Socialists and Communists at the World Social Forum


Bridgette Portman

Sociology 240A

University of California, Irvine

v. 8/3/08, 7440 words

Activists march in a parade during the US Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, June 2007

UCR Institute for Research on World-Systems

 University of California-Riverside


Paper presented at the Critical Sociology conference on “Power and Resistance: Critical Reflections, Possible Futures,” Boston, MA, August 3 2008


This is IROWS Working Paper #38 available at


The World Social Forum and the related “global justice movement” are generally considered to be novel phenomena, creative forms of opposition to the relatively novel process of neoliberal capitalist globalization.  This paper asks to what extent older social movements – specifically, socialist and communist movements – are involved in the World Social Forum and the global justice movement.  How have these older, and some would say Western-centric, movements responded to the “new” Social Forum process centered in the global South, and to the “family of movements” involved in it (Wallerstein 2004a, 634)?  Are there significant cleavages between socialists and communists and other global justice activists in terms of demographics, group affiliations, or issue opinions?  If so, what implications might such cleaveages suggest for the future of the global justice movement?

            This paper is divided into several sections.  First, the World Social Forum and its connection to the global justice movement will be discussed.  Evidence will be presented that indicates that socialists and communists may be a peripheral rather than a central part of this movement.  Then results will be presented from an analysis of survey data collected at the 2005 World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the 2007 World Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya, and the 2007 Unitied States Social Forum held in Atlanta, Georgia.  Results of this analysis suggest that while socialists and communists do differ in some significant ways from other Forum attendants, these differences are not overwhelming.  These findings have positive implications for solidarity within the global justice movement.

The World Social Forum and the Global Justice Movement


            The World Social Forum (WSF) is an annual congregation and meeting space for a wide variety of social movements, including environmentalists, workers, feminists, gay rights activists, indigenous groups, and human rights activists, united in – if nothing else – their opposition to neoliberal capitalist globalization.  The WSF was first held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001; it was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, and intended as “a symbol of the alternatives to neoliberalism” (Cassen 2003, 49).  Appropriately, its slogan is “Another World is Possible.”  Bernard Cassen, one of the Forum’s founders, describes the rationale behind the decision to hold the first WSF in Porto Alegre:

I said, “We need a symbolic rupture with everything Davos stands for.  That has to come from the South.  Brazil has the ideal conditions for doing so, as a Third World country with gigantic urban concentrations, a wretched rural population, but also powerful social movements and friendly political bases in many cities.” (2003, 49)


Since 2001 the WSF has become an annual event and has been held in India, Mali, Venezuela, Pakistan, and Kenya, in addition to Brazil (see Table 1).  There have also been numerous regional and thematic forums modeled on the WSF, including one held in the United States in June 2007. 

The WSF prides itself on the fact that it is organized differently from many other entities: it is an “open space” in which social movements and activists can exchange knowledge and ideas in a decentralized, non-hierarchical fashion.  According to the Charter of Principles developed by the WSF International Council (2001, #8), “The World Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralized fashion, interrelates organizations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to build another world.”  Indeed, plurality and diversity are the WSF’s organizing logic.  At each Forum numerous organizations hold workshops focused around specific themes or topics.  There are also events, such as parades and the “Assembly of Social Movements,” that involve large numbers of Forum members collectively, but for the most part the WSF remains quite decentralized.  Although criticisms of this structure will be discussed later, many activists see these organizational principles as beneficial.

The WSF has been described as an outgrowth or manifestation of a wider movement opposed to the consequences of neoliberal capitalist globalization.  This movement has many

names: the “global justice movement,” the “anti-globalization movement,” the “alter-globalization movement,” the “anti-capitalist movement,” the “family of anti-systemic movements.”  In the words of the WSF itself, it is the “global movement for social justice and solidarity” (Call of Social Movements 2002, #11).  In reality, it is not a single movement, but


Table 1:  World Social Forums[1]


encompasses a wide variety of different social movements, including “women, people of color, indigenous people, homosexuals, oppressed nationalities, immigrants, students, youth, the elderly, ecological groups, cultural  movements, [and] landless and homeless populations” (Leite 2005, 39).  The WSF describes this amalgamation in the following way:

   We are diverse -- women and men, adults and youth, indigenous peoples, rural and urban, workers and unemployed, homeless, the elderly, students, migrants, professionals, peoples of every creed, colour and sexual orientation.  The expression of this diversity is our strength and the basis of our unity.  We are a global solidarity movement, united in our determination to fight against the concentration of wealth, the proliferation of poverty and inequalities, and the destruction of our earth. (Call of Social Movements 2002, #2)


The global justice movement – as this paper will refer to it – is generally thought of as a new phenomenon, having arisen to counter the relatively new phenomenon of neo-liberal globalization.[2]  Its somewhat shallow roots extend back to the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, and many authors have commented on its novelty.  According to Waterman (2005), “the global justice and solidarity movement is new (the concept was born in 2002).  So is ‘global solidarity,’ which includes but surpasses as its constituency nation-state-defined participants” (45).  The same is true for the WSF:  “The World Social Forum is a new social and political phenomenon.  The fact that it does have antecedents does not diminish its newness” (Santos 2003, 235).


Socialists and Communists within the WSF and Global Justice Movement

Given the purported “newness” of the WSF and global justice movement, what is its relationship to “old” leftist movements, such as socialists and communists, who have a much longer history of resisting global capitalism?  On the one hand, “old” social movements – including socialists, communists, anarchists, and labor advocates – have played an undeniable part in the WSF process.  According to Walden Bello, it is useful to think of the WSF and the global justice movement as “a mix of the old and the new”:

You have the coming together of different streams: the Marxists influence the stream, there is an ecological environmental stream, the feminist stream, the radical developmentalist stream and what is interesting is the interaction of all these streams both theoretically and politically.  There has been a creative cross-fertilisation of the different traditions. (ctd in Ashman 2004, 148)


Socialist and communist groups have organized panels and workshops at the WSFs.  At the United States Social Forum (USSF) in Atlanta, for example, workshops were sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America; the Revolutionary Communist Party; the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism; Solidarity; and the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, among others.  Although political parties are technically banned from involvement in the WSF, this is a frequently thwarted rule; the Communist Party of India (Marxist) played a strong role in organizing the WSF in Mumbai in 2004, as did the Brazilian Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) in the first WSF at Porto Alegre.  And Waterman reports that at the 2002 Social Forum, “The major tee-shirt around was the 30-year-old Che Guevara one” (2002, 17).


A Workshop at U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in July of 2007


However, relative to the WSF and the global justice movement overall, socialist and communist views are not necessarily central.  Santos (2006) describes the uneasiness most Forum participants feel about using the term “socialism” to describe their vision of a better world:

For some, socialism is still an adequate designation, however abundant and disparate the conceptions of socialism may be.  For the majority, however, socialism carries in itself the idea of a closed model of a future society, and must, therefore, be rejected.  They prefer other, less politically charged designations, suggesting openness and a constant search for alternatives…according to some, the idea of socialism is West-centric and North-centric… (113-14).


It could be that some Forum participants avoid identifying themselves with “socialism” or “communism” for strategic reasons, while still accepting the ideas associated with those ideologies.  They might instead frame their arguments around the idea of workers’ rights or social justice.  This seems plausible given a conversation between two activists that took place at a workshop organized by Solidarity at the USSF:[3]

Older Woman:  Anytime you say you’re a socialist, people say – you know, they come up with what sound like clichés, but they’re serious – they say, “that’s never worked, how could that work?”  


Younger Woman:  Don’t say it.


Older Woman:  Well, but if you’re a member of the organization…


Younger Woman: I think that the working class in the United States is just not radical enough to quite relate, and so I’m just saying to get to their issues, talk about their issues, and we can save the other things [socialism] for another day…don’t get hung up on it.


There is no evidence, however, that the majority of Forum-goers do indeed accept the fundamental elements of socialist and communist ideology, at least in its classical Marxist incarnation.  On the contrary, Waterman (2005) notes that “the WSF opposes itself or distances itself (or is autonomous from) the state-national, the inter-state institution, political parties, militarism and insurrection, institutionalized unionism, from Marxism, socialism and class-struggle (at least as the primary motive force of history)” (45).  This rejection of economics as the primary determinant of social life is evident in the WSF Charter of Principles, which states that “the World Social Forum is opposed to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development and history” (#10).  Leite argues that “While a large number of forum participants identified with some form of socialism, the majority was very distant from any type of tradition linked to the international socialists of the twentieth century” (96).  And Waterman (2005) argues that even labor issues in general have taken a somewhat peripheral role at the Forum:

Within the context of the WSF, if not possibly also of the GJ&SM [global justice and solidarity movement] more generally, labour and labour struggles have never been a major theme, nor a cross-thematic issue.  Labour questions have been typically presented either in the largely ossified form of the traditional unions…or as separate issues concerning worker rights, women workers, migrants, rural labour, land reform, the social economy, etc. (46)


Some well-known leftist scholars have chimed in on this issue.  World-systems scholar Immanuel Wallerstein (2004a) argues that the WSF is an embodiment of a new “family” of anti-systemic movements that is opposed in fundamental ways to the “old left” – specifically, communist, social democratic, and national liberation movements.  In particular, he argues that the “new left” eschews the old left’s strategy of utilizing state power to achieve reforms, is skeptical of political parties, and rejects the idea that the conflict between capital and labor is the most important source of exploitation in society.  Given that these are concepts associated with classical Marxism and communism, one would expect that many members of the “new left” would not associate themselves with those older movements.  Additionally, Marxist author Alex Callinicos (2003) is careful to distinguish socialism from the rest of the anti-capitalist movement (his term for the anti-globalization or global justice movement).  According to Callinicos, “The distinctive character of the contemporary anti-capitalist movement reflects its emergence in an ideological climate defined by the apparent triumph of liberal capitalism and the eclipse of Marxism” (84).  He goes on to note that “supporters of the FI [the Trotskyist Fourth International] from both Latin America and Europe have been heavily involved in the World Social Forms at Porto Alegre,” but that “they remain very much a minority force,” and that “the idea that socialism is the alternative to capitalism has as yet little currency in the movement, in the North at least” (85).

Some socialist and communist groups have expressed criticism of the WSF specifically because it is not socialist enough.  At the 2004 WSF in India, this took the form of the “Mumbai Resistance” (MR), a gathering of radical Maoist groups that was intended as an alternative and challenge to the WSF – although it garnered only about two percent of the turnout witnessed at the WSF (Wallerstein 2004b).  According to Ching (2004), an attendant at the MR,

MR 2004 has criticized the WSF for promoting the idea of “another world is possible” without actually explaining the content of that world. MR 2004 has pointed out that the WSF has pinned peoples’ hope on a vague and abstract world that does not have any concrete meaning.  MR also believes that another world is possible and the future world MR 2004 pursues has very precise content: a world advancing toward socialism. (335)


MR also criticized the WSF for its exclusion of political parties and groups that use violence.  Another criticism comes from communist P. J. James (2004):

The so-called ‘pluralism’ advocated by the WSF, its close affinity to ‘new social

movements’ (NSMs), and its hatred towards class movements, all have wider ideological ramifications. Their roots lie deep in the post-Marxist prognosis on the decline or disappearance of the working class as a revolutionary force and the ascendancy of NSMs and NGOs as the “new revolutionary subject of history.” (248)


In addition, a common critique offered by socialists and communists is that the WSF’s decentralized, non-political structure and failure to plan or advocate specific actions has rendered the Forum nothing more than “talking shop.”  Rather than an “open space,” these groups would like to see the WSF become something more organized and agentive.  “Our overall aim must to be create a new world political organisation,” writes the League for the Fifth International (2006), “whose declared objective is to bury capitalism and imperialism once and for all, and build another world - a socialist one.”

It is probably partly the perceived failure of “socialism” in Eastern Europe that makes many Forum attendees wary of socialist ideology.  March and Mudde (2005) write that “Many of the more left-wing activists [in the anti-globalization movement] are indeed anti-Marxist.  With their origins in the student movements of the late 1960s, they have long seen ‘old left’ parties like the PCF as ‘Stalinist’, reactionary and authoritarian” (41).  In addition, Waterman (2003) notes the influence of the “New Social Movements” of the 1970s and 1980s – movements “of women, indigenous peoples, and sexual minorities, for media democratisation, on ecology and consumption” – which focused on identity and expression more than economic issues and material interest (58).  Although these movements should not be equated with the global justice movement, their influence on it may have helped to steer its goals and grievances in a direction different from that of traditional socialist, communist, and labor activists.  Finally, one might argue that the “social recomposition of the proletariat contributes to the weakening of the old class organization” (Leite 2005, 40).  In other words, the global working class is much more diverse than the class of largely white industrial workers that Marx once saw as the champions of socialism.  The following comment made by a middle aged white man at a socialist workshop at the USSF provides a sense of the isolation that some of these groups may feel:[4]

The Social Forum that we’re at is overwhelmingly people of color and young people.  We don’t reflect that and it’s a problem for us.  And I think it’s a problem in terms of the conversation that we’re having because most people at the Social Forum, if they ask, ‘how are we going to rebuild a movement in the United States?’…the labor movement is not in their equation.  And yet it’s our conversation here.  So how do we make this conversation relevant to them?


Given these issues, this paper asks the following question:  To what extent have socialist and communist activists become part of this “new” global justice movement, and particularly the WSF process?  Are there significant cleavages between them and other Forum participants in terms of demographics, issue opinions, and group affiliations?


            This paper draws upon survey data collected from participants at three different Social Forums: the Fifth WSF, held from January 26-31, 2005, in Porto Alegre, Brazil; the Seventh WSF, held from January 20-24, 2007, in Nairobi, Kenya; and the United States Social Forum (USSF), held from June 26-July 1, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia.  The surveys were developed and administered by the Transnational Social Movements Research Working Group, part of the Institute for Research on World Systems (IROWS) at the University of California, Riverside.  The surveys were administered mainly in registration lines and other locations where people were congregated.  Surveying was conducted in several different areas across the meeting site to enhance the representativeness of the sample.  Surveys in Porto Alegre were administered in English, Spanish and Portuguese, surveys in Nairobi were administered in English, Spanish, French, Swahili and Portuguese, and surveys in Atlanta were administered in English and Spanish.

The Porto Alegre survey contained 36 items pertaining to demographics, political participation, social movement and other group affiliations, and opinions on issues related to neoliberal globalization.  The Nairobi survey contained the same and some additional items, for a total of 51 questions, while the Atlanta survey contained 35 items.  One item on each survey was a list of various different social movements – 18 were listed on the Porto Alegre survey and 27 on  the Nairobi and Atlanta surveys – including “socialism” and “communism.”  Respondents were asked to indicate with which movements they “strongly identified,” as well as in which they were “actively involved” (there was no limit on number of responses allowed, and an “other” option was provided; see Figure 1).  I classified a respondent as “socialist” if he or she “strongly identified” and/or was “actively involved” in the socialist movement.  I classified communists in the same fashion.  I excluded from the dataset individuals who did not indicate either strongly


Check all of the following movements with which you:

(a) strongly identify:                                                            (b) are actively involved in:

oAlternative media/culture                                               oAlternative media/culture

oAnarchist                                                                          oAnarchist

oAnti-corporate                                                                 oAnti-corporate

oAnti-globalization                                                            oAnti-globalization

oAlternative Globalization/Global Justice                      oAlternative Globalization/Global Justice

oHuman Rights/Antiracism                                              oHuman Rights/Antiracism

oCommunist                                                                        oCommunist

oEnvironmental                                                                 oEnvironmental

oFair Trade/Trade Justice                                                oFair Trade/Trade Justice

oGay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender/ Queer Rights   oGay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer Rights

oHealth/HIV                                                                        oHealth/HIV

oIndigenous                                                                        oIndigenous

oLabor                                                                                  oLabor

oNational Sovereignty/National Liberation                   oNational Sovereignty/National Liberation

oPeace/Anti-war                                                                 oPeace/Anti-war

oFood Rights/Slow Food                                                  oFood Rights/Slow Food

oSocialist                                                                             oSocialist

oWomen's/Feminist                                                           oWomen's/Feminist

oOther(s), Please list ________________                   oOther(s), Please list _______________


Figure 1:  List of social movements on the 2005 survey at Porto Alegre

identifying with or being actively involved in any movement.  Since I was interested in how socialists and communists differ from other activists, I felt it would be inappropriate to include those individuals – such as researchers, journalists, and curious bystanders – who were attending the forums for reasons other than movement affiliation.  This left 562 respondents in the Porto Alegre sample, 380 in Nairobi, and 513 in Atlanta, for a grand total of 1,455.


I have divided my analysis into three sections: demographic factors, opinions, and affiliations with groups and movements.  In terms of demographics, I expect that H1: socialists and communists will be older, on average, than other Forum attendants.  This makes sense given that the movements themselves are older; older individuals would likely have joined the movements prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “discrediting” of socialism, while younger individuals whose political life began after 1989 might be more likely to see socialism as out-of-date.  This is also congruent with a comment from one man at the USSF who complained that the Democratic Socialists of America needed more young members, rather than “old men like me.”[5]  In addition, socialism has sometimes been criticized for prioritizing the interests of white male workers – who comprised the traditional industrial working class – over those of women and non-white individuals.  Hence, I predict that H2: socialists and communists will be more likely to be male, and H3: they will be more likely to be white.  Furthermore, while the majority of Forum-goers are middle class, the working class has historically has lent its support to socialist parties, and one might expect socialist and communist individuals disproportionately to be drawn from the working class.[6]  There was no consistent item measuring class identity across all three surveys.  Education, however, is sometimes used as a proxy for socio-economic status.  Hence, one might expect that H4: the average level of educational attainment for socialists and communists will be lower than that of other Forum attendants.  Finally, according to the classical social movement literature, a social movement’s potential for successful mobilization is influenced by the political opportunity structure, or features of the political system, of the state in which it is located (see, for example, Kitschelt 1986; Tarrow 1994).  The emerging literature on transational social movements also acknowledges the impact of national structures on the form and charactistics of protest events.  For example, Giugni, Bandler and Eggert (2006) argue that “the national context plays a crucial role even for an eminently transnational movement such as the GJM [global justice movement]” (11).  Socialism is a particularly marginalized ideology in the United States; there has never been a dominant socialist party, and the Cold War left a strongly anti-Communist imprint here.  On the other hand, Brazil has a major political party – the Partido dos Trabalhadores – with a socialist or social democratic ideology.  Thus, I expect that H5: socialists and communists will constitute a smaller percentage of total Forum attendees in Atlanta than they will in Brazil.

In terms of issue opinions, I predict that H6: socialists and communists will be more radically anti-capitalist than the other Forum attendants: they will be more likely to want to abolish capitalism rather than reform it, and also more likely to want to abolish the economic institutions of global capitalism – the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank.  I also expect that H7: they will be more supportive of the idea of world government.  This follows from socialism’s universalist aspirations; to quote the Communist Manifesto, “the working-man has no country.”  Also, congruent with the criticism posed by some socialist and communist groups that the WSF is not “political” enough, I expect that H8: socialists and communists will be less supportive than other Forum-goers of the organization of the WSF as a nonpolitical, decentralized “open space.”

Regarding group affiliations, I expect that H9: socialists and communists will be more likely than other Forum attendants to be affiliated with labor unions, given socialism’s focus on labor as the agent of progressive change.  I also predict that H10: they will be more likely to be affiliated with political parties, given the nature of socialism as a very political ideology centered around the use of state power to achieve societal change, and the fact that there are a great many socialist and communist parties in existence (as opposed to, say, feminist parties, or parties centered around other movements).



Altogether there were 403 socialists and 183 communists in the sample (Figure 2).  The striped area in Figure 2 represents the overlap – 112 people identified with both communism and socialism.  Due to the relatively small overlap, I thought it would be appropriate to separate my analysis of socialists from my analysis of communists.  Hence, the two groups are treated individually.  Figure 3 breaks down the percentage of socialists and communists by meeting site.

Two things are immediately noticeable.  First, as expected, socialism and communism are not

Figure 2:  Socialists and communists as a percentage of total sample

Figure 3:  Percentage of socialists and communists by meeting


dominant affiliations among participants at the Forum; two-thirds of the sample identify with neither socialism nor communism.  Second, in accordance with H5, socialists and communists comprise a smaller percentage of the sample in Atlanta than they do at the other meetings.  The difference between Porto Alegre and Atlanta is especially striking: almost 32 percent of individuals at Porto Alegre were affiliated with the socialist movement, compared to less than 24 percent at Atlanta.  The difference for communists, on the other hand, does not appear to be as pronounced.  It could be that while socialism is a more mainstream ideology in Brazil than in the United States, communism is relatively marginalized in all three countries; communists represent less than fifteen percent of the sample at each meeting.



            A logistic regression was run to determine the probability that a respondent would indicate being a socialist, using meeting site, gender, race, age, and years of education as predictive factors.  Table 2 presents the results.  As hypothesized, there was a statistically significant partial effect of meeting location: The odds of being a socialist at the WSF in Porto Alegre were about 1.4 times the odds of being a socialist at the USSF in Atlanta.  The difference between Nairobi and Atlanta did not reach statistical significance.  The expected effect was found for gender: holding all else constant, men were almost 1.5 times more likely to be socialists than were women.  Contrary to expectations, no significant effects were found for education or age.  Finally, H3 was partly supported: a black individual was only .67 times as likely to be a socialist as a white individual, but there were no significant differences between respondents of other races and white respondents. 

When the same regression was run for communists (Table 3), only gender had a statistically significant partial effect.  Men were 1.55 times as likely to be communists than were women.




Wald c2


Odds Ratio






     Porto Alegre

























     25 and under





     26 to 35




















     Mixed or other















Table 2:  Results of logistic regression predicting socialism from meeting location, gender, education, age, and race/ethnicity




Wald c2


Odds Ratio






     Porto Alegre

























     25 and under





     26 to 35




















     Mixed or other












Table 3:  Results of logistic regression predicting communism from meeting location, gender, education, age, and race/ethnicity


Issue Opinions

            A number of crosstabulations were performed to determine whether socialists and communists differed from other Social Forum participants in their opinions on issues related to globalization and capitalism.  The prediction that socialists and communists would be more radically anti-capitalist than other activists was largely supported.  Both socialists and communists were more likely to prefer abolishing capitalism over reforming it (Table 4).  Given that the abolishment of capitalism and its replacement by some form of collective ownership of the means of production is the quintessential socialist goal, this is not surprising.  What may be more interesting is that a sizeable minority of both socialists and communists advocated reforming capitalism rather than replacing it.  Because socialism and communism by definition seek the replacement of capitalism, it would seem that these inconsistent attitudes need to be explained.  This matter will be re-examined in the Discussion. In addition, both socialists and


Reform or Abolish Capitalism?






 Reform it





 Abolish it






Χ2 = 26.58     p < .001

Χ2 = 36.85     p < .001


Table 4


World Bank






 Reform it





 Abolish it or Replace it






Χ2 = 8.26     p = .004

Χ2 = 10.33     p = .001


Table 5

communists were more likely to want to abolish or replace, as opposed to reform, the World Bank (Table 5).[7]  They were also more likely to want to abolish or replace the IMF, but this reached significance only for socialists (χ2 = 5.00, p =.025).  On the other hand, communists, but not socialists, were significantly more likely to want to abolish or replace the WTO (χ2 = 3.91,

p =.048).  Also as expected, both socialists and communists were more likely to disagree with the idea that the Social Forum should remain a nonpolitical “open space” and not take positions on issues.  However, this was just shy of significance for communists (see Table 6).[8]  Finally, contrary to my prediction, neither socialists nor communists were more likely than other Forum attendees to support the idea of world government.  Roughly 40% of both socialists and communists felt that a democratic world government was a good idea and possible to achieve, a slightly but not significantly larger proportion than the rest of the sample.


WSF should remain open space

















Χ2 = 4.95     p = .026

Χ2 = 3.70     p = .054


Table 6

Group and Movement Affiliations

            H10 predicted that socialists and communists would be more likely to be affiliated with a political party.  This was confirmed (Table 7), although roughly three-fourths of both socialists and communists did not indicate having a party affiliation.  Socialists and communists were also more likely to be union affiliates (Table 8), although this was just shy of significance for communists.

Political party affiliation

















Χ2 = 49.72     p < .001

Χ2 = 25.67     p < .001


Table 7

Union affiliation

















Χ2 = 17.75     p < .001

Χ2 = 3.53     p = .060


Table 8


The final factor at which I looked was whether socialists and communists were affiliated with other social movements at the WSF and USSF.  I coded a participant as an affiliate of a given social movement if he or she checked “strongly identify” and/or “actively involved” next to that movement on the survey.  Because there was no limit on the number of movements a subject could check, many people were “synergists,” or affiliates of more than one movement.  I wondered whether socialists and communists would be affiliated with fewer movements than others, which would indicate that they formed a relatively insular group at the Forum.  In fact, nearly all socialists and communists in the sample were synergists – only four socialists were affiliated with socialism alone, and only three communists were affiliated with communism alone.  The median number of movements with which socialists and communists were affiliated was 10.  Since the surveys at each meeting contained a different number of total movements from which respondents could choose, it may be more meaningful to break down the results by meeting  (Table 9).  It appears that both socialists and communists are well connected with other movements at the Forum.




Total # of movements on survey

Porto Alegre












a Including “socialist” and excluding “other”

b Including “communist” and excluding “other”


Table 9:  Median number of social movement affiliations for socialists and communists


Table 10 displays the percentage of individuals in each movement at Porto Alegre who also identified with socialism or communism.  The top five movements are indicated.  In addition to being strongly connected to each other (63 percent of communists were also affiliated with socialism, and 28.5 percent of socialists were also affiliated with communism) both communists and socialists were affiliated with the labor movement, as one might expect.  They were also both connected to the national liberation movement; this is perhaps attributable to the history of socialism as an ideology used in the cause of national liberation in Latin America, and to socialism’s general opposition to capitalist imperialism.  Another top movement for both


Table 10 (Porto Alegre)


Table 11 (Nairobi)

socialists and communists was anti-globalization, understandable if globalization is identified with the rule of global capital.  On the other hand, socialists and communists were not as centrally involved in “newer” social movements like health/HIV, queer rights, media/culture, environmentalism, and feminism.  One unexpected finding was the connection between communism and anarchism; given the history of sometimes very bitter ideological conflict between communists and anarchists, it seems strange that nearly one third of the individuals identifying with anarchism in the Porto Alegre survey also indicated that they identified with communism.

            Table 11 displays the results for the Nairobi sample.  Here there were more movements included on the survey than in Porto Alegre.  Again, socialists and communists were strongly connected to each other.  Again, too, communists were strongly connected to the anarchist movement – which contained a higher percentage of communists than did any other movement.  Labor (and a related movement, jobless workers/welfare rights), as well as national liberation, were again top movements for socialists, and for communists as well (although they did not quite make the top five).  One interesting finding is that “intellectual property rights” was a top movement for both socialists and communists.  This movement, which focuses on the de-commodification of information and information technology, may appeal to socialists’ and communists’ desire to see more commonly-held rather than private property.  It is also interesting that the “gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer” movement contained a relatively high percentage of communists, which was not the case in Porto Alegre.

            Finally, the results for the USSF in Atlanta can be found in Table 12.  National liberation and intellectual property rights emerge again as top movements for both socialists and communists.  Labor, jobless workers’ rights, and the autonomous movement also stand out.  Interestingly, socialists in Atlanta were strongly involved in the movement for peasants, farmers and land reform, while this was not the case in Nairobi.

Table 12 (Atlanta)

 To summarize, socialism and communism do not seem to be isolated movements at the WSF.  Rather, the vast majority of these individuals were also members of other movements.  Chief among these are the labor and national liberation movements, which are generally considered “old” movements and which have historical ties to socialism.  Socialists and communists may find it easier to relate to these movements than to the “new” social movements – like environmental, feminist, or gay and lesbian rights – which do not generally focus on economic issues as a primary source of exploitation.






            Table 13 presents a summary of this paper’s findings.  Overall, I found partial support for my hypotheses.  In terms of demographics, socialists and communists were significantly more likely to be male than female.  Whether this reflects the historical concern of socialism with the predominately male working class, and whether women tend to be drawn instead to other movements, such as feminism, that they percieve as more conducive to their interests, is a question for further study.  On the other hand, in terms of age, educational attainment, and race/ethnicity, socialists and communists generally mirrored the rest of the sample – with the exception that socialists (but not communists) were more likely to be white rather than black.

Finally, as expected, there were fewer socialists and communists at the USSF in Atlanta than at the WSF in Brazil, but the difference was statistically significant only for socialists.

Turning to issue opinions, results were also mixed.  On the one hand, socialists and communists were more radically anti-capitalist than were other activists at the Forum, as evidenced by their preference to abolish rather than reform capitalism and capitalist institutions. 



H2: Socialists and communists will be more likely to be male

H6: Socialists and communists will be more radically anti-capitalist than the other Forum attendants

H10: Socialists and communists will be more likely to be affiliated with political parties


Partially Supported


H3: Socialists and communists will be more likely to be white [black individuals were less likely to be socialists, but not less likely to be communists]

H8: Socialists and communists will be less supportive of the WSF as an “open space” [This was significant for socialists only]

H9: Socialists and communists will be more likely to be affiliated with labor unions [This was significant for socialists only]

H5: Socialists and communists will constitute a smaller percentage of total Forum attendees at the USSF than they will in Brazil [the difference was significant for socialists only]


Not Supported

H1: Socialists and communists will be older, on average, than other Forum attendants

H4: The average level of educational attainment for socialists and communists will be lower than that of other Forum attendants

H7: Socialists and communists will be more supportive of the idea of world government



Table 13:  Summary of findings

On the other hand, they were not more likely than other activists to support the idea of world government.  In fact, a majority of them felt that a democratic world government was either a bad idea or a good but implausible idea.  Socialists, but not communists, were less supportive of maintaining the Social Forum as a nonpolitical “open space.”  While a majority of other Forum attendants supported the idea of open space, socialists were evenly split on the issue.

            Finally, regarding group affiliations, both socialists and communists were more likely than other activists to be members of political parties, and socialists were more likely to be union members.  They were connected to other movements at the Forum and did not form an isolated group, although they tended to have more ties to the classical allies of socialism – labor and national liberation movements – than to newer movements like feminism or environmentalism. 

The overall results of this analysis suggest that while socialists and communists are not a dominant part of the WSF process, and while they have some differences with other Forum participants regarding issue opinions and group affilations, these differences do not seem to be overwhelming.  This could be considered good news for the global justice movement.  Of course, caveats are in order.  First, the fact that socialists and communists do not seem to be significantly different from other WSF participants cannot be taken to mean that this is true for socialists and communists in general.  This analysis looked at a self-selected sample of socialists and communists – those who decided to participate in the Forum.  It could be that socialists and communists who did not go to the Forum, such as those who attended the Mumbai Resistance instead, differ in significant ways from those who were surveyed here.  Recall the finding that a considerable minority of socialists and communists surveyed indicated that they believed capitalism should be reformed rather than abolished.  Perhaps this is evidence that these individuals were not strongly attached to socialism and communism or did not have a sophisticated understanding of the ideologies.  This might also explain why a considerable number of communists were affiliated with anarchism; perhaps they did not understand either ideology well enough to recognize the contradictions between the two.

            It is also likely that “socialism” and “communism” have different meanings for different people.  For instance, one person might associate socialism with a classless society and abolition of the market, while another might have a more moderate definition focused around stronger rights for workers or reducing economic inequality – more of a social democratic than a truly socialist outlook.  The latter definition is probably more likely among people from countries that have large established socialist parties.  For example, some individuals in Porto Alegre might have indicated that they were active in the “socialist” movement simply by virtue of having voted for the Partido dos Trabalhadores, while not necessarily believing in all the tenets of socialism as an ideology.  This is a bit harder to argue in the case of communists, however, as communism is generally considered a quite radical ideology and there are few “moderate” incarnations of it.  It is also much more specifically connected to Marxism than is “socialism,” of which there have historically been many varieties.

            That said, these findings may still be considered “good news” for those supporters of the WSF and the global justice movement, such as Wallerstein, who hope that this new “family of social movements” can muster enough internal solidarity – despite all its pluralism – to be a force for change.   Perhaps it is true that, in the words of Cassen (2003) “A global constellation is coming into being that is beginning to think along the same lines, to share its strategic concepts, to link common problems together, to forge the chains of a new solidarity” (59).




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[1] Data from WSF website <> and IBASE 2007

[2] Certainly, some scholars argue that capitalism has always operated on a global level, and hence “globalization” and resistance to it is nothing new (see, for example, Wallerstein 1974).  Yet even Wallerstein agrees that the global justice movement represents something novel, in terms of its diversity, organization, and goals.

[3] Author’s field notes, 6/28/07

[4] Author’s field notes, 6/28/07

[5] Author’s field notes, 6/28/07

[6] Although it should be noted that historically, socialist and communist leaders, including Marx and Lenin, have been drawn – like leaders of many social movements – from the educated middle class.

[7] Individual items about the World Bank, IMF, and WTO were asked in Nairobi and Atlanta only.  The Porto Alegre survey asked about these institutions collectively.  Socialists and communists in the Porto Alegre sample were more likely to want to abolish or replace these institutions rather than “negotiate” with them, but this did not reach statistical significance.

[8] Item asked in Porto Alegre and Nairobi only