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World Social Forum: what has changed from 2001 to 2014?

quarta-feira 22 de janeiro de 2014, por Diane Garceau, Marco Aurélio Weissheimer Susana Cohen

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Thirteen years after the first edition of the Forum, Porto Alegre will once again be the stage of this debate. The situation is not the same; the world has changed, but not much. The construction of another type of globalization, different in that it is governed by financial capital, continues unchecked. (translated by Diane Garceau)

The Thematic Social Forum, which will take place in Porto Alegre from January 21st to 26th, will be an opportunity to, amongst other things, take account of the thirteen year trajectory of the World Social Forum.

The objective of the thematic forum is not exactly this. But the actual general theme proposed for discussion, “Capitalist crisis, democracy, social and environmental justice” requires a look at what took place in this period, as much from the point of view of the critics as well as that of the production of alternatives. After more than a decade, what is the balance of organizations that promote the WSF process with regards to the crisis of capitalism, the state of democracy in the world, and social and environmental justice? Has it improved or worsened? Where did it improve and where did it worsen? What are the main challenges at present?

According to the organizers of the Thematic Social Forum of Porto Alegre, the world economic crisis and the crisis of political representation threaten democracy. The convocation address affirms:
“The international crisis of the capitalist system is reaching its peak with the disintegration of the economies of European and North American countries and the constant erosion of workers’ social rights. As part of this process of global crisis there is a profound critique of the ability of political parties, including those of the Left, to represent political aspirations. These two factors put the international civil society on alert for possible setbacks in the global democratic agenda. The social and political crisis has not cooled since 2012. Precisely for this reason, it is fundamental that we reflect on the world that we want.”

Unlike the situation in 2001, when the WSF was born, Europe is now undergoing the most dramatic effects of this crisis. Some countries, like Greece, are experiencing a social catastrophe which confronts the entire world with a very dangerous situation. When there was the first Great Depression, in the 30s, it produced Fascism, Naziism, and war. There are authors who claim that we are starting to experience the second Great Depression. In some countries, like Portugal, Greece, and others, we are in the ninth trimester of the recession, in the third consecutive year of the recession. Therefore, from a political and social point of view, we are faced with a very dangerous framework.

A regular participant of the World Social Forum, Portuguese economist Francisco Louçã, political leader of the Left Block, believes that the main task of the Left today especially in Europe, is to fight against financial capital and against the logic that transforms the sovereign debt of countries into a means for accumulating capital. In a recent conference held in Porto Alegre, Louçã insisted on the Left’s need to know that their strategic priority is to attack the financial system: “The financial system generates debt not only as a form of classical exploitation of labour, but as an indirect way to create, throughout society, a sense of guilt, guilt for one’s country, guilt for the population, and a notion of subordination. There is a text from Marx’ young period, ‘Bank and credit,’ in which he writes that the relationship between debtor and creditor is the most violent form of alienation because it represents the objectification of the person as money. I belive that we are heading in this direction.”

Greece and Portugal are two countries which are suffering from this reality. In both cases, the result of applying the Troika policy prescriptions (IMF, European Comission and Central European Bank) is a social catastrophe. Austerity was applied by means of a huge increase in labour taxes, and especially, through the degradation of the public school as well as the reduction of public health investment and social support for the unemployed. In Greece, the youth unemployment rate has already exceeded 50%; in Portugal, it has surpassed 40%. It is also necessary to consider that amongst the other half, amongst the youth who are getting work, more than 60% are in completely insecure jobs that are very short term and underpaid.

The overall unemployment rate in Greece, Spain and Portugal reached a record high in 2013. But the combined effect of these policies also reached countries like Italy. Even just considering Italy and Spain, we already have two of the largest economies in the world. Italy and Spain, together with other neighbouring countries like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, represent close to 6% of the world output, which is an enormous weight, with huge effects on the European Union.

In a conference held during the first edition of the World Social Forum in 2001, Louçã asserted that the Left needed to have powerful ideas in order to combat neoliberalism. For him, in 2014, these powerful ideas are linked to the fight against the financial system. “The definitive issue in the short term is the fight against debt. I believe that the Left needs very powerful ideas. It needs to know that its strategic priority is to attack the financial system,” he argues.

The position advocated by Louçã ties in diretly with the warning given by organizers of the 2014 Thematic Social Forum on threats to democracy around the world. He affirms:

“The international financial system is unique in that it is totally protected by democracy. Its governments can be substituted, under the condition that any government obey the financial system, charging its people for the increasing cost of debt. The most powerful point that the Left must defend is the recovery of the sovereignty of democracy’s decision-making capacity over time. Debt is not only an exploitation, but is way of removing people’s ability to choose their time, to live their future. There is no future when debt determines the entire policy of a society, when it determines the empoverishment of a society. The trail of destruction that this capital is leaving has, as its foothold, the certainty that it is immune to democracy.”

Thirteen years after the first edtion of the Forum, Porto Alegre is once again the stage of this debate. The situation is not the same, the world has changed, but not much. The construction of another type of globalization, different in that it is governed by financial capital, continues unchecked.

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