The Montreal World Social Forum: Some Notes as a Report

, by  MASSIAH Gus

25 August 2016

A Contradictory Appraisal

The August 2016 Montreal World Social Forum’s assessment is contradictory. The participation of social movements from the South was held up by the scandalous refusal to grant visas and a very low Solidarity Fund (Fond de Solidarité FTQ). These problems were expected, but their consequences were underestimated. The word social forums process development in the north is necessary; however, it cannot be fulfilled without the full, even primary, movement’s participation from the South. The movements’ participation from different countries, in an international city such as Montreal, has allowed some participants diversity, though this does not remedy the absences, which have big disadvantages to us.

There were also improvements and innovative elements. The debates were generally very well-organised. The main reason of recurrence with the forum’s activities were discussions and international mobilisation. These movements ‘international networks have grown stronger in several domains, something which was clearly visible in Montreal. We could see this in the assemblies of convergence, several of which were very productive, and in the main conferences, which were very well-attended. This was the case, for example, for unions, education, rights to housing, women’s rights, migration, climate justice, extractivism, free trade agreement, living spaces, economic and social solidarity, etc. Meetings between regional movements were [also] significant. The meeting on Latin America allowed us to evaluate a dramatic turnover. Meetings on the Middle East, also gathered Palestinian movements and the DDS, the conference on Syria and references to the social forum in Iraq. We were also able to measure the process dynamism relating to the associated forums: the World Social Forum on Migration, which took place in Sao Paolo in July 2016, The World Free Media Forum, The world Forum for Theology and Liberation, The Forum for Parliamentarians and Local Elected Representatives.

The Future of WSF (FSM)

The future of the WSF (FSM) was the subject of many lively debates. Several sessions were devoted to it, and the assembly of convergence on the future of the WSF (FSM) was very well-attended.

You will find an attached file containing the first results of a survey undertaken by on the future of the WSF (FSM) and, a text in the Appendice about: “World Social Forums At A Crossroads”.

Conclusion: there is an agreement to widen the process, with local, regional, national and thematic forums. But the debate concerning the future of the forums is a deeper one. New ways of doing things are being developed to be more appropriate for the new situation. The next step for the interworld movement will require a complete reinvention of the World Social Forums, and the forums’ process.

In general, an agreement has been reach - active for some and passive for many concerning the following assessment: Forums as space are very unsatisfactory, but for the time being there is no other way to organise such a large, international meeting of social forums to please the neoliberalism domination world.

What challenges do social forums face regarding the possible reinvention of World Social Forums, or regarding the emergence of a new dynamic? Here is a list: the current affairs state and the anti-globalisation stages; the productivist acceleration, and ecological and social disasters; the measure of the new situation in which the world is; the neoliberalism offensive violence; the unfinished revolutions which turn the world upside down; the social and citizen movements which form the social basis of anti-globalisation; alliances with the different social strata; the role of organisational structures, notably those which we call NGO’s; the strategic process, civilised from Bethlehem, that of social, ecological and democratic transition; the battle against dominant cultural hegemony, against inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and against any ideology which is a threat to security; the reinvention of politics. (See full text in the appendix)

The future of The World Social Forums lies in their ability to create a space for debates and for projects creation, for rallies and civic action, and alternative practises.

The International Council (IC)

The International Council (IC) has met on several occasions. The formal meeting was held on Sunday, August 14th from 9AM to 6PM. A preliminary meeting took place on Saturday the 13th from 6PM to 9PM. On Monday 15th August from 9AM to 1PM, a business meeting was held which brought together members still in Montreal. Though there was a strong presence of representative’s members of the IC, this did not replace the absences due to refusal of visas, notably among the African and Asian council’s members. A large audience of forum members attended the debate. The feeling of the political importance of these meetings, and of the IC and the WSF- apart from some divergences - was largely shared by all.

The IC meeting did not go well. The debates were very tense, with very difficult verbal confrontations. The IC had called three questions to mind, which the subjects of the very heated debate were: the question of the BDS recognition, the visas issues, the plan of a declaration on the Coup d’état in Brazil.

In reality, the underlying focus of the debate was on the exhaustion of the current organisational structures, or at the very least their unsuitability to the challenges linked to the new situation. This organisational structures issue must, furthermore, be distinguished. It is not very involved at the processing stage, and has in fact revealed itself to be quite well-adapted for the national, regional or thematic forums. It is more relevant at the level of World Social Forums which, though they remain important meetings, in bringing the process on and in providing enough echo to amplify it. They are [also] more and more difficult to organise, due to the fact that world social movements are confronted more and more to unfavourable environments.

The issue is most difficult at the International Council level. The contradiction is very large: both the process and the World Social Forums need a reference frame and an appeals procedure which isn’t politically directed. We must come to an agreement on a new organisational structure for the IC and, at the same time, we must face the current situation, even with an IC which can only depend on a part of the movements of which it was previously included. We are, therefore, embarking in an interim period during which the current IC’s members must ensure, with the support of the active forces in the process, that the tasks are completed during this period, and begin a transformation process for the future.

There is, however, an imperative. Among the numerous debates which arise the social forums, one of them paralysed the IC: the way to adapt the horizontality and consensus implementation, and to correspond to two visions of the situation. For some, it’s a matter of further accentuating an open, horizontal space, to facilitate meetings and convergences. For others, it’s a matter of strengthening the forums aggressive character by organising political debates, decision-making and united action. We cannot move forward if we do not find some form of agreement or of co-existence, even a temporary one, between these two positions.

In order to prepare the January 2017 IC next meeting, five working groups have been formed:

  • A working group to put in place an IC secretariat (made up of a pilot committee of the large regions; identification of tasks: calling and setting meetings agendas; list management, website, and newsletter; the IC commission; the secretariat’s finances are guaranteed by the Maghreb Social Forum in Casablanca; …)
  • A working group responsible for the organisations guiding principles publication in the World Social Forums (notably that of open discussion, at the request of BDS; …)
  • A working group to launch of an assembly for those movements which are struggling (an assembly of those struggling, the movements which are struggling, or movements of war/struggle? Collaboration with the social movements’ assembly …).
  • A working group for an analysis drafting of the global political situation (issues and challenges assessment, the current state and the relevance of the World Social Forums)
  • A communication working group (process visibility; website, global free press forums; …)

The next IC’s meeting will take place in Porto Alegre in January 2017, probably from 19th to 22nd. It will be organised at the same time as the thematic World Forum of Porto Alegre, which could spread to become a regional social forum for Latin America. This IC will discuss the preparation of the next FSM (there are already several suggestions: Dakar, Porto Alegre, Barcelona, Kobané in Kurdish Syria, a multi-centred forum).