Alterglobalization or Barbarism?

Some questions and comments on the WSF process

4 January 2010 by Olivier Bonfond

In a few weeks the catchphrase ’Another world is possible’ will turn ten. But this is no time for rejoicing: the movement has to ask the right questions so as to find appropriate answers to the current capitalist crisis, another obstacle to this much expected society of social justice and respected nature.

Unmasking the myth is not enough to neutralize it

Though it can in no way be a source of rejoicing, the current capitalist crisis, and particularly the way it has been managed, was an eye-opener. Governments showed their true faces: when social movements demand that their social needs be met, the coffers are empty, but when capital holders call for help, it becomes quite possible to find – and indeed present them with – several hundred billion dollars within a few weeks. An increasing number of citizens are aware that soimething is wrong and that things ought to be done differently. For instance, according to a surveycarried out the Globscan Institute in 20 countries, the nuùber of people who think that the capitalist system is still the best fell from 63% in 2005 to 36% in 2009. [1] Moreover the alterglobalization movement that had developed in the 1990s and 2000s raised new hopes. It made it possible to question neoliberalism on an international scale and to restore the credibility of a global alternative (Another world is possible’). Finally various social struggles in different places, particularly in Latin America but not only there, showed us that it was possible to win and that word alternative is not used in vain.

Yet we have to face reality. Such positive trend is not enough. After a short interruption (which occurred more in words than is deeds) the neoliberal offensive is on again. In Copenhague in mid-December 2009, in spite of a massive mobilization on the climate issue, leaders reminded us again that decisions are not taken in the streets. After organizing the ’hold-up of the century’ in broad daylight without this triggering the popular uprisings which might have been legitimate, the financial and industrial powers that be are ready for more… Famine, exclusion, precariousness, inequalities, destruction of the earth, wastage, climate deregulation, these many scandals will thrive on, short of any political determination to stop them. Humankind is thus still on the way to barbarism.

What is the rôle of the alterglobalization movement of of the WSF process in such dialectics? Can the WSF still play a positive, even decisive, part in the construction of world of social justice and respect for nature? What is the position of social movements in this struggle? The following paragraphs offer some questions and comments.

How can the WSF process be opened to more participants?

Largely thanks to the WSF process many organizations met, learned how to know and work with each other. Various international networks as well as their coordination were set up and strengthened over the past years and this is probably one of the most positive aspects in this dynamic. Yet compared to the organization and solidarity among the mighty of this world, there is still a long way to go. Significant struggles all over the world either do not recognize themselves or do not take part in the WSF process. For instance the Mecican Zapatistas, who are seen by many as the initiators of the alterglobalization movement, will not be part of it. The way to go is thus still long not only to integrate more social movements into the process, but to make sure that this has significan consequences on the dynamic of social movements and social struggles.

In 2010, with some thirty international actions that are part of the WSF, one of our priorities must be to make sure a maximum number of social movements become active in the process and make it theirs. In this perpsective the WSF international council lauched the idea of a common issue for all 2010 actions, namely ’the social movements’ responses to the crisis.’ The point is to multiply experiences and proposals, and to bring them together during the next WSF to be held in Dakar (Senegal) in 2011, which should be a new beginning for the movement and its actions. [Wait and see...]

How can the WSF process be made more attractive?

Contrary to what the ominant discourse keeps repeating the WSF is still an interesting process with obviously positive aspects. Yet if we do not want to lode our legitimity or to get bogged down in the repetition of pleasant but ultimately sterile meetings, the WSF must remedy a umber of weaknesses and solve some major contradictions. First, alternatives must be made popular and visible. The catch phrase ’Another world is possible’ is now ten years old, and still the majority of the global population is still convinced that there is no alternative to the present system and to fear. There are many reasons for this, and many of them have nothing to do with the process itself, but however this may be, the goal of showing that it is not unrealistic to try and build a better world is not yet achieved. We must carry on explaining and working towards the fora meeting people’s needs and concerns. Second, we must increse the consistency of WSF events. Serious mistakes at the Nairobi WS [2] had a very negative impact on several citizens and organizations that lost confidence in the alterglobalization movement. Mistakes, weaknesses and contradictions can of course be found in any social forum, but what matters is to learn from past mistakes and to fight them so that the WSF be a model of consistency, a source of inspiration, a place where alternatives can be seen and epxerienced. In this respect, citizens, NGOs and social movements that call for a change must integrate the alternatives into their analyses, but also into their actions. Belém clearly represented a qualitative leap compared with Nairobi, and preparations for the Dakar 2011 WSF seems on the right track, but nothing is ever certain, and we have to reamin alert. Many consider that a failure in 2011 will be fatal for African social movements, and for the movement as a whole. They may not be wrong… Lastly, we must see to it that the WSF is more turned toward action. Debates, analyses and developing alternatives are necessary stages but their outcome must be concerte acting. The WSF must answer this criticism and be much more involved in constructing rather than in debating alternatives. Let us remember that what the mighty fear is not free floating ideas but organized actions to give them concrete shape.

How can the WSF process become more radical?

Since the outbreak of the world crisis in 2008, and particularly since the last WSF in Belém in January 2009, it has been obvious that process is becoming more radical. Some positions that used to be held by a minority and were even rejected are now accredited by more and more people, for instance that the WSF is be a useful venue for social movements and their action. This has concrete consequences, notably at the level of the International Council that decided to develop an in-depth reflection on the nature and objectives of the process. [3] For the first time since the beginning of the WSF process a number of social movements clearly spoke out on the issue of capitalism. Various declarations are evidence of this, for instance that of the Assembly of Social Movements at: In order to overcome the crisis we have to grapple with the root of the problem and progress as fast as possible towards the construction of a radical alternative that would do away with the capitalist system and patriarchal domination. [4] Such radicalization is quite positive, notably for the ASM, that developed in connection with the World Social Forum and is an open space in which common agendas can be developed and joint struggles organized against capitalism in its neoliberal, imperialist and military phase, and against racism and patriarcal domination. While the ASM considers that alternatives that are socially fair and respectuous of nature can only emerge in the context of a break with capitalism, this should not prevent a positive collaboration with NGOs that have a different perspective, whther they favour dialogue with IFIs or defend a human-faced capitalism. The absence of consensus on the alternatives to be worked on is not necessarily the sign of deadlock. It is indeed possible to work together on a wide basis on such specific claims as the Tobin tax Tobin Tax A tax on exchange transactions (all transactions involving conversion of currency), originally proposed in 1972 by the US economist, James Tobin, as a means of stabilizing the international financial system. The idea was taken up by the association[ATTAC and other movements for an alternative globalization, including the CADTM. Their aim is to reduce financial speculation (which was of the order of 1,500 billion dollars a day in 2002) and redistribute the money raised by this tax to those who need it most. International speculators who spend their time changing dollars for yens, then for euros, then dollars again, etc., as they calculate which currency will appreciate and which depreciate, will have to pay a small tax, somewhere between 0.1% and 1%, on each transaction. According to ATTAC, this could raise 100 billion dollars on a global scale. Considered unrealistic by the ruling classes to justify their refusal to adopt it, the meticulous analyses of globalized finance carried out by ATTAC and others has, on the contrary, demonstrated how simple and appropriate such a tax would be.

and the regulation of the financial system. But we must remain alert. The dialectics of a partial victory is a real threat. History has shown times and again that the capitalist system has huge adaptation and recuperation capacities. What matters in this context is to inscribe such partial demands in the perspective of a radical transformation of society and not of adapting the current system, which has given ample proof of its destructive nature, for people and for the environment. For the CADTM as for other social movements, this is also what consistency means.

Nobody can predict the future of the WSF, just as nobody can predict the future of humankind. But there are two things we can be sure about. On the one hand, the part that the WSF will play will largely depend on its opening, its consistency and its degree of radicality.On the other hand, whatever happens to the WSF, social movements, the oppressed and exploited, the maginalized and excluded will fight on for their rights and their dignity. What really matters is for those struggles to lead to victory. In this the WSF can only be a tool.

Translation by Christine Pagnoulle


[1Michael R. Krätke, « La iglesia capitalista pierde fieles »,

[2For more infos on the outcome of the Nairobi WSF see

[3A first significant stage will be Porto Alegre in January 2010, when a three-day strategic debate will take place on the outcome and perspectives of the process as a whole. For more info see

[4The declaration of the ASM can be found at and an analysis of other declarations and of the Belém WSF, an interview with Éric Toussaint by Pauline Imbach.

Olivier Bonfond

Is an economist and adviser to the CEPAG (André Genot Centre for Popular Education, Belgium). He is a militant for Global Justice, a member of the CADTM, of the Citizens’ Debt Audit Platform in Belgium (ACiDe) and of the Truth Commission on Public Debt founded on 4 April 2015.
He has published the following books in French: Et si on arrêtait de payer ? 10 questions / réponses sur la dette publique belge et les alternatives à l’austérité (Aden, 2012) and Il faut tuer TINA. 200 propositions pour rompre avec le fatalisme et changer le monde (Le Cerisier, fev 2017).
He also coordinates the Belgian website Bonnes nouvelles (also in French).



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