By Cameron Orr
On the early morning of Friday, October 13th, 2017, eight young people organized by the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) will fly through Moscow to Sochi, Russia to join over 50,000 youth from over 183 countries for the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS). Running from October 14 – 22, this worldwide gathering of young leaders will engage in discussions about how to work together to solve problems of war, racism, inequality, lack of jobs and educational opportunities, and many other urgent issues.
The Festival is organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), which was formed at the end of World War II in 1945 at the initiative of the World Youth Council to fight against fascism. WFDY is an internationally recognized NGO enjoying consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council and with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is also a member of the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties (IMCWP).
The first Festival was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in July, 1947, two years after its liberation from Nazi occupation forces. Throughout the years, the Festival movement has defended and advanced civil and democratic rights, and the rights of nations to self-determination. Subsequent Festivals have been held around the world, including in Pretoria, South Africa in 2010, the homeland of Nelson Mandela, where Fidel Castro addressed the festival-goers. At the 2013 Festival in Quito, Ecuador, President Rafael Correa addressed the crowd in the pouring rain, saying that “there can be no peace in the world without justice.” And in 1973, Angela Davis, fresh from her release from prison, attended the 10th Festival in East Berlin.
The 14th Festival in 1997, which took place in Havana, Cuba, was significant in showing that the flame of the Festival Movement had not gone out despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc countries, which had been major supporters. This years’ festival will gather under the slogan “For peace, solidarity and social justice, we struggle against imperialism – Honoring our past, we build the future!” The Festival will also include sports and cultural events to further develop international friendship and solidarity.
Centered around the struggle against imperialism, fascism, and racism, and highlighting the role of the youth in the struggle for gender equality, the 19th Festival will honor the 100th anniversary of the great October Revolution and the 70th anniversary of the Festival Movement. It will also honor the memory of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro Ruz, and Mohamed Adelaziz, leader of the Saharawi national liberation movement against Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, the last remaining colony in Africa.
Preparations for the festival have been in development since the 19th General Assembly of the World Federation of Democratic Youth held in November of 2015. It was held soon after the Cuban Five won their freedom and after then-US president Barack Obama initiated diplomatic ties with Cuba, steps which are now being reversed by the Trump administration. The General Council re-elected Nicolas Papademetriou, of EDON, the Communist youth organization of AKEL, the Communist Party of Cyprus, as president of WFDY, and Jose Angel Maury De Toro of the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (the Cuban Young Communist League), as its general secretary.
The General Assembly involved the participation of 130 delegates representing 62 organizations and 35 countries, including the Socialist Youth Union of Sri Lanka, Juventud Hostosiana of Puerto Rico, Saharawi Youth Organization (UJSARIO), the World Peace Council, youth from the Communist Party of Turkey, the Communist Youth of Syria, the Presidium of the Russian National Preparatory Committee, and member organizations of WFDY from Jordan, Brazil, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Africa.
The United States does not have a unified national youth organization. The United States Youth Council was also formed in 1945, but since its founding underwent severe problems owing to its anti-communist history and direct funding from the CIA. It was dissolved in 1986.
Representatives at the General Assembly emphasized solidarity with the struggle for self-determination of the Puerto Rican, Syrian, Palestinian, and Western Saharan peoples. Program themes for the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students were formulated according the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN in September of 2015.
The 1st international Preparatory Committee (IPM) meeting for the festival was held in Caracas, Venezuela, where the 16th Festival in 2005 was held. The date, location, and slogan of the festival were determined at this initial IPM.
The 2nd IPM, organized by the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) was held in Windhoek, Namibia in November 2016 and approved the themes, seminars, and conferences that would be held at the festival. Swapo Party Secretary General Nangolo Mbumba said WFDY “has been an important historical ally for the Namibian people and the struggle for independence and democracy and continues to play an important role as a meeting platform for anti-imperialist and socialist youth of the world.” He urged the youth to be united saying “if prosperity is not shared, it is dangerous and unsustainable.”
The SPYL called on all sanctions against Zimbabwe and Cuba to be lifted, for the conflict in Syria and continuous destruction and war in the Middle East to end, and for an end to the occupation of Western Sahara and Palestine. Namibia’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Hon Dr. Peya Mushelenga said he would like to see the youth deliberate on issues of south-south cooperation at the festival and the National Youth Council of Namibia signed a cooperation agreement with the National Youth Council of Russia.
The third and final IPM was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 25 – 27, 2017 to finalize the program with additional sports and cultural activities. The Communist Party USA sent a delegation to this meeting. During the same month, Papadimitriou of Cyprus, along with Jose Angel Maury De Toro and WFDY Vice President Pubudu Samaraweera of the Sri Lankan Socialist Youth Union, visit[ed] Hanoi, Vietnam for a bilateral meeting with leaders of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union (HCMCYU). Philippines and India also held their National Preparatory Committee that month.
In July, the festival was presented at the 23rd Meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum in Nicaragua where “solidarity with Lula and Venezuela’s Bolivarian process” were dominant themes. 21 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean took part, including heads of state and government, and active young leaders from the Forum member nations. All the countries that came to the forum confirmed their participation at the festival.
On October 1st, CPUSA delegates to the festival held a Roundtable and Party in New York City to involve community partners in the Festival Movement. Participating at the event were organizers and activists from the #Fightfor15, the #CLOSErikers campaign, and Black Lives Matter. The conversation was focused on the relationship between racism and imperialism, followed by musical performances.
“When you look around the world, the people who have darker skin suffer the most. Why is that?” asked one BLM activist. It’s “because of [U.S.] slavery and [U.S.] colonialism … their resources are exploited,” they said. “Racism isn’t just because people are Black and Brown, although that’s a huge part of it, but it’s also because they’re poor, so they’re vulnerable.”
#CLOSErikers organizer Vidal Guzman said that mass incarceration is another example of “not putting the right investments in the community,” and that “the people closest to the problem are the people closest to the solution.” One BLM activist pointed out that racism is ideologically connected to “American exceptionalism” because “how do you explain [that] one out of three Black men are going to be incarcerated,” if everyone has equal opportunity in the U.S.? Mass incarceration, a modern form of slavery, is also a “codified [way] of saying that people aren’t succeeding because they’re criminals … so we lock them up and don’t give them any of the tools to succeed,” they said. Another BLM activist requested that the delegates go to the festival to “internationalize the movement” for racial justice in the U.S.
The festival program will officially start on the second day, focused on the festival themes, including a parade commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
The festival program will contain focused discussions on primary issues facing specific regions of the world. The third day, “America Day,” under the heading “Peace, Justice, anti-Imperialism and people’s friendship,” will contain a main conference on “the refugee crisis as a result of the imperialist aggressiveness,” and “the power of solidarity for the constitution of peace.” The fourth, “Africa Day,” will have a main conference on “the rise of fascism and anti-communism, racism, and xenophobia.” The next day, “Middle East Day” will have a conference focused on “the youth’s struggle for free and Universal access to Health, Education, Science, Culture, and Information.”
The sixth day, Asia Pacific day, will discuss “the consequence to the rights of the peoples during the capitalist crisis, the unemployment and the precariousness of the youth.” Addressing issues in Europe on the seventh day, the Festival will discuss “the development of Science and the consequences to the environment.” The eighth day, “Russia day” will include the subject of “water as a universal general resource” and “fighting against privatization of water.” A separate seminar will focus on opposition to “attempts to falsify history and review the results of World War II through the equalisation of communism with fascism.”
Additional seminars will be held each day on subjects such as how to confront precariousness and youth unemployment, the role of youth in the struggle for gender equality, climate change, food sovereignty and health, and many other issues.
Throughout the entire time of the festival exhibitions will remain open on the Soviet Union, the period of the 2nd World War and the victory of the peoples against Nazi-fascism, the life of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro Ruz, Mohamed Abdelaziz, and the 6th and 12th Festivals held in the Soviet Union.
A “Regional House” (Casa Americas) will also be organized to engage in social issues and expressing solidarity with Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Cuba through book presentations, videos, speakers, music, and poetry. The author of this article will be giving a looping violin performance during this component.
The festival will also feature an “Anti-Imperialist International Court” bringing against imperialist forces charges of “terrorism, economic blockades, sanctions and embargoes;” “environmental destruction;” “war, aggressions and occupations;” “exploitation;” and the “main cause of poverty and misery” in the world.
“In the midst of what seems to be an awakening of hatred and violence, young people will converge in a worldwide Festival in Russia in an attempt to materialize the ideas that help peace endure throughout the world,”
“ideas worth spreading from a melting pot of iridescent viewpoints,”
“because understanding the changes in global politics is vital to protecting democracy,”
“because international solidarity is important now more than ever.”
“With a racist landlord in the white house, and a Big Oil exec running the Pentagon, we, the world’s youth must unite against Wall Street terrorism, because imperialism is international racism.”