The World Social Forum: Another World Is Possible

THE global neo-liberal agenda – globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation – has become increasingly exposed as a neo-colonial agenda.  In country after country, prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank, policed by the World Trade Organisation, have brought economic disaster. For the first time in the 20th century, countries have registered a drop in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and increase of poverty in absolute terms even in the most advanced countries.

The 21st century starts with widespread disillusionment with globalisation.  Instead of the rosy spectacle of globalising standards of living of the rich countries, it has emerged stoutly that it is a strategy of passing on the burden of the capitalist crisis on to poorer countries. The earlier collapse of the East and South East Asian countries has now been followed by the collapse of the Argentinean economy. Along with this disillusionment, we are witnessing very large international and national mobilisation against imperialist globalisation. The huge demonstrations in Seattle were followed by similar demonstrations in various cities, particularly in Genoa. It is clear that an international mobilisation is now taking place against the three pillars of imperialism: the World Bank, IMF and WTO.


The World Social Forum (WSF), held for last two years in Porto Alegre, is an important development in this growing international mobilisation. It came up post Seattle as a counter to the World Economic Forum in 2001, which is held every year in Davos and preaches that there is no alternative to imperialist globalisation. The World Social Forum is not a global alliance but an open space where different kinds of movements can come together to discuss imperialist globalisation and chalk out strategies of resistance. These discussions can take place within groups that share a common vision or as a dialogue between alternative visions of different groups. In this sense the World Social Forum is not a coalition or an alliance, but sharing of a common space by different alliances and coalitions.

A reason for this structure against imperialist globalisation is due to the absence of an overarching international coalition or coalitions. While imperialism has built its institutional structure—the World Bank, IMF and the WTO—similar anti-imperialist structures have yet to emerge. People have taken to protests in large numbers, struggles have sprung up in various countries but there is yet no global coalition.

One may look at this absence of coalitions in two ways. For some, the need is to build local and global coalitions against imperialism. For others, it may be issue based coalitions that allow different groups to come together on major issues: it may be regarding the oppression of the Palestinian people, threat of war against Iraq or questioning the brutal patent regime that denies the world’s poor of life saving drugs.  The WSF allows both these sets of movements to come together, not on a common agenda but on their respective agenda. A large number of conferences, seminars and workshops cultural programs mark the event.


The first WSF in 2001 saw the participation of approximately 20,000 people (of whom 4,702 were registered delegates) representing over 500 national and international organisations from more than 100 countries. Seeing the success and enthusiasm generated, it was decided that the WSF would become an annual event.
The second WSF held in Jan/Feb 2002 was an even larger event. It saw the participation of 15,000 registered delegates and a total of some 55,000 people from 131 countries. The decision to hold the Forum in Brazil was also significant. While on one hand Brazil is one the countries that has been greatly affected by neo-liberal policies, on the other hand, different sectors of Brazilian society are resisting these policies, in rural and urban areas, in shantytowns, factories, political parties, churches, schools, etc. The richness of Brazilian grassroots organisations represented a source of inspiration for the development of the World Social Forum. Porto Alegre itself is situated in the southernmost province of Brazil, and the pro-left government of the province and the city’s mayor supported the Forum in many ways.
The WSF was locally hosted and organised by a Brazilian committee consisting of:
Non Governmental Organisations Brazilian Association;
ATTAC – Citizens Support by Financial Transactions Tributation Action;
CBJP – Justice & Peace Brazilian Committee;
CIVES -Brazilian Entrepreneurs Association for the Citizenship;
CUT – Central United Workers;
IBASE – Brazilian Institute of Socio Economical Analysis;
CJG – Global Justice Centre;
MST – Landless Rural Workers Movement.
The Brazilian Committee is assisted by an International Committee. The WSF Charter of Principles says: “The World Social Forum is not an organisation, not a united front platform, but an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society centred on the human person”.  Neither does the WSF have a common political manifesto on which all those who participate have to agree. The basis of the World Social Forum is anti-imperialism, anti neo-liberalism, and the conviction that ‘another world is possible’. The basic idea is the creation of a space for everyone to come together with a respect for that space. The WSF process includes different trends. There are those, for example, who say that a reform of the WTO and the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) is possible, and there are those who believe that reforming them is impossible and that a more basic and systemic change is necessary. There are those who propose dialogue, and others who believe only in confrontation.


It was decided that from 2003 onwards, the annual global WSF meeting would be accompanied by regional, continental, and/or thematic Forums across the globe.  In line with this call, the WSF in India is proposing to hold an Asian conference – an Asian Social Forum at Hyderabad as a prelude to the next World Social Forum global meeting in January 2003 in Porto Alegre.

The Asian Social Forum, being organised by the WSF India, will be held in the city of Hyderabad, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh between January 2 to 7, 2003. The ASF is an open forum. The only criteria is that the participants are opposed to imperialist globalisation as well as religious sectarian violence, and have a commitment to democratic values, plurality and peace.

The ASF has been conceived as a Forum that will provide an inspiring space where movements/ organisations/ groups/individuals / will come in from all over India and Asia to carry the message of the World Social Forum. It will gather diverse sections in Asia facing growing threats of capitalist globalisation, religious fundamentalism and communalism, and militarisation in the region, and of the so-called ‘anti-terrorism’ measures accompanying them, led by the US as self-styled world policeman.
About 7000 delegates are expected to participate in the ASF, out of which about 1000 would be from outside India. Organisations both in India and Asia and also the rest of the world, are organising conferences, seminars and workshops broadly falling under the themes of the ASF, which include:

·        Peace and Security
·        Debt, Development and Trade
·        Nation State, Democracy and Exclusions
·        Ecology, Culture and Knowledge
·        Social Sectors (Health, Education, Food Security)
·        Alternatives and People’s Movements.