On the Future of World Social Forum

For the purpose of preserving the trace of hope

Let us think together about the future of the World Social Forum

 Montreal – August 2016

A paper by Maher Hanin – Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (F.T.D.E.S), KacemAfayaTunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) (Tunisia)

This new WSF session occurred here in Montreal on the second week of August in an opportune moment. In fact, many events happened in a consecutive fashion and many significant political, geostrategic, and dynamic changes that took place after the session of Tunis urged us to be further involved, by the end of our Canadian encounter, in an honest, pluralistic, and constructive debate about the place, role, and future of our anti-globalization movement that has been reuniting us since 2001 (the WSF).

The Latin American left-wing crisis, the rise of right-wing ideologies and populism in Europe, the strikingly increasing presence of business and money in the international political landscape, as well as the Arab spring countries being in a two-way dead end seem to be delaying the demise of the neoliberal hegemony.All of this calls upon us to redefine our approach to reinforce the capacity of the forum to articulate the emerging movements for social change and the revival of the left-wing.

Indeed, five years after the rebirth of history, as Alain Badiou said, thanks to the historic riots in Tunisia and then in Egypt, the Maghreb and Mashriq region seems to have changed its dynamics.

The popular uprisings in the region, which introduced primarily social demands as well as political ones, have not found clear political answers until now. The rioting populations are still waiting for a concrete change in terms of liberties, employment, social protection, and the preservation of human dignity.

The social movements that pushed forward the riots are unable to impose the change, which is much demanded and awaited by the peoples of the region. These social movements seem to be losing visibility as well as speed and firepower.

Thus, distress is share by all, disenchantment is taking over minds, and the old world is in crisis. The economic liberalism and the Washington consensus orthodoxy have therefore reached their limits. The whole model is no longer capable of building a fair and genuinely pluralistic political space. It is an acute crisis that affects all aspects of human life, a deep unrest shared by all the peoples, and a sense of uncertainty: “All beacons towards the future have disappeared everywhere” (E. Morin).

In contrast, while facing this crisis, our movement and struggle for a better world continues. We are talking about Podémos from Spain, Razem from Poland, Syriza in Greece, followed by the DiEM25 movement (founded by the Croatian philosopher SreckoHorvat with YanisVaroufaks). Recently, there was “la nuitdebout” from France as well as the B. Sanders campaign supported by the shouting voices of Occupy and Black Lives Matter from the USA along with the BDS movement. In addition, the increasing mobilization around climate justice worldwide, the remobilization of social movements in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt in a difficult political context, and the issue of the immigrants’ rights… all lead us to believe in the trace of hope that we dug together since 15 years now.

So, how can we harness our experiences after all these years in order to continue working as solidary networks? How can we overcome and get past our weaknesses and the incapacities of our societies in which we are active so that we can find the path of change by laying down their [the societies] demands in clear political terms as well as uncovering mobilization channels for the rise of a new better world.

In this general context, riots against exclusion, poverty, and territorial disparities have fuelled the anti-globalization Maghrebian movements to call for a real freedom and social democracy. These movements are facing new challenges and stakes as they play their role and conduct mobilization in this field of action considered new due to its opportunities and difficulties.

Our contribution to the global thinking for an alternative to neoliberalismcan only be achieved through our social tethering to our fields of action.This alternative shall aim at a new social contract that guarantees decent work, respect for economic and social rights as well as respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

Uniting resistance movements and showing more solidarity are the only means that will grant us the complementarity allowing us to develop our alternatives, acquire the force to mobilize grassroots, and converge our struggles to emerge victorious on our fields of action.

To this end, the social and civil Maghrebian movements participating in the WSF of Montreal will be led to lay down, in a clear manner, the following axes for discussion with each other and with the other movements who came from around the globe with the purpose of revitalizing the global movement and overcoming its breathlessness.

The Arab Spring: How do we get out of the dead end?

After the first moments of euphoria and enthusiasm, the social actors advocating for a new free, democratic, and fair Maghreb found themselves facing a two-way dead end after taking the path that leads to real change.

We cannot deny that after five years we found ourselves in a two-way dead end following the succession of events and changes as we are seeing the deception and even the frustration of the youth who rioted to change their lives.

In this sense, Sophie Bessis’s title is certainly a revelation as it urges us to question the present moment and think about the obstruction of the long-awaited democratic transition and the whole revolutionary process, which was thought to be a process full of liberation and progress possibilities.

This two-way dead end puts the universal values of freedom, social justice, and human dignity to the test of both religious and market fundamentalisms. This two-way dead end indicates very well the difficulties we are facing to change a dominating order in our region.

This revolutionary process that claimed more freedom, social justice, and dignity found itself troubled by identity problems as well as questioning fundamental liberties, women’s rights, and citizenship rights. Social justice, dignity, and the role of the state are no longer in the agenda since terror has prioritized security issues. The struggle against fundamentalism relegated social movements to the background and concealed their visibility.

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However, it is appropriate to notice that joining these radical religious movements is strongly linked to the problems ofan excludedyouth sent into oblivion, who were humiliated and kept in the margin of development. Therefore, they have become an easy prey for the reactionary ideologies along with the armed and violent terrorist networks.

This is a youth with an undermined future due to the lack of work opportunities and any social policies intended for them namely the creation of employment, access to culture and sports and/or personal development. It is an insecurity that narcissistically affects the Maghrebian youth to the extent of being only able to find an objective and a rebirth (certainly deceptive) through struggling against the authorities or nations they deem responsible for their discomfort.

Thus, these revolutions were not able to tackle the issues of social justice, dignity, and citizens’ rights due to security reasons, which have become, today, responsible for the aggravation of the economic problems as well as the recession in social justice matters.

Furthermore, the power of money along with the domination of the profit and speculation motive are preventing the soar of a new economy that serves societies and the common interest. The orthodox fundamentalism of neoliberalism continues to ignore the legitimate demands of peoples and the deprived strata therefore preserving the unacceptable gaps between rich and poor people and privileged and deprived regions.

Nonetheless, our peoples should not surrender to fear, terrorism, and fatalism by relegating economic and social issues. Our struggle in this sense is doubled; we struggle not only against terrorism and religious fundamentalism but also against neoliberal orthodoxy and the dominating corrupt political class.

Accordingly, we cannot, through our humanistic and anti-globalization focal points, narrow down the struggle against terrorism to simple security measures. This notion of struggling against terrorism and the danger of youth radicalization needs to be contemplated by other social policies, real concrete answers to insecurity, and by real cultural and educational policies promoting peace, tolerance, love of others, and the dialogue of cultures and not through confrontation and stigmatization.

We are still convinced that a more just world can never be built by those bearing neoliberal sects, those defending an aggressive capitalism, or by those who are inhuman and those who destroy nature and biodiversity. The redemption of humanity is not about the productivity that profits the 1% of the richest people, but it is about redistribution, environment preservation, social development, and reducing inequalities.

In fact, renewing mobilizations within the Maghrebian societies, in our opinion, is not only limited to defending a reductive democracy that solely relies on a vote and electoral deadlines. These mobilizations will have an enormous significance and a greater impact by pumping vibrancy into institutions and forces working against power and by promoting a participative social citizenship that includes youth, women, and new social and political actors.

A democracy that respects minorities, human rights, equal opportunities, and women’s rights can never be the objective of both religious and market fundamentalisms. We will be able to push forward towards a solidary social alternative only if we mobilize citizens themselves against these two enemies of democracy. In the same sense, we will also unlock the path towards a real democratic transition.

The struggle against Islamophobia, racism, and rejection of others

By being exposed to a crawling neoconservative propaganda, many sides of the political thinking in the western societies seem to be contaminated by the hazardous idea that Samuel Huntington strongly defends i.e. “the Clash of Civilizations”.

Such an approach has been developing since the end of the 20th century and particularly after 9/11. It is preaching the culture of fearing others and in this case the “Muslim culture” designated as the barbarism of the modern era with its core of violence and thus it is considered as a real threat to the universal values of the west namely rationalism, freedom, democracy, and progress.

Refuting this aggravated stigmatization today leads us to go back to the context of the economic vulnerability and the deep social crisis exacerbated by this period of post-revolutionary democratic transition.

This new situation resulted in the increase of migration flows and the return of the exiled to their countries for political reasons, which led to gradually increasing migratory pressures on Europe for numerous reasons. The European policy of withdrawal prompted NGOs, trade union movements, human rights activists, policies, intellectuals, and artists to lay down, once again, the issue of immigrants’ rights in accordance with the international law and the ethics of solidarity between peoples.

More accurately, the Mediterranean basin was also marked, these recent years, by the increase of extremism in both the North and the South. This extremism is reflected, at the same time, in the rise of the far-right, racism and xenophobia in Europe, and the development of the reactionary and violent Islamist movements calling for a dangerous identity withdrawal in the South and within the immigrants’ communities as they work on radicalizing young weakened immigrants.

Hence, these two far-right movements are indeed self-powered through the development of the rejection of otherness and racism targeted at immigrants in an environment tarnished by terrorist attacks and threats. Thus, the radicalization of young Muslims is feeding off the sense of humiliation and disdain (El Hogra).

Racism is also feeding off the fear of the close-by strangers because they represent a threat to the identity that the dominating west is bragging about as well as the values of the European societies. Therefore, in the context of a poorly governed and mastered globalization, the fear is exacerbated by social difficulties and uncertainties regarding the future. Today, racism is prevailing in both sides.

What answer is to be given, today, to the youth who think that the ISIS is right when it tells them that they live in an Islamophobic society, in a world that fights Islam and that it is their duty to rise against this society and this miscreant world that rejects them as well as their creeds. ISIS and/or all other radical movements have understood that the neoliberalism created a substantial destabilization and they are doing their utmost to exploit the religious symbols and discourse in a despicable war of religion and culture and to urge blinded young people to commit atrocious and highly reprehensible terrorist attempts and attacks.

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Such an identity crisis, with a background of an economic and social crisis in the social apartheid ghettoes and in the forgotten regions makes a part of this youth easily mobilized to become the allies of terrorist movements. The attacks and images of violence broadly publicized in different countries generate a demonization of a whole community. This demonization makes us tackle the problem at the level of political actions or reactions when we debate topics like the deprivation of nationality, the closure of borders, and the ethnicization of violence. Such debates only add hatred, fan the flames, and aggravate the identity polarization.

It is inconceivable for the real forces of freedom to let themselves be intimidated by the democracy destroyers manipulated by their hatred of others and it is their duty also to suggest social, cultural, and political struggles against terror and radicalization by imposing a substantive and plural debate on the public scenes.

The objective of the conservative forces and of the neoliberal right is to establish walls of separation between the peoples and to make their union against the savage capitalism difficult or even impossible. Similarly, media plays a fundamental role in this stigmatization of oppressed peoples against one another and in the construction of symbolical walls of cultural and psychological separation.

Today, the attacks give way to a communication laden with emotions that will play on the emotional side and no longer call for profound analyses on broader horizons for citizens. The media working on the emotional sphere instills in the people the need for immediate answers that are radical themselves. The fear brought about by the attacks isdisplayed through the quality and quantity of images in a way to increase the feeling of insecurity exponentially and to make citizens demand and accept even repressive security measures.

It is clear today that these media are playing the game that ISIS and/or other terrorist movements wish them to play. They manipulate the population in the same way fanatic movements and the media and cultural empire forbid us from thinking otherwise.

Our struggle is to outdo this dominant ideology of resignation and to deconstruct these postulates to show that only peace based on law and hospitality is possible.

Currently, there is a coming back to the idea that emerged during the 2ndWorld Social Forum, which is the implementation of an international movement defending peace and dialogue of cultures that can take the form of a world parliament stemming from civil societies around the world.

Such a parliament will have as prerogatives to defend the reconciliation of different cultures and to insist on the rehabilitation of international instances to avoid any unilateral use or exploitation of the war against terrorism to the profit of the dominating powers.

For a real change and a new development model

It goes without saying that renewing the social mobilization for a real change inclusive of the deprived and dominated populations of the forgotten and marginalized regions of people at the bottom, has become a more weighing political obligation after dawn of change with the riots in the Maghreb region (January, 14 in Tunisia and February, 20 in Morocco).

The popular will to change the conditions of life is nowadays in confrontation with the relentless efforts of the local and foreign powerful forces to conduct, once again, the same development model adopted since the end of the 80s despite its resounding failure.

Young people’s unemployment, territorial injustice and disparities between the privileged and marginalized regions, high poverty, and the deterioration of public services only confirm the social, territorial and gender injustices in our societies for which the State is primarily responsible through its public policies.

Furthermore, the debts of the countries that have acheived their “democratic revolution” is continuously increasing. Paradoxically, we have the impression that these revolutions, for the sake of more democracy, have financially mortgaged the future revenues. These revolutions have a financial cost which interest charges will go to the west and to the lending organisms and that will drain the economy of the countries in transition for a long time and constrain them to more austerity and retrenching in public spending that will but have painful social costs for the popular and middle classes.

The dominating neoliberal ideology advocating a universal “rational” individual guided by its technical reasoning and economic interest regulated by the market and the globalized law seems to have resulted infurtherinsecurities and sufferings. We are witnessing a crisis of neoliberal practices. The values of a happy capitalism are no longer defensible. According to the psychoanalyst Roland Gori: people are no longer “believers” in this “market religion” and they are asked to continue “practicing” and to accept suffering austerity in order to deserve the paradise promised by the technocracy.

These conservative movements were born from the womb of the system’s deficiency.Instead of thinking aboutchanging the system today and trying to save people from insecurities and injustice in order to establish social peace, politics and debates about religion and identities are prevailing in our societies and in the entire Mediterranean basin region in the guise of an invisible hand.

In accordance with the neoliberal theology calling for a minimum State, the Islamist social justice offer (M.Tozy, 2015) relies on the role of charity and assistance associations paving the way for partisan customers and the alignment of the society for ideological objectives. As for the political Islam, it is not about defending a legal system founded on the universal principle of equity;it is rather about a logic of religious acceptance of social injustice remedied by a system based on charity.

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For us, as opponents of globalization, today, it is about devising a social democracy through real regional and sectorial development programs in a more global frame of social, human, and sustainable development. This should be supplemented by adopting a new model of development that gives back to the State its role of regulation, development and redistribution of riches as well as the role ofequal opportunitiesguarantor.

In addition to this struggle for public policies based on voluntary activities, our duty is more precisely aboutmobilizing and involving citizens and be inspired by the success stories when implementing social and solidary economic alternatives capable of constituting small transformations promoted and held by real actors.

In fact, developing equitable trade, programs that finance small projects, non-monetary exchange associations, new consumption cooperatives in short circuits, and proximity services constitute realizable projects that can be mobilized for those advocating the alternatives to liberalism.

It is a matter of solidary financing then.The reestablishment of the financial system must be the keystone of debates while involving in them more ethics, cooperation, equity and social justice.

What are the political opportunities for our movements?

The transition that we are experiencing and living in the region towards a new political horizon is affecting the State institutions, the rules and laws of how to use power and how to execute it, the structures of society, social behaviors, and the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. It is all about a social and institutional change relating and affecting the morphology of the society and its ethos.

Without lamenting and brooding the total cut off with the former authoritarian and dominant regime as well as the old way of ruling, we are truly in a period of gestation where individuals and key actors are seeking how to acclimatize with the new changing situation and how to confront the new challenges.

In this new context, social groups formerly excluded, voiceless, and dominated are mobilizing to express an active citizenship thus defending the right to drinking water, health, employment, public services and calling for a new political governance that puts an end to the authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption.

Since the region held two social forums, its political landscape was certainly revitalized and its social movements with anti-globalization backgrounds were boosted. Preparations for the COP 22 in Marrakech offer another opportunity for the civil society to further mobilize and raise the awareness of the citizens about climate justice and environmental rights in addition to articulating their struggles.

Nevertheless, this gestation remains fragile and threatened. The Bretton Woods institutions diktat wants to impose a new dictatorship led exclusively by experts: depoliticized bankers, moneymen, economists, and technocrats serving a liberal ideology. These experts are propelled and imposed on the facade of the scene in order to hinder the real democratic impetus and the extensive genesis of a democratic culture.

Furthermore, the return of old coercion, control, and domination practices also constitutes a real challenge to the broadening of the democratic horizon and the real inclusion of citizens in the political landscape.

It would be counterproductive for our anti-globalization activists and advocates of democracy, liberties and social justice, not to think of the vital and necessary means to turn this revolutionary and groundbreaking moment into a historic one that began in the form of social movements.It is a fertile moment in the process of real transition heading towards a social, consolidated democracy, and a real State of law.

Hence, the constitution of a political identity becomes a democratic inquiry.Our revolution cannot be accomplished without providing the different social groups that were mobilized against the domination, alienation, and exclusion with convergence possibilities having a base of common values and a new grammar of emancipatory policy.

Moving away fromthe isolation, immediacy, the spontaneity to solidarity and to the convergence of struggles, we will push towards a policy of people, a policy thatgrants subordinates the opportunities for political participation.As Gramsci said:  Allowing the excluded subordinates to move from being subordinates in themselves to subordinates for themselves. It will give to movements an entirely political sense and will help change the ratio of force in favor of the ruled over the ruler.

The diversity of struggles and its pluralization is certainly a sign of democracy and liveliness and committed citizenship. However, the market and capitalist globalization tends, through different means, to strengthen its hegemony and kill this diversity.More political commitment of our movements is necessary , hand in hand with the political forces of the left and other grassroots movements , in our different respective contexts not only as forces of disputes but also as forces of change by taking over the political power at the local, regional and national levels.

Henceforth, we will commit more clearly to the practical implementation of a new mode of governability, which proposes the rebirth of democracy with foundations based on the principle of equality between the actors and the logic of open and sustainable participation.It is a participation that involves the individual not as isolated monad, but also as a member of a community of ethics, culture, and territory and as a member of a social group and a recognized class.

For a long time, the emphasis has been put on the protest and challenge of citizen, perhaps it is time to think of new ways to be able to better govern our regions, our countries and the World.

In summary, holding the Forum here in the ” North ” and in spite of all the flaws, has been a success and a wining bet. Keeping the momentum that our gathering offers to us will be translated by our willingness to initiate a revitalization of our methods, reports and relationships in today’s world to have more capacities to catalyze, revitalize, and restore confidence to the movements as forces capable of changing the world by starting from the local scalemoving towards the global one.