WSF, 10 years later. Towards "post-alterglobalism"?

WSF, 10 years later. Towards

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By Bernard Cassen

The voluntary refusal to collectively influence the actors in the political sphere from a common international platform, and at the same time remain outside the electoral sphere, explains the erosion of the WSF formula, even though they continue to bring together tens of thousands of participants. Many militants wonder about the concrete political results of these meetings and how they can contribute to the advent of "another possible world."

Many militants wonder about the concrete political results of these meetings. Social and citizen movements, meeting for the first time in Porto Alegre in January 2001 to denounce the ravages of neoliberalism and present alternative proposals, achieved great repercussion. But the formula is showing signs of wear and tear… Hence the need to build bridges with the political forces and with the progressive governments that carry out measures directly arising from the Forums.

In the small office of Le Monde diplomatique in Paris, where on February 16, 2000 the foundations of what was to become the World Social Forum (WSF) were laid, none of those present could have imagined to what extent the WSF was it would transform into a new actor in international political life. And everything was very fast, given that the first WSF was held less than a year later in Porto Alegre, capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Such rapid passage from idea to action was a remarkable feat that must be attributed to the Brazilian organizing committee, set up for that purpose. In an article published in August 2000, which contributed decisively to give credibility and put the future Forum into international orbit, Ignacio Ramonet wrote: “In 2001, Davos will have a much more representative competitor on the planet as it is: the Social Forum World Cup that will meet on the same date (January 25-30) in the Southern Hemisphere, in Porto Alegre (Brazil) ”. It added, based on the elements available to it at that time, that "between 2,000 and 3,000 participants were expected, bearing the aspirations of their respective societies." However, and to everyone's pleasant surprise, there were about 20,000 delegates who met in the gaucho capital six months later.

The anti-Davos reaction had had a strong influence on that mobilization. The voluntary proximity of the two Forums - the World Economic Forum or World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre - as well as the deliberate simultaneity of both meetings, had constituted major media advantages. The founder and chairman of the Davos Forum, Klaus Schwab, bitterly noted this, complaining about the “negative deviation” of the WEF's reputation.

A symbol of power and financial arrogance, as well as contempt for democracy and society, Davos was a perfect target for social movements and citizens. Already in January 1999, in the middle of the WEF session, several organizations, including the World Forum of Alternatives (FMA) and Attac, had organized a two-day seminar in Zurich, followed by a press conference on the theme of "The other Davos" in the Swiss ski resort. Any other type of demonstration or protest was practically impossible in those narrow snow-covered streets controlled by police and military.

It was thus against everything that Davos stood for that the first WSF defined themselves, in a position of denouncing neoliberalism and resistance to its damages. The WSF also stood as an extension of the Zapatista combats (especially the Intergalactic Reunion of Chiapas in 1996); of the victorious fight against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) of 1998, elaborated in secret by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and whose text had published Le Monde diplomatique, and of course of the great mobilization in Seattle against the World Trade Organization (WTO) of December 1999.

In a second stage, the Forums became more proactive, which as a slogan resulted in the abandonment of the term "anti-globalization" in favor of "alter-globalization." In other words, the passage of rejection of the proposal, which corresponded more to the slogan of the Forums: "Another world is possible." This evolution was carried out without modifying the operating rules of the WSF, codified in its Charter of Principles prepared in June 2001. Said reference document defines the Forum as both a “space” and a “process”; in no way as an entity. It is about composing a place for exchanges, dialogue, the elaboration of proposals, the implementation of action strategies and the constitution of coalitions of all social actors that reject liberal globalization. But each one of these actions only commits the organizations that wish to get involved and not all those present at the Forum.

Therefore, the World Social Forum does not take positions as such and in its meetings there is no “final communiqué”; only texts adopted in the course of the World Social Forum, but not texts “from” the World Social Forum or its continental declines (such as the African, European Social Forums, etc.). This open formula allowed the progressive incorporation into the Forums of new forces - “reformist” unions; Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs); indigenous, feminist, environmentalist, confessional movements, etc. - that agreed to walk a bit with more radical elements, but did not want to be overwhelmed by them.

Hundreds of proposals were issued from one WSF to another (more than 350 only for the 2005 Porto Alegre Forum), but without any hierarchy or articulation between them. Everything that repealed the principle of “horizontality” (the proposals have an equivalent status) and everything that appeared as “vertical” (for example, a platform that would unify different complementary but dispersed proposals), was fought by an influential fraction of the Brazilian organizers of the Forums and NGO leaders who saw there the beginning of a political program… and even the attempt to create a new International!

This is how the Porto Alegre Manifesto, the basis of the twelve proposals - originated in debates and which constitute both a meaning and a project - that on January 29, 2005, 19 intellectuals from four continents (including two Nobel laureates), was criticized on its own principles by many self-proclaimed guardians of the "Forum" orthodoxy. The same fate was later reserved for the Bamako Appeal, a programmatic document with a global scope, drawn up at the end of a meeting organized by the World Forum of Alternatives, which had brought together 200 intellectuals and representatives of social movements, the majority from Africa and Asia. on the eve of the decentralized World Social Forum that took place in the capital of Mali in January 2006.

If the rigorous reading that some make of the Charter of Principles of 2001 were applied, the Social Forums would be condemned to present in dispersed order a multitude of proposals of very unequal importance about the structures of the dominant order that, from governments to institutions Multilaterals (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), not to mention the European Commission, show absolute cohesion in the imposition of liberal dogmas.

This voluntary refusal to collectively influence the actors in the political sphere from a common international platform, and at the same time remain outside the electoral sphere, explains the erosion of the WSF formula. And that's even if they continue to bring together tens of thousands of local participants, who often attend out of curiosity, as happened in Belem in January 2009.

Many militants wonder about the concrete political results of these encounters and how they can contribute to the advent of “another possible world”.

Things got complicated with the coming to power in Latin America (Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela) of governments that emerged from popular movements, which put into practice, albeit with ups and downs, policies to break with neoliberalism - both nationally and internationally - that coincide with those expressed in the Forums. What attitude should be adopted? Be in solidarity with them, even on a case-by-case basis? Or stand idly by and look the other way, under the pretext that they are governments, therefore suspicious, which is why they must be kept at a distance?

This behavior refers to a diffuse libertarian ideology but very present in many organizations. In particular he was the subject of John Holloway's theories in his work explicitly entitled Changing the world without taking power. On the other hand, the word "power" is absent from the vocabulary of many of its actors, except to stigmatize it, very often in reaction to the totalitarian drifts of Party-States.

On the contrary, counter-power and civil disobedience are considered the privileged levers of change. Such a position becomes difficult to sustain when at the Copenhagen Summit, for example, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which brings together nine Latin American and Caribbean states, takes positions that converge with those of the NGO coalitions that they demand climate justice, and directly challenge capitalism.

The new international context will impose, even in the conception of these Forums, the search for new forms of articulation between social movements, political forces and progressive governments. To characterize this evolution, a word has been proposed: post-globalism, which without replacing alterglobalism, constitutes a possible continuity.

On the occasion of the WSF in Belem, a first sketch of this post-globalization activity could be seen in the dialogue between four Latin American presidents –Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay) and Evo Morales (Bolivia) - and representatives of social movements of the subcontinent. A dialogue that will be deepened in the thematic Social Forum of Salvador de Bahía, scheduled in that city from January 29 to 31, 2010 with the growing participation of heads of state (including President Lula). Participation that should continue on the occasion of the next WSF that will take place in Dakar in 2011.

During a preparatory meeting organized in the Senegalese capital last November, social movements from the continent expressed their will to make the WSF evolve. Formulations such as the need to create “a space for credible alliances” and not “a civil society market” were debated; from "defining a new relationship with political actors" in view of "building an alternative."

Certainly, in Africa the necessary "post-globalization" turn of the Social Forums will be consolidated.

Bernard Cassen January 18, 2010 - Published in WSF 10 years ago

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