People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 28, 2003

 CPI(M) And The World Social Forum

  Sitaram Yechury


THE World Social Forum 2004 is being held in Mumbai from January 16 to 21. As the event approaches, here has been a growing debate on the entire WSF process. A large part of this debate is in the nature of seeking clarifications on many contending issues, like the prominent presence of foreign funded non-government organizations (NGOs). Naturally, the question arises as to how NGOs being funded by countries promoting globalisation can be a part of the movement against globalisation? Questions like these need to be seriously addressed.


There is another part of this debate that mounts attacks against the mainstream Left for associating itself and participating in the WSF. Much of this attack comes from congenital anti-communists and others with strong ideological prejudices and blinkers. The CPI(M), we are told, is participating in the WSF since it is no longer a revolutionary party but has transformed itself into a social democratic one. Some arguments go to the extent of alleging that the CPI(M) has begun supporting globalisation, with wild charges being leveled against its chief ministers, particularly of West Bengal. This category of attacks against the CPI(M), we are familiar with. Such people use any peg available to attack the CPI(M), and on this occasion it is the WSF. Since these polemics are a continuous process that we are engaged in, we shall here concentrate more on the genuine concerns and confusions that the WSF generates.




At the outset, we must briefly recapitulate the origins of the WSF. This is important since that itself gives the WSF its character. There are many who claim that the inspiration for the WSF came from the activities and meetings held by the NGOs that paralleled the meetings and conferences held by the UN system in the 1990s. Others place the origins of the WSF to the big mass upsurges in Latin America, starting with the struggle of the Zapatistas in Mexico in 1994. While any number of events can be cited as the precursors for the formation of the WSF, it is clear that the big mass popular struggles in the decades of the 1990s laid its foundations. The single most important event that led to the establishment of the WSF was the Seattle protests in 1999. These protests in the streets contained many diverse forces with many organisations and movements, with different ideological orientations, that were organised and to a large extent responded spontaneously in the struggle against globalisation. The idea of the WSF emerged in Europe in 2000 during the meetings that paralleled the UN meetings. The idea emerged to launch a parallel forum to the World Economic Forum that takes place annually in Davos, Switzerland. It was thus that the WSF arose.


By the very nature of its birth, it is clear that this was a forum which had the participation of an immense diversity of organisations united only on one issue --- that of opposition to globalisation. Initially, the WSF was held in Porte Allegre in Brazil in 2001, coinciding with the World Economic Forum dates.


The WSF therefore is an open space --- open to all who stand in opposition to neo-liberal economic policies. The WSF charter as its first point of principle states:


“The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experience and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a world order centered on the human person.”


In India, this space has been further defined as opposition to imperialist globalisation, patriarchy, war, casteism, racism and communalism (religious sectarian exclusions).


Since the first WSF in 2001 January, the movement against globalisation has not only grown but also spread geographically. The massive protest in Genoa in July 2001 laid the foundations for the development of the European Social Forum; subsequently various regional social forums including the Asian Social Forum came into existence. All these fora serve essentially to provide a platform for diverse forces, often contending ideologically, to congregate together in the struggle against globalisation. This reflected the desire of many mass movements in various countries that recognise the need for global actions against imperialist globalisation. Hence, it would be wrong to conclude that the WSF represents any homogenous attempt to offer an alternative to imperialist globalisation. For that matter, the WSF does not and cannot represent any homogenous position on any issue. It is merely an open space, a platform, where contending forces are provided an opportunity to thrash out their differences, if possible. Nevertheless, the forum can be utilised as a united expression of opposition to imperialist globalisation.


The WSF, therefore, is both an open space and a contended space. Its contending character comes from the diverse ideological moorings of the various forces that participate in the forum.




The contending ideological battles that take place in the WSF can essentially be catagorised into four broad categories: (1) the social democratic trends, (2) NGOs, (3) the ultra-left and (4) the communists.


The spontaneous growth of mass movements against globalisation in the decade of the nineties had prompted many social democratic parties and the Socialist International to try and seek to channelise these protests to their political advantage. The Workers Party of Brazil and the Socialist Party of France played a key role in trying to coalesce these protests. In fact, many organisations constituting the international secretariat of the WSF are Brazilian organisations, which, most if not all, are headed by members of the Workers Party.


The social democratic tendency is well known. Essentially, it aims not at the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism, but to reform capitalism. The communists have always characterised social democracy as an ideology that is with the working class when it is in parliamentary opposition and with the ruling class when it is in government. However, depending on the concrete situation in many countries, in opposition to rightwing parties, the communists have often cooperated with social democrats. However, we are not surprised if the social democrats, while in power, often compromise on many anti-imperialist issues. It is the task of the communists to expose the limitations of social democracy and rally the people and their protests along revolutionary lines. But to use the presence of social democrats as an excuse to stay away from movements wherein a large number of people participate to register their protests against globalisation would be the very negation of the fundamental task before a revolutionary movement.


The latter half of the nineties was also one that saw the regrouping of the communist parties following the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Much of the activity of the communist movements, particularly in Europe, centered around the protests against globalisation. The declaration by the WSF that no political party, as a political party, will be part of the WSF was also an effort by the social democrats and others to ensure that this revival of the communist movement is contained, from their ideological point of view. The communists, notwithstanding this, participate in much of the mass protest actions of the WSF and other regional social forums, through the trade unions and other mass organisations. In fact, from the very beginning, the Cuban delegations to the WSF played an important role. The Communist Party of Cuba sees the WSF as an important anti-imperialist platform. (Our detractors, of course, will go to the extent of accusing the Cuban Communist Party of abandoning the revolution and embracing social democracy.) And it is this communist participation that radicalised the movement against globalisation to a large extent, and countered the attempts of the social democratic forces to homogenise the anti-globalisation struggles. Hence, the ideological struggle between the communists and the social democrats has been and continues to be a running thread in the WSF.




A large number of NGOs do participate in the WSF and there has been a constant engagement between those who call themselves as “people’s movement” and the political movements led by the mass organisations affiliated to communist parties. It is true that a large number of these NGOs are funded by agencies that belong to the same countries that promote and impose globalisation. If this be the case, why do such NGOs play an important role in the WSF? Clearly, there is an ideological motivation behind this. The World Bank has consciously spoken in terms of sharing official and non-official platforms with political opponents of globalisation. This is a conscious effort to ensure that the growing protests against globalisation are kept within the framework of capitalism and imperialism, and the people are allowed to speak, literally to let their steam off! Much of the NGO sponsored anti-globalisation movement can be compared to the safety valve in a pressure cooker. Anti-globalisation pressure must be periodically released in order to protect the cooker and keep it functional!


Such an effort necessarily needs to be backed by an ideological construct. Shorn of its high-flowing terminology and minor variations, the ideological positions of the NGOs’ “people’s movements” can be summarised as below: the alternative to globalisation can come only when we achieve people’s control over the world’s resources. This means that the movements against globalisation must oppose both the corporate control over resources and the state control over resources. By opposing corporate control they seek to present themselves as being opposed to capitalism. By opposing state control, they seek to present themselves as opposed to the experience of the socialist countries and therefore to socialism itself. It is this nebulous concept of people’s control that they advocate, which essentially dilutes the effective opposition to globalisation and projection of the socialist alternative.




It is this ideological battle that must be joined by the communists. True, in the final analysis, the communists also seek the people’s genuine and sovereign control over resources as well as social activity. But which is the socio-economic system that gives people both the legitimacy and the legal sanction to exercise this power? The only system that can provide such genuine people’s power is socialism. Socialism, therefore, is the only alternative to imperialist globalisation.


Needless to add, through their discussions, debates and experiences, the communists must evaluate the experience of socialism in the twentieth century and draw correct lessons in the struggles for the future. But one thing is for sure: the experience of socialism in the twentieth century cannot negate the validity and the inevitability of the socialist ideal. The current world situation resoundingly vindicates the prognosis made earlier by Rosa Luxemburg and now by Fidel Castro --- that the future of humanity is either socialism or barbarism.


These are the ideological battles that have to be joined in the open space of the WSF. Anti-communist opposition to globalisation, whether it is the variety that accepts imperialist globalisation as fait accompli (these proponents advance the TINA factor {There Is No Alternative} to buttress globalisation, while we communists assert that SITA {Socialism Is The Alternative} is the answer to TINA) or the variety represented by the NGOs or that of social democracy, can only thrive by obfuscating the ideological debates. By refusing to join these ideological debates, the communists will only strengthen such obfuscation amongst the mass of people who, for a variety of reasons and the sheer desperation of their exploitation, are coming out in larger numbers in opposition to imperialist globalisation. The CPI(M) does not believe in abdicating its responsibility in joining this ideological battle.


The anarchist trends in the anti-globalisation movements are more pronounced in the West, particularly in Europe. The mindless violence these groups indulge in is often the pretext used by the governments to clamp down upon democratic dissent and resort to oppression against protestors. To the extent that those opposed to the methods employed by the anarchists are increasingly organising separate marches and protest actions to demarcate from these forces. This happened, most recently, in July 2003 in the protests against the EU Summit meeting in Thessalonia, Greece.




In this context, another issue that is in constant focus needs also to be addressed. This issue concerns the funding of the WSF. The CPI(M) has consistently been against imperialist backed, foreign funded NGOs and the associated motives of such NGOs in advancing imperialist agendas on the one hand and in seeking to disrupt the growing democratic progressive mass movements on the other. This struggle against the NGO-isation of the mass protest movements is a continuous struggle the CPI(M) is engaged in. However, by participating in the WSF, the CPI(M) in no way endorses the funding of the WSF by sources that are clearly aligned with the forces that promote globalisation. To the extent possible, we have been able to influence the WSF process in India that it must not approach for funding the WSF in Mumbai such organisations as the British government’s DFID, USAID and corporate controlled funding agencies such as Ford and Rockefeller foundations. Similarly, the India committee has decided not to accept funds from large corporates in India, which are aligned to imperialist globalisation.


However, it must be noted that much of the expenses are undertaken by the participants themselves and are not linked with any funding that the WSF provides. Individual NGOs may accept funds from their donors but the WSF India committee has taken the above clear-cut position. Further, given the highly diverse nature of resources that go towards organisation of the WSF, it is difficult for a handful of donor agencies to direct or control the trajectory of the WSF.




Finally, the important question that arises is the following. Today, for a variety of reasons all across the globe, a large number of people are coming on to the streets against imperialist globalisation. To the extent that, as Fidel Castro had said, outer space is the only place where the leaders of globalisation can meet without facing protests. Increasingly, these movements are also being linked with the movements against war and US imperialist occupation of Iraq. In fact, it was at the call of the WSF 2003 that on February 15 this year massive anti-war demonstrations took place all across the globe, in over 600 cities simultaneously. While such a mass of people is in the midst of struggles against imperialist globalisation and warmongering, what must be the task of the communists who are already in the midst of such struggles?


All those in the spectrum of the political ultra-left, who have often derived satisfaction by chanting the slogan “Chairman Mao is Our Chairman,” will do well to re-read Mao. Speaking in an entirely different context, Mao had said:


“For the present upsurge of the peasant movement is a colossal event. In a very short time, in China’s central, southern and northern provinces, several hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane, a force so swift and violent that no power, however great, will be able to hold it back. They will smash all the trammels that bind them and rush forward along the road to liberation. They will sweep all the imperialists, warlords, corrupt officials, local tyrants and evil gentry into their graves. Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them, gesticulating and criticising? Or to stand in their way and oppose them? Every Chinese is free to choose, but events will force you to make the choice quickly.”


Though the Chinese context on the eve of the revolution and the context of anti-globalisation movements today are different, the central issue that Mao was talking of is similar: when people are willing to come together and lend their might against imperialist globalisation, do we communists should stand back and gesticulate?


We of the CPI(M) are clear. We shall join the ideological debates, we shall oppose the efforts to obfuscate the only alternative to imperialist globalisation being socialism, and we shall thus strengthen this struggle against imperialism.


It is with this outlook that the CPI(M) is participating in the WSF. Needless to add, in the days to come, there will be much debate and discussion on the orientation of the people’s movement against imperialist globalisation. The WSF itself will undergo many transformations. It is, however, our task to ensure that in this process the struggle for a socialist alternative to imperialism is highlighted and strengthened.