National Sections of the L5I:

Fourth World Social Forum in Mumbai

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The fourth World Social Forum will open in Mumbai, India on 16th January. One month ahead 52,000 people from all continents had already registered to take part. Organisers expect that anything from 70,000 to 100,000 may actually take part in the forum. The shift to Asia in venue of the WSF presents the possibility for a huge involvement and integration of workers, poor peasants and popular organisations in the worldwide movement against global capitalism and imperialist war. An assembly of Youth will also take part at the forum as will a whole series of other meetings of campaigning bodies

As at the previous three WSF’s, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, large scale conferences will take place on several key themes:
Land, Water and Food Sovereignty
Militarism, War and Peace"
Wars against Women, Women against Wars
Globalisation, Economic and Social Security
Exclusions and Oppression: Racism and Casteism
Labour and the World of Work
Religious, Ethnic & Linguistic Exclusion & Oppression

These huge assemblies are all very well. Hopefully they will allow the voices of key figures in recent struggles in Asia to join those of Europe and the Americas which have hitherto dominated the forum. But the key issue is how mach space is accorded to meetings where speakers from the floor can make proposals on policies for fighting global capitalism and imperialist war and whether any mechanisms can be brought into existence to launch common actions in the year ahead.

The way the World Social Forum was founded, by whom and how it is run today indicate that we cannot be optimistic on this score. Firstly we must be clear that the WSF— much as its organisers would like to claim — is not coterminous with the anticapitalist movement which was born in the late 1990s. Bernard Cassen’s recent “memoirs” on the movement he insists on calling “altermondialist” are actually called “It all began in Porto Alegre”. This is a lie. Indeed Seattle 1999— not Porto Alegre is often taken as the starting point. But even this is not true, though it certainly created a world wide focus on the “new movement” and launched a series of mobilisations to counter the meetings of the WTO, the World Bank, and other gatherings of the global capitalist elite. In fact far left organisations like the LCR and anarchist, radical ecologist and populist forces like RTS, People’s Global Action (inspired by the Zapatista encuentros) had begun to mobilise from 1996 onwards.

The anti-neoliberal French journal Le Monde Diplomatique and Attac-France (founded in June 1998) belong to this period too but they cannot claim to monopolise it. The WSF’s origins lie in January 1999, in an “anti-Davos” counter-conference in Switzerland organised, amongst others by Attac. The next anti-Davos event in January 2000, brought groups like the World Women’s March, the Brazilian MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, composed of landless rural workers)together. After this , Bernard Cassen, chairperson of Attac and director of Le Monde Diplomatique, met in Paris with Francisco (Chico) Whitaker, of the Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission (CBJP), to discuss the possibility of holding a world forum, like the Davos events, at the same time as the World Economic Forum was meeting. There was a powerful motivation to avoid the confrontation with the WEF on the streets of Davos or Zurich. It was agreed that it should be held in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and should be called the World Social Forum

The first WSF in January 2001 attracted some 5,000 registered participants from 117 countries as well as many thousands of Brazilian activists. At the second forum, the figures had more than doubled, rising to over12,000 official delegates from 123 countries and tens of thousands of total participants, from Brazil. The third forum in January 2003 was even more massive, with over 20,000 official delegates and roughly 100,000 total participants. The key force behind this was the Brazilian PT, in power in both the city and the state. In 2002 the Porto Alegre municipality provided approximately $300,000 and the state of Rio Grande do Sul $1 million for the event. Though it appears that the “investment” of the Brazilian organisers yielded a profit nevertheless the dependence of the WSF on huge donations from reformist parties and their cultural and front organisations determined the progressive conservatisation of the official results of the WSF.

In addition the WSF, as a body, receive funds from agencies, closely tied to corporate interests and outright imperialist, like the Ford Foundation. “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. As long as the WSF is bound to such funders then it is inconceivable that it should become a body devoted to overthrowing just these interests. It seems that the funders were amongst those insisting on the exclusion of all political parties per se and on especially all organisations involved in “violence” (against capitalism and imperialism naturally, French imperialist ministers were welcome , of course!)

Since then there have been thematic and regional social forums: one on neoliberalism held in Argentina in August 2002, the first European Social Forum in Florence in November 2002, the first Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in January 2003 and the second ESF held in Paris in November. These forums formed part of the semi-official forum calendar, maintained and controlled jointly by the Organising Committee/Secretariat and the International Council.

Naomi Klein has characterised the structure of he first World Social Forum as “so opaque that it was nearly impossible to figure out how decisions were made” In fact WSF, decisions are made by a tiny number of organizations, but with considerable financial resources. The WSF gatherings are focussed on a few celebrities of the NGO world, Susan George, Walden Ballo, Bernard Cassen, who propagate the NGO worldview. Whilst they talk passionately about “another world being possible” the “alternatives,” they propagate are policies for implementation by reformed bodies of the existing system, rather than the overthrow of the system itself.

That is why these academic and journalist ladies and gentlemen hate the term for the movement, taken up on the streets of London, Seattle, Prague, Genoa of anticapitalist. After juggling with terms like “global citizens movement” they settled on the ugly French neologism “altermomdialist”, which does not even translate into anything meaningful.

Formal decision-making power was originally in the hands of the Organising Committee (OC), consisting of the Central Trade Union Confederation CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores), the MST and six smaller Brazilian civil society organisations.

The other main organ of the WSF is the International Council (IC), was founded in São Paulo in June 2001. The OC decided who to invite to the founding meeting. In April 2002, the OC was transformed into the WSF Secretariat As of June 2003 the International Council consists of 113 organisations, though in practice many of them have not participated. The IC was assigned an only an advisory role but it has grown in importance.

The decision-making mechanism at IC meetings— as throughout the WSF— is the famed consensus. However the power of initiative lies and chairing the meetings lies with the Secretariat. It submits a proposal and the IC debates it. If no clear consensus emerges, the Secretariat will have a separate meeting and reconsider its original proposal. In some cases, it will then (typically on the second day of the two-day meeting) present a new proposal taking earlier discussion into account. Normally, the new proposal will carry the day with everyone agreeing, more or less.

The precondition of this method is that the World Social Forum is not a deliberative body aimed at deciding common action, that it will not take political positions and that it therefore needs no decision-making procedures.

This all suits the Brazilian reformist organisations, Le Monde Diplomatique, the unelected bigwings of Attac and the NGOs down to the ground. The WSF in their view must remain a “space”, a “forum”, an “event” and not a movement or political actor. But by no means all the participants agree with this.

Michael Albert— author of Parecon— a libertarian and key figure in movement in the USA has proposed that the annual WSF gathering should be made a delegate event. The WSF could be attended by 5000 - 10,000 people “delegated to it from the major regional forums of the world". He has even talked of it becoming an International, like the First International (as imagined by anarchists and above all “not a Comintern!)

Also, the Italian organisers of the European Social Forum in Florence in 2002 wanted to use a social movements declaration drafted by WSF participants as the foundation-stone of the ESF own forum The WSF Secretariat vetoed this on the grounds that the Porto Alegre Charter of Principles can be the only official basis for events organised within the WSF umbrella.

At the Bangkok meeting in August 2002, Walden Bello argued that the International Council should produce a public statement calling on movements around the world to take part in protests in Cancún in 2003. In the Porto Alegre meeting of the council in January 2003, delegates argued in favour of making a public statement against the imminent war in Iraq. In both cases, consensual decision-making was used to “decide” not to issue any such statements. This shows the absolute impotence of the WSF if it remains within the framework of the Porto Alegre Principles and under its present leadership.

According to its Charter of Principles, the WSF is “a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context". The block of the Brasilian PT leaders and the leaders of Attac have strictly policed these principles— never debated or adopted by any democratic assembly. In August 2002 the Secretariat vetoed the plans of the Italians to invite political parties to take part officially in the European Social Forum

As Cândido Grzybowski of the Secretariat put it, “political action is the responsibility of each individual and the coalitions they form, not an attribute of the forum". Likewise Chico Whitaker attacked the “self-nominated social movements” that “seek to put the forum inside their own mobilising dynamics, to serve their own objectives.” And who — we ask—nominated these self-appointed and inflated bureaucrats to speak for the anticapitalist movement?

The only partial breach in this ban on politics was the historic call for anti-war demonstrations of 15 February 2003 that many movements gathered in the WSF 2003 in Porto Alegre agreed to “make public”. Even this Chico Whitaker protested against fearing that ”the media might consider them semi-official”. The media? Or the Ford Foundation, perhaps?

There have been even more radical critics at the ESF, though the organisers have done all they could to sideline them., During the first WSF there was a large and militant youth camp, many of whom issued a denunciation of the organisers crapulous reformism and elitism. A group of young and angry participants from this camp burst into the posh all-glass VIP room where the leaders and important guests were being expensively entertained.

The WSF 2004 in India takes place at a crucial moment in the history of the movement. Certainly it offers the possibility spreading the movement against corporate power, imperialism and war a much wider spread. This will be reflected in the radicalism of activists present. On the other hand, the power and domination of the NGOs and the thinly disguised reformist parties, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist) will weigh heavily in favour of continued impotence.

That is why revolutionaries need to raise in every meeting within the forum the demand for a real deliberative assembly, for the rejection of the Porto Alegre Principles, for the “legalisation” of political parties, for no privileges to the reformist bureaucrats or journalistic bigwigs. We must call for an end to funding by US and EU imperialist agencies and state bodies. We must call for social forums in every major city, in every country and a process of delegation to the continental and world forums, with the European and North American movements raising the funds to enable the Asian African and South Americans to be fully and fairly represented, wherever it is held.

Corporate globalization and the war on Terrorism imperiously demand the maintenance and development of a huge world movement to fight them and to overthrow them. This demands every year another major step forwards, towards the creation of a mass International of the workers and landless peasants — a Fifth International.