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The Announced End of the WSF?

terça-feira 2 de agosto de 2022, por Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Boaventura de Sousa Santos

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The main problem is the opposition of some very influential IC members to any WSF decision that goes against their agendas and political commitments.

I have been in the WSF from the very first hour, and have devoted a lot of time and enthusiasm to it, especially in the first ten years. Like me, many others. Today the problems that many of us identified long before, especially after 2005, are beginning to become clearer. Many of us left the WSF unsatisfied with the impossibility of solving these problems. Others, like me, stayed on, but frustration grew and the saturation point was reached by several of us at different times. For me, for example, this point was reached when in 2016 in Montreal it was impossible to approve an IC declaration condemning the institutional coup that was being designed against the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. The participation of the organization I represent in the IC, the Popular University of Social Movements (http://www.universidadepopular.org/site/pages/pt/sobre-a-upms.php?lang=PT [EN. ES]), is shared by me and Norma Fernandez. From then on Norma took the most active role. The opposition to the declaration was led by Chico Whitaker. I see that the saturation point is now being reached by many other IC members.

What are the problems?

The main problem is the opposition of some very influential IC members to any WSF decision that goes against their agendas and political commitments. This opposition has always been led by Chico Whitaker and Oded Grajev and zealously executed by others, possibly with other agendas, but convergent in results, notably Pierre George, a person we did not know in the years when we enthusiastically dedicated ourselves to putting the WSF on the global political agenda.

This problem entails another: the impossibility of discussing in the IC the problems of the world and the different alternatives to the dramatic situation in which the world finds itself, on the verge of nuclear war and ecological catastrophe and in the context of a pandemic world with unprecedented socio-economic inequality and the global growth of extreme right-wing forces. In other words, the problem consists in the impossibility of developing strategic thinking no matter how pluralistic it may be.

The method

The method they used was to convert the norm of consensus into a right of veto. The consensus was an instrument that served us in the early days when the objective was to expand and consolidate the WSF. It corresponded to a phase of the movement. Once that phase was over, the WSF would have to demonstrate before the public opinion of oppressed peoples worldwide why it was important and for what. The rift started there because the group that institutionally controlled the WSF wanted at all costs to avoid this discussion.

The lobbies

There are two particularly important lobbies: the conservative Catholic Church lobby even if often under progressive guises, and the Israel lobby.

The first lobby wants to avoid at all costs WSF’s positions that question the Catholic Church as an institution or promote women’s reproductive rights to the fullest extent.

The second lobby does not want any positions to be taken against Israel, particularly with regard to the illegal and colonial occupation of Palestine. Some of us were told at the Montreal IC by a respected German organization that because of "German guilt in the holocaust" they would never accept any denunciation or action against Israel.

Any of these lobbies serve the interests of other smaller pressure groups, but with converging agendas. For example, a group from the Maghreb (with converging interests with the European Union) does not accept that the WSF denounce Morocco’s colonial occupation of Western Sahara. At the WSF in Tunis we had to face Moroccan secret service forces to prevent the Sahrawi people from attending.


To achieve their objectives they used all possible weapons. Some shameful (insults, insinuations) others just stupid. And obviously, never democratic weapons because the important thing for this dominant group is never to have a frank and open discussion about the WSF changes.

The fundamental strategy was to turn into a blocking force those who wanted to make the WSF evolve and adapt it to the transformations the world was going through. In other words, those who were really blocking the development of the WSF designated those who opposed them as...blocking forces. Those who were controlling the WSF considered those who opposed them as groups...wanting to control the WSF. The old strategy of all authoritarian regimes. This is how the orthodoxy of stagnation was created. The result was that the best, those most involved in the social struggles, drifted away.

Especially since 2005, in order to avoid strategic thinking, an anti-intellectual climate was fostered, as if the intellectuals who participated in the WSF were not also movement activists. To be an intellectual became a handicap in the WSF.


As time passed and the irrelevance of the WSF became evident, more people realized the real reasons for the degradation of the WSF as a mobilizing agent of resistance struggles against domination, discrimination and injustice in its multiple aspects (social, gender, historical ethno-cultural, environmental). The Mexico WSF was a demonstration of the degradation the WSF had reached. The consensus of stagnation became increasingly difficult to maintain. Hence, the Tunis seminar. But since those in charge want to remain in charge, they will do everything to make Tunis the continuation of the usual farce: to prevent by all (I repeat, all) means the open democratic discussion without pre-announced result on the renewal of the WSF.

The Future

I seriously doubt that the WSF can get back on its feet. Even so, some of us wanted to make a contribution to the discussion, although it seems that the conditions for this are not in place.

Even so, I recently presented a proposal on one aspect of the possible transformation of the WSF. Not surprisingly, the proposal was "welcomed" by a profound silence. For those who have not noticed, I reproduce it below.

Preparing for Tunis


In Tunis, a transitional figure is set up with an equal number of members of the International Committee and new admissions. This body will exist until the first deliberative assembly meets. This transitional form is preparing the next World Social Forum (WSF) in accordance with the following proposal (decided in Tunis) which aims to transform the WSF into a global political subject with action in its own name.

1. The WSF meets from here on out virtually or in person in two moments with the same duration (two days for each moment): conversation and debate round; and deliberative assembly. The first moment is intended to discuss the issues about what should be decided in the second moment

2. The first assembly is the set of organizations that are registered and that are accepted by the transitional organ. In the subsequent assemblies the participation of the organizations will have two phases: two years as participants-observers, and then, as participants-deliberative.

3. Governance shall consist of two bodies: an advisory/consultative board and an executive board. The two must be gender equal. The executive must have representation from all continents. It is the member of the advisory board who was previously on the executive board.

4. The Executive Board shall have a term of office of two years which is partially renewed if parity is respected. The council elects on a rotating basis annually two directors, a man, and a woman, who will assume the coordination of the WSF and speak on behalf of the WSF.

Democratic deliberation

5. To be a global political subject, the WSF must be able to take positions that are binding on the movements/associations that make it up. The WSF must look to be known as a global political subject that, unlike others, is distinguished by democratic experimentation. The two key principles are: discussion as broad as possible within time limits and according to the rules previously agreed to; deliberation with respect for the diversity and autonomy of positions. On the strategic issues that guide the political action of the WSF as a global political subject, only the assembly will be able to decide.

Consensus is looked for, but it is not possible to wait for it to act because the urgency of the interventions does not or always allow it. The WSF does not necessarily have a single voice. It can have two voices, one of them being the majority that is the one that binds the executive council. The important thing is to know that the WSF combines qualified majority decisions with respect for diversity and minority positions.

Decisions are by qualified majority (terms to be defined). But minority positions standing for more than 5% of the participants in the assembly, despite not interfering with the work of the executive council, will be publicized with the full emphasis on the pedagogy of diversity and route of possible changes in the future.

6. In each assembly one third of those who take part must be from the country where the WSF is organized.

7. WSF decisions can be segmented by continent or by theme. Example: the WSF-Migrations decides, the WSF-Africa decides, the WSF-Women decides, the WSF-Indigenous decides, etc.

8. National WSFs may adopt and experiment with other types of democratic deliberation.