Commentary. A virtual version of the World Social Forum 2021 in Porto Alegre closed on Sunday. While the counterpart to the World Economic Forum has disappeared from the news, it still exerts a certain appeal.

The anti-Davos summit is in crisis but rich in content

The first World Social Forum held in virtual format, 20 years after its first glorious edition in Porto Alegre, ended on Sunday with the Agora day—a space for sharing initiatives to be implemented during the year.

Great and profound changes—and not for the better—have taken place in the world during these 20 years, from the advent of a xenophobic and sovereign right-wing populism to the global crisis caused by COVID, while the decisive challenge has remained unresolved: that of uniting forces at the international level to increase the fighting ability of popular movements.

It is a task that the World Social Forum—for some time the main space of self-assembly of civil society at the global level—has not been able to perform, proving unable to create synergies between the different contexts and thus incapable of accumulating sufficient strength to create an alternative hegemony.

All the more so because the wearisome internal debate between those who have always seen the Forum solely as an open space for the dissemination of ideas and the exchange of experiences and those who would have liked to transform it into a unified force capable of taking concrete decisions ended up alienating the popular movements, starting with La Via Campesina, leaving only the international NGOs.

And while the WSF has never been able to address the world of the precariat, the informal economy, the young underclasses of the suburbs of big cities, it has also been absent—as one of its founders, Roberto Savio, pointed out as he put out a strong call for its renewal—from all the latest major mobilizations, such as the one against global warming, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

So, what was once the anti-Davos, the counterpart to the World Economic Forum, has disappeared from the news, leaving the annual meeting of capitalist elites in the charming town in the Swiss Alps (also held virtually this year) alone in the spotlight. The “other possible world” remained just a slogan, and Davos beat the WSF “by a landslide,” according to the expression of the director of the Centro Latinoamericano de Análisis Estratégico, Aram Aharonian, showing how right billionaire Warren Buffet was when he said that a class war was going on and that his class was winning it.

Yet, in a context dominated, according to the organizers, by “the worsening of authoritarianism, plundering and political and social repression,” the World Social Forum is still able to exert a certain appeal, since, as Roberto Savio reports, there were almost 23,500 accesses to the forum’s website during the opening day of January 23rd alone, which featured a virtual global march and a debate on the “world we want today and tomorrow,” with the presence of Malian politician and writer Aminata Traoré, Honduran indigenous representative Miriam Miranda, Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, Palestinian activist Leila Khaled, Indian environmentalist Ashish Kothari and Kurdish women’s representative Melike Yasar.

With its 643 events, including debates and self-managed activities, the WSF has certainly revealed a great wealth of content, divided into seven categories: peace and war; economic justice; education, communication, culture; feminism, society, diversity; original and ancestral peoples; social and democratic justice; climate, ecology and environment. What was missing, however, was still “a common plan,” as Varoufakis complained. And “an anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist and anti-patriarchal agenda” as Aharonian called for.

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