Global Policy Forum

Never Give Up On That Other World


By Ignacio Ramonet

Le Monde diplomatique
January 2006

This year the World Social Forum (WSF), a forum for alternative thinkers the world over, is convening twice. Different venues and dates, but both meetings will be decisive: in Bamako, Mali, from 19-23 January, and in Caracas, Venezuela, from 24-29 January. An important political meeting is scheduled for 18 January, the day before the Bamako forum convenes, and the 50th anniversary of the famous Bandung conference.

The meeting is described as an international day of reflection, successor to the tricontinental political movement, and will focus on rebuilding the internationalism of peoples and an anti-imperialist front. Some 100 intellectuals and representatives of social movements from the third world and elsewhere are due to attend.

The idea of organising a social forum each year started in the immediate aftermath of the 1998 victory over the villainous proposal for a multilateral agreement on investments; the creation in France of Attac (association for the taxation of financial transactions and for the aid of citizens); and the success of the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation summit. At the time, it seemed that the march of liberal globalisation could be stopped in its tracks.

Tactically, it was necessary to establish a symmetrical but politically contrasting counterpart to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, held each year in late January. That summit attracts political leaders from North and South, eager to prove their allegiance, and ready to sell off their countries' assets with promises of maximum return on inward investment, never mind the environmental and social costs.

The decision to convene a social, not an economic, forum on the same dates followed. Not in the North but in the South. The first World Social Forum was in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where locally elected politicians had come up with the idea of participatory budgeting. The forum's theme was taken from its publication: Another World Is Possible. That expression produced the concept of altermondialism, a multifaceted movement encompassing the whole range of opponents to liberal globalisation.

The WSF is an innovative and visionary political project. Its aim is to bring together in one place, with associations, NGOs and trade unions as intermediaries, people who genuinely represent all the world's citizens opposed to globalisation. The victims of catastrophes of globalisation are specifically included.

The political objective underpinning the forum is radical in its modernity. Whereas the United Nations provides a forum for states or governments - the structures of power, the WSF aims to bring together, for the first time in history, an embryonic assembly representative of all humanity. It has had a definite strategic objective: to thwart the process of liberal globalisation that is breaking up societies, ruining the most fragile economies and destroying our environment. But, over time, that objective has become blurred and some people have forgotten about it.

That was clear at Porto Alegre in 2005 when it became apparent that the original idea had lost momentum. Many felt that the forum had to be more than a venue for discussions that did not lead to action: a minimum platform was needed so that words could be transformed into actions. The platform would provide meaning and design for alternatives to neoliberal proposals, incorporating the common objectives of citizens from North and South. If it failed, the forum risked losing political credibility and becoming a showpiece for civil society in which, despite the best intentions, good governance would become the main focus of attention.

This realisation led to a return to the offensive and provoked a major debate on the role and future of social forums: global, continental, national and local. The debate is critical for the future of altermondialism. It will be continued in Bamako and Caracas; and will be particularly impassioned in the Venezuelan capital where, for the first time, the WSF will come into direct contact with the reforms introduced by President Hugo Chávez.

The atmosphere in Latin America is affected by the recent success in Mar del Plata, Argentina, of opponents to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, and also by the electoral victory of Bolivia's Evo Morales in December. In Caracas people will be able to see for themselves that globalisation is not inevitable.

It is possible to reverse the trend, if you keep faith with the principles of justice and solidarity.

Translated by Julie Stoker

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