Thursday, 28 June 2007

Venezuela: Stuart Munckton replies to Lenin's Tomb

(slightly edited for clarity - original version posted here) I agree about one thing with Lenin's Tomb: I wouldn't characterise my comments as "brilliant". I don't mean that as false modesty, just that my comments were initial, rushed thoughts on one aspect of the issues thrown up by the discussion. I stand by the general points, but in some ways it would have been better to have a properly prepared contribution to be the first engagement with what is a very important debate. But that is the price I have to pay for taking too long to get that together, although it is coming ASAP and I certainly hope the result will be brilliant... In the meantime: I think "Lenin's Tomb" proves my main point about the differences being over whether or not you see the actually existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership or not. He doesn't. For instance, he thinks the key leader of the revolution, Chavez, remains just a "radical reformist". This ties in to the PSUV question and I stand by my comments. Lenin's Tomb may want to go back and read more carefully what Chris Harman said, quoted approvingly by Callinicos, but also what was stated even MORE clearly and bluntly in the Australian ISO contribution. It is clear that the view is that the PSUV CAN NOT be a revolutionary party.
"[The PSUV] cannot provide an answer to the chaos because it will reflect in itself all the contradictory attitudes within the Chávista ranks ... The attempt to combine in a single organisation what are effectively three different parties cannot overcome the chaos." - Chris Harman, quoted in Alex Callinicos's response to the SW-NZ statement
Note: not, "it will find it difficult to overcome", or "it might not be able to overcome". It is plainly stated that it CAN NOT solve the "chaos", that is the very real internal weakness of the Chavista camp — problems which we can all agree require the construction of a mass revolutionary party to overcome. The obvious implication being the PSUV is not going to be such a party, and even that it *cannot* be such a party. In case this isn't clear enough, take the Australian ISO's blunt, black and white assertion:
"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." - Venezuela: A contribution from the Australian ISO
The statement says it plainly: the existence of competing currents suggest the PSUV cannot IN ANY SENSE be conceived as a revolutionary party. Not much ambiguity there. So I think my points were more than fair enough. This then leads to the broader point about relating to the mass revolutionary movement. The mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela is organising itself through the PSUV. There are now 5.7 million members of the PSUV. No doubt such a huge membership is going to bring with it its own problems, but that is the reality of a difficult struggle. What is plainly clear is that THIS is where the mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela can be found. And, Callinicos and the Australian ISO think this course is wrong and "cannot" succeed. So I think it is more than fair to say that the Callinicos/ISO line does counter-pose what they see as "socialism from below" to the mass revolutionary movement that is organised in the PSUV. What this essentially seems to be saying to me is that this mass revolutionary movement needs to be related to for "tactical reasons", but under no circumstances must it be mistaken for a mass revolutionary movement. The ISO statement also says: "In fact, we need to raise the politics of working class self-emancipation — a politics that is quite different from Chavez's..." I don't think the facts bear this out. There is a lot that is contradictory in the development of the revolution, and in the development of Chavez's revolutionary ideology. But I would argue that this concept, of self emancipation of the working class, is at its heart. He has, especially in recent times, repeatedly made this point, and I think through his actions he has attempted to help facilitate it. I think the course of the revolution has pushed in this direction. I think the role of the social missions and associated mobilisation and organisation of the working people has raised the social level, and also the level of consciousness and organisation of working people in a way that lays the ground work for much more significant revolutionary transformations. Transformations that require a revolutionary working class organised and conscious of itself as a class, to carry out. Chavez has put a drive to spread socialist ideology as one of the five motors for the current phase, and this discussion by all accounts is very widespread and explicitly facilitated by Chavez. It is occurring in grass roots groups through the country, as well as through the new education system attempting to be built, as well as through Chavez himself via speech and his TV show. Even more - the government has now passed a decree that all workers in public and private industry will be able to have four hours PAID off their working week each week to organise socialism study groups. That is, the government is making the bosses pay their workers to study how to overthrow them. And in a time where they used to be producing for the boss. I think the process up to this point has pushed in the direction of, and advanced the cause of, the self emancipation of the working class. And that Chavez has, increasingly, consciously attempted to push this forward. Not just that, but the push for the PSUV has been explicitly couched in these terms. That has set the framework for the struggle for the PSUV to be mass revolutionary party. It has been called for by Chavez as a weapon to advance the self emancipation of the working class, and taken up enthusiastically on the ground by an increasingly radicalised working class seeking to use it to that end. Chavez has been clear - it must be built from below with the fullest and widest discussion on ideology and program. It must be a weapon to unite the militants on the ground to overcome the right-wing bureaucracy within the Chavista movement and especially the state. Whether that is what happens is another story altogether, of course. This will be determined by struggle. This is why the PSUV is so important, baring in mind that it faces huge obstacles and forces within it that don't want this to happen. This is why I think it is very wrong to declare in advance that the PSUV cannot be a revolutionary party, or be a weapon to overcome the internal problems of the Chavista camp. Maybe it won't, but that is the sort of party that Chavez has consciously sort to promote and it is this vision that has inspired and driven millions to join it, far exceeding expectations. The initial developments have revealed this dynamic - the most hostile to the new party have been the most consciously organised right-wing of the Chavista movement: Podemos. They have attacked it pretty clearly from the right, and their leadership appears to be heading to the open camp of counterrevolution (as opposed to their previous role as "counterrevolutionaries in red berets"), or at least attempting to carve out a halfway position. This was seen in their response to the RCTV closure when their leaders said the government needed to "listen" to the opposition students, without out explicitly backing the opposition position, and their leaders made a point of holding meetings with them. The likes of right-wing opposition daily El Universal rewarded them by potraying Podemos as the "sensible", democratic, moderate, wing of Chavismo, and opposition parties have publicly welcomed their opposition to the PSUV and defended it against Chavez's stinging criticisms. Chavez has slammed Podemos's opposition to the new party as being in reality opposition to the socialist direction of the revolution, and stated the leaders are in support of capitalism and are social democrats (which is right) and are almost in the camp of counterrevolution (which seems to be being playing out). Chavez has publicly explained the break as opposition to the deepening of the revolution. Other opposition has come from the Homeland for All Party, not seen as so explicitly right-wing but nonetheless being regarded as having their share of opportunists and bureaucrats concerned for their positions, many of which would be seriously threatened by a genuinely democratic party that unites the militants on the ground. Then there is the Venezuelan Communist Party, whose public reasons for opposing it are right-wing ones that raise the old Stalinist "two-stage theory" of revolution in a country oppressed by imperialism. They state that the revolution is only "anti-imperialist", not yet socialist. Therefore what is needed is a broad front to unite all the social classes, including any patriotic bourgeoisie willing to defend the nation, rather than a united socialist party. Evidence of the push for the PSUV "from below" is that these three parties have all lost significant percentages of their membership who have left to join the new party - especially it seems Podemos and PPT, apparently both believed to be down to as little as 30% of their membership before the PSUV push, according to Federico Fuentes when I interviewed him for GLW a few weeks back. There is a lot more to be said on the question of the role of Chavez and whether or not the central leadership is revolutionary. But I agree with Lenin's Tomb that this is pretty much the numb of the debate. It is a very important debate, and again the New Zealand comrades have done the international socialist movement a great service by beginning and hosting it, and I am glad to see it spread.


Renegade Eye said...

The PSUV will always have a push pull. I think it is a good step toward transitioning to a socialist Venezuela.

It will have to exclude the various elements, who wear the red berets, but still practice and maintain the corruption of the oligarchy. The fake Chavez supporters are more a threat to the revolution, than the right.

Dave Riley said...

Catch thread here:

with Bustelo and Muckton