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Challenging the Elites

"The neoliberal ideology understands democracy as one political form alongside other authoritarian forms through which...the freedom of individuals...is assured. This position goes along with an instrumental relation to democracy...Even military dictatorships appear as a means to gain space for such freedom. The new social movements conquer the space of a social democracy abandoned by the established social democracy." Translated from the German
Challenging the Elites

The Second World Social Forum in Porte Alegre

By Michael Brie

[This article originally published in evangelical press service, epd-Entwicklungspolitik 5/6/2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.epd.de/entwicklungspolitik/2002/05brie.htm. Michael Brie is a professor and member of the Rosa Luxemburg foundation in Berlin.]

Rule orders are stable when they have a monopoly on legitimacy, organization and formation of alternatives. The dominant power coalition believes in its project, convinced that public interest is best served when all other powers are forced to realize their own interests in the scope of this project. Divergent minorities are not able to form either spiritually or organizationally. The neoliberal rule project had stability in the years after 1990. This stability is now shaken. The second World Social Forum is a clear expression of that change.

What formed through a 1997 meeting in Chiapas became a global event in Seattle. What made ATTAC into one of the most influential movements worldwide? What made the Brazilian movement of the landless MST, the Indian movements against destructive mega-projects of an export-oriented or rebellious Gallier Bove into global symbols of resistance is deeply rooted in world society and the peoples. Even if global capitalism has not produced its grave diggers, it has generated new convincing critics. These critics can break the monopoly of the dominant neoliberal elites in legitimacy, interconnection, organization and elaboration of conceptual alternatives. Up to now, they have succeeded in escaping the trap of violence and terror.

Shortly after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the anti-neoliberal movement critical of globalization seemed dead. The so-called war against terrorism dominated the headlines. The themes of the critics seem opposed to the world-political agenda. All conflict with the neoliberal and imperial rule discourse was denounced as an indirect support of terrorism. The demonstrators of Genoa were identified post festum with the organizers of the crimes of September 11. The Financial Times titled its edition "Bye bye, Seattle". The specter of the challenge of the global elites by base democratic movements seemed banished.

Hardly a year later the picture changed. The US and its allies returned to massive military actions intensifying the wave of the militarization of international relations begun in 1990. At the WTO negotiations enormous advances were made in the liberalization and privatization of public goods. The pressure on Latin American countries to submit to the total American system of free trade increased. The US expands its military activities in Latin America. A security state and growing repression arose in many countries of the world. However resistance has grown.

The openly imperial appearance of the US as world judge and world policeman, the collapse of the economy and society in Argentina, the model country of the IMF as well as the bankruptcy of Enron, symbol of uncontrolled global speculation and corruption of economic and political elites in the US quickly brought neoliberal globalization into disrepute. The anti-neoliberal movement critical of globalization was not a phenomenon with a short-term boom. This movement challenges the neoliberal monopoly on the legitimacy, organization and formation of alternatives.

Challenge to the Neoliberal Monopoly on Legitimacy

The collapse of state socialism was a gift to the western neoliberal elites, robbing them of every alternative (even bad alternatives). Therefore capitalism is no longer a good world but the best of all possible worlds. The end of history, the end of the genesis of alternatives, was proclaimed. The legitimacy of a neoliberal globalization led by the US was publically unchallenged. However legitimacy cannot be bought or commanded. Legitimacy must be constantly regained. The credibility of actors and procedures leading to more freedom, justice and security is often a rapidly fading asset.

Since 1997, the legitimacy monopoly of the global elites was broken - first by small meetings and then mass demonstrations, the formation of global networks with strong resonance and lastly by the World Social Forum in Porte Alegre. A powerful space of the delegitimation of the neoliberal project arose. This is very clear in comparing the collapse of the World Economic Forum of Davos and now New York and with the rise of the World Social Forum.

On one side a meeting of 2000 top managers and on the other side 60-70,000 persons representing nearly 5000 organizations of civil society from 131 countries and 210 ethnic groups. On one side the defensive strategy that we must "also" now turn to poverty and AIDS and on the other side the offensive proclamation that only a social and democratic globalization deserves this name. The decoding or deconstruction of the present globalization increasingly shared by many in the world destroys its legitimacy. In a counter-move, the conviction that another world is possible becomes legitimate and gains support.

The formula of privatization as the royal way to more efficiencies and justice has lost enormous credibility. On the background of the crisis in Argentina and the collapse of the Enron conglomerate, privatization has proven to be a way to a shameless enrichment of one and expropriation of others. Liberalization has increased the freedom of transnational corporations and finance firms to do as they please in their own interests. The freedoms of the mass of the population have decreased. The elites of the North can less and less present themselves as a democratic authority since they seek to enforce their positions in undemocratic groups and through secret negotiations.

Challenge to the Neoliberal Monopoly on Integration and Organization

The formula democracy and human rights which western elites successfully mobilized against the Soviet Union is now directed against their own rule. The first and highest demand of the final declaration of the social movements forum in Porte Alegra was democracy. "For democracy, the peoples have the right to know and criticize the decisions of their governments, particularly when they involve international institutions. While we support the spread of democracy through voting over the whole earth, we emphasize the necessity of democratizing state and society and the struggle against dictatorship." At the forum of the parliamentarians, those were attacked who had spoken for liberalization and the anti-terrorist war and now demonstrate their sympathy for the World Social Forum. These chasms cannot be bridged.

Through a military putsch, a repressive neoliberal elite came to power in Chile in 1973. In 1989/90 the neoliberal elites of the US actually defined the projects of transformation in Central- and Eastern Europe and Russia. Only they could act and control that necessary integration and organization in influencing processes after the collapse of Soviet state socialism.

The World Social Forum is part of a movement of movements breaking the neoliberal monopoly on integration and organization. The forum itself has become a permanent process, firstly a constant place of debate, secondly an arising capacity for global action, thirdly a diverse cooperation of the most different groups and fourthly counter-elites appear symbolizing the total movement.

Such an alternative space of discussion, organization and representation breaks through the isolation of those engaged or those seeking engagement. A concrete material experience of community develops out of an abstract feeling. A We-feeling results from the experienced community of speaking and acting together. The possibility of another world is experienced concretely and with great relish through the process itself and the forum.

This anti-elitist we-feeling is an enormous power. The real capacity to change conditions is given to the individual and collective sense of the legitimacy of desires. Conscious of this power, the World Social Forum formulated: "We are a global solidarity movement united by our determination to oppose the
Concentration of wealth, the spread of poverty, inequality and the destruction of our earth. We are intent on a broad alliance against a system based on patriarchy, racism and violence that privileges the interests of capital over the needs and expectations of the people."

The global movement today has its heroes and spokespersons. Supporting organizations found a place in Porte Alegre. A self-confident movement has come out of a mere counter-movement. Its guiding theme was: "Another world is possible!"

Challenge to the Neoliberal Monopoly on Alternatives

The worst rule continues when no credible alternative promises superior results. In the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties, the Chicago boys could dictate to many states of the world. These unchallenged dictates or prescriptions for transformation and crises were never applied in their own countries. The results are sobering. Many regions have become poorer, not richer. Social integration was
Undermined and social divisions intensified. Destruction of the environment and wars have increased. For many, the prophets prove to be transient or passing.

The moral protest against these developments by the social movements should be converted into alternative possibilities. Common basic principles underlying the different reform alternatives arose out of experiences in very different contexts. These principles are (1) democratization, (2) redistribution from top to bottom, (3) safeguarding public goods and (4) rejection of military means.

(1) The neoliberal ideology understands democracy as one political form alongside other authoritarian forms through which the freedom of individuals as market-oriented entrepreneurs of their own labor power and as collective economic subjects is assured together with forms of authoritarian rule like that of the IMF, the World Bank or the G8. This position goes along with an instrumental relation to democracy that cannot exist in many areas in order not to harm economic freedom. Even military dictatorships appear as means for gaining space for such freedom. The new social movements then conquer the space of a social democracy actually abandoned by the established social democracy, a democracy in which people form their economic and social conditions guaranteeing everyone's equality in access and control over the basic goods of human life.

(2) Over several decades, redistribution from bottom to the top was substantiated in that a growing wealth of a few was the condition for the growing prosperity of many in the future. The top tax rate was lowered; income taxes rose. Taxation on corporate profits fell; public social benefits were cancelled. As a result, the wealth of a few rose, the poverty in society often increased drastically and the middle classes wee in danger of being wiped out. To counter that, the new social movements propose a policy directly satisfying the needs of the poorer groups, not through the roundabout way of enriching richer countries and classes.

(3) The last decades were decades of privatization of public goods. As a goal, neoliberalism starts from the ideal of a market society where everything is privatized. Against that, the new global movements set the goal of open assurance of equal access of everyone to the basic goods of life: "Water, earth, food, forests, seed and the identity of the peoples are the common heritage of humanity, of present and future generations. Protection of bio-diversity is an important task. The peoples have a right to healthy and regular nutrition free from genetically manipulated organisms. Sovereignty on national, regional and local planes represents a fundamental human right. In this sense, the fundamental demands are raised for agrarian reform and land for farmers."

(4) The years after 1990 have been an age of new wars. The US and its allies have begun using military power to directly form inner relations of foreign states and peoples according to their own ideas. An imperial international law was created based on the self-mandating of the global world policeman. After September 11 under the ideology of the global war against terrorism, a discrediting of all criticism and all resistance was introduced as potentially anti-American and terrorist. At the Second World Social Forum, the alternative of peaceful and solidarian settlement of conflicts was proposed without saying a word for violence.

The new global movement succeeded in developing a political model that did not revert to the sins of Soviet communism, centralization, expropriation, dethronement and estrangement propagated as inevitable transitional goals. Alternatives also oppose the subordination of reform strategies under positional competition characteristic for the established right-wing social democracy.

Concrete alternatives presented by the World Social Forum and its supporters emerge from a global, transparent and very plural discourse, an open search process. Up to now, all temptations to bring ready-made prescriptions into the movement were resisted. Alternatives were developed in the movement. Time is necessary to win broad support for these alternatives.

The Future of the Socialist Left

History occurs in waves. Periods of forming and enforcing new rule projects as in the eighties and nineties could be superseded by periods of the formation and struggle of emancipative movements. The strength or weakness of these movements and their duration cannot be forecast.

Whether the new global movement will successfully form into a power jointly and lastingly defining the agenda of the world society is uncertain. Whether it will retain its attraction in legitimacy is unclear. Whether it will advance its integration and coordination is even more uncertain. Whether the alternatives will withstand the test of praxis is most unclear. Only then will deep traces be left behind in the long-term.

Socialists must prove credible partners of the new movement. Some of their parties were already weighed in connection with the support of the war in Afghanistan and found too light. Making policy in times of depression of social movements as in the early 90s is different from times of their boom. Defensive strategies must be replaced by offensive strategies. The merely symbolic representation of lower population groups and the policy of equality in freedom must give way to open cooperation. The democratic-socialist left must still take this step.

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