“The CWI Summer School was brilliant – there seems to be a real feeling of optimism in all the parties and organisations of the CWI”, “The school was excellent…The contributions made by the Pakistani comrades were my personal highlight”, “Significant developments include the attendance of a Venezuelan Marxist group called ‘Utopia’ at the School, the CWI’s role in helping to set up the Party of Socialism and Liberty (P-SOL) in Brazil, plus massive successes in building the membership of the CWI’s organisations in Greece and Belgium…”
First report on the recently held cwi Summer School. Two other articles covering the main discussions at the School will appear shortly. socialistworld.net cwi online.
Struggling for socialism world-wide
These comments give just a taste of the enormous enthusiasm generated amongst the 350 workers and young people attending the latest CWI Summer School held in Belgium. Having the most successful school in twenty years was the best way of celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the CWI. The success of the school was indicated by the €16,500 donated in the collection from many low-paid workers and hard-up students.
What made this event extra special was the attendance, for the first time in a number of years, of CWI members from the neo-colonial world – Khalid from Pakistan (Socialist Movement) and Miguel from Brazil (Socialismo Revolucionario). Those attending the school were also thrilled to hear the contributions of Yasmin, a member of a revolutionary group called ‘Utopia’.
Their interventions gave all those attending the school a vivid eye-witness account of the political processes and class struggles occurring in Brazil, Pakistan and Venezuela. This was not all, however, since all three visitors to the school gave inspirational explanations of the important work being done in building revolutionary forces in the neo-colonial world. They portrayed the workers’ movement in their countries in its entire colour: the strength and vitality of the mass movement on the advance with all its hopes as well as the danger of counter-revolution as well as the challenges facing workers when in retreat. Their contributions were in marked contrast to the dry, distorted image given in the capitalist media, internationally. It was for these reasons that each CWI member attending the school gladly gave €10 extra to ensure these visitors could travel to the school.
Another important addition to the school was the attendance for the first time of members of the CWI’s newly established sympathising section in Poland.
Latin America in revolt
The discussion on Latin America gripped those attending the school because this is a continent where uprisings against neo-liberalism and the policies of globalisation have become more developed than anywhere else in the neo-colonial world and the working class has placed a firm stamp on these struggles. In Brazil, the founding of the new Party of Socialism and Liberty is potentially the most significant political event for workers and youth not only in Brazil but across Latin America. Vital lessons from this experience can be learnt by the workers movement in Europe where there is a crying need for new mass and socialist workers parties, and where unfortunately many opportunities have been lost in this direction.
Peter Taaffe in opening this session outlined movements which demonstrated the vibrant power of the working class on an almost continental basis, drawing behind it the urban poor and impoverished farmers, and moving in a revolutionary direction. Only countries like Chile and Mexico appear to be relatively stable at the moment.
Peter explained that these mass movements, which have taken place particularly in countries like Bolivia and Peru, have not acquired a rounded-out socialist consciousness. However, they are imbued with an overwhelming hatred of imperialist exploitation and neo-liberal policies and complete disgust with the corrupt political elite who pillage their country’s wealth. One graphic example of this was the lynching and hanging of the mayor in one Peruvian town as a result of exposure of his corruption. President Toledo, elected to power with many hoping he would reverse the vicious attacks on living standards of his predecessor, Fujimori, stood at only 8% support in the opinion polls a month ago, soon dropping to 5% and acquiring the status of the most unpopular leader in Latin America, having failed to address mass poverty and unemployment.
Repudiate the debt!
The slavish application of privatisation by Latin American governments has resulted in mass poverty and devastation with 70% of state assets sold off in Brazil and 60% in Argentina. Coupled with this have been crippling cuts in state spending in order to keep paying the massive debts owed to the imperialist powers with the Lula government spending 55% of the state budget for this purpose. This has meant that popular consciousness links the failure to provide decent living standards, jobs and education for the masses to the existence of this crushing debt. The Lula government in Brazil has spent $50 billion out of the national budget repaying western banks, while the whole of Latin America pays five times the amount that African countries do in debt repayment each year. Therefore the call for the repudiation of all debts is one of the most important demands for revolutionary socialists to put forward in Latin America today.
The attempt by the ruling classes of Latin America to play a more independent economic role standing up to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, through regional blocs like Mercosur, has failed miserably, Peter explained. As soon as economic crisis strikes, the ruling class scramble to protect their own national interests and are forced into signing bilateral deals with the West, as Argentina demonstrates.
As a result of deepening social and economic crisis rather than unity between the ruling classes of the continent, there are likely to be frictions and the possibility of clashes, with US imperialism manoeuvring behind the scenes. It is not ruled out that historic tensions and conflicts between countries like Chile and Bolivia, and Venezuela and Colombia could be reignited. Trade wars between Brazil and Argentina are also possible.
Agents of US imperialism
Capitalist governments in Latin America have repeatedly acted as the direct agents of US imperialism not just on economic but also political issues. President Lula of Brazil agreed to send troops to Haiti which allowed the US to replenish its forces in Iraq. President Lagos allowed the Chilean embassy to be used by right-wing forces for the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.
Peter went on to explain that it is in Venezuela that developments are on a knife edge. While Chávez has mass support amongst the mass of the population, he is not a conscious socialist or Marxist. Rather he has appeared as a liberator coming with radical proposals introduced from above rather than these reforms being the product of struggles of the masses from below.
Despite Chávez’s shift to the left in words recently when he called for the setting up of armed peoples’ militias to defend the gains of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, no concrete steps have been taken in this direction. With the threat of counter-revolutionary forces ever-present, the question of arms is a life and death question for the masses, as well as a political programme and understanding to overthrow capitalism and build a socialist society.
Peter used the example of the promise Salvador Allende was forced to give to the Chilean ruling class not to attempt to organise fraternisation with the rank and file troops of the army before he was allowed to assume power following the 1970 elections.
Despite having made a tactical mistake by agreeing to the fraudulent campaign to demand a referendum on his rule, Chávez is likely to win this contest. One million more poor and working class Venezuelans have registered to vote in the referendum.
However, even if he does win then there will be more attempts to overthrow his regime – nine have been made so far. More are likely if the masses do not overthrow capitalism and the state machine in the country.
In conclusion Peter explained the momentous developments in Brazil with the formation of the Party of Socialism and Liberty. While this party was still in formation, it had come into being in a very short time after Lula’s victory at the polls. This indicated the increased tempo political events in Brazil. The formation of PSOL with a radical socialist programme was an expression of two factors: the blind alley that capitalism represents in Brazil as well as the complete going over of the leaders of Social Democracy to the camp of the ruling class.
Over 20 000 people had attended the pre-congress meetings of the party and a number of Trotskyist organisations were involved, including Socialismo Revolucionario, which has a member on the Executive Committee of the party.
In the discussion Miguel (Brazil) went into more detail of the programme of P-SOL explaining that it stood for breaking with the IMF and FTAA, and a refusal to pay Brazil’s debt as well as the nationalisation of the finance houses, banks, and big monopolies. The party’s programme committed itself to struggle for socialism and international workers’ solidarity. He emphasised that the programme was important but so too was the question of how the party organised and attempted to transform its demands into a living struggle.
Jasmin from the ‘Utopia’ group explained the horrific conditions of the Venezuelan masses where 80% live below the poverty line. Chávez’s reforms, the creation of a new constituent assembly, and the enactment of a new constitution have created enormous enthusiasm amongst Venezuela’s working class and poor who have become enormously politicised through the mass struggles to defend what has been gained. The government has a target of one million more Venezuelans being literate and 400 000 more entering higher education.
However, the forces of reaction within the state and capitalist class are attempting to undermine these reforms.
Revolutionary organisations within Venezuela have criticised Chávez for missing two insurrectionary situations: one in April 2002 following the failed coup and another in January 2003 following the right-wing inspired oil “strike”. On both these occasions the masses came out onto the streets ready to take over the means of production. While the government spoke about arming the people, it has not done anything concrete to carry this out. This is despite the fact that there are numerous discussions in working class communities about armed self-defence.
Jasmin summed up her contribution by explaining that many Venezuelans saw the revolutionary process as a struggle for national liberation. This process involves forces involving sections of the national capitalists all the way to those of the revolutionary left. It is the latter forces that are struggling to transform the Bolivarian revolution into a socialist one.
In concluding the session, Tony Saunois took up many of the points made by other CWI members in the discussion, explaining that while Latin America faced a continental wide revolt, there were important differences in each country.
He explained that the conditions caused by imperialist plunder of the continent meant that sections of the working class and poor peasants were in desperation turning to guerrilla organisations like Sendero Luminoso in Peru.
While Venezuela was at the cutting edge of revolution and counter-revolution, Tony explained that while all revolutionary movements have common characteristics, they also have their own peculiarities which in this case was the role of the junior army officers. Venezuela does not have a long Communist or Socialist tradition and at different times in its history, junior army officers, radicalised by the situation have moved into action in a radical and populist direction. In this sense there is a similarity with the Portuguese revolution where the process went much further.
Chávez has balanced between the different social forces and been pushed from one position to another by different wings of the state. The politicisation and mass mobilisation of the masses meant that there was an element of a parallel state within the country. It was clear that the mass movement had attempted to implement reforms from below.
He explained that any revolution represented the coming together of the experience of the working class and revolutionary ideas. For example recently 7000 workers at the biggest steel mill in Latin America in Bolivar state in Venezuela had gone on strike demanding the renationalisation of their factory. Seven years ago these workers had supported its privatisation. The ‘Utopia’ group had links with these workers and it was through discussions with them, that the demand for renationalisation had arisen.