Inclusion or exclusion: the WSF and political parties

foto: Francine Mestrum

The International Council of the WSF received last week an important letter of three eminent feminist members, Gina Vargas, Alejandra Scampini and Mónica Novillo (see below)

Their concern was with the invitation of the Grupo de Puebla, and more particularly Rafael Correa, to the meeting of the IC with major global movements, 12 September 2020. The letter touches upon a very important point for all progressive political forces.

I would like to give, in my personal name, some reflections on these important questions, the autonomy of social movements and the role of the left.

The autonomy of social movements

The authors of the letter rightly put the focus on the necessary autonomy of social movements. It would be very difficult to disagree with that point. Whatever the political situation in the country they are working in, whether it has a left-wing or a right-wing government, movements should be able to work and decide on their positions at the service of their members, irrespective of government policies.

We all understand, I think, that once movements work with governments, which often is a very direct way to promote their objectives, the logic can change. Governments (should) work for the whole population and will always be more ready to search for compromises than independent social movements are. Relations of power cannot be ignored. Movements can allow themselves to stick to their ‘purity’ and reject all mid-way solutions. Therefore, national political situations have to be assessed on an ad hoc basis, it is not possible to make general evaluations, except for saying that yes indeed, roles of governments and movements are different. Where and when cooperation is possible depends on a whole series of national and local criteria that are difficult to assess from outside.

However, progressive, left-wing social movements should also look at the more general situation and ask themselves whether their objectives are easier to realize with a left-wing or with a right-wing government. The easiest example of what I mean is the very regretful situation that emerged when several feminist and ecological movements refused to condemn the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia. It should be clear, I think, that criticism on Evo Morales is very legitimate, but it is quite another thing to than allow for a (extremist) right-wing coup to happen. I do not say these left-wing forces then become right-wing, but they do stand on the same side as right-wing forces. This article cannot be the place to develop a philosophy on the essentials of left- and right-wing or on the importance of the capital-labour antagonism, let me here just state that emancipatory social justice and climate justice will never be promoted by right-wing forces. Left-wing forces, on the other hand, do understand today the crucial importance of ecology and the necessary coalition of environmental and social justice defenders. So, whenever a conflict arises, left-wing forces should make that difference and stand with the left, whatever criticism they may have on the left in power.

The same goes for Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who is mentioned in the letter. Yes, there was a serious conflict between his government and CONAIE, the indigenous movement. But do you remember in what state the country was when Correa came to power? And in what state it is now with a right-wing government? And do you remember Correa’s arguments against the pleas of the indigenous movement. ‘You cannot go and beg while sitting on a bag of gold’. Or: ‘what about the ecological consequences of the extensive livestock farming of the indigenous?’. Just to say that these questions are far from easy to resolve.

There are differences, there are conflicts, but implicitly joining hands with the right is the worst solution I can imagine. The task of the left is to fight predatory right-wing capitalist forces, not to fight the ones that should be natural allies. If the choice is between a very imperfect left and a conservative right, there should be no hesitations. If the search for purity leads to the right, then we have a real and serious problem. I guess many of us are very critical of the Venezuelan government, but this cannot mean, I think, that we agree with an US-supported coup against Nicolas Maduro, or does it?

Finally, how come we never heard these criticisms on Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff? How come we were unanimous to condemn the right-wing coup de force against them? Where is the difference?

The Charter of Principles and the Grupo de Puebla

The authors of the letter explicitly mention Rafael Correa as a member of the Grupo de Puebla and ask to not invite this group to the open IC meeting.

Now, who is the Grupo de Puebla?

It is a club with progressive political leaders from fourteen countries, mainly Latin America, such as Alberto Fernandez, Dilma Rousseff, Lula da Silva, Fernando Haddad, Celso Amorim, Rafael Correa, José Luis Zapatero, Yeidckol Polevnsky, Evo Morales, Alvaro García Linera, Adriana Salvatierra …

We may agree or we may not agree with the policies and positions of these leaders, but we know they are on our side. Personally, I think it is an honour for the WSF to count them between the many people who support us. They surely can help in guiding and orienting our actions.

The Charter of Principles of the WSF, adopted in April 2001, does not mention anything on the participation of political parties or governments. Later versions however do say, in its article 9, that ‘neither party representations nor military organisations shall participate in the Forum, Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of the Charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity’.

At what precise moment this sentence (and other changes) was added to the Charter, I do not know. But it clearly severely limits the possibilities of the Forum to do political work. Again, while movements and parties have different roles, progressive forces should be allies, even if there are differences of opinion. And even if, at first sight, one might have some understanding for the refusal of military organisations, this sentence was used to prohibit the participation of the Mexican neo-zapatistas in the Forum.

Of course, movements have readily found ways to circumvent these limits. Several organisations, members of the International Council, are created by political parties, so one might say it is kind of hypocritical to do as if parties were not welcome and have never been present. Also, heads of State have been invited, and one can find pictures of Lula, Chavez, Morales, Lugo and Correa on this website. And should we not remember that the first WSF in Porto Alegre in 2001 clearly was organised to support the electoral campaign of Lula da Silva in Brasil?

This point can therefore only be concluded with two elements: it is hypocritical and it has never been respected.

I would like to add a supplementary point. Progressive left-wing forces are on the defensive to-day. The pink tide in Latin America belongs to the past. All over the world, authoritarian populist forces are getting stronger. The World Social Forum that continuously celebrates its diversity should not fall in its opposite. The Charter of Principles was made precisely to avoid that different strands of the left fight each other. We should learn to cooperate. It is all too much belonging to a sad past that the major enemy of the left was the ‘other left’. If we, on the left-wing side, cannot work together, we are lost. We already are a minority, we should cooperate to better focus on our common concerns. Excluding others, because we do not in all points agree with them, because they maybe have another definition of ’left’ does not seem to me to be a forward-looking strategy.

Again, in my humble opinion, we should be proud that movements such as the Grupo de Puebla or the Progressive International are ready to work with us.

Francine Mestrum

Letter to the International Council:

Dear friends of the International Council of the World Social Forum

The dispute, already historical,  within the International Council, between the WSF as an Open Space and the WSF with a more organic and active voice, has been present for years. At this point, after 20 years, it is clear the need to make the WSF call more complex to recover a space gained and to be up to the current circumstances and new challenges. The exchange that has begun to take place within the CI is very important, and welcome and today it is fortunately expanded with communications, proposals, online discussions and that seems very positive, because it takes us away from the pedestrian and aggressive way of discussions previous. It is undoubtedly a dynamic that we have to continue.

It is also urgent, as many and many of the IC participants believe, to restructure the IC, both in its composition and functions, and to enrich its existence with fundamental voices that have been absent or under-represented. It is true that this desire for change has begun to have space for discussion. The meetings planned by the IC for the coming weeks (September 12 and September 19, with global and regional networks and with those thematic Forums that have emerged in the heat of the WSF dynamics, expanding and enriching them) are very welcome.

This is undoubtedly an important moment, which will give us lights and inputs for future changes. And I think it is good to specify how and with whom it is possible to carry out processes of change that incorporate new presences and new horizons of transformation that correspond to the current civilizational crisis. The meeting called by the IC for September 12 is crucial for this.

For this reason, if we want to articulate with the most active, autonomous, and most radical movements in their conception of change and in their intercultural internationalist perspective, we do not agree on the invitation to the Puebla Group to the meeting on September 12, and we ask have this invitation reviewed.

The question we ask ourselves is whether we want the future perspectives of the WSF to be defined by social movements, from the strengthening of their autonomy, or for these perspectives to be defined by former political officials? Especially when several of them have had strong conflicts with indigenous populations, with feminisms, and with undemocratic procedures.

There are several examples, but I only put that of Rafael Correa, former president of Ecuador, who has had obvious and public conflicts with CONAIE – Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador – historical organization in the struggles for the defense of the territories, against of extractivism, Also in conflict with feminists and sexual diversities, in conflict with nature due to its extractivist vocation and its disrespect for the conservation of natural reserves, such as Yasuni Park, threatened by the deforestation brought by oil extraction. And for not having respected the new Constitution of 2008.

 This is a discussion that we would like to frame in the type of horizon of transformation, in the type of left orientation to which we want to contribute: without extractivism, without repression of indigenous, environmentalist, feminist organizations, without sexist jokes and with the capacity to renew or multiply their leaderships.

Finally, how will we approach, for example, the Ecuadorian indigenous people who are fighting a tough battle against extractivism, the defense of their autonomies, the change of model, if Rafael Correa is integrated into the dynamics of the Forum?

 These are not the type of people for change that the WSF requires today.

Gina Vargas – Articulacion Feminista Marcosur

Alejandra Scampini- Red DAWN.

Monica Novillo- REPEM

foto: Francine Mestrum
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