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World Social Forum

Strategies toward global democratization. What after unilateralism?

NIGD, Network Institute for Global Democratization

Seminar chair: D.L.Seth
Co-ordinators: Heikki Patomaki & Ruby van der Wekken
Speakers: George Monbiot
Cândido Grzybowski
Heikki Patomaki
Asthriesslav Rocust
Jill Timms

George Monbiot opened the session by arguing that global democracy is the least worst response to the oppression of global powers. Elected representatives would give much more legitimacy and authority to any political organization, including those with global powers. The WTO is a clear demonstration why mere participation is not enough. True representation, with decision-making based on equality, would be desperately needed as well. Yet there are problems in translating this idea into reality. The European Parliament is a case in point: there is no enthusiasm for it in Europe. Thus, Monbiot suggested that consultations and referenda should be should be used systematically to explore the popularity and political feasibility of different proposals. He also warned that no democratic system is enough in itself. We have to constantly struggle for outcomes that are in accordance with non-violence, dignity and justice.

Cândido Grzybowski, who has been deeply involved in the WSF process from its beginning, argued that this phenomena represents the only movement towards global democracy. He said it is unbelievable that the WSF is now in India, recalling how this idea came up in passing in the context of a June 2001 workshop organized by NIGD (more precisely, this idea emerged in Katajaharju’s sauna in Helsinki in a relaxed atmosphere). Otherwise, however, the achievements of the WSF process are rather mixed. The process has not achieved any real transformations as yet, and sometimes even a genuine internal dialogue is lacking, although all participants do accept different others in the movement. Grzybowski also outlined some basic principles of a more democratic world. Hunger must be eliminated. The emphasis must be on global production and the principle of subsidiarity. The WTO must be replaced with a very different kind of trade regime. Diversity in a multipolar world can be the only basis for working democracy.

Jill Timms and Asthriesslav Rocust both presented projects on global civil society and its initiatives to democratize global governance. Jill Timms is involved in a London School of Economics based project, which produces – among other things – a global civil society handbook every year. She stressed that the project aims at being part of the global civil society itself. The potential of global civil society remains unexercised, however, because global civil society is all too often seen in donor terms. Perhaps the best example of its political success thus far is the formation of International Criminal Court.

Rocust, in turn, explained a large-scale survey and analysis of civil society proposals that the UNESCO Chair in Catalonia, Spain, is conducting. The challenge is to define a representative sample of proposals, a kind of “planetary equilibrium” of surveyed organizations. The project aims, first, at finding whether there are points of agreement and, second, summarizing these points of agreement in a draft document. This draft document will be discussed on the internet, through interactive participation. In fact, this project has already taken some steps towards meeting Monbiot’s call for a systematic exploration of the popularity and political feasibility of different proposals, although it only surveys politically active NGOs and the like.

As elucidated by Heikki Patomaki, the NIGD approach has been somewhat different, perhaps in a complementary fashion. Instead of popular referenda and surveys, the problems and merits of various proposals have been analyzed systematically in terms of their justification, support, effects, feasibility and viability. The outcome is a strategy for global democratic change. No change will take place without strategic alliances between transnational civic networks, Southern states and some like-minded Northern states. Financial reforms must be the first priority, given that many of the most immediate forms of dependency and oppression are based on the mechanisms of global finance. The currency transaction tax and a debt arbitration mechanism would strengthen the rule of law, reduce illegitimate dependency and create global funds that can be used for global common goods. Moreover, these financial reforms would make many states more autonomous in the WTO negotiations, making it possible to revise the logic of “free trade” and democratize WTO mechanisms.

D.L.Seth commented and criticized these presentations, sparking a passionate debate, particularly with Monbiot. Seth seemed to assume that Monbiot’s vision implies a world parliament and thereby also a world government. A world government would abolish diversity and reproduce the elitism of national liberal democracies. He argued that we should rather emphasize the potential of local communities and economies. Seth also criticized the synthesizing exercises of Timms and Rocust. Seth was suspicious about the existence of truly global civil society and maintained that civil society tends to be tied to particular contexts, which usually means trouble in other contexts. Moreover, this kind of civil society may easily end up strengthening the prevailing structures of power. And although Rocust may have been sincere in seeking a “planetary equilibrium”, Seth had also problems with this positivist numerical exercise. Finally Seth also criticized Patomaki for overlooking the importance of continuous de-legitimation of existing institutions.

In the final and sometimes animated debate, Monbiot defended his position by denying that he is aiming at a world government. A distinction has to be made between a world parliament and world state. Patomaki clarified that when democracy is globalized, our political imagination must be freed from its captivity with the modern sovereign state. Thus the meaning of “parliament” may have to be rethought as well. Timms defended herself by saying that the LSE project involves problematization of the concept of civil society and its use. And Rocust pointed out that the point of her project is precisely to empower civic actors. At the end there was a general feeling that these discussions had been useful in clarifying many of the issues and explaining how to proceed further from here.

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