There took place in Caracas, during August, an event that was obviously inspired by the Cuban assistants to the official propaganda apparatus: the XVI Students and Youth World Festival (XVI SYWF). In 1997 the Castro regime resurrected this Stalinist commemoration in its desperate search for support for its fossilized regime, although it wasn’t even a shadow of its past as the extinct Soviet Union that had provided the required economic and political support was sorely missing. Luckily for the Cuban government, now in charge of this decaying undertaking, there appeared some interested in giving it financial oxygen: in 2001 it was the Algerian military rulers who produced the show to gain justification from the left to the genocidal repression they were then waging against the Berber people and the Islamic insurgency. Later came another military ruler stuffed with oil currency: Hugo Chavez, whose government financed the show at a cost, officially recognized and approved by the supine Venezuelan National Assembly, of 1.8 billion bolivars (almost US$84 million, at the official exchange rate) although given what we’ve seen so far, it probably reached the sum of US$90 million.

The XVI SYWF was characterized by a sycophantic tone one would hope unthinkable in these times. Besides the pathetic spectacle of the North Korean delegation parading the sacred icons of Kim Il Sung and his heir, the Last Emperor, the majority of those attending participated without a word in the ceremonies exalting the country’s government and its leader (as well as Castro and his dictatorship). For sure this participation was forced upon many government employees (the same as in the electoral meetings, the bosses ordered the attendance of official functionaries) and a large portion of the visitors, who were thus paying back expenses and pampering dispensed by the host State. Those who were able to avoided with relish those “solidarity and revolutionary duties”, so that while some people blindly dedicated themselves to tourism and shopping, others were able to confront a reality that rudely belies the international image promoted by the self-proclaimed socialist revolution of the XXI century.

The Festival didn’t hide its condition of being an event made to order by the producer, since besides the personal glorification of the leader, the burdensome and tacky esthetic and symbolism of the “Bolivarian Revolution”, as well as its ideological context imposed, dominated the event. The much talked about “anti-imperialism” was limited to repeating how evil Bush and his league are, to characterizing them generically as neo-liberals and globalization advocates, without going into the details and thus avoid explaining the glaring compromises of the Chavez government with transnational corporations (such as Chevron and Conoco-Phillips) and imperialist agendas (such as the Plan Puebla-Panama) that would apparently be not so evil. In long sessions the SYWF dealt with militarism, performing incredible verbal gymnastics to present pro-Yankee governments as military oppressors without making accusations against regimes such as the Algerian, the North Korean, the Cuban or the Venezuelan. As an anecdote, this “anti-military” debate took place in Fort Tiuna, a military installation in Caracas, where in addition foreign guests were billeted and subjected to military discipline during their stay. There was rampant jingoist chauvinism that proved unbearable from the first day to many attendees who left when forced to march behind their respective national flags in front of the Venezuelan president’s tribune. During the sessions, the patriotic verbal diarrhea that informed both the anti-gringo discourse as well as the praises to the States, armies and other oppressive institutions, tended more or less vaguely to sustain that “the nation” (identified with the state structure) will be the fundamental base of socialism for the new millennium (will it then be called national-socialism?).

… And in January the carousal returns

The August shindig had all the markings of being essentially a preamble and dress rehearsal for the international promotional act the Venezuelan government was betting on the hardest: the celebration in Caracas, from January 25 to 29, 2006, of the VI World Social Forum Policentric See Americas (VI WSF). This is an event that, in terms of socio-political viability, could represent much more than the worn out shell of the SYWF, for it is not only devoid of an Stalinist past, but also it can effectively allege that it is a space that shelters at least a good portion of the social movements that today struggle against neo-liberalism and its single-mindedness, proposing alternatives based on collective participation. The WSFs started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, as a venue of opposition to the World Economic Forums organized every year since 1971 by the political and economic powers of capitalism in Davos, Switzerland. Given its desire to expand its convocational capacity, it was decided that from 2006 on, the yearly sessions of the WSF would be polycentric, with several seats around the world, that year taking place in Caracas, Bamako in Mali, Africa, and Karachi in Pakistan.

From the beginning, in spite of its image of broad appeal, dynamism and originality that the promoters of the WSF have fostered with relative success, several voices have sounded the alarm regarding the eventual risks and hidden mortgages that the event and its agenda mean for the new movements of social struggle. At the beginning, these warnings were more generic and, in spite of it all, didn’t question the basis of the initiative; but they have become progressively more precise and deep in their criticism. These misgivings have sunk so deep that they have even made possible Alternative Social Forums with the most advanced and combative sectors that have attended the last few WSFs. It isn’t possible here to examine this radical critique, but we cite several documents in Spanish that are accessible via Internet that expound on it with clarity and eloquence, for example “Extraños amigos del FSM de Porto Alegre” by B. Busaniche, “Lo pequeño es bello” by N. Klein and “El Foro rehen y la trepanacion de las ONG’s” de www.lavaca.org (also published in El Libertario # 41).

Nonetheless, to Chavez’s propaganda strategists this was a very attractive opportunity to have a Caracas WSF (even if polycentric); a privileged sounding board to promote this particular revolution of lots of barks and no bite. And so they moved all their political and $olidarity levers (in particular with the Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores -Worker’s Party-, whose receptivity to $olid argument$ is well known). This way, all stops are pulled for the preparations for the event, in a scale that promises to leave the XVI SYWF which had barely 15,000 attendees far behind, while the VI WSF looks to surpassing 100,000, which, translated into expenditures implies amounts greater than US$250M (a real bargain for a state with reserves of over US$30B).

There are some who will see as excessively sarcastic and distrustful the tone we use to refer to the VI WSF, since after all the “movement of movements” is conscious of and is taking the necessary measures to overcome the challenges, as shown for example in the document (easily found in the web, in spanish) “Hacia el FSM e Caracas enero 2006 - La dimension de nuestra responsabilidad” by E. Lander, one of the main organizers of the event. But such hopes vanish when comparing Lander’s careful allusions about the way to overcome the problems implicit in organizing the Forum in Venezuela today with all the material that can be found in Google when using the Spanish phrase “VI Foro Social Mundial”, made up largely of bureaucratic information of a similar tone to that which appears when using “XVI Festival Mundial de la Juventud y los Estudiantes” in the search. The only other text that contains somewhat careful thinking is “Hacia el II FSA y el VI FSM Policentrico” by I. Leon, written from a perspective that previews what is hoped to be the official line to be imposed on the apotheosis of this coming January, in a tone that only confirms these hard hitting words by Naomi Klein : “For some, the kidnapping of the World Social Forum by political parties and powerful men is proof that the movements against corporate globalization are finally ripening and becoming ‘responsible’. But, does it really mean maturity amid the graveyard of failed leftist political projects to believe that change will come from casting your ballot for the most recent charismatic leader and then cross your fingers and hope for the best? A little seriousness, please!”