World Social Forum 2004, Mumbai: A demonstration of demonstrations

Over 120,000 people have attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

The majority have come in their tens of thousands from the most poverty-stricken areas of India as well as other countries in Asia such as Pakistan, South Korea, Tibet and the Philippines.

The venue is the NESCO grounds in Mumbai. For hours each day the dusty roadways in the conference venue are filled with thousands of participants protesting and demonstrating about their own conditions and causes. Dalits, tribal minorities from the rural areas, disabled, and women’s groups have all protested. Also present are hundreds of trade unionists who have explained the horrific conditions they face as a result of exploitation by multinational companies and also by local capitalists.

WSF programme inadequate

Unfortunately, most of those searching for an answer from the organisers of the WSF and the speakers at the various meetings would not have found a programme for an effective fight back against mass unemployment, poverty, and discrimination. Despite this, however, many activists, workers and youth have attempted to find their own solutions through participating in thousands of informal discussions – exchanging experiences and attempting to formulate strategies for successful struggle against the conditions they face.

The WSF has a printed diary of meetings which numbers over 200 pages with literally thousands of meetings at this six-day event. However, even meetings which are scheduled to have over 20,000 delegates present have only a few hundred. This is because most of the meetings are simply not attractive to those attending the event and provide no solutions to the problems that they face.

Normally the bigger meetings have at least ten speakers who address the meetings in terms which simply are not understood by the workers, peasants and youth who are there. In fact many of the larger meetings are just dominated by political activists, the leaders of NGOs and a small sprinkling of those interested in finding out about how to fight back against the conditions they face. And meanwhile the ‘demonstration of demonstrations’ continues outside the meetings.

Socialist answers needed

As the President of the United Labour Federation, V. Prakash said to CWI members, “The panel meetings simply exchange grievances of various different sectors facing exploitation. When those attending the meetings ask ’how are we going to change things’, the panel speakers simply say: ’we have to rush to the next panel’. Such a gathering of the WSF can never have an ideological response and give an impetus to genuine rank and file links to fight the conditions created by a uni-polar world”.

At a meeting organised today of the main left parties, including the Italian PRC’s leader, Bertinotti, and representatives from the CPI and CPI(M), not a single one of the speakers mentioned what kind of society should be fought for. The word “socialism” or “communism” never passed their lips. The furthest Bertinotti got was to say: “We need new politics and a new movement for a new situation”. The CPI speaker congratulated the left parties attending the event for “overcoming decades of distrust of each other”. However, she did not mention what sort of programme and common agreement this new trust is built on – because they do not exist.

Non-governmental Organisations

Attendance at the WSF is dominated by members of the Non-governmental Organisations or NGOs. While many dedicated people work for these bodies, their leaders have played a negative role in the workers’ movement in Asia. With western aid, they have diverted a whole layer of potential activists from genuine struggle with the promise of jobs and a personal solution for the problems they face. While the NGOs produce much factual material explaining the horrific conditions faced by workers and poor farmers in the region, in reality, they oppose them organising a determined struggle to change the fate of the masses. Unfortunately, many NGO leaders who were in the past good trade union and community activists, now control huge budgets for their organisations and this has had a corrupting influence on their politics.

It is the NGOs that have brought along and paid for a large part of those attending the WSF. It is undoubtedly the case that many of the thousands who have come here were not told what the event was about and there was obviously no serious intention of involving them in the discussions on the agenda. In fact many of the NGOs’ leaders have mobilised their ‘members’ simply to demonstrate their own importance and to compete with other NGOs at the event. It is also the case that some NGOs have made millions of rupees profit by getting the contracts to provide goods and services for the WSF itself!

However, among the delegates there are many thousands looking for answers to the problems they face. Many of the young people present still regard themselves as simply against neo-liberalism and globalisation but raise questions as to whether a more “human” capitalism can be developed. But there are others who are consciously anti-capitalist and looking for socialist ideas.

Committee for a Workers’ International provides alternative

The Committee for a Workers’ International has members attending the event from Australia, Austria, Britain, CIS, India, Sri Lanka and Sweden. We are distributing over 40,000 leaflets (in English, Tamil and Hindi) explaining the case for socialism. We are the only political group which has produced material like this for the event.

121 copies of the CWI’s Indian Paper – Dudiyora Horaata (Workers’ Struggle) were sold at just one session today, mainly to poor farmers from the state of Karnataka in India. Many workers and youth have eagerly snatched this material from our hands and become involved in animated discussions. The betrayals carried out over many years by the Communist Parties in India mean that there is a layer of young people looking for anti-capitalist and socialist ideas in the form of a new party.

At a CWI meeting organised today on Sri Lanka, with speakers from the United Socialist Party (the CWI’s section there), two workers from Tamil Nadhu in southern India joined the New Socialist Alternative, the CWI’s section in India. One of them said, “My name is Mali Chane and I am from Tamil Nadhu. My mother was born in the Tamil area of Sri Lanka and came to live in Tamil Nadhu. Because of the civil war, we have not been in touch with my family’s five uncles since 1978. Ever since then we have been in grief because of the oppression of the Tamil people there. We will join you because we want to see the revolution in Sri Lanka and India”.

It is workers and young people like these that the CWI is seeking to provide with answers through our clear political explanation and our record of vigorous campaigning against capitalist oppression and exploitation in Asia and across the globe.

Sunday, 18 January 2004

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January 2004