frontline 6


New York, Porto Alegre, Buenos Aires

At the begining of February two international gatherings took place at roughly the same time. The first was the World Economic Forum, which for over three decades has brought together every year in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos the great and the good of the capitalist world - industrialists, bankers, politicians and academics. This year the Forum was held for the first time in New York. As befits their status, the 3,000 participants paid the modest sum of 25,000 dollars a head for the privilege of attending. The second gathering was the World Social Forum, organised in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

The two events could not have been more different. In fact their objectives were diametrically opposed. The function of the World Social Forum was to discuss alternatives to the neoliberal globalisation that is ravaging the planet as well as to co-ordinate struggles against it. The World Economic Forum on the contrary continued to defend capitalist globalisation and its move to New York was less a gesture of sympathy for the victims of September 11 than a declaration of solidarity with US imperialism in its 'war against terrorism'.

But the atmosphere in the two gatherings was different too. The central theme of the World Economic Forum was "governance in fragile times" -- a recognition that despite imperialism's military strength and aggressiveness the world economy remains indeed fragile. The sombre mood of the Forum and the disagreements among the participants were in stark contrast to the triumphalism of recent years. Porto Alegre in contrast was a dynamic, optmistic and constructive gathering. Its very size - 60,000 participants, about four times as many as the first meeting a year ago - is striking testimony that the movement against capitalist globalisation is very much alive and well. The dynamism of Porto Alegre and the morose mood in New York meant that the World Social Forum stole the limelight and was extensively reported on by the world's media.

The first World Social Forum at Porto Alegre a year ago was in itself a significant event, bringing together as it did thousands of activists not just for a demonstration or a counter-summit but for a serious discussion on the future and the orientations of the anti-globalisation movement. This year's meeting marked another step forward. The biggest contingents were from Brazil itself and from Argentina, but there were also sizeable contingents from North America and Europe, in particular the United States, Italy and France. The international youth camp, with 15,000 participants from 40 countries, was by itself as big as the whole Forum a year ago.

The challenge to the anti-globalisation movement today is to face up to the new situation after September 11 on two levels: continuing to build mobilisations against the economic, social and ecological consequences of neoliberalism; and integrating into the movement the fight against the military dimension of globalisation and against imperialist war. The Forum came out in opposition to the war in Afghanistan and also to the Plan Colombia.

The third World Social Forum will take place in Porto Alegre next January, but with the idea that afterwards future meetings will be held in Asia and Africa. Out of this year's Forum came an impressive programme of meetings and demonstrations for the coming year. In fact, the most significant development is that the Forum is becoming not just an annual event but the high point in an ongoing process involving all year round meetings and activities of youth, trade unionists, peasants, women, environmentalists and other activists in different regions of the world.

The strong Argentinian presence at this year's Forum had a special significance, coming directly from a country whose people have risen up against the social and economic havoc wreaked by neo-liberal globalisation. Argentina was the model pupil of the IMF. During the 1990s the economy was privatised and sold off lock stock and barrel to foreign multinationals. Local industry was decimated and the external debt spiralled, ruining what was once the most prosperous country in Latin American (see the article by Virginia de la Siega in this issue). What offers hope of a way out of the country's desperate situation is the scale and depth of the popular revolt against the corrupt local ruling class and foreign capital, as well as the increasing evidence that the population is organising itself to take its affairs into its own hands.

The example of Argentina has already shown the disastrous consequences of the programme imposed by the IMF. It has already shown that it is possible to resist and to bring down governments. In so doing it has blown a hole in the US objective of extending the North American Free Trade Area to the whole of Latin America, a project which would subject the whole continent to the depredations of American capital. But much more is at stake. Argentina is at a crossroads: to go forward means not just resisting capitalist globalisation, but finding an alternative. It means rehabiliting socialism, not just on the level of ideas but by developing in practice a socialist alternative and placing it in an international context. A key element in this process will be the capacity of the Argentinian Left to overcome its divisions.

The American administration has identified three 'major risks' in Latin America - Argentina, Colombia and the danger of a victory of the Workers' Party in this year's presidential elections in Brazil. There have also been uprisings and movements of resistance in other countries of the continent. At the moment it is in America's back yard that the biggest blows can be dealt against US imperialism and capitalist globalisation. We can count on Washington defending its inteests by any means necessary. The working class and people of Argentina and the whole of Latin America will need the support of the international working-class and socialist movement.