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A Brazilian Perspective
An Interview with Emir Sader

In early November, 2003, Gloves Off editors Claudio Puty and Sara Burke emailed Emir Sader regarding his views on the 2003 World Social Forum and the global justice movement.

On March 16, 2004, editors Claudio Puty and Paul Cooney followed-up on the email contact. Their telephone conversation with Emir Sader explores—in illuminating detail—his views on the World Social Forum, neoliberalism, imperialism, and the Lula government.


Interview: March 16, 2004
Claudio Puty
I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to talk. You'll recall that this is a followup to the email interview we had last November, when we spoke about the perspectives of the World Social Forum (Forum, WSF). We know your opinion on the theme from your article, "Beyond Civil Society," published in the New Left Review in 2002.

We would like to start by asking: What are the perspectives of the Forum, or the global justice movement, after the Mumbai forum? In what direction is the movement heading? And can it represent an effective perspective on the renovation of the world Left?

Emir Sader
I think it does represent an effective perspective. What's lacking is materialization in concrete actions and the capacity to transform the [WSF's] accumulated force into real political intervention. This theme was present in the opening address by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy in the Mumbai forum. The idea that we need victories. We need initiatives. And we don't need to depend upon a total concensus. We need at least to know that a great majority of the participants are in agreement with this kind of initiative.

She proposes, for example, a boycott of American companies who are involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. There is also the struggle for the boycott of the American military bases all over the world. Therefore I think that's what the Forum needs: to transform our accumulated power to political action. The World Social Forum has moral power. It has mass power. It has theoretical power. But the world in general has not fundamentally changed since the World Social Forum appeared.

Therefore it is necessary to demonstrate our capacity for concrete action, including attempts to get out of the neoliberal model, something that has not yet materialized in the world.

Claudio Puty
In the day-to-day activities of the Forum, when proposals like Arundhati Roy's are on the table, is there a negative reaction by participants in the Forum?

Emir Sader
The general reaction is very positive. However, there are some theories that say the Forum should have only horizontal decisionmaking structures, that it should be a space—or a network—only for the exchange of experiences. The consequence of these ideas is that they end up blocking the [WSF] International Council's capacity to make decisions. These are not decisions that would oblige every participant to follow, but they would encourage—or mobilize—many participants to follow.

During the last WTO in Cancun, Walden Bello—from Asia—proposed that the Forum should call for the direct participation of all its entities. The sectors who are more backward politically and ideologically, those who theorize that only organizations of civil society should participate in the Forum, that there should be no state, no political participation, said, "No! We cannot become a new International."

As if a simple call for participation were something mandatory, or something that emparts a centralistic character to the Forum. There are sectors that—in practice—support channeling an endless accumulation of power toward small, local solutions. They do not realize that if we do not change the global power relations, these local solutions will be not work.

I think of that unfortunate, but beautiful, phrase from the 70s and 80s, "Think global, Act local." This ends up handing over the international space to the globalizing powers. These backward sectors don't struggle—in practice—for an alternative, hegemonic model, for an alternative, hegemonic world.

Claudio Puty
You have pointed out in various interviews and articles that one of the problems of the World Social Forum is the concentration of organizational power in the hands of Brazilian NGOs. Has this changed?

Emir Sader
It has changed, but we need to take further steps toward that change. In the agenda of the next meeting, in Italy, there is the question of the formalization of membership in the International Council. Without a definition of membership, it is not possible to vote! So everything may seem very democratic, like the structure is open, whoever comes participates, but this makes the International Council a merely consultative body. This means that—in disproportion to the reality of participation in the Forum—a Brazilian Secretariat composed primarily of NGOs ends up being the only formal body that can make decisions.

Now there are effective proposals of criteria for membership that are pending. These criteria are not final, but they can at least help us to determine who the members are, so that the International Council can then serve as the nacent body of leadership.

There are also commissions that will meet before the meeting in Italy: the strategy commission and the political-education commission. They should also be advancing the idea of the formalization of decisionmaking.

Claudio Puty
Who's who in this—so to speak—dispute on the future of the World Social Forum? Who are the Brazilian NGOs, and who wants to give the Forum a more organic character, if we can use these words.

Emir Sader
I would say that there are forces such as the social movements, which, in general, have a positive position, oriented towards action. For example: the Via Campesina in Latin America, the labor movement in general, and the Continental Social Alliance, are strong in Latin America. There are also new forces, like ATTAC, who also support the idea of formalizing more our intervention.

But there are, on the other side, forces—who are, properly speaking, NGOs. To give some names, for example, there is the Ibase, which has a very clear existence. But there are others, like Justice and Peace, an organization connected to the Catholic Church, which has its merits, but it is strongly centralized, strongly authoritarian, with an unknown structure, whose decisionmaking process is not democratic, and whose level of transparency nobody knows. For instance, an organization like International Transparency, which always denounces corruption in government, but never in the multinational organizations that corrupt governments.

These NGOs have a doubtful existence. Even ATTAC in Brazil, whose presence in Brazilian society practically does not exist, is present in the Secretariat, taking the place of actual social movements and political forces.


Emir Sader is a sociologist and Director of the Laboratory of Public Policies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). He has also been president of the Latin American Sociology Association.

His work is well known in Latin America, especially in Brazil, when he writes regularly as an op-ed columnist for the Jornal do Brazil, one the most important Brazilian newspapers, as well as for
Carta Maior [see also English-language version]

Sader defines himself as a socialist militant. In 1964, following the coup d'état in Brazil, Sader was forced to leave the country in what he expected to be a short exile. His return was delayed for 13 years, until the so-called "amnesty law" was finally approved by the Brazilian congress.

Sader has also actively participated in the organization of the PT since its foundation in the early 80's. In 1994, when forces of the left wing of the PT had a leading role in Lula's campaign, he was one of the central figures fashioning a program for Lula's candidacy. Of late, he has been critical of the increasingly neoliberal profile of Lula's economic policy.

In addition to his active participation in the PT, Sader has—in recent years—played a leading role in the organization of the World Social Forum.


Books and articles by Emir Sader include:

[in English]

"Beyond Civil Society"
New Left Review 17, September-October, 2002


[in Portuguese]

Os Sete Pecados do Capital (The Seven Sins of capital)
Record

Cartas a Che Guevara (Letters to Che Guevara)
Paz e Terra

Estado e Política em Marx (State and Politics in Marx)
Ática S/A

SECULO XX UMA BIOGRAFIA NAO AUTORIZADA. (XX Century: an unauthorized biography)
Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo

A Vingança da História (The revenge of history)
Boitempo


Claudio Puty
Are the Italian organizations like the Disobbedienti—like the other groups influenced by autonomism and by Antonio Negri—are they participating in the debate to create more formal instances of decisionmaking in the World Social Forum?

Emir Sader
Their participation is felt through the strong, spontaneist character of the European movement, which ends up generating these catastrophes in Europe—like progressive public opinion and conservative government—because the youth does not feel represented by the traditional parties. They mobilize and suddenly come apart and do not create new political forces. Even ATTAC, which is an impressive political force, does not participate in political, electoral processes.

Therefore, we see clearly a certain divorce between the social power and the intervention in the political process. I think Negri does not have a direct influence, but certainly his influence is felt by the spontaneist idea of the construction of a new force.

In some other sectors, there is an underestimation of the role of national states. Not that we want to reinforce them, but they are definitely the great articulators of the big, international issues. The globalizing countries are articulated through their national states. The eventual birth of a new Mercosur that articulates South American concerns can only be made through their individual states. Not with the objective to create isolated states, but to create a supranational entity. Therefore, the complete rejection of state influence is [politically] negative.

The worst influence is the spontaneist influence, that in some way was reinforced by the Zapatistas, or at least, by some version of the Zapatistas, through the idea of changing the world without taking power.

Claudio Puty
Yeah, we see that these influences are very strong in the American Left. A certain sort of Anarchism has a strong influence on—

Emir Sader
—as some forces realized that the Brazilian PT is impotent to concretize the ideals of the World Social Forum, the disillusionment makes [autonomist] ideas spread. They say, "Even the PT gets corrupted when they get power," and so on.

Claudio Puty
So it means that the problem of the World Social Forum is, in reality, a problem of definition of a more concrete character, an anti-capitalist character?

Emir Sader
This hypothesis does not exist. We need to take into consideration that there was a regressive political and ideological turnaround in the world. The question now is anti-neoliberalism, and in a certain way, anti-imperialism, as a military expression. And this constitutes two huge missions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-imperialism.

Claudio Puty
Even there we have problems reaching unity.

Emir Sader
Yes. Because even the PT—although it was not a founding organization of the World Social Forum (the national PT did not participate in the creation of the forum. It joined later)—when even the PT does not break with neoliberalism as an economic model, it is demonstrating that our accumulated power is not sufficient for our desired rupture [from the imperialist powers] to advance an anti-capitalist agenda.

Therefore I think the World Social Forum is consensually against neoliberalism. However, we haven't defined new modalities of economic policy through which we can break with this model.

Claudio Puty
One of the concerns of many people who have read your article [in the NLR] was that the creation of a programmatic identity for the World Social Forum implies the exclusion of some sectors. Do you think we run this risk?

Emir Sader
I think that the concensus in the Forum is deeper than many people imagine. When the Forum says that the world is not a commodity, we have an anti-capitalist potential in this anti-commodity idea. But today it has materialized in the idea of going beyond the disregulation of the world that was imposed by neoliberalism.

We should not imagine that the World Social Forum is an anti-capitalist front. It has a potential, but what is on its horizon at this point is to break with neoliberalism. We need to add to this struggle an anti-imperialist struggle that would represent a significant, strategic step forward. But for that we need to overcome the predominance of entities in the Forum that do not deal with strategy, with political issues.

After the article, I published another book called A Vinganca Da Historia (The Revenge of History) in which I deal with these questions in greater depth. In the first part of the book I deal with the alternatives for the Forum. In the second part of the book I talk about Latin America. And in the third part, Brazil and Lula's government.

Claudio Puty
It is precisely the topic in the third part of your book that we would like to talk about now: Lula's government. After one year of Lula's government, what does it represent? We would like to talk about two sub-topics: first, its economic policy; and then its foreign policy and the relation between Brazil and Latin America in this very complicated moment.

Let's start with internal politics. Is Lula's government a government in dispute? Or have we already lost the game for neoliberalism?

Emir Sader
I would say that Lula's government is conservative in its very essence, which is the economic and financial policy. It kept the same policies as the former government and increased the fiscal surplus target, as requested by the IMF. In this sense, it complements—in a drastic way—the adjustments initiated during the 1999 crisis in Brazil. It is a socially cruel government. It has not fulfilled—not even close—the priorities of social policy that it had promised. It has contradictions, and therefore is a government in dispute.

Contradictions not only because of the forces that support the government, but also inside the government, where those who support the idea of social policy as a priority (as it was written in the original program of Lula) and those who develop the foreign policy, are in potential or real conflict with the economic advisors.

So as an embryo, so to speak, we have strong contradictions. The finance minister and economic advisors favor the priority of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) over the Mercosur. Whereas the Itamaraty [Foreign Policy Cabinet] favors the prioritization of Mercosur. This conflict has not developed further, only because the US is busy with elections and will not make any concessions in relation to the FTAA. They are therefore not concerned with putting more pressure on Brazil at this time. After the elections they will come back to their previous attitude.

Until then, we need to assess the power accumulated by Brazilian and Argentinian foreign policies, in order to resist through an integrated—or coordinated—resistance to the FTAA offensive.

Claudio Puty
Speaking of Latin America, it seems that we are going through a very critical moment, where—added to the Argentinian crisis—we have very dramatic situations in Venezula, Haiti, and Columbia, not to mention other recent cases.

Lula's government seems to prioritize a foreign policy that unifies—or coordinates—Latin America in order to contrapose it, at least at a superficial level, to American rule in the region. Do you believe it is possible to have a broad, foreign policy without the basis of a national project?

Emir Sader
Taken to its limit, it is not possible. Today, however, there are two different policies that live schizophrenically together. Whoever in the Lula government supports the present economic model, which depends upon exports for the external market, cannot give up even a slice of the American market.

Because what eventually may cause growth in the Brazilian economy this year—as there will not be income redistribution, there will not be a noticable increase in wages, and the level of employment will continue to deteriorate, as well as its quality—are exports, especially agribusiness and agricultural products. And luxury consumption in the internal market. This kind of a model serves the needs of the FTAA.

Pritorizing Mercosur would mean a model of integration and development with industrial policy and so on, with very different characteristics. Therefore I believe there is an eventual conflict.

In politics (in terms of political relations with Latin America) there is also a conflict. At the moment that Kirchner was negotiating with the IMF, Lula went silent on advice from his economic advisors. The Itamaraty wanted a clearer position. Today, although Lula has not changed his policy. He is meeting with Kirchner here, in Rio, and now he realizes that we should coordinate our foreign policy with Argentina, that there should be a form of mutual support, although with different methods. This is relative progress.

In relation to other topics, things are more complicated. Sending Brazilian troops to Haiti is suicidal.

Brazil has a serious precedent in the years of our dictatorship in 1965, when we sent troops to the Dominican Republic, to oust the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch. Now this is nothing to do with that situation: Haiti had a government that seemed unsustainable in terms of political legitimacy, repression and corruption. However, to embark on an adventure like this—with Brazil sending a contingent of troops—we know very well who has the hegemony in the process. Brazil may not know what it's going to do in Haiti, but the US and France know. And this is a very dangerous adventure.

In relation to Venezuela, we have a legalist position, so to speak. Which is more or less what is made feasible by the power relations in the continent and by Brazil's position in relation to Columbia. However, this position is not sufficient. Clearly, it is not neutral, for when the mentors of the Lula government are asked about their position, they clearly support Chavez. But no solution will come from Brazil. The legalist solution today could even be the plebicite. But the plebicite is not a democratic position in Brazil today.

Paul Cooney
I'd like to ask about the recent signing of the recent accord for the Lula and Kirchner governments to negotiate together with the IMF. What is expected from this down the line?

Emir Sader
The goal of this request is to change some items in the criteria by which the Fund calculates the fiscal surplus. It would be—basically—to take electrical energy and investment in roads from what is considered to be deficit and therefore give some minimal margin for state investment. This is what both governments have in common. The forms of negotiation are different so far. But at least this element, negotiating better conditions, is something in common between the governments. It's the mutual support of different methods of negotiation with the Fund.





Autonomism and spontaneism are traditional ways to refer to a tendency in the revolutionary Left that—starting in the late 50s in France and Italy—observed the outburst of new workers' and students' struggles in Europe and formalized a critique of the concept of a centralized Communist Party as the only legitimate representative of working class historical interests.

Autonomists supported the general idea that workers' struggle is able to autonomously create new forms of organization according to the needs of each specific historical moment.


>Giovanni Mazzetti on autonomism

References

For a great introduction to the insights and contributions of autonomism, see:

Harry Cleaver "Reading Capital Politically," especially the section "The Italian New Left."

For two critical reviews of this tendency, see:

Chris Harman "Autonomism for the People?" in the 12/2003 issue of Socialist Review, and

Jack Fuller's 1980 article, "The new workerism: the politics of the Italian autonomists," in the International Socialism Journal.




E-mail Interview: November, 2003

Gloves Off:
One of the most prominent characteristics of the so-called anti-global movement seems to lie in its outstanding plurality as well as diversity of agendas. This fact, however, has not kept the movement from attaining a considerable degree of practical unity, even if it sometimes only happened in big events like the World Social Forum and massive rallies. Do you believe this convergence of such a diverse array of social organizations can become a lasting anti-global alliance? Could it bring about an effective renovation of the left and establish itself as an anti-capitalist movement?

Sader:
I believe so. Since the first WSF we realized that besides the discontent with the neoliberal globalization there were also important points of connection among these movements, like for example, the idea that the world is not for sale and that the world is not a commodity.

This resolute attitude against the merchantilization of the world has a clear anti-capitalist potential. It was equally possible to notice among the participants of the Forum a determination to build ‘another possible world’, which means disputing neoliberal hegemony at a world scale and not only at the local level.

However, in order to make it possible, we need to overcome some ambiguities, mostly those present in concepts of liberal nature like ‘non-governmental organizations’ and ‘civil society’, that obstruct our capacity to work out hegemonic alternatives.

Gloves Off:
Why do you think the use of the notion of ‘civil society’ is a problem for the movement?

Sader:
It represents a serious ambiguity. A new movement can initially define itself by negation, in the case of NGO’s, an already vague and delicate definition: as opposition to governments, a posture that bears some similarity with neoliberalism.

For this reason, if we want to be consistent, avoid ambiguity, as well as dangerous amalgams, we need to evolve towards a more precise definition. As Gramsci used to say, ‘civil society’ is a space of hegemonic dispute, where the best and worst of society live together. Try to represent ‘civil society’ as such is an obscure criteria that puts in the same level real civil movements—like ATTAC, for example—and NGO’s that apply World Bank policies.

Gloves Off:
Do you believe that the lack of more consistent links between the anti-global groups and labor-based movements—especially in the industrialized countries—is a crucial difficulty for the constitution of an alternative to the neoliberal order?

Sader:
Certainly, yes. Today, more than ever, people live for their work, although in more heterogeneous forms. The reconstruction of the subjects of the world of labor is a huge challenge but definitely a pre-condition for the constitution of alternatives that are at the same time effectively anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist and founded on the great majority of the world’s population.

Gloves Off:
How do you see the relation of this ‘new’ Left with the traditions of the international Left? Is there any interest by these new groups in assessing the past anti-capitalist experiences, or is there a pure and simple rejection of the past?

Sader:
The attitude is not one of settling accounts with the past. There was a rupture, even a generational one, with the historical Left and its experiences. In this sense, there is a global rejection of past experiences as if they had constituted a total and complete failure. In the same manner, the new movement lacks a historical perspective, so necessary to situate themselves in the set of global movements of historical struggle for a new hegemony.

Gloves Off:
Finally, how were all these questions reflected in the organization process of the WSF? What progress had been made in the definition of its character?

Sader:
In what concerns the definition of its nature, the movement is stagnant. This also happens because there are no instances where these debates could take place. The Forums are a space of exchange of experiences but not a place for policy formulation or theoretical debate.

In addition to that, a group of Brazilian NGO’s keeps on holding the power to decide over the WSF without any legitimacy, and therefore hampers the possibility that the International Council [of the forum] assume a more central role.




Emir Sader is a sociologist and Director of the Laboratory of Public Policies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). He has also been president of the Latin American Sociology Association.

His work is well known in Latin America, especially in Brazil, when he writes regularly as an op-ed columnist for the Jornal do Brazil, one the most important Brazilian newspapers, as well as for
Carta Maior [see also English-language version]

Sader defines himself as a socialist militant. In 1964, following the coup d'état in Brazil, Sader was forced to leave the country in what he expected to be a short exile. His return was delayed for 13 years, until the so-called "amnesty law" was finally approved by the Brazilian congress.

Sader has also actively participated in the organization of the PT since its foundation in the early 80's. In 1994, when forces of the left wing of the PT had a leading role in Lula's campaign, he was one of the central figures fashioning a program for Lula's candidacy. Of late, he has been critical of the increasingly neoliberal profile of Lula's economic policy.

In addition to his active participation in the PT, Sader has—in recent years—played a leading role in the organization of the World Social Forum.



Perspectives on the Global Justice Movement: Part One

Emir Sader: "A Brazilian Perspective" published for the first time in English. We interview Sader on the World Social Forum, neoliberalism, imperialism, NGOs and the Lula government. [Or read in Portuguese]

Giovanni Mazzetti: "Where Do Anti-Global Movements Come From?" published for the first time in English provides a snapshot in the polemics taking place in Italy between Marxists and anarchists. Mazzetti also talks to Gloves Off about his ongoing polemic with Italian anarchists.

Barbara Epstein: "The Global Justice Movement: A New Left?"
In late August 2003, we discussed the potential for meaningful convergence between the global justice movement, the antiwar movement, and traditional labor organizations in the US.

In two weeks we publish Perspectives on the Global Justice Movement: Part Two


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