Statement of the Board of Attac-France

The European Social Forum: Appraisal and Future Perspectives

2 December 2004 by Attac France


1. A Promising Process

The first European Social Forums (ESF) set the stage for the
construction of the European alterglobalisation movement and
successfully centred political debate on neoliberal globalisation.
Since the first World Social Forum (WSF) held in Porto Alegre in
January 2001, the Social Forums, and the ESF in particular, have
become the most visible public expression of the alterglobalisation
movement. Basing themselves on the Charter of Porto Alegre, which has
become an indispensable reference, the Forums have become
quasi-permanent processes of crystallisation of new forces and
struggles that were previo! usly rather disparate. Prior to the Forums
the latter acted in dispersed fashion, promoting alterglobalisation
in a precocious albeit strategically unfocused way. Today, critical
movements benefit from a wide array of tools of struggle and common
objectives.
This crystallisation has been accompanied by geographic expansion.
The first three WSFs in Brazil created the conditions for the
incorporation into the alterglobalisation movement of powerful social
forces from South America, notably the peasant and indigenous
people’s movements. The Bombay WSF in 2004 likewise integrated Indian
social movements into the global struggle. The geopolitics of
alterglobalisation thus mirrors the process of neoliberal
globalisation, though its scope is still less all encompassing. It is
to be hoped that the WSF planned for 2007 in Africa will play a
similar role to the 2004 WSF in India. The global movement still
needs to expand its reach ! to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and East
Asia. China remains outside of this process, for an undetermined
period of time.
Completing this geopolitical expansion of alterglobalisation will
require the promotion and development of Local Social Forums in a
number of countries. LSFs are prominent organising tools favouring
the embedding of the Forum process. The same can be said of the
National Social Forums that have emerged in a number of countries.
This process constitutes a major step forward in the struggle against
neoliberal globalisation. Nonetheless, its future development depends
on moving forward to new stages, thereby avoiding the threat of
exhaustion, immobility and lack of creativity. In this respect,
self-criticism and criticism are indispensable components of the
dynamic of the Forums. We have to be lucid about the state of the
process.
ATTAC, acting as a movement on an international level, has been
comm! itted since its inception to the construction of the Social
Forums. As such, it has a double obligation: First, to reflect
lucidly and uncompromisingly on the insufficiencies and some of the
recently witnessed drifts of the movement. Second, to stimulate new
thinking and propose new forms of action designed to strengthen and
amplify the global movement. The WSF has already undertaken to
reinvent its formula in 2005. The success of this reshaping will be
judged in January. The same kind of effort must occur on a European
level.

2. Mixed results

The ESFs have generated mixed results regarding their three main
missions: The ideational debate, the elaboration of programmatic
proposals, and decision making for common action.
The ideational debates occurred mostly during the preparatory phases
of the Forums and were reflected in the programs of the plenary
sessions. Being based on consensus, decision making is inevitably the
result of compromises reached by the different forces involved in
Forum preparation. This sometimes leads to apparently unsatisfying
outcomes. Thus during the three ESFs held until now, the space given
to war and racism was particularly important, leaving aside other
major issues such as economic, environmental and social questions, or
the problem of European construction.
It is far from clear that the resulting thematic hierarchy reflects
the views of the majority of the social movements involved in the
Forum. This can be empirically verified by comparing requests (for
seminars and workshops) with the final programme of the plenary
sessions. The contrast between requests and outcomes questions the
functioning and the modes of discussion of the European Preparatory
Assembly (EPA), which manifestly finds it difficult to sustain
political debate concerning the strategic priorities of the movement.
True, this assembly i! s ’open’ in the sense that all can participate
in it. However, it has become apparent that some organisations are
far more active than others are because they benefit from permanent
memberships, financial means and political determination. This fact
should push the EPA to promote greater representation of all the
organisations involved. Moreover, the EPA’s most active core
organisations have remained the same over the past three years. This
highlights faithfulness and continuity. However, it also points to
limits given that the movement requires expansion and the integration
of new organisations into the core. The EPA being the essential locus
of political construction of the ESF it is essential to enrich its
democratic character, its representation and its participation. This
will no doubt require setting up a system of financial solidarity.
This is also true for the ’Assembly of Social Movements’.
In the course of the Forums themselves, some useful debates occur
during the seminars and workshops. However, the plenary sessions are
often reduced to a juxtaposition of speeches prepared in advance and
to media focused rhetorical exercises designed to enhance the
organisations, which fought their way to the podium.
Despite the real substantive debates that occurred during the ESFs,
the Forums had three failings. The first, which became apparent after
the fact, is the lack of guidance for the plenary seminars and
workshops. This muddles the event for participants who don’t know if
the objective is to confront analyses, exchange experiences or build
programmatic alternatives. The second drawback is a total absence of
knowledge accumulation. While minutes of various sessions are
inconsistently drawn up, no method exists as yet to identify key
points raised, to broaden public debate around them, or to deepen
work in a sustained fashion. Hence, we hav! e no means to ensure
continuity and to measure progress. This situation is unquestionably
fuelling a feeling that the Forums are repetitive. The third failing,
made apparent in London, is ideological drift. Preceding Forums had
successfully avoided this but there were expressions of intolerance,
exchanges of insults, and pseudo debates without democratic
contradiction in London. Responsibility for this lies with some
sectarian political groups and religious organisations, as
highlighted during the seminars on Iraq or in debates over the French
law on religious signs in schools. These drifts threaten the ESF’s
existence and cannot be allowed to continue.

The programmatic dimension (elaboration of proposals) was presented
by some networks, which are progressing in their forum work, thanks
to some carefully prepared seminars during preliminary meetings.
However, the ESF is generally not the central locus of their
elabora! tion. The ESF could be used to give them public visibility.
Yet this doesn’t generally occur because of the insufficient
attention given to this dimension of forum work in the conception and
structuring of the ESF’s. There are no moments when alternatives can
be given political visibility. Among some organisers there is very
limited interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. , sometimes none at all, in the establishment of a
’memory’ of the forums. This serious insufficiency is presently being
partially dealt with but its solution requires the mobilisation of
human and financial resources. In this context, the establishment of
a database of the various proposals emanating from the three ESFs
should become a priority objective.

Decision making on common actions has largely been reduced to setting
the dates of common global events (15 February 2003, 19 March 2005).
Setting dates is obviously important but clearly insufficient. The
compilation by the ’General ! Assembly of Social Movements’ of all the
other international gatherings decided upon by the seminars is useful
(though no one verifies their implementation) but not essential. The
ESFs have not as yet created the conditions for the launch and
implementation of real European-wide mobilisations.

These critical comments should not obscure the positive sides of the
process, notably the progressive federation of new organisations, as
we indicated in point 1 or, more importantly, their convergence.
Movements that had no contact among each other are learning to work
together; misgivings and hindrances are being removed; the potential
for common action is growing.

3. The need for greater imagination

The above appraisal implies the need to completely restructure the
process. The FSEs have multiple functions, some of which are already
known, and others, which have become apparent through experience. But
we have to imagine! them as a holistic process. Our objective should
be to translate this into reality for Athens 2006.

First, the European Social Forum should have a European and social
focus. This does not in anyway mean that it should ignore the rest of
the world. However, the Forum must have an operational character for
the Europeans and take into account their national and continental
contexts. Otherwise the Forum merely becomes a well-intentioned
gathering.

The three dimensions we referred to earlier (ideational debate,
programmatic elaboration, and action plans) have to be elaborated at
distinct moments and articulated among each other, while leaving open
the possibility for convergence.

In addition to these three dimensions, the ESFs have five other
necessary functions:

- The information and permanent reception of participants, many of
who feel lost in the maelstrom of stands, flags, etc.
- Cultural and popular education! .
- Presentation of participating organisations to the public (which
often is not aware of them).
- The ’political’ function, strictly speaking. To overcome the
current hypocritical situation in which some hegemonic established
parties in the organising committee are omnipresent, either directly
or through screen organisations, the latter, while recognised, must
be allocated a circumscribed space in the Forums.
- Lastly, unification through mass popular gatherings such as
occurred in Millau 2000 or Larzac 2003, with moments of collective
action (demonstrations, meetings, music, and cultural events).

The above implies a necessary reform of the process of preparation of
the ESFs, with three major objectives.
First, the EPAs must become a real locus of decision making.
Second, political debate must occur over the orientations to be
implemented during the Forums.
Lastly, the EPA’s functioning must be improved through
democratisation, better representation, and expansion.
The creation of democratic and representative national committees may
be a means to favour these objectives. In this regard, we have to
question the usefulness of the General Assembly of Social Movements,
since the EPA is already supposed to encompass the whole social
movement.
The EPA should be the locus for deepening the debate, for the
construction of permanent logistic tools (financing, computerisation,
etc.), and for articulation with the national preparatory committee
of the host country.
As far as the timing of ESFs is concerned, a biannual rhythm,
alternating with the WSF, is appropriate to avoid the dissipation of
militant energies and the exhaustion of the financial resources of
the various organisations. A European gathering of the different
ongoing campaigns could be held between two ESFs. Its aim would be to
discuss the main mobilisations of the mo! vement a year ahead.
ATTAC France believes that the future of the ESF depends on the
acknowledgement of these imperatives and their translation into
action through adequate preparatory structures.

The Board of ATTAC France, 20 November 2004.




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