An Extrordinary Coup At The WSF pt.1

When I listened to Lula speak at the World Social Forum I was moved and cried. I wish he had not come.

For the first time since the Zapatista uprising, the MAI victory and Seattle the movement has taken a step back. The first steps have been taken, from one side of the left, to suffocate the movement and from the other side of the left to demolish it.

The World Social Forum is a space shared by 100 000 persons. A space created by and for the movement of movements. A space is something created collectively in which the multitude can act both individually and collectively. Principles are always set up for spaces. That goes for the World Social Forum as well. The WSF space created by the social movements’ political context has two important principles; the WSF does not make decisions and does not accept political parties. The last principle is there to be violated as we as a global movement meet at a geographic territory. This year this principle was not violated but a real coup d´Ã©tat took place in the space that has taken the social movements years to create.

In Sweden I’m known as the founder of Attac Sweden. And I am also known as a member of the direction of the Young Left, the youth organisation of the Left Party. I joined the movement of movements when the battle of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) started and since then I have always tried to balance being part of both sides, on one side the movement and the other side a political party. I think that an interaction between them is necessary and I think that the interaction can only take place if both sides treat each other with mutual respect. I saw the contrary occur at the WSF. And for the first time ever I questioned both.

I have seen this forum transformed into a war zone between a dogmatic old left that thinks that social movements cannot transform society; that can only be done by political parties. The dogmatics use intrigue and paternalism as their arms. And on the other side a non-dogmatic left that wants to deepen and broaden the multitude. They use participation – which is the word I have given democracy – as their arm. The second group is losing not because they are purer but because of a lack of creative co-ordination and a lack of spaces to present their visions. None of the sides can easily be defined, it’s not about either political parties or social movements, and it’s neither about centralistic organisation nor decentralised organisations. It’s about ideological differences like avantgardism or truly believing in giving power to the people. About national sovereignty, the idea about socialism in one state or believing in popular sovereignty and global democracy. And it’s also about manners for how the struggle outside and within the movement will be conducted.

The WSF should be a space of conflict where important issues are treated – believing in dialogue and not ignoring differences. There has always been a living critique of the official speakers of the forum, not representative enough, but that has been related to persons and not issues. But this time the forum for once took a side. Michael Hardt writer of Empire was not invited to speak by the official organisers even though the discussion about Empire is one of the most talked about ideological conflicts of today.

Close to that position patronising attitudes from respected intellectuals have occurred. Like when Marta Harnecker, a Chilean intellectual who has for decades been a reference for the left in Latin America, attacked Alberto, one of the founders of the Argentinian piquetero movement MTD, a movement that on the 26th of June last year saw two comrades executed. Marta Harnecker told him that the MTD are postmodernist anarchists, that they only speak, whereas she has the facts and that they should be going into political parties as social movements cannot transform society.

Every year there have been tensions between those who want to deepen diversity and those who want to unite. This year a way to conduct the train of social movements was invented and pushed through. At this forum a Network of Social Movements was created that will facilitate the co-ordination between the social movements. A permanent contact group was also created. The World Network of Social Movements means that those who have been desperate to lead something impossible to lead finally found a tool. It is well known that this idea has been put forward by names from the fourth international, but nobody says it aloud and nobody writes about it from within the movement. The slogan is; united we’re stronger, the big problem being that their perception of unity is based on unification – unification that in the case of the movement has to be forced and partly imaginary. Not because we´re not united. We are, in the important issues, but the process of a higher level of unification has been imposed and not natural. Unification processes does not only have a tiring effect on people resisting to be united but it also makes spaces narrower.

The presence of political parties disguised under movement names, party leaders, ministers, big leaders of movements acting as if they were party leaders and presidents in pluralis was massive compared to other years. They all, as added together they created a different political context, and took over the space of the World Social Forum. They also stole the possibility to get out the messages from the social movements through media. The big losers are the political issues. The problem is not that Hugo Chavez was seen on cover page instead of Dot Keet, and that the names of political parties were mentioned more than the names of social movements. The problem is that the focus from political issues was moved to political leaders. The war about water, work, food, health and education, and the movements’ proposals to fight this war didn’t get out to the media.

Along with all this the Venezuelan government ended up defending themselves in the most incompetent and dogmatic way – when before they started everybody where pro-Chavez still thinking that it was possible to be pro-Chavez without buying everything a government does.

I saw President Hugo Chavez wear the same Attac badge I wear at his meeting with 35 party leaders, parliamentarians and intellectuals. There I realised that Attac Venezuela is a front organisation, in the classic Leninist conception, of the Venezuelan government. And I became part of the filthiest political play I’ve ever seen when Chavez decided to export his political problems to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil having his government to organise a hearing on Venezuelan Media. The organisers’ name is always in the lobby of a conference hall; it simply said Attac. And in the room there was some of the most well known and most respected intellectuals that had given their names and knowledge to a hearing officially organised by Attac. During the small meeting and later on in his speech in front of thousands of persons President Hugo Chavez said that – due to the criminal Venezuelan media – he might have to shut down a couple of TV-channels. What if Chavez would have shut down several TV channels – would he have used Naomi Klein’s and Tariq Ali’s name to legitimize that? And did something change when we tried to put forward proposals that would have made their hearing better? My impression was that they did not listen to us, that the reaction was hard and immediate created by the tension and enormous pressure a democratically elected government has to face – but nevertheless narrow-minded and dogmatic . I’m not going to accept that dinosaurs that I thought were crushed under the falling stone of the Berlin Wall are having a revival and that they make the WSF their playground. And I’m never going to accept that my generation of warriors for a better world will have to choose between being in favour or against so called progressive states. That is an old history. I want to create new histories, tell my children other stories, other ways, other fora.

Fora like the fantastic exchanges and joy you can see at the youth camp. There I got to know Neka and others from the MTD, and we spoke during the days of the fora. When I went there to say goodbye I remembered her happy face from last evening but already the next day I saw her sad. In a couple of hours she was going home to Buenos Aires. Disillusioned, by the sight of the network Via Campesina being such a centralised organisation, by seeing poor peasants, the precariat and unemployed workers sitting listening to seminars given by others – so called leaders – telling them about their situation. She tells me she maybe thinks that one should not go to the next World Social Forum in India. She does not feel that this space is hers. I tell her that it is her obligation, our responsibility to go there. It is our duty to go to India en masse – and push the dogmatists out from our space. When we’ve done that we have to defeat the WTO at the ministerial meeting in Cancun 10-14th of September, change the world and defend it with intense participation.

The afternoon of the 26th of January I took off my Attac badge. Being without my Attac badge I started to think if I should propose to my friends that we should change name. But immediately I got my common sense back. We’re doing this great campaign against the General Agreement on Investment (GATS) back home, we have a participatory organisation, and we have the unique problem of being too many young women in the collective leadership that we have. And to add the successful European campaign against GATS, and with strategic geniuses like Susan George and organisational geniuses as Christopher Ventura that would a lack of respect from my part. A respect that Attac Sweden and its members do deserve. So now I’m considering proposing to my friends to take on the name: Attac Sweden Autonomia. If I do, a participatory process will decide. And there will be no dirty war.

If we’re facing a war, and I think we are, my deep concern is to see the old dogmatic left win on walk-over. I’m not sure we will win the war – but I’m not giving up without fighting. A space as valuable as the social foras has to be defended.

America Vera-Zavala

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