The European Social Forum in Florence from 6 to 10 November will be a crucial staging point for the anti-war movement.
Organisers have called a huge demonstration against the war and neoliberalism on the evening of Saturday 9 November. This will be the first pan- European anti-war action, and the Italian organisers are expecting at least 200,000 to march. On top of that, Florence is an opportunity to discuss the experience of the anti-war movements and to organise more cross-European action. This is important because the experience up to now across Europe has been so patchy. Despite huge mobilisations against war in Greece, Italy, Germany and Britain, there are still many countries--including France--in which the anti-war movement is weak and fragmented.
Stopping the war has rightly become activists' main preoccupation. But rather than narrowing the political focus, Bush and Blair's war has generated a very politicised anti-war movement and radicalised the various movements against neoliberalism. It has become the common sense of the anti-war movement here to understand the 'war on terror' as a war with corporate interests at its heart. Stop the War meetings up and down the country quickly become discussions about the causes of war, how we can get rid of Blair, and whether a world without weapons is possible.
Meanwhile, anti-capitalist mobilisations continue to grow. Three weeks ago the South African social movements organised their biggest ever action against privatisation. Some 25,000 landless peasants, community activists and trade unionists marched against the misnamed World Forum on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The same weekend the Argentinian movement held a 20,000-strong Social Forum in Buenos Aires.
As well as being a focus for the anti-war movement, Florence will be a unique chance for tens of thousands of us to pursue these discussions, to deepen understanding of the links between globalisation and militarism, and to strengthen resistance on every front. The full agenda has not been finalised, but proceedings will probably start with a demonstration in support of migrants on the afternoon of Wednesday 6 November, followed by an opening event in the beautiful renaissance square of Santa Maria Novella. The main conferences, organised in three strands--against neoliberalism, against war and for rights and democracy, start on Thursday morning.
Every afternoon there will be self organised seminars and workshops hosted by a variety of movement networks including Attac, trade unions, peace groups, Globalise Resistance (GR), and radical NGOs like the World Development Movement. Among other events, GR has organised a forum with leading anti-capitalist intellectuals and activists on the way forward for the movement. Britain's Stop the War Coalition has organised a seminar with key anti- war activists from Germany, Italy, Britain and Greece. The International Socialist Tendency is among the political networks hosting workshops, including an event to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
For three days and nights Florence will be buzzing with ideas and activity. Every evening there will be concerts, theatre and film shows and still more discussions. During the day there are plans for more actions in defence of asylum seekers, against militarism and more. The ESF will be a three-day festival of resistance.
The 14 months since Genoa have seen a spectacular broadening of the anti-capitalist movement. Trade unions from across Europe, including at least four British unions, will have delegations in Florence. Mainstream NGOs including Oxfam, Amnesty, Cafod and Save the Children have signed up, and a European student network is under construction involving student union groups from ten European countries so far.
This means plenty of different approaches to the movement will be on offer at the ESF. Some sections of the movement, including some NGOs and, importantly, the leadership of French Attac around Bernard Cassen, want to see the Social Forum movement as a kind of think-tank for social democracy. Their strategy is to pressurise parties like the French and Italian social democratic parties to implement the Tobin Tax, write off debt to developing countries and so on. Moderate elements in the World Social Forum process globally are arguing against the involvement of political parties at any level of the social forum movement, mainly for fear of the far left gaining influence.
Autonomist groups respond to this with a great deal of suspicion. They emphasise independent spontaneous action of different kinds, and are very wary of alliances with what they see as institutionalised sections of the movement, whether trade unions, NGOs or political parties. Meanwhile, a radical left pole is beginning to emerge trying to construct the widest possible unity, but unity round action over key issues--privatisation, war and resisting racism.
Florence will be an incredible encounter between tens of thousands of activists with different approaches and different histories. But the experience of collectively organising the event suggests that the majority of the activists on the ground share an awful lot. The last preparatory meeting issued a call to action against war on Iraq that has gathered the backing of hundreds of organisations and activists across Europe. Most involved agree that opposition to the war on Iraq has to be central, and many are sympathetic to the idea that the key for the movement is fusing the energy and ideas of anti-capitalism with the power of the trade unions.
The debates at the European Social Forum will shape the movement for the months ahead, and they could hardly be more crucial months. A European anti-war movement may be decisive for the future of Bush and Blair's war. The more British activists can report on the power of the coalition that has been constructed here, the more chance there is of a European movement that rattles the masters of war. There are other crucial tests coming up. The G8 is planning its next summit in the lakeside town of Evian in south eastern France from 1 to 3 June. ESF organisers have called a meeting of the Social Movements on the morning of Sunday 10 November to launch the mobilisation for Evian and several other initiatives. Activists here need to go all out to mobilise for the ESF--it's a chance to shape our future.