Fire sans Smoke

Created in 2001 in Brazil the World Social Forum (WSF) is so far the largest gathering of civil society groups struggling to find solutions to problems plaguing mostly the third world countries. They have their presence in the North as well. It’s an illusion that this Forum will act as a counter-veiling weight to the World Economic Forum based in Davos. The WSF 2016 was held at Montreal, Canada from 9 to 14 August 2016. This was the 12th edition of WSF and the first to be organised in a northern country. How far this gigantic civil society enterprise, rather a non-governmental enterprise, has succeeded in motivating the toilers—the oppressed, the deprived, to rise in revolt, to challenge the system that marginalises them continually to further corporate interests is anybody’s guess. The very scale of such a huge mobilisation cannot be anything but frightening. But mere talking-shops cannot deliver. This year in total 1200 self-managed activities and 200 cultural events took place. There were also 22 assemblies of convergence which led to more than a hundred initiatives, hopefully to keep them on record, to be reiterated in the 13th edition. Even the Comintern didn’t enjoy such a popular environment during its hey days. They discussed a lot of things—they discussed climate, they discussed nuclear fission. Also, they discussed theology. Interestingly, they advocated at length the idea of ‘‘Another Digital World’’ is possible. This discussion gained some relevance and currency as well in view of government surveillance over private life across the world.

The very fundamental theme of WSF is ‘another world is needed and together it is possible’. But they didn’t really discuss how to dismantle the system that stands in the way of getting together to say ‘No’ to unequal and unjust society. They talked of basic income, not equity and party in income. They dwelt at length on basic income concept or what was explained as an idea of giving an amount of money from birth to death. In other words it is one more poverty alleviation scheme that the ruling elites everywhere are not averse to. Brazil seems to be the first country to have introduced the scheme of basic income in its constitution. And organisers and participants think mere constitutional right could help eradicate extreme poverty. If that is the case India could have been a paradise for the subalterns long ago because there are so many rights guaranteed by the constitution. The current Brazilian scenario speaks volumes about the fate of their constitution. Corporates were happy to work with state management by the Workers Party under Lula deSilva as substitute for an egalitarian society with workers’ control and peasant self-determination. With falling oil prices the business lobby began to favour savage neo-liberalism and the result was a right-wing coup. Social movements from below as represented in WSF look helpless. They can try anything but ‘socialism’.

In reality WSF crusaders are selling utopia. In India minimum wage (or what may be called basic wage in Brazil) is mandatory as per law. But minimum wages acts are being violated by almost every state, including left-ruled states. Just on the eve of September 2 nation-wide general strike by Central Trade Unions, Union Finance Minister announced substantial enhancement in minimum wages. But no state will follow central rules to pay minimum wages to workers.

Quite expectedly ‘Arab Spring’—the powerful event of the decade—got adequate attention from the participants. Five years later it has literally turned into a nightmare for millions of Arabs fleeing conflict zones in desperation and dying in transit while the lucky ones are rotting in refugee camps. The Arab Spring started in Tunisia. A minor incident ignited a praire fire and engulfed Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Baharin in no time. People rose in peaceful revolt, rather spontaneously, demanding democratic space and freedom. A ‘wind of change’ threatened the Reaction but Reaction struck back with vengeance and for most of the Arabs it is now back to square one. What is happening in Syria and, in Yemen, beggars description; continuing civil war has destroyed these countries beyond repair. People there cannot breathe. Perhaps WSF cannot do anything concrete to minimise the suffering of millions. They cannot stop war and yet they think another world is possible. How much democracy and peace they could guarantee for the people dying in cross-fire, by organising street marches in Canada is open to question. Dozens of workshops and huge participation may have some propaganda value but it is not going to change the world in favour of the persecuted millions. For one thing the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church, USA sponsored workshops specifically focusing on anti-Christian activities in some countries.

WSF is now a club of 125 countries. But not much is heard about their action programme in the erstwhile socialist bloc countries and China—the showcase of ‘market socialism’. But in all these countries, including Russia, voice of dissent is severely repressed. The persons in power in the North as also in the South have no reason to disallow WSF-initiated extravaganza if they don’t cross the limit, by urging the oppressed to take to streets for a radical change.

In essence WSF people are advocating party-less democracy or party-less social justice because people everywhere are fed up with party autocracy, no matter whether they call themselves left or right. But why massive mass movements like ‘‘Occupy Wall Street’’ failed to sustain themselves and progress deserves explanation.

Vol. 49, No.11, Sep 18 - 24, 2016