In Defence of Marxism at the Paris European Social Forum

On November 12-16 the second European Social Forum was held in Paris.The attendance did not reach the numbers of the first ESF in Florence, nonetheless around 35-40,000 people registered during the three days of meetings and workshops and around 100,000 took part in the demonstration on Saturday 15th against the war and the occupation of Iraq and against the cuts in the welfare state and to living standards all over Europe.  

Saturday 15 demonstration
On November 12-16 the second European Social Forum was held in Paris.

The attendance did not reach the numbers of the first ESF in Florence, nonetheless around 35-40,000 people registered during the three days of meetings and workshops and around 100,000 took part in the demonstration on Saturday 15th against the war and the occupation of Iraq and against the cuts in the welfare state and to living standards all over Europe.

This is a clear sign that the thirst for ideas and the desire to discuss and to find a way of changing the world is still great amongst tens and hundreds of thousands of left-wing activist and youth throughout Europe.

Again, as in Florence, most of the expectations of those taking part were not at all fulfilled. Last year the danger of the attack on Iraq unified the movement and the leaders could avoid discussing in depth about a programme against capitalist globalisation. This time the lack of real answers was more evident. 

What we experienced in Paris were hundreds of meetings that were more like mere (expensive) talking shops rather than real political meetings, where different ideas are discussed and at the end a plan of action is drawn up.

Although this is what is obviously needed it cannot happen at the ESF, (or in the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre), because all decisions have to be made by consensus, i.e. by one hundred per cent agreement. So in reality one person can block the decision of 99 others! This is exactly the opposite of democracy. The result is a watering down of the programme and of the political agreements. The desire for unanimity at all costs inevitably leads to seeking the lowest common denominator, and in a situation like this it is always the most moderate proposals that prevail.


In Defence of Marxism/Socialist Appeal stall at the ESF
The final document, adopted by the Social Movement's General Meeting on Sunday, November 16 is nothing but a smokescreen. It opposes quite rightly against the new European Constitution, but the alternative it puts forward is that of "another Europe that refuses war, fosters international solidarity and an environmentally sustainable economy… a Europe without unemployment and casual labour." (translated from Liberazione, November 18, 2003).

Everybody would agree with these words but how can we put an end to unemployment without abolishing the market economy? How can we build solidarity if a system based on profits remains?

If this final document is not clear at all, there are however leaders and organisations within the labour movement who do indeed have clear ideas. They are the right-wing leaders of the social democracy, of the trade unions and of organisations such as ATTAC. Susan George, one of the leaders of ATTAC, openly argued for a "Europe as the only entity that can build an economic and social model alternative to the US, based not on liberalisation but on politics" (translated from l'Unit on line version, November 17, 2003). Several trade union leaders present in Paris called for a reform of the European Constitution that "could be used as a tool to fight for and to impose, gradually, a different model of Europe".

In other words, the task of the European workers should be to support their own governments and bourgeoisie against that of the US. This, when all around Europe, from Portugal to Sweden, from Italy to Germany and Austria, the same governments are attacking pensions and workers' living standards!

This is how the reformist leaders would like to use the ESF and more in general the antiglobalisation movement, which has now been rebaptised with a "better" name, the "alterglobalisation" movement. They view it as a platform, a pressure group, to be switched on and off as they please in their bargaining with the governments and the bosses.


La Riposte stall at the ESF
Such an attitude was also reflected in the organisation of the event. Metal detectors were placed at every entrance. One might wonder what they were searching for: dangerous tomatoes and rotten eggs that some delegates may have wished to throw at the most boring speakers? It was also very hard to attend meetings. The stewards allow people in only until all seats were full. You were forbidden to sit on the floor or the stairs. The rules were more those of a management meeting than of a labour movement event.

As usual the only real thing on which the leaders agreed was to call another a demonstration. There is now one scheduled for March 20 against the war and another in May when the new European Constitution should be finally approved.

Demonstrations are a very good thing, but, as the antiwar movement has shown, they are not enough to stop war or right-wing policies. All the power and might of the working class and youth must be brought to bear in mass strikes and class action. We need to use all these fresh energies of the young activists, like those we met in Paris to radically transform the official left and workers' organisations with a revolutionary programme.

The interest for such a programme and ideas was reflected in the success of our stall, as well as those of La Riposte and of the Sindicato de Estudiantes. Hundreds of delegates stopped to have a look at our books and pamphlets and discuss with us. Many of them left their e-mails or addresses to keep in touch with our website. We raised a total of approximately 4,500 euros. Especially the latest In Defence of Marxism pamphlet on the revolutionary events in Bolivia and the "Strike… just do it!" t-shirts were a great success.

We are confident that this is just one small step forward in the task of building a mass base for the ideas of Marxism in Europe and internationally.