Half a decade into the new century, neoliberalism has wreaked economic and ecological havoc throughout the world, but has simultaneously created new openings for revolutionary unity. Realization of these opportunities, particularly as they stretch from Argentina to Alaska, was foremost in the minds and hearts of the members and friends of the U.S. Freedom Socialist Party at the FSP’s 40th anniversary convention, held January 13-16 in Portland, Oregon.
Native Alaskan Debra O’Gara of the Tlingit nation opened the convention, standing under a vibrant banner. On one side ó the northern Raven, mythological bringer of knowledge; on the otheróó the southern Quetzal, the brilliant blue and red Mayan bird symbolizing freedom.
Prospects for hemispheric unity made real. The central business of the convention was discussion and ratification of a paper analyzing the exciting upsurges in Venezuela, Bolivia, and elsewhere in Latin America, and what these mean for working people in the U.S. (This document will be published in the June-July FS.)
In her keynote speech, the paper’s author, Guerry Hoddersen, gave a thumbnail sketch of hemispheric politics over the past decades, culminating in neoliberalism. She highlighted the'”unsung leadership” of Latin American mujeres. Women, she said, are the most likely to pose a serious challenge to leaders such as Evo Morales in Bolivia, who were brought to power by poor workers and peasants and defiant indigenas but who are trying to “make nice with imperialism.”
Hoddersen communicated a sense of urgency about the responsibility of U.S. workers to defend their rebellious sisters and brothers to the south by mounting their own revolt in the seat of empire”ó a sentiment that was strongly echoed from the floor.
Over the past few years, members of FSP and the party’s sister organization, Radical Women, have made trips to Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil and elsewhere to meet and work with Latin American activists. A panel presentation by some of these travelers galvanized convention participants with eyewitness accounts of a region in ferment. Comrades rose in discussion to say they were inspired to increase their study of current and historical Latin American struggles, take the issues of Latin American workers into their unions, and sign up for Spanish classes.
With the help of hard-working bilingual attendees who translated all of the sessions, three international guests gave personal accounts of the Central American resistance. They were Marina Preza, from Mujeres Radicales Cuzcatlecas (Radical Women) in El Salvador; Salvador Duarte, former general secretary of the National Union of Transport Industry Workers in El Salvador; and Patricia Ramos of the International Center for Orthodox Trotskyism (CITO) and the Costa Rican Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT).
All three paid tribute to the collaboration they have had with the FSP, with Ramos noting that “all of us here [will] leave convinced of the need to make unity of the entire hemisphere a reality” as we strive to build a world without war or exploitation.
After the convention, the guests from Central America spoke in cities up and down the West Coast in a tour coordinated by U.S. Radical Women, with several of the forums endorsed by unions, Central American solidarity organizations, and anti-corporate-globalization groups.
Responding from the convention floor, norteamericanos applauded the rebellions gaining a foothold in Latin America, and emphasized again that the success of every struggle for justice around the globe depends ultimately on working people in the U.S. thwarting the self-appointed world police of capitalist rule at home.
This perspective was underscored by greetings to the convention from, among others, Australia’s Socialist Alliance; the Revolutionary Youth Front of Guatemala; the Cuban Communist Party; Peru’s Socialist League; the Socialist Workers League of the Dominican Republic; the European-based Anti-Imperialist Camp; and Soldiers of Solidarity, a movement of militant United Auto Workers unionists.
Labor’s red thread. Whether planning how to carry anti-war campaigns to new levels, tackle the challenges of anti-racist organizing in the post-Katrina era, oppose anti-immigrant vigilante patrols, or win support for anti-capitalist electoral candidates, attendees agreed that organizing at the workplace is critical. The greatest power of the working class remains the ability to bring production to a screeching halt.
A dynamic panel of unionists, including Alison Thorne from the FSP in Australia, articulated the party’s rich experience gained in four decades of leading battles against the bosses and demanding that union officials genuinely represent their class. Organizing in the labor movement, they stressed, needs to go beyond bread-and-butter issues to connect union activism with the broad spectrum of social issues, from the occupation of Iraq to healthcare and reproductive and gay rights.
Audience members took to the mikes to agree that the key to union organizing is to concentrate on the fundamentals: helping workers to develop class consciousness, identify their true interests, and recognize the need for a revolutionary movement capable of creating a socialist alternative to the current morass of want, insecurity, and injustice. Many declared they were freshly motivated to intensify their labor work, looking to innovations like building cross-union radical caucuses.
Fired up for the future. Throughout the convention, and especially during a “state of the party” session led by National Secretary Henry Noble, FSPers strategized about how to extend the party’s Trotskyist and feminist reach. Among the major innovations planned is a leadership training school, with the goal of sharpening the political skills of current and future party organizers. Convention participants also recognized the ongoing importance of the party’s website and written works. They committed themselves to a fund drive for later in 2006 for the newly bimonthly’Freedom Socialist, and they celebrated the upcoming publication by Monthly Review Press of a groundbreaking analysis of the Chicano movement written by Yolanda Alaniz and Megan Cornish and first serialized in the FS.
A number of guests were inspired to join the FSP. Women and men ranging in age from their twenties to their eighties; Black, Chicano, and white; gay and straight: new members will return to branches across the U.S. geared up and ready to go.
At its own age of 40, the FSP is mature, rich in experience, steeped in tradition yet dedicated to incorporating youthful forces into the fight for a better world. Above all, the party is convinced that a brighter future for our hemisphere, and our planet, lies just over the horizon.