The World Social Forum at a crossroads

by Flore-Anne Bourgeois, Geneva, Switzerland, February 2006,

“The Forum is not deliberative in nature and time will not be wasted in discussing the commas in a final document. It will be the beginning of a process of thinking together at the world level (…). The intention is, by thinking together also on a ‘globalized’ basis, to make room – in greater depth each year – for the search for alternatives to the dominant model. In fact, World Social Forum 2001 will be only the first step, but an entirely new step, which is increasingly finding an echo the whole world over. Our hope is that this echo really will secure the beginning of a new period in the struggle against human submission to the interests of capital”.

INTRODUCTION: On 25 January 2001, more than 15,000 people gathered in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to participate in the first World Social Forum (WSF). The event hit the headlines, momentarily overshadowing the World Economic Forum (WEF) concurrently held in Davos. The WSF was achieving its first objective: being a credible counterpoint to this annual meeting of world business and political leaders. Since then, the WSF has progressively evolved and gained strength: witness the exponential increase in the number of participants. It has prompted the organization of various activities and forums at the regional and national level.

However, for the last three years, doubts and criticisms have grown. Discussions have revolved around the functions and the efficacy of the WSF. Concretely, the anti-globalization movement2 today faces two main challenges that could seriously compromise its usefulness and influence if they are not resolved. First, the capacity of the movement to become really ‘global’, i.e. to include people from all over the world, is being questioned. Second, there is the controversial question of the possible conversion of the WSF into a political movement with concrete strategies and policies. These issues came up again during the two forums this year, which were exceptionally held outside Brazil, in Bamako, Mali (19-23 January) and in Caracas, Venezuela (24-29 January).3 After these two meetings, it is still unclear which direction the movement will take in the future. (full text of the 25 pdf-pages).

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