Argentina’s Social Movement Goes Global

The first thematic meeting of the World Social Forum in Argentina was held from the 22nd to the  25th of August in Buenos Aires, to discuss the theme of “The Crisis of Neo-Liberalism in Argentina and the Challenges for the Global Movement”. With the attendance of over 20.000 people in the opening demonstration, the phenomenon of the Forum surprised Argentinean society, including the very organizers of the meeting. Nobody in Buenos Aires thought that so many people from so many different collectives and movements were going to show such an enthusiastic interest in issues of the global resistance movement, of which Argentina was until recently to a great extent unaware.  In fact, until now most of the movements seemed to be strongly attached to the traditional nationalist interpretation of the current crisis (i.e., “the USA/IMF attacks the  Argentineans”). Some left-wing local intellectuals even discredited the Italian political thinker Paolo Virno, when he suggested some months ago that the Argentinean movement was part of the new global resistance.

 In 10 “official” panels and over 270 decentralized workshops and roundtables, an extraordinary variety of issues was discussed: the Argentinean crisis and new social movements, economic alternatives to neoliberalism and global capitalism, the challenges for global resistance, participatory democracy and economics, autonomy and self-management, civil disobedience, students and the youth, creative politics and art, alternative media of information, barter markets, external debt, ecology, feminism, free software, Empire and Imperialism, immigration, non-violence, ethnic politics and identities, GM food, and Marxism, to mention but a few. A variety of trade unions, cultural organizations, NGOs, social movements, aborigine unions, and all sorts of collectives and networks participated in the Forum, together with international activists from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, USA, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Spain, Uruguay, France, Thailand, Bolivia, Italy, Belgium, South Africa,  and other countries. International visitors included Christophe Aguiton (ATTAC France), Rafael Freire (CUT Brazil), Nicola Bullard (Focus on the Global South, Thailand), and the much acclaimed Max Ntanyana (Anti Eviction Campaign, South Africa) and Evo Morales (the socialist aborigine and peasant leader who was almost elected president of Bolivia two months ago). One of the most remarkable moments of the Forum, was the massive participation in the first meeting to organize a strong anti-FTAA campaign.

The effects and implications of the Forum in the context of Argentinean politics are still to be seen. But there is no doubt that it can become a lighthouse for those who are looking for new political forms and ideas. This is particularly important for the new autonomist and horizontal movements –such as the neighbor’s Assemblies and some of the unemployed “piqueteros” and peasant organizations– that mushroomed in Argentina spontaneously in the last few years, and since the rebellion of December in particular. In a country where most of the political traditions –including Peronism and all of the Left– have been strongly intolerant, dogmatic, hierarchical, leader-oriented, and even authoritarian, the new horizontal and autonomist movements have found no historical experience in which to model themselves. For example, strange as it may sound, almost nobody knew the most simple rules about assemblies –speak one at a time, listen to your neighbors, deal with one issue at a time, and so on– when they started to gather last January. And still, after eight months of weekly meetings, the neighbors of my own assembly find it hard to believe that decisions can be made by consensus processes, and not just by simple voting. Likewise, many people still consider horizontal practices and rejection of representation a sign of  immaturity of the social movement, rather than the beginning of a new politics. And those who have consciously rejected hierarchies and representation, often feel like a Quixote fighting alone against the tide.

But this is when the Forum and the ideas that it helped to transmit can become a fundamental piece for the new movements in Argentina. By getting to know more about global resistance, some of the “Asambleistas” and “piqueteros” are beginning to recognize themselves as part of a global move away from the hierarchical and representative politics of the old Left. A good example of this were the activities and workshops that the Coordinadora Anibal Verón –the most radical group of “piqueteros”– and Intergalactika –the most active collective of global resistance in Argentina– carried out together during the Forum. The experience of the new global resistance can help to change the self-perception of many Argentineans involved in horizontal social struggles, from Quixote-like lonely fighters, to self-confident activists of a new and growing anti-capitalist movement based in ideas such as horizontality, participatory democracy, and direct action. And this is not without importance in a country where, one week after the Forum, on the 30th of August, thousands of people marched in several cities to say that the general elections scheduled for March 2003 are “a trap” for the movement, and should be boycotted.        

  As most good things in Argentina, the Forum was a little miracle. It was organized by a small group of activists from different collectives in only forty days, with little financial and technical support. It succeeded despite last-minute aggressive attempts of traditional Left-wing parties and trade unions to manipulate it for their own purposes, by trying to impose their own speakers and agendas. Fortunately, the Forum remained to a great extent independent.

 For four days, the city of Buenos Aires was invaded by a strong spirit of freedom and internationalism (specially perceptible in the farewell street party of the last night after the meetings). The success of the Social Forum seems to prove that Argentineans are finally beginning to realize how important the rebellion of the 19th and 20th of December was for the global movement, and how inter-related the problems of most countries are. With hundreds of international activists visiting Argentina during the last eight months, the message of global solidarity and union begins to be heard. The World Social Forum in Argentina brought new hope and fresh thinking to the country’s on-going grass-roots rebellion. But it was also a powerful space of mutual “contamination”; as the South African activist Max Ntanyana said to us in the airport, with tears in his eyes: “Everything I learnt in these few days here, I will use in the struggles of my country”.  


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