By Ronald Cameron
Although the holding of the 2022 World Social Forum (WSF) in Mexico City, May 1-6, was the result of a struggle, it has become clear that alterglobalism must seek to renew itself outside of these meetings, without abandoning the formula with more defined objectives. The Mexico City meeting was clearly a step backwards compared to previous WSFs. This is not the fault of the organizing committee, and the pandemic certainly had something to do with it, as mentioned in the final declaration. However, the context is no longer the same as it was in the early 2000s, social movements are struggling to regain the initiative and we are not heading towards the desired other world. Thus, the watchword of the alterglobalists is less that of another possible world than that of its necessity!
For several years now, we have noticed that the WSFs have been weakening and the detractors of alterglobalism have been using this development to their advantage. However, the alterglobalization movements have existed for longer than the WSFs. They were born as movements of resistance to structural adjustment policies, the real building blocks of the neoliberal austerity policies of the 1980s. The WSF 2022 in Mexico City confirms that the future of alterglobalism will be defined largely outside of these meetings.
Towards the construction of a new phase of alterglobalism?
The title of the Final Declaration insists on the urgency and necessity of another world, not on its possibility. The reminder of the particularly hostile context to projects of social transformation leads the declaration to recognize that “resistance does not cancel these contradictions” of the system of domination and that violence and defeats are always possible.
It also recalls that the “themes addressed were climate, agriculture respectful of the earth, sustainable economy, human rights, feminism, minorities, education, labor rights, culture, communication, self-determination of peoples… and so many others! The three axes that gathered the most activities were (1) economic alternatives of the people, (2) defense of the living, the environment and the territories, and (3) democracy, political participation, construction of citizenship and autonomy.
It also states that “the WSF of Mexico 2022 is a step towards the construction of a new phase of alterglobalism “2. The alterglobalization movement has broken down. Even if it has contributed to weakening the burden of neoliberal policies, it has not succeeded in sowing the fear of systemic upheaval. Reinventing alterglobalism necessarily involves strengthening the charge of rupture in the problematic of social transformation.
The lowest participation of the WSFs
The WSF in Mexico City had the lowest participation of any WSF since 2000. The Final Declaration indicates 3,000 people3 , the official WSF 2022 website shows 2,000 people, with 5,000 people online4. 4 A progressive, independent journalism site reports a few hundred. It mentions people from “30 countries on four continents”. There were about 200 people from outside the host country, Mexico. Of this number, the largest proportion came from different Latin American countries. The other most important delegations came from Africa, France, Quebec, Maghreb and Norway. The delegation supported by Katalizo and Plateforme altermondialiste was composed of about thirty young people from Quebec, France and Belgium, so they did not go unnoticed, as the participation was so low.
The Declaration indicates 789 workshops and assemblies in 15 places in the historical center of Mexico City. The official website mentions 365 activities. The most popular workshops were attended by a few dozen people. It is true that the dispersion of the activities in several locations was a difficulty for the organization, participation and success of the activities. This is why there were many delays and cancellations. The final assembly of convergence gathered about 200 to 300 people. Regarding the 500 registered organizations, this includes the international organizations online.
On the other hand, the organization of the WSF in Mexico City, originally planned for 2020, was a real marathon for the Mexican organizing committee. A virtual meeting in January 2021 during the pandemic period calmed the impatience of many for the WSF to be held in person. Finally scheduled for May 2022, it was organized in a hurry because of the multiple delays and the weaknesses of the financial support that weighed on the organizational work. From this point of view, to have succeeded in keeping an appointment was a tour de force.
There is no doubt that the pandemic played a major role in the drop in participation. The Final Declaration reminds us of this and also points out the restrictions of the screws
But there is more. We must mention the weakening context of the networks, the decline in their capacity to diversify their action, the new priorities of the movements, especially among the global networks, and a general decline in interest in the WSFs, which even some networks associated with alterglobalism are shunning!
A drop in the interest of the movements
Several of the international movements associated with alterglobalism were absent, notably via Campesina and the World March of Women, which were pillars of the WSF. In Mexico, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was not present. This anti-neoliberal struggle movement, based in the Oaxaca region of Mexico, made anti-globalization history by calling for resistance on January 1, 19946 , when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. The EZLN is an army, which is obviously an obstacle to its presence at the WSF. Nevertheless, the absence of the Zapatista movement reflects a broader political problem with the government and also with the convergence of Mexican social movements, many of which were not present.
Among them was the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), with which the Central Council of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM-CSN) has developed ties for more than twenty years and with which the International Center for Workers’ Solidarity (CISO) has also established close contacts for several years. It reportedly decided not to participate because of the health context. More recently, since the North American free trade negotiations, some FTQ and CLC unions have essentially established relations with this federation of independent unions. It should be noted that the decision of the AFL was an opportunity for CISO and its associated unions, including the FTQ and CCMM-CSN, not to encourage in-person participation in WSF 2022.7
Activities regarding the labor movement were carried out primarily by Mexico’s other independent unions, including the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), the Nueva Central de Trabajadores (NCT), the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), the Unión Nacional de Sindicatos Minero-Metalúrgicos y Metal-Mecánicos de Mexico (UNASIM). The WSF’s opening march was integrated with the May Day march in Mexico City, which brought together several thousand members of independent unions, including telephone operators and electricians, who have distanced themselves from traditional business organizations. Nevertheless, it must be said that the international trade union movement was conspicuous by its absence. In addition to a representative of the Brazilian CUT, one could spot the international head of the Canadian union UNIFOR, which financially supported the WSF in Mexico City.
Plea for “other educations“
If numbers are no longer with the WSFs, quality remains, especially in education, a sector that was not much courted outside of the members of CEAAL (Consejo de educación popular de América Latina y el Caribe), an important Latin American network in popular education and which was a major pillar of the organization of WSF 2022. A declaration entitled “Manifesto for Other Educations “8 was agreed upon in one of the few convergence assemblies.
There are several visions of “other education”. First of all, there is the one aimed at the “other world” that the alterglobalization movements have been wanting for twenty years. It is thus a question of marking the intention to develop a “decolonizing, depatriarchal, anti-capitalist and anti-racist education”, as the declaration mentions at the outset. On the other hand, “other education” is also a project to be promoted now in opposition to the logic of performance and competition in the system as it currently exists. It is a “public, free and quality education, with cultural and social relevance, liberating, transformative and popular, communitarian and democratic, intercultural, diverse, plural and inclusive, based on epistemic justice and interscientific dialogue”. Moreover, “other education” is also a plea for this non-formal education of consciousness-raising and social transformation.
The perspective of the declaration is to promote education for citizenship, affirming the centrality of popular education, in a “broad, inclusive and transformative” perspective. It is about developing a lifelong education that values diversity and inclusion, in a period of increasing divisions and inequalities. This is why education is about cooperation, not competition.
The question of war and international solidarity
Among the unavoidable topics of such a meeting, there is international solidarity, especially in relation to war! There have been a few workshops on these issues, but most of the time they were not necessarily about the Ukraine issue. Rather, the war in Ukraine shows that the alter-globalist left in the North and South is more concerned with the struggle with US imperialism1.
Among the workshops was the one of the Transnational Institute (TNI)2 in Amsterdam entitled Foro global contra la guerra – Global anti-war Forum. Defined in a co-construction approach, this workshop aimed first and foremost to map the different types of wars (traditional war, war on migrants, war on terrorism, war on drug traffickers), in a sub-committee approach. Essentially composed of Europeans, the exchanges in sub-groups quickly raised the issues concerning the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
It was noted that in the last twenty years (since the creation of the WSF), about thirty wars have been fought on the planet.
However, the current Russian war in Ukraine has an impact on the world political situation and shakes up international relations. It was recalled that the mobilization against the war in Iraq in 2003 was exemplary. If the war led today by Russia appears to be a war of the past, it nevertheless announces a new context. For the opposition to the war in Iraq was part of a broad refusal to see the triumph of a globalized capitalism with imperialist tendencies, in the wake of the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Eastern bloc countries. Today we are in a very different conjecture. The war in Ukraine sends us back to a polarized world and augurs a return to more violent inter-imperialist struggles.
This is why one of the conclusions was to call for steps to denounce the systemic character of this war which reinforces the world we do not want, especially in the context of the end of the pandemic. Pedagogically, it is about going beyond a call against war and for peace. It is rather a question of identifying the regressive impacts of this war, if we wish to develop a broad anti-war movement and convince the population. We must insist on the consequences of this war, notably: the increase of authoritarianism, the progression of the radical right, the increase of military budgets in the West, the reinforcement of the use of oil, the increase in the number of refugees and the brutal impoverishment of the population to levels not known since the Second World War; the reinforcement of racism, notably in the differentiated treatment of refugees in favor of the white Ukrainian population
Local issues as a dimension of the struggle of all peoples
More generally, concerning international solidarity, the workshops addressed local issues as dimensions of the struggle of all peoples. This is how solidarity is transformed into internationalism and becomes a dimension of the political struggle in each country. In a perspective of social transformation, international solidarity requires breaking with the North-South mold of colonial domination, to follow an approach of horizontality and equality.
Internationalist solidarity is not “white handouts”, we heard from people in the South. The pursuit of empowerment goals is essential. Among the innovative approaches, that of accompaniment opens up practices that are more respectful of peoples3. To camp international solidarity in an approach of social transformation starts from the principle that emancipation can only be the work of the people and populations victims of racism and colonialism themselves. The alterglobalist perspective is to allow the countries of the South to be creators of their own solutions.
Current events in alterglobalism
The alterglobalist movement was born out of a desire to resist the offensive of globalized capital. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the turn towards the 1990s, the alterglobalist approach developed as an anti-systemic movement to neoliberal globalization. It aimed to distance itself from the Western elites who seized upon the collapse of the Eastern European regimes to celebrate the victory of capitalism over “socialism.
If Western societies experienced their most egalitarian period in history during the “trente glorieuses”, notably with the development of the welfare state, it was not because of the greatness of the dominant classes of advanced capitalist countries. The socialist threat acted powerfully as an alternative to capitalism. At the end of the last century, the degradation and even the perversion of the socialist project required the re-founding of an anti-systemic project, because it no longer had the mobilizing power it once had. It had been a long time since the socialist project had made the Western ruling classes tremble.
Thus, the alterglobalist perspective was constituted as a response to the triumphant neoliberalism, proposing a society preoccupied by the aspirations and social needs and interests of “those below”. A laborious work of inventory of the collective imaginary is always on the agenda, in order to nourish a project from popular experiences on the common good, but also in a feminist, decolonial, intersectional and inclusive perspective. For many, it was a question of re-founding the original idea of socialism as an egalitarian society.
The “other world” desired by the alterglobalists was also different from the model of socialism that had just collapsed.. The refusal of the “top down” models committed the social movements to propose a more democratic and participative society. So the alterglobalization movements inspired a renewal of political action for social transformation, notably in Québec solidaire and elsewhere in the world.
In differentiating itself from the recently collapsed Soviet regimes, alterglobalism also differentiated itself from centralist internationalist conceptions. There have always been different types of internationalism, but most are characterized by a centralist vision of a sector, network or movement. The perversion of internationalism has taken centralization to an extreme and has resulted in the subordination of movements to the prerogatives of authoritarian or even dictatorial power.
However, as the alterglobalization movement has defined itself primarily as an opposition to neoliberalism, many of its currents on the Western left and in the South have prioritized the struggle against the domination of Western imperialism. Although alterglobalism was distinguished by its decentralized vision of the model of socialism, the New World desired by alterglobalists did not appear to be the answer to the one desired by the populations of Eastern Europe, caught between regimes with stifled freedoms and the lure of the liberal society that promised endless growth!
And yet, at the heart of this issue is the democratic control of the population over its destiny and the type of society it wants. Despite the principles of horizontality, the development of an internationalism of movements in authoritarian countries and in Eastern Europe is a crucial issue for the much-needed renewal of alter-globalization movements in the present international political context.
The Tunis seminar: between the future of the WSF or alterglobalism
At the end of the Mexico meeting, the WSF International Council (IC) held its traditional meeting to evaluate the event and to discuss the perspectives for the future. On the proposal of the Tunisian delegation, the meeting agreed to plan a seminar on the future of the WSF in September 2022. This idea, which has been brought up for ten years, is more than welcome, as it is necessary to strengthen the weight of networks and movements. This idea seems obvious, but it raises another issue, that of generational renewal as well as networks interested in alterglobalism, in a context of general weakening of global social networks.
Moreover, for the first time, the delegation of power seems irreversible in this instance concerned with horizontality. Nevertheless, this concern may become a diversion, because the real issue of the Tunis seminar is to counter the marginalization of alterglobalism to activities on the margins of the realities of the situation remains present. In other words, the challenge of the Tunis seminar is less that concerning the future of the WSF, or even of the IC or its secretariat, which seems to be the concern of a large number of networks, than the future of alterglobalism itself.
In view of the international context and the demands for enlargement to a truly internationalist vision, it seems important to be more concerned with the analysis of the dynamics of resistance movements than with saving a model of meeting, the WSF, which no longer offers the same spring for renewing and enlarging alterglobalist movements. Today, a number of movements, particularly in the environmental field, but not only, act locally with a global perspective. The elaboration of the final declaration is only a wish list. It suggests perspectives and action plans, which belong to the movements, since the IC has neither the means nor the intention to take responsibility, adopting in particular a reserve in acting while respecting the autonomy of the movements.
It is obvious that the WSFs are no longer the crucibles of consultations likely to guide alterglobalist action, which some thematic or sectoral gatherings still can. If the WSFs can still contribute to the development of a global militant alterglobalist network, it is in its dimensions of popular education and exchange of experiences between movements that they can do so, without pretending to draw the path to follow in the name of the movements. The WSFs can constitute an exercise in collective learning and political education for alterglobalization activists, likely to foster solidarity and a transnational convergence of movements.