Parliament of the People

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The international movement against capitalist globalisation faces two important tests. The first is the protests against the bosses' jamboree of the World Economic Forum, moved this year from Davos in Switzerland to New York. The second is the World Social Forum (WSF) that meets in Porto Alegre in Brazil between 31 January and 5 February.

Porto Alegre is the capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. It first sprang to prominence a year ago, when 13,000 people from 117 countries gathered there to attend the first WSF. A kind of global parliament of the anti-capitalist movement, the WSF throbbed with the life of all the different campaigns and coalitions represented there. A live television link-up allowed representatives of the movement led by Walden Bello to debate - and wipe the floor - with George Soros and other corporate stiffs in Davos. Even the Blairite journalist John Lloyd had to concede that 'unlike Davos, it sounded sure of itself. It had a moral wind in its sails.'

The second WSF promises to be much bigger. The organisers hope that between 60,000 and 80,000 people will take part in 26 plenaries, 60 seminars and 900 workshops. Among those due to take part are the great critic of US imperialism Noam Chomsky and the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. Nor will it just be a talking shop, as there are several demonstrations planned.

The movement assembled at Porto Alegre will face much tougher questions than it did a year ago. Then it was still celebrating its own emergence after a decade of capitalist triumphalism. Today, however, it must confront the aftermath of Genoa and 11 September. The leading capitalist states have demonstrated their willingness ruthlessly to use force, not just against protesters, but also to maintain their domination of the world.

Porto Alegre will confirm what was already evident at the demonstrations in Brussels in December - that the movement against capitalist globalisation has survived the backlash after 11 September. But different strategies are being presented to the movement. At the first WSF in January 2001 a polarisation began to emerge over whether the nation-state could be an ally against global capitalism. Leading figures associated with the influential French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, allied to the left nationalist politician Jean Pierre Chevènement, pushed the statist approach. The Le Monde Diplomatique team is a major force within Attac, the movement against financial speculation. Particularly after Genoa, Attac began to be courted by various social democratic governments. In September last year the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, both facing closely fought elections in the near future, agreed to set up a joint working party on how to regulate financial markets. The leadership of Attac France have held several meetings with Jospin's chief of staff. The French National Assembly passed a resolution in November supporting the Tobin tax on international financial speculation. Perhaps because of this courtship, the Attac leadership did not mobilise its considerable influence against the war in Afghanistan.

This courtship will continue at Porto Alegre. Among the notables present will be Danielle Mitterrand, widow of the former French president. It is reported that Fidel Castro will also be there. With presidential elections coming up in Brazil, the Workers Party, which governs Rio Grande do Sul, will be much in evidence.

The crisis in Argentina has demonstrated yet again the bankruptcy of neoliberal policies. But there is a powerful lobby that argues that the alternative should be an international version of the old national reformist strategy. This is well summed up by the US writer and activist Jeremy Brecher, who advocates 'tying down Gulliver' - regulating and controlling global capitalism.

Brecher has argued that Porto Alegre can put 'a debtors' cartel on the agenda'. In other words, indebted Third World states should get together to impose a collective moratorium on debt repayments and, if necessary, to jointly default on their debts to Northern banks. In itself this isn't a bad demand, but it begs two questions. First, where is the driving force for change - does it lie below, in the developing mass movements, or above, in progressive national governments? Second, are we aiming for a more benevolent version of capitalism, or do we really believe that 'another world is possible'? These debates won't be settled in Porto Alegre, but the WSF can act as an important forum for strategic argument, and a rallying point for the anti-capitalist movement.