Report from the WSF 2008 in Paris. Or: Do we need a post-altermondialism?
In the framework of the WSF 2008 there were two very distinct
remarkable events in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, very closed to each
First, there was an open festival organised by the French initiative
for social forums including Attac France, several unions, NGOs and
movements. I counted about 1.200 participants at the same time so that
2.000 for the whole event does not seem unrealistic. The participants
were very mixed: young and old, white and coloured, different
political backgrounds, many grassroots activists? There was not a
programme of set speakers, no panels but rather a list of issues and
people from different movements addressing an audience of 500 people
in the main hall. The three major themes included precarity of our
lives, ecology and North-South questions. I cannot really say more as
I only was there for a bit less than two hours.
The organisers were the usual suspects in France whom we also know
from the European Preparatory Assemblies (EPA). They were very happy
with the large number of participants.
Attac was well visible but in no way dominant. It was not easy to spot
what the specific project of Attac was. Anyway the local group of
Attac in Paris was collecting signatures for a referendum on the EU
constitution in France.
Of course one could say: These Social Forums are more or less always
the same. The most visible people are always the same too. What is it
good for? This criticism seems short-sighted to me. The altermondialist
movement is not a short-term phenomenon. As with all other movements,
they have ups and downs but continue to exist as long as the
underlying violations of rights exist. Furthermore, the cooperation
between very different movement actors in the framework of the social
forums is a historical progress. It has already paid off in many
countries, in very different campaigns. Most participants at social
forums have never been to a social forum. Therefore, the critique of
repetition is a problem of veteran activists and professional
observers which should not bother us too much.
This debate is exactly the starting point of the second event in the
11th arrondissement: The colloquium "Altermondialism and
Post-Altermondialism“was organised by the small association”Memoire
des Luttes“and the small journal Utopie critique. But behind”Memoire des Luttes" are Bernard Cassen, Ignacio Ramonet and
Christophe Ventura. Cassen and Ramonet had to leave recently their
posts at Le Monde diplomatique because of age and will concentrate now
on their new political projects. Utopie critique is a journal in the
tradition of left-wing republican thought, a rather French thing. The
organisers composed the colloquium as a series of panels: state of the
altermondialist movement, the geopolitical situation and finally the
future for the movement. Five members of the international council of
the WSF participated: Francois Houtard, Emir Sader, Walden Bello,
Bernard Cassen and Gustave Massiah. There was only one women speaking
and the men were on average rather old. It was quite ironic that the
panel of seven participants on the future of the movement was composed
of seven men, each older than 60!
Half a year ago, during the successful and well attended Summer
University of Attac France, Bernard Cassen had published an interview
“L’altermondialisme, c’est fini” ("The alterglobalist movement is
over"). This attack, which is the consequence of the defeat of his
follower Jacque Nikonoff in the last elections of Attac France, was
the political background of the colloquium. While Christophe Ventura
and Bernard Cassen have continued doing things for Attac France, the
colloquium has shown that they now have other plans.
However, 200 people came to the event in the city hall of the 11th
arrondissement. The organisers were very happy with the turn-out. Many
of the participants were members of local Attac groups who supported
Nikonoff during the elections. Most were like the speakers rather old.
Many of them belong politically to the left-wing republican thought of
the organisers. From a German point of view it was rather strange to
have an event of the left where the applause is loudest when it comes
to sovereignty, the French language, leaving the EU or the like.
Equally strange from a German movement perspective is that the basic
orientation of Attac towards the internationalisation of social and
environmental rights and regulations was hardly mentioned.
The key hypothesis of the organisers was: The altermondialist movement
has to enter into a new stage in order to move from the criticism of
neoliberalism and proposing of alternatives to their realisation. This
means the separation of movements, parties and governments should be
overcome. We have to find new forms of cooperation between parties and
governments with the movement. This they call “post-altermondialism”.
As the colloquium will be fully documented on
http://www.memoiredesluttes.org I will not try to summarize what has
been said but to draw my own conclusions.
I think this is a very valid debate though it does not justify to
create a new term like “post-altermondism”. We cannot add for each
step of a long-term movement a “post” or “neo” to our terms without
creating a big confusion. This trick to make ones own discourses more
important should be resisted.
Anyway, the question how movements should relate to governments and
parties is a key question for social change. It is true that some
influential strands of thinking in the movement such as John Holloway,
EZLN’s Marcos and others have theorized a rather unhelpful separation
of movements and governments. But it is also true that the
relationship between movements and political power is very diverse in
different countries. In Bolivia the movement converted itself
successfully into a political party which won the elections. In
Venezuela it is rather the president which created a social movement.
In Norway unions, NGOs and Attac have sucessfully used an election
campaign to stop all privatisations, cancel odious debt and move the
government to the left. In Germany the Attac movement was one of the
breeding grounds of the new left party. The movement has nevertheless
insisted on its independence and party-political neutrality while the
party and the movement have successfully contributed to a general
shift of the political atmosphere towards the left. In Italy the
Rifundatione Communista, which was an accepted part of the Italian
movements, joined the Prodi government. The policies of this
government created a split in the Italian movements and weakened them
From this limited, caricatured list we can learn that social movements
in many countries already have established relationships to parties
and governments. They do not have to be invented. In this sense there
is no need for a turning point called “post-altermondialism”.
Furthermore, it is evident that there is not one formula for all. The
political institutions and actors in the different countries are too
diverse. In some Latin American countries a critical support of the
government might be the best approach while in most Western European
countries it is rather advisable for movements not to bind oneself to
a political party. This allows to stay outside of power games
including their negative consequences in the movements and more
importantly to be listened by more citizens than the followers of just
one party. This of course does not mean not to keep contacts,
coordinate and support specific project of parties or governments.
Anyway, it depends on the national, institutional and historical
circumstances. There is no “one size fits all”.
In the end of the colloquium Bernard Cassen proposed in the name of
the organisers to form a sort of “Altermonialist International” (my
term) which should include movements, political parties and
progressive governments. No one during the colloquium said that this
is a bad idea, some expressed their sympathy and said it opens new
possibilities. The first meeting of the International is scheduled for
the next session of the Enzalandos Alternativas in Lima (Peru) in
parallel to the EU-Latin American summit (15.-18th May 2008). It does
not seem that Bernard Cassen and friends have figured out how and on
which political criteria to compose the International and how to run
it democratically. The history of the Internationals shows that this
is not only a crucial condition but also far from easy to do.
* Sven Giegold is member of Attac Germany, international working group.