For the 10th anniversary of the World Social Forum (WSF), two encounters were organised in Brazil: the first at Porto Alegre, from January 25 to 29 and the other at Salvado de Bahia, from January 29 to 31. They took place in the context of a year of action including dozens of events connected with the Social Forum process throughout the world.
At Porto Alegre, five years after it was last held there, a series of international seminars was organised, under the overall title of “10 years after, challenges and proposals for another possible world”. In parallel to this, nearly 300 activities were organised: encounters, and seminars, workshops etc., which had over 10,000 people taking part.
The state of Bahia, for its part, welcomed the World Social Forum with the theme “Dialogues, Cultural Diversity and the Crisis of Civilisation”. The purpose was to prepare for the next session of the World Social Forum, at Dakar, Senegal, in 2011 and also to think more specifically about the question of articulating the Forums and the progressive governments of Latin America. Here, too, several thousands of people took part in the event.1
What was the international backdrop to these moments of visibility for the alter-globalist movement? The year 2009 ended with several clear facts: the crisis of capitalism is systematic – at once hitting financial, economic, social, environmental and food supplies. It is not just one more recession, but the chaotic outcome of a phase of maximising profits (begun in the 1970s) based on liberalisation of movements of capital, the development of free trade and establishing generalised competition of fiscal, social and legal systems on a planetary scale. Hence the general compression of wages and, for households and the need to resort to massive loans.
Through its reforms (deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation of all sectors of activity including public and social services, monetarist policies, and balanced budgets, etc.) this neoliberal phase of capitalism has organised the regular bleeding of the countries and their institutions in the interest of finance. Everywhere, public action has been channelled in the direction of private profit.2
With the management of the financial crisis, which began in the autumn of 2008, this reality has come right out into the open. Indeed, there is no tangible sign, today, of any will amongst the decision-making elites to alter capitalism’s unbearably destructive course. The governments and their puppet media, the directors and “experts” of international financial institutions, the members of the world oligarchy (financial operators, the super-rich etc.) have no intention of calling into question the system of exploitation that provides them with such abundance.
In the United States, the financial sector has blocked any reform liable to affect it seriously. Everywhere in the world the countries, privatised and instrumentalised in the service of making financial and market interests more secure, have rushed to the rescue of the protagonists of financial and economic globalisation, without asking anything concrete in return. Describing the phenomenon in Europe, Ignacio Ramonet sums up the situation in these terms: “Through their central banks [the states] have lent massively at very low rates of interest, to private banks who, in their turn, lend (at much higher rates of interest) to families, firms, speculators and … back to the states themselves, thus making exceptional profits. In consequence, several states (Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain …) now find themselves heavily indebted, weakened and attacked by the financial actors (banks, speculators, etc.) largely responsible for the 2008 crisis … and whom the states had contributed to saving from bankruptcy. Some states, moreover, are obliged to impose drastic austerity plans on their citizens to satisfy the demands of speculators. Which is arousing the fury of millions of European wage-earners”3.
On the issue of managing the climate crisis, the worrying failure of the Copenhagen Summit confirms the absence of any political will and the incapacity of governments to understand the extent of the economic and social transformations needed. We are even seeing the development of a reactionary ideology (which the media calls “climato-sceptic”) supported by industrial interests.
Finally, in the geopolitical field of conflicts and imperialisms, the sources of disturbance are not diminishing and the violence is multiplying – Iraq, Afghanistan, Near East, Pakistan etc.
As is clear to see, the radical development of the international context is a central datum that must be taken into account to understand the functioning of the “movement of movements”, ten years after its resounding entry onto the political and media scene.
What, in the new period, can be its contributions to emancipation? Can the alter-globalist movement facilitate concretely, in either short or medium term, the world’s forward march at a time when the Social Forum process is undergoing a situation of uncertainty?
It is a unique process of debate and networking for social and civic movements from the whole world (whose structural limitation is that it cannot, as such, lead to the drawing up of a political project) which has, after 10 Forums, already largely fulfilled its historic role. On the one hand, it provides trade unions, parties, associations, NGOs, etc. with a new intellectual framework for understanding the evolution of neoliberal globalisation over the last decade. On the other hand, it has enabled all its active participants to build new forms of internationalism – technical and/or sectional – by setting up networks that develop their own agendas. And this will continue to occur regardless of any centralism by the WSF.
Indeed, one of the paradoxes of this process is that many of its actors have made themselves independent of it. New networks of trade unions, parties and associations have gradually been created and consolidated internationally over these last few years: the São Pãulo Forum, the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Forum of Alternatives, NGO thematic platforms, etc. All this is due, in particular, to their contact or involvement with the WSF.
The WSF must continue its work, seeking and consolidating its function as an area of convergence of all these struggles and identities (a decisive task because of the evolution described above) building the conditions for the emergence of a “collective consciousness”4 articulating innovative social practices and the development of a critical intellectual collective at the international level. This last must be capable of incorporating the thinking born of new social and cultural subjects (the indigenous movement in particular) and broaden geographically, since many parts of the world have not yet been, or have only very partially been, involved in its development.
However, this task is no less decisive for its future; it must also enable the setting up of more advanced lines of action, especially in the political field. The process must not be indifferent to this necessity, even while preserving its status of common reference point; it is no longer the sole centre for the building of a new socio-political subject at international level.
It is undeniable that this thinking is now making its way through the historic organisations and networks of the WSF. Since 2009 and the WSF at Belém, discussing the Forum’s relations with political forces and progressive governments in Latin America is no longer taboo.
More time is needed to sketch the outlines of what some people (including the author of these lines) have called “post-alter-globalism”5, but these lines are shifting within the realm of alter-globalism. The issue now is knowing how to build a new political subject and common tools enabling the emergence of a new hegemony to confront capital. Should not the “movement of movements”, based on the principles of pluralism, autonomy and on being an oppositional force, envisage new long-term and constructive relations with the political forces and institutions whose activity is part of a breach with neoliberalism?
The answer will, perhaps, come from practical work. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (April 20-22, 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia) was proposed by President Evo Morales, who was himself “trained” in the WSF, of which he was one of the first activists early in the 2000s.
The struggle against global warming will thus enable the establishment of an international coordination of unparalleled extent and character between social movements, trade unions, political parties and governments. The countries of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) have already replied “present!”. From this point of view, the meeting will be an event whose results must be carefully analysed.
According to the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “the WSF played a great part in redefining politics during the last decade. At a time of crisis in the party system, the Forums asserted, with reason, that the parties did not have a monopoly of representation. The social movements and civil society organisations are always more important for the building of a collective future. However, as a result of this, many new or old parties have recognised the end of this monopoly: the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in Bolivia, Alianza País in Ecuador and some forces in Europe. They seek to develop new relations. They are present in the social struggles, are allied to the movements and seek to develop new relations. How should we respond to this new reality? Should we return to the old idea that the movements are thematic and the parties are generalists? Should we try to articulate different forms of democracy? Should we try to combine a new vision of representative, participatory and community democracy, with different actors in each sphere to see how we can create synergies between different forms of activity for social transformation? The WSF should be an area for discussing this”6.
Will the Cochabamba experiment encourage the introduction of such a discussion inside the WSF? A concrete strategy of social transformation could involve, for example, the setting up of thematic “post-neoliberal platforms”7 in the framework of a variable-geometry system of work (new international financial architecture, peace, the common good, public services, etc.) bringing together, with full observance of the independence of each, social movements, political forces, government representatives (the nature and status of which would need to be determined) to build another world.
In this context, some international forums for thematic analysis and action, carried forward by the components of the alter-globalist movements, and organised with the political actors and progressive governments ind conjunction with the WSF process, could subsequently be envisaged.
These new areas would enable us to develop a dialectical relation ship between the movements and the institutional activists and to stimulate dynamic thinking about a key question that arises, at every period of history, in all emancipation movements. That is, the question of power, its conquest and transformation, of democracy and its political, social and economic construction, etc.
*) This article continues and brings up to date an article published in theMarch 2009 issue, N° 47, of the review Utopie critiques after the Belém WSF. A version is available on the site Memoire des Luttes (“2009: an alterglobalist consensus that needs defining” www.medelu.org/spip.php?
Christophe Ventura is member of the Memoire des Luttes (Memory of Struggles) Association.
1) See the page “From climate change to post-alter-globalism: the (partial) diaries of the days 27-28 January 2010” (http://www.medelu.org/spip.php?article333) and “Begun at Porto Alegre, Will the 10th anniversary of the World Social Forum ends at Salvador de Bahia” (http://www.medelu.org/spip.php?article 337).
2) See James K. Galbraith, The Predatory State, Paris 2009.
3) See Ignacio Ramonet, “The social question in Europe” on the site of Memoire des Luttes (http://www.medeku.org/spip.php?article 394) and in Le Monde diplomatique in Spanish (April 2010).
4) According to the expression coined by François Houart, member of the International Council of the WSF and of the World Forum of Alternatives.
5) See the survey devoted to the international symposium of 26 January 2008 on “Alter-globalism and post-alter-globalism” organised by Memoire des Luttes and the review Utopie critique (http://www.medelu.org/spip.php?rubrique17)
6) Interview published by IPS/Terra Viva/Others News on 18 February 2010: “The WSF: what has changed and what is still lacking in the way of change”. (http://other news.info/noticias/index.php?p=3306)
7) According to a formula proposed by Emir Sader, member of the International Council of the WSF and General Secretary of the Latin American Council for Social Science (CLACSO)