First Published: 2013-04-01

 

The World Social Forum: Still Meeting Its Challenge

 

The WSF was founded as a space of resistance. Twelve years later, it remains the only place where all sides to these debates come together to continue the discussion. Are there people who are tired of the same continuing debates? Asks Immanuel Wallerstein.

 

Middle East Online

The World Social Forum (WSF) has just ended its now biennial meeting, held this time in Tunis. It was very largely ignored by the world's mainstream press. It was attended by many skeptics who pronounced its irrelevance, something that has occurred at every meeting since the second WSF in 2002. It was torn by debates about the very structure of the WSF. It was filled with debates about the correct political strategy for the world left. And despite this, it was an enormous success.

One way to measure its success is by remembering what happened on the last day of the previous WSF in Dakar in 2011. On that day, Hosni Mubarek was forced to abandon the presidency of Egypt. Everyone at the WSF applauded. But many said that this very act proves the irrelevance of the WSF. Did any of the revolutionaries in Tunisia or Egypt draw their inspiration from the WSF? Had they even heard of the WSF?

Yet two years later, the WSF met in Tunis, invited by the very groups that launched the revolution in Tunisia, and who seemed to think that holding the WSF in Tunis would be a great assistance to their internal struggle to preserve the gains of the revolution against forces that they believed were working to tame the revolution and to bring to power a new form of oppressive, antisecular, governance.

The long-time slogan of the WSF has been "another world is possible." The Tunisians insisted on adding a new one, displayed with equal prominence at the meeting. The slogan was "Dignity" -- on everyone's badge in seven languages. In many ways, this additional slogan emphasizes the essential element that brings together the organizations and individuals present at the Forum -- the search for true equality, which respects and enhances the dignity of everyone everywhere.

This doesn't mean that there was total accord at the Forum. Far from it! One way to analyze the differences is to see them as reflecting the contrast between emphases on hope and emphases on fear. As constituted, the Forum has always been a large and inclusive arena of participants ranging from the far left to the center-left. For some this has been its strength, allowing a mutual education of the various tendencies and various zones of primary concern -- a mutual education that would lead in the middle run to joint action to transform our existing capitalist system. For others this seems the path to co-option by those who wish merely to palliate existing inequalities without making any fundamental change. Hope versus fear.

Another source of constant discussion has been the role of left political parties in the process of transformation. For some, no significant changes can be made in either the short-run or the middle-run without left parties in power. And once in power, these people feel it is essential to keep them in power. Others resist this idea. They feel that, even if one helps such parties come to power, the social movements should remain outside as critical controls on these parties, whose actual practice will almost certainly fall short of their promises. Once again, hope versus fear.

The attitude to have toward the newly-emerging countries -- the so-called BRICS and others -- is another source of division. For some the BRICS represent an important counter-force to the classical North -- the United States, western Europe, and Japan. For others, they raise suspicions about a new group of imperialist powers. The role of China today in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is particularly controversial. Hope versus fear.

The actual program of the world left is another source of internal debate. For some, the WSF has been good on the negative -- opposition to imperialism and neoliberalism. But it has been sadly lacking in proposing specific alternatives. These persons call for the development of concrete programmatic objectives for the world left. But for others, the attempt to do this would serve primarily to divide and weaken the forces brought together in the WSF. Hope versus fear.

Another constant locus of debate is what has been called the "decolonization" of the WSF. For some, the WSF has been from the beginning too much in the hands of persons from the pan-European world, of men, of older persons, and others defined as coming from the privileged populations of the world. The WSF has, as an organization, sought to extend itself beyond its initial base -- extending itself geographically, seeking to make its structures reflect more and more demands from the base. This has been a continual effort, and looking at each successive Forum, the WSF has become in this sense more and more inclusive. The presence at Tunis of all sorts of "new" organizations -- Occupy, Indignados, etc. -- is proof of this. For others, this goal has been very far from achieved, to the point where some doubt there has been any real intention to realize this objective. Hope versus fear.

The WSF was founded as a space of resistance. Twelve years later, it remains the only place where all sides to these debates come together to continue the discussion. Are there people who are tired of the same continuing debates? Yes, of course. But there also seem always to be new persons and groups arriving who seek to participate and contribute to the construction of an efficacious world left. The World Social Forum is alive and well.

Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).

Copyright ©2013 Immanuel Wallerstein - distributed by Agence Global

 

US admits IS most dangerous terror group it faced in recent years

Europe launches fresh UN bid to end Gaza conflict

Tougher penalties as UAE updates counter-terrorism law

Iraq Kurds launch offensive to retake Jalawla from IS

British jihadists on forefront on IS propaganda

Abbas holds talks with Meshaal in Doha

Iraq Kurds face real challenges in fight against IS jihadists

Death toll in Syria war tops 180,000

France delivered arms to Syrian rebels 'a few months ago'

US reveals failed operation to rescue American hostages in Syria

Somali journalists face trial for ‘violence incitement’

Iran asks West: What is our reward for help against IS jihadists?

Turkey ruling party meets to agree Davutoglu as PM

Kuwait nabs suspected Al-Nusra Front financier

Obama demands world action against jihadist ‘cancer’

Three senior Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commanders killed in Gaza

Hamas armed wing declares end to truce talks in Cairo

Tribal clashes kill dozens of people in troubled Darfur

Dubai real estate giant to repay debt four years ahead

Egypt hopes power cuts could ease next week

Jihadist beheading of US journalist sparks worldwide revulsion

Iran provides ‘advice’ to Kurds fighting IS jihadists in Iraq

Power cuts and petrol shortages: Life grows increasingly difficult in Libya

Suspected attack by Kurdish rebels kills one Turkish soldier

UN launches huge aid operation in northern Iraq

Israel pounds Gaza as mourners cry ‘revenge’

Outgoing first lady breaks silence on ‘falsehoods’ against Turkey President

Ex CIA boss: journalist's killing 'first IS terrorist attack against US

Scores of armed Yemen rebels boost positions in capital

Sinai jihadists punish supporters of Egypt army with decapitation

Germany ready to support Iraq Kurds in battle against ‘barbaric’ IS

Iran’s 'reformist' science minister sacked

Turkey assures Ocalan Kurdish peace process will press ahead

Hollande: international situation ‘most serious’ since 2001

Israeli minister: ‘Deif deserves to die’

German minister accuses Qatar of financing IS

US hits back at criticism of Ferguson racial unrest

Jihadists to US: stop air strikes or we will behead second reporter

Temporary Gaza ceasefire goes up in smoke

Islamic State in Syria: Not few brainwashed people but whole army

Egypt to US: Show us how you deal with unrest in Ferguson

Turkey seeks to revive peace talks with Iraq Kurdish rebels

Tit-for-tat attacks break Gaza ceasefire

Huthi rebels cook up ‘armed coup’ in Yemen capital

Flood of weapons in South Sudan: Who’s not to blame?