For the past three years, an annual conference called the World Social Forum has been the biggest international gathering of radicals on earth, attended by all the leaders of the world left. Labor unions, Communist parties, non-governmental organizations, anti-globalization activists, anti-American 'peace' groups, multiple heads of state, and the representatives of armed guerilla insurgencies all gather yearly at Porto Alegre, Brazil, to make new connections and plan for the future. While the organizers of the World Social Forum claim the event is a "open meeting place" for those interested in building "a planetary society centered on the human person," in reality, it's nothing but an organizing meeting for unreconstructed socialists, constantly attempting to turn world political forces against America. Some prominent leftists think it has serious potential. The high priest of anti-American professors, Noam Chomsky, attended this year's World Social Forum, and concluded that the conference holds "at least the seeds of the first "authentic" international, the dream of the left and labor movements since their modern origins." That is, the World Social Forum has the potential to replace the last two centuries' communist Internationals - the First, founded by Marx, the Second, founded by Engels, the Third by Lenin and the Fourth by Trotsky. The Fifth International! This dream of a Neo-Communist international left is a nightmare for America. Conservatives need to take a closer look, before the World Social Forum becomes a serious threat
Since the World Social Forum is only in its third year, we might be forgiven for not taking a peek earlier, especially since Americans barely participated until just this past January. The World Social Forum always occurs at the same time as a the much more important event it was established to protest: the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. For the past three years, the Forum was held in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, although next year, it moves to Bombay, India. Up until 2003, the World Social Forum could rightly be looked down on as the latest fad of the Latin American left; extremist, America-loathing, but about as relevant to domestic politics as a bust of Lenin.
All that may be changing. Since the World Social Forum's third meeting, the exclusively-Brazilian Organizing Committee and the much broader International Council have realized that they need the American left, their own representatives behind enemy lines. The next step in their attempts to cooperate together takes place at the next meeting of the World Social Forum 's International Council, to be held in Miami from June 23rd to 26th. The choice of venue was controversial, since it was inside the belly of the beast, but in the end the Brazilians responded "to the need to strengthen the World Social Forum process and peace movements in the United States."
Held immediately after the annual meeting of one of the World Social Forum's biggest American backers, the labor-left lobby group Jobs With Justice, this gathering of leftists aims to "forge closer links to the organizations that have played an important role in the struggle against neo-liberal globalization since Seattle." That, and grab a whole lot of cash. The usual funders of America's left-wing organizations are all wobbly in the knees at this "rare opportunity to meet with international representatives of the World Social Forum"; from the sound of things, the boys from Brazil are going to be hauling the greenbacks away in wheelbarrows. Not that they weren't already - the Ford Foundation has already paid out half a million dollars for the 2003 World Social Forum, up from a mere one hundred thousand for the first, 2001 World Social Forum.
It's somewhat odd that the North American left are only really geared up to support the World Social Forum this January, since many of its Brazilian organizers saw it as a natural sequel to 'Seattle', their short form for the destructive riots in that city against the World Trade Organization in 1999. Wanting to continue the struggle, Brazilian anti-trade activists teamed up early in 2000 with a prominent French leftist, Bernard Cassen, to help organize a conference. Cassen was an experienced anti-globalization activist, as both the director of the publication Le Monde Diplomatique and the leader of France's branch of ATTAC, a group favoring increased taxation on international financial transactions. He was enthusiastic, and together they attempted to take the 'next step' in their socialist program - instead of simply opposing, they wanted to hold a conference that would make specific, creative proposals, as the first step in achieving a system they could support. Through feverish activity, institutional support from the Brazilian left, and participation in a number of European and Latin American protests throughout 2000, the organizers succeeded beyond their expectations. They claimed approximately fifteen thousand people from over one hundred and twenty countries attended their first conference in January 2001, and while leftists often inflate attendance figures at meetings and protests, there's no doubt that the 2002 and 2003 conferences were bigger still. In 2002, attendence was estimated at 60,000; at the 2003 conference, over one hundred thousand people attended.
The World Social Forums are primarily publicity-generating venues for prominent leftists; the average participant plays mostly a passive role. Each World Social Forum features several prominent plenary sessions, usually chaired by celebrities. For instance, one much-praised event in 2003 featured both Noam Chomsky and the popular Indian novelist Arundhati Roy. These events, held in soccer stadiums and other mammoth venues, feature chanting and sloganeering by the audience - the atmosphere is that of a pep rally - but minimal meaningful participation from any but the speakers at the podium. The rest of each multi-day conference is filled a bewildering array of mini-conferences, seminars, workshops, and panels, ranging in size from a handful to several thousand, on events from "citizen insurgence against the established order" to "how to stand up to the empire." Many unofficial events supplement and run parallel to the official ones; for instance, Z Magazine's rather poorly publicized 'Life After Capitalism' conference-within-a-conference. But again, participation in these events is controlled by their sponsors, who might hand over the microphone temporarily but set the agenda in advance. The run-of-the-mill radicals only take a leading role in the annual demonstrations. Several times a conference, the collected leftists march against the World Economic Forum, capitalism, and the United States of America. According to observers from all points of the political spectrum, these demonstrations at the World Social Forum are the militant communist's way of letting off steam, featuring seas of red flags, pictures of Lenin, and cheering for totalitarian Cuba. And, of course, the burning of American flags, common at all three World Social Forums to date.
While both the rank-and-file who attend and the organizers who control the World Social Forum display all the characteristics of neo-communism, there are still substantial divisions among the event's attendees and organizers. When these divisions are discussed on the left, they're framed as conflicts between the 'radicals' and the 'moderates', which is quite wrong. Neither side on this dispute has any sort of claim to moderation. Instead, participants in the World Social Forum should be divided into those who want revolution yesterday, and those who have a little patience. The unapologetic Marxist-Leninists, the public face of armed guerilla groups, a whole range of semi-professional anarchists, and other miscellaneous radicals who make up the 'revolution yesterday' group attempt to push the World Social Forum to take on stark, openly communist language. Instead of 'another world is possible,' they believe another world is absolutely necessary, immediately. They express contempt for the other faction - the officials from the labor unions, the employees of non-governmental organizations, the bureaucracy of the United Nations, and the members of more 'respectable' activist non-profits with their ties to mass leftist parties. Those who want revolution now believe the various bureaucracies at Porto Alegre are going to sell out their leftist movement; they have no faith in the process of incremental reform.
Unfortunately for them, the 'revolution now' faction have been losing the battle of Porto Alegre from the start. Between 2001's World Social Forum I and 2003's World Social Forum III, the event has changed in character to favor those who wish to bring in socialism piecemeal. Take the role of the FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, a drug-running Communist insurgency considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. In 2001, representatives of the FARC were active participants in the World Social Forum, speaking from the podium and leading workshops. While in Porto Alegre, they were guaranteed protection by the local governor, a member of Brazil's leftist Workers' Party, and worked closely with the Brazil's MST, the Landless Peasants' Movement - a neo-Marxist organization with the potential to become Brazil's own mini-FARC. But between the first and second World Social Forum, the organizers decided to exclude representatives of armed or guerilla groups, barring the FARC from the Forum. Although a couple of fatigues-wearing FARC representatives appeared for the second World Social Forum, none were present at the third.
For the FARC's exclusion, the revolutionary faction bitterly criticized the organizers of the World Social Forum. America's own International Action Center, a front of the communist Workers' World Party, reported that "anti-imperialists sharply criticized the WSF's social democratic organizers for refusing to invite groups waging legitimate armed struggles of national liberation," and noted that "groups and individuals with a revolutionary perspective were more likely to have been invited to speak at the parallel sessions, not those put together by the WSF organizers." At the 2nd World Social Forum, this conflict between revolution and reform boiled over when a group of anarchists, in the name of egalitarian principles, broke into and trashed the Forum's VIP celebrity lounge.
The victory of the far left reformists over far left revolutionaries sounds like a good thing, and for Latin and South America, it unambiguously is. The FARC doesn't need another forum to seek popular support; hopefully, their exclusion from the World Social Forum will mean a little less publicity, a little less money, and a little less murder. But the shift from revolutionary to reformist may have negative consequences for Americans. As long as the World Social Forum remained in the hands of the lunatic, guerilla-loving left, it was all but irrelevant to America, which, barring a cataclysm, is not going to see the armed overthrow of the government any time soon. After all, despite many American radicals' romantic infatuation with armed struggle, their non-profits, lobby groups, and labor unions have nothing to gain from the FARC. The American left wants useful allies; groups that can help them lobby the UN, hold international protest campaigns, and put pressure on their own governments to criticize American policies. For this, a Latin American trade union or European NGO is far better than some thugs with assault rifles in the Columbian interior. Once the reformers took the lead, the World Social Forum became useful to American leftists.
The Americans are also useful to the World Social Forum. When the revolutionary types were stronger, they had little use for Americans; socialism would be built from America's ashes. But the reformists are less naïve - while they hate America just as much as the revolutionaries, and want socialism just as badly, they know that America won't be overthrown by military force. But America might be subverted, its ideals of free men and free markets weakened bit by an often-sympathetic Democratic Party. To aid this process, the organizers needed dedicated activists in America itself.
Enter the fifth-column American left. In 2001, they were barely represented; but in 2003, some five hundred delegates were American citizens. The organization 'Jobs for Justice' brought one hundred and thirty all on its own.
Where do these American leftist come from? While some are self-declared communists - the Workers World Party sent a delegation of four in 2003 - most are from the 'respectable' left, organizations that attempt to hide their extremism to appeal to a broader public. For instance, the above-mentioned 'Jobs for Justice' is a union-run organization against all forms of profitable enterprise. A complete list of attendees was never compiled, but we can be sure the American organizations on World Social Forum's International Council were in attendance. These include the "committed to social change" writers of Z Magazine; Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's anti-business organization, Public Citizen; the green-on-the-outside, red-on-the-inside 'watermelon' activists at Greenpeace, Medea Benjamin's Castro-loving Global Exchange, and the vacationing-on-your-union-dues folks at the AFL-CIO, led by executive vice-president Linda Chavez-Thompson. In addition to these prominent non-profits, a few celebrity leftists came to join the show - Noam Chomsky, of course, but also '60s radical and veteran California politician Tom Hayden and actor and self-appointed foreign policy expert Danny Glover. While at the World Social Forum, they took breaks from watching the American flag-burning - reduced in frequency from the first two forums but still a common occurance - to criticize their nation before its enthusiastic enemies. As Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange told an assembled crowd, the left in America had supported leftists abroad for decades; "now we need you to stand in solidarity with us, as we stand up to a dictatorial government bent on war."
The crowd at Porto Alegre might have stood in solidarity with Danaher, but they were more sympathetic to America's opponents - that year, at the World Social Forum's opening ceremonies, they gave the Iraqi delegation a prolonged standing ovation. Some Americans also took time to praise their countries enemies; according to one account, Danny Glover had to be restrained by security from attacking a critic of Cuba, an émigré physicist barred from visiting his four-year-old son. According to Glover, this physicist was selfish for not "highlighting the positive aspects of the [Cuban] regime." While not every American present spouted such foolishness before a camera or reporter' s notebook, their very presence raises questions. What kind of person goes to an event devoted to bashing their own country, and idly stands silent as their flag is burned? And were they simply silent - or did they enthusiastically join in?
Next year's World Social Forum is in Bombay, India, and the number of Americans attending will no doubt drop, but the ties between America's left and the rest of the world's have already been cemented. This is unfortunate; our own neo-commies already hated America enough on their own. The odds are good that the dynamism behind World Social Forum will eventually peter out, and the event will become nothing more than a sleazy pep rally for the authoritarian socialist leaders of Latin and South America - in 2003, both Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Brazil's Lula da Silva put in appearances before cheering crowds. But at the moment, the World Social Forum serves as a conduit between the world's leftists and America's own, potentially making both groups more effective. Already a series of regional Social Forums have sprung up, in an effort to continue cooperation.
Although gatherings like the World Social Forum have no formal power, the discussions had there may affect world politics. Just as American radicals return home from the conference eager to pass their ideals on to others, including the Democrats' far-left base, the rest of the world's leftists return to their governments full of fervor, eager to impede America's foreign policy and prevent its war on terrorism. It's this united, international cooperation that gives people like Chomsky hope that the World Social Forum will be a worthy replacement of Lenin's Communist International, fulfilling the 'dream of the left'. There's little Americans can do to affect the movement of radicals in Brazil or India, but within America, our own domestic leftists can best be resisted through exposure. One Russian newspaper described the World Social Forum as "not a forum of Communists, but a forum of ideals shared wholeheartedly by the Communists." The American public needs to know this, too - participants in the World Social Forum aren't just liberals, aren't just 'activists', but the international vanguard of the neo-communist, anti-American left, acting as a fifth column within their own country.