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By Tord Björk

Tentative observations from the last day of the WSF International Council Meeting 11 Oct 2020

This is a personal report and observations, it may not be correct due to misunderstanding of language or intentions. The official report will follow and of course, being the important document. I still believe a tentative report will be useful including comments from a civilizational critical and ecological point of view.

In general, the meeting on 27th October taking place during 4 hours was important. It was the endgame after four extended meetings of the IC with other movements as well as national and thematic social forums and the first day of the IC on 9th of October. Decisions had to finally be made. I think many can see the result as useful as some tensions in the IC were set aside and fruitful discussions resulted in progress that I do hope is of interest to many movements inspiring greater participation.

Decisions made (here in more general wording, exact formulations will follow in the official report):


1. A virtual WSF will be held the last week in January parallel to the virtual Davos meeting. I do not remember if a decision was made to make it a whole week or just some days, maybe that decision will be made later.  To arrange this decentralized forum the articulation working group set up by IC will invite interested movements to take part in facilitation. Also, other working groups set up by IC on communication and funding will be involved. This virtual WSF can be a kind of hybrid combining smaller physical meetings with internet possibilities to attend and connect to the whole WSF process. It will be a completely new model. Before a Local organizing Committee in the country where WSF was held ook care of the facilitation. Now the IC through its working groups together with interested international movements have to play this role and find a way to facilitate a decentralized forum.

2. A physical WSF in Mexico may be possible to arrange in May parallel to the Davos meeting taking place in Switzerland or later in 2020 or early 2021. Here a strong claim was made from Mexicans that they cannot arrange a WSF without strong support from international movements. Rather than the old model of a Local Organizing Committee, a facilitation committee with both Mexican organizations and international including the working groups set up by the IC might be the solution. A final decision on this topic was not made but it was made clear that a WSF in Mexico is an option.

My personal intervention was to point at the problem we have with high ambitions and limited means to fulfil them all. I supported different proposals and combined them into one including my insistence on stronger youth participation and assemblies of social movements. I suggested that each day during the decentralized WSF week both actions, open space events, and assemblies to promote actions in the future could take place. Self organized youth assemblies would be useful on the same subject as general assemblies on the topic for each day. Globalization of the process to bring better geographic balance would also be usefully combined with a report to world assemblies. I put equal emphasis on open space events stating both that a virtual WSF gives us far better possibilities to open up for self organized activities not being limited to a limited number of localities as well as the need of important intellectuals speaking to us without being part of a process that aimed at specific common action. Apart from the left-wing intellectuals often mentioned, I suggested Pope Francis and the Bangladeshi novelist Amitav Gosh as people that could contribute to such open space messages. I also stated that it would be good if we, for the time being, could put aside a bit the polarization between the proponents of WSF as an open space or a decision-making process.

This intervention was well received in the chat comments by Chico Whitaker and Francine Mestrum, two people that have been on opposing sides in the views on the future of WSF. I do not suggest that the discussion about the future of WSF should take a halt nor did the meeting either if I understand the mood correctly. But that we now whatever vision we have for the future can concentrate our effort of organizing the virtual and hybrid WSF in January

There were also other important discussions taking place. The communication working group had an ambitious plan for a website including seeing the need to get out of the grip of US internet companies. A comment was made that this kind of ambitious plans often had been presented to the council but did not materialize. The funding group had made several attempts to approach donors but have found no one interested. A virtual WSF will need more web capacity so this discussion is important. My comment is that a virtual WSF also opens up for decentralization also of some of the web presence by e.g. continental or national coordination of events at these levels linked to thematic axes.

The European Social Forum in 2008 held in Sweden got severe problems when professional staff proposed a third website adding to the two we already had. This third website would make a horizontal open space process possible but needed a professional setting it up. A volunteer and experienced cashier in the steering committee stated that it went against good economic principle to decide making projects that were not funded. The decision was anyway made. The result was that the cashier left his post but there was no competent person to replace him. A rift between competent volunteers and the few professionals backed by trade unions and Attac caused chaos and in the end bankruptcy. ESF with some thousand activities and a cultural program with 600 events as well as 15000 participants and a demonstration took place. But the bankruptcy opposed in the aftermath by the activist organizations that wanted to collect money to pay the translators and cultural workers was pushed through by the trade unions as their solution. After this ESF never really recovered. The situation now is different and the need for a website is urgent. But as a warning against too high technical ambitions the story from ESF 2008 is useful to keep in mind.

Another problem is imbalances in participation in the process. The geographic imbalance is quite extreme. This can strongly be helped by organizing continental/subcontinental/regional coordination, something many pointed at. The extreme lack of youth participation can be helped in a similar manner by calling for Assemblies of Youth Social Movements held parallel to assemblies of social movements and coming to common conclusions in meetings where half of the speakers are young.

A deeper problem is the way that the valid charter from June 2001 often is set aside when the messaging of what WSF is about is made. The valid charter puts questioning the present relationship between human beings and nature at an equal level with anticapitalism and anti-imperialism. Thus issues seen as primarily social are equally important in the charter as issues seen primarily as ecological. This is seldom acknowledged. The default mode is that anticapitalism is the common cause, sometimes added with feminism. This repeated itself at the IC meeting and is not acceptable if WSF wants to take the charter seriously and have more movements interested.


The way ecological and civilization critical movements have been treated in the process is often as captives allowed in the margin, often with the most important issues left out replaced by opportunistic ways that with a more industrial view upon climate change. The way that the WSF charter often is set aside replaced by simplistic notions that WSF is a left forum is another way how civilization critical and ecological movements as well as those addressing the need for regenerative local alternatives are marginalized. Movements that have other traditions than the left. This dominance of a default /left, feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist/ vision of WSF goes against the notion in the WSF charter that issues concerning the relationship between human beings and nature are equally important to social justice and similar issues.

This default left monopolizing of the man part of the discussion concerning WSF has fostered a sterile confrontation between horizontal and vertical left-wing traditions. The main bulk of analysis about WSF focuses on this form issue. Both seeing the legacy of the left as a starting point for the discussion. But this is irrelevant for the civilizational critical and ecological movement. These movements do have problems but others seldom if ever had the kind of problem with a central committee making decisions which members are supposed to follow nor have problems with setting up vertical decision making structures when necessary although also well experienced in horizontal decision-making.


Tord Björk


Member of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, Prague Spring 2 network and Friends of the Earth Sweden