From Egyptian Revolution to the agenda of Other Worlds
Email exchange between Patrick Bond and Azril Bacal
From: Patrick Bond <pbond( at )mail.ngo.za
Date: Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 7:19 AM
Egyptian Revolution Thrills Civil Society
But there's danger of getting drunk on our own rhetoric
The Mercury, 15 February 2011 Eye on Civil Society column
By Patrick Bond
Last week's World Social Forum (WSF) in Dakar ended up riotously happy thanks to the eviction of a universally-hated Egyptian Pharoah, after near-debilitating logistical disasters at the event's outset. Each year, in order to oppose the corporate agenda of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, tens of thousands of social activists gather to define why 'Another World is Possible!' But it's impossibly good luck to combine this plea with an actual case of democratic revolution.
This year our hosts were Senegalese NGOs, though the WSF is usually held at the university complex and dockyards of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. At some point within the next decade, Durbanites should get up the nerve and offer to host it, but probably not until a certain ruling party ends its hegemonising ways, a test of which will come during state-society conflicts at November's global climate summit.
To be sure, tough times lie ahead in that other portentous world constructed by civil society (not political parties or religious institutions) in Cairo's Tahrir Square over the past few weeks, in the wake of the Tunisian citizenry's red card against Ben Ali. Algeria, Yemen and Palestine are also rumbling with hopeful bottom-up democratic instincts, as their pro-Western tyrannies shiver in fear.
But the revolutions are not yet consolidated, and on Sunday, ominous reports from Cairo's Higher Military Council ' the new rulers ' suggest a ban on worker meetings and prohibition of strikes is imminent. More of the protesting we saw 11 days ago by local trade unionists and Middle East solidarity activists at the Egyptian embassy in Pretoria will likely be needed.
And reversing disastrous macroeconomic policies made in Washington is another looming challenge which cannot be shirked. Though he could also have meant Egypt (or for that matter South Africa), Cairo-born, Dakar-based political economist Samir Amin remarked of Tunisia, 'Economic and social factors were also influential in the uprising of the people. The country experiences rapidly escalating unemployment, particularly of youth, including educated young people. The standard of living of the majority of the population is decreasing.'
Still, with the booting of the Ali and Mubarak dictatorships, it does seem that the hardest part is over for millions who demonstrated so courageously, at the cost of hundreds of lives and thousands of injuries, especially when paramilitaries failed to evict Tahrir Square occupiers, confounding the regime's dogmatic supporters in Tel Aviv and Washington.
How foolish poor Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton must feel now, that their respective 2009 speeches about democracy (in Cairo!) and the need for internet freedoms are being taken so seriously by the masses. The backtracking by both ' Obama vainly hoping Mubarak would stay until September to assure a pro-Israeli transition, and Clinton fruitlessly trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks (which assisted both uprisings) ' offer another useful pedagogical example of the USA's talk-left (democracy), walk-right (imperialism).
Our colleagues at the Arab-African Research Centre have been watching dissent brew for years, studying 1200 distinct Egyptian protest actions since 2009 alone. The centre's vice president Helmi Sharawy calls it a 'popular youth revolution' whose legacy traces back three decades. What's new, he reported from Tahrir Square last week, are Facebook, Twitter and the internet as the 'youth's last machinery of contact, as we are all suffering under Emergency Law since 1981.' Even though Mubarak pulled the internet plug, the social-networking ties were tight enough.
And not just in Cairo, says Sharawy: 'Millions came out in Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Fayoum, Damietta. A big percentage of women and children among demonstrators, poor women are more than others. Middle-class youth were in the majority at the beginning but the poor came to it for protest, and then as revolution. The traditional political parties are in a critical position because they were conservative in the beginning.'
Back in Dakar, though, the WSF suffered debilitating logistical messes, which must be recognized so they don't re-emerge in other such summits. Those who came long distances to hold specific panel discussions and learn from allies, present information, debate and take work forward in a formal setting were furious on the first two days at Diop University, the region's largest. The well-networked middle-class NGO professionals regrouped quickly but lowest-income African women didn't have cellphones and were most victimized.
The problem was that WSF organisers simply had not achieved political power sufficient to hold university officials accountable to earlier oral promises of adequate space. An invitation for participation by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade ' another pro-Western free-marketeer ' was a non-sequitur given his hostility to WSF constituencies, especially thousands of angry local human rights and democracy activists.
Not having the leading institutions' political support meant the mass cancellation of the first round of panels and the time-consuming construction of alternative tent venues, as students descended into the scheduled classrooms during what should have been a holiday week in the university calendar. But a student strike against Wade's new cost-recovery policy pushed classes forward, into last week.
As an activist rightly demanded to WSF delegates just before the main environmental plenary on Thursday, 'We are the youth of the country, we do not have the resources to enter. This is a public university. You are the international community. You have means to pressure. Until there is a solution we will continue to strike.'
The WSF's leading star this year was, ironically, a political head of state, Bolivian President Evo Morales. In addition to very powerful language about halting climate change, he raised an issue many South Africans appreciated: 'We are going to go the UN to declare that water is a basic public need that must not be managed by private interests, but should be for all people, including people of rural areas.'
The next question is how to add and link up all the other struggles to have needs met, including jobs, the environment and liberation from patriarchy, homophobia, racism and so many other backward systems. If any gathering can attempt a broad-based ideological revival that takes democracy as a foundation and adds socio-economic justice, it is the WSF. But reticence to tackle this ambitious challenge remains.
A slightly smaller version of this agenda will appear here in November, as an alternative summit to the UN Conference of Polluters (COP17) hosts visiting climate justice activists. City Hall's reported widespread corruption and financial mismanagement, controversies over UKZN's hush-hush university review, and student protest against inadequate financial aid at the Durban University of Technology will have ebbed. But memories of masses of people arising under conditions previously considered highly unlikely, as in North Africa, will remain.
From the North African revolutions to the West African WSF, other region's civil societies might learn not only the pleasurable, drunken rhetoric of emancipation, but the patience not to get drunk on that rhetoric too fast, at least not before certain preconditions are achieved: democracy and the logistics that democracy demands.
(Patrick Bond is based at UKZN's Centre for Civil Society.)
On 2011/02/15 11:19 AM, Azril Bacal wrote:
Great to share a few minutes in the round table on the future of the forum. You remain a permanent inspiration to me - and took your quest for ideology to the last round of the IC-WSF last sunday. Given the raising critique, also a divisive one, concerning the all-too-open formulation "Another World is Possible" I proposed to seriously consider examining our motto along the lines of "Other Socialist Worlds are Possible", as a starter...
One could think along terms of egalitarian ecosocialism - to include feminism and also other forms of social differentiation and cleavages, like preferred sexual orientation and last, but not least, ethnic and indigenous peoples:
Divisive forces are at work all the time, from the beginning, wittingly and/or unwittingly.
For instance, from the global political right, shortly after the WSF started, there took place the so-called "World Civil Society Forum" in Geneva, claiming to: be "representative" of Global Civil Society and not be "as political as the WSF." By sheer "coincidence," Cuba was represented by a very well organized contingent of Miami Cubans, ready to take over the latinamerican group, were not for some of us, who were able to stop them...
One week after the European Social Forum in Paris, equally "suddenly," there emerged the so-called "Global Progressive Forum," as an initiative of the Socialist Bloque in the EU-Parliament, the kind of "socialism" that has driven neoliberal politics in Europe, in Sweden already by the early 1980s, partially explaining the success of the right and extreme right in the EU, having Berlusconi (supported by the Vatican and God knows who else) and Fini (an elegant fascist) been leaders at one time of another in the EU-Project. Yet, the GPF sits in the IC-WSF, since some time back.
What about "divisiveness from the left," oh yeah! we have been and continue to be divisive, managing to fragment the whole range of leftism, from libertarian anarchist to all shades of old and new lefties.
For instance, in Sweden, after the WSF started to move on, some leftist groups created the "Socialist Forum," on the grounds that the WSF was against neoliberalism but not against capitalism as such. In the end, also divisive and competing among ourselves. The same critique I heard from zapatista sources, that "the WSF had sold out to neoliberalism." No kidding, during the ALAS meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico.
At a very basic level, without a Planetarian United Left, incorporating all the lessons from the WSF-process, and particularly from its appeal to inclusiveness and diversity, since its very inception, 10 years ago, the Kapitalist system and the Political Right and Extreme Right do not need to do much, except laugh at us...
One of the highest points for me at the WSF 2011 in Dakar was Evo Morales, in his moving speech, after the inaugural march, declaring himself to be "a student of the WSF-process," thereby expressing his gratitude for its inspiration and support.
This is maybe one way to look and move forward: to continue slowly learning and being a source of inspiration to the Peoples of the World, be it Bolivia and/or the uprising of the new movements for democracy, justice and dignity in the Arab World.
I knew at the intuitive gut level, that the estimated number of 50,000 participants was a low estimate. Thus, I was not surprised that we were over 75,000 participants from all corners from Africa and the world.
And yet, the established conventional media, including Sweden, have systematically boycotted to cover the WSF 2011. It means, that the kind of inspiration and hope linked to the WSF-process is regarded as a political threat for the global kapitalist system.
Paulo Freire understood quite well the significance of hope in the political struggle. This is why he wrote "The Pedagogy of Hope" - and, additionally, one important reason to feel proud to have represented the Paulo Freire Institute at the last meeting of the IC-WSF. Given that Paulo Roberto Padilha and Angela Antunes, the main two representatives of the IPF in Sao Paulo at the IC-WSF were not properly informed about this meeting in due time. An "minor" organizational feature, that should and will hopefully be corrected ASP by those responsible for the list of the IC-WSF.
Also and related to the point, after having tried in vain, to get support for attending the WSF 2011 in Dakar in rich "Sweden," it has a special added existential value for me to have been enabled to partake in this historical and memorable event, thanks to the support from the "poor" South.
Let me ilustrate with one example, the kind of planetarian "networking" that takes place thanks to the WSF-process. Helmi Sharawi, the egyptian Vice-President of the Arab-African Research Centre who also spoke at the podium, during the inaugural march of the WSF 2011, along with President Evo Morales - and other representatives from the social movements of Tunisian and other Arab countries, marching in the streets to remove their dictatorial and corrupt neoliberal regimes, shared with us the exhilarating joy of the Egyptian Peoples struggle and victory to remove the autocratic, corrupt and repressive regime of MooBarak and his associates, the most important US ally in the Arab World.
Helmi has accepted to write short informational notes to forward to our different planetarian networks and peoples' alternative media channels, to keep us properly informed about the exciting events taking place in the Arab world right now. Thus, helping us to counteract the disinformation and complicity bias of the coopted "fourth power," bought and controlled by the media moguls at the service of global kapital to disinform and to distract "Us" - the Peoples of the World about an event equal to the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Another Media is already in motion to help us construct other possible worlds, right'
The above "networking" illustrates one of the main contributing features of the WSF-process, namely, to socially bond persons and social movements engaged in the planetarian construction of other possible democratic, just, peaceful, inclusive, "socialist" worlds, with "buen gobierno" for the common good of all peoples of Planet Earth, our common cosmic home. The latter organically contributes to the construction of a "Planetary Citizenship," once envisioned by Ettore Gelpi at UNESCO and now assumed by the Instituto Paulo Freire as one of its main pedagogical tasks within the WSF-process.
Abrazos fraternales desde Uppsala,
Suecia Azril Bacal
Uppsala Social Forum
On 2011/02/17 10:51 AM, Patrick Bond wrote:
Thanks Azril, and a special thanks to your institutions in Uppsala for the tribute to Dennis Brutus earlier this month!
I should specify that the WSF's failure to overcome a kind of silo-based participation (people like me running from one of our specialisation tents to the other without checking out other specialisations) is probably the biggest disappointment over the past decade of Forum work.
For that, my antidote would be much more ideological coherence that helps us all to connect the dots. The ideological opening, in my view, comes from an exceptional couple of decades worth of resistance to neoliberalism, racism, patriarchy and ecological destruction (amongst others) that have mainly come from the base. It's from those lessons - not parachuting an ideology from on-high - that it seems to me a fully liberatory eco-feminist-socialist project will be built with ... and so the argument I was making (e.g. here: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/bond%20wsf%20chapter.pdf) should be considered a friendly challenge - to us all - to more urgently document the kinds of micro-liberatory projects which add up to a wonderful best-practice fabric of Other Worlds which are not only possible but being constructed.
I agree that you will find ever more pretenders to the agenda of Other Worlds, such as the initiatives you mention. We also see this dilemma in relation to 'Climate Justice' where quite a variety of political tendencies have moved in. (A colleague and I write about "Anatomies of environmental knowledge and resistance" here - http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/Bond%20Dorsey%20climate%20justice%20analysis%20November%202010.pdf) This relates to the kind of challenge the WSF posed to the WEF in 2001. In late 2011 here in Durban, we're hoping that the Climate Justice movement does just as inspiring work as the WSF in bringing diverse peoples together to pose alternatives to elite failure at the COP 17 (from 28 Nov to 9 Dec).