Friday, July 07, 2006

The Social Forum Process

The world we live in is completely unjust. There is massive accumulation of wealth for a tiny rich elite – glass buildings, shopping complexes like Westgate and Sam Levy’s and 45 Billion dollar Mercedes and Cherokees – contrasting with an equally unimaginable impoverishment of the vast majority of the world’s population haunted by famine and utter destitution - donkey drawn scotch carts, pit latrines, slums, and utter poverty. The historic mission of capitalism has been development for the few and underdevelopment for the many.
This crisis has totally worsened under neo-liberalism. Under the IMF/World Bank’s disastrous economic policies millions of poor have been condemned to conditions of abject poverty, job loses and collapse of social service delivery systems such as health, education, housing and public transport. This reality and a hopeless future for millions has resulted in the total breakdown of the social fabric of poor communities shown in sharp increases in domestic violence, violent crime, prostitution, street kids, and homeless people. The worsening crisis of neo-liberalism has also led to state regimes responding to mass resistance through curtailing democratic space and repression.

The Rise of the Social forum Process
The rise of the social forum process expresses a rejection and challenge to policies that put profit before life. The rallying slogan of the social forum, Another World Is Possible expresses this. We must go beyond simply rejecting the current set-up to fighting for a better way of organizing society that puts needs before greed and profit.
The social forum has emerged with massive potential to advance the struggles for socio-economic rights. To this end the Social Forum process must play a very crucial role in organizing the regrouping anti-neoliberal forces. It has made tremendous achievements in creating solidarity networks for those committed to social justice. The process has also played a key role in sustaining hope and in fostering amongst activists a sense of belonging to a global progressive force committed to change the world for the better. The emergence of a bipolar world marked on one hand by a crisis ridden free market agenda and on the other hand the growing global anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist movement of which the social forum is one of its platforms.
The context within which the Social Forum emerges and takes root poses questions - whether the process will fulfill its historical mission and serve as a functional platform to advance and resolve the tasks of the social justice struggle. This becomes a decisive question in light of the ‘commodification of resistance’ syndrome. A concern has already emerged on whether this will not turn out to be more of serial meetings/talk shops and plane activism with no action at all and in that way actually become a platform to co-opt, divert and disarm the building resistance against capitalist globalization.
There are also questions on the structure of the social forum process. The ‘open’ non-voting and non-committal ‘space’ limits the capacity for decisive collective action that reduces it to a non-acting jamboree of NGOs. While some horizontality and consensus is necessary in a democratic relationship amongst diverse groups that are just beginning to learn to work together, this should not be taken to levels where it completely cripples the process. Many attempts for collective action have been scuttled on the grounds that “the forum is a space and not an organization”.
While the social forum process has built an excellent critique on neo-liberalism, it has not done so on the national democratic question. Social forum arguments tend to focus exclusively on neo-liberal policies, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc and in a way sideline national democratic questions. This is particularly problematic in the African context where the lack of democracy is worse and imperialist plunder assisted by the local state is unchecked. Raising the national democratic question carries more risks than chanting down the IMF and other international financial institutions since this brings movements and organizations into the direct firing line of undemocratic regimes, but nonetheless it is a struggle that must be waged. .
The other key question is the marginal role of organized labour in the whole Social Forum process on a global level. This makes the Social Forum process a challenge to capitalism through numbers but lacking structural impact. Mobilization of organized labour remains one of the key outstanding tasks of the social forum process. The social forum process will be infinitely powerful if, as a platform, it can unite working class struggles and the vast mass of resistance to neo-liberalism represented by community based organizations, Social movements, and progressive NGOs.
The Next WSF: NAIROBI 2007
WSF comes to Africa when the social forum is faced with consolidating the achievements made so far and crucially taking the next step. Fatigue has already crept into the routine cycle of annual world social forum meetings in ‘far away’ places that only those with enormous resources can attend. To consolidate the process it is important to decentralize it to national and regional social forums. It is at this more local level that actions can best be coordinated and executed. This has already happened in some places with vibrant national forums such as the Zimbabwe Social Forum. Within national frameworks it is important to further decentralize to the most local level through community/township based social forums and thematic social forums.
In taking the next step, action is of vital importance. ‘A Time to Act’ must become part of the social forum slogans. The social forum can now utilize the networks that have been formed in the past four years to launch campaigns on specific social justice issues as determined by the most burning questions of the day. Anti-eviction campaigns, campaigns against water and electricity cut offs, anti-privatization campaigns, right to education campaigns, access to land campaigns and living wage campaigns etcetera. These are the kind of collective actions that will bring relevance to the social forum process and take it into the next chapter. Acting together on a particular issue coordinated through the social forum networks will be infinitely more powerful than a thousand isolated actions.
The next WSF will have achieved much if activists, movements and organizations gathered there go beyond the talk shop and adopt one or two social justice campaigns for collective action. This could even be a boycott of a particular corporate brand such as Coca –Cola for example or an anti-apartheid style collective campaign to bring down a specific dictatorship. With Africa as the setting, it is vitally important that activist, movements and organizations revisit the question of continued imperialist plunder on the continent and the unfinished business of national democratic struggles.
Taking the next step must also include going beyond agreeing to say ‘No to Capitalism’, to a united voices on an alternative to the capitalist system. In this era of the resurgence of the radical democratic agenda and the cracking of capitalism under its own contradictions activists must seize the opportunity to argue now for international socialism as the ultimate alternative to the failed capitalist system.

Another Africa is Possible! Another World is Possible! – In Our Lifetime!

By Briggs Bomba
+263-4-704209, +263-11-403930, +263-11-637484, +263-91-908847
P.O. Box 6758, Harare – Zimrights House, 90 4th Street


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