World Social Forum 2005:
Huge crowd cheers Chavez's radical speech
THE ANTI-GLOBALISATION World Social Forum (WSF) met last
week in Porto Alegre, Brazil. One of the highlights of the WSF
was a rally addressed by Venezuela's radical populist president
He is seen by many in Latin America as the figurehead of the
struggle by the continent's workers and peasants against the
capitalists 'neo-liberal' policies.
KEVIN SIMPSON of the Committee for a Workers' International
(the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist
Party is affiliated) reports from this electrifying meeting.
FOUR hours before the rally, young people in their thousands
streamed towards the Gigantinho ("little giant")
stadium in the sweltering summer heat on 30 January.
The queue snaked as far as the eye could see, its progress
designed to take advantage of any shade that existed along the
way. And as the time progressed, the audience's expectation rose
For these thousands had come to hear Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's
radical, populist president, speak of the rebellion against
'neo-liberalism' and US imperialism.
Unlike the Lula (Brazil's president) meeting earlier in the
week, where his supporters were bussed in, all expenses paid,
all those here came of their own volition and were
And talking to those who came to listen, you know that what
the majority wanted to hear about was revolution - a radical
alternative (but with no real clarity about how this is to be
achieved) for the struggle against the brutality of capitalism
in Latin America.
MANY OF these young people were Brazil's (and Latin
America's) new generation of fighters for social change in the
They have broken with any illusions in Lula and capitalism;
they are anti-capitalist and anti-war - as are many of their
generation in other continents - but there is an important
difference: they have come through the experience of what has
been a continental-wide rebellion in the last few years against
In some Latin American countries this has stopped
privatisation in its tracks and also entailed mass
insurrectionary movements of the working class and poor
And so they come into struggle not just brimming with
confidence, energy and vitality but amongst an important section
of them, a thirst for revolutionary and socialist ideas.
Hugo Chavez meeting was perhaps the most significant at the WSF.
It was sponsored by the CUT leadership (the heads of Brazil's
corrupt and right-wing trade union federation) and the Movimento
dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST - the biggest of the landless
organisations in Brazil. It still generally supports the Lula
government while criticising some of its economic policies).
Clearly, the CUT leadership wanted to use the appearance of
Chavez in an attempt to reverse the bitter hostility most trade
union activists and radical young people view them with. This
was why the leader of the CUT was scheduled to speak alongside
Chavez, hoping that some of the Venezuelan president's authority
would rub off. The governor of the State of Parana, Roberto
Requiao (a Lula supporter), was also an invited speaker.
Members of the MST compered the event but it was clear that
they took account of the character of the audience and were
aware that some of the other speakers might get a hostile
response. And so, from the time people began filing into their
seats, the MST comperes led the way with revolutionary and
The Gigantinho meeting represented, in microcosm, Brazilian
politics today: a polarisation between those who still have some
illusions in Lula (enthusiastically encouraged by the trade
union leadership, the PT bureaucracy and the NGOs) and the
bigger layers who feel absolutely betrayed by Lula and have been
radicalised by recent developments in the continent.
By the time the auditorium was full, huge red flags were
being waved in the air - a large PSOL contingent (see article
opposite) took up the left bank of the stadium and led the way
chanting anti-Lula and anti-imperialist slogans. And when the
compere led the chant: "Brazil, Venezuela, Central America,
a socialist fight is international" followed by: "Down
with imperialism - Long live socialism", the audience
erupted in a roar of approval and a series of Mexican waves
swept through the crowd.
This response shows how in other parts of the world, the
shadow left behind by the collapse of Stalinism within the mass
of the population and the effect this had on political
consciousness will begin to be swept aside as a result of the
mass struggles that will develop against neo-liberalism.
The radical nature of most of the crowd became clear for
everyone to see when a small group of Socialist Youth (the youth
section of the Partido Comunista do Brazil - PCdoB - who are
part of the PT government and are seen as Lula's political
thought police) started chanting pro-Lula slogans and waving
their party flags.
In literally seconds a seething anger and a bitter hostility
filled the air as thousands of people shouted for them to be
kicked out. The chant went up "pelego, pelego, pelego".
"Pelego" is a cushioned blanket put on horses'
backs underneath the saddle to allow the animal to be
controlled. It is used, allegorically, in the Brazilian workers'
movement to describe the 'yellow' trade unions' role of being
used by the bosses to control the working class.
A wall of sound greeted Chavez's arrival on the stage. But
anger amongst the audience once again exploded as the president
of the CUT, Luis Marinho, started to speak. The CUT is seen as
being complicit with Lula of implementing major attacks on
education and workers' rights through the trade union 'reform'
legislation and the education 'reform'.
Marinho received no respite despite reminding those who were
listening that the CUT was one of the only trade union
federations who protested against the attempted coup against
Chavez in 2002.
The only other time that the audience was almost completely
united in chanting was after the PSOL delegation began to shout
slogans against Lula's education and trade union 'reform'
It seemed that Marinho finished his speech early and went
back to the relative safety of his seat next to Chavez. Olivio
Dutra, former governor of the state of Rio Grande Do Sul and now
a minister in the Lula government, received only a little better
treatment, largely because of his constant praise of Chavez. The
governor of the State of Parana did not even attempt to address
The mood changed again completely when Chavez began to speak.
Chavez is a charismatic figure and speaks with the authority of
having mass support amongst most sections of workers, the urban
poor, and the poor peasantry of Venezuela.
Therefore when he said during his speech: "I am not here
as the president of Venezuela. I do not feel like the president.
I am only president because of particular circumstances. I am
Hugo Chavez and I am an activist as well as a revolutionary.
Because to break the hegemony of capitalism and that of the
oligarchs, the only way is revolution," the crowd roared
He also speaks in the language of the working class, with no
fear about attacking US imperialism in front of an audience such
However, Chavez typifies all populist politicians, bending to
the mood before him and picking and mixing from many different
forms of political ideology to present himself as 'all things to
During the first part of his speech he listed most of the
leaders of anti-colonial/ anti-imperialist uprisings in the
Latin American continent from those amongst the indigenous
peoples in the 16th century to the Cuban revolutionary, Fidel
Castro. He even repeated previous comments about Jesus Christ
being the greatest revolutionary that ever lived.
He emphasised the fight of the southern continents against
the 'rich north'. However, he did not raise this in the context
of the struggle between the social classes internationally and
quoted, favourably, the work of the 'non-aligned group of
nations'* in the 1960s and 1970s as an example of what could be
organised amongst the Latin American nations today.
During this part of his comments he quoted Chinese Stalinist,
Mao Tse Tung, saying: "It is important in the struggle to
know who your friends and who your enemies are."
Members of Socialismo Revolucionario (Brazilian section of
the CWI) explained after the meeting that this was an implicit
criticism of the audience for their response to the CUT leader.
What is significant is that even Chavez was not prepared to
explicitly make this criticism.
The latter part of Chavez's speech was perhaps his most
radical yet to an audience of this kind. But any activist
looking back at his comments will realise that while Ch‡vez
made many valid points the radical parts of his speech appeared
to sandwich the more dubious comments that he made.
His comments on the effect of the collapse of Stalinism (ie,
the Soviet Union, the east European bloc of countries, and the
satellite Soviet states in Africa and Asia) reflected what the
CWI has said since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Significantly, he then moved on to quote Leon Trotsky
commenting that the coup against Chavez in 2002 illustrated the
point made by this leader of the Russian Revolution that
"every revolution needs the whip of
counter-revolution". However, this is not the end of the
question. Chavez has faced at least three serious attempts to
overthrown him. These have been defeated by the masses. However,
unless the revolution is taken forward and capitalism
overthrown, through the adoption of revolutionary socialist
policies, then the counter-revolution will strike again until it
But he also spoke warmly of his close relationship with the
rotten Chinese regime and the Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi,
while he described autocratic Russian president Vladimir Putin
as 'doing a good job in standing up to US imperialism'!
In one of the most significant parts of his speech he
explained: "There are only two alternatives, capitalism and
socialism. Capitalism can only be transformed via genuine
socialism - a just and equal society. But this can only be
achieved through democracy. But we have to clarify what we mean
by democracy and it is not the type of democracy practised by
Chavez's final comments showed an attempt to use radical
rhetoric to prepare the ground for making positive comments
about Lula when he said: "There are people within my
country. Good people. But people who say I don't go fast enough
or that I am not sufficiently radical. But these comrades have
to realise that this is a process, a process with phases and
rhythms. Remember, we are taking on a world system which is a
big task. I know that I am at risk of being booed but Lula is a
good man and a friend of ours."
And Chavez was booed but this was partially drowned out by
the applause he received as he ended his speech.
The most politically conscious activists who left the meeting
would have noticed that there were more radical comments in
Chavez's speech than usual. However, they would have also been
aware that what was lacking was a genuine socialist and
revolutionary explanation of how capitalism and imperialism can
be defeated in Venezuela or throughout the continent.
(*Ex-colonial nations who claimed to be independent of both
the USA and the Soviet Union. This brief, loose political
alliance was an ineffectual body existing at the height of the
struggle between the two main superpowers.)
Lula - the bosses' friend
WITHIN MONTHS of winning the Brazilian presidential election
in 2002 the former workers leader Luiz "Lula" da
Silva, who headed the Workers' Party (PT), abandoned the
country's workers, poor and landless and began a programme of
cuts in social spending, privatisation and attacks on trade
These measures commonly known as 'neo-liberalism' are
designed to satisfy the capitalists both in Brazil and
internationally. Dissent with the PT was silenced by the
expulsion of a number of deputies.
In June 2004 left-wing political activists, including
expelled deputies of the PT and CWI members in Brazil, came
together to found a new socialist formation, PSOL.
Thirsting for ideas
CWI MEMBERS arrived at the venue four hours before the start
of the meeting to set up stalls, distribute leaflets and sell
papers and pamphlets. Our aim was to discuss with as many people
as possible the tasks of how the Venezuelan revolution can be
carried through to its completion.
While other Left parties had their material available, the
campaigning work by the CWI before the meeting was the most
visible by far. Teams of CWI members walked up and down the long
queues talking to people and selling material. We went into pubs
and cafes around the venue.
Inside the venue we sold and distributed more material. All
the available pamphlets (200 in total) of the Spanish version of
Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution by Tony Saunois, were
sold. In some cases, young people attending the meeting bought
one and came back with their friends for more. Over 6,000
leaflets were distributed before, during and after the meeting.
And 1,500 copies of the CWI paper Socialismo Revolucianario were
PSOL national meeting
"Struggle, happiness and solidarity"
HIS speech to the World Social Forum (WSF) Lula, President of
Brazil, referred to the counter-demonstration organised by the
newly founded Partido Socialismo e Liberade (Party of Socialism
and Liberty - PSOL) and others. He attempted to dismiss and
patronise the demostrators, calling them "the children of
the PT" and said that they would "be educated with
The significance of this belies Lula's point. He was forced
to refer directly to the demonstration because it could not be
brushed aside. The "children" of Lula's government -
the young people growing up in Brazil, facing the government's
neo-liberal attacks on education - are increasingly looking for
Tens of thousands such young people have attended the WSF
and, after the energetic, combative intervention of PSOL, now
see this new party as a possible vehicle to struggle for change.
The PSOL held their second national meeting during the WSF.
More than 1,800 people sat for ten hours in the baking heat in a
meeting, as the chair put it, "for struggle, happiness and
solidarity". The meeting was marked by its enthusiasm and
its democractic spirit. At the beginning hundreds of young
people marched into the room carrying banners and flags -
singing and playing drums.
PSOL activists had every reason to be pleased with their
progess to date. To register as an official party in Brazil it
is necessary to collect 400,000 signatures. PSOL have already
got 430,000 and have a target of 500,000. Throughout the
meeting, speeches and greetings were given by trade union
activists and leaders who have broken with the PT and are
considering joining PSOL.
The meeting was also notable for its internationalism.
Trotskyist and Left parties from around the world were invited
to give greetings. Myself and Joe Higgins MP spoke on behalf of
the Socialist Parties of England/Wales and Ireland.
The meeting agreed a number of resolutions. A short political
resolution outlined campaigning priorities - including taking
part in, and leading struggle against the attacks on education,
against privatisation, for land reform, and for withdrawal of
Brazilian troops from Haiti.
The resolution also proposed a discussion on standing Helo’sa
Helena, the leader of the party, and a very popular mass figure,
for President in 2006. She is already receiving 3%-5% of the
vote in opinion polls. This was agreed after debate - during
which four members of the CWI section in Brazil - Socialismo
Revolucionario (SR) - contributed.
The resolution was an addition to the political programme
which was agreed at the first national meeting last June - and
included an explicit call for socialism and revolution. PSOL's
programme, and democractic approach, put it on a higher level
than any new formation in Europe. As a party formed primarily by
revolutionary and Trotskyist currents it is not a 'broad' party
in the normal sense, but it potentially has a major appeal to
the radicalised masses of Brazil.
it is a new party and its character is not yet fully determined.
It was extremely positive that the meeting also agreed to a
founding national congress, with democratically elected
delegates, to take place in November or December of this year.
In the period running up to the conference there will
be a period of debate in which a number of issues will be
One issue being discussed is the degree of emphasis the party
puts on electoral success. While there will clearly be
opportunities for PSOL to use elections to raise its profile, a
primarily electoral strategy would not allow PSOL to reach its
potential amongst the radicalised and poor masses of Brazil.
In the coming debate Socialismo Revolucionario, who have a
member of the PSOL executive - Andre Ferrari - will be arguing
for PSOL to continue to develop as a radical, socialist
class-struggle based party. At the same time SR will continue to
drive to build PSOL in the universities, workplaces and
Venezuela: A new phase in the struggle - nationalisations
and a renewed threat of counter-revolution by Tony Saunois
Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution By Tony
Published 2004. A collection of five articles analysing the
revolutionary crisis in Venezuela which has entered a new and
critical phase. Price £2
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