Dead Men Left

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ESF: Uncle Bulgaria's shame

And now the other ESF unpleasantness. Ken Livingstone was amongst those due to speak on the "Europe against fascism" plenary on Saturday night. With the resurgence of both the BNP here, and the extreme right across Europe - Vlaams Blok, Front National, NDP - the importance of this question should be obvious: a big, successful meeting, in which various issues were thrashed out and some sense of common political strategy reached would have been of great help. Many comrades attended; such was the ESF, with clashing meetings all over the place, I deliberated a little and went to the Respect fringe meeting instead. I received a text halfway through that saying "ESF occupied", followed by

all the anarchists in Europe have arrived and hijacked meeting on opposing fascism apparently dangers posed by the commercialisation of the esf are greater than those posed by the bnp and the fascists so far they have stopped short of denouncing esf organisers as social fascists but lets see

The event turned out to be a bit more serious than that. Not "all the anarchists in Europe", but a smattering of Wombles had led a small crowd into the meeting and stormed the stage. HUH? had earlier praised the Wombles as understanding the role of "theory" in the movement; after seeing the Tutti Bianchi in action in Prague against the IMF during summer 2000, the Wombles had modelled themselves on the same lines: padding on demonstrations to protect against police violence, and a certain amount of talk about reclaiming spaces, liberating autonomy, and the rest of it. (Their pamphlet, "Love and Rage in the Dying Days of Capitalism" lays much of this out.) Personally, I was dubious about the utility of shoving a sofa down your pants in overthrowing global capitalism, but viewed them as basically harmless and occasionally quite funny.

However, a letter in the Guardian today makes quite clear just how bad the ESF "intervention" was:

We agree with your appreciation of the success of the European Social Forum (Leaders, October 18). However, the storming of the stage of the anti-racist and anti- fascist session on Saturday had nothing to do with how the event was organised. It was the attempt of a tiny minority who oppose the ESF and have had no involvement in it to undemocratically impose their views on the majority and suppress other views by using physical violence.

It was carried out by an exclusively white group of anarchists who had no involvement in the ESF. They entered the building, stormed the platform of black and Jewish speakers, punched the black chair of the session and stole his mobile phone. The next day the same group tried to storm the stage of the demonstration, tearing down the crash barriers and assaulting ESF stewards.

We have never seen such behaviour in the progressive movement in Britain before and it should be totally condemned. The ESF was created to allow democratic discussion of the whole range of views within the social justice movement. No viewpoint was excluded and it is totally unacceptable for a tiny minority to attack that democratic process by using physical violence. That is all the more the case when they violently attack black people to stop us from discussing how to fight racism and fascism.

Lee Jasper
Secretary, National Assembly Against Racism

Ashok Viswanathan
Deputy coordinator, Operation Black Vote

Pav Akhtar
NUS black students officer

I have already vented a certain amount of spleen about a similar incident on the Friday evening. As I said there, the ESF is "soft" target: any sectarian with a grudge could very easily cause a huge amount of disruption due to the necessarily relaxed security at the event. I can at least understand where the protestors against IFTU general secretary Al Mashadani were coming from, much as I think their disruption was at best extraordinarily foolish, and at worst highly anti-democratic.

But this is something else. I cannot begin to imagine what was hoped to be achieved by having an all-white group of presumed anti-capitalists storm the platform of an anti-fascist meeting. To physically assualt the black chair of this meeting, stealing his phone, is to reinforce the folly. If it had been the BNP or the National Front, their actions would be "understandable" in their terms: no doubt breaking up large anti-fascist meetings is something they relish. So what the hell were the Wombles playing at?