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« Next Year's Forum | Main | World Economic Boo »

Has DAVOS got the message?

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?

February 4, 2005 in World Social Forum | Permalink


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Well to say the Davos spin is effective! It was a good idea to hire these hundreds of PR officers...
We have heard the elite of the superpowers promise "efforts" for the Third World, debt relief, environment, etc for so long (at thr Rio Summit, in Kyoto, in Johannesbourg).... And where is the evidence that these promises actually materialise? Inviting NGOs to give credibility to the same old discourse is not proving that these more than urgent problems are taken anymore seriously than before. To focus only on Chavez's popularity at Porto Alegre is disegenuous. Heaven knows that there is also a very large proportion of the anticapitalist activists who don't swear by these old models but are trying to promote local solutions. Without blueprint, no.

Everything in this blog shows that the mainstream discourse has been absorbed rather uncritically: Seattle was not "peaceful". Police was extremely violent against non violent demonstrators. But I suppose that a demonstration where the violence comes solely from the police and not the demonstrators is reported as peaceful....

Posted by: benafan | 4 Feb 2005 23:26:43

Has Davos Got the Message ? is defintely true that much of the time in session at Davos was spent on the right issues, poverty in Africa, climate change, etc. And it is true that the likes of Gates, Clinton, and Blair joined with the likes of Mbeki and Lula to advance this agenda.

But it does not require one to my cynical to be cautious in interpreting what this all adds up to. On Friday 4th February in London, the G8 Finance Ministers rejected Gordan Brown's calls to cancel sovereign debt for many developing countries, and also effectively rejected proposals for the International Finance Facility, despite Mandela's Trafalgar Square appearance the night before, his meetings with Blair and Brown, and indeed Chirac and Schroeder's apparent support at Davos.

And it would be wrong to conclude from my Blog that Davos participants seriously addressed the issue of accountability. Quite the reverse, have a look at my Blog on the session with Sachs and Brown and Lula and Gates (with bit part walk on from Sharon Stone).

So what does this all add up to...many people who were at Davos 'get it', but that is not enough to get real movement and progress. Similarly, many people get it at the WSF, but without coherence, strategy and hard choices not much really happens.

I think it is daft to think that people like Brown and Gates do not care and do not want to make a difference...they do. But with today's misalignment of accountability, pervasive across so many powerful institutions, serious progress is unlikely.

Innovations in accountability are, however, not only possible, but part of our daily lives, including the very medium of weblogs that we are using here, partnerships where civil society has real leverage, and businesses that can be more effectively held to account, just to name a few. This is where we have to push, hard, and in a focused and amplified manner...but i would say that, wouldnt' i,

Simon Zadek, AccountAbility

Posted by: Simon Zadek | 5 Feb 2005 21:13:12

"Who is doing more to combat global inequality now?" asks Anthony at the end of his post. Well, you might ask, who is doing most to sustain it?

The atmosphere at Davos will always be different and less frustrated than at the WSF. Many Davos attendees have the power and means to make a difference. Activists at the World Social Forum do not. What's worse few people at Davos are actually living the conditions they seek to improve. Talk is cheap. Is it really fair to compare the two forums in this way?

Posted by: Solana Larsen | 10 Feb 2005 23:27:05

The WSF movement might have a little more oomph if it resisted the siren call of soggy, economistic 'straight' Marxism.

Ten years ago, the nascent anti-globalisation movement resisted grand narratives, nowadays, it seems (and as anyone who attended the dispiriting European Social Forum a couple of months ago would attest) that there's nothing that 'anti-capitalism' can't fix.

Posted by: tom | 11 Feb 2005 10:33:13

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