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.