[WSMDiscuss] World Social Forum: Pre-call to movements
fbaqir at uottawa.ca
Fri May 15 22:41:19 CEST 2020
Many discussants and participants on the WSM list and TNI webinars have one thing in common in commenting on different dimensions of the crisis of globalization- Anti-Capitalism. But this does not take us too far. There is nothing said on what to change in Capitalism. Perhaps not to disturb ‘Consensus’ among fellow travelers. It does not matter how fiery and philosophical the expression of grievances against the unjust Capitalist order is. In effect, it means staying within the boundaries drawn by the Capitalist system and accepting Capitalism as the best system humans have created so far. Perhaps this kind of resistance suits the system very much and legitimizes it as well. Different identity groups might have different conflicts with the Capitalist system, but we need to find out how Capitalism effectively discriminates against different identity groups. We know that ending discrimination provides a common ground to all the resistance groups. So, we need to ask what impulses and mechanisms serve the task of perpetuating discrimination. Capitalism has popular appeal due to faith in the dream of personal freedom, and the existence of two mechanisms that promise freedom, fairness, equity, and an end to discrimination. These mechanisms are ‘Free Market’ and ‘Freedom of Expression”- Free Media and Elected Government being the main vehicle for the realization of this freedom. They are supposed to provide equity, justice, and rational decision making because they offer decisions based on one person one vote in politics and one dollar one vote in the economy. If the market and democracy go wrong, the ideologues claim, then the system has an inbuilt mechanism for self-correction, and humanity has nothing better to offer to replace the system as yet.
Socialist experiment in the Soviet Block, China, and other socialist countries tried to bring an end to the forms of exploitation and discrimination created by the Capitalist system with the power of ‘Proletarian State’ but failed in finding a solution that could reconcile the conflict between the social, group and individual interests. Socialist thought in the guise of Marxism shared three fundamental flaws of Capitalist thought, the reductionist concept of science, materialist view of progress, and linear historical view of different stages of human progress. It is therefore understandable that the participants in these discussions borrow from the Marxist critique of Capitalism but shy away from proposing a search for the solution based on Marxist vision. So, the question arises about what our options in search of a solution are. Because if we complain against Capitalism and ask for nothing more than tinkering with the system in view of specific demands then we are asking for reforms in the system. Global solidarity can only make sense in this case if there is an agreement on the reforms needed in the Capitalist system to end discrimination and embrace inclusion. Endlessly criticizing Capitalism does not seem to serve any purpose other than upholding anti-capitalist rhetoric while at the same time perpetuating capitalist order.
One, the present world economy is characterized by an unprecedented free flow of capital across borders, weak nation-states (in both the developing and developed world), and deep divisions among the global working class and between various identity groups. All these three things are closely linked. The free flow of capital facilitated and corrupted the neoliberal order. It led to a massive outflow of corporate capital from North to South. Due to competition between the states and availability of tax havens it enabled the corporate capitalists to enjoy tax breaks, become super-rich, bribe the political class, hurt the working class in the North and start regime change and support terrorist campaigns in the South, leading to South-North migration. Flight of capital and immigration both benefited the super-rich but they have successfully projected the image of Northern working-class suffering at the hands of Southern workers and immigrants. In my view, this perception did not lead to disillusion with neoliberalism. We are sadly mistaken if we think that. This economic precarity has led to the loss of faith in the effectiveness of the state. That is why Northern voters have opted for strong men who will compensate for the weakness of the state and that is why the working class vote has gone to the extreme right, not the extreme left. They want back the Golden Age of capitalism a mirror image of neoliberalism.
Two, opposition to the capitalist system is fractured, divided along identity lines, or on ethnic lines even within the working class. It means all the opposition groups see their relationship with other identity groups or classes as a relationship of unequal exchange, hence a capitalist relationship in nature. By implication, they see the 'other' as a form of Capital. The main hurdle here is that each identity group or faction of the working class is not willing to see the link between the end of their 'Capitalist' exploitation and the universal end of Capitalist system since there is no agreement on what takes place of a capitalist system, So i see little room for optimism in view of this intellectual void. The collapse of the system provides necessary conditions and thought leadership the sufficient condition for transformation. If there are no meaningful thoughts on the alternative past will repeat itself.
Third, coming to the corona pandemic i see both the opportunity and serious risk. The current crisis is different from all previous crises in clearly demonstrating that freedom, prosperity, and survival is not possible at the individual level. We are all extremely interdependent as humans and as part of the natural world. This provides us the opportunity to attack the basic pillar of capitalist ideology- the so-called elusive and fabricated concept of 'individual' freedom. Ending Capitalism means coming out of the cocoon of self- or identity groups. It means prosperity, peace, and freedom are only possible through others and with others.
Four, in concrete terms in means on the following. i) FREEDOM IS ONLY POSSIBLE TOGETHER 2) Solidarity is important, but solidarity at the local or identity level means reducing the pain and solidarity at the global level means eliminating the cause of pain3) A solidarity economy is our only hope and it means re-allocation of resources from profit to public spending; arms manufacturing to healthcare and education; unemployment to universal basic income, from discrimination in wages to equal pay for equal work, and from conquering the nature to reintegrating with nature- and much more.
Power – i) can we make changes without dismantling or capturing capitalist power- the power of nuclear states, corporate houses, knowledge production centers, and media ii) Is capitalist power not invasive, can we defang its invasive power, can ‘free local economies’ live in isolation, protection and freedom from the capitalist economic and political power; if that was possible capitalist enterprise, colonialism, and modern slavery would not have come into existence in the first place iii) how can we resist invasion without having some form of organization? With organization comes the exercise of power whether it is dominated by people of North or shared by the people of North and South Iv) power is an organizing instrument as well as an involuntary consensus building tool. We do not need it if we are assuming a society of self-sufficient individuals where no exchange is needed and no disagreement on terms of exchange exists or where perfectly clear measurement of exchange values exists and is accepted. Or a society of fully self restraining individuals free of greed, vanity, and lust. v)
Capitalism- What does ending Capitalism mean? Ending what? Has WSF, PI or any other individual or organization come up with any idea? Is the creation of a democratic activist forum either a necessary or a sufficient condition- both or none- for coming up with such an idea? Does it make any difference if we have WSF or PI taking a lead to end Capitalism without having a clue about what it means? Does it mean the complete success of epestimicide that you have mentioned? If identity politics cannot agree on what end to Capitalism entails, does it mean that each identity group considers other identity groups a form of Capital? So, there is something that each Identity group needs to get rid of to end Capitalism. So, we need to dig deeper. It might mean that Capitalism cannot be confined to relationships based on property ownership only. Identity itself can assume the form of Capital if it is used to extract an unequal exchange from people of another identity. Ending Capitalism in this context would mean ending the practice of taking advantage of the vulnerability of other individuals or groups. The next question to ask is if it can happen voluntarily (without the use of power and therefore without aspiring capture power)? On the other hand, is it possible to make it happen with capturing power? Did State power based socialism succeed in that? It takes us to a deeper level of questioning. Is what we call Capitalism a historical malaise attributable to the capitalist class or is it Human Condition? If taking advantage of the vulnerable is a human condition, then it cannot be eliminated it can be managed. Would that mean that we agree on a ‘process’ to reform and restrain Capitalism without living in the illusion that we are going to end it one day? I am not against dreaming of a Utopia but if going for a utopia means just dreaming then we do not need any forum, it can be done individually. We need a forum or a party because we think that we are talking about a Social Utopia and it presupposes certain attributes of the individuals constituting the social formation.
Resistance or transformation
Libertarian ideology in my view is the weakest link at this time but our level of clarity and preparedness will determine if the system is revived or transformed.
One option to move forward is to speak of a pluralist social discourse that accepts the room for the State, the Market, and the Commons in the economic and social sphere. This pluralist view may provide the option for balancing individual, community, and system’s interests. Accepting this option would mean proposing ways for drawing boundaries between the community, market and state economies, defining the rules for each of these economies; re-appropriation of Commons, reducing arms production, re-establishing our organic relationship with nature, revisiting the concept of human development; and personal profit and consumption motives as the guiding principles for decision making; shorter workweek, shared work, universal basic income and healthcare, and decolonizing and demilitarizing the world economy. Consensus based discourse cannot foster such a dialogue, and it is a recipe for halting at the thought boundaries of Capitalism. Consensus has been used for the limited purpose of conflict resolution in tribal societies. It has limited value in dealing with other societal challenges. Engagement, disagreements, and negotiations can provide the way forward. Perhaps we need to move away from the unilateral legacies of Capitalist and Marxist discourses to a pluralist social discourse, but that would imply taking the position away from political correctness in hindsight to sharing the dreams of the unknown. We might need to move away from the lexicon of freedom, development, and profit to personal fulfillment, nurturing the commons and pluralist forms of democracy. It means taking the risk, becoming controversial, and defining the boundaries of the?discourse of consensus.
Do we need to move away from a world of singularities; singularity of truth in science, the singularity of equilibrium in the market, and to the singularity of representation in democracy to a pluralist discourse; signifying a pluralist world based on cosmopolitan ethics, diversified market, and a pluralist Commons.
From: WSM-Discuss <wsm-discuss-bounces at lists.openspaceforum.net> on behalf of Matt York via WSM-Discuss <wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>
Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 8:05 AM
To: Discussion list about emerging world social movement <wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>
Cc: Matt York <matt.york at tuta.io>
Subject: Re: [WSMDiscuss] World Social Forum: Pre-call to movements
Attention : courriel externe | external email
I’ve been mostly a silent ‘observer’ of this group for the last couple of years. The topics discussed here have been highly relevant to my PhD research and I am therefore very grateful for a wonderful learning experience. But as Jai has explicitly asked for some new blood to contribute to this discussion I thought it might be a good time to ‘pay my dues’ and actually say something!
To begin with, I fully agree with Gustave Massiah’s assertion that the strategic debate should focus on ‘the nature of power and of the transition’. And that we must keep as central the key question that he poses: How to go beyond the strategy adopted since the first international – ‘building a party, to conquer the state, to change society’. And it is here where political organisations like the Progressive International (PI) in my view continue to fail in learning the lessons of the previous centuries – that the free society will not be imagined by vanguard intellectuals and politicians. It must/can only be (co)imagined in common with those who will constitute it.
Back in 1898, twenty years prior to the October Revolution, Élisée Reclus prophetically warned his ‘revolutionary friends’ in Russia of the dangers of conquering state power and in turn adopting the very tools of domination that their revolution was seeking to displace: ‘If the socialists become our masters, they will certainly proceed in the same manner as their predecessors... Once they have power, they will not fail to use it, if only under the illusion or pretense that this force will be rendered useless as all obstacles are swept away and all hostile elements destroyed. The world is full of such ambitious and naïve persons who live with the illusory hope of transforming society through their exceptional capacity to command’. And I believe the words of Reclus are as pertinent now as they were then, maybe even more so.
It also concerns me that one central purpose of the PI website is to develop a ‘blueprint’ for the new society. Again – seriously? Have we learned nothing? And although an effort has clearly been made by PI to assemble a proportionate representation of participants from both the global South and North, it appears to be firmly grounded in a northern/western onto-epistemology. So business as usual then! There is no evidence of any cognizance, let alone active attempt to redress, the epistemicide that has been inflicted upon the South.
And it is here where it seems clear the WSF has a unique and essential role to play. The dialogical spaces of the WSF and experiments in operationalising a genuine epistemic diversity in the pursuit of an emancipatory ‘cosmopolitan ecology of knowledges’ must not be forgotten or lost to history. Ultimately, for radical social change to be realised not through taking power, but through making/transforming power, such constituent imagination remains necessary at both local and global levels. So rather than the tragedy of pursuing blueprint utopias (as I’m amazed to see contemporary organisations such as PI continuing to do) I see in the WSF the possibility to develop a mode of praxis that simultaneously imagines futures which realign movement trajectory and that grounds itself in present moment realities – an imaginative/responsive ongoing process, rather than reverting to default capitalistic, patriarchal, racist or anthropocentric modes of reproduction (as we always seem to end up doing). I would further argue that such processes might even provide a means for sustaining free society on an ongoing basis in the absence of domination – so the means and the end. Why not?
But a process it must remain. I agree that the WSF charter of principles is a visionary document, with nuanced wisdom captured within it to be protected. But unless it remains a living evolving document or set of principles it will become merely a historic document frozen in time. And surely by concretising these principles the WSF becomes an institution rather than a process, and well – we all know how that goes!
In our current historical moment the global COVID-19 pandemic has acted to temporarily decelerate linear time and make clear an immanence usually obscured by the disorienting pace of modern capitalist society. We are witnessing forgotten social solidarities reconstituted and mutual aid groups formed spontaneously in countless communities across the planet (and joining the ones that never went away) - opening spaces for new collective visions to reimagine our world(s). And so before these affective currents are redirected and repackaged as patriotisms and nationalisms, or indeed co-opted by our ‘leaders of the left’ to win state power for their own political projects, our task must be to strengthen and expand them into pockets of free society, and then to link them. Just as the 2008 financial collapse played an animating role in the wave of global protest in 2011, so too must we now rediscover a radical solidarity borne of the deep commons. And as Jai points out – if not the WSF, then who? And if not now, when?
I therefore think Jai’s proposals are sound and would back them. But I look forward to also hearing what other experienced members of the group have to add to the discussion. And I really hope it kick-starts a rejuvenation of the process started twenty years ago. I’m in!
Securely sent with Tutanota.
12 May 2020, 21:01 by jai.sen at cacim.net:
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
I’m writing to follow up my post of Gustave Massiah’s note to all of us, as below. I have waited a little before following up in part to give myself time to read and digest what others have said, but also in the hope that some more people might come in with their opinions ! Including, I had hoped, some on the list who have perhaps not been involved with the WSF but were curious.
I’m therefore framing this intervention of mine within a wider and larger landscape, in the hope of perhaps drawing some others in.
Let me start by making clear that my understanding is that we are having this discussion here on this list on the basis of an overarching agreement that with all its faults, the World Social Forum has also been an extraordinary experiment and initiative in the mobilisation of social and political thought – and action - at a world scale. And that beyond this, at the historical juncture that has now opened up – the combination of the rise of the crisis of climate change, of the corona virus pandemic, and of the authoritarian right across the world, at the same time as the crisis of capitalism and of neoliberalism – the WSF has, if carefully nurtured, the potential to be a vital instrument in the struggle for justice and peace, and of building other worlds. And that indeed, it is the only such international space and instrument that is presently available. It is not less than this.
Do we agree on this ?
(The announcement of the formation yesterday of the ‘Progressive International’ (https://progressive.international/) changes the landscape somewhat, in relation to the future and role of the World Social Forum, but in my understanding and I think also Tord’s, not much. The WSF, with its focus on wide physical participation and deliberation on an open-ended basis, remains a perhaps unique and politically vital asset.)
I had said when I posted Gus’s note that I had some points I wanted to make. But after revisiting his note and comparing it with what I was going to say, and also re-reading all the comments that everyone else has come in with – for which, and once again, thanks -, I've realised that in many ways he has addressed most of my concerns, and even if I might express them differently and emphasise things differently. And so, and to simplify things and make them shorter, I’d prefer to simply endorse Gus’s note and to propose the following :
a) That we make Gustave Massiah’s Note (posted on May 8) the focus of our further discussion here on this list on this issue – and that we critically engage with it, taking positions on all the points he has made;
b) That we accept Rita Freire’s point that the upcoming meeting of the WSF’s International Council, even in its present limited form, is important for the future of the WSF, and that we should therefore aim to contribute to that;
c) That as a part of this, we accept Carminda’s suggestion of meeting in the Viral Open Space on May 23, at a time that she proposes (but where, Carminda, I request you to please keep in mind that we have people on this list from Latin America across to Asia, including in Africa and Europe, and so to find a time that can be as convenient as possible for as wide a range of people as possible);
d) That we make the objective of our discussion here on this list and in the VOS on May 23 to try and come to agreement on some broad issues – which I believe we could usefully draw from Gus’ note – and that we aim to reach these thoughts to the IC by early June, and before its upcoming meeting, as our considered and critical contribution to its thinking (but see also the section below, ‘One other issue…’);
e) That those of us who feel we would like to, continue to critically engage with and take part in WSF-related processes from here on into next year, and try and contribute to *critically re-building the World Social Forum as an instrument of world struggle - and to (critically) reinvigorate it even as we walk, rather than only debate it ‘and then see’…; and –
f) That of course, and as a part of this, we also critically engage with and discuss the nature of the WSF event that has been proposed to be held in Mexico next year, and attempt to contribute to that debate as well, including what should be the nature and scope of that Forum.
(Just to remind you, it has been a tenet of this list from when it started in 2006 that the World Social Forum was far too important to be left to its organisers and its International Council; and that even if they are ‘there’ and we are here, ‘outside’, the WSF actually belongs to us who are not in the corridors of power as much as it does to those who are there - just as is true in relation to all enterprises; and so we should again put this into practice now, and in this regard, as we did for several years in the 2000s, from 2006-2010, I think.)
I hope – without getting into details - that this adequately respects the spirit of what others have also said, and makes sense not only to those on this list who are already interested in the WSF but also, I hope, to those who are interested in world movement more generally, and where you can and will see the WSF as an instrument of the struggle for justice and peace.
And in this spirit, I look forward to comments – and, I would hope, perhaps also endorsement of my proposals here ! So that we can move ahead.
One other issue… :
There is however one specific point that I think I must engage with here, because it is on the one hand fundamental to the World Social Forum, and on the other hand, is also – I have gathered from the interventions that have been made so far, but that I also know from my own intense involvement and engagement with the WSF over many years – a fundamental issue at stake in the present debate, and even as something of an iceberg lurking in the waters : In short, the WSF’s Charter of Principles. (On a third hand, this is also perhaps something that many on this list may not know about, and where to engage with the WSF is really impossible without reading it.)
First therefore, I attach a copy here for all those interested of the text of the Charter that I downloaded from the WSF’s then-website early in its history, back in 2003 (and which therefore makes this a truly ‘historic’ document !).
Second, I would urge anyone reading this post to please open this document and read it. If you do so, I think you may come to agree that it is / was a truly visionary document (and / but where you also need to read it as a creature of its time, the early part of this century : Just after the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and just before 9/11 in 2001 and the subsequent War of Terror without End. It was an organic product of its time).
But my main point here is that it appears, from the posts we have received, that this document is apparently a point of fundamental cleavage in the current debate within (and about) ‘the WSF’ – which is therefore presently at a stalemate. If we are interested in the future - and potential - of the Forum, it is then essential that we (a) read and intimately know this document, and (b) engage with this issue.
The issue at hand, I understand, is whether the Charter should be opened up and discussed, and if necessary reviewed and revised, in the light of the historically new conditions we are now in; or whether it is so well written, and so valuable, that it would be risky to do so – and that therefore we should not allow it to be opened up.
(There is apparently also a related sub-issue – where those who are in favour of no-change have also prepared a two-page note to be issued to all people registering for the Mexico Forum, where they will have to declare their agreement with the note, and in effect, with the Charter as it stands. And where those who have proposed reviewing the Charter have suggested that people should not be asked to agree – and therefore to declare their allegiance – but only ‘to respect’ the Charter; but where their proposal has apparently so far been refused.)
(Just for your information, neither of these are new debates. The first has been there since at least mid 2002, when as it happens, I along with others in the WSF India Committee had proposed that the Charter, that had been drafted in Latin America under very particular historical and cultural conditions, should be open to amendment in the light of the WSF being organised in India, which is and was then a completely different context, with some radically different conditions (such as the institution of caste). (I was deeply involved in the organisation of the WSF in Bombay till a certain point in late 2002, when I dropped out, in part because of a personal tragedy.) In short, this proposal – coming from us in WSF India - was resisted by the those who were then known as ‘the organisers’ (read ‘founders’) of the WSF and by some others in the IC; and the powers that be finally sent an emissary to meet me during the WSF in Porto Alegre in 2003, an Elder in the WSF, to let me know that it would not be wise - for the WSF or for me – for me to continue pressing for that.
(And in the case of the second, we had precisely this same debate within WSF India in 2003 about a similar note that had been prepared by the organisers of the Bombay WSF in 2004 – I by then had stepped out of the organising committee – demanding allegiance.)
By saying all this, I do not mean at all to personalise the issue, but just to concretise it, and to make clear that these are fundamental issues. I have not been closely involved with the WSF for a decade now, and so do not know how and whether this issue has risen again in this time – but it seems from the posts that it has again, now. Specifically, that Boaventura de Sousa Santos from Portugal has apparently again raised the issue of reviewing the Charter. And where there are now again some who believe that it is essential – for the health and future of the Forum – for the Charter to be critically reviewed, in the light of contemporary realities; and / but where there are others who absolutely do not want this to happen, and have so far blocked this possibility.
I have therefore spelt all this out here only so as to inform everyone who is interested of this issue, and so, I hope, to open up and democratise the debate and to put it in historical context. In many ways, I don’t think I am overstating things if I say that the future of this historically extremely important experiment – with all its flaws – is now hinging on this question. We all have to decide where we stand. Those of you who happen to know members of the existing International Council may also like to reach out to them, and discuss it with them.
WSF Charter of Principles - Revised and Final Version 0601 x FSM website js 231003 rfmttd js110520
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