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The Fifth World Social Forum

by Elmar Altvater Saturday, Mar. 12, 2005 at 6:39 PM

In the debates hardly any doubt existed in Porto Alegre that this alternative solidarian economy cannot be an island in the furious ocean of the capitalist world market. Thisalternative economy needs state assistance.



By Elmar Altvater

[This article originally published in the Berlin Freitag 05, February 4, 2005 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web, Elmar Altvater is an emeritus professor political economy at the Free University of Berlin.]


Translations of all statements must be accessible at a World Social Forum of this dimension. Otherwise the meeting will lose its attractiveness although the movement in no way stagnates. In Porto Alegre 120,000 people from all regions of the world met, more than ever before. Neither the pains nor the costs deterred them from being present at the World Social Forum. That none of the problems has been solved led to the genesis of a global justice movement of global range. The world has not become more peaceful. The American superpower occupies Iraq and threatens new wars. The world has not become more just. The noble millennium goals of the United Nations to cut in half poverty in Africa have not been reached. Social security falls victim to reduced state budgets and neoliberal dogmas. The destruction of the nature of planet earth advances.

In Brazil, the host country of the Social Forum, the social chasms still seem much deeper than elsewhere. Nothing has changed in this even under the government of the leftist president Lula de Silva. Labor incomes lag behind. A financial crisis with a dangerously high interest level of 18 percent is possible.

“Human security” in the UN jargon is acutely threatened… Elevated theories draw thousands in their spell. The world of Porto Alegre is a reflection of the human worlds. One theme will occupy the left worldwide more than ever in the next years: the “solidarian economy”. Rural cooperatives in Brazil and Venezuela, the fundamental right to adequate living space, the awarding of micro-credits for social projects and exchange rings are parts of the solidarian economy.

The “solidarian economy” is promoted as a global theme because neoliberal free trade has not fulfilled its promises of well-being. “Neoliberalism from below” – the expansion of the competition principle where everyone even in the informal sector gives free rein to the entrepreneurial spirit – has failed. Therefore the “solidarian economy” has proven to be an alternative to the global competition economy. In the debates, hardly any doubt existed in Porto Alegre that this alternative economy cannot be an island in the furious ocean of the capitalist world market. This alternative economy needs state assistance.

A manifesto reflecting the “consensus of Porto Alegre” proclaims this alternative. Ignacio Ramonet from the newspaper Le Monde diplomatique, the “founder” of the World Social Forum Sami Amin from Dakar and Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South in Bangkok were among the authors. With other, these local dignitaries published a catalogue of demands that expresses the consensus of the 120,000. They demand a Tobin tax, the end of all tax havens, debt cancellation for the poorest, a solidarian worldwide property tax and guaranteed access to clean drinking water for everyone. Unfortunately the philosophy of the horizontal interweaving of the WSF is ignored in this consensus.

Perhaps the authors presented their consensus to facilitate discussions with the representatives of the World Economic Forum of Davos scheduled for July 2005 in Paris. President Lula who was first at Porto Alegre and then flew to Davos advised the WSF to speak with the rich and powerful of the world if it wants to realize its goals. The parallel World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland seems present like Mozart’s guest from Don Giovani and vice versa. What will be the result of the discussions? The World Social Forum runs the risk of being confiscated by the leading economic and political power conglomerates.

Should the forum remain in Porto Alegre? Over 62 percent of the population of this city of millions supports the forum. This is impressive since the leftist city government was voted out of office a few weeks ago. In 2007 a city in Africa will be featured.

In the meantime there are continental and national forums in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Therefore organizing large World Social Forums at an interval of two years seems sensible.

Another world is possible but making it possible is still laborious and tedious. This is the crucial experience that can be learned from Porto Alegre.

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