• Ten Years Later: A Short Introduction

  • Louis Weber | 20 Apr 10 | Posted under: Social Forums
  • The subject of this dossier of Transform! is the alter-globalisation movement. This movement can be considered one of the major political innovations of the late the 20th century. It is within it that the new forms of capitalist exploitation and economic imperialism through liberal globalisation have been first analysed and combated. It has a two-fold origin, which from its inception allowed it to articulate economic and social concerns in close connection to environmental issues. 

    As regards the first dimension, struggles against the destructive effects of economic free trade, in particular through treaties like NAFTA1 in North America and, especially, the Treaty of Marrakesh establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO), led to the formation of organisations in all continents, including a rapidly growing involvement of labour unions. This process peaked materially and symbolically with the huge demonstrations which accompanied and largely blocked the Seattle WTO ministers’ conference in December, 1999.

    Regarding the environment issue, the United Nations organised a World Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio, a so-called “Earth summit”. On the same occasion a Global Forum with thousands of participants from non-governmental organisations laid the foundations for future demands on “sustainable development”. These demands were assembled in an Earth Charter, whose final version was adopted in 2000 after a decade of debate among NGOs concerned, in particular from Latin America.

    The mingling of these two trends in the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001 is certainly one of the factors explaining the immediate echo found in the national and local Social Forums. Very rapidly, numerous countries organised national and local events on this basis, which made it possible to bring together organisations and persons who up to then were hardly accustomed to think and to acting together.

    Ten years later, numerous initiatives are taking place throughout the world, with a view to making a first assessment. With this dossier of Transform! we would like to add our modest contribution to this reflection. It is obviously necessary to distinguish what concerns the movement itself and what is related to its most visible embodiments, namely the Social Forums and, among them, the matrix of the whole process, the World Social Forums. From the very beginning, the organisation of the latter was the result of a compromise. For reasons linked to their own traditions and context within which they are used to act, the Brazilian movements opted for the adoption of a Charter of Principles. The best known parts of this document define the World Social Forum as “an open meeting place”, which does not “deliberate on behalf of the World Social Forum as a body. No one, therefore, will be authorised, on behalf of any of the editions of the Forum, to express positions claiming to be those of all its participants”. These participants “shall not be called on to take decisions as a body […] on declarations or proposals for action”. Finally, “The World Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context”.2

    On this basis, which has in fact been more or less respected, the contribution of the Social Forums and the alter-globalisation movement during these ten years was considerable, at least from two points of view:

    • the analysis and the delegitimation of neoliberalism as the only possible model for humanity on one hand, which has been expressed through the worldwide echo of the slogan: “another world is possible”; 
    • the construction and reinforcement of international networks for action.

    However, as with any compromise, the Charter of Principles was also going to be a source of tensions around two main issues: 

    What has been the real impact of the alter-globalisation movement on the economic and social situation in the countries of the world, while the crisis considerably increased injustice and inequalities? In other words, is it sufficient today to organise debates and discussions, as stated by the Charter of Porto Alegre, when it might be necessary to act and lean on the alter-globalisation movement to fulfil its goals.

    Can we continue to maintain a strict separation from political parties and governments, while, in particular in Latin America, deep changes are in progress with the election of governments acting on an openly alter-globalisation basis, similar to the goals of the social movements, and calling for cooperation with these movements?

    The articles of this dossier address these issues (and others) from various points of view.

    Walter Baier introduces some theoretical considerations on our theme.

    Chico Whitaker, one of the initiators of the process creating the World Social Forum and authors of the Charter of Porto Alegre, goes back to this text and recalls that which, according to him, continues to justify the position then adopted.

    Raffaella Bollini recalls the original process of the European Social Forum, the difficulties encountered and the close link with the World Social Forum.

    Marco Berlinguer analyses the deep changes related to the development of the new information and communication technologies and their impact on the social movement.

    Christophe Ventura supports the point of view according to which the recent evolutions, in particular the coming to power of political forces favourable to the alter-globalisation movement, should lead the latter to invest the new spaces for cooperation thus opened and go on to a next stage: post-alter-globalisation.

    Asbjørn Wahl considers the different process within The European Social Forum.

    The Finnish OT Collective reflects on the experiences of the movement emenating from the students.

    Finally, we publish the Declaration of the Peoples, elaborated within the framework of Climate Justice, which is continuing to act after the failure of the Copenhagen Conference to pose the social justice issue at the core of the environment debates. The text is introduced by Lothar Bisky, chairman of the EL.

     

    Notes

    1. North American Free Trade Association, involving Canada, the USA and Mexico.
    2. Quotations from the “World Social Forum Charter of Principles”, http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/main.php?id_menu=4&cd_language=2

     

     


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