On Thursday, February 26, the Marxist Tendency “Militante”, the Mexican section of the International Marxist Tendency, had called a meeting in Mexico DF for Alan Woods to present his latest book Reformism or Revolution. Marxism and socialism of the 21st Century – a reply to Heinz Dieterich. Trotsky's grandson Esteban Volkov also addressed the meeting.
The meeting took place in the centre of the city, not far from the Zocalo square. Well before starting time workers, students, youth and veteran fighters started filling the meeting place, an enclosed yard in a beautiful colonial style building, which is run by Colectivo Tacuba, a group of rank and file comrades from the PRD. By the time the meeting started more than 160 people were present, filling all the available chairs, standing at the back and on the sides, and some following the meeting from the corridor which connects the inner yard with the street outside. The mood was one of expectation.
Presiding the meeting was a banner announcing the forthcoming launch of “America Socialista”, the magazine and website of the IMT in the American continent, with the slogan “Join the International Marxist Tendency and struggle for socialism”. Another banner was hanging on one side with a picture of Ted Grant and the slogan “Outside of the labour movement there is nothing”.
Rodrigo, a leading comrade of Militante who was chairing the meeting, opened it by announcing the presence of many international comrades from Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Canada, the US, Spain and Italy, who are in Mexico to attend the IMT's first Panamerican Marxist School. Amongst them were Freddy Leal and Dulce from the oil company PDVSA, Francisco Rivero, PSUV member and leading comrade of the Revolutionary Marxist Current, Jorge Paredes, a leading member of the factory committee at Inveval, the factory nationalised and under workers' control, all of them from Venezuela; and Francisco Buen Abad, the left wing journalist and intellectual. Rodrigo also mentioned the presence of comrades from the militant electricians union SME, from the teachers' union and from the workers of Olympia, a factory where workers are on struggle to defend their jobs. Some of those present had travelled five or six hours from other states in order to attend the meeting.
Esteban Volkov, Trotsky's grandson, who has dedicated his life to defend the memory and the legacy of the Russian revolutionary, opened the meeting by stressing the need for a book like “Reformism or Revolution”. He explained that the ideas that Leon Trotsky fought and gave his life for, the ideas of Marxism were today more relevant than ever and said that in his opinion Alan Woods was one of “Trotsky's greatest followers”.
Next to speak was Jorge Martin, international secretary of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, who briefly explained the history of the campaign, from modest beginnings at the time of the bosses' lock out in Venezuela, in December 2002, to having now a presence in more than 40 countries. He explained that there is great interest in the Bolivarian revolution in the Arab world, where the masses are yearning for the same kind of revolutionary change that has started in Venezuela. Jorge pointed out that the victory in the constitutional amendment referendum, where 6 million people voted for the revolution once again, showed the enormous reservoir of support that there still is for the revolution, even ten years after the election of Chavez in 1998. However, he said, facts like the killing of 2 workers who were defending the occupation of the Mitsubishi plant, show the that the revolution has not yet been completed. He finished by saying that the Venezuelan revolution is not only relevant for Venezuela, but that the struggle for free education and health care for all, for land reform, for the defence of jobs and for socialism, was the same struggle that workers, peasants and youth are fighting for all over the world.
Alan Woods started his speech by ironically pointing out at the cover of a recent issue of Newsweek, carrying the headline “We are all socialists now”. “From George W Bush to the Pope of Rome, we are all socialists now, it seems, how times have changed!” he said. He explained how twenty years earlier the ruling class was euphoric after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They promised a world of peace and prosperity, a new economic paradigm of constant uninterrupted growth, but now all those promises had been shown to be false. The last 20 years had been difficult he said, addressing the more veteran members of the audience, but we must give Chavez credit for having raised again the idea of socialism. “This opened a debate in Venezuela which is not limited to small circles of intellectuals, but it is taking place amongst millions in every bus stop, in every market, in every factory, and this is to be welcomed”, he said.
However, soon after Chavez's speech on socialism, reformist pseudo-intellectuals came running to water down the meaning of socialism, saying that the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were antiquated, old fashioned and that “new ideas” had to be developed. Chiefly amongst them was Heinz Dieterich with his so-called “socialism of the 21st century”. Refuting these claims, Alan replied that the most current book one could read was Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto. “This is a book, written more than 150 years ago, which explains what is happening in the world now, including phenomena like globalisation and the concentration of Capital in few hands,” said Alan, and he challenged the audience to go to any good library in Mexico City, and to pick up any bourgeois book written 150 years ago: “It will have merely an historic interest”.
Alan explained that in reality, the ideas of Heinz Dieterich were not new at all, but rather a rehash of the old ideas of the utopian socialists, pre-Marxist ideas. “The ideas of the utopian socialists were in fact ahead of their times and they have all our respects. Their limitation was not to be able to understand the role of class struggle, though this was mainly because at that time the working class had barely developed,” Alan Woods said, “but there is no excuse for people like Heinz Dieterich to repeat those ideas today, after 150 years of development of the working class movement!”. Heinz Dieterich's socialism is a “socialism” without class struggle and without expropriation of the capitalists.
One of Dieterich's arguments is about the alleged “low level of consciousness of the working class” which means that the revolution cannot go forward too quickly. “What more can you ask from the working class and the masses!” exclaimed Alan. Almost twenty years ago to this day the masses in Venezuela came out in a spontaneous uprising, without a leadership, without a party and without a clear plan. Thousands were massacred when the “democratic” government of the social-democratic Carlos Andres Perez, ordered the army to shoot at its own people. This event, known as the Caracazo, was at the origin of the Bolivarian movement.
Also in April 2002, the Venezuelan masses showed an extremely high level of consciousness, when, once again, came out, without a leadership and without a party, to defeat the reactionary coup organised by the owners of banks, industry and the land, together with reactionary generals, the Church and imperialism.
Another of the arguments of the reformists is about violence, explained Alan. But he pointed out that in fact, on April 13, 2002, the reactionary oligarchy had run away like rats and there was no force in Venezuela prepared to defend the old order. “A single word by Chavez and the expropriation of the ruling class could have been carried out peacefully”. What the reformists do not understand is the enormous power of the working class. “Not a light bulb shines, not a wheel turns, not a telephone rings, without the kind permission of the working class”.
The reformists also argue about the need to “respect the law”. Alan replied that first of all, if the oligarchy comes back they will not be as stupid as we seem to be [because we pardoned them after the 2002 coup], they will certainly not respect the law as they will want to teach the masses a lesson to make sure they do not rise up again in 50 years. Freddy Leal, from Venezuela, interjected that in fact they had already shown how much they respect the law, when they carried out the coup in 2002. That day they abolished the constitution, arrested all ministers and were preparing to behead the Bolivarian movement.
Secondly, Alan added that in fact, there is a legal tool in Venezuela which could be carried out to expropriate the ruling class, the enabling law. If the Bolivarian movement has won the elections and has a majority in the national assembly, it could easily give Chavez's powers to expropriate the oligarchy. This could be done on one condition, that Chavez combined legal action with a direct appeal to the masses to take direct action: “he should appeal to the workers to take over the factories, to the peasants to take over the land, without waiting for the decrees, and to the soldiers to disarm all reactionary officers and put themselves at the service of the revolution”. “This would be met with enthusiasm by the people”, he said, “as was the case when the nationalisation of SIDOR was announced. People were dancing in the streets”.
Throughout his speech Alan insisted that in Venezuela and in Mexico and all over the world, the problem was one of leadership and ended with an appeal to the veteran militants to continue in the struggle and pass on their knowledge to the young generation, and to the youth to study and master the ideas of Marxism. “The only task worth fighting for is that of the emancipation of world proletariat” he concluded to an enthusiastic ovation.
During the discussion there were many questions. A comrade from Chihuahua asked for clarification about the question of leadership and pointed out that one man could not carry out a revolution and that Chavez himself had said that “only the people can save the people”. There were also questions about the political form of a successful revolution in Venezuela, about the question of violence and armed struggle, about cooperatives, etc. Miranda, a leading member of the Marxist Left (Esquerda Marxista), the Brazilian section of the IMT said that workers have no land, they have a boss, and therefore the working class is one and their struggle is international. One comrade stressed the need to hold similar meetings in other states of the country, where these ideas were also needed. Last to speak in the debate was Jorge Paredes, from Inveval, who made a passionate speech about workers' control and the struggle for socialism.
In summing up Alan Woods quoted from Marx in saying that the task of the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class themselves. He said that sometimes, thinking about the revolutionary will of the masses in Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia and other countries reminded him of that sentence about “lions led by donkeys”. The working class has enormous power but it needs to take control of their own organisations (trade union and political) and establish mechanisms to check its leaders. Using Trotsky's simile he explained how steam can easily dissipate if left to its own, but that it can become a powerful force if concentrated by a piston. The relationship between a revolutionary leadership and the masses is similar to that of the piston box to the steam. “An enormous responsibility lies on the shoulders of each one of you to build the revolutionary organisation that will transform society” he concluded, and appealed to all those present to join the IMT.
At the end of the meeting many of those present queued for Alan Woods to sign copies of the book, and more than 5400 pesos worth of material were sold (about 335), and also a collection was held in support of the Olympia workers. The comrades commented that the sale of material was very high, but that it fitted with a pattern of increased interest in Marxist ideas that they had noticed in the last few months since the beginning of the recession. As we left the meeting, we could feel the mood of enthusiasm the meeting had generated, an enthusiasm firmly based in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism.