Walden Bello: "The far right ate our lunch"
08 October 2019
Last week we had the privilege of working with the veteran global justice campaigner Walden Bello at events in Edinburgh and London. He is on a tour of Europe to launch two new books. A human rights campaigner of more than 30 years, Walden is a truly fascinating person.
Walden is currently a professor of sociology at the State University of New York and a former member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines, from 2009 until 2015, when he resigned in protest of the policies of the Aquino administration. He is also founder of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok based policy research institute where he remains a senior analyst, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the alternative Nobel Prize) for his work exposing the negative impacts of corporate-driven globalisation. This work includes breaking into the World Bank HQ and stealing three thousand pages of documents which detailed how grants from the IMF and World Bank were supporting the Marcos Regime in the Philippines, contributing to the movement which deposed Marcos several years later.
Talking at the three Global Justice Now events in the UK, Bello’s discussion focused on Rodrigo Duterte, current President of the Philippines, and Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. Speaking on the reasons for the rise of the far right in the Philippines, Bello explained:
“[t]he gap in inequality has continued to persist, and even widen; the elites hijacked the democratic process; and both the middle and lower class are thoroughly disaffected by the gap between promise and reality, and I think that made people very open to Duterte’s message”.
Similarly, when asked how it is that the far right has managed to reap the rewards of the traditionally left-wing anti-globalisation movement, Bello explained that many working class voters found themselves abandoned by the parties which had traditionally represented them but had more recently adopted a neoliberal agenda:
“Large sectors of the working class […] suddenly felt betrayed and this opened up the possibility of being mobilised by other forces. The right wing saw that [and] were opportunistic enough to start junking many of it’s more neoliberal kind of appeals and began saying ‘yes, we will protect you, we are also for the welfare state and yes your interests have been ravaged and we have to make sure your traditional protections are maintained’, but at the same time twisting that around by saying, ‘we are going to protect you, but against the migrants.’”
And it is this “creation of fictional other or others” which allows the far right to so easily adopt an anti-globalisation stance.
There are two movements in which Walden Bello places his hopes in the fight against the rise of the global far right. The first of these is the women’s movement, which he claims “has a lot of energy” and, due to the misogyny which dominates far right rhetoric, has “a very great part to play in the counter offensive against the right”. The second movement which Bello thinks is best placed to tackle the far right is the climate justice movement, which he refers to as “a centrepiece in the counter offensive” due to their focus on global equity and justice. One important lesson to take from Walden’s discussion is that far right parties often follow similar paths into power, and by learning about the rise of these groups globally we can learn how to better resist them wherever they appear.
If you weren’t able to come along to hear Walden speak in Edinburgh and London, we would recommend you listen to this podcast he recorded with Common Weal journalist David Jamieson that covers all the main themes of his new books.