SIX THOUSAND people packed into a huge hangar-like room 150 yards long for a debate on relations between parties and the movement. Bernard Cassen from ATTAC, the movement against financial speculation, said it was 'born out of the disillusion with the failure of political parties and unions to deliver the ecological and social policies people want.
'It is vital that it is not a political party or the tool of one or more parties. We have members from many parties - we would lose most if one party dominated our thinking.' An MP for the German Greens argued, 'Social movements are the real engine of social change. Any social movement that stays in government too long becomes part of the establishment.
'The German Greens were completely wrong to support war against Serbia and Afghanistan.' Olivier Besancenot, who won more than a million votes as the presidential candidate of the French Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, said, 'Social movements, trade unionists and young people especially have all learned to mistrust parties. Who is to blame for this? For the traditional parties, the social movements and the trade unions were little toys for their use or, at worst, punch-bags. It was a great step forwards when those trade unionists learned they could struggle against their own party in government. Our struggle should be to pull together the anti-capitalist left wing, to create a left wing of the left wing, open to the ecological, revolutionary, Marxist, feminist and libertarian traditions.'
Chris Nineham from Globalise Resistance in Britain insisted, 'There is a difference between movements and parties. The Stop the War Coalition in Britain has brought together environmentalists, anti-capitalists, socialists, trade unionists, many Muslims and pacifists. Its one simple aim is stopping the war. As we increasingly challenge the powerful, they will try to block us. All the issues debated at the ESF are connected. We are not involved in a series of separate campaigns but against a total system. Political parties can play a crucial role in this, but not those who talk radical to get votes and then make peace with the powerful. The parties I want to see are revolutionary ones that try to unite the struggles in order to confront the whole system.'
OPPOSITION TO war on Iraq dominated many of the debates and discussions in Florence. Thousands of people crammed into meetings and forums determined to build a united, strong, mass anti-war movement. An overwhelming majority agreed with a call to turn 15 February into a united Europe-wide day of protest.
The biggest applause at the meeting undoubtedly went to Fausto Bertinotti from the Italian Communist Refoundation party: 'Che Guevara wrote that 'politics is a lasting passion'. Politics, real politics, is today being reborn in the proper places - the streets. Some people said this movement would last for just a short time. They hoped the state violence of Genoa would derail it. But this movement was wiser than the movement of my own generation of the 1960s. It did not get drawn into a spiral of violence and repression. Parties that want to relate to the movement have heavy responsibilities. They can take part on the condition that they have no concept of being a vanguard. The movements and parties are together, though different. No party or union should call struggle on its own, unless it is forced to by the failure of other forces to act.'
Vittorio Agnoletto from the Italian Social Forum said, 'An alliance has been created at the ESF. There is a unity against war and neo-liberalism. I am not a reformist. There can be no compromise with the banks, financial institutions and multinationals. We want to question what democracy means. What does a vote mean to a peasant in Zambia if his choices from the IMF are to starve or accept GM foods?
'We have enormous responsibilities in Europe. We are at the centre of capitalism. We can affect what happens in workplaces. We can affect markets through boycotts. It is not, as some think, that the movement generates questions and the party provides the answers. We should work for the widest possible unity.'
Chris Bambery of the British Socialist Workers Party and Marnie Holborow of the Irish Socialist Workers Party were warmly applauded when they spoke from the floor. They stressed the need for debate in the movement on issues like the involvement of women and on the question of political power. They insisted that revolutionary parties have an important part to play in these.
'New cycle of mobilisations'
GLOBALISE Resistance organised a meeting on anti-capitalism which brought together some of the different views on how the movement can win and what it is aiming to achieve. Christophe Aguiton is a leading member of the ATTAC organisation in France. He argued, 'The incredible success of the ESF is proof of a big change that is taking place. We are entering a new cycle of mobilisations like the 1960s. We were worried after 11 September that the movement would stall. But in fact it has gathered strength and linked the war to other issues. Movements like Jubilee 2000 were very important. The idea of challenging neo-liberal globalisation was important. But now the movement is going further. It is entering into more social issues like unemployment and support for workers. It is now not just an anti neo-liberal movement but an anti-capitalist one.'
Luca Casarini from the Italian Disobbedienti movement said, 'The new cycle of global struggle represents a desire for revolution, for an end to the slavery imposed by capitalism. We now face a state of permanent war. This reflects the way the system functions. Capitalism has always used wars to dominate markets. Now the system achieves stability by attacking civilians in every locality. We should build days of active disobedience against those who wage war. We must not get trapped between two problems of the same nature - Bush and Bin Laden. They are the same thing - fundamentalists. One is for the market - the other is for intervention in the stock exchange through massacres. We must choose our own way.'
Alex Callinicos from Globalise Resistance said, 'Here we are making the future. We get a vision of the kind of democracy and self governing economy we want from meetings like this. Who would have said three years ago that 40,000 people would gather to talk about transforming the world from top to bottom? The movement has taught us lessons. Here are four key ones: (1) Democracy - we need openness, inclusiveness, self organisation and debate. (2) War - this is a central issue because there is a permanent war drive in the system. This issue has not paralysed our movements. Instead, in some countries, we rose up and built mass anti-war protests. We have to generalise the best experience of taking on the war. (3) Class - there is a temptation to leave behind the lessons of the past and say that we, the multitude, the networks, are all that is needed. That would be a mistake.
The high points of the movement such as Seattle, Genoa, Porto Alegre and Barcelona saw the coming together of anti-capitalist networks and the organised working class. The future of the movement is bringing these together in a permanent way. As Rosa Luxemburg said, 'The chains of capitalism can be broken only where they are forged.' (4) Revolution - this was a word wiped off the political agenda in the 1980s.We were told the best we could hope for was years of liberal capitalism. Now it is coming back on the agenda. Self emancipation and the power from below are the principles of the new world we want.'
THE INTERNATIONAL Socialist Tendency, which the SWP is part of, took a full part in the ESF and the anti-war demonstration. Over 1,000 IST members were at the forum. They came from Britain, Greece, Poland, Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Denmark and other countries. Each had worked for months to get backing for the ESF from trade unions and other social movements.
They ensured that big contingents came. By the end of the demonstration on Saturday they all felt they had one of the best experiences of their lives and that they had done their part in building a new anti-capitalist movement.
'I AM chair of the association of the unemployed in my area in Poland. 'I am from a region where there used to be state farms 11 years ago. But in 1993, when the state farms closed down, in my region alone 27,000 people lost their jobs.
I was one of them. After 12 months we were left with nothing - we had no welfare payments at all. So people went out on the streets, and I joined them with my four children. We occupied the local council, shouting, 'We want work! We've got nothing to eat.' Capitalism has solved nothing for us.
Coming to the ESF, meeting people from all countries, everyone is smiling, everyone is equal - it doesn't matter what race you are, what language you speak. It is fantastic.
I'm over 40, and most people here are so young. But this has changed my experience. There is an exchange of ideas. All together we have strength and power. That is the future.'
Ewa Hinca, Poland