INTERVIEW: DSA's Internationalist Experiment
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
An interview with Austin Gonzalez of the National Political Committee about the recent delegations to Peru and Venezuela
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How can we ever expect to change the narrative or to change the perspective that people have on socialism if we aren't very bold in the things that we do?
On July 15th, 2021, three members of the Radical’s founding editorial collective sat down with Austin Gonzalez (he/him) from DSA’s National Political Committee to talk about the organization’s recent delegations to Peru and Venezuela.
Austin is a member of the Richmond, Virginia DSA chapter, which he co-founded in 2017. His history in Virginia figures as an important theme in his becoming as a socialist organizer: as a person of Puerto Rican descent, he recounts instances of racism, police harassment, and confederate imagery as key factors to the development of his orientation towards a better world. Deaf parents subsidized by the social safety net as well as his accidental discovery of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America” through the 2009 Obama-Chavez meeting were also decisive.
In the NPC, to which he was elected during the 2019 DSA Convention, Austin serves as a national liaison to the International Committee, among others. From what he tells us, it is clear that his time there oversaw a near-complete overhaul of the IC: formerly an insular, closed-off listserv comprised of old-timer democratic socialists, over the course of several years and several resolutions, the committee opened up to rank-and-file membership, pledged solidarity to the Cuban Revolution, adopted a position of critical engagement with leftist movements in Latin America, and became a several-hundred-strong internationalist organism. Pointing to the black-and-white Puerto Rican independence flag hung behind him, he expresses pride in what he and his comrades have achieved.
KAYA COLAKOGLU Can you tell us a little bit about the process that led to the delegations, perhaps starting with Peru? How did we set up contact? Was the DSA invited by a party or a group? And what did we hope to achieve by going to Peru?
AUSTIN GONZALEZ Absolutely. This was something that me and comrades in the NPC had talked about for a while. We asked ourselves: what could be more important than actually sending DSA members to other countries, to learn from our comrades in these countries, whether it be Cuba or Peru or Venezuela or wherever else in the world? What was more important than actually being there and being present in their struggles, and once again, doing what we can to learn from them?
For me, that was the spirit of doing these sorts of brigades, and especially for leftists in the United States right now, there's an added responsibility to network with leftists across the world because the war machine is here. We have a responsibility to them to actually be fighting our war machine here and to be networking with our comrades across the world.
As for the details of how this came about—it was early April, I want to say—the first round of Peru's presidential election was on April 11th, off the top of my head. This coincided with the presidential election that was happening in Ecuador. For anybody who was following that, the DSA did not send a delegation to Ecuador. I wanted us to, but I didn't know if we were ready for that. I lamented about this with other members and leadership, and I was pleasantly surprised that from anybody I had this conversation with, no matter what tendency or caucus or whatever they came from, they totally agreed. They said: well, why weren't we able to? Why didn't we send somebody to Ecuador?
Well, as I mentioned, simultaneously, the first round of Peru’s presidential election also took place. And, you know, I consider myself a nerd of Latin American politics. Peru, for the most part in the last couple of decades, has elected just general neoliberal centrist presidents, if not right-wing.
What happened, to the shock of the international community? To the shock of the Peruvian community? Peru was suddenly faced with a situation where they were going into a presidential runoff in a month between a candidate of the left and a candidate of the right. Peru was in a situation where they had an actual choice. This was not just a generic centrist versus neoliberal dude. This was left versus right. And for this to happen in a country like Peru, which is so critically important historically, culturally, and economically for South America; a country that has some of the largest copper reserves in the world, and some of the largest gold reserves in the world! You know, we said to ourselves, this is so critically important, we should ask our friends on the ground: how can we help them? What should we be doing to help amplify the situation?
DSA and the international left, for the most part, were all backing Veronica Mendoza and the Nuevo Peru party, which is a bit more of a proper democratic socialist Party, very similar in politics to us, and also a historical ally of the DSA. So to see this person, Pedro Castillo, win—and anybody who was watching CNN Espanol knows, they didn't even have an image for the guy when he made the runoff! So once again, this was also about learning about the situation rather than sitting here in the Global North and trying to talk over the people that were actually in Peru.
We then reached out to Nuevo Peru and our comrades and they were adamant in saying to us, if you guys can come down here, we would love that. We would love to welcome you all down. Not only that, this election is going to be critically important, and it's going to be critically important for people in the United States to know what's really going on. Because if there's any coup that were to happen, the US was going to be involved. They stressed that it was critically important for people in the United States to know what really was happening in Peru, and were very, very excited to invite us and to welcome us. And once again, Nuevo Peru are a historical ally of the DSA—they had sent people to our 2013 National Convention. Nuevo Peru would go into coalition with Peru and Pedro Castillo and announce support for Pedro Castillo. So as you know, I'm looking at this and talking with Blanca Estevez from the NPC, we say to each other, you know, we should do this! We should draw up a proposal to send an election observer delegation to Peru. And we were also toying with the idea of doing Chile at the time, as well, as they were doing their constitutional referendum vote. And we do have historical allies down there as well. Unfortunately, the turnaround on that one was too tight to send a delegation down and we were unable to pull that one. We were even wondering if we'd be able to do the Peru one in time. But luckily that worked out.
Back to Peru once again—so we thought it was critically important to have people on the ground, one, to learn from our Peruvian comrades, but also to translate what is happening into English for everybody back home in the United States. Critically important as well in making this happen was a couple of different groups—he Progressive International, which is an international institution of different progressive movements, progressive political parties, progressive leaders. One of the groups that they would also coordinate with would be the Party of the European Left, the coalition of leftist parties within the European Parliament. This three pronged delegation, I suppose, was mostly the group that we had when we went down to Peru.
KC So the visit itself; how did it go, who did you meet with, and what can we learn from Peru Libre’s immense victory?
AG Absolutely, there’s lots to unpack here. So as I mentioned, we coordinated closely with the PI delegation and the Party of the European Left delegation. The Party of the European Left brought their elected officials, their MPs from Spain, from the Portuguese Left Bloc, from the French Communist Party, there were folks from Belgium, there was somebody from Slovenia. We stayed together throughout election night.
As far as groups we met with, we spent our entire time in Lima. We were there for a week, though I would have loved to go to the countryside where Peru Libre and Pedro Castillo supporter support is at its highest. Lima is very urban and it's home to a quarter of Peru's population and is a stronghold for Keiko Fujimori and the right wing. Despite that, we were able to meet with a lot of different groups. To describe our first meeting—humbling isn't even the word! We met with a group known as Ronderos. They're essentially peasant campesino self-defense units that provide security for rural areas that have been completely ignored by the state. And these are very interesting people because these are people that, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, protected their communities from everybody, including both the “Maoist” Shining Path and the right-wing government forces of Alberto Fujimori. A lot of these people were just average indigenous people trying to live their lives. Pedro Castillo himself was a former Rondero from Cajamarca, a city in northern Peru.
There were particular moments that I would point out from this meeting with the Ronderos that were emblematic of a lot of the meetings that we would have. It took me aback how appreciative they were of us being there. I’m taking pictures and selfies everywhere. And it shocked me how eager they were to also take selfies. They would say, “Oh, you people from the United States, come over here!” It struck me [that] these are people who are, for the most part, ignored in their own country. So to have an audience with us—where some of us were elected officials from the United States—it meant so much to them. It was a reminder of how important it is to send people to these countries. It was a reminder of the power of actually being there in person to network with these people, to hear their stories. I got a deeper understanding of the Ronderos, because one might think, “Oh, Ronderos protecting themselves from The Shining Path and the government, what does that even mean?” Through this you get a sense of where they're coming from. They were all people that would talk about plurinationalism and socialism. These are people that talked about twenty first century socialism. They even talked about Chavez and their admiration for him. And fundamentally, they were all united behind Pedro Castillo and his call for a new constitution.
This was a common theme for all of our meetings. We met with basically all of the progressive and leftist political parties within Peruvian politics. We met with our dear friends in Nuevo Peru and we met with Veronica Mendoza herself. We met with the Communist Party of Peru, Patrick Aroha, literally the party founded by the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariategui. They took us on a tour of the Mariategui house, it was a beautiful moment. We also met with what's known as the Socialist Party of Peru, which is a party that's in coalition with Juntos por el Perú, the grand left coalition that Nuevo Peru was leading.
Critically, these parties—the Socialist Party of Peru and Nueva Peru in particular—are feminist and pro LGBTQ+ parties. I think a lot was made in the United States about Peru Libre, who we did meet with as well, and Pedro Castillo, and perhaps their more, let's say, questionable social policies. Well, once again, this is something that's important to us, right? Our organization is feminist, is pro LGBTQ+. So we wanted to talk to them about this. Is Pedro Castillo machista? Is he a homophobe? And what they would say to us is out of these two presidential candidates, only one of them has met with feminist groups and groups from the gay community of Peru. And it ain't Keiko Fujimori. Pedro Castillo worked out an alliance with Nuevo Peru. But before they gave their support to Pedro Castillo and Peru Libre, they made an agreement for Pedro Castillo and Peru Libre to moderate their views on some of the social issues. I think it's critically important to listen to the gay community of Peru, to listen to the feminists. What are they doing? Every single one of them was backing Pedro Castillo, every single one of them. And I think it's critically important once again to listen to that rather than talk over that, rather than say, “Oh, I don't know, I saw this quote that Castillo made one time, I think he's bad.” Let's listen to them. These are the people that are actually going to live under a Castillo presidency. And they were all firmly, firmly supportive of Pedro Castillo and his call for a new constitution.
As I mentioned, we did meet with Peru Libre and they were historically a regional political party in Peru, not a national political party. And this was essentially a ballot line, for all intents and purposes, that Pedro Castillo utilized in his presidential race. Pedro Castillo himself has only been a member of the party for a couple of years. I think it is absolutely fair to say that Peru Libre is a Marxist-Leninist political party. But more importantly than that, Peru Libre is a reflection of the indigenous community, of the rural communities, of the forgotten communities of Peru. I got that from any interaction with Peru Libre, whether in person or in the lead up to meeting them. It was truly remarkable to me how these people in Peru Libre are literally just average people who have been thrust into the national spotlight due to this amazing moment. Peru saw massive upheaval last year, like many places in the world did, and Pedro Castillo and Peru Libre were able to tap into that in ways that a lot of places in the world simply were not able to—like us in the United States, for example.
We met Pedro Castillo, we did meet the man himself. As a fellow short king, I'm proud to say that he is an inspiration to short kings everywhere. Perhaps we'll talk about this a little bit later. Unlike Nicolas Maduro, who's like six 6’6” or something like that, you know, Pedro Castillo is even shorter than me! So I was like, “Oh beautiful, here we go. We got one of ours here.” He's an amazing guy. In our meeting with him, it's amazing how good he is at knowing his audience. We met him in a very formal atmosphere with a very small group of people. And you could tell he is a former teacher. They call him “El Profesor”. He spoke very softly but also very directly. What’s very interesting was to see the contrast a day later when we went to one of his rallies. If any of you have seen any of his rallies, you know this man could throw a rally. Right. He'll wear these big cowboy hats and he'll wave around his giant inflatable pencil—and the entire time speaking hot fire. It's an amazing experience. For anybody who's curious about what that meeting was like in greater detail, Jacobin put out an article written by Pedro Castillo. What it really is is a transcription from the words that he gave our delegation.
IAN SCOTT So Pedro Castillo is still not certified following this election. What is our position on this? Do you believe that there's an imminent danger to Peruvian democracy right now?
AG This is a critically important question. We're over a month out, 100% of districts have reported and he still hasn't been certified. That’s stunning. During Election Day itself, we did not receive election observer certification. This meant that we were unable to actually go into ballot booths and actually see the physical process of people writing. What we were able to do was poll watching in Lima alongside some of the other political parties. As a legacy of the 1990s [Alberto] Fujimori dictatorship, elections in Peru are known for being clean. Our greatest fear on Election Day was that Keiko Fujimori would try to declare victory early since the urban areas reported sooner than the rural areas, similar to what happened in Bolivia in 2019 before the coup. Luckily, that did not happen, and though we knew it was going to be tight, it seemed clear to us that Castillo was going to win.
As soon as we returned to the United States, all of the people we met with in Peru began raising alarm bells to us. They said that Keiko is refusing to concede and they’re worried that Pedro will be stopped before he can take office. They’re still relaying information now. I think people are getting to a place where they're a little bit more confident that Pedro Castillo will be certified. Perhaps even by the end of the week (as of July 14th, 2021). Last week, I had heard that [it was going to happen this past Monday] and then Monday came and went so we'll see. Keiko has no legs to stand on. Fundamentally, this is somebody who is a known political criminal. She was literally imprisoned last year for corruption. This is somebody who knows she will be going back to prison if Pedro Castillo is elected. Even the infamous OAS put out a statement saying the elections were clean. Even a couple of days after the election the Peruvian navy put out a statement saying the military will not intervene. Those signs are encouraging.
What's not encouraging is seeing the director of the CIA meeting with Bolsonaro [three weeks ago] and seeing some of the events happening in the Caribbean right now. These things make the hair on the back of my neck kind of stand up. Part of me thinks some of that is a reaction to what is inevitable in Peru, in small part from his support in the rural communities. Cities like Ayacucho voted over 80% for Pedro Castillo. Fujimori and the right wing would be extremely naive if they think they could start a coup. Those rural communities know that they won. They will descend on Lima if they try to coup Castillo. I can tell you: the people we met are prepared to fight. But I'm beginning to get to a place where I'm a bit more optimistic that it's going to be OK. And if anything the thoughts moving forward should be kind of twofold. One, how does Pedro Castillo relate to a Congress that will be hostile to him? A Congress that has impeached presidents left and right in the last couple of years. And how can Pedro Castillo push forward on the demand to write a new constitution? Because to me, that's just going to be critical. If you're going to actually have a government that is by and for Peruvians, that's where it's going to start.
KC So perhaps with that, I think we can move towards Venezuela, which we all followed the proceedings of, both our delegation and the Congress, with really great interest. So once again, what was the process leading up to that and how did we assemble the delegation and, perhaps most interestingly, were there any debates leading up to it?
AG Sure. So, so last year—one of my fellow NPC members, Abdullah Younis, who was with me as part of the Peru delegation, actually went to Venezuela as technically a DSA delegate, but not really; he was there with a group known as the People's Forum. And the reason he was there was to attend what's known as the International Che Guevara Youth Brigade. When Abdullah was down there, he was able to establish contact with some of the people within the government; a contact we were able to maintain throughout the year. So there's always been some sort of correspondence there.
It wasn't until the beginning of this year—and I want to say maybe February—that we on the International Committee were contacted with a formal invitation to the Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples of the World. What the hell is that? Well, the Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples of the World marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo, which was the battle led by Simón Bolívar and José Antonio Páez which basically guaranteed Venezuelan independence. This was going to be a large international gathering, right. The 200th anniversary of Venezuelan independence, for all intents and purposes, seemed important to us on the International Committee as being something worth pursuing—especially because this was an event that was going to be attended by leftist political parties and movements from across the world, you know, even the Green Party sent a delegation. So there were different parties in the United States; PSL, that probably wouldn't surprise anybody, sent a delegation. There were parties from the United States; parties from Europe. Parties from everywhere, movements from everywhere that went right here. And once again, we thought, “OK, this would be a good networking opportunity. We'll be able to meet leftists from across the world.”
As I mentioned earlier, our 2019 convention passed a resolution talking about paying more attention to more focused networking with the leftists in Latin America. So we thought “this just makes sense.” Right? Well, as far as debates going into this: I'd say the way we looked at this on the National Political Committee was, once again, pairing this with the Peru delegation—both, for all intents and purposes, were trial runs. As in, trial runs for if these are things that DSA can actually pull off, or something that DSA can do more in the future. Peru being a trial run for election observer delegations and, in this case, Venezuela being a trial run for what we call brigades. Sending a brigade abroad to learn from political movements, whether they be in that country or, once again, other political movements that are there to network with other peoples.
And, you know, I suppose I have to say things got a bit testy—is the word I'm going to use—on Twitter. Between, you know, certain folks. I have to say, within the International Committee, and within the National Political Committee, the debates were very cordial and very much just like, “Oh, OK. Well, are we good? This is good. We just need to make sure that we have, like, robust reports back. So that people know exactly what our delegation did that I should plug.”
I don't know when you guys are going to put this out, but I should plug there's going to be a panel this Sunday [July 18, 2021] from our Venezuela delegation reporting back. That's mostly what the conversation revolved around within our own internal structures. Which is: let's just make sure it's transparent. Let's make sure people know what we're doing and let's make sure we're actually doing work down there.
We were working once again directly with what's known as the Institute of Símón Bolívar. This was the organization within Venezuela that invited us down there. Once again, they’re promoting networking and sharing knowledge between movements—specifically with the communes in Venezuela trying to share their experiences with other political groups. That's precisely why the majority of our time spent there was doing two different things. We were there for two weeks. The first week was to attend the Congress. The second week was to visit communes. The vast majority of our time spent was engaging with communes. Even during the Congress, different commune representatives had moments to speak during plenary. I would be remiss without saying that during the Congress, I had the honor of meeting Evo Morales. That was pretty cool. An interesting little moment that happened, because this was an international gathering of political leaders, political figures from across the world.
In my mind, this is exactly the sort of place that the largest socialist organization in the United States should be: side by side with Evo Morales. Side by side with Jaime Vargas from the CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador). Side by side with these people saying, “hey, you know, we take these talks seriously. We can learn from each other. We can learn from the successes and failures of socialism in Venezuela, or Bolivia, or Ecuador, or anywhere.” We can learn from all of that. We can approach these things from a nuanced perspective. But, as far as the background going into it—most debates, I would say, centered around: “let's make sure this is transparent. Let's make sure this is something the members can sink their teeth into. And actually be as part of as much as we possibly can.”
KC There were two things we were really interested in. One of them is, obviously, the communes, and there's also the Chavistas and members of the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela). What were major themes in discussions with Chavistas and the people there? What did they think of the US delegation?
AG Absolutely. So not not too dissimilar from Peru—in fact, very similarly to Peru, people were so happy to meet leftists from the United States. And I should add, the added layer that I'm of Puerto Rican descent was also a factor. For Venezuelans, who have a very Caribbean culture—whenever I would tell them, “oh, yeah, I'm from the United States of Puerto Rican descent,” oh, they would be so happy. They would be so happy to network with not just people from the United States, but people from different ethnic backgrounds in the United States. So they were very happy to see that, as far as opinions we got—whether it be people who consider themselves to be Chavistas, people who actually came from PSUV, people who came from different political parties, people who came from the communes.
The consistent theme to me was that everybody had a very nuanced opinion of the situation in Venezuela. Everybody had, in my mind, a remarkably high level of political consciousness right now. What the hell do I mean by that? Let me give an example in Caracas. Just like any, you know, major urban environment—an urban environment or any major city—there's a lot of graffiti. In Caracas, every single graffiti was political. Every single one. It was remarkable. Every single graffiti was always a big picture of Bolívar or Chavez or Maduro, or anything. You would see Communist Party graffiti. You would see opposition graffiti. And it was all political. It was a stark contrast from what I saw in Peru. In Lima—I should mention, the first political billboard I saw when I got to Lima [was] big, big letters on a big blue billboard: “FIVE DAYS TO VOTE NO TO COMMUNISM.” This was Keiko's fear-mongering campaign. You want to know what was the first billboard I saw when I got to Caracas? “Arriba la izquierda.” “Onward with the left,” right. So [a] complete, complete opposite in so many different ways, and an interesting dichotomy.
But once again, going back to the conversations that we would have with people, I don't think a single comunero, or the communards, whatever, or single Chavista said to us anything to the effect of, “yes, we have uncritical support for Maduro and everything the government has done and we love everything about it.” I don't think a single person said that. Every single person had a very nuanced view of their government. Every single person would say something to the effect of: “Hey, we are on the road to socialism. Venezuela is a capitalist society that we're trying to build towards socialism. There's a lot of contradictions in our society. There's a lot of mistakes that our government has made. But as long as this government, as long as Nicolas Maduro supports the commune project and supports the power of people on the ground, we're going to continue to support this government.” We would hear that a lot from coming [from] comuneros—the communards or whatever. So it's a very nuanced opinion. You know, anybody who tries to portray this as this dystopian, weird “Dear Leader” kind of thing going on could not have been further from the truth.
When our delegation even got the chance to meet with Nicolas Maduro—which was an interesting experience in and of itself—all his advisors, the translator, people like that, they were busting his bones the whole meeting. It was not at all some weird, “oh my God, I got to be on my best behavior” situation. Everybody was very, very chill, very relaxed.
This was a common opinion that I heard from pretty much anybody that we talked to: which was a very nuanced opinion of their government, one that recognized that Venezuela was going through a difficult time right now. They would talk to us about how as delegates from the United States our responsibility was to go back home and tell people to end the sanctions. Go back home and tell people to end the blockade. Tell people what you see here, write. Tell people how hard it is for us to put food on our table. How hard it is for us to get clothes for ourselves. How hard it is just to live in Venezuela. Help people to end this blockade. Tell people to end this blockade, which has put the state in a position where it can hardly provide food for its people. It has put the commune in a position where they are forced to do everything for themselves. It's remarkable.
On my perspective and my concept of the communes before I went to Venezuela… I consider myself a nerd. I consider myself somebody who did the readings, right; somebody who knows about Venezuela. I knew most about some of the big famous communes like El Maizal, where they produce corn. I knew about the Pioneros, the pioneers, who are squatters, who take over buildings. I didn't know and didn't really grasp it until I got there and saw all these communes. And I lost count of how many communes we met with. Communes I've never even heard of. What I didn't fully grasp and realize is that they do everything. They do everything. They make their own food. They make their own clothes. They clean their communities themselves. They provide protection for the communities themselves. Any money they make from the things they sell, they hold in common in a community bank. They have a community doctor. They have maternal centers in these communes. Almost all communes would have maternity centers for pregnant women to help them exercise and help them be prepared. And something I think is also important to point out: all these communes, damn near all of them, were women-led down there, damn near all of them. It was amazing to see that upfront.
And, once again, the point that I would drive home the most is that every single one of them talked to us about two big themes. One: the road to socialism is complicated. Sometimes it's not linear. Right? Sometimes you do make mistakes. You've got to learn from those mistakes and—two: end this goddamn blockade. This blockade which is strangling us, which is making it impossible for us to even truly go forward in our road to socialism.
You know, Venezuela is a country that was deeply reliant on the United States for many historical reasons. So for the U.S., which dominates global capital to, once again, do what it's doing in Venezuela was devastating for them. We got a clear picture of the way the sanctions affected them, with countries or companies in Europe or even companies in China refusing to do business with certain Venezuelan companies. Why? Because U.S. companies that have access to capital would say “if you deal with Venezuelans, we're not going to deal with you.” So even if a Venezuelan company or factory or whatever might have partners in Germany or partners in China, those partners would say, “hey, sorry, my relationship with the United States is more important in this case,” because of the access to capital that they have. “So there's nothing we can do for you.” Things like that. Right? They call it the “silent blockade.” It's not like Cuba where it's an explicit embargo. It's this intelligent blockade. This backdoor blockade. Where they communicate through their access to capital and through their domination of global finance and global business. Which is, “hey, if you deal with Venezuelans, we will not deal with you.” It makes things crippling and it makes it impossible for the state to provide for its people.
KC Finally, regarding Venezuela, what do you think we can learn from the way socialism is being built there? Obviously, what is going on there is different from the way things will work out here in the core. But in terms of strategy, techniques, and a socialist culture—what can we learn from them?
AG There's something in particular that I love about this and think is so instructive for all of us. And it's that, when you look at the history of how things came to be the way they are in Venezuela, I think there's lessons that social democrats can draw, as far as Chavez leading an electoral road to taking power. I think there are lessons that libertarian socialists or anarchists can draw, which is to look at communes; these are people, this is true grassroots. This is not the state monopolizing resources or whatever. No, this is people on the ground growing corn and selling it. I think there's so many different lessons for almost anybody from the example in Venezuela.
But one of the number one lessons we can draw from there is that there is no socialism button, right? There is no handbook. There's no road map. You don't just—like if Bernie was elected, you think he clicks the socialism button and all of a sudden police stop killing Black people? No, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. We have a lot of different contradictions within our societies that we need to fully grapple with. And we need to recognize that. We shouldn't cherry-pick different issues that exist in Venezuelan society and say, “you see, socialism failed here,” or all you say is that they've deviated from the line or something like that. No, we've got to understand why these contradictions exist. We've got to understand that the road to socialism is a long one. It's a hard one. Like I said, it's not linear. It's difficult. And it takes many different facets of struggle. I'm a person that firmly believes in what I call the kitchen sink approach, which is not one road to struggle. You can use the ballot box. You can use mutual aid. You can use—you know, obviously the union movement is critically important, right? There are many different aspects of struggle that we need to be utilizing to get to a point where socialists or leftists can actually take state power. And use it effectively. And there's a lot of different levels and different steps we need to take to get to that point.
I think it's critically important. It's so important for leftists in the United States, leftists worldwide, to look at places like Venezuela where the left has come into power. Right, and once again, see what went wrong here, what went right here, what mistakes did you make here? What successes did you have here? Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater as soon as things get hard, right. Rather than run away with our hair on fire, the first second we see a contradiction. We should be proper Marxists. We embrace contradiction, don't we? That's how we get closer to the truth, dare I say. Hope that makes sense.
KC I think that made perfect sense. So what's next for IC?
AG So a couple of different things I would point out: one, as I mentioned earlier, our upcoming national convention next month, about that, two things I would put on people's radars. One, I'm running for reelection. So DSA people out there, you've got to vote Austin G for NPC, you gotta do it. Number two, more importantly, I would say there is a resolution that I coauthored. It's called Resolution No. 14, Committing to International Socialist Solidarity. And what this resolution does is a couple of things. It empowers our IC to do these sorts of things, to do election observer delegation, to do brigades abroad to different countries. As I detailed a little bit earlier, the process we went through, we had to jump through a couple of different hoops to even barely get over the line to do Venezuela. I think we should trust our IC. We should have a strong, robust international committee that is building relationships overseas. I think that's critically important. Also, this resolution begins the process of getting DSA to apply for membership in the São Paulo Fórum (FSP). The São Paulo Forum being the largest alliance of left-wing organizations within our hemisphere. I think it's about time DSA joined the left in our hemisphere rather than turning a blind eye to that. I think that's critically important as well. And as far as specific projects go, which the IC, in my perfect world, would be engaging in, imagining this is a world where that resolution has passed: (1) Colombian presidential elections in May. That's going to be critically important. And (2) Brazilian presidential elections in November. Wow. That's also going to be critically important.
And once again, I hope that's just scratching the surface. I hope we get to a place where we're able to do brigades to other places. I'd love to do a brigade to Vietnam. How cool would that be? There's so many different movements we can learn from, so many different people that could use proper U.S. support, proper U.S. socialist support. And in my mind, the socialist left in the United States, just generally the left in the United States, the progressive left of the United States, in some ways, we've been behind on foreign policy for a while now. And once again, having the war machine here, the military-industrial complex here, we have a responsibility to fix that. We have a responsibility to do more for our comrades and our friends all across the world and really, really begin to build actual sustainable, long-term links with them. Hopefully that's where our organization is headed. We'll see.
SHEEN KIM One thing we had was, how have you kind of contended with Western chauvinism, especially working with Latin America and just anti-imperialism generally? This seems to be an important theme for those of us struggling within reactionary institutions—what lessons are there to draw, and most importantly, what can we do to help in the fight?
AG I think, if anything, that makes it doubly important to be fighting on that terrain. To be fighting within a reactionary environment, for instance, to be unafraid to be pro-Palestine. It's been amazing to me to see the way that even the national conversation has changed on that. There were people within DSA that were very wary of us doing what we did in Venezuela. They were very wary of actually meeting with Maduro. So once again, my perspective is that things like that are important. Right? How can we ever expect to change the narrative or to change the perspective that people have on socialism if we aren't very bold in the things that we do? That if we aren’t very bold in embracing socialist projects, like the ones that exist in Venezuela.
I think, critically, the way that this can manifest itself in a very real-world way—and to me, this is something that I would love to see from all DSAs and YDSAs—is an effective anti-sanctions campaign. An effective anti-blockade campaign. We don't necessarily have to be out here doing rallies, waving Venezuelan flags or like flags of Che or whatever, even though I might enjoy that. Let's drop the sanctions. Let's end the blockade right now. I think those are the sorts of conversations, ideally, that I like to think, even in a reactionary environment, people can look at those sorts of things and be like, “you know, it is kind of messed up that we're sanctioning this government. It is kind of messed up that we have an embargo on Cuba right now.” Maybe that's my optimistic, naive side coming out. I don't know. But once again, I think things like that are critically important. And I think emphasizing a commitment to foreign policy is once again doubly important in reactionary environments in the United States just because of how backward our country is on foreign policy.
IS To follow up on this, what are good ways for people that are sort of unaware or out of the loop on these things—in the ongoing developments in the Global South and stuff—to keep aware?
And then secondly, just listening to you talk, it's very interesting how it seems online and for people that are not involved directly with stuff, that there's a lot of dogmatism and much more hardline stances on different places, and people just are not willing to budge. But it seems that within the DSA, it's a lot more communicative. There's a lot more of a reasonable dialogue happening. And so, how is it that we can develop that sort of productive dialogue within our own spaces so that we can actually move forward on these questions?
AG Absolutely. So getting to that first question here, I think, our access to social media can be both a blessing and a curse—and in some ways kind of ties into the second part of your question there. I do my best, at least, to follow people on the ground. To use sources such as Twitter, through which you can follow people on the ground. Following people on the ground in these different countries, following people that are actually from these places to talk about where things are going towards... I think this is especially important for the situation that's ongoing in Haiti right now; to actually listen to Haitians and organizers and people that are living in Haiti. Well, what the hell actually is going on right now? I think finding those people is critically important. When it comes to the Venezuelan example, a book that I love to recommend to people as far as a reading, kind of to get started with that sort of thing, Building the Commune by George Ciccariello-Maher. It's just a nice little short book. It's a nice breezy read and a very simple one that I once again, I like to recommend to people as far as a kind of dipping your toes in with what's actually going on in Venezuela.
And once again, getting access to those sorts of resources: obviously, a resource like Telesur, is a decent resource when it comes to getting news, at least from that part of the world in particular. And, yes, The New York Times is not a good resource for that sort of thing. So it is very difficult. It is very difficult, especially living in the United States—living within the empire, to sift through these sorts of things.
I also went to London in late 2019 to canvas for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party. Boris Johnson, of course, won. So that was extremely depressing. But when I was there, it was amazing how right-wing the media was. How if you went canvassing on the doors of average English people, it was shocking to me how many people would actually say to me, “I mean, I kind of like Labor, but Corbyn's an anti-Semite.” It was shocking to me. I actually heard people say that—like, “Jesus, is that a real thing that people have been brainwashed into believing?” So the need for more left-wing media is critically important.
And as far as the second part of your question there, regarding productive dialogue. I'm glad that we've been able to have productive dialogue like that. I would also perceive it to be productive dialogue. What are the biggest things that I've wanted to see come out of this Venezuela delegation was just that—actual dialog within the DSA. And maybe some of it on Twitter got a little testy at times, like I mentioned. I welcome these conversations rather than trying to hide in a closet somewhere. And, you know, ideological lines struggle, so to speak, so that we can confront our contradictions. Rather than act like our contradictions, even within DSA, don't exist. I just joined the national convention Slack. I love engaging with members of different tendencies. I love engaging members from, you know, a caucus or whatever who might disagree with me or whatever, because once again, I think it's so critically important for a leftist organization, for a socialist organization, to be confronting our contradictions, to be, dare I say, embracing our contradictions. So we can get to a place where we actually have where we have actual ideological struggle.
KC A final question: any advice you have for an emerging YDSA chapter like ours?
AG I think one of the biggest challenges that I see within YDSA that I think all YDSAs should be prepared for is leadership development. Preparing for people to lead the chapter when you guys are gone. I think too often I see within YDSAs you'll get a very active and engaged leadership. And as soon as they graduate, there's the engagement. Also, engaging with your community: engaging with different groups, you know, your local Black Lives Matter chapter, for instance.
KC Thank you a lot for coming and talking to us!