The WSF as "Moment"

(Contribution to the Seminar on Strategy at the World Social Forum International Council Meeting, Abuja, Nigeria, March 31-April 2, 2008.)

By Walden Bello

"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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