• gtiandwsf farewelltowsf discussion input5a

last modified September 30, 2019 by facilitfsm

De Gina Vargas

LOOKING BACK The first World Social Forum in 2001 ushered the new century with a bold affirmation: “Another world is possible.” That gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil, stood as an alternative and a challenge to the World Economic Forum, held at the same time an ocean away in the snowy Alps of Davos, Switzerland. A venue for power elites to set the course of world development, the WEF was then, and remains now, the symbol for global finance, unchecked capitalism, and the control of politics by multinational corporations.

The historical significance of the WSF is undeniable. Although heterogeneous, not always with a clear perspective of attack on imperial, patriarchal and colonial capitalism, it has been a space for meeting and formulating joint strategies. At a time when the alter-world movements were in their deployment and apogee, the change of emphasis from confrontation and alternative to Davos to the resistance of social movements and institutions was important. The strategy of direct confrontation with capital was left, but there was a gain in presences, in themes, in horizons of change. This produced the great enthusiasm that led to the massive participation in the Forums in general, particularly in the WSF.

The “open space” versus political positioning was a tension from the beginning of the Forums. However, it was never an open space, which generated only conversations! It has been a space for connecting different universes. [1]The resistance to turning it into an organic space, to take a stand against the great global crises, was due, for many, to what Sabio recognizes as the democratic deficit of the Forum, of which there are several examples. Precisely because of this deficit, it was seen by many as very reckless: who decides, how do we choose, how can we guarantee that the statements would not come out as support to dramatic situations such as the dictatorial regime today in Nicaragua. Or situations of democratic weakness such as Venezuela, just to speak of Latin America? What guarantees that the support is not oriented to fundamentalisms of the left, in the language of confrontation and war and not of democratic positioning?

And these questions arise because the WSF could not always modify the traditional way of making leftist politics inside the Forum that drag patriarchal and colonial vices.

And, at this level, without denying the importance and need of political parties - they have participated in the WSF as individuals and not as representatives since the beginning - the acceptance of parties as institutions is not possible as long as they resist their own democratization and pluralize their presence. And this is not just a suspicion, it is a militant, personal and collective experience of "unhealthy power structures." And here lies one of its democratic deficits.

The foregoing did not mean that there were no pronouncements. Of both the Social Movements Assemblies and of articulations within the International Council. However, it is true that many of the initial initiatives of articulation and construction of global voices weakened. For example, it has not been possible, throughout these 19 years, to maintain the presence of movements and institutions beyond the successive headquarters of the Forums. Some of the reasons have undoubtedly been the cost of travelling to the various continents; the de-profiling of the internationalist character of struggles; the difficulty of incorporating new voices and grassroot and diversity movements.

At a crossroads - Does the WSF retain its vitality as a beacon of "another world", or is it losing momentum? Has its unwavering commitment to radical pluralism sacrificed the unity of the movement? 

It is clear that the WSF is no longer what it was. The moment of social movements and of the alter-globalization movement is now different. There are new movements of local-territorial and / or regional and interregional scope, fighting for human rights, against extractivism, in defence of the territories. And new demands of the movements that have been participating consecutively in the Forums. Undoubtedly, there are urgent problems such as climate change, and the advance of fundamentalisms and conservatisms in the world and in Latin America, after the prodigious progressive “wave” (in which however, several of these countries did not leave aside extractivism, homophobia, misogyny).

It is true that at this time the emergence of fundamentalisms requires a strategic connection of resistance and defence of what has been achieved. A thorough review of the political and economic "styles" of progressive governments, whose democratic deficit is also evident, at least in Latin America, is also needed. 

And it is not that radical pluralism has impeded the unity of the movement. Precisely, that pluralism, recognized and legitimized, is the only thing that can lead, at specific times, to a unity of struggle. And, although there is an obvious and enriching pluralism - in the multiple ecological, feminist, ethnic racial, sexual diversity struggles, that are in confrontation with today's wild capitalism allied with patriarchy and coloniality - this plurality and the complexities of hegemonic dominance are not assumed by the different movements. It that is so, the risk of imposing unity from hegemonic biases in political action would make it much more difficult to attain and certainly less effective. Because in the face of the paradigmatic, epistemic, civilizational crisis, only a more complex articulating view of diversity can open a longer-range struggle horizon for change.

Therefore, unity itself is not the important issue, but rather the possibility of articulating the diversity of strategies to confront the ecological, patriarchal, capitalist, racist powers existing in all the major problems that today impact the planet as a whole. And one of the urgencies at this crossroads is to recognize that, since there are many advances, only an assessment of our past political practices can reveal what we must review and modify from within the movements and institutions.

The example of the Social Movements Assembly is, in this sense, eloquent. The organization of this Assembly was undoubtedly an important advance. However, after a while, old vices of the existing lefts hindered greater inclusion. Thus, several other movements began to make their own assemblies in parallel: women's, indigenous, Amazonian, environmentalist, human rights, etc. The experience in women's assemblies was enriching, by raising global forms of articulation between women's anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-colonial struggles. Even so, colonialist tensions, also present in the Forum and among women, were evident more than once, especially between Sahrawis and Moroccans, in the Senegal and Tunisia Forums.

Also, the possibility of broader articulations in the actions, themes, experiences of struggle that converged in the Forum was weakened. The Methodology and Content Commission tried to achieve this for some time, but it was not easy nor permanent.

LOOKING AHEAD Is there, then, a future for the World Social Forum? Logistically, the outlook is not good. Right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of authoritarian strongmen around the world, has announced that he will forbid any support for the Forum, putting its future at grave risk. Holding a forum of such size requires significant financial support, and a government at least willing to grant visas to participants from across the globe. The vibrant Brazilian civil society groups of 2001 are now struggling for survival.

 The WSF does not preserve its original features, it is no longer what it was, nor will it be, because the contexts and conditions of the transformative movements, including democratic institutions, have changed. What has weakened, for now, is the global nature of these struggles. 

 But it retains other possibilities: it has greater impact in the regions that organise the forum. It is also expressed in a set of other thematic or geographical Forums... Powerful forums such as Migration, the Social Forum of Transforming Economies (Feminist Economies, Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, The Common (natural, urban and digital) Social and Solidarity Economy, the Cooperativist movement, and Fair Trade the Ethical and Solidarity Finance). Or the Pan-Amazonic Forums. It is true that these Forums are not democratic enough or accumulative of the past’s experiences. The Pan Amazonic Forum – FOSPA- is an important case: it has managed to persist with relative success throughout all these years, it has its own dynamic, and a broader agenda. In the last FOSPA, the indigenous women’s issues were clearly part of the whole Forum. It was also raised the campaign My body my territory. And it was also organising a Tribunal to present the impacts of violence in the bodies of indigenous women in different counties, because of the defender of their territory. In this moment, in the new edition of the FOSPA, two years after the previous one, these creative initiatives now seem to be set aside by the coordination of the new FOSPA. 

 Without idealizations, these struggles are displayed in more regional and interregional, more local, more territorial spaces. This brings together much more diverse and more agglutinating wills. On this basis we must think strategies of recognition and dialogue. In this process, the "translation" theory of Boaventura de Sousa Santos is undoubtedly a valuable strategy towards connection in plurality. This search of translation is giving also a new moment. For example, at this point women are not only fighting for gender justice, but also and fundamentally for an agenda that, from women’s perspective, incorporates ecological perspectives, human rights, economic justice, sexual justice, recognition of other perspectives and worldviews, etc. That is, a joint fight against the perverse alliance between capitalism, patriarchy and coloniality.

Finally, the International Council is perhaps the dimension of the forum that requires a radical critical look, as many have pointed out. When appointed in the first Forum among the existing movements and institutions, a possibility of democratic openness towards other presences was set aside from the beginning. There were several attempts: to incorporate the organizers of the thematic and territorial Forums; to expand the presence of new or more visible movements that were not clearly incorporated at the beginning, and that also corresponded to emerging problems and dynamics in the different regions. Speaking of Latin America, indigenous movements, Afro-Latin movements, and all variants of LGBTTI movements. Etc. There were also not so democratic behaviours and pressures to ensure that the Forums were held in one of the regions and not in another; bureaucratic inefficiency in the management of the IC, etc. All this does not ignore the great efforts made by many to achieve greater democratic dynamism in the IC, to eliminate people who do not attend, to expand its contents. However, 19 years later, we are almost the same IC as in the beginning.

If the WSF continues, with these new modalities: more regional than global, with thematic and geopolitical expressions, it has to have changes. One of the urgent one is the change of the IC. The inertia of its performance is what hinders any change. I am sure it will be an item in the agenda in the next IC.

The next WSF, already in preparation, will be in Mexico. It is having the support of the Nordic countries, it has an active team, which aims to incorporate more movements. I believe, however, that many of the most limiting characteristics of the last editions of the Forum will persist, but also that it will undoubtedly have an important participation of migratory movements, indigenous movements, ecologists, feminists, peasants, unions, etc. Let’s begin to imagine how to connect further local-regional-global dimensions and how to connect with other global initiatives in the coming years.

Finally, the changes in history are not blur and new account. Re-creating the future requires recovering and overcoming what is necessary from past experiences. So, this is not a finished discussion, on the contrary, it is to open a complex reflection, in a changing reality and in a paradigmatic crisis, to have the possibility of recovering what the Forum can continue giving, from itself or with other initiatives, in the ways that new dynamics and presences demand it, it is a challenge and a responsibility to open clues in order to do so.


[1] The dynamics promoted by feminisms were, since the beginning, the search for opening and connections, which meant both confronting the “unique thought” displayed by several members of the IC and the WSF, and promoting spaces for dialogue in diversity. In addition to the Feminist Dialogues, in the days prior to its realization, the first feminist public action linked to the WSF with feminists from different continents, were the Inter-Movement Dialogues, among feminisms, trade unionists, indigenous people, sexual dissidents; the possibility of carrying out campaigns such as the campaign against Fundamentalisms, launched in the WSF of the 2003 in Porto Alegre and that continued to accompany several editions of the WSF; and the various dialogues between, for example, indigenous and feminist in Latin America, strengthened connections, understandings, intercultural perspectives. All this, with impact, although less than in the beginning, have continued.