The Future of the International Council of World Social Forum

, by MASSIAH Gustave

I would like to give here my general assessment of the International Council (IC) question, and its renewal. I am also available to meet with any of the working subgroups depending on their progress and the level of demand.

The preparation of the 2013 WSF will determine the future of the International Council

In Monastir, we decided to create two working groups, one on the preparation of the 2013 WSF in Tunis, and the other on the future of the IC. We have, therefore, agreed on the two stages of development which have arisen, particularly as it is certain that the preparation and success of the 2013 WSF will largely determine the future of the IC.

Tunisian and Maghreb Committees are readying themselves. And it’s not easy. They have just clarified and announced, at the Maghreb Social Forum for migrants in Oujda (Morocco), the current state of the Forum’s preparation, in Tunis, from 26 to 30 March 2013. The preparation will be difficult but the conditions are in place for the Forum to go ahead, and even for it to be a great success.

We know that there are two fundamental requirements for a World Social Forum to be possible: that there is a coalition of representative movements able to organise the forum and invite the up-coming social movements, and that public authority, government and municipality accept it and demonstrate, at least, a benevolent neutrality towards it.

The Tunisian Secretariat of the 2013 World Social Forum is made up of the UGTT, of FTDES, of the LTDH, of the ATFD, of Raid-Attac, of the Union of Unemployed Graduates, of the AFTURD, of the CNLT and of the Tunisian Bar. It is part of the Follow-up Committee of the Maghreb Social Forum, which broadens its support. These Tunisian movements represent a large civil society base in Tunisia. They have increased the number of organisations involved in the WSF to include many of the movements which were active in the events of the “Tunisian spring” and all the social and democratic struggles which contributed to the rupture of 2008. The secretariat seeks to increase the base of the movements sending out invitations. As is always the case, certain Tunisian movements do not feel represented by this coalition and even oppose it, but they don’t question the importance and the nature of it. This often happens, as we saw in Mumbai with the organisation of a counter-WSF. The WSF will not succeed in bringing together all the parts and the different currents of the social movement.

The most difficult question is how to organise an inclusive forum, creating the conditions to allow the participation of organisations based on political Islam. In this regard, we must specify the sections of the Charter to be emphasised: social justice and the struggles against inequality, individual and collective freedoms, and a rejection of violence. For the Forum not to be exclusive, its organisers must also allow a free rein to diversity. We must ask which movements can come out of the evolution of political Islam. The Maghreb Assembly of Monastir decided that a seminar will be held on “Islam and politics”, which should take place in January in Morocco and/or Tunisia. The IC has two questions about openness towards different cultures: the formulation of the Charter (not its values) and the attention given to the movements’ evolution.

Dialogue with Public Authority

The second question is on dialogue with public authority. For the moment, all is well – the President of the Republic and the government have given confirmation of their goodwill. Holding a World Social Forum is in their interest – it comes across as a guarantee of Tunisia’s international openness and also as a manifestation of openness towards the groups involved in the revolution since 2008. For the IC, the question arises of reflecting on our relations with governments. The independence of the social forums process remains a founding reference point. However, the movements are all involved in positioning and negotiations with governments. And the preparation of the World Social Forums has been the subject of discussion and relations with a great number of governments. We must consider how to use these observations and experiences to reflect on the evolution of the political visions of the movements.

There has always been an understanding of the political context. A World Social Forum is not organised according to internal circumstances but nor cannot it be totally detached from them. We know ourselves the importance of this question for each WSF: has there been an impact on the internal political situation from the viewpoint of the social movements? It is even more important in Tunisia where the situation is very unstable. There are currently four tendencies in confrontation: that which is now in the majority with a dominant group, Ennhada, whose members go from ’Muslim brothers’ to ’moderate Islamists’; the non-religious left, home to the main organisers of the forum despite its fragmentation; traditional conservatives, the forces of the old regime who are still influential in the police and in government; and the ’Salafists’, described by some as ’radical Islamists’, a highly organised and determined minority. This setup is liable to cause provocations, although for the moment nobody seems to be questioning the security measures needed for the WSF. The various interested parties have also confirmed that the WSF will not be used as a pawn in the battles between tendencies, or as a place for confrontation on matters internal to Tunisia.

The International Council and the Central Role of the Worl Social Forum’s

In the preparation for the 2013 WSF, we are beginning to confirm the central role of the WSF in the forums process. It is an opportunity to plan specific events (Science and Democracy World Forum, Local authorities forums, Parlamentarians’ forums, trade unions forum) and to organise activities which are the direct result of other events (Rio +20, the Oujda migrants’ forum, Free Palestine Forum, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Iraqi Forum, Peace and Disarmament Forum, Florence+10 on the European social movement, etc.). The IC should strengthen the information links and follow-up for all events which refer to the forums process. The research and distribution of information on the content of these events would complete the working group on events follow-up.

For the 2013 WSF, preparations have been entrusted to an organising committee of the Tunisian movements, who themselves wanted to do it in direct liaison with the committee of the Maghreb-Machrek Forum. After the Dakar Forum, the IC expressed the wish that ’international’ elements of the IC could be more involved in the preparation. In Monastir, we realised the extent of the challenge of directly mobilising the IC comissions. The Tunisian and Maghreb committees have clearly decided to include the international members of the IC. There were many difficulties in this experience and it must be recognised, evaluated and developed. The difficulty is directly linked to the question of financing the 2013 WSF. Those who can and would like to contribute should be involved in this, but the organising committee remains alone in this venture. The question to the IC about the organising of the WSFs is fundamental. Should we continue to delegate our main task to national committees, leaving them all the work as well as the responsibility and what does this delegation mean? And what would be a clear role for the IC in the responsibility for the WSFs and how should it be organised in order to fulfil this function?

Defining the Objectives of the International Council

The IC is considered to be the facilitator of the WSF process. It is not the board of directors. In order to define the role of the IC, we must return to the objectives of the world social forums process. The process is that of convergence of citizens’ and social movements who share the goals outlined in the WSF charter. It’s an international space for convergence of the social movements. This convergence can take different forms. The IC is not the coordinator of the movements. It is the facilitator of convergence in their international action and in the construction of another world and another globalisation.

In order to strengthen the process, the first question is to understand how the process and the IC serve to strengthen the movements’ struggles and mobilisations. It could be considered that the process plays a fundamental role in the possibility of considering the global dimension of the context, and understanding their mobilisation within this context. The process should also be the space which allows the strengthening of the mobilisations through convergence, information exchange and common initiatives between the movements. This dimension exists but awareness of the need for this has weakened and the movements give less priority to their international action. In the early years of the WSF, action in relation to international institutions and international law prolonged the great mobilisations of the late 1990s. This approach is less common due to the differentiation of circumstances between regions and between countries. The convergence between similar movements goes through exisiting global networks. The thematic social forums take this convergence into account and participate in its enlargement. However the convergence between differing movements is weaker because it is less clear which medium-term political outcomes they correspond to. The IC should work on the question of how the process can allow the greater immediate strengthening of the mobilisations and their convergence.

One of the questions which often resurfaces in debates on the evolution of the process is how to win against neoliberalism and the financial bourgeoisie. This question is very important - it goes hand in hand with that of the organisational structures of the process. But it also raises another even more complex question - what does it mean to win? In a way, the WSF process has scored points in the battle of ideas and with regard to ideology. It has contributed to the delegitimisation of neoliberalism and the advance of propositions such as financial taxation, control of the financial sector, the need to redistribute income, the suppression of tax havens, etc. But these advances are not translated politically. It could also be said that this advance of ideas supported by the WSFs has led to a normalisation of the movement, which explains in part any visibility it has in the media. If we are not satisfied with the battles for world opinion, there is still the question of political outcomes. These political outcomes depend on circumstances and come back to the country or regional level. This is a dimension which the International Council should demonstrate, follow more carefully and bring to the debate.

There is another question worth asking - what is the nature of the political debates in the International Council? A debate can always come back to the differences between reformists and revolutionaries. We need to be clear about what form this distinction takes. In previous years, there have been many open discussions. This distinction lost its urgency with an acceptance that capitalism has limitations which are currently being surpassed. A second distinction separates those who are content with a space in the forums and those who would like to create other ’international’ structures. This distinction has also lost its urgency with the recognition that it is possible to suggest other ways of furthering the cause, without questioning the need for the space offered by the forums and accepting the need for a mutation of the forums. A third distinction has tended to create a separation between the social movements and NGOs. This distinction runs into the difficulty of separating the social movements from certain citizens’ movements, and also the fact that there are both reformist and radical NGOs as well as radicals and reformists in the social movements. None of these distinctions are uninteresting or irrelevant, but none of them constitute a clear separation of two sides which could give structure to the movements which make up the International Council.

The world social forums process is still active. The alternative strategic direction, that of access to rights for all and the equality of rights, from the local to the planetary scale, has been established. Their immediate demands are always about the consequences of the crisis on the living standards of ordinary people.

The neoliberal crisis has been accentuated by peoples’ resistance. However, the exhaustion of neoliberalism does not mean that capitalism has been surpassed. A period of structural crisis has begun with four dimensions: economic and social, geopolitical, ideological, ecological. The citizens’ and social movements allow us to think through this crisis. They are faced with two questions which should lead to renewal of the social forums process. The first concerns the juncture with new movements, the second relates to the changing circumstances of the movements in different parts of the world.

Connections with the New Movements

New movements have developed since 2008, in Tunisia and Egypt;, in Spain, Portugal and Greece with the ’indignados’;, in the U.S. and elsewhere with ’Occupy’;, in Chile, Colombia, Quebec, Senegal and Croatia with the ’new generation’ movements, which are often linked to the failure of the global education system. These new social movements have their own dynamic. Connections with older alterglobalisation movements exist, but they are scattereddiffuse. All the more so since neither of the two groupings is homogenous, nor do they have forms of representation which would allow formal discussions to take place.
The initial connections stem from the nature of the slogans used first in Tunis and Cairo and then completedelaborated by other movements. They relate primarily to the rejection of poverty and other inequalities, the respect for libertiesbasic freedoms, and the refusal of other forms of domination. Some of the details vary from one movement to another on the denunciation of corruption and the designation of the "1% of the wealthiest and most powerful", on the demand for "true democracy" and the objection to the fusion between the financial and political classes, and on ecological constraints on the monopolisation of the earththe landgrabbing and monopolising the raw materials of the environment. Beyond the political and cultural differences of each of these two broad groupings, there are specific tendencies which could either reinforce or contradict one another. The new movements place stronger emphasis on individual liberties rather than on social justice and equality, on ’libertarian’ approaches to government regulation and on spectacular direct action rather than long-term collective action.

Connections can also be found in attempts to construct a new political culture despite the difficulties. There is common ground in their horizontality, their affirmation of diversity and the primacy given to self-organised activities. There are still significant differences on the nature of public space, territorial or virtual ;, on the relationship between individual and collective action; on, the limitations of delegation and the need for coordination on, the organisational models of the movements, and on their relationship with politics. The working hypothesis is that the two groupings will mutate, leading to the birth of new era movements, the era following the neoliberal crisis, which whose is still playing itself outissues are not still defined. Older alterglobalisation movements should learn the lessons of their achievements and limitations. And, as Esther Vivas put it so well for the new movements: "this is a prologue".

Social Movements faced with the Growing Differentiation of their Circumstances

In the crisis, the financial bourgeoisie elites has remained in power and the dominant logic is still that of financialisation. But globalisation is constantly evolving and its contradictions are increasing. This can be seen in the growing variations between different parts of the world, a kind of continental drift. Each major region is changing according to its own dynamic and social movements adapt to take their new circumstances into account. These changes affect the conditions for convergence of the movements, as it has been constructed in the world social forums process.
In Latin America, desarollistas or developmental regimes establish post-neoliberal policies. Policies which are not anti-capitalist and which combine forfeits to the world capital markets with redistributive social policies. The results are a kind of normalisation of alterglobalisation and the fragmentation of the social movements.

In Asia, alliances bring together statist, national and globalised bourgeoisieselites. As in Latin America, this raises a question on the role of the social movements of the new powers which we call, for want of a better term, "emerging countries". In these two regions, the social movements are organised around workers fighting for their rights and their salaries, who make broad alliances with the statist bourgeoisie, especially as the latter controls part of the productive capacity.

In the Middle East, the new cycle of struggles and revolutions is the start of a period of profound contradictions. The real presence of social movements faces the emergence of the political forces of Islam which in turn is faced with government power, and the instrumentalisation of the major powers, who seek to make up for the fall of their dictator allies by playing politics with the situation. In Africa, the race for raw materials and the monopolisation of land, as well as the multiplication of conflicts as a result, obscures the true dynamics of the economy and the vitality of the movements.
In North America, the new movements, Occupy and Red Cards, are faced with the violent reaction of the economic powers, and the worrying rise of conservatism. In Europe, these movements are confronted with three main challenges: precarious employment, xenophobia and the alternative European project. The first concerns the essential and very difficult alliance for the common struggle between workers in precarious employment and those in secure employment. The second concerns the increase in racist and xenophobic ideologies which are developed from fear and social, ecological and civic insecurity. The third relates to the definition of an alternative European project coming out of the dominant European project, and its dead ends, which would be the cultural and political expression of the unity of the European social movement.

Faced with these new circumstances and the vigour of the conservative reaction, the movements are both highly combative and highly inventive. They have not yet redefined the new forms and priorities which they want to give to the convergence of international struggles. They are aware of their importance and remain present in exisiting spaces, notably in the social forums, but without paying them sufficient attention.

How the International Council works

The question of how the IC works remains to be addressed. This is not a secondary question and we must consider the dissatisfaction there is with it, and where this dissatisfaction comes from. The path of the IC is not always smooth and it’s normal that the difficulties of the movements in facing up to the crisis and to changing circumstances will have an effect on how it functions. Even more so as the IC model is neither that of an association nor a federation and it needs to renew its consideration of how it delegates responsibility. This is what led to the adoption of a consensus-based mode of operation, with its limitations and difficulties. These difficulties mean that even more attention must be paid to the operational mode. The rules of transparency and responsibility sharing are even more necessary as without trust between members of the IC, the project would be in great danger.

We must allow for a transition period of two or three years during which we should adopt ways of working which are not in contradiction to the values which we refer to. This period should serve to redefine the role of the IC as a facilitator of the international process of the WSF, to monitor and strengthen the process, to lead the political debate on the evolution and the goals of the movements which constitute the base of the process, to strengthen links with new movements, to analyse the evolution of the global political situation and the structural crisis of capitalism and to identify the nucleus of the movements who agree to invest themselves in the process and participate in the IC.

Rules of operation can be adopted for this transition period. I restate here the proposals of Francine who concludes in her mail of 13/8/12: The charter of principles is still our point of reference. The IC meets once or twice a year - it monitors the process and prepares the World Social Forum. The IC is redefined by the movements who commit to active participation in it. Members of the IC pay an annual subscription and contribute to the solidarity fund. Each IC begins with a discussion on the situation of the IC host country and spends half a day debating the politics of the global situation. At each IC, a group of 5 or 6 people is designated to prepare the next IC, based on suggestions from the IC members. A decision list is set up, with the names of the people responsible for following up on each decision. The standing committees are composed of 4 or 5 permanent members. They are open and web-based. I would simply add that the question of the IC secretariat needs to be resolved urgently.


Cet article a été traduit du français vers l’anglais par Juliette Rutherford, traductrive bénvole de Ritimo.