Venezuela has caught the imagination of people internationally. Three times in three years the country’s upper class, supported by the Bush administration, tried to get rid of Hugo Chavez—once with a coup, once with a lockout and finally with a recall referendum. On each occasion mobilisations of the lower classes defeated them. Since then accounts of real positive reforms from the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ have been greeted with enthusiasm in a world where its seems that only neo-liberal counterreforms
are the order of the day. And the enthusiasm has been heightened by Chavez’s upstaging of Bush at November’s Summit of the Americas.
But enthusiasm often slides into a way of looking at Venezuela which is the obverse of that in the mainstream media. They depict what is happening in terms of one man—and much of the left accept that depiction. It is an approach which is inadequate for understanding real social and political struggles. Such struggles necessarily involve a multiplicity of actors—and not just individual actors, but social forces, classes in motion as masses of people see for the first time the chance of lifting the weight of oppression from their lives. From these emerge contradictory notions of what should be done and where society should be going.
The process in Venezuela is far from over. There have been significant reforms, but not yet revolution in the classic sense of the term. The ruling class remains intact, symbolised by the continuing existence of the Venevision and Globovision media empires that backed the attempted coup against Chavez. And most of the old state remains in place, putting a brake on further reform even when this is called for from the president. It certainly does not provide a guaranteed mechanism for transforming society in the interests of the mass of workers, the urban poor and the peasantry.
This is producing a growing debate inside the popular movements as to the way forward—a debate which parallels that of workers’ movements of the 20th century over reform and revolution. Here we present the views of some of the protagonists. On the one hand there are interviews with Chavez’s vice-president, Vincente Rangel, and with Marta Harnecker, often described as an important adviser to Chavez. On the other there is an interview with one of the country’s new left wing union leaders, a statement by certain social movements, and a text from two members of the recently formed Party of Revolution and Socialism.
In the laboratory of the revolution
An interview with Marta Harnecker
Marta Harnecker is a Chilean journalist and activist, exiled in Cuba after the coup of 1973, who is now working in the Ministry of Popular Participation in Venezuela. A book of her interviews with Hugo Chavez has recently been published in English. This interview is translated from Siete sobre Siete in Uruguay.
What stage is the Bolivarian Revolution at?
At the stage of the deepening of the revolution—of an effort to make the state apparatus more efficient, fighting against corruption, purifying the police and the organs of state security, and working to deepen participatory democracy and to implement a different economic logic, a humanist logic based on solidarity.
What have been the most important steps in the political process since Chavez defined the socialist direction of the Bolivarian Revolution?
I might surprise you when I say that there has not been any step relevant to that definition. What is happening is that practice has been showing the leadership of the process that the humanist logic based on solidarity that they have been implanting at every level, especially on the economic terrain, has been clashing with the capitalist logic of profit with every step taken.
For example, you cannot create agricultural co-operatives or
produce basic industrial products successfully if the state does not take on a big role in the buying and selling of such products. You can’t control the impact of the increase in monetary circulation resulting from the enormous number of grants the government is giving to all the Venezuelans studying in the various misiones if you don’t find a way of controlling the prices of the products that make up the basic diet of the poorer section of the population. How can you resolve this within a capitalist logic where the motor of the system is profit and not the satisfaction of human need?
An emergency measure adopted when the opposition wanted to stop the process through the attempt to make the mass of the population give in through hunger during the lockout at the end of 2002—the purchase of foodstuffs for improvised popular markets—showed the way. Today there are hundreds of popular markets across the whole country, accounting for 40 percent of food consumption, offering products much cheaper than the
private commercial establishments. Their prices have been maintained through state subsidies at the same level as at the beginning of the experiment. Moreover, this is encouraging firms to produce stuff domestically that had previously been imported, by assuring them a market for their products and avoiding intermediaries.
As you can see, ‘socialism’ in Venezuela did not start when Chavez announced it at the beginning of 2005, but considerably earlier. And I speak of socialism in quotation marks because in reality what is happening in Venezuela is not socialism but a road which can lead to a society ruled by a humanistic logic based on solidarity, in which all human beings can achieve their full development.
Chavez does not deny that at the beginning he thought it was possible to resolve the deep economic and social problems of Venezuela through a third way—he believed it was possible to humanise capitalism, but history has shown him this is not possible.
The insistence on socialism as the only road comes, paradoxically, at the same time as efforts are being made to incorporate the private sector in the economic plans of the government.
This is something contradictory for the classic vision of socialism as a society in which all the means of production must be in the hands of the state, eliminating the roots of private property. In this classic vision the emphasis is put on property and not on control of the means of production. When Chavez speaks of the socialism he intends to be built in Venezuela he always makes it clear he means ‘socialism of the 21st century’, and not a copy of previous socialist models.
What is central in Venezuela today is getting rid of poverty. A short while ago I heard a young leftist criticise the vice-president of the republic as a reformist because he had said the main enemy was poverty, and that it was necessary to eliminate poverty instead of talking of the necessity of eliminating the bourgeoisie! What is the point of attacking private enterprises at the moment? These are radical slogans that have little to do with an analysis of the real situation. Does this young man not understand that to get rid of poverty it is necessary among other things to create productive employment, and that the reactivation of the private sector has been the principal source of employment in the country in recent months? Why doesn’t he ask himself why the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which threw everything into trying to get rid of Chavez in the past, is desperate to collaborate with the government today?
Even Lenin himself did not think it was necessary to eliminate private property in order to begin to construct socialism. Few people have read one of the first decrees of the newly established Soviet government—the decree over private publicity, which started from the premise that those private capitalists disposed to collaborate with the government would have to have space to publish their advertisements. It was not the socialists who marginalised the capitalists in Russia—it was the capitalists who marginalised themselves by refusing to collaborate with the Soviet government and opting for civil war.
In analysing this problem one must not forget the question of the correlation of forces. So long as the bourgeoisie feels strong and believes it can dominate the situation through ballot boxes or weapons, it is understandable for it not to be disposed to collaborate with a revolutionary project that goes against the logic of capitalism. But what can the Venezuelan bourgeoisie do when it has suffered a triple defeat—the failure of the military coup in April 2002, its failure to achieve its objective through the lockout at the end of that year, and its failure in the referendum of 2004? There remains no alternative for it other than to leave the country or to collaborate with the government in return for credit facilities and an assured market.
But isn’t there a danger in coexistence with the bourgeoisie?
Clearly there is a danger. The logic of capital will seek to impose itself. This means a constant struggle to see who defeats who. We are at the beginning of a long process. The control of political power, control of the exchange rate, a correct credit policy so that capitalists who receive loans accept conditions determined by the government—these are the formulae used by the Bolivarian government to make the medium and small Venezuelan businesses promise to collaborate with the government’s programme, of which the axis is the elimination of poverty. These were precisely the sectors most affected by neo-liberal globalisation.
But we must not forget that we come from a society in which the
logic of capital rules, with a culture which inclines both the owners of capital and the worker to work for individualist objectives. So socialism can only triumph over capitalism if it puts under way, together with the transformation of the economy, the transformation of people. To the extent that people see the positive effects of the new attempted economic model oriented to the new humanistic logic of soldarity, to the extent that they see the defeat of individualism, consumerism and the profit motive in their everyday practice, they will arrive at the same conclusions that Chavez has—the only alternative to the harmful consequences of neo-capitalism is socialism. It is significant that recent opinion polls show that 40 percent of the population already consider socialism something positive. This is a great advance, considering the ideological bombardment to which they have been subjected. The practical effects of the measures of solidarity adopted by the government are weapons more powerful than all the media missiles launched by the opposition.
And, being clear that we are dealing with two contradictory economic models, it is fundamental that an important part of the resources of the state go to finance and develop the state sector of the economy, since control of strategic industries is the best way to ensure the triumph of the new humanistic logic of solidarity and adequately to fulfil the national plan aimed at eliminating poverty.
The search for collaboration with private capital must only take place to the extent that it allows advance in this sense.
This definition implies a conceptual change in what constitutes ‘socialism’ in the 21st century and in a Latin America under severe US hegemony. What theoretical innovations are most urgent?
More than theoretical innovations, I think there were many elements to be found in the classic Marxist thinkers that were ignored or forgotten. ‘Socialism in the 21st century’ would have to take them up again at the same time as having to invent new solutions to the new problems created by the change in the world in these last years. One of them, socialism, is the most democratic society. Lenin said, ‘Capitalism equals democracy for the elite, socialism democracy for the great majority of the people.’ Another is the theme of workers’ control. You can have state property, but without workers’ control it is not socialism. On the other hand you can have private property under workers’ control and perhaps that can be closer to socialism than the first case. Yet another—every country must find its own road to socialism. That which can or cannot be done will depend to a great degree on the correlation of forces in the country and at the global level.
If we want to be effective radicals, and not just radicals in words, we have to commit ourselves to the daily work of building up the social and political forces that enable us to bring about the changes we want. How much more fruitful politics be would if those who go in for words were committed to this daily militancy instead of seeing their writing as militancy.
A view from the top
Interview with José Vincente Rangel
José Vincente Rangel is one of the members of the Venezuelan government with decades of political experience. It began in the Movement for Socialism (MAS), the party formed by ex-guerrillas who split from the country’s Communist Party in the 1970s. But while MAS and many of its former leaders are now aligned with the country’s right wing opposition, Rangel has become one of the more important of Chavez’s collaborators, first as minister of defence and foreign affairs, and then as vice-president since the attempted coup in April 2002. This interview first appeared in the German weekly Freitag.
Why is Chavez risking a clash with the United States?
We don’t think the US is now necessarily in a position to look for a conflict with a country that wants to be respected. Chavez has clearly distinguished between the US government and its people. It is not as easy to isolate Venezuela as it was in 2002. We have developed many international relations, more than ever before in our history. If there is anybody that is isolated in the world, it is the US, or at least the Bush administration. For a long time many governments have been making concessions to the arrogance of power of the US. They are afraid of the US and so do not say what they think. In our case, we do not have any fear for the future.
What are the objectives of your foreign policy?
We want a multipolar world, without the hegemonies that exist at present. For that reason we propose a refoundation and democratisation of the UN, which functions according to the logic of the world order established after the Second World War. The Organisation of American States, the OAS, was until a few years ago a sort of backyard of the US. Today that is no longer so. A second central aim of our foreign policy is the struggle against poverty—the most important present-day problem, which has to be at the centre of all policy.
In recent years Venezuela has promoted the establishment of a petroleum consortium involving various state enterprises and, with Petrocaribe, has formed a petroleum federation in the Caribbean. In addition, various states receive Venezuelan oil at advantageous prices. How do these measures fit into the foreign policy you have just outlined?
These measures are making concrete a policy of integration. For decades there has only been the rhetoric of integration in Latin America. Today the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean has a political dimension. Venezuela is a power in terms of energy. We dispose of considerable reserves of petroleum and are the sixth country in the world in terms of gas. And the situation is favourable to us geostrategically. Venezuelan oil is four days from the US market, Saudi oil four weeks. Each country has comparative economic advantages—Argentina has enormous agrarian production, Brazil its industry, and ourselves our enormous energy reserves. But what matters for us is not only our petroleum, but that we act in solidarity and seriously in the interest of Latin American and Caribbean integration.
Hugo Chavez in an interview on the US TV channel ABC spoke of a Plan Balboa for US interventions against Venezuela. Do you think that the US would risk a second military intervention after everything that has happened in Iraq?
There are two logics as regards this. One is contained in your questions and says the US already has enough difficulties in Iraq to get involved in other, perhaps bigger, ones. But often imperialism does not behave in particularly rational ways. If it did, it would not have invaded Vietnam. There is something like a logic of desperation. And the Bush government, it becomes clearer every day, is very desperate. There are few things more dangerous than an erratic giant.
Rationality would advise the US not to attack Venezuela. But an irrational attempt at intervention is conceivable and we have to be prepared. Part of this preparation consists in making public possible scenarios for intervention.
The Venezuelan state, as the owner of the CITCO network of petrol stations in the US, has announced that it will offer heating oil at advantageous prices to community organisations, schools and old people’s homes in poor areas of the US. What is intended by this?
Three much wider objectives are linked. We want, in the first place, to build three new refineries in the US, since the refining of oil is the bottleneck that is at present making prices shoot up. In the second place, we want to extend the network of petrol stations to 14,000. And thirdly, we want to give an impulse to the social component—that is, to something completely foreign to US enterprises. It is possible to offer schools and hospitals in poor neighbourhoods heating oil and petrol at concessionary prices without the Venezuelan state suffering losses as a result.
Brazil is the most important partner in the Latin American integration that you propose. But President Lula has not lived up to the expectations you had of him. If the Workers Party loses the next Brazilian elections, will this make things much worse for Venezuela?
The result of the Brazilian elections remains open. Furthermore, I don’t think what is taking place in Latin America can be explained very well by the existence of this or that government. What is involved is a social process that puts neo-liberalism in question. Politicians who ignore this will be cast aside. Just think of presidents like De la Rua in Argentina, Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador or Sáchez de Lozada in Bolivia. In this sense I am an optimist.
The opposition in Venezuela is hardly to be seen now. Rather it is the state itself that appears to be the principal obstacle to the ‘Bolivarian process’. The apparatus puts obstacles in the way of the democratisation and self-administration that the communities seek. Your government, conscious of that, has deliberately instituted the misiones—numerous social programmes—outside the ministries. Wouldn’t you have to destroy the state completely and create something completely new if you were thinking seriously of the emancipation of the Venezuelan people?
That is the pure truth. I subscribe completely to your critical observations. I live inside the monster and know what it is like. We have inherited the whole anachronistic bureaucracy of ‘Puntifijismo’—of the old dominant Social Democratic and Christian Democrat duopoly that still exists protected by the law. We cannot simply dismiss the functionaries. We have suspended people we know to be corrupt, and the Supreme Court has declared these dismissals illegal. And that is how it is—those decisions show that we are in a state based on the rule of law.
The misiones are an attempt to get over the wall of bureaucracy—or at least to make it more permeable. We have achieved something in this respect—the creation of an alternative economic structure and an alternative bureaucracy. But we have to be on our guard to make sure the new bureaucracy does not result in something as bad as or even worse than that of the old republic. At the end of the day, the problem is not only with personnel which come from the old traditional parties, but with a political culture. The corruption is a state within the state—it reproduces itself continually. It is a difficult process, but also a very stimulating one, for the Venezuelan Revolution is not violent but respects the democratic rule of law.
Aren’t the governmental parties of the left a problem even greater than that of the bureaucracy? Despite the revolutionary rhetoric, they inspire anything but confidence. There is an absurd struggle for positions and influence, and, as everywhere else, a great deal of corruption. Or at least, this is what is said by people who come from the urban movements who have to deal with administrations run by the parties of the left.
There is probably some truth in that. You must not forget that the Bolivarianos are part of the population. We are not dealing with Martians who have come to Earth to make a revolution. I think the accusations of corruption are often made lightly, but without doubt there have been many cases among the left. You cannot deal with the matter with concepts like angel and devil. That is to say, on my side are those dressed in white, and over there those who are corrupt. A process of transformations like ours is not a pure phenomenon. There is also corruption among us and a perverse obsession with positions.
Don’t you have to break the structures of the state and democracy completely to change anything? Finally, is not representative democracy itself the cause of the problem?
We want to create a participatory democracy in which the people are the protagonists and exercise direct control over the public budgets. Here also the political culture plays a decisive role. If people are not conscious politically they can easily be manipulated. The attempt is being made to inspire a population who have not known anything of politics for 50 years to take their own decisions.
Venezuela: A glossary of terms
Presidential decrees introducing economic reforms such as the division of uncultivated land among the landless, granting shanty town dwellers ownership of the land they lived on, and reorganisation of management of the state oil monopoly, PDVSA.
Oil monopoly nationalised in mid-1970s.
New union federation formed from workers‘ organisations that opposed the 2002 coup and 2002-03 lockout.
Party in some ways similar to Eurocommunism formed by ex-guerrillas in the early 1970s. Joined political mainstream in 1990s and split after joining anti-Chavez opposition. Important figures on both left and right of presentday Venezuelan politics come from it (Rangel was its presidential candidate in 1973).
Former left wing party with influence in unions that joined rightwing opposition.
Small pro-Chavez social democratic party.
Small pro-Chavez Communist Party.
Christian Democrat Party, pillar of old pre-Chavez political establishment.
Social Democrat pillar of pre-Chavez political establishment.
Arrangement by which pre-Chavez COPEI and AD parties alternated in office and divided patronage to supporters between them.
Movement for the Fifth Republic, main Chavista party, high level of parliamentary support, but weak in terms of mass organisation.
Network of activist Chavista groups, merged into campaign groups to fight referendum 18 months ago and reported to be of little significance today.
Local centres for providing health, education and other welfare provision, financed by oil revenues and operating outside control of state bureaucracy.
The Party of Revolution and Socialism
Interview with Stalin Perez Borges
Stalin Perez Borges, trade union leader and longstanding Trotskyist militant, is at the heart of the revolutionary process in Venezuela. He is one of the four ‘national coordinators’ of the new—and today majority—trade union confederation, the UNT. He is also a member of the ‘initiating committee’ of a new party, the Party of Revolution and Socialism.
The following interview, conducted by Fabrice Thomas and Yannick Lacoste, was first published in the 22 September 2005 issue of Rouge, weekly paper of the LCR (French section of the
Can you give us your analysis of the present stage of the process that is under way in Venezuela?
The revolutionary process is continuing, but there are contradictions at work, and it is being undermined by corruption and inefficiency. In therecent elections for municipal and neighbourhood councils there were clashes between the rank and file of the ‘Chavist’ parties and sections of the party leaderships which bureaucratically imposed their candidates.
For the moment, the confrontation within the revolutionary process with these conservative bureaucratic governmental sectors is essentially verbal. But we think that it can in the future become much sharper, and lead—especially if the confrontation with imperialism becomes more tense—to a considerable deepening of the revolutionary situation.
What is the situation on the trade union level?
With the crises of the coup d’etat against Chavez in April 2002, the oil blockade by the bosses at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, and the open treason of the old confederation, the CTV, the workers understood the need to take their trade union organisations into their own hands.
It is on the basis of this taking place on a nationwide scale that a new trade union confederation, the National Workers’ Union (UNT) was established. The UNT has been considerably strengthened. It is now the confederation which comprises the majority of trade union organisations in the country.
It is difficult for the moment to give a figure for its real strength, but we can say that we have more than a million members and that the immense majority of unions are affiliated to the UNT. There are four tendencies. We are waiting for the next congress to know whether the bureaucratic sector—a reformist current which includes many corrupt and incompetent leaders—has
There is also the current of the ‘Bolivarian Workers’ Force’, which is close to the government and which is also a reformist current. And then there is the ‘classist current’, many of whose cadres have been involved in the recent formation of the Party of Revolution and Socialism (PRS).
Can you tell us a bit more about the PRS?
The formation of the PRS is a consequence of this battle in the UNT. In most of the meetings that were organised across the country, the majority of those who intervened demanded the formation of a force distinct from those which today support Chavez—that is to say the MVR, the PPT, Podemos, the Communist Party and some others.
Seeing this need, we decided to establish the PRS. We think that in the present situation the workers need a political organisation which defends their interests, which is for class independence, and which has a well-defined anti-imperialist project.
Within our trade union current some people reproach us for having this project. We have to carry out both tasks—build the UNT as a trade union confederation that is independent of political parties and from the government, and build a political party for the workers.
The discussion around the formation of the PRS is at present being conducted by five distinct political groups. Other organisations will be able to broaden out our political platform, and we hope to announce the official launching of the PRS at the beginning of next year. We want to plan a founding congress. We already have a paper, Opcion Socialista (Socialist Option).
This project has involved us in organising a number of events. On 9 July we held a national meeting which brought together 450 people in Caracas. We have organised and will be organising other meetings throughout the country to proclaim the need for a new organisation. We have produced a political platform to serve as a basis for discussion.
What difference is there between the PRS and the official Chavist parties that exist at present?
The organisations in the leadership of the process are reformist, Stalinist or ultra-left, and they do not help to fight against the bureaucratic character of the state. It is necessary to ensure the transformation that the popular masses are demanding, which requires greater participation by ordinary people. The population has acquired—this is a characteristic of the process—a certain amount of power. It is no longer possible for leaders, ministers or bosses to impose anything on them.
This fight against bureaucracy, corruption and reformism is beginning to show results that are significant for the future of the country. To take one example, co-management—in other words, workers’ control and direct participation by the workers in the running of a state enterprise or a private enterprise.
Some members of the government think that co-management is a risk, because enterprises that are strategically important, for example PDVSA (the nationalised oil company), must remain under the control of the country’s leaders. In reality, they are afraid of participation by ordinary people. We are working a lot on these experiences of workers’ control. Giving power to ordinary people can be the leap forward that is needed for the pursuit of the revolutionary process.
Chavez says that we have to give people power. Well, power is controlling your factory, controlling your community and controlling the people you elect. That’s why we think that the PRS can have a strong influence on the workers. We are placing great hopes in the building of our organisation, in order to enable Venezuela to advance rapidly from pure statements of intention to real anti-imperialist measures.
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Socialism for the 21st century and the Latin American revolution
Miguel Angel Hernandez and Emilio Bastidas presented their views at a seminar in Rio de Janeiro last summer. They are activists in Venezuela’s Party of Revolution and Socialism (PRS). It was launched last July with, they say, ‘a significant representation of the country’s working class vanguard’ from the UNT union federation and was ‘co-directed’ by two of its best known leaders, Orlando Chirino and Stalin Peréz Borges. ‘There was also an important participation of leaders of the popular movements and students, including dissident sections of the official Chavista parties.’ This article first appeared in Spanish on the website publication Rebelión, and has been translated and edited by Chris Harman.
Venezuela brings out important aspects of the political debate taking place in the left in Latin America and internationally. Like the rest of Latin America it has been the setting for the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and IMF-monetarist prescriptions, for the crises and fall of governments which have implemented them, for the implosion of the structures of the bourgeois democratic regimes relied on by imperialism and the bourgeoisie, for confrontation with US imperialism, for the development of powerful mobilisations and revolutionary triumphs, and also, very fundamentally, for the crisis of revolutionary leadership.
Without doubt, the most outstanding events have been the conclusive defeat suffered by US imperialism with the overturning of the Venezuelan coup of April 2002, the defeat of the bosses’ lockout and the counterrevolutionary sabotage of the oil industry from December 2002 to February 2003, and the defeat for Bush and the bourgeois opposition in the referendum attempt to remove Chavez in August 2004.
What was decisive in Venezuela was the movement of the oil workers in retaking control of the PVDSA during the bosses’ sabotage at the end of 2002. The triumph of the working class against the 63-day lockout was the real basis of everything happening in Venezuela today, even more than the defeat of the coup of 11 April 2002. But the workers’ struggle did not stop
after the defeat of that lockout. It continued through 2003 with the beginning of taking over factories that the pro-coup bosses declared bankrupt, claiming they had lost money as a result of the stoppage they themselves had organised. As a result of the mobilisation and perseverance of the workers, some have now been taken over by the government, as is the case with Invepal (a paper factory) and Inveval (maker of valves for the oil industry).
A veritable revolution is taking place within the workers’ movement— what we call an ‘anti-bureaucratic political revolution’. The old bureaucracy of the CTV collapsed, and every day there are referendums in which new leaders defeat bureaucrats who have controlled the unions for 20 or 30 years.
And the process does not stop there. Often the new leaders do not measure up to the task and are replaced by still newer leaders emerging from the heat of the struggle. This revolutionary deepening has given rise to the new union federation, UNT, without doubt the biggest mass organisation in the country. What is more, within it the revolutionary classist and democratic current is consolidating itself, with comrades Orlando Chirino and Stalin Perez Borges at its head.
The pendulum of working class struggle is swinging from light
industry located in the centre of the country to its heavy battalions, especially its electrical sector and the basic industries (aluminium, iron and steel). They are beginning to undergo the experience of co-management—which in some cases, especially the Alacase aluminium enterprise, is taking on connotations of workers’ control (the election of directors by an assembly, the
opening of the company books, the participation of workers in the organisation of production), presaging its spread to other sectors. The working class calls this ‘revolutionary co-management’ to distinguish it from the European example. Meanwhile in the electrical industry the workers are fighting and resisting their own government officials, including the minister, who are rejecting co-management.
All this has opened up discussion on the way forward to fundamental solutions for our people.
We say in the political declaration of the PRS:
We are conscious of the advances made and positions conquered in the last six years of the revolutionary process. We are conscious of the significance of the misiones,1 of the widening of democratic freedom, as with the inclusion of socio-economic questions in the Leyes Habilitantes.2 However, we are also clear that much is still lacking when it comes to providing a structural response to the deep problems that exist among the poorest sections of our country. It is necessary to move forward to the expropriation of the big enterprises that are in the hands of the bourgeoisie and imperialism.
There can be no socialism without expropriation of the big private means of production. None of the parties holding ministries or parliamentary seats are ready to carry the struggle against imperialism through to its ultimate consequences. Their practice amounts to introducing timid reforms to capitalism or taking ad hoc measures that do not resolve and cannot resolve the problem of exploitation and oppression. Every day it becomes clearer that under these parties the revolution will become blocked and we will not advance to socialism… This means we have urgently to put an unambiguous socialist project for a workers’ government before the masses.
By contrast, Heinz Dieterich, a German-Mexican sociologist, who is an adviser to both Chavez and Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, defines clearly what ‘socialism for the 21st century’ means for him:
There will be a long phase of coexistence between big and small enterprises. It requires a minimum of 30 years, in which all forms of property are necessary, for neither the state nor the enterprises alone can resolve the problems… This first phase has nothing to do with socialism… Proposals, like those from sections of the traditional left who continue thinking of a government of workers and peasants as if we were in the 1960s, are stupid’ (El Nacional, 27 July 2005).
So the debate over the perspectives for revolution, over socialism and its objectives, is a red hot issue, not only in Venezuela but also for Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina—for any country where the revolutionary process has overthrown governments and put the political regime into question. There have even been schemes like those of Heinz Dieterich or Martha Harnecker (sent by Fidel to advise Chavez) in Brazil and Uruguay where there has been the electoral triumph of the centre-left. The forgotten debate of the 1970s, lived out in all its intensity with the experiences of Chile and Nicaragua, is coming to the fore again.
Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ had a very short life. Chavez
raised ‘socialism for the 21st century’ as an alternative to capitalism for the first time at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (in Brazil) because of his need to respond to the left sectors and the radicalised masses of Venezuela. Now he is popularising it internationally. In doing so he has brought the old debate back into vogue.
Venezuela has been converted into the new Mecca of the worldwide left, given the crisis of Stalinism, and that Cuba and Castroism do not enthuse people as they used to. And the prestigious voice of Chavez projects a politics of ‘socialism in the 21st century’. What is involved is not only a push to the left, to the side of revolution, with an apparently radical discourse, but also a designation of the content and characteristics of the
socialism appropriate for the present century. But this designation has nothing to do with the scientific socialism elaborated by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, and even less with what is required by the masses on a world scale.
The socialism of President Chavez is a ‘socialism’ with something
missing. It would be a species of capitalism in which the collaboration of classes would prevail. It would aim for the impossible, for a supposed social function for capital alongside a hypothetical more democratic distribution of wealth. This proposal is a chimera that has never materialised in any part of the world. Capital exists to reproduce itself without limits. It does not have any heart or any fatherland. It does not seek to satisfy need, but to guarantee an increasing rate of profit.
There has been developing for some time in Venezuela an ever-greater understanding between government and important sections of business and the multinationals. It takes concrete form in particular agreements favoured by the oil bonanza and has led Vice-President Rangel to affirm that ‘now the government can count on sections of business that it could not before.’
There are flagrant contradictions and limitations to the Chavez
project. The great challenge in front of us is how to clarify this for the masses. There are politically organised sections who believe that Chavez is heading towards socialism but that those immediately below him are opposed to this. They do not understand that there is a tight nexus between what the president ‘says’ and what his ministers ‘do’, as together they
produce a politics that disorients and confuses, preventing the revolutionary sectors occupying space politically. Important groupings with a significant presence among the popular sectors and the youth are prisoners of this confusion and, without meaning to do so, have converted themselves into the best proponents of this government policy. They are creating expectations among the population that this government is ‘ours’, that it is of the workers and the people, that there exists a ‘popular power’ whose base it is only necessary to strengthen, that we are advancing to socialism and that it is only a question of getting rid of a number of government bureaucrats and remnants of the old political order who have disguised themselves as ‘Bolivarians’.
This is a complex matter, but we are intensely optimistic, given the dynamic and depth of the Venezuelan revolutionary process.
The mass of the workers and the people have taken up Chavez’s proclaimed ‘socialism for the 21st century’, interpreting the notion in the heat of the revolutionary process, and amplifying it so as to provide an answer to their immediate needs.
People are beginning to move forward from what is said to what is done: from words to street mobilisations; from verbal criticism to direct demands on officials and the president himself—demands to make the agrarian reform concrete; in defence of workers’ co-management; against police abuse. We are assisting in practice in this new phase of the revolutionary process, as well as participating in the debate over socialism as a formula for overcoming capitalism.
For the PRS, deepening of the revolutionary process means, among other things, encouraging workers’ and popular mobilisations while confronting the ‘socialism’ of Chavez with the demand for an emergency economic plan which takes advantage of the bonanza in the price of oil. We call: for a national plan of infrastructure and housing constructions so as to create employment for millions of people; for granting the same big wage increase to workers in public and private enterprise as the 60 percent that has gone to the armed forces; for no payment on the external debt, with a national referendum so that the people can pronounce on this; for an oil constituent process that permits discussion over hydrocarbon policy, the business portfolios of the PDVSA state oil company and the annulling of concessions to the multinationals.
Our proposal to build a revolutionary organisation has caused reactions from other political sectors in Venezuela, especially from some functionaries of the Chavez government. They insist that our proposal is ‘inopportune’ and that we should wait at least until the end of 2006. We have also faced objections from people who once worked to build a revolutionary organisation and then abandoned that so as to be part of ‘broad’ organisations. They argue that the Leninist conception with which we want to build the PRS is ‘self-proclaimed’ and closes us off from new sectors which could be interested in the process of building a new organisation.
But we have been drawing in leaders of the workers’ movement and genuine leaders of the popular and student movements, finding with great surprise that they do not object to the building of a revolutionary party or demand that we hold back from democratic centralism. There are trade union, popular and peasant sectors which have been undergoing the experience
of everyday struggle and are just breaking with the bureaucratic
methods of the government parties or from being volunteers in the misiones. They find it easy to understand the need for the method of democratic centralism so as to win victories. These experiences are very significant for us, taking into account the immense influence that Chavez has over the popular sectors and the workers. Many activists from different regions and sectors
have welcomed the construction of an organisation that struggles for socialism without bosses or bureaucrats, and a workers’ government.
1: Health and education services for the working class and the poor, provided by the government and financed out of oil
revenues but without going through the old state bureaucracy.
2: The laws passed in 1999-2000 which granted certain reforms and caused the bourgeoisie to turn against Chavez.
Manifesto of the popular organisations
From Opción Socialista, October 2005
The reconfirmation of President Chavez in office in the referendum of August 2004 gave new breath to the struggle of the mass of the population to make the conquests of the revolutionary process concrete and effective. It spelt defeat for an offensive by the coupist and proimperialist oligarchy against the background of an economic situation marked by the bonanza of high oil revenues.
President Chavez responded to these hopes with the slogans of
‘Deepen the revolution’, ‘Revolution within the revolution’, and for a ‘Leap forward’. More recently he has brought into debate the proposal to go beyond capitalism and to advance towards ‘socialism of the 21st century’.
However, the feeling of the people, palpable in the community, in the workplaces and in the street, is that despite the important advances brought about by the misiones and the other social welfare policies, all this is not enough to resolve the principal structural problems underlying poverty, a product of capitalist exploitation from which the people are still suffering.
People complain that the ministries and the functionaries of the state institutions do not really implement the policies and measures announced by the president, that they do not give material effect to social and economic changes, or to the measures contained in the various Leyes Habilitantes. They notice resistance to breaking with capitalism. There is beginning to be frustration and a lack of confidence in the revolutionary
commitment of the circles around the head of state, which he seems unable to control. Growing numbers of struggles demand a deepening of the revolution against the shackles of bureaucratism and corruption. The tendency is for more protests and mobilisations by distinct sectors demanding fulfilment of promises and effectiveness from governmental organisms.
People block roads, demanding homes. Communities take over hospitals protesting at the deficiencies of the health service. Sections of workers protest in the face of obstacles to the application of ‘revolutionary co-management’ and workers’ control that managers and the ‘parasitic technobureaucracy’ put in their way. Peasants march in Caracas against the impunity of hired killers and for the agrarian revolution, denouncing the
obstruction of the bureaucracy and corruption when it comes to the application of the land law. Indigenous people have opposed the invasion and destruction of their environment by multinationals out to mine coal with authorisation by organisms of the state. Young people have raised their voices, faced with the crimes and abuses of the old, unpurged, police.
President Chavez has provided justification for these protests and has said the organised people must demand that the ‘negligent functionaries get out’. But the parties with ministers in the government and parliamentary representation have not shown any sign of the political capacity or will to resolve all this and to guarantee moving towards socialism of the 21st century.
This internal weakness of the revolutionary process leaves us even more vulnerable faced with the threats of imperialism, which continues to hold positions in important areas of Venezuela’s productive and financial apparatus (oil, gas, minerals, electricity, telecommunications, industry, etc), and to encourage conspiracy with the alarming and prolonged impunity of the coupist right, its means of communication and its instruments of violence.
This is happening in contradiction to the anti-imperialist language and policy of defence of national sovereignty that President Chavez presents in the face of Latin America and the whole world. We have an internal enemy concealed in the process, a veritable Trojan horse that is opening the door to the interests of the right and the capitalist oligarchy, so exposing our flank to imperialism.
People are reacting to all this, for we continue to be immersed in a revolutionary process that is part of a class struggle, between the exploited and the exploiters, between the possessing classes and the dispossessed, between the poor and the rich.
All of these struggles point towards the deepening of the revolution within the revolution. They are struggles that are taking place, for the time being, in a dispersed and disarticulated manner. What is urgently needed is a greater unifying force from the social organisations and political fighters.
The first steps are already being taken to channel the struggles
around the unity and solidarity of workers, peasants and the oppressed.
A united front is necessary, a big alliance of the social movements in struggle so that we can share objectives and actions, reinforcing each other mutually as class brothers in the mobilisations, and in the construction of popular power in the face of the offensives that the agents of capital are maintaining inside and outside our frontiers. The unity and strengthening of the struggle and popular mobilisation are our main levers for continuing to push the revolution forward. It is the only way of guaranteeing the promised ‘leap forward’ and of ensuring the Venezuelan revolutionary process truly goes towards the ‘socialist revolution’ instead of being reduced to a ‘caricature of revolution’, to use a phrase of Che’s.
Fundamental to this is the role played by the working class as the
leading class in the anti-capitalist revolutionary process—in alliance with the peasants and the organised popular communities—in order to conquer effectively the instruments of power, since we do not yet have in our hands the great decisions adopted by the organisms of the state.
As we unify the struggle, it is necessary that the social movements advance the development of popular power at all levels, with citizens’ assemblies, with popular committees of different sorts, with popular constituent processes in all areas of social life, with communal and local councils. There has to be a conquest of genuine representation at the heart of state power and inside the National Assembly—representation that is really subject to and in permanent consultation with the popular movement, the workers, the peasants and the revolutionary rank and file, so opening the way to the direct exercise of government by the workers and the people.
The spokespeople must come from below, strictly linked to the social struggle and organisational processes, coming from and reflecting the discussions taking place at the base. Any other way would leave us still captives of the bureaucratic apparatus, freezing and pushing back the revolution as has happened in the past in the other countries.