Left activists discuss solutions at World at a Crossroads international socialism conference

Photos by Alex Bainbridge. Individual pictures can be viewed here.

By Simon Butler

Sydney -- April 18, 2009 -- Green Left Weekly -- Several participants at the World at a Crossroads conference, held in Sydney on April 10-12, remarked that the conference could not have been better named.

As the world economy lurches into a deep recession, and the looming climate emergency reaches a crisis point, the world truly is at a crossroads. The future will be decided in the conflict between the greedy capitalist elites and those around the world fighting for a far better world — a world free of racism, war and environmental plunder.

From six continents, 444 socialists, progressive activists and Marxist thinkers gathered to discuss, debate and learn from various struggles for human freedom, dignity and justice. More than 70 activists addressed 42 workshops during the conference.

The conference was about creating real solutions to the urgent problems of climate change, economic meltdown and imperialist war. Mere reform of the existing capitalist system will not reverse grinding poverty or halt unpredictable climate change. The path to human liberation requires a radical democracy based on people’s needs instead of corporate profit. The goal must be to fight for a socialism of the 21st century, in Australia and around the world.

Capitalism’s crises

The conference, held on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, was opened by Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro. Munro reminded the conference of the history of Indigenous resistance to the European invasion. The conference met on stolen land — land that was never ceded.

Reihana Mohideen, vice-chair of the international department of the Power of the Masses Party of the Philippines, spoke in the opening session titled “Capitalism’s crises and our solutions”. The world’s poorest, especially women workers, are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis, she said. “This is not just an economic crisis, but a crisis of the whole capitalist system. Their new deal is the same old deal. They aim to make working people pay for the crisis.”

Mohideen warned that it “would be a dangerous illusion” to think the crisis will mean capitalism will simply collapse. If socialists are to be relevant in the struggle they must “break with dogmas and schemas”.

David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action, said “the obstacles to building a post-carbon society” are not technical or economic but “political and cultural”.

“The fact with climate is that, if we don’t solve this, then nothing else will matter”, he said.

Michael Lebowitz, renowned Marxist economist and author of Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century, also addressed the opening session. “The job of revolutionaries”, he said, “is not to police the working class … but to use the opportunities [the crisis presents] to educate the working class about the nature of capitalism.”

The task before socialists is “to make the crisis in capitalism become a crisis of capitalism”, he said.

Against war and racism

The election of US President Barack Obama and the ongoing “war on terror” was the topic of another major session at the conference. Pip Hinman, from the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP), rejected the spin from the US and Australian governments portraying the brutal war in Afghanistan as the “good war”.

Hinman called for the immediate withdrawal of all Australian troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The DSP’s aim “has always been to unite as many as possible behind clear anti-imperialist demands”, she said.

Salim Vally, spokesperson of the South African Palestine Solidarity Committee, discussed what to expect from the Obama administration. He argued Obama, despite his promises, does not stand for a break with US wars of conquest overseas. While “Martin Luther King spoke the truth to power, Obama spoke lies to get into power”, he said.

Two representatives of the Australian Tamil community, Arun Murali and Pramod Devendra, gave a moving talk on the Sri Lankan government’s genocide against the ethnic Tamil population. Sri Lanka spends 45% of its gross domestic product on the war against the Tamils, they said.

They called for more solidarity from progressives around the world. “Genocide is happening again and the world continues not just to ignore it but continues to fund it”, Murali said.

Socialism and solidarity

Tim Gooden, DSP member and secretary of the Geelong and Region Trades and Labour Council, discussed how to draw the workers movement and climate movement closer together. He argued: “Taking up workers’ struggles is taking up climate change. “Capitalism cannot save the planet, and it cannot improve the lives of workers. This part is our job,” Gooden said.

Lebowitz called for socialists to move beyond seeing socialism as merely the opposite of capitalist exploitation. “A society that removes all obstacles to the full development of human beings was how Marx defined the goal of socialism”, he said.

Luis Bilbao, Argentinean Marxist and founding editor of the Latin American magazine America XXI, also discussed the ideas of 21st century socialism, which, he said, are “embodied in entire peoples and movements in Latin America today”.

Bilbao stressed the importance of the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions. “The future will not only absolve Fidel Castro but also the people of Cuba. But what is new is that Cuba is not alone [in Latin America].”

Abelardo Curbelo, a leader of the Cuban Communist Party, and Nelson Davila, the head of Venezuela’s diplomatic mission to Australia, also addressed the conference. The rise of new revolutionary movements across Latin America means “US hegemony in the region has finished”, Curbelo said.

The conference celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution and the 10th anniversary of the Venezuelan revolution.

Kavita Krishnan, representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Mericio Juvinal Dos Reis, the executive director of the Luta Hamutuk Institute of East Timor, and Munyaradzi Gwisai, from the Zimbabwe International Socialist Organisation, addressed a session on the growing resistance to neoliberalism in the global South.

The conference received greetings from Le Vinh Thu, Director-General of the Department of Southeast Asia, South Asia and South Pacific Affairs, External Relations Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam..

The final session of the conference was concerned with putting the range of socialist ideas discussed into practice. Canadian socialist Ian Angus, editor of climateandcapitalism.com and a founder of the Ecosocialist International Network, said socialists will “have opportunities to grow far more than previously” in the coming period.

M. Saraswathy, the deputy chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, said that “socialism doesn’t drop from the sky — we have to work for it”. Daphne Lawless, a central committee member of Socialist Worker (New Zealand), spoke out against sectarianism on the left. “We need a socialism of the 21st century that leaves behind socialist identity politics”, she said.

Peter Boyle, DSP national secretary, paid tribute to the example of the Venezuelan revolution. He urged continued international collaboration between socialists of varied traditions. “I pledge, on behalf of the DSP, that we will carry on this struggle here in Australia”, he said.

[The World at a Crossroads conference was organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and the socialist youth organisation Resistance. Conference talks, video recordings, resolutions and photographs can be found at http://www.worldatacrossroads.org. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal will also be publishing various talks presented at the conference as they become available.]