‘Another world is possible’:

The second World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, Brazil

– A report by Sundaram from Porto Alegre

THE WORLD Social Forum (WSF), the annual meet held for the second time in a row at Porto Alegre, Brazil is undoubtedly emerging as a major expression of the worldwide anti-globalization or ‘global justice’ movement’s growing strength.

To judge by the sheer numbers participating at the second Forum the event was certainly a success. Persons registered at the Forum as representatives of civil society movements and organizations went up from 4000 in 2001 to 15,000 in 2002, representing 4909 organizations from 131 countries. Participation from within Brazil and other countries in Latin America was overwhelming with an estimated 35,000 people attending the over 600 workshops, seminars and plenary sessions at the Forum.

A special significance of the second WSF event was that it was held barely four months after the September 11 attack on New York and the subsequent US war on Afghanistan. At a time when the US imperialists have used the war to silence the anti-globalization movement in North America the WSF became a rallying point for anti-globalizers from different parts of the world.

The WSF is being described by its ideologues as a ‘process’ and not just another ‘event’ – the idea being that the course of getting so many diverse groups together itself constitutes a ‘movement’ against globalization. The WSF, as per its founding charter of principles, refuses to become an institution of any kind and issue statements in its own name or give calls for action against globalization.

Though on the face of it this may look like a refusal to accept the realities and hard responsibilities of fighting globalization it should be pointed out that at this stage of the WSF’s evolution any attempt to arrive at a unified organizational or ideological position will only result in major splits within the movement. The ideological spectrum constituting the WSF is very wide indeed, from red, green to even religious groups (like sections of the Catholic and other churches and even the Anand Margis!) and at this juncture it is helping to create a broad platform against neo-liberal globalization and though less explicitly – against US imperialism too.

The key to understanding the WSF process is, according to its proponents, not to look at it as some kind of a ‘steering body’ of the anti-globalization movement but as a venue where different groups engaged in changing the world order meet in a democratic exchange of ideas and experiences. The WSF event, timed to coincide every year with the meeting of the World Economic Forum held usually in Davos, Switzerland, and which represents global big business, is meant to provide an alternative vision of the world where ‘people come before profits’.

In the words of Fransico Whitaker, a member of the WSF organizing committee, “the Davos participants’ objective is the maintenance of capital domination – which they control – over human beings worldwide, as well as the broadening of their private business. The participants at Porto Alegre – inspired by the growing protests that come from all over against the globalization dictated by the interests of this capital, aim to advance proposals for the construction of another world, focusing on the human being and respect for nature, which they consider not only possible but also necessary and urgent, and that, actually, is already being built in their practical actions”.

Interestingly enough, though the WSF organizers have tried to project an image of the event as being one that is exclusively driven by civil society organizations and excluded participation by political parties, the facts behind the success of the event reveal this ‘anti-party’ stance as being needless rhetoric. The entire WSF event, held for the first time in 2001, was launched through a joint initiative of sections of the social movements in France getting together a range of organizations in Brazil which include the Worker’s Party (PT) and the Movement of Landless Farmers (MST), both of which are explicit political organizations with clear political ideologies and objectives.

In fact both the municipality of Porto Alegre and the province of Rio Grande do Sul, where the WSF has been held twice, are governed by the PT, without whose massive financial and organizational effort the event would never have taken place. At the second WSF it was very clear that the PT loomed large over the event – though in a non-sectarian and non-hegemonic way – like a grand patron allowing the ‘non-party’ children to have their day under the sun.

Both the PT and MST are organizations that have a greater orientation towards mass movements and also represent the strong anti-imperialist trend that prevails in Latin America. The net result has been a greater radicalisation of the event (at least in its declarations and statements of intent) than would have been possible if the European social movements alone had dominated the scene.

The proceedings at the World Parliamentary Forum, held parallel to the main WSF event, also gave a taste of what the scene would have been in the absence of the organised left forces asserting themselves. According to sources who were present during the deliberations, the parliamentarians attending the meet were split over the issue of what to say about the US war on Afghanistan. Apparently the Social Democrat MPs from Europe attending the meet were under strict instructions from their whips back home not to allow even a mention of the US war while those further to the left (notably the Italian communists) threatened to walk out if the US attack on Afghanistan was not condemned. Finally the issue had to be put to vote despite the tacit understanding that all decisions should be reached by consensus. The Left won the day but had to finally accept a very diluted mention of the US war on Afghanistan ‘regretting civilian casualties’ on all sides.

In sharp contrast, the statement issued by the various social movements represented at the WSF made it clear that ‘the opposition to the war (the US war) is at the heart of our movement’. The anti-US, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist sentiment dominated the proceedings at the numerous seminars and workshops that were held by activist groups from different parts of the world.

As part of a plan to slowly move the WSF event out of Brazil it has been decided to hold a series of regional level meetings in the run up to the next WSF which will also be held in Porto Alegre. A regional Asian meet will be held somewhere in South Asia, most probably Kathmandu. In 2004, the WSF event is proposed to be held in India.


Dissident rumble in the WSF jungle

Another WSF is possible?

AS THE World Social Forum kicked off deliberations against neo-liberal globalisation, dissidents within and outside the movement raised serious questions about both the composition of the Forum and the direction in which it is headed.

In an open letter to the thousands of participants gathered from around the world a group of Brazilian trade unionists accused the Forum of trying to give ‘a human face to globalization’ through minor reforms like the Tobin tax and not addressing the underlying realities of ‘global capitalism’.

“Capitalist globalization has destroyed nations, democracy, and the sovereignty of the poor. It cannot be “humanized” said the letter signed by over 20 trade union leaders including Julio Turra of the National Executive Committee, of the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), which is one of the organisers of the WSF. The signatories to the letter decided to boycott all the panels, workshops and official sessions of the World Social Forum.

The trade unionists also dubbed the concept of ‘civil society’, which the WSF claims to repre sent, as an attempt to cover up the borders between social classes that exist in society. “How is it possible to include in the same category of “civil society” both the exploited and the exploiters, the bosses and workers, the oppressors and oppressed—not to mention the churches, NGOs, and government and UN representatives?” asked their letter.

-- Sundaram