Roundups from the World Social Forum

If you missed the World Social Forum last week or any of the reports on it, here are some from across the spectrum.  The overall tone is disappointment, though from different perspectives and in varying degrees.

From The Nation, the most sagnuine account.

“This decentering of the United States and Europe is a major, if undeclared, achievement of the WSF. There’s no way to determine how many of the more than 100,000 participants come from that ‘so-called developed world,’ but Portuguese and Spanish dominate the presentations. It’s not that anyone regards the United States as irrelevant to the struggles described, debated and developed here–indeed, a prominent image in Wednesday evening’s kick-off march was a picture of Bush with the caption ‘Number 1 Terrorist.’ But as this motley movement has self-consciously shifted from protesting problems to proposing solutions, it has shoved the United States upstage. Without issuing manifestos, developing a joint list of demands or even trying to create a consensus political program, the WSF serves as a laboratory for new approaches to entrenched problems, favoring bottom-up organizing to party politics, participatory democracy to old-style hierarchies.”

From one of the reports at OpenDemocracy:

“Most people here will nod if you ask them if the common enemy is neo-liberal global capitalism (or imperialism, take your pick), but on a practical level, the enemies different groups are fighting in their home-countries have real names, addresses, and price tags. The WSF should take them on one by one, and not all in one bite.”

In Slate, Samuel Loewenberg begins on day 1 with . . .

“Call it the left’s version of Davos. Did I mention the Vietnamese couple wearing Ho Chi Minh shirts who handed me a flyer about the U.S. government’s cover-up regarding the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Did I mention that the man sitting next to me is wearing camouflage pants, sports a compass on his belt, has lots of exposed gray chest hair, and is reading the ‘Dialects’ of Adorno and Horkheimer?” [I think he meant Dialectic of Enlightenment.]

and ends three days later,

“In practice, nonlinear organization meant lots of wasted time. It was typical that when I would go looking for tent K604 to sit in on a meeting about child trafficking, tent K604 was no longer located between tents K603 and K605; rather, it had been renamed K609 and now housed a meeting about justice and African women.

On the other hand, the opening up of the forum meant more people like Chisemphere and Veloso, who were actually doing hands-on work in various fields, and less insider babbling by academics and professionals. It’s probably safest to have a few of each.”

Fred Halliday, in The Observer, offers what sounds like an indictment.

“The Third Dustbin [of history] is that of the contemporary global protest movement, to a considerable degree a children’s crusade of intellectual demagogues, recycled 1960s bunkeristas with their fellow travellers in literary circles, dreamers and political manipulators, of the old and new lefts, whose claim to moral and analytic superiority too often masks a set of unexamined, and themselves often recycled, platitudes . . .

Indeed the contents of this Third Dustbin are familiar enough: a ritual incantantion of ‘no war’ that avoids any substantive engagement with problems of international peace and security, or reflection on how positively to help peoples in zones of conflict; a set of vague, unthought out, uncosted and often dangerous utopian ideas about an alternative world; a pleasing but vapid invocation of global human values and internationalism . . . a complacent attitude, innocent when not indulgent, towards political violence . . . This was a capitulation, that would have shocked their socialist forebears, to nationalist and religious bigots.”