The 22 panelists, four or five of whom spoke each day, included political activists and writers from the United States expressing diverse political views, as well as a number of U.S. citizens living in Venezuela. Hundreds of Venezuelans and others took part in one or more sessions, with dozens raising questions and making comments from the floor. The forum was covered by Venezuelan television, radio, and newspapers. The issues debated on the character of the working class and prospects for revolution in the United States sparked a political discussion that permeated the book fair. An article on the fair itself will appear in next weeks Militant.
The forum kicked off November 10 with presentations by Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee and president of Pathfinder Press; Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American lawyer and author of The Chávez Code; Chris Carlson, a contributor to the venezuelanalysis.com website; and Tufara Waller, cultural program coordinator of the Highlander Center in Tennessee. The issues joined at that first session remained at the center of the debate the following four days. (See Venezuela book fair theme: U.S., a possible revolution in last weeks Militant.)
In addition to the forum panelists mentioned below, others included Bernardo álvarez, Venezuelas ambassador to the United States; former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill; August Nimtz, a University of Minnesota political science professor; William Blum, an author who has written a number of books opposing U.S. foreign policy; ex-Maryknoll priest Charles Hardy; and Dada Maheshvarananda, yoga instructor and founder of the Prout Institute.
Debate over immigrant workers
The political perspectives most sharply debated over the five days were, first, the impact and importance of millions of Latin American immigrant workers in the United States, and, second, the history of revolutionary struggles of working people in the United States and the lessons of those struggles for revolutionary prospects. In a striking way, the discussion registered that those living and engaged in the class struggle in the United States generally expressed greater confidence in the revolutionary capacities of working people there than did thoseboth U.S. citizens and many Latin American participantsliving outside the United States.
Several panelists are active in work to expand rights for immigrants in the United States. These included Diógenes Abreu, a Dominican-born community organizer who currently lives in New York; Luis Rodríguez, a Chicano activist in Californias San Fernando Valley; and Gustavo Torres, an organizer for the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland. Several of them gave a vivid and accurate picture of conditions of life for immigrant workers in the United States and the growing resistance and confidence manifested in strikes and ongoing street mobilizations against raids and deportations.
Both Torres and Antonio González, president of the Southwest Voter Education and Registration Project, said the road to empowerment is organizing Latinos to vote. What does a revolutionary do in the U.S. today? asked González. Take power wherever you can by electing Latinos to city, state, and federal offices. His PowerPoint presentation highlighted the growing number of Latino voters.
During the discussion periods day after day, a number of participants from Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America took exception to the evidence that immigrant workers resisting the superexploitation they face in the United States are an important force in the working-class vanguard that is emerging there. In various ways, several said that Latin Americans living and working in the United States are simply there to get a piece of the pie.
They are only there to get passports, said one participant. Once they get them theyll stop marching. Many characterized immigrant workers as sellouts who have bought into the American dream at the expense of fighting for political, economic, and social change in Latin America.
In the discussion, Carlos Samaniego, a packinghouse worker from Minnesota, countered this view. He described the vanguard role that immigrant workers are playing in struggles in the United Statesfrom coal mines in the West to union struggles in Midwest slaughterhouses.
Americas revolutionary heritage
The other hotly debated question was the revolutionary history of toilers in the United States and, by extension, prospects for a Third American Revolution, a socialist revolution.
America was created by revolution, said panelist Lee Sustar, labor editor of the Socialist Worker newspaper, which reflects the views of the International Socialist Organization. Speaking at the November 13 session, he referred to the U.S. Civil War as the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution that had won independence for the 13 British colonies some 80 years earlier.
There has never been a revolution in the United States, and anyone who thinks there has been is ignorant of their own history, responded panelist Richard Gott, a British author and journalist. Gott said the American Revolution, which defeated British colonial rule, could not be considered a revolution. Rather, it was a war to take land from Native American tribes, whose territory, he said, was being protected by the British royal army.
No, a revolution is not possible in the United States, said Gott. It is conservative and reactionary. The only hope is Latin America.
I want to express my total agreement, interjected Haiman El Troudi, the moderator of the panel that day. There never has been a revolution in the United States and never will be! El Troudi has held several offices in the Chávez government and written books including Being Capitalist is Bad Business and History of the Bolivarian Revolution.
It is impossible for a revolution to begin in the United States, said a Venezuelan participant from the floor. He pointed to what he considered U.S. workers complicity with Washingtons wars against Iraq and Afghanistan as proof that working people there are desensitized to injustice.
But in remarks during the November 11 panel, ex-Marine and founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War Jimmy Massey described his evolution from a prowar patriot to a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq. He walked through day-to-day experiences in Iraq that led him to oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East and to organize fellow soldiers to do the same.
Another idea frequently expressed by speakers from the floor and by a few panelists was that change has to come from the South, referring to Latin America. Many said the only hope was to wait until enough countries in Latin America close their doors to imperialist penetration so as to cause a collapse in the U.S. economy. The fact that nowhere in Latin America but Cuba have working people yet successfully carried through to victory the kind of revolutionary struggle necessary to end imperialist domination received scant attention.
Some participants argued that U.S. capitalism would be thrown into crisis if enough leftist governments were elected in Latin America and refused to sign bilateral free-trade agreements with Washington or join the U.S.-initiated Free Trade Area of the Americas. Others pointed to popular struggles in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua as being the key to educating working people in the United States. Despite different arguments and emphases, the point of agreement was that no initiative could be expected from working people inside the imperialist bastion.
A contrasting point of view was presented by Héctor Pesquera, a leader of the Hostosiano Independence Movement of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican struggle is connected to the North American revolution, he said. Pesquera summarized the worsening conditions facing both working people in Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans living in New York. Pointing to the movement that forced Washington to withdraw its naval bases from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, Pesquera noted that this blow to the U.S. rulers had strengthened social movements in the United States.
Im going to take issue with what every one of you has said, stated Amiri Baraka, a poet from Newark, New Jersey, speaking from the audience. Baraka, a panelist on the closing day of the event, has been active in Black nationalist, Maoist, and Democratic Party politics since the 1960s. Attacking Sustar for not identifying himself as a Trotskyite, and falsely accusing fellow panelist George Katsiaficas of introducing himself as a former member of the Black Panthers, Barakas intervention was the first time in four days of sharp debate that the tone of civil discourse was breached.
When I first heard the theme of this forum, I thought it was a joke, said Steve Brouwer, an American living in Venezuela and writing a book on peasant cooperatives. Brouwer was a panelist at the final session. But the more I thought about what is happening in the world, the more I listened to my Latino brothers here, the more I became convinced that revolutionary change in the U.S. is possible.
Brouwer said that working-class complacency in the United States in the 1920s had given way to labor battles in the 1930s that shaped U.S. politics for 45 years. He cited a mildly progressive Democratic Party, influenced by these developments in the labor movement, as key to what he called a progressive course that ended with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka were also panelists at the final session.
Amina Baraka, introducing herself as a Black woman who is a communist who uses the cultural arena, spoke about her work and read a poem.
Amiri Baraka came back to the previous days discussion, disagreeing with Gott and others who denied the two great revolutions in U.S. history. He also disagreed with Sustars characterization of the Civil War as the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution.
That revolution has never been completed, Baraka said. There is still no democracy for Blacks. He proposed that Blacks and Latinos, including the progressive Black bourgeoisie, unite around a program to abolish the electoral college; establish a unicameral parliamentary system; ban private money from election campaigns; make voting compulsory; and restore voting rights to felons. Such constitutional reforms, he said, would shift power towards peoples democracy in the United States. Revolutionary goals could then be put on the agenda.
What has derailed all previous revolutionary struggles in the United States, Baraka argued, is white privilege. He citied the defeat of Radical Reconstruction following the Civil War, the failure of the 1930s labor upsurge to go further, and the decline of the mass movement that brought down Jim Crow segregation as three examples. Moreover, white privilege and the failure of the white left to fight it remain the primary obstacle to struggles today.
Baraka also renewed his attack on Katsiaficas, who had spoken about Asian student struggles on the panel the previous day. Baraka accused him of being an agent trying to stir up support in Venezuela for student marches against the government of Hugo Chávez.
Baraka concluded by reading his poem, Somebody Blew Up America, a Spanish translation of which was distributed to participants. Written after September 11, 2001, the poem presents a long list of historical atrocities, interlacing anti-imperialist and anticapitalist rhetoric with conspiracy theories of history and anti-Semitism. Who decide Jesus get crucified, the poem asks. Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed / Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Tower / To stay home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?
During the opening day of the panel, a participant from Panama had said during the discussion that Jews are the main problem facing working people in the world today because they have all the money and control everything. Norton Sandler, a member of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, spoke from the floor the next day and pointed to the danger of scapegoating and Jew-hatred for the working-class movement.
After Barakas remarks the final day, Mary-Alice Waters took the floor to thank the organizers of the book fair for bringing together diverse forces for such a broad variety of views for the discussion that took place here. She stressed the importance of civil debate, noting that the poison of agent- and race-baiting should be rejected by all.
Some prominent speakers invited to take part in the central forum were unable to make it during that event, but joined the discussion in the following days.
A November 17 program on Liberation, Imagination, Black Panthers featuring Kathleen Cleaver, former national spokesperson for the Black Panther Party, was one of the larger events of the fair outside the central forum. A video interview with Noam Chomsky, the well-known author, anarchist, and a linguistics professor, was played after the conclusion of the forum, and a booklet containing a translation of his comments was distributed for free.
Ramón Medero, president of Venezuelas National Book Center, the sponsor of the fair, expressed his appreciation to all the panelists whose efforts had contributed to the success of the event, and satisfaction that the fair served to open a much-needed political discussion.
Africa solidarity festival opens in Venezuela
Book on Cuban 5 launched in Caracas
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