The Spanish-language edition of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes was the subject of a panel discussion here at the sixth annual Venezuela International Book Fair on November 20, the busiest night of the fair. Forty-five people, many of them Afro-Venezuelan, packed the tent where the event was held, and 30 more listened outside to all or part of the meeting.
Speakers included Enrique Arrieta, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations; Carolina Alvarez, director of the Book and Reading Platform, a government agency that organizes book distribution to state-run bookstores and educational institutions in the nearby state of Aragua; and John Hawkins, a member of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States who is the party’s candidate for mayor of Chicago. The event was moderated by Róger Calero of the SWP.
“This book gives us a perspective in the fight for socialism,” Arrieta said in his opening remarks. “It helps us understand the place of the struggles of oppressed nationalities” in that fight.
Arrieta said that the book explains how Malcolm X evolved as a political person and a revolutionary. “Barnes gives us a view of Malcolm X that few have put forward—that of a leader of the working class,” he added.
Struggle against racism in Venezuela
Arrieta tied this discussion about Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power with the struggles of working people in Venezuela, pointing out that a draft law against racism is before Venezuela’s National Assembly. “We have not yet conquered racism here,” he said.
Alvarez spoke about a section of the book titled, “What the Bolshevik Revolution Taught Us.”
She explained that racism doesn’t only affect blacks in Venezuela, but others as well, especially indigenous people. “Before the Russian Revolution, socialists tended to put aside the national struggle,” she said. “But that revolution taught the necessity of demanding and winning self-determination. Those struggles are part of making a revolution, not a diversion from it.”
Alvarez highlighted the sections of the book that include discussions between Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution along with V. I. Lenin, and communists living in the United States in the mid-1930s.
“Trotsky explained why we need to build revolutionary parties that are proletarian in composition as well as in program,” Alvarez continued. She referred to Trotsky’s insistence that workers needed to be rapidly incorporated into the ranks of the party and its leadership, and how involvement in the struggles of Blacks was a central aspect of that communist perspective.
In his comments Hawkins noted, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power is a book about building the movement that fights for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a book about building the world communist movement.”
“The book offers unimpeachable evidence that workers who are Black will comprise a disproportionately weighty part of the ranks and leadership of the mass social movement that will make a proletarian revolution,” Hawkins said.
It explains why this revolutionary conquest of state power is necessary and why that new state power provides working people the “mightiest weapon possible” to wage the ongoing battle against Black oppression and every form of exploitation and human degradation inherited from millennia of class-divided society.
“It also details the last year of Malcolm X’s life, and how he became the face and the authentic voice of the forces of the coming American Revolution. It is the record of the programmatic and strategic conclusions communists have drawn from decades of practical activity in the class struggle in the United States, including in the fight for Black rights,” Hawkins concluded.
The presentations were followed by an animated discussion period.
Blacks not victims but in vanguard
An audience member asked Hawkins, “You say Blacks are a force, but how can that be true when there are 50 million living in poverty in the United States who don’t get enough to eat?”
Lucas Gil, a leader of the Afro Committee against Discrimination and Xenophobia, another group of Afro-Venezuelan activists, spoke from the audience about the long history of struggles by blacks in Colombia and Venezuela. “We have had to fight racism and xenophobia” for many decades, he said, pointing to the blacks who fought with Simón Bolivar between 1819 and 1830 in the struggles across Latin America for independence from Spanish colonial rule.
“Blacks in the United States are an oppressed nationality,” Hawkins pointed out. “But their place in the class struggle doesn’t come from being victims of capitalism, rather it is the history of workers and farmers who are Black consistently being in the vanguard of the class struggle in the U.S. that explains the force we are talking about.”
Capitalism needs racism and sexism
“What is the role of women in the struggle for workers power?” asked Alba Carosio, director of the Women’s Studies Center at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.
A man asked about the difference in discrimination in the United States and Latin America. Another person asked the speakers to comment more about why capitalism reproduces racism as part of its system of social relations.
“Capitalism is structurally racist,” Arrieta responded. “It needs to pose the superiority of Europeans and whites in order to rule the world. If there is capitalism, there is racism.”
Alvarez added, “The capitalists say the problem is the Colombian taking the Venezuelan job or the woman taking the man’s job. If we’re divided, we’re easier to exploit. But it’s the resistance, not the oppression, that matters the most.”
“Capitalism needs racism and discrimination in order to divide the working class,” Hawkins said. “The question is both political and economic. Racism, as does sexism, makes possible the super-exploitation of layers of the working class. That’s why it’s not possible to eradicate racism without taking power away from the capitalists.
“After taking power we continue to fight against the legacy of racism, as well as discrimination against women. The Cuban Revolution teaches us this.”
Nine copies of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power were sold to participants in the discussion, although many had already bought it earlier at the book fair. After talking informally for half an hour after the meeting ended, 16 people, including all the speakers, went to a local restaurant to continue the discussion.