World Social Forum: Another World Is Possible
THE global neo-liberal agenda – globalisation,
privatisation and liberalisation – has become increasingly exposed as a
neo-colonial agenda. In country
after country, prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank, policed by the World
Trade Organisation, have brought economic disaster. For the first time in the
20th century, countries have registered a drop in their Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) and increase of poverty in absolute terms even in the most advanced
The 21st century starts with widespread
disillusionment with globalisation. Instead
of the rosy spectacle of globalising standards of living of the rich countries,
it has emerged stoutly that it is a strategy of passing on the burden of the
capitalist crisis on to poorer countries. The earlier collapse of the East and
South East Asian countries has now been followed by the collapse of the
Argentinean economy. Along with this disillusionment, we are witnessing very
large international and national mobilisation against imperialist globalisation.
The huge demonstrations in Seattle were followed by similar demonstrations in
various cities, particularly in Genoa. It is clear that an international
mobilisation is now taking place against the three pillars of imperialism: the
World Bank, IMF and WTO.
The World Social Forum (WSF), held for last two years
in Porto Alegre, is an important development in this growing international
mobilisation. It came up post Seattle as a counter to the World Economic Forum
in 2001, which is held every year in Davos and preaches that there is no
alternative to imperialist globalisation. The World Social Forum is not a global
alliance but an open space where different kinds of movements can come together
to discuss imperialist globalisation and chalk out strategies of resistance.
These discussions can take place within groups that share a common vision or as
a dialogue between alternative visions of different groups. In this sense the
World Social Forum is not a coalition or an alliance, but sharing of a common
space by different alliances and coalitions.
A reason for this structure against imperialist
globalisation is due to the absence of an overarching international coalition or
coalitions. While imperialism has built its institutional structurethe World
Bank, IMF and the WTOsimilar anti-imperialist structures have yet to emerge.
People have taken to protests in large numbers, struggles have sprung up in
various countries but there is yet no global coalition.
One may look at this absence of coalitions in two
ways. For some, the need is to build local and global coalitions against
imperialism. For others, it may be issue based coalitions that allow different
groups to come together on major issues: it may be regarding the oppression of
the Palestinian people, threat of war against Iraq or questioning the brutal
patent regime that denies the world’s poor of life saving drugs.
The WSF allows both these sets of movements to come together, not on a
common agenda but on their respective agenda. A large number of conferences,
seminars and workshops cultural programs mark the event.
The first WSF in 2001 saw the participation of
approximately 20,000 people (of whom 4,702 were registered delegates)
representing over 500 national and international organisations from more than
100 countries. Seeing the success and enthusiasm generated, it was decided that
the WSF would become an annual event.
The second WSF held in Jan/Feb 2002 was an even larger
event. It saw the participation of 15,000 registered delegates and a total of
some 55,000 people from 131 countries. The decision to hold the Forum in Brazil
was also significant. While on one hand Brazil is one the countries that has
been greatly affected by neo-liberal policies, on the other hand, different
sectors of Brazilian society are resisting these policies, in rural and urban
areas, in shantytowns, factories, political parties, churches, schools, etc. The
richness of Brazilian grassroots organisations represented a source of
inspiration for the development of the World Social Forum. Porto Alegre itself
is situated in the southernmost province of Brazil, and the pro-left government
of the province and the city’s mayor supported the Forum in many ways.
The WSF was locally hosted and organised by a
Brazilian committee consisting of:
Non Governmental Organisations Brazilian
ATTAC – Citizens Support by Financial Transactions
CBJP – Justice & Peace Brazilian Committee;
Entrepreneurs Association for the Citizenship;
CUT – Central
Brazilian Institute of Socio Economical Analysis;
CJG – Global
MST – Landless
Rural Workers Movement.
The Brazilian Committee is assisted by an
International Committee. The WSF Charter of Principles says: “The World
Social Forum is not an organisation, not a united front platform, but an open
meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation
of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective
action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to
neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of
imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society centred on the
human person”. Neither does
the WSF have a common political manifesto on which all those who participate
have to agree. The basis of the World
Social Forum is anti-imperialism, anti neo-liberalism, and the conviction that
‘another world is possible’. The basic idea is the creation of a space for
everyone to come together with a respect for that space. The WSF process
includes different trends. There are those, for example, who say that a reform
of the WTO and the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) is possible,
and there are those who believe that reforming them is impossible and that a
more basic and systemic change is necessary. There are those who propose
dialogue, and others who believe only in confrontation.
It was decided that from 2003 onwards, the annual
global WSF meeting would be accompanied by regional, continental, and/or
thematic Forums across the globe. In
line with this call, the WSF in India is proposing to hold an Asian conference -
an Asian Social Forum at Hyderabad as a prelude to the next World Social Forum
global meeting in January 2003 in Porto Alegre.
The Asian Social Forum, being organised by the WSF
India, will be held in the city of Hyderabad, in the southern Indian state of
Andhra Pradesh between January 2 to 7, 2003. The ASF is an open forum. The only
criteria is that the participants are opposed to imperialist globalisation as
well as religious sectarian violence, and have a commitment to democratic
values, plurality and peace.
The ASF has been conceived as a Forum that will
provide an inspiring space where movements/ organisations/ groups/individuals /
will come in from all over India and Asia to carry the message of the World
Social Forum. It will gather diverse sections in Asia facing growing threats of
capitalist globalisation, religious fundamentalism and communalism, and
militarisation in the region, and of the so-called ‘anti-terrorism’ measures
accompanying them, led by the US as self-styled world policeman.
About 7000 delegates are expected to participate in
the ASF, out of which about 1000 would be from outside India. Organisations both
in India and Asia and also the rest of the world, are organising conferences,
seminars and workshops broadly falling under the themes of the ASF, which
Peace and Security
Debt, Development and Trade
Nation State, Democracy and Exclusions
Ecology, Culture and Knowledge
Social Sectors (Health, Education, Food
Alternatives and Peoples Movements.