Recently, I wrote a series on the meaning and relevance of the Venezuelan reform proces instigated under president Chavez, events known as the Bolivarian Revolution. This series was a reaction to the May Day Statement published by Socialist Worker – New Zealand. My series has also been posted on their blog. On the request of Socialist Worker – New Zealand, and for the sake of discussion and exchange of opinion, I publish the May Day Statement here as well.
Venezuela’s deepening revolution & international socialist coordination
Central committee of Socialist Worker – New Zealand
This May Day statement by the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand takes up an invitation from Alex Callinicos, a leader of the British Socialist Workers Party, to respond to his proposal (27 September 2006) that the International Socialist Tendency (IST) adopt a new “Coordination” structure.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand has been an affiliate of the IST since 1995. We believe that the question of an IST Coordination demands that the whole IST first comes to a consensus on the global political context and critical global tasks of the IST, since questions of organisation and politics cannot be separated.
GLOBAL POLITICAL CONTEXT
Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that key elements of the global political context include:
- Huge turmoil and rivalries within global imperialism, which is driving the US state’s global war to maintain its position relative to rival powers, chiefly China, the European Union and Russia.
- The weakening of the US state’s ability to assert its will by military force as a result of the heroic resistance of Iraqi people to the imperialist occupation of their country.
- Massive grassroots opposition around the world to the Iraq war, which in some countries has seen large anti-war movements emerge. If Iran is attacked, there will likely be an explosion of the anti-war movement onto the streets.
- Heightened grassroots concern about planetary environmental chaos, due to the climate change issue “bursting through” into the mainstream.
- Neo-liberalism facing growing political opposition, which is currently the most advanced across Latin America.
- Signs of rising worker unrest and unionisation across some countries.
- The deepening revolutionary process in Venezuela, marked by the “left turn” of Hugo Chavez in parallel with his re-election as president on 3 December 2006.
VENEZUELA’S REVOLUTION IS GLOBALLY SIGNIFICANT
Socialist Worker-New Zealand regards the unfolding revolution in Venezuela as of epochal significance.
With the US military bogged down in Iraq, there is more space for Venezuela’s socialist Chavistas to seriously challenge capitalism right on Washington’s doorstep.
This challenge has profound implications for the world’s socialists. The deepening revolution in Venezuela is an historic opportunity for socialists everywhere to spotlight a real-life alternative to capitalism’s inequality, eco-chaos and war.
Is the unfolding Venezuelan revolution the most important leap forward for the workers’ cause since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution? The answer from delegates at Socialist Worker-New Zealand’s recent national conference was a unanimous “yes”.
The masses in Venezuela are behind a genuine revolutionary project in a way that has not occurred in the last 90 years. While nothing is certain, this could well create the mass impetus for a huge revival in the international revolutionary socialist movement.
It is the world historic significance of events in Venezuela, and the implications for IST coordination and direction, that is the focus of this Socialist Worker-New Zealand statement.
POLITICAL SITUATION IN VENEZUELA
Socialist Worker-New Zealand offers this summary analysis of the political situation in Venezuela:
- There is, at present, a dual power scenario in Venezuela where opposing class forces are “balanced out”. While this state of affairs has lasted for quite a while, it is inherently unstable and cannot last forever. Either one class coalition or the other will win the war over whether Venezuela will move beyond capitalism to socialism. In this war the impact of global events will play a pivotal role, since the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union in the 1920s showed that “socialism in one country” cannot forever withstand the pressures of world capitalism.
- A huge proportion of Venezuela’s population are actively involved in the revolutionary process. The role of the grassroots masses was decisive in beating back the right-wing military coup of 2002 and restoring the elected Chavista government. In the presidential election of December 2006 Hugo Chavez, who campaigned on an openly socialist platform, received 63% of the vote (7.3 million people). Over the week before polling day, 2.5 million people in Caracas, half the capital’s entire population, took to the streets to support Chavez against counter-revolutionary provocations.
- The masses and the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution are having to confront fundamental issues about what socialism is and how it can be won. In particular, the question of state power is being debated on a mass scale: Can the existing capitalist state be bent to a new popular will? Or must new organs of grassroots power be created to confront the pro-capitalist bureaucracy and the economic power of the capitalist class? Increasingly the answer is being seen in the practical construction of alternative structures of popular power.
POSITIVE INITIATIVES FROM THE LEADERSHIP
Chavez & Co, who are the established leaders of the revolution, have learnt a lot since the former army officer was first elected president in 1998. Crucially they have learnt from the actions of the masses of people, who in turn have been inspired by Chavista leaders who are calling for “socialism in the 21st century”.
Both the leadership and the masses have learnt by having to counter the military coups, economic sabotage and propaganda warfare of pro-capitalist forces. When you are engaged in open battle, you either learn very quickly or you lose.
Early in 2005 Chavez spoke of how he had once believed in a “third way”, which he described as trying to “put a mask” on the capitalist beast, but this had been “smashed by reality” and he was now a socialist. Over the last six months Chavez has moved further towards revolutionary conclusions, calling himself a Trotskyist and proclaiming “permanent revolution”. He has made repeated calls for the “dismantling of the bourgeois state” in order to build socialism in Venezuela.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand recognises the very positive initiatives coming from Chavez & Co to push beyond dual power towards socialism. Chavez calls this process a “revolution within the revolution”. These initiatives include:
The expansion of communal councils (currently numbering 19,000) across all of Venezuela is encouraging mass participatory democracy and drawing more grassroots people into the revolutionary process.
The communal councils are a positive move to empower the urban poor — the casualised workers and petty traders in the cities who make up over half of Venezuela’s total population. While these councils are not the same as the workers’ soviets of 1917 Russia, they are vital in a land where the majority of people live in cities but do not have permanent jobs, let alone belong to unions.
The communal councils possibly have more in common with the poor peasants’ committees which the Bolsheviks tried (but failed) to establish as an emancipatory vehicle for Russia’s masses of rural workers and poor peasants. The big difference is that the Bolsheviks’ poor peasants committees’ were set up in the countryside, where their dispersal over huge areas made them unequal to the pressures of class enemies, while the Chavistas’ communal councils have arisen in the cities, where a mass concentration of the urban poor and their proximity to organised workers gives them every chance of displacing capitalism’s organs of political power.
The popular social missions, directly funded by nationalised oil revenues, have been improving the living conditions of Venezuela’s poor.
And the education, health, social welfare and co-operative missions, all relying on armies of volunteers, have begun to establish new lines of power. Chavez put it this way in June 2006:
“The social missions became the instruments of constructing socialism. But they are not socialism itself. They are weapons in the construction of socialism, aimed to include everybody, to establish and to practice equality.”
CHALLENGING THE MARKETVenezuela remains a capitalist economy, and capital is still flowing into the country seeking profits. But the Chavez government has introduced measures that are challenging the rule of capital. These include:
- Pushing forward with the nationalisation of oil processing, as well as the planned nationalisation of telecom and power companies.
- Government redistribution of wealth from state-owned oil to the poor of Venezuela.
Major increases in the minimum wage.
- Tightening up tax regulations so the rich cannot evade taxes.
- Imposition of maximum prices for basic foodstuffs.
- Moves to repeal the independence of Venezuela’s neo-liberal Central Bank.
UNITED SOCIALIST PARTY OF VENEZUELATo move beyond dual power towards socialism demands a mass socialist party that educates, unites and organises grassroots people around the struggle for liberation from below.
Chavez sparked the formation of a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which he compares to Lenin’s Bolshevik Party.
The process of forming this “combat party” is already sharpening the differences between revolutionaries and reformists, which had been submerged by the previous ill-defined grouping of parties “supporting” Chavez. Those parties have all been given the option of either dissolving into the new mass socialist party or remaining outside the Chavista government.
It would be utopian to think that the PSUV could be an instantly homogenous party of revolutionaries. It will, however, be a mass socialist party with organic connections to grassroots people who support the unfolding revolution. The process of building the PSUV will challenge the reformist wing of the Bolivarian movement and precipitate a “battle of ideas” in which the masses will participate.
While the initiative for the PSUV came from Chavez, it will be built “from below”. Socialist militants, who played a key role in mobilising the Chavista vote during the 2006 presidential election, have become the “promoters” of the new mass socialist party. They are going out to the people to register members, who will be organised into “socialist battalions” of 200 people each. The aim is to organise 20,000 of these “battalions” across Venezuela, from which delegates will be elected to attend the PSUV’s founding conference in August 2007.
The conference will run for three or more months, with regular breaks so that delegates can return to their own “battalion” to discuss proposals and come back with a refreshed mandate from below.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the PSUV is vital to educate, unite and organise the grassroots masses in Venezuela so they can push forward the socialist revolution.
Just as Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes all revolutionaries inside Venezuela need to join this mass socialist party, so too we believe that revolutionary groups in other countries need to establish comradely relations with the PSUV.
In combination, the communal councils, social missions, challenges to the market, formation of the PSUV and other emancipatory initiatives by Chavez & Co form a transitional mechanism by which the grassroots people of Venezuela can move towards the socialist defeat of counter-revolutionary forces. Trotsky’s transitional programme lives on inside Venezuela as the concept of liberation from below gains concrete mass form.
A WEAKNESS IN THE REVOLUTION
The future of Venezuela’s unfolding revolution is closely linked to the growth and mobilisation of unionised workers, who at present are only a tiny number compared to city-based casualised workers and petty traders, easily the biggest population groups in the country.
The small scale of Venezuela’s unionised workers is a weakness in the revolution that cannot be easily overcome. This weakness is compounded by a debilitating political split in the major union centre, the National Union of Workers (UNT). These social and political factors are hindering organised workers from speeding up the revolutionary process.
This weakness is recognised by the Chavista government. Chavez has often spoken of the need for the UNT and the organised workers to take a leading role in the revolution. Workers have been encouraged to take control of factories and create workers’ councils. Some small but positive advances in this direction have been taken.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that the PSUV will be crucial to pulling unionised workers into the forefront of the revolution. That was certainly the role Lenin’s Bolsheviks played among the small sector of unionised workers in pre-revolutionary Russia.
ENGAGEMENT WITH THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION
While Chavez & Co started from a radical reformist viewpoint, the unfolding class struggle has pushed them towards a socialist perspective which is now assuming ever-sharper mass revolutionary features.
Obviously nobody can say for sure whether the Venezuelan revolution will win out. But right ow Chavez & Co are moving in a consistently socialist direction as they seek to overcome capitalism. In the process, they are confronting many problems unique to Venezuela and thus coming up with solutions not seen before in socialist history, such as the major role of communal councils in a land where far more city dwellers work in the “informal” economy than in corporate or state entities.
Venezuela’s unfolding revolution is drawing massive support from grassroots people across Latin America, which is fueling a continental revolt against neo-liberal economics and US imperial domination. In Ecuador and Bolivia, presidents have recently been elected on the back of explicitly socialist challenges to corporate rule.
These are exciting times. Socialism is being seriously talked about and acted upon by millions of people inspired by Chavez and the “revolution within the revolution” in Venezuela.
Socialists worldwide should be enthusiastic about the Bolivarian Revolution. Socialists worldwide need to engage with the revolution’s leaders, who will be in the PSUV, so there can be a reciprocity of ideas that promotes the global struggle for grassroots self-emancipation. Thus Socialist Worker-New Zealand is looking to forge practical links with our PSUV comrades in a land where socialism is well on the way to becoming a determining force.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand and a broad range of other leftists have formed the Venezuela Aotearoa Solidarity Team (VAST). We want to bring awareness of Venezuela’s revolution to the working class in this country. We want to build a solidarity coalition able to effectively oppose any intervention in Venezuela by the US state and its foreign allies.
In our socialist work in broad coalitions, such as the anti-war, anti-Islamophobic and climate change movements, we are pointing to Venezuela as a positive alternative to imperialism, oppression and eco-meltdown.
ALEX’S PROPOSALS FOR IST COORDINATION
It is within the context of the deepening revolution in Venezuela that Socialist Worker-New Zealand responds to Alex Callinicos’s proposal to create an IST “Coordination”. Alex defines such a Coordination as consisting of “selected organisations” whose leaderships would consult and meet between annual IST gatherings “to deal with initiatives, problems, etc”.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand has two substantive concerns with this Coordination proposal. First, it is not intimately linked to the global political situation, and in particular to how the IST needs to engage with the mass revolutionary process in Venezuela. Instead, the proposal is couched in terms of the IST’s own internal processes.
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 every country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did from 1917-24. Therefore, rather than looking inwards, the IST needs to be focused outwards towards the most advanced revolutionary upsurge in 90 years and the global socialist regroupments it will inevitably set into motion.
At present, there seem to be real differences between IST affiliates over the nature of what is happening in Venezuela. At one end of the IST spectrum, Socialist Worker-New Zealand see Chavez & Co as being at the centre of the most important “revolution in the revolution” since the Bolsheviks proclaimed “All power to the Soviets” in 1917 Russia. At the other end of the IST spectrum, the Venezuelan revolution was a “non-topic” in the official discussion bulletins of the British Socialist Workers Party in the lead-up to their national conference in January 2007.
So how do we form an IST Coordination when the IST appears to lack real political coordination over the key strategic issue of Venezuela’s revolution? If we were to do it just on the basis of IST tactical organisation, any such IST Coordination would be a sham from the outset.
The deepening Venezuelan revolution has sparked intense discussions among the world’s different Marxist organisations about what makes a revolution, how to move towards socialism, what is the dialectic between the leaders and the masses, how to establish workers’ control and other strategic questions.
We all have a lot to learn from the world historic events in Venezuela. We cannot assume that any one Marxist group has readymade answers to everything. Any IST Coordination, therefore, must be based on facilitating this global debate among all Marxist groups, most of them outside the IST, in tandem with fusing the IST into a strategic engagement with the PSUV’s leaders.
It’s a global debate about the Venezuelan revolution that the IST needs to start coordinating, and that requires democratic input from all IST affiliates around the world.
That brings us to our second substantive concern. The IST Coordination proposal calls for unspecified powers to be granted to “selected” organisations. Any such “selection” would leave non-selected IST groups on the margins of IST decision-making, given the tyranny of distance over a global coalition like the IST. It would fix the bureaucratic curse of the initiating “centre” and the non-initiating “periphery” onto the IST.
Why can’t every IST affiliate have one representative on the IST Coordination? With modern communications technology, face-to-face meetings in London can be replaced by extremely cheap “virtual” meetings that link all continents. The material basis already exists for an all-in IST Coordination that interacts on a global scale as frequently as needed. The real question is whether the IST has the political consensus and the political will to bring it about.
SOCIALIST WORKER-NEW ZEALAND’S PROPOSALS
In the opinion of Socialist Worker-New Zealand, it is urgent and critical for the IST to relate to the revolutionary process in Venezuela and the opportunities it is creating for socialists worldwide.
To move in this direction, Socialist Worker-New Zealand makes three concrete proposals:
(1) As many Spanish-speaking IST comrades as possible to attend the three-month founding conference of the PSUV starting in August 2007.
(2) In consultation with PSUV leaders and Marxists from other countries attending the PSUV conference, the Spanish-speaking IST attendees to initiate a global debate about the nature, strategies and prospects of the Venezuelan revolution.
(3) To help coordinate this global debate about the Venezuelan revolution, an IST Coordination be created consisting of one delegate from every IST group and relying on modern technology to hold all-in “virtual” meetings as required.
FOUNDATIONS FOR MASS SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL
The failure of US forces in Iraq has opened up more space for the world’s socialists to operate. In Venezuela, for the first time since Lenin’s Bolsheviks, we are seeing a mass movement well on the way towards establishing socialism within the borders of a whole country. The front line of the epochal war between capitalism and socialism is now in Venezuela.
Even where there has been resistance to the neo-liberal offensive over the last two decades, the international workers’ movement has been floundering on the widespread assumption that “there is no alternative”. The Venezuelan revolution is putting socialism back on the agenda in a practical and living way — the way most people will come to socialism. The IST must be an organic part of this process.
Any IST Coordination needs to be focused on relating to forces outside the IST. That’s because the forward movement of the Venezuelan revolution and the wider Latin American uprisings look likely to provide the essential material foundations for a positive regroupment of the socialist and radical left on every continent, and the parallel emergence of a mass socialist international.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the political and organisational decisions made within the IST must reflect this historic opportunity to move towards a mass socialist international. This is the first time since the early days of the Comintern that such a possibility has existed.
This requires the IST to directly engage with PSUV leaders in the building of a mass socialist international. The IST can play a positive role in this process if we make that turn now.
Socialist Worker-New Zealand invites feedback from IST affiliates and other socialist organisations. Please send your comments to:
Central committee, Socialist Worker-New Zealand, PO Box 13-685,Auckland, New Zealand.
+64 9 634 3984
Central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand
- Don Archer
- Grant Brookes
- Joe Carolan
- Gordon Farris
- Vaughan Gunson
- Bernie Hornfeck
- Peter Hughes
- Daphne Lawless
- Grant Morgan
- Len Parker
- Tony Snelling-Berg