THE ASIAN Social Forum (ASF) held in Hyderabad in India ended last week with a closing rally of over 10,000 people. It was followed by a demonstration that drew in thousands more. Trucks and coaches from across the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh arrived with people who had made the trip to demonstrate their opposition to imperialism and war.
A large contingent from the All-India Student Federation chanted 'We want revolution!' and 'Long live socialism! Capitalism-down, down!' Their chants echoed among women's groups, environmental campaigners and trade unionists.
Many had improvised their own placards and banners which carried anti-war messages. An enormous puppet snake, which was there to represent the threat of anti-Muslim communal violence, threaded its way through the demonstration. Along the route there was street theatre and sideshows.
A large raised platform was turned into a gallows on which an indebted poor peasant farmer was lynched by a World Bank executioner. A loudspeaker broadcast the message, 'Now we understand the link between war, globalisation and communal violence.'
The demonstration followed a week of intensive discussion and debate held in hundreds of venues across the city. Vast meetings held in enormous tents attracted audiences of over 1,000, while smaller workshops covered every conceivable subject.
The ASF represents something new in Indian politics-a growing feeling of common interest between campaigners on many different issues. It has created a space for those who want to change society.
Anti-nuclear activists invited tribal peoples to address their meetings and tell them how uranium mining is destroying their health and environment. Those who are fighting India's caste system came to meetings about water privatisation. Like any newly-born movement, different forces are shaping it.
Within the ASF there are those who see the movement as a challenge to the dominant capitalist powers worldwide but who mute their criticism of their rulers at home. There are others who see the ASF as an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
India is a county whose economic growth has increased the disparities between rich and poor to an incredible level. While millions are living without a proper roof over their heads, India's new rich are constantly looking for new ways to spend money.
The latest fads include taking cruises to Singapore for extended shopping trips, or buying enormous four wheel drive cars which help clog up the congested roads of India's cities.
A minority of delegates wanted the ASF to be part of an anti-capitalist movement that challenges the system both at home and abroad. They see the rich in India working hand in hand with the rich in the West to privatise state-owned enterprises and cut social spending. The Indian company Infosystems is the second largest software manufacturer in the world.
During the week of the ASF the chief executive of Infosystems demanded a total end to state subsidies of higher education in order to cut corporation taxes. As Indian corporate greed matches its Western counterpart more people in India want to know about the anti-capitalist movement and how it has developed from its origin in the Seattle protests in 1999.
Many had heard about the anti-war movement in Britain. They wanted to know how we had managed to organise demonstrations of hundreds of thousands. One delegate explained that a member of his family had been in London for the demonstration last September.
He was so astounded by its size and diversity that he had used his mobile phone to give an on the spot report to his family in India. Many delegates wanted to discuss whether radical change is possible in India, and if it is what forces could bring it about. In a seminar on the future of socialism the Egyptian activist and academic Samir Amin argued that any transition from capitalism would 'take two or three centuries'.
Others felt that the collapse of the 'Soviet experiment' had been a setback. But everyone was excited about the size and diversity of the ASF. Many left wing political organisations in India talk about the need to organise among the working class, but then see elections as the best way of implementing their ideas.
Others look to the peasantry to form armed bands which can take land from the big landlords and distribute it to the poor. But there are people who are looking for something else.
They talked for hours about whether revolution was possible, what social classes would make a revolution, and how any future society would have democracy at its core.
At the moment their numbers are small, but the audience for their ideas is growing by the day.