can evaluate the WSF with two different attitudes: wishing that the
WSF disappears ("folding up its tent") or wishing its continuity.
If we are not convinced of its utility, and consider it a waste of
time – some see it now even as an obstacle to gain efficacy in the
struggle to overcome neoliberalism – we have only to identify what we
can profit from this eight years of experience, and enter directly in
a new stage of struggle. But if we see the WSF process as something
helpful, we must on the contrary identify its virtues and strengths –
as well as its weakness – and think how to reinforce it.
all the WSF life these two attitudes coexisted. For instance, many
people who never swallowed the WSF Charter of Principles would like
to abandon those principles that render difficult initiatives
involving all WSF participants. On the contrary, others say the
Charter must be respected as a vaccine against the hijacking of the
process for specific objectives, and as a protection for the Social
Forums against parties and governments interferences.
seems nevertheless that now we are approaching a dangerous situation:
people who are insisting in the idea of the "point of crisis" or
"crossroad" do it at the same time as others are multiplying
activities in the WSF spirit in many parts of the world. That is to
say, we are risking a disconnection between some people who "think"
about the WSF process and others who "do" the WSF process.
don't see the first group so joyful. On the other hand, I see the
second ones working with enthusiasm in the roads opened by the WSF
process, overcoming all "crossroads" – specially now, answering
to the call for a Global Day of Action (GDA) on 26 January, as well
as preparing new regional Social Forums in 2008 and the next World
Forum in 2009 in the Amazon region.
risk is especially dangerous because we are going to have an
important WSF International Council (IC) meeting end March in
Nigeria. The main objectives of this IC meeting are to evaluate 2008,
re-situate the WSF process in the present world problems and discuss
its next steps. All this based on an evaluation of the world
situation, which is not necessarily evolving in the sense of
overcoming neoliberalism, wars, and violent confrontations. So,
"disconnecting" the IC of the rest of the WSF dynamics would be
we have to overcome this risk. The way to do it, in my opinion, is
adopting, in the evaluation CACIM proposes – and still more in the
next IC meeting – the same approach we experience in the WSF decision
making process. In our Organisation Committees, as well as in the
International Council and its Commissions and Working Groups, we use
the positive approach of looking for a consensus instead of voting.
The vote to decide collectively is evidently a great conquest of
humanity. But when it is used among social organizations it carries
to divisions and separations, in advantage of the dominant power.
Deciding by consensus pushes everybody not to see the errors of the
others – to point then these errors to the voters – but the truths
others are saying, to arrive to a new truth combining all known
truths, in a constructive general consent, only way to build union.
is it that many people (of our "side", naturally not among the
neoliberalism partisans) do not "love" the WSF, even though they
participate in it – although not always at ease? I found three
major reasons for that.
first is the fact that the WSF is a novelty as political initiative.
The two others are misunderstandings: about the WSF objectives and
character and about the necessity of participating in it.
me try to explain it better.
THE NOVELTY OF THE WSF PROCESS
WSF is really, in my opinion, a "political invention", as said my
colleague of the Brazilian WSF Organization Committee, José
Corrêa Leite, in the title of his book written in 2003, before
the one I wrote in 2004/5 also about the WSF.
was proposed in opposition to the World Economic Forum in Davos, but
it was also deeply different. It was a new kind of Forum, as a place
to assemble people for discussions about specific themes. And it
pointed already to the different world we thought was possible.
which aspects is the WSF different from the Forums in which we were
used to participate? The main differences were: the organisers were
not events promoters (like for instance in Davos) but social
organisations; no profit was envisaged (the fees of participation
were nearly symbolic); the organisations carrying it out made a
general "call to come" without specific invitations, travel
tickets or lodging expenses paid (some known political leaders were
uncomfortable with this); they did not determine the content of the
discussions (only the general objective that could bring together
those "called"); they did not choose key note speakers and
debaters; they opened the Forum space to self-organised activities of
the participants; and last but no least, they established that the
Forum would not have final declarations or motions.
things we see now more clearly were absolutely not defined in our
minds in the beginning of the process. They were in fact only
intuitions. We learned, and we are learning until now, Forum after
all these characteristics were not entirely respected in the first
World Social Forum in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, except some
especially important ones. As well till now they are not completely
respected in all Forums organised in the WSF process, with the
emergence of Social Forums, which could be regional, national or
local. But these characteristics were and are present in the
"facilitators" minds, who slowly try effectively to consider them
in the organisation of Forums. This happened especially after the
formulation of the WSF Charter of Principles, which defined more
precisely the character of the World Social Forum, from the
experience of the first one.
big problem nevertheless, was the fact that this political invention
did not fit in in any of the existing categories of analysis and
reflection about political action. The WSF was a strange "animal"
that errupted, already with big dimensions, in the sea of our
political initiatives. It was a non pyramidal Forum, situated much
more in the logics of the networks, a new stream that was also
appearing in the sea. This "animal" diminished the
self-confidence of many people, who were used to working with tools
of action and analyses built during more than a century. They would
prefer, then, to stay where they were more at ease.
at its beginning the WSF was seen with a certain sympathy, as well as
somehow inoffensive, so that could be accepted. Things became
complicated when the Forum launched a new and different world
process, with incidence in political practices. Some people began
then to disqualify it – "it is a Woodstock of the left", "in
the Forums we only discuss and discuss".
why was it necessary to create such unfamiliar and troublesome kind
would say that we have seen a new political actor rising: the "civil
society"- as citizens organized in social movements and other types
of bodies – which needed a space to express itself.
on we saw also that it would be good to feed the "animal",
because it could help overcome one big difficulty of the left: the
fact that it was recurrently victim of the malediction of the
division, weakening itself, for the pleasure of those who dominate
EMERGENCE OF CIVIL SOCIETY AS POLITICAL ACTOR
fact, the WSF was not created, as many people think, to enter in
competition with political parties or replace their action, or to
enter in competition with the struggle to "conquer" governments.
Both types of political action are necessaries to build the new
world. The WSF intended only to reinforce the so called "civil
society" that was emerging in the world by its own initiative –
that is, autonomous from parties and governments, and not accepting
to be only part of their strategies.
the work of organizing Forums, we saw also more clearly that the
civil society articulation differs from that of parties and
governments. It can be built only through horizontal networks,
without leaderships and pyramids of responsibilities – overcoming the
limitations of the representative democracy, with its "delegations"
of power and internal struggles for power, typical of parties and
governments logics. That is why we put in the WSF Charter of
Principles that the WSF "does not constitute a locus of power to be
disputed by the participants in its meetings".
we saw more clearly, moreover, that the political action of this new
actor is also different to the one of parties and governments. It
unfolds as in the networks – in a big variety of types, rhythms,
themes and levels of action, being developed autonomously by a big
variety of organisations. That is why the WSF Charter refused a
specific and unique WSF "political program", to be endorsed by
the organisations participating in the Forums. Anyhow, such a common
program would be practically impossible to build, in the Forums or in
the organising instances of the process, considering the number and
diversity of organisations gathered in it.
parties, movements or governments can propose strategies to fight
neoliberalism, or a new model of society to be built upon the ashes
of capitalism, or a utopia to mobilize the crowds, rendering more
foreseeable the territory of the unknown post-capitalism. Social
Forums then can be places to discuss these propositions, but not to
obtain its acceptance by all their participants.
this perspective, I would say that if the WSF International Council
does not resist the temptation of trying to do a WSF "political
program", it really risks its own death, as it will be in a deep
contradiction with the WSF logics.
NEED OF BUILDING UNION
of us know that building union is important for all political actors
engaged in changing the world – specially left political parties
and movements. But it is still more important for the civil society
as political actor.
force of the mobilized majorities – workers, electors, consumers,
citizens – can be decisive in the political struggles. Parties and
governments know it and use it in their strategies. But the diversity
of interests inside the civil society may maintain it so fragmented
that its force as an autonomous political actor may not emerge.
kind of union would be then suitable for the civil society, to
pressure for the majorities' interests and even build alternatives
independently of parties and governments? Civil society organisations
can support each other but not through tactical or strategic
alliances, under centralized commandments. They only can be united by
solidarity ties, assumed freely.
process was then envisaged as unlimited horizontal networking spaces
at world, regional, national or local levels.
would create at first occasions for mutual recognizing, overcoming of
prejudices among organisations and identification of convergences.
Then the respect of diversity was seen as essential inside the civil
society, as a practice to be exercised during the Forums and in the
interrelations built in the Forums, pointing already to the future:
the respect of diversity would have to be a fundamental value in the
new world we wish.
addition, to advance towards the kind of union suitable for civil
society, it was seen as necessary to overcome the poorness of the
representative democracy, and to point towards the empowerment of the
citizens; and, through the respect of their diversity, towards the
development of their initiative and creativity, instead of moulding
them in conformist behaviours.
process would then create conditions to experience new values
contradicting those which motivate the action inside capitalism, and
which we need to abandon to overcome this system: cooperation instead
of competition, human needs instead of profits, respect for nature
instead of its maximum exploitation, long term perspectives instead
of short term interests, acceptance of differences instead of
homogenisation, co- responsible liberty instead of egoistic
individualism, being instead of having.
dynamics, lived in the WSF to build the civil society union, in its
diversity and autonomous relations, could reinforce its action as
political actor. And, as for parties and governments genuinely
searching to answer to the human beings, the union is also necessary,
this experimenting would be a positive message coming to them from
the WSF process, pointing to new kinds of alliances.
must be said that all the intuitions behind the WSF "invention"
were not new in the world. It was not something coming from zero. It
was one of the results of at least 40 years of humankind thinking
about political practices, criticizing authoritarianism and acting
consequently. It appeared explosively in 1968, entered into a process
of maturing with the horizontal networks as a new way to organise
actions and with experiences like the Zapatistas from 1994, and
arrived to a climax in the 1999 Seattle protests.
success of the process that began with the WSF in 2001 is due, I
think, to the fact that its Charter of Principles announce clearly
some simple conditions to develop these intuitions: the refusal of a
final document of the Forums; the non-existence of leaderships
directing the meetings or of spokespersons; the non-existence of a
political programme of the WSF as a body; the absence of specific
invitations to participate, in order to create an "open space";
the equal importance given to all activities inside the Forum; the
possibility that the activities be proposed as much as possible not
by the organisers but by the participants themselves; the refusal to
accept activities inside the Forum organised by political parties or
governments; the refusal of government interference, even and
specially when they give logistical support; and the refusal of
violence as a means in political action.
growing dimensions of the Forums is empirical evidence of the wisdom
of these Principles, just as the non-respect of them can create
problems as happened already in some recent occasions.
if the WSF cannot change the world, it can create better conditions
for it, through the reinforcement of the civil society as political
actor and through the experimentation of new political practices,
pointing to a new political culture.
problem then is the delay. This road towards the construction of
civil society union – as well as the new kinds of alliances among
parties — needs time and involves deep changes of paradigms and
behaviours. That is why the misunderstandings about the WSF process –
that I will analyse now – not only remained but also grow.
– SPACE OR MOVEMENT?
first misunderstanding that appeared was related to a question: is
the WSF a space or a movement?
question was already very much discussed and many old and new
arguments for one or another option can be presented. I will not do
it here. The book I wrote about the WSF — "The WSF challenge" —
considers mainly this alternative.
options must in fact be considered in the context of the desire to
change the world, as rapidly as possible, that motivates all WSF
process participants. The Charter of Principles defined the WSF as a
space and not as a movement, and established that it did not intend
"to be a body representing world civil society". Many people were
frustrated and later "profoundly disillusioned", as said the
CACIM invitation to evaluate the WSF. They would prefer the WSF as a
strong new movement or as a "movement of movements". Seeing WSF
"calling" capacity to put together tens of thousands of people of
the entire world wishing to overcome the neoliberalism, they consider
that it can be used to mobilize these people and many others to
confront directly the dominant system. As if we had finally found the
organisational issue to overcome the perplexity produced by the
Berlin's Wall fall. Why not put the WSF meetings at the service of
concrete political actions, to realise as soon as possible all the
changes having strategic priority, or to weaken the system by
exploring its contradictions?
is the sense of "folding the tent": abandoning the realisation of
seemingly innocuous world, regional and national meetings for
interchanges, reflections, learning and even articulation of the
civil society organisations and movements, and tentering with all our
force in the terrain of real politics, with the participation of
political parties and even left governments – the really existing
nothing can impede us to adopt the option of WSF as a movement. If we
think we are already sufficiently strong and united to be able to
change the present tendencies of the world history, we could
consciously end this stage of the WSF history, change in this sense
the Charter of Principles and begin new reflections and alliances.
I think that we are not so strong and we would be making a bad choice
interrupting the present WSF process. Civil society is still not,
unhappily, so strong a political actor as we would like, while left
parties and governments remain confused.
left parties and governments seem to remain in the perplexity.
prefer to consider, as I wrote sometime ago, that both strategies –
creation of spaces and launching movements – can and must coexist. We
can continue in both "roads".
this coexistence is accepted, they can reinforce each other. Social
movements and organisations can launch through civil society forums
new autonomous initiatives to overcome neoliberalism. Campaigns and
pressures launched by them can be incorporated in the left parties
and government's programs of action. New movements and even
"movements of movements" can be created, autonomous of the WSF
events, as it happens already with the one we used to call
"altermondialism". Parties and governments, as well as movements
linked to them, can do what they must do, as well as support the
civil society spaces to build their union.
the WSF process continuity is ensured, as a tool to articulate civil
society towards action, the challenge will be in the road of the
"real politics", where still we we still do not see clearly the
best direction to take.
"OBLIGATION" TO PARTICIPATE
second misunderstanding I pointed before was about something like a
"moral obligation" to participate in all the world events of the
WSF process, which the social organisations leaderships seem to feel.
The continuous growing of the dimensions of these events — 150,000
participants in 2005 in Porto Alegre — pushed people to think that
their presence was also necessary to affirm the WSF force.
fact the WSF organisers made a "call to come" to all civil
society organisations which were "opposed to neoliberalism and to
domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and
are committed to building a planetary society directed towards
fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth",
as indicated in the WSF Charter of Principles. As a result, all
organisations struggling to build the "other world possible" were
the following Forums this open invitation made more and more people
come, and the "animal" grew more and more. But the participation
in world events, with all its consequences in financing and in
preparation work, came on top of all the obligations of each
organisation in its own struggles. After four years, naturally, many
participants were tired with this supplementary effort. And they
began, in the 4th WSF, in India, to propose the realisation of World
Forums only every two or even three years. This solution was not
adopted, as the Forums have also a symbolic dimension, with its
annual rhythm, and their interruption could lead to a weakening of
in fact the Forum is now a world level process, and it is this
process that must be as dense as possible, with continuous expansion
and articulations. Its meeting moments do not need to be as big as
possible. The process is more important. If the meetings are big but
are not supported by a growing articulation of the civil society
organisations, their force is artificial. They may even mislead us,
giving the false impression that behind these meetings we have a
civil society which is articulated and dense.
is why the 2008 WSF format – free activities, in all levels, places
and themes, self organized by WSF participants – seems to be very
interesting, better than the 2006 format, with the polycentric
Bamako-Caracas-Karachi World Social Forum.
would even say already that the 2008 Global Day of Action (GDA)
format could be used every year from now on, independently but linked
to the unique World Social Forum to be organized each year – such
experience can be done already in 2009, when the World Social Forum
will take place in the Amazon region. I recognize the force of the
WSF invention in the variety of initiatives that are happening all
over the world to prepare the GDA. In many, many countries different
organisations are working together, respecting their diversity, in
very creative ways, to appear together the 26 January 2008. Most of
these organisations will never be able to come to a world or even
regional meeting. But they will be linked in a unique decentralized
event in the GDA. This articulation could be experienced (and
deepened) every year, with a growing network of organisations.
fact, those who agree with the WSF utility would help it more
efficiently by pushing the expansion of the process (by the
multiplication of social forums and articulations all over the world
at all levels) than coming to every world meeting.
APPROACH TO EVALUATE
these misunderstandings, we can better analyse our experiences, and
improve the way Social Forums are organized to ensure its functioning
as the simple tool it is, at the service of social organisations and
movements. This is the type of evaluation WSF needs: from inside it,
by those engaged in it, bringing hope to the discussions, instead of
the pessimism that tends to appear when we analyse it from outside.
prepare as best as possible the 2009 WSF and the following, we have
to learn from all the World Forums already realized. Many
difficulties could be identified in the last one, in Nairobi, but
also in the previous ones. The "Organising Principles" being
discussed in the International Council try exactly to avoid the
repetition of errors, and to indicate the good way of solving the
problems of such huge events. If this discussion could incorporate
also the lessons coming from regional, national and local Forums it
would be great. Jai Sen's demand to publicize as much as possible
the discussion of these "Organising Principles" must be welcome.
(See above, and
the WSF weakness, which we have not yet been able to solve, is, for
instance, how to stimulate and help the Forums participants translate
into new real articulated actions all the discoveries they make
during the events (new questions, new convergences) and to deepen
after the Forums, as intensively as possible, the articulations they
built during them.
this perspective, we tried in each Forum new tools – such as the
Mural of Propositions in 2005, and in 2007 the use of the fourth
Forum day for the planning of actions. Both did not function as we
would like. Since Nairobi we are also building a permanent tool to
facilitate, through the internet, the interrelation among
participants and their actions and campaigns, at a world level,
before and after the Forums. But we have still to work, to make it
easily accessible for everybody.
society articulations are not so easy exactly because the civil
society structure is characterised by its dispersion and diversity.
Even an important participant's network, that emerged in the first
World Social Forum particularly preoccupied with mobilization – the
Social Movements Assembly – did not find till now the best way to
do it. Some tensions appeared between them and the Forum's
organisers, with misunderstandings about this Assembly final
document, as our Charter of Principles refuses a WSF final document.
But in some regional Forums they present already very clearly their
final declaration as theirs and not of the Forum as a whole. Anyway,
they are still searching for the way to make their final assemblies a
moment to engage their participants more deeply in the propositions
that are presented.
difficult questions are related with the results of the WSF process
in helping to change the world effectively.
question already raised in some evaluations is the difficulty of many
organisations to bring to their internal lives what they experienced
or learned in the Forums. This could happen because some values lived
in the Forums may bring problems to the internal functioning of the
organisations, especially those concerning horizontal relations.
question about results is linked with the changes at the personal
level, in the motivations, behaviours and hopes of each one of us. In
fact one of the discoveries made in the Forums was the direct
relation between personal change and structural changes. To change
the world we need also to change ourselves, internally, towards new
values like those proposed in the Forums. And this is extremely
difficult as, after the five Forum's days, we are again entirely
encircled by the practices we want to overcome.
the evaluation of these two types of results could be a good question
to be put, at their arrival in the Forums, to the WSF events
participants. They could at least become aware of this preoccupation,
before living their new Forum experience.
the external result that anguishes more people, leading them to
criticise the WSF, is the effective change of the world. In fact to
consider these results we cannot forget that capitalism made many big
steps to deepen the domination of the world, since the Berlin's
Wall downfall, which goes much further than military oppression and
the control of economic logics and institutions. It subjugates the
minds and the hearts, in nearly all the world – including among
political leaders supposing fighting against capitalism. The world
moves under the rules of the money and of the capitalistic values.
There are many, many people struggling against neoliberalism and
building new frames of life, but, actually, they still do not make
very much difference. And thinking about the WSF itself, eight years
are a very small time in the world history.
fact, if we ask if another world is possible, a good minority will
say that it is not necessary and the big majority will say that it is
not possible. Even those now fighting strongly for their rights would
not necessarily be so motivated to change the world in its
fundamental structures. The climate problems are opening the
possibility of showing how these structures and values are in their
origin. But we have still an enormous effort to do, to awake more
people. We took seven years to see a little clearer in the WSF
process that communication is perhaps our most important challenge.
We still do not know how to obtain a significant inversion of
perspectives in the world, to give hope to a more substantial portion
of the human beings, so as to arrive to the critical mass that will
enable real changes.
we could see, perhaps, another good effect of decentralized
activities like in the GDA, linked to World Social Forums: much more
than only through world meetings poorly covered by the media, people
will hear about the possibility of "another world" and will know
that many people is working to build it.
"internal" problem is related with the WSF IC, and the
disconnection we risk between those who "think" the WSF and those
who "do" it, that I have already considered in this text. This
disconnection used to happen in political parties, between the Party
leaders and the militants at the basis, or in the Unions.
Paradoxically, it could happen also in the WSF process, where we
don't have categories such as leaders and supporters, and
separations between those who think and those who do.
the IC members are delegates of the organisations members of the IC.
They come mostly from the leadership of these organisations – in the
logics of representation and delegation of power, whose poorness we
denounce through the way we organise the Forums. For the "base"
of our process, it is practically impossible to participate in the IC
meetings, as I said already. Are, then, the IC meetings participants
those who "think" the WSF? Or could we begin also to link
everybody through the mechanisms we will experiment in the GDA?
is also a growing ambiguity about the IC "facilitator" role, and
the decisions it finally takes. The frontier between "facilitation"
and "direction" is not very sharp. The IC cannot decide about the
WSF process participants' struggles but it decides about how the
process will evolve. This happens with the methodology used in the
world events, for instance, even if the local organisers of each
event are free to decide about it. If there are no impositions, we
could say that our way of working is normal and useful: through the
IC Commissions the local organisers can benefit from the experience
of the Forums already realised. But it can also be felt as direction.
The same happens with the steps of the process. The decision about
stimulating a Global Day of Action in January 2008 was an IC
decision. It did not send orders to the WSF process participants to
take initiatives all over the world, and still less it defined the
themes of the activities to be realized. But if we have an
insufficient mobilisation it is possible that it will be attributed
to a lack of direction. Let us see…
ambiguities could be avoided by the transparency of the IC
publicising its structure, functioning and discussions, seen till now
by many people as something mysterious and even secret, opened only
to people of the "direction" of organisations participating in
the WSF. But we still did not find the way to ensure this
conclusion, if we see the WSF with optimism, from inside, as a new
useful and necessary tool that must be preserved and improved —
despite all these difficulties — to reinforce civil society and push
for a new political culture, we have a great many positive
reflections to do. That is the approach of any WSF process evaluation
and its future that can help us to really build the possible,
necessary and urgent "other world". I hope it will be the
approach of the participants of the evaluation CACIM proposes, as
well as of the participants of the IC meeting in Nigeria.
Chico Whitaker is one of the original memebers of the Brazilian
organising committee which launched the first World Social Forum in
2001. He is an active member of the International Council. Email: