People’s Voice editor Kimball Cariou attended the recent 10thConference of Communist and Workers’ Parties on behalf of the CommunistParty of Canada. Originally held in Athens by the Communist Party ofGreece, and then in Portugal and Belorussia the last two years, thisyear’s conference was hosted in Sao Paulo by the Communist Party ofBrazil. These annual meetings are important opportunities for theParties to exchange views and to build unity in action. Here is ComradeCariou’s report.

Travelling to Sao Paulo was certainly an eye-opening experience. Flyingover the Amazon rain forest, one can see vast areas being opened forcultivation, a process full of contradictory results for the people ofBrazil and for the planet. Then the descent into GuarulhosInternational Airport brings a sudden change from green forests andcroplands to a densely-packed city of high rises, with over thirtymillion people in the wider region.

At the airport, our hosts from the Partido Comunista do Brazil (PCdoB) were busy finding representatives of the 65 parties which came to Sao Paulo. Stopping first for coffee at an airport kiosk, the comrades who welcomed me quickly launched into a heated debate – about the merits of various Brazilian soccer teams!

From there, it was a one-hour drive to the downtown Novotel Jaragua hotel where the conference took place. Along the route, the PCdoB comrades filled me in on eve rything from attempts to improve the lives of street vendors to the different fuels used by passing vehicles.

One interesting sight was a nearly-finished but abandoned high rise, perhaps ten stories tall. An organization of poor people which the PCdoB supports is campaigning to pressure civic authorities to turn the building over to house the homeless. Despite some bureaucratic resistance, the comrades were optimistic that the campaign would succeed.

That story was typical of Brazil today, a country with a broad left alliance government led since 2002 by President Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party. Three other left parties are in the government: the PCdoB, the Democratic Labour Party (PDT), and the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). While the political left is far larger than in Canada, it remains a minority within Brazil, and Lula’s coalition also includes centrist parties. The result is a government focused on strengthening regional economic cooperation and independence from U.S. domination. But it is not a socialist government, despite many policies which aim to improve the lives of working people and the poor.

Some of these complexities were the topic of a meeting on my first evening, at the nearby six-story building of the PCdoB’s Central Committee. There I met with a member of the party’s executive, for a discussion on Brazilian politics.

The PCdoB, he explained, is one of the few Brazilian parties with a coherent, country-wide ideological stance. With some 200,000 members, the party plays a major role in the labour movement, on campuses, and among homeless organizations. Inside the government, the PCdoB struggles for more progressive macroeconomic policies to assist the poor, for regional integration and national sovereignty, and for strengthening democratic rights and freedoms.

The left bloc of four federal parties also functions at the state and municipal levels, with some exceptions. The four parties cooperate in Sao Paulo, for example, while in Rio de Janeiro, they are divided. In the recent municipal elections across the country, the PCdoB elected 44 mayors as part of left coalitions, and 608 councillors.

November 20, my first full day in Sao Paulo, was also a unique holiday, Black Awareness Day, marking 120 years since the 1888 abolition of slavery in Brazil and the modern struggle for equality. Many of us joined the PCdoB contingent in a march of perhaps 20,000 people through the streets near our hotel.

The Conference opened the next morning, with a message from President Lula: “Dear comrades – This is not a protocol gesture, but an act of recognition of your role in the fight to defend the interests of the working class and poor people, and your efforts in the construction of a new international economic order world-wide…”

Lula’s greeting was followed by Renato Rabelo, President of the PCdoB, who launched into an examination of the deepening global crisis of capitalism and the collapse of the neoliberal economic model. The election of Barack Obama, he said, reflects the objective reality of crisis trends in the United States, and the defeat of the genocidal, warmongering policies of George W. Bush. But there should be no illusions about the difficult process of winning real changes in U.S. policies, he warned, a view echoed by many other parties. The PCdoB, comrade Rabelo went on to note, stands for “the developing and upgrading of revolutionary thinking to our times”, based on using the most positive lessons of socialism of the 20th century to achieve a society free from capitalist exploitation and oppression.

The participating parties each had ten minutes to present papers, dealing with a wide range of the issues faced by the revolutionary forces today.

Going in Portuguese alphabetical order, the Communist Party of South Africa was first to speak, represented by Politbureau member Chris Matlhako. “The myth of the free market has exploded,” he said, “bankers and speculators have become the least popular people on the planet.” In the long run, he warned, “the current crisis of financialized global capitalism must surely become a rallying cry to redouble our efforts to end a system in which the lives and destinies of the working people and the poor across the world are held hostage to a handful of unaccountable speculators on Wall Street.”

Over the next two days, more than sixty parties spoke, revealing a pattern of strong agreement on certain key ideas.

There was unanimity that the economic downturn will be worse and more prolonged than most bourgeois analysts and politicians are willing to admit, at least in public. The recent stock market crashes, all agreed, reflect a much deeper structural capitalist crisis, not just another “boom-bust” recession. The symptoms of this crisis include tremendous relative over-production, declining international demand and trade, growing unemployment, astronomical levels of household and national debts, and a worsening threat of environmental collapse.

There was also a consensus that while wide-ranging measures to protect the living standards of the working class are urgently necessary, “Keynesian” strategies of economic stimulation will not resolve the crisis. By seeking to put the burden of “bailouts” on the working people in order to protect their profits, the ruling classes of the imperialist countries are in fact creating the potential for an even more serious economic catastrophe.

This situation, the parties agreed, is also an ideological crisis for capitalism, deprived of its powerful arguments for the so-called “free market.” This opens up new possibilities for advances by the commu nist and workers’ parties and other left forces, as working people search for progressive solutions. Perhaps most significant, socialism is emerging again as the only real alternative to capitalist devastation; already the ideas of socialism are gaining lost ground in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America.

The presentations of the various parties and the conclusions of the Conference are being posted on websites such as Solidnet, http://www.solidnet.org and the PCdoB’s site, http://www.vermelho.org.br .

But there was more to the event than listening to speeches. I was able to exchange experiences and ideas with a wide range of delegates, such as Madhev Nepal, the former leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Last spring, the CPN(UML) finished third in the country’s first fully democratic election, receiving 21% of the total vote, behind the 30% won by the CPN (Maoist) party and 22% for the pro-capitalist Nepali Congress party. But with nearly 60% of the total vote and a strong majority in parliament, the various revolutionary and communist parties in Nepal are now in power. The corrupt and dictatorial monarchy has been abolished, and the new coalition government is working to eradicate the legacy of feudal economic relations.

Over meals and drinks, I met leading comrades from the parties of Russia, Paraguay, Palestine, Denmark, Ireland, Great Britain, the USA, Greece, and other countries. The smaller parties face many of the same difficulties and challenges as the Communist Party of Canada, but share the same experience of a recent upsurge in public support for radical economic change and even for the perspective of socialism.

One highlight was an evening rally in solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in a venue owned by the Sao Paulo union of bank workers. Some two thousand people jammed in, mostly members of the PCdoB and its youth group, the UJS, waving red flags and chanting slogans. After an opening musical performance, the crowd heard from a series of speakers: leaders of the PCdoB and Brazil’s other main left parties; the Cuban ambassador, and representatives of the progressive governments of Bolivia and Paraguay; Chris Matlhako of the SACP; Socorro Gomes, the Brazilian journalist and peace activist who is now president of the World Peace Council; Brazil’s Sports Minister, a PCdoB member; representatives of labour and anti-poverty groups.

For the first time since the early 1990s, the wheel of history is making a decisive turn towards the renewed possibilities of socialism. Across the planet, the Communist and Workers’ Parties are becoming stronger and more active, challenging the failed capital ist model. The parties which spoke at Sao Paulo and the people of Brazil are proof, as the South African communists say, that “socialism is the future!”