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2016 World Social Forum in Montreal: The Leftist Purgatory and its ultimate sin: Neoliberalism
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=9800"><span class="small">derek monroe</span></a>   
Sunday, 06 November 2016 13:11
In its 2001 beginnings in Porto Allegre, Brazil, the World Social Forum was dreamed up to be the anti-Davos of the powerless and the oppressed with its then impressive attendance of 200,000. It was the vision of mass movement putting the reality of want into a productive practice to organize while offering the ultimate horizontal form of popular and constructive engagement . Fast forward to 2016 and its premiere in the city of the rich and prosperous North, Montreal turned out reality completely different from its ideological inception. The 12th WSF in Montreal was expected to have 50,000 people and 5,000 organizations in what it aimed in " finding concrete alternatives to the neoliberal economic model and to policies based on the exploitation of human beings and nature." The reality often halves all expectations in both spirit and numbers so the world's biggest networking event for the professional LEFT conformed to this unspoken rule as well.
Right from the start the cartoon featuring US and Israeli imperialism created a controversy that made the Canadian federal government withdraw its modest support and logo from the event.  This is despite the cartoon's premise of  factual representation  of US support of Islamic extremism (Afghanistan war against Soviet aggression and its subsequent civil war, Saudi Monarchy) and Israel's  hand in creation of Hamas in the 1960s as alternative to the Arafat's secular PLO. The organizers of the event publicly decried the role of Canada's federal government in what they saw as sabotage in not granting entry visas to many invitees. Somewhere between 200 and 1500 activists (out of 2000) from the poor and marginalized third world South did not receive Canadian entry visas thus putting the daily schedule of events in a complete and utter disarray (to this date there is no official  number of denied visas listed). The Quebec Provincial government gave the WSF C$100,000 ($77,500) which will undoubtedly become electoral ammunition due to event's complicated outcome and legacy. Both US presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein were slotted to appear  but subsequently didn't show leaving many to jokingly conclude that they both didn't get admission to Canada or stopped liking cartoons.
It didn't help that the WSF's organizational logistics were absolutely one of the worst I have ever seen as the facts on the ground kept changing literally from hour to hour and the official communication , if any, was sparse and mostly in French. This left many guests and visitors completely out of the loop wondering aimlessly to workshops and lectures that existed only in the WSF's event guidebook. The arranged media center under auspices of the French NGO: Place to B was staffed with mostly French workers and volunteers and it was largely useless in its role as coordinator and media center. One of the he workers' job was to apologize for things going wrong instantaneously and daily to the point of being an unofficial apology staffer for the event.
The WSF didn't fare much better on its ideological front, either. On the Aug 9th opening day, the 3000 plus strong demonstration walked 2.5 kms from the major park to the center leaving a negative imprint on the largely oblivious Montreal public. This was to the detriment of furious drivers who were stuck in their cars in already congested city center as there were no road signs whatsoever warning public about street closures.  The format that followed for the first three days was a corporate-like event of overwhelmingly Canadian NGOs (80%) trying to get donations and participation in variety of programs that were offered at the discount to the visiting public. Out of 15000 plus registrations the attendance dropped drastically on the third day due to weather and the last two days took form of commercial extravaganza under field tents in Parc Jarry in the city's northern part. The vendors of all sorts  have used the opportunity to sell and market their products while the smaller vendors complained about the steep pricing structures for a two day event: C$450 and up plus tax  for a small stand.
Ideologically the event was also a mess full of contradictions that fueled its programming, messaging and what appears to be the final aim. While officially attacking the neoliberalism and its aim to commoditize everything, it didn't mind to neoliberally comoditize the participating public and the ones who contributed their time and efforts on mostly volunteer basis.
The NGOs stands featured Oxfam among others who touted its efforts to fight poverty worldwide with help of French and Belgian workers and volunteers. It didn't matter that one of the biggest fighters against poverty, the Oxfam USA CEO Raymond Offenheiser pulls over $500,000 in annual salary and benefits and its Canada's equivalent practically gives her labor away under $200,000. I brought this point to many of the volunteers and the response I got was utter disbelief or reaction that overall the organization does many great things so in the zero sum game of ethical engagement the balance is "positively positive."  The training wheels of neoliberalism and its economics: the Facebook was evoked in the outfit called Weroes as FB for any type of petition drive regardless of motive, costs or even political convictions. One size fits all for all type of activism reduced to the click of the mouse.
However, the most interesting was the gap of the perception between the  aims of the WSF and present reality on the ground. The spontaneous demonstration in support of  Montreal port workers fighting for the C$15 (US $11.65) was met with enthusiastic applause and support of the WSF activist participants, tourists and onlookers many of whom do not make that wage themselves. I approached many booths and when I asked volunteers and the hired help (often temps) if perhaps it would be good if their own NGO employers lived by the mantra they espouse, the response was met with elements of resignation and desperation.
"The reality is that Montreal's economy is not as strong as Toronto's and many people coming back from the oil busted West are depressing the labor market even further. I am happy to have this gig although it pays only CS10/hr ($7.77) and I am not going to make  fuss about it as there were many people applying for it," said one worker manning the booth of social justice NGO fighting for the rights of workers including economic injustice.
The socio-political programming also left a lot of interesting contradictions. While some workshops on the essence and future of organized journalism held at the McGill University campus featured a healthy exchange of ideas others were simply a pipe's dream that apparently didn't stop smoldering since the 1960s. The corpse of "citizen journalism" was exhumed as panacea for the evil corporate and biased media with the only valid question remained unanswered: who will pay for the coverage of alternative media as the information just wants to be "free"?
At another lecture at the McGill, there was a lot of lament over the state of international peace movements.  The only major achievement of the movements was to splinter and deconstruct after the election of Barack Obama while buying the "change" rhetoric and smoking hopium of better tomorrow. Desperate for some type of victory lapse, Phyllis Bennis, one of the US  activists hailed one achieved "victory" against Israel while the panel pontificated whether the WW3 has already begun.  However the alleged  "victory" in war of perception turned out a  double edge sword as majority of companies targeted and affected by the BDS movement had let their Palestinian workers go first and replaced them by imported Thai, Romanian or Ukrainian labor.

As effective as it may have been on Israel in winning the image skirmish, the movement was unfortunately a failure as it didn't achieve any major changes of Israel, US or NATO policies in this century. As result of Israel's push to reinforce its "under siege" image perception combined with its lobbying efforts in the US Congress, the Israel will get the largest ever aid package taping over $38 billion in the next ten years. The  BDS movement effectively helped make it happen as the pennies scorned are the dollars earned where it matter most: the military industrial complex.

Another revealing moment of the revolutionary dream getting spiritually intoxicated was the surreal session featuring officials of Cuban Embassy and  Venezuelan Ambassador to Canada. Naturally the US imperialism was blamed for everything under the sun despite majority of economic issues plaguing both countries were self inflicted. The solidarity with Latin American revolutionaries didn't seem to permit asking uncomfortable questions about the pervasive corruption and bureaucratic self-dealing in the name of the people while blaming the recent parliamentary defeat by Maduro  in Venezuela on external coup. It is as the vote of the people didn't matter and the revolutionary Bolivarian government doesn't feel it needs to respond to parliamentary politics.  This convenient circular logic of blaming imperialism for everything in the house without mirrors has been elevated to the fervor of religious ritual ending with Viva Cuba an Viva Venezuela. I just couldn't help but add an additional cry of  "Viva Rum and Coke" which was met with a strong laugh of only one person, a solidarity activist from Vancouver. As I was leaving I was approached by the old  female revolutionary supporter from the US who told me that I should have been ashamed to shout as Coke kills workers in Colombia.I responded I was and it was the only time in my life that I wanted to emulate Geraldine Ferraro and choose Pepsi as the official drink of the New "Revolutionary" Generation. She left and I realized the real revolutionaries don't laugh. The real tragedy of the LEFT is that it is unable to face the  failure of Chavismo and learn from it while sounding off slogans that lead to nowhere.

Meanwhile, the ongoing process of workshops and  lectures  included quite many participants from the US that converged on the event of igniting the revolution in the style of 2015 Socialism Conference in Chicago.

It also had its detractors on the left coming from the US as well. Right outside of the square with NGO tents and across the street lined with sex shops, the dissident fold up desk of activists appeared featuring radical media such as The Bolshevik and The Marxist-Leninist, decrying the corporate-bourgeois excesses of the official venue. In a way it was the most enjoyable part of the event as the Monty Python-style of radical satire took a life on its own and replicated itself as allegedly serious political thought in action.  

The WSF was an event was open for all and those who official registered and paid their dues (C$40 ($31)) were considered even more open than others. There was a case of one Guatemalan activist who was hassled for CS$10 ($7.50) to the point of  being brought up by local radio reporter during the official WSF 2016 press conference. The case of Palestinian activist Laith Marouf was also mentioned. He was prevented in presenting his workshop ,detained by private security guards and subsequently arrested by the Montreal Police. Apparently he was on some type of watch list and his activities were no appreciated by the leased building's owner. The WSF staff in a finest corporate PR manner, declined to comment to questions that were of any significance even during the press conference hosting the Canadian author and its most important guest star: Naomi Klein.
Incidentally the most important point of the WSF was made during this very press conference. Sitting to the right of Naomi Klein, the old hand Italian organizer/activist stated: "The global warming is the problem for the North and it is dominating its agenda. I am only interested in the global South, in access of 4 billion people to  clean water and economic inequality. These are the issues that should be of importance and nothing else."  While Naomi Klein looked on with expression of politically correct neutrality I think that the gentleman was 100% spot on in a classic style of technocratic meritocracy, the most defining aspect of neoliberal order. The global warming challenge will eliminate the issue of drinking water and inequality, all in one throw as there will be no global South left and arguably anything else. With this wisdom I think going to Montreal was worth the extra carbon emissions generated by planes,trains,taxis and automobiles utilized by WSF attendees coming from all over the globe. It was all the money well spent on expensive meals, hotels and entertainment in one of the North America's most expensive cities by the very poor and the NGO types who got themselves the ticket and a visa to Montreal adventure of a lifetime . And most importantly, at this very moment we were all made part of the solution instead the part of the problem. Just like in the famous Coca-Cola commercial from 1971: "I'd like to teach the world to sing (In Perfect Harmony)"  without killing the workers in Colombia or depleting water resources in parched India.
The neoliberalism in its revolutionary edition rocks all the way to the stone age.
Derek Monroe
Independent Writer/Reporter
His work appeared in the following publications:
Foreign Policy in Focus, (Institute for Policy Studies), a Washington DC think tank
Common Dreams
The New York Observer
and contributed articles published in over 20 countries. your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Sunday, 06 November 2016 19:11