'The WSF Isn't Anti Globalisation', 2 February, 2004.
As I write this the World Social Forum (WSF) 2004 is winding down in India and preparations are on for the commencement of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, Switzerland. The latter is easily understood as a conclave of multinational business interests. The very rich of the world gather at this Swiss village annually to renew their mutual solidarity, plan strategic alliances and lobby governments for terms and conditions favourable to corporations as a group. Globalisation is not only a term that sits comfortably with these peripatetic denizens of Davos, but a bowdlerised version of it they relentlesssly propagate. From out of this project rises Davos Man whose raison d'etre is to govern the world according to the logic of capital. In a marked contrast to the WEF is the world of World Social Forum, a melange of events around a range of ideas. Beyond the pursuit of power or pelf, the WSF draws everyone from ecologists to feminists, not to mention anti-war activists. Anti-globalisation is an inaccurate description of this collection of often well-heeled men and women from across the globe. None of them would bear reminding that any significant social movement, whether ecological or pacifist, can be effective only if operationalised on a global scale via a global network. Indeed the concern of the vast majority of the participants at this year's WSF does not even appear always economic. That they are anti-globalisers is likely a myth, a 'construction' in the language of social theory. They certainly are unlikely to oppose globalisation in the sense that some of the participants at Seattle did. In effect some at Seattle were protesting the potential loss of American jobs to third-world workers, a move that many of the WSF participants would be aghast at supporting even by implication.
So what then is the significance of the WSF? Well, first, it is up against Davos Man, a vision of civilisation WSF's participants oppose when proffered as natural even as they are perfectly aware that globalisation is inevitable. Surely they see that globalisation as a cultural phenomenon follows the development of technologies that help spread ideas. They must also see that globalisation is inevitable precisely because of the unequal spread of economic growth across the globe. Fast growing regions demand an exponentially rising labour force even as the higher incomes there lower the rate of growth of their population. And though migration is highly restricted today compared to the nineteenth century, the last decade of the past millenium witnessed much movement of people from the poorer to the richer parts of the globe. I would expect that most of the participants at the WSF would support such globalisation as for the greater common good. On the other hand, the hectoring approach to capital mobility at Davos epitomised by a national 'competitiveness index', not always grounded in sound economics, is not matched by the symmetric case for the mobility of labour.
Rejection of Davos Man, however, is by no means the only value of the WSF. Enthusiasts of the WSF are also united in their unwillingness to entrust their lives, and those of their fellow citizens, to Big Brother the all-powerful state. The unconditional opposition to war, the uncompromising equality of women or the restoration of pleasure into the discourse on sexuality are first among Big Brother's favourite red rags. And as with capital, the state too is never a votary of migration as it is bound to undermine its control. This and other congruences render Davos Man and Big Brother Kipling's cousins under the skin. It accounts for the presence of Indian chief ministers at Davos and their absence at the WSF, even on the rare occasion when it gets held at their doorstep. This is hardly surprising, for what makes the WSF credible is its distancing of itself from state power. Supporters of the WSF are negotiating a world that defies both the logic of capital and the reasons of the state. Such a world is "possible" for sure. Some complain that in the euphoria, amidst the enchiladas and the vadas, the precise economic implications are overlooked. But then it is a `social' forum isn't it? And one can't have everything!