By Michelle Parker
Some of the work being initiated in Britain by the Iraqi Workers' Solidarity Group is already being done in France by a group called Solidarité Irak.
Launched by a tiny group of individual activists who came across material from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, Solidarité Irak "aims to make known and support the current social struggles in Iraq, the rejection of the military occupation as well as of nationalist and religious reaction".
It has published bulletins; drawn in new activists, including some from the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR); and won support from other left groups such as Alternatif Libertaire and Partisans.
We met Solidarité Irak at the annual fete of the French socialist group Lutte Ouvrière, held near Paris on 29-31 May.
The fête is a mix of food, music and entertainment with political discussion and debate on a scale much larger than any comparable left-wing event in Britain. It attracts about 20,000 over the course of the weekend.
AWL ran a stall and organised two forums - one, jointly with the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq and Solidarité Irak, on the new Iraqi workers' movement, and the other on the Respect coalition and elections in Britain.
The Iraq forum was well-attended, with lively debate on whether we should support the Islamist militias fighting the USA in Iraq. Lutte Ouvrière itself, unfortunately, dodges the issue by claiming that it is impossible to tell whether there is a significant labour movement in Iraq and that a campaign for solidarity with that labour movement is therefore "fantasy".
The forum on Respect drew much less interest, although Lutte Ouvrière has no higher opinion of Respect than the AWL does.
It is partly that, while general public attendance at the LO fete remains buoyant, interest by the activist left in this sort of international exchange of ideas has dwindled. There are fewer stalls and fewer forums. This year the AWL was the only activist group present from across the Channel.
A comrade who has written a polemic against Respect for debate inside the LCR (linked to Resistance, which supports Respect) told me with a shrug: "90% of the members of the LCR know nothing about Respect, and the other 10% know of it only from a bland article in Rouge [the LCR paper] announcing a new left coalition".
With efforts focused mainly on the recent regional elections, the revolutionary left's campaign for the Euro-elections is low-key.
As each year recently, two set-piece debates at the fete between LO and LCR attracted large audiences. In previous years these debates have always been done by older leaders of the two organisations, but this year they agreed both to put forward younger speakers, activists in their 20s.
The speakers performed confidently and well. Both debates - on "Europe within globalisation" and "the party we need" - drifted, however, into sterile exchanges on the "new anti-capitalist" movement, or "movement for another globalisation" as it's called in France (LO dismissive, LCR enthusiastic).
LCR argued for going forward from LO-LCR's joint campaign for the regional and Euro elections to discuss non-electoral joint campaigns and maybe broader unity. LO was dismissive again. A political organisation cannot work well with big disagreements within it, so, why not just have many different revolutionary parties?
As Pierre François from the LCR aptly responded, let's discuss the possible desirability of two revolutionary parties after we have first built at least one!
In those debates, LO maintained a very calm, reasonable tone. It usually does. Surprising, then, that the tone was so different at the fete's two sessions on the hijab and the new French law banning it in state schools. LO welcomes the law.
At one session, for example, a young woman member of the LCR stood up to say that the LCR agreed entirely with LO that the hijab is reactionary, but there has to be room for tactical debate on whether or not to support the new law.
That one unprovocative sentence brought her such a storm of booing and yelling from the audience of several hundred that she had to halt her speech. She was, as it turned out, easily confident and stroppy enough to continue - but to me there seemed something ironic in her being shouted down in the supposed cause of women's liberation.
As well as taking part in debates and seeking out contacts, the eight AWL members who attended also enjoyed the fete's food and entertainment stalls.
Socialist politics and fun - it's a simple combination, but one which often eludes the British left. Hopefully we'll be able to take many more comrades and friends to the fête next year.
Solidarité Irak is the French campaign in support of the new workers', unemployed and women's movements in Iraq.
According to Nicolas Dessaux, one of its organisers: "Our group was formed in February, by antiwar activists who wanted to get out from formal, abstract slogans against war, to go to real, concrete solidarity with the Iraqi working-class and women. We now have four local committees (Paris, Lyons, Lille, and Paris suburbs) and are trying to establish new ones.
"We hope it will be possible to coordinate our activities in different European Union countries - with English, Italian and French comrades - and to establish relationships with other groups supporting Iraqi people on a working-class solidarity basis".
- Contact: www.solidarite-irak.fr.fm/