Brian Holmes on Mon, 11 Feb 2002 21:27:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Are there anymore Porto Alegre reports?

Here is one of the better Porto Alegre reports, I guess, from the
"networked mainstream" - Stratfor pay-per-view intelligence. This one's a
freebie. Like everyone they want to downplay the relevance of direct
action, but they have a better understanding than most of how the
intellectual critique of globalized neoliberalism will translate into the
slow and depressingly insufficient realities of political change. The
notion that the impact can only be made at the national level, by a
"repatriation" of international debates (which is what I guessed in 1998
when I first wrote about transnational civil society) points to a
continuing paradox for democracy: the reality of global governance without
global government. -BH.


The substance of the International Forum on Globalization's proposals,
mentioned by Stratfor, can be garnered from "A Better World is Possible," a
PDF on the front page of their site:

Anti-Globalists Make a Play for Legitimacy  
8 February 2002 


The latest World Social Forum indicates that the anti-globalization
movement is attempting to address two  fundamental weaknesses -- a lack of
legitimacy and a lack of organization. Though the disparate groups are 
unlikely to ever forge a unified coalition that can challenge the global
power brokers, pushing their agenda  through established, mainstream
organizations like the United Nations could allow them to affect policy on 
local and national levels.


An anti-globalization group known as the International Forum on
Globalization (IFG) released several  recommendations for restructuring the
global economy Feb. 2 at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto  Alegre,
Brazil. The recommendations range from limiting corporate power to folding
a wide range of new  responsibilities and regulatory powers into the United

The substance of this and other proposals coming out of Porto Alegre is
less significant than the fact that the  anti-globalization movement is
clearly seeking to move beyond its radical, protest-driven roots to develop
a  concrete agenda. WSF organizers and many of its participants are focused
on bringing the anti-globalization  agenda into the mainstream. Part of
this strategy will include using more mainstream groups and  organizations,
like the U.N., as a platform for their agenda. 

The WSF -- which brings together a number of activist groups, including the
IFG -- will never operate from a  position of global power and therefore
will not bring about major changes in global policies and organizations. 
However, by working its agenda through established organizations, the
diverse members of the  anti-globalization movement may be able to gain
more leverage at the local and national level. At the same  time, groups
could find themselves in unusual partnerships against a common enemy: the
United States. 

The history of the anti-globalization movement -- which comprises
non-governmental organizations, leftist  politicians, advocates and
protesters -- has actually worked against it. The movement is still saddled
with  images of anarchists trashing Starbucks at the 1999 World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle and  agro-protestors burning genetically
modified corn in a Brazilian field owned by Monsanto last year at the first
 WSF summit. The prevailing view in many circles is that WSF participants
are largely angry contrarians and  malcontents who lack serious
alternatives to the status quo, so they are disregarded. 

WSF organizers and participants are now attempting to address two
fundamental weaknesses: a lack of  legitimacy -- which is closely tied to
its public image problems -- and a lack of organization. 

While media coverage of the 1999 WTO meeting and last year's WSF summit
focused primarily on the  protests, most reports from Porto Alegre this
year point to a more substantive agenda, one full of serious  debate on
issues and viable alternatives to the status quo. 

Headlines like "More Focus on Policy than Protest" from the Associated
Press and "Serious Ideas Behind the  Theatrics" in the Financial Times
represent serious victories for the WSF. The message now being delivered is
 that anti-globalists are not all completely against "globalization" per
se, but rather against what they term  "unfettered globalization" or
"unrestrained corporate power." Rather than dwelling on the unadulterated
evils  of globalization, they talk of "progressive social reform." 

"We say 'yes' to globalization, but with some limits," WSF delegate Louise
Beaudouin, the foreign minister of  Quebec province, was quoted as saying
by the Associated Press.

Some of those limits were outlined in the IFG report as well as in a
closing document adopted by the summit.  Broadly, proposed reforms centered
around increasing aid to the developing world, improving global 
governance, reining in corporate power and the movement of capital and
placing more protections on labor  and the environment. The United States
and large multi-national corporations remain the main antagonists.

In another bow to legitimacy, WSF organizers sought to diminish the
presence and influence of more radical  elements. They shunned anarchist
groups and kept other figures at a distance -- such as radical French 
farmer Jose Bove, who made his name by burning down a McDonald's in France
and led the burning of the  Monsanto field last year.

Certain attendees also added to the legitimacy of the WSF. Several World
Bank and U.N. officials attended, including U.N. Human Rights High
Commissioner Mary Robinson. The speaking schedule was replete with  Nobel
Prize winners. Liberal politicians were also out in force, including six
junior ministers and three  presidential candidates from France and Luis
Inacio "Lula" da Silva, the leading leftist candidate in Brazil's 
presidential race. Da Silva made several strong statements condemning U.S.
dominance in the Americas and  opposing plans for a Free Trade Agreement of
the Americas. 

Heavy-hitting attendees not only add credence to the forum but also point
toward future alliances that  anti-globalists will use to forward their
agenda. Organizing the hundreds of disparate groups into one  umbrella
organization is a nearly impossible task. An alternative strategy -- which
simultaneously addresses  issues of legitimacy and organization -- is to
dovetail with larger and more established organizations that  share similar
views on specific issues. 

The IFG report puts a good deal of emphasis on the United Nations.
Anti-globalists may look to the U.N.,  especially its bureaucratic arm, as
a platform to push issues ranging from capital controls to environmental 
and labor protection. The U.N. will probably never have greater authority
than it currently possesses over  such issues, since that would require
Security Council approval and charter reform. But existing U.N. 
commissions could press for greater recognition of the anti-globalist

Working through the U.N. has another advantage. The anti-globalist agenda
is broadly opposed to excessive  U.S. power. Countries looking to irritate
the United States or curtail its influence can use WSF issues within  the
structure of the U.N. to indirectly challenge Washington.

Other organizations that the WSF participants could look to are the
International Labor Organization and the  World Health Organization. There
also is an overlap between many WSF participants and a relatively new 
Commission on Globalization. Several NGO leaders including Lori Wallach,
director of Public Citizen's Global  Trade Watch and a leading movement
figure, are co-chairs in the commission along with such mainstream  figures
as Mary Robinson, George Soros, Mikhail Gorbachev, former World Bank Chief
Economist Joseph  Stiglitz and International Labor Organization
Director-General Juan Somavia. 

The more closely WSF participants can associate themselves and their causes
with organizations like the  Commission for Globalization -- and with
politicians who share their views on specific issues -- the more 
legitimacy they gain and the more buzz their issues receive. 

And in the end, this is all about buzz. Anti-globalists are unlikely to
effect change on a global level. Rather,  the groups attending gatherings
like the WSF seek to co-opt power and create leverage they can use on 
local, regional and, at most, national levels. The more their issues are
talked about globally, the more  pressure they can put on the local centers
of power and the more effective they will be at altering the status  quo in
small and incremental ways. 

The most effective anti-globalists will recognize both the strengths and
limitations of this strategy.

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