A fascinating panel at the recent World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was hosted by the Mauricio Grabois Institute, a theoretical and research center associated with the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB). The Jan. 30 panel was titled “The actual challenges in the struggle for socialism.” Speakers from about 15 countries, including the United States, took part.

The panel, held in a tent designed for 1,000, overflowed with people from all continents. The air was electric.

José Reinaldo Carvalho, PCdoB international secretary, greeted the crowd and asked if he could interpret their presence as a protest against U.S. imperialism’s occupation of Iraq. A huge cheer went up. Clearly this was no dry academic symposium.

Renato Rabelo, PCdoB president, was among the first to speak. He described how the election of Lula, a former metalworker, as Brazil’s president had opened a new chapter in the country’s history, propelling it on a leftward course. He said his party was working both inside and outside the government to advance the interests of the working class, to promote regional integration as a counterweight to imperialism, and to popularize the idea that there is no political alternative but to keep pushing leftward.

“Our commitment is not merely to political discussion, as important as that is,” Rabelo said, “but to put these political ideas into practice.”

One of the most remarkable speakers following Rabelo was Tran Dac Loi from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Tran condemned U.S. imperialism’s “aggressive program of military buildup and pre-emptive attacks against Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“Bush says he’s bringing democracy to the world,” Tran said, “but what kind of democracy is he talking about? Is it about how much money you have? Is it about invading and occupying Iraq over the opposition of the world’s people? Does it mean ignoring the UN General Assembly resolutions on Cuba and Palestine?

“That is not the democracy we want. We want democracy for the people, not the rich. For people, not money. For people, not big corporations!”

“Socialism is not only possible, but also viable,” Tran said. “Look at Cuba, which provides among the best health care and education for its people anywhere. Look at Vietnam, which continues to make economic advances, and which has been cited by the UN as the country that has been the most successful in the world in reducing poverty.”

Tran said, “Not only has our economy grown under socialism, but we’ve also been able to solve many social problems that seemed insoluble before. It only shows that people can manage power better than the capitalists.”

Noting that this year is the 30th anniversary of the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, Tran said, “We salute our brothers and sisters fighting for national liberation and freedom in Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Brazil and elsewhere. Remember: Imperialism can be defeated. Socialism can be built!”

The crowd burst into a thunderous ovation that took several minutes to subside.

Speakers from Cuba, Greece, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, India, Chile, Spain, France, Belgium, Uruguay, Denmark and other nations echoed similar themes, emphasizing the peculiarities of the struggles in their own countries. China’s spokesperson stressed the economic advances the country has made in recent years.

Debbie Bell of Philadelphia, a leader of the Communist Party USA, lashed out at the Bush administration’s attack on living standards in the U.S., including its assault on Social Security, its anti-labor actions, racism, undermining of health care and public education, and violation of civil liberties.

“Bush stands guilty of launching a pre-emptive, genocidal war on Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said, “and he is now threatening other nations with the same. Make no mistake: He’s not interested in promoting democracy either at home or abroad.”

She said the CPUSA was committed to building a powerful coalition of labor and community forces to block the Bush agenda, and to lay a foundation for future struggles, including for a socialist United States.

Several attendees said the meeting reflected a new level of confidence and militancy in the Communist and workers’ movement. A communiqué issued by a meeting of Latin American and European Communist parties held just before the World Social Forum, also in Porto Alegre, also reflected that spirit.

Mark Almberg (malmberg@pww.org), managing editor of the People’s Weekly World, attended the World Social Forum in Brazil, Jan. 26-31.