Marx Conference in Havana just completed

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 19:15:24 EDT

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
(<> ) 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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat May 15 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT