Caracas -- Addressing delegates at the International Encounter of Left Parties held in Caracas, November 19-21, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stated "the time has come for us to convoke the Fifth International." Faced with the capitalist crisis and the threat of war that is putting at risk the future of humanity, "the people are clamoring for" greater unity of left and revolutionary parties willing to fight for socialism, he said.
Like his call in 2005 to build "21st Century Socialism" and his call in 2006 for the creation in Venezuela of a new, mass revolutionary party - the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) - Chavez's call to unite the left in a new International is historic.
It builds on the experience of the four previous socialist "internationals", the first created by Karl Marx in 1864, which collapsed. The Second International was formed in 1889, but fell apart when representative parties sided with their own governments in the bloodshed of World War I.
The Third International was founded in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. However, as Chavez said, it "degenerated" under Stalinism and "betrayed" struggles for socialism around the world.
Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International in 1938. However, Trotsky died in 1940 and his followers never succeeded in building mass support.
This call for a new international is also historic because of the political authority of Chavez himself: the leader of a revolutionary movement made up of millions struggling for a socialist society.
Following the approval by a majority of the delegates, of a special resolution in favor of founding of the "Fifth 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," Chavez reaffirmed his call, this time in his opening remarks as president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to the party's 1st Extraordinary Congress, which began on November 21.
In front of 772 delegates elected from the grassroots in an unprecedented process involving close to a million party militants, he requested that the proposal be included in the agenda of the Congress.
"I call on this First Extraordinary Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to include in its agenda for debate, the proposal to convene political parties and currents to create the Fifth Socialist International as a new organization that fits the time and the challenge in which we live, and that can become an instrument of unification and coordination of the struggle of peoples to save this planet."
The Congress, which will last until April 2010, the month that the founding congress of the Fifth International has been set for, will now discuss the proposal. This discussion "must go out to the people, to the social organizations and other forms of popular power in the country," according the plan proposed by Chavez.
Likewise, this decision will be discussed by left parties around the world, who will have to take a position in the face of this transcendental proposal, which undoubtedly will be taken up will full vigor by a mass revolutionary party in construction.
Unity in the face of imperialist counter-offensive
The central discussion on the first day of the Encounter of Left Parties was the issue of the new imperialist offensive in the region, exemplified by the expansion of US military bases and the coup in Honduras.
Present were delegates from 55 parties from more than 30 countries, representing elements of the old and new emerging left, including a number of Communist and social democratic parties from Asia and Europe, national liberation forces from Africa and the Middle East, new left parties such as Die Linke (Germany), Left Bloc (Portugal), Left Party (France), and radical and left forces from Latin America, some older, such as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and some newer, such as the Movement Towards Socialism (Bolivia) and, of course, the PSUV.
Almost all attempts to create a new model of society in the 20th century were destroyed by imperialism, explained Nicolas Maduro, PSUV leader and Venezuela's foreign minister. "There was only one experience that had the sufficient political, military and popular force, together with a revolutionary leadership, which was able to overcome all of imperialism's plans: the Cuban Revolution."
With the turn of the Century, new revolutionary movements and political leaderships emerged, changing the face of the region. The election of Barack Obama created many expectations and hope among vast sections of the population that new relations with the US, based on dialogue, would be possible. But this illusion was quickly shattered by the actions of thenew administration Maduro said.
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) - "a solid project of integration and union of our countries and peoples" - advanced this year, incorporating Ecuador and various Caribbean countries; however the first blow by imperialism was dealt in Honduras with the June 28 military coup. The coup was aimed at ALBA and carried out with US support, he said.
Shortly afterwards came the announcement of the US-Colombia military agreement to hand over 7 new military bases to the US, "a powerful threat against the revolutionary movements in our continent," Maduro added.
In this scenario, the unity of progressive and left forces is necessary in order to create a movement for peace and justice in the region with the power to convert the continent into a "territory free of US bases," he argued.
Jorge Marti, head of the International relations department of the Communist Party of Cuba, noted that currently, "the left is not up to the challenge it faces"- the reason why it is necessary to clearly delineate a strategy for united struggle.
While it is quite possible that right wing forces could win elections soon to be held in Chile and Brazil, Nidia Diaz from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) of El Salvador pointed out that, "if we only think about electoral victories and not in the accumulation of social forces for change, it is easy to paint a negative picture." It is essential that the left promotes Chavez's proposal of establishing peace bases as focal points for agitation, action and mobilization of our peoples, she added.
"We are merely spokespeople for our people who today are resisting" explained Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas. Our responsibility is to construct a common space for parties to come together and consolidate the union of our peoples "and make possible the creation of a never before seen, diverse force" because they want to destroy "the very same democracy which we laid down our arms for," she said.
Rounding off the day's contributions, PSUV leader and Education Minister Hector Navarro affirmed "the problem is not the bases, the problem is the structural crisis of capital...what we are confronting is the question of the survival of humanity." Therefore this scenario, which brought together some of the most important left forces in the world, must be seen as a theater of operations from which to unleash a struggle in defense of humanity, he argued.
A Socialist International of the 21st Century
The second day kicked off with a discussion about what type of coordination was necessary.
Valtar Pomar, international relations secretary of the Workers' Party (PT) of Brazil outlined his party's position, putting forward a strategy focused on unity around regional integration, or in more classical terms ‘anti-imperialism'. If we made socialism our lowest common denominator for unity, this would inevitably lead to division; Pomar contended saying for this reason the PT would continue to prioritise the Sao Paulo Forum (FSP).
Aristóbulo Isturiz, one of the regional vice-presidents of the PSUV, responded that the left needs spaces that are more dynamic and active that the FSP.
The FSP was formed in the early nineties as an initiative of the PT to regroup the Latin American left in the context of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the Forum, much like the PT, has drifted far from its more radical roots to becoming a talkfest dominated by reformist forces.
While differences began to emerge in discussion, it was Chavez's interventions that night which marked a dividing line. "Yankee imperialism is preparing a war in Latin America...it has almost always been the case that the US has pulled itself out of a situation of crisis via war" he warned.
At the same time, the conditions to build socialism are ripe, he argued. "That is why I ask...that you allow me continue to go forward, together with those who want to accompany me, in the creation of the Fifth Socialist International."
A new international without manuals and impositions, explained Chavez, and where differences are welcomed.
He sharply criticized the example the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which imposed its dogmas such as "socialism in one country" on its satellite parties internationally. This led many Communist Parties in Latin America to turn their backs on Che Guevara due to his rejection of Soviet dogmatism, Chavez said.
In rejection of the failed projects of "real socialism" and social democracy, a new International should embody the spirit and accumulated heritage left to humanity by the founders of the first four Internationals: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Jose Carlos Mariategui and Leon Trotsky he stated.
It should also incorporate the ideas of Latin American radicals and liberators such as Simon Bolivar, Francisco Morazan, Maurice Bishop and Sandino, Chavez contended.
A new project of left coordination has to be an international to confront imperialism, defeat capitalism and struggle for 21st Century Socialism. It is necessary to work together in the elaboration of a manifesto around which to unify criteria in regards to 21st Century Socialism, he continued.
Chavez's response to the interjection of one delegate who stated that there already existed other organizations for coordination among political parties was swift and sharp: there exist many spaces for discussion, but none for concrete action, which is why today many of them are finished.
"We have wasted a lot of time, we continue to waste time, looking for excuses to justify our inactivity. I consider such behavior to be a betrayal of the hope of our peoples". What we need is a unity of left parties, "but parties that are truly left."
"It is up to us to assume the role of the vanguard"
While various parties expressed their reservations the following day, arguing that within such a meeting it was only possible to reach unity over specific points and that a deep programmatic debate was necessary before any deeper unity was possible, the response in favor of the proposal was very strong.
"We cannot continue simply debating.... we need to clearly define what it is that we want, and the alternative project for Latin America is socialism" affirmed Salvador Sanchez Ceren, FMLN leader and vice-president of El Salvador, speaking in favor of the proposal.
Sanchez's comments provoked a reaction from El Salvadorean president Mauricio Funes, an independent elected on the FMLN slate, who distanced himself and his government from any support for 21st Century Socialism.
The Bolivian delegation from the Movement Towards Socialism relayed to the meeting the news that they had phoned the national leadership of the party, as well as president Evo Morales, who all agreed to come onboard the project and participate actively in all the preparatory commissions for the founding congress.
Country Alliance leader and Ecuadorian Minister of Government, Ricardo Patiño also announced his party's decision to participate.
Pledging the active support of the Honduran "resistance", Rodas added her voice to the chorus of support for the proposal.
That is, the actually existing political leaderships of the most important movements for change - to which must be added the Cuban Communist Party who did not express a formal position in the meeting - expressed their will and desire to work towards an organization of international coordination.
Together with a special resolution to create a "working group comprised of those socialist parties, currents and social movements who endorse the initiative, to prepare an agenda which defines the objectives, contents and mechanisms of this global revolutionary body", a document entitled the Caracas Commitment was also approved.
The document affirmed that faced with "structural crisis of capital, which combines the economic crisis, with an ecological crisis, a food crisis, and an energy crisis, and which together represents a mortal threat to humanity and mother earth", the only alternative possible is "Socialism of the 21st century".
Once again highlighting the lessons of the first four internationals, this time in the PSUV Congress, Chavez pointed out that all of them had been convoked from Europe, "where the thesis of scientific socialism emerged with force in the heat of the great popular, workers struggles, and the domination of the bourgeoisie".
Today, however, "the epicenter of revolutionary struggle is in our America. And Venezuela is the epicenter of this battle. It is up to us to assume the role of the vanguard and we have to assume it, so that we realize and become aware of the huge responsibility we have on our shoulders."
(Federico Fuentes participated in the International Encounter of Left Parties as representatives of the Socialist Alliance).