BY NAOMI CRAINE
TORONTO - Nearly 300 people welcomed in 1998 as the year of the 100th anniversary of the struggle against U.S. imperialism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines at a socialist conference held here January 1-2. That anniversary and the weight of the Cuban revolution in a world of growing capitalist disorder was the theme of the opening presentation, given by Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the Marxist magazine New International.
Discussion on this talk and one on "The siren call of economic nationalism and Washington's march toward fascism and war," by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, were at the heart of the conference. Most of the participants - who hailed from across Canada and the United States, as well as from Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom - stayed as delegates or observers to the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the Communist League January 3 - 4.
The discussion on the main presentations, which continued over the two days of the conference, built on the issues joined at a southern regional educational conference in Birmingham, Alabama, in December (a report on that conference appeared in the January 12 issue of the Militant).
"Independence for Quebec - justice and equality - on the front lines of the fight against Canadian imperialism," read one of the banners decorating the hall. One conference session was devoted to a video followed by a discussion on the rise of the Quebecois struggle against national oppression in the 1960s and '70s. Among the displays that highlighted themes of the conference were bound volumes of socialist newspapers from that period.
More than 40 young people attended the gathering. "We've spent enough time under this capitalist system, which causes so much harm to people," said Tonatiuh García, 17, a student at Rochelle High school, in Quebec City. García, who is originally from Mexico, joined the Young Socialists (YS) a few months ago. The conference reflected the growth of the Young Socialists in Canada over the past year. García helped organize a rally in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Che Guevara's fall in combat near the Quebec City courthouse. He was impressed by those he met at the conference from the United States and the struggles of which they are a part. "I always thought everyone in the U.S. was capitalist," García said.
"When I realized that the struggle for Quebec independence was a question of revolution, I started to become interested in other revolutions throughout history," said Alexandre Geoffroy, 29 years old and a student in Drummondville, an industrial town near Montreal. Geoffroy has long been involved in the struggle for Quebecois independence, but it was at a demonstration against cutbacks in education last year that he met the Young Socialists and bought an issue of Nouvelle Internationale, the French-language edition of New International, on the fight for a workers and farmers government. "Now, I've seen how real revolutionaries are open to debate and criticism and can advance revolutionary struggles. What I've learned from this convention is that, in order to come to correct conclusions about the world, you need to think collectively, and this is the role of a party," said Geoffroy.
"I realized that only by getting rid of capitalism will women be emancipated, will Blacks be liberated," said Ndidi Onukwulu, a 19-year-old Black student from Vancouver. She explained that after the conference she is looking forward to finding an industrial job in Vancouver in order to participate in political work in the trade unions with members of the YS and Communist League.
Onukwulu, a member of the YS for three months, said she especially enjoyed the class at the conference titled, "Who will change the world? The Battle of Birmingham and the fight to end racist segregation."
Other classes offered at the conference were on "Iraq and the working-class campaign against imperialist war"; "From the Battle of Bogside to Bloody Sunday: the Irish struggle for freedom"; "From the defeat of Radical Reconstruction to the Spanish American War: the rise of U.S. imperialism and the struggle against it"; and "Working farmers in the whirlwind of capitalist crisis: From Mad Cow Disease to Round-up Ready Beans - The scourge of nationalism and the fight for a worker- farmer alliance."
Kevin Austin, 18, became interested in revolutionary figures while in high school. He's from Woodstock, Canada, an agricultural town of 30,000 where his father, a hog farmer who was forced into bankruptcy, currently works for General Motors. He attended the class on the struggle of farmers. "I hadn't done any research on the need for a workers and farmers alliance or how capitalism in decline ferments nationalist sentiments among farmers."
There were also participants from more than a dozen cities in the United States at the conference. One of them was Bill Schmitt, 16, a high school student from the Detroit area. He's been reading Karl Marx for several years, but was excited to learn about the range of Marxist literature available through Pathfinder Press when he found New International no. 10, with the article "Imperialism's March towards Fascism and War," in a used bookstore. When asked if he's a member of the Young Socialists, Schmitt said, "No, but I'm planning to join this weekend."
The next issue of the Militant will carry more complete coverage of the socialist conference and Communist League convention.
Ruth Nebbia, a member of the United Transportation Union in
New York, contributed to this article.
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