Cath Fletcher went along to the “Assembly on the Charter of Principles of Another Europe” in Florence on 12 November, a meeting of various groups and individuals involved in the European Social Forum, who are drawing up the said charter for presentation at the next ESF in Athens in May 2006. It was very different from the South African
Most of the people in the room, as far as I could tell, were from one or other left-wing organisation. But with a few exceptions they did a very good job of pretending not to be. Of the British groups apart from me there were Workers’ Power (wearing their “League for a Fifth International” hat) and the CPGB, plus Hilary Wainwright, who had been involved in writing one of the documents. I think there were a few other people from the UK, but none that I heard contribute to the meeting.
There was a series of documents up for discussion, which for the most part were incredibly woolly. The document on workers’ rights, for example, managed not to mention a) the working class b) capitalism or c) exploitation. I made an intervention to suggest that either we should say explicitly that in a capitalist society workers are exploited, and take the document on from there, or that if people disagreed with that they should say so and we should have a debate. This did not go down very well with a large part of the audience.
In general, debate was badly lacking (also lacking were young people and any sense of excitement). There was a bit of disagreement around the question of pacifism, and the role of the UN and the International Criminal Court, but for the most part the discussion was very bland. There was a real reluctance for people to say honestly when the disagreed with each other and why. Okay, once, when a Rifondazione Comunista MEP started criticising social-democracy in Europe, citing Peter Mandelson as an example, there were a few shouts of “what about Prodi?” But that was it, and that was restricted to heckling rather than a subject for real debate.
Similarly when a representative of the Hungarian Social Forum started lamenting the defeat of “real socialism” in his country, there was absolutely no criticism (I had already spoken in that debate otherwise I would certainly have said something in response to this).
The problem with the whole event was that it basically consisted of the usual suspects from the usual left groups getting together to write a document which they thought would have “broad appeal”. Whereas in fact the left groups ought to be writing a document saying what they think, and then putting that forward as a strategy to the broad movement, and if there are people who don’t agree then having a debate.
The only good thing is that there seemed to be some more critical positions from some of the Greek comrades, especially on the points about pacifism and the United Nations, and with luck that will be reflected at the Athens Social Forum next year. The date for that has now been moved to the first weekend in May 2006 to avoid a clash with the Italian elections.