One million workers and youth march in Florence against the war in Iraq and the Berlusconi government

The 50,000 people taking part in the European Social Forum last week in Florence were far more than the organisers had expected. The last day, Saturday, saw one million people marching in Florence against the war in Iraq and the Berlusconi government. There was a thirst for revolutionary ideas among the youth who were present, not seen since the 1970s.

"Welcome to all passengers, especially to those who were demonstrating against the war yesterday!" These were the train driver's words on the way back home from the four days of the European Social Forum (ESF) in Florence. They reflect the mood of new militancy that has been affecting millions of ordinary workers and youth all over Italy over the past year.

The participation in the demonstration on Saturday November 9, went beyond all the expectations of the organisers of the movement and of the government. The government had in fact waged a campaign of real terror against the European Social Forum (ESF) over the last few weeks, talking about the danger of "a new Genoa". The effect was exactly the opposite. A lot of people decided to go to Florence precisely in order to protest against the reactionary statements of Berlusconi.

So on Saturday, from the early hours of the morning, hundreds of thousands of working class men and women, students and pensioners, began flooding the streets and the squares of Florence. The confidence of the masses in their strength was reflected in the slogans. They clearly underlined their demand for the removal of Berlusconi, and for an end to the imperialist wars of the USA. More important of all was the feeling of joy. The feeling was that "this time we can win". This is completely different from the mood of the masses on the demonstrations in the 1990s (even when they involved big numbers of people), which was often one of merely "registering" their protest.

As we saw on the March 23 demonstration in Rome, the success of this demonstration was guaranteed by the organising role of the Cgil, the main Italian trade union. It is no accident that the day after Saturday's demonstration the bourgeois papers said that the real winner was Cofferati, the former general secretary of the Cgil, who is now waiting to take over the leadership of the Olive Tree coalition, which is now more divided than ever. Cofferati was in fact warmly greeted throughout the whole demonstration.

Even on this occasion, the internal divisions in the DS [Left Democrats, the main workers party, formerly the PDS] were clear to everyone. The secretary and the president of the DS, Fassino and D'Alema, decided it was better for them to stay at home, not to speak of the "leader" of the Olive Tree, Rutelli. But although some of the leaders of the DS were absent in Florence, the rank and file of the Party turned out massively and the youth organisation of the Party, the Left Youth (Sinistra Giovanile), organised a very militant section of the demonstration.

As the class struggle will inevitably develop and grow over the next period, so will the splits in the DS become deeper and deeper, and at a certain point they will assume a clear class character (for further analysis on this point see also our previous articles on Italy).

We, the supporters of FalceMartello, organised our own section of the demonstration, together with the CSPs (Committees in Defence of State Education) and other University Committees, and we were able to gather around a banner around 350 people. Our slogans about class struggle against the imperialist war and the need for nationalisation under workers control were also taken up by other people on the demonstration. At least 500 copies of FalceMartello were also sold.

The great interest for the ideas of Marxism was also shown by the huge success of our stall at the European Social Forum. We were literally overwhelmed by the number of people coming up to our stall at the ESF. At the end, we sold more than 700 euros' worth of material . We had the only stand selling the writings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, in spite the fact that all the kinds of left groups were also present. This fact alone reveals the degeneration of these so-called "revolutionary Marxist parties" who do not consider it important to provide the workers and youth with the classical ideas of Marxism. A lot of people from all over Europe came to the stall saying that they regularly follow our "In Defence of Marxism" web site. We witnessed a desire to discuss and a thirst for revolutionary ideas that we had not seen for at least the last twenty years.

This was clearly shown by the attendance at the debates during the European Social Forum. At the main debates, for example, with Bertinotti (the general secretary of the PRC) and others, more than 5000 people attended. The halls were absolutely packed even one hour before the debates were supposed to start!

Workers and youth from all over Europe saw the ESF as an occasion to discuss and look for the best ideas with which to fight against the attacks on education, the welfare state, and wages. And more generally, they looked to it as a place where they could find a solution to the impasse of capitalism. More than 50,000 people took part in the ESF over the four days, and the most interesting feature was that the majority of those present were completely open of to revolutionary ideas.

Now the workers are on the move in most European countries, and what yesterday seemed impossible, now has become a reality. No one argued against the slogan to "bring down Berlusconi" or the demand for the nationalisation of Fiat.

At the same time, it was quite evident that the revolutionary aspirations of the delegates to the ESF clashed with the reformist ideas of the ESF leaders! According to these "leaders", when the economy is in decline, "another Europe is possible…" under capitalism! When the masses want to do something to stop the war, the ESF thinks it is possible "to influence the European governments - many of which oppose this war" and it issues an appeal "to all the European Prime Ministers, that they come out openly against this war, with or without UN permission, and that they ask George Bush to give up his war plans"

So, according to these people, the aim of the mass movement should be only that of putting "pressure" on the governments! Those same governments who are supposed to be "against the war" that only one year ago waged the war against Afghanistan and that today have their "peaceful" armies in dozens of countries all over the world! This non-class-based position completely disarms the antiwar movement.

Just as in Porto Alegre, the Socialdemocratic leaders succeeded again in directing the official line of the movement towards so-called "responsible" ideas. The struggle against this "turn to the right" was run by the leaders of the "Disobbedienti". This was an alliance between the "Autonomen", the Young Communists and the Cobas (the smaller split-off unions born in the 1990s in Italy). But this failed completely. The methods they used in this struggle were completely wrong: sectarianism towards the main trade unions and reformist movements combined with "direct action". The movement of the working class has no time for such "symbolic actions". That explains why the "Disobbedienti" and the Cobas are now in a deep crisis.

Now with the ongoing crisis of capitalism and the rise of the class struggle all the reformist dogmas are being put to the test. It is the task of the Marxists, with correct methods and tactics, to challenge the leadership of the mass movement and expose the mistaken ideas of the reformist leaders. The intervention of the Marxists at the ESF was a modest but significant step in this direction.