World Social Forum – death and resurrection?

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By LISZT VIEIRA*

The World Social Forum has a space to occupy, battles to be fought, with updated agendas, and no longer just a forum that refuses political action in the name of debate

1.

The World Social Forum (WSF) was born as an initiative to counter the Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together government officials and businesspeople, representatives of the world's dominant elite and their neoliberal catechism. The first meeting of the World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, in 2001, and was attended by NGOs and social movements from various parts of the world, totaling 20 thousand people, from 117 countries.

After the notable success of the meetings in Porto Alegre, the World Social Forum began to undergo a process of emptying. Subsequent meetings of the World Social Forum, held in several countries, were not as successful, and its main slogan “Another world is possible” began to weaken, and the new political category that emerged in the initial meetings of the World Social Forum , “altermondism”, began to lose strength.

Mario Osava's excellent article, published on the portal Forum 21, under the title “Highlighted diversity agenda, the World Social Forum seeks to revitalize itself” shows the locations and dates of the World Social Forum meetings, and analyzes its emptying process and the current attempt at revitalization.

2.

Here I would like to discuss two factors that, in my opinion, help to explain the process of emptying the World Social Forum, which bears a certain similarity to the emptying suffered by political parties among the general population. Firstly, there have been those who have claimed that the World Social Forum has not updated its agenda, has become stuck with a traditional left-wing agenda that does not excite young people and has lost support in the working class. A good example is the identity agenda that emerged in isolation, that is, the defense of the rights of women, black people, homosexuals, indigenous peoples, was not articulated in a project that unified these legitimate struggles for rights in a political program.

Worse still, many sectors of the left rejected these struggles because they would divert the focus from the class struggle, and thus isolated themselves from the concrete struggles of the feminist, black, homosexual and indigenous movements. In a country of slaveholding, paternalistic, sexist, colonial origins, rejecting these struggles in the name of a political dogma could only lead to the loss of support suffered by parties and entities. As a result, the struggles pejoratively called “identitarian” remained isolated from each other and away from traditional political leadership, whether party or entity.

Another example is the refusal to prioritize the ecological issue as fundamental in a political agenda for the 21st century. The impression is that the political leaders of parties and entities – with exceptions, of course – have grudgingly swallowed the environmental issue, without articulating it with the central core of their political concerns. The concept of sustainability brings with it a political, social, economic and cultural dimension, in addition to the environmental dimension, but the term sustainability, when used, is generally used only as a rhetorical embellishment.

The second factor that would explain the emptying of the World Social Forum concerns a decision by its founders who defined the non-decisional nature of the Forum. Decisions would be made by the groups, parties and movements participating in the World Social Forum, but their leadership should not make any decisions. This had the great advantage of avoiding internal fighting and eventual dissent, but, in the medium and long term, it contributed to the emptying of the World Social Forum.

An entity that opens space for discussions, but decides nothing, loses attraction and does not mobilize organizations and movements that, in addition to discussions, want to act, combining theory with practice. And act according to the priorities and goals they chose, not always prioritized by the management of the World Social Forum. This requires constant and necessary political sewing work.

In the international “altermondist” agenda, a good example is the denunciation of the size of military spending in the world in 2023, the largest since the Second World War. The US alone was responsible for 41% of all global military spending. Russia spent a third of its budget on defense spending (G1, 15/2/2024). And the Doomsday Clock, created to warn of the destruction of humanity by a nuclear war, went from 7 minutes to midnight, when it was created, to the current 90 seconds to midnight, which would be the cataclysm. But these dangers are seen as something distant, as is the risk of destruction of humanity due to the devastation of natural resources and climate change that has been denounced for decades by scientists and environmentalists around the world.

The new meeting of the World Social Forum in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 15 to 19/2/2024, aims to resume and renew the energy that in the past moved altermondists to articulate internationally a political project based on the hope that “another world it's possible".

With the weakening, in many countries, of neoliberalism, whose failure can no longer be hidden, and with many States weakened by decades of neoliberal offensive, space is opening up for a more energetic and effective action by civil society, wielding its old flags of world citizenship. An important example was the worldwide mobilization of civil society against the genocide of Palestinians by the Government of Israel.

The World Social Forum faces a space to occupy, battles to be fought, battles that require dynamic leadership, with updated agendas, and no longer just a forum that refuses political action in the name of debate.

*Liszt Vieira is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]


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