World Social Forum:

After many years of devotion to merely critiquing and protesting corporate-driven globalization, the anti-globalization movement (more accurately described as “the movement for global justice”) has come of age in Porto Alegre.

The anti-globalization protests in Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Prague, Quebec and Genoa against the IMF, World Bank, WTO, G8 and other summits, have captured the imagination of millions across the globe. The sensational and agenda-weighted coverage by the mainstream media, which is beholden to or controlled by powerful transnational corporate players, gave the impression that these were confined to the industrialized North, but the true picture has been portrayed by the alternative and independent media. The protests in the South commenced much earlier, have been more widespread and far deeper than their Northern counterparts, including massive mobilizations in Venezuela, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, South Africa, Peru, South Korea, Colombia, Czech Republic, etc. And as one would expect, these were confronted by a far greater level of police brutality and violations of human and civil rights, which was unreported in the ‘respectable’ media.

It is fitting, therefore, that the evolution from the protest stage to the current maturity of the movement should occur in the South. And could there be a more appropriate setting than Porto Alegre?

This capital of Brazil’s most progressive and prosperous state has been hosting the second World Social Forum (WSF2), which is the antipodes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) – a gathering of the world’s corporate elites – held in New York instead of its usual niche in Davos, during the first week of February. WSF2 has been a phenomenal success. It has dwarfed the WEF with its superlatives: 50,000 delegates and representatives from 150 countries who participated in 700 workshops, 100 seminars, scores of plenary sessions, demonstrations and fringe meetings, spiced with progressive movies, music and artistic performances, in a euphoric celebratory kaleidoscope of vibrancy and colour. The proceedings have been elevated by rousing speeches by luminaries like Noam Chomsky, the famous philosopher and social commentator, Vandana Shiva, the highly respected Indian physicist and ecofeminist, Rigoberta Menchu, the venerable Guatemalan Nobel laureate, and many renowned activists including Walden Bello, Martin Khor, Naomi Klein and Lori Wallach.

Energized by a powerfully declamatory affirmation that  “Another world is possible”, the Forum moved beyond protest and proceeded in a highly structured way to explore alternatives, concrete strategies and structures. Intense discussion focused on the types of organizations envisioned to replace institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO, and “how to build alternative economic, political and cultural structures.” Each of the hundreds of workshops was charged with the mission of developing concrete proposals to carry the process forward.

To illustrate the excellent standard of the debate and evolving proposals, let us examine three particularly good examples:

The first was Walden Bello’s Proposal for a Pluralistic System of Global Economic Governance in Conference IV: Political Power and Ethics in the New Society. This states that the aim is “not to reform the TNC-driven WTO and Bretton Woods institutions, but, through a combination of passive and active measures, to either a) decommission them; b) neuter them (e.g., converting the IMF into a pure research institution monitoring exchange rates of global capital flows); or c) radically reduce their powers and turn them into just another set of actors coexisting with and being checked by other international organizations, agreements, and regional groupings.” This strategy would include strengthening institutions like UNCTAD, the ILO and economic blocks (Mercosur, SADCC, ASEAN, etc.); and the formation of new international and regional institutions dedicated to “devolving the greater part of production, trade, and economic decision-making to the national and local level” with multiple checks and balances, and “based on their values, their rhythms, and the strategies of their choice.”

The second was the proposal on the Control of Financial Capital by Attac (Association For The Taxation Of Financial Transactions For The Aid Of Citizens), which includes aims to restore and promote controls over capital flows to nation-states, through national-level policy measures and international fiscal measures; levy tax on international financial transactions (Tobin Tax), which would have a low average rate and its annualized cost inversely proportional to the duration of the translations – to discourage speculation; levy a variable tax on FDI (foreign direct investment); levy tax on the profits of transnational corporations; reinforce specific controls on all markets (stock, forex, derivative and bond); elimination of tax havens, by the lifting of banking confidentiality, intervening in states that harbour tax havens, publication of data on tax havens, respecting anti-money laundering laws, etc; reinforcement of controls on banks; prudential rules for international investors; make private actors who are responsible for the crises pay; and reform the international financial institutions (IMF and World Bank).

And finally the proposal for the Conference on Transnational Corporations, facilitated by Joshua Karliner of CorpWatch which in summary states that: “The current corporate-globalization paradigm, which prioritizes corporate profit maximization over human rights, labor rights and environmental rights, should be turned on its head to prioritize these universal life values.” It then proceeds with detailed proposals to realize this objective, including the separation of corporations and the state which “should also extend from local and national governance, to global governance institutions such as the WTO, World Bank, IMF, UN, etc.”; campaigns against specific corporations and their activities; campaigns to seek to ally with alternative, smaller scale, local, more accountable businesses that are providing similar goods or services; campaigns for, and indices to, measure corporate responsibility; binding rules on transnational corporate behavior should be established through a Framework Convention on Corporate Accountability; and collaboration between social movements in the South and the North fighting for corporate accountability and democratic control over corporations should be strengthened.”

Admittedly not all the workshops produced such sterling results and there was no overarching final declaration or integrated strategic blueprint. But there is certainly no doubt in the minds of the tens of thousands of participants or the awe-struck millions following the proceedings from afar, that this was a unique global event and a powerful symbolic landmark which augers immense promise to advance the realization of another possible world.

Susan George’s incisive analysis is that the WSF “is not building a new society of governments, nor a new society of nations, [but] …. a new society of societies.” She adds that “while the road ahead toward some sort of global equity and a better humanity is long, arduous and uncertain, it is, nevertheless, the only route out of barbarity.” And Chomsky hopes that it will become “a new International” for global social justice movements.

To maintain the impetus and actively foster decentralization, the international organizing committee has decided on holding a series of regional Forums over the coming year in Africa, Asia, Ecuador, USA and Palestine, culminating in the 3rd WSF to be held in Porto Alegre in 2003 and WSF4 in India the following year

Long live the World Social Forum!