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(en) Workers Solidarity #78 - The Social Forums: Abandon or Contaminate?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 14 Nov 2003 09:08:14 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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The 'anti-globalisation' movement has sometimes been characterised as 'One
No, many Yesses', meaning that while everyone disagrees with the way things
are now they all have different ideas on what they would like to see replace
the present state of affairs as well as on the tactics needed to get there.
The World Social Forum, and the spread of social forums around the
world, in some respects is a reaction to this. One of the ideas of this
concept is to allow a space for dialogue for the different actors
(trades unions, Non Government Organisation's, social movements
etc) to try to hammer out some common ideas on how to reach the
future society. However, the process has not been unproblematic and
has led to controversies and to accusations that the structure and
functioning of these bodies are undemocratic and unrepresentative of
'the new movement'.

The WSF was initiated by a coalition of Brazilian civil society groups
with much of the organisation undertaken by the Workers Party (PT)
that controls Porto Alegre and the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The
WSF, and its offspring, the European Social Forum present
themselves as venues where all the different tendencies can be
represented but in reality the agenda being followed is that of the
founders and controllers and more radical elements are consistently
being sidelined and obstructed. As one activist Jason Adams wrote, in
Porto Alegre the PT "jealously controlled the organizing committee of
the WSF" with the result that one person remarked "we thought the
WSF was going to be an open event, but then when we attempted to
get involved and take part it was made clear to us that we would be
given no decision making power at all...we were excluded from the
actual planning and execution of the event". At the World Social
Forum of 2001, anarchists and ecologists affiliated with People's
Global Action protested against this exclusion and in 2002 their
protests led to the Workers Party calling in riot police; as Indymedia
posters pointed out, "Porto Alegre isn't the social democratic paradise
that the PT makes it out to be".

The European Social Forum in Florence was also dominated by
authoritarians and reformists. All the main speakers were chosen in
advance by the organisers. The inevitable result were meetings with
the celebrity names you would expect such as Jose Bove, Susan
George, Tariq Ali) and the organisations you would expect (SOS
Racisme, ATTAC, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the
Earth, Pax Christi).

The control exercised by certain factions, the non-participatory nature
of these events and the top down structures mean that the Social
Forum movement "shares less and less of the characteristics that
made this movement what it is: horizontal networks, no leaders, broad
participation, open communication, self-organisation and diversity of
movements and opinions" . Some criticisms go further, with some
claiming that the "bureaucratic left" is using the process to "To
appropriate a struggle in which they do not participate" and to
"catapult themselves to be elected like an alternative to the

The experience of being sidelined and sabotaged at the social forums
have left more radical activists wondering whether to "abandon or
contaminate" (i.e. try to participate and push direct democracy and
participatory politics) the Social Forums. On the one hand groups are
wary of assisting in the co-option and assimilation of our politics, on
the other hand many people are attracted to the social forums because
of what they have seen and heard of the anti-capitalist movement and
because, in part at least, of our politics and actions, not taking part
means abandoning these people to the trots, social democrats and
other assorted vampires. Following from this idea groups affiliated to
Peoples Global Action (which called the original 'global action days')
established the Hub Camp as an autonomous space at the 2002 ESF
in Florence 'not in competition' and 'not anti-ESF' to facilitate
networking between groups and individuals and to 'contaminate by
association the ESF with non-hierarchical practices'.

At the end of the day the social forums, at best, are a space where
different people working against neo-liberalism and those interested in
that struggle can come together. Obviously this is a good thing and is
the reason why we (the WSM) have taken part in the transparent and
openly organised Irish Social Forum. At its worst the social forums
can be stage-managed election and recruitment platforms for
authoritarians and reformists. At the same time the social forums
have attracted hundreds of thousands of people seeking a way to
change the world we live in, we should not marginalise ourselves nor
turn our backs on them. Instead we should present our politics and our
ways of working together and explore the possibilities that result.
Instead of abandoning the SF movement we should use it as a way to
argue for changing society from below, not lobbying or seeking to
merely replace those above.

Padriac O'Sullivan

A Libertarian Social Forum will be running alongside the ESF in Paris,
see http://www.ainfos.ca/ainfos336/ainfos08688.html

Review of the Irish Social Forum

The first Irish Social Forum was held in University College Dublin the
weekend of the October 18. Over 170 people registered from what the
organisers described as "a diverse range of up to 40 citizens groups,
organisations and NGOs".

After the experience of Globalise Resistance many had been
concerned that the ISF would simply become another recruitment front
for the SWP. This was not the case, the range of forums and
workshops was broadly reflective of the anti-neoliberal movement as
it exists in Ireland. Everyone I talked to who attended felt they had got
something from the experience.

The one criticism is the obvious one connected to the WSF. The
refusal to take positions on particular aspects of neo-liberalism in
order to keep the reformists and NGO's on board. Talking shops have
some use but anarchists prefer bodies like the Grassroots Gathering
which are willing to build libertarian struggle against the specifics of
neoliberalism and so have an essential role.

See also Against capitalist globalisation http://struggle.ws/wsm/global.html


This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper
'Workers Solidarity'. http://struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html
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