10 years later : the three platforms of the WSF process

, par  CRID

The organizations of the civil society of Porto Alegre and cities around it had commemorated the tenth anniversary of the founding event of the WSF process, in January 2001, with the accomplishment, in January 2010, of the “World Social Forum 10 years - Great Alegre”. More than 900 activities took place in this Forum. Members of the Organization Committee of the first WSF promoted, among these activities, an International Seminar of Evaluation of the WSF process since 2001 and its perspectives, under the title "10 Years Later : Challenges and proposals for another possible world". It has congregated intellectuals and activists of many countries that had participated of the different Forums in these 10 years.

Reflecting on what it was evaluated, said and discussed in this Seminar, it became more clear for me that the WSF process, in its sequence of creation of “open spaces” and networks of civil society organizations, all over the world, from the local level to the planet one, is being developed in three platforms :
- in the first one, the experience is made of a new way of doing politics, so that the union of those who fight for “another possible world” can be build ;
- in the second one, the search is to overcome the civil society fragmentation, so that it can act politically in a articulated form but autonomously from parties and governments, as a new political actor, with all the force it can have ;
- in the third, we propose and organize political actions, to be carried out by those who engaged themselves in these actions, having in view the final objective of World Social Forums : to replace the logics of the insatiable search for profit, that dominates today the planet, by the logics of the human beings necessities attendance.

In the two first platforms are being settled the principles to mold the new political culture that appeared as absolutely necessary to make “another world” effectively possible. They are the steps it is necessary to climb to ensure the effectiveness of the actions that emerge in the third platform, and to make long-lasting the changes they can provoke. They function as the iron hidden in the columns of reinforced concrete in a construction : moored in the foundations, they continue inside of them until the highest one, as an invisible guarantee of its solidity and stability.

This new culture politics contradicts and inverts the certainty that always existed in the political action : that to construct “another world” it is necessary first to take the power. It questions also the stance saying that to attain this goal all means are good. What is being said in the WSF is that is necessary to build before, or at the same time - walking we make the way [1] -, the base on which “another world” will be possible : a society of conscientious, free, active, solidary and co-responsible citizens for all that happens around them and in all the Planet. At the same time, it is being said in the WSF that the means we use mold the results that we obtain, and therefore means and results must be coherent.

The effort for building this culture is in fact the great contribution that the WSF process gave, in these first ten years of its existence, to the politics aiming to change the world. And that is what is making it appear as bearer of hope. Now, with the series of Forums that will be realized throughout 2010 - of which the first one was, symbolically, the one of Porto Alegre, and that will all contribute to the next World Social Forum to take place in January 2011 in Dakar, Senegal - we enter in a stage where it will emerge more clearly the proposals of action to structure the world we want.

What the WSF process is remembering to us, as it invites us to climb always its two first platforms before or as we are defining our political action, it is that if we define them starting in the third, as historically it was done always, one can be lead to the frustrations with which we finished the last century [2]. In other words, the changes proposed in this way were not possible because they were not connected with the necessity of a new political culture.

The Porto Alegre’s Seminar reserved however more time of its reflection for what we do in the third platform. Approaching rapidly the evaluation of the progress gotten around the objectives of the two first platforms, it jumped, in the debates, to the analysis of what changed in the world in these ten years since the first WSF and which possibilities of action emerges now.

This direct passage to the “reflection on the action” supplies us with a first evaluation of the ten years of the process : already a sufficient consensus does exist about the necessity of reaching the objectives aimed at in the two first platforms.

The debate about the character of the WSF - is it a space or a movement ? – will continue and will be still long [3]. It is evident that we are far – very far – of seeing a new political culture behind the action of all political actors. The old ways to do politics continue to exist everywhere [4]. It will be not a specific process to build a new political culture, in the ocean of political initiatives all over the world, that will make possible to liberate us from the weight of more than one hundred years during which we were formed and “trained” with other certainties.

But it is at least encouraging that, in an event dedicated to evaluate the ten years of the WSF life, it was possible to put aside the discussion of the political culture and to consecrate most of the time to the debate in the third platform. And this happened although many participants of the process – among them some of the guests of the Seminar – still have many doubts about the necessity of the process WSF to persist in the way it defined for itself.

The debate in the third platform is being done in the Forums and it is very urgent that it arrives to concrete proposals, but it is, in fact, very difficult. One of the striking changes in the reflection on the political action, in this end of century [5], was the awakening of conscience that we no more can count, for the political struggle, on a ready and finished model of future society, nor with a previous definition of the way to arrive there. That is, to define political objectives today, we need to be permanently opened to new paradigms - as for example, now, the ones related to the social-environmental dimension of the reality, or the values of a new civilization - without trying to fit this definition in an intellectual frame able to reply to all questions.

The Porto Alegre Seminar reflected, in its agenda, this search of new perspectives, that are being opened with force in recent years [6]. In this aspect it was particularly interesting. It counted on a great diversity of participants with autonomy in relation to parties and governments, interacting in the mutual respect – one basic element of the new political culture – coming from multiple networks and organizations of the civil society. This participation was a concrete fruit of the union and of the articulation built throughout the ten years of the Forum, in its two first platforms – this possibility being another element of positive evaluation of the process.

The existing convergences were not systematized, to give place to the always wished final documents. And this happened not because such convergences did not exist or because there were many divergences - as the media opposed to the WSF would like to say. It was a conscientious option of the Seminar organizers, who did not want to force an artificial consensus, or another “unique thought” that would impoverish the results of the debates.

The participants of the Seminar also did not concluded their work with “directions for the action”, as if the WSF was a movement, so that their members would be engaged in concrete actions assumed by all of them. Even if this was possible in the “spaces” created in the WSF process, they could not intend it, since in the “space” of this Seminar they were not “representing” the WSF participants spread in the world nor taking decisions on behalf of them. As it occurs in all WSF meetings, the proposals of action or reflection that had appeared in the Seminar will be assumed by their authors according to their degree of commitment with them and to the degree of maturation of the proposals. The Seminar was in fact one more occasion to discuss these proposals, according to the old and necessary combination of the action with the reflection.

It would be also good to note, evaluating the Seminar itself, which it was one among the many self-organized activities of the “World Social Forum 10 years - Great Porto Alegre”, but it did not interfere in the others. In other words, it was possible, respecting fully the WSF Charter of Principles, in what concerns its organizational horizontality, to reserve inside the Forum a good space for a deeper debate on determined questions.

In synthesis, the Seminar was developed calmly in the third platform of the process, but well based in a consensus on the validity of the experimentation that was made, in these ten years, around the objectives aimed at in its two first platforms. It was an innovative experience that can be repeated with advantage in other Forums, to deepen the debate that must be made in its third platform.

To make more concrete the present reflections, it would be useful to review what we look for in each platform of the WSF process.

The objectives aimed at in the first platform

Reexamining the objectives of each platform, it can be said, in what concerns the first one, that it is based in an almost unanimous certainty : in politics it is always necessary to put together all those that are engaged in the same struggle. In fact, with this we are simply following a teaching of the popular wisdom, which from long time ago is saying to us that “the union makes the force”. And facing to the huge power of the dominant system, in our fight to change the world, much force is necessary…

In the language of the parties and political movements, the word more commonly used, referring to this objective, is “uniting”. But this word is charged with other concepts, as unification around a leader or around a decision of a majority that all decide to follow and to respect, or also discipline and homogeneity that the military like so much, with their parades to demonstrate their force. “Union” has a wider and deeper sense. It does not reduce itself to a decision taken in a particular conjuncture or tactically, not even strategically. It is more permanent, it has that to be built with patience and tolerance, implies in mutual support and respect, acceptance of the diversity, co-responsibility, sharing of efforts and results, that is, some of the elements of a renewed political culture.

The opposite of the “union” is the “division”, of which the political left is recurrently victim, as she was prisoner of a curse that debilitates her in face of the powers with which she struggles.

However, the dynamics of the “division” is in fact a direct fruit of the “competition”, that in turn it is the main engine of the capitalist economic system. Therefore the culture of the competition is being incrusted for a long time in the heads, activities and ways of acting of the immense majority of the human beings, and penetrates of course also in the left itself. But if to become “competitive” is a condition to survive in the capitalist system, its effect is destructive between those who fight to overcome this system. Among them the competition leads to the removal of those who lose, that is, to the division.

The way that was then experimented to build the union, in the first platform of the WSF, was to organize the Forums with a methodology that could freed them of the culture of the competition, stimulating its counter poison, that is one of the basic elements of a non-capitalist world : the cooperation.

The WSF Charter of Principles give some directions to realize this objective, when it affirms, for example, that the Forum is not a space to fight (or to enter in competition) for the power, nor to direct it, or to speak on behalf of it, nor to dispute the definition of lines of direction to guide the action, but an “open space” [7] for the exchange of experiences, the mutual aid and the interlearning, the construction of articulations towards the action, in the respect to the diversity. It is in this perspective that the Charter establishes that the WSF does not have leaders, nor spokesmen, nor a final document intending to express the position of all its participants. And that among them there is no hierarchy – their relations being weaved in the horizontality - as well as all the activities developed in the Forums must have the same importance, being proposed by their participants themselves [8].

As these directions in fact are in contradiction with many of the usual political practices, they had been initially very much contested. Many critics of the WSF considered that they transformed it into a fair of ideas and proposals, not intervening in the political reality [9].

But the multiplication of new movements and initiatives, which appeared in the Forums, demonstrated the effectiveness of these principles in the effort necessary to diminish the competition and to build the union. The practices inside them – in the reeducation function [10] that their meetings acquired - helped their participants to make new alliances as they were able to overcome, through the mutual recognition, the barriers that preconceptions and mistaken information create between the organizations, even inside the same sector of struggle. [11]

With this the Charter of Principles became more and more accepted. Today the voices are few that still insist that it must be reviewed. And many other meeting and Forums carried through in the world, without being necessarily associated with the struggle against capitalism, began to adopt many of its directions, because of their positive results [12].
But, of course, if the experience made in this platform is not tied with the final objective of the WSF process, that is to replace the logics of the insatiable profit by the logics of the human beings necessities attendance, they can effectively become beautiful meetings without political consequences. This can easily occur in Local Forums, of little dimension, less diversified in what concerns the participation and turned more directly to local questions. These Forums will lose the advantages that the three platforms of the WSF process WSF can offer to the struggle for the change. But we cannot deny the right to make it to those wanting to remain in this first platform. Such types of Forums will contribute at least for the free exchange of experiences in the social fight and for the union around specific objectives, what constitutes already something new that will give much more effectiveness to their struggles.

The objectives aimed at in the second platform

This second platform already elapses, in fact, of a more directly political conviction – which is one of the innovative elements of the new political culture that are in construction in the Social Forums : the one saying that to change the world - really, deeply and, so or more important, lastingly - it is imperative the action of the entire society. In other words, to change the reality parties and governments action is not enough, are them constituted through the electoral or the revolutionary way : the world changes and the changes remain when all the society assumes this necessity and acts, as society, so that this happens.

Now, parties and governments already count on structures and occasions where they can interchange and articulate their action, at every level, to build their own political force. The same does not occur, however, with that part of the society that organizes itself - still less at the world level. The proposal to organize Forums as the WSF therefore took care of this necessity : in its Charter of Principles it was defined as a space reserved for the civil society articulation. It went still more far : although members of parties and governments can participate of the activities developed in it, these, as such, cannot organize own activities in the Forums. [13]

This reservation of space is also many times contested by those who have not the same certainty on the imperative necessity of the participation of all the society in the transforming action. So, this second platform of the WSF process seems to them unnecessary. For them at least the parties would have to enter in the “space” of the Forum with full rights. They think as well that it could be possible to go directly from the first platform - where the effort is to construct the union, that all evaluate as essential - to the third one, where the debates are on the fight for new economic and social logics [14]. However, in the practice this would lead to the pegging of the Forums participants in the parties and governments, becoming secondary to affirm and to articulate the civil society as an independent political actor.
But although this resistance, the objective of the second platform is being consolidated, in the WSF process, as something so important – to make really possible the “other world” – as the union searched in the first platform.

When it is considered that the civil society must be affirmed, the question starts to be : how to articulate it, being it so characteristically diversified and broken up, with the multiplicity of levels and sectors of action of the organizations that are part of it ? In fact what is needed is to search the way to place all the enormous political power that it can have [15] - which can be decisive in this fight – at the service of the overcoming of the capitalism and of the solution of the problems it creates.

For this if it will not be possible, evidently, to remain inside the usual organizational standards, based in the hierarchy of functions, in the pyramids of power and in the imposed discipline, that feed the competition and the division and then contradict the principles of the WSF Charter, that intends to stimulate the cooperation, the co-responsibility, the horizontality.

More value was then given to the networks - an alternative way to structure the action that was emerging in the world in the last few decades. This alternative way would allow to give more density to the articulations between the civil society organizations without losing one of its biggest richness that is its heterogeneity, and with it its capacity of initiative and creativity.

World Social Forums became then not only big meetings of organizations and people as of regional and world-wide networks, created to act in the different fields where the action and the pressure of the civil society are necessary. With this its horizontality was strengthened and it became still more evident that, to respect the diversity of its participants, they effectively could not finish with final documents, typical of the pyramidal organizations.

Thus, with the two first platforms of WSF process consolidated, thanks to the increasing acceptance and deepening, in the world, of the intuitions and initial bets of the first World Social Forum organizers, the objective in this second platform could then be also the more and more bigger geographic expansion of the process, towards the construction of a planetary civil society having its roots effectively in all the corners of the world.

The objectives aimed at in the third platform

As already said before, we are still far from seeing everywhere in the world the exercise of the way of doing politics that can lead to the union we need, and it is evident that there are not, in all different countries of the world, strong civil societies articulated independently. But, as it was already also said, there were not, in January 2010, any pressing necessity to evaluate more in detail what it can and must still be done to carry through these objectives of the first platforms of the WSF process. In face of this, the Seminar organizers proposed the debate of subjects concerning the content of the fight, that corresponds to what is discussed in the third platform : which political transforming actions are necessary to carry through the final objective of World Social Forums, that is to replace the logics of the insatiable search of profit, that today dominates all the planet, by the logic of the human beings necessities attendance ?

Thus, even if in the many panels tables and sessions their participants remembered some times the positive results of the efforts undertaken in the two first platforms of process WSF, it was in fact in this third platform that the debates were developed, around the alternatives that already exist to deepen the counterpoint of the WSF to the “unique thought” of Davos [16].

Now, in this third platform the process WSF meets the altermundialism [17], that acts having in view, directly, the changes to make in the world. What it was discussed in the Seminar was, then, an “altermundialistic” thematic. It is important to observe that, among the characteristics of this movement, are - as in the WSF - the multiplicity and the diversity of its components, the massive participation of the civil society and the use of the networks as a way of organizing itself. But, differently of the WSF, it can also include political parties in its rows and receive even the adhesion of governments to its actions.

When meeting with the altermundialismo in its third platform, the WSF process cannot therefore intend to substitute it nor to compete with it, taking position as WSF (at last !, as many would like), and starting to command the action of the immense amount of people who it is being able to attract for its meetings. This is a mistake that the altermundialism, as movement, also does not have to incur, as if we could not free ourselves of the other curse that pursues the Occident for some centuries : the pyramidal organization of the actions.

What it fits then to WSF process is to strengthen the altermundialism, with the new articulations, networks and movements that are born in the different Social Forums. And to continue to fulfill its instrumental role for the organizations that participate of it, associated one to the another in their concrete actions – inside or not of the altermundialism - to change the world. Meanwhile the altermundialism can and must use the experimentation made in the two first platforms of WSF process, in the construction of a new political culture. As well as it can and it must use the reflections on the political action that emerge in its third platform - at the service of the necessity “to think before, during and after the action”. To conclude, nothing impedes that the WSF process have this same utility for the political parties, through the altermundialism.

In my personal evaluation, the Seminar allowed to evidence that the newness of the WSF consists exactly in the developing of the objectives of the three platforms here defined, at the same time as its force will continue to grow if we do not abdicate of none of them. But the way to the “other possible world” is still long and difficult.

By Chico Whitaker

[1This reflection can be combined with another of Gandhi : the way is the objective. In this perspective, if we walk according to a new political culture we are already building and living in the new world we want to attain.

[2Many of the initiatives that search to put together people and organizations in the fight to overcome capitalism appear, in the speech of one or more people who consider themselves more enlightened than their fellow citizens, defining directly the world we want, the program we need to fight for, and even the way that will lead to the intended result. But they don’t arrive to the expected results at first because they forget that the construction of the union is something that cannot be imposed from above and because they are weakened by the competition for the power to lead the action - as if the political action was necessarily a continuous dispute even between those who are in the same trench ; and secondly because a new reality built without participation and support of the society remains fragile and can collapse when facing resistances.

[3One of the Seminar participants, the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Souza Santos, said, having had great receptivity in the audience, in another self organized event of the Great Porto Alegre Forum, that the World Social Forum t could be “also” a movement.

[4We are frequently surprised with news about practices of small or big coups, tricks, treacheries and disloyalty, more will of power than will to change the world, domination, manipulation and even oppression to make grow the own power, permanent competitive dispute. In fact such practices do not change in only ten years, still less if we consider the historical and the situation diversity all over the world. And this can be said in despite of, as it happens with the WSF, this effort has been able to capture the wishes that appear from all sides.

[5One of the facts of this end of century that had more influenced this awaking of conscience was the shock provoked, in many of our certaintys, of the collapse of the Wall of Berlin in 1989.

[6After a session consecrated to a “Balance of 10 years” and four tables on the world environmental, economic , social and political conjuncture, the other sessions approached the “Elements of a new agenda” with eight panels on the following subjects : Commons, Sustainability, Economy and Gratuities, “Good living”, Organization of the State and the political Power, Rights and Collective Responsibilities, New World Order, How to build political hegemony.

[7In another text I have written as a contribution for the Seminar of 2010 in Porto Alegre but with a limited diffusion (“WSF : ten years later”), I recuperated a metaphor that I had used in older texts, with which I compared this “open space” with a “public square”, without owner, to be freely used by all those engaged in the same struggle for the construction of another world.

[8Activities auto-organized freely by the participants - orientation that was gradually adopted more and more in the Forums - became little by little a mark of the WSF. Its organizers function become the one of creating conditions to make these activities possible, supported in the co-responsibility of all. That is why these organizers turned to call themselves the “facilitators” of the spaces created in the WSF process.

[9This is one of the most frequent critics to the World Social Forum.

[10In a small local Forum in France one experimented political militant, which I cited in my book “the Challenge of the World Social Forum”, said : in the Forums “we learn to unlearn”.

[11In one of the panels of the Porto Alegre Seminar, the one “Economy and Gratuity”, it was remembered, by the French philosopher Patrick Viveret, that the concept of “open space”, that characterizes the Social Forums, is based on an opposing option to that one generally adopted in political structures : the Social Forums do not search to affirm themselves through the principle of “identity”, that tend to close them and gradually shrink them through the mechanisms of exclusions and “expurgations” ; they assume the principle of the “alterity”, through which we respect the diversity, the difference and the process of mutual recognition, that open them to one permanent expansion.

[12In fact any meeting or Forum that uses the methodological options adopted in the WSF earns with this, because it is fortified with the cooperation dynamics that they provoke. The ones that are not in the struggle against capitalism will have of course more difficulty in using these dynamics because the competition is essential in this system.

[13This orientation also aimed at to prevent, in what concerns the parties, that their necessarily competitive presence an proselytism in the space of the Forums “infected” the participants, annulling the cooperative effort whose development is aimed at by many principles of the Charter.

[14The ones who thinks like that consider for example that the WSF would earn much more force if its participants are associated to some of the recently elected Presidents in Latin America, to strengthen their action, since some of these Chief Executives had been elect without doubt in consequence of the social mobilization stimulated by the Forums, as they themselves had declared in an activity promoted in the World Social Forum of Belém, in January of 2009 : the Meeting of Heads of State with the Civil Society.

[15The organizations of the civil society that can act politically congregate workers - that can stop the machines that produce and therefore the profits of their proprietors ; consumers - that can block the basic mechanism of the capitalism, that is of the transformation of the money in merchandises that are only retransformed in money if the production has been consumed ; voters - that elect the political leaders and can dismiss them if they do not deserve more their confidence ; citizens - that can relearn consumption behaviors to protect the environment, organize themselves to pressure for public decisions taking care of the majorities needs, and take initiatives with their own means to take care of their own necessities.

[16We cannot forget that the WSF was proposed as a counterpoint to World Economic Forum of Davos and its “unique thought”, centered in the economic activity that search the profit and in the market as its regulating mechanism as well as of the relations between the human beings.

[17The “altermundialist” movement, that appeared in the end of the century when the perplexity caused by the fall of the Berlin Wall finished, was called initially “antimundialist”. Its current name was inspired by the affirmation, made in the WSF, that “another world is possible”.


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