Forum: From Porto Alegre To India
Interview with Eric Toussaint
By Sergio Ferrari
After three consecutive successful
meetings in Porto Alegre, the World Social Forum (WSF) will move to
India in 2004, and return to Brazil in 2005. A geographical move with
implications in terms of methodology, participation and even political
culture. Nearly two months after the conclusion of the third WSF- with
the invaluable distance that time offers - Eric Toussaint analyses the
present and future of this working process. A member of the International
Council of the WSF, Director of the Committee for the Cancellation of
the Third World Debt (CADTM), based in Brussels(*), Toussaint, a tireless
activist for a different kind of globalisation, is also one of Europe's
most qualified political analysts in this field.
Q: A retrospective analysis
of the Porto Alegre process.What is the WSF today?
A: An accumulation of rich
experiences that made it possible for more than 12,000 participants
to meet in 2001 and up to 100,000 at this third meeting.. A process
that made it possible to create an innovative global dynamics. And,
on top of that, a very concrete implementation of this dynamics in several
continents, in particular in South America and Western Europe, rather
less in Asia and Northern America, and to a much lesser degree, as yet,
in Africa and Eastern Europe.
THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
Q: How do you feel about
this move to India?
the WSF is a fundamental step. More than half of the world's population
lives in Asia. To a large extent, changes in the world will first have
to take place on this continent. We must not forget that Western Europe
and South America represent only 15% of the world's population.
Since its inception and to
date, the WSF has been mainly European- and Latin American-focused,
which influences its fundamental characteristics. The move will imply
a change in the way we work and the people who will speak. Most of the
participants in the first three meetings were the same each time, we
repeated ourselves. We debated and discussed a very precise set of themes
(the Third World debt, water, globalisation, alternative media, the
anti-war protest, women's struggles, food sovereignty, etc). This move
to India will bring renewal within continuity. A new way to address
and debate issues. With a very important additional element: the high
level of development that the social movements have there.
Q: We don't know much about
this social dynamics.
A: There are some amazing
social movements out there. Grassroots peasant organisations with several
million members, massive trade unions (in industry, public and private
services and the fishing sector) made up of players who have been mobilised
around major issues linked to corporate-driven globalisation. The struggle
of Hindu peasants against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI),
genetically modified foods, multinationals such as Monsanto, or against
energy projects promoted by multinationals and World Bank, like those
for the Narmada River. We are talking about peoples who have had to
deal with criminal negligence on the part of the multinationals, like
the Union Carbide case in Bhopal in 1984 where more than 15,000 people
died because of a toxic gas leak.
Q: The shift to India is
therefore a qualitative step in the process?
A: Mainly the chance to combine
experiences and implant the Forum's dynamics in the very rich social
movements that are developing in sensitive regions round the world.
Q: A question that was often
raised in Porto Alegre III: does India have the organisational capacity
to ensure the continuity of this process?
A: We can't demand that other
continents do the same or better than what has been achieved at the
last meeting of the Forum in Porto Alegre. We mustn't forget that we
started with 12,000 participants in 2001. So it would be normal, in
fact not a bad achievement, to start with 30,000 participants in India
in 2004. The level of infrastructure will be different. Probably, we
won't have the support of local or national governments, as we have
had from the Municipality of Porto Alegre and the government of the
State of Rio Grande del Sur. We will have to rely much more on hard
work and activist networks. And participants may not find it as comfortable
as what we have been used to.
The WSF organisers in India
decided not to accept funds from large foundations. The last WSF meeting
in Porto Alegre benefited from financial support of almost half a million
dollars from the Ford Foundation. I think this new viewpoint will be
interesting, as it will force us to make do with a more rudimentary
infrastructure. Don't forget that before Porto Alegre, the Zapatistas
held one of the first meetings against neo-liberalism and for humanity
in Chiapas (Mexico) in 1996, in the middle of the Lacandonian jungle.
That was a very rich and exciting starting-point for this whole process.
Not for a moment do I doubt the ability of our Indian friends to organise
an event that will ensure exchanges between the social movements. An
event where they will be able to decide together on their future agenda
and which will reinforce their representation and co-ordination. It
will be a success and it will strengthen the WSF.
THE NEW FACE OF THE WSF
Q: A WSF that mobilises more
and more global movements.
A: Yes! Even more important
than the 4th WSF in January or February 2004 are all the initiatives
and struggles coming up in 2003: first of all against the war; against
the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), against the GATS (General
Agreement on Trade and Services), against the WTO (World Trade Organisation);
in favour of debt cancellation; in favour of the cancellation of agreements
with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
The entire preparation process, with local and continental forums, is
also more important than the 2004 WSF itself. It will bring together
all the initiatives from the bottom up, from locally to globally, and
mobilise civic movements. The WSF started out as a think tank, as an
alternative to Davos and its Economic Forum. In that first phase, no
one considered mobilising civic movements. The original idea was a forum
for debate. At Porto Alegre III, without changing the basic concept,
we decided to organise one day of global protest "Against neo-liberalism,
Against war, For another world" every year during the Davos Forum.
We were taking a step forward, of a significance that no-one could have
Nobody imagined at first
that we would organise demonstrations. The massive global demonstration
against war last February 2003, which as everybody knows did not succeed
in stopping the threat, but did help to build a powerful global anti-war
movement, is a very significant signal. For the first time, a war will
be illegitimate even before it starts. And that is the result of the
European Social Forum in Florence and demonstrations inside the USA
We are living one of those
exceptional moments in history, as described by Gramsci. A moment of
enlightenment, when a large majority of citizens are striding towards
a higher level of collective consciousness. Bush, Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi,
amongst others, are revealing all the hypocrisy, cynicism and inhumanity
of the system. A large number of individuals world-wide are becoming
more and more rapidly politicised against this system.
Other very important demonstrations
are planned, for example against the G8 Summit in Evian-les-Bains, near
Geneva, from May 28th - June 3rd, where we are expecting over 100,000
demonstrators. And during the ministerial meeting of the World Trade
Organisation in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. We are living in
a situation where every month or so such initiatives are taken.
Q: Would you go so far as
to say that this mobilisation process is all due to Porto Alegre?
A: The world-wide anti-war
protests on 15th February 2003 would not have happened if it had not
been for the first European Social Forum (ESF) in Florence, and Florence
would not have taken place if it had not been for Porto Alegre. Florence
is where Europe met, and it then turned into a global protest. Of course
this is the result of convergent processes that did not start in 2001
at Porto Alegre. But that was to become the unifying axis, a dynamics
of growing self-determination. A process without limits. We must be
totally open to all these initiatives in progress.
Q: Open to a new political
logic and culture?
A: Yes. We are living a centripetal
process. Like so many rivers flowing towards the ocean of the movement
of movements, where capitalism and patriarchy are viewed as two systems
which are at the root of the world's problems.
THE CHALLENGE TO EXPAND
Q: Once again, some secondary,
but none the less real, tensions were apparent in Porto Alegre, between
the social movements (who adopted a final declaration) and the Forum
itself. How do you read that?
A: I think that the relative
influence of social movements, including the trade unions or traditional
trade union confederations, has increased within the dynamics of the
Forums. These movements are growing in strength, whereas it was the
NGOs and alternative media such as Le Monde Diplomatique, who played
the key role in the original initiative. I think this tendency is very
positive. There is no justification for imposing this approach on all
the other organisations that see their place in the WSF. But it is very
encouraging that organisations with a firm social base and who are involved
in real struggles, are playing a fundamental role in the movement, without
marginalising others. Furthermore, I am convinced that this process
can and must embrace more civic movements world-wide.
I feel that a kind of movement
of movements is gaining strength. It is not only a convergence or coming
together of movements, but something more than that. Here, there is
no centralised leadership, which is good. Nevertheless, a structure
for the movement of movements is definitely taking shape. This is a
new fact. In the case of Europe, we must recognise that last November
in Florence, the birth of a European social movement was witnessed.
There had already been a wave of continent-wide campaigns (for debt
cancellation, European marches against unemployment, European strikes
such as the railway strike, etc). But never before had it reached such
a scale. And that is just wonderful!
(*) For further information
Eric Toussaint, author of
Your Money or Your Life. The Tyranny of Global Finance,
1) Pluto Press - London et Mkuki na Nyota Publisher - Dar Es Salaam,
1999, 322 pages.
2) VAK - Bombay, 1999, 302 pages
3) LPP Publishers - Lahore, 2000, 346 pages
Completely new Pluto Press edition will be available later in the year
Co author with Damien Millet
of 50 Questions; 50 Replies On the Debt, the IMF and the World Bank,
Zed Books London, October 2003.
Translated by Anne Challieu
and Gillian Sloane-Seale with Vicki Briault