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News of the Alliance > 2003, February : After Porto Alegre ... Table of dialogue and controversy
Here are several articles written following the latest WSF, Porto Alegre 2003. Through them, we wish to illustrate the diversity of the Allies’ contributions to this event.

Economy of Solidarity Becomes Major Theme for International Civil Society - Workgroup on a Socio-economy of Solidarity (WSSE)
Philippe Amouroux and Françoise Wautiez

"Mapeadores" at the WSF - Experience of a mapped appreciation of the debates
Véronique Rioufol, with the contribution of the "mapeadores"

Re-enchantment of the World Social Forum - The Alliance Artists’ Network
Hamilton Faria

Proposals for the Future of the Alliance - Report on the meeting of the Allies in Porto Alegre
Marti Olivella and Laia Botey

You will also find the short presentations of the four Dialogue and Controversy Round Tables, which was one of the innovations of this latest edition of the WSF.

1. What type of globalization and how should the world be governed?

2. We are faced by a major economic and financial crisis: what kind of crisis is it? What are the alternatives?

3. Misunderstanding and tension between social movements and political parties and institutions: how can the fight for participatory democracy be won?

4. Against the wars of the 21st century, how can peace be built between peoples?

Misunderstanding and tension between social movements and political parties and institutions: how can the fight for participatory democracy be won?

Memo presenting the problem

The vitality of social movements and the emergence of civil society on a global scale are widening the scope of politics and participatory democracy.

Over the last few decades, new and powerful social movements have gradually emerged, whether to respond to the challenges and damage done by economic and financial globalisation under the aegis of neo-liberal policies, or to influence the major conferences organised by the United Nations, or to take on more universal responsibilities such as ensuring human rights, protecting our common environmental heritage, and guaranteeing equality in sexual and ethnic diversity. By forming alliances and coalitions and by acting as networks, these movements pay no heed to national frontiers and barriers. From local to global, and from international to national, social actors interconnect and constitute new political agendas. In itself, this represents a major challenge for democracy and an ideal of democratisation for all human relations. What potential and limits does this historic process of participatory democracy have? How is it possible to maintain people's autonomy and sovereignty vis-à-vis an increasingly global civil society that threatens the legitimacy of national governments and might-is-right diplomacy at international level?

In practice, we are witnessing the expansion of the public arena and the "degovernmentalisation" of politics, a process from which new social actors are emerging to define new rights. The very notion of citizenship appears to refer less and less to government and increasingly to universal rights, influenced by the ethical awareness and natural heritage common to all human beings. This fact leads to tension, even within civil societies themselves, particularly in relations between traditional popular movements, such as labour unions and rural cooperatives, and new movements representing women, environmentalists, human rights, etc. What impacts do such changes have on democratic political culture, on forms of community organisation and participation, and on the capacity of communities to influence public policies? The World Social Forum is a means of getting this diversity to resonate via its concords and discords, and by the challenges it takes up for participatory democracy.

The necessary and difficult reinvention of political parties to make democratic progress.

The crisis of the party system can be seen everywhere. It is even more patent when compared to the vitality of social movements and civil society. Still worse, the development of social movements is inversely proportional to the loss of confidence in political parties and politicians. Perhaps the situation in Brazil with the Workers' Party remains an exception. What does this reveal? What are the risks that characterise it? Don't dead-end crises, such as that in Argentina, have anything to do with this "vacuum" generated by the crises through which the political parties themselves are passing, and with building viable historic alternatives? Political parties in democracies are by definition instruments of expression and means of exercising political management over forces and coalitions of social forces; however, they are also the instruments for winning and wielding power in societies. Is the way in which they are organised outmoded, making them incapable of acting in harmony with the major movements of civil society? Or are they more the very expression of the State and the logic of power rather than the desires and demands of society presupposed by representativeness? Regarding this, isn't the problem to be found within the parties themselves and in the very structure of democracy?

We are now undoubtedly faced with a major historic challenge resulting from new tensions between direct democracy and representative democracy. The pugnacity displayed by social movements calls into question the monopolisation of "general politics" by established political parties. Nonetheless, we are obliged to admit that these parties are incapable of dealing with this new and more universal citizenship, with its sometimes-contradictory methods. Participatory democracy needs strong movements. On the other hand, there is an urgent need to democratise the methods of social movements and NGOs. However, these movements fail to solve legitimately the equation of power within society, thereby displaying that it is impossible make rights universal. Hence, democracy is only viable if it fuels powerful movements and tangible forms of political representation by parties, otherwise, it simply boils down to a simple corporative demand made by a movement. What should be done to reinvent political parties?

What forms of institution are required for participatory democracy?

Apart from political parties and their dilemmas, we are now perceiving real dangers from the institutions that uphold democracy. The neo-liberal principles that impose free-market ideology over all other rights – with its power to deregulate and render flexible the foundations of constitutional law, labour laws and social policies – have created substantial institutional disorder in most countries. What is more, the organs or government, whether executive, legislative or judicial, are becoming more bureaucratic, distancing themselves from reality and will soon become dehumanised. We should never lose sight of the cost of institutional advances in terms of the energy expended by movements and democratic struggle. However, it is easy to destroy them. These recent decades of neo-liberal hegemony have seen the gap between civil society and institutions widen dangerously in most countries. Social movements and civil society, with its means for global communication, have developed on the sidelines, only manifesting their pugnacity on rare occasions, by renewing their own institutions and making them more democratic and democratising. The result is that even existing institutions are often called into question and with them the notion of democracy.

The political risk that such a situation leads to is obvious. There is a huge deficit of strategic political reflection in this area, though one thing is certain: it is better to have shaky democratic institutions than none at all. But how is it possible to reverse the current trend of bringing democracy into discredit, as much in the social conscience as in political methods? Strengthening democratic institutions does not guarantee democracy as such, since this strength is forged by social pressure. How can the movements and dynamic forces of society be channelled so as to renew democracy? Lastly, can participatory democracy constitute a radical means of creating sustainable changes or not?

© 2001 Alliance pour un monde responsable, pluriel et solidaire. Tous droits réservés.