The WSF as ?Moment?

Mar 05

Is
the WSF still the most appropriate vehicle for the new stage in the
struggle of the global justice and peace movement? Or, having fulfilled
its historic function of aggregating and linking the diverse
counter-movements spawned by global capitalism, is it time for the WSF
to fold up its tent and give way to new modes of global organization of
resistance and transformation?


This question, with which I ended my May 2007 essay "The World Social Forum at the Crossroads", was meant to provoke comrades and friends, not a call to bury the WSF.

The hope behind the essay was that by bringing out what I thought were
the strengths and the limitations of the World Social Forum as it
developed as a key global social actor, its supporters could sustain
its forward dynamic, either by bringing it to a another level or
supplanting it with a new organizational form that was more conducive
to uniting ideas and action, theory and practice, in the struggle for
global justice. Equilibrium is the death of social movements, and my
worry was that by the middle of this decade, the WSF was arriving at a
point of complacency about being an open space where "a thousand
flowers could bloom" that was, however, increasingly detached from
advocacy and action. Equilibrium for social movements is a condition
not of health but of stagnation. It is a sign that history is passing
them by.

The point of the essay was not so much to offer an answer but to
persuade comrades and friends that we had to get together to transcend
the status quo, even if that process was likely to create conflicts
among us and the line or lines of march were not clear. The spirited
response of so many comrades to the essay was gratifying. It showed
that we were grappling with the same issues, though perhaps without
coming up with the same provisional answers.

The WSF is often seen as a space. I think we must also see its
emergence as a "moment," as part of the trajectory of what is often now
called the global justice movement. Some of the other moments in that
trajectory were the Zapatista Uprising in 1994, Seattle in 1999, the
great global anti-war movement mobilization of 2003, the collapse of
the WTO Ministerial in Cancun in September 2003, the mobilizations in
Hong Kong in December 2005. Seeing the WSF as a moment in the
development of a broad and deep movement enables us to realize that the
movement may express itself in different forms or configurations at
other moments in the future.

I believe that the WSF can continue to be a central part of future
moments of the global justice struggle, but only if it moves toward
becoming a site for bringing together critical analysis and decisive
action on the key issues of our time—and here I would place the
struggle against the empire, the struggle against neoliberal and
post-neoliberal capitalism, the struggle against Zionism and for
Palestinian rights, the struggle for the environment and environmental
justice, and the struggle for racial, gender, and indigenous peoples'
rights. The WSF began as an open space for discussion and debate but
its progressive logic is moving it in the direction of becoming a
vital, indeed unparalleled, site for the comprehensive mobilization of
people throughout the world on the great struggles of our time. In the
May 2007 essay, I gave this function the paradoxical characterization
of serving as a "partisan open space." In this connection, I agree with
Vinod Raina that the "Global Day of Action" in 2008 has been an
important innovation tending in this direction.

So let me provide the best answer I can come up with to the question I
posed in the beginning: The best years of the WSF lie not behind it but
before it, but only if we, its agents, allow its activist logic of
engaging and transforming the world to flourish.

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