Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The demise of the social forum?

The World Social Forum is probably still the best sample cross-section of anti-capitalism (taken as a broad, umbrella term encompassing progressive ideologies posing as systemic alternatives to capitalism).

It has its own problems, chiefly stemming from the fact that anti-capitalism has developed and refined itself considerably, to the point where it is able to challenge for power in places like Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and do serious battle with capitalist powers in countries like France. Anti-capitalism has developed but the WSF hasn't. It still has the same organising committee as the one set up five years ago. There's no way to change that. The committee is as the committee does. Given that the WSF is now bigger than ever, this has begun to bureaucratise the social forum. Numerous political parties have grown out of/been hoisted up by the anti-capitalist movement, yet the ban on parties (useful as it is for barring sectarians) remains in place. The original organisers of the forum mostly came from tradition that eschews political parties. But the social forum is in danger of becoming an institution in itself.

Chris Nineham: Anti-capitalism, social forums and the return of politics The WSF has fitted a need of the movement, but it was initiated and organised from above by a small group of activists from Brazil and France. This has had important consequences for internal democracy. The ruling International Council was self-appointed at the start and remains unelected to this day. Initially decisions were taken by a handful of people—the decision, for example, about where to hold the second WSF was taken in a restaurant in Porto Alegre.8

This lack of democracy remains. There are still no democratic decisionmaking bodies or meetings at the WSF at all. In fact the WSF is constitutionally unable to make decisions, and political parties are banned from participating, despite the fact that a huge number of the activists involved are members of left wing parties. This is no accident. The given reason was that the only way to persuade moderate organisations to enter the political ring with thousands of radical activists was to promise there would be no conclusions, no decisions they had to respect. The underlying truth is that adherence to these rules allows moderate, reformist forces to dominate unchallenged.

Some regional forums have had a big impact. The European Social Forum has been an important gathering for the movement since its inception in 2002. The recent Southern African Social Forum was a success but drew people overwhelmingly from the host country, Zimbabwe. But the picture is mixed—the Mediterranean Social Forum has never reached out beyond a hardcore of activists.

The European Social Forum is a case in point. There's due to be one in Greece in early may. It has been delayed and delayed again. The last one was in London in October 2004. Because of the structure of the ESF a bloc of rightists, ngos and autonomists have repeatedly frustrated the left groups (left and right being relative terms, i.e left and right of the forum) on a variety of issues. This alliance is out of all proportion to their influence in actual society


Gem Hudson said...

The laws that governs economics is capitalism. Go to see for yourself.

Roobin said...

Thanks, but I've already eaten