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 Fight for the WSF and Its Renovation! 

An answer to the contribution to the debate on the WSF by Chico Whitaker 

It is not unprecedented in history that someone who once launched a revolutionary idea eventually became a serious obstacle to the full development of that idea. Such is the case of Chico Whitaker, regardless of the fact that the history is yet to be written of whoever actually first came up with the idea of the WSF and most contributed to make it thrive in its first phase.

In a recent article, echoing many others he has been writing nonstop for the past few years, CW addresses serious, false, and insulting accusations to a group of members of the International Council (IC) who have been encouraging the debate on the renovation of the WSF after its twenty years of existence. Renovation is much needed, they argue, given the changes the world has undergone during this period, as well as the current, almost total irrelevance of the WSF on the international political scene. The signatories of this text are part of the group of members of the IC that are the target of CW’s diatribe. 

CW’s article is based on an inquisitorial logic with a vast history  which consists in distorting, decontextualizing, and falsifying the positions of the antagonists of the orthodoxy to make them appear as unreasonable, hateful, and dangerous characters that must be silenced, eliminated or neutralized in the name of the peace, joy, and consensus of the community of the believers in the orthodoxy. One of this logic’s most shameful and dangerous arguments is that whoever questions the orthodoxy must be considered a usurper, that is to say, someone illegitimately aiming to take over the WSF. He who resorts to such an argument acts, precisely, as if he owned the WSF and responds to the claims for renewal and democratisation as if he was defending his own property. The aggressor turns himself into a victim in order to attack more effectively. 

 In view of this situation, the signatories wish to clarify the following: 

1. The attempt at engaging in a reflection on the initial success of the WSF in order to enlarge its potentialities goes back to its origins. At first, the quest for such reflection was circumscribed, but in time it grew, particularly among some members of the IC.  Right away the resistance by a group led by CW and Oded Grajev became very vocal, aiming at preventing the debate from expanding and changes to be discussed – with the result, that many important movements and personalities withdrew from the WSF process. Among them was the president of one of the most distinguished Brazilian organizations that were at the very origin of the WSF, the IBASE.  

2. From the very beginning, the debate focused on two points. 

1) The possibility that the WSF becomes a global and plural political subject capable to take decisions in its own name concerning topics of high (not necessarily unanimous) consensus.  One such topic was the reform of the UN. The absence of the WSF from this debate appeared to many as a lost historical opportunity to have an influence on international relations. Another one was the refusal of the IC to call in the name of the WSF for the  historically largest world-wide demonstration against the war in Iraq on February 15th, 2003, a demonstration that gathered around 16 million people and had an extra-ordinary global impact. 

2) The governance of the WSF and the lack of internal democratic  decisions in the IC, due to the total and sometimes totalitarian protagonism of a group that used all its influence to thwart any serious and serene debate on the topics proposed by an overwhelming majority of social movements and non-governmental organizations. 

3. To many of us, the impossibility of engaging in a serene discussion and the resulting political neutralization of the WSF reached its gravest point at the Montreal WSF in 2016. At that time, the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was under the threat of becoming the victim of an impeachment coup that would be extremely destructive to the Brazilian democracy.  Considering that Brazil was the country where the WSF first appeared, and that upholding democracy was perhaps the topic that most united us, a number of members of the IC submitted a proposal, to be adopted in the name of the WSF, denouncing the impeachment as an anti-democratic political coup. 

The proposal was enthusiastically welcomed by practically everybody, with one sole exception: CW demanded a suspension of the meeting, and prevented the resolution from being voted on behalf of the WSF. The consensus proclaimed by the Charter of Principles was thus subverted and turned into the veto power of a single person.  It will be very difficult for Brazilian democrats and all democrats worldwide to forget this.

The seriousness of the affair was that it exposed the irrelevancy of the WSF, vindicating all the members that had decided to abandon the process. Many of us did not abandon it, and that is why we are being insulted and considered dangerous today. 

4. Since then, international conditions have rendered even more urgent a reflection about the WSF process. That is why, together with many others, we have been carefully thinking about the future of the WSF. Our debate has been fruitful, and it is no wonder that many different stances on the topic have emerged, given the diversity of our contexts, the care we take in preserving the idea of the WSF, and the complexity of the emerging political situation. At the present state of the debate, some guidelines of our position shared by an overwhelming majority of organizations of people´s movements in and outside the WSF may be advanced:  

1. This debate is open to all; there is a webpage where anyone can intervene: https://foranewwsf.org.

2. There is an urgent demand for Global responses in view of the dramatic deterioration of social and physical life on earth for the past few decades (extreme concentration of wealth, environmental disasters, irregular wars killing mainly innocent people, etc.). If the WSF would assume to be a global political subject, it might give an answer to many of the problems raised and caused by this emergency situation we are living today. But how can it do it in view of the plurality and diversity of the movements and organizations who have participated in the WSF-process? Is it possible for this political subject to keep its plurality in its decision making process? How is it possible for a political subject to be plural?  

3.We believe that in order to achieve such a level of intervention, it has to be based on four pillars: 

a- a strategic thinking capable of taking “the pulse of the world” by identifying the major tendencies, whether they are destructive or constructive, based on the experiences of the social movements participating in the WSF; 

b-a democratic process which allows an open debate sustaining cooperation and solidarity, even in the face of differences;

c-a system of internal governance guaranteeing democracy and efficient decision making; 

d-a communication policy which enables the participants to raise their voices and being heard by a majority of the people in the world. Since the relevance of the WSF has diminished, shouldn’t strategic alliances with some independent news agencies  provide a strong sounding board for the activities and decisions of the WSF? 

4. Such a global, plural and pluri-national, strategic thinking must have a triple, general vocation: it must be anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, and anti-patriarchal. This will lead to more specific manifestations on a regional and thematic level.

- The reflection on struggles and agendas must follow several criteria. One of them is the distinction between important struggles and urgent struggles. The importance of the struggles depends on the structure of the system of global domination that oppresses us at a given time. The urgency of the struggles depends, in turn, on the conjunctural circumstances existing on the global, regional or thematic level. Different dynamics are required to deal with either important struggles or urgent struggles. How to distinguish? How to build and maintain alliances from bottom up? How to gather strength through pragmatic alliances? How to do it at the global, regional, and thematic level? 

- Consensus is not the same as unanimity. There are topics and positions which, being largely shared, may be privileged, while allowing space and visibility to others as well. What would the threshold of qualified majorities be and how would such decisions be reached? Democracy may be practiced in many different ways other than by voting. What mechanisms of participatory democracy could we imagine? Would it be possible to imagine them on regional or thematic level? 

 - That the IC lacks representativeness is obvious. Who are really participating and who have been absent for a long time? Given the average age of its members, it is obvious that there has been no renovation. For many years the legitimacy of IC members to represent their organizations was not verified. Are they accountable? Could some of the members of the IC be representing organizations that have disappeared in the meantime? Most of the large social movements that mobilized the WSF in the first years abandoned the process and no new social movements (led by the youth) joined in, movements that have been leading the struggles against the new dimensions of domination, be it the further erosion of labor rights, racial and sexual discrimination and ecological depredation.  

- Any executive organization capable of guaranteeing the international presence of the WSF must be legitimately and democratically constituted. Would it be a new IC or any other kind of organization?  Could it be a mere federation of a small number of regional and thematic organizations? What kind of mandate? Who would advise it technically? How can transparency be ensured? 

Any changes aiming at renewing the WSF can only take place at the next, presential WSF in Mexico; it must occur at a moment of the meeting specifically designated for that purpose. In the past we had an Assembly of Social Movements at the end of nearly every  WSF, even though it has not been possible to guarantee the democratic nature of its constitution. How should it be possible to assure this? How? If the understanding that the WSF should continue exactly as it exists today gathers consensus, even if without unanimity, such will be the option prevailing, and all organizations and movements will be invited to abide by it.

 Saying all this, the question we address to the WSF community is the following: Is there anything demonic or dangerous or Stalinist or anti-democratic in these initiatives, proposals, and concerns? Is there any justification for the insults and stigmatization we have been subjected to, simply because we dare to discuss these topics? Would it not be preferable for us to debate these and other emerging topics in depth and in a peaceful and democratic manner?  And finally: are we communities built by inclusion and respect for diversity or by exclusion and authoritarian dogmatism?

We are looking forward to reasonable and respectful debates, as well as substantial answers in the framework of our next World Social Forum!   

December 18th, 2020 

Boaventura Santos, Francine Mestrum, Leo Gabriel, Norma Fernandez, Oscar Gonzalez, Roberto Savio.