Between Caracas and Delhi
It seems more than a coincidence that two important conferences of the international left took place last month, in November 2009. One, the 11th International Meeting of the Communist and Workers’ Parties was held in Delhi, India and issued the “Delhi Declaration” (DD) and the other, a World Meeting of Left Parties, met in Caracas, Venezuela and issued a document entitled the “Caracas Commitment.”(CC) There were approximately 50 organizations at each conference. I will try to relate here to some of the main issues raised by these two meetings and the calls that they issued.
There is some difficulty in comparing the two documents in that the Delhi Declaration (DD) is much shorter, about a third in length of the Caracas Commitment (CC) and much more general and less specific. In addition to listing the progressive position on the many fronts of concrete struggle, the CC suggests important international initiatives.
There are important differences between the two calls. However, it should be stressed that they are not and were not written as opposing or alternative theses. There is indeed some danger of “over analyzing” the differences many of which may have more to do with form than substance.
The general tone of both meetings reflects a desire to concretize the call for socialism. Both documents center on the analysis of the current crisis of capitalism and emphasize the need for a socialist solution to the crisis. The motivation is quite clear. The current crisis of capitalism poses the question of socialism as an urgent theoretical and political problem. The crisis is also a crisis for social-democracy, for class collaboration in the economy and a blow to the faith that things will work themselves out in the economy. One can hope that the common position of the DD and the CC on this vital question will afford a broad basis for unity and cooperation. Both conferences wish to reframe the demand for socialism and to transform it into an urgent social-political issue. It is no longer sufficient to think of socialism as an abstract perspective. If socialism means anything it must present itself as the best and most reliable solution for the present crisis.
What is Socialism?
There are important differences between the two documents in the treatment of socialism. CC talks clearly about 21st Century Socialism and Chavez has some clearly uncomplimentary things to say about the Stalinist deformation in the Soviet Union. Though Chavez and Venezuela’s Latin-American allies are in the forefront of the struggle against US imperialism, the CC clearly states that opposition to imperialism and the struggle for national sovereignty are not enough. In short, the time has come to move past the main slogan of the anti globalization movement to the effect that a “better world is possible”. The movement against capitalist globalization must transform itself into a revolutionary movement for socialism.
The DD is exceptionally cautious and restrained in its description of the current scene in Latin America. It categorizes the fight in Latin America as an essentially defensive front: ”Latin America, the current theater of popular mobilizations and working class actions, has shown how rights can be protected and won through struggle.” (www.11IMCWP.in) The dramatic difference between this DD description, which can be characterized as positive but cool, and the CC on this and other important strategic questions is a highly significant.
Though one can easily identify with the chief demands in the DD, it does seem a bit long on platitudes and short on specifics. There is a glaring discrepancy between the detailed and clear arguments against capitalism in the DD and the rather unclear role of the category of socialism in the very same document. Precisely, in the light of a new priority granted to the advance of socialism to a higher place on today’s agenda, the absence of a deeper analysis, historical and contemporary, on the outlines of the socialist alternative is sorely felt. No one could demand a single, one-size- fits all formula for socialism today from the DD. But this is a not a reason to ignore differences on the subject and the need for detailed analyses on the multiple paths to socialism. It is, of course, a fact that there are different ideological trends and political approaches on this key question in the Communist movement. If socialism is indeed to be on the agenda, the discussion of these trends and their significance cannot be suppressed.
The DD states correctly that “Imperialism,[has been] buoyed by the demise of the Soviet Union…and that the achievements and contributions of socialism in defining the contours of modern civilization remain inerasable.” (www.11IMCWP.in) However, nothing in the least critical is said of the Soviet project. There is something very problematic in the total evasion of any discussion regarding the weaknesses of Soviet socialism and its sad collapse. This is a serious weakness and silence on this matter would seem to open the door to attack by many enemies of the very idea of socialism. Moreover, for many serious progressives, the thinking of Communists on this question is of genuine interest.
The Bolivarian Revolution on the Move
The immediate historical background of the CC is the 2005 declaration by Chavez to build “21st Century Socialism” and the creation of a new, mass revolutionary party in Venezuela. It is important to add here the growing consolidation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Paraguay and its historical link with revolutionary and independent Cuba.
The constant machinations by US imperialism to undermine and isolate the Bolivarian revolution by military, political, and economic means are convincing proof that this arena is presently the flash point of the battle against imperialism.
The CC does not, unlike the DD, stop at recommending general positions and ideas. It offers detailed plans for the creation of new platforms of joint action by the left, including (1) Establishment of a “Temporary Executive Secretariat (TES) that allows for the coordination of a common working agenda” on agreed policies; (2) Organization of a World Movement for Peace; (3) Special instruments to advance public communication and win the battle of the media.
All of the above, if properly implemented, could impart new vigor and enthusiasm to the fight for peace and socialism. But Chavez and the Venezuelan leadership have also moved far past the above initiatives, and presented a new, bold proposal for the establishment of a Fifth International.
“The international encounter of Left-wing Political parties held in Caracas on November 19, 20 and 21, 2009, received the proposal made by Commander Hugo Chavez Frias to convoke the V Socialist International as a space for socialist-oriented parties, movements and currents in which we can harmonize a common strategy for the struggle against imperialism, the overthrow of capitalism by socialism and solidarity based economic integration of a new type.” (www.venezuelanalysis.com)
Diversity and Controversy on the Way to a New International
Leftists and students of the modern era are cognizant of the complex issues involved in the conception, goals and practice of Marxist internationalism and its main tool, the international, which it established to create a material and organizational foundation for its ideals.
Chavez considered it important to outline from the outset of the discussion on a new international his own understanding of the historic outcome of previous attempts. These views were summarized in a report by Kiraz Janicke of his speech at the Caracas conference and published in an official Venezuelan website: “During his speech, Chavez briefly outlined the experiences of previous “internationals,” including the First International founded in 1864 by Karl Marx; the Second International founded in 1889, which collapsed in 1916 as various left parties and trade unions sided with their respective capitalist classes in the inter-imperialist conflict of the First World War; the Third International founded by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, which Chavez said “degenerated” under Stalinism and “betrayed” struggles for socialism around the world; and the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938, which suffered numerous splits and no longer exists, although some small groups claim to represent its political continuity. Chavez said that a new international would have to function ’without impositions’ and would have to respect diversity.” (www.venezuelanalysis.com)
It is of course far too early to jump to any kind of conclusions regarding the Chavez proposal on the basis of the above outline or the results of the first responses from various organizations. While it would be unwise to disregard the historical “hints” in Chavez’s outline, my reading of the proposal is that we are not going to be asked to return to an international based on “democratic centralism.” The idea of the international was associated historically with some sort of centrally disciplined world- wide party. It is important to stress that Chavez seems to understand his proposal as suggesting a new form of international built around the concept of unity in diversity.
At any rate, the Chavez project is a political thunderbolt and should initiate new and broad discussion of the role of internationalism in the struggle against imperialism and for socialism. Such a discussion can only contribute to our ideological and political consciousness. We are at the very beginning of a process and it would be wise to reserve any tendency to hasty judgment.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Between Caracas and Delhi