Gramsci, Polanyi and Impressions from Africa on the Social Forum Phenomenon


The  rise  of  the  Social  Forum  phenomenon  has  been  heartily  welcomed,  partly  so  as to unite diverse discourses of anti‐neoliberal and anti‐imperialist resistance under a common  banner.  There  are  debates  worth  flagging,  however,  that  draw  our  attention to  political  philosophies  (typically  binary  statist  versus  anti‐statist  disputes),  visions of agency (typically networked movements versus parties), and potentials for revolutionary processes to emerge within ‘civil society’. In the spirit of Polanyi, many South Africans and other Africans are working on ‘decommodification’ strategies that range from particular sites of project‐level struggles to national, regional and international advocacy. But we must be conscious, as well, of warnings by Gramsci about the long march through a civil society often co‐opted to support state and neoliberal projects. The merits of African intellectual engagements with radical social movements have been shown in sites such as South African cities, but the African Social Forum awaits further opportunities to welcome allied researchers and academics. As the World Social Forum comes to Africa in 2007, Marcuse’s hope that the constituent movements begin to coalesce around a program is timely. However, this is likely to emanate more from intra‐sectoral networks rather than from multidisciplinary moments such as the WSF itself.