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.