Porto Alegre (Brazil), 26th - 31st January 2005

On Course for the 5th World Social Forum!

21 December 2004 by Eric Toussaint

After talking over the experiences and lessons arising from previous WSFs, especially the fourth one held in Mumbai (India) in January 2004, a number of changes have been introduced into the structure of the 5th World Social Forum (WSF). These changes will appear in the new territorial organisation of the forthcoming Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. There will be thematic venues carrying on their activities in different locations situated in the centre of Porto Alegre, by the lagoon.

The activities, of which over 90% are self-run by organisations taking part in the WSF, will be divided into 11 different thematic venues (or “spaces”), as follows:

1) Guarantee and defend the common goods Common goods In economics, common goods are characterized by being collectively owned, as opposed to either privately or publicly owned. In philosophy, the term denotes what is shared by the members of one community, whether a town or indeed all humanity, from a juridical, political or moral standpoint. of the Earth and its peoples as an alternative to commercialisation and the domination of transnational corporations.

2) Art and creativity: build up cultures of popular resistance.

3) Communication: anti-hegemonic practices - rights and alternatives.

4) Defend diversity, plurality and identities.

5) Human rights and dignity for a world based on justice and equality.

6) Economic sovereignty for and by the people as against neo-liberal capitalism.

7) Ethics, cosmic vision and spirituality - resistance and challenges for a new world.

8) Social struggles and democratic alternatives as against neo-liberal domination.

9) Peace, demilitarisation and struggles against war, free trade and the debt.

10) Think autonomously; take over and socialise knowledge and technology.

11) Move towards the construction of an international democratic order and the integration of populations.

Articulating the Forum around 11 thematic venues highlights two fundamental objectives which were discussed and agreed upon at the meetings of the International Council, after the Mumbai Forum, and at the meetings of the Council’s Commission on Methodology and Content.

Firstly, we want these discussions to hinge on methods of struggle with the aim of making current areas of resistance against neo-liberal globalisation more visible. For the movements and associations taking part in the WSF are the protagonists in these spheres of resistance. The eleven thematic venues were drawn up after an Internet debate on the campaigns and methods signifying the most resistance, and the ensuing analysis of the consultation.
Secondly, the Forum wants to promote and consolidate convergence of struggles and campaigns so as to push forward alternatives for another world, both possible and necessary.

11 thematic venues and 4 transversal axes  [1]

The 11 thematic venues are the best places to express the plurality and diversity which are a major characteristic and driving force of the resistance movement against neo-liberal globalisation.
The idea is to avoid fragmentation of issues at debate since this renders convergence and synthesis as mentioned above more difficult. It is to this end that four transversal axes of articulation have been proposed. They should provide “horizons” and preoccupations common to the debates of each of the 11 thematic venues. The four axes are as follows:

1) Social emancipation and the political dimension of struggles

2) The struggle against capitalism and patriarchy

3) Diversity and gender

4) The struggle against racism

There is no doubt that the sudden appearance on the international scene of the movement against neo-liberal globalisation, begun in the 90s, has been the most significant political event so far in this new century. The international movement’s actions have been decisive, in the last few years, in undermining the legitimacy of capitalism hitherto seen as the historic and supposedly natural horizon beyond which humanity cannot go. There have been countless international days of anti-war protest. These are an indication of the world-wide scale of rejection of the arguments of “armed neo-liberalism” and “never-ending war” used to try and salvage some legitimacy for neo-liberal globalisation.

The movement’s continual diverse struggles serve both for the gestation and the diffusion of new alternatives for a society and a civilisation that are marked by the forms of oppression, domination and discrimination inherent in today’s capitalism. Discussions in search of a dynamics of emancipation have to be accompanied by a debate over the contents and the political horizons of the social movement’s struggles.

The actions undertaken by the majority of those involved in the WSF at all levels often come up against political obstacles. In recent years, and on numerous occasions, in both the North and the South of the planet, the majority of citizens have quite clearly rejected neo-liberal policies, in the street and in the polling-booths. Nevertheless, many governments elected on promises to break away from neo-liberalism have pursued the same policies as their predecessors. In some cases they have even pursued policies of militarisation and criminalisation of protest movements. In face of such events, we have to reflect upon ways and strategies to oppose this “confiscation” of the right to refuse neo-liberal policies.

The 5th WSF: a meeting for action

Various big street demonstrations will be organised during the Forum. We are expecting tens of thousands of demonstrators. One of them will target free trade and the Free Trade Area for the Americas or FTAA (ALCA in Spanish).

A large self-managed youth venue

About twenty thousand participants will take part in the big self-run youth-camp. Unlike at previous WSFs, the camp will be geographically situated in such a way as to enable full integration in all the activities.

Some worries

In spite of the positive changes mentioned above and a high level of militancy - an example being the magnificent work done by hundreds of volunteer translators - the WSF is slowly evolving into a huge machine which costs a huge amount to run. The WSF budget, directly managed by the Brazilian secretariat, comes to at least six million euros. It is a lot of money. Things can go wrong. Especially in the field of communication: posters, what is said in press conferences. Another possible problem is a tendency to make proposals which go no further than the organisers who seize them on the wing can take them. In other words, things drift towards realpolitik and hopes of radical change are frustrated. The WSF and those who take part and support it deserve better. Which is why it is necessary to keep to a radical course of action rooted in the social mobilisation and the debates it produces.

President of the CADTM Belgium and member of the International Council of the WSF.

The CADTM ’s activities

The CADTM has registered 4 activities in the WSF programme (which already has about 2500). These are:

1) Abolish Africa’s odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.

2) The suspension of debt repayments by Argentina: should others follow her example? (in collaboration with three Argentine organisations: EDI - Economists on the Left -, Dialogo 2000 / Jubilee South and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo)

3) World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

: 60 years old, time to retire (in
collaboration with Focus on the Global South, Thailand)

4) Launching of an International Debt Observatory (in collaboration with Economistas de Izaquierda (EDI) - Argentina -, Unafisco - Brazil -, Red Venezolana contra la deuda - Venezuela, and others).

The CADTM will also participate in various activities organised on the initiative of other movements: Jubilee South, ATTAC, the international trade union confederations WCL and ICFTU. The main action in the campaign for the abolition of the debt will be entitled « The Assembly for Peoples Owed Ecological, Social and Historical Debts ».


[1The text on transversal axes is adapted from the one published on the World Social Forum web-site:http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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