Sunday, 30 March 2008

Venezuela: Revolution, party and a new international

by Luis Bilbao Translated by Federico Fuentes from LINKS 26 March 2008 Venezuela has entered a decisive phase of its revolutionary process, which has advanced rapidly, and without pause, since 1999. The failed attempt to reform the constitution in the December 2, 2007, referendum opened up a conjuncture of sharp contradictions in the short and medium term and modified the institutional framework in which this period will develop; but it does not modify the content of the confrontation underway. The forces of the revolution will be unleashed, along with those of the counterrevolution. Expressed in 69 articles, the reform had four objectives as its central aim: to transfer political power to the councils of popular power (workers¹ councils, peasant councils, student councils, etc); to promote and institutionalise the existence of popular militias; reorder the national design of the state (new geometry of power); and provoke a new and more dramatic transference of wealth in favour of the working class and the people as a whole. In summary: the dismantling of the bourgeois state and the beginning of the construction of a state of the workers, peasants and the whole of the people. The electoral defeat will change the form and perhaps the rhythm of this march, nevertheless, the transition towards socialism will elevate itself to a qualitatively superior level in relation to what we have lived through during the last eight years. [1] Never so starkly has the dialectic of reform-revolution been evident. Never before has the contradiction between means and ends been so strident. Starting from the certainty that [Venezuela¹s President Hugo] Chavez will maintain a line of intransigent confrontation in the face of the opposition bloc, behind which operates the White House, two unknown factors will become clearer: the importance of the level of abstention (that is, the percentage of the population who remain apathetic and have not joined the ranks of the revolution) and whether the opposition will hold off or not from resorting to the only recourse they have left: violence. Inversely to all other previous examples, the revolution in Venezuela began via the institutional road. Chavez won the December 1998 elections, since which he has advanced, step by step, in the partial solution of social problems, raising the consciousness of society, recuperating national sovereignty and finally, clashing against the foundations of the capitalist system. That was the path taken in order to accumulate forces, with methods and with individuals buried within bourgeois state apparatus, barely offset in some cases by the will of the revolutionary cadres in government functions. With the eruption of the new government, this power entrenched itself in the state as it was composed ­ or, better said, decomposed. Throughout this period the inherent contradictions were expressed through the figure of the head of state and government, Hugo Chavez, in a never before seen situation in the history of social struggles. The reforms as a whole -- often made through pragmatic paths that led in a direction contrary to that sought after ­ were only foundations on which to raise this revolutionary project. In different latitudes, individuals prone to developing concepts elaborated and stated by others for different circumstances, but incapable of taking as their starting point living phenomena, understanding them and responding to them, saw this situation as a repetition of ``dual power¹¹. A repetition sui generis of the situation that Russia lived through between February and October 1917, with the government of the bourgeois state on one side and the workers¹ and social movement on the other. Chavez was only ``infiltrated¹¹ in there, an ally who could be counted on, whilst the workers¹ movement and the popular masses were organised into a revolutionary party. This jovial expression was transformed into a category, a pseudo-theoretical interpretation that inverted reality: it placed tiny groups and charlatans in the role of the vanguard and Chavez as a prisoner of the bourgeois state. It might seem like the tiniest of differences on the theoretical level, but this crucial error (that takes the appearance of a theoretical elaboration, but in almost all cases had as its foundations an unfortunate combination of myopia and cowardice), created a sectarian dynamic that rapidly transformed itself into counterrevolutionary positions, manifested in calls to vote against the constitutional reform, or the height of inconsistency entering as secret fractions, gnashing their teeth, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the party organised under the impulse and initiative of Chavez. In the least grave cases of this mortal deviation, vanguard groups and cadres stood firmly in the rearguard, playing the role of a deadweight, acting against the revolutionary impulse. No matter how you look at it, the fact is, that the political phenomenon underway in Venezuela is a revolution, without a doubt, whose social roots lie in the Caracazo of 1989, but which, due to the combination of the actual social formation of the country and the historic international moment in which it is situated, has developed within the bourgeois institutional system; with a powerful but atomised social movement, where the workers¹ movement is not present in an organic manner; without a party in a strict sense of the word and with the unusual gravitation around an individual figure to provide definition of sense and rhythm with which the class struggle advances. It is no coincidence that those groups and individuals who, with irresponsible superficiality, condemn a supposed cult of personality on the part of Chavez, are the same ones who refuse to commit themselves to constructing a revolutionary force in the given circumstances, facilitating the intervention of groups and individuals with social and/or political interests contrary to a revolution ... within official political militancy, as well as in the government itself. Considering all differences, an analogy can be made with the conduct of infantile leftists in Argentina who, when the possibility existed to construct a political instrument of the masses out of the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA, Argentine Workers Centre), refused to commit themselves to this process, only to afterwards condemn the outcome of that attempt, where the absence of those who call themselves revolutionaries contributed to tipping the balance of forces in favour of the reformist and conciliatory individuals and structures. But the same did not occur in Venezuela: due to the gravitational pull of Hugo Chavez, the forces of revolution have imposed themselves and now the world is witness to the transition of this country towards socialism, via unprecedented paths. Revolution and violence Although there has not been a lack of violent episodes over the last eight years ­ including regular assassinations of peasants, a coup, sabotage of the petroleum industry and innumerable failed attempts against the life of Chavez ­ the transformations that have occurred in the political landscape, the relation of forces between classes, and the state apparatus, have occurred in peace and within the framework of democratic institutions. This prolonged phase, during which profound transformations have occurred, has led to a belief that a revolution can be concluded without clashing frontally with the class enemy that exists within and outside the country¹s borders. But such a similar illusion was not part of the plans of Chavez and his closest team, who from the first moment took up the task of winning ground within the armed forces, renewing armaments, enlisting defence plans in the face of possible invasions and other forms of territorial aggression, and above all, the formation of revolutionary popular militias, known as the reserves, which today organise some one million armed men and women. It is not only legitimate, but absolutely correct, to make the biggest feasible effort to postpone for the maximum time possible a frontal clash with the enemy. Of course, this can only be said if at the same time not a single moment is wasted to raise the political consciousness of society in regards to the constant threat of imperialism and its local partners, at the same time as organising a revolutionary armed force capable of confronting and defeating this inexorable challenge. In this sense, by winning more time, two key factors can be achieved: one, the conquest of more and more popular contingents ­ workers, peasants, students, professionals, small producers and urban and rural traders ­ to the ranks of the revolution or, which in essence is the same thing, diminish to the maximum extent possible the social ranks of the enemy; two, pose the confrontation in the sphere of the Latin American territorial and political terrain, that is, if on the one hand a different relationship of forces against imperialism is created, then on the other there is posed the necessity of making all the necessary tactical steps forward to synchronise the unequal march of the processes that are unfolding in the region. The position adopted by ex-general and former minister of defence Raul Baduel accelerated suddenly the march towards a bellicose confrontation. It is obvious that Baduel¹s identification of the constitutional reform as a coup, along with his call for a No vote, imply a formal alignment with imperialism and its war plans against the socialist Bolivarian Revolution.[2] Even all the effort in the world will not be sufficient to postpone this confrontation. In Venezuela, it is necessary to complete the organisation of the PSUV and with this political instrument undertake with the maximum of energy the tasks put forward by the reform of the constitution. In Latin America, it is necessary to push with a similar will the construction of mass revolutionary parties and advance with an affirmative response towards an international organisation capable of taking up on all terrains a conclusion forgotten by many: that the socialist revolution -- the abolition of capitalism, the construction of a society of free men and women -- supposes a confrontation with imperialism that, due to the logic of its will and necessity, will be necessarily violent. The old debate between ``armed struggle¹¹ or ``peaceful road¹¹ has now been surpassed by this restating in a new international and regional context, summarised in the pressing urgency to organise the masses into revolutionary parties and to prepare ourselves in all spheres so that, due to the massive nature and military capacity of the peoples, the violence is postponed and minimised as much as possible. For reasons everyone should be able to comprehend, Critica has a debt with developing this essential debate at a theoretical level. However, this is not true regarding the political application of this strategy. It should not be necessary to underscore that the historic challenge facing us requires, now more than ever, to put the charlatans, reformists and infantile leftists in their places, through arduous theoretical work, as part of spearheading and being able to guarantee overcoming the formidable tasks ahead. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela Since the beginning of 2007, Chavez has affirmed without evasion the necessity of all revolutionary organisations to dissolve in order to pave the way towards a united party, of the masses, for the socialist revolution. As is known, the three largest organisations that have accompanied Chavez and his Movimiento Quinta República (MVR, Movement for the Fifth Republic) throughout these years, refused to accept the call. One of them (PODEMOS), decimated by the exodus of its ranks to the PSUV, aligned itself, without even worrying about keeping up appearances, with the most reactionary and bellicose opposition. The other two (Partido Comunista y Patria para Todos), who were also reduced to their minimum expression as their militants signed up to the PSUV, nevertheless decided to support, with some disgruntlement, the constitutional reform. [3] The fact is that 5,770,000 citizens signed up as aspirant militants to the PSUV, beginning the process of organising the party over this base. As the November edition of America XXI reads: "The process of election of delegates to the Founding Congress was completed in OctoberŠ [with] 1674 delegates elected from the Socialist Circumscriptions (CS), made up of between 8 and 12 Socialist Battalions, which in turn elected seven members (spokesperson, alternative spokesperson and five heads of commissions) to the CSŠAlthough the realisation [of the congress] will be difficult, the objective is that these three instances act simultaneously, in a never before seen process of exchange between the grassroots and the delegates in order to debate and vote on the essential documents put to the consideration of the Congress: the Declaration of Principles, Program and Statutes. [4] "Through a suitable combination of congress plenaries, meetings in different regions, and report backs from delegates with debates in their corresponding circumscription, plus the simultaneous functioning of the Socialist Battalions, there will be an attempt to reach the maximum possible level of democratic participation of the whole membership. The most modern technologies of communication will contribute to the objective of putting information at the disposition of everyone and channel the debates in both directions: from the grassroots to the delegates and vice versa, who will have at their disposition the use of a web page, email and mobile telephones. "No technical resource will be able to overcome the impact of the absence of the workers¹ movement as an organised force, influencing and imposing its mark as a class in the functioning of this massive organisation. At the same time, no one can dodge the absence of a tradition of revolutionary mass organising, to which has to be added a opposing tradition: that of Accion Democratica (AD, Democratic Action), which for decades was sowed in consciousness through a methodology at the service of capital and an established political structure. The crucial fact that the impulse for the construction of the PSUV came from Chavez, and afterwards was articulated through functionaries from different spheres of government, will also weigh in an ambivalent manner on this historic birth. Nevertheless, until now, the dialectic established firstly between Chavez and the thousands of promoters, then the millions of aspirants and finally the whole of the grassroots and middle cadres has prevailed. All of this will reach a boiling point with the realisation of the congress. Regardless of whatever faults there are in the results that emerge [out of the congress], the workers, the people as whole ­ especially the youth ­ that is, the whole of the country, will have taken an immense leap forward. The championing in word and deed of the notion of the party, at the beginning of the 21st century and following the traumatic collapse of the political apparatuses that at one stage were parties only to be later metamorphosed in order to adapt to the global capitalist system, is probably the most transendental contribution that the Bolivarian Revolution has produced up until now.² In effect, the championing of the notion of the revolutionary party is an immense leap forward, and not only, nor principally, for Venezuelan revolutionaries and the Venezuelan masses. Now, more so than at the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, in this conjuncture the full, absolutely transparent participation of all genuine revolutionary militants from any country is vital. Given the conditions in which it is born, the PSUV will immediately face innumerable risks of all types. We are dealing with, no more and no less, the same risks that have beset all and every true revolution. Confronted with this, there is no room for doubt regarding the decision that any Marxist revolutionary should take: confront these risks, armed with their theoretical arsenal, their practical experience and their resolve to relentlessly struggle against capitalism. Therefore, in Latin America, the falseness of the capricious and ridiculous stereotype of the Leninist theory of the party and its defence of the professional revolutionary remains exposed for all to see. This last notion was equally distorted and perverted in order to be utilised as theoretical loincloths by ignorant and inefficient bureaucrats, whose wisdom only served to repeat verses and guarantee their own survival. The true conception expounded by Lenin in all his works and symbolised in What is to be done, is reappearing in the new Latin American scenario. Tens of thousands of militant cadre will comprehend the necessity to join in action with the masses, in organisations where the ideas of scientific socialism needs to win space as a force capable of interpreting, intervening, relating to masses in motion, organising, elaborating, divulging and defending their strategy and tactics through revolutionary praxis. The constant resorting to petitio principii will be of no use, that is, the evocation of some god of revolutionary action in whose name actions are carried out, with the same legitimacy that the pope assumes in acting as the representative of the Holy Spirit. That is why the first condition for coming aboard the Latin American revolutionary torrent from revolutionary Marxist positions is to break all and any nexus with the pseudo-theoretical arguments and sectarian practises of the infantile leftist tendencies. A Latin American international organisation Critica has for a long time set out and defended its ideas regarding a mass revolutionary party.[5] Nevertheless, with the birth of the PSUV, and the revolutionary resolve represented by Chavez, the task of raising the consciousness and organisation of the masses to another level is now posed. In his August 25 intervention, in front of the promoters of the PSUV, President Hugo Chavez said that 2008 would be the moment to ``convoke a meeting of left parties of Latin America and organise a type of International, an organisation of parties and movements of the left in Latin American and the Caribbean¹¹. Chavez explained: "There is a resurgence of the consciousness of the peoples; the movements, leaders and leaderships of this new left, of this new project, need to continue to grow." The last experience of this type was the Foro de Sao Paulo (FSP, Sao Paulo Forum), originally convoked in this Brazilian city, in 1990, by the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party, Brazil) and the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC, Communist Party of Cuba), as an ``Encounter of Parties and Organisations of the Left in Latin America and the Caribbean¹¹. From the beginning, a strong ideological debate existed within this organisation. At the first encounter a condemnation of capitalism and a correct characterisation regarding the structural crisis won out. The following year, in Mexico, held in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a shift towards adaptation began, with the FSP taken to the verge of splitting. Two principal blocs formed: those that, faced with this new situation, looked towards finding their place in what at the time was called the ``new world order¹¹, and those who held revolutionary socialist positions. The principal forces of the more than 100 organisations that made up the FSP were the PT, PCC, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN,Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, El Salvador), Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN, Sandinista National Liberation Front, Nicaragua), Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD, Party of the Democratic Revolution, Mexico), Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front, Uruguay) and the Partido Socialista de Chile (PSCh, Socialist Party of Chile). Despite the fact that a split did not occur in Mexico, and that the resolution of the second encounter did not adopt the position proposed by the rightwing, ever since then the FSP has been systematically pushed towards reformism. The ideological battle was fought out basically between four currents: a) PCC b) social democracy c) social christianism d) diverse organisations who called themselves Trotskyists, each of them very different in regards to each other. As is known, at that time Cuba entered into the ``Special periodŒ¹. The PT had come out of a defeat in the 1989 elections. The FSLN had already incorporated itself into the [social democratic] Socialist International. The FMLN had confirmed that it had reached a strategic military deadlock and began peace negotiations. Meanwhile, the world, and in particular Latin America, entered into the ``neoliberal¹¹ decade. In the ensuing encounters of the FSP, beyond the speeches made and declarations approved, it became clear that the position of two of the four currents had converged: social democracy and social christianism. The Trotskyist tendencies withdrew from the FSP (and became debilitated to the point of extinction). The revolutionary current headed by the PCC (made up of a big majority of the organisations of the whole hemisphere) did not cohere itself, with its role diluted to the point of being limited to a few good speeches at each encounter, without generating any consequences. Today, the FSP is an empty shell in the hands of those most opposed to any revolutionary ideas, and specifically to the Bolivarian Revolution. Beyond individual positions, within the leadership structures of the PT, PRD, FA and PSCh, Chavez is a synonym for Lucifer. It should be specifically pointed out that in November 2001, in the encounter in La Habana, it was not possible to reach an agreement to send a delegation in solidarity with Chavez in the face of the evidence of an escalating coup plot. Recently, the PRD delegate who habitually represents this party in the FSP participated in the congress of the Venezuelan Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism) [which is part of the opposition]. This drift of the FSP contributed in a significant manner to the destruction and/or neutralisation of tens of thousands of cadres and middle cadres in Latin America. Conjuncture The dispersal of forces who define themselves as favouring a revolutionary solution ­ and are willing to fight for it ­ is today the principal point that imperialism and the national bourgeoisies count in their favour. Out of those militant sectors dragged towards reformism by their leaderships, we can presume that a percentage is willing to join an alternative that once again proposes what it was that convinced them to enter into political activity. Another contingent coming from that period is dispersed in innumerable organisations, a good part of which should also be in a position to incorporate themselves into an international movement that contributes to the creation, orientation and development of national organisations of important political weight. But it is highly probable that the most important contingent of militants for a new Latin American revolutionary alternative will be unorganised youth who today are politically active, but whose forces are dispersed in social organisations, small newspapers, community radio stations and other expressions of militancy without a strategy to struggle for power. If it is left solely up to the existing political-organisational relations and definitions at the national level, we cannot expect to see, at least for a long time, the recomposition of these militant contingents. The permanence of tens of thousands of cadres and activists in this current state, despite the fact that this immense force today sees itself compelled towards the perspective of Latin American revolution, will assure, in a relative short timeframe, the destruction in high proportions of this revolutionary force. On the contrary, the existence of a general political orientation, of a recognised leadership, could put into action a powerful revolutionary human force that is today inert, saving from degradation and subsequent destruction, hundreds of thousands of militants across Latin America. This capacity for orientation and leadership can only be based on revolutionary leaderships with deep roots, prestige and sufficient energy in front of this collection of revolutionary militants. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, as symbols and representatives of the revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela, are today the only possible centre that could play this role. Moreover, the long-term attack already put in train by imperialism, with the resolute collaboration of social democracy and social christianism, urgently requires defining positions, marking out a general strategic line of action and organising grand human contingents to impede the counterrevolutionary pincer advancing forward, drowning in blood the growing revolutionary process in Latin America. At the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, this alignment became graphically clear: the social democratic [president of Spain] Jose Rodriguez Zapatero defended the neoliberal strategy and ``social cohesion¹¹ under capitalism. He even tried to impose this on the meeting, with a blatant manoeuvre in this closing speech, violating the methodology of the summit. Faced with the response by Chavez, the Spanish president Zapatero did not hesitate to come out in defence of the fascist Jose Maria Aznar, ex-president of Spain. The social democracy-social christianism-fascism convergence was clear for millions to see during this episode, topped off by the sharp remarks of the king and his later abandonment of the meeting during the denunciation made by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. At the trade union level, this convergence has already taken an organic form over the last few years, with the coming together of the union confederations of the Vatican and social democracy in the International Trade Union Confederation, that is now beginning to articulate itself in Latin America, where in Argentina it counts on the support of some wings of the CTA.[6] The first step in advancing towards the organisation of a Latin American-Caribbean political structure that, despite the fact that it depends on the decision of Chavez and Fidel to undertake the task, will from the beginning have an international projection. Conceptual bases Throughout history there have been, conceptually and in practice, four anti-capitalist international organisations. The First, in which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were key figures in its foundation, brought together different anti-capitalist revolutionary currents. It emerged directly out of the impulse of the workers themselves in struggle against the system in Europe; the two principal currents were those who would shortly become known as Marxists and the anarchists. The Second, defined as social democratic (with the meaning that this word had at that time, the inverse of what it is today) was based on the grand mass socialist workers¹ parties which, at the time, had been formed in all of Europe, in the United States and in various Latin American countries. The Third, founded by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, defined itself as communist, counterposing itself to the social democrats, who by then were identified by the position of subordinating the interests of the workers to those of the bourgeoisie of each country; the mass social democratic parties all split paving the way for the emergence of communist parties, which founded the Third International with this name. The Fourth, in reality, never became a truly international organisation deeply rooted in the working class. It was born as a result of the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the extension of this collapse to the organisation, program and policies of the Third International from its Fifth Congress onwards. Its base of support was the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union and its expression in the different communist parties across the world. It later took the name of its principal promoter, Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in 1940, with the organisation in turn degenerating, giving rise to innumerable organisations, almost always sectarian and minuscule. Today, due to objective and subjective reasons ­ laid out over the years in these pages and which will not be developed in this article ­ an international organisation cannot pretend to have the ideological homogeneity that the Second, Third and Fourth internationals had. On the contrary, its heterogeneous nature will far surpass that of the First International, apart from the fact that it will not result from the conscious and organised impulse of a workers¹ vanguard with backing from the masses. The point of support for such a heterogeneous organisation will be the explicit decision to struggle against imperialism and for socialism of the 21st century, assuming as its starting point the unknown elements and ambiguities that this definition implies. To this ideological heterogeneity will correspond an organisational criterion that, although obliging in terms of general strategy of each member party or organisation, will allow the participation of different organisations in the same country and will not enforce unanimous criteria for political activity. Nevertheless, the international could not be assimilated into the concept of a united front. It is closer to the criteria of a mass party, with ideological heterogeneity and political homogeneity on central questions regarding hemispheric strategy, and with all the flexibility that this requires given differences of participation in each country. This contradiction will be resolved in favour of cohesion, political homogeneity and international coherence through the organ of the international leadership, which could only be made up of representatives of parties from those countries where no more than one recognised organisation exists. The organisation of a revolutionary international with these characteristics, far from being a distant perspective is an immediate necessity. Defence of the revolutionary processes underway in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador cannot be postponed, nor can effort towards the recomposition of revolutionary social forces in the rest of the countries in the region. Both tasks are beyond the possibilities of the dispersed and confused militants in Argentina, the country that most needs this Latin American anchor in order to lift, rise up and recuperate its powerful revolutionary force. [This is an updated version of an article first written for the November 2007 edition of Crítica de Nuestro Tiempo N° 36, just prior to the December 2 referendum. The author updated it at the end of February 2008. Critica de Nuestro Tiempo, International Journal of Theory and Practice, was founded in 1991, since which it has regularly defended the cause of socialism. This article was translated exclusively for Links ­ International Journal of Socialist Renewal ( by Federico Fuentes. Luis Bilbao is a journalist, founder and director of Critica de Nuestro Tiempo, and member of the Union of Militants for Socialism (Argentina). Since the end of 2006 Bilbao has temporarily resided in Venezuela, as director of the Latin America-wide magazine America XXI, where he has collaborated in the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the process of building UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. Among numerous books, he has published two long interviews with President Hugo Chavez through Le Monde Diplomatique.] Notes [1] See reports and analyses about the content of the reforms in America XXI, Issues No 30, 31 and 32, corresponding to the months of September, October and November. [2] It is worth noting in passing that this episode revealed the real role of certain opportunists and pseudo-theoreticians, such as Heinz Dieterich, who without an intermediary period passed over from Stalinism to bourgeois-reformist gibberish, marinated with appropriate resources in order to dazzle a certain disorientated intellectual layer. With a pseudo-revolutionary verbosity, this author cooked up a formula for a supposed new socialism, which is nothing more than a road to take in order to avoid the abolition of capitalism. His alignment with Baduel (worse still disguised under a call to Chavez for reconciliation with Baduel, arguing that the Yes and No vote in the constitutional reform where not antagonistic), revealed the course that this type of itinerant intellectual inexorable takes when the decisive hour of the revolution arrives. [3] On this debate, information can be found principally in issue 24 and 25 of America XXI, in March and April 2007, as well as in the following issues of this magazine. [4] View the draft Declaration of Principles and Program at Links [5] The last contribution in this sense was ``Theory and Practice of the Revolutionary Party¹¹ Critica No 34, October 2006, [6] See the balance sheet of the Ibero-American Summit in ``Argentina no callara¹¹, El Espejo 171, p. 8.

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