Over 20,000 young people, the vast majority from Latin America, attended the recent World Festival for Youth and Students in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
Any gathering on this scale calling for peace and social justice would have been exciting. But this festival was all the more electrifying because it took place amid the “Bolivarian revolution” unleashed by Venezuela’s radical president Hugo Chavez.
At the opening ceremony Chavez set the tone, declaring that 60 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “an atom bomb of life has exploded” that would spread social revolution across the five continents.
Chavez addressed the festival several times, and testified against US imperialism in the “Trial of Imperialism”.
He accused George Bush of crimes against humanity and pledged to create an anti-imperialist bloc across Latin America that could stop Bush’s plans for global domination.
The festival was also an opportunity for him to showcase the social changes taking place in Venezuela.
Missions intended to end poverty and improve the economic and cultural lives are educating the population through literacy drives. Other reforms such as the re-nationalisation of universities and the building of new housing are being carried out.
These radical reforms are enthusiastically supported by the majority of Venezuelans. Indeed Chavez’s support seems to be growing. During the festival pro-Chavez candidates won 73 percent in the local elections.
The changes have also led to a growing discussion about socialism. At the festival Chavez spoke about Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. He insisted that the immediate choice facing humanity is socialism or barbarism.
Old models of “one party, authoritarian states” were rejected as incompatible with democratic socialism.
There were debates too. At the festival delegates discussed whether it is possible to go through a peaceful transition to socialism.
They asked whether Chavez would be radical enough, or if it would be up to the people themselves to unseat the ruling class and secure their share of Venezuela’s wealth.
Most of those debating these questions have not yet reached a firm conclusion. I heard many people use the phrase, “Socialism first — then we’ll talk about communism.”
But after several decades the movement in Latin America is winning victories. Ordinary people feel they can contribute to the discussions about which way forward for the planet, for society and humanity.
Suzie Wylie is a member of the National Union of Students executive. She writes in a personal capacity