2003 World Social Forum - The thirst for change comes up against a rubber wall

The recent third World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre (Brazil) was held in a period in which great changes are taking place in the world situation. This was reflected in the huge number of visitors to the WSF. For the first time there were more than 100,000, which is a clear sign of the changing mood across the whole of Latin America.

The recent third World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre (Brazil) was held in a period in which great changes are taking place in the world situation. This was reflected in the huge number of visitors to the WSF. For the first time there were more than 100,000, which is a clear sign of the changing mood across the whole of Latin America.

The coming war on Iraq, the world economic crisis and the development of the class struggles in Europe and particularly in Latin America, were all items that should have been put on the agenda and discussed thoroughly at the Forum.

The warm welcome given to Chavez and Lula was not a sign of a "degeneration” of the movement, as some intellectuals argued. On the contrary, it was a clear indication of the thirst for radical change among the masses.

Unfortunately it became evident that the WSF organisers were more interested in making the event into a rival with the Davos Economic Forum in terms of size and media coverage of the meeting than in discussing the real issues at stake. If one takes a look at the coverage in the bourgeois press what emerges is a picture of an event that has become harmless for the world bourgeoisie.

To organize an event such as the WSF, a huge amount of money is needed. Among the financial backers were Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, and the Ford Foundation, that belongs to the well-known US car company. Can we seriously imagine the latter giving money to someone or something that is seen as posing a threat to the capitalist system?

In weeks prior to the event there was a lot of talk about the need to have a clear strategy for the antiglobalisation movement. So far, no final declaration or documents have appeared on the Internet or in the press, but it seems from the media reports that very little was actually achieved.

Should the movement demand the cancellation of the debt or should it call for it to be renegotiated with the IMF? It seems that we now have the brilliant idea that anyone can choose either of these two roads, according to the Italian "il Manifesto" (January 28, 2003).

Is the so-called "social" economy complementary or alternative to capitalism? Well, according to a young delegate, since the movement is not based on the concept of majority and minority, both roads can be taken. It all depends on the short and medium term objectives. (il Manifesto, January 28, 2003)

That there is confusion on the road to be taken is clear. The behaviour of Lula is a very good example. He decided to attend both the WSF and, the following day, the Davos Forum, provoking some debate within the Porto Alegre delegates.

The problem is that the issues at stake are not abstract. They concern the lives of millions of workers and youth all over the world.

A clear example is what is happening in Venezuela. Precisely because the interests of capitalists were at stake in that country, they organised the coup of last April. They were reacting against very partial reforms proposed by the Chavez government. This shows that a so-called "social" economy is incompatible with capitalism. Another example is that of Argentina when it fell into its deepest crisis ever because the IMF refused to renegotiate its foreign debt.

We have analysed the ideas of the leaders of the antiglobalisation movement on more than one occasion (see our Globalisation section), and we have repeated many times that no middle, "third” or "new" way between reform and revolution is possible. All the events that have unfolded over the last year have proved this beyond any doubt. These so-called "new" ideas may be more attractive or fashionable, but the question we have to ask is: "Are they working or not?"

The general confusion during the days of this latest Forum became even greater - if that is imaginable. The incredible idea that "we don't fight for power, but what we want is happiness", was repeated during another big debate in the Gigantinho, the main hall of the WSF.

Naturally we don't raise the question of the need for the working class to take the power just for the sake of it. The workers need to take power because only in this way can they really have control over the instruments with which they can change their living conditions.

The experience of the Rio Grande do Sul State government in Brazil (of which Porto Alegre is the capital) is very useful in this regard. This is where one of the key dogmas of the ‘No-global' theoreticians was implemented, that of the so-called "participatory budget". The masses were given a consultative vote on how 10% of the state budget should be spent. However, at the same time this did not stop the federal and state governments from carrying out cuts in jobs, health care and education. As a result of all this in the last elections the PT lost control of Rio Grande do Sul! Real economic power remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie while the local PT leaders were forced to bow down to the diktats of the bosses.

This is the challenge now also facing Lula in the running of the whole country. Bertinotti, the leader of the Italian Rifondazione Comunista, put forward the idea that "we must build a worldwide Lula". Naturally we welcome the PT victory. It is an important step for the Brazilian revolution. But the challenges Lula is facing are very hard ones.

As we pointed out just after the elections that took place at the end of last year:

"Despite all his promises, they fear that the new President may be incapable of taking the tough decisions needed to "stabilise the debt" that is, of attacking the wages and living standards of the people who voted for him. Thus, they will react to his election by sending their money out of the country at an even faster rate than before. The result will be a strike of capital, which will further damage the economy, causing an increase in unemployment and poverty. This is the little present the capitalists and bankers have prepared for the new President of Brazil, as a gentle warning to him not to forget who is the real master of the house.

"What the bourgeoisie wants is for Lula to carry out policies in the interests of the rich, to continue Cardoso's unfinished package of "market reforms", to cut pensions, to privatise state companies and to facilitate sackings. In other words, what they want is no change. But millions of Brazilians have just voted decisively for a fundamental change. The President will find himself ground mercilessly between two millstones.

"The Bible says: "You cannot serve two masters: you cannot serve God and Mammon." That goes for the PT also. Lula has been elected with the votes of the overwhelming majority of the electorate. What matters more, the aspirations of more than 50 million Brazilians, or the interests of a tiny handful of wealthy parasites?" (from The Brazilian elections - a new stage in the Latin American revolution, by Alan Woods).

Instead of these clear ideas, Bertinotti' simply adds even more confusion with his latest slogan. We need workers' parties in power not only in Latin America, but also in the rest of the world. However, the formation of left governments represents only the beginning, not the end of the process.

The programme which these parties adopt and the role that the working class is to play in the process are fundamental. The programme must be a revolutionary programme of expropriation of the capitalists and landlords, of nationalisation under workers' control of the major corporations. And the movement must see that the working class has to play an essential part in the revolutionary process, otherwise no genuine socialist transformation of society is possible.

The workers cannot wait for a saviour, even if his name be Lula or Chavez. They have to participate not with a "consultative” but with a decisive role in running the new society. This is the only way to assure the victory of the mass movements that are developing all over Latin America.

Another key question facing workers and youth all over the world at the present time is the impending war on Iraq. An appeal was issued by the Social Forum to stop the impending conflict. Naturally we all agree that it is necessary to stop this war, but how is this to be achieved? Is it really serious to say that we can do it by appealing to "everyone who trusts a political and democratic solution to international conflicts" (European Social Forum Appeal)?

All this is wishful thinking and ignores the fact that Washington has no interest at all in a "democratic" solution. That is why they are rushing into war. With these kind of ideas the forces of the anti-war movement risk being channelled into a frustrating campaign of simply "putting pressure” on the western governments. What is really needed is to channel these forces into an all-out class war. Mass action, general strikes and an appeal to the Arab masses to rise up against their own tyrants are the only real means to stop the war.

Those activists who look to events such as the 2003 Porto Alegre WSF, must draw all the necessary conclusions. Halfway measures are useless in this kind of situation. What is necessary is to gather together all the best forces of the working class and youth worldwide around a genuine socialist programme. This is now becoming an urgent task, now more than ever.