The Planet Told Me So

Our 21st century Zimmerwald
By Phil Cournoyer, Oct 21, 2007, 04:08

Hugo Chávez’s Alo Presidente TV program, telecast live from Santa Clara (Cuba), October 14, is an historic turning point in the gathering showdown between the imperialist North and the popular upsurge unfolding across the lands and islands of Abya Yala (“Western” Hemisphere), the infamous U.S. Border Wall and south of the Rio Bravo.

As my 19 year-old granddaughter and I watched Hugo and Fidel, members of Che Guevara’s family, and a range of other leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, my sense of history and actual events told me that something was up. A deeper awareness began to form before me — we indeed were witnessing and participating in something new and vital to our future, and the future of our aggrieved planet.

The Alo Presidente event, coupled with Hugo Chávez’s meeting with Fidel Castro the day before, stands – in my view — as our 21st Century Zimmerwald, a Zimmerwald Plus.

In September 1915 two coach loads of outstanding socialist leaders from the antiwar left wing of Socialist (2nd) International affiliated parties, including two future leaders of the October Soviet Revolution – Lenin and Trotsky — met at Zimmerwald (in neutral Switzerland) to unite those revolutionary socialists prepared to carry out serious and consequent opposition to the imperialist world war. They issued a manifesto calling upon soldiers, workers and oppressed peoples and nationalities of Europe to lay down their arms andrefuse to continue to slaughter one another in the interests of capital; to struggle to defend their own class interests against those who had sent them to the trenches.

In today’s jargon we might say that the group was small enough to meet in a rented Tim Horton’s, but too big to meet in a telephone booth (as do quite a number of ultraleft groups today when they congregate to cross more t’s and dot more i’s on their manifestos denouncing Chávez and Morales as a mealy-mouthed “populists”).

The solid core of the Zimmerwald group, despite its small size, went on to lead the Russian October revolution. Under the impact of Soviet power in the former Tsarist Empire, the capacity of the German and other ruling classes in Europe to continue their carnage and slaughter dissipated. Kings, Kaisers, and Tsars were toppled as the “war to end all wars” collapsed amidst mutinies, rebellions, civil wars, and insurrectionary commotion across the “Old Continent.” The rebellious mood even spread to North America as the Winnipeg General strike of 1919 showed.

From Santa Clara — today’s 21st Century Zimmerwald — tested Cuban and Venezuelan leaderships wielding government power set forth a clear orientation to millions of anti-imperialist, anti colonialist, and anti-capitalist fighters across the continent.

Hugo Chávez made it clear that they and their allies will not back down in the face of imperialist threats. And they will not stand idly by – Chávez iterated this with utter clarity – and allow imperialist inspired forces to overthrow the Bolivian government and/or assassinate Bolivian President Evo Morales. The great moral authority of el Che accompanied that of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez to add force and depth to the message.

Chávez’s October 13 meeting with Fidel Castro lasted for over four hours. On Alo Presidente the next day he played a ten-minute segment of that meeting. The clip appeared to be an unedited part of their longer chat. It is available on the internet at

I am struck by how comfortable and at ease our two leaders are, how much they enjoy each other’s presence and being, and how much they want to learn from each other’s experiences and thinking. This was especially evident in videos of previous encounters during Fidel’s long convalescence, when emotions ran higher because of uncertainty about Fidel’s recovery during that period.

The next day Fidel called into Chávez’s show and remained on line for well over an hour. The back-and-forth with Chávez and his live audience ranged from serious political discussion, announcements about new economic agreements between Venezuela and Cuba, to historical questions about the roots of the Bolivarian movement in the 80-90s. There was enough banter and irony in their exchanges to keep everyone, including them, in suspense as to what might be coming next.

The outdoor audience consisted of a large representation of Cuba’s government and Cuban Communist Party leaderships, as well as local Santa Clara leaders and representatives of grassroots organizations.

The Cuban-Venezuelan commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Che’s capture and murder on October 8-9, 1967 was held on the grounds of the Che Guevara museum and memorial. The Santa Clara event came on the heels of an official Bolivian government commemoration October 8 near the site where Che had waged his last armed battle.

Evo Morales gave a keynote address at that event before a multi-generational crowd from many countries. Prensa Latina reported that our indigenous president affirmed that the Movement Towards Socialism agenda for change is moving forward along a “100% Guevarist and socialist” course. El Che will live on forever, he said. “This struggle will continue, as long as capitalism exists, as long as neoliberalism remains unchanged.”

Guevara’s entire family — his wife Aleida March and his surviving children, attended the Santa Clara commemoration [Hildita, Che’s first daughter with the Peruvian revolutionary Hilda Gadea, died of cancer in Havana, over a decade ago]. Dr. Aleida Guevara, Che’s daughter, spoke and exchanged views with the Venezuelan leader.

Chávez’s TV program is almost always dynamic and participatory. Throughout the five hours he often invited compas (brothers and sisters) in the audience to take the mike and offer their opinions on some matter, usually their appreciation of the significance of the Che anniversary and commemoration.

The latter part of the program took viewers to five or six locations in Venezuela for live interviews with groups of citizens gathered together to discuss proposed amendments to Venezuela’s Bolivarian constitution, and to express their views on the Alo Presidente show they themselves were taking part and watching at the same time.

The political significance of the encounter between Chávez and Fidel, and the Santa Clara Alo Presidente program can be qualified through discussion of a number of key points.

Fidel appears stronger and recovering well. He clearly still plays a big role in key strategic discussions facing Cuba, Venezuela, and the ALBA alliance.

Chávez spoke about a firm alliance of four countries – Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and Ecuador. He called for a federation of nations, beginning with those four. He interjected fluid ideas about some kind of common, federative government. He distinguished that idea from the longstanding pancontinental dream of “one Latin American country.”

In a federation of nations or countries some common state and semi- autonomous institutions could handle questions delegated to them through agreements among and between member states and governments.

Many indigenous activists and leaders question existing borders and/or the authority of many states in the hemisphere. They will surely appreciate the open-ended nature of the ALBA leader’s tentative proposals on this theme. A genuine confederation along the lines of an expanded ALBA would have to incorporate the essence of indigenous views on this problem, one with deep roots in the history of European political and cultural colonization.

Chávez and Castro discussed what Hugo calls “the rise of two, three many Vietnams” in South and Central America, and the Caribbean Basin. Iraq’s people, they noted, have just inflicted a Vietnam-scale defeat of U.S. imperialism that threatens to revive the Vietnam syndrome with a vengeance.

Chávez explained, however, that his concept of “two, three many Vietnams” is not an armed struggle strategy. He sees the Vietnams erupting up and down the continent as insurrections of “conscience and ideas,” the forging a new morality based on human solidarity, and the escalation of political struggle to a level, scope, and scale capable of delivering major defeats to the empire builders; and above all, capable of scoring major victories for their victims.

We already have 21st Century Vietnams breaking out, or well on their way. That’s mainly because we – the grassroots toilers and workers of society, the dispossessed and damned, are simply but loudly saying “enough!” We are refusing to back down and carry out our role as oppressed and exploited pawns. We want the whole board, and we want it now, in our lifetimes. We want to save our Mother Earth so that our grandchildren and great grandchildren can know her bosom and drink from her springs.

Fidel shares Chávez’s ‘many Vietnams’ concept. When the younger revolutionist asked for his opinion on that, Fidel added something significant to the mix. New Vietnams are blossoming all over the world, not just in our hemisphere, he explained. Hugo was quick to nod agreement on that point.

Chávez repeatedly referred to the dangerous political situation in Bolivia — the threat of a pro-imperialist, right wing coup against the MAS government and “brother Evo Morales.”

“If the Bolivian oligarchy manages to overthrow Evo Morales or assassinate him, you Bolivian oligarchs should know that we Venezuelans will not stand by with our arms crossed,” Chávez warned.

In the same vein, the Bolivarian president pointedly cautioned those who are trying to squash the democratically elected Bolivian government and Constituent Assembly. He told them they were playing with fire, because if they carry out such plans the result “would hardly be a Vietnam of ideas or a Constituent Assembly process; rather, they would beget, God help us, a Vietnam of submachine guns.” He added, “no consensus is possible with any oligarchy,” because they are only concerned with “hegemony and imposition.”[i]

The ALBA leadership team acts upon its strategy of open discussion with supporters, with the grassroots of their countries and the rest of the globe. They are completely comfortable with that – unlike their imperialist enemies who prefer the basement White House, secret negotiation, hidden agendas, and a dumbed-down public for their “leadership formula.”

The distinction is simple. One approach is based on convincing millions of supporters to undertake a course of action through open discussion and shared information. The contrary method is to impose policy decisions through lies, deception, and fiat – the way the Bush and Blair administrations [Denmark and Australian governments and other First World governments as well. Editor’s Note] dragged their countries into the war against Iraq, imperial occupation, and ultimate catastrophe for victims and aggressors alike.

President Chávez, upon arriving at the Santa Clara airport, made an immediate tour of the town in an open jeep. Cheering crowds lined streets and parks to welcome him to their city where July 26 forces under Che’s command struck a mortal blow against the Batista dictatorship in the historic 1958 Battle of Santa Clara.

The presence of virtually the entire Cuban leadership — and the public and participatory nature of the tribune from which this united, clear defiance was proclaimed — leave no doubt among friend and foe alike that this is an affirmation of strong will and intent to unite in a life-and-death struggle against imperialist war and intervention.

The ALBA alliance is re-invigorating the struggle against imperialist domination, regime-change, and coup making. This is nothing less than subversive, wide-open peace advocacy based on the right to self-determination, on harmonious relations with Mother Nature, and on freedom from imperial oppression, exploitation, and plunder.

The just concluded For the Historic Victory of the Indigenous Peoples of the World Encounter, held in Chimoré, Cochabamba – Bolivia (October 12) also issued an urgent call for the defense of the MAS government and “brother Evo Morales – President of the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala.”

Or, for the Spanish orginal go to: ]

“We commit ourselves to support the historic effort led by bother Evo Morales, President of the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala [the lands and islands of the Western hemisphere], in the construction of a new plurinational state. In the face of any internal or external threat, we remain vigilant over what is happening in Bolivia, and we call on the peoples of the planet to offer support and solidarity to this process that must serve to motivate the Peoples, Nations, and States of the world to take up the same course.”

The appeals from Hugo and Fidel in Havana, and from the continental Indigenous Encounter in Chimoré, Cochabamba, articulate and amplify the voices of a chorus of fighters from a new generation. Some are organized in ALBA; some in a growing and strengthened continental indigenous movement; and some in other networks and campaigns. Many find themselves tuned in to all these harmonious frameworks. An orchestra for our times has assembled to rehearse and then carry off “two, three, many festivals of the oppressed.”

Among them will be two, three, many Che’s.

That’s why Bolivia’s allies can and do affirm, fists raised, that “they will never bring Evo down. He is our president, too, and we will defend him.”

The world will be a better world because it will be a socialist world. Anything less would not be, and could not be a better world. This time the victory is ours, and everyone’s. The planet told me so.


[i] See Presidente Chávez
“No nos quedaremos de brazos cruzados.”
“No hay consenso posible con oligarquía alguna.”


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