Some remarks on the International Gathering of Intellectuals and Artists In Defence of Humanity

From 11th to 13th October in the FAO building in Rome the Fourth Gathering of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity took place. Present were intellectuals from many countries, representing many different points of view, but united in their concern for the crisis that is affecting the whole world and threatens the future of civilization, culture, the environment and possibly the very survival of the human race.

From 11th to 13th October in the FAO building in Rome the Fourth Gathering of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity took place. Present were intellectuals from many countries, representing many different points of view, but united in their concern for the crisis that is affecting the whole world and threatens the future of civilization, culture, the environment and possibly the very survival of the human race.

The crisis of capitalism manifests itself in many different ways: wars, terrorism that is spreading like an uncontrollable epidemic, high levels of unemployment, the deaths of eight million people every year from poverty, the rape of the planet by giant corporations, the threat to art and culture posed by capitalist commercialisation, violence towards women and children, drugs and the alienation of the youth - all these are matters that concern a growing number of people, not necessarily from left wing or Marxist backgrounds.

Alan with Eva Golinger (author of The Chavez Code) and Pascual Serrano (editor of Spanish website Rebelion)
 Alan with Eva Golinger (author of The Chavez Code)
and Pascual Serrano (editor of Spanish website Rebelion)

The idea of providing a forum for a serious discussion of the problems facing the planet was a positive initiative. Marxists are always prepared to enter into a dialogue with honest people with different ideas who are looking for solutions to the grave problems facing the human race. But the usefulness of such discussions depends ultimately on the willingness of the participants to understand the root causes of these problems and work out a serious programme of action to combat them. Otherwise, such debates will merely be discussion clubs leading nowhere.

The main promoters of this forum are Cuba and Venezuela, two countries that stand in the front line of the struggle against imperialism. The final session was addressed by Rodrigo Chaves, the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe, and the Cuban Organizing Committee was represented by Yamila Cohen. Among those present were James Petras, Eva Golinger (the author of The Chavez Code), the noted Cuban economist Osvaldo Martinez, who recently called for a debate on the ideas of Bukharin, Preobrazhensky and Trotsky, and his fellow Cuban Carlos Tablada, who has edited the previously unpublished economic writings of Che Guevara that contain a criticism of the Stalinist economic theories, and many other left intellectuals, writers and artists. 

It is clear that the Venezuelan Revolution has given new life to the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle on a world scale. The declarations of President Chavez in favour of socialism have caused a ferment of discussion, particularly (but not only) in Latin America. His recent speech at the United Nations, in which he denounced it as an organism dominated by imperialism that cannot be reformed, was another important step forward.

After the fall of the USSR there are a very large number of ex-Communists, ex-Maoists, ex-Socialists and ex-Marxists, many of whom have found comfortable jobs in the media, the universities or NGOs, who have completely abandoned socialism and any idea of fighting capitalism. These people must justify their apostasy by a cynical attitude. Their sole aim in life seems to be to spread scepticism and pessimism among the young generation. They thus become transformed into a barrier in the way of socialist revolution. But after President Chavez's declarations it is now impossible (or at any rate more difficult) for the reformist elements to argue against any mention of socialism. They therefore have to resort to all kinds of "clever" arguments and sophistry to attack socialism.

It is clear to any serious thinker that the root cause of the present world crisis is the crisis of senile capitalism. This fact was clearly stated in the resolution presented by the commission in which I participated, and adopted by the plenary session. The same declaration of principles stated that the real alternative before humanity in the first decade of the 21st century was socialism or barbarism. These clear formulations represent a big step forward in relation to the vague formulations of the past. Other positive points were the unambiguous call for a struggle against imperialism, defence of the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions etc.

Alan with Osvaldo Martinez, well known Cuban economist
 Alan with Osvaldo Martinez, well known Cuban economist

However, in other respects the decisions of the forum were unsatisfactory. Concessions were made to middle class liberal elements that watered down the revolutionary message, and this led to a confused and ambiguous result. In general, however, the left wing managed to push the movement forward, much to the chagrin of the bourgeois elements. One American (I cannot remember who) complained that while he had "nothing in principle" against the formula of socialism or barbarism, nevertheless wanted to take it out and replace it with some vague and meaningless formula. This was rejected.

A similar debate took place in every commission, and sometimes assumed a sharp character. The liberal elements, who have completely abandoned socialism and the class struggle in favour of reformist politics and NGOs are fighting to hold the world revolutionary movement back, to spread confusion, scepticism and demoralisation. They wish to drag the movement away from the revolutionary road and into the harmless road of small reforms and "good deeds" that neither threaten capitalism nor do much to solve the serious problems facing millions of men, women and children. They attempt to justify this pettifogging reformism as "concrete" action, as opposed to the alleged "abstract utopianism" of the Marxists.

This is reminiscent of the sophists who turned every argument on its head. The supposed "realism" of these people boils down to the following: they want capitalism to continue, but they would like it to treat the masses more nicely. They want "capitalism with a human face". One of these liberals seriously argued that the IMF and World Bank should be "regulated" in such a way that they served the interests of the poor people and not the rich! This is the "realism" of somebody who wishes to teach a tiger to eat lettuce instead of meat.

But the main thrust of the movement that is now emerging in every country is not at all in this direction. Everywhere resistance is growing to imperialism and capitalism and it is not possible to separate the two phenomena. Capitalism necessarily expresses itself at a certain stage as imperialism, as Lenin explained. Imperialism is the distilled essence of capitalism, and racism and fascism are the distilled essence of imperialism.

Another negative feature that surfaced in some of the debates with monotonous regularity was the attempt to play off "north" against "south", "rich" countries against "poor" countries - as if there were not plenty of poor people in the USA (remember Katrina!) and plenty of rich parasites and exploiters in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In order to defend the interests of poor countries against imperialist exploitation it is necessary to conduct an implacable struggle against imperialism.

That is an elementary proposition. But such a struggle can only succeed if it is closely linked to the revolutionary struggle for socialism on a world scale. That presupposes the struggle for the unity of workers of all countries, above all national, racial, linguistic, cultural and religious differences. Any attempt to divide the exploited peoples of the world in this way merely plays into the hands of imperialism and the reactionary oligarchies that are only the local office boys of imperialism.

At the end of the conference the Venezuelan chairperson, Carmen Bohorquez, stated an important truth when she said that intellectuals and artists should not exaggerate the role they can play in the class struggle: at the end of the day it is the masses who will change society. That was one hundred percent correct. But it is also correct that the best of the intelligentsia can play an important role in the revolutionary movement - on one condition: that they are prepared to break radically with the bourgeoisie and with bourgeois ideology and place themselves unreservedly on the standpoint of the working class fighting for its emancipation - and that of all humanity.

Rome, 16th October.