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Ten years of World Social Forum : Another world in the making

It should always be repeated : no one can have a final and total position on the World Social Forum. Since hundreds of seminars are organized, one can only speak about the impressions one has following the seminars one attended. This is also the case for the latest event in Porto Alegre, ten years after the first World Social Forum was organised there. The Brazilians clearly consider it ‘their’ forum and it was very well organized with both organised and self-organised seminars, in the city of Porto Alegre and in some surrounding towns.

The formula of the organized events certainly had success. An assessment was made of ten years of WSF and an analysis was made of the political, economic and social situation of the world to-day.

Before the events in Porto Alegre, the social movements gathered in Sao Paulo, and after Porto Alegre, a thematic social forum took place in Salvador de Bahia. It is interesting to note that both events were organized by those who are rather critical on the WSF-process, but all were present in Porto Alegre as well, since the WSF is clearly becoming a ‘strong brand’ that no one wants to miss.

The events in Porto Alegre were the beginning of an important year of transition with more than thirty events all over the world that will lead up to the WSF 2011 in Dakar, Senegal. And it bodes well for the future. A new optimism was clearly visible, mobilization was strong, people looked happy…

Capitalism is unsustainable

This does not mean that no criticism can be made. In the opening session where an assessment was made of the WSF, the floor was given to six Brazilian men, and to three non-Brazilian women. This clearly shows that the new political culture, that can only come about if people change, if every individual changes itself, as Candido Grzybowski once again repeated, has not come about yet.

Chico Whitacker reminded us of the goals of the WSF. The initial objective was to create a new political player, against the World Economic Forum of Davos. The major characteristic was a respect for diversity, not trying to create a unified political vision, allowing for divergent political messages within a framework of anti-neoliberalism and against a destructive capitalist globalization. It is an open space with a broad cultural perspective aimed at forging worldwide alliances and networks. It is meant to overcome the fragmentation of civil society.

Joao Stedile of MST pointed to what he considers to be the failures of the WSF process : the lack of unitarian ideas, of massive international initiatives and actions, and the lack of a real anti-imperialist space. Let us open our eyes, he stressed, the international structures are against us and the only institution today that is not in crisis is the military. It is the crisis within our own movements, within the left that stops us from creating a counter-hegemony.

The Uruguayan feminist Lilian Celeberti gave an impressive speech and stressed that social and political struggles are in themselves creating freedom. The space of diversity is a permanent struggle as well and has to be created permanently. We have to construct hope, since hope is not just awaiting around the corner. Our societies remain sexist, racist and individualist. Together with men, we need to develop the concept of care, for our societies and for our planet. What brings us together in Porto Alegre is our yearning for a new world and a new political culture.

The climate conference in Copenhagen of December 2009 with its social mobilizations clearly had its influence on the events in Porto Alegre. The alterglobalist movements and the environmentalists have met and try to word their alternatives in a concrete and tangible way. ‘Another world is possible’ becomes ‘another world is necessary’, and even ‘capitalism is unsustainable’. This very simple slogan is very strong and one wonders why no one had ever thought of it before. But it means that our struggles cannot be about integrating more people into an existing system, but about radically changing the system.

The new world that is being built will be radically democratic, representative, participative and local. Democracy has to be democratized. It will become a revolutionary strategy for daily struggles.

We will need other ways to think and say the world, from an intercultural perspective. Indigenous people in Latin America do not speak of ‘socialism of the 21st century’, but they demand respect for their rights, their dignity and ‘buen vivir’, the good life. And apparently, they mean the same as what white people are asking for. It means that the alterglobalist movement is speaking many languages with many tongues to build a plurality of futures.

According to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Portuguese social scientist, five or six major changes are needed. The first thing is that we should not wait for one major revolution, but that we have to defend our freedom day after day. Our divergences are less important that the huge gap that separates ‘us’ from ‘them’ with paramilitary power and preparing for a rightwing revolution.

Our second task is to defend and strengthen our democratic system.

Thirdly, we have to fight for the decolonization of our minds.

Fourthly, we have to fight for real equality between all, men and women, cultures, black, white and indigenous people. We need to become the subjects instead of the objects of our human rights.

Fifthly, we need to realize that no one can say what exactly a ‘socialism of the 21st century’ means, but the most important thing is that we try to build a better world.

Finally, we need to reach a better balance between humankind and nature.

Three concepts can guide our actions, according to Sousa Santos : decommodification, democratization and decolonization.

A civilisational crisis

All participants in Porto Alegre now realize that the crisis is much more than a financial and economic one. Capitalism has failed and for the first time in the history of mankind, we see that it is now destroying the planet and threatening the survival of its inhabitants.

Solving the crisis will mean to abandon capitalism. Some call it post-capitalism, others call it socialism or even communism, while others dream of rebuilding local communities. But no one wants to impose a unified model on others.

However, before we can start to build something new, Edgardo Lander, social scientist from Venezuela, thinks we have to eliminate two major barriers.

The first thing is one of the major achievements of capitalism, the personal liberation thanks to material consumption. This kind of ‘individualism’ requires a cultural revolution in order to reverse it. It does not mean we have to abandon individual rights, but a belief in a false autonomy. We have to re-build the links between men and women, their communities and nature.

The second point is the fact that capitalism is not compatible with the preservation of life. The planet cannot survive with limitless growth. As stated by the new Constitution of Ecuador, the objective of all economic activities has to be life and the reproduction of life. It automatically means another organization of the economy and it can help to put an end to the current extreme polarization.

Wallerstein already warned us that we do not know what is awaiting us, it can be better or it can be worse, therefore we constantly have to fight for something better.

According to Lander, the socialism of the 21st century cannot come about without a fundamental analysis of what went wrong in the past. Socialism in Eastern Europe clearly lacked a democratic dimension, while it adopted the scientific/technological model of capitalism. This analysis still has not been made and it means that the so-called leftwing governments of Latin America are still the prisoners of old models. Venezuela depends on its oil revenues and Brazil has adopted the Monsanto model of transgenic soya. There still is no new socialism.

If we really want to prepare a better model, we will have to change our knowledge model and we will have to organize a radical redistribution so as to give everyone access to all public goods.

That is the major task of the World Social Forum. We have to work within the framework of our great diversity, knowing that our solutions will never lead to one worldwide model. But alterglobalists know that the roots of the problems they are trying to solve are borderless. And this means one does not have to go to Porto Alegre in order to be an alterglobalist. There is only one condition : to put aside your own private beliefs in order to try and cooperate with others. One can be an alterglobalist in Brussels, in Rio, in Calcutta and in the smallest village of France, Mexico or Morocco.

Questions that remain unresolved

Two major questions have not been answered yet.
The first one is linked to the articulation of different levels, local to national, regional and global. A series of events will be organized all through 2010 and should bring some first elements of answers. If this succeeds, Dakar 2011 will be a major achievement taking into account the accumulated experience.

The second question is important for all those who try to reverse power relations. How to achieve it and how to go about ? Especially for the old and rich European continent, this is a crucial question. How to convince people they do not need two cars and two transatlantic holidays a year ? This ‘luxury problem’ leads to an impasse. How to re-invent the left when people have so much to lose ? This explains the gap between the European social movements and the very dynamic Latinamerican, African and Asian ones. Nobody looks to Europe anymore in order to get answers. This is a very serious challenge for all European movements.

Finally, I personally think that Porto Alegre 2010 can be the beginning of something new. A new synthesis and a new political consciousness have come about and should now be fully used in the coming events. Chavez’ initiative for a 5th International can give the World Social Forum a new impetus, a new sense of urgency to leave the space of simple networking and to become a space of action and of political messages. The Charter of Principles allows for it. New proposals have to be discussed.

The World Social Forum process has all it needs in order to re-invent and improve itself. Taking into account a genuine gender balance will be a first element of its readiness to do so. Creating room for political messages and possibly actions can be a major achievement of Dakar 2011. Porto Alegre 2010 has shown that a clever combination of organized and self-organized events can be very useful. We should now start to prepare a better strategy.

Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.