Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A balance sheet of the Quebec Social Forum

In an article posted on Quebec’s L’aut’journal, a progressive on-line journal, Diane Lamoureux offers a critical assessment of the recent Quebec Social Forum (FSQ).

Lamoureux, a well-known feminist scholar with a long history in the Quebec left (including a stint in the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s), acknowledges the achievements of the Forum, which was held in late August: the broad participation (some 5,000 registrants), the mix of generations, the quality of many of the workshops and plenary sessions, and the “partial inclusion of the First Nations”. It was, she agrees, a “magical moment” that fully justified the huge effort made by many militants to get it together.

But she also criticizes the Forum on a number of points.

The first was its failure to reach out to the left in the rest of Canada. “At a time when the federal government... is not only (neo)liberal in its economic and social policies — we’re used to that by now! — but also militarist and socially and morally conservative, a certain joint action (concertation) between social struggles on both sides of the Ottawa River would seem to be called for,” she writes.

The demonstrations at the Montebello summit, on the eve of the FSQ, were an opportunity for such collaboration, she writes. But “apart from the presence of Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians at one of the evening roundtables, and a few other guests from Canadian NGOs, this necessary coordination of struggles could not really be manifested in the spirit of the FSQ, since the Forum was only Québécois.”

Another weakness, Lamoureux says, was the very limited involvement of the indigenous First Nations. “The Saturday night panels made some room for them, but the question of the relationship that the Québécois from the various migration processes since the 16th century and the members of the First Nations want to and can maintain was not at the heart of the FSQ’s reflections.”

There was a good mix of several generations of activists at the Forum, Lamoureux notes, including many students. “But the cross-fertilization of ideas did not manage to produce a synthesis that could help relaunch the militant struggles, as is demonstrated by the extremely general nature of the Declaration adopted by the Assembly of Social Movements, which launched a call for mobilization on January 26, 2008, the date set internationally at the most recent World Social Forum.”

Lamoureux notes that the WSF was originally intended to help spark some synergy among the various left, anti-imperialist, feminist, ecologist and antiracist currents. In Quebec, she says, many of these social movements are already involved in all kinds of coalitions. But the FSQ did not generalize this “networking” function any further.

One problem, in Lamoureux’s view, is the “smorgasborg” method of organization, linked to the “self-programming” phenomenon. But despite the useful brainstorming, the hundreds of workshops and plenary sessions were unable to overcome a certain parcellization of experiences: “Each attended to its own activity, and interactions could not really occur; the ecologists discussed the environment, and the feminists often found themselves talking among themselves.”

As a result, the concluding Assembly of Social Movements could only come up with a final declaration of good intentions, each group winning a general support for its projects, but so ecumenical as to lead to no meaningful common actions.

What the Quebec left really needs, Lamoureux argues, is an estates-general of the social movements in which we can set aside the “silo” vision and ask ourselves seriously what we can do together to fight the rise of the right in all areas of social and political life.

“These movements have developed the habit of talking among themselves, but they have ‘unlearned’ how to talk to the people, not only to convince them but also to hear their anxieties and try to respond to them in some other way than undifferentiated populists .”

Lamoureux’s call for “more targeted and more systematic thinking” may, as she says, be impossible in a format as dispersed as a social forum. Although she doesn’t say so, it seems to me that she is making the case for a broad party of the left. All the more surprising, then, that Lamoureux does not address her critical thinking to some proposals for Québec solidaire, the new left party that she herself supports.

Diane Lamoureux’s article appeared originally in the Jesuit magazine Relations, No. 721, December 2007, http://www.revuerelations.qc.ca/.

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