Monday, 18 June 2007

Venezuela: a contribution from the Australian ISO

RESPONSE TO SOCIALIST WORKER-NEW ZEALAND FROM NATIONAL EXECUTIVE INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST ORGANISATION AUSTRALIA Dear Comrades, We are writing in response to the May Day statement issued by Socialist Worker-New Zealand. We are pleased to take the opportunity for discussion with comrades in NZ and have some proposals below for continuing this discussion face-to-face in July at our national educational weekend and in joint work at the anti-APEC mobilisation in September. The Chavez government in Venezuela has been a welcome counter to the US and other western imperialists. The resurgence of popular movements in Latin America has been identified by socialists in the IST as one of three key foci for anti-capitalist resistance along with the struggles associated with the ‘war on terror’ (especially in the Middle East) and the difficulties of European capitalism. The achievements of the Chavez and (in Bolivia) Morales governments have created a renewed hope in an alternative to neo-liberalism. In this sense Chavez’s actions have global significance. Even more impressive are the actions of the poor which have driven the revolutionary process forward, especially in forcing back the coup attempt of 2002 in Venezuela. Given the obvious IST support for the revolutionary process happening in South America and also the enthusiastic participation of a number of IST comrades in the recent Social Forum, etc, we were astonished to see the content of your criticism of the IST and of the SWP in particular. Alex Callinicos has responded to a number of your concerns about this, and we would like to add our own comments and reopen the dialogue we once had with your organisation. The Revolutionary Process As you state, the revolutionary process is not complete in Venezuela. Hopefully all IST groups would continue to defend the Venezuelan government and contribute to the development of strategy and tactics through comradely debate. On this note, we agree with your assessment that a “huge proportion of Venezuela’s population are actively involved in the revolutionary process”. You also state that this process is leading to a crucial debate, raising questions such as “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?” Again, we agree with this assessment. But we have a problem with your argument that Venezuela is in a political situation resembling “dual power”. Making this claim creates, in our view, a certain amount of confusion. In the Marxist tradition, dual power refers to a situation in which independent organs of mass working class democracy co-exist with the organs of bourgeois rule. The classic model is, of course, the Soviets during Russian Revolution between February and October 1917. As we know, workers’ councils with similar characteristics have emerged since then. In Hungary 1956 Peter Fryer, a young British Communist journalist, wrote this about the workers councils against Stalinism: “They were at once organs of insurrection—the coming together of delegates elected by the factories and universities, mines and army units—and organs of popular self-government, which the armed people trusted.” The workers’ council, in this sense, simultaneously represents a radical form of mass democracy, including instantly recallable delegates paid the average workers’ wage, a peak forum for the re-organisation of production and distribution, as well as the means by which the working class can overthrow the capitalist state. As we understand it, dual power refers to a situation in which such institutions exist. To what extent does the current Venezuelan context reflect this? You recognise that the communal councils are “not the same as the workers’ soviets of 1917 Russia”. If this is correct—and we agree that it is—why would you then claim that the communal councils have “every chance of displacing capitalism’s organs of political power”? To clarify our point, it is quite possible that the masses within the communal councils can develop the institutional forms necessary to challenge capitalist social relations and, ultimately, state power. Indeed, we hope this will happen and we believe that revolutionary socialists across the world must offer solidarity with any and every shift towards working class self-emancipation. But the truth is that Venezuela has not yet arrived at this point. Of course, the communal councils are able to play a role in this process. They are organs of democracy, with a few similar characteristics to the popular assemblies that arose in Argentina in 2001 or, more recently, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. But, like these two examples, the arrival of a dual power situation would require a further radical development in the political process. We agree that the situation in Venezuela is on a knife-edge. So why confuse matters by attributing factors to the unfolding movement that it has yet to acquire? Surely one of the roles of revolutionary socialists is to point out what needs to happen for the process to move forward, to point to the social agents capable of leading it, and, crucially, to take the right sides in the unfolding debate about what to do. What sort of party? It is in this context that your position on the PSUV is mistaken. The formation of the PSUV is, in fact, presupposed by a huge debate about the next step for the revolution and the organisational form needed to achieve it. There are a range of political currents in Venezuela, including parliamentarians and officials who want more conciliation with big business and the right, reformist socialists, supporters of an anti-democratic Cuban-style “command and control” economy, revolutionaries associated with the active workers in the UNT (influenced by Trotskyism), and autonomists looking to organise the poor, peasants and indigenous groups. You say it “would be utopian to think that the PSUV could be an instantly homogenous party of revolutionaries”. Surely the existence of these various—and in some cases politically hostile—currents would suggest that the PSUV cannot in any sense be conceived as a revolutionary party. Whether or not Venezuelan activists should actually join the PSUV is of course an important tactical question. For example, the UNT union federation has joined the PSUV, even though there is considerable disagreement with Chavez’s conception of the party and a stress by many leading UNT activists on the need for independent organization among workers. We would draw your attention to the interview with Orlando Chirino (pictured), a leading activist within the UNT (, which details some of these debates. Interestingly, Chirino argues:
What is most worrying is that president ended up by doing exactly what he criticised; he criticised the political cannibalism that characterises the organisations of the left, but then he went on to say that anyone who does not share his views is a counter-revolutionary. I think this is a serious mistake, because far from encouraging debate it closes it down and encourages the sectarianism that the president has said he is anxious to fight.
Whether or not activists actually join the PSUV, there should be no doubt that burying ideological differences in a false organisational unity will do little to encourage the self-activity of ordinary workers and poor people, which is crucial to drive the revolution to greater achievements. In this context, you seem to be uncritically supportive of Chavez. In fact, we need to raise the politics of working class self-emancipation—a politics that is quite different from Chavez’s—at the same time as defending the government from the forces of reaction. In many ways, the unfolding debate is about the best strategy for defending the government. It is a mistake to uncritically support Chavez’s confused and eclectic strategy, especially in a situation in which some of his government’s supporters are increasingly critical of it. Socialism from below One of most important lessons we can learn from two centuries of working class struggle is the need for sharp intellectual clarity on questions such as the revolutionary role of the working class, reform or revolution, the role of capitalist state, and the need for a revolutionary party. Your May Day statement obfuscates these critical issues. Our starting point needs to be socialism from below—the revolutionary activity of the working class and the application of Marxist ideas to aid that struggle. Unfortunately, and no matter what Chavez himself may say or do, his government remains held back by capitalist relations both economically and politically. The only way out of this impasse is for the further development of mass struggle from below, with a crucial role for the working class in developing democratic organs capable of challenging state power. One role of socialists is to prioritise the development of such a strategy in comradely collaboration with all supporters of revolution in Latin America. Unfortunately your document does not mention such an orientation. Relations with the IS Tendency While we welcome the opportunity to debate these questions, we need to be honest and express our disappointment with your conduct. In our opinion, the SW-NZ Central Committee has been reluctant to discuss anything at all with us since mid-2005. This attitude seems to be totally unjustified. In mid-2005 we agreed that our two organisations had effectively ignored each other for too long and that we both had a duty to develop closer collaborative relations. In this context, we agreed to collaborate more closely over our national Marxism event in Sydney in order to organise a stronger NZ contingent to the event. We arranged a speaking tour in NZ with one of our national leaders. But shortly after reaching this agreement, you unilaterally cancelled your involvement in Marxism and the speaking tour. It is not as though this act was preceded by a raging argument. In fact our discussion, while identifying some possible points of difference, was marked by a sense of cooperation and comradeship from both sides. Most recently, Grant Morgan travelled to Australia to participate in events organised by the Socialist Alliance. We were not contacted about this visit and, indeed, did not know about until Grant’s arrival. So, while you talk of wide-ranging international collaboration (including rather grandiose talk of a new Socialist International), you have not been prepared to extend the most elementary courtesies with your Trans-Tasman comrades in the IST! There is a need to clarify some important issues. You say that the IST needs to “be focussed on relating to forces outside the IST”. Perhaps you had not noticed the collaboration and discussion between the IST comrades in Europe and various important formations should as the French LCR, Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance, or the Portuguese Left Bloc. In Australia, we are certainly not opposed to collaborating with non-IST revolutionary groups and, as you know, we have done this in recent years. Of course, we are sure you have questions about our involvement and subsequent withdrawal from the Socialist Alliance. We attach our recent resignation letter, which explains the reasons for this and, crucially, why we believe left realignment, in concert with the re-building of vibrant social movements, will be an important factor in the near-future. Of course, we would be more than happy to engage SW-NZ in this ongoing discussion. You might disagree with some of what we have to say—but that is no reason not to resume a long-neglected dialogue. Our proposals There are two events in Australia which might allow us to resume such discussions: 1.The ISO is holding a Marxist educational weekend on the weekend of July 14-15. We would hope that you could send representatives to this discussion (agenda attached). This would provide a good atmosphere to discuss through some of the more theoretical points underlying the events not only in Latin America but also on a broader world stage, including the role of the US in the Middle East, the ongoing anti-imperialist struggle there, and the question of building a renewed left in our part of the world. 2.ISO comrades are building towards the protest against the APEC summit on September 8. We are mainly focussed on building it through the anti-war movement. We hope that SW-NZ will consider participating in this event and can use the opportunity to re-develop links with the ISO. We also, by the way, have one National Executive comrade, Wade McDonald, attending the SWP’s Marxism event in London this year. If you intend to send representatives to this event, Wade would be only too pleased to meet with you and discuss some of these important issues. We eagerly await your response. Fraternally, Judy McVey and Tom Barnes for the ISO National Executive

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lproyect said...