The WSF:

What Other World?

(Taken from




"You should not worry about us"

Anti globalisation — OK; anti-imperialism — should not be!

The Two Forums

Reformist path shows the way !

Who’s Agenda?

Safety nets, safety valves and Social Forums!

The World social forum (WSF) is gearing up for its global and 4th annual event in Mumbai. It is now 4 years since the "reflective thinking and debate" started. While the debate continues endlessly, imperialism has strengthened its armoury and has been aggressively striding the path of aggression and wars of occupation without substantial resistance. The militant spirit of the conscious youth of the capitalist world, that was unleashed by the battle of Seattle had created nightmares to the global elites and had brought to the fore the core question of legitimacy of globalisation. After a full ten years of ideological offensive the capitalist system is once again in the ideological defensive position. The growing anti-capitalist articulation of the anti- globalisation movement and the growing struggling alliances being forged in the process was increasingly radicalising the anti globalisation movement which was going well beyond the tolerable limits of the system.

There were many such institutional attempts made to evolve safety nets and safety valves by the World Bank. It was this institution, which responded first to the East Asian crisis with a long-term strategy and altered idioms and rhetoric’s to suit the times. It was right at the same time similar organisational and ideological approaches to globalisation were floated all over Europe and America. One common thread in all these attempts, coordinated or otherwise, were an open admission of the misery created by the market forces and followed by an immediate economic programme broadly bordering on providing a human face to globalisation, tainted with some cosmetic change in political administration. But the important thing, which was unsaid many times or blatantly stated some times was a total rejection of a systemic alternative for the existing capitalist order. A latent admission of the "There is no Alternative" (TINA) theory.

Many social and political actors and organisation came to the fore, along with those who constituted the right wing of the anti-globalisation movement, in this crucial juncture at the world stage with an explicit purpose stated above. The emergence of the WSF and the founding organisations behind this should be understood in this context.

"You should not worry about us"

Take for example the role of Global Focus On South and its leader Walden Bello in the recently concluded WTO ministerial meeting. On the Sep.1, the much celebrated "warriors "of the anti- globalisation movement and the WSF arrived in Cancun, Mexico, to protest against the 5th ministerial meeting of WTO. But, while Walden Bello, Raul Bennett, and Peter Rosset of the network "Our World is not for Sale" entered the city, what they had in their mind was not the historical demonstration of Seattle against the 1st ministerial meeting of WTO in 99, which is claimed to have eventually given rise to the WSF process. On the other hand what bothered them most was the possible militancy of the very same grass root activists…. against the very same imperialist body..!

After holding a brief meeting with the activists they told the press that they did not come to promote, initiate, or provoke acts of violence. On the contrary, they said that from their experience in previous ministerials of the WTO, it was the government side that infiltrated agitators into the ranks of activists in order to unleash violence and that they themselves had been committed to preventing any violent response from their ranks…!! So much for their "fight" against globalisation..

: "You should not worry about us" assured the commander of WSF, Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South (FOGS), to the Mexican government " since we come simply to defend our ideas and our rights".

And after the collapse of the Cancun talks where does this leader of the WSF, who claims the heritage of Seattle, see the future for the world? In a recent article written just after the collapse of Cancun, Walden Bello puts all his premium behind the third world governments including the staunch votaries of the US axis like that of the Hindu communal BJP government in India. Even during the 3rd WSF conference his organisation was devising strategies to derail the WTO not by mobilising peoples protest but through strengthening the sophistication of third world government arguments. Peoples mobilisation figured last in his strategy.

It was not at all surprising. Because right from the inception of WSF, the "providers " of the free space have been denouncing any kind of militancy in the anti-globalisation movement. Even though it appeared openly in the earlier Genoa social forum in 2001 in the form of condemning the militancy of the protesters and not initiating measures to get the arrested sojourners from the police. The forces behind the WSF were very clear about the path that this coalition should take, right from its inception.

In one of her interviews with Ezequiel Adamovsky, a militant anti imperialist, Susan George, the celebrity-campaigner against third world debt, of ATTAC, the organization to which the genesis of WSF is traced, categorically rejected any form of violence in the anti globalisation movement. When the WSF claims to be a free space with no back room drivers, Susan George, declared that it has the goal of "channelising the process into a particular direction". On the question of excluding militant anti –imperialist movement from the fold she said "I think its always healthy to have people on your left, especially as you get older. Where I would stop that acceptance of having people on your left is if these groups advocate violence. We really have to keep this a peaceful pressure movement…advocating violent action is utterly counter productive".

Anti globalisation — OK; anti-imperialism — should not be!

In the present context of Bush and his ilk’s political and military offensive on all uncompromising politico–social movements in the name of combating terrorism, what was demanded of these global leaders was a minimum condemnation of such attempts …if not endorsement of such movements ..Instead they legitimised the cunning wisdom of dubbing any confrontationist strategy and actions violent..(or a little short of becoming terrorist ! ). And in the process, offering negotiations, peaceful pressure, lobbying as the only legitimate form of struggle. What the battle of Seattle and the concurrent demonstrations elsewhere, brought out was not the "Violent" instincts of activists but the uncompromising zeal to change the existing capitalist-imperialist system thoroughly. Naturally a radical political agenda demands a radical action programme. The corollary of which is peaceful agenda for a pacifist programme.! Thus the bar on such expressions is not just a question of violence but also the question of a genuine alternative itself. This is hidden in the very way the question is posed. What is the real enemy ..neolibealism ..or the very capitalism itself; globalisation… or the very imperialist system…the question decides the answer ..the problem decides the solution…. and the ways and means to achieve it. On this crucial questions also the forces behind WSF are having a collaborative approach instead of confrontationist.. .Once radical intellectual –turned spokesperson of WSF, Samir Amin of Third World Forum, another important founder member of the WSF, also confines the whole anti-globalisation agenda to a few policy changes ....instead of systemic changes. In an interview given to CPM-sympathetic Fortnightly, Frontline, during the last ASF in Hyderabad, Samir Amin vividly described the boundaries of WSF:

" It is not an organization with a common political platform for devising strategies. But it is not a forum that is open to everybody. It has a charter to which participating organizations must adhere to. They must make it clear that they are opposed to neoliberalism - not to capitalism necessarily - to deregulated markets and other features that characterise it. They must also be opposed to militarisation of globalisation — not necessarily imperialism, which means much more. This is the very minimum that organisations must accept, to be part of the forum."

In fact this fuzzy character of WSF is clearly recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the supposedly ideological Ante of WSF. In its recent annual convention held in Davos during the last week of January, 03, a functionary of the Davos Forum identified four trends in the meeting. Mary Kaldor, Programme Director, The Centre for the Study of Global Governance, United Kingdom, reviewed a recent study by her centre:

"There are four types of people in the movement: absolute rejectionists, absolute supporters, regressive globalizers who favour protecting special interests, and ‘redistributionist’ globalizers who back the free flow of people but not of capital".

The Two Forums

It was against the first and the last type of dissidents that both the Forums were worried about. The WEF had its strategies which were expressed as the danger that emanates from excluding the discontented which leave the world with a dysfunctional global economy marked by unsustainable levels of inequality and poverty. The anti-globalisation movement could continue to grow. The WEF came up with the time-tested strategy as a recipe.. to the growing social crisis..

"All movements rise and fall, come and go. When they go it is because they are tamed, included and institutionalised. If they remain excluded, they get marginalized and turn extreme and violent. The anti-globalisation movement is right on the cusp and could go either way. That depends less on them than on the response from" this corporate body.

On an earlier occasion World Economic Forum President, Klaus Schwab, had said that his forum and the "anti-Davos" alternative, the World Social Forum (WSF), organized by non-governmental organizations, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, are in fact one and the same: "Both events, in principle, have the same objectives. That is to create a better world."

Schwab didn’t elaborate on points of agreement between the two forums but said there were some differences." "Here we have the decision makers but also NGOs," he said. "Where we also differ is that here (at Davos), we look at very pragmatic ways on how to change the world and how to improve the state of the world. In Porto Alegre, it is more of an ideological discussion."

Even the World Bank chairman, Jamaes Wolfenson, in his appeal to the WSF in January last made it very clear..

"How to make a better world possible for all is what civil society representatives from around the globe will be debating this week at the third World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Allegre, Brazil. And these are the same challenges that we are grappling with - and yes, debating - at the World Bank. Whether in Porto Allegre, Bamako or Washington DC, such debates are important. Certainly no one in civil society nor in the World Bank can claim to have all the answers to these enormous challenges".

Reformist path shows the way !

It is not accidental, or emanating from a hither to unseen trend in the movement; in fact the contrary is true; right from the beginnings the forces behind the WSF, like ATTAC, Focus On Global South, etc, are neither for any militant mobilization of the masses, nor against the "North", nor MNC’s nor for a fundamental and radical restructuring of the order. In fact none of the promoters of the WSF like ATTAC, COB, Global Focus On South, Oxfam, Ford Foundation or the PT of Brazil were part of those historical street battles against the global powers in Seattle, Genoa, Prague, etc. While these street battles were creating nightmares for the imperialist forces these so called founders of the WSF were discussing and helping out the World Bank, ADB etc, about the measures to deal with this inevitable outcome of globalisation....

For example, Bernad Cassen, the founder of ATTAC, in an interview that appeared in New Left Review, unhesitatingly expressed his dislike towards activism itself.. "I call ATTAC an ‘action-oriented movement of popular education’…We don’t want people turning out on demonstrations without really knowing why. So ATTAC members aren’t activists in the French sense of the term, which differs from the English, since its connotation is action for action’s sake. Our work is in the first instance—though not the last—educational. …."

During the WSF –2001, Bernard Cassen declared from the dias of the Forum that "we are here to discuss ideas. Then we have to seek the forms of translating them into struggles .In some years we will be ready to propose measures…" To corroborate the same, in the earlier referred interview to NLR, he comes out as a clear strategist for the WSF.. thus he said "If the first Forum was an occasion for analysis and critique, and the second for proposals, the third will be for strategy." and that he is "not interested in polarizations between right and left which has lost their meaning.."!

Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, the mother of ATTAC, in an article on Porto Allegre in Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2001, put forward the same view. The purpose of the WSF was not " to protest as in Seattle, Washington or Prague ... but to try, this time with a constructive spirit, to propose a theoretical framework and practice that allows us to advocate a new globalisation and affirm that a new world is possible, less inhuman, reduced in equality and more solidarity-based".

Another important point to be noted here is the glaring contrast between the stated self-description of WSF in its Charters and the practical directions it assume in practice. While in the Charter the WSF is described as just a "process "..a… "space " meant only for reflections and sharing and not to come out with any concrete programme or declaration of action, as seen in the above interviews …all the leaders are busy lobbying and pleading concessions from the big and powerful.

In fact no movement can refrain from debates, internal reflections, critique, self critique..etc.., but that should be based on struggles intending to further it, by assuming new meanings and dimensions. But what the sponsors of the WSF are demanding is debates instead of struggle.. since it is "constructive" ( as if struggles are not..!).and to what end? Not to change the system. but to realize a world with "less inequality" and "less inhuman"..!

This is the "Another world " that WSF wants the exploited and toiling people of the world to be content with..!

Who’s Agenda?

This agenda is not at all contradictory to the interests of the crisis ridden imperialist forces of the present day. The earth shaking collapse of the East Asian economies.. and the growing social crisis caused due to Globalisation — which is in turn resulting in social turmoil and "social conflicts " assuming political dimensions .."exclusions" and " instabilities", "distrust about the existing order and the business" all over Asia , Africa and Latin America, and to a remarkable extent within the first world also — have demanded the immediate attention of the imperialist forces. In fact the social crisis resulting due to the globalisation process has been a point of serious discussion in the World Bank, IMF, UN, and ADB right from the times of the East Asian crisis

In fact now the WB admits that

" The world of today is very different from the world of 10 years ago, and certainly from the world of 20 years ago.

Global inequality is on the rise. Inequality among countries has been increasing, especially over the last 10 years .The world distribution of income across individuals is becoming more unequal, due almost entirely to increasing inequality between nations. In other words, the forces determining worldwide inequality are the macroeconomic forces determining cross-country patterns of growth and convergence. Within-country inequality and its relation to a country’s growth performance plays only a small role in global inequality dynamics.

Globalisation, a world increasingly knit together through capital, trade, and technology flows, was not a phenomenon of note in 1990. In the mindset of 1990 the central issue was how to get private capital to flow to developing countries. Since then, the Latin American and East Asian crises have raised the issue of the volatility of capital

"The star performers in East Asia suffered severe setbacks in poverty reduction. In Indonesia as much as a decade’s worth of progress might have been wiped out in one shot. Avoidance and management of such crises must clearly be part of any strategy for poverty reduction in the first decades of this century."

Right from the times of the collapse of the Asian tigers, the imperialists and their multilateral bodies have identified the lack of focus on the social implication as the main cause for such a colossal disaster. Then onwards the WB policy suggestion has been to include social dimension to build safety nets and safety valves. To achieve this the fullest participation of NGO’s and "civil society" is being encouraged. Right from the very first meetings in that direction big NGO’s participation is being ensured. A World Bank/NGO Asia Pacific Committee has been constituted, in which the NGO, Global Focus On South, a founder of WSF, has been an active member.

In its 4th meeting the World Bank team stated that the conference would mark a new phase in partnership with NGOs, based on a common interest in poverty alleviation and social development..! This intention was given credibility by highlighting the following major policy and organizational changes within the Bank:

*an official board mandate for management to encourage NGO participation in the CAS;

*a view of the crisis as a socio-political crisis, creating the chance to strengthen civil society in Asia;

*decentralization of the World Bank, allowing for a wider range of NGOs participating more actively, as a response to past NGO criticism;

*a stronger country focus as manifested by the Country Directors now living in the countries and having major budget & strategic responsibility, including the CAS, and the aim of having 50% of the professional staff working in the field, adding to a better understanding of local institutions and problems by the Bank;

*a new sectoral orientation by incorporating a social development unit and an environment unit into the regional sector management structure;

What NGOs, who are now crying farce about the WB, raised then was more visibility, consultation and more funds and more communication in dealing with the East Asia crisis.. doing which they absolved the WB from any responsibility for the Asian crisis.! These were the criticisms the NGOs like GFOS raised:

*A general lack of consultation and information on the World Bank’s role and policies in the East Asia crisis;

*The World Bank has a lower profile in the Asian crisis compared to the IMF, leading to the perception of the absence of a region-wide World Bank strategy to tackle the crisis and to calls for the World Bank to "de-link" itself from the IMF

*More generally some NGOs in the region commented that the World Bank budget allocation across sectors sometimes does not reflect the new philosophical orientation with many projects still focused on traditional heavy public infrastructure.

Safety nets, safety valves and Social Forums!

Since then various high level donor and minister meetings have been held to discuss the need to react on the social implications of the Asian financial crisis. For example, the regular APEC Finance Minister meetings and the working group on social safety nets, the meeting in Bangkok (January 1999) organized by the World Bank, and the Sydney meeting of Foreign Ministers (March 1999), sponsored by the Government of Australia. ASEAN is also holding various conferences on the Asian economic crisis and on human resources development. In July 1998, the World Bank, together with other donors, has established the ASEM Thrust Fund to undertake analytical and strategic work on East and Southeast Asia to which many MNCs and imperialist government provided the funds. It was at this moment that ATTAC, the organization to demand taxing TNCs in service of citizens was also formed in France and later expanded all over Europe and to Latin American countries also. Since it was very much in the ambit and the immediate necessity of imperialism, the French govt. readily accepted the same. Thus it was not from the blue that idea of Tobin Tax fell, as claimed by the Bernad Cassen of ATTAC. It was in conformity with the changing requirements of the imperialist system that the idea was implemented.

It is at this time that the Third way and the Social Europe concepts gained currency and were partly accepted by the system. These socialisng concepts only meant to focus some more on social issues, to build safety nets so that the system does not collapse and to build safety valves so that the system does not face a radical challenge. Thus in one such meeting to discuss Social Issues Arising from the East Asia Economic Crisis and Policy Implications for the Future held in Bangkok, Thailand, on January 21-22 1999, the objective of such endeavors were clearly drawn out as :

" The development is often a process of balances and imbalances. The crisis demonstrated the impact of financial liberalization that exceeded the international and national capacity to manage the emerging systems. The answer is not to give up the benefits of liberalization - but rather to strengthen our governance systems - and the social safety nets to protect the vulnerable. The same is true whether we are looking at imbalances of power between vulnerable and less vulnerable groups, or between governments and broader society"

and " perhaps the most important element of the response has to be a new openness to new partnerships - both for understanding and for action. These partners may well be governments, but increasingly they are non-governmental organizations, think tanks, academia, and individuals."

In this meeting it was decided to organize an exclusive forum to discuss social issues arising from the East Asian crisis in Manila during November ‘99..a month earlier to Seattle, and one year before the formation of WSF..! And it was to be called Manila Social Forum..! and who were the partners of World Bank in this initiative. It was Ford Foundation, Oxfam, CIDA, several UN agencies like UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO, and of course WB and ADB.

What was the agenda in front of the Manila Forum…according to its official bulletin?

"The Manila Social Forum will provide opportunities for the Asian developing countries, funding agencies, and stakeholders to lay the groundwork to address sustainable social development in Asia. It will develop new strategies, reform measures, tools, and mechanisms for social policy in Asia, particularly in the context of the Asian economic and transition crisis. It will (i) enhance the dialogue on the need and content of new social policy reforms toward more sustainable social development and poverty reduction in Asia; (ii) facilitate among DMCs and funding agencies the exchange of information about good project practices and experiences in addressing the social implications of changes; (iii) gain feedback on the appropriateness of new strategies on poverty, social protection, and public–private partnerships; and (iv) develop operationally relevant mechanisms for a more responsive social policy agenda for Southeast and East Asia.

Participants of the Forum will (i) take stock of the social impact of the Asian economic crisis as well as the experience of economies in transition, and discuss their long-term implications for the economic sectors and in the context of globalization trends; (ii) provide an overview of the countries’, ADB’s, and World Bank’s operational approaches and programs to social policy and poverty in the wake of the Asian economic crisis; and (iii) develop operationally relevant recommendations for investments (a) to encourage pro-poor economic growth and a more inclusive labor market in the Asian region, (b) to promote social protection and social insurance, (c) in new approaches toward rural and urban development to improve the living standards and ensure the income of the poor and middle class, (d) to enhance the role of the private sector and other stakeholders in social policy and problems of enterprise reforms, (e) in social public expenditures and social sector policy reforms, and (f) to enhance relations between governance and poverty. In addition, the Forum will provide an opportunity for the Asian Development Bank to share key features of its new poverty and social protection strategies within a broader network of other donors, Asian countries, and NGOs."

During December 2000 the UN organized in Geneva a Social Summit to discuss social issues emanating from globalisation. In this a paper was presented jointly by the WB, IMF, OECD and UN, which openly admitted that the "globalization of capital and information has not always resulted in the globalization of better living standards."

In the same convention the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, launched: A Better World for All: Progress towards the international development goals — a joint report of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, and the United Nations. A project jointly conceived by the market forces with institutional support by the IMF, WB, and UN, assuring the anguished populace bringing back poverty to "sustainable levels". The obstacles to achieve that end were identified as Conflicts, Bad governance and weak economic policy. The participation of ‘civil society’, especially the NGOS, was sought to mitigate the obstacles…which was faithfully accepted by the bysatnding NGOs…It was at the closing session of the summit where hundreds of NGO’s were present that the declaration and invitation for participation in the World Social Forum was first declared ..! Thus even the Social in the nomenclature of World Social Forum does not signify anything radical, it only denotes the new need of the imperialist system..

In the first two WSFs it was these NGOs, WB and the UN agencies, and European parliamentarians who decided the agendas and ran the show. Later, when the composition of genuine anti imperialist forces started to increase their overt presence and participation started decreasing. But the agenda set by them is faithfully being carried out by the founders of the WSF! On the other hand new clauses to restrict entry to the radical forces were framed right after the Genoa protests and the experience of 1st Porto Allegre..

The WSF acts as the instrument of fulfilling the twin objectives of the crisis ridden imperialists to overcome the economic and political crisis of managing the system by creating safety nets and safety valves.

The WSF has, in effect, resulted in cushioning the impact of the crisis-ridden imperialist system on the poor and creating safety nets and safety valves to diffuse the discontent generated by the policies of globalisation.

"The issue of democratic legitimacy is a key theme when speaking here at the European Parliament and so I refer to another message from the meetings that politicians and world leaders ignore at their peril. A World Economic Forum global survey, based on questioning over 36 000 people in 36 countries, revealed that public trust in governments, institutions and big business has reached new lows. I think that this survey chimes with the growing popularity of the Porto Alegre meeting and tells political leaders that they must listen, and listen carefully, to their electorates.

Both fora are primarily about dialogue. In a world beset with uncertainties and risks, I find it reassuring to observe that thousands upon thousands of people travel huge distances simply to exchange ideas, to reflect and to learn. Peaceful debate rather than demagogy provides the possibility for progress and consensus building. I am thus very pleased to note the mood of peaceful debate and of listening that prevailed at both conference venues.

It is interesting to look at the "main themes" of each event. The World Social Forum, for example, discussed "democratic world order, fight against militarism and promoting peace" and Davos "security and geopolitics". In Porto Alegre "principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality" was a theme closely related to "trust and values" covered by the WEF. So, even if the language used may differ, there is clearly some convergence between the two meetings regarding the nature of many of the problems facing the world. Further, there were even those who received positive receptions at both meetings. I am thinking in particular of newly-elected Brazilian President Lula Da Silva."

The time has, in fact, come for some "reflective thinking" as to what the WSF is all about and as to why millions of dollars are being pumped into it!!!






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