First, Happy Holidays. 

Commercialism of course does its best -- through every nook and cranny
it can navigate -- to ruin our prospects for true pleasure, art,
solidarity, and carng...but we all also do the best we can...and I hope
you will succeed admirably against the odds -- and am happy to report
that we here at ZNet will try to do so too. 

Second...as usual we have multitudinous updates on the site
(www.zmag.org/weluser.htm ) ... a new Italy Watch section, a new antiwar
page, our clever CNN substittue (ZNN) has been updated, many new
articles appear on Iraq, Venezuela, the Mideast, and on and on...

But mostly, in this message I wanted to make you aware of a project we
are pursuing called Life After Capitalism or LAC, for this January's
World Social Forum Meetings in Porto Alegre, Brazil. You can see the
shape of things, which are still very much in flux, at
www.zmag.org/lac.htm

If you are going to Porto Alegre, we hope to see you there. If not,
well, we are going to do a whole lot of videoing and transcribing, so
that while you will miss the ambiance and spirit -- which both promise
to be quite remarkable -- you will get much of the substance, at least.

And to provide some borad context for the kinds of thoughts people are
having about the WSF, and also about our LAC project, and to add a bit
more substance to this message too, here is a closely related essay...

---

(You may have gotten an earlier version of this message, sent
prematurely, without the essay below -- if so, sorry for the
redundancy...)


The WSF and a "Movement of Movements"

By Michael Albert

>From Korea to India, from South Africa to the U.S., and from
Brazil/Venezuela/Argentina/Colombia to Italy and Russia, diverse
struggles with varied approaches are growing rapidly: 

*       Incredibly vast antiwar activism exists months before war.
*       Anti-corporate globalization activism grows worldwide.
*       Racial discrimination, water rights, immigration, modified
foods, 
        starvation, dams, homelessness, pollution, land rights, low
wages, 
        third world debt, and much more is fought, worldwide. 
*       Electoral victories small and large are being won, as well. 

Reactionaries aggravate hierarchical racial, sexual, political, and
class relations. Rich and powerful people lust after still more.
Corporate globalization tilts international exchange so further benefit
thousands of multinational profiteers at the expense of billions of
people too poor to eat and too weak to dissent. And, war, of course, is
just corporate globalization writ violent.

Radicals weaken and replace hierarchical racial, sexual, political, and
class relations with equitable, solidaritous, diversity enhancing, and
self-managing structures. Radicals want the poor to benefit until new
gains reduce and finally eliminate poverty, indignity, and
disempowerment. Internationalism protects the ecology, benefits the
poor, empowers working people, enhances dignity and power among
previously disenfranchised elements, and ultimately seeks to entirely
overturn competitive and profit-oriented relations. 

But how do radicals attract ever larger constituencies not only to
critical views, but to sustained, aggressive activism? And then how do
we gain sufficient power to begin to win serious gains improving
people's lives now and initiating a trajectory of victories leading to a
better future? 

First, prospective allies need compelling reasons to believe that
investing their time, emotions, and energies in social struggle will be
repaid in valuable gains. Nothing less will overcome cynical beliefs
that struggle against injustice is a fool's errand, morally worthy but
operationally hopeless. The radical organizing task, that is, is partly
to convince people that there is injustice that we would be better off
without (war, poverty, etc.), but is mostly to convince that our actions
can actually remove such ills and propel us into a better world.

Following that, our power would grow if we brought together a large
percentage of our many efforts to mutually enhance and benefit one
another, each having the power that the overall sum embodies rather than
each being isolated from or even competing with the rest. We need a way,
that is, for our vast range of movements to benefit from each other's
existence; a way that allows each movement to support and enhance the
rest rather than having each movement operate alone unto itself, never
being aided by the rest.

Interestingly, the World Social Forum and the derivative broader Social
Forum movement prioritize both these tasks. 

The Forum's third international event - WSF 3 - will occur this January
23 - 28, in Porto Alegre Brazil. Initially conceived during French and
Brazilian brainstorming sessions and shortly thereafter brought to
fruition by the organizing muscle and commitment of various Brazilian
movement groups such as the landless peasant's movement or MST and
Brazilian Workers Party or PT, the WSF has grown internationally from a
five-day, thousand person event, to a forty thousand person event a year
ago, to likely a hundred thousand person event this January, 2003. 

Even more promising, the forum has transcended its single event persona.
Instead of just a single international event, called the WSF, there are
now local forums for continents (Asia, Africa, Europe), for whole
countries, for states within countries, and for cities and towns
worldwide. In Italy there are about a hundred local social forums - and
while Italy's accomplishment is way above average, it foreshadows
general trends spreading worldwide.

The forums are gatherings of activists, organizers, writers, and others
involved in social change that come together under two very broad
commitments: solidarity and vision.

   (1)  Solidarity: Work together. Avoid sectarianism. Find ways of
mutually benefiting. 

   (2)  Vision: Emphasize that "another world is possible," and realize
that we ought to be, in part, about describing it. 

Positively, the WSF extends from its not so active social democratic and
more academic participants, through much more active social democratic
reform movements, to still more aggressive social struggle movements,
and on to militant revolutionary parties and movements. The WSF also
bridges attention to race, power, gender, class, ecology, and
international relations. It crosses countries, frontiers, languages, and
cultures. 

On the negative side, however, internationally the WSF is very far from
democratic or participatory regarding its components, though it is quite
loose and encompassing locally. 

Thus, for this year's gathering all the largest WSF-sponsored events and
related policies have been decided close to the vest, by a small
consortium composed mostly of the original French and Brazilian
initiators. On the other hand, about 1,000 afternoon events of WSF 3
will span the gamut of possibilities and incorporate pretty much
anything that anyone has sought to include. The international gathering
is in this sense a bit like a web site that has an edited part, under
the control of a small staff or board, and also a wide open part, very
much under the sway of whoever invests time and energy to make things
happen there. This is actually pretty good for a conference, just as for
a web site. Indeed, it is hard, in some respects, to see how it could be
much better, other than by the central group becoming more accountable
and democratic -- trends which are being pursued. 

However, for the international forum phenomenon to become an
international "movement of movements" project would go well beyond it
remaining a meeting venue, of course. And for that more ambitious
achievement, there would certainly need to be far greater clarity about
structure and participation, and far more democracy and accountability.
It is one thing to get together and just talk and meet largely under the
administration of a barely accountable central group. But it would be
quite another thing, and totally unacceptable, to have an international
"movement of movements" that was nominally representing people worldwide
but that lacked effective decision making participation.

It may be that the right choice for the near term is to retain the forum
project as "only" a growing international network of meeting venues and
gatherings seeking to propel solidarity and vision - while slowly
enlarging its base of decision-makers and democratizing their relations.
It may indeed be unwise to risk the WSF's success as an excellent venue
project by trying to accomplish too much too fast under that rubric.
That seems to be the dominant current view, among WSF organizers, at any
rate. 

But wanting to preserve and only steadily but modestly improve the WSF
and associated forum project more broadly, shouldn't preclude trying to
establish another, more or less parallel undertaking to the WSF, a true
international movement of movements, that doesn't merely unite around a
single shared priority but instead becomes the greatest sum of all its
components, uniting around the total agenda of all its member movements'
priorities. Indeed, participants might also decide that unlike the WSF
and local forums, this new structure shouldn't extend all the way to
social democratic and liberal elements, but should be confined to
anti-capitalist and anti-sectarian members, becoming an anti-capitalist
internationale. 

This would entail radical movements from every continent with different
focuses, goals, and methods coming into contact and trying to discover
their commonalities and also their real and serious differences, and to
debate and find ways of mutually accommodating the latter, and to then
establish a world spanning structure and methodology for sharing
resources, marshalling mutual energies, and coordinating agendas, even
while also retaining for actors around the world self-managing control
of their own efforts and appropriate proportionate say in the
overarching international operations, as well. 

All this is very ambitious, of course, to put it mildly. But just let
yourself imagine the possible gains accruing from having simultaneous
international events. Think of the constituencies of each struggle
benefiting from the lessons and wisdom of others, much less from major
support given by constituencies of other struggles. Think of left media
all over the planet beginning to share and to propel one another's
efforts. Think about a united international antiwar agenda. Think about
visionary perspectives - economic, political, social - being presented,
argued, and debated within and among movements all over the planet, and
eventually, in some cases, being advocated across the world. 

It is a lot to imagine, of course. But it is also the direction in which
things are already moving. 

Is this trend, glorious as it may sound at first, actually a problem? Is
coming closer together a danger rather than a real opportunity? Could
attaining a higher degree of international organization set back rather
than advance the cause of justice, by stifling national and local
creativity and prematurely narrowing commitments, creating bureaucracy,
that curtails creativity and excitement? 

Many of the most dynamic, energetic, and insightful actors on the
activist world stage militantly support bottom-up organizing, open and
transparent methods, broad participation, anti-authoritarianism,
multi-tactical approaches, and continual innovation and considerable
spontaneity -- all quite rightly, in my view. And many of these same
energetic and insightful actors, seeing the emergence of large-scale
phenomena like the WSF, much less our hypothesized international
"movement of movements," fear that these trends will inevitably be top
down, anti-democratic, and bureaucratically boring and stultifying --
and thus aggressively reject the trends. But I think they are taking a
very reasonable fear too far.

It is a little like advocates of self-management thinking that
institutions per se are horrible due to fearing that all institutions
will inevitably be as hierarchical as those we now suffer. This throws
out the baby (institutions) with the bath water (authoritarianism). What
is the point of saying that we are for self management, participation,
creativity, and diversity - and then saying that we don't think these
virtues can be incorporated in our institutions, beyond, say, the very
smallest?

We need to take our aspirations and particularly our capacities to
attain our aspirations far more seriously. The goal of
anti-authoritarianism isn't to be tiny, or small, or even just medium
sized. The goal is to have vast and even world encompassing movements,
which, however, are participatory, diverse, and self-managing. But
creativity, diversity, and participatory self-management won't happen if
we cede the field of institution-building to people who have no interest
or confidence in democracy and variety. They will happen, however, if we
enter the fray, hold to our values, and work cautiously, carefully, and
tirelessly to implement them at every level. 

Could the WSF and the whole broad forum project become nothing but a
boring, academic, bureaucratic, and top-down operation with little
relevance to activist upheaval and growth? Of course it could. And
indeed, there is a good chance it will if we don't take steps to broaden
the decision-making process since despite the remarkable job they have
done so far in many respects, to continue with a small leadership will
inevitably limit the movement's potentials..

But, can the WSF and the whole international and local forum phenomenon
help facilitate a parallel and more explicitly anti-capitalist
organizing project which will in turn further facilitate not only
horribly needed attention to vision and horribly needed prioritization
of solidarity, as the forum approach is already very effectively doing,
but also facilitate a unified, mutually supportive, international
"movement of anti-capitalist movements"?

I don't see why not. If we make it so, that is.

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