• wsfic icfuturecontribution 1 en

last modified September 23, 2012 by pierre



Reflections on the functioning of the World Social Forum International Council


Chico Whitaker

The World Social Forum International Council has, in my opinion, a lot of importance for the future of the WSF process. Concerned with the confusion that for various reasons happened at the end of its meeting in Monastir, upon returning from there I began to systematize some ideas. Shortly after I received a summary of the meeting of the group that began to discuss there the future of the IC, prepared by Gina and Wilhelmina. I could not attend this meeting but I saw that some of the points raised coincided with my concerns. As I had written something already, I thought I could continue my text and send it to the group as a contribution to its work. The only problem is that in the process of writing, my text increased till 14 pages! ... I am sending you anyhow this text. You give the attention you will consider it deserves.

But I want to make clear that it contains personal thoughts, under my sole responsibility. I tried to be sincere and objective - if this is possible in political discussions ... - but of course my "objectivity" is influenced by what I have seen and felt in the Monastir meeting ... I know that I run the risk of being misunderstood, but I thought it would be worthwhile to run this risk.



Reflections on the functioning of the World Social Forum International Council

The need of the Working Group on the future of the IC

The IC meeting in Monastir, accentuating an already existing trend, was somehow confused in the plenary of its two final days, after the enthusiasm of the first day. In its last session we arrived very near the implosion, when we had to take a decision – painfully discussed - about the continuity of the work of the Liaison Group. The mandates of two-thirds of its members were already extended and finished. The renewal of its composition should have occurred in the previous IC meeting, held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But as its quorum was then quite diminished, it did not happen. In Monastir it was therefore absolutely necessary to choose new members.

The deCIsion taken ended up being less radCIal that the proposal brought by the group that had discussed the CI future, but it left many misunderstandings, frustrations, grievances. Not everyone could talk what they would like. The conditions for deepening the questions were made worse by the fact that several CI members had to leave the session to return to their countries of origin – including after expressing opinions that some would like to contest...  The time we had to rely on translators had also finished...

Those who did not come to the last IC meetings must have been frightened by what they saw. And for those who came for the first time it could seem impossible that we could take sensible decisions with such a way of the functioning of the IC. Already during the previous days and in the morning of that day many misunderstandings and dissatisfactions should have arisen in many minds, as well as some have considered that anti-democratic and manipulative practices could be occurring (others thought perhaps that they existed in fact...). The need of a working group on the IC future, giving continuity to the group reported by Gina and Wilhelmina, became then evident and such proposal was approved without further discussion. And now we see – which is a sign of the vitality of the process - that there are a lot of people interested in participating of this group.

A premise

I should however point out that, in my opinion (and it seems to me that the working group is taking the same direction) we need to find outputs, on the IC future, within the continuity. That is to say, we will not have to turn everything upside down, and start again from zero. The IC history and experience is very rich, which we would not leave aside to take steps forward.

And within this perspective I believe that the WSF process itself has also to have some continuity. That is, it still has a lot to walk within the goals that had been established, as I'll discuss later. These goals were not yet entirely clear when it was launched, in 2001, but they were better defined along "the way we do as we walk."

I do this warning thinking on those who consider it necessary to start again from zero the WSF process itself and also turn it upside down, leaving in the shelves of history its Charter of Principles and everything that came with it. It might not be worthwhile for them to continue to read this contribution, as my reflections possibly will only annoy them, or make them consider me too stubborn. But in fact I simply want to continue to talk... 

But I would like to move quickly to the question of the IC functioning, to avoid mixing it with the discussion of the future of the WSF itself, which is much more complex.

The so-called IC "governance"

The IC is a new experience, as the whole process of the WSF is new. We do not have, such as parties, movements, associations and companies, a Director or a Board of Directors, a governing body, an Administrative Council, a political Bureau, not even an Executive Body. To complicate matters, we have adopted the procedure of decision by consensus, that not all necessarily understand in the same way – and certain types of consensus, as adopted for example in the United Nations, are a beautiful façade of systems of domination allegedly democratic. That is, we are inventing, inside the construction of a new political culture, which is a goal that is at the WSF heart.

In Parma, Italy, I believe, we used the word "governance" for the first time in our reflection on the IC. Then I did not digest very well this word. And so far it does not seem to me appropriate to the "spirit" of the WSF process, as it brings with it the image of a pyramid of power, necessary in all "government". Coming from the business environment, it is based in the need of having a well-defined commandment avoiding the confusion of functions or losing the sight of the goals. And it was invented because the companies nowadays need to seem democratic and participatory (although they cannot do so until the last consequences, in the merciless competition of the capitalist system). But as we do not accept hidden powers governing the essentially horizontal WSF process, also within the IC this should not happen, having a body charged of its "governance" - using grudgingly this concept.

But we have effectively to face the problem of how to organize ourselves to work efficiently together. Our meetings cannot last more than three or four days and we have to take objective decisions. Looking for concepts not linked with pyramidal structures and respectful of the WSF horizontality, we should perhaps use the word self-govern, supported by the networks logic. This is of course a challenge, as all the self-governing experiences immersed in a hierarchical and competitive world, propelled by a notion of efficiency coming from the capitalist logic. But there are self-governing experiences that worked, and the use of network structures in our actions is increasing.

The difficulties that we lived in the plenary sessions of the last IC are, in fact, the price we pay for the openness and the horizontality that we want to ensure in the WSF process, as I could remember in the last session. As well as they are the price we pay for our decision of not "voting " but deciding by consensus. But openness and horizontality do not mean absence of rules, as well as consensus does not mean uncritical unanimity, but unanimous and conscious acceptance of the decision that seem to be the best one to continue the struggle, even if we do not agree entirely with it.

Openness and horizontality

Concerning openness and horizontality, maybe what we need is to define again at least a few rules, democratic and clearly accepted by all. Not a "statute" or "internal rules of procedure", as we thought already and even a working group (as always) tried to elaborate, fortunately abandoned in the Miami IC meeting. But some minimum rules, as flexible as required by the common sense resulting from the shared interest in moving forward in the understanding of the issues and in making good decisions.

We had already adopted some of these rules but little by little we left them aside. As for example the one of forming, in our meetings, a big circle (or more exactly a big rectangle...), where the first row was occupied only by IC members, that is to say by representatives (only one) of each organization integrating the IC, the so-called "holders" of that representation. In a second row sat the "substitutes” of the "holders”. And in the 3rd, the 4th, and all around observers duly accredited... It seems incredible but it is true.

Concerning the opening – as well as transparency and participation – we increasingly opened our meetings to all observers wishing to come, including press people (whose presence at the beginning we sought to limit or control). We considered even useful to call as much observers as possible (to increase the positive effect that the IC meetings can have in the countries where they take place)... Today, we nearly do not know who is who in our meetings. Completely new people, who even are not IC members, sit freely in the first row of our immense rectangles, that have more seats than the number of IC members having come to the meeting...

The right to speak followed the same trend. At the beginning even the alternative representatives could not take the floor, unless they were replacing their organization representative. Today we hear speeches (which may be vibrant and provoke applauses) from people we do not know exactly from where they come, or who are just beginning  to enter in the WSF process, their first participation being exactly at that IC meeting... As none is in the mood to make complaints, even old left student practices resurface: several members of the same organization, distributed in the room, repeat the same speech when the floor is given to them (always ensured for all), to receive of course the support of their comrades... These interventions can be sympathetic, but they do not come necessarily at the good moment. And we lose a precious time...

Nothing prevents the debate "facilitators" from giving the floor even to observers. As well as it may be important that people coming from new movements (as it occurs now with the "indignant", "occupy", etc.) bring their opinions to the discussion. But it would be perhaps necessary at least some little rules, and the IC members agreement when it was advisable to flout the rule.

The decisions by consensus

The consensus system for decision-making also creates difficulties because it sometimes extends too much the discussion. This worries many people, who are used in their organizations with quick and clear decisions taking, on the basis of voting – a system that let move forward because we can't return back, voted matter is a finished matter...

I believe that we all agree that one of the WSF process objectives, which I'll discuss later, is the construction of a new political culture. Then, the decision by consensus is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the realization of this goal. In the IC history, however we got through extremely difficult situations, with more than one hundred participating organizations. Without going into details, and without mentioning the marathon of the by dawn meeting in Berlin to decide if the 2009 WSF should be held in Belem, I still remember two exemplary cases: in 2003 in Porto Alegre when we decided that the 2004 WSF would be held in India, and in 2006, in Nairobi, when a Basque entity asked its entry in the IC. In this second case we even did not take the decision because a participant was absolutely opposed to the acceptance of this candidacy and would leave the IC if it was accepted. We had to postpone the decision, but we formed a working group (as always, and as always open to all) that deepened the discussion about the divergences and brought a solution in the following meeting.

In the final session of the Monastir IC meting I also remembered in a rapid intervention that if someone does not agree with a particular decision (even a single person), in the consensus decision making the discussion has to continue until the proposed decision is acceptable to all. This is not to "abstain from voting", as proposed one of our companions when we discussed the liaison group continuity. The principle is to build the agreement that make possible to continue together.

The discussion extends itself, interruptions of the session can become necessary, and even formal or informal conversations outside the room. Many people do not like this because they see such procedures as a way to impose or manipulate decisions. But sometimes only through such parallel conversations we can build agreements, overcoming prejudices, misunderstandings or improper judgments of intentions. And when transparently we bring new proposals for the plenary consideration, in fact we get rid of the left’s curse: we do not split – a process that weaken us - as it often occurs with the moving away of the minorities having lost in the votes counting... This method also has a great educational advantage: we learn to open ourselves to the arguments of those who think differently, and to replace the dispute by willingness to listen.

At this point of my reflection it might be worth to think about a new rule in the IC functioning, or about a new commitment of its members: to avoid situations such as those experienced in the last session of the Monastir meeting, they should seek to book back flights which would not oblige them to leave the meeting exactly when we are trying to reach a difficult consensus...

Obviously we can only wish to build consensus between those who are on our side. With those who dominate the world we have no alternative but to struggle against them, because our logic is irreconcilable with theirs, which is guided by the pursuit of profit as the driving force of human activity. What does the WSF process more need is precisely to wrangle with them over the world citizens awareness. And we will only be successful in this fight if we are able to show, through the non-domination relations and the respect for diversity we have among ourselves, that "another political culture", that builds unity and not division and confrontation, is possible. That is, if we are able to follow the Gandhi’s principle to which many of us refer frequently: we have to live within ourselves the change we want for the world. If this contribution to the Working Group on the IC future may have some usefulness, I hope it will be because it helped to keep the rule of consensus in the IC decision making process...




All these issues relate to the simple operation of an IC meeting. But we must also think about the IC composition and about the need and objectives of its existence.

Who participates of the IC

There are already more or less consolidated conditions to participate of the IC, which the IC Expansion Commission has already defined - with the IC approval. This Commission had analyzed and presented the candidatures for membership to the IC, without any major problems. But I say "had analysed and presented" because here also the IC skidded. Affected by the same disarticulation disease of all other IC Commissions, the Expansion one seems to have stopped to accomplish this task (which is not its only or main one). At least that's what we think as it did not present any new applications to the IC Monastir meeting (at least as I know). As there are candidacies waiting for it, such situation creates also dissatisfactions that weaken us. But I hope the IC future working group will help us to recover from this disease. I can only wish good convalescence to the Expansion Commission.

The IC composition is currently a problem, since some organizations virtually abandoned it. We have already considered the possibility of verifying at least the frequency of the organizations presence in the IC meetings, and even moving away those who disappeared (after properly consulted).

The only bureaucratic presence of the organizations may be a bigger problem. That is to say, they may send representatives which ensure the presence of the organization but don’t have political power. The IC decisions will be not taken effectively into account, with the required depth, by their organisations. This certainly does not happen with all organizations, but if it happens a little bit it decreases already the level of the IC political responsibility.

It is certain that if these procedures become a trend, the IC will be composed of "employees" (or advisors...), which, even when they come very well prepared, they will have not the autonomy of decision of the organisations responsible.

But in fact the problem that is behind this situation is another one: are these organizations interested in participating in the IC? The answer comes from the answer to another deeper question: are these organizations interested in participating in the WSF process?

The discussion of this second question is not within the scope of the Working Group on the IC future (unless it considers it necessary to invest also in it; myself I will discuss it rapidly later). But at the root of the interest in participating in the CI is a misunderstanding about its role and its power, which I would like to comment.

Why join the IC?

As we bring necessarily with us the memory of our political practices, the IC was seen by many as the locus of power in the WSF (and still many see it in such a way). As a powerful Political Bureau. It was therefore essential to participate of it, if we wanted to have any influence on the direction of the process (that was starting). Or simply to show this participation off in other competitions.

For this second objective - the organization's image - a bureaucratic participation would be sufficient, even if expensive (this cost having of course reinforced the idea of a WSF only every two years and therefore less IC meetings). But concerning the first goal (to participate of the "power" within the WSF), the real IC life frustrated a lot of people and made such participation less attractive. The IC directed not the WSF. Each WSF were organized by people of the countries where it would take place. And as the self-organized activities system had prevailed, as well as the principle of the WSF Charter concerning the inexistence of a conclusive and mobilizing final declaration, it became difficult to "drive" the process. On the other hand, the function of the "organizers" of the forums was renamed with the word "facilitation" (to offer resistance to the trend towards centralization and closing practices) was adopted in the WSF process. All this undermined the usual political practices.

Should we try to retrieve the presence of the organisations responsible in the IC meetings? It doesn't seem to me that this is the best way, or even maybe not a possible way. In the practice the new networks and alliances born in the WSF process more or less answered already to the need of many organizations and movements to strengthen their struggle. And these new networks and alliances began to require their own international meetings for the development of actions that they decided.

This is actually very good and helps in achieving the WSF goals. But its consequence is that the organisations responsible were much more requested to participate, with a political mandate, of meetings "outside" the WSF, in addition to the IC meetings. As for them, to some extent, the WSF role would seem to be exhausted, their own organizations actions (including international ones) became the most important.

And in fact it is through the effective action of organizations and social movements that we are changing the world. But it is a pity to stop to participate of the WSF process, because of this expansion of requests, as there is much yet to walk towards new alliances and networks. These alliances and networks could become really powerful, and planetary, if the WSF process could expand more all over the world, and be present even more at national and local levels. Perhaps we have therefore to find more heterodox outputs to the dilemmas we face now. To try to find these outputs I will turn again to the history of IC.

What role was being set for the IC in the WSF process?

The IC was created because the first WSF Organizing Committee, consisting of Brazilian organizations and social movements, became aware that it had launched, with its initiative, an international process with an effective worldwide vocation. So, even if the second WSF would also take place in Brazil, it became necessary to stimulate the realization of World Social Forums in other countries and continents. But  an Organizing Committee constituted by Brazilians only would be unable to do it.

These Brazilian WSF organisers had decided, at that moment of their initiative, that they would not use the organisation logic of the World Economic Forum in Davos. As the WSF was a challenge and an alternative to Davos, it could not become an enterprise having as objective to promote international events (lucrative as everything within the capitalist logic). The Brazilian organisers chose then to stimulate the realization of events where organizations and social movements would be willing to do it, autonomously, even if they could count on the Brazilian experience.

So, what the Brazilians needed to continue the process outside Brazil was an international support where other forums would be realized and not a business direction. Quite naturally they created therefore, for this support, not an International Organizing Committee but rather an International Council, since the word Committee designates something more directive, while a Council, at least in principle, only advises ...

That is to say, the organisational philosophy adopted was the non-directivity and the self-management, an option that might have been received the local influence of the democratic reconstruction process that Brazil was living in those years, where Paulo Freire thought as well as the practice of building networks had an important place. It is worth remembering that in the same meeting at which the Council was created, it has been discussed and approved the WSF Charter of Principles, proposed by the Brazilian organizing Committee. This Charter was based on the experience and on the guidelines adopted at the first World Social Forum, held a few months before. The adoption of this Charter was therefore the first concrete decision taken by the Council, and it consolidated exactly the same philosophy of horizontality, open participation, non-directivity and self-management. It is useful to note that the Brazilian Organizing Committee had already adopted, prior to this meeting, the consensus decision making system...

Some other decisions were taken, as historians will say in the future – if they find minutes and reports... But an important decision, in the perspective of the internationalization of the process, was to hold the IC second meeting in 2001 not in Brazil but in Dakar, Senegal, i.e. on another continent.

The first function fulfilled by the IC

Among the decisions taken in Dakar the IC decided that it could not take or express positions as IC, as the Charter of Principles had already established concerning the WSF itself. But another decision was more important for the WSF process: as the African organizations considered it was premature to organise a WSF in Africa in 2003, it was decided to see if Indian organizations would agree to hold this third WSF in India. Some IC members travelled then to India (still in 2001, in the following month), having as mission to discuss this possibility with Indian organizations and social movements.@1

It follows that the first role clearly taken on by the IC was to promote the expansion of the process (by the realisation, in this initial WFC phase, of world events outside Brazil). Its meetings in turn began to gather pace: at least a meeting before or after each WSF. The number of its members gradually increased, and the challenge of its operating mode began to appear.

The need for better self-government of their meetings soon led to the proposal of formulating rules of procedure, to which I have already referred. But as this would bureaucratize and make rigid a process that people was already living (and inventing), we opted for a "Copernican shift" in the way of addressing the problem (expression used by one of the members of the Working Group charged of drafting the rules of procedure). Such a change was quite simply: to organize the IC work in commissions. This decision was taken at the Miami meeting in 2003, where the IC was also promoting the process expansion, as it fulfilled this role holding its meetings in different continents. This decision made clearer the own IC functions.

Despite the risk of being considered as simplifying things too much, in my opinion the Miami decision (abandoning the procedure rules), would help us now also to overcome more easily the current problems of clarification of objectives and of self-government. It in fact organizes the basic framework of the functions that the CI should play as a Council that assists the WSF process.

The set of functions performed by the IC

Coming to the concrete, it would be useful to remind which Commissions were created in Miami and the contents of their work, in the perception I have of it:



-"expansion", a function that the CI as a whole has been fulfilling since the beginning of the process@2

-"methodology", essential insofar as the way to organize the forums – horizontally and respecting he diversity - is, in compliance with the principles of the WSF Charter, facilitates the discussion and mutual learning, the effective dialogue among participants, the identification of convergences and solidarity, the proposition of alternatives and concrete actions;

-"content", to ensure that the memory of all that is discussed and proposed in the forums is not lost and can be widespread among its participants, and even more outside the territory of the forums (in fact this Commission has never been organized, as it has been absorbed, erroneously in my view, by the Methodology Commission)@3;

-"strategy", dedicated to the analysis and evaluation of the strategies used by the dominant system and of the ones used, to overcome it, by social movements and organizations; as well as to the analysis and evaluation of the expansion strategy of the WSF process at all levels (events and articulations between events), and of the use of novelties like the extension of WSF discussions through the internet;

-"communication", which considers both the communication between participants of forums and more specially the communication with the world, so as it can receive the WSF message of hope, believe that another world is actually possible and desire it effectively@4;

-and, last but not least, "resources", since the action resulting from the process is assumed by the organisations and social movements that participate in it, but we need to face the cost of setting up open spaces that make possible the discussion (in several languages) between them and their articulation@5.

The IC could meet all these functions, today, through its commissions, composed of its members accordingly to each one option (which was the way used to organize them in Miami). And new Commissions could be created, as has been already proposed. In that way the IC would maintain its character as a support for self-organized events, meetings, articulations and struggles, without pretending to direct or command them. As well as it could take initiatives to improve the quality and efficiency of its help, so that the process could realize more and more effectively its goals.

It is quite clear, by the enumeration of the commission’s functions, that they could develop their work in an articulated way (with the consequent linkages between organizations and social movements whose members participate of them). And they would then demonstrate, very concretely, within the WSF process, that it is possible to perform another of the goals of this process: to intensify the Civil Society internal horizontal articulation in the struggle for "another world".

@1This visit, and subsequent ones of other IC members to India, resulted in a first experience of Regional Social Forum in that country in 2003 in Hyderabad, and in 2004, the first WSF outside Brazil, held in Mumbai.

@2 Today you can see by our practice, that such an expansion could be consist more than identify where are already existing important social processes, to stimulate them with World Social Forums, as it occurred with the IC decision, in 2001, to propose the organization of a world event in India. It would be a function of the Expansion Commission also to identify, as it happened more recently with the Arab countries, where liberation processes are existing that the Social Forums could feed, and, in addition, where it would be strategic (through the Strategies Commission analysis) that such processes were "provoked" by Social Forums.

@3This Commission, if it had existed, surely would have tried to "systematize" the "results" of the forums. And this would have allowed to better serve today to a request coming from all sides: what "results" has the FSM? As well as it would have been possible to identify and clarify the alternatives that arise within the WSF process, towards the "another possible world".

@4This communication should not be assumed, in my opinion, by a body of professional communicators hired by the IC but by social movements and organizations that participate in the process, using their own available resources and articulated with each other, working on the basis of the “results” identified by the Contents Commission, if it is created.

@5 There is also the cost of meetings to prepare the meetings, including those of the IC and its Commissions, as well as we need to provide some kind of help to the organizations and movements that do not have the resources to travel till the place where the open spaces of the WSF are created, even more when they are worldwide.


Towards a second "Copernican shift"?

These commissions had worked initially but gradually many of them were crumbling and even nearly disappearing. Why? In my opinion this has occurred for two reasons: firstly because this work requires continuity and time availability, and the IC members are people busy enough with their own organizations action; and secondly because, for many reasons, the resources to finance Commission’s face-to-face meetings that could be necessary dried up, beyond those required for the forum’s organization.

Would we then have people working "professionally" in the commissions, or at least being remunerated for their work? This temptation made a small path within the Communication Commission, which proposed something similar in the Berlin IC... The insufficient clarity in IC decision-making system even created misunderstandings: there were those who considered that the IC had approved this proposal, which swelled this Commission budget disproportionately in relation to the other Commissions budget, in the process general budget.

This "professionalization" of the IC Commissions would be however, in my opinion, the worst of the solutions. We would do now what we had decided not to do after the first WSF: to become a "company", with its body of officials; and now with more pretentions than simply to promote events...

Maybe we could now perform a second "Copernican shift" in our decisions about the IC functioning. For example combining two rules: on the one hand the members of the IC would be "freed" by their movements and organizations (i.e. they would "finance" them) to give more time to their responsibilities in the IC (and therefore to the work required by its various Commissions); on the other hand, they would do it for limited periods of time (two or three years, for example), with replacements in their own organizations.

Surely we would not solve the issue of the political weight of the representativeness, in the IC, of each organization or movement. But at least their representatives would not fall in parachute in the IC meetings. And they could present the real positions and decisions of their respective movements and organizations in the Commissions and then in the IC plenary sessions.

On the other hand, the limitation of the duration of the mandates would provide a continuous renewal of the participation of each organization and movement in the IC and therefore in the WSF process. And would help the penetration, inside them, of the experimentation of a new political culture, that is a central objective in this process@6

With the Commissions working in this way, it would be possible to build self-managed budgets for their work, so that the members of each Commission could travel (for example to do the expansion Commission contacts in different countries), participate in local or regional Forums to feed the reflection on the methodology of gatherings, have face-to-face meetings more often, make publications, websites and blogs and keep them active, conduct researches and surveys, organize seminars to analyse experiences and results, follow more closely the innovative initiatives, etc, etc.

Such budgets could perhaps be more easily financed through contributions of the Commissions member’s organizations and movements, as well as of the IC members and of the participants in the process, who are currently many hundreds of thousands. Obviously, all transparently accounted for and presented in the main site of the WSF.

Schedule of meetings of the IC

If we give all this importance to the work of the commissions, we could not leave its meetings taking place only in some spared time of the IC meetings. They would have to become a central activity in these meetings, presenting concrete proposals in the plenary sessions.

For some time now we have devoted the first day of the IC meetings to the analysis of the situation, prepared by the Strategy Commission. It would be during this time that the IC as a whole should exchange about what is happening in the world, about the new political actions, initiatives and experiences in the activities of the different movements and social organizations, about the possibilities that are being opened in the geographical and thematic expansion process. At this moment of the IC meeting the floor could be given also to special guests and even to observers, respecting their prior registration as such.

The reality of the country where the IC meeting takes place could be presented at least during the afternoon and the evening before that first day, brightening somehow all the meeting – which would mean that we would have to increase its effective duration, with the presence of all members of the IC. In this first period of time, however, they would only listen, ask questions and seek to understand, without taking decisions. The protagonic role would be entirely of the organizations and movements hosting the IC meeting@7

The second day (morning, afternoon and evening) should be reserved entirely to meetings of the Commissions and any working groups whose need arose in the discussions of the first day, including from what has been heard in the presentation of the reality of the country. And each Commission and working group would present in the third day their conclusions and proposals for the IC decision, not through bureaucratic and dull "reports", but stating what they would consider that the organizations and social movements could or should undertake.

As meetings are open, each Commission would manage, following its own decisions, the participation of people willing to help, inscribed as observers or invited by the Commission. If there were six or even eight presentations and discussions of this type, each one would count with at least one hour of collective intelligence work around it, which would be possibly enough if the floor were granted – flexibly, well understood – only to members of the IC, as we did in its beginnings. Observers and alternate representatives would have had the possibility to participate in the discussions of the first day and during the Commissions and groups work.

@6 The limitation of the number of mandates, in representative democracies, is in fact a proposal that is emerging in many places, as in Brazil, because it fights the transformation of political representation into a profession and its bureaucratization, and renews this representation.

@7 In the Monastir IC meeting both took place on a single day, since the reality of the challenges and aspirations that the "Arab spring" lifts were extremely present, including through various activities before the IC meeting – this meeting being itself part of a larger meeting that was called 2013 WSF in Tunisia Preparatory Assembly. This created a general atmosphere of enthusiasm in the first day of the IC meeting, and its climate was the one of vibrant political demonstrations.


The Liaison Group

There is still a last point to discuss regarding the functioning of the IC - the Liaison Group - that deserved a particularly complicated attention during the Monastir IC meeting, in the last session of the last day, as I reminded at the beginning of this text. Despite being a matter that has become delicate, I will have to approach it very quickly, to avoid an excessive extension of this text.

As it has occurred with the IC, the creation of the LG was not well understood by all, despite the fact that the document about its character, objectives and operation have taken over a year to be drawn up, and have been discussed at more than one IC meeting. If with the IC we are still having to invent, this is even more necessary with a group that intends to work as a Secretariat (when in the dominating political culture the post of General Secretary is in fact the most powerful...).

After two failed attempts to create something like an international secretariat, firstly bi-national (Brazil and India) and then tri-national (Brazil, India and Kenya), what is intended with the LG was to overcome the impression that the "Brazilians" did not want to "drop" a supposedly leading of the process, by maintaining a "Secretariat" (of the process or of the IC) under his control.

The document about the GE foresaw its goals and functions, the rotation of its members, etc. The existing Secretariat in Brazil became a secretariat of the LG, though in practice it had continued to help internal IC communication and the organization of its meetings (and, in certain aspects, even of the own WSF...), and has held the function of feeding the general site of the process and of writing its newsletters.

It was stressed, in that document, that the LG did not create a power nucleus in the WSF process, because it existed only to help the "liaison" between the members of the IC, commissions, etc. But the usual models of the old world prevailed again in many minds, who saw that group as an effective power nucleus. As in the WSF process the participation is always open, the number of LG members became excessive, making difficult a more efficient work, even more when it had to work only through the internet. And several of its members did not arrive to participate effectively of its work.

With the progressive dismantling of the Commissions, the "links" that the LG would have to promote became theoretical goals, and little by little its role was reduced to making a proposal for the IC meeting’s agenda. And during these meetings, to the distribution of the facilitation role of the meeting among its members, with the help of other IC members chosen by them.

Shortly before the Monastir meeting a proposal to replace a permanent LG, with members that are renewed, by an ad hoc LG, formed at each IC meeting to prepare the next one, assuming therefore that their role, if it continued to exist, would only be to prepare the meetings and help them to well function.

This proposal circulated nevertheless on a limited basis among IC members, but I do not remember if it has been formulated precisely in the final session, for the reasons that I remembered above. It was then only created a working group, composed of LG members whose mandates were still in force and IC members willing to  help, to prepare the agenda of the next IC meeting, which will take place on the occasion of the 2013 WSF.  And the LG issue as such entered in the agenda of the Group set up to discuss the IC future.

But in my view this issue requires careful reflection. Especially if it is adopted the option of giving the Commissions a central role in the IC. Many of the articulations that I suggested in the footnotes of this text, when considering the role of the Commissions, perhaps only could be stimulated by a more continuous Liaison Group, that would not be a Commission but would follow the work of all the Commissions and would articulate then with each other.

I stop however here, concerning the functioning of the IC, to do not extend too much this text, being sure that the Working Group on its future will find good outputs also for this issue.

But, and change the world?

At this point of my reflection, many of those who had the patience to read me so far are certainly saying: what we ask about the WSF process is not the democratic, effective and transparent functioning of its deliberative bodies, but rather the actions that result of it to reach effectively "another possible world" ... To address the issue of the IC functioning would be sufficient to lead the WSF process automatically to transformative actions?

On the other hand we could ask ourselves: we who participate in events and articulations created in WSF process may experience more humanized political relationships, convincing us that respectful relationships are possible in political action, discovering the importance of the action of so many who we did not know and others with whom we were in competition, building horizontal articulations more democratic than the traditional pyramids, as if the WSF process was only this? Even if all this is valid and necessary – and even pleasurable – the WSF process would not be turning into itself – as it happens in many human organizations - as if the world (outside) was not existing?

We should perhaps resume a little more in detail the goals of the WSF in the construction of "another possible world", and where we are in the way to achieve it. And then who would push ahead the transformative action that the WSF intends to stimulate.

The overall goal of the WSF process

We all know that the general (and final) objective of the WSF process, according to the first item of its Charter of Principles (oppose to neoliberalism and the domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism and build a planetary society directed towards a fruitful relationship among Humankind and between it and the Earth) is effectively to "change the world" or, more modestly, contribute to this change. It is therefore inside the vast effort that mankind has been doing for more than a century to overcome capitalism.

We also know that this "change" implies deep and varied "changes" in many sectors and aspects of life and institutions. And that they will only happen by the joint action of different political actors, each one acting in its time and role: democratic parties, democratically elected Governments - and also the «civil society», this being the novelty highlighted by the WSF process. This new "actor" emerged in recent decades, and is composed of organizations and social movements created and integrated by people who act as citizens – including even those who organize themselves in "companies" (not in the so-called "private sector" but in economic organizations which have carved out of its bowels the ADN of the pursuit of profit as an ultimate goal, and act as what's being called "social enterprise").

Many of our current frustrations prove the necessity of civil society participation in the processes of change, as political actor (knowing to choose who it elects, pressing, claiming, resisting, creating new solutions to the problems, helping, controlling). Even with the best intentions of some Governments and parties, and even when a Government is able to liberate itself of the dominant economic forces, Governments and parties alone will not change anything, in societies in which Civil society is passive and have its consciousness shaped by the values and the logic of neoliberal globalization.

On the other hand, such "changes" are at a lower risk of collapsing if the entire society consciously assume all its dimensions and aspects, living an authentic and profound cultural revolution. Going further in this question, these “changes” include up those in personal behaviours (such as those that today are multiplying in face of the environmental problems), towards modes of thinking and living inspired by values different of those that prevail today.

The contribution of the WSF, inside this whole@8  is to "facilitate" the political action of Civil Society for the achievement of the overall objective of "changing the world", through the creation, according to its Charter of Principles, an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements of civil society

More specific objectives can then be defined for the WSF process, related to the types of contribution it seeks to give.

WSF process specific objectives 

The first WSF specific objective was simply, when launched, to echo around the world the assertion that "another world is possible", bringing together, in one place on the planet, as much as possible organizations, social movements and people who are already engaged in the construction of this "other world". We therefore intended to show that there were a lot of people in the world opposed to the "unique thought" of Davos, and proving that there are alternatives to the world outside the logic of the "market".

For me the WSF process has still very much to walk because we are still far from reaching all corners of the planet with this message of hope. We already say that this "other world" is not only possible but absolutely necessary and urgent. But all citizens of our own countries do not believe that "another world is possible", still less that it is necessary and urgent. And much less all those who are already building "another world", by the planet, see the FSM (and its worldwide, regional, national and local gatherings) as a place that belongs to "them", where they can meet people and organizations engaged in the same fight, to learn and teach, discover convergences, launch new struggles.

A second specific objective (also proposed at the WSF beginning), was to contribute to increase, in the fight for "another world", the consistency of the civil society political activity, that we need to wake up still more for the mobilization and help to articulate.

The political decision making systems are currently held captive by the high spheres of political and economic power and representation. We need to move towards a more direct involvement of society as a whole in the decision making process. But this implies the understanding, by the Governments,  of what is a civil society autonomous action. As well as it requires that the parties accept that this is not Civil Society competing with them in the struggle for power, but to allow it to fulfil autonomously the role that only Civil Society can fulfil.

On the other hand, to fulfil its role with real political power, Civil Society have to overcome the fragmentation that characterizes it – because of the different types of diversity it has, and that we have to keep (reminding us of the richness of the indispensable biodiversity of nature and of the distribution of functions in the human body). The overcoming of the fragmentation should not therefore be obtained through homogenization and hierarchical structuring but through the construction of a type of union different from the "unity" (which we seek in our usual political action): that is to say, building more and more alliances that respect the autonomy of each movement and social organization (at local, national, regional and planet level).

To perform this second goal we also have a walk still long ahead. And only this union (and this type of union), will give the Civil Society the strength to build, along with Governments and parties, alternatives to dominant capitalist system crisis, its wars and its various mass murders, as well as prevent the literal ecological "drowning" to which this system is leading the world. However, this type of union is possible only within another political culture, bringing us to the third WSF specific objective.

This third WSF objective - the construction of a new political culture - is even deeper and more demanding than the previous two. Probably it was still an intuition when the FSM was launched. Within the WSF process itself - even less within participating organizations and movements – certain options expressed in its Charter, or arising from it, concerning the political culture, were not entirely assimilated and assumed or simply accepted: the non-directivity and self-management, the respect for diversity (even in the rhythm of the walk), the replacement of the competition for the cooperation, the horizontality in the relations, the network as a more democratic organisational structure that may be possible only in Civil Society. Some of these options are often swallowed in the daily practice by the old world logic that we want to overcome. And it is even more difficult to follow effectively the Gandhi principle, to which I have referred, that we need to live within ourselves the change that we want to happen in the world.

This new political culture requires a mutual trust – and a huge mutual help - that revolve our entrails. The few world meetings in which we seek to live it and learn it, provided by the WSF process, are not obviously sufficient for the deep "re-education" required for the construction of an effective new world, within another dominated for over five hundred years by capitalism.

In fact the WSF process has already contributed to the emergence in its "spaces" of many new networks that fight for "another world", articulating organizations and social movements. It would be long and unnecessary quoting them, such as those that now connect, in different ways, rural workers, urban workers, trade unions, indigenous people, women, scientists, judges, theologians of liberation, environmentalists, stateless peoples, occupied nations, advocates of water and other common goods, alternative communication people, housing movements, etc. And there is still very much to do@9

But the IC may very well help, from the perspective of this very moving, in my opinion through its Commissions, such as supporting the "facilitators" of meetings to improve ever more the methodology and organization of their "meeting places", bringing to them the experience of previous meetings in its various levels.

@8 The so-called "altermondialism" could, better than the WSF process, unite all the actors of the change processes. Existing prior to the WSF, it took possibly its current name (replacing antimondialism) by virtue of the "other world” proposed by the WSF. And, unlike the FSM, it is a movement. But it also does not have, as the FSM, a direction or commandments coordinating collective actions, as it does not work with deliberative plenaries. It is more than anything an attitude - the political choice to fight for another world - of organisations and movements as well as individuals, or (using the concepts created in the internet) a "cloud" of extremely diverse elements that target the same goal. Unlike the WSF, however, it has the possibility of including in it also parties and Governments, and this can be an advantage in the change processes. But it also needs to escape from the interested political use that the “left” knows how to do, as well as from the positioning of leaderships that begin to speak on its behalf, leading it to divide and weaken.

@9And more networks and movements can still be formed, as for example in the 2013 WSF a large global network to fight the use of Atomic Energy for the production of electrical energy, as I ardently hope, connected to the networks that already exist against nuclear weapons.


The subject of the transformative action

But in all this the WSF is only an instrument. The subjects of the transformative action, towards the achievement of the ultimate goal of overcoming the globalized capitalist system, are the organizations and social movements, inserted in the whole of political actors fighting for "another possible world".

This appears starkly and immediately in several principles of the WSF Charter. These principles indicate also clearly that the whole process moves to the action but also that the subject of the action is not the World Social Forum as such nor much less the WSF IC. So:

(item 1) The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.

(item 7) Nonetheless, organizations or groups of organizations that participate in the Forums meetings must be assured the right, during such meetings, to deliberate on declarations or actions they may decide on, whether singly or in coordination with other participants. The World Social Forum undertakes to circulate such decisions widely by the means at its disposal, without directing, hierarchizing, censuring or restricting them, but as deliberations of the organizations or groups of organizations that made the decisions.

(item 8) The World Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralized fashion, interrelates organizations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to build another world.

(item 14) The World Social Forum is a process that encourages its participant organizations and movements to situate their actions, from the local level to the national level and seeking active participation in international contexts, as issues of planetary citizenship, and to introduce onto the global agenda the change-inducing practices that they are experimenting in building a new world in solidarity.

A clear example of what this means, in practice, was given by the great manifestation of February 2003 for peace and against the war and the invasion of Iraq, a vigorous action that we would all like to repeat. If we well remember what was then lived, the proposal of this demonstration was presented at an IC meeting in Florence in 2002 – and has been tested in the demonstration of the closure of this meeting. In fact this mobilization was already in progress on the initiative mainly of Italian social movements, as it was indicated by the large dimension that took this demonstration. In the IC it was proposed a world call from the IC, as IC, to launch the world demonstration in 2003. At its meeting in Dakar in the previous year the IC had decided that it should not take political positions as such, avoiding to change the “space” FSM into a “movement”. After many discussions, the consensual decision was that the organizations and movements that were carrying the proposal should make the calls, with the support of the IC member organizations, and all of them mobilizing their networks to perform this demonstration.

The same proposal - that the IC as IC would back this mobilization - was presented in its February meeting in 2003 after the WSF in Porto Alegre. The consensus again was that the organizations and social movements should continue the work they were doing, without the IC positioning itself, as IC, to support the initiative. At this point the organizations and social movements that were articulated around it were more numerous and were already disseminated throughout the world – the reception having been very well accepted everywhere, for its clear need and opportunity, in face of growing pressure pro-war of USA. And when the mobilization in late February of that year led to the streets around the world more than 15 million people - the largest in the history of humanity, say many - it was clear that they were a result of the action of organizations and movements around the world, besides the parties, without needing any single commandment (in the case, of the IC, who would be in practice speaking as WSF, transformed – or intending to become - the summit of social movements from around the world ...).

The problem therefore, in relation with the transformative action itself, is not raised really to the WSF process, or much less to the IC. The question must be put to the social movements and organizations, about their capability to define their own actions.

At this point of our reasoning we can come back to the usefulness of the WSF process, which creates spaces in which organisations and social movements around the world can freely reflect and discuss about the course of things, about the cracks and gaps that are being opened in the dominant system, about the best strategies to direct our action to them effectively, on the strategic focal points around which many can join (as it happened in 2003 with the risk of war and invasion of Iraq), on the level of awareness, by the different sectors of society, of the different types of domination to which they are subjected.

It is already much more consensual today that such reflection and debate should not define a single action or a single level and type of action – our Charter of principles being explicit when opposing to the unique WSF final declarations - but rather identify everything that can be done, in the multiplicity and diversity of activities and sectors of the struggle of organizations and social movements.

Our problem then, as "facilitators" of the WSF process, would have to be how to perform as best as possible the specific goals of the WSF process, supported by the IC Commissions (the current and others that can be created), so that these struggles are identified and proposed, and the organizations and social movements perform effectively, when returning to their routine after the WSF process meetings, what they decided to do.

All this to build a WSF process future that makes it able to really increasingly contribute to change the world.