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After WSF 2021

The challenges of alterglobalism and the World Social Forums


Contribution to the session of the International Council of 21 February 2021



gustave massiah




Building on a successful stage in the renewal of the World Social Forums

The virtual WSF in January 2021 was very successful, much better than might have been feared given the general situation, the constraints of the pandemic and the very short preparation time.

Data on participation (9600 registrants from 144 countries including 1300 associations; and 800 activities, including almost 150 on initiatives and mobilizations) are available from the following link: https://owncloud.rio20.net/index.php/s/sRMpSjYA2kFWXXw.

The Forum was confronted, due to the pandemic, with the need to organize a virtual forum.

The digital world opens up new contradictions. It certainly allows international exchanges without international flights and without visas. @1A But it lacks the strength of encounters and the festive and creative nature of face-to-face meetings.

The approach taken by the International Council has been to put forward numerous international networks that underline the need for an international dimension. In spite of the limits, which must be analysed, this approach and the @1B commitment of the three working groups (Facilitation, Communication, Finance) made it possible to succeed in this stage of renewal of the World Social Forums).



Building a new phase of alterglobalism

The virtual WSF 2021 is a step in the construction of a new phase of alterglobalism. @2 Each phase of alterglobalism is a response to the dominant logic of capitalism in its neoliberal phase and is based on forms of mobilization. As early as 1980, the first phase put forward the rejection of the Structural Adjustment Plans and the debt; it was carried by the People's Committees of the South against the debt and SAPs. From 1989 onwards, the watchword against the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO was: international law must not be subordinated to business law; it was carried by the major demonstrations against international institutions. The third phase, that of the World Social Forums, after Seattle in 1999, was advancing: a new world is possible and necessary; it was carried by social movements and the World Social Forums.

In order to appreciate the new phase, it is necessary to start from the evolution of capitalism and neo-liberalism: from 2008 onwards, the financial crisis and austeritarian neo-liberalism, combining austerity and authoritarianism; the rise of the climate emergency; the pandemic crisis. It is also necessary to take into account the forms of mobilization: from 2011, the Arab revolutions, the indignados, the occupy. Then between 2017 and 2019, insurrections in more than 49 countries.

The new phase of alterglobalism will respond to this new situation after the financial and social crisis and to the movements' replies to the pandemic and climate crisis and its social and political implications.



Recall the urgency of the international dimension

To a situation that is by definition global, that of a pandemic, the responses were first and foremost national and state-based. This situation demonstrated the limits of international institutions, it challenged the belief in the predominance of the capitalist world market. It also questions the movements on the needed reinvention of internationalism and alterglobalism and on the role to be played by the world social forums.

The movements are confronted with the necessary redefinition of the articulation between levels. The local level has emerged as the level of survival and the redefinition of relationships. Awareness has grown of the need and the possibility of new relations on ways of working, the difference between what is essential and what is profitable, between the first of the classes and the first of the labours. @3 A proposed definition is to consider the local as that which is universal minus the walls. Social and citizen movements have no meaning without a local basis.

The national mixes identity, borders and the state. There has been a growing awareness of public intervention that is not limited to the state and which is essential with access to rights and public services. In the same way, identity is not just national identity and is extended, according to Edouard Glissant's definition, to the multiple identities of each individual.

By reaffirming their rejection of neo-liberal and capitalist globalization, social and citizen  movements are highlighting the need for a globality of solidarity, that of another possible and necessary world. This is what the World Social Forums have brought about.



Starting from the major geocultural regions

The international dimension involves the major geocultural regions. It is on this scale that ecological, economic, social and political issues are reorganized.

From this point of view, WSF 2021 has shown its limits. Both from the point of view of the participants and the associations. The importance of Brazil and other Latin American countries is rather good news. Europe was quite present. @4A It is the low participation of other regions that is bad news. Particularly from Asia and also from Africa and the Middle East.

The scale of the continents is probably not the most adequate. It is the scale of the large geo-cultural regions that is becoming more and more important. One of the possible counts is to distinguish 18 major regions (3 in Asia; 4 in Africa; 1 in the Middle East; 4 in Latin America and the Caribbean; 1 in North America; 4 in Europe; 1 in Oceania).

The definition of regions can also be based on the links between movements. New international networks of movements are generally organized around one or more geo-cultural regions.

@4B To consolidate the world social forums, the proposal is to prepare them by national and regional forums.



Deepening the major debates of the transition

A very large number of themes were addressed in the Forum's 800 activities, through the discussion panels proposed by the Facilitation Group and the many self-managed activities proposed by the organizations. The program can be found at the following link https://join.wsf2021.net/?q=fr/programa-evento

Some of the themes raised by associative networks and thematic forums were the subject of a series of webinars. These include Climate, Social and Solidarity Economy, Education, Housing, Migration, Peace, Health and the Pandemic, Science and Democracy. @5A They will be deepened by the Thematic Forums and will continue in the WSF of 2022.

The main themes of the transition have been addressed: social and inequalities, ecology, democracy, geopolitics. There were no conclusions that would make

the subject of sufficiently explicit texts or statements proposed for discussion. This is a work that the International Council should organize.

@5B Similarly, no positions were taken at the Forum and proposed for public debate on a whole series of issues, which were addressed but not finalized: austeritarianism, the evolution of capitalism, democracy, authoritarian abuses, vaccines, public health, multinational firms, GAFAM, digital technology, etc. The International Council should organize this work.

The International Council could define an approach in this direction.



Strengthening social and citizens' movements

The World Social Forum is made up of social and citizen movements. It helps to strengthen the plurality and diversity of the movements and to facilitate their strengthening and common actions. The large number of geographical and thematic movements demonstrates the importance of this space of movements.

Some movements today play a strategic role in the international dimension of struggles. @6A Their presence in the 2021 Forum has been uneven. Seven movements are involved in challenging neo-liberal globalization.

Workers' unions were present along with European and South American trade union confederations. The peasant movements were not very present, notably La Via Campesina, despite the very important struggle of Indian peasants.

The women's movements were quite present in their diversity. Migrant movements have been quite present. The indigenous peoples' movements have been active. The movements against discrimination and racism, which are the bearers of the continuity of decolonization, have been very active. The environmental movements have been present through the Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish forums.

The strengthening of social and citizens' movements also raises an often debated issue, that of the "ongéisation" of movements. It overlaps very partially with the question of political orientation; there are very reformist social movements and very radical NGOs. It has much more to do with the role and evolution of associative movements in societies and the @6B "ongéisation" as one of the forms of subordination, through funding, to states and companies.



Support and extend resistances

This issue has been very much on the agenda. Austeritarianism has resulted in authoritarian regimes based on nationalist and extreme right-wing ideologies. The behaviour of states in dealing with the pandemic crisis has liberated very authoritarian tendencies. These tendencies may be reinforced as the health crisis evolves. A "shock strategy" to reaffirm the power of states and multinationals is to be expected. A hypothesis of a shift in some countries from austeritarianism to neo-liberal fascism cannot be excluded.

The movements will be confronted with the need for resistance. It will include a first phase of struggles for democratic freedoms, for equal access to rights. It will also require a battle against the cultural hegemony of the current phase of capitalism, against identity, security and discriminatory ideologies.

@7 This will be one of the main tasks of the World Social Forum: to support and connect resistance.



Implementing alternatives

The contradictions of the situation will deepen with the crisis of neoliberalism and capitalism. The conjunction of the social crisis, the ecological crisis, the health crisis and the democratic crisis is increasing awareness of the upheavals taking place. With great dangers and great opportunities. As Gramcsi reminds us, the old world is dying, the new world is slow to appear and in this chiaroscuro the monsters are rising. The movements must participate in the construction of the new world. Alternatives to capitalism exist, from the local with the transformations, to the national with the struggles for rights. As prefigurations of capitalism

already existed in feudalism, movements can identify and support prefigurations of the surpassing of capitalism in today's societies. One example is the social and solidarity economy, which is looking for new ways of production while fighting against all kinds of recuperation. @8 The World Social Form should identify, make visible and strengthen all attempts to overcome neoliberalism and capitalism. 



Reinventing politics

The democratic imperative requires a reinvention of politics. The distrust of citizens is considerable; it calls into question representative and delegating forms. The democratic question concerns all societies, at all levels, local, national and global. It also concerns movements and the World Social Forum.

It is a question that can be found in the assessment of attempts by progressive governments. How can radical social and ecological transformation be reconciled with real democracy? How to define, in difficult periods of transition, democratic relations between movements, parties and governments?

In the current situation, the forms of politics are being questioned. Immanuel Wallerstein said at the World Social Forum in Detroit: it is true that there are 1% and 99%; but 99% is not enough to make a majority!

We have to find ways of coordination between "movement forms" and "party forms". Movements must define the political role they can play. Parties must abandon their claim to be avant-garde organizations designed to lead movements. They must also review their strategy (creating a party, to conquer the state, to change society) which establishes the state as the sole actor of change.@9 Under these conditions, parties, as movements, can find their place at the World Social Forum.



Inventing new forms of organization of the World Social Forum

The new situation requires a renewal of organizational forms. This involves the organiation of the World Social Forum as an event and as a process. It is also about the role, composition and organization of the International Council.

The debate is open and this is quite normal. In fact, there have been several changes in the organization of the World Social Forums.

@10A Among the positions expressed, the debate has focused on so-called "open space" or "space for action" positions. It is possible to build a space that is both open and a space for action by taking account of the proposals and questions raised.

@10B The advantage of the open space is that it facilitates alliances and avoids explicit divisions. The disadvantage is that it leads to a form of paralysis and prevents positions being taken in the name of the WSF, creating a de facto veto. This disadvantage is accentuated by media indifference to the Forum.

@10C The advantage of the space for action is that it allows the Forum to take a position and encourages mobilization and support for actions. The disadvantage is that it opens up a space for confrontation on the positions taken.

Is it possible to find a proposal on positions that invents a new form that avoids the right of veto on the one hand or the functioning that some internationals have illustrated on the other.@10D  It is a question of finding a way to untie consensus and unanimity. For example, by pushing for the adoption of texts that may be contradictory and that make the debate public.

@10E It should be made clear that the Forum's voice is not the Forum's, but that of the International Council to be redefined. Indeed, it is difficult to see a common declaration for 1300 organizations participating in a Forum.

The debate could be concluded at the World Social Forum of 2022 in Mexico City.

The limits of the WSF are only partially linked to its forms of organization or its mistakes. Although these should not be ignored. They stem above all from the evolution of the global balance of power. It is from there that we must start to define what is at stake.









FSM virtuel 2021


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