LAST FEBRUARY, 70,000 people went to the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It was set up in opposition to the World Economic Forum of government ministers that took place at the same time. On 7-10 November 2002, a similar counter-summit, the European Social Forum (ESF) is to take place in Florence, Italy.
European Social Forum
A socialist world is possible
It will attract thousands, or even tens of thousands in total, of human rights activists, environmentalists, trade unionists, socialists and many others.
The theme adopted in Porto Alegre: "Another world is possible", will be attractive to millions of ordinary people in Europe who have been affected by service cuts, job losses and worsening workplace conditions. This will include young people, who will also be outraged at the US war threat on Iraq and concerned about increased turmoil in the Middle East.
Wave of struggle
Far from the anti-capitalist movement being in decline following 11 September 2001, as many capitalist commentators speculated, events so far this year have served to give it a major boost.
In Europe, a number of large demonstrations have taken place against the Israeli government’s onslaught on Palestinians in the occupied territories. Workers in Italy and Spain have been involved in massive demonstrations against ’neo-liberal’ attacks.
Italian workers led the way with the magnificent three million-strong demonstration in Rome, in March this year, followed by a one-day general strike in April, against changes in the labour law to make it easier for employers to sack workers.
Spanish workers followed in June with a one-day general strike against government threats to unemployment benefits, during which three million workers protested on the streets.
The same day, hundreds of thousands of workers demonstrated in Portugal in response to vicious government attacks there, including a plan to sack 50,000 public sector workers.
Throughout Europe, governments are presently lining up further attacks on workers’ living standards, in response to the worsening economic situation.
The Eurozone’s largest economy, Germany, managed a growth rate of only 0.3% in the first two quarters of this year. German manufacturing industry contracted in August following just two months of expansion.
An editorial in the Financial Times (4/9/02) spelt out what this situation will mean for German capitalism: "If Germany stagnates much longer it will face a deep fiscal crisis… Germany will either face a solvency crisis or have to accept lower quality public services and infrastructure".
Four Eurozone countries: France, Germany, Portugal and Italy are struggling to keep their budget deficits below the level required by the Maastricht Treaty.
Italy’s public sector budget deficit over the first eight months of this year is 60% higher than in the same period last year!
This is driving the right wing Berlusconi government to continue its attacks and Italian workers are responding with a day of anti-government demonstrations on 14 September, and possibly with a further general strike in October.
All this is before the European Union Copenhagen summit in December, at which final negotiations are supposed to take place on admitting a further ten countries from central, eastern and southern Europe into the EU, with all the financial wrangling and constraints that this process is bringing to EU governments.
Will people going to the ESF in Florence who are looking for an explanation of this crisis-ridden capitalist system, find one?
Will they be introduced to socialist ideas, and therefore to a form of society that can develop the productive forces further, democratically, while at the same time repairing environmental damage?
Unfortunately, at the WSF, no alternative to capitalism was given in the official meetings and this is likely to be the case at the Florence gathering. Speakers advocated a more humane, less brutal form of capitalism, with a reduced gap between the rich and poor.
These figureheads of the anti-capitalist movement do not use the vital tool of Marxist analysis to study the workings of capitalism, so do not understand that mass poverty, repression and war are inevitable as long as capitalism exists in any form. It is essential that a socialist current in the anti-capitalist movement is developed that can explain the need for a complete transformation of society.
When socialist ideas are raised at the ESF, either through contributions in official meetings or through the many unofficial meetings that will take place, they are sure to get a good response from those looking for a real alternative to the nightmare of living under capitalism today.