OVER 100,000 activists and trade unionists will come together to join the debates and discussions at the World Social Forum (WSF), which is taking place in the city of Mumbai (Bombay), India.
There is no better venue for the fourth World Social Forum than Mumbai. Some 1,400 million people, close to a third of humanity, live in the Indian subcontinent. Most live on the breadline or below it. Many live in unrelenting, dire poverty, their emaciated bodies visible on virtually any city or village street.
They exist against a backdrop of hoardings advertising the latest consumer goods and luxury products available from local big businesses or multinationals. No wonder nearly 100,000 people registered for the World Social Forum before it began.
Two years ago the two nuclear powers that dominate this region, India and Pakistan, came close to war with each other. Today, Pakistan's military dictator Musharraf and India's Hindu chauvinist prime minister Vajpayee are holding amicable talks with each other.
They are both loving up to George Bush and his drive for world dominance. Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are committed to the full range of neo-liberal policies-dismantling legal protection for workers, unleashing capitalist interests in the countryside, privatising state-owned industries and social provisions.
They both depend for their power on political forces that set workers, peasants and the urban poor of one religion, nationality or ethnic origin against those of another.
Vajpayee leads India's BJP party and is a member of the Hindu fundamentalist paramilitary organisation the RSS. Eleven years ago they physically tore down the Babri Masjid mosque in the north Indian city of Ayodhya.
Shiv Sena, the BJP's political ally in Mumbai, took part in riots that followed. Two years ago the BJP government in the state of Gujarat, just north of Mumbai, sat back while Hindu chauvinists murdered every Muslim in sight.
Musharraf came to power in a military coup four years ago. The Pakistan military intelligence, the ISI, played a central role in the military machine he controlled. Then it still provided massive backing for the Taliban forces it had built up in Afghanistan with US support. And it backed heavily armed "Jihadist" groups who attacked religious minorities in Pakistan.
Since 11 September 2001 Musharraf has been forced to abandon support for the Taliban. But a section of the Pakistan military intelligence continues to use the Jihadists to whip up chauvinism and to attack its opponents.
Musharraf is doing deals with the "mainstream" fundamentalist coalition, the MMA, to stabilise his power. The MMA preaches the same conservative message of intolerance and communal hatred as the Jihadists and the BJP, its mirror image in India. The only difference is that the MMA relies on its contacts within the military and the state rather than shootings and bombings.
This situation has created a mood of deep pessimism among many on the left on both sides of the border.
Everywhere I have been, people have asked me whether socialism has a future. This was the question asked by dockers and rail workers in Karachi, by opponents of national oppression in the western Pakistan province of Baluchistan, by activists in Lahore and Delhi.
In despair, many left-leaning liberals in Pakistan put their faith in Musharraf, claiming only he can stop the fundamentalists.
In India the main left party, the Communist Party (Marxist), is trying to get an electoral coalition against "communalism" with the country's once-dominant Congress Party. This is despite the fact that the Communist Party (Marxist) admits the Congress Party is as committed as the existing government to neo-liberalism.
Yet there are small sparks of resistance that in the right circumstances can provide hope in both countries.
Members of the very small revolutionary group the International Socialists of Pakistan took me to speak to dock workers, textile workers, rail workers and university teachers in the country's main industrial city, Karachi.
The dock workers had staged a protest outside the city's press centre. They told me how the workforce had been cut from 14,000 to 8,000 in the last ten years. Now 2,600 more workers have been told they are "surplus".
The dockers say this is all being done in preparation for privatisation. But when the dockers demonstrated with slogans against the ruling class, the union leaders stopped them. One docker told me, "Whatever remains of left wing politics in this country, they have not played a role in our struggle."
The rail workers told me how the government had used the "emergency" created by the clashes with India as an excuse to place them under military control and ban their union, the oldest in the subcontinent. And, like the dockers, the workforce on the railways has been slashed. Some 38,000 out of 135,000 have lost their jobs.
Both the dock workers and the rail workers asked me what they should do. I told them they already knew.
They had to find the spots where the employers could be hurt and hit them hard. They should not make the mistake of believing trade union leaders who say you can win by compromising, a mistake made all too often by British workers over the last 20 years. And the military were so hard on these two sections of workers because they had shown in the past how powerful they could be.
The textile workers are the biggest section of Pakistan's workforce. Most have no work contracts and are subject to instant dismissal. Yet short stoppages do take place, and they do force some concessions.
Among university teachers attempts to impose short term contracts led to a completely unexpected outbreak of militancy some 15 months ago. There were demonstrations, sit-ins and clashes with the troops who occupied the campus.
An activist group based in Islamabad showed me a heartening example of struggle. Pakistan's peasants are, by and large, conservative in temperament. But in Okara, south of Lahore, the regime has driven them to an exemplary display of militancy.
Their grandparents were promised some land by the British. Instead, first the British army then the Pakistani army took it.
The peasants kept the land only if they gave a portion of their harvest to the army. Now the military regime has decreed they have to pay cash rent. The peasants are refusing to pay up. At every harvest the military tries to seize the crops and huge demonstrations of peasants turn out to stop them. In the protests last year the army shot eight dead and wounded many others.
At a 400-strong village meeting I attended the men sat at the front while the veiled women sat at the side. But in the protests it was the women who went to the front, hitting the soldiers with their sticks.
Women and men together chanted "zindabad" (long live) when a local Punjabi poet told them, "When the revolution comes, their cars and their wealth will not save the ruling class."
The struggle, like all struggles, has its problems. The peasants fell for the fake promises of local politicians and voted for Musharraf in a referendum. Attempts are being made to break the unprecedented unity of Muslim and Christian peasants. But it shows that people can and will fight.
People on both side of the border see the World Social Forum as a way of increasing the possibilities of such struggles.
Organisers in Delhi told me that the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad last year showed a genuine left existed across India.
The Indian government is only granting visas to 800 of the 2,000 Pakistani activists who want to be in Mumbai. But even that number should be enough to ensure that the message of hope reaches out again, strengthened many times over.
INDIA: KEY FACTS
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)
Right wing, anti-Muslim party that dominates India's governing coalition. Priorities include privatisation and attracting foreign investment.
Anti-Muslim group that organises murderous assaults on Muslims.
Formed out of Indian independence movement-now committed to neo-liberalism. Until recently, the party that usually governed India.
Two mass parties dominate. They have their own trade union organisations. They have led coaliton governments in some Indian states. Committed to reform rather than revolution. They are building the World Social Forum.
South Korean activists heading for Mumbai
FROM SOUTH Korea, more than 300 people, including trade unionists, student activists, NGO activists and socialists will go to Mumbai for the World Social Forum (WSF).
Last year 30 South Koreans went to the WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The South Korean mobilisation has grown by ten times in a year. This is because of the anti-war movement in South Korea.
The South Korean movement organised successfully for the historic 15 February global day of action against war. In this sense, the South Korean mobilisation for the WSF began with the building of the anti-war movement.
The first mobilisation meeting was organised by All Together, the biggest anti-war and anti-capitalist organisation in South Korea, in August 2003. Around 300 people came.
Soon other organisations involved in the anti-war movement joined the mobilisation effort. Organised workers already active in the anti-war movement showed particular interest in the WSF.
Young-gu Huh, former vice-chair of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said, "Globalisation of capital is strongly advancing to crush the lives of people worldwide. This is why we must fight not only in our workplace but also beyond the national borders.
"The World Social Forum is equivalent to globalising from below. It is where we unite and build solidarity. Therefore, participating in the WSF is a historical task. Korean workers need to participate in the WSF in big numbers to feel the confidence of the international workers' and people's movements against neo-liberalism and the war, and for peace."
Young-gu Huh then became a central figure in founding Globalise From Below, a network of activists against globalisation. In November Globalise From Below organised a series of mobilisation meetings in trade unions and universities.
Whether it was a handful of young anti-war students or a large delegation from the Hyundai auto workers' union, a panel of speakers from Globalise From Below toured the country speaking on the significance of the World Social Forum. There was success after success.
After a meeting at the Seoul headquarters of the Civil Workers' Union, workers decided to collect money to send two of their fellow workers to the WSF. These meetings ended with a final rally, "The issues and prospects for the anti-capitalist movement".
It was the first anti-capitalist meeting in South Korea, and it was packed with 200 committed people.
However, we have had problems. Jun Ji-yun, a member of All Together and a socialist, applied for a passport to go to Mumbai. But the National Intelligence Service intervened and told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade not to issue his passport.
All Jun has done is criticise the South Korean government for supporting Bush's war and promising to send South Korean troops to Iraq.
While Jun started his one-man protest in the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade building, Globalise From Below immediately began a petition campaign appealing to the anti-war activists at home and abroad for solidarity and protest messages.
On hearing the news, the Indian WSF Organising Committee sent a letter of protest to the South Korean government. Many international anti-war and social movement activists rushed to support Jun. Ten days later we heard Jun would get his passport.
Now the Globalise From Below delegation is ready to organise, along with the international anti-war movement, the next Global Day of Action against the war and occupation of Iraq on 20 March, 2004.
Voices from India
ANIL MISHRA from the organising committee of the World Social Forum spoke to Socialist Worker.
Some of the discussions at the WSF will have a sharper edge because of being in India-for example women's oppression, communalism and racism and caste oppression. At the centre will be the fight against imperialist globalisation, war and neo-liberalism.
We worked very hard to get Indian workers to the WSF. There are many union movements tied to different political parties, and many local federations representing particular industries. We got a good response from all of them. We also worked to get representation from the millions of workers in the unorganised sectors.
The WSF creates opportunities for activists from different sides of the world to come together and discuss ideas and strategies in a genuine dialogue. So trade unionists from Britain can meet trade unionists from India.
TALAT AHMED is a British activist who has been helping at the WSF office in Delhi.
The number of advance registrations surpassed the hopes of the WSF organisers. According to Amit Sengupta, from the WSF organising committee in Delhi, "There are a large number of forums on US domination, war and the Middle East.
"There are also many on countering the impact of the World Trade Organisation's policies and the question of water privatisation. This is an issue for activists across the globe as they fight to halt the wholesale sell-off of utilities that were once publicly owned."
The Indian press talk about a "feelgood factor" and the BJP prime minister, Vajpayee, is looking to call a general election in early spring.
Amit Sengupta says, "This is designed to paper over and forget the horrendous massacre of Muslims in Gujarat two years ago. This was the worst genocide that India had witnessed since partition. But at this year's WSF many groups and activists will expose the hypocrisy of the BJP."
The main result of neo-liberalism has been to increase the gap between the mass of Indian people and a rich minority.
The Dalits (members of the lowest caste group who have traditionally been confined to the most menial jobs) have come out against globalisation. In the past many Dalit leaders believed that globalisation offered progress. Now they understand it means deepening the poverty of those at the bottom of society.
The WSF has brought together large numbers of people and groups in opposition to imperialism and communalism.
It has united the left with social democrats, progressives and the best elements within the non-governmental organisations.