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input#5/ Input from Candido : An agenda beyond the WSF

I have been involved in the World Social Forum (WSF) process since the beginning of 2000, when representatives of eight Brazilian social organizations and movements—later called the Organizing Committee—met to launch the first in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in late January 2001. As the director of Ibase, created in the early 1980s by exiles returning to Brazil after being granted political amnesty, I represented the organization on the committee.

My relation to the WSF has two phases: (a) deep engagement from 2000 to 2010 and (b) a critical position with gradual withdrawal after that. I draw from this experience in this contribution to the timely debate that the GTN provides and that Roberto Savio, a personal friend, provokes. [1]

The WSF was conceived as an open space that would be a kind of battery recharger of active citizenship, now necessarily of planetary dimension because of the need to resolve contradictions of capitalism at a global scale. The WSF has undoubtedly made a fundamental contribution to the emergence of a worldwide citizen culture, and continues today propelled by civil society organizations, social movements, and networks from different parts of the world. In its early years, it helped build collective political intelligence about the problems, challenges, and possibilities of the struggles we waged, each in our own way across the Planet. It underscored our interdependence as we share the same world and the same challenge to make it another world. For our great diversity of identities and cultures, our plurality of views and perspectives, @1 the WSF offered us an open space—a kind of factory for a new political culture—for us to recognize ourselves as humanity and part of the same and unique shared planetary system.

The world's cultural, political, and economic context has changed greatly between 2001 and now. The multiple recent crises are expressions of the contradictions and limits to which globalized capitalism submits humanity and the sustainability of life on the planet. “Another possible world” remains an urgent need. However, as I have argued in the past,@2 we need to think beyond the WSF, while still allowing the WSF to continue the inspiring task for which it was founded. WSF meetings nourished the dream and hope for many around the world and should continue to do so with the younger generations of today.

The WSF as inspiration and as limit

The most obvious contribution of the WSF was as a galvanizing force that opposed Davos and asserted that "another world is possible." It did this by appealing to the capacity for transformative action of the multiple and diverse collective subjects, organized into resisting entities, movements, networks, coalitions, and alliances to formulate concrete proposals and fight for their realization. This potential was latent, but the WSF brought it forth by inviting shared reflection on experiences and knowledge that develops in diverse practices, while opening possibilities to strengthen the power of one's own action in each context.@3 The WSF created the foundations of a new political culture of transformation precisely by establishing horizontal planetary dialogue as an imperative, without antagonism, racism, or patriarchalism, dialogue within and between collective subjects, each recognizing each other as equal subjects.

The WSF did not invent this new political culture, but it was a great propeller and inducer of it. Due to its open space for diversity and plurality—as defined in the Charter of Principles—the WSF has become a reference point for meetings and exchanges, without hierarchies or priorities. The encounters and debates it engendered, along with its political pluralitsm, made it a reference point for a new planetary political culture.

It must be acknowledged that this now political culture was just emerging. We all brought our mental structures, values, and practices, with all their contradictions, starting with the simplest:@4 we confuse diversity with each one doing what they wanted, making collaboration and synthesis difficult, when such collaboration and synthesis is the raison d'être of the WSF space.@5  In fact, we were deluded about the size of the task ahead with our way of thinking and acting freighted by conceptual and political tendencies that undermined unity. Not least, despite the massive presence of feminist organizations and movements,@6 tenacious machismo did not give women proper relevance in dialogues and exchanges. Also, while language and cultural diversity are heritages to preserve, @7 we could not cope with the problem of translation, despite the information and communication technologies available to us.

Despite these problems, a great legacy of the WSF was the rescue and appreciation of politics as the quintessential arena for building another world, and citizen action as the necessary transformational force.@8 In a capitalist world increasingly dominated by large, increasingly privatized, increasingly commodified, more cynical and violent business public and politics, the WSF highlighted core ethical principles and values for thinking about nature, life, the economy, and power.

In summary, I consider three WSF strengths as inspiration: 1) rekindling hope and and renewing a sense of history as human production, not metaphysical determination; 2) questioning the determinist assumptions and antagonisms typical of leftist culture; and 3) valuing the energy of the diversity of collective subjects. But here come the limits.@9 The WSF's open space centered on its gatherings, a process of events limited to building consciousness and will for action, but not in fact acting for another world. It was just a step, a fundamental beginning, a door opening, a necessary but insufficient condition of forging the new.@10 For transformative forces to emerge, in my view, we need to take a path beyond the WSF to new forms of collective action. The challenges were glimpsed and echoed at the WSF, but confronting them requires new political and cultural creativity. Therein lies the dilemma: as a space, the WSF has proven indispensable. @11 But because of the Forum itself, I felt pushed to initiatives beyond it, to initiatives from the local to the global level, building the necessary articulations.

Elements for an agenda beyond WSF

Repoliticizing the relationship between the biosphere, power, culture, and the economy and acting from a planetary and cosmopolitan perspective is the starting point. As I pointed out above, the WSF has reframed politics and power, giving them centrality as opposed to market relations and the economy. In this sense, it pointed to the power of active citizenship. It did not elaborate and did not, as such, define the fighting agenda or agendas.@12 The agendas of each individual movement, network, coalition, and alliance were debated and often updated at WSF events, but the responsibility for carrying them out rested with the one who adopts them and cannot be imposed on all Forum participants. The issue of the political agenda was the crucial point for each participant, as an expression of their rights and responsibilities as humans and citizens.@13 It is in this sense that I thought and still think it is a duty of Forum participants to prioritize the political agenda before and after events. The “beyond the WSF” I refer to embodies this sense of intervention which takes inspiration from the WSF only as a moment of reflection and exchange. @ 14 My priority was and is to move forward on action agendas, seeking partnerships and alliances that better address the different situations and contexts in which I live.

Today, I think that the central issue for confronting capitalism is the search for alternatives to the “crisis of civilization” rooted in colonial, racist, patriarchal, Eurocentric, and imperialist rule over peoples and nature, and the industrial growth, productivism, and consumerism due to unbridled accumulation. Environmental destruction and social injustice are intrinsic conditions of capitalism, exacerbated today by globalization at the service of the great economic and financial conglomerates under the imperialist militarized guard.@15 The fracturing of the social fabric and the breaking of the resilience of the biosphere and the common basis for life itself is reaching irreversibility. To make all life sustainable, it is essential to tackle injustice on its two sides, both social and environmental: eco-social injustice. It is no longer possible to limit oneself to changing social relations of production, heretofore the dominant ideal of the left. The ideal of industrial society— its productivism and limitless accumulation, the goods and services it provides, and the style of consumption and life it generates—is part of the eco-social injustice that we must confront. The idea of resistance to the commodification of everything, the commons and life itself, was always well-represented in the WSF. But this is only part of the story.@16 The whole vision of human civilization and its relationship to nature needs to be reimagined, from local to world, reflecting the possibilities and limits of the biosphere and the cultural, scientific, and technical creativity of each people, in a spirit of interdependence and planetary solidarity, resilience, and sustainability.

Accordingly, a key element of the new political culture and social transformation agenda is to decolonize and liberate our ways of thinking and acting. In the context of the “crisis of civilization,” we need to advance a deep shift in power and economic institutions.@17  What condemns many to poverty, exclusion, and multiple forms of inequality and domination is not a lack of development, but development itself. Development constantly reinvents racism, patriarchalism, xenophobia, and intolerance of social and cultural diversity to dominate and exclude. Today, it is visible in the territorialization of racism, the fissures between city and countryside and between agribusiness and social forms of production, and the relations between peoples and nations. Old patriarchalism is renewed and naturalized by capitalism, which devalues, but benefits from, an economy of care, imposing a double workday on women.18@ Publicizing and politicizing this agenda that emerges from women's struggles is a task of citizenship as a whole, from local to global.

It is essential to think about the necessary process of cumulative disruptions. The question that arises is political and ethical at the same time as the legitimacy of the struggle for change challenges institutional legality and continuity.@19 The institutional framework that confines us to nation-states proves to be a necessary but extremely limited arena for the struggle for "another possible world" or, as I prefer today, "another possible civilization." We are faced with the unavoidable need to oppose citizenship and peoples' sovereignty to national states and their monopoly in the world sphere of power. This implies taking on the existing legal framework that denies equal rights and destroy the natural foundations of life.@20 This is fundamental: citizenship is not a gift of states, but a political condition of being part of humanity. Therefore, the agenda of rethinking and refounding the state necessarily arises as a political expression of the power that equal and diverse “citizenships” confer on it.

One more essential element of the agenda: the new architecture of power. Interdependence between peoples and nations in today's globalized capitalism is undoubtedly a major problem created by the imperialist domination of developed countries, particularly the United States. But this interdependence carries a contradiction that offers a huge possibility for the future. The WSF itself, as a space for an emerging planetary citizenship, would not have been possible were it not for the diffuse awareness that we are part of the same humanity and share the same planet.@21 Interdependence, however, cannot be theorized and practiced without a concrete location, where we have the essentials of our lives and relationships with others and make our exchanges with the biosphere. The burning questions become: How can we rethink this fundamental place, in terms of power, culture, and economy, from a planetary citizen perspective? And how can we rethink world power from a perspective of territorialized citizenship?

A possible way of acting beyond the WSF

@22 Here I want to draw attention to the fundamental need to re-organize our forces in order to propel the citizen agenda of building another civilization. Again, the WSF serves as an inspiration, but it lacks the capacity to undertake the difficult and continuing task of organizing the collective subjects of citizenship, assessing political opportunities, and waging the struggle.  It is only in acting that one does the action (it is by walking that one does the path),@23 but the process begins by agreeing on a broad agenda. This already points beyond the WSF to the plurality of citizenship as a possible historical block for constituting and instituting planetary citizenship of another world.@23 The tricky question is how to build coalitions of collective subjects with a maximum common denominator (to counteract the lowest common denominator of certain generic and empty statements) for the agenda and basis for political action. I speak here of inter-movement coalitions and active citizenship organizations. The relative success of existing thematic campaigns and networks of collective construction of strategic thinking, such as the GTN, is a point of departure. However, we need differentiated and coordinated actions of a militant citizenship contesting existing structures and powers in the most diverse situations. @24 We lack, but need, effective intra-movements networks and organizations, linking the local with the world embracing strategic vision of the whole political task. This requires patient work of building what potentially will be the new collective political subjects, necessarily plural and diverse, with their own identities and proposals, from local to global, articulating themselves to have the power to transform the world.

@25 The crucial issue of action is the political and cultural construction of counter-hegemonies in concrete local societies and at various levels of political influence, up to world power structures. How can we do this without factionalism, as is the tradition of the left? @26 The secret, it seems to me, lies in building open coalitions, which start by recognizing others as indispensable, and which depends on honoring and implementing their agenda.@27 In this way, active consensus can be generated, which is fundamental in the struggle for a new hegemony. It is crucial to recognize that, for citizenship, the public space for debate and free circulation of ideas is always the priority. Communication and public campaigns are thus a priority arena for the necessary course of action.

Cândido Grzybowski

[1] For more reflections on this issue, see my text, presented at the 10-year Thematic World Social Forum event in Porto Alegre, entitled “Beyond the World Social Forum ( http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/01/beyond-the-world-social-forum/ ). This was also the moment when I was most deeply engaged in new initiatives, for example, the conference at Ibase on new paradigms in 2012, for which I wrote “Foundations for Biocivilization” ( http://www2.world-governance.org/article796.html ).