World Social Forum Interview

Alejandro Kirk, IPS: How do you see the WSF’s World Day of Action. How effective can it be?"

Walden Bello: I think the WSF Day of Action is a good idea. It is a first step in moving the WSF from being simply a forum for discussion to becoming an arena for action. It will push people into actively taking on issues and mobilizing for them. Being local actions being undertaken globally, the many protest activities will also underline the transnational character of the social movements in the WSF, which is one of their key strengths.

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party subordinating civil society organizations and movements to one overriding objective — seizing political power — is obsolete and dysfunctional.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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