"The World Economic Forum is on its Way Out"

05 February 2002
Walden Bello, a Filipino environmental activist and executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, spoke with TerraViva about the second World Social Forum, its emerging contours and outlook

Has the WSF, held successfully in Porto Alegre for a second year in a row, established itself as a focal point for the worldwide anti-globalisation movement?

I think there is no attempt to create a steering body of the anti-globalisation movement and that is far from the intention of the organisers. There is some minimum coordination. There is an international body which is very open; people can come in without too much difficulty. It is a very open process. Some would say that this is a weakness, and some that it is its strength. I think it is more of a strength. It is a very important process that involves people.

What were the impacts of the Call for Mobilisation issued at the first WSF by a group of social movements? Do you think a common WSF declaration is possible again this year?

I think that there been too much emphasis on the value of such declarations. I think that the Call for Mobilisation made at Porto Alegre last year, people would not remember it by now because it reflected the diversity of its constituency. I have nothing against statements, but I think Porto Alegre is about a process. Yes, social movements gathered last year for a statement, but who remembers it now? It is the spirit and the process that are important.

What is the outlook for the WSF process?

There is going to be a smaller meeting here in Porto Alegre next year and then in 2004 it is going to be in India. There is momentum towards that at this point, so I think people are looking at the transfer from Brazil mostly in a positive fashion, and as an opportunity to see if we can replicate this in other areas of the world. There are certain conditions here in Porto Alegre that make it unique for the WSF. There is the Workers Party government at both the state and municipal level. That gives it access to a great deal of popular and political support and a significant deal of financial as well as physical resources for the Forum. Is this present in other sites around the world, like in India? Bringing together 70,000 people and from all around the world is a major task, and I think in Porto Alegre it went very well. I am confident that after discussions, if the International Council decides to hold the event in a certain place, the decision will be well studied and taken with a great degree of consideration.

Given the role played by the Brazilian Worker's Party in successfully organising the WSF, why is there a phobia within the movement about allowing political parties to participate formally in this event?

Well, I think what people are concerned about is that the centre of gravity should be civil society, people's movements, mass movements, NGOs - not political parties. If the centre of gravity does lie with civil society organizations then there is not the problem of certain types of political parties entering and becoming part of the process. I think that parties like the Workers Party which are innovative, have a popular mass base and are non-doctrinaire in their approach are certainly likely to be welcomed into the Porto Alegre process. I would imagine that other political parties can be brought in. I personally have no problem with political parties being part of the process, provided social movements remain at the centre of the process. The WSF is more a question of process rather than setting up two thousand guidelines on who can become a member.

The WSF was set up as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum at Davos. What is the score so far?

I think Davos and the World Economic Forum are on their way down. The fact that they have had to adopt some of our slogans of sustainable development, the fact that they are trying very hard to give capitalism a dimension of compassion shows it is in crisis. And in terms of the rivalry between the WEF and the WSF, the Porto Alegre process is on the ascent. With the emergence of the Enron scandal and the Argentine collapse, there is a certain global context in which the Porto Alegre process is moving forward. The crisis of legitimacy is back with a vengeance for 'the Establishment'. They may have gained some ground in the aftermath of September 11, but the scandals that are unfolding create conditions whereby we can regain the momentum for our movement.