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World Social Forum 2018: some first lessons

Article by Gustave Massiah, March 25, 2018

The World Social Forum of Salvador de Bahia took place from March 13 to 17, 2018. The watchword was “Resist is create, resist is transform”. This forum had three dimensions: a successful Bahian forum, a Brazilian forum determined by the situation in Brazil and Latin America, an international forum focused on the global situation and the future of the forums.

The Forum was very followed. Between walking and activities, there were an estimated between 50,000 and 80,000 participants. They came massively from Bahia and Brazil. As is the case in all forums, most participants come from the country and the region. There were participants from 120 countries. Especially from Latin America, with some other strong delegations (Germany, Spain, France, Morocco, Quebec, Switzerland). Several African movements were represented. There were Asian movements in small numbers (India, China, Nepal, Japan, Indonesia, …). There were nearly 2000 activities, referenced around 19 thematic axes.

We will discuss i the Bahian forum, the situation in Brazil and Latin America, the international forum, the world situation, the interrogations of the movements, the future of the forums.

As part of the delegation coordinated by the CRID, ShareCsympa has produced five excellent 5-minute videos that showcase the Forum. (in French)

Episode 1: Another world is possible?

Episode 2: Give the money back

Episode 3: Boosting the revolt

Episode 4: The revolution will be feminist

Episode 5: The time of the WSF assessment

Bahia World Social Forum

The Bahia WSF took place in an electric atmosphere. Happy and enthusiastic at first, tragic after the assassination of Marielle Franco. The Forum was driven by the enthusiasm of the Bahian movements whose very well captured energy can be measured  in the first video of ShareCsympa.

Three major movements carried the Forum: the women’s movement; the Afro-Brazilian movement; the movement of traditional peoples. The women’s movement in Latin America has taken enormous importance with huge protests on March 8 in many countries, including Argentina. The Women’s Assembly, an exclusive activity from the morning of March 16th was a considerable moment (see the video of episode 4, the revolution will be feminist). The Afro-Brazilian movement has been very structuring. It carries a more general claim, that of the refusal of discrimination and racism. The movement of the traditional peoples was very present, bringing the convergence between the indigenous peoples and the Afro-Brazilian peoples. There was also a very strong presence of youth movements and student movements for the free of charge University.

The assassination of Marielle Franco demonstrated the dramatic link between women’s movements and Afro-Brazilian movements. Marielle, elected in Rio, an activist of the Afro-Brazilian movement, the women’s movement and the lesbian movement, led a commission against police violence in the favelas in Rio. This favelara refused to allow police officers to assassinate blacks and children in favelas with impunity, almost always black children. Her assassination could mark a turning point in the social and political clashes in Brazil. Demonstrations in Rio, Sao Paulo, Salvador and all over Brazil underscored the importance of this turning point.

The situation in Brazil and Latin America

Brazilian social movements were very present at the WSF. These include the Brazilian unions, the homeless movement, and part of the MST. Without forgetting, as we have said, the movements of women, young people, Afro-Brazilians and traditional peoples.

If the agreement was unanimous against Temer and the offensive of the Brazilian right; the discussion was open on the elections that will take place in a few months. Lula’s candidacy was accepted by everyone but the debate was open on the appreciation of the PT’s policy and proposals. Lula made a meeting in a stadium with a presence of many participants of the forum. The mobilization was real and the tensions were visible between the PT, the PCDoB and the PSOL.

The situation in Brazil has been linked to the situation in Latin America; the rise of right wing movements and the disarray of leftist movements. The intervention of the United States is certainly active, but it is not enough to explain everything. Progressive governments have been csqueezed by the offensive right wing movements, the consequences of their alliances with the financial sectors, the decline in export earnings of raw materials, the radicalization of the middle classes.

The international dimension

The international dimension of the Forum was real through the representatives of numerous movements and the multiplicity of activities.

Many thematic forums held meetings during the forum. Meetings and debates have shown that international networks are alive. The discussion was difficult because of the limited means, especially for translations.

The World Social Forum remains the main meeting place for the movements for debate on the international situation. Even if, in recent years, it is no longer the central place for the challenge to neoliberalism and must face a new era of globalization.

The discussion on the world situation

The discussion has covered through many channels the world situation. It is still too early to follow all approaches; they will emerge in time through the various international networks that will retain elements and pass them on.

There is a rather general agreement on the characterization of the period as that of a counter-revolution, and even that of several counter-revolutions. This counter-revolution puts forward racist, xenophobic, and security ideologies. It designates as scapegoats in all countries of the world foreigners and migrants. It is based on Islamist, Hindu, and evangelical conservatisms.

Some activities have been working on the current moment of neoliberalism, starting from the sequence opened by Trump’s election. The evolution of neoliberalism mixes austerity and authoritarianism, an “austeritary” political category. Several questions were raised: what evolution of free trade and new contradictions of capitalism? What new geopolitical contradictions with the wars in progress and the increased risks of war?

Several activities, particularly on Latin America, have addressed the question of the limits and contradictions of the movements that claimed to be left wing and the governments that emerged from it. If policies against poverty and inequality have been recognized, the limits must be measured, particularly on the issue of discrimination. And also measure the limits and dangers of alliances that go through the acceptance of leadership by the dictates of multinational corporations and international financial institutions. Productivist, extractivist and rentier export policies of raw materials have shown their harmfulness and their limits.

The situation of the movements


The World Social Forum remains the main meeting place for movements that recognize themselves in the altermondialism. It is no longer the central place of the alternative to capitalist globalization in its neoliberal phase, but it participates in it. The movements have diversified and are found in different spaces. New movements have emerged, on the one hand, and many movements have retreated into their national spaces, on the other.

The movements are facing the new situation. How to fight in a situation of counter-revolution by facing extremely violent offensives of the ruling classes and multinational corporations and institutions and a strategy of generalized precariousness? How can one also resist the racist, xenophobic and security ideologies that carry the conservative waves? Resistances exist and contradictions have not diminished. The Forum makes it possible to perceive them and to see emerging new forms of struggles and new fronts of resistance.

The Forum is a space in which the movements discuss the questions they ask themselves. The debates in the movements concern the necessary definition of a strategy. How to articulate the response to urgency and resistance, with the definition of a project and alternatives. In the movements, there is a lot of debate about how to act and about the forms of action and organization. The questions are lively about forms for the State, Political parties and movements.

The World Social Forum is confronted with questions from certain movements that would like to engage in a more offensive policy. Numerous debates are under way, notably on the priorities to be given to the interventions of the movements in each country, at the national level. And also, the debate on the “gregariousness” of international movements and spaces. It should also be noted the attempts of new international spaces of movements, like that which was engaged by the MST and La Via Campesina, which, while being present in the forums took a certain distance.

An attempt was made with the proposal of an assembly of peoples, movements and territories in resistance starting from new forms of struggle. There are many: women’s struggles, struggles over the climate emergency, social struggles, struggles of indigenous peoples, youth struggles in the Maghreb and around the world, struggles of the Dakota pipelines, struggles against extractivism , cultural struggles. This assembly has not yet found the way to make visible the articulation between the specificity and the convergence of these struggles and these movements. The Agora of Initiatives has made visible many actions proposed from the World Social Forum by international networks.

The future of the forums

The forums do not sum up the altermondialist movement. They are nonetheless an important form of it. The anti-globalization movement was born out of the challenge of neoliberal globalization in the late 1970s. Its first phase was marked by struggles against debt and structural adjustment programs. Its second phase, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was marked by the rejection of a global institutional system that subordinates international law to business law through the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF. The third phase, after Seattle, was that of the World Social Forums which culminated with the Belém Forum in 2009. We are entering a new phase whose forms must be invented.

In this new phase, the WSF will continue and remain very useful. Regularly some say that the WSF are no longer central and it is better to stop them so that something else can be born. And yet, the WSF do not want to die and just as regularly, others come to grab it and want to renew it. WSFs are necessary for now, even if they are very insufficient. They have a specificity, it is for the moment the only space where the movements confront their strategy on an international scale and wonder about the international dimension of their strategy.

The International Council met after the Forum. He congratulated the Brazilian organizers for the success of this Forum. It decided to implement the previous decision to extend the Council to the organizers of thematic and regional forums. He also decided to meet in November, in Mexico City, on the occasion of the World Social Forum on Migration, or in the Maghreb.

Proposals for the evolution of the World Social Forum have been proposed. They converge on the need to prioritize the World Social Forum process in terms of focusing on a single event every two or three years. It is about defining, diversifying, strengthening and making visible this process of global social forums.

Many events, all global, are already launched. These include: the World Social Forum against Extractivism in South Africa in August 2018; the World  Social Forum on Migrations, in Mexico City in November 2018, with five continental caravans to prepare it, including the caravan of coastal countries in West Africa; actions against the G20 in Buenos Aires in December 2018; the WSF on alternative economies in Barcelona in April 2019; the Health and Social Security Forum, Bogota, June 2019; the Panamazonian Social Forum, in Colombia in October 2019; the Jai Jagat World March, from September 2019 to September 2020, which will leave New Delhi, will travel through 17 countries to submit a memorandum to the United Nations in Geneva; the World Peace Forum in Geneva, when Jai Jagat arrived in September 2020.

It was proposed to organize an event each year, in response to the World Economic Forum in Davos. The next one will be organized in Geneva in March 2019.

The strengthening of the international secretariat in the Maghreb is a necessary and indispensable condition for facilitating and making visible the events of the World Social Forum process.

 See: https://intercoll.net/VERS-UN-NOUVEAU-CYCLE-DE-L-ALTERMONDIALISME (in French)

This post is also available in / aussi en: French Spanish

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