The Socialist 12 February 2005 |
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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 Hugo Chavez.
He is seen by many in Latin America as the figurehead of the
struggle by the continent's workers and peasants against the capitalists
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 perceptibly.
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 overwhelmingly youth.
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 making.
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 neo-liberalism.
In some Latin American countries this has stopped privatisation in
its tracks and also entailed mass insurrectionary movements of the
working class and poor peasantry.
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
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 socialist slogans.
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
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
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
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' packages.
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 audience.
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 their approval.
He also speaks in the language of the working class, with no fear
about attacking US imperialism in front of an audience such as this.
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 all people'.
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
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
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 Chávez 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 succeeds.
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 Bush."
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