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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anti-Davos Gets Up Steam

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre was conceived as an alternative to the Davos World Economic Forum. While Davos has become a symbol of the globalization of markets, Porto Alegre was intended as a symbol both of resistance to this and of progressive social reform. Those who demonstrated against the events of the global elite in Seattle, Prague and Quebec came here to have an event of their own.

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It signals the movement's coming-of-age and grew out of a need to go beyond protest and criticism to offer a vision of a better world -- a vision that should be inspiring and at the same time practical.

The choice of host city is far from accidental. For years Porto Alegre has been ruled by the Workers' Party of Brazil (PT), notably by representatives of its left wing. The result has been the development of a model of municipal governance famous for its "participatory budget system."

Representatives of different neighborhoods including impoverished working class favelas develop their own budget proposals which initially have to face criticism not from financial experts but from the people living in other neighborhoods who are competing for the same money. Consensus-building in these conditions becomes an important feature of daily life. Usually it only takes a few minutes for the city council to vote on the final budget once it has passed the discussion phase in the districts.

The first Porto Alegre Forum in 2001 brought together about 10,000 people. This year, it is estimated that 60,000 delegates and guests are in attendance.

Ministers, members of parliament, mayors, and trade union officials have flocked to Porto Alegre along with the leaders of popular movements, intellectuals and activists typically seen at the anti-globalization rallies of the past two years. The PT is expected to win the next presidential election in Brazil and leading social democrats from around the world are using the opportunity to take a closer look at the party which will probably soon be ruling the largest country in Latin America.

It is no surprise that the radical wing of the movement immediately called the Porto Alegre Forum a reformist event. Bringing together different groups, it has had to work out a minimum, non-revolutionary consensus agenda.

The Porto Alegre Forum needs to prove that the left is making a comeback internationally, following the catastrophic decline of the 1990s. The Forum is proof of the growing size and public influence, but social change cannot be effected by enthusiasm alone. Concrete ideas and programs are needed.

2001 was dominated by declarations about "another world being possible." This year, following the crash in Argentina and with the global recession a fact of life, one can expect the Forum to go somewhat further.

The key issue this year is capital controls. When the IMF and the World Bank were first established, their task was to protect nations against the anarchy of global markets. But times change and the institutions designed to promote regulation have become tools of financial deregulation.

Following the 1998 ruble crash and Argentinian disaster, even in the business community many now think that deregulation and privatization have gone too far. However, it is not possible to simply return to the good old days. The mechanisms for regulation have been dismantled over the past decade and the welfare state eroded. They now need to be reinvented rather than restored -- indeed, radically reinvented.

Development priorities must not be formulated by financial elites or by government bureaucracies. Porto Alegre represents the rise of global civil society that is seeking to make its voice heard.

Despite the differences and disagreements between radicals and moderates, they need each other. What unites the Porto Alegre crowd is not just the "Another world is possible" slogan, it is also a general feeling that the existing world is unacceptable.

The economic dogmas of the 1990s are being questioned globally and new ideas are needed. Another world is not necessarily going to be a better place, but this very much depends on us.

The capacity of today's popular movements to change things will be tested in the near future. However, it is thanks to the popular mobilizations of the past that we now have parliaments, electoral rights and political democracy. This offers hope that economic democracy is also a possibility.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.