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The World Social Forum should remain true to its founding aim of being an open space that builds alternatives to neoliberalism, writes Yash Tandon.

Like most people at the World Social Forum in Dakar in 2011, I share the exhilarating feeling of the ‘spirit’ of success, in defiance of all the challenges that the organisers faced. There were those who sacrificed nights and days to make the event a success, and without naming individual names, I would join everybody in congratulating them. They will no doubt tell us about how the WSF might be better organised.

At the end of the WSF, Immanuel Wallerstein wrote: ‘There was…one underlying complaint among those in attendance. People said correctly we all know what we're against, but we should be laying out more clearly what it is we are for.’ He drew a distinction between ‘those who want another world’, and ‘those who believe that what the world needs is more development, more modernisation, and thereby the possibility of more equal distribution of resources.’

I agree that there is tension between these two viewpoints. But these ‘viewpoints’ are not ideational conflicts; they have a material bases in reality. As long as people continue to be oppressed and exploited by imperialist finance capital - both in the developed world as well in the countries in the South - these two viewpoints will remain.

‘Another world’ is not only possible, but it is in the making on a daily basis not only in the realm of ideas and viewpoints, but more substantially as a result of the struggles in the streets of Athens, London and Wisconsin as well as in those of Cairo, Tripoli, Manila and Managua.

These struggles manifest in different forms; they have ups and downs and internal contradictions, even as they are globally conditioned by the forces of finance capital which is now in deep crisis. I am in no doubt that Wallerstein will agree with me, so why is it necessary for me to say this? Because if people think that we should now move to some kind of a ‘Fifth’ or ‘Sixth’ Socialist International, or ‘Socialist Green International’, or ‘Socialist Human Rights International’, and that the WSF is the platform for it, then I do not agree with this ‘viewpoint’.

Socialism has been on the global agenda for over a century now, but any attempt to foist another ‘socialist international’ on the exploited and oppressed peoples and nations of the world would be both premature and divisive. For example, there are people who may think that the ‘national project’ is now a spent force, and they may be right; but I do not agree that it is a spent force.

We need to debate (not assert) this in the light of an understanding of the concrete struggles of people on the ground. National liberation from finance capital is part of internationalism, and it has its own dynamics in the North and in the South. My own view about the WSF is that all these views must have space; any effort to steamroll an artificial ‘unity of the left’ is bound to be counter-productive to the survival of the WSF. I am an original member of the WSF since its inception in January 2001 in Porto Alegre. On its website it still projects itself as ‘an open space - plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan - that stimulates the decentralised debate, reflection, proposals building, experiences exchange and alliances among movements and organisations engaged in concrete actions towards a more democratic and fair world…a permanent space and process to build alternatives to neoliberalism.’ It should remain so.


* Yash Tandon is the author of ‘Ending Aid Dependence’ and ‘Development and Globalisation: Daring to Think Differently’.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.