World Social Forum, Mumbai: From moral to political?

Submitted by Anon on 5 February, 2004 - 5:18

A report by Dita Sari

In the middle of the heat and poverty of the Indian city of Mumbai, the fourth World Social Forum (WSF) was held on 16-21 January. An estimated 100,000 activists from some 130 different countries - the majority from India - gathered together to discuss the urgent social and political issues facing humanity in the 21st century.

The main themes centred around issues of neo-liberal globalisation, war, peace (or the lack of it), women, racism, health, education and the environment. These issues were discussed in thousands of workshops, talks and forums.
The WSF is an arena for intellectual debate, for cultural festivals and was an opportunity for opposition movements and activists from both hemispheres to meet and exchange ideas. But the important question is, what is the real significance of the WSF in the midst of the current global economic and political crisis?

The growth of the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements has sent a resounding message to capitalism and its policies of neoliberal globalisation - that these policies have failed the world's people and an alternative needs to be found. The international financial and trade institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization have also been condemned internationally.

There is a growing awareness that their policies only benefit the interests of a small number of monopolistic corporations based in Tokyo, Washington and the European Union. Their principal function has shifted to become a mechanism used to pressure the governments and peoples of the Third World to tie them into exploitative economic policies and programmes.

There are two issues which I think are important here but which at the same time have failed to be taken up by the WSF. Firstly, what is the position of the anti-globalisation movement with regard to national governments who are acting in the interests of neoliberal globalisation?

Secondly, what are the alternative solutions to such policies?

For countries that have only just emerged from struggles against dictatorial regimes and are going though a process of democratisation - as is Indonesia - the central issue which needs to be understood is the form and character of state power.

The problem of how to establish a government which is capable of mobilising its national productive resources, to effectively counter the impact of neoliberal globalisation and free market policies, and at the same time rid itself of the leftovers of militarism and the old forces of the dictatorship.

This WSF also failed to produce any concrete proposals, initiatives or campaigns. The WSF has simply became an arena to exchange ideas -for brainstorming and intellectual discussion.

The WSF was dominated by non-government organisations (NGOs) and social movements of various stripes who continue to distance themselves from the issues of state power.

Moreover, this movement, in the name of asserting its "independence", maintains the greatest possible distance from real political struggles. It distances itself from political movements that have the same programmes and commitments as groups in the WSF.

But the problem is not just one of "consistency" in boycotting monopolistic Western products. If a boycott represented a radical and effective solution, we might as well go back to an economic feudalism, because almost all of the technology and daily needs of humanity in this century have been provided for by monopolistic and greedy multinational companies. Rather, the problems is one of how to provide access for all humanity to the technological advances and at the same time reject efforts by governments and multi-national companies to legalize the monopolisation of these products.

Through its activities, the WSF has succeeded in making the working classes and the poor more aware that capitalism is the source of war and injustice. But after four WSFs the anti-globalisation movement has not yet broken out of its limits as a moral movement, and has yet to transform itself into a political movement that offers clear and explicit economic and political alternatives.

The WSF needs to follow up its ideological successes with a call to build effective political forces in member countries that can become an alternative to the existing ruling classes.

The style and approach of the WSF is in fact a reflection of the various forms of social organisation and political education at both the national and local level, particularly as carried out by NGOs. Their dependency on donor organisations make NGOs choose activities that are relatively "safe" with the minimum political risk, so that the model which is usually chosen in their method of struggle is one of non-confrontational politics. The watering down of their militancy is therefore inevitable.

  • Dita Sari is Chair of the Indonesian National Front for Labor Struggle (FNPBI) union federation in Indonesia.
  • Abridged from The Jakarta Post, Wednesday 28 January 2004

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