Today August 11, a conference on militarism with over 1000 participants from Venezuela and many other countries took place at the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas. Amongst the speakers was Alan Woods, editor of the website, author of many Marxist books and founder of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.
In the Salon Venezuela in Fuerte Tiuna, the biggest military barracks in Caracas, Alan Woods started the meeting by saying that we live in a period of great change. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the defenders of capitalism proclaimed the “end of socialism” and even the “end of history”. But what has become of the promise of peace, democracy and prosperity, Alan asked the audience. Fifteen years have passed and there is more instability in the world than ever. Unprecedented crises are taking place with one war after the other, and terrorism spreads like a plague throughout the globe. Such is the state of affairs in the first decade of the 21st century.
Alan Woods and other speakers on the platform
On the other hand, thanks to the developments in technology and science, humanity has the possibility of eliminating all the old evils of hunger, war and illiteracy. But what is the reality? 1.2 billion people are living under the poverty line, and every year 8 million men, women and children die as a result of this. This, Alan stated, is nothing less than a holocaust on a world-scale that nobody talks about. This is what capitalism has to offer today.
Switching to the subject of war, he asked where wars come from. Is it from the heads of Bush and Blair? Nothing of the kind, Alan said, it is an expression and a symptom of a system in decay. Or as Chavez stated, it is capitalist slavery. In the United States every year 500 billion dollars is spent on weapons. With that money alone it would be possible to build enough hospitals, schools and houses for everybody and to end hunger in the world.
Alan continued with the statement that we live in a peculiar historical period. Earlier there were more imperialist powers, but now there is only one real giant, i.e. the United States, and ancient Rome was nothing compared to the United States at present. Thirty eight percent of military spending in the world comes from the U.S., including their own weapons of mass destruction. US imperialism is truly the biggest counterrevolutionary power on earth in history. With colossal power, however, comes colossal arrogance. George W. Bush is rapidly doing away with all international rules and diplomacy patiently built up over centuries. US imperialism, Alan stated, grants itself the right to intervene everywhere.
Washington tries to present Venezuela as a threat to the USA. The 100,000 Kalashnikovs ordered by Chavez from Russia are nothing compared to American nuclear power. Venezuela is no military threat at all to the USA, Alan stressed, but the people of Venezuela clearly have a much more powerful weapon. That weapon is the weapon of ideas, which is more dangerous to imperialism than all the big weapons in the world. It is the realisation that ordinary people have the right to decide over their own destiny.
Alan Woods countered the assertion that we have to be very careful and not to provoke US imperialism. He pointed out that US imperialism has been active in Venezuela already, referring to the coup in 2002. And they will intervene again when necessary. That the United States are very powerful is a fact, but this has its limits too, as is proven in Iraq. The imperialists invaded Iraq two years ago and proclaimed that the mission had been “accomplished”. In reality Iraq is in a shambles and has no functioning national army. 150,000 American soldiers have not been able to defeat the Iraqi people, though at least 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. The goal was to plunder Iraq, but what has been achieved? Nothing but a terrible haemorrhage of blood and gold. One billion U.S. dollars are spent on this dirty war every single week.
Alan Woods addresses the audience
Alan asked if there were any power in the world that could overcome the power of US imperialism? The audience burst out in applause after Alan gave the answer to this rhetorical question: “Yes, the working class! Not a light bulb shines, not a wheel turns and not a telephone rings without their consent!” The problem is that they have this power but they do not know it. There is no room for pessimism and cynicism now. Venezuela proves that it is possible to resist and to change society!
Turning back to the war in Iraq, the editor of Marxist.com told the audience that war is terrible but he immediately quoted Lenin’s reply to this statement, “Yes, terribly profitable”. The multinational Halliburton is receiving 1.8 billion dollars from the American tax payer for its reconstruction operations in Iraq and it is no coincidence that vice-president Dick Cheney was for a long time an Executive of this company, which also gives big donations to the Republican Party.
Hugo Chavez dared to stand up against American imperialism. US imperialism in turn wants to destroy the Venezuelan revolution because it has given an example and brings hope to the rest of Latin America. There is one big cause driving the revolution, and that is the cause for socialism. After defending the ideas of Marxism as a necessary tool for arming the Venezuelan revolution and pushing it forward, Alan dealt with the question of the possible assassination of President Chavez. That is a real danger, but as Chavez himself said, if you think the revolution would be destroyed by this, you are wrong. “There are hundreds of thousands of Chavezes.” After this statement, sections of the audience stood up and started shouting slogans like “Long live Chavez”, “Long live the revolution”, “Another world is possible, and that is Socialism!” Alan continued, “Chavez said that there is one destiny for the Venezuelan people, and that is socialism. We are at a historical turning point, not only in Venezuela but in the whole of Latin America, and even in the USA and the whole world. Venezuela is a beacon and international socialism is the only way to get out of this sick nightmare.”
The Salon Venezuela in Fuerte Tiuna
Alan finished his speech with an appeal to the Venezuelan people in the room, who formed the vast majority of the audience. “It is up to you! Mobilise around the ideas of socialism in Venezuela. Long live the Venezuelan Revolution! Long live the revolution in Latin America! Long live world socialism!”
After Alan Woods’ speech, which was followed by an enthusiastic ovation, the floor was given to the president of the World Peace Council, a member of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) who gave a general report on the terrors of imperialism around the globe and expressed his support for the oppressed people of the world. However, his statement did not contain a single atom of revolutionary or class politics. It received only polite applause.
One of the other speakers was Gabriel from the Young Communist League of Colombia. He mainly talked about Colombia but stressed that the events in Colombia are very much connected with events worldwide. Plan Colombia or the so-called war on drugs is in reality nothing more than a strategy to spread US interventionism in the Latin American region. “Colombia”, the comrade summed up, “is the Israel of Latin America, and the Latin American youth must stand up and fight.” The audience responded warmly to the appeal for solidarity with the people of Colombia, who are facing terrible repression under the reactionary pro-US regime of Uribe.
A very brief and general talk was given by a Cambodian participant, after which the North Korean delegate read out his nationalist anti-Japanese speech through his translator. This long and tedious statement only succeeded in sending most of the audience to sleep.
The audience was then given quite a lot of time to participate in the debate. Most of the speakers were Venezuelans who spoke directly of their experience of the revolution. Prominent among the foreign delegates who spoke from the floor was Juan Jose Lopez, the General Secretary of the Spanish Students Union, and a member of the International Marxist Tendency, who underlined the points made by Alan Woods and expressed the firm support of the Spanish students for the Venezuelan revolution. Another speaker from the floor was Klaus Münster from Denmark, who emphasised the need for a clear socialist policy.
The In Defence of Marxism stall
Finally, Alan Woods got a few minutes to finish the debate. He dealt with the question of the conditions from which wars originate. It is wrong to take a sentimental view on this matter and just cry over the victims of war. Marxists do not hold a pacifist view and make a clear distinction between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary violence. The root cause of war is the struggle for the conquest of markets, for raw materials like oil and spheres of influence. On the question someone from the audience asked whether it was possible that there would be another world war in the near future, Alan answered in the negative. “No country in the world is capable of fighting the United States.” However, this does not mean at all that wars will not happen again. On the contrary, there are wars going on every day. Most importantly there is the constant war between the poor and the rich, between the oppressed and the oppressors, and in this war the Bolivarian Revolution has a big role to play. Alan joked about feeling sorry for George W. Bush because he is like a man jumping from a twelve-storey building, who, when passing the third storey exclaimed, “So far, so good!” before being crushed. The same false confidence is true for Bush in Iraq. He is supposed to want peace in the Middle East and Latin America. “Yes, they want peace, but peace under their own brutal control.”
Alan summed up by stressing the need to speak clearly. We are talking here about the fight against imperialism and capitalism. “How is it possible to wage a war against imperialism in Venezuela without waging war against the enemy at home, the local oligarchy?” They are the agents of imperialism and the backbone of reaction, and the same goes for the whole of Latin America. It is necessary to talk about ideas since you cannot kill an idea. A great idea is the idea that oppressed people can take their future into their own hands, and it extends beyond frontiers, as Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and others prove. This is in essence what socialism is about. “The revolution in Venezuela is not finished and will never be until the power is taken out of the hands of the banks and the oligarchs. There is no future for this world under capitalism. It is necessary to study not only the ideas of Simon Bolivar, Che Guevara, Mella and Mariategui, but also the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.” The audience applauded his appeal, and the floor was given to the Colombian representative who concluded the conference.
Afterwards, there was a great interest in the international stall of Marxist.com and El Militante, where many people, especially from Latin America, asked about the ideas of Marxism and bought a lot of material.