Most Americans, I am sure, are quite unaware of the World Social Forum, and would probably not be favorably impressed it they did. To me, it is rather comforting to kn0w that it has Brazilian origins and remains today in Brazilian hands. The WSF has become the place where every social movement, environmental, indigenous, class or race-based or just concerned with social justice, can come to sound off. Much of this sounding off over the years has been against capitalism and its global institutions: the IMF, World Bank, ITO, Wall Street and Zurich. As socialism was declared dead with the end of the Soviet Union and the conversion of China, socialists found few places of refuge, aside from Cuba and North Korea that is. However, we must not forget that social democracy, a soft form of socialism, remains the dominant political/economic system in most of Europe.
However, Marxism has never died among the social movements around the world. Thank Brazil, once again, for the resurrection of the NGO or civil society movement on a global scale, with the hosting of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Followed by the Beijing Summit for Women in 1995 and many others, by the time the United Nations sponsored a Summit for the Millennium, to establish world social and economic goals, civil society was a full and equal partner in the meetings. Now not all NGOs, nonprofits or charity groups are left-leaning for sure. However, there is the protest and mobilization element that is. The important thing to focus on is what will be the mood and appeal of the upcoming Belem WSF in the wake of the world financial meltdown and collapse of Wall Street institutions. Socialism, or "the role of government in the economy" if you will, is certainly going to feel vindicated at this meeting. Some people who we do not like, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is likely to arrive in Belem, strutting like a peacock over the new re-emergence of the socialist model that he has been marketing all over the Andes. The loss of petroleum revenues may take a little of the wind out of his sails, but I don't think it will slow him down much.
The larger implications of all this, however, is where are we going to stand on the question of the type of economic and social system that will evolve in the 21st century. In my view, we have gone too far in both directions, and it is time to recognize that there is a place for markets, a place for government and a place for civil society, once referred to more frequently as the Third Sector, to play a role in mediating between the other two and reminding us that we are all human beings and we live in one world..
Postscript: I could not leave this posting without mentioning my wife's ties to Belem do Para. Anyone not interested in personal stories can skip the following. My mother-in-law, Doninha Waichman nee Levy, was born in Belem of Moroccan Jewish emigre parents and had many sisters and brothers as was the habit in that part of Brazil in those days. Doninha met and married my father-in-law, Natan, a young Jewish Polish man, who had had the good sense to get out of Europe well before Hitler came to power. He was not the only European to get off the boat in Belem and marry one of the Brazilian young women. These gentlemen took a ship from Europe to Brazil, getting off at the first stop, Belem. Most of these "mixed"(Sephardic-Ashkenazi) couples, however, eventually moved to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo seeking a better life, education for their children and prospects of finding a Jewish spouse. Others who married locally remained. However, some of their children wound up moving to Rio or Sao Paulo to make a better life. Now it turned out that one of Doninha's sisters, Aunt Cota, married Jaime Levy, a gentleman from another Levy family of Belem, in a sense creating an even larger Levy extended family in Belem. The Levy's of both sides prospered, becoming engineers and businessmen. . There is a long history of the role of Jews in the Amazon, predating the European immigrants, mostly from North Africa. They were traders, who prospered during the Amazon rubber boom. So these Jews were Sephardic. Jewish cemeteries may be found throughout the Amazon. One of the Levys, the father of one of our dearest and recently departed aunts, Sultana (herself a brilliant author who wrote of Para while living in Washington, D.C. with her American husband Martin Rosenblatt), was known as Major Levy, because he was an important official in the region. Major Moises Eliezer Levy, in the Brazilian tradition in Brazil's interior where National Guard "colonels" ruled, was named the mayor of the city of Macapa, which was then part of Para, but would later become the capital of the State of Amapa. He served as appointed mayor off and on between 1932 and 1944, left a reasonable legacy of public works and serves as the great patriarch of the Levy family.