In his book, Age of Consent, George Monbiot argues in favour of a world parliament and sees the World Social Forum as the beginning of such an institution. At the same time the second Assembly of the Social Movements will be held the day after the closure of the European Social Forum. This year more as something part of the actual forum process with preparatory reports and the objective of a mobilisation initiative for 2004. In the run up for the second European Social Forum it’s important to ask oneself if it’s “out” to actually be in favour of the actual charter of principles as it seems to be “in” to point out and propose directions for the social forum process.
What is the social forum? To me it is a space. Social movements, trade unions and political parties participate in that space. The space is ours, that is an obvious sentence but important to repeat because that means that there are no enemies on our space. The only enemy is dogmatism and no movements are entirely alleviated from that.
There are things I think the space should consist of and some others that should be left out. The space should be filled with issues, coordinations and actions, immediate solutions and of course – visions. Common political programs, common final objectives, long term solutions and a common terminology/ language should be left out because of the danger of exclusion. We understand revolution, consensus, communism, and decentralised networks in so many different ways that we should rather minimise than maximise the use of such words. I’m not suggesting they should be banned or anything but proposing that its better to explain what we mean than use terms that might exclude because people think they know what is meant.
The rather tiresome chant “one solution, revolution” did not only create irritation at the last European Social Forum because the ones [mostly people from the Socialist Workers Party] shouting it always seemed to be standing in the way and never stopped, but also because it does not reflect the reason for people to be at a social forum. Most of us do neither believe that there is only one solution nor one way.
The role of the social movements must rather be to defend peoples right to choose, our right to democracy and to fight to broaden the political space of manoeuvre. The social forum space creates knowledge, new alliances and political room of manoeuvre. The role of the social movements is to broaden that room of manoeuvre.
We should more often enjoy the freedom from the absence of cold war, when the world was divided into two and you had to choose one side or the other. It’s not our role as social movements to be in favour or against political parties or leaders. We can be in favour or against ideas, issues and actions.
To defend the PT, be against the blockade against Cuba or protest against the US intervention in Venezuela or Colombia does not mean that I uncritically have to defend everything that Lula, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez or the FARC-guerrilla does. It definitely does not mean that we have to be against all political parties. We should guarantee that representatives for political parties that we still trust are there to learn from all interesting seminars that are held.
Political parties are not invited to the Social Forum as organisers or organisations. I think that is good. They have their spaces, in parliaments, networks, electoral campaigns and access to media in different ways than the social movements. The attitude towards political parties should be open and generous. We should all go on pretending that we don’t see that they are everywhere as long as they don’t violate the rules of the forums.
The social forums could provide a space for better understanding and division of labour between social movements and political parties. At least in Sweden I can experience that the progressive political parties are so eager to show that they are “on the street” that they forget to do their work inside parliaments. There they should be the echoes of our shouts from the outside. They should use the parliaments to stop the GATS, get hold on secret documents and question the war. Politics is not our enemy, is our tool to change society, thereby are not all the political parties enemies – some of them are possible partners.
As the social forum space is ours we ought afford experiments. From my point of view the social forum process stands on two legs, one is to unite and coordinate, the other is to challenge and break new ground. We do “unity and coordination” often, and that is good, we need coordination to move forward our positions. Unity is not always good, and some persons and organisations seem to have unity as their first point on their programme.
The “challenge and break new ground” is done more seldom and we should change that. During the social forums established analyses should be challenged, social movements should break up, find new alliances, find new ways. The forms of the forums should also be challenged; we should put the most dogmatic trotskists, anarchists, activists, communists and socialists on stage and make them reflect on what others have to say. Everybody that speaks on workshops one year should come back the year after merely to listen. We should put the most famous intellectuals on a panel to listen to an audience. We should explore the unpredictable instead of doing the traditional.
The Assembly of Social Movements in Florence was hopelessly traditional, with all the screaming speeches, applause’s and party flags. What is my fear of processes like the Network of Social Movements or Assemblies of Social Movements, harmless proposals like Monbiots about becoming a world parliament, or like last WSF when Chavez proposed that the WSF should take a decision about supporting Venezuela and got a lot of back up?
My fear is that someday the head of the IMF will pick up the phone to call “the movement” and that somebody answers the phone. That we try to create representation for something that cannot be represented. My worry is that we start proposing delegates for the assembly, that by that way gets more mandatory and suddenly we have a congress were delegates are sent just to win support for a proposal.
Becoming a congress could lead to that we try to decide what is important instead of responding to the importance of events. Our strength is diversity, which is not only a thing we say because it’s fashionable in the age of globalisation but because it’s for real. Our strength is to engage in different things and then when it’s necessary do joint actions. In any case would the issues we have taken on been met with so much knowledge and perspectives if not thanks to the diversity of the movement. Think of the MAI, the FTAA, and the anti-war movement this spring.
The difference between coordinating and becoming an avant-garde is thin. We do need coordination, and we do need good leaders, and sometimes we do need to vote for decisions rapidly. Dogmatic activists being fanatic over processes, rejecting all decisions not taken by consensus and that immediately criticise every event that is not self-sustained can be equally tiresome for the social forum process. I think that the Independent Media Centre could already have been the alternative CNN if that space would have been less hijacked by this type of dogmatism.
There are things happening in the space of the social forums that need more attentions, networks that are coordinating, groups that work with the same issues that should be interacting and learning from each other. We should promote conclusions and proposals that are being done. The debt tribunal made in the second WSF in Porto Alegre must be one of the best ever. Their conclusions should be used much more.
There is a network called S2B, Seattle to Brussels, that is a permanent coordination of trade issues, they are part of the social forum space and could be used more for the rest of us that don’t keep up with all the details. Huge networks like the anti-war networks and smaller direct action groups like will hopefully share the same social forum space. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will learn from each other, but at least they have the opportunity.
In the end of the day we should take time to discover our own space. It’s big enough for many more of us. And instead of trying to form the process of the forum advocating the need for another step or dismissing it as reformist not being worth to be part of we should do more to create processes within the space. The story of the social forum has been as success story until now. Any corporation in the world would certainly kill to have a growth like that. We have to keep growing, keep on being successful always with democracy as the irreplaceable base. We have to keep the open space open!