Is it time for the World Social Forum to adopt a political programme? This hotly-disputed question deserves consideration from all involved in the WSF, given that we are now in the seventh year of the phenomenon.
Like most, I am influenced by personal experience, based in South Africa’s ‘independent left’ movements. Although at present they are in a state of unprecedented internal conflict and disrepair due to a variety of minor factors that needn’t detain us, these movements have established durable and relatively democratic mass-based activities. By and large, they are informed by internationalism, combined with demands upon the national state to ‘lock capital down’. The spirit entails what Walden Bello has called ‘deglobalisation’ (of capital). This has entailed three bouts of important protest activity, with more than 10 000 people marching against the UN’s World Conference Against Racism (in Durban, September 2001) for failing to put reparations and Zionism on the agenda; more than 25 000 demonstrating against the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, August 2002) for embracing neoliberal environmental and social strategies; and more tens of thousands protesting the war against Iraq (countrywide, 2003-04). South African activists have also been instrumental in trying to remove the boot of the Bretton Woods Institutions from Third World necks, harking back to anti-apartheid analysis, strategy and tactics. As a revival of ‘divestment’ to fight apartheid, the World Bank Bonds Boycott has had remarkable success in defunding the institution that is most often at the coalface of neoliberal repression across the Third World. In addition, South Africans and allied activists have won dramatic victories in deglobalising the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regime, by demanding generic anti-retroviral medicines instead of branded, monopoly-patented drugs. Similar struggles are underway to deglobalise food, especially given the Genetically Modified Organisms threat from transnational corporations, to halt biopiracy, and to kick out the water and energy privatisers. These are typically ‘nonreformist reforms’ insofar as they achieve concrete goals and simultaneously link movements, enhance consciousness, develop the issues, and build democratic organisational forms and momentum.
Of course, this is a matter for nuanced scale politics: determining whether local community, subnational, national or regional strategies can best mitigate and reverse global economic tyranny for particular issues. But the main reason to deglobalise is to gain space to fight neoliberal commodification. To illustrate, the South African decommodification agenda entails struggles to turn basic needs into genuine human rights including: free anti-retroviral medicines to fight AIDS (hence disempowering Big Pharma); 50 litres of free water per person per day (hence ridding Africa of Suez and other water privatisers); 1 kiloWatt hour of free electricity for each individual every day (hence reorienting energy resources from export-oriented mining and smelting, to basic-needs consumption); extensive land reform (hence de-emphasising cash cropping and export-oriented plantations); prohibitions on service disconnections and evictions; free education (hence halting the General Agreement on Trade in Services); and the like. A free ‘Basic Income Grant’ allowance of $15/month is even advocated by churches, NGOs and trade unions. All such services should be universal (open to all, no matter income levels), and to the extent feasible, financed through higher prices that penalise luxury consumption. This potentially unifying agenda could serve as a basis for widescale social change, in the manner that Gosta Esping-Andersen has discussed with respect to Scandinavian social policy.
In what ways would this sort of background contribute to the debate over whether the WSF needs a political programme? To generalize the decommodification and destratification agendas, requires something more analytically unifying, strategically coherent and tactically formidable than what the global justice movements have accomplished to date. Finding something equivalent to a political programme for what Samir Amin terms a ‘fifth international’ has not been easy, given the global movement’s divergent tendencies between socialism and autonomism. For example, in early 2005 at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, 19 well-known movement intellectuals and activists gathered to produce a draft of ‘Twelve proposals for another possible world’. My own sense is that these efforts risked the ‘top-down’ danger of imposing programmatic ideas upon fluid movements and campaigns. Reflecting the same tendency, a much longer effort along these lines was made by Samir Amin and Francois Houtart in January 2006 – the ‘Bamako Appeal’ - at the polycentric WSF.
It was in the spirit of searching and debating that the Centre for Civil Society in Durban hosted a major Workshop on the World Social Forum in July 2006, the proceedings of which are available on the DVD set CIVIL SOCIETY WIRED (available free from firstname.lastname@example.org). With Amin himself giving a keynote address and the Bamako Appeal as the centerpiece, CCS associates Franco Barchiesi, Heinrich Bohmke, Prishani Naidoo and Ahmed Veriava critically dissected reasons not to adopt a political programme with some of the characteristics above. Many others contributed their perspectives from the floor, invoking autonomism, anarchism, feminism and socialism. The latter ideology has enormous traction in South Africa, given how badly capitalism has supplied the masses with jobs and affordable vital services. As a result, some of the more substantive independent-left social movements – especially in Johannesburg - have adopted ‘socialism’ as their constitutional objective. The advanced proletarian-based consciousness and intensely exploitative situation in Johannesburg does not prevail everywhere, of course, and it would be unreasonable to expect a ‘socialist’ movement to develop from the national Social Movements Indaba (which collects several dozen such local left movements), or especially from continental efforts such as the Africa Social Forum.
Still, the foundational critiques of neoliberalism are there to be be found in the documents of various transnational sectoral forums, of which there are roughly three dozen examples. We can divide these...
POLITICAL MOVEMENTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
1) Political movements/parties representing values/ideas of social democracy, nationalism, socialism, autonomism, anarchism
TRADITIONAL AND CROSS-SECTORAL CIVIL SOCIETY MOVEMENTS
2) Labour mvts (including unemployed movements, migration and workplace health/safety)
3) Women’s mvts (including a variety of gender issues)
4) Youth mvts (including children)
5) Anti-war mvts (including arms sales, nuclear weapons, landmines)
6) Anti-racism mvts (dating to abolition)
7) Minority rights and ethnic mvts
8) Civil rights mvts
9) Democracy mvts (including transparency/corruption)
10) Consumer mvts
11) Indigenous rights mvts
12) Human rights mvts
13) Sexual identity mvts
14) Disability rights mvts
15) Cultural mvts (art/music/literature/crafts/video)
16) Religious mvts
17) Solidarity mvts
18) Elder rights mvts
ISSUE-BASED CIVIL SOCIETY MOVEMENTS
21) Economic subsectors (including recuperated factories)
22) Corporate disempowerment and anti-consumerism
24) Housing/urban access rights
25) Water (including irrigation, groundwater, dams and rivers, household access, sanitation)
26) Energy (including global warming, pollution, household access)
27) Health (including treatment)
29) Social security
31) Other environmental (including toxics, nuclear, mining, marine)
In my opinion, the heavy lifting required to analyse the movement of movements - and their analyses, strategies, tactics and alliances - has not even properly begun. If intellectuals are six months or more behind the times, perhaps we must await the increasing coherence of these transnational movements at sites such as the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, to drive the research forward in a manner that tells us more about the world than any other method, namely praxis. This, however, is for us to learn more about, and in this open spirit we join CACIM to promote further debate on the politics of the WSF and the global progressive movement.
Centre for Civil Society, Durban
10 January 2007