British anti-imperialists build links with 21st century socialism

By Stephen MacAvoy

The most advanced political struggles taking place in the world today are in Latin America where, breaking the trend of 30 years of defeats for the international left, mass socialist movements have won elections and used government to drive back US imperialism on the continent and to make substantial improvements in the living standards of the majority. (For more see Latin America and socialism of the 21st Century)

Given these are the most advanced struggles in the world, a clear priority for socialists is to offer solidarity with these movements; to do everything possible to oppose the US-led attempts to overthrow them (as succeeded in Honduras in 2009 and was attempted in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia in recent years); and to learn from these progressive struggles which are significantly more advanced than those emerging in Europe and the US.

At the end of 2011, British–Iraqi rapper Lowkey and journalist and activist Jody McIntyre visited Venezuela. They visited Venezuela during the hosting of the first summit of the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), comprising all 33 nations in the entire continent of the Americas, except the US and Canada. This is a historic development further weakening the weight of US imperialism in the region.

The two activists have been at the forefront of anti-imperialist campaigning amongst young people in Britain over the past year, including by establishing the Equality Movement. This has shown itself to be one of the most advanced recent developments in Britain, involving thousands of young people in debates against war, imperialism, racism and capitalism. Their visit to Venezuela will hopefully inspire tens of thousands of young people to also learn more about socialism of the 21st century being developed there and across Latin America.

Lowkey and Jodie McIntyre have since written about their time in Venezuela, and below we reproduce extracts from a range of sources.

Lowkey spoke from Caracas on Telesur, the pan-Latin American TV network established to challenge US domination of the media across the Continent. (Watch here with Lowkey speaking in English.)

There he explained that

first and foremost as a human-being, I think being here is a honour and privilege” to see “a show of unity of the global south”. On the importance of Celac, he cited Arab leader Nasser saying the “key to emancipation from colonial rule is unity” and so “ties with each other must be stronger than any ties with the coloniser”.

On the social progress underway in Venezuela he said:

to see the example of an alternative is inspiring,” adding that across Latin America and the Caribbean there is a “trend towards the betterment of all humanity especially at a time where the country I live in is going downhill. I very much get the feeling that here in Venezuela things are improving and moving in a more progressive direction for all human beings.

On the involvement of the masses in Venezuela’s revolution he added:

“When I walk down the streets here I see the constitution being sold for people to engage with – people are actively encouraged to engage in that part of their society.

Contrasting current developments in Latin America and the Caribbean with the historic role of British and US imperialism in the region, he said:

Was it ever about democracy when they (the US) overthrew Allende” in Chile in 1973. He said such military interventions are “really about suppressing the will of the poor… democracy for the poor is the enemy of the elite… ultimately what we are trying to do is empower the powerless.”

In an interview on his return from Venezuela, Lowkey expanded on some of these ideas:

Hugo Chavez… is hugely popular among the poor and in the barrios (mountains with houses built on them). The rich have the flat land and the poor are on the mountains, much like in Israel and the West Bank. Palestine is mountainous but Israel is the flat land, so you can see they’ve taken purposely the flat areas and left the mountainous areas to the poor…

…On the one hand people would say, you need to get rid of poverty completely, but then, on the other hand, you look and say while this isn’t perfect, this is a progression towards a fairer country, so of course people that live in these neighbourhoods love Chávez.

…It’s not rocket science, if you give to people, you put hospitals and schools in places where there haven’t been hospitals and schools ever, people will love you.

There was an 87-year old woman that was learning to read and write for the first time in her life. How come a woman who is 87 years old has not been provided that her whole life? It hasn’t been her choice; she hasn’t thought, I could read and write but I don’t want to. She’s been in a position where that hasn’t been an option for her. And this is why [some] people don’t like Chávez, because ultimately he is taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

…From what I saw, the idea of political participation is so heavily encouraged. You walk down the street and you have the constitution and the laws available in government subsidised shops. What kind of dictatorship encourages the people to know the laws of their country? Outside of the train station and the university, there are people sitting there with computers and pieces of paper, asking people to register to vote.

The opposition own a lot of the media, which is backed by the foreign money from the United States. They call him a monkey in the private media [Chávez is mixed raced], and he hasn’t shut them down…

Ultimately the elite fear the political participation of poor people, because when you have political participation of poor people, it’s not going in favour of the wealthy. It will favour the poor and of course poor people are the masses and the majority in most places in the world, and if they get more of a say its bad news for certain people.

There is a racial factor to this as well. When you look at the poor, they are every colour under the sun; when you look at the opposition and the wealthy, they are almost all exclusively blond. They are the descendents of the Spanish and the Portuguese colonisers, and the poor are the descendents of the indigenous and the African. Chávez is not only struggling to make a fairer and equal Venezuela, he is also trying to make a fairer and equal world.

Prior to his visit, Lowkey has referred to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez in his songs that have attracted million of YouTube viewings (and can be seen here and here). During his time in Venezuela Lowkey shot this video to his song ‘Soundtrack to the Struggle’, and performed in Caracas with a hip-hop movement supportive of the revolution.

Prior to the trip Jodie McIntyre explained his support for Venezuela in the Independent:

Gone are the days of Latin America playing slave to the wishes and needs of the United States. The people are rising, from Venezuela, to Bolivia, to Ecuador; a new society is being built, based on equality, unity and independence, not subservience to foreign investment. Naturally, this movement does not bode well for the US government, either militarily or economically. With industries being nationalised, the profits of oil being shared amongst the masses of poor people, land being more equally distributed, the rights of the indigenous finally being recognised.

He took on those who seek to undermine support for Chávez with false claims that he is a tyrant:

Irrelevant is the fact that he has been elected as President, democratically, three times. Irrelevant are the millions of people receiving education and health-care, who never had in the past.”

On his return, Jodie explained in a Guardian article how the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC) will further weaken the US, with all of its bloody history, in the region:

It is almost 10 years since Venezuelan people took to the streets of the country to reverse an attempted coup against the elected president of their country, and only two and a half years since a coup successfully toppled Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. However, by including such a breadth of nations at the summit of CELAC, and by engaging the youth in a participatory and positive manner, the people of Latin America have affirmed their determination to continue on a path of sustainable, independent development, free from the interference of external influences.”

On Twitter, Jodie McIntyre wrote: “My first week in Venezuela has been hugely inspirational, very informative and I have thoroughly enjoyed it” and correctly identified that in Venezuela there is now “A people living with dignity and optimism”.