No. 38, December 2004
Aspects no. 35, "The Economics and Politics of the World Social Forum", was widely circulated in a number of languages, and provoked a good deal of debate. Forums such as "Mumbai Resistance" and "People against Imperialism", as well as several journals, made critiques of the World Social Forum (WSF) from a similar point of view to that presented in Aspects no. 35. Some of the defenders of the WSF responded to these critiques without naming the sources of the critiques, while others specifically mentioned either Aspects and/or Mumbai Resistance. The replies included a series of articles by Sitaram Yechury in People's Democracy (the organ of the CPI-M), Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Sen Gupta "World Social Forum: Adding to the Debate" (www.focusweb.org/popups/articleswindow.php?id=397), various articles in The People's Movement (Magazine of the National Alliance of People's Movements, Jan-Feb 2004) and Combat Law. A few other replies were vituperative to the point of incoherence, or resorted to cheap political labelling in place of an argument: for example, Peter Waterman, "Archaic Left Challenges the World Social Forum" (www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-6-91-1576.jsp), Aditya Nigam, "The Old Left in a New World: Mumbai Resistance" (www.focusweb.org/popups/articleswindow.php?id=398), and Kunal Chattopadhyay, "Truth about the World Social Forum and the Brazilian PT" (www.laborstandard.org/Brazil/Kunal_excerpt.htm). Similarly, the Swedish translation of Aspects no. 35 by the organisation Folket i Bild evoked a vitriolic response from one of the organisers of ATTAC in Sweden, Aron Etzler, titled "Rubbish from Folket i Bild" (www.flamman.se/recension.php?id=1320; our response was translated into Swedish and published by Folket i Bild.). A more measured defence of the WSF was made by Vijay Prashad, "Politics at the Venue: The WSF in Mumbai" (www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2003-12/30prashad.cfm). These are the responses we have collected; there were many more, oral and written, during the WSF session. (And of course, there were also very many positive and appreciative responses; the sheer number of translations was heartening. We were happy to know that in many places the publications was used as the basis for classes or discussion groups.)
The bulk of the arguments made in the replies need not be taken up here, since we have already addressed them in Aspects no. 35 itself: for example, the notion that the WSF came into being semi-spontaneously, that it is an "open space", not an organisation, and so on.1 However, on one point most of the responses were particularly weak: namely, the funding of the WSF. Indeed, on this score the critics of the WSF scored a telling victory: The organisers of WSF in India, who had earlier organised the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad with Ford Foundation funds, had to declare at the last moment that now they would not accept donations from Ford and certain other funders:
This decision holds only for the WSF meet in India; it will not apply to future WSF meets or to any regional gatherings under the WSF umbrella. At any rate, it is good that the WSF India committee has tacitly admitted that the practice followed by the WSF from its inception is indefensible.
However, several questions arise in this context. First, if the organisers have disavowed funds from these sources on principle (rather than merely because uncomfortable questions have been raised), then it is difficult to understand why the prohibition does not extend as well to organisations funded by them. Would it make sense to not accept Ford funds but accept them from an organisation funded by Ford? Indeed there are several such organisations prominent in the WSF. As mentioned in another article in this issue, the US Central Intelligence Agency routinely routes its funds through 'dummy' foundations, which in turn make grants to legitimate foundations, which in turn make grants to the organisations the CIA wished to aid — an operation known as 'triple pass'.
Secondly, as we emphasized in Aspects no. 35, only about 10 percent of the expenses of the WSF are infrastructural. About 90 per cent of the expenses are the costs of events within the WSF, which are borne by participating organisations. The bulk of these are in turn funded by funding agencies or other imperialist funding (as borne out by the actual programme of events in the Mumbai WSF — "Another World Is Possible"). These include some of the sources disavowed by the WSF in India. (Thus the Ford Foundation website mentions the following grants for 2004: to World Culture Forum Corporation, USA — "General support to plan and market the first World Social Forum, create an online virtual forum and develop its institutional infrastructure" — $700,000; to Focus on the Global South, Thailand — "To strengthen the participation of marginalized communities in the World Social Forum process" — $92,850; to Brazilian Association of NGOs — "For the International Council of the WSF to develop and implement a learning agenda and evaluation process" — $600,000.)
Thirdly, having disavowed the four sources named, the WSF turned to other funding agencies for its infrastructural costs. The funding agencies Hivos, Novib and Oxfam are reported to have provided 60 per cent of the Rs 8.5 crore infrastructural costs. What is the character of these agencies?
Novib and Hivos are heavily funded by the Netherlands government. In 2002, 71 per cent of Novib's income came from government subsidies; 87 per cent of Hivos' income came from the government, with an additional seven per cent from the European Union (source: annual reports). It is not known on what principle the WSF has differentiated US or British imperialist funds from European imperialist funds.
Doubtless these agencies, or recipients of their grants, have criticised aspects of 'globalisation'. Moreover, Oxfam has a sizeable membership, and raises funds through a variety of activities. However, as can be seen from its Annual Report 2002-03, Oxfam also receives substantial sums from governments, including the U.K. and U.S. governments; such sums can also be designated for particular purposes by the donors. The Annual Report gives "Special thanks" to the European Union, the United Nations, and the DFID, and also thanks "major donors", including USAID and Ford Foundation. Evidently there were questions raised about some donations, since the Report mentions that "We need to make sure that we better understand our donors and their interests. On several occasions this year we have had to consider from whom it is acceptable for us to accept money, basing these decisions on Oxfam's clear set of ethical guidelines."
Like several other major aid agencies, Oxfam has followed in the wake of US invasions. About the invasion of Afghanistan (which it terms "the overthrow of the Taliban regime") it seems to have had no qualms:
After registering its opposition to the Iraq war, it lost no time joining the US-directed 'aid' and 'reconstruction' programme, under the protection of the occupying forces:
No doubt, Oxfam did argue that it was the role of the UN, not the US, to impose colonial rule on Iraq:
Oxfam's opposition to the extraction of debt-servicing from the third world, and to the depression of prices of third world commodity exports, is well known. Yet its answer to poverty — as displayed in its "Make Trade Fair" campaign — promotes the notion that poor nations could export their way out of poverty if only the developed world dismantled agricultural subsidies and barriers on third world imports, and third world exporters got better prices. This is a dangerous illusion, since overcoming poverty requires a thorough-going alternative development strategy, not an economy dependent on raw material exports. Oxfam and the World Bank have a considerable area of agreement, as stated by Oxfam itself.
In sum, the WSF India's selective disavowal of certain
sources of direct funding makes no sense, except as a method of avoiding
1. A passing note: in arguing for the need to participate in WSF despite its flaws, Sitaram Yechury quotes the following passage from a well-known essay by Mao Tse-tung, "Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan":
However, Yechury should note that this passage hardly supports his argument. The peasants of Hunan, having violated the stipulation of non-violence, would be denied entry into the WSF. (back)
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