THE WORKERS Party candidate Lula's victory in the Brazilian presidential election last October represented the hopes of millions of workers. But straight after speaking to cheers at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, he jetted off to Davos to speak to the bosses at the World Economic Forum. Will he live up to his promise?
'You have to be pretty clear about what Lula's election victory means. Lula more than probably anyone else represents the struggle undertaken by the Brazilian working class since the 1970s. He is symbolic of that struggle and is identified with the labour movement. His militant working class credentials are second to none. But already because of his politics he is coming into confrontation with some sections of the organised Brazilian working class.
'While his language has been very radical, he is attempting to work within the confines of the capitalist system. One of the first actions he did when he came into power was to bring people from the banking sector into his cabinet. Since then he has clashed with municipal workers who have had a wage freeze for a long number of years, who he is not paying. The MST, the landless peasant organisation which has supported Lula, has kept its political independence and the strain is beginning to show in his government between these groups. This has all happened very quickly.
'President Hugo Chavez too offered a new kind of state reformism in Venezuela as a solution to the protests that exploded in the early 1990s. That too appears to have reached its limits. But the most trumpeted solution of this kind, which is Lula's government, has now come face to face with the realities of a global system, within months of coming to power.'
You have first hand experience of the popular assemblies that have sprung up in Argentina since the popular uprising in late 2001. Can you tell us about them?
'With the economic crisis that brought down the De la Rua government in December 2001, Argentina witnessed the birth of a new kind of politics. As banks closed their doors and unemployment rose, supermarkets were looted by the poorest sectors, the middle classes marched through the streets, the trade unions joined them, and the unemployed came in from the intercity highways. In the major cities people's assemblies were created spontaneously in late 2001 as the local populations gathered to discuss what should be done and build their protests.
'These are reflections of the nature of the Argentinian class struggle, which has been different to other South American countries. The popular assembly I visited had 70 people in attendance from the working class district. The first thing that stood out for me was the internal discipline that was in place. Nobody was allowed to turn up to the meetings drunk. Anyone who was being abusive was thrown out.
'There was liveliness to the discussion and much debate about general politics. Then the man beside me in the assembly said that he did not want to sit with me because he found out I was British. I asked why. He said because of the Falklands War. We had a long discussion and I was able to tell him where I was during the Falklands War, campaigning against the war and my own government.
'It shows you that there is much that is progressive about the assemblies, but there are also some of the old nationalist ideas still swirling around in people's heads.'
Looking into the future would you be positive about the potential political developments in South America?
'I think that we have to celebrate the rise of resistance. There are now three forces in South America. There is the old order, who want a return to the neo-liberal agenda. There are the new kind of state reformers. I think that these are coming to a bit of a crossroads.
'Chavez tried to bring a new kind of reformism in Venezuela as a solution to the problems in the country. That seems to have entered a problematic stage despite his ability to face down two right wing attempts to oust him.
'There is also a third force which we have to look towards and support. It is the militant working class and the landless peasantry who still make themselves felt in the politics of South America. From the Zapatista uprising in Mexico in 1994 to the popular committees established in Argentina, it is their creative force which holds the key to future struggles. It is the battles between these three forces in the coming years which will decide the future of South America.
'The movement in Argentina in particular represents that third force. It is more than just another wave of protest. The popular assemblies show that the solution must be popular and democratic - that a capitalist state will always protect the interests of the few against the needs and interests of the masses. That such an alternative system must be international and socialist is an argument that now has to be won within the movement.
'At the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil a debate on what should replace capitalism was placed on the agenda, to the annoyance of the more reformist social democratic politicians and spokespeople. The MST unfurled a banner at the final meeting. It said, 'A better world is possible, but only with socialism.' That is something that we support and that is the argument that has to be won in South America at the moment.'