Friday, December 6, 2019

Seminar on ‘How Relevant is the WSF to Struggles for Social Justice in the World Today ?’

Friday, September 19 2008, 10-1 pm; co-organised with Fronesis. http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=Malmo

Some 50-60 people came to CACIM’s second event at the ESF, a seminar co-organised with Fronesis, a Swedish journal that aims to provide “… tools for a radical comprehension of our time by gathering politics, theory, and critique in extensive thematic issues” (http://fronesis.nu/english/ (external link)). The event was videotaped, and if all goes well, CACIM proposes to upload both the recording and some photographs on OpenSpaceForum? (www.openspaceforum.net), with a link also from www.cacim.net.

Organised somewhat as a roundtable rather than a panel discussion, the seminar started off with a welcome by Olav Unsgaard, Chair of Fronesis, and then an introduction by Jai Sen of CACIM, followed by invited presentations by Gina Vargas (veteran feminist of the Articulación Feminista Marco Sur, Peru, and a leading member of the WSF’s International Council) and by Alex Callinicos (of the SWP – Socialist Workers’ Party, in the UK, which after much struggle ultimately took the lead role in organising the European Social Forum in London in 2004). Citing both the intense and sustained criticism and challenge that the WSF has been facing for the past year and more from leading ideologues within the WSF such as Walden Bello and Samir Amin, and also the distance that popular movements in India today keep from the WSF – and where India was seen, just some years ago, as the first major experiment in globalising the Forum – Jai invited the speakers, and the panellists to follow, and all those present, to try and focus their attention and presentations on the very hard and real implications of the theme proposed for the meeting:

How Relevant is the WSF to Struggles for Social Justice in the World Today ?.

Gina and Alex both, each in their own ways, located and problematised the WSF at the present historical juncture. Gina placed focus on some of the key issues that the WSF’s International Council is today faced with and is going to address at its then-upcoming meeting in Copenhagen, and – as in her presentation on the occasion of the launch of the second edition of World Social Forum : Challenging Empires (as reported above) – on the importance of nurturing diversity. Alex, on the contrary, argued that the refusal of the IC to prioritise issues, and its tendency instead to prioritise diversity, means the institutionalisation of fragmentation; and that the challenge that the Bamako Appeal has placed before the WSF is very healthy.

These two opening / ‘keynote’ presentations were followed by a short, open question-answer session, then by short intervention presentations by our panellists, and then by a sustained open discussion in the round. Our panellists were Emma Dowling (scholar-activist, UK), Geoffrey Pleyers (scholar-activist, Belgium), America Vera-Zavala? (writer, activist, and playwright, Sweden), Moema Miranda (IBASE, Brazil, member, Brazil Organising Committee, and member, WSF International Council), Gustave Massiah (CRID – Centre de Recherche et d’Information pour le Développment, France), Raffaella Bollini (ARCI, Italy, and member, WSF International Council), and finally, Dimitri Roussopoulos (Black Rose Books and Urban Ecology Centre, Canada).

Given the sheer range of experience, viewpoints, and locations – both within and in relation to the WSF and the global justice movement, and on the planet – that the panellists brought to the meeting, their presentations almost inevitably led to a wide-ranging, rich, and at times a little heated interrogation of the WSF and of the theme of the meeting, filling out the full three hours we had for the session.

Several members of the audience also came in with substantive comments and interventions, including Chico Whitaker of Brazil, co-founder of the Forum and member of the International Council; Fazia, a student from London; Graeme Chesters from the International Centre for Participation Studies at the University of Bradford in the UK; Jason Nardi, of Zoes and other initiatives in Italy and an active member within the WSF International Council and its committees; Kristophe, doing his PhD on the alter-globalisation movement; Peter Waterman, labour internationalist living in The Netherlands and co-editor of World Social Forum : Challenging Empires; Stellan Vinthagen, Senior Lecturer at the School of Global Studies at Gothenburg University and Member of the WRI (War Resisters’ International) International Council; Teivo Teivainen, of NIGD (Network Institute for Global Democratisation) and from Finland (‘and a little from Peru’, as he said); Thomas Wallgren of the Dept of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, and a key member of % Movement in Finland in the 1980s and 90s; and others.

It is impossible to summarise the content of the discussion in a few words; we urge those interested to view the video of the session when it is uploaded. But many among other points, and from the panellists alone, Emma Dowling asked whether the WSF was only for activists or for everybody; Geoffrey Pleyers asked, in the context of the actual participation in the Social Fora and also changes taking place in society, whether members hip in the WSF’s Council should be only for organisations or should be opened up to individuals; America Vera-Zavala? asked how a movement prioritises – and urged the ESF to be less Euro-centric; Moema Miranda stressed the need for a common agenda – and the need for addressing disagreement and conflict but with diversity as the basis; Raffaella Bollini outlined crises emerging in the movement in Europe given larger social, economic, and political trends in the region towards the right and towards fundamentalism, and towards the centralisation of wealth, and made an appeal for help in thinking through the Forum and rebuilding it; Gustave Massiah emphasised that the WSF is a part of a larger historical movement – and that we must see in the longue durée; and Dimitri Roussopoulos strongly echoed Raffaella’s appeal, underlining that rebuilding the movement and the Forum was even more necessary in North America, as the home of the militarised beast that is driving this process – and without this, there can be no alternative future, no other worlds.

One point that we from CACIM want however to take the privilege of mentioning here, was an exchange about the dismal state of the WSF in India. Moema Miranda and Chico Whitaker – both members of the WSF’s founding Brazil Organising Committee and of its International Council – questioned the somewhat negative, pessimistic picture that Jai had portrayed of the WSF in India, and cited the views of members from India on the IC to support their point of view. Jai responded first by suggesting that citing their views – people who movements in India see as being part of the problem – was surely hardly appropriate; but more, he summarised briefly the consequences for the WSF in India, and more generally for relations between social movements in the country and the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India (Marxist)), which the leading members of the WSF in India mostly belong to – of the savage repression and killings that the CPI(M) unleashed in a place called Nandigram, in the state of West Bengal, in 2007, to punish the villagers for daring to oppose and refuse an industrial ‘development’ project being imposed by the state on their area that would leave them landless and homeless (for information, see http://sanhati.com/ (external link)). This, along with other such developments in the country (such as in Chengara in the state of Kerala), has created a deep schism between independent movements and this part of the party left and has in turn, because of the dominance of this grouping in the WSF in India, also traumatised the WSF process; which in any case had been left to languish since the Mumbai Forum in early 2004. It no longer has any legitimacy.

Implying that somewhat similar other such processes have also taken place elsewhere in the world, in relation to the WSF, Jai asked Chico and Moema, and all members of the IC, and all those present, to reflect on the implications of such deep inversions, and especially in the face of the profound multiple challenges that the WSF is today facing and, more broadly – and as the panellists made clear – that the world is today facing.

As Geoffrey Pleyers remarked after the seminar, what was remarkable about the meeting was the extent and depth of critical engagement that was present in the exchanges, which in his experience of the past several years of the Forum – since its inception – was rare; and in his estimation, this was something that CACIM’s sustained focus and insistence on engagement has contributed to. Alex Callinicos even berated the members of the International Council for their complacence, and urged them to engage with issues far more self-critically.

It was a great session; many, many participants said so, after it ended. This summary does little justice to it; and given that we expect to have a full recording uploaded, we strongly urge you to take the time to view and study that when it is up.

(See below for information on the speakers.)

Alex Callinicos
Alex Callinicos is Professor of European Studies at Kings College London and a member of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) in the UK. alex.callinicos@kcl.ac.uk

America Vera-Zavala
A writer and an activist, America Vera-Zavala? has written commentaries for Znet since 2001. She has published three books in Sweden and her book Democracy Lives : A World Mosaic of Participatory Democratic Experiences was released in Turkey in 2006 and published in English in 2007. She lives in Sweden. She has been active in both the Left Party and in founding the Attac movement in Sweden. She is currently writing a play on sans papier, paperless workers.america@americavz.com

Chico Whitaker
A member of the Brazilian Organising Committee of the WSF, Chico Whitaker is one of the co-founders of the WSF, and received the Right Livelihood award in 2006 for this. Author of A New Way of Changing the World (Nairobi : World Council of Churches, 2007; published in Portuguese and Spanish in 2005).intercom@cidadania.org.br

Dimitri Roussopoulos 
Dimitri Roussopoulos is a well-known activist in Canada for some four decades working from the local to the regional level and back again on issues dealing with radical democracy and urban ecology. He is also a writer and book publisher, having been educated as an political economist. dr@urbanecology.netmavros@blackrosebooks.net

Emma Dowling
Emma Dowling is active within the social forum movement and in struggles for global justice. Based in Berlin, she is currently studying for a PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London, where she is researching the development of neoliberal global governance from the perspective of social conflict and resistance. Her research interests include social and political change; autonomous politics and global democracy; radical practices of political participation; immaterial and affective labour; and border regimes, detention, and deportation. She has published a number of articles on the social forum process and has been an active participant in the organisation of the ESF and WSF (both the official and autonomous spaces). esd@riseup.net

Geoffrey Pleyers 
Geoffrey Pleyers obtained a PhD in sociology at the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). He is currently FNRS Researcher at the University of Louvain (Belgium) and at the Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques (Paris) and a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance (London School of Economics). Geoffrey Pleyers is a member of the Open Space Forum discussion network and has attended the seven World Social Forums. He has conducted field research on the Global Social Justice Movement in Western European and Latin American countries including France, Belgium, Mexico, Argentina, and Nicaragua. His recent publications include Forums Sociaux Mondiaux et defis de l’altermondialisme (‘World Social Forums and the challenges of alter-globalisation’, in French), Brussels: Academia. Geoffrey.Pleyers@uclouvain.be

Gina Vargas
A veteran Peruvian feminist sociologist and founder of the Centro Flora Tristan in Peru, Gina Vargas is one of the 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2006. She is associated with the Articulación Feminista Marcosur in Latin America, and the Program of Democracy and Global Transformation in San Marcos University, Lima. She has taught at universities worldwide and currently teaches the Master of Sexuality and Public Policies course at San Marcos University in Lima, Peru. She is a member of the WSF International Council. ginavargas@telefonica.net.pe

Gustave Massiah
Gustave Massiah is President of CRID – Centre de Recherche et d’Information pour le Développment, France. guma@globenet.org

Samir Amin 
Samir Amin is Director, Third World Forum, located in Dakar, Senegal, and Chair, World Forum for Alternatives, Cairo, Egypt, and Louvain, Belgium. An economist and intellectual, he is regarded as one of the foremost thinkers on the changing dynamics of capitalism. Since 2001, he has been actively associated with the World Social Forum as well as the regional fora. Amin has authored my articles and books, including Accumulation on a world scale (1970), Transforming the revolution : social movements and the world system (1990), Beyond US Hegemony : Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World (2006), and Memoirs of An Independent Marxist (2006), and with François Houtart in 2002, he edited – Mondialisation de resistances : L’etat des lutes 2002 (‘The Globalisation of Resistance : The State of the Struggles 2002’, in French) (Paris : L’Harmattan? / Forum Mondial des Alternatives). Samir.Amin@wanadoo.fr

Teivo Teivainen 
Chair of World Politics, and Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Helsinki, Teivo Teivainen is a past President of NIGD (Network Institute for Global Democratisation), a member of the International Council of the World Social Forum, and co-founder of the Program of Democracy and Global Transformation in San Marcos University, Lima, Peru. teivo.teivainen@helsinki.fi