Thursday, March 17, 2005

Action with organisation?

Sérgio Haddad was at the Institute yesterday, talking about the World Social Forum, of which he is on the organising committee.

During his presentation he pointed out that the purpose of the WSF was not to organise but to provide new space in which deliberation and action can happen. However, he also noted two contradictory features of the Forum, including its relationship with political parties who want to use it as a vehicle to organise and the Forum’s refusal to take a lead in this process.

Sérgio spent some time ruminating aloud on the difficulties this presents to those involved in the Forum: it makes criticism possible and even suggestions regarding alternatives possible. But where it becomes really challenging is in the actual implementation of those ideas. He gave the example of the World Bank.

The Forum’s space gives people opportunities to both criticise the World Bank’s role and activities and suggest ways of dealing with it – either by reforming it from within in, or ‘blowing it up’ (this was before we had even heard about Bush’s proposed candidate for president). But how can two diametrically opposite approaches and goals be achieved?

In other words what would appear to be the Forum’s strength – its apparent ability to break Michels’ iron law of oligarchy – is also its greatest weakness, by failing to provide a clear direction and alternative.

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