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Voices of Mumbai

| 5 February 2004
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As the World Economic Forum met in Davos the week before last, discussing how best to run the global economy, others met in Mumbai, India, to discuss how to transform it, and world politics, putting people first. Ian Douglas spoke with delegates at the World Social Forum about global issues and social action
At the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Mumbai, India, from 16 to 24 January, the future of globalisation was at the centre of discussion. The following excerpts of interviews illustrate the diversity of issues that flowed through the five days of panels, presentations, demonstrations and debates that underpinned this year’s WSF.

British MP Jeremy Corbyn talks about the global anti-war movement and its impact. Nobel prize-winning Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi discusses human rights and the International Criminal Court. Ecologist Vandana Shiva speaks of an earth ethics as an alternative to global imperialism. Darshan Pal, organiser of “Mumbai Resistance 2004″ — a parallel gathering staged alongside, and in tension with, the WSF — discusses forms of resistance. Historian Immanuel Wallerstein reflects on Iraq and the deepening crisis of capitalism. Arundhati Roy speaks of North and South in writing and in thought, while George Monbiot discusses prospects for global democracy. Mary Kelly, a prominent Irish activist, reflects on the WSF, and Bahaa Awwad and Mamdouh Habashi, of Cairo’s Anti-Globalisation Egyptian Group (AGEG), discuss the viability of an Arab social forum.

Jeremy Corbyn: “Towards a global solidarity”

What is the importance, or potential, of the WSF?
Corbyn: It has brought together people of a diversity of social movements to give themselves increased strength. Dalit people meeting up with forest peoples from parts of India, meeting up with campaigns from other parts of the world, has got to be strengthening. Secondly, it brings together a political tradition of the progressive green and left parties from around the world with all these singularistic campaigns, and I think it is from this that the kernel of quite an effective political force on general issues in the future — such as opposition to war and for a fair world trade system — will emerge. So I’m quite excited by it all.

What do you think of the split between the WSF and the Mumbai Resistance, with the latter’s critique of established NGOs?
Corbyn: There are people who have been to both the WSF and the Mumbai Resistance activity — Arundhati Roy, for example, went to both. There are NGOs here, some of which are Western funded. There are people from the West here.

But I think that one should remember that this is a Third World-led organisation, a Southern-led organisation, and one hopes it’s going to remain that way. There is a need for solidarity between protest movements, anti-globalisation movements in the Southern countries, with working class and progressive organisations in North America and Western Europe.

The poor in the United States have everything to gain from linking up with anti-globalisation movements around the world.

Do you think that globalisation is inexorable?
Corbyn: I think global communications are inevitable and important. But what is equally important is to remember that the planet seems very good at telling each other what’s going on, sort of, through mass media, and having wars to protect existing political power structures, but not very good at distributing wealth or protecting the environment.

Yes, globalisation in the sense of sharing knowledge, information, and so on, is inevitable; but a globalisation which is a minority of global corporations getting economic power over the whole globe, that is not inevitable, and that’s why we’re here — to oppose that.

I think the whole Iraq experience, and the first global anti-war movement, is a sign for the future. The US and Britain will be far less keen to go chasing after another war somewhere else having gone through the political pain of this one. So we’ve already had an effect.

But the fallout has been minimal. Few have resigned, and governments have not yet fallen over this issue.
Corbyn: I agree. Obviously, I wish it were different. I think, however, that what happened last year might help to prevent George Bush doing a tick-box down the axis of evil and starting a war somewhere else. It certainly has hastened the day for the withdrawal of British and American forces. And whilst Blair might manage to persuade some countries to send troops into Iraq I suspect they won’t stay there very long. No country is going to happily see its soldiers die for a lack of security in Iraq that was created by a US greed for oil and military power in the first place.

As a world social movement, should we focus on the regional level (for instance, Iraq, Palestine, Tibet, etc), or the local level (in developing countries, for instance, focussing on how people can put food on their tables with consistent regularity)?
Corbyn: I think it’s a false choice because one actually leads to the other. The anti-war movement has led to a greater understanding than I’ve ever known before among people in Western Europe and North America of the global issues, the global dynamic — the global power of world trade and of global corporations. Clearly, if the world can afford to go to war in Iraq the world can afford to treat AIDS sufferers and can afford to put food on everybody’s plate. But you can’t do both. And that’s the choice that has to be made.

Shirin Ebadi: “Law and human rights”

What do you wish for the Arab world?
Ebadi: I wish that people living in Arab countries could take destiny in their hands. I also wish for more respect for human rights. The word of Islam should not be misused.

Do you see the failure to respect human rights in the Arab world as a problem of religion, the fault of elites, or of the state apparatus?
Ebadi: I see the situation as a result of cultural problems, not religious problems. Of course, it is a problem of the state, too. When there is democracy, a democratic system, there will be more respect for human rights. There is a close relationship between democracy and human rights. If in some countries there is a lack of democracy, it is also because the structure does not respect human rights.

To what extent can forums like the World Social Forum play an effective role in upholding human rights? Can the struggle for human rights be separated from the struggle against globalisation?
Ebadi: The main role of WSF is enlightenment: to make people aware of the problems globalisation can bring to our world. I’m not against globalisation, but I don’t mean by globalisation to make the world like a village where there is one superpower governing all others.

Do you foresee global corporations one day being brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) — an initiative and institution you’re working hard to establish?
Ebadi: There is no difference between individuals and corporations in this court. I hope that the process of evolution of this court ensures that one day we can put criminal companies forward for trial. The level of criminal for me is the same for those companies that are damaging the environment and indirectly killing people.

Why are we so shy to name Americans like Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush or Henry Kissinger as likely targets for investigation by the ICC?
Ebadi: We can put up for trial only those people whose countries have ratified the ICC. So we need to put pressure — actually the American people need to put pressure — on the American government, that it ratify the ICC.

Do you have a comment for people in the Middle East who see the region overtaken by an aggressive use of the discourse of human rights and democracy?
Ebadi: The people of the Middle East should be united and defend themselves against two enemies: foreign enemies and dictators within their own territories.

Vandana Shiva: “Earth ethics”

What alternatives do you see to globalisation?
Shiva: I’ve defined the alternative to economic globalisation in terms of earth democracy. First, instead of being centred on fictitious finance capital, earth democracy is centred on the resources of the earth, and the limits those resources put on our actions.

Second, in place of primacy and freedom to corporations, earth democracy gives primacy to the life of all living beings — including all humans, most of whom are now being disenfranchised.

Every resource on the earth is being privatised under a globalisation that treats everything as a commodity. Everything is marketable. The earth becomes merely a supermarket of commodities.

Isn’t one of the worries, despite all the human-generated problems we face, that global civil society is too much centred on us, as though we were all that mattered?
Shiva: Absolutely. For us, the earth is life- processes that need to be maintained. Human beings are just one among that myriad of species. That is the context in which I see the alternative, universal consciousness emerging. And that new future consciousness is actually the ancient consciousness, through which sustainable civilisations have sustained themselves. Tragically, in this particular WSF, happening in this land where we have always contextualised human life in the context of the greater life, including the life of empty space — we have seen space as living, rivers as mother-goddesses, we have seen earth as a mother — in this land, the WSF has forgotten ecology. The WSF has forgotten sustainability and life on earth as a primary theme for organising.

Shiva: When you are embedded you know, you realise, you cannot do without that stream upon which you depend for water. You cannot do without fertile soils you need to grow your food. You cannot do without the seeds that we save, that grow your food for the next generation.

Civil society, when it starts to disembed itself — particularly when it tries to organise globally without remembering its local roots — can become totally anthropocentric and exclusionary. While this, the WSF, was an important self-realisation (that the same thing is happening across the world), the next decade should be a return to a quiet decade of re-linking and of rooted struggles: a re-linking to the earth.

If we don’t re-link to the earth, a global civil society will become history before it has even started.

How can earth democracy confront global imperialism?
Shiva: If civil society is separated from real politics and makes no dent on it, there’s no point. When I talk about earth democracy I don’t mean it as a wooly idea. I mean it as a politics of responsibility: from a sense of belonging to a family of other species, to taking responsibility for one’s life so that when things interfere one is able to engage in the strong non-cooperation that Gandhi taught us.

Additionally, given the fragile and crumbling structures of representative democracy, earth democracy must ensure that those structures do not play into the hands of the Bushs and the Rumsfelds. If we have the Bushs and the Rumsfelds it is precisely because there is a society right now that votes them repeatedly back — claps hands when they create scare stories.

The Bushs are there because people allow them to be there. People are not exercising their full responsibility as earth beings. If you are an earth being you will realise that your life and the life of the Palestinian, the life of that Iraqi child who is denied access to medicine, has no separation. You will not position yourself as America above the rest. You cannot think of any being as above the rest in an earth ethics.

I think we are terribly inventive as twenty-first century beings, in how brutal we can become. And I think the most important instrument we have to nurture right now is the instrument of deep compassion, leading to very strong resistance.

And America?
Shiva: In a way, the aggression of the contemporary United States is an aggression coming out of a fear of its own death. It’s a dual fear. The first is a fear that it is a society in decline. I don’t use the word civilisation for it, because as Gandhi said, it would be a good idea.

Power doesn’t make civilisation. It makes aggression. It makes imperialism, but not civilisation.

The second fear is coming from defining the world in terms of “either me or you”, and therefore you must be annihilated or otherwise I am annihilated. That polarisation and dualism is guiding all of this — this moment in our shared history.

Darshan Pal: “What form of struggle?”

What do you mean by the term “struggle”?
Pal: For me struggle is philosophical and practical. When two opposites interact there is always struggle.

For me, struggle is an instrument through which a new thing, at a high level of development, is evolved. For example, in a society, we are struggling to exploit nature. There is a struggle between human beings and nature. In a society there is struggle between different classes also. Out of this struggle new concepts, and new formations come.

I think struggle is an essential part of nature. It is an essential part of society also.

How do you see your form of struggle as being different from that of the WSF?
Pal: For me, the WSF is not the forum for struggles. They are for discussion and debate — they say so themselves. We think that maybe such forums are needed, but never in the history of man, in the history of society, did change or development occur without action, without decision.

Uninformed people benefit from discussion. Some people, for example the farmers of India, do not know what the WTO is, what globalisation is. They are suffering from these policies. Sometimes they fight against these policies also. But they’re ignorant about the link between themselves and globalisation or WTO regimes. With discussion they can understand these things. And once they understand these things, they can struggle at a much higher level.

But the WSF does not consist of ignorant people. If it would have come out of spontaneity, out of ignorance, there would be no problem. But we think the NGOs, the very social democratic parties that are funding and patronising this WSF, are the status quo. They know enough. They maintain that there should be no qualitative change in this world, only negotiations or reforms.

So you’re against slow change?
Pal: Specifically in India, if you take the tribal areas, Dalit areas, where the NGO network has made itself felt in a big way, we see that these NGOs, in the name of education, in the name of health, in the name of development, are making reforms only at a very low level.

The masses become disillusioned. They see small change as the only possible change. What I feel today is that the miseries of Dalits, workers, peasants, is basically a function of the system.

Globalisation is an attack at a much higher level. The new world order is control at a much higher level. And if we see the background of these concepts, we see that they are correlated with the crisis of this system also.

WSF organisations (being NGOs, on the one hand, but also parties) have had a hand in implementing or refining these policies. They say that globalisation can be humanised. I don’t believe them.

Pal: Because globalisation is essentially an intensive attack of capital on the Third World, and the people of their countries (First World also, Second World also).

If you want to fight globalisation you have to fight the system of monopoly capital. How can you humanise that capitalism? Capitalism is based on exploitation, discrimination and oppression. You can’t give a human face to exploitation.

Clearly monopoly capital is not going to fold without a struggle, yet the world is awash with the discourse of the war on terror, where forcible struggle is significantly delegitimised. How do you feel about this?
Pal: When people who are struggling against their enemies — the enemy may be a landlord, a capitalist, the system, or an oppressor — they start first with a very mild struggle. If they get what they need with mild struggle they have no need to resort to other forms. It’s human nature. If I get the things with little or small input, I will rest at that.

In a society, a class or a section of people, a nation, or a country, or an individual, is forced into harsher forms of struggle by the system itself. They ask for something and they don’t get it. They demand it; they don’t get it. Then they snatch it.

So forcible struggle can be legitimate?
Pal: When no other alternative remains.

So the resort to armed struggle is less an expression of fanaticism as an indication of the closure of the system?
Pal: Human beings go to that extent only when they are compelled. For example, the Iraqi people: what is the alternative in front of the Iraqi people? They can’t pray for freedom.

For the Palestinian people, pushed out of their own land? Sometimes these repressed, exploited people, when they can’t fight for their lives in the framework of law or constitutions, adopt unconstitutional ways, of which armed struggle is one way.

The crisis started in the late 1980s, when there came offensives in all fields — economic, cultural, political, military — under the name of the new world order. After 11 September the situation changed more radically, though even before this the American leadership was in no mood for dissent. They will not tolerate it now, even if dissent is at a minimal level. But never in history did power go unchallenged: people challenge it. People challenged colonialism, and many more will challenge the neo-colonial kinds of oppression we now suffer.

That is why the people all over the world have shown sympathy with the Iraqi people. An era has started now. All over the world people are coming out against the oppressive, discriminatory and exploitative system. The depressive era of the 1980s and early 1990s has gone. The people are coming out of that sleep.

Immanuel Wallerstein: “The demise of capitalism”

What is the spirit of the WSF?
Wallerstein: Capitalism has been a remarkably successful system, in terms of its fundamental objectives: the endless accumulation of capital. As a consequence of doing it, it has expanded the means of production enormously.

Capitalism has simultaneously been an incredibly polarising system, ever more polarising, and ever more impoverishing. Capitalism is in trouble today. It is not in trouble because there are social movements. Social movements are a consequence of the trouble. The processes it has used to accumulate capital have reached certain inbuilt limits. What we’re seeing in the world is not a sign of the success of capital, but the great difficulties of capital.

We’re in a very chaotic situation: chaotic politically, chaotic financially, chaotic demographically. The system is collapsing. It may not fully collapse for another 25 to 50 years, but the system is collapsing. The issue today is not whether capitalism will or will not survive. The issue is what will replace it. And the spirit of Davos (and the World Economic Forum) is an attempt to replace it by “X”. I don’t know how to name “X” (they don’t know how to name “X”), but it will be a system different from capitalism, though it will be equally inegalitarian and equally hierarchical.

The spirit of Porto Alegre says, “No, we want to replace it by a system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian,” and that’s a political struggle — that’s a fundamental political struggle of the world over the next 20, 40, 50 years.

If national societies have been unable to restrain national capital, how can global society restrain global capital?
Wallerstein: The WSF is very different from almost anything that existed before. It’s an anti- systemic movement that opposes the world system as it is and wants to change it.

I think Davos functioned largely in two ways: as a breeding ground for the ideology of neoliberalism, and a mediating ground, permitting the elites of the world — the political, military, media, and even university elites — to talk to each other, and to iron out difficulties.

Davos was a very successful operation. But it probably reached its limits at just about the same time as the WSF came along. There is no question in my mind that the ability of the G20 to sink the WTO in Cancun is a reflection of the power of the forum. And to my mind, the 15 February demonstrations against the war on Iraq, which emerged out of the ideas of people of the forum, is a direct consequence of there being a WSF. From something that was ignored entirely in 2000, in 2003 The New York Times was seeing the WSF as the other superpower — which may be an exaggeration, but is certainly a sign.

Is the information economy part of capitalism, or part of this new “X” which has yet to be defined?
Wallerstein: Capitalism at all points in time has improved technology — there are good reasons for this. And two of the key elements of improving technology have been to reduce the time it took to traverse distance and the time it took to traverse information.

So the so-called information economy is absolutely nothing new. Communication is a lot faster, and will get faster in the future. But it’s not a different kind of economy; it’s just a mode in which capitalism operates. It’s how you get out of economic downturns. You innovate a new technology that you can monopolise for a while. Now it happens to be biotechnology, information technology, and so forth. It’s like steel and textiles before.

It’s standard. It’s not saving capitalism. It doesn’t solve the structural problems. These reach limits that cannot be resolved.

So you’re hopeful about the overthrowing of capitalism?
Wallerstein: It won’t be overthrown; it will collapse. That’s very different from being overthrown. Nobody is going to seize the Winter Palace.

It’s crumbling already, but that doesn’t mean that certain people won’t use their money, their intelligence, and their control of violent technology to try to force the world into a new kind of system, which has no name yet and no clear image either.

Some people see what occurred in Iraq as an indication of American military supremacy, American hegemony. They see Syria or Iran as coming next. What’s your view?
Wallerstein: Iraq was a weak country. It had a weak army. It didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. And it had a regime that was not all that popular. It was not that difficult for the US to go in and occupy Baghdad. As soon as they got in, of course, they ran into a guerrilla war, which has been growing ever since. They captured Saddam Hussein and it didn’t seem to matter the least bit.

They’re trying to get out now, because it’s getting very unpopular in the US. It’s not at all clear what will happen. They didn’t go into Syria because they didn’t have the troops to go into Syria. And that’s the point: you’ve got to understand the weakness — the military weakness — of the United States. The fact that it’s stronger than anyone else doesn’t make it strong. It doesn’t have enough money. It doesn’t have enough energy. It isn’t going to take on Syria, and it certainly is not going to take on Iran right now.

They’ve got their hands full, between Iraq, Afghanistan — which is a total mess, where they control nothing — and North Korea. That’s the limit. They’re in no position to take on anything else. Were the British to withdraw tomorrow (which is not an impossible thing, were Tony Blair to fall), 50 Romanians and 500 Poles are not going to save the situation for America in Iraq.

Do you think the US was compelled to go into Iraq?
Wallerstein: No!

Then why do you think that they did?
Wallerstein: To intimidate the rest of the world. They didn’t think it was going to come out like this. They thought that everybody would just be so overwhelmed by this remarkable US military power that they would just lie down and say, “Sorry, we made mistakes, and we Europeans are going to be good boys from now on, and we North Koreans are going to give up all idea of nuclear weapons, and Yasser Arafat will commit suicide.”

I mean that’s what they thought! They really did think that. I’m now talking of the neo-cons who control policy. They really thought they were going to transform Saudi Arabia. They were going to do everything! They were going to make a whole series of nice little regimes that would all look up to the US, and everyone would applaud them, all over the world.

We talk about getting the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but Israel has held Palestinian lands for almost 56 years now. How does this continue?
Wallerstein: Two reasons. First, militarily, Arab countries are not up to challenging Israel — which is what they learnt in 1967 and 1973. Second, Israel has had virtually unconditional support from the US. Between the two, Israel has been able to do this. But it has gotten to a point where it has lost the legitimacy that it had for a very long time; really up to four or five years ago, I would say. It is beginning to lose it even in the US. They now begin to realise that they have a demographic problem.

Either they allow a Palestinian state to be created, a real one, or there will be a single state and a Jewish minority within five or 10 years. They don’t know how to solve this. Again, Sharon thinks like the neo-cons, and is encouraged by the neo-cons to think like this: that they can just bluff it through and not only Arafat will collapse but Hamas will collapse, and everything will collapse. They’re in parallel trouble to the United States. As long as the neo-cons are in power they will pursue this policy, and the neo-cons will not pressure them to change as long as they are in power — that’s clear.

Is the WSF adequate to the task of confronting this, and other things we have mentioned? Some argue it’s just a talking shop with no teeth.
Wallerstein: Globally speaking there are two sides. That’s what I meant by the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre. Neither side is united tactically, not even internally. Both sides are split. I think the world left, and the Third World generally, underestimates the degree to which there are real conflicts among capitalist states. One shouldn’t think of them as a unified cadre.

But that’s equally true on the other side. What holds this other side together at this point historically is the WSF. If that splits apart, we’ll still have action — an action here, an action there — but each action will be different, and against each other, and it’s sure to lose. So, action: Yes, of course. But the action has to be matured and gestated, and this is the place where that is happening.

Arundhati Roy: “North and South”

Does North and South exist?
Roy: I think as a writer you have to understand that there’s the North and South in every little thing. Whether you live in the North or in the South, people generally fall into two kinds of categories: one that is comfortable with power, and one that has a naturally adversarial relationship with power. Would I write differently if I were in the North? I’ve never been in Egypt, or what they call the Middle East, but certainly growing up in India, whatever is happening now, you still know that the wilderness of the mind exists. The possibilities of what, in the WSF you call another world — the seeds of that world exist here.

But in the North you have to reinvent that world, because it has vanished. You have to reinvent that way of thinking. The fact that it’s not signposted, or barcoded, or broken down completely. It is as if there is only one dominant way of being. It’s like the dangers of being very famous, or very successful. You stop thinking that there are other possibilities, or other ways of being — of taking risks.

In India you have people whose entire life’s enterprise is to stand on one leg in the Himalayas and achieve nirvana, and you can tell them that they can’t live without Coca-Cola, or water must be privatised, but you won’t even get to base one of the argument, because there’s an infinite other world that exists. And that other world has brutalities and tragedies and cruelties, but it also has the wilderness of the mind. It also has the wilderness of the imagination.

This wilderness is vital, but can also be essentialised — made “wondrous”. Said argued strongly against what he saw as the condescension of Orientalism, and yet there is something here, isn’t there?
Roy: I see completely what you mean. I have almost the opposite experience. When you go to a Western country — the first time I went to a Western country — you feel paralysed, because the efficiency is so Satanic almost. You go into a shop and you want to buy a soap and there are so many soaps you just come out saying “I cannot, I don’t want to!”

Or you try to ask for coffee and they say, this coffee, that coffee, brown sugar, white sugar, this bread, that bread. You come from here and you can’t function. It’s so frightening. Doors that open on their own: the inhumanness of it all. And yet, the point is that there is huge brutality here, huge callousness, huge hellishness, but there is an immense humanness too. I think what you learn if you live in a place like this — of course, you know more and you understand less and less as you grow older — is that there is a space for unpredictability.

I remember a friend of mine who is a mountaineer, campaigning: there is one mountain in the Himalayas, one mountain which hadn’t been climbed, and someone wanted to arrange an expedition, and these guys were campaigning saying “Let it be! Let’s leave just one mountain unclimbed. Let’s just not try to understand everything, and extract everything, and exploit everything, and make everything efficient!”

I suppose they are two different ideologies. It’s hard to explain except as two completely different kinds of instincts. And unfortunately the aggression of one has led to the whole of humankind having a different history, because that aggression and that inquiry and scientific nature has led to exploration, which led to colonialism, and imperialism, and the domination of one kind of life.

How can development — the eradication of poverty and discrimination — be pursued in such a way that protects the humanity of the South?
Roy: It’s a very difficult question. It’s impossible for somebody like me. The pressure that’s pulling me out is something that’s very tangible. I write. And I’ve never written for any reason other than because that’s what I do. The reward for that comes in such a material way. It’s money. I keep saying that in the world in which I live I watch the poor being stuffed into crevices like lice as my bank account burgeons. Suddenly I began to feel that every feeling in The God of Small Things was traded for a silver coin, and you become like a little silver figurine, when really what you want is to say, “I wrote The God of Small Things, will you give me lunch?” You don’t want to be rewarded in any other way.

But you are, because that’s the way the system works. So how do you deal with it when you don’t believe in charity, but you believe in political things? When you know that charity breaks that. You are trapped in a situation that is very, very strange. It is a dilemma that many of us face. But if I was living in the West, it’s accepted — Okay, so you made it, you’re famous, you’ve got money, you can buy a Mercedes-Benz.

But here, you don’t want those things. You’ve no use really for it. You are surrounded by horror and beauty and tragedy — life to the edge of your fingernails. When I’m in that place, where you touch life so deeply with your work, so urgently: those are incredible rewards.

Let’s turn to the World Social Forum. I know this week you visited both sides of the fence, as it were (the WSF and the Mumbai Resistance) …
Roy: There were lots of border crossings. Governments were not giving visas, but we were doing it anyway …

… As a writer with a great deal of intellectual energy, how important is physical struggle — the kind of struggle embodied by the Mumbai Resistance?
Roy: The thing is, if you look at who is in the WSF and who is in the Mumbai Resistance, there isn’t a real divide — it’s just what the people who are organising it state. There are people involved in armed struggle in WSF without stating that they’re involved in armed struggle and all that.

For me it was interesting because both the WSF and the Mumbai Resistance asked if I would inaugurate their meetings. It was a difficult one. And then I decided to tell them both, “Look, I’ll speak at both — Or at neither, because I don’t buy either of your lines fully. And I don’t want to be boxed- in by either of your stated ideologies fully.”

I think substantially in the world today, if the debate is about armed struggle versus non-violence it’s a conversation that we should have in full, without either party being dogmatic. Because I’m a person who only really knows the realities of India — and at that, not all the realities of India — I’m not prepared to preach to anybody. I don’t think of myself as a person to exercise power, or make those kind of suggestions to anybody — I don’t feel I have the right.

I can’t say to anybody, “You must fight with force,” unless I’m prepared to pick up arms, which I’m not. In my place, I’m not. As a woman I’m very aware of the fact that when my comrades pick up arms, within a short time that violence will be turned onto me. And I think armed struggles do tend to marginalise women.

But I also would like to hear from people in Iraq and Palestine who have tried the non-violent way for so many years … I’m not prepared to be dogmatic and say, “I don’t believe in armed struggle, and everyone who picks up arms is a terrorist,” because primarily you have such violent states. And in India today every avenue of non- violent struggle is shut down. How many firings have there been on Dalit and Adivasi people who have been pushed off their lands by development projects? As soon as the police fire on them they say they are militants, they’re trying to create a parallel government — they arrest them under anti-terrorist acts.

So you’re conflating poverty with terrorism. You’re forcing people into that position. So I refuse to have any dogmatic position on this. Personally, I’m not prepared to pick up arms right now, but that’s because I’m in a particular position. But I’m not prepared to say to anybody, “This is what you should do, this is what you shouldn’t do,” I’m only prepared to say what I believe in for myself right now, which is the only honest thing I can do.

The whole point of who we are is not to be dogmatic about everything. I’m also prepared to believe that there is one way of doing it. Perhaps there are many ways of doing it. And each of them has a part to play. Both sides need to question themselves. I thought it was very good, the dialectic between them. I thought Mumbai Resistance really did put pressure on the WSF, saying “You guys are just becoming another institution, another NGO-funded organisation, flabby …” And I think they did suck in their bellies a bit — the WSF.

And part of the Mumbai Resistance critique was right. But there’s plenty of critique to be made about Mumbai Resistance, too. So people are making the crossings and taking what they want from both, which I think is in the spirit of things.

What should be the future goals of the WSF?
Roy: I would say that there are two things we need to be careful of. The WSF obviously occupies the time and energies of the best activists and the best minds in the world, in some sense. You run the danger that as soon as this is over they start working on the next one.

And that is a very dangerous thing. It’s exactly what the other side wants. Play with your toys in the crib and let us get on with real life, and all you freaks and weirdoes can feel good about things. That is not to undermine the fact that there’s a tremendous energy here. People just gather and do it.

But it should not be at the cost of real political action. Not at the cost of inflicting real damage. So I think action must be part of the agenda of the WSF each year.

All the talking is fine, but we have to have an agenda for real political action at the end of it. Something — something must be done. Otherwise it becomes an asset to the enemy.

In his millennial roundup of rights, Eduardo Galeano placed the right to dream as the first human right. How do we ensure that dreams become real; that we do not go away from the WSF melancholy for lost opportunities?
Roy: This is exactly what I mean. We can dream, and we must dream. I believe in romance and utopia and duty and grace. If we didn’t know that there was joy in the saddest places what would we be fighting for?

But I think we must have real victories, or at least real battles. After all, what has happened is that we are dishonouring the nature and the concept of non- violent resistance, by making it into symbolic theatre. It’s not enough that you protest on one march on one weekend and think that you’re going to stop the war. This is a country that honed the fine art of non- violent resistance. There was a whole array of strategies and each of them had their place and importance.

It’s wrong to say that India won the battle of independence non-violently. And that non-violence — there’s lot’s to critique about it. And it’s also important to note that it ended in an orgy of violence, in partition, and that it ended with the elite taking power.

But still, it expanded the political imagination. We can’t let that shrink. When Gandhi made the Salt march it wasn’t political theatre, it was a strike at the economic underpinning of Empire. And we have to understand it’s not enough to do these demonstrations and marches: we’ve got to make it much more than that. To dream big, but to continue to win victories — real victories — is very important. It’s not that we haven’t won real victories: we have.

Today, the WSF is here. I was one of the cynics who said, “No, don’t bring it to India.” I was very worried that it would give this semi-fascist government the opportunity to say, “Look, how liberal we are!” If there’s anything worse than a fascist dictatorship it’s a fascist democracy. It’s very, very frightening.

You dream. You sometimes dream alone. You sometimes dream collectively. In order for that not to turn poisonous, or disempowering, let’s say, you also have to fight on the ground — you have to win something. It’s not enough to be right. Sometimes you have to win.

George Monbiot: “Democracy and its discontents”

How should the WSF be developed?
Monbiot: One thing I would like to see is some representation of the people who can’t come here. We speak as if we are representing the world’s people. A bunch of principally white people will sit on the platform and say, “This is what the world’s people want, that’s what the world’s people want,” and sometimes it will concur with what the world’s people want, but we can’t claim to speak on anybody’s behalf other than ourselves.

People talk about participatory democracy and how wonderful it is, but participatory democracy can work at the local level, but at any level above that it becomes representation, but not democracy. It’s the representation of everybody else by those who turn up. So it becomes the dictatorship of those who have passports, time and money. And so what I would like to see developing alongside the WSF — not instead of the forum but alongside it — is a representative assembly: democracy at the global level. A key plank of that democracy should be, I feel, a world parliament.

Now, I don’t mean a world government. Not a legislature, with departments of government, with a president, with a cabinet, with an army, with a police force. None of that. I see a parliament as being a place where people debate and discuss. Its power derives from its moral authority. You might say, “Well, it has no power at all! What hope is there in moral authority?” But moral authority is the basis of power in a true democracy.

Even this WSF, though it has no democratic credentials, has moral authority. Last year James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, applied to come and speak at the WSF because he saw that it has got more moral authority than the World Bank has got. And as if to show where power really lies, the WSF told the Bank to bugger off! That’s a very interesting and exciting indication of the far greater power we could wield if we could demonstrate that we did have popular consent — in other words, if this was a genuinely representative assembly.

We’ve seen this week lots of people addressing others, from podiums, from behind tables — big names with microphones. Does this make you uneasy?
Monbiot: The WSF is organised by intellectuals for the benefit of intellectuals. That’s what you see in these meetings. It’s a world intellectual forum. Which is fine. But if that’s what it is, don’t call it something else.

For me, perhaps the best way, potentially, is to develop the perspective put forward by Paulo Friere in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where the popular educators are themselves educated by the population. On the one hand, you help them to develop a perspective, an understanding of their own oppression, where power lies and what the problems are, and then as they advance that understanding they transmit their perspectives upwards, through the social levels, to the intellectuals.

I feel that on a day-by-day basis, as opposed to the big annual meeting, the effort should be to engage in that sort of process, so that when you do come to the big annual meeting, you’re actually discussing things that are truly radical.

Can the struggle for global justice free itself of the traditional language of power?
Monbiot: I think there are two issues. How is our politics expressed and what language do we use? This is something one can begin to address day-by- day. The second issue is how do we take back power from the governing classes and redistribute it? The paradox that I’ve come to see is that in some ways we seem to have more power at the global level than we do at the national level. In some ways we’re more effective as a global movement than we are as national movements.

There are a couple of reasons for that. Partly, without global democracy national democracy is impossible. National democracy has become impossible because of the global dictatorship of the IMF, the World Bank, the UN Security Council, and the WTO. And so we are effectively powerless at the national level. There is very little that we really can do to change substantive policy. At the global level, there are a number of interesting things going on. I would call them a series of dialectics. It’s clear that we are drawing power from our opponents.

Take the WTO. Here you had the US and the EU doing everything they could to pull as many different countries into the WTO as possible — in order to open up their markets and exploit them. Having got them all into the WTO, suddenly they see that they are completely out-numbered, and that especially having got China into the WTO they find they can’t kick the poor countries around so well anymore. And so that provided the opportunity for the G20 and the G90 to form, and for them to start to reverse the flow of power within that organisation. So that opportunity for power was created by the powerful.

Take globalisation as a whole. Here we have corporations, and the governments who are in hock to them, whose whole effort in life is to make everything the same: to pull down the barriers, the linguistic barriers, the cultural barriers, the economic barriers, the political barriers — to make one kind of consumer, all over the world. And of course in doing so they also create a global political class. They create a global consciousness and global class interest. Our common struggle is created by them. In many ways this movement has been created by our enemies, and been empowered by our enemies.

Mary Kelly: “WSF 2004″

In addition to your activism in Palestine, you’re known for the legal case currently against you for damaging a US warplane at Shannon airport in Ireland. You’re facing a possible prison sentence, but you feel justified. What kinds of activism, in your view, are demanded at this present moment?
Kelly: I think its very important for us to take power and responsibility back into our own hands for what’s happening in our countries and on the planet. It’s vital for us, especially for women, to use our anger and outrage at what’s going on in our name and not be afraid to get upset and show our anger and act on it.

Our elected representatives have failed us and are only interested in lining their pockets. The example, for instance, of how local Bolivarian groups in Venezuela got together to voice their concerns, state their aims and hopes and write their own constitution, get the president they wanted elected, and feel strongly enough to fight for him to be reinstated when he was deposed in a coup — this is inspiring.

This is an example of ordinary people getting engaged and seeing their actions through to a situation they believe in and support. That’s people power.

I think these very crucial times we are living in call for a massive movement of direct action, and a need for international law to be upheld. We need to take action about the thousands of prisoners that are being held illegally, especially of the Muslim community, who are not allowed access to lawyers or their families.

The US has one law for themselves and another law for the rest of the world. Are we going to allow this without fighting back?

What are your reflections on the WSF in Mumbai? Did it go far enough?
Kelly: I was disappointed that at the WSF, with so many thousands present, there was no massive protest staged, combing all this energy gathered in one place.

I felt there was too much noise and distraction, and felt it took from the seriousness of the issues we are trying to build resistance to, and form strategies to deal with.

At the WSF this year you publicly challenged Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland, to support you. Were you surprised by her refusal?
Kelly: I wasn’t surprised with the reaction of Mary Robinson. It is the duty of the Irish president to make sure our constitution is protected in which our neutrality is stated. She has done nothing of note that has called a halt to how the US has been using Ireland illegally for years.

Nevertheless, it was a bit shocking to get an outright refusal and that she used her profession as an excuse for not being able to support me. I told her that other international lawyers felt able to support me: for example Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney-General.

On returning to Ireland I was shocked to read a very exposing article about Mary Robinson’s dubious connections with the US — particularly with Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright.

Where do you think the social justice movement should go from here?
Kelly: From here on I think we need to be engaged all the time on how to bring the US and UK to the International Criminal Court. Also, to get reversed these terrifying new laws that have given each the power to do anything, to arrest anyone they want and keep prisoners incommunicado for as long as they wish.

We have to wake up and realise that it’s no use looking to our elected governments to do anything sensible or decent. We need to start making the change ourselves.

Lots of forums are needed, and we all need to support the different struggles we are involved in. For example, I need the help of the international community to focus on how Ireland has been helping in the illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Working and solving local issues is very important to form a firm base on which to start dealing with global problems. International forums help us to link up and make strong and trusted connections from which we can work together to communicate and resist effectively.

AGEG: “An Arab social forum?”

Several proposals are circulating as to where to host future WSF gatherings. Some are proposing North America. Abdel Amira has proposed Iraq. Still others propose Africa. Cairo has been mentioned. Could Egypt host such a thing?
AGEG: Organisationally, it is possible; but politically, not. The main point is that civil society, the social movement as a whole — or let us say, the independent political opposition in Egypt — is too weak to be able to host such a thing.

The whole social forum movement, the WSF, is based on opposition, resistance and the anti-globalisation and anti-neoliberal movement. It does exist in Egypt, but it is not powerful enough to be able to organise such an event. If Cairo has been proposed it is more wishful thinking than a reality.

A free venue, a free space, where people with ideas can meet, is incomprehensible to the current government.

What about an Arab social forum?
AGEG: It’s almost the same all over the Arab world. We don’t really have grassroots movements in the Arab world. That is a tremendous problem.

Usually the collection of anti-globalist activists is mostly a collection of NGOs, and there’s no real social movement behind these NGOs. They are what we call “conferees”: from one conference to another conference they go. We had a social movement in Egypt, a long time ago. Now it is a tangent to daily politics.

There is a social movement in terms of social work only. We have many examples for that — for the disabled, for the blind, for the poor. We have a lot. But until now they couldn’t see the necessity of moving into politics. Meanwhile, there is no basis for a true worker’s movement because the professional unions are in the pocket of the state. They are not willing to allow independent syndicates, independent unions. That’s the first fight.

Is this an Arab characteristic?
AGEG: There’s an exception in the case of Morocco. There was a social forum that was held in Morocco, and there have emerged many social movements — the most important being the unemployed movement that organised demonstrations drawing tens of thousands of unemployed.

There is a real grassroots movement there; not only NGO work on specific social issues. The problem is that Morocco is relatively isolated from the other Arab countries, so their experience is not well known.

And for the rest?
AGEG: There is a lot of homework to be done to create a real grassroots social movement in Arab countries. Only then can we start talking about an Arab social forum. Is it good or opportune or politically correct to declare an Arab social forum now? It would have no real root. Only as means of representing something here at the WSF? No, thank you!

That’s not the issue. Furthermore, an Arab social forum would be dominated by two issues: Iraq and Palestine. We have to start with the local issues, then build to regional and global issues. You can’t start work with people who don’t have enough to eat in Egypt and then the next day say, “We have to go for a demonstration for Iraq and Palestine.” That’s not the right way.

During the anti-war demonstrations last year we often heard people say, “Yes, this is good, but why don’t you demonstrate for the Egyptians?” It’s a simple logic. We also are oppressed. Why not start with us? There are real burning problems — social problems. And we have to start with these before we come to the global issues.

Aren’t many of the social problems in the Arab world related to the global structure of geopolitics?
AGEG: The first step is to get people to understand the nature of local problems.

This has been a problem in the Arab world. Regional politics has turned people’s attention away from their everyday lives. It is sometimes said, and only half in jest, that if Israel didn’t exist, Arab regimes would have invented it.

For 50 years everything is postponed: it is not time. Internal critique is unacceptable. External critique is okay. We can curse Bush or Sharon, and the government is happy. We must focus on the inside: on those who are implementing their own part of the global imperialist policy. They are inside.

So again, we have to do our homework. The anti-war movement in the region should be linked to a fight for democracy as well.

Isn’t that taking up the American agenda?
AGEG: Resistance of the American invasion, the endless war being waged (the war on terror) … This is a war for strategic control, for resources. It is a war to break down resistance, not to build democracy. It is a war to sustain American hegemony.

The issue is how to build a social movement to confront this aggression: not a chauvinistic, nationalist movement, coupled with religious fanaticism, which would create a self-fulfilling prophesy that could only help America.

There should be an anti-war platform that is also a social platform: an anti-fascist platform that fights for the future of all countries touched by global imperialism, not only Arabs.

This piece was originally published by Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 February 2004, Issue #676: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/676/fo1.htm
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche