Fighting, socialist policies needed to resist war, cuts and capitalism
Massive European Social Forum rally in Athens
On Saturday, 6 May, up to 100,000 Greek workers and young people marched along a 7 kilometre demonstration against war and capitalist exploitation. The rally was called by the European Social Forum, which convened in Athens 4 – 7 May. The size of the demonstration was impressive, even given the tradition of the Greek workers’ movement. The police managed, once again, to ridicule themselves by claiming, initially, there were only 15,000 demonstrators, then by doubling the figure to 30,000, and then by simply mentioning the length of the demo.
The demonstrators marched to the US embassy to protest against the policies of the US and EU imperialists in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran. Then the protesters went to the Greek parliament to protest against the anti-working class policies of the Greek government and the European Union.
The mood of the demonstration was jubilant. Its size gave workers a feeling of their strength and sent a powerful message across the whole of Greek society. Also, the fact that about 9,000 activists came from the rest of Europe – particularly from France, Italy Turkey and the Balkans (over 2,000) and other countries – set a very important tone of internationalism.
Xekinima, the Greek section of the CWI, campaigned enthusiastically for a successful demonstration on 6 May and also took part in discussions during the ESF events. We produced 10,000 posters and 20,000 leaflets, calling on workers and youth to take part in the 6 May rally. There was also a Turkish, Italian and English version of the CWI/Xekinima leaflet that we distributed at the ESF.
At the same time, we criticised the policies of the ESF and, in general, the Social Forums (World Social Forum and national social forums) and the direction in which the social forums are going. The slogans of the ESF – against war, neo-liberalism and racism – are so general that they allow anybody to take part in its event, including social democratic parties which support these anti-working class policies and apply them when they are in government!
The social forums are now dominated, even more than in the past, by the parties of the European Left, like the Communist Party in France, Communist Refoundation in Italy, and the Party of Democratic Socialism in Germany. Many of these parties are guilty of taking part in governments, along with social democrats, that carried out anti-working class and and anti-immigrant policies policies.
These characteristics of the ESF undermine its future perspectives and its ability to play a role in uniting the struggles of the working class against the policies which are of a European and international character. Only a radical anti-capitalist approach and socialist ideas can provide the necessary programme for activists, all over Europe, to fight the policies of capital.
Xekinima and the CWI, therefore, take part in all the major initiatives of the SF but, at the same time, openly criticise in a strong and clear manner.
The rest of the Left
The rest of the Greek left does not have a similar approach. The organisations that took part in the Greek Social Forum and the recent European Social Forum in Athens, do not criticise these organisations or only make mild criticisms. Even organisations which speak in the name of Trotsky, like the IST (SWP), or the USFI (LCR in France), attempt to create an artificial optimism over the future and role of the social forums.
The organisations that are critical of the Greek Social Forum and the ESF, such as the Greek CP and the Maoist groups and their allies, chose to stay outside and attack the ESF and everybody taking part in its events. They cut themselves off from hundreds of thousands of workers who responded to the anti-war and anti-neo-liberal calls of the organisations around the ESF. The Greek Communist Party, in particular, panicked during the last week, and started a fierce campaign of covering up all the posters advertising the ESF event. This proved to be in vain. The Maoist groups and their allies called a ‘counter-forum’ and a ‘counter-demo’, which gathered about 500 people.
The paper of the CP (7 May) carried a short note on the demo and claiming that around 7,000 people took part.
Up until the Athens ESF meeting, its organisers were quite pessimistic about its future. This was especially so after the third meeting of the ESF, held in London. London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and the British SWP, were two of the main driving forces behind this event, which many activists found a disappointment. But the Athens meeting has revived their hopes.
A resolution passed at the Athens ESF conference called for more co-ordinated action all over Europe, especially on the question of war and racism. It calls for a week of action, (23-30 September), against war and for a day of action, on 7 October, against racism and in support of immigrants’ rights.
These are positive initiatives but they are far from enough. The ESF organisers seem to avoid, by all possible means, some of the burning class issues in Europe that require decisive class action. These include increasing poverty, inequality, exploitation and attacks on pensions. Even more, the ESF organisers seem to avoid proposing any means of struggle that can put an end to these policies. Festivals, days of action, colourful protests etc. can be useful, but without strike action and mass protest by hundreds of millions of workers and youth throughout Europe, the capitalists – in Europe and internationally – will continue with the same policies.
To the rank and file activists, one conclusion will become more clear with the passage of time: capitalism cannot become “humanitarian”. The policies of war, racism, poverty, and hunger will never be eliminated unless capitalism is overthrown.
Xekinima (CWI) had an excellent contingent on the 6 May protest march in Athens, with over 400 participants, young and old, Greek and immigrant. There were also members of the CWI from Britain, Ireland, Belgium and the ex-Soviet Union. Our contingent was noted by both friends and enemies for its militancy and youthfulness.
Xekinima’s campaign to build support for the ESF and the 6 May demonstration only lasted 8 days, as it came very soon after the Greek Easter break. During these days, and during the ESF, more than 1,000 Xekinima papers were sold, and about €1,300 was collected for the fighting fund. The details of many people interested in the ideas of Xekinima and of the CWI were collected.
Raph Parkinson, Vice Chair UNISON NEC (Personal capacity) – a public sector union in Britain – and a member of the Socialist Party (England and Wales), also attended the Athens Social Forum. Raph reported:
Socialists, trade unionists , Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) and community and youth activists met to discuss a wide range of issues at the European Social Forum in Athens, covering for example, privatisation, growth of the far right, Latin America , war in Iraq and social liberation. In comparison to the ESF held in London, two years ago, the mood in Athens was more serious but fewer attended.
The highlight for me was the very large demo, held on Saturday 6 May, againstpoverty, unemployment, war and racism.
Supporters of the Socialist Party (England and Wales) marched under the banner of Xekinima, the Greek section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).
This section was followed by the Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) delegation, which included many immigrants who live in Greece.
It was noticeable that both the CWI and YRE marchers were very vocal, singing various chants and songs, and the contingents were well stewarded and organised .
A ‘counter-demonstration’, which fed into the main demonstration, and which attempted to get to the US Embassy, was attacked by riot police. Innocent marchers with tear gased. The stewards on the CWI & YRE section of the march maintained a disciplined approach to defending their delegation from any possible attacks.
Coverage on Greek TV showed McDonalds attacked but did not show the peaceful majority on the demo.
Overall, this year’s ESF was better organised and less of a rally but more serious in discussion.