Partisan №55
People’s Social Forum

“Harper Out!”… But for What?

More than five thousand social and union activists took part in the People’s Social Forum (PSF) held on August 21-24 in Ottawa. Organized according to the World Social Forum’s principles, the event featured some 500 workshops on a myriad of topics, making the event a veritable smorgasbord where attendees were invited to pick among a wide variety of dishes, many of which were re-heated.

When they decided to organize the event, the convenors chose to name it the People’s Social Forum, instead of the Canadian Social Forum, in consideration for the multinational character of the people living on the country’s territory—particularly Indigenous peoples––which was certainly a commendable decision. As for the event itself, it suffered from the limits that the Social Forum formula inevitably involves, in that it never allows for a real decision between the various views expressed.

Much of the discussion in the workshops and in the corridors focused on resistance to the various austerity measures imposed by the Harper government, which attack the working people on all fronts. Throughout the event, there seemed to be a common desire—although the scattered workshop formula made it difficult to judge—to unify the various resistance movements that confront the austerity measures. But in order to do what? For many of the attendees, defeating Harper in the October 2015 federal election seemed to be the only perspective; some were even suggesting that the recent Ontario provincial election should be a “role model,” welcoming the fact that the Liberal PM prevailed against the “Tory monster” Hudak.

In the end, the declaration issued after the final session reflects the confusion created by the dynamics of social forums. Although the PSF declared that it wanted “to free our societies of neoliberal capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, colonialism, racism, heterosexism, and of the domination of large companies” and stands “loudly and clearly [for] a different model of society,” the declaration in fact concluded with business as usual: “beating the Conservatives” in 2015. Of course, this doesn’t explain whether the election of the Liberal Party or the NDP would change the day-to-day operation of the “systems” that the declaration claims to fight; it is likely that these efforts will unfortunately become lost in the ballot boxes.

It is perhaps time to open a real debate on the impasse produced by the particular understanding conveyed by social forums, which assumes that only proliferation of multiple resistance movements will lead to the implementation of “another world.” Fifteen years after Seattle, and as capitalism continues to impose its suffering around the world, moving from resistance to revolution is urgently needed.

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