[Marxism] [Fwd: [PEN-L] Marx Conference in Havana just completed]

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 13 17:37:36 MDT 2004

(Don't want to open up a can of worms, but it occurs to me that any 
"Stalinist" leadership in power would be unlikely to convene conferences 
such as this.)

Dear Friends and Comrades,
        Here's a brief (clearly personal) report on the Marx Conference 
in Havana (Karl Marx and the Challenges of the 21st Century) that ran 
from 4-8 May; this particularly may interest those who attended last 
year and/or thought about coming this year.
        In general, in my opinion this conference was far more 
successful than last year's (which was the first of these)--- despite a 
number of people who didn't show (eg., David Harvey, Samir Amin) or who 
couldn't come at the last minute because of health reasons (including 
Istvan Meszaros, Heinz Holz and Pablo Gonzalez Casanova). What marked 
this conference was the high participation of both Latin American 
intellectuals and activists and also Cubans (whose interventions showed 
signs of considerable internal debate). Ie., the pattern last time in 
which Cuban contributions were limited at the outset and then restricted 
entirely as the conference shifted to the new site which only permitted 
a plenary (which meant only foreign visitors... and not all of them) did 
not reoccur.
        The conference was organised to have 4 commissions (with 
simultaneous translation) every morning from 9 to 12:30 and then a 
plenary session from 2-6:30. (The large majority of the Cuban papers 
were in the commissions; the ones I attended were well-attended and 
involved good discussion.) For me, the highlights of the plenary 
discussions (which had up to about 400 people in the best-attended ones) 
were the first afternoon discussion of imperialism (which involved a 
very strong presentation by Leo Panitch and an interesting one on the 
working class by Ricardo Antunes of Brazil); the second day's slashing 
critique of the ANC and then the South African Communist Party by Trevor 
Ngwane, a leader in the anti-privatisation struggles in SA; an 
electrifying panel on day 3 on problems of socialist transitions 
involving 3 Cubans (Miguel Limia in particular), myself and Han Deqiang 
of Beijing (who very strongly put the Chinese counter-revolution on the 
table-- which was very important for the Cubans to hear and which was 
the main source of excitement); and, the strong statements in particular 
of the indigenous activists from Ecuador and Bolivia in day 4's panel on 
class struggle and political representation in Latin America.
        The last day, Saturday, was all plenary and was the highlight. 
It opened with a panel on state and revolutionary power with Atilio 
Boron of Argentina, Olga Fernandez and Jesus Garcia Brigos of Cuba and 
Gabriel Vargas of Mexico and involved an animated discussion from 
panelists and audience on the concept of the dictatorship of the 
proletariat. The afternoon was devoted to a session on the originality 
of the Venezuelan revolution, organised by Marta Harnecker. This began 
with a showing of the video, 'With the Poor of the Earth', which traces 
that revolution (beginning with Chavez's underground military movement) 
up to last April 's solidarity conference. This was followed by a panel 
from Venezuela of Marta Harnecker, Roberto Viciano (a Spanish lawyer who 
has been advising the government on constitutional and legal matters), 
Jorge Perez Mancebo (a Marxist economist who advises the president of 
PDVSA, the oil company, and who talked about the oil economy), the 
minister of science and technology (whose name I forget-- a last minute 
substitute for the Minister of Labour, who had to stay because of a 
steel strike and a visit from the ILO) and, finally, a very powerful 
presentation from Rudolfo Sanz, a Marxist theorist-- the main theorist 
of the PPT, one of the Chavist parties. The final session before the 
closing was a tribute to Paul Sweezy with the participation of Leo 
Panitch and Juan Valdes (who met with Sweezy on several occasions when 
he visited Cuba) and me.
        Missing (to the surprise of many) from the conference this year 
was Fidel--- although it was expected until the last moment that he 
would be present all day on saturday and would speak at the closing (as 
he did in this year's Globalisation conference). (Daily reports on 
discussions were provided to Fidel to prepare him for this eventuality.) 
One explanation that I heard from Cubans involved in the conference 
organisation is that Fidel had not appeared anywhere since the new Bush 
offensive was announced... and that if he spoke anywhere, he would have 
to address the question (which then would have been viewed as the 
official government response). Sunday night, though, another explanation 
presented itself--- that was the extraordinary announcement of the 
temporary closure of the dollar stores in Cuba to permit the increase in 
prices in order to cope with the anticipated effect of reduced dollar 
remittances and US tourist revenues as the result of the Bush measures. 
Discussion of these measures and the nature of a response clearly took 
priority over attendance at the Marx Conference (which, as I've proposed 
above, did quite well on its own).
        Finally, let me note that the day before the conference there 
was a pre-conference on Cuba itself (at the same site--- the Palace of 
Conventions): a morning on the economy and afternoon on politics and 
society. I found it excellent and could have benefited much from a week 
of this! Here, as with the conference itself, there was lots of 
discussion but never enough time. So, while I'm certain other people 
would pick out different highlights, I think that--- in terms of the 
quality, the relevance and the extent of participation--- this was the 
best conference I've been to in Cuba. (My comparison is to the 
Globalisation conferences, the 'Philosophers' conferences and one 
organised in February 2000.) In fact, it is one of the best I've ever 
been to. My understanding is that the organisers were very happy, too. 
The next conference is planned for May 2006--- two years from now, and 
the hope is to use the website (www.nodo50.org/cubasigloXXI/ 
<http://www.nodo50.org/cubasigloXXI/> ) for discussions in the meantime.
        in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at

Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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