National Sections of the L5I:

2006 World Social Forum meets in three centres

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In 2006 the World Social Forum is “polycentric". Instead of taking place at its regular venue in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005) or moving to a new continent (Mumbai, 2004), this year three separate events have been organised. One located in Africa, in Bamako, capital of Mali; one in the Americas, in Caracas, Venezuela; and in March another is due to take place in Karachi, Pakistan.

They meet at a time when the movement with many names (anti-capitalist, altermondialiste, global justice, etc.) is experiencing something a crisis of direction, indeed of identity. The continued growth of those attending WSF-sponsored events shows it this is not a crisis of popularity. The numbers drawn to discussion and action against neoliberalism and war continue to grow, and such forums are expanding to new countries and continents.

Globalisation, the sheer universality and uniformity of attempts to privatise services and cut welfare, to open wide national markets to giant US, Japanese and European corporations, to launch war after war - all this continues to call forth the desire for co-ordinated worldwide resistance, and for the “discovery” of how another world can be built.

What the movement really faces is a crisis of what to do beyond talking and networking in the open spaces that the WSF and other social forums provide. This dilemma is generated in part by the very success of the waves of anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist radicalisation of the last seven years. This is most clearly expressed in Latin America but it is plainly spreading to Africa, Asia as well as being expressed certain countries in the imperialist metropolises.

The social movements of revolt against neoliberalism, fusing together trade unions, peasant and indigenist organisations, have provided the electoral support for a series of populist governments that have come to power in the last five years or more. Meeting in the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez, the WSF could hardly avoid the influence of this populism, or the dilemma of what attitude to take to political power and the state.

Yet the forces at the centre of the WSF are suspicious if not downright hostile to this development. The leadership of the WSF - though they would reject the term - is the Brazilian based secretariat. Dominated by the Brazilian NGOs and the social front organisations and municipalities controlled by the Workers Party (PT), Chico Whitaker is its key figure. Another major influence from the beginning was Attac-France. There is, indeed, a much larger International Council, co-opted at various stages by the Brazilian core, but it is large and cumbersome, meets roughly quarterly, and thus has little real power.

Whitaker has waged a stubborn resistance to the WSF or any of its affiliated continental or regional offshoots, undertaking action or developing a programme to make “another world possible". He is determined that the Social Forums must remain an “open space". Above all, it must not become a locus of power.

This means that Whitaker is happy enough to see the global movement of resistance to neoliberalism and war remain less than the sum of its parts, in effect disempowered. If he and the WSF leaders succeed, they will most surely kill the WSF.

When, last year, it was decided to hold a polycentric WSF, and when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez eagerly invited the Americas WSF to come to Caracas, Whitaker repeatedly expressed the gravest suspicions that it would become a vehicle for Chavez’ anti-US crusade. For this reason neither Whitaker nor Lula were willing to grace Caracas with their presence.

When Whitaker heard that Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum, was about to use the opening session of this year’s Africa WSF in Bamako to launch something analogous to the Bandung Non-Aligned Movement of the 1950s, he emailed him to insist that, under the Porto Alegre Principles, no such statements by the WSF were allowed. Indeed, the latter, drafted with a lawyer’s eye, closes every avenue to action.

"The participants in the Forum shall not be called on to take decisions as a body, whether by votes or by acclamation or declarations or proposals for action that would commit all, or the majority of them or that propose to be taken as establishing positions of the Forum as a body. It thus does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants in its meetings.” (Clause 6, WSF Charter of Principles)

But Whitaker need not have worried. Like the signatories of the “Consensus of Porto Alegre", issued at last year’s WSF, Amin tamely submitted to Whitaker’s warning. He replied that his proposal was simply an initiative within the forum and would not be presented as the initiative of the Bamako gathering.

Last year, faced with a group of intellectuals headed by Samir Amin, Walden Bello, Jose Saramago, Tariq Ali and others, issuing a declaration of reformist policies to act as a sort of programmatic basis for the movement, Whitaker insisted that their document was no different to the thousands of others pinned up on a “wall of proposals” in Porto Alegre. Indeed, the futility of the open space was amply demonstrated by the fluttering thousands of typed or handwritten suggestions, which provoked bafflement and humour, rather than serious attention.

The resistance of the radical academics and NGOers, like Samir Amin and Walden Bello, to Whitaker and the Brazilian “organisers", has so far proved feeble and half-hearted. If they actually defied the social liberals, like Whitaker, acting as defence attorney for his now discredited pro-IMF president, Lula, they fear there might be a split in the world movement.

So there might. But it would be a split between those - including the real mass movements in Brazil - who want to fight, and those who only want to talk or pray. (Whitaker is a spokesperson of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops’ Conference).

The Brazilian landless workers movement (MST), and the left wing of the trade unions are increasingly restive under the patronage of the PT. Their representatives in Caracas expressed the need for the movement to launch a global struggle against neoliberalism, imperialism and its local agencies, and national governments, which cooperate with the World Bank and the IMF. They do not want to remain bogged down in an endless and ultimately dispiriting series of talkfests.

The whole movement is in fact trussed up in the straightjacket of the Principles of Porto Alegre. Besides the ban on making calls, taking decisions and creating organisations, the formal and empty ban on parties only serves to shield those that really control the WSF from criticism of their neoliberal or class collaborationist policies: first and foremost, the PT and Lula.

The League for the Fifth International has denounced these dishonest and anti-democratic rules ever since they first appeared from the Brazilian PT and NGO cabal in 2001. The dictatorship of Whitaker and co. needs to be broken, if the world movement against imperialism and capitalism is to escape from its chrysalis stage, which the gatherings of the WSF and the ESF represent.

Forces, which are striving to do this, were to be seen in both the African and the Latin American versions of the WSF this year. They will doubtless appear too in Karachi, in March. They will appear in Athens, in May, at the European Social Forum, and when the WSF unites in Nairobi, in January 2007. The main thing is to give them a clear, honest and open expression. No more of the cotton wool postmodernist phraseology, so beloved of the NGO intellectuals, which frightens off and confuses serious militants, even more than Stalinised Marxist jargon used to do.

The task that faces us is to effect a series of radical transformations in the structure of these forums, whereby assemblies meet, come up with policies, combine and endorse calls for direct action, debate and agree strategies of resistance, and start to form new political organisations. Our overall aim must to be create a new world political organisation, whose declared objective is to bury capitalism and imperialism once and for all, and build another world - a socialist one.