Socialist Alternative

2005 World Social Forum: Latin America in Revolt — An Eyewitness Report From Brazil

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Every year since 2001, anti-globalization groups, workers’ organizations, and individuals from around the world have convened at the World Social Forum (WSF) to discuss, debate, and better organize the fight against corporate globalization. “Globalizing Solidarity” is one of the common phrases heard around the forum at Porto Alegre, the southern Brazilian city that has hosted the forum every year but 2004, when it took place in Mumbai, India.

Held the last week of January, the WSF is meant to coincide with the World Economic Forum (WEF), a meeting of the richest corporations and their moneybag politicians that takes place at a posh resort in Davos, Switzerland. At the WEF, the super-rich map out the exploitation of workers and oppressed people throughout the world.

In the late ’90s, the WEF became a focal point for the growing anti-globalization movement, which saw the forum for what it really was. The WSF was born out of this campaign, and draws more people every year. This year’s WSF was the biggest yet, with 150,000-160,000 participants from 70 different countries. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), with which Socialist Alternative is in political solidarity, had representatives at the Forum from 10 of its 37 sections, including many from its Brazilian section, Socialismo Revolucionário.

This year’s forum had a different character than WSFs of the past. Brazil’s Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT), a party that grew out of the radical industrial struggles and unions in São Paulo, has always hosted the forum in Porto Alegre. However, since winning the presidency at the end of 2002 with the candidacy of metal worker and long-time PT activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula” for short), the party has seen a huge drop in support due to Lula’s reinforcement of the same neo-liberal, anti-working class policies that he was elected to tackle.

While the annual opening march of the WSF in 2003 culminated in a mass rally and celebration of Lula’s victory, this year’s march was visibly different, consisting of many anti-Lula protesters and literally dispersing in an anti-climactic finish, with no Lula in sight.

The new left party in Brazil, P-SOL, attracted a lot of attention both at the march and when Lula appeared the next day to give a speech at Gigantinho stadium. Their signs read, “Lula, your place is in Davos.” This pointed out the contradictory attitude of Lula, who was giving his speech at the WSF just before hopping in his brand new $70 million presidential airplane to head for the WEF in Switzerland.

The obvious climax of this year’s WSF was the appearance of left-populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez at Gigantinho, the same stadium where Lula had appeared just a few days prior. Chávez’s crowd was larger and much more energetic than Lula’s because, at this point, Chávez is leaning on his support among workers and the poor by massively funding important social programs.

Chávez, although he hasn’t broken with capitalism, has stood up to the Venezuelan elite and their U.S. backers. Many youth and workers see Chávez as representing a left-wing alternative to corporate globalization.

Chávez’s speech was more radical than usual. In one of the most significant parts of his speech, he explained, “There are only two alternatives: capitalism and socialism. Capitalism can only be transformed via genuine socialism – a just and equal society, but this can only be done through democracy.”

These comments reflect the mass radicalization taking place in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, where there is a widespread anti-capitalist consciousness and where a growing minority is drawing socialist conclusions.

However, Chávez’s speech also raised many confused ideas. He spoke of other leaders around the world who are currently “standing up to North American Imperialism,” praising the leaders of China, Russia, and Spain. These same governments are carrying out attacks on workers’ living standards and rights.

To add to the confusion, Chávez ended his speech with a salute to Lula as a “good comrade” and “a man of the people,” which left many in the audience wondering whether to boo this statement or to applaud the end of the speech.

Since the late ’90s, Latin America has been characterized by momentous struggles against globalization, privatization, multinational corporations, and corrupt governments. There have been massive strikes, historic elections, huge protests, and heroic mass action. Much of this has been anti-capitalist in nature. It is ironic to recall that just 15 years ago, capitalism had declared the final victory and the end of struggle.

However, the dominance of corporate rule worldwide has provoked fighting reactions among ordinary people, especially in Latin America. With the Stalinist distortion of Marxism behind us, once again an important layer of workers and youth throughout the world are beginning to see the need for class-based politics, mass struggle, and a socialist program to fight back against the onslaught of the bosses and their politicians.

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