Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Venezuela: Lenin's Tomb responds to Stuart Munckton

(This host of this British socialist blog responds to a comment previously posted here. This response was originally posted to the Marxmail mailing list - we have made slight edits for clarity.)

It is not clear that Stuart Munckton is engaging with what Alex Callinicos wrote in the letter that the UNITYblog has reproduced. For example:

1) Nowhere in Callinicos' original letter is it stated, so far as I can see, that 'socialism from below' can be counterposed to the 'mass revolutionary movement' in Venezuela. Quite the contrary, it describes attempts to make links with that movement, and urges further moves in this direction. It simply calls for a recognition of the current limitations, and positive engagement with those very much in mind and understood.

2) Harman's point, quoted in the original, is very clear: there is a certain amount of careerism, backbiting etc among the three main tendencies of Chavismo, and the new party which is being formed doesn't solve that problem. It doesn't say that the party can't work, or that these problems can't be resolved in a positive way. It does mention concerns raised by activists in Venezuela about top-down pressures involved in the party's construction.

In the linked piece, Stuart Munckton says: "The Callinicos/ISO position says, we support the gains and the advances, BUT the most important thing is all the problems and contradictions." I don't see how this can be supported by the original letter: at no point does it say so, for instance. He says: "Callinicos treats it as though the issue is already resolved against the revolution simply because there are contradictory forces at work. It may be a nice idea, but it won't work, therefore maybe revolutionaries should join it "for tactical reasons" but don't have any illusions."

But Callinicos doesn't say that it won't work, or that the issue is resolved against the revolution in the PSUV. He doesn't say either that revolutionaries should "maybe" take part in the PSUV for "tactical reasons", but indicates that this is what has in fact happened, and that the wisdom of this can be a matter of legitimate dispute. Munckton adds: "the Callinicos line doesn't recognise the existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership". But Callinicos is entirely correct to point out that so far, Chavez remains a radical reformist. What else could he be? Is it sectarian to say so?

Munckton hopes for "the creation of a revolutionary leadership through" the formation of the PSUV, which he maintains will eradicate the bureaucratic roadblocks experienced by the growing grassroots movement. It is not clear how this will take place simply by unifying the trinity. Yet, for all that, it isn't maintained in Callinicos' letter, so far as I see, that this can't happen, as Munckton avers it is. Callinicos' letter also appears to agree with Munckton that "you relate to this struggle with open arms, and seek to collaborate with and learn from the comrades who are leading it".

The only actual disagreement that I detect here is essentially that the letter from Callinicos doesn't accept that Chavez is currently leading a socialist revolution. Yet Munckton maintains that if you *construe* what is taking place as a socialist revolution with an attempt through the PSUV to create a revolutionary party and with Chavez heading a revolutionary leadership, then you are challenging the capitalist system in Venezuela. This really places too much faith in the power of ideas, even those elaborated by the excellent comrades in New Zealand.

It is possible that the PSUV will eventually become a revolutionary party, and that would involve subordinating the powerful reformist elements within it to the currently less powerful revolutionary current, or even forcing a split: but it is by no means clear that this is the trend. Further, if the reports from Venezuelan activists are accurate in indicating top-down bureaucratic pressures toward the construction of the PSUV, it may not be - I say *may* not be - that the revolutionary grassroots movement, incomplete as it currently is, will be able to take control of the situation.

Quite why Munckton slings his shots at mirages in this critique is unclear. Perhaps there are some things he has left unsaid about the upshot of relating to the struggle with open arms, which is a rather vague formulation. Perhaps he has simply misunderstood the position. Whatever the reason is, it is not a fruitful way of proceeding.

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