Speaking in New York to the United Nations in September Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez delivered a fiery speech sharply critical of U.S. imperialism and what he called a “frightening neoliberal globalization.” Chávez denounced the blatant manipulation of the United Nations to support U.S. geopolitical ambitions and military aggression. He condemned the U.S. government for allowing Christian evangelist Pat Robertson and others to call openly for his assassination in violation of international law.
But Chávez did not stop there. Although largely ignored by the U.S. media, he used the occasion to celebrate some of the extraordinary accomplishments of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution during the seven years since his first election as president in 1998. In a country that has been sharply divided between rich and poor and where the vast majority of the population has been impoverished, 17 million Venezuelans, almost 70 percent of the total population of 25 million, now have access for the first time to free health care, and in a few years this will be extended to all Venezuelans. More than a million tons of subsidized food is being channeled to 12 million people (almost half the population) through cooperatives, special food programs, and government distribution centers. One million people receive this food allotment without cost. Unemployment has dropped 9 points through the creation of 700,000 new jobs. Within a year and a half 1.4 million Venezuelans have learned to read and write, making the country illiteracy free. Three million people previously excluded by poverty from the education system are now enrolled in school. These gains in poverty reduction, health, and education are concrete indications of what can be achieved if human needs are put first and if the economic surplus is directed to promoting the interests of the poor rather than the rich. All of this, however, is only the beginning of the revolutionary process. As Chávez has said, “You can’t solve the problem of poverty without giving power to the poor.”
For those wishing more information on Chávez and the Venezuelan Revolution, an important new work is Hugo Chávez interviewed by Marta Harnecker, Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution (Monthly Review Press). A portion of this book appeared in the September issue of MR.
This month is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Eugene Victor Debs (1855–1926). Debs stands as one of the foremost socialist leaders, thinkers, and activists of all time. In 1893 he played a key role in organizing the American Railway Union, and in 1894 he led the victorious strike against the Great Northern Railway followed by the Pullman boycott and strike. This resulted in his being jailed along with other American Railway Union leaders for contempt of court in connection with the Pullman strike. From 1907 to 1912 Debs was associate editor of the great socialist paper the Appeal to Reason. Five times in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920 Debs ran as the Socialist Party candidate for president. In 1908 he carried out a legendary election campaign, using his Red Specialtrain to travel to every section of the United States. In 1918 in response to his famous antiwar speech in Canton, Ohio Debs was arrested and convicted under the war-time espionage act. In the opening sentences of his statement to the court before sentencing he said: “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” While a prisoner in Atlanta in 1920 Debs ran for president for the fifth and last time and received nearly a million votes. His health was broken by his years in prison and he died in 1926.
MR devoted a special issue to Debs fifty years ago this month on the centennial of his birth that remains one of the best sources on his continuing historical significance for the socialist movement in the United States. Many of his speeches can be found on the Eugene Debs Internet Archive: www.marxists.org/archive/debs/. In 1962 the Eugene V. Debs Foundation was established to maintain the Debs Home in Terre Haute, Indiana, which has been declared a National Historic Landmark. In addition, the Debs Foundation (whose treasurer is our good friend and MR author Paul Burkett) presents an award each year to someone who has promoted the causes of unionism, social justice, and world peace in the “Debsian” tradition. Those interested learning more about the Debs Foundation can go to: www.eugenevdebs.com.
We were sad to learn of the death at age 87 of Alice Thorner, a long-time friend of MR. Alice and her husband Daniel devoted their lives to critical engagement with the development of modern India. The Thorners, like numerous other U.S. radical activists and intellectuals, came under attack in the United States during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Called upon in 1952 to go before the U.S. Senate inquisition, Daniel, then in India, refused to return to the United States and testify. As a result the Thorners were in effect political refugees from the United States. For many years they divided their time between Paris, where they both taught, and India. A full tribute to Alice by the noted Indian economist Utsa Patnaik can be found in the commentary section of the MR Web site at monthlyreview.org/0905thorner.htm.
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