Walden Bello interviewed by Alejandro Kirk on the World Social Forum

Mar 08

IPS: You have suggested that the WSF turns into a "new form". How do you see the future and shape of the WSF?

WB: Taking stands on key issues like US aggression in the Middle
East, Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people, and the
poverty-creating neoliberal paradigm is vital to making the WSF vibrant
and relevant. Refusing to take stands on the grounds that these will
drive away some people is a sure way of ultimately making a movement
irrelevant. The movements that advance and grow are those that are not
afraid to take stands on the vital issues of our times. I am not
talking about staking stands on 1001 issues but on the core issues of
our times, maybe about six or seven of them. The WSF as an "open space"
idea can either be implemented in a liberal direction or in a
committed, progressive direction. Being partisan on issues that advance
justice, equality, and democracy should be seen as a virtue, not as a
stance to be shunned.

IPS: What is the right balance between political action in the
from of political parties and within the socal movement? How can this
have an impact in Southeast Asia?

WB: Political parties continue to be important vehicles for
political transformation. However, social movements should see parties
as one vehicle for transformation and should use other institutions and
agencies, like unions and NGOs, to push their agenda. The vanguardist
or Leninist party subordinating civil society organizations and
movements to one overriding objective — seizing political power — is
obsolete and dysfunctional. Transformation must take place along
several fronts, and the process is just as important as the goal.

Social movements must push for the instititutionalization of
mechanisms, such as national assemblies of social movements, that could
serve as a check on the bureaucracy, parliament, and other political
bodies. Civil society should aggressively serve as a counterweight to
both the state and the private sector. Civil society is a key actor in
reinvigorating the democratic revolution, which has ossified into
electoralism in most countries in the North and South.

IPS: Since the first WSF, Latin America has experienced a
spectacular shift to the left, in different shapes. What has this
development to do with the WSF? Do you think this process will lead to
meaningful change or will it eventually turn righwards?

WB: Well, I think the WSF emerged from a process in Latin
America where social movements were, as in Brazil, shaking up the
traditional institutions of political representation. The Workers'
Party in Brazil was, in its initial stages, an energetic hybrid of
political party and social movement that captured the allegiance and
imagination of the masses. However, a new stage was reached when the
Workers' Party became a serious contender for power. It became
"professionalized" and began attracting middle class elements that were
interested only in limited social transformation. Then, in the last few
years, during the Lula presidency, the state and the ancien regime have
captured the Workers' Party.

At the same time, in Venezuela, a charismatic relationship between a
populist president and the urban poor became the vehicle for change in
a country with weak social movements. Then in Bolivia and Ecuador, we
had social movements with strong roots in the indigenous people achieve
power electorally and begin, unlike in Brazil, a transformation of the
state.

IPS: How do these developments reflect in the WSF?

WB: All of these developments have been reflected in the WSF,
where, as in the continent from which it sprang, there are contending
political tendencies in the ranks of the people. You have trends that
are closer to the People's Party tendency and others that are closer to
the Venezuelan and Bolivian tendency.

What is important though is that the WSF and its associated movements
remain independent of governments and parties and maintain their
ability to criticize governments when they conciliate the US and
neoliberalism, like Brazil under Lula, and lend critical support to
governments like those of Venezuela and Bolivia.

They should be able to express broad support for an initiative like the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) while criticizing some
of its more controversial plans like the building of oil and gas
pipelines from Venezuela to Argentina, which would create ecological
problems and destabilize indigenous peoples.

Provided they remain independent of one another, social movements like
the WSF and the new progressive governments can develop a healthy,
positive relationship.

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