From A World to Win News Service

A Report from Mumbai Resistance 2004 and the World Social Forum

Revolutionary Worker #1232, March 14, 2004, posted at

February 16, 2004. A World to Win News Service. The following report was written by the delegates from the World People's Resistance Movement (WPRM) who went to the events in Mumbai.

With a population of over 13 million people, Mumbai is India's second largest city and its financial, commercial, and media center. Anyone travelling to this city for the first time is struck by its size and its incredibly crowded conditions. Every morning a seemingly endless flood of humanity pours into the streets. Vast expanses of slums extend for kilometers in all directions. At the same time there are cyber cafes just about anywhere one goes, and the sound of cell phones ringing is just as present as in any city in Europe. Modern office towers rise above sidewalks where in many places there is hardly a square meter that is not also someone's bedroom. The contradictions of 21st century imperialist globalization could hardly take a more concentrated--and massive--expression.

Thus Mumbai was quite an appropriate venue for what took place in the week of January 16-22: an outpouring of anti-imperialist resistance that was felt not only throughout this city but will no doubt reverberate around the entire region and even the whole planet. Over 60,000 people from all over India, South Asia, and around the world descended on this metropolis to participate in two events: the World Social Forum (WSF) and Mumbai Resistance 2004 (MR2004)--Against Imperialist Globalization and War. These two conferences took place concurrently in a section of the city called Goregaon, some 35 kilometers north of the historic center of the city built during the nearly 200 years of British colonial rule.

Mumbai Resistance 2004--Against Imperialist Globalization and War

The initiators of MR2004 felt that the political sentiment summarized in the WSF's main slogan, "Another World is Possible," was limited. Thus they set the goal of showing how imperialism today is a global system of economic and social relations. In that light, they focused on the ways active resistance to it can be built. In the weeks before MR2004, activists launched a major graffiti campaign, covering the walls in and around Mumbai with slogans against imperialist globalization and war.

Two days of seminars and workshops were held on January 17-18. Over a thousand delegates took part in the opening plenary session. The overwhelming majority were from the countries of South Asia and other oppressed countries in Asia (especially the Philippines), the Middle East, and other regions. Workshops followed on the first day on the problems of peasants and agriculture up against the World Trade Organization and imperialism, globalization and its impact on women, democratic rights within the scope of the "war against terrorism," the working class, and the national question. Well-known anti-imperialist leaders and intellectuals from all over the region and beyond were among the participants. During the entire conference, great efforts were made to translate the proceeding into Hindi, the second most common language among the delegates.

Sunday's workshops included topics such as the occupation of Iraq, the marginalization of indigenous peoples, the impact of globalization on Dalits, and the question of fascism. The highlight of Sunday's workshops was the one on the occupation of Iraq and imperialist war. Over 250 delegates attended and heard the well-known Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy give the opening address. At this workshop the delegates representing WPRM (Europe) made a presentation on the origins, importance, and effect of the anti-war movements that have arisen in the imperialist metropoles to oppose the imperialist invasion and on-going occupation of Iraq.

An activist of the Stop the War Brigade (an anti-imperialist organization affiliated with the WPRM working among soldiers and their families from the U.S. and other countries) pointed out how opposition and even active resistance to the war and occupation had even developed among the military forces of the U.S., UK, and other countries and the important role that veterans of previous imperialist wars have played in fostering this resistance.

On behalf of WPRM (South Asia) and WPRM (Europe), a delegate gave a presentation entitled "People's Liberation is Not Terrorism: Imperialists and Reactionaries--Hands Off Nepal/Free Comrade Gaurav!" Comrade Gaurav is a Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader imprisoned since last August by Indian authorities.

On Monday the cultural program "Waves of Cultural Resistance" brought together artists, musicians, writers, and actors who are active in the struggle against imperialism and who consciously use their art to aid this struggle. Starting early in the morning and lasting well into the evening, over 3,000 people heard the music and poetry and saw the paintings and films and other forms of expression representing the cultures of over a dozen countries and nationalities.

Although authorities refused a permit to march on the U.S. consulate in Mumbai, a lively demonstration was held at which U.S. and Israeli flags were burned. MR2004 decided to take up the cases of the political prisoners Comrade Gaurav and African-American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and issued a call for people everywhere to participate in the Global Day of Actions against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq that is being organized for March 20.

World Social Forum (Mumbai)

The WSF and its related regional social forums have a very contradictory character. On the one hand, the leadership and organizational control of the WSF is in the hands of forces (like the Brazilian Workers Party, which along with President Lula hosted previous WSF events in Porto Alegre) who criticize particular outrages of the imperialists and their world institutions, but promote the illusion that through the pressure of the people and dialogue a just international economic and social system can be brought about without doing away with imperialism as a whole.

While some of these forces oppose the current U.S. imperialist drive for unquestioned world hegemony, they do not oppose the imperialist system itself. Their organizational principles, for example, exclude "those who would take human life for political ends," a position which does not prevent them from accepting direct or indirect support of certain reactionary states such as France or Brazil whose police and army have shown in countless ways that they can and do "take human life" to maintain and preserve the rule of the exploiting classes.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the slogans and activity of the WSF and its affiliates have attracted large numbers of activists and progressive-minded people, mainly from the middle classes, who are outraged by the growing inequalities and injustice in the world and who are furious at U.S. imperialism and want to oppose it in an effective way. Most of these forces are young and have little or no exposure to a consistent and thoroughly grounded anti-imperialist point of view. These individuals and forces are eagerly looking for a more comprehensive explanation and solution to the problems of the world. Also, many of them want to act. Although many of these forces have different degrees of contradiction and opposition to the main leaders of the WSF, it is also clear that they still consider the WSF an important arena in which they can learn and interact with others from different countries and express a united and international opposition to the policies of imperialism.

This contradictory character was more than evident right on the first night of the WSF. Over 30,000 people gathered at the open-air venue on the Exhibition Grounds for the opening program. Scheduled to speak were, among others, both Arundhati Roy and Shirin Ebadi. As mentioned above, Roy also took part in MR2004 and is known for her uncompromising stance toward many forms of imperialist domination and oppression. Speaking to the gathered thousands at the WSF opening program, she said that "imperialism is like rape, there is no polite way to describe it."

Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, also spoke. An open letter from the March 8th Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan) to the WSF was distributed there, entitled "Shirin Ebadi Does Not Want `Another World'!" It stated in part, "Shirin Ebadi. is a person of status quo. She represents a political trend in Iran which believes in rectifying the dying, corrupt, absolutely oppressive and woman-hating Islamic regime, from within. This faction of the regime is just a different interest group within the absolutely reactionary Islamic Republic regime... (which be- lieves) the people of Iran do not have any choice but to choose `the bad over the worse.' " Delegates from WPRM (SA) and WPRM (Europe) distributed 1,500 copies of this open letter during the opening program where Ebadi spoke. As soon as people became aware of the subject, they lined up to get copies, all of which were distributed within just a short time. In the following days another 3,000 copies of this letter were printed and distributed at the WSF.

The main slogan of the WSF--"Another World is Possible"--appeals to many people exactly because they feel it opens up the perspective of a world without imperialism. At the same time the main WSF organizers like to emphasize that they are really seeking to "put a human face" on globalization. Both sides of this debate were present in practically all aspects of the event. Some of the basic features of the WSF--the fact that it is held in the oppressed countries and that the vast majority of people attending come from the oppressed countries--mean that you cannot talk about addressing globalization and war without also allowing at least some people to talk about imperialism. This is because in these countries the fact of imperialist domination and exploitation is so starkly evident in so many people's daily lives that if no one was allowed to talk about imperialism being the key source of the world's ills, an event like the WSF would quickly lose all credibility. At the same time, most of the many hundreds of WSF seminars and workshops tended to focus not on imperialism's role in causing and perpetuating poverty and injustice, but rather on specific issues and practical ways to address them, whether through grassroots and/or political action, or various kinds of reforms, electoral/legislative pressure, or even alternative teaching methods.

The local press criticized the WSF, saying that it was more like a "street festival" than a "serious" political event. Actually it was a mixture of both! People attended meetings, mulled around to take in the "scene," or visited the hundreds and hundreds of information stands and book tables set up all over the grounds. Many groups formed up ranks, raised their banners, and marched around the grounds (very often accompanied by drums and other instruments), distributing their leaflets and generally trying to draw attention to their cause or issue. There was an incredible amount of energy in the air. Far from apolitical, it had the feeling of solidarity, of common purpose and destiny: a festival of the oppressed.

Dalit organizations from all over India and the region had organized to attend the WSF in Mumbai, and their large presence put its stamp on the whole event. Dalits, often referred to as "untouchables" or "tribals," are the people at the very bottom of caste society in South Asia with few rights and little or no access to education, jobs, health care, etc. This was a main question discussed at the Forum.

On Sunday evening the main program on "Wars Against Women, Women Against Wars" drew some 6,000 participants. Less than half of the crowd raised their hands when Arundhati Roy asked who could understand English. In a part of her remarks, which were translated into Hindi, she talked about the government-inspired anti-Islamic pogroms in the Indian state of Gujarat. After recalling how hundreds of Muslims had been brutally murdered and raped while the police stood by and watched, she declared that these events showed that the current government of India--headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Hindu BJP party--was in fact a "fascist government." With national elections expected in India within the next few months and Vajpayee currently expected to win re-election, she went on to state that "the only thing worse than a fascist dictatorship is an elected fascist dictatorship!"

The internationally known Egyptian writer Nawal el Saddawi spoke to the claim that colonialism ended decades ago and that therefore this can no longer be considered to have any role in the extreme poverty and depravation common in the former colonies. She said, "They are right, colonialism ended long ago. But that does not mean that the countries of the so-called third world--and I strenuously object to that term since there is only one world and I am just as much a part of it as anyone from the USA, the UK, or France--that does not mean that we are no longer being dominated by the former colonial powers.... Now they have a more clever way of doing it--neo-colonialism!" Her bold statement brought a loud cry of approval from the audience.

Participating in the discussion of the Global Day of Action being planned for March 20, a WPRM spokesperson warned people against putting their faith in a change of political party in the White House, in simply getting Bush out of office, as some were advocating. He reminded people that Democratic Party Presidents Kennedy and Johnson sent U.S. troops to Vietnam and then escalated that war to the whole of Indochina. And then Nixon, a Republican, was forced to pull them out as they were militarily defeated on the battlefields of Vietnam and politically defeated in the streets of countries all over the world, including in the U.S. itself. He argued that in this battle against the occupation and U.S.-led offensive, as in every other battle against this system, we must not be diverted into political dead-ends and can only rely on our own unity and struggle.

The WSF came to a close January 21 with a demonstration in downtown Mumbai against globalization and war. In total more than 10,000 people took part.