Venezuela: Hugo Chavez calls for international socialist unity
By Federico Fuentes, Caracas
November 27, 2009 -- Addressing delegates at the International Encounter of Left Parties held in Caracas, November 19-21, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said that with the capitalist crisis and threat of war risking the future of humanity, “the people are clamoring” for greater unity of those willing to fight for socialism.
Chavez used his November 20 speech to the conference, which involved delegates from 55 left groups from 31 countries, to call for a new international socialist organisation to unite left groups and social movements: “The time has come for us to organise the Fifth International.”
This call is historic. It follows Chavez’s call in 2005 that the only response to the barbarism of the capitalist system was to create “a new socialism of the 21st century”. In 2006, Chavez made another historic call for the creation in Venezuela of a new, mass revolutionary party in order to unite all who were part of the struggle to transform Venezuela into one party. This lead to the launch in 2007 of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) .
Chavez's call for a new international is historic because of his authority as the head of a government leading a revolutionary movement to build socialism. The Bolivrian revolution sees itself as international. Chavez has repeatedly said that either socialism is built globally or there will be no 22nd century for humanity.
The call for a new international organisation builds on the history of the socialist movement. There have been four previous socialist “internationals”, the first created by Karl Marx in 1864, which collapsed. The Second International was formed in 1889, but fell apart when representative parties sided with their own governments in the bloodshed of World War I. The Third International was founded in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. However, Chavez said it “degenerated” under Stalinism and “betrayed” struggles for socialism around the world. Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International in 1938. However, Trotsky died in 1940 and his followers never succeeded in building mass support.
A majority of the delegates at the Caracas conference adopted a special resolution in support of founding the “Fifth Socialist International as a space for socialist-oriented parties, movements and currents in which we can harmonise a common strategy for the struggle against imperialism, the overthrow of capitalism by socialism”. April next year has been set as the date for a conference to launch the new international.
Chavez repeated his call in his speech the next day to the congress of the PSUV, which began on November 21. He asked the congress “to include in its agenda for debate, the proposal to convene political parties and currents to create the Fifth Socialist International as a new organisation that fits the time and the challenge in which we live, and that can become an instrument of unification and coordination of the struggle of peoples to save this planet”. Chavez said the discussion “must go out to the people, to the social organisations and other forms of popular power in the country”.
The PSUV, a mass revolutionary party in formation, will no doubt take up this discussion with full vigour.
Likewise, left parties around the world will need to take a position on this extremely important proposal which has the potential to significantly advance the international socialist movement..
Unity against imperialism
The Encounter of Left Parties conference involved representatives of the old and new left. It included a number of long-established communist and social-democratic parties from Asia and Europe, national liberation forces from Africa and the Middle East, and new left parties such as Die Linke (Germany), the Left Bloc (Portugal) and Left Party (France).
It also involved radical and left groups from across Latin America. Some of these are older, such as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) from Nicaragua, and some newer, such as the Movement Towards Socialism from Bolivia and the PSUV.
The first day of the conference discussed the new imperialist offensive in the region. This is exemplified by the plan for new US military in Latin America bases and the military coup against the left-leaning Honduran government in alliance with revolutionary Venezuela.
Venezuela foreign minister and PSUV leader Nicolas Maduro said that imperialism managed to destroy almost all attempts to create a new model of society in the 20th century.“There was only one experience that had the sufficient political, military and popular force, together with a revolutionary leadership, which was able to overcome all of imperialism’s plans: the Cuban Revolution”, he noted.
Maduro said new revolutionary movements and political leaderships have emerged this century, changing the face of the region. The election of US President Barack Obama created hope and expectations across the world that new relations with the US based on dialogue would be possible. But he said this illusion was quickly shattered by the actions of the new administration.
Maduro said the US government seeks to undermine the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), an anti-imperialism political and trading bloc that this year expanded to nine countries. The coup in Honduras, a member country, was aimed at ALBA and carried out with US support, he said. The US-Colombia military agreement for seven new US military bases in Colombia is “a powerful threat against the revolutionary movements in our continent”.
In light of this, Maduro said unity of progressive and left forces is necessary to create a movement for peace and justice with the power to make Latin America a “territory free of US bases”.
Jorge Marti, head of the international relations department of the Communist Party of Cuba, said as it is now “the left is not up to the challenge it faces”. He said this was why it was necessary to develop a strategy for united struggle.
Nidia Diaz, a veteran leader of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) of El Salvador, said it was possible right-wing forces could win coming elections in Chile and Brazil. But, she said, “if we only think about electoral victories and not in the accumulation of social forces for change, it is easy to paint a negative picture”. She said it is essential that the left promote Chavez’s proposal for “peace bases” as focal points for agitation and mobilisation of the people.
Patricia Rodas, the legitimate foreign minister in the government of Honduras' President Manuel Rosales overthrown in the coup, said: “We are merely spokespeople for our people who today are resisting.” She said it was the responsibility of those at the meeting to build a common space for left groups to unite “and make possible the creation of a never before seen, diverse force”.
Venezuelan education minister Hector Navarro said: “The problem [we face] is the structural crisis of capital …We are confronting the question of the survival of humanity.” Therefore, he said, the conference must be seen as a theatre of operations from which to unleash a struggle in defence of humanity.
An ‘International of the 21st century’
The second day of the conference -- November 20 -- started with a discussion on what sort of international coordination of the left was needed.
Valtar Pomar, international relations secretary of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT), outlined the position of his party, currently in government. He put forward a strategy focused on unity around regional integration and a broad-based “anti-imperialism”. He said if socialism became our lowest common denominator for unity, this would inevitably lead to division.
Pomar said the PT would prioritise the Sao Paulo Forum. The Sao Paulo Forum was formed in the 1990s as an initiative of the PT to regroup the Latin American left after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Sao Paulo Forum, like the PT, has drifted from its radical roots to become dominated by more moderate forces.
PSUV leader Aristobulo Isturiz said the left needs more dynamic and active spaces than the Sao Paulo Forum.
Chavez’s speech that night marked a dividing line: “Yankee imperialism is preparing a war in Latin America … it has almost always been the case that the US has pulled itself out of a situation of crisis via war.” The conditions to build socialism are ripe, he said. “That is why I ask that you allow me continue to go forward, together with those who want to accompany me, to create the Fifth Socialist International.”
Chavez said it would be a new body without manuals and impositions, where differences were welcome. He criticised the practices of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which imposed its dogmas such as “socialism in one country” on its satellite parties internationally. Chavez said this led many Latin American CPs to turn their backs on Argentinean-born revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, when Che, who rejected Soviet dogmatism, tried to spread the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s.
Chavez said the new international should reject the failed projects of “real socialism” and social democracy. It should embody the spirit and heritage left to humanity by the founders of the first four internationals. It should also incorporate the ideas of past Latin American revolutionaries.
It has to be an international to confront imperialism, and defeat capitalism, said Chavez. He said it was necessary to work together to create a manifesto to spell-out the content of “socialism of the 21st century”.
Chavez gave a swift and sharp response to a delegate’s interjection that there already exist organisations for left coordination. There exist many spaces for discussion, said Chavez, but none for concrete action. “We have wasted a lot of time, we continue to waste time, looking for excuses to justify our inactivity”, said Chavez. “I consider such behaviour to be a betrayal of the hope of our peoples.” The unity of left parties is needed, “but [of] parties that are truly left”.
Some delegates expressed their reservations on November 21, arguing that at such a meeting it was only possible to agree on specific points. A deep programmatic debate was necessary before any deeper unity was possible. However, support for the proposal was very strong overall.
Speaking in favour of the proposal for a new international, El Salvador's vice-president and FMLN leader Salvador Sanchez Ceren said: “We cannot continue simply debating … we need to clearly define what it is that we want, and the alternative project for Latin America is socialism.”
Sanchez’s comments provoked a reaction from El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes, who was elected with the FMLN’s support. Funes distanced himself from the comments and said his government did not support 21st century socialism.
The delegation from the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia told the conference they had contacted the MAS leadership, including Bolivian President Evo Morales, who agreed the MAS should back the new international.
Ecuador government minister and Country Alliance leader Ricardo Patino said his party had also agreed to participate. Honduras' foreign minister Rodas pledged the active support of the Honduran “resistance” for the proposal.
The Cuban Communist Party did not express a formal position in the meeting. If the Cuban Communist Party backs the call, it would mean all the most important organisations at the head of the Latin American revolution support the creation the new international.
The adopted resolution pledged to create a “working group comprised of those socialist parties, currents and social movements who endorse the initiative, to prepare an agenda which defines the objectives, contents and mechanisms of this global revolutionary body”.
A main document, called the Caracas Commitment, was also approved. The document said that, faced with “structural crisis of capital, which combines the economic crisis, with an ecological crisis, a food crisis, and an energy crisis, and which together represents a mortal threat to humanity and mother earth”, the only alternative possible is “socialism of the 21st century”.
Speaking to the PSUV congress, Chavez said the previous four socialist internationals had originated in Europe, “where the thesis of scientific socialism emerged with force in the heat of the great popular, workers' struggles”.
Today, however, “the epicentre of revolutionary struggle is in our America. And Venezuela is the epicentre of this battle". “It is up to us to assume the role of the vanguard and we have to assume it, so that we realise and become aware of the huge responsibility we have on our shoulders.”
[Federico Fuentes, alonfg with Kiraz Janicke, represented the Australian Socialist Alliance at the International Encounter of Left Parties as representatives. They also work in the Caracas bureau of Green Left Weekly. This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly.]