By Joan Trevor
Since the end of the Second World War capitalists have been groping-sometimes blindly-towards a united Europe, with institutions and activities to meet their needs.
Their concessions to making this Europe in the interests of its non-capitalist majority have been tiny and token: the European Parliament is next to powerless; the European Social Charter aims at leveling social provision, not out of the goodness of the capitalists' hearts but so that no one member state has an advantage over the others; the extension of worker participation in running businesses comes out of a co-option management model, not respect for the organised power of labour.
How has the left responded to the development of a united Europe? Often with downright Luddism, harking back to a Europe of individual nation states, and often doing it in league with nationalist capitalists. Even when it had no truck with such ideas, it responded slowly to the opportunities that European integration-yes, even though it is capitalist integration-presented to the workers' movement, the opportunity to counter bosses' Europe with our own workers' Europe.
Of course, there are practical difficulties. Capitalists have next to all the material resources at their disposal. It is practically no problem for them to translate their documents into all the languages of Europe, to understand each other perfectly, to visit each other often, to participate in conference calls, to present joint political platforms in European elections. What do we on the left have?
Inadequate education that leaves the vast majority illiterate in any language but their own, barely enough money to communicate our ideas to people in the UK let alone on an international level, little experience of organising international cooperation. What experience we have had must be cherished! Since we have the will to increase cooperation, we must find the resources! The European Social Forum is the obvious place to start.
The second ESF meets in Paris this November. The first European Social Forum in Florence last autumn was a huge success-although with enormous shortcomings! There were 60,000 delegates, and one million marched against war on the final Saturday. But it was an organisational mess; if you succeeded in finding during the months leading to it and during the event itself, one or two people that you could cooperate with in the coming year, you did well.
There is next to no record of all the debates except in the sketchy memories of the participants. Perhaps this is the best that the European workers can do right now.
Paris will be equally big, equally challenging to negotiate, but enormously worthwhile. We urge you to get to it, to come with us if you like!
The ESF emerges from the World Social Forum movement, conceived by a handful of well-connected individuals as a response to the capitalists' World Economic Forum. The World Social Forum has taken place up to now in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the next one in 2004 will be in Mumbai, India.
At the moment the ESF is a bit like a franchise operation of the WSF, obliged to keep to some of the practices of 'head office', even the bad ones. So, bizarrely, political parties are not allowed to participate in the social forum except where they disguise themselves as single-issue campaigns, affinity groups, etc. This is frankly revolting dishonesty, the very opposite of what is needed to build Another World.
It will be particularly revolting in France where the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, one of the main far-left groups and integral to the recent devastating strike wave, will not be able to participate in the forum as itself, and share unmediated lessons from the strikes. Instead LCR members will appear wearing an Attac hat, or a union hat, and we will have to guess where they are coming from when they speak.
This arrangement is supposed to stop political groups that, allegedly, but in practice not always, have most money hijacking the social forum movement; this might be a danger with the large social-democratic parties, like the French Socialist Party, but if people openly declare who they are, where's the danger? To participate in the social forum you have to agree to the basic Porto Alegre declaration; once people have done that, where's the danger? How many Socialist Party apparatchiks would be seen dead at the ESF? In the meantime, we are asked to build a social movement that explicitly has sworn off ever organising any more lasting political force that can change anything. Absurd!
It is to discuss issues like this that everyone must be involved. The ESF is flawed, perhaps fatally, but it is so huge that only good can come from it in the foreseeable future. Everyone who believes Another World is Possible should get involved in it.
Anyone who is interested in any of the core themes-against war, against neo-liberalism, against patriarchy, against the logic of profit, for an ecologically sustainable society of social justice, against privatisation, for a democratic Europe, against racism, for equal rights for all peoples-should come to it.
Visit the website www.fse-esf.org, or
the UK mobilising site, www.mobilise.org.uk, and register your organisation, large or small, or just yourself. Put the dates in your diary. Look at the lists of seminars and see whether there are any gaps that you think need to be filled: if you need help proposing a seminar or want more information, get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7207 3997. Workers' Europe can start here!