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Some thoughts and proposal about World Social Forums

11. January 2005

Letter from Samir Amin

Dear friends,

On the eve of the fourth World Social Forum (Porto Alegre, January, 2005), I am calling your attention on some thoughts and proposals aimed at giving “the (alternative or anti globalization) movement” a greater actual impact.

1. The “movement” already won a “moral” victory. “The world is not for sale”. “Another world is possible” are not hollow slogans, but rather sound struggle watchwords that won over the sympathy of people´s opinion throughout the world.

The “movement” in question is multifarious, and such specificity makes it strong, even though it makes it more difficult to focus on priority strategic goals. Winning important battles on specific issues, at national, regional and global levels, is the only way to make irreversible progress in the struggle for “another world”. It implies in depth systematic debates, selecting the above mentioned goals and organizing adequate action campaigns. Just adding the – perfectly legitimate – demands of the system´s victims is neither an alternative, which call for a political consistency, nor even a strategy to make headway. Now the “movement” is being seriously threatened of having reached a dead end and some people are trying to legitimate this option in principle.

Being multifarious is first of all having various goals and behind theses goals, social (“class”) interests. The “movement” is now mobilizing important segments among the educated middle classes –especially in the countries in the center of the system. Their organizations are always focused on a single goal (empowering women, demanding environmental protection and ecological balance, defending “cultural” minorities and other oppressed people, furthering rights, etc.). These organizations may be incepted for a long (“permanent”) term or built around a specifically determined battle. By principle, they often are transclassist. One has to welcome this positive transformation due to the intervention of social strata that often used to just use their voting rights and representative democratic means (lobbies, approaching political parties and elected officials). Defending “individuals” (and the freedom of individual initiatives) and the strong moral dimension that characterize many of these movements is not a “petty bourgeois deviation” as it was often considered by one working class movement tradition, but rather a progress in political practice, to the benefit, in a long term, of all dominated classes.

The fact remains that these “new” movements did not eliminate popular classes´ movements struggle for their so-called “material” interests. Working classes´ struggles for jobs, wages, job security, peasants´ struggles for remunerative prices, access to land and to means to correctly cultivate it, for land reforms when needed, will continue to be the main targets of struggles that can change social power relations. Therefore, trade unions and peasant organizations are key organizations in the movement. This is not always accepted as it should. As in the “shambles” of movements´ encounters (forums), middle classes are too often in the limelight. “Those conventional” organizations through which dominated classes express themselves are undoubtedly far from being ready to take up new challenges. Transformations in labour organization and in managing the economic life resulting from capitalist development are imposing that of the forms of organizations and struggles of the workers and peasants´ organizations, on which I dwelt elsewhere and that constitute, among other things, the working program of the World Forum for Alternatives (one can refer here to the Third World Forum website). But these demands do not justify the way many other movements look down on the so-called “traditional” trade-unions and peasant organizations.

The “social movement” does not only mobilize “progressive” forces. There are perfectly reactionary, powerful movements that are not working for the building of “another world” (a multipolar one, among other things). In the United States of America, compared to other organizations, “patriotic associations” and “sects” have many more – millions – followers. In Europe, the obscurantist offensive of community and para religious movements has been successfully spread out. In some peripheral regions, fundamentalist, para-religious or ethnicist movements are in the forefront.

Movements come up against considerable difficulties to go across state borders. This will be a surprise only to those who candidly – believe – in the “global village” or in undefined “multitudes”.

2. How can these obstacles be overcome?

I don´t see any other way here than the organization of major world campaigns around priority strategic goals.

For the sake of discussion, I will suggest a few examples: (i) campaigning against US (so-called prevention) wars, and beyond that, for the evacuation of all bases (US go home); (ii) campaigning for the right of access to land, the acknowledgement of which is vital for three billion peasants in three continents! ; (iii) campaigning for a regulated organization of industrial relocations; (iv) campaigning for the writing off third world external debts. Other proposals are welcome. None of these campaigns will bind ” everybody”, their centers of gravity will vary from one to the other, but they should be taken up not only by the most directly affected countries but also by others, which will make it possible to concretely further the expressions of a new peoples´ internationalism.

The main threat on the “movement” is, in my opinion, the risk of candidly believing that “the world can be transformed without conquering power”. It is still true that powerful social movements succeeded, at some points of history, in “changing society”. About this, 1968 is the major recent example. 1968 changed many things (in the West) and in a positive way: the blossoming of feminist claims, the rooting of individual democratic accountability, among other things, are points on its credit. But capitalism has shown that it is able to absorb these evolutions without its basic modes of exploitation and oppression being questioned. Nowadays, some literature aim at giving an apparent “scientific” legitimacy to this call to abstain from doing anything as supposedly everything will be done “naturally” by itself.

As a counterpoint, the debate on the demands of the progress of the social movement destined to become the political force of change in the social relations of power and, by this way, in the power systems, remains central. Undoubtedly, it means inventing “another way of being in politics”. But as worded, the proposal is too vague not be an empty one.

Nowadays, social forums are confronted to a crucial choice. They can become the sites of a patient building of fronts that are able to further, convergence in the diversity of all progressive forces throughout the world. In this regards, I am suggesting here the definition of common platforms, articulated around the double rejection of both neo-liberalism and militarized globalization under US control. This open and wide alliance of movements under such a prospect would make it possible to put emphasis on the building of positive alternatives. To me, it is obvious that this alliance is excluding reactionary social movements, which calls for putting an end to ambiguous attitudes of important segment of the Left towards those movements. Failing that, social forums will become jumbles from which nothing can be expected. Of course, the dominant system is encouraging this option which enables it to let it known that it is “playing the game of democracy”, actually a powerless democracy which is unable to produce consistent and efficient alternative political strategies, and in this way it strengthens its power.

3. I am suggesting the setting up of a probably “informal” and “open” but restricted working-group, in order to avoid the mistake which doomed the “international board of the World Social Forum” to powerlessness.

There is no doubt that a “coordination” committee and not at all a “steering” committee of the movement should be thought of (at national as well as regional and world levels). But, about this kind of committees, even just coordinating one, they should not be swamped by an over-representation of sometimes insignificant NGOs with little actual impact (but having important financial resources and therefore able to devote time to preparing “shows”, rather than waging long and continuous battles!!!). One should also start thinking of setting up small initiative committees for each one of the projected major campaigns.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Samir AMIN