The World Social Forum

The 4th World Social Forum which was held in Mumbai between 16th and 20th January 2004 was far larger, better organised and far more radical in its politics than the previous meetings held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Such has been the opinion of those familiar with the previous WSFs. How is this to be explained? The Brazilian fora, which were dominated by organisations associated internationally with the US and Europe and local social democracy, directed their focus on criticising neo-liberalism and globalisation. The Mumbai events saw a decisive shift away from US influence which was symbolised by the exclusion of funding from the Ford Foundation. In India classical right-wing social-democracy does not register a significant political presence. The direction of the 4th World Social Forum was dominated by the trade unions of the various strands of the communist movement. This determined the militant direction of the 4th WSF. In place of the earlier pallid broadsides against neo-liberalism and globalisation Mumbai witnessed a broad and direct assault on imperialist globalisation and a highlighting of the forces of resistance to imperialism. Opposition to imperialism and war then constituted the fundamental axis of the WSF while labour, as a further advance from Porto Alegre, emerged as a central and prominent category in Mumbai. These were the over-riding dominant features of the WSF despite the widespread participation of a veritable ubiquitous multitude of academic, social-reformist, liberal and clerical institutions and, of course, the non-government organisations. The participation of the entire spectrum of oppositional forces, from the revolutionists to the social-reformists, permitted the formation of the broadest popular unity against imperialist globalisation and war. Following from this, further, in contrast to the Porto Alegre WSF which remained an affair of the middle classes Mumbai experienced the intimate participation of the working people en masse: workers from various trade union bodies, working youth, dalits, forest people and workers, women, the physically disabled and people from the different nations of the subcontinent. The peasant organisations were, however, largely absent. The mass character of the event was underscored by the participation of over 100,000 people in the various activities of the forum each day.

Far more than Porto Alegre in Mumbai the WSF intimately linked the working people with the international movement against imperialist globalisation. Large delegations attended from 130 countries including, Japan, South Korea, Europe and a large delegation of 500 people from Pakistan (a further 1000 people from the last country were denied visas by the Indian government). The paucity of participants from Africa was a felt want. The international participation was particularly evident in the culminating demonstration on the last day which gave sharp slogans against imperialism, globalisation and the US occupation of Iraq. The cultural programme which concluded the events underlined the theme of friendship between the fraternal peoples of India and Pakistan. The meeting was compered by the human rights activist of Pakistan, Asma Jehangir, who trenchantly criticised the Bush administration and its attack and occupation of Iraq. The cultural programme of the last evening was inaugurated by a cultural troupe from Sind, Pakistan which underscored the common sufi traditions of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

The 4th WSF was subjected to criticism by sections of the democratic movement who argued that the participation of the non-government organisations did not permit a consistent fight against imperialist globalisation, that the absence of the political parties and the armed movements against imperialism muzzled and muted anti-imperialist resistance. These arguments had been first raised at the time of the Asia Social Forum held in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in 2003. Some of the democratic trends countered this event by mobilising their forces from around the country to demonstrate, led by the incomparable cultural activist Ghadar, not against the imperialist enemy, but against the Asia Social Forum. In Mumbai these trends, now divided into two, changed tack and organised two conferences and counterposed them to the WSF: to wit, Mumbai Resistance 2004 (2,300 delegates) and People Against Resistance (1200 delegates and several hundred others). The latter platform undertook the responsibility of not just disclosing, yet again, the imperialist roots of the non-government organisations but also to expose the putative compromising character of Mumbai Resistance 2004 which to its mind had been insufficiently vitriolic in its broadsides against the WSF. As is known the WSF hosts had welcomed the leadership of the MR-2004 to take part in the anti-globalisation forum while retaining their full political independence. The latter declined to do so on the ground that there was an over-arching international need to create an organised revolutionary opposition to imperialism such as had been adumbrated by and decided upon by a meeting of the International League of Peoplesí Struggles. On this reasoning the international anti-globalisation movement has to submit itself to the decisions of a little known association of uncertain parentage and provenance. The organisers of MR-2004 willingly and gladly forfeited the opportunity of disseminating their views amongst a mass audience and giving it an appropriate orientation. Few could discern the difference in terms of political content between the democratic activity inside the WSF and that without save for the not inconsiderable fact that the latter were by and large addressing their own cadre and their sympathetic associates. And here we come to the nub of the matter: are the democrats to work amongst the masses of working people many of whom may be under the influence of reformist ideology and wean them away from trends which may not be consistent in the fight against imperialism or are they to cut themselves off from the masses and establish their own assemblies of the true untarnished vanguards? An unwillingness to engage with the working masses hampers the struggle against imperialism as effectively as the activities of any of the non-governmental or social-democratic organisations. In real terms the critiques of the WSF fell flat as it was clear that the progressive political parties and trends circumvent the formal limitations placed upon their activities while the social movements determine the political direction of the WSF as was done by declaring March 20th as an international day of manifestations against the US occupation of Iraq. The criticism directed at the WSF that they have excluded the participation of the representatives of the national liberation armies lacked force not because the critics themselves were unable to produce, as promised, the representatives of FARC but because such participation would be inappropriate at a public and mass event. The military components of the democratic movements constitute a different domain of activity from that of the WSF. Their absence does not at all imply that the need for armed revolution is not accepted by many who took part in the WSF. The possibilities of the notion of armed struggle being deliberated upon in the WSF has yet to be tested. One other event took place immediately prior to the WSF. The CPI ML led by Kanu Sanyal and CPI ML Red Flag organised an international conference against globalisation, imperialism and war. It was designed to give a communist direction to the anti-globalisation movement and enjoyed the participation of a number of ideological strands of the international communist movement; a number of useful reports were submitted to the conference which are of wide interest. The intervention revealed some of the possibilities of influencing the broader movement against globalisation at a given stage of its development in a positive way without setting itself up as a trend in opposition to it. The experience of the Mumbai events indicates that the participation of the communists in the WSF is a categorical political imperative. It also confirms that the world of peopleís democracy and socialism is not only possible but it is necessary.

Forest Peoples at the World Social Forum

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