Reinventing the World Social Forum?

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1511 .... November 13, 2017
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Reinventing the World Social Forum?

Boaventura de Sousa Santos

The World Social Forum (WSF) met for the first time in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. This was an event of extraordinary importance. It signaled an alternative form of globalization to the globalization being promoted by global capitalism, at a time when capitalism was increasingly assuming it is most exclusive and antisocial version: neoliberalism. This was not its first signal, but it was unquestionably its most consistent one. It put on the international agenda the struggles of the movements and social organizations fighting all over the world against the many faces of social exclusion: economic, racial, ethno-cultural, sexist, religious, etc. The WSF was, at the same time, both a symptom and a potentiality of the hope... harbored by the oppressed social groups. It emerged as a world vocation in Latin America, because the subcontinent was then the world region where the popular classes were more consistently translating hope into forms of progressive government.

Such hope, both utopian and realistic, had been recently reignited in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, from 1998 onwards, and would go on sparking with the new governments of Lula da Silva (Brazil) and Nestor Kirchner (Argentina), in 2003, and, in the following years, Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Manuel Zelaya (Honduras), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), and Pepe Mujica (Uruguay). With the WSF, a decade of hope was inaugurated and, starting from the subcontinent, projected throughout the whole world. Only in the subcontinent did it make sense to speak of “21st-century socialism,” even if the concrete political practices had little to do with the discourses.

The great novelty of the WSF and its most precious asset was that it facilitated relations of mutual knowledge among the social movements and organizations involved in all kinds of struggles in different countries and according to historically very distinct political cultures. At the beginning, such an objective was well served by a culture of free and consensual discussion, as well as by the refusal of the WSF, as such, to make any political decisions. Which does not mean that, from the very beginning, there was no political debate among the more committed activists, a debate that became increasingly intense in the course of time.

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