Forum for Alternatives – eyewitness in Paris
Five thousand activists, politicians, trade unionists and
intellectuals from Europe and beyond converged on Paris over the weekend of
30-31 May to lay the foundations for a continent-wide ‘Alliance Against
Coordinated by the Party of the European Left (EL), the
‘Forum for Alternatives’ covered many themes but the issues of Greece,
Austerity, Europe and the financial crisis took centre stage.
Alliance Against Austerity
Pierre Laurent, President of EL and General Secretary of the
French Communist Party, opened proceedings with a call for the European left to
prepare “for a new era in our common fight”. Laurent pointed to the
“acceleration” of left parties and movements in parts of Europe and called for
a united project against austerity. “Democracy, public services and tackling
the power of finance” are significant elements as is the principle that “wealth
should be used for social, economic and ecological transformation”. In closing,
Laurent pointed to Greece as “an issue for the entire movement”. “We cannot let
them defeat Greece … we say that reason and rationality is in Athens”.
The president of the Greek parliament, Zoe Konstantopolou,
began her contribution by warning that “austerity kills human beings, society,
the people of Europe” and insisted “it is our responsibility to kill austerity
before it kills all hope”. Konstantopolou’s contribution made it very clear
that the Syriza government is intent on remaining in the European Union and see
their struggle as part of a wider process of transforming social and economic
relations across the EU: “Our struggle is a struggle for all European peoples
and future generations. European solidarity can succeed and can convince”.
The Greek government has established an audit committee to
investigate public debt – the first established anywhere in Europe – and a
commission to look into the issue of unpaid German reparations in the aftermath
of World War II. Both of these initiatives should be widely supported,
publicised and, where possible, replicated.
Hervé Falciani pointed to the secrecy and corruption at the
heart of the financial system. Falciani, a former employee of HSBC, blew the
whistle on 130,000 people and institutions that used Swiss accounts to avoid
tax. Of the 130,000 on the list, more than twenty thousand are based in Europe
and two thousand of them in Greece. The list was passed to the Greek
authorities in 2010 but no action was taken until Syriza took power. Falciani
attacked the “dictatorship of finance” and called for the “mobilisation of
institutions to resist the hegemony of capital” and concluded with a call to
“open communication channels in order to expose what is going on in
The main themes articulated in the opening plenary –
Europe-wide unity against austerity, solidarity with Greece, and the need to
reform the banking and financial institutions – informed discussions over much
of the weekend. There were, however, other important issues and opportunities
to orientate and inform our movement.
Instruments of Peace
A session titled ‘What instruments to build a peaceful
world?’ provided an opportunity to discuss the ongoing threat posed by nuclear
weapons. Miho Shinma, an ambassador for peace from the city of Hiroshima,
emphasised that “advocates of nuclear weapons pretend that they produce global
equilibrium and stability when in fact they produce pain and suffering”.
Abraham Behar, president of the Association of Physicians for the Prevention of
Nuclear War, called for “not just a stop to but a reversal in the production of
nuclear material” and for the technology involved to be used for other
purposes. He called on the movement not to “beg powerful states but to promote
the complete and total banning of nuclear weapons” and pointed out that Austria
is a nuclear-free zone, urging that this example should be promoted and built
Giorgos Ververis, a coordinator of the foreign affairs
department of Syriza, focused on the need for a “new model of politics” to
secure peace and stability across Europe. “The political situation between
Greece and Europe is not equal. There needs to be a re-balancing of this
situation which the successes of the SNP in Scotland and the developments in
Spain will contribute towards”. On the question of “Grexit”, Ververis was
clear: “it’s not going to happen”. “We just want to say that there is another
way to govern countries”.
This session afforded the opportunity to raise revelations
made by Able Seaman William McNeilly with regard to the conditions on board
Trident submarines. Although McNeilly’s case was covered somewhat in the
British press it had not gained prominence elsewhere in Europe. Dossiers
containing press reports, McNeilly’s text and excerpts from the Westminster
Parliamentary debate initiated by Alex Salmond MP were distributed to attendees
and a call was made to have this issue raised in the European Parliament. The
question of the stability and safety of Trident is a question for the whole of
Europe given the potential consequences of a nuclear incident. Offers of
assistance in this matter were made by officers of EL and Giorgos Ververis
expressed shock and interest.
A session on Ukraine saw a large range of contributors, with
differing perspectives, address this highly complex situation. Elena Tchaltseva
from Ukraine pointed to the domestic social and human catastrophe caused by the
conflict and called for the border between Russia and Ukraine to be closed in
order to secure peace.
Political analyst Nils Anderson illustrated the complexity
of the situation in stark terms. He linked events in Ukraine to the forces of
globalisation and the following three factors: the emergence of a ‘multi-polar’
world, America’s “obsession with Russia” and the “contradictions of Russia
Heinz Bierbaum from the international department of Die
Linke asserted that “Germany and the EU have a big responsibility for the
situation in Ukraine. The ‘Agreement of Association’ with the EU launched this
conflict as it was part of a strategy to subordinate Russia”. Bierbaum noted
that Russia had its own geopolitical interests but asserted that the “most
dangerous element here is the expansion of NATO”.
Giorgos Ververis spoke again in this session and opened with
the question: “Which side do you choose for the future of Ukraine?” “Armed
minorities caused this conflict and the majority tried to stop it” he
continued. “NATO broke its promise not to expand into the East. They want a
foothold in Ukraine and Syriza strictly disagrees with this.” In conclusion,
Ververis asserted that “security in Europe is with, not against, Russia.”
The two most striking aspects of this discussion were the
calm and considered manner in which it took place and the insistence on getting
to grips with the detail of events. There was no room for anti-Putin jibes,
mutual denunciation, or simplistic analysis of the state of affairs in Ukraine.
In these respects, as in many others, we have a lot to learn from our European
brothers and sisters.
After the victory of Syriza
The final plenary of the Forum took place under the slogan
“After the victory of Syriza, an alliance to win the European showdown?”
The plenary opened with a number of messages from
individuals and organisations unable to attend, including this from the HDP in
Turkey that read: “Because of the general election in Turkey we cannot be with
you. There is a democratic front against the AKP and the HDP want to promote an
alternative. We want a world where wealth is shared and where people who are
oppressed find their freedom”.
The HDP – an alliance that grew out of Kurdish political
movements but which includes a great many Turkish democratic and social
activists – needs 10% of the vote to achieve representation in the Turkish
legislature. All signs point towards the ruling AKP failing to win an overall
majority; it’s much to be hoped that HDP emerges from these elections in a
position to carry on the fight for Kurdish and wider civil and political rights
in Turkey. Election monitors will be sent from Britain over the course of the
The first speaker in the final plenary was Christian Picquet
from the United Left in France. “We must identify the political moment we are
in today. The victory of Syriza is the first break, the first step because it
is the first time that a left government has taken power in Europe. It is a new
process, a change, a split between the people and those who created this
crisis.” He concluded with this call: “If there is one lesson to learn it is
this. We can win when we talk to the whole of the left. What can we do that
Alexis Tsipras cannot do?”
If the European left is to mean anything, then it must
answer Picquet’s final question.
Gus Massiah from the World Social Forum pointed out that the
forces of capitalist globalisation “have won a few battles but they have not
yet won the war. There is a triple crisis in the world: a crisis of
neoliberalism and globalisation; a crisis of civilisation; and a crisis in the
relationship between humans and nature.” “Europe is part of the world and we
need to learn what other social movements around the world have to teach us.”
Clémentine Autine from Ensemble (‘Movement for a left
ecological and social alternative’) argued that “we need to reinvent politics.
We need social and ecological approaches … we need to reconstruct a space for
politics. It will be a huge struggle but Syriza was a huge victory and Podemos
could be next. We cannot simply copy from our neighbours, we need popular
movements to create a transformation. We need to federate and unite.”
Haris Golemis from the Transform! Network and the
Nicos Poulantzas Institute in Greece is worth quoting at length. He begins:
“Developments in Europe are closely associated with the
future of Syriza. The reverse is also the case. The authoritarian developments
across Europe – especially the Memoranda – were followed by restrictive
legislation that applies to a number of European countries.
In the name of Europeanism, they fuelled national and racial
Then came Syriza and Tsipras. The victory of the Greek
radical left was considered a real threat to neoliberalism in Europe and the
whole world. They claimed that Syriza’s victory would be a national disaster.
They blatantly failed in their efforts to scare the Greek people. Hope defeated
fear and Syriza won this battle but the war has intensified.
The unholy alliance under Merkel’s direction – the Troika,
EU, IMF and European governments which include the so-called social democrats,
the media and ratings agencies – were unleashed. The Greek experiment had to be
crushed at any cost. Capitulate or face the dire consequences of a Grexit.
It is vital that the Greek government is not defeated. Small
scale solidarity has its limits. We need a European-wide alliance against
austerity. The defeat of Syriza would be a set back but we will not sustain
ourselves if this alliance does not emerge.
This alliance should include the radical left, communists,
social democrats and greens, trade unionists and intellectuals. Anyone who
opposes austerity and neoliberalism should be involved. We should fight
together on every front.
This alliance needs to take action in the workplace and on
the streets, in schools and in colleges and on the international scene. We have
shown that we can work together in the past. Let’s strengthen our unity and
eliminate sectarianism and dogmatism.
Syriza is a symbol of optimism and inspiration. Change could
be on the way in Spain. We can and we shall win!”
Golemis was followed by Pierre Larroutorou from Nouvelle
Donne (New Deal) who in answering the question ‘what next’ outlined the
following four points:
“First, we have an obligation to succeed … second, there is
going to be another crisis … so thirdly, we must immediately campaign together
… and fourthly, we need to break out of our routines because people who have
been broken by austerity do not just want to go to the polling stations.”
Like a number of other speakers, Larrouturou referenced the
tenth anniversary of the French referendum on the European constitution as an
example of what united campaigning can achieve. At this time, a broad
cross-section of the French left combined to form a ‘Socialist No’ campaign – a
pro-European but anti-constitution alliance. Defying all expectations, the ‘No’
camp won but the constituents of the alliance soon went their separate ways.
Had an ongoing alliance of progressive, pro-European, democratic and radical
left organisations and movements been maintained, the French political
landscape, and perhaps the wider-European political map, could look very
A call to the movements
Pierre Laurent and Zoe Konstantopolou took to the stage to
make two final calls to those assembled. The first call was for the formation
of a Europe-wide ‘Alliance Against Austerity’ which will take its first steps
from the 20th June with a week of action in support of Syriza. The
second call, addressed towards the French movement – which comprised the
majority of Forum attendees – was for a swift political intervention to put
pressure on the Hollande government to avoid any increasing pressure on the
Greeks. If such an initiative can gain momentum then the political dynamics of
the European scene could shift significantly.
The Forum for Alternatives was an invigorating and inspiring
event that illustrated the enormous potential of the radical left and socialist
ideas. What it also illustrated was the very real gap between what has been
achieved in Britain and the rest of Europe. The movement here has great
potential and has experienced significant mobilisations in terms of protests
and demonstrations in the recent past. What we currently lack in much of
Britain – with some notable exceptions, Scotland in particular – is the
structural capacity to achieve political change or wield political influence.
The organisers of the Forum for Alternatives have promised a re-call event
before the end of the year. It would be very useful indeed if more than one or
two activists from the UK managed to attend.
Tom Unterrainer attended the Forum for Alternatives as a
representative of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.
NOTE: quotations have been made on the basis of notes taken
via ‘real time’ translation.