Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> [The Hijacking of the WSF - by Naomi Klein > January 30 2003]
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 1 Feb 2003 18:55:57 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> [The Hijacking of the WSF - by Naomi Klein > January 30 2003]

>From our great INURA-list forwarding carousel & with the usual apologies...
greetz from deluged Bs As, p+D!

----- Forwarded message from Lorenzo Tripodi <loreso {AT} TIN.IT> -----

Date:         Sat, 1 Feb 2003 11:49:35 +0100
Reply-To: International Network of Urban Research and Action
Subject:      FW: [Hub] The Hijacking of the WSF - by Naomi Klein > January 30

Da: "ArcoIris" <arcoiris {AT} house.com.ar>
Risposta: hub {AT} inventati.org
Data: Fri, 31 Jan 2003 19:17:12 -0300

www.nologo.org <http://www.nologo.org>
The Hijacking of the WSF

by Naomi Klein > January 30 2003

The key word at this year's World Social Forum, which ended yesterday in
Porto Alegre, Brazil, was 'big.'

Big attendance: more than a hundred thousand delegates in all! Big speeches:
more than 15,000 crammed in to see Noam Chomsky! And most of all, big men.
Lula da Silva, the newly elected president of Brazil, came to the Forum and
addressed 75,000 adoring fans. Hugo Chavez, the controversial president of
Venezuela, paid a 'surprise' visit to announce that his embattled regime was
part of the same movement as the forum itself.

"The left in Latin America is being reborn," Mr. Chavez declared, as he
pledged to vanquish his opponents at any cost. As evidence of this rebirth,
he pointed to Lula's election in Brazil, Lucio Gutierrez's victory in
Ecuador and Fidel Castro's tenacity in Cuba.

But wait a minute: how on earth did a gathering that was supposed to be a
showcase for new grassroots movements become a celebration of men with a
penchant for three hour speeches about smashing the oligarchy?

Of course, the forum, in all its dizzying, global diversity, was not only
speeches, with huge crowds all facing the same direction. There were plenty
of circles, with small groups of people facing each other. There were
thousands of impromptu gatherings of activists from opposite ends of the
globe excitedly swapping facts, tactics, and analysis in their common
struggles. But the big certainly put its mark on the event.

Two years ago, at the first World Social Forum, the key word was not 'big'
but 'new': new ideas, new methods, new faces. Because if there was one thing
that most delegates agreed on (and there wasn't much) it was that the left's
traditional methods had failed, either because they were wrong-headed or
because they were simply ill-equipped to deal with the powerful forces of
corporate globalization.

This came from hard-won experience, experience that remains true even if
some left parties have been doing well in the polls recently. Many of the
delegates at that first forum had spent their lives building labour parties,
only to watch helplessly as those parties betrayed their roots once in
power, throwing up their hands and implementing the paint-by-numbers
policies dictated by global markets. Other delegates came with scarred
bodies and broken hearts after fighting their entire lives to free their
countries from dictatorship or racial Apartheid, only to see their liberated
land hand its sovereignty away to the International Monetary Fund in
exchange for a loan.

Still others who attended that first forum were refugees from doctrinaire
communist parties who had finally faced the fact that the socialist
'utopias' of Eastern Europe had turned into centralized, bureaucratic and
authoritarian nightmares. And outnumbering all of these veteran activists
was a new and energetic generation of young people who had never trusted
politicians, and were finding their own political voice on the streets of
Seattle, Prague and Sao Paulo.

When this global rabble came together under the slogan "Another World is
Possible", it was clear to all but the most rigidly nostalgic minority that
getting to this other world wouldn't be a matter of resuscitating the flawed
models of the past, but imagining new movements that drew on the best of
these experiences while vowing never to repeat their mistakes.

The World Social Forum didn't produce a political blueprint‹a good start‹but
there was a clear pattern to the alternatives that emerged. Politics had to
be less about trusting well-meaning leaders, and more about empowering
people to make their own decisions; democracy had to be LESS representative
and more participatory. The ideas flying around included neighbourhood
councils, participatory budgets, stronger city governments, land reform and
cooperative farming‹a vision of politicized communities that could be
networked internationally to resist further assaults from the IMF, the World
Bank and World Trade Organization. For a left that had tended to look to
centralized state solutions to solve almost every problem, this emphasis on
decentralization and direct participation was a breakthrough.

At the first World Social Forum, Lula was cheered too: not as a heroic
figure who vowed to take on the forces of the market and eradicate hunger,
but as an innovator whose party was at the forefront of developing tools for
impoverished people to meet their own needs. Sadly, those themes of deep
participation and democratic empowerment were largely absent from Mr. da
Silva's campaign for president. Instead, he told and re-told a personal
story about how voters could trust him because he came from poverty, and
knew their pain. But standing up to the demands of the international
financial community isn't about whether an individual politician is
trustworthy, it's about the fact that, as Mr. da Silva is already proving,
no person or party is strong enough on its own.

Right now, it looks as if Lula has only two choices: abandoning his election
promises of wealth re-distribution or trying to force them through and
ending up in a Chavez-style civil war. But there is another option, one his
own Workers Party has tried before, one that made Porto Alegre itself a
beacon of a new kind of politics: more democracy. He could simply refuse to
play the messiah or the lone ranger, and instead hand power back to the
citizens who elected him, on key issues from payment of the foreign debt, to
land reform, to membership in the Free Trade Area of the Americas. There are
a host of mechanisms that he could use: referenda, constituents' assemblies,
networks of empowered local councils and assemblies. Choosing an alternative
economic path would still spark fierce resistance, but his opponents would
not have the luxury of being against Lula, as they are against Chavez, and
would instead be forced to oppose the repeated and stated will of the
majority‹to be against democracy itself.

Perhaps the reason why participatory democracy is being usurped at the World
Social Forum by big men and swooning crowds is that there isn't much glory
in it. To work, it requires genuine humility of the part of elected
politicians. It means that a victory at the ballot box isn't a blank cheque
for five years, but the beginning of an unending process of returning power
to that electorate time and time again.

For some, the hijacking of the WSF by political parties and powerful men is
proof that the movements against corporate globalization are finally
maturing and 'getting serious.' But is it really so mature, amidst the
graveyard of failed left political projects, to believe that change will
come by casting your ballot for the latest charismatic leader, then crossing
your fingers and hoping for the best? Get serious.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net