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Newsletter (in English)


The sixth European Social Forum was dominated by bland NGO politics and obfuscatory Maoism

About 3,000 people participated in the sixth European Social Forum (ESF) in Istanbul. There were 200 seminars about the economic crisis, climate change, students’ protests and many other topics.

While the ESF did intersect with some important workers’ struggles in Turkey – for example the TEKEL strike and the UPS strike – the forum was dominated by bland NGO politics on the one hand and obfuscatory Maoism (such as uncritical cheering of the “revolution” in Nepal) on the other.

In the end, the forum seconded the call by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) for a day of action on September 29. But it failed to present any kind of plan of action for coordinating the resistance against the effects of the crisis on a continent-wide scale.

This was by far the smallest ESF to date. There are three reasons for this: one is the hostility of the Turkish state to any kind of left-wing event. While all previous ESFs were held with the financial and organizational patronage of left-wing mayors, the city administration of Istanbul obstructed the preparations for the forum from the beginning.

A second reason is the steady decline of the ESF since its birth in 2002: numbers have gone from 60,000 in Florence to 50,000 in Paris to 25,000 in London to 35,000 in Athens to 8,000 in Malmö to 3,000 in Istanbul. The ESF has always been an important space for activists from across Europe to meet up, it was never an instrument for pushing forward the class struggle.

When the ESF was born, there were hopes that it could become a center for coordinating protest across Europe and around the world – and the first forum issued a call for a day of protest against the Iraq War which was followed by more than twenty million people. However, the structures of the ESF (and the World Social Forum) were always dominated by trade union bureaucracies and NGOs who insisted that the ESF make no decisions. After eight years of this, the hopes in the forum have all but died out.

A third reason is the decision by some large Trotskyist organizations like the Socialist Workers’ Party from Britain to abandon the ESF – their International Socialist Tendency didn’t even have a symbolic presence in Istanbul since they held their “Marxism” event on the same weekend in London. This is particularly unfortunate because the SWP, when it played an important role in organizing the ESF, consistently argued to limit it to apolitical and non-binding “exchange” in the name of broadness. After contributing so much to steering the ESF against the rocks, they have now abandoned ship!

RIO, the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization, participated with a delegation from Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. We discussed with numerous contacts from Turkey and distributed our fundamental documents in Turkish as well as English.

At the demonstration on Saturday, we formed a “Trotskyist block” together with comrades from the “Permanent Revolution Movement” (SDH) from Turkey, the OKDE from Greece, the SAV from Germany and some comrades from Czech Social Forum. Despite differences we have with these groups, it was a positive sign of internationalism with slogans in English, Turkish, Greek, German and Czech, among others:

  • “The workers, united, will never be defeated!”
  • “Hoch die internationale Solidarität!”
  • “Önder Lenin, Trotsky! Hedef sovyetler!”
    (“The leaders: Lenin und Trotsky! The goal: Soviets!”)

Fortunately, our favorite slogan – “One solution: Revolution!” – works just as well in Turkish: “Tek Yol: Devrim!”

The following day, we spent on tour around Istanbul. We also visited the ruins of a house on the island of Büyükada (Prinkipo) where the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived in exile for four years after being expelled from the Soviet Union.

by Wladek Flakin, RIO, Berlin, July 7, 2010

Pictures from the ESF on Flickr
Pictures from the visit to Prinkipo on Flickr

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