Could the torch of progress have passed from Porto Alegre to Davos? Davos! Four years ago, Davos was the gathering of a neo-liberal elite who apparently believed that their networking helped markets to run the world while putting government on the run. The hyper-confidence of what my friend the late Paul Hirst called the ‘hyper-globalisers’ was punctured by huge, peaceful mobilisation at Seattle and then, in a very different way, by vicious conspiratorial mass-violence on 9/11.
Now, it seems, the notorious penny has dropped for the rich and wealthy. Simon Zadek who blogged Davos for the second time for openDemocracy reports how he could not get away from people talking about the need for better global government. Africa, development, AIDS, even accountability, are on the tongues of the Davosites.
And at Porto Alegre? The World Social Forum seems to be repeating itself as a protest in search of a strategy. Solana, just back (see below), thinks it should just be itself as a space for learning and practical exchange. Its sheer size suggests this is right. But the lavish praise for Chavez’s populism shows that the WSF is even more prone to glamour than Davos and less intelligent. (On Chavez, just compare Roger Burbach of CENSA with Ivan Briscoe in openDemocracy.)
There is a counter-argument: that the spaces the WSF creates (for women, in its regional meetings such as the Middle East, in its attention to open-source) provides a framework for progressive politics that could not have happened without it. Fred Halliday may see the dustbin-lid of history. But is he just seeing the rhetoric? Below it are new forms of future life taking shape, as personified in the three portraits of forum activists?
Oh yes? The time for an easy assumption of superiority is over. Who is doing more to combat global inequality now?