Reflections after Mumbai 2004
Reflections on the Global Justice Movement
by Marco Cuevas-Hewitt
There is no doubt that neo-liberalism is in crisis. It's crisis is that of it's own legitimacy. Its imperial ideology and institutions are increasingly being called into question and attacked by the global citizenry informed by a new global consciousness. UK writer and activist, George Monbiot, actually believes that we may be on the verge of a new 'metaphysical mutation', a rare moment in history which sweeps away old systems and revolutionises the way people think, the world over. Historical examples are the emergence of Islam and Christianity, and the Enlightenment period. In the present day, there has been an explosive rebirth of fresh thinking and new ideas about human possibility and potential, and an outright rejection of the TINA doctrine (There Is No Alternative). What we are witnessing is a rediscovery of human agency and a new optimism about our collective power to change the world.
The World Social Forum in January this year in Mumbai, India, saw the gathering of 100,000 people - 70,000 of them Indian of every state, caste, class, religion, and ethnicity, and 30,000 of them from overseas from 120 different countries - to express their opposition to neo-liberalism, exchange experiences, create and strengthen alliances, discuss and debate alternatives, and celebrate the growing global culture of resistance and revolt. The slogan that was popularised in Porto Alegre, "Another World is Possible", echoed in every hall and tent, under every tree and on every dusty crowded street of the Nesco Grounds that hosted the mammoth forum.
The WSF's shift to India this year reflected its recognition of the need to broaden its reach and involve a greater number of individuals and social movements from the African and Asian continents at the sharp end of imperialism and neo-liberalism. After all, the first three forums had largely been confined to European and Latin American social movements. Mumbai has a suitably radical history, being the birthplace of India's independence movement in 1885, as well as the birthplace of India's very first trade union in 1890. India's national liberation movement in the Forties inspired all subsequent national liberation movements, throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Important and heroic struggles continue to be waged all over India, such as the struggles against the dam project in the Narmada Valley, against the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, and against the Western companies responsible for the gas tragedy in Bhopal. Initially there were hesitations about holding the Forum in Mumbai, seeing that it is over-crowded and polluted, and does not have the advantage of a progressive local government like in Porto Alegre. There were fears that conservative forces would try to sabotage the event but this did not happen. The forum's move to India turned out to be highly successful.
Mumbai is home to nearly 20 million people, half of whom either live in slums or on the streets. The sheer degree and conspicuousness of urban poverty in Mumbai shocked many international participants of the forum. Filthy, pencil-thin beggars, mainly women and children, flocked to the forum gates. They were a sobering reminder to all forum participants of the urgency and importance of humanity's task in building "another world". In the hundreds of conference halls and tents of the forum, the poor could no longer be talked about in the abstract; they were living and breathing just beyond the forum's perimeters.
The forum in India resolved to adopt, as its main themes, opposition to imperialist globalisation, patriarchy, and militarism, and in order to address the specific concerns of South Asia (while still maintaining a global perspective), opposition to casteism and racism (descent-based oppression, exploitation, exclusion, and discrimination), and communalism (religious sectarianism and fundamentalism).
In the weeks leading up to the World Social Forum, several startling billboards sprung up around Mumbai. For example, one billboard had the format of a huge postcard on which was written, "Dear George Bush, Give peace a chance. Visit the land of non-violence. Regards, Raja Rani Travels". And another, advertising Air India: "Greater Friendship. Shorter Flying Time. We now fly through Pakistani Airspace". I had the acute feeling that these companies were trying to capitalise on the Forum and appeal to the expected massive influx of forum participants from other parts of the country and the world. It pointed out to me the dangers of dissent being co-opted by market forces. Neo-liberalism's resiliency relies to a large degree on its ability to co-opt oppositional forces, whether through the market, through the media, or through conscious government efforts.
The World Social Forum is inextricably a part of what many call the Global Justice Movement, or the Movement of Movements. In the past, it has been erroneously labelled the Anti-Globalisation movement by a capitalist media skillful in creating its own terminology that legitimises the status quo. Many simply define globalisation as cosmopolitanisation and the increasing interdependence of the world's people through trade and communications. In this sense, the Global Justice movement is definitely not anti-globalisation. However, many on the left use the terms 'globalisation' and 'neo-liberalism' synonymously, referring to the processes of privatisation, commodification, deregulation and trade liberalisation, which lead to the erosion of sovereignty of communities and the undermining of democracy. In this sense of the word, yes, the Global Justice movement is anti-globalisation. But what need is there of this definition of globalisation if we can already express this through the term 'neo-liberalism'? The differing definitions of globalisation only lead to confusion. A third definition of globalisation is to extend and spread something on a global scale. In this sense of the word, we are against the globalisation of neo-liberalism, but we are for the globalisation of resistance, democracy, justice and human rights; indeed, for an alternative globalisation from below. One particular Indian newspaper had the nerve to call the World Social Forum an 'anti-global' event, despite delegates from over 120 countries being present. To me, this shows why we should drop the 'anti-globalisation' tag once and for all; it creates more trouble and confusion than it's worth. George Monbiot writes that what our movement needs to do is to actually harness and capture the process of globalisation and "use it as a vehicle for humanity's first global democratic revolution". What could be more pro- globalisation than a global revolution? What we are fighting against is not globalisation, but rather, neo-liberalism, which itself is a form of imperialism and merely the latest wave of capitalist expansion.
Since the onset of neo-liberal policies, the world has seen an annual net financial transfer from the South to the North of US$300 billion, due to unfair terms of trade, aid, and investments. No matter how many billions of dollars are given in aid to poorer countries by bilateral or multilateral agencies, this money inevitably always flows back to its source, with interest. Within both the South and the North there is also a redistribution of wealth taking place from the poor to the rich, so that we see the creation of the South within the North, as well as the North within the South. The neo-liberal empire would not be able to function if the economic elite of the North didn't have a network of loyal, corrupt Southern elites to service them and the Empire, at the expense of their own people.
The Global Justice Movement is widely seen to have had its origins during the Seattle riots in 1999, in which 50,000 people managed to shut down the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation. However, the origins of the movement began much earlier. The first reason Seattle was significant and exciting was that it saw the unity of elements of the left that previously would have wanted nothing to do with each other, such as trade unionists and environmentalists. Single issue movements were finally coming to realise their common basis and the necessity of standing together to battle the common enemy of neo-liberalism. The second reason Seattle was significant was that it was the first time there was such a large and militant demonstration against neo-liberalism in the North. Large demonstrations had been taking place throughout the South against neo- liberal institutions long before Seattle. For example, in the Eighties when the IMF imposed a halt to food subsidies in the South, it provoked a series of urban uprisings in several countries that became known as the "Food Riots". Also in the Eighties were many large movements that formed to counter socially and ecologically destructive World Bank infrastructure projects, such as the infamous Narmada Valley Dam Project in India. The Nineties saw widespread protests against World Bank and IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs. But these movements were extremely localised and isolated from each other. Neo-liberalism was at the pinnacle of its glory and its proponents were more confident than ever. However, on January 1, 1994, on the very day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was due to become law, there was an armed uprising by the extremely marginalised indigenous people of Southern Mexico who called themselves the Zapatistas. More than any other single event, it was the Zapatista uprising that triggered a new wave of internationalism, the legacy of which we are living today. While initially appearing as a traditional guerrilla movement, it quickly became evident that it was something entirely new. It was an indigenous mass movement taking place through autonomous organising in hundreds of villages all over southern Mexico, and not something confined to a few dozen revolutionary fighters. After the initial two weeks of fighting, not a single shot has been fired, but thousands of Zapatistas continue to organise autonomously in their villages and construct a people-centred alternative to the doctrine of neo-liberalism that had dehumanised them to the point that they could not bear it any longer. The Zapatistas were adept at building a global solidarity network, and creating a new consciousness against the tyrannies of neo-liberalism, and in particular, free trade. Activists in Canada and the United States were quick to realise their own role in challenging NAFTA, and it was this new Zapatista-inspired consciousness that led directly to the anti-WTO riots in Seattle. The Zapatistas even held two global encuentros against neo-liberalism and for humanity. The first was held in Chiapas in 1996, and the second in Spain in 1997. These encuentros gave rise, and shape, to a new internationalism and inspired the creation of IndyMedia and People's Global Action. It was at these meets that the seeds of the World Social Forum were also planted. The Zapatista uprising reinvigorated and re-energised a tired and battered Left, and the 'Battle of Seattle' served to trigger further excitement and optimism, and inspired yet more mass mobilisations against the institutions of neo- liberalism, such as those that took place in Prague, Gothenburg, Melbourne, Quebec, and Genoa. The recent popular revolt in Bolivia and the ongoing process of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela are also part of the wider emerging movement. The War on Terror has been a test for the Global Justice Movement; a test which was undoubtedly passed when the movement, largely considered to be solely anti- corporate, morphed into the biggest anti-war protest in history on February 15, 2003. There was a new recognition that the IMF chequebook and the American cruise missile are just different weapons used by the neo-liberals for the same ends. Hillary Wainwright, the editor of the journal Red Pepper, believes that February 15 was perhaps the first time in history that the world's people and social movements have truly acted as a conscious global agent. The fact that the February 15 call-to-action was made by individuals and organisations active within the European and World Social Forums points to the immense potential of these new formations. The collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun in September 2003 was also a major victory for the Global Justice Movement. It is within the historical context outlined above that the World Social Forum has come into being.
The Pakistani rock band, Junoon, played to a huge audience at the WSF's Opening Ceremony. They were given an extremely warm reception by the crowd, especially by the Indians. It was soul-stirring to see this expression of solidarity between India and Pakistan, irrespective of their belligerent leaders, and irrespective of the disputed Line of Control that divides Indian-occupied Kashmir from Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. The new internationalism has no respect for national borders; just a desire to see all humans live free. There was quite a large Pakistani delegation at the Forum, which would have been even larger if the Indian authorities hadn't denied visas to 2000 other Pakistanis. Another band that played at the opening ceremony was Instituto from Brazil. Between songs, the singer said to the audience: "Sorry I don't speak much English. I just want to say to India, that everything we know about you in Brazil comes through the U.S. or Europe. We need to speak directly, so that we'll know each other directly. We countries of the Third World have to stick together".
One of the great successes of this year's WSF was that it achieved its aim of vastly greater participation from African and Asian social movements. Women also played a much greater role, and the proportion of delegates from the poorer sections of society - dalits (untouchables/lower-caste), adivasis (tribals), farmers, and other rural workers - was much greater in Mumbai than in Porto Alegre. In addition, it has been estimated that 80 percent of delegates to this year's forum were in the 25-35 age-group. That should definitely be cause for great hope.
The forum consisted of a dozen or so WSF-organised plenary sessions, featuring all the usual left-wing superstars such as Arundhati Roy and Jose Bove, and hundreds, if not thousands, of self-organised events. It was the latter that were inevitably much more lively and allowed for greater participation from the audience. The WSF shouldn't solely be about the big-name speakers. Nor should it be about merely pushing for legislation in our respective countries that might aid our cause. Nor should it be merely just an annual feel-good pilgrimage that takes the place of true, committed grassroots struggle. What the World Social Forum is about is sharing stories of struggle and developing strategies for overcoming obstacles in the process of building a new world. It is a space where people with histories and dreams can come together; a space for the cross-pollination of ideas and for moving towards a genuine politics of difference. Sonali Kolhatkar, writing for Z-mag, states: "When Indian farmers screwed by Monsanto hear the testimonies of Latin American farmers also screwed by Monsanto, solutions to global problems may be more visible, and the prospects of uniting globally against Monsanto and others comes closer to reality". I attended a forum on post-conflict reconstruction, where delegates from Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq all told their stories of how the UN, World Bank, BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organisations), and Multinational Corporations have all undermined the sovereignty of their communities and have worked to rebuild their countries in the neo-liberal mould, using such mechanisms as loan conditionality. One speaker described the World Bank and IMF's PRSPs (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers - the euphemistically renamed term for the Structural Adjustment Programs of old) as 'weapons of mass destruction'. Where else in the world could such a vast array of communities in resistance get together in one place at one time to share stories on a common platform? It is my ardent belief that despite all of the criticisms that the WSF has attracted (I will elucidate these further on), it must be defended as it is indeed one of the few platforms in the world where the poor actually have a voice.
I heard stories of how 3 million people have died in a war in the Congo, largely over mineral wealth. There are, in fact, rival armies backed by rival corporations who are competing over access to coltan, which is used in the manufacture of mobile phones and Playstations. The African Union is seeking to further entrench neo-liberalism in the continent, by their pioneering of NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development), which is Africa's answer to the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) on the other side of the Atlantic.
I also heard stories of how Tamils are being pushed off their lands by Sinhala chauvinists in cahoots with transnational corporations. These corporations have been buying up land for tourist resorts, industry, and aquaculture. Governments such as those of Japan have been helping to broker peace agreements on the troubled island, but only in order to assist corporations from their country to be able to more easily penetrate the country. One Tamil activist told of how he was struggling for Tamil autonomy but also for peace between the Sinhalese and Tamils. He and four others were even hospitalised by Sinhala chauvinists at a Sinhala-Tamil joint cultural festival for peace that he organised in Colombo.
Meanwhile, Mustapha Barghouti, a Palestinian activist, outlined the case for the freedom struggle in Palestine: "It's exactly like the struggle of Indians in the 40s for independence, it is exactly like the Algerian struggle in the 60s, the Vietnamese struggle in the 70s and the South African struggle in the 80s". He talked about Israel's new apartheid wall, and the ongoing atrocities. And while the US supplies military hardware to Israel in its occupation of Palestine, Israel in turn supplies military hardware to India in its occupation of Kashmir.
In addition to the telling of stories, there was also the creation of new alliances. The Assembly of Social Movements, which is an alliance between ATTAC, Focus on the Global South, Via Campesina and other groups, and which was formed at a previous WSF in Porto Alegre, has demonstrated the value of building such bridges. It was this coalition that issued the call-to-action on February 15, 2003 against the US invasion of Iraq. We are all familiar with the results. The WSF Charter of Principles states that the WSF cannot, as a body, issue final declarations or resolutions which claim to represent all participants of the WSF as a whole. The reason for this is that the organisers feel that inclusion must take precedence over agenda- setting. But the WSF does not discourage groups or coalitions from making their own declarations, resolutions, proposals, or calls-to- action, as long as they do so in their own name, and not in the name of the WSF in its entirety. The organisers merely see their role as providing a space. They see the WSF as an arena of actors, rather than as an actor in itself. Therefore, it is up to individuals and groups within the WSF space to form their own alliances and organise themselves, rather than expect to be organised from above. The Assembly of Social Movements has shown what is possible in the past. This year, Via Campesina, Focus on the Global South, and Food First, have made steps towards allying themselves with social movements in Venezuela. After all, Venezuela's government is the only one of its kind in the world in that it sees itself as part of our movement. US organisations also got together and resolved to work towards building an American Social Forum in 2005.
There were also alliances built between migrant and refugee-rights groups. With an increasingly militarised US-Mexico border, the mass deportations of Arabs and muslims from the US, the rise of Fortress Europe and Fortress Australia, and the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in places like South Korea and Hong Kong, the demand for global citizenship is becoming increasingly central.
Indian Dalit human-rights organisations also made steps towards building alliances with the other most oppressed groups in Indian society. I attended a forum entitled, "A Roundtable of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and Women", where it was pointed out to me that in any indicator of human rights or development that you take, these four groups are always disproportionately represented, which is proof of structural inequality. It was also explained to me that Hindutva (Hindu Fundamentalist) forces are allying themselves with global market forces, leading to ever greater divisions in Indian society. While global market forces widen the gap between the rich and poor, hindutva forces divide the poor from each other to distract them from their real problems. Hindus are pitted against muslims, and higher castes against dalits. Meanwhile, the economic elite continue largely unhindered in their neo-liberalist project. Caste these days is not just religiously-sanctioned oppression; it is being entrenched by neo- liberalism.
Rallies and marches took place throughout the day, every day, winding their way around the forum, inevitably accompanied by loud drumming, dancing, singing and chanting. There were anti-Narmada Dam campaigners, Hiroshima survivors, Bhopal gas victims, liberation theologists, Mumbai slum-dwellers, Peruvian peasants' groups, South Korean socialists, Nepali and Burmese students, Tibetan monks, dalit organisations, indigenous peoples' groups, trade unions, Sri Lankan and Bhutanese refugees, Queer rights groups, UK trotskyists, Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners, Pakistani and Indonesian social forum coalitions, Catholic anti-debt campaigners, Muslim groups, Brazilian farmers, Italian communists, Venezuelan Bolivarian revolutionaries, migrant worker organisations, Palestinian groups, and US anti-war coalitions, to name just a few. The constant rallying and vibrant cultural expression of the impossibly diverse array of groups in resistance created a sense of euphoria and was inspiring to all forum participants. One gained the sense that, worldwide, people everywhere were fighting back, and that for the first time in history, a truly global, interconnected culture of resistance was in the process of being created. However, we must realise that as inspiring as the World Social Forum was for many of us, we cannot be content with that euphoria, as we still have a long fight ahead of us.
There were other manifestations of cultural expression as well. There were all manner of musical and theatrical performances at all hours, spread across seven stages throughout the vast Nesco Grounds. There were also two cinemas at the World Social Forum grounds which screened movies and documentaries from all parts of the world, largely concerning social justice. So the Forum was far from being just a conference; it was a festival of the oppressed.
There were several events held before, during, and after the World Social Forum, planned and funded autonomously, though not in opposition to the main event. One such event was the Third Inter- Continental Youth Camp, which saw an estimated 7000 young people from all over the world camp out at a local high school to discuss and strategise around the specific problems of youth. The first two youth camps were held in Porto Alegre and were created to provide a greater democratic space and participatory structure for discussion and strategising than the World Social Forum allowed. Like the social forum process, the youth camp process has been enthusiastically adopted by social movements around the world with camps already held on several continents.
Another parallel event was the World Parliamentary Forum. This was a space dedicated to progressive and left-wing politicians from different countries to get together to discuss electoral strategies and how political parties should relate to social movements.
Events that followed the World Social Forum included the Land Mela (for groups to discuss land-rights issues and struggles by rural workers) and the People's World Water Forum (to strategise over water- rights and issues concerning sovereignty over natural resources).
The main criticism of the World Social Forum is that there are no formal outcomes. The Forum is still a relatively new phenomenon and is still finding its feet, and although there have been no official outcomes, there have been hundreds of unofficial outcomes, such as the forging of friendships, new alliances, coalitions, and relationships, increased South-South dialogue, and increased dialogue between the world's social movements as a whole. There are a number of ongoing debates about the future of the forum around issues such as its structure, which I will discuss in due course.
Although the World Social Forum in Mumbai this year has been widely hailed as an overwhelming success, it was characterised by widespread critical self-reflection about the WSF process itself, which should be seen as a healthy development. After all, if the WSF is truly to embody the hope and aspirations of the world's social movements it must be always open to scrutiny and constructive criticism, so that it can remain relevant as a tool for the growing global resistance against neo-liberalism. In this light, I wish to offer my observations on some of the failures or shortcomings of the WSF.
I believe that the WSF has placed far too much emphasis on big-name speakers and the usual left-wing superstars. The WSF paid for around 80 speakers to come and address the forum, which is an immense drain on funds which could be better spent on improving facilities for all of the forum's participants (such as a better translation system; something that is urgently required if the forum is to become truly internationalist), rather than just heaping privilege on an elite few. With the exception of a few grassroots activists like Medha Patkar, the speakers largely represented governments, parties, and powerful international NGOs. I believe that emphasis and priority should be given to true grassroots activists, and that parliamentarians should be given the back seat, rather than vice- versa. If the big-name speakers' flights and accommodation hadn't been paid for by the WSF would they have bothered to come at all? Are they interested in what we have to say or are they content just lecturing us? Notable politicians who were paid to come and speak at the Forum included Nguyen Thi Binh, the vice-president of Vietnam; Jeremy Corbin, a British Labour Party MP; Satu Hasi, the Minister for Environment in Finland; and V.P. Singh, the former Prime Minister of India. Although supposedly "progressive", many of these politicians have been guilty of implementing neo-liberal measures that the WSF supposedly opposes. A stark example is the invitation that the WSF extended to the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh. He spoke about the contemporary relevance of Gandhian thought and the importance of peoples' participation in the political process, but many felt that his rhetoric was not consistent with his record as a politician, and that his record was not consistent with the WSF's principles. He was challenged by a spontaneous demonstration of adivasis and anti-dam activists who held him culpable for his complicity in the notorious and controversial Narmada Valley dam project, which has ousted hundreds of thousands of tribal people and rural dwellers from their homes without compensation or resettlement measures.
Alex Callinicos of the Socialist Workers' Party in Britain recently wrote in an article that the fact "that a former senior US official [Joseph Stiglitz] came to debate with us is a real tribute to the movement's power". Joseph Stiglitz was an official under the Clinton administration and also served as the Chief Economist of the World Bank before breaking ranks after the East Asian financial crisis. He has written a well-known book entitled Globalisation and its discontents, but rather than opposing neo-liberalism outright, he merely advocates a moderated version of it. While I share Callinicos' enthusiasm about the movement's strength, the fact of the matter is that Stiglitz did not come to debate with us; he had his way paid by the WSF.
Some of the big-name speakers were genuine activists, and writers and intellectuals whom I respect very much. But to be honest, the big events held with these characters were nowhere near as exciting, enthusiastic or participatory as the hundreds of smaller, self- organised events, where there were more opportunities to debate and contribute from the floor. We need fresh ideas, solutions and visions, not lectures and rhetoric. Forum participants should demand to be treated as participants, rather than just as a passive audience seated in rows facing the dais, passively receiving wisdom from the designated speakers. While we are fighting for globalisation from below, some have cynically remarked that what we are receiving instead from the WSF is "globalisation from Bello". But perhaps this is unfair to Walden Bello, who I respect very much. Milan Rai, an Indian activist and political writer described his take on the matter as such: "much of the WSF process is like this: very good people, very good intentions, largely one-way communication, a lack of structured [participatory] debate and a mysterious process of decision-making somewhere off stage." The important question that arises is how can the forum become a truly horizontal participatory meeting of minds - for real dialogue - and not simply a top-down affair with no space for genuine participation and where the rigid divide between speakers and audience is maintained?
Lack of transparency is another matter of concern. The organising committees are highly removed from the WSF's constituents, and although it would be relatively simple to create greater transparency, the WSF seems to have no interest in doing so. All they would have to do is publish the minutes of their meetings and the decisions reached, along with the names of people responsible for certain initiatives, on the internet. This would create instant transparency and accountability. But the WSF organising committees are dominated by large international NGOs with little history of democratic practice.
The opening session of the WSF witnessed something very unusual: a protest against the WSF itself. A hundred or so disabled people who were activists of disabled-rights and other causes, chanted "WSF! Shame! Shame!" Their rally was followed by a candlelight vigil. They were angry that disability was not even on the Forum's agenda, and that many venues were inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.
The WSF was also challenged from without, most notably by the oppositional grouping calling itself Mumbai Resistance. They organised a rival forum, just across the highway from the WSF, in which 310 organisations and 5000 people participated. The majority of the participants were peasant farmers and rural activists involved in Maoist organisations. In fact, the Maoist ILPS (International League of Peoples' Struggles) was the driving force behind Mumbai Resistance, who resolved to hold the rival forum at a meeting of theirs in July 2003 in the Netherlands. One of MR's critiques of the WSF is that it has accepted funds in the past from imperialist governments and funding agencies who are actively seeking to coopt global dissent. The governments of France and Germany have donated to past WSFs, as have organisations like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. Many feel that the WSF's legitimacy in the Global Justice Movement has therefore been compromised. A second critique of MR's is that the WSF has allowed the participation of NGOs and politicians who have been complicit in the neo-liberal project, while at the same time excluding militant armed organisations from participating. For example, the Zapatistas of Mexico, PWG (Peoples' War Group) of India, and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have all been barred from participating. MR feels that genuine peoples' movements should be emphasised and given prominence rather than NGOs.
The seeds of MR were sown at the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in January 2003. One incident in particular led to a growing critique of the WSF process in India, and ultimately, to a solid core of people splitting with the social forum project altogether: During the ASF, there was a protest of mainly dalit women, at an international investors meeting at a luxury hotel, hosted by chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, who is an ardent supporter of neo- liberalism. Hundreds of women were arrested and brutalised by police, yet there was no outcry from the organisers. They responded by saying that the women had not sought their permission to protest.
MR states that its aim is the "continuation of the militant traditions set in the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements that assumed a new intensity after seattle... this event will be in contrast to the diffused and unfocused nature of the WSF gatherings organised by imperialist-funded NGOs and political formations that support the process of globalisation".
Many participants in the WSF were dismayed that the Left was fracturing itself at precisely the moment in history when the WSF was trying so hard to bring the Left together. The WSF is by no means perfect, but it is up to its participants to challenge and change it from within. It seems hasty to abandon a project that is only in its fourth year and is still very much in the making; especially in light of the fact that it has so far had so much success and has displayed so much potential. Arundhati Roy and Michael Albert were two prominent activists who spoke at both forums, in order to overcome the divisions.
Alex Callinicos felt that MR was a flop and points out that "cultivating revolutionary purity for its own sake merely isolates you from those whose interests you claim to represent".
The inaugural WSF in Porto Alegre was largely seen to have been oppositional in nature, in that it defined itself in opposition to the World Economic Forum and their neo-liberal project. The second WSF however was about the renewal of hope, and it was at this forum that the slogan "Another World Is Possible!" first appeared. The third WSF centred around the articulation of concrete alternatives. As was previously mentioned, the WSF this year in Mumbai, however, was largely characterised by self-reflection and internal critique of the WSF process itself. But this was good-natured and done in the interests of refining the WSF process and making it more democratic, transparent, accountable, representative, participatory, and useful as a tool for the world's social movements. This healthy internal scrutiny was no doubt triggered, in part, by the critiques of MR. Many of the issues that MR raised forced WSF participants to critically reflect on the WSF process that they had so far uncritically accepted.
After all, MR's criticisms weren't entirely invalid. They had the effect of putting the WSF Organising Committee on the defensive. In actual fact, the Organising Committee this year actually chose to reject millions of dollars worth of grants from the Ford Foundation, the British Government's Department for International Development, the European Union, and the MacArthur Foundation, in order to maintain its integrity as an anti-neoliberal body. But these organisations still fund many of the rich and powerful NGOs that participate in the WSF, and the WSF asks no questions about their funding. Elements of the Organising Committee had accepted the validity of MR's criticisms about funding and thus worked to remedy them. This shows that MR need not have isolated itself and split from the WSF altogether, as the WSF is not a monolith and is clearly open to influence and challenges from its constituents.
In what is a further reflection of the WSF's introspection about its own relevance to the Global Justice Movement, two books were released this year to coincide with the WSF event in January: a collection of essays entitled "WSF: Challenging Empires" published by the Viveka Foundation, and another collection called "A Movement of Movements: Is Another World Really Possible?" published by Verso. They feature works by Chico Whitaker, Michael Albert, Arundhati Roy, Walden Bello, Jose Bove, Michael Hardt, Naomi Klein, Subcomandante Marcos, and dozens of other activists and intellectuals covering the full spectrum of opinion and perspective on the WSF. They are the first books of their kind dedicated to exploring all aspects of the WSF phenomenon, and are remarkable achievements. They explore the ongoing debates that are taking place within the WSF and within the wider movement, not least of which is the participation of NGOs in the Social Forum process.
The presence of NGOs was uncontroversial in Brazil but was the subject of heated debate in India. Much of the Indian left has developed a scathing critique of NGOs as they feel that wealthy international "development" or policy-orientated NGOs, such as Oxfam or Amnesty, have no consonance with people struggling at the grassroots and share little in common with genuine social movements. Large international NGOs are often funded and contracted by International Financial Institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank to carry out development projects which seldom pose a threat to neo-liberalism. After all, NGOs must serve the interests of their donors not of the people that they supposedly wish to help. For the oppressor, aid is an important tool and weapon, and NGOs are all too often their willing pawns. At the WSF this year, criticism of NGOs by the poor seemed to be a recurrent theme. A women's rights activist from Afghanistan said that in her country there are 6000 expatriate NGO-employees getting huge salaries for jobs that could be done by Afghans. Aid given by governments to Afghanistan goes towards paying the salaries of foreign bureaucrats rather than actually assisting those in need. In situations like Afghanistan, NGOs often overshadow and take the place of government services, aren't accountable, and are under pressure to show results quickly in order to secure further funding. They therefore are interested only in short-term projects. Alex Callinicos says that NGOs are also responsible for "creaming off activists into well-paid bureaucratic jobs and confining movements back to relatively narrow issues". Many people feel that the WSF leadership must shift from the rich and powerful NGOs to the more politicised grassroots organisations with a serious social base who are genuinely involved in mass movements. Many warn against NGOs monopolising the entire process of dissent and crowding out more radical groupings. But the WSF is an open space, welcome to all individuals and groups opposed to neo-liberalism. Some of these critiques of NGOs are valid, but what we must remember is that for many newly-politicised young people, NGOs like Greenpeace and Amnesty are their first port-of- call. Their supporter bases are a vital audience for us and it is to them that we must reach out without prejudice.
Just as there is concern in some quarters of the WSF about the involvement of NGOs, there is also concern around the involvement of political parties. The common thread is the feeling that neither NGOs nor political parties have a monopoly over the power to achieve change. Hillary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper, asserts that "the movements of the oppressed and marginalised need autonomy to develop and identify their own needs, identities, and sources of power." Actually, the WSF's Charter of Principles excludes political parties from participating in the forum in their official capacities, with the view to strengthen independent social movements. There is much ambiguity about this specific clause, as it is clear that the Forum is not anti-party seeing that the Worker's Party (PT) in Brazil was central in the organisation of the first three Social Forums, just as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was central in the organisation of this year's forum. There is a growing lobby within the WSF to remove the clause that prevents parties from participating. However, this clause doesn't seem to have prevented their participation in the past.
There is an ongoing debate around the exact nature of the relationship between social movements and political parties. Traditional parties, whether of the Leninist or Social Democratic kind, have historically found it difficult to relate to the wider movement. Fausto Bertinotti of the Refoundation Communist Party in Italy insists, however, that parties are finally learning and opening themselves up: "The collective intellect is in the movement, and the party is contributing to that, but it cannot in itself be that collective intellect". Independent social movements are still skeptical though. Hillary Wainwright writes: "The experience of people being represented has become so diminished that many people feel that only a pure form of direct democracy has any authenticity... traditional parties of the left have long acted as if knowledge can be centralised for dissemination to a passive membership. The mass membership have not been seen as creative, knowing, autonomous, interconnected human beings; they have been treated as supporters, voting fodder..." The challenge for political parties is how to participate in the new ways of organising adopted by the WSF and by many anarchist-inspired social movements. The central feature of the WSF's method is the philosophy of 'Open Space', which is the subject of another heated debate currently taking place within the WSF process.
The philosophy of Open Space holds that the maximum inclusion of participants must take precedence over agenda-setting, which can only lead the alienation and exclusion of participants who do not agree to the common agenda. The organisers see the forum as an arena, not an actor. There is a clause in the Charter of Principles which states that the Forum will not ever issue any final declarations or resolutions that claim to represent the views of all forum participants in their entirety. However, the forum does not discourage groups or coalitions from organising themselves and issuing their own declarations and resolutions, as long as they do not do so in the name of the forum as a whole. There are some within the forum that are challenging the idea of Open Space, and wish to turn the WSF into some sort of official organisation with a leadership hierarchy that can pass final resolutions. It would seem a shame not to be able to harness the energy and potential of the social forums, but it would seem a similar shame to alienate sections of the movement through the elimination of the open space. The task must surely be to maintain the open-space while still developing means to harness the energy and power of the social movements. For this, we must embrace the idea of mutual responsibility. The organisers of the forums have a responsibility to provide the open space, while the actors within the open space are responsible for organising themselves and are completely free to form their own strategic alliances and issue proposals or calls-to-action. In this way, the WSF can avoid becoming a monolith, and remain a factory of ideas and an incubator of new initiatives. Wainwright feels that the WSF's Open Space philosophy is vital to creating a global political culture that welcomes open debate as the only way of democratically constructing that "other world" that we all aspire to.
As for the future of the WSF, there have been suggestions that it go from being an annual event to a bi-annual or tri-annual event. Some feel that the spectacle of the event is overshadowing the process that must support it, and that the process of the circulation of consciousness and struggle should be the priority, rather than the events themselves. The Social Forum events should just be seen as the culmination of the ongoing process. The event is merely about discussion and debate, whereas the process is about real struggle against the powers.
There has also been a lot of talk about the next World Social Forum being held somewhere in Africa, possibly in Egypt. After having moved from South America to Asia, the next logical step for the WSF would be to move to Africa. The African Continent has already held a successful Pan-African Social Forum, demonstrating its enthusiasm in support of the WSF process. In addition to expanding geographically, the WSF must find a way to expand socially as well, in order to reach deep into the most marginalised sectors of society and narrow, if not eliminate, the gap between the Left and the world's most oppressed, exploited, and excluded communities.
The conclusion of the forum saw many delegates from the North return home to relatively comfortable lives. For many activists in India however, there was no respite. Immediately after the Closing Ceremony of the WSF, hundreds of adivasis from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) converged on the Maharashtra State Government Palace for an indefinite sit-in. Their aim was to protest against the proposed raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam which, due to an increase in water level, would displace 350,000 people from the Narmada Valley.
Meanwhile, trade unions began to agitate for a General Strike against privatisation as well as against a supreme court ruling which banned the right to strike. Originally called by central and state government employees' unions and banking unions, the strike attracted the support of coal mine and steel plant workers, transport workers, as well as the agricultural sector. The ban on strikes is merely just one aspect of the Vajpayee government's pro-corporate, anti-people agenda. The agricultural sector in India has been particularly hard- hit by the policies of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation. There has been the reversal of land reforms, removal of subsidies, withdrawal of restrictions on imports, and the privatisation of electricity, irrigation, and micro-credit. In fact, 25,000 farmers in India have committed suicide since these neo- liberal policies came into being, due to the plummeting prices of their produce, soaring operating costs, inability to compete with dumped imports, reduced work for agricultural labourers, reduced access to microcredit, being steeped in debt, and growing food insecurity. The General Strike which took place in India on February 24, 2004 was a huge victory for the Indian Left, as was the hugely successful World Social Forum held in Mumbai the month before. One can only hope that the Indian left, as well as social movements everywhere, will live off the inspiration that the WSF generated for a long time to come, and use that optimism to sustain them in what will be a long and protracted fight against neo-liberalism for a new and better world.