Editor of marxist.com, Alan Woods, has begun a speaking tour of Latin America with meetings organized by Marxists in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. The tour will continue in November with a series of meetings in Mexico City, organised by Esteban Volkov (Trotsky’s grandson) and the Trotsky Museum.
The first stop of the tour was Argentina, where a small but dedicated group of International Marxist Tendency (IMT) members, based mainly in Rosario, the third biggest city of Argentina and birthplace of Che Guevara, have launched an ambitious program of publishing Marxist books.
In just over a year they have already published an impressive the list including The Communist Manifesto, State and Revolution, Trotsky´s Results and Prospects, Woods and Ted Grant’s, Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For, Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution and Perobrazhensky’s Communism and Anarchism.
Their latest publication is Woods’ book Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution, which was officially launched by the author in Rosario during this tour. Next year, they intend to launch the Argentinian edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.
Throughout this tour Alan is being accompanied by comrade Serge Goulart, the leader of the Brazilian section of the IMT. On his arrival in Buenos Aires, Alan went with Serge to meet with the leaders of the occupied factories movement.
Serge Goulart has maintained very close contact with these comrades for many years, as a result of his leading role in the occupied factories’ movement in Brazil and also in other countries of Latin America, notably Venezuela.
The comrades received a very warm welcome from the workers who organized a parrillada (a traditional Argentine barbecue) in their honour. Present at this gathering were 30 leaders and activists from 21 occupied factories, including Eduardo Vasco Murua: the well-known national co-ordinator of the IMPA (the metalworkers’ factory which is iconic in the occupied factories movement).
The workers (who all came from a Peronist background) showed great interest in the ideas of Marxism and asked the comrades to explain the workers’ struggle in other countries. Serge commenced with an account of the situation in Brazil, while Alan gave a brief overview of the world capitalist crisis and its impact on the working class and the class struggle.
Serge made a sharp criticism of the sectarian attitude of the Argentine Left towards the Peronist workers who make up the majority of the Argentine working class. These comments were well received by the workers who expressed a lively interest in Marxist ideas.
The public meeting in Buenos Aires was hit by a number of unforeseen difficulties. Firstly, the leaders of the occupied factories who had expressed their firm intention to attend were called away to a new occupation in the Province of Buenos Aires and had to send their apologies. A torrential rainstorm, which badly affected traffic in the capital, did not help.
In the end, 26 students and workers attended a very interesting meeting on the Russian Revolution, which was introduced by comrade Alan, who explained the historic significance of the October Revolution (the greatest event in human history, as he called it) and answered the calumnies of the bourgeois historians. This was followed by an enthusiastic discussion. Books and other literature were sold and a number of contacts made.
Both in Buenos Aires and in Rosario, Alan was interviewed many times by different publications and radio programs. Among these was the newspaper Pagina 12 – one of the three most important national papers in Argentina.
The next day Alan and Serge travelled by car to Rosario, where two meetings were organised. The first was held in La Toma – a supermarket that has been occupied by the workers and turned into a combined market, public restaurant and conference centre and meeting place for the Left. Alan was taken on a conducted tour of the building by the workers’ committee. Then the meeting started. The subject was the same as in Buenos Aires and was attended by 53 people.
Alan pointed out that the October Revolution proved in practice that it was possible to run a gigantic country like the USSR without landlords, bankers and private capitalists and get excellent results. A formerly backward and illiterate country was transformed into an industrialised economy, with more scientists than the USA, Britain, Germany and Japan combined.
Afterwards, people crowded around the bookstall and a lot of literature was sold, including seven copies of Bolshevism. Alan was surrounded by people asking questions and asking him to sign books.
The next day another meeting was held at the Universidad de Humanidades, attended by 65 students and teachers. The subject this time was the launch of a new Argentinian edition of Alan’s book, Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution.
Alan began by pointing out that there is nothing in the history of political parties to compare with the extraordinary rise of Bolshevism. He then proceeded to trace the history of the party from its early beginnings as small propaganda circles to its transformation into a mass revolutionary party capable of leading millions of workers and peasants to the seizure of power.
As in Buenos Aires and also the previous meeting in La Toma there was a lively discussion and a lot of enthusiasm for the ideas of the IMT. The comrades in Rosario were convinced that these two meetings (of well over a hundred people in total, as the audiences were totally different) represented a turning point in the evolution of the organization.
The rest of Alan’s time in Rosario was taken up with interviews with different media outlets, including El Ciudadano, the main regional newspaper.
This was perhaps the most significant part of the first stage of Alan’s Latin American tour. Together with Serge Goulart, he was invited by the leaders of the P-MAS, an important left party in Paraguay who had learned that Alan was coming to Brazil.
The P-MAS was only created about eleven years ago and is composed overwhelmingly of young people and stands under the banner of communism and internationalism. This has led to a clash with the opportunist policies and tactics of Lugo and his followers.
For some time, these comrades have been following with interest the political material of the IMT and marxist.com. They wanted to learn more about our ideas at first hand, and therefore were keen to take advantage of the presence of comrade Alan Woods for this purpose. The meeting was a great success, as both sides met with full agreement on all the main questions.
On Friday September 29 the Party had organized a meeting in the University. All the publicity had been prepared and a big meeting was anticipated. Then the sabotage began. Suddenly, without any warning or explanation, the university authorities cancelled the booking!
The comrades reacted quickly and booked a room in another university, this time a private one. But the ink was scarcely dry on the agreement when once again the booking was cancelled. Finally, the meeting was held in the premises of the CUT (A): one of the main trade union confederations in Paraguay.
Naturally the confusion caused by two sudden changes of venue had an adverse effect on the numbers attending, but in any case the attempted sabotage had failed. The meeting went ahead as planned, with more than 60 people attending. Among them was comrade Bernardo Rojas, the National President of the CUT (A) who warmly greeted Serge Goulart, whom he has known for some years.
The subject under discussion was the crisis of capitalism. On the platform, aside from Alan and Serge was the leader of the P-MAS, comrade Camilo Suarez. The first to lead off was Serge who mainly spoke about the effects of the crisis in Brazil and the failure of the reformist leaders of the PT to offer any solution.
Alan then explained that the present crisis had no historical parallels and was not an ordinary crisis: “Lenin pointed out that there is no such thing as a final crisis of capitalism,” he said. “As long as the working class does not overthrow it, capitalism will always find a way out of even the deepest crisis. This is true as a general statement. But it tells me nothing concrete about the present situation.
Alan was interviewed by a number of popular publications and appeared on national television on several occasions during his tour of the South American continent, promoting (among other things) the updated editions of Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution, and Trotsky’s biography of Stalin. In this way, he brought the ideas of Marxism to a mass audience:
“The question that should be asked is how long will it take to get out of this crisis, and at what cost?” The Financial Times calculates that it will take 20 years to solve the crisis of the Euro. “That is a finished recipe for class struggle,” he concluded.
The next day, Saturday October 1, at 3pm, Serge and Alan were invited to address a meeting of 43 activists of the electrical workers’ union SITRANDE: the biggest union in Paraguay. Only four months ago it elected a new leadership that received 70 percent of the vote.
Serge opened with a very militant speech, denouncing class collaboration, which was enthusiastically received. Alan pointed out that the trade union struggle must be linked to the political struggle to change society, a message that was understood by everybody present. The meeting was chaired by comrade Jorge, a veteran trade unionist and the Union’s Press Secretary.
Alan and Serge then had to dash to attend their next meeting, which was scheduled for 7pm that evening at the P-MAS headquarters where around 70 cadres of the party gathered for a discussion about the Russian Revolution. Once again Serge Goulart opened with a fiery speech that emphasized that the Russian Revolution was not a historical question but of fundamental importance for revolutionaries today and pointed out that the tactic of the united front carried out by Lenin in 1917 was what permitted the Bolshevik Party to take power in October.
Serge was followed by comrade Camilo Suarez who pointed out that capitalism contained insoluble contradictions that prepared the ground for socialist revolution. He poured scorn on the idea that artificial intelligence and robotics could solve those problems and insisted on the need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution.
Alan Woods, in his final remarks, took up the question of robotics raised by Camilo and pointed out that the word robot came from the Czech word for a slave and that in a rational socialist planned economy the new technological advances like robots could be used to abolish the slavery of work by drastically reducing the hours of labour:
“Aristotle wrote that humankind begins to philosophise when the needs of life are provided. By freeing humanity from wage slavery we can attain what Engels described as mankind’s leap from the reign of Necessity to the reign of Freedom.”
Following what everybody said was a very successful meeting, the comrades organised a traditional Paraguayan parrillada together with music and songs.
Alan Woods interviewed on Paraguayan TV
At 20:30 October 1, Alan Woods was invited to participate in an interview on television. This was a very popular program hosted by one of the best known TV presenters in Paraguay during prime viewing time on Sunday evening when traditionally families gather around the television.
The fact that a revolutionary Marxist should be invited to such a program - which, moreover, was broadcast live - was something unheard of in Paraguay, where the right wing is now firmly in control. It would appear somebody thought that this would be roughly the equivalent of the Romans throwing Christians to the lions for public entertainment.
If that was the idea, then things did not go quite to plan. The presenter, Luis Bareiro, was at all times correct, even affable. But he was clearly surprised, even fascinated, at the answers to his questions. He began by asking if the ideas of Marx were still relevant, to which Alan replied by referring him to the Communist Manifesto (“the most modern document that exists”).
But what about the dictatorship of the proletariat, Luis insisted. Alan pointed out that in Marx’s day the word dictatorship did not have the same connotations as today, when it is associated with the names of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco. Marx’s model was the Paris Commune – “something that is very far from the idea of a totalitarian regime!!”
“Is there any country today that can be called Marxist?”
“To that question I can answer very briefly: none whatsoever.”
“A Stalinist dictatorship that has nothing in common with the democratic regime of the Bolsheviks.”
“Now a capitalist country where the workers are exploded as brutally as in the days of Marx and Charles Dickens.”
The presenter then turned to the terrorist organization that operates in Paraguay under the name of the EPP: Does this have nothing in common with Marxism?
“Nothing whatsoever. Russian Marxism was born in implacable struggle against individual terrorism. But my objection to terrorism has nothing to do with sentimentality or moralism. I am not a pacifist. My objection to these methods is simply that they do not work and are counterproductive. In Latin America they have been a disaster, with the deaths of about 100,000 people and leading only to brutal military dictatorships.”
“That shows that you cannot make half a revolution. Either we destroy the power of the oligarchy or they will destroy us. Now there is a serious danger that this will happen. Naturally we will defend the Bolivarian Revolution against the counterrevolution, but that does not mean we agree with the policies of the Maduro government which have led to the present situation…
“How do you destroy the power of the oligarchy? Do you want to nationalise everything?”
“No, Do I look like an extremist? I consider myself a very moderate person. I only wish to nationalise three little things.”
“What are they?”
“The land, the banks and the big monopolies. That is enough to plan the economy.”
“And you want everybody to earn the same?”
“No. There will be a differential between skilled and skilled workers, such as doctors, scientists, engineers etc. But what cannot be tolerated is a situation where one percent of the world’s population possesses more wealth than the poorest half of humanity. Moreover, this one percent who own the means of production do not fulfil any role in production whatsoever.”
“And the media?”
Alan pointed out that the media is everywhere owned and controlled by the rich and powerful and that it was necessary to take that power out of their hands and provide free access to the means of communication to all parties, trade unions and grips according to their real support in society.
“Let us just say that I am in favour of the democratization of the media.”
By this time, it was becoming clear that the interviewer was running out of ‘difficult’ questions. But two publicity slots had already passed and the program was nearing its final part. To be fair the interviewer was never hostile and in the end even seemed genuinely interested in what Alan was saying.
Just before the final publicity pause he announced a number of further topics that he intended to put to Alan, including the question of gender, which has apparently been used by the Right to discredit the Left in Paraguay.
Then came the final surprise.
Throughout the program poor Luis was receiving calls over his headphones, the exact content of which we can only guess at but that was more or less evident. Alan’s comments on the ownership of the media were evidently the last straw, and the owners decided to pull the plug on a program that had already passed all the bounds of permissibility.
One quick reference to gender (in which Alan said he was for the emancipation of women but opposed to theories that lead to division on lines of gender) and the interviewer suddenly cut short the program, thanking Alan for coming and announcing the end of the interview.
So much for the Freedom of the Press in Paraguay (and everywhere else).
The next stage of Alan’s tour will be in Brazil, where he will launch the new Portuguese translation of Trotsky’s Stalin in a series of public meetings in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Florianopolis and Rio de Janeiro.
We will be publishing reports of these activities in the course of the next week.