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Controversy was Rare in Porto Alegre

"Indebted states shaken by crises and their inhabitants can no longer be abandoned to the arbitrariness of credit sharks, the international banks." The controversy over a great political vision, cancelling globalization or a global social contract, was unresolved in Porto Alegre.
Controversy was Rare in Porto Alegre

Canceling Globalization or a Global Social Contract
Two Concepts and the Failure to Discuss Them

By Gerhard Dilger and Hannes Koch

[This article originally published in: die tageszeitung, February 4, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.taz.de/pt/.nf/spText.Name,neoliberalismus, idx,18.]

Porto Alegre: An historical subject of social change reappears. At the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the movement critical of globalization became increasingly aware of who it is and what it wants.

The movement's origin is clear: the landless in Brazil, rice farmers in India, inhabitants of Johannesburg, Mexico-City or Manila and environmentalists from industrial countries. Criticism of a market dominating all things and increasingly endangering democratic development of living conditions unites all of them. A Saturday workshop on "Political Vision" outlining common values of the many thousands of groups - sustainability, base democracy, solidarity and equality - was reserved to the Philippian sociologist and star of the movement, Walden Bello.

Concrete goals are tackled. The demand for the Tobin tax to prevent international financial crises is no longer enough. The question formulated by Peter Wahl from the German think tank "Weed" following the forum "Another world is possible" is a frequent question: "How should this other world be constructed?"

The World Social Forum has taken a step forward. Indebted states shaken by crises and their inhabitants can no longer be abandoned to the arbitrariness of credit sharks, the international banks. The demand for a just process in the case of a state bankruptcy is one result of the Porto Alegre conference. This intervention is currently meant for Argentina. The country has around $150 billion of debts from foreign investors for which it cannot pay any interest.

In the past, creditors in such cases assembled in the so-called "Paris" club and presented a payment plan to the bankrupt that served the banks and injured the population. The just insolvency process should end that. Then Argentina would have the right to appeal to an independent international tribunal that must listen to the population.

Still the search for the great political vision is difficult. One sign is the organizations' refusal to make a programmatic declaration at the end of the conference. Whether this declaration will be presented is not clear. The movement Attac is working on this.

One reason is that two concepts played a role in many workshops which do not absolutely exclude one another but set different accents. One is the project of de-globalization urged by Bello. The strategist of the organization "Focus on the Global South" wants to strip the great pioneers of neoliberalism like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank of their power and partly cancel globalization. On the other hand, protagonists like Attac plead for a "global social contract" to reestablish the structures of the old nation state on the world plane. The UN could then manage global tax revenues and use them for development policy.

Controversial debates on these two approaches were in short supply at the 26 large conferences in Porto Alegre. What was central to the globalization critics was mutual learning, exchanging information and strengthening the sense of community. Each accepted the perspective of the other as a part of the great whole.

Opposition to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as illegitimate international authorities was like a central thread through the meetings. Martin Khor from the Malaysian "Third World Network" and the eco-feminist Vandana Shiva from India described graphically how the EU (European Union) commission operated at the WTO meeting in Katar last November. The African states and India were "dragged to the table" at the last minute. In a telephone conversation, Tony Blair threatened the prime minister of India with reprisals said Shiva. The US and Europe used the situation after September 11 to force through their WTO agenda expanding again the rights of transnational corporations.

For Martin Khor, the demand for social and environmental clauses in international trade is a "diversionary manoever" by which the industrial states and the European Union justified their protectionism in the Katar negotiations. Ultimately workers in the North and South are played off against one another. The North American Free Trade Zone and the free trade agreement between Mexico and the EU function according to the same principle, declared Hector de la Cueva from the Latin- and North American "Continental Social Alliance". "Europe is not the slightest bit better in these questions", said the Mexican.

Despite this vehement and self-assured criticism, an uncertainty often resounded through the nearly 1000 seminars, workshops and podium discussions. The organizations critical of globalization - at least their protagonists - are no longer as optimistic as after the great demonstrations of Genoa last summer. After September 11, the base organizations fell into the defensive because they had to resist the reproach of alleged nearness to terrorism.

Walden Bello judged the results of the conference of Katar as a defeat or thrashing. Being constantly present in the public is necessary for the success of the movement. This is very hard. Uncertainty about the future seems to belong to the new social subject.

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