World Social Forum: It All Boils Down to Politics

"As Aristotle said, everything is politics," Brazilian presidential secretary Luiz Dulci stated at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Venezuela, referring to the debate on the politicisation of the global civil society gathering.

CARACAS, Jan 31 (IPS) – “As Aristotle said, everything is politics,” Brazilian presidential secretary Luiz Dulci stated at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Venezuela, referring to the debate on the politicisation of the global civil society gathering.

The discussion of whether the WSF should remain a space for mere reflection and protest or should begin to design campaigns for concrete action began at the fifth edition of the annual gathering, held in its birthplace: the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on the Assembly of Social Movements, a coalition of 300 organisations and networks that is active within the framework of the WSF, to “draw up strategies of power in an offensive to build a better world.”

Earlier, in a rally organised by the global Vía Campesina network, Chávez had stated that he hoped that the WSF would not become simply a forum for “revolutionary tourism.”

The six-day meet in Caracas, which drew some 50,000 local participants and 12,000 foreigners, ended Sunday, one week after around 10,000 African activists took part in the Jan. 19-23 leg of this year’s WSF in Bamako, Mali. A third portion will take place in late March in Karachi in southern Pakistan.

The Venezuelan portion was marked by its setting: a country with a leftist leader who shares many of the values and objectives espoused by the WSF. In addition, many of the participants from abroad came specifically to get a first-hand view of the changes brought about by Chávez’s “social revolution” through the myriad social programmes put in place by his government to improve the lot of the poor.

Chávez said it would be “sad if this forum continued to be held, and the world just went on as if it did not even exist.”

Dulci noted that since Brazil’s left-leaning President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself had taken part in previous editions of the Forum, “the presence of political leaders should not surprise anyone.”

For Ecuadorian indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso, the call made by Chávez “is one more commitment to step up the struggle,” while Brazilian activist Giannina Andrade remarked that “social movements continue to play a leading role.”

The Caracas portion of the WSF encompassed over 1,000 activities proposed by hundreds of different organisations on a wide range of themes including politics, the environment, human rights, indigenous rights, communications, culture, gender, imperialism and the anti-war movement.

Nevertheless, according to Edgardo Lander, a Venezuelan member of the international organising committee, the various venues and other infrastructure made available for the event were underused. This demonstrates that there was limited interaction between different thematic areas, and that participants tended to focus on the specific issues of interest to them, while paying relatively little attention to others, he added.

On the other hand, the issue of politics cut across the discussions in almost every area.

“I think it’s more a question that has been picked up by the press as it has gotten involved in the debate,” said Gustavo Codas of the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, Brazil’s largest trade union federation. “There is no contradiction between maintaining the Forum as an open space for discussion and using it to build alliances and platforms for action.”

British journalist and writer Richard Gott, author of In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chávez and the Transformation of Venezuela, has closely followed both the evolution of the WSF and the political process headed up by Chávez. In his view, “when large numbers of people from all over the world get together, it’s necessary to reach a political conclusion.”

He also noted, however, that he did not believe Chávez would have a great deal of influence on the future of this global meet.

The international organising committee will now be focussing its efforts on ensuring the success of the 2007 WSF in Nairobi, keeping in mind both the success achieved in Bamako in terms of participation and the serious problems encountered due to a lack of organisation and cohesion.

The debate on the politicisation of the Forum will continue through the Karachi meet this March and on into Nairobi next year. “It is the peoples and social movements, not the leaders, who must mobilise and exert pressure on the governments, because without mobilisation, nothing can be achieved,” said Belgian activist Eric Toussaint, president of the Brussels-based Committee for Cancellation of the Third World Debt.

For her part, Francisca Rodríguez of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile, maintained that “the Forum needs to re-examine itself and take a leap forward, because we are refusing to consider political approaches, and that is counterproductive.”

“If we don’t take this step forward, we will forever be nothing more than social tourists,” she stressed.