Tuesday, 11 January 2011

British delegation at the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students

From the 13th December to the 21st of December 2010 the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students took place in Pretoria or Tshwane, South Africa under the slogan ‘Let’s defeat imperialism, for a world of peace, solidarity and social transformation!’ For members of the British delegation the event provided invaluable experience and a continuing source of inspiration.

One problem progressive young people find in Britain is a sense of isolation. They may feel like they are the only young communist in their town. That is why it is so important for young people to attend local political meetings or national events like the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival; this provides a sense of being part of a movement. For those of us given the chance to attend the world festival, with thousands of young communists and anti-imperialists from over 130 nations around the world, we discovered that we are part of a truly global movement.

British delegates gained greater knowledge of subjects such as the struggle of the peoples of Western Sahara and Palestine, the politics surrounding foreign military bases, the campaign to free the Miami Five and the history of the Vietnamese people’s infamous victory over a brutal US invasion. Evidence was presented to an anti-imperialist court concerning environmental damage, the looting of natural resources, and the establishment of repressive military dictatorships. President of the jury, the South African judge Andele Magxitama, convicted imperialism of these crimes against humanity, in their conquest of the world in line with the principle of satisfying the interests of the few above the many.

The vibrant display of different cultures was breathtaking. There was much to see and experience including a Vietnamese tradition where delegates had to step between several pairs of bamboo sticks being smashed together in time to music played from a bamboo xylophone. The festival halls were explosions of rhythm with Arabic music, Korean plays and various African tribal dances. Some Sri Lankan delegates cooked traditional hoppers-pancakes made from fermented rice flour, yeast, salt and egg, while the Cuban delegation produced Havana Club Cocktails. Experiencing South African politics at first hand was overwhelming as mass meetings always erupted into singing, dancing and chanting.

There was a real expression of youth culture, people sat around painting amazing pictures, singing songs, playing instruments and reciting poetry. Some Spanish speaking delegates dressed up as caricatures of the capitalist media, dressed in suits with a papier-mâché television camera with a CNN logo, who would proceed to interview people holding a screen in front of the camera with the sign of the dollar, while a man on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam held puppet strings above your head.

The legacy of the recent world cup was keenly felt and the festival echoed with the sound of VuVuzelas. The early exit of Bafana Bafana from the recent world cup proved to be a sore point and during a keepy-uppy demonstration a delegate from Uruguay was challenged to beat the local lads’ performance. However, the South African delegates were heartened by the victory of both their women’s and men’s’ teams who won the football tournament. British delegates from the Young Communist League were particularly proud of a football victory of its own when we beat the Portuguese communist youth 3-2 in a hard fought game, a particularly impressive feat at an altitude of 1,350 m (4,500 ft) above sea level.

At the closing of the festival we joined a march of thousands of young people through the streets of Tshwane which brought us to a rally of where passionate speeches and songs were delivered from a stage in front of the Union buildings which granted an impressive view across the city to those who walked to the top.
Members of the British delegation were greatly impressed by the vibrancy of South African politics with its singing and dancing. The ANC song Solomon was particularly enjoyed;

"Iyho uSolomon!
Isotsha lo Mkhonto We Sizwe!
Wa yo bulala amabhunu eAfrika!"

"Oh Solomon, The Spear of the Nation soldier, He struggled against the Boer oppressors in Africa."

Delegates from the Young Communist League enjoyed this popular South African Communist Party (SACP) song;

"My father was a gardener, a gardener, a gardener,
My mother was a kitchen girl, a kitchen girl, a kitchen girl,
That’s why I am a communist, a communist, a communist.”

We were so impressed that we intend to bring it home, although the occupations of railwayman and nurse would better reflect our labour movement.

Something Britain’s communists suffer from, particularly in England, is a failure to draw our socialism and our national identity together. We look enviously at our comrades in France who can quite happily mix socialist convictions while waving the tricolore and delivering La Marseillaise in thunderous voices. At the world festival delegations proudly waved their national flags and displayed their respective national cultures on their stalls. Particularly vivid are the memories of fluttering Brazilian and Cuban flags held high by carnivals moving in time to Latin music, Syrian and Algerian characters in traditional Arabic robes, whose stalls resembled a cave in Arabian Nights, and of course, tribal African dancers carefully balancing pots upon their heads or pounding upon drums, displaying stone carved elephants and beaded jewellery. We were asked by the Vietnamese delegation, with their stall full of ceramic figurines and traditional Asian Conical hats, why our stall did not contain any British cultural items.

That left us wondering, what is British culture? Would it be appropriate for us to boldly wave the Union flag, mirroring our ancestors when they thrust it through the heart of the freedom of one quarter of the planet’s population?

At an event organized by the Portuguese communist youth, we were impressed by the hearty renditions of the songs of the Carnation revolution. The only response we could muster was to remind them of the result of a certain game of football that had taken place earlier that day. Eventually we decided to deliver a few verses of the red flag, a song we continued to sing throughout the festival. Nonetheless, British culture was best expressed by the conversations we had about premiership football with delegates from over nations over a few beers in the evenings.

Clearly, defeated only sixteen years, the legacy of apartheid is still dearly felt in the form of high levels of crime and inequality. Nonetheless President Zuma, who attended the opening ceremony of the festival that included a military parade and a flypast by the South African Air force, has stated that he will seek to deliver a badly needed programme of job creation and greater redistribution of wealth, that the ANC and SACP will seek to forge a different path from South Africa’s current neoliberalism.

Overall the Festival was a life-changing event for its delegates, by learning as a group, playing football together, and overcoming organisational obstacles as a team, the YCL contingent demonstrated an ability to act as one. It’s members come back to Britain more enthusiastic than ever and better equipped to get stuck into political work with renewed vigour. Members of the YCL contingent will lead by example and use their new found skills and passion to forge a bigger, better YCL in order to support the rebuilding and reenergising of the communist party and supporting the labour movement in uniting the communities of Britain against this Tory-led government.

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