A World Social Forum mounted by
its own participants
Interview with Eric
Toussaint, President of the CADTM (Comité pour l’annulation de la dette
du Tiers Monde - Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt)
The phase of preparation for the World Social Forum
to be held at Porto Alegre between 26th and 31st January 2005 is now officially
open. This fifth edition is to represent a ‘qualitative leap’, explains Eric
Toussaint, President of the CADTM and member of the WSF International Council.
After Mumbai, the fully maturing alternative globalisation movement is now
taking the path back to Porto Alegre with some innovative proposals.
A MORE INTERACTIVE
AND AUTONOMOUS WSF
Some have criticised the ever
expanding ‘gigantism’ of the WSF, judging that the quality of reflection and
action is being suffocated by sheer quantity. What will the next WSF be
In my own view, the International Council has drawn
a certain number of conclusions from the last few Forums. We are convinced that
the bigger conferences that until now have been run by the Organising Committee,
and which have been the ’main course’ of past Forums, should be strictly
limited. As from now, 95% of the activities and the time available will be
dedicated to self-run initiatives. I think this decision is of major
That implies a fundamental change
in the methodology of previous meetings.
Effectively, there are to be certain changes and a
new logic is to be put into practice. We are planning three very different
sections to the Forum that will follow on one from another in a coherent manner.
The first, which will last for two days, is to be dedicated to self-run
activities organised by the various movements taking part and who recognise
themselves in the Forum Charter. The second will last for one day and will be an
axis for articulating a broader transversal theme defined by the movements
involved, and that will serve as a point of convergence. During the third phase,
specific calls for action will be elaborated and launched.
Can you give an
Let us imagine that during the first two days the
various movements and networks working on the subject of Third World debt organise an activity. They then broach a larger theme with participants working
for example on the reform of the financial bodies, or possibly with all those
whose field of action has to bear on capital flow. These wider themes will allow
us to establish common denominators. We could consider an even broader theme,
that of international finance and human rights.
How are the local movements
developing at their roots?
These movements have to be integrated into our
projects. For example, the rights of native peoples could be a transversal theme
that groups together various approaches: e.g. land rights or public goods on a
planetary scale. I would like to make an important point: it is in the nature of
the WSF that no-one who respects the WSF Charter is prevented from suggesting
more specific workshops or seminars. But we are going to concentrate on
‘synergies’ between movements and networks, and advise against activities that
are proposed by a single organisation.
REFLECTION, COOPERATION AND ACTION
Can you talk to us about the part
that is dedicated to ‘calls to action’?
We must remember that during the previous Forums
there has been a potential energy which has luckily not expressed itself in the
form of confrontations between the Forum itself (prevented from taking a stand
or calling for mobilisation itself by its Charter) and the Assembly of Social
Movements. There exist two separate but complementary forms of logic, entailing
a certain risk at each Forum. For example, the mainstream media tended to
present the final declaration of the Social Movements as that of the WSF, which
it was not. In my opinion, the newly hatched version of the WSF has been
designed to eradicate this latent tension. The WSF is going to encourage its
various elements to adopt ‘calls to action’, so that there may be 10, 15 or 30
different appeals in the form of separate declarations on separate themes.
A qualitative ‘leap’ beyond what
has been achieved so far, then?
Yes, a real move forward. We are not going to modify
the Forum Charter that defines the Forum as a place for meeting and reflection.
But the networks and the social movements behind them are to have a wider field
of intervention that will be promoted by the Forum itself. This change
represents a challenge for the social movements to further improve their
co-ordination. After the first WSF at Porto Alegre in 2001 these movements met
again in August in Mexico City, three weeks after the mobilisation against the
G8 in Genoa. This meeting was extremely important. Organisations representing
rural workers and native peoples, in particular those from Latin America, came
in great numbers. Unfortunately those meetings that took place beyond the big WSF meetings were not followed up. However, the technical and secretarial organisation that was set up to handle the circulation of information, and which
has since been passed on to the Brazilian Landless movement and the Central unica dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Trade Union), is still serving its purpose.
What is more, we must remember that social movements came together during each WSF session and adopted joint declarations and plans of action. This was useful,
but something was still missing. Maybe the social movements concerned need to
meet once again to discuss their own initiatives, independently from the WSF
meetings. It is obvious that the principal activities of these movements go far
beyond the framework of the WSF.
GLOBALISATION AND POLITICAL POWER
During an interview last year you
mentioned the ‘asianisation’ of the WSF, viewing it as a new aspect of the WSF
that would contribute a great deal to the Mumbai meetings. What will the fifth WSF have to offer on a conceptual level?
I think that reflection on the relationship between
the alternative globalisation movement and the realities of political power will
be at the heart of the next meetings. In January 2005 it will be two years since
President Lula took power in Brazil, and the alternative globalisation movement
will be able to come to a certain number of conclusions, taking into
consideration the size of Brazil and the importance of its social movements
within the WSF. The challenge will be to take stock of the relationship between
social movements and political power in a mature way. This will not be easy. A
point of agreement could be the admission that the expectations held prior to
Lula’s election have by no means been fulfilled. But there will certainly be two
levels of interpreting the circumstances and whether or not they are responsible
for the situation.
Are we not running the risk of
giving too ‘Brazilian’ a character to the fundamental debates?
No, not at all. I bring up Brazil because it’s an
emblematic case. The Indians coming to Porto Alegre will evaluate these first
months of their new government, run by the Congress Party and supported by two
communist parties. The Venezuelans will give their own opinion of the
relationship between the social movement within their country and the
revolutionary process in progress. The Ecuadorians, in particular the Indian organisations, will analyse from their point of view the government of Lucio
Gutierrez, whom they helped to power and from whom they have since distanced
themselves. All these contributions will enrich a debate which should have a
planetary impact. Not in order to reproduce or to impose models of thinking, but
in order to make concrete and useful contributions to those of us who live and
act within different geographic and political contexts. What conclusions will we
come to and what lessons will we learn for the future from these various
dynamics? We should give serious thought to the relationship of the alternative globalisation movement with political power. I think it is an important step in
the development of its various movements.
We have talked about the form and
content of the next Forum. Are there other issues that you would like to touch
I would like to broach an aspect that is no less
important than the others: the concept of the Forum as a permanent and open
process, and not as a yearly event that lasts just five days. We have ratified
this concept. The International Council has taken very concrete decisions to
enable the immediate launching of this process. Since the end of May - and up
until August - all movements and all organisations can sign up via the WSF
web-site with the themes that they would like to incorporate into next meeting’s programme. In September we will have a first impression of what is to come and
we will be able to map out a programme which gives 95%, as I have already
stated, of its time to autonomous initiatives. This will facilitate
co-operation, working in groups and sharing projects.
THE FORUM: A
PERMANENT ONGOING PROCESS
Again, the WSF will not be over when it closes on
31st January 2005. It has been decided that during the following six weeks,
widespread meetings will be held between the diverse components of the WSF and
the national and regional forums, in order to fully evaluate Porto Alegre and to
exchange opinions and criticism in order to ensure that future meetings come up
An extra effort to make the Forum
a true process
Ground-level involvement is the centre of gravity
for politics, and it is this that feeds wider reflection. As a result of this
new methodology and the preponderance of self-run projects for discussion, the WSF is developing an even more global nature in that it is open to all who wish
to join in, and not just those who can get to Porto Alegre.
|A look at Mumbai
fourth meeting of the Forum that took place last January in Mumbai
(Bombay), India was "a total success”, declares Eric Toussaint. The number
of participants - over 150,000 - and the strong presence of the most
exploited sectors of the population, such as the Dalits, confirm this.
However, according to the well-known Indian writer Arundhati Roy, the
danger is that of becoming a self-satisfied annual meeting that turns the WSF into a sort of high mass or a circus show. “The risk was there”,
agrees the President of the CADTM - in particular in the case of the organised talks that brought together 15 or 20 thousand people and for
which the subjects were defined exclusively by the International Council
and the Organising Committee. “These were not interactive areas of debate,
nor of dialogue between the organisations and the social movements”. And
this is what gave rise to the new logic whereby we call for a “significant
qualitative leap”. E. Toussaint insists: “The WSF is not just a five-day
meeting, it is also made up of the intense processes that go on before and