socialist world is possible.