Radicalize the Alternatives: World Social Forum in Belem

The World Social Forum (WSF) in Belem isn’t just another forum.  It’s the first WSF since the outbreak of the 2008 economic crisis, held at a moment when the total failure of neo-liberalism and the destructive character of global capitalism are exposed in all their harsh reality.  Besides, the Brazilian Amazon is a privileged place to highlight the link between social and ecological crisis.

Moreover, this Forum is taking place after a long period of time during which the “alterglobalization” movement lost its centrality and capacity to unite.  Social resistances have been growing all over the world but in a context of more fragmentation and more dispersion.

In this context, the visibility and relevance of the WSF has declined, as well as its concrete results.  Nonetheless, the WSF continues to be the most distinctive point of reference for the “alterglobalization” movement.  The movement needs a new impetus to simultaneously develop resistances “from below” and their general coordination.

The crisis poses the challenge to renovate strategic perspectives and make responses to the present moment, characterized by an increasing, albeit diffuse, rejection of the current economic system.  A mere “anti-neo-liberal” approach is not enough.  To shift toward a consistent “anti-capitalist” one seems to be a necessary strategic development if we are to advance toward “another world” that the Forum has said is “possible.”

It’s time to deepen the alternatives and radicalize their contents.  We must raise the standard of criticism and propose an agenda to break with the neo-liberal paradigm from an anti-capitalist perspective.  To the “classic” demands and proposals set forth during the past years (the Tobin tax, debt cancellation, the suppression of tax havens, etc.), one must add new proposals, which were “out of print” till very recently, such as putting the banking system under democratic public control, among many others.

It’s too soon to know what will be the result of the Forum at Belem, but it should be remembered that Social Forums are not an end in themselves.  They are useful in so far as they appear as an expression of struggles and resistances and enable the coordination of social movements and encourage strategic discussion and debate.

Five years ago, at the WSF held in Mumbai, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy pointed out: “What we need to discuss urgently is strategies of resistance.  We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and inflict real damage.”  Now, more than ever, we must keep this thought in mind.

Josep María Antentas teaches Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and is a member of the editorial board of the Spanish journal Viento Sur.  The original article “Radicalizar las alternativas” was published in Público on 27 January 2009.