Porto Alegre On the Road to Post-Capitalism
Dutch economist Wim Dierckxsens, intellectual from the North at the service of the South’s causes, was also in Porto Alegre.
These are his reflections.
The World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre offered an unprecedented opportunity to bring together diverse grassroots forces from countries in both the North and South that have already taken the first big steps to develop alternatives to capitalism and neoliberalism. Some 12,000 participants from 1,500 organizations in over 120 countries attended the forum. I was there representing Costa Rica’s Economic Research Department (DEI), which reached an agreement with the World Forum to play a leadership role in an international team to formulate a post-capitalist alternative to neoliberalism and prepare an annual national, continental and global analysis titled "The World Seen By Its Peoples." The World Social Forum will be held every year at the end of January, at the same time as the World Economic Forum, which takes place annually in Davos, Switzerland. Since 1971, the World Economic Forum has played a strategic role in shaping the thinking of the elite who promote and defend neoliberal policies all over the world. It is organized by a Swiss foundation that functions as a United Nations consultant and is financed by over a thousand transnational corporations. Starting this year, NGOs, social movements, unions and religious organizations from each country as well as regional and international ones have taken up the challenge of annually promoting and financing this other forum, the World Social Forum. The capitalist elite and the major international institutions, after decades of making decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, unencumbered by any democratic control, are now under advisement that they will have to pay attention to public opinion.
The Davos Forum this year debated the US economic recession, in which the big question was not whether there would be a crash of the world economy and the overvalued stock exchanges, but whether there was any way to soften the landing. Another question was the degree to which the US economy would take other economies down with it. On January 27, The Economist published an extensive article on the world crisis under the revealing title, "The party is over." What is over is the neoliberal party. The world’s economists have been summoned to seek new formulas to save the capitalist rationale.
Given this increasingly evident crisis of neoliberalism, voices are being raised regarding the need to find alternatives. As the crisis of neoliberalism intensifies, its single line of thought is getting harder and harder to defend.
A space is thus opening up and rapidly being occupied, in which alternatives are being demanded.
Such is the case of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. The deeper the crisis becomes, the more radical the alternative that will be proposed. This is paving the way for the rebirth of utopia as it becomes viable to begin thinking of a post-capitalist alternative.
The alternatives proposed by the powerful have not gone beyond a few short-term measures aimed at remedying the immediate damaging effects of neoliberalism; they are not questioning the model itself. The proposal for a new financial architecture, made in Davos 1999, consisted of little more than a demand for more transparency in the information coming out of the financial markets. The shortsighted, superficial nature of such proposals reveals that the neoliberal crisis has not yet hit bottom.
Medium-term proposals have also come from the centers of power, arising and being developed to the degree that the crisis threatens global financial stability and endangers the interests of the transnationals and international finance capital. Thus, the so-called "third way" found an echo in Davos 2000, following the Asian crisis and the Russian crisis and in the midst of the Brazilian crisis. Almost demagogically, it proposes neo-Keynesian economic measures aimed at saving the capitalist rationale and salvaging the essence of the neoliberal creed.
As long as the economy maintains its neoliberal bent and fails to respond to these medium-term changes, the neoliberal logic will become more radical, a trend that could stimulate fascist tendencies. The fight between huge transnational conglomerates in a neoliberal world without enough room for all of them is already fomenting such neo-fascist tendencies. Neoliberalism is an accumulation model in which the monopolizing of already existing markets through mergers, acquisitions, patents and the like predominates over the creation of new wealth. The direct result of this is the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands. In this model, the winners are the transnational corporations, at the cost of smaller national economic groups. The actions of the giants are felt every day, but they produce no real growth in the global economy, instead encouraging a speculative or "casino" economy.
The intensification of neoliberal policies depends on the progressive deregulation of the markets, which has been happening at the cost of countries’ national sovereignty. At the beginning, the countries of the South were the ones mostly affected by this attack on sovereignty. That was followed by the West’s attack on the East, as the 1997 Asian crisis resulted from speculative games and premeditated attacks on Asian currencies. Starting in 1998, the furthering of economic deregulation required that the industrialized countries themselves give up some of their sovereignty, which was when the giant capitalists began to fight among themselves to stay in the game. In April 1998, when the financial ministers of the 28 industrialized countries decided not to approve the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MIA), a conflict of interests occurred between the major US economic interests, which were strongly affected by the failure to get the MIA signed, and those in Europe. The United States responded with a political attack on the concept of national sovereignty: meddling in the Kosovo war, willfully going over the head of the UN Security Council, deliberately intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign European country.
Today’s inter-bourgeois contradictions reveal that neoliberalism has run out of steam. Insofar as the infighting of transnational capital becomes more accentuated, spaces open in which to fight for an alternative. At the end of 1999, during the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, civil protest and the international clamor for an alternative were manifested for the first time. That protest contributed to the failure of the WTO meeting, although the opposing interests of big capital from the industrialized nations were the true reason for it. These growing contradictions allow us to glimpse possibilities in the struggle for an alternative, and explain the presence in Porto Alegre of such a wide range of social movements from all over the world. Big capital’s attacks on national sovereignty will be drastic, with new offensives of the sort we are already seeing in Plan Colombia to be expected in the future. The goal is to dismantle Latin American countries by force, fragmenting them into numerous small nation-states, and thus permit direct access to their great natural resource capital, total control of the lucrative drug trade at its very root and the release of huge capital flows. New nationalist, regionalist and protectionist tendencies will spring up as a response to such attacks on national sovereignty. The resurgence of protectionism against foreign capital would mean a disintegration of the world market and a deathblow to transnational capital.
In this "every man for himself" environment, the transnationals will discover that not even they have a lucrative spot in this world. The growing awareness that we can only save ourselves by creating a world in which there is room for all of us will also get to the transnationals, although they will be the last to understand it. As spaces close in this environment, the citizenry’s awareness will expand. The social movement seeking a post-capitalist alternative will gain space based on that awareness. This alternative is extremely hard to perceive right now, because the existing vision reins supreme, but the transition from neoliberalism to post-capitalism can be fought for as a viable utopia starting right now.
Post-capitalism is based on a logic and on principles that the citizenry is in accord with and will carry forward with participatory democratic forms, in which the idea is to create an economy guided by the common good but suppressing neither private interest nor the market. By trying to save the logic of accumulation at a world level with a neo-Keynesian approach, capitalism itself will also lead to a post-capitalist rationale, although not intentionally.
What can we do from here on out to change the course of history? We can dream of restoring a world with an economic rationale that works on behalf of the citizenry, for which a demand is already beginning to grow. Whatever form it may take, such an alternative would imply re-regulating the economy, and this would signify a movement of the pendulum of history from the free play of the market without civic intervention toward growing civic participation. It is in this movement, this shift, that spaces open to the emergence of a post-capitalist alternative, to a utopian yet possible way of thinking that seeks a political path leading to a reencounter between private interest and the common good in which the latter prevails. This would allow for the rebirth and growth of the utopia of creating a society led by the citizenry and at the service of the citizenry.
Porto Alegre gave vitality to this utopia. There the discussion was opened about the movement of history’s pendulum, which until now has swung between the total market of neoliberalism and the total planning of real socialism. In real socialism, the pendulum of history tipped way too far towards one pole, utterly subjecting private interest to the common good, which in turn required a centralizing bureaucracy. The utopia of regulating the economy on behalf of the citizenry was realized, but through central planning, without the citizenry’s participation. The socialist utopia stopped halfway, with a top-down bureaucracy subordinating the citizenry, preventing the creation of the society people dreamed of. In its desire to create a new society, the top-down vanguard that was struggling to take power subjected its own social movements to that power.
In the future, the pendulum of history will have to stop at some intermediate point between the total market and the total plan. The goal is to seek the point at which it is possible to build a new society designed by and on behalf of the citizenry. In the pendular movement of history, either private interest will prevail over the common good or the reverse. The point at which private interest prevails is where the neo-Keynesian rationale is situated. The point at which the common good prevails could be spoken of as a post-capitalist rationale. In post-capitalism, politics will again prevail over economics and the social movements will be horizontally linked to each other. This will permit the construction of a democracy that is not merely formal but rather truly participatory.
With the growing perspective of an alternative that is not only necessary but also possible, a new organized subject is emerging. The globalization of resistance will make itself felt after Porto Alegre. At the dawn of the new millennium, a multipolar and horizontal movement is arising, without a clear leadership or vanguard but with growing consciousness of wanting an alternative to neoliberalism. It is a sign of the times and a sign of hope that would have been unimaginable only three short years ago.