The political crisis of the World Social Forum - Interview with Ignacio Ramonet

The political crisis of the World Social Forum - Interview with Ignacio Ramonet

By Marie Dominique Vernhes and Peter Strotmann

International social movements are for now unable to find a form of network connection that allows them to act more at one. The time has come for movements like the World Social Forum to stop being only successful resistance movements and to enter a new stage, with other forms of struggle.

At the 2006 World Social Forum you said that the US military project should be defeated. It was necessary, in order to create a sufficient margin of maneuver, without the existence of which all social and democratic progress would be vulnerable. Do you still think the same, two years later?

In principle, yes. On the other hand, processes are now emerging that were already important in 2006, and that now have a more robust presence. We now see, more clearly than then, the end of the oil age. We have oil for maybe still 40 or 60 years. This raw material will in the future reach such a price that only a few countries will be able to afford to maintain an energy supply based on oil. That will become a strategic question, as has been seen in the past years.

Finally, the military dominance of the world by the US is determined by the control of oil. That is why the US is in the Middle East and in Africa, that is why they are in conflict and hostility with Venezuela and Russia. There is a danger of future new wars for oil.

A second issue that we were already aware of is the ecological crisis. The consequences of climate change are more drastic than anticipated. This forces us to radically rethink the energy supply, obviously in the sense of renewable energy, but in some countries also in the sense of nuclear energy, with all the resulting dangers for humanity.

How do you assess the spectacular rise of some countries in the South?

India and China not only represent a good third of the world's population. If we also add Brazil, South Africa and Russia, then we see that the economic weight of this group of states as the engine of the world economy has become greater than that of the US. These countries are on the way to having state sovereign wealth funds that will put them in a position to act on the very core of globalization. In my opinion, then, the question of a return to protectionism will arise sooner rather than later. If countries like China or India, but also South Korea, Malaysia or Indonesia become the world's factory, it will hardly be possible to continue exporting something there, no matter how much those states represent the new economic powers that could buy something.

What then will happen to the industries of the developed countries of the West?

At the end of the day, it is a danger that we have known for a long time, but that we never value with the urgency with which it now arises with the crash of the US stock markets. The mortgage crisis has consequences for the big North American banks, which now have to be saved with state sovereign funds, especially from the Arab countries. Since banks in Germany and Switzerland are also affected, the question arises as to whether a global economic recession is on the horizon. Could China, India and others become the engine of the world economy, if the US engine fails? If this did not happen, we would have a global economic crisis.

Do you see signs of decline in the US military potential as well?

In this respect the USA is still number one. But the Middle East reveals that their military power does not allow them to win asymmetric wars: the US has failed to win the Iraq war. They may be able to keep Iraq in check, but you never know how these things end. The Americans cannot win the war in Afghanistan either. Israel cannot win the war against the Palestinians, at least not militarily, though perhaps politically. What is appreciated in that region of the world is that military superiority does not necessarily lead to military victory.


It means that the US will not march against Iran. They may bomb it, but they will not invade it, like Iraq, with ground troops. It also means that the Americans will be so exhausted by all these conflicts that they will not be able to afford major military adventures for a time. For the rest, Russia is once again on the way to becoming a world-class military power. We see, then, that, from the point of view of the military balance, and after a unipolar order, a multipolar relationship of forces is appearing again.

In these circumstances, how can social movements continue to develop, and in particular, what future awaits the World Social Forums?

Unfortunately, the international social movements are for now unable to find a form of network connection that allows them to act more at one. You are not in a position to set goals that go along the same lines.

Y Does that prevent social movements from responding adequately to the current situation?

Indeed. Because we have gone through different phases. The first was to define globalization. In the mid-90s the movement still did not exist, because I did not know what to fight against. It took many intellectuals and many political forces to jointly define the enemy; the enemy was globalization.

In the second phase, all those who, without ever knowing it, were fighting against globalization, in the South and in the North, got together. That was achieved. There is an obvious impression that these successes - notably the founding of the World Social Forum - have ended up paralyzing the movement. The movement is today - potentially - strong, like never before. It is, on a planetary scale, the only force to some degree organized that resists globalization, but it does not know what to do with that force. Opportunities are wasted, at least I see it that way. Today we would be in a position to carry out struggles on a world scale. Remember only the large demonstrations against the Iraq war.

The time has come for movements like the World Social Forum to stop being only successful resistance movements and to enter a new stage, with other forms of struggle.

Why do you say it so emphatically?

The ideological offensive of globalization continues. We can see that the movement no longer intimidates the rulers. They hardly speak of him anymore. Since Attac went into crisis in France, the French press hardly talks about Attac anymore. Nor is there any talk of the World Social Forum. We are concerned about this silence, because it shows that the others have won the battle, and of course, because of the dispersion. That is why I believe that the main organizations that make up the World Social Forum are obliged to ask themselves the question: What will become of us? What should we do?

To all this, the question of the seizure of power is essential. The whole movement has been formed on the basic idea that it may be about taking power. I wonder if that is still valid today. The experience in Latin America shows that, with power in hand, something can be achieved. Of course that is more difficult in Europe, due to the straitjacket that is the European Union.

With the word Latin America goes today, you want it not, the concept of Socialism of the XXI century. Is it an alternative?

It is, for now, a construction site. Hugo Chávez himself, who launched that concept, could not give a definition of socialism for the 21st century, if asked. Fidel Castro himself says that socialism is today in a crisis, which means that there are different notions of it. He is very aware of that, as he could see in my conversations with him.

Chávez is clear about the fact that, in a process of political transformation, there comes a time when it is necessary to move from practice to theory. This is exactly what Marx did: capitalism already existed, when Marx defined what capitalism is. There were already revolutionary movements, when Lenin theoretically elaborated the observations on his struggles, the same as Marx did with the Paris Commune.

Chávez proceeds in the same way: in Latin America what prevails today is above all the vitality of the grassroots movements, not that of the political parties. Chávez was not elected by a political party (the Social Democracy was and continues to be against him). They are the grassroots organizations with their protean multiplicity in the neighborhoods or in the regions, they are women, men, indigenous people with their corresponding demands. It is they who have helped personalities such as Chávez or the new Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa to triumph. These types of politicians are linked to social movements, thus giving them the possibility of having an audience and introducing reforms, for example, in education and health. But there will come a time when that can no longer remain a stable instrument. You have to go to theory and ask yourself: what do we keep from all these experiences? The result is the Socialism of the XXI century.

About which, however, not much is known yet ...

… not necessarily. We would have to contemplate the ten years that have passed since the Bolivarian Revolution, as well as the world situation described above, with its ecological and energy aspects. How can we jointly elaborate all these elements in a theoretical scheme that is not only valid for Venezuela, but for all of humanity? The result is, again, the Socialism of the XXI century.

The process we are in now goes beyond the situation we had with Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas in Mexico. Marcos played an extremely important role in convincing many resisters around the world of the need to unite. He gave a very important push in that direction, like Pierre Bourdieu in France, or Noam Chomsky, or the trade union movement, or Le Monde Diplomatique, or Attac. But there comes a time when you have to move to a new phase. When the idea that social movements are the only thing that can act effectively is fetishized, then the movement is paralyzed.

You have talked a lot with Fidel Castro, and you have written a book resulting from those conversations. In your opinion, which Cuban experiences should be admitted, and which ones should be avoided?

It would be necessary to avoid, for the time being, the confrontation with the first power of the Earth. That is, of course, extremely difficult, but when one is exposed to a US blockade, the consequent restrictions make life very difficult. It should also be avoided that only one single party was allowed. On the other hand, all social policy seems worthy of imitation. But not only her: there is a policy of constant consultation with workers. In Cuba there is full employment. Cooperatives emerge freely, especially in the countryside.

Cuba is a very small country that is not in a position to live autarkically, and has suffered throughout its history from three dependencies: from Spain, first, then from the United States and then, and even though it is quite different, from the USSR. I think what Cubans want is to stop being dependent. Those who now speak of a dependence on Venezuela overlook that it is now a relationship of a very different nature. Because what Cubans can offer in return is very important. Although it cannot be quantified in oil terms, it is perhaps of greater importance. Thanks to Cuban teachers, illiteracy has been eradicated in Venezuela. Instead, look at what has happened in Nicaragua, where there was, under the Sandinistas, an important literacy campaign: illiteracy has reappeared and now 35% of the people are illiterate. This is dramatic!

So, then, a good amount of Cuban experiences deserve to be preserved, and I believe that Cubans themselves want to keep much of what makes them unique. But in that country there is a complex society, not a monolithic one. A single party is not in a position to represent the multitude of aspirations of Cubans.

Castro says that this multiplicity can find a place in the single party.

It is true, but what it says above all is that in a country threatened by the world's leading power, unity is the most important thing to preserve. That is why it is so blatantly elementary that this threat must stop. The day it ceases, there will be progress in recognizing the multiple plurality of Cuban society. The Chinese model is often talked about, but Cubans also look at themselves in the mirror of what is happening in Vietnam.


Ignacio Ramonet He has been editor-in-chief of the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique since 1991. In 1997, with his article "Take power away from the markets" he gave rise to the foundation of the international movement Attac. He was one of the initiators in 2001 of the first World Social Forum in Por Alegre, co-signing in 2005 the Porto Alegre Manifesto. On January 12, the Rosa Luxemburg Symposium in Berlin participated with a conference on the failure of the “fourth estate”, demanding greater efforts to build resistant media for the anti-capitalist movement. Marie Dominique Vernhes and Peter Strotmann interviewed him for the left-wing German weekly Freitag.

Published in El Grano de Arena - Attac - January 2008 -

Video: Anti-globalisation movement. Wikipedia audio article (July 2021).