Strategic thinking, eco-social transformation, planetary citizen action – Candido Grzybowski
An initial outburst
I decided to share some of my reflections on the WSF after having had an intense participation in the first 10 years and having been frustrated and withdrawn, becoming more of an observer than a real participant in the process, since Dakar, 2011. I was on the Organizing Committee in the preparation of the first forum, in 2001, until the WSF of Belém, in 2009. Then I stayed a short time as a member of GRAP – Group of Reflection and Support to the WSF (Brazilian). I was in Tunis II, in 2015, when I fully felt my dream of the WSF becoming something on the way to another of the defeats that we all suffer in life. However, it could have been different, perhaps. After all, life is an adventure from day to day, with a future that takes place before it really becomes reality and then history. That is where the group for a New WSF appears.
It has been reflecting, proposing and acting to resume the vigor of the WSF as a reference symbol of citizen resistance and confronting this capitalism that is leading us to barbarism or even to planetary destruction. In the middle of a pandemic and in physical isolation on a site, the invitation that was made to me to participate and contribute to the reflections of the group was inspiring and an injection of courage to not give up, rather, to turn the corner and believe that “another world, yes , it’s possible”. It is up to us, citizens of the world, to say if and how we want it and to fight for it.
I hope that these reflections of mine will be seen as another contribution to everything important that the group has already accumulated. I am simply summarizing some of the issues that I have tried to address and, I recognize, I owe them to participation in the WSF and to the citizen complicities woven among many and many throughout this process since before the Forum until the most recent years.
1. The WSF as an ineffective promise of Strategic Thinking in the construction of another world
From a philosophy of praxis perspective, strategic thinking is a synthesis of the analysis made for transformative action and constantly fed by it. Such intentionality and tension is the most important thing that the WSF brought in the historical moment in which it emerged and is, in my view, the secret of its capacity for inspiration. But as participants in a nascent citizenship of planetary dimensions, we did not know and / or were unable to develop such a promise with the power it carried. I will try to clarify this point.
The conditions for the inception of the WSF
It is difficult to deny that the WSF inspired and impacted, not by the name itself, but by the conjuncture and by unblocking an impasse in which the emergencies and citizen insurgencies against the neoliberal project of capitalist globalization entered. The economic and financial dominance of large corporations and the power of states and multilateral organizations at their service, with the decalogue of the “Washington Consensus” and surgical wars, imposed on the world the free market and the accumulation of wealth as an absolute value and rule, with destruction and exclusion, without ecological or social limits. The dismantling of conquests of rights and social policies became a symbol of good government policy and democracies began to lose intensity around the world. Emblematic symbol of all this has become the WEF – World Economic Forum.
In the 1980s, as well as, above all, in the 1990s, international citizen initiatives were expanded with thematic networks and forums to face new challenges. It was an important reactive action to the agendas and events of the GATT / WTO, BM / IMF, G-8, but also of the practically annual cycle of UN Conferences, in addition to major regional mobilizations in the face of foreign debt, free trade agreements, liberalization of agricultural markets, fishing, etc. In terms of citizenship, I register two great achievements: the emergence of ATTAC, which with its acronym evokes the action of attacking capital, and the impasse achieved against the WTO in Seattle, in 1999. What stands out in all this is the dimension above all reactive and still not very purposeful on the part of nascent citizenship, which was thought to be more international than global and planetary.
In this context, the WSF emerged in the Global South in 2001 as a symbol of citizenship and proposing to be a planetary, in contrast to the FEM and its ostentation as a club of powerful owners of the world. The intention was to create a space to think about the transformation agenda for another possible world. The idea of open space, as I remember, being in the organizing committee from the first hour, was to face our own left-wing fundamentalisms, which saw protagonism against capitalism as an attribute derived from structural relations of “capital x labor” and not to become a historical subject emancipated by the fight against any form of exploitation and domination, in the enormous diversity of situations, peoples and territories that exist in the world subjugated to capitalism, with its intrinsic Eurocentrism, colonialism, racism and patriarchy.
The “open space”: how the political call to start the WSF has becamel the obstacle for the strategic thinking and political action
The idea of “open space” was initially inclusive of diversity at the WSF, even though we recognized that we were far from symbolizing the diversity of the world. The spread of the Forum and its multiplication, with world, national, local and thematic events was important, but it carried the same problem: inability to advance in strategic thinking and politicasl action. The agenda for the transformation of capitalism and the construction of another world did not take strong root within the Forum, so that it could renew itself as an inspiration and become a relevant force of the nascent world citizenship in the systemic confrontation of capitalism. The “open space” prevented us from molding ourselves as collective subjects articulated in bloc with specificities in the world arena, with an identity and agenda capable of contributing to the confrontation and transformation of capitalism, different from what specific networks, forums and social movements already do. By sacrificing strategic thinking and political action, we lose the capacity for renewal and inspiration.
This point is being well diagnosed, by our group and many more people, as an obstacle for the WSF to contribute to the construction of another world. I myself gave up going with the group of Brazilian, members of the first organizing commitee, and participating in the IC due to the impossibility of defining strategic agendas, even in the face of emergencies and citizen insurgencies that were popping up around the world. I limit myself to remembering our inability, of Brazilians engaged in the WSF, to be a reference for citizenship and to dispute the meaning of what had been happening in direct actions on the streets of the main Brazilian cities in 2012, 2013 and 2014, before the reelection of Dilma and the impeachment coup against her.
I think that a little highlighted aspect in the critique of the “open space” character that prevailed was the inability to carry out consistent and consequent strategic dialogues at the WSF, which became more of a citizenship festival than an impactful political event. The principle of self-organized Forum, as something central, has fragmented us to the extreme, with a multiplication of juxtaposed and disconnected thousands of workshops despite having similar objectives and causes, without allowing strategic dialogues between initiatives with different groups and organizations, in different and diverse territories around the world, the WSF’s raison d’être. It was enough to look at the program to be convinced that there was no possibility of carrying strategic dialogues, with developments beyond the Forum, capable of accumulating research, reflections, exchanges and learning, with proposals and struggles strengthened in a broader process of citizen construction, with connections involving the world in confronting capitalism. So, too, we either give up or fail to build a strategy for disputing narratives and imaginary around the world, a communication strategy with the aim of elaborating, disseminating, debating and rooting strong ideas of what is “another possible world”, in events and at the same time throughout the year, between forums and connecting different forums. In some way, performing so badlly in our dialogue and in communication to the civil societies arround the world we have lost capacity to inspire trnasformative political action. It s within civil sdocieties where hegemonies that mobilize the will of citizens are formed, capable of impacting on the political institutionality of States and their actors,on the multilateral organizations, on markets and economies, their relations, structures and processes, national and global. To focus on civil society, where political hegemony is forged, communication strategies, today digital social networks, are essential. But who can speak on behalf of the WSF if it cannot be more than an “open space”? It seems that in this year’s Virtual WSF we have already launched strategic seeds for strategic dialogue.
2. The Strategic Thinking that we are challenged to produce
I think that the points of reflection that the group agreed, presented by Boaventura de Souza Santos, gives the essentials, at least as a basis and direction to move forward. I would just like to emphasize some aspects, or rather, conditions that must be created to advance.Iin my view, we need to start doing, not waiting for the “blocked” CI to decide.
A powerful strategic thinking supposes analysis and action / struggle and new synthesis, in a process of continuous renewal. It is a way of producing and defining directions for action, but not some place to arrive or a model to be built, as this must be done and redone on the way. In this sense, we have, without any doubt, an accumulation as left world heritage that we must recognize, critically value it and, above all, renew it, without being imprisoned with fundamentalisms or opportunisms, still present mainly in institutionalized organizations such as the parties and the union movement. Our vital focus must be the emergencies and struggles in which citizenship is engaged by the world, facing multifaceted contradictions of exploitation, destruction and domination of capitalism, in a very common and interdependent and threatened planet. There are no hierarchies between them and all, in their own way, they are inspiring and potent. A new strategic thinking must be able to bring all together as a social force of transformation. Finally, it is about bringing to the center of the strategic reflection, which the WSF is challenged to produce, the fantastic diversity of active citizenships, of the forms of life in interaction and exchange from their territories, the struggles in facing exploitation, domination and destruction.
So, I think that we need to establish bridges and dialogues in the sense defined by Boaventura by the concept of “translation”, which is more than understanding us when speaking. Political translation implies actively seeking inspiration and energy in the diversity of situations and struggles, that lead us to returns to the question of equality and human dignity in a totally new way, freeing us from eurocentrism and its fundamentalisms. This is where the different and powerful worldviews we produce come in to affirm our political, economic, social, cultural, territorial identities and struggles. Together we need the WSF to identify and develop the ethical principles and values that can aggregate and articulate us as common bases, sharing the same humanity and the planet. We need to elaborate and dispute the new sense of radical democracy, not as a pre-established model, but as an multiple and effective participation, and as a condition for guaranteeing social and political emancipation. We need more than ever to look strategically at the relationship between social justice and the integrity of the planet’s ecological systems, overcoming divisions and confusions regarding priorities, with powerful transformative ecosystem and democratic thinking. As we all have feet planted in specific territories, our addresses as citizenship, we need to bring the diversity of citizenship territories – which we cannot confuse with National States – to our strategic reflection. We are challenged to research and elaborate the places that occupy in our thinking strategically many issues that surround us but are not necessarily integrated in the new activism for “another world”: “care”, “common”, “public goods”, civil society, communication and public debate, direct and representative participation in high-intensity democracies, the question of private property that excludes but is affirmed as a right, markets and currencies as forms of social relations, political and institutional role of the state for a radical democracy, subsidiarity.
One issue that we cannot leave out is the very way of producing strategic thinking. We know that an important part is to map the many initiatives and dialogues already organized, which produce, publish and communicate, inspire. But even so, they need to be articulated and “translated” so that they become the collective patrimony of the emerging subjects of planetary citizenship. This is a giant task beyond the WSF. But the Forum can contribute a lot as a strategic moment for dialogue – in multiple events – but forging specific coalitions that take the trouble to continue researching and dialoguing between events, with the communication technologies we have, from the local territories, organizations and movements in which we are directly involved in some way. In my view, we cannot limit ourselves to events and take positions to be the expression of a renewed forum, nor can we delegate this task only to a group, however legitimate it may be by choosing it in an assembly. We need coalitions in research and action between forums, with political presence in their territories and articulated in agendas of common strategic elaboration, inspired by the WSF and recognized as such. It is a challenge, as we know how to do this between the like, with very similar themes and struggles, forming networks or groups, but we have practical difficulties in integrating the enormous diversity of who we are and our struggles are, so that we can effectively contribute in the construction of the pluriverse with meaning transformative, powerful inspirer of movements, forces and struggles around the world, in their specific autonomy and legitimacy.
To conclude, I think we have one more great challenge
As an activist, I think that to dispute ideas and proposals within civil societies it is necessary to awaken the mobilizing imaginary. So, I stress that the WSF needs to combine strategic thinking with desires, dreams and passions that contribute to civic engagement, citizenship and active participation. It is about creating a powerful link between ideas and feelings, which give meaning to living as a collective of equals in diversity, from the territories in which we live, but articulating in a large planetary web that shares struggles and a multitude of alternatives from another world. under construction. The transformative ecosystem transition requires taking root from the territories, drawing on the radicalization of democracy and a planetary perspective, given that we face a world-system of globalized capitalism. Such a challenge is political, no doubt, but it also must be an expression that forms a block of hearts and minds, desires and ideas.
The WSF has already awakened the mobilizing imagination and still is, but visibly losing its inspiration and intensity. We all know that the historical conditions for action are given, regardless of our wishes. But having dreams and disposition, yes, depends on our awakened will. In other words, strategic thinking and will are conditions that we create and then act on, even in extremely adverse situations. For a political actor, these elements must be taken into account. For this reason, we need the World Social Forum to foster a great political and cultural movement to fight for a socially inclusive world of equals in diversity, without exploitation or domination, but also without the destruction of our great common, Planet Earth.
The WSF did not ignore cultural expressions as part of its way of being, but it did not value them properly. Just as it has been losing political relevance due to the lack of an effective communication strategy and dispute of ideas, it also loses due to the lack of a strategy for valuing cultural expressions as a form of political action, a powerful aggregating cement and creator of the meaning of living. Our multiculturalism is an inspiration and a force in facing the capitalist homogenization that is imposed on us.