World Social Forum: Necessary Shifts

Friday 12 March 2004, by Josu EGIREUN, Paul NICHOLSON

The World Social Forum emerged as a result of the mobilizations against neoliberal globalization and as an international space for reflection and organization of those who oppose to neoliberal polices or are building alternatives to prioritize human development and the overcoming of market supremacy in each country and in the international relations and, at the same time, a space for the coordination of struggles and movements. Four years later, both the WSF development and the coordination of struggles and movements have put on the table the need for reflection on the WSF itself and its relation to the social movements. A reflection that, though it has been part of the debates at the International Council, has gained public projection both in the last European Social Forum and the WSF celebrated in Mumbai.

The debate on the Forum is part of a more general reflection on how to generate, from the common perspective of radical criticism to neoliberalism, spaces of inclusion that could be useful both to go deepen in the reflection and better definition of our critic, alternatives and strategy against the neoliberal model, and to make the WSF an useful tool to advance in the coordination among movements and struggles to oppose neoliberalism and war.

These two sides of the equation are indisociable: the WSF only makes sense and has a future in the sense that it feedsback the struggles against neoliberal globalization and is a relief to them, allowing to mix in its interior non deliberative spaces, such as the Conferences, seminars, panels, etc, with other more deliberative ones as the selforganized activities within the WSF, promoted by diverse social movements. Amogst them is the Social Movements Assembly, which has bee a reference mark in the struggle against neolibreal globalization in the past years, because from it have been promoted the mobilizations sich as Quebec against the FTAA, or the one in Cancun agaist the WTO, besides Genoa and the February 15th , and that after all, have been one of the central aspects of legitimation of the WSF as a reference in the struggle against the system.
There are many questions that the four years experience of the WSF raise; however our intention is not to make a detailed assessment, but to focus on what we consider the main three points towards the future of the WSF: the ones that refer to the WSF structure, its periodicity and the role fo the International Council, which is the permanent structure between forums.

The experience in Mumbai has been useful to prove that the WSF is possible out of Porto Alegre, that its open character facilitates the integration of a broad plurality of many social movements, feeds the social mobilization and makes clear that the WSF globalization is not only possible but also necessary. Besides, it has made clear that the organization of the WSF is possible with distinct parameters in relation to those that had been used in Porto Alegre: to have a presence and visibility of the most oppressed social sectors, to block the space for sources of money that compromise the Forum, etc. Mumbai has also showed that there are movements that oppose neoliberalism but do not feel comfortable with the working and acting procedures of the WSF and that there are many spaces to be built in order to integrate as much movements as possible.

But the four years experience also makes clear that the structure of the WSF presents some deficiencies and needs some shifts:

 In the first place, with relation to the Conferences, seminars and panels spaces. By the general rule, in these four years, there hasn’t been many advances further than the critic to neoliberalism (with no built record of it so far), and we carry a huge deficit regarding the reflection and confrontation around the strategies of struggle in order to oppose the system and, besides, the elaboration of alternatives, not understood as an intellectual exercise of experts, but rather, as a process of reflection and contrast built from the dynamics of the social movements struggles. The process of building alternatives as the "food sovereignty" can serve as reference to this matter, that we should start by defining those issues in which, because of the urgency of the problems, as well as because of the movements developments, could be approached.

In this sense, the Conferences, seminars or debate panels, would have to combine both the reflection on the more actual issues or non-approached aspects of reality (such as the cast system this year…) form Forum to Forum, such as the confrontation on strategies and alternatives of the movements.

Because as much as we go forward in the confrontation with the system the debate on the alternatives, struggles strategies, building of alliances and form of action gains an urgency and a greater relevance; and the WSF can not turn its back on this reality. If we do not want the WSF to exhaust in a repetitive formula, its necessary that its activity is linked to the real dynamics of the social movements and social struggles and that is useful to advance in this areas.

Its not a matter of turning the WSF into a deliberative space that decides among options under debate, nor of approaching the alternatives elaboration through academic meetings that submit to WSF a proposal to conclude as a alternative paradigm, the "Porto Alegre consensus" against the "Washington consensus", but that, preserving the open and plural character of the WSF, to begin a common reflection on the concrete problems that the struggle against neoliberalism and war faces and to move to the WSF the debates present in the real dynamics of the movements, as way to move forward in the building of alternatives in the distinct scales in which this movement is expressed: global and local.

Alternatives based on the radical confrontation of the neoliberal model that sacrifices the lives of peoples and the future of the planet to benefit private property and god money in the name of free market, and that avoid to be co-opted by the system.

This implicates, also, that the physic spaces, the Conference rooms, should have a limited size and that to facilitate the participation of people, its necessary that the proposals can circulate before the Forum.

 Second, the notion that the conferences should be the space for the presentation of personalities, makes a series of unbalances that need correction to consolidate within the Forum. >From those related to personalities and movements activists to those that exist among men and women, and those among the less represented young generations, the invisibility of the social sectors most affected by the system, the almost complete inexistence of certain continents…, what makes that, with unlikely frequency these central spaces within the Forum are converted into private space for intellectuals and academics, that submerge into invisibility the most affected social sectors and that kidnaps the participation of social movements.

 Lastly, the relation with politics and the space to political parties has been a field in which theory has not much to do with reality. Therefore, whereas the "Charter of Principles" excludes explicitly the participation of political parties, the presence of the PT, of institutional or government employees and, also, heads of state… and a media overexposed projection have been a reality within the WSF. It’s clear that it’s no longer possible to keep living this contradiction and that it’s necessary to coordinate a space of the political parties and institutions in the framework of the WSF.

In those countries where the social mobilizations have shaken the society the most, or the antiwar mobilizations, have put politics and the relation among the social and the political in the first place, and the relation among social movements and political parties and the institutions in the center of the debate. This is a reality to which one can not turn its back, but it’s necessary to approach it in a way that does not hurt the identity of the WSF.

The WSF periodicity and the location or, what is the same, where and when it will occur is another of the key points towards its future. Until now, it has been taking place every year, and despite the fact that in the beginning the conclusion was that the Forum would "circulate" throughout the planet, the reality is that the Forum seems to be "attached" to Porto Alegre. Nevertheless, the Mumbai experience has contributed to the future of the WSF: contact with other realities, inclusion of social movements, new dynamics; also, new problems (Mumbai Resistance, The II People’s Movements Encounter…), etc. and to this end it points out the path to follow. The best is when the new culture that presumes the accomplishment of the Social Forums (horizontality, consensus, open and plural space…) allows to generate unified and working dynamics and to feedback the mobilizations among the social movements, as has occurred in India this year.

These are the reasons why it worries that, after a four years trajectory and a broad umbrella of social movements actively and stably participating in the WSF, the decision concerning where to hold the Forum is limited to the framework of the International Council, from which results incomprehensible that whenever the move of the WSF to Mumbai was decided it was only with the condition to go back to Porto Alegre, when this decision could have been left open and/or directed to other continent and other country.

But besides this debate, which points out to us the need to democratize the structure on which the World Social Forum is based, is the debate of periodicity. To this end, we’d like to point out that:

 The extension,since a couple of years, of the WSF to the Regional, Continental andThematic Forums, in a tendency to ramify to the local scales, exposes theproblem of how to coordinate a working dynamics between the distinctForums. And in the present context there is no reasons that justify theundertaking of many annual Forums of different scales; otherwise, what ison the table is the need to coordinate an agenda that is capable oflinking the different dynamics. Nowadays, the criteria of annual Forumsresults in a overwhelming and unbearable amount of work to those localsocial movements (right when the role of the Forums is to facilitate theirdevelopment), and can only be satisfactory to those who live of, for and to the Forums.

 The second andstill in the sense of what has been said in relation to the Forumstructure, that we need to move forward towards a debate on alternativesand strategies and a more participatory Forum, that is capable ofintegrating new problems and issues ? the ones that emerge from oneedition to another, but also those that have not been approached yet, to build such a Forum demands a previous work of articulation and elaborationthat can not be accomplished in the present periodicity of the Forum.

 Lastly, from theinterest in moving the Forum to different continents and countries (forwhat it means of enrichment to the WSF itself as well as to the countrywhere it takes place), to its accomplishment it takes time (to establishrelations with the local social movements, to facilitate their integrationdynamics…); and, here as well, the periodicity of one year is a too shortdeadline.

For all this reasons we consider that the WSF should be celebrated from 3 to 3 years. It would allow us to approach in better conditions the Forums objectives, it would avoid that in some continents (Europe) in few months we have to attend three Forums (European, Mediterranean and World) and would allow to coordinate an integrated agenda of Forums, from the WSF to the Forums in each country. It’s clear that this alternative includes the need to promote these spaces both in the continental and in the many national levels.

Regarding the International Council that tutors the undertaking of the WSF with all the legitimacy granted by its history, it must not be converted neither in a private space of those who constitute it at the moment, nor in a closed space where what happens and what is to happen in the WSF is dissolved. Otherwise, after four years, it’s time to create spaces of democratic participation, both in the reflection on the future of the Forum (how to move forward in the consolidation of this process), and in the decision making process on the issues that affect it. And concerning these issues it results a contradiction that the social movements, who constitute the spine of the Forum, at the same time, except for some networks and some very concrete social movements (Via Campesina, World March of Women, CUT) are marginalized in these processes of refletion and decision making. Even more in moments when by the time that has passed and the consolidation of the WSF itself, its future is under debate and in which the International Council has been given executive functions that deeply contrast with its central role: to facilitate the accomplishment of the WSF and its development based on the criterias with which it has been created and respecting the Charter of Principles.

It’s not a matter of questioning the representativity of those who constitute the Council, but to coordinate a participatory process in the definition of criterias to the WSF procedures (periodicity, country, form, structure…), and to integrate in its structure the assemblies and organizing committees of those Forums that have been constituted during the past years, to integrate these experiences in the building of the WSF. In any case it seems obvious the members of Organizing Committees should be integrated that in the IC, and note that this situation has not been acepted regarding the Indian Committee, after the success of Mumbai.

To this point it results a countersense that one of the main demands of this "another world possible" is the participatory democracy, and at the same time in the preparatory meetings of the WSF we have advanced very little in building this participatory democracy.
To conclude

We are all conscious that as time goes by and the more the Forum consolidates itself, the risks of institutionalization and instrumentalization raises. That’s why the evolution and the future of the WSF, its role in the struggle against neoliberal globalization, its relation to the social movements and the role of them in its development have to be permanet preocupation amongst us, but avoiding to fall in the temptation to change its open and plural character.

There are many aspects of this four years experience that would deserve a more specific approach and many others that refer to its future that would demand more time and space to be approched; in this contribution we wanted to focus on those three points that seem to us the most central to the immediate future. Knowing that the important is not much if we are right or wrong in the presented proposals, but that they contribute to promote the debate among the social movements and to succeed that it flows to the International Council and influences the future of the Forum.

But our attention can not be focused only in the future of the Forum, because the Social Movements Assembly that occurs during it has built and builds a central reference not only to those who attend the Forums, but also to the push forward in the struggles and in the development of new initiatives. And, to a large extent, one of the WSF sources of legitimacy is found in the fact that the agreements reached during this assembly have served to show the utility of the Forum as a framework to develop in practice the confrontation to neoliberalism, from a perspective of radical proposals and the flexibility at the time of building alliances.

There is no dout that the reiforcement of the assembly, the steps that we’ll undertake in the building of ther social movements international network and the correspondence of our agreements in the global level to the local and regional spaces, are the best guarantee to maintain the Forum in good road. Because only as far as its development has as reference the social struggles and approches the problems that the movements bring into it, the Forum will not be at risk of atrophy, but it’s also clear that its opening to an umbrella of more broad and diverse social forces will, at the same time, be source of contradictions and tensions.

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