The ESF process is very important for Transform! because our network was formed during our participation in earlier ESF forums. And Transform! is in turn an important actor of the Forum.
In this first issue of our magazine Transform! we would like to contribute a few thoughts for debate in the next Forum.
We would also like to draw your attention to a network activity fully in tune with current events: The Charter of Principles for another Europe.
Stemming from the process of the World Social Forums, the ESF supports the Porto Allegre Charter that stipulates: “The alternatives proposed at the World Social Forum stand in opposition to a process of capitalist globalisation commanded by the large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions in the service of those corporations’ interests. The WSFs are designed to ensure that globalised solidarity will prevail as a new stage in world history. This new stage will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens, men and women, of all nations, as well as the environment, a movement supported by democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.”
It is on this basis that the ESF was formed with the goal of the need to resist that regional implementation of the globalisation capitalist process called the European Union.
After Florence, Paris, London and Athens, the fifth ESF will take place in a Scandinavian country, most probably in Sweden.
The process of construction of the Social Forum takes place in European Preparatory Assemblies, in which all the alter-globalisation, feminist, pacifist, ecologist, trade-union, charitable, and humanist organisations and individuals participate who wish to do so. These assemblies take place in various countries around Europe, and also allow an additional level of participation by organisations in the host country.
For this reason, reaching a decision often requires a great deal of time, but this makes possible a truly collective preparatory process, which takes into consideration different cultures and ways of thinking typical of a country or of a militant sensibility.
The ESF tears down the walls isolating the activities occurring in the host country.
Anastasia Theodorakopoulous, one of the organizers of the ESF in Greece, said in a workshop on the ESF organized at “La Maison de l’Europe” in Paris on September 18, 2006: ”Greece is a small country, fairly far from the centre of Europe, without common borders with the European Union, and in a way closed in with its own problems and struggles. For most of the groups present, Europe meant mainly the European Parliament. Moreover, most of the Greek groups, especially the feminists, the trade-unionists, are strongly politicized, the debate is sectarian, and it is difficult to speak together about common struggles. Thanks to the ESF, most of these organisations realised that Greek problems are common problems; they met other European organisations with which they could think and work. Activists who were previously uninterested in Europe realized that they were part of a big family engaged in a common fight. Even the organisations most hostile to the European Union have found in the ESF the political space they needed to express themselves.”
Some meetings would have been impossible without the ESF.
Pierre Barge, of the League of Human Rights, gave an example: “During the forum the presence of a thousand Turks alongside the Greeks in a common demonstration in Athens constituted in itself an historical event”.
This permanent and often conflictual exchange between the different organisations and countries creates a permanently evolving collective intelligence, able continually to integrate more knowledge of what constitutes the citizens and peoples of Europe.
The ESF in Sweden will not be an exception: the Scandinavian social model, its limits, but also its resistance to the idea of the possibility of another Europe, is a truly new challenge.
The participation of the people in the elaboration process, strongly encouraged by the ESF
organisers, generates creativity: participatory democracy shows its multiple facets.
Many local social forums are created. These LSF have a creativity and a vitality that become very important when the ESF is to take place in their country. Subsequently they tend to decline or to withdraw into local actions no longer having any links with the international dimension.
But the links created between activists of different movements remain active in the trade-union, feminist and political struggles... These links have played an important role in the anti-liberal collectives formed in France to campaign for the No vote to the European Constitution, and also in the movements against the war in Iraq.
Local communities have created their own Local Community Forum (LCF) which often takes place at the same time and in the same places as the ESF. Even though links between these two forums have been reinforced, there are still many collaborative efforts to be established, in particular with respect to the battle for water, the environment in general, and also for the defence of public services, of education and of housing. Municipalities are notably on the front line as far as the concrete applications of the GATTS are concerned.
Many international networks were created by the LCF. For example, the network of Local Communities “Outside of the GATTS”, and the “Defence of the Public Services” network.
For the majority of citizens, the mayor is the most important elected official and the most appreciated because of his or her community actions. The municipalities can use their influence to increase the participation of people in the ESF process.
When links already exist between territorial collectivities and forums, it is nevertheless urgent to concentrate more concretely on the relation between ESF and LCF in order to improve the efficacy of the struggles and the construction of alternatives on both local and international levels.
One word about the work of the European Preparatory Assemblies. Decisions are reached by consensus. Our Western culture, more accustomed to majority decisions, is uncomfortable with this, but through this process the unity of the Forum has been preserved.
In fact the process determined by consensus forges the consciousness that we belong to this new European Space; it sets in motion other dynamics in parallel networks that are also ruled by consensus.
This new democratic culture, based on maximum inclusion, is educating many activists in a new way; it increasingly permeates the projects of political alternatives to neoliberalism.
Chico Whitaker, in his most recent book “Changer le monde, nouveau mode d’emploi”, published in 2006, has written that the Forum must develop mechanisms capable of producing this dynamic of unification while respecting the differences and the autonomy of each of us. This seems to be a characteristic of the new world that we want to construct”
The ESF apparently meets such demands.
I find it significant that we have gone from anti-globalisation to alter-globalisation. The protagonists of the movement had felt the weakness of a movement that was first only opposed to globalisation. However these two tendencies still coexist within the ESF.
Some anti-war, anti-racist movements do not want to give up this protest role, while other think that clinging to this role will cause the Social Forum to lose its usefulness.
Many networks have been created when national struggles became European struggles following the Lisbon process, which reduced Europe to a huge market where “competition is free and unrestrained”.
Following the struggle against the CPE in France (Contrat premiere embauche – First Employment Contract, a French form of work contract allowing employers more easily to terminate workers’ contracts, retracted by the government in Spring 2006), the precariousness network was born at the ESF of Athens, as well as the education network, the migration network, the feminist network, and the network for the Charter of Principles of another Europe, of which I will speak in more detail in the following chapter.
Other networks have existed before, but they became really effective after being linked to the Social Forum. I am thinking in particular of the network of European demonstrations against precariousness, about which Michel Rousseau himself stated: “The network joined the ESF to discover connections and to create links in order to build a relationship among forces generating change”.
Some networks were created independently of the ESF. This is the case of the new international trade-union federation. A CGT steelunion member speaking of this declared that the European social forums had developed the consciousness of the need to unify European unions and to think about their fundamental orientation.
For all these reasons, the ESF is a permanent source of forces, organisations and ideas generating renewal and a permanent updating of projects.
In my opinion, the relation between political and social movements is still a difficult one. The independence of the social movement in its present relatively isolated form is guaranteed, but at the same time this creates confusion and a failure to act.
The ESF does not accept the political parties and their representatives as co-organisers of the Forum; they can only participate as guests. This is fully justified by the pressure exerted by the political parties on the unions and social movements in the past. It is a fundamental principle, protecting against the disastrous experiences of the past, and it is not being challenged.
Nevertheless we cannot ignore the fact that all social and political movements are facing a redefinition of their role. The schemes confining the political parties to their decision-making role and the social movements to their protest role are no longer valid given our common goal of a progressive transformation of society.
Experiences that have changed reality at the beginning of the 21st century have also moved us toward a resolution of this problem: I am thinking in particular about the No-vote collectives in France during the referendum campaign for a European constitution, when political parties, social, feminist, ecologist and alter-globalisation movements all worked together ...
I am also thinking of many movements in Latin America – in Bolivia and in Venezuela – that were experiments in the redefinition of the “social and political” fields.
Work on the contents of networks and of new political forms to be adopted for creating a real alternative to European neoliberalism need to be done. It will create a new subjectivity in Europe able to overcome the dominant ideology. Increasingly, process and content become inseparable. The ESF can play a preponderant role, not as a movement of movements, but rather as facilitator of research and of the unification process for an alternative to neoliberal Europe.
However, the ESF and the whole Social Forum movement are not able by themselves to meet the challenge of capitalist globalisation. They are able to work on the slow process of ideological refoundation, but they find it difficult to reach the objective of popularisation of the issues at hand.
Indeed the Forums are not perceived by the population as able to change their daily life.
Other articulations have to be invented to create stronger links between the organised forces of the social forums and the populations, victims of globalisation, who do not believe that “another world is possible”.