Archive for May, 2007

Venezuela: don’t overdo it, comrades (part 5)

May 30, 2007

According to Socialist Worker-New Zealand in its May Day Statement, the Venezuelan revolution is the most important revolutionary development since theRussian revolution and its direct aftermath. Both the dept and breadth of the revolutionary process and the potential impact of  the events on the international revolutionary movement seem to be the basis of this judgement. On both counts, the judgement shows a serious underestimation of revolutionary developments and episodes during the past 90 years.

As far as revolutions go, it seems rather ridiculous to portray Venezuela as the biggest one since Russia 1917-1924. There are a number of other other candidates for this honourable position.

What to think, for instance, of Spain 1936-1937? In 1936, working class revolt stopped the military coup by which the army tried to overthrow the elected, left-of-center government of the republic. The army leadership detested not just that government; they hated and feared the militancy of workers’ and peasants’ organisation.

The mass resistance of peasants and workers, above all in Barcelona, grew into revolution. Workers’ organisations – the anarcho-syndicalist union federation CNT above all – took over factories and put them under collective workers’ management. Peasant communes appeared in parts of Spain.

Several million workers and peasants liven for moths in these kind of revolutionary democratic structures., a libertarian communist website, has put together some data in “Statistical information on socialization in the Spanish Revolution”. For instance: “Gaston Leval talks about”revolutionary experience involving, directly or indirectly, 7 to 8 million people”,  and  “Frank Mintz estimates 1,265 to 1,865 collectives, ’embracing 610,000 to 800,000 workers. With their families, they involve a population oaf  3,200,000…’ (p. 149)”. The goverment,  made up by liberals and Stalinists, at one stage even with anarchist participation, rolled back the revolutionary wave, sabotaged collectives, demoralized workers and peasants – and lost the war against the fascists and the army.

But, in those few months that the Spanish revolutioin was at its height, it went much, much deeper, in a much more radical fashion, than anything seen in Venezuela in recent years. An interesting, polemical article on the revolution is Jim Creegan’s “What Happened in the Spanish Civil War?” in the marxist magazine What Next.

Another important example of a revolution that, for a while, opened up a road to the overhrow of acpitalism in all its forms has been Hungary, 1956. There, a student revolt led to an enormous demonstration against the Stalinist regime. Deadly repression was answered by workers’revolt.

An array of revolutionary committees and workers’councels first broke the back of the Stalinist staten, put the succeeding govenrment under constant pressiure and then organised the resistance against the Russion invasion. In the meantime, these organs of revolutionary democracy basically ran society, until the Russian army succeeded in restoring the Stalinist state.

Peter Fryer, journalist for the Communist Daily Worker, wrote a book about it called “Hungarian Tragedy”. He was thrown out of the Communist Party because in the book he took the side of the workers in revolt, against their Stalinist bosses that still were considered ‘comrades’ by that party.

Other revolutions and almost-revolutions, with enormous mass participation, show how wrong it is to pretend dat “(t)he masses in Venezuela are behind a genuine revolutionary project in a way that has not occurred in the last 90 years”, as the writers of the May Day Statement do. There has been the Portuguese revolution in 1974-1975. A militry coup of left wing officers overthrew the fascist dictatorship of Caetano. That could, if one wants, ben compared wit Chavez coming to paower through elections, the beginning of revolution. But then, the masses moved much further. A strike wave, a series o factory occupations by workers, peasant activism against big land owners, a radical soldiers’movement…. it represented a revolution-within-the-revolutuion that went much further than the Venezuelan process upo to now, especially in the most important sphere of capitalism: in the factories.

The revolution failed. Parliamentary left wing parties succeeded in channeling the movement in reformist channels, the radical wing of the movement lacked coherent organisation and an adequate strategy. Reading Tony Cliff, “Portugal at the crossroads”, one gets a sense fo both the possibilities and of the tragedy unfolding. In a later article, “Portugal: The lessons of the 25th November”, Cliff looks back on that went wrong.

Should I go on, giving example after example of revolutions far surpassing the unfolding Venezuelan process? The Iranian one springs to mind: mass demonstrations involving millions, an oil strike, mutinies – overhroowing the ferocious dictatorship of the Shah in 1978-1979. Weeknesses of the left opened the road for the Shiite leadership around Khomeini to derail the revolution.

“Memory Lane – Looking back at the road to revolution”, on,  is a day by day account of the revolution; not much analasys an context, lots of interesting quotes and facts. “Iranian Revolution”, on Lenin’s Tomb, analyses the politiocal manoeuvrings by which the left was sidelined and the religious leadership gained control; unfortunately, he gives less weight to the workers’ movement than I think would be correct.

Then, there were the Polish workers’ mass strikes of 1980, when between nine and ten million organised themselves within weeks in an independent trade union, Solidarnocs, against the stagnant Stalinist regime.

It took the state 16 months to begin restoring their order. They were helped by a Solidarnocs leadership constantly trying to escape the inescapable: all-out confrontation wth the regime. By the time the confrontation came, in the form of a state of emergency, December 1981, the masses were already growing demoralised. Another revolutionary opportunity needlessly going down the drain. Colin Barker gives a summary of the events in “The Rise of Solidarnocs”, International Socialism Journal, nr. 108, October 2005.

What all these have in common are two things: first, they were all eventuelly defeated, and bourgoeis or bureaucratic capitalist order was eventually restored. In that, they are different from Venezuela, where things can still move either to defeat or to victory.

Second, they all had as its centre workers’ movement operating independently, organising in a radical fashion, and beginning to lay the seeds of an alternative society beyond capitalism. In that, they went much further than the Venezuelan process up to now.

Yes, communal councils, instigated from the president’s office, are nice, and they open the door to more thoroughgoing change; the few factories in Venezuela operating under workers’ control are a beginning, and they form an inspiring example. But, compared to the collectivisation in Barcelona 1936-37 or the radically democratic trade union movement in Poland 1980-1981, the working class movement in Venezuela still has quite a long way to go.

Describing, therefore, the Venezuelan events as “the most important leap forward for the workers’cause since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution”, as the May Day Statement does, is wrong. There have been earlier, and bigger, leaps forward.

That those leaps did not, in the end, succeed, is true. That the Venezuelan process may, hopefully, turn in a leap forward that does succeed, is much to be hoped. But, to help such a revolutionary breakthrough succeeding, we need good politics. Good politics cannot be built on bad history. And ignoring the greatness of twentieth century revolutions like the ones in Poland, Iran, Portugal, Hungary and Spain, looks like very bad history indeed.


Venezuela: don’t overdo it, comrades (part 4)

May 30, 2007

In part 3 of this series, I said that the IS Tendency “has not been among Chavez’ most fanatical cheerleaders”. And, as far as I am concerned, an attidude of solidarity, but without hyping the Bolivarian process as the Biggest Event Seen in Many Many Years, is the right attitude. However, hyping the Venezuelan process is exactly what one part of the IS Tendency is doing. That, at least is, how I read their May Day Statement.

For instance, they say the following: : “Socialist Worker – New Zealand regards the unfolding revolution in Venezuela as of epochal significance.” And they ask the question: “Is the unfolding Venezuelan revolution the most important leap forward for the workers’ cause since  the 1917 Bolsjevik Revolution in 1917? The answer from  delegates at Socialist Worker -New Zealand’s recent national conference was a unanimous ‘yes’.”  They continue: “The masses in Venezuela are behind a genuine revolutionary project in a way that has not occurred in the last 90 years.” And, in the same vein: “Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the unfolding Venezuelan revolution, if it continues to move in the direction it’s currently going, will reshape the socialist and labour movements in very country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did in 1917-1924.” We also read: “Chavez & Co are at the centre of the most important ‘revolution within the revolution’ since the Bolsheviks pronounced “All power to the Soviets” in 1917 Russia.”

I think this is a serious misjudgement, and a dangerous one as well. It is built on a misguided analysis on at least three fronts. The current state of world affairs does not make Venezuela the center of any socialist universe. History between 1924 and the 21st century has seen revolutions unfolding that were at least as influential, important and impressive as the process going on in Venezuela, which is, in essence, still a reform process with inspiring elements of revolution – no more than that. The analysis of the Bolivarian process itself, then, also is faulty. As a whole, I consider the attidudes expressed in this May Day Declaration as in some respects even more exaggerated than that of In Defence of Marxism and The Unrepentant Marxist that I wrote about in part two of this series.

Let’s start with the wordl situation today. I think the most central and explosive development is the general crisis of US hegemony. The appearance of elected left wing governments, such as in Venezuela, is part of that – but not the central part. The failing ‘War on Terror’ is the main battle. The fact that the US cannot stabilise its occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that resistance forces are slowly but steadily defeating the US and its allies, the fact that the Bush presidency, in a combination of recklessness, arrogance and desperation, is moving closer to war with Iran, which will bring about an ever bigger quagmire for the US – these facts combined show what is going on: the US effort to grab the main oil fields in the world – i.e. world power – is not at all going well.

US succes or US failure in the Middle East and West Asia? The fate of the world for years to come depends on the answer to that question. Suppose that the US defeat becomes a fact. US forces leave Iraq, US and other NATO forces leave Afghanistan, the US battlefleet leaves the Persian Gulf and stops threatening Iran.

That would mean an even bigger US defeat that the result of the Vietnam War. In the Middle East, there is much more at stake than Cold War prestige and the “bad example” of allowing a small country its independence. In the Middle East, the fight is about oil, an essential part of financial and strategic power in world capitalism. Losing the Middle Eastern and central Asian oilfields does nog mean losing the world. But it would be a giant step in that direction.

A US defeat would resonate world wide. If the Biggest Boss on Earth can be defeated – not by another big boss, but by lightly armed guerrilla foreces in poverty- stricken countries – then every boss, anywhere in the world, has a lot more to fear. And every worker, poor peasant, slum-dweller will have something less to fear. If Bush can be defeated, any boss can be defeated.

In Socialist Worker (UK),  10 June 2006, Jonathan Neale says: “In most people’s minds, the power of the market and the power of the US have become colsely related. If the empire cracks, the domination of the market inside or minds will crack too. Moreover, these effects will be amplified because most people believe it can’t happen. If the Iraqis can win, people will say, then we can take on our government – or our supervisor, of our head teacher. Every manager will lose some confidence.” Revolt will rumble and roll, in ways not seen since the sixties or even the twenties of the 20th century. And Venezuelan events will be a proud and inspiring part of that world wide revolt.

On the other hand – if the US manages to escape defeat, if it manages to drown the resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq in blood, if it manages to succesfully defeat Iran and impose a semblance of neoliberal ‘order’ in the region – and if it gets its hand on the oil – the world will enter a truly frightening episode. Everywhere, the powers-that-be, will sleep much easier. Everywhere, left wing movements and other forms of popular resistance will feel the heat. Very likely such a U.S. victory – or at least a bloody postponement of defeat for quite a numer of years – is not. But possible it certainly is.

Such a turn of events would mean that the Chavez government, the Bolivarian process, and the mass movement in Venezuela, will lose the “space for Venezuela’s socialist Chavistas to seriously challenge capitalism on Washington’s doorstep” that Socialist Worker-New Zealand talks about. Venezuela, its goverment, reforms and mass movement will then be under acute threat of full-scale military intervention from Washington.

What, then, should be the order of priorities for socialists and socialist organisations? First: bring US defeat closer, in order to help open wider the floodgates of revolt. That means: build more pressure against both occupations, against the impending attack on Iran, but also against any kind of intimidation going on against, for instance, Venezuela.

Second: strengten left-wing influence, socialist organisation, within that struggle. For anti-imperialism to be consistent, it should attack the roots: not just the American empire, but its capitalist roots. And we do not want to replace one empire by another. Stronger anticapitalist, socialist, forces are needed within the broader waves of struggle and resistance.

Here, the Venezuelan events certainly are relevant. They provide inspiration. And the fact that an elected left-wing government talks of building socialism and that this talk is somehow connected to forms of mass mobilisation helps socialists everywhere.

But there are other mass struggles to inspire us, other forms of resistance, who are as relevant and exiting for socialists as the Bolivarian revolution. Venezuela should not be promoted out of proportion, to the exclusion of these other things happening. Let me give just one example of one such inspiring chain of events. 

Egypt is undergoing a giant strike wave, with sit-in strikes an factory occupations. Socialists are getting a hearing and a certtain amount of influence within that struggle. Joel Beinin and Hossam el-Hamalawy analyse events in “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center  of Gravity” (Middle East Report, 9 mei 2007); The events can be followed on a daily basis on 3arabway, Hossan al-Hamalawy’s weblog.

The importance should be clear: workers’ revolt is threatening an important American ally in the Middle East; and the left wing dynamic provided by the combination of strike action and socialist organisation combines, shows that there are other forms of resistance in that region than the usual Islamist ones, with all their limitations. It is one example of imperialism beginning to be connected to anticapitalism.

If the Mubarak regime would be overhrown by mass revolt, with mass strikes as the backbone of that revolt and socialist organisation providing leadership, the whole picture of the Middle East would be drastically different, and drastically more hopeful. Venezuela is not the only country where things are happening to  get enthousiastic about. Not at all. Battles are raging in many corners of the world, hope springs in all kinds of different places, and our choices should reflect that.

Venezuela: don’t overdo it, comrades (part 3)

May 26, 2007

Up to recently, the Marxist current of which I am a part, the International Socialist (IS) Tendency, has not been among Chavez’ most  fanatical cheerleaders. A good impression of the IS attitude can be found in two articles. Mike Gonzales’ article “Venezuela: many steps to come”, is a general overview of the events from an IS point of view. “Latin America: the return of Popular Power” brings the analysis up to date, to 2007. Both are published in International Socialism Journal, quarterly of the Socialist Workers Party (UK), important component of  the IS Tendency.

The way I see events in Venezuela, a point of view connected to these kinds of analyses, differs in several respects from the views expressed on The Unrepentant Marxist and In Defence of Marxism(see part 2 of this series). First, the process is, up to now, mainly a process of reforms – important ones, progressive ones, but not in themselves revolutionary. The developments generate enthousiasm among enormous numbers of people, and many of these people are organising themselves to push the process forward. That holds revolutionary potential, but it does not make the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ a revolution – yet.

Second, the role of Chavez is much more double-edged than many of his supporters suggest. He is not just the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, whatever that means exactly. He is, above all, president of the state of Venezuela –  in essence, still a capitalist republic playing the game of national and international politics according the rules of capitalism. It seems clear to me that Chavez would like to break with capitalist logic; I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. At the same time, most of the time he does not actually do so. 

This is not at all surprising. Revolutions that do depend on what a president does or does not do will not come very far. The essential force to move the Venezuelan reforms beyond the limits that the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state impose, is the force from below: people pushing for radical change, not presidents enacting reforms. That the people can push the president in an more radical direction is true. That the president talks about Trotsky approvingly is nice, even touching. But that does not change the fact that the role of mass movements is essential. They, not the president as such, will or will not succeed in turning the Bolivarian revolution into a  successful revolution.

Third, the events in Venezuela are an important part of the big challenge confronting neoliberalism in Latin America. We have seen the formation of left wing governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. There has been a rise of radical movements – of landless people in Brazil, of coca farmers and miners in Bolivia, of teachers in Mexico, of indigenous communities in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia… Together, they express a radicalization that moves in a revolutionary direction. 

But the Bolivarian revolution is not THE central event in world affairs. The fate of the American empire is being decided most of all in the Middle East, where US imperialism is fighting for its hold on the most important strategic resource: oil. That fight is much more central, much more decisive for the balance of forces on a world scale.

Moreover, what happens in Latin America in general, and Venezuela in particular, is closely connected with events in the Middle East. For instance, the US hostility towards Chavez was connected to Chavez’ criticism of the Iraq war even before it started. And the success of the Iraqi resistance in defying and undermining the Iraq occupation means that the US military has trouble finding troops for invading Venezuela, overthrowing Chavez, overturning the reforms and installing a right wing regime.

Without the failure of the Iraq  war and occupation, I strongly doubt that the US would have tolerated the Bolivarian challenge for so long. Without that failure, the US would not have limeted itself to background support for coup efforts, financial support for the opposition and military support for neighbour Colombia. If the ‘Venezuelan revolution’ will have the time to truly grow into a full-blown revolution, the revolutionaries can thank the Iraqi resistance fighters for  providing them with that time.

This applies in a broader sense. “The faultline in the Middle East is having its effects everywhere else in the world, by sapping the strengthj and weakening the morale of  US Imperialism. Nowhere is this truer than in Latin America”, writes Chris Harman in “The faultlines grow deeper”, International Socialism Journal nr. 11o, april 2006.

The crisis of American imperialism, the impending  US defeat in the Middle East and the revolutionary beginnings in Latin America – they are connected. To see it like this, to see the connections between events in the US,  Latin America and the Middle East seems to me a much better way of analysing things than promoting one series of events in one country as being “the key to the the world revolution” , and pushing other big events to the margins.

Venezuela: don’t overdo it, comrades (part 2)

May 25, 2007

The reform process in Venezuela – what president Chavez calls the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ –  is inspiring, and deserving of solidarity from the workers’ movement, the left in general and the revolutionary left in particular. What is happening in that country – reforms that better the position of the poor, radical democratization but, most important, the development of a mass movement that goes beyond mere reform, in the direction of revolution – is important. Its successes are inspriring for socialists worldwide, its defeats are bad news for us all.

Therefore, full solidarity to the Venezuelan process! Not without criticism where necessary, however, and not without cool heads. The revolutionary left should be an enthousiastic supporter of the movement o the masses towards emancipation that is unfolding in Venezuela. However, we should not just be cheerleaders for Chavez, and we should keep a sense of proportion towards the events in that country.

Not all parts of the left see it that way. The Trotskyist current connected with the website In defence of Marxism is an example. It promotes the view that the Venezuelan process – again and again called “the Venezuelan revolution” in their documents – is the centre, the most important chain of events going on in the world today, the main battleground for socialism and revolution in the 21st century. For i9nstance, in 2006, this tendency produced an document on perspectives for the struggle for socialism world wide: “World revolution and the tasks of the Marxists”. It is published on their website, in five parts. Most of part three, the whole of part four and a large share of part five analyse the situation in Latin America, “the key to the world revolution”, as the document says in part three. The main body of part four is dedicated to the developments in Venezuela. In part five it says: “The most advanced region in the world from a revolutionary point of view at the present time is Latin America.”

Now, this is debatable but, on the whole, not too strange a thing to say. Still, does it justify as much words as the total amount of space dedicated to developments in the main imperialist countries, plus analyses on China, India, the world economy – all put together? Events in France – where wave upon wave af struggle rolled through the country – get a few paragraphs in part two., mainly about the revolt in the poor neigboorhoods in the autumn of 2005. Was the defeat of the EU constitution and, the appearance aof a substantial ant-neoliberal Left that irrelevant? It seems to me a serious distortion, a matter of exaggerated attention for one – admittedly important – part of the whole, and unwarranted neglect for other important matters.

But then, things get worse. After a few explanatory sentences on developments in that continent, it says: “Latin America is therefore the key to the world revolution, and ther Venezuean revolution is key to the Latin American revolution.” Here, the implication is that events in Venezuela are the most important events happening in the world today. What happens in Venezuela may decide the way the world will go, to the left or to the right, in the same way as events in Russia 1917-1923 were decisive, or events in Germany 1929-1933. To me, that claim seems totally over the top.

They are not the only one to make this kind of mistake. Louis Proyect is another. In the third part of “Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Revolution” , on his challenging weblog The Unrepentant Marxist , we can read: “I would argue that Venezuela marks the first significant step forward for the revolutionary movement in a period tha has been marked by retreat since 1990.” In that year, the radical Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and the revolution they tried to lead, were ended by elections, after a violent , US-sponsored campaign of destabilisation and terror.

Apparently, Proyect thinks that the Nicaraguan revolutionary regime led a socialist revolution. I do not agree. The Nicaraguan revolution removed a violent, pro-American dictator. But the resulting regime remained within capitalist limits, and the leadership generally did not even claim to ‘build socialism’, however much supporters of Sandinismo in Europe or the US might dream otherwise. The revolution deserved solidarity against American imperialism. But that did not make it socialist.

More importantly: is it true that it was al downhill for socialism and the left after the defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990, as Proyect implies? That seems a misguided conclusion as well. The claim can only seriously sustained by ignoring the world wide growth of a radical mass movement against neoliberal globalisation and imperialist war. Already halfway the nineties there were the big strikes in France, against neoliberal attacks on social security. In 1999, there was the Battle of Seattle, when thousands of demonstrators blockaded the summit of the World Trade Organisation WTO. This marked the spectacular appearance of a strong movement against capitalist globalisation. Big confrontations in Prague (september 2000) and Genoa (2001) followed, and the idea that we should criticize capitalism and try to replace it, was back. Openly socialist ideas and organisations were a visible part of this left wing revival.

After 11 september 2001, this movement combined with mass anti war opposition, culminating in a world war day of action on February 15th, 2003, just before the Iraq War. And more than a year before that, anti-neoliberal mass revolts overthrew a number of presidents in Argentina, in december 2001-januari 2002. That was before the Venezuelan process became radicalised, and years before Chavez began to talk of socialism as his goal.

While this was going on, the reform process in Venezuela began to unfold, after the election of Hugo Chavez to the Venezuelan presidency. But this was not the centre of the left-wing universe, around which the comeback of socialist and revolutionary politics turned. The first years after Chavez’ 1998 election, large parts of the left ignored events in Venezuela, or dismissed it too easily as little more just another reformist who was destined to fail.

That may have been mistaken; but surprising it was not. The initial reforms in Venezuela were rather moderate, and Chavez’ rhetoric was a somewhat more radical version of the ‘Third Way’, not socialist even in words. The country were left wing radicalism had the strongest impact between, say, 1995 and 2003, were France and Italy rather than Venezuela. It seems more fruitful to see Venezuelan events as a part – important, but not the alpha and omega – of a much bigger shift to the left on large parts of the planet. Putting the Venezuelan events on a big red pedestal does not seem to do justice to recent history.

Venezuela: don’t overdo it, comrades

May 25, 2007

Developments in Venezuela attract a huge amount of attention, both  right and left. For the right wing, the presicency of Hugo Chavez, his increasingly radical reforms and the challenge that they form for neoliberalism worldwide and for American hegemony – it all is a cause for big concern, hostility and sometimes open threats. ‘Another Cuba’ obviously cannot be tolerated, the ‘totalitarian dictatorship’ that Chavez is imposing on Venezuela obviously has to be opposed, removed, by  conspiratorial and/ or openly military means.

This attidude was only to be expected. It is a repeat performance of the strategy of intervention by whcih American imperialism defeated the left wing government of Allende in Chile between 1970 and 1973, and by which it strangled the Nicaraguan revolution between 1979 and 1990. No one should be surprised that the Empire tries to do it again or that it’s supporters call for such endeavours. Jamie Stern-Weiner has a long, very informative article on the accusations, distortions and slurs that right wing journalists and politicians pour down on Chavez and the reform process in Venezuela – and on the Nicaraguan precedent for all this: “Deterring Democracy in Venezuela”, on UK watch.

Attitudes at the left vary, but the enthousiasm for Chavez’ radical reform programme – his ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ –  seems to be on the increase. In essence, this enhousiasm is just, proper and well deserved. The reforms that the Chavez presidency brough thus far, are quite impressive.The new constitution that he instigated, and which was adopted by majority vote, brought a much more democratic system, with extended possibilites for referenda and midterm recall of even the president himself. The Constitution, and the process leading up to it, has been described by Gregory Wilpert, in “Venezuela’s New Constitution”, on”.

The so-called misiones bring education to many who didn’t get it before, both to children and adults, they bring elementary health care and houdingto many poor people. High oil prices provided resources for these kind of reforms – but without the political will to actually bring benefits to the poor majority, even the biggest resources are to little avail. One only has to compare Venezuela with, say, oil states like Saudi-Arabia, Indonesia or Russia, to see that the same price kan lead to very different social results.

During the first years of the Chavez presidency, the reforms mainly were instigated by the leadership itself, through the existing state. But that has changed, in radical and sometimes surprising ways. One turning point was the US-promoted, right wing coup in April, 2002. Thousands upon thousands of poor supporters of Chavez streamed on to the streets to demand, insistently and courageously, the return of Chavez. Riot police attacked them; they used not only tear gas, but bullets as well. But the people in revolt did not back down; the repression only showed what a post-Chavez regime would be: a violent dictatorship.

The enormous popular resistance drew soldiers to its side. A revolt of the military broke the back of the coup leaders. Within two days, a giant expression of popular initiative and defiance had defeated a dangerous right wing attack. The masses saved the reforms by making, as it were, a partial revolution. The story is told in vivid detail in “The Failed Anti-Chavez- coup, Five Years On”, by George Ciccarielo Maher.

These events shifted the balance and emboldened the mass movement on which Chavez increasingly relied. A similar experience strengthened this trend: the so-called oil strike, in the winter of 2002-2003. This was, in reality, a sabotage action of the management of the state oil company, PDVA, supported by the right wing business opposition, private media bosses, against efforts of the government to bring that under real government control. Up to then, it was very corruptly run by the manegers, as if it were their private property.

The ‘strike’ – actually, almost a coup effort in slow motion – failed, or, to put it more precisely, it was defeated by oil workers themselves. They tried insistently to re-start production, to stop management’s sabotage, and in the end they succeeded. Jorge Martin wrote a partisan, buit not therefore unserious, analysis of the event while it happened: “Venezuela: Opposition ‘strike’or bosses’lockout? -An eyewitness account”, on In Defence of Marxism.  This, combined with the rise in oil prices, made it possible to pay for the reforms in health, houding and education. It also gave a push to the left within the workers’movement. A new trade union federation, UNT,  was formed, as an alternative for the discredited CTV, which was pary of the right wing opposition and very anti-Chavez.

A third opposition offensive, the effort in 2004 to have Chavez recalled by referendum, also failed. Well-organised groups of Chavez supporters campaigned tirelessly, and they beat back the opposition’s campaign. And last your, Chavez was convincingly re-elected as president. Even the opposition candidate didn’t go all the way for the traditional claims of foul play and recognised Chavez’ victory.

And the policies  continued to shift to the left. Especialy the initiative to build ‘communal councils’ showed that te Bolivarian process is beginning toe extend to the grass roots, in an increasingly organised form. All the same, the president initiates, backs and pushes these kind of initiatives. Chavez even called these councils a form in which the existing state can be pushed aside and replaced by a new kind of state. That is, whether Chavez realises it or not, a revolutionary conclusion: the need to replace the existing, bourgeois state with a state built from below is the what Lenin, for instance, analysed in “The State and Revolution”. Whether he is willing, or even able, to back up his words with consistent deeds is another matter, and one to which I will return.

In the meantime, the language in which Chavez described his policy and his goals had also shifted to the left. From the beginning of 2005, he started to talk of socialism as the goal of the Bolivarian Revolution. Socialism of a new type, socialism of the 21st century, a socialism in which the bureaucratic mistakes of the former Soviet Union should be avoided. In recent months, he even started to describe himself – albeit tongue in cheek, more or less – as a Trotskyist and even praised Leon Trotsky’s “Transitional Program” . See ‘”What is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist” Chavez is sworn is as president of Venezuela” and “Chavez recommends the study of Trotsky, praises the Transitional Programme”, both on In Defence of Marxism.

No wonder the international left, especially all kinds of Trotskyist groups, are enthousiastic. An elected president, supported by a dynamic grassroots movement, and using openly revolutionary, even Trotskyite language – it looks good, it sounds good, and in an important sense it is good. But is it as good as it is made out to be?