Mere hours upon returning from a whirlwind tour including Spain, Russia, Libya, Iran, and Qatar, Chávez addressed several hundred intellectuals, government officials, and community activists. “I have a military background,” noted Chávez to the gathered guests, “a revolutionary military background. In the military we learned strategies for defense. And what’s the best defense?” he asked rhetorically. “The attack!” was the polyphonic response. “In defense of humanity, we must take the offensive-humanity must take the offensive,” intoned Venezuela’s charismatic leader.

Progressive luminaries such as the Argentinean Nobel laureate Perez Esquivel and his compatriot academic and political theorist Atilio Borón; members of Mexico’s prestigious Autonomous University (UNAM), which has recently become the center of progressive Latin Americanist studies; Ignacio Ramonet, the veteran editor of the left-wing French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique; and long-time social activist, author and political analyst Tariq Ali, are in Caracas for Venezuela’s ownpseudo-social forum.

But in contrast with the plethora of anti-globalization forums and
gatherings that have mushroomed throughout the region in recent years, this one has a practical aim in mind. One week after candidates allied to Chávez achieved a near-sweep in the October 31st regional elections, Chávez called his new governors and mayors, his ministers and advisors to a two-day meeting to come up with a detailed plan for the newest stage in Chávez’ “Bolívarian revolution” (named after Latin American independence leader Simón Bolívar). Building on this meeting, the conference places international economists, sociologists, political scientists, activists, journalists and historians together in workshops to discuss and debate concrete strategies for opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas, American imperialism, and inequality in all its manifestations.

Many in the audience familiar with Chávez’ discourse were surprised to find a Chávez newly radicalized. Where once he would viciously denounce
neo-liberalism, quoting one independence leader after another, Chávez has shifted his critique to capitalism itself-for him, the root of the
problem-and has replaced some of those 19th century patriots with 20th
century revolutionaries. In an intellectual sophistication that caught many in the audience off-guard, Chávez noted that those committed to the World Social Forum (WSF) slogan that “another world is possible”, the debate between Trotsky and Stalin on socialism in one country bears reexamination.

Tomorrow through Sunday, participants will discuss a variety of themes,
ranging from participatory economic structures, to alternative media, to popular memory. It’s a line-up not entirely unfamiliar to WSF-vets, but the opening night of the In Defense of Humanity conference has an atmosphere that seems far removed from Porto Alegre. The participatory budget was, and remains, a powerful symbol of the possibilities of participatory democracy for many in the global social justice movement. Yet in Venezuela, similar people debating similar issues are nonetheless doing so in the context of a radical national government, with the express intention of “transforming ideas into concrete facts.”