SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

European Social Forum

OVER FORTY thousand people from all over Europe flooded into Florence, Italy, for November’s European Social Forum (ESF), nearly double the number the organisers had been expecting. Those attending were mostly young, taking part in three days of political discussion and debate, culminating on November 9 in the biggest anti-war demonstration seen so far.

The right-wing Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi tried unsuccessfully to stop the Forum from taking place in Florence. In the days running up the event, the media (the bulk of which is owned by Berlusconi-controlled companies) was used to try and whip up fears of thousands of violent protesters invading and destroying the historic city. In fact, both the ESF and the anti-war demonstration passed off totally peacefully.

The anti-war demonstration, attracting up to one million protesters, was the fourth mass protest in Italy this year. While smaller than March’s three million strong trade union demonstration in Rome, it brought together the themes of fighting against unemployment, neo-liberal attacks, the right-wing Berlusconi government, and imperialist war. The fact that the UN security council had the day before accepted Bush’s resolution on Iraq had no effect. It was widely seen that the US administration had bullied, threatened or bribed other countries to get support. Marching with hundreds of thousands of Italian protesters against war, and with others such as the French CGT union who had come to Italy just for the anti-war demo, was a fitting way for the ESF participants to end the Forum.

The sheer numbers attending and participating in the ESF, with Italians far and away the largest group, marked a new stage in the anti-globalisation, anti-capitalist movement, particularly in Europe. Thousands of young people across Europe have become radicalised through the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements, taking to the streets in their thousands in Genoa, Barcelona, Seville, Gothenburg, Prague, London etc. In Florence they came in their thousands not only to protest but to discuss ideas and how to take the movement forward.

Topics under discussion in the main ESF conferences included globalisation and neo-liberalism, war and peace, rights, citizenship and democracy. There were also hundreds of seminars taking place every day on a myriad of different issues.

The discussions and debates were hosted and sponsored by an extremely diverse range of social organisations and groups. Political parties, however, unfortunately were banned from organising any of the main debates at the ESF, being allocated, at best, workshop space miles away from the main venue. Although most people felt enthusiastic about the size and international character of the Forum, with so many platform speakers putting forward so many different ideas there was no clear alternative or direction – or even, really, a genuine clash of ideas – coming out of most of the sessions.

One session was held under the title ‘movements and political parties’ which, with thousands in attendance, became probably the biggest session of all. The main speaker was Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Rifondazione Communista (RC), which has a mass base amongst workers in Italy. His argument in this debate, however, was that it would be ‘disastrous’ for the RC to try and give a political direction to the social movements.

In reality, the opposite is the case: the movement needs a clear political direction and alternative if it is to go forward to achieve its aims. War, terror, attacks on workers’ rights, racism, environmental destruction and all the other problems discussed at the Forum, are all rooted in the capitalist system which is based on exploitation, inequality and the pursuit of profit. A political alternative is therefore necessary to fight for a fundamental change in the system and the way society is organised and structured. The theme of the ESF was ‘another Europe is possible’. Unfortunately, by the end it was no clearer than at the start what kind of Europe or world would be possible and how we can get there.

Christine Thomas


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