Monday, 27 January 2020

Historians at the European Social Forum (2004)

Historians at the European Social Forum
Written By: David Renton
Date: January 2004
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 20: Lent 2004  

The London Socialist Historians Group took part in the European Social Forum in Paris in November 2003. We sponsored a session with Alternatives Russia, North East Labour History and North West Labour History. We were given a slot on the first morning, in one of the smaller venues. Everything started about an hour late, with problems in the translation system, and both speakers and audience struggling to get there on time. Eventually, there were about sixty people in the audience, plus three speakers, myself, Alexander Buzgalin from Alternatives Russia and John Charlton. The main delay was fixing up the translation, although once going it worked.

I talked about the history of anti-capitalism in the last ten years. Alexander Buzgalin spoke on the legacy of 1871 and the way the Commune had inspired the Russia revolution. John Charlton talked about the lack of synchronisation between economic and political struggles, as a cause of defeats in the twentieth century, and Seattle as a re-linking of the two movements.

There were then contributions from the floor.

One French woman talked about the role of third world struggle as a historic force. A Labour Party councillor from Hull asked how someone without any training would go about writing the history of the movement? A Swiss Communist asked how long the anti-capitalist movement would last, in its current form? A couple of people spoke from Alternatives Russia, one very powerfully, on the part played by workers' councils in 1917. Ours was one of the few sessions I attended at the ESF were people from the audience were given a good, long time to contribute. It seemed to me that the longer the meeting went on, the more enthusiasm there was.

As for the rest of the event, I gather there were some thirty thousand people who signed up in advance. The numbers may have doubled with people registering on Friday or for the weekend. I didn't get a sense of any single controversy that different groups all wanted to raise. At the larger rallies, the easiest way to get applause was - as you might expect – by raising the war, and in recalling the larger demonstrations and other actions that have taken place against it. Quite a few of the English delegates were happy because London will be hosting the ESF next year.

Some of the speakers from smaller countries, who'd taken part in Cancun, Mumbai, Porto Alegre and then Paris, complained of fatigue. I think they were being honest. But from the ordinary delegates I had a much stronger sense that the ESF was being used to reinvigorate local campaigns and local organisation.

Leaving my hotel in the morning, I saw groups of people from the French Socialist Party handing out fliers for their local councillors' next surgery. Other comrades described bumping into groups of anarchists, equally far from the forum, leafleting a burger bar with leaflets highlighting starvation pay. I don't know Paris. Those sorts of events could take place every day. But the ESF seemed to me to have succeeded bringing in quite large numbers of new people. In that sense, it made me feel optimistic about next year's event. This movement is ours to shape.

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