March 4, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan


World Social Forum: "A new world is necessary"

The IX World Social Forum, convened in late January in Belem, Brazil, was traditionally timed to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Involving around 120,000 participants, the alternative event demonstrated increasing interest to new designs of global political and economic architecture. On the background of disarray and anxiety that reigned in Davos at the face of the ongoing financial crisis, the alternative assembly looked more impressing than ever before. Since 2001, when the World Social Forum was organized in Porto Alegre, the number of involved countries has decimated. For the second time, the event was followed with the Day of Action for Global Mobilization, encompassing over 80 countries of the Third World. For the first time, WSF involved five presidents of Ibero-American states: Ignacio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Evo Moralez (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela).



Before the global financial crisis, the alternative international forum was not taken seriously by the global political establishment. Today, the earlier neglected "turn-out of leftist dreamers" attracted excessive attention in mainstream media. Though WSF's official slogan was "Another World is Possible", the real motto was "We told you so ", admits The Guardian. The paper reminds that the World Bank and the IMF that once imposed their neoliberal financial recipe on Ibero-American countries, are helpless in their current efforts of assisting the richest economies. "Today, I'd like to see the IMF come to President Obama and offer its service in crisis management", Lula da Silva says with sarcasm.

It is true that the authors of alternative economic and social designs have warned that neoliberalism, servicing the advantages of the "global billion" for expense of the poorer majority, was going to doom the whole global economy. These warnings were unheard by common citizens of the United States, Europe, and even Russia. Being focused on earning for a larger flat, a more convenient auto and an advanced version of handy, the middle class of the "successful" nations did not care for the starving African children and felled Amazon forests. But when the "shock-workers of capitalist labor" lose jobs and have to curtail their consumer appetites, the alterglobalists acquire a better opportunity of being listened to. In 2001, they just declared that a better world is possible. Today, they insist that a new world is indispensable.



The five Ibero-American leaders displayed solidarity in their criticism of neoliberalism and in their appeal for search of new models. Lula da Silva, who earlier visited Davos many times, reminded: "Industrial countries have been teaching us to run economy. They seemed invulnerable, and we were described as incompetent. We've been taught that the state cannot do anything, and that only the free market can help us to develop our countries. Bu today, this so-called free market has collapsed due to absence of control".

Lula da Silva insisted that the new model of the world can be achieved not through cosmetic repair of the inefficient financial system but through implementation of new designs of production and consumption. He emphasized that his government is going to invest not in the failed private banks but in creation of new jobs.

Hugo Chavez's message was even harsher. He claimed that in the period of crisis, poverty and unemployment is only disseminating across the globe, and that modern "globocapitalism" is fully responsible for that.

"Davos represents the dying global leadership, and we represent the leadership of future. We are opening a new era of the world", Chavez said. He stressed that the global financial crisis provides extraordinary opportunities for those who "have got out of the trenches, and are going to attack".

"We in Ecuador have decided to resist to neoliberalism, and to reject its economic model, based on self-interest and preaching egoism", said Rafael Correa. "The Davos people are responsible for the global crisis, and their recipe is today good for nothing". Like Chavez, he believes that escape from the crisis can be achieved only through implementation of an efficient model of socialism that Latin America is able to elaborate.

In his turn, Evo Moralez pointed at the significance of the world social movement as the indispensable locomotive of global change. "In case the people of the world fail to bury capitalism, it will bury the whole humanity", he said. "Our governments are convinced that the international social movement is the real force that will introduce a crucial change in our region", echoed Fernando Lugo.

Moralez's argument is shared by Candido Grzybowski, head of iBase, the major non-governmental alterglobalist entity in Brazil and a key organizer of the World Social Forum. "Unless we fail to use the unique historical opportunity of true democracy, provided by the crisis, we'll have to deal with a worse reincarnation of capitalism than the current liberal fundamentalism", he says.

What practical measures were proposed as an alternative to the Davos agenda? WSF speakers insisted on: nationalization of private banks; saving jobs in industries affected by the crisis; regulation of food and energy markets for prevention of speculation; withdrawal of NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; autonomy and sovereignty for indigenous peoples; pursuit of universal rights for labor, education, and health care; democratization of science and mass media. Argentina and Brazil, the two G-20 members, are going to raise these priorities at the oncoming summit of the club, and to insist on transformation of World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO.

Thus, the World Social Forum is becoming the center of gravitation for the intellectual forces that currently propose alternative models of global architecture. Referring to Fidel Castro and Subcommandante Marcos, Chavez characterized the WSF as the "nest of hope" and "manifestation of new forces that will define the future of humanity".



It is quite true that the global financial crisis opens new opportunities for spreading alternative ideas of global architecture. The question is to what extent the publicized proposals are realistic.

On the one hand, the Ibero-American regimes position themselves as anti-neoliberal. On the other hand, they still strongly depend on the rules of the neoliberal game, established by global corporations controlled from Washington and London. The above quoted Subcommandante Marcos does not rely upon the rhetoric of the incumbent leftist governments, criticizing them for reluctance to "introduce really radical changes".

In his article entitled "Latin America's 'New Left' In Crisis: As the 'Free Market' Collapses", James Petras, a professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, known as a convinced leftist intellectual, warns against euphoria of WSF intellectuals. Despite rhetoric of the "XXI Century Socialism", most of the Ibero-American nations are still dependent from capitalism, he reminds. Moreover, Petras indicates that the attempt of Ibero-American regimes to exploit the temporary advantages of high energy prices during the past five years has only exacerbated the principal flaws of the neoliberal economic model.

During the oil price boom, Ibero-America's "red belt" remained highly dependent on purchasers from major capitalist countries, reminds Petras. Not surprisingly, the onset of a full-scale recession and the resulting decline of oil prices have slashed investments in extraction, refining, and distribution of oil in Latin America. The ensuing "domino effect" is undermining related and accessorial industries, indicates the scholar.

Prof. James Petras reminds that the recent social initiatives, like a $30 food allowances for poor families, introduced by Lula da Silva, $50 unemployment benefits, disbursed by Nestor Kirschner's government in Argentina, as well as Bolivian joint ventures with oil corporations, have been guaranteed with additional revenues from export of national resources during the price hike that was in fact a result of speculation.

At the same time, the socio-economic and political structure of the same nations remained unchanged. The "red belt" has carelessly underestimated the fact that the budget surplus, enabling the governments to increase social assistance, was fully dependent on "hot money". Meanwhile, the public declarations of "gaining independence" from the US market and the "new alliance" with Russia, India, and China in the BRIC framework have not been implemented in practice.

This criticism can be applied also to Russia, where the repeatedly announced diversification of economy has not become a reality, the state budget remaining highly dependent on global oil prices. Petras's forecast of possible policies of countries that have tried to combine leftist populism with export-based economy should be seriously studied in Moscow.

James Petras concludes that at the face of collapse of the "non-orthodox" neoliberal model, the governments of Latin America are going to face a complicated choice between several options. Option 1: a massive buyout of bankrupt companies, intended to save the dominating banking and agro-mineral elites, for expense of a sharp decline of social assistance to workers, peasants and unemployed citizens, along with slashing of public spending. Option 2: revival of the strategy of import substitution through direct support of cooperatives and family enterprises operating at the domestic market.

The first option leaves the leftist governments strongly exposed to pressure of the rightist forces. The second option requires mobilization of all the social strata involved in production for the purpose of economic re-orientation.

In case of a brutal social dynamic in the conditions of the global crisis, Prof. Petras does not except Option 3: transition to a "military communist" model with direct distribution of the domestic product.

By January 2010, when the next World Social Forum will be held in one of the African countries, Latin America will have passed a decisive choice between the described options. During the current economic crisis the "XXI Century Socialism" is facing a serious crack test that may significantly influence the shape of the new world system. Yet, as Folha de Sao Paolo recently wrote, probably, the new world will not fully correspond with the ideals imagined in Belem, but it will definitely much differ from today's system, "oftentimes celebrated in Davos".

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