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Uproar at European Social Forum

Workers Vanguard | 13.11.2004 20:38 | European Social Forum | Analysis | Workers' Movements

LONDON, October 24—The European Social Forum (ESF) came to London last weekend, bringing in over 20,000 people, overwhelmingly from continental Europe. But those who bought into the standard ESF promise that “another world is possible” found themselves trapped in “Ken’s World.” That is Ken Livingstone, New Labour’s Mayor of London. This event was bankrolled, orchestrated and tightly controlled by the Mayor’s office with the able assistance of supporters of Socialist Action who are highly paid executives in his administration and the unpaid services of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). This “anti-capitalist” shindig was so tame that it was endorsed by the labour statesmen and House of Lords hopefuls of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

London: Anarchist Protests Enrage Social Democrats

Uproar at European Social Forum

LONDON, October 24—The European Social Forum (ESF) came to London last weekend, bringing in over 20,000 people, overwhelmingly from continental Europe. But those who bought into the standard ESF promise that “another world is possible” found themselves trapped in “Ken’s World.” That is Ken Livingstone, New Labour’s Mayor of London. This event was bankrolled, orchestrated and tightly controlled by the Mayor’s office with the able assistance of supporters of Socialist Action who are highly paid executives in his administration and the unpaid services of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). This “anti-capitalist” shindig was so tame that it was endorsed by the labour statesmen and House of Lords hopefuls of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). At the recent Labour Party conference the TUC tops were instrumental in defeating a motion calling for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Amidst the ongoing carnage in Iraq under the savage occupation by U.S. and British imperialist forces, a plenary session on the opening day of the ESF featured a stooge of the imperialists’ stooge government, Sobhi Al-Mashadani, representing the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The IFTU achieved notoriety at the Labour Party conference as a shill for Tony Blair and British imperialism. Invited by British trade-union bureaucrats, IFTU representative Abdullah Muhsin’s intervention was key to defeating the motion calling for early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. In an (undated) open letter to “trade union delegates at the Labour Party conference,” Muhsin argued that “the multinational force is there to help our democracy” and opposed the call for the early withdrawal of troops, saying it “would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists.”

Now the IFTU was being trotted out at the ESF for a session calling to “End the occupation of Iraq”! Small wonder that enraged Iraqi exiles and others kicked up a storm of protest against Al-Mashadani. As Iraqi novelist Haifa Zangana, who had encouraged people to protest, argued: “If he is the trade union secretary he should have been elected by the workers but he has been appointed by the government. He is part of the puppetry” ([London] Guardian, 18 October).

In the aftermath, the TUC issued a public statement condemning “the attempts of a few to prevent the views of Iraqi trade unionists from being heard.” While even this labour apologist for imperialist occupation has the right to be heard—and to be vigorously challenged—as proletarian revolutionary internationalist opponents of the imperialist occupiers, our sympathies lie with the protesters. At the same time we can’t help but note that there were no protests against the British trade-union tops like Dave Prentis of Unison, who also spoke at the ESF. Prentis was among the union bureaucrats who invited the IFTU to the Labour and TUC conferences. These labour lieutenants of capitalism were the real shills for British imperialism—and hardly for the first time: It was their votes that saved Blair from embarrassment at the Labour Party conference by defeating the motion opposing the occupation.

A Very British Coup
The following night a group of 150-200 anarchists staged their own “palace coup” at Alexandra Palace, the citadel of Livingstone’s ESF. Marching into a meeting where Livingstone was scheduled to speak, the anarchists got on the platform, hoisted banners reading “Ken’s Party War Party” and “Another World Is for Sale.” Various anarchist speakers addressed the assembled for about half an hour, protesting about harassment by Livingstone’s cops and the FBI seizure of Indymedia servers in Britain and elsewhere (see WV No. 834, 15 October). A statement was also read out by Babels Co-ordinators, an organisation of voluntary interpreters, which protested that some of their fellow interpreters were barred from entering Britain due to the racist immigration policies of the Labour government.

In his first campaign for the mayor’s seat in London, Livingstone backed a massive police assault on young May Day 2000 “anti-capitalist” protesters who had suitably and irreverently decorated a statue of imperialist butcher Winston Churchill. This didn’t stop the likes of the SWP, Workers Power and the Socialist Party from campaigning for Livingstone, who has subsequently vastly augmented the notoriously racist London police force. During the mayoral election campaign this summer, the SWP’s Lindsey German stood as a candidate for the Respect Coalition, and once again called for second preference votes to Livingstone. Back in the days when he was known as “Red” Ken, Livingstone played footsie with Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, which played a central role in the anti-Communist witchhunt of miners union leader Arthur Scargill, feeding former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to smash the militant miners union on the eve of its heroic 1984-85 strike. Today a lighter shade of red, Livingstone has been welcomed back into the fold of Blair’s New Labour Party as its Mayor of London, from which seat he aimed to bust a strike by London Underground subway workers this summer, calling on RMT members to cross their own picket lines.

Presumably having been tipped off about the protest, Livingstone didn’t show his face at the Alexandra Palace meeting. Incensed that the anarchists had rained on Livingstone’s and their parade, leading SWPer Weyman Bennett, who chaired the meeting, tried to violence-bait and race-bait the anarchists. But even the bourgeois Guardian—which had special status as “media partner of the ESF” and thus was hardly sympathetic to the protest—noted (18 October) that “Saturday night’s storming of the stage by several hundred people denouncing mayor of London Ken Livingstone for hijacking the event reflected genuine anger about the way the event had been organised.” After their half-hour political protest the anarchists led a walkout from the ESF and the meeting continued.

For our part, we have to give the anarchists an “A” for audacity for protesting Livingstone and trying to lead a walkout from the bureaucratic reformist circus of the ESF. At the same time we have to point out that they are hardly an alternative politically, and certainly not to the “authoritarianism” they claim to disdain. On the contrary, when it comes to anti-communist exclusion, the anarchist grouping known as the Wombles proved themselves to be more than equal to the bureaucratism and thuggery of the SWP whom they so despise. As soon as our comrades set up a literature table outside the Wombles’ alternative event, “Beyond ESF,” at a North London campus, the organisers shut it down, grabbing our papers and telling us to get “that Spartacist shit” out of here. They howled anti-communist abuse and, with no sense of irony, condemned us as “authoritarian” while hounding us out of the grounds of a public campus. Nonetheless we defend them against the forces of the capitalist state and the scurrilous charges being hurled by the SWP.

Blood Line in Genoa
In the aftermath of the ESF, Alex Callinicos in Socialist Worker despicably revived the slander campaign against the anarchists that blamed them for the police-state violence that led to the murder of protester Carlo Giuliani in Genoa in 2001. He writes: “There was a downside to the ESF. There were a few ugly incidents that marked the re-emergence of the anarchist Black Block whose thuggish behaviour during the Genoa protests of July 2001 played so disastrously into the hands of the police” (Socialist Worker, 23 October). As exposed in a 19 October statement by the Italian COBAS unions, marshals at the October 17 ESF demonstration sponsored by the SWP-dominated Stop the War Coalition called the cops on anarchists and others who wanted to inform the crowd that anarchists had been arrested on the way to the march. From their vantage point at the front of the march, representatives of the COBAS unions wrote:

“The closing rally for the European Social Forum in London has been deeply marred by the intolerable behaviour of the British Organising Committee, and in particular by the forces that dominate it: the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Action (the group behind London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone) and some trade unions. Several hundred young people coming from the ‘autonomous spaces’...
were coming to the demonstration when the police attacked them making four arrests (two Italians and two Greeks).

“Despite the insistent requests from the Italian delegation at the head of the march to demand their liberation, the British Committee did not say a word.

“At the end of the march, when trying to give news of these events from the stage, we discovered that access to this was restricted to the British Committee....

“At this point the young people previously surrounded by police were trying to access the stage, upsetting the stewards of the rally, who called the police provoking further arrests, bringing the total to a number of nine.”

We demand: Drop all the charges!

Despicable as the behaviour of the British Labourite left is, they hardly have a monopoly on appealing to or alibiing the forces of the capitalist state. In the aftermath of Genoa everyone from Susan George of ATTAC to Rifondazione Comunista to Alain Krivine of the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire howled against the anarchists, blaming the victims for the murderous violence of the capitalist state. As our comrades of the Lega Trotskista d’Italia wrote in a protest statement, “Berlusconi and the G-8: Imperialist Butchers!”:

“With such statements these miserable misleaders prove their loyalty to the capitalist class and its police assassins and expose their attacks on ‘globalisation’ as rooted in social-chauvinist, reformist support to their ‘own’ bourgeoisies. Their ‘movement’ aims not to overthrow capitalism but to mask its monstrous reality.”

—reprinted in Workers Vanguard No. 762, 3 August 2001

Indeed, from their inception in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 the entire purpose of these social forums has been to take radical youth off the streets and to corral them behind the “democratic alternative” of promoting the electoral fortunes of out-of-power parliamentary reformists. The most notable beneficiary of this was Lula’s Workers Party in Brazil, which is now in government viciously attacking the workers and peasants. The renegades of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International organised the first World Social Forum where they held mock “participatory budgets,” designed to school young radicals in administering the budget of the capitalist state. Now they have a minister in Lula’s popular-front government that is administering budgets on behalf of the IMF and the World Bank while viciously attacking peasants in the countryside as well as blacks and ghetto poor in the cities.

On the eve of the war against Iraq the Florence ESF issued a resolution promoting the most grotesque illusions in the “peace-loving” credentials of their “own” imperialist bourgeoisies. It appealed to “all citizens of Europe and to all their representatives. Together let us stop the war on Iraq.” It called on “all the European heads of state to publicly stand against this war, whether it has UN backing or not, and to demand that George Bush abandon his war plans” (Weekly Worker, 12 September 2002).

While there was plenty of bellyaching over how the London ESF was tightly controlled by Livingstone’s office, amidst cries of “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” the fact of the matter is that all of these gatherings have been bankrolled by various capitalist agencies and institutions (including by the Chirac government in Paris last year).

The Wombles got the number of the ESF in their call for “Beyond ESF,” which says that these social forums simply “parallel the development of capitalist institutions of governance” and “merely asks for ‘capitalism with a human face’.” But while posturing as a genuine anti-capitalist alternative they reflect all the prejudices of Cold War anti-communism, chanting in unison with bourgeois democrats that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and that state power was the original sin of the Russian Revolution. Their call for building “autonomous zones” somehow free of capitalist exploitation buys into the myth that the oppressed can find liberation within the confines of bourgeois “democracy,” i.e., the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Rejecting what they view as the “Leninist tyranny” of a unitary revolutionary programme and party seeking to mobilise the social power of the proletariat for the conquest of state power, the anarchists are impotent in the face of the highly organised, ruthlessly efficient forces of the bourgeois state. The end result simply paves the way for a return to the “politics of the possible” espoused by the very social-democratic sellouts the Wombles claim to reject.

The Spartacist League/Britain and the Spartacus Youth Group intervened at this ESF to win youth and others to a proletarian, revolutionary internationalist perspective. We recognise that the fundamental conflict in society is the conflict between capital and labour. Because of its central role in production, the working class is not just another “social movement” but has the social power to bring down the capitalist exploiters and their whole system of racism, national oppression and women’s oppression as well as imperialist war. The proletariat has the power and the class interest to create a society based on collectivised property and a rational, planned economy, a workers state leading to a classless communist society and the withering away of the state. To achieve this we are dedicated to building an international Leninist-Trotskyist party.

Workers Vanguard
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Display the following 7 comments

  1. The Sparts are Professional Disrupters ... — ..
  2. Ohhhhh Nooooo.... — Just shut up about the fucking ESF now, can you? Please?
  3. Yeah — Krop
  4. important to chronicle all details — tyg sedert
  5. well said, krop — bill bore
  6. Oooh! So Trotsky Has Taken Over From Nostradamus has he? — Helena
  7. not nstradamus but a reading of poiltical economy and history... — bill bore