Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Stuart Munckton: much common ground on Venezuela

(an edited version of remarks made by Australian socialist Stuart Munckton on the ongoing debate about the Bolivarian Revolution. Original version available here.) The position defended by Alex Calinicos and the Australian ISO is not the same as, for instance, the much more extreme sectarianism of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), who have a clearer stance of opposition towards the Chavez government. There is much about how the IST has related to Venezuela that is positive - they haven't simply slammed it or refused to offer support against the attacks from imperialism. It is easy to get carried away and fail to recognise this. This is a discussion among comrades who have taken a positive approach to the gains, and see the need to defend the both the gains and the government, although the differences over our approach remain real and very significant - hence the debate. There is much that can, and should be, be said about what is wrong with the analysis put forward by the ISO and Callinicos, but at its essence it represents a sectarian stance towards the actual motion of the class struggle. And whatever else is right or wrong about the position put forward by NZ Socialist Worker (and it isn't exactly the same as the analysis of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, which I belong to) it is ultimately THIS that they are challenging. The NZ comrades have put forward a position that recognises and seeks to proceed from reality as it exists, not an abstract conception of how reality SHOULD exist, which becomes the benchmark by which to judge reality. The Callinicos/ISO position says, we support the gains and the advances, BUT the most important thing is all the problems and contradictions. The NZ comrades have turned this on its head and said, we recognise the limitations and contradictions BUT the most important thing is the advances for the class struggle, that we recognise, support and seek to relate to this. This is regardless of another, although important, discussion which is how far the revolutionary movement has gone in Venezuela in terms of overthrowing the capitalist state and taking concrete anti-capitalist moves. This is important, and there are real differences over this, but it doesn't alter the fundamental orientation needed towards the revolutionary movement. From what I can see, the NZ Socialist Worker has sought to proceed from the reality of the socialist revolution in Venezuela, not from an abstract measurement of a socialist revolution that demands any revolution has to score enough points on a scorecard to be recognised. Sectarianism is not simply saying you don't like those people over there. AWL does that with Chavez, they are quite clear that they don't like or his government much at all. However, the Callinicos position doesn't. The official take of the IST has been to say, yes they DO like Chavez, he is an inspiring figure, and the pro-people policies of his government should be supported. But the position put forward by Calinicos and the ISO are still at heart sectarian, because sectarianism means setting yourself against the movement of the class. The IST position still seeks to counter what it sees as its unique position, called "socialism from below", and counterposes it to the mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela, as it actually exists with all of its existing limitations and contradictions. To me this is the key difference. The Callinicos line raises very real problems and contradictions, ones that are widely recognised in Venezuela including by Chavez, but then sets the process as it currently exists in stone. It is assumed these contradictions can not be resolved in a positive way. So Callinicos quotes Chris Harman saying the reason why the new party won't work is because it has three contradictory currents in it. This suggests that the new party will suffer instability and a struggle will occur over its nature. Why is this going to automatically resolve itself in the negative? Won't this be the product of struggle? And shouldn't we throw ourselves in to this struggle by relating in a positive fashion to it? From what I can see, this is what the NZ comrades are trying to do. They are not standing on the sidelines pointing out why this process is bound to fail, they recognise the problems and dangers but put upfront that socialists understand the significance of this battle and are in solidarity with it. Yes, the bureaucrats might end up in control of the PSUV, but anyone with two eyes can see that there is enormous enthusiasm from the ranks for this party. Five million members shows how keen the rank and file of the revolutionary movement - that is the radicalising working class, as it actually exists - see this new party as a weapon to advance the revolution. This gives an enormous impetus to the struggle to make the PSUV a genuinely revolutionary party. It gives great hope that the contradictions within the party can be resolved in favour of the working class and the revolution. But 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. This position sets you up AGAINST the actual struggle within the revolutionary process, leaving those who joined this doomed struggle for tactical reasons at the very best going through the motions of a struggle you know you will lose in order not to be completely isolated from the class. For all the talk of "socialism from below" it actually reflects a very negative view of the ability of working people "from below" to win this struggle. The new party seems tainted by its contradictions, and most of all tainted because Chavez has called for it. The role of Chavez is another factor predetermined. It seems it is impossible for him to play an important leadership role in making the socialist revolution. This seems to come down to a moral judgement of Chavez. He is disqualified from helping lead a socialist revolution by the very fact he was elected president overseeing a capitalist state and a capitalist economy. He is ruled ineligible from playing a positive leadership role in advancing the socialist revolution and struggle for workers power. Here we face the same problem of taking a contradiction that leads to a struggle, and in advance assuming it must be resolved in the negative. To have a president at the head of a mass movement pushing ever more in an anti-capitalist direction, that is in the midst of struggle to create a revolutionary state and destroying the old state (leaving aside the discussion about how far this has gone) and urging working people on towards socialism. Essentially, through the struggle, you have had a government arise that is independent of the bourgeois forces that dominate the economy and still a fair part of the state apparatus. This is not sustainable, but is it really ruled out in advance that it this contradiction about the role of Chavez and the government he leads can only be resolved in the negative, with Chavez either turning on the working class or else being overthrown by counterrevolution? In fact both the Comintern in 1922 and Leon Trotsky in the Transitional Program (which Chavez urged Venezuelan people to go and read recently on his nationally televised program) raised the concept of a "workers and farmers government", that is a government independent of the bourgeoisie but which still rests on a capitalist state. Different forms of such a government were conceived of, including one based directly on communist leadership. Obviously, such a situation is not stable and can only be transitional to a workers state the reestablishment of bourgeois control over the government. Such a government has to move to work to dismantle the bourgeoisie state and replace it with a revolutionary one. Such a thing can only be achieved by the working people themselves - the role of such a government is to encourage and help lead this process. There is a fair chunk of evidence that this is the course Chavez is on at the moment and important gains are being made, but lets leave that aside and ask whether such a thing is even possible according to the approach taken by Callinicos/ISO? Such a course of action appears to be written out as not applicable. So yes, the struggle has to be "from below", that is it can not be decreed by Chavez or anyone else but must be made on the ground by the working people themselves. But we all acknowledge that leadership is important and here we get to the nub of the question. Chavez appears to be ruled ineligible from being a central part of that leadership. He is "stained" by having gotten himself elected into the office of president. It would be much cleaner, of course, if the Venezuelan revolution has not gone through and made use of the bourgeois electoralism at all. If the workers had simply risen up, formed soviets and smashed the bourgeois state in one fell swoop back in 1999. But they didn't. The struggle to resolve the needs of the working people and their allies placed Hugo Chavez in Miraflores palace on a platform to achieve change. The subsequent struggle against the implementation of the platform has created a massive class struggl. This has radicalised both the impoverished mass and Chavez, pushed the process forward, made some important gains both social and political and placed the question of socialist revolution immediately on the cards. That is the reality of the Venezuelan revolution. The revolution has reached this point through a course determined by the Venezuelan reality, regardless of whether or not this was the most ideal way for it to go. The real question is not about "socialism from below" at all. This is really a tautology anyway. Socialism involves the fundamental transformation of social relations on a massive scale - it can only be made by the working class. You cannot create socialism except "from below" (ie: made by the working class). It is actually about the fact that we all recognise that revolutions require revolutionary leadership and the Callinicos line doesn't recognise the existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership. Of course, this revolutionary leadership is very much a work in progress. There is the leadership on a national level centred in the figure of Chavez. That so much authority is vested in one individual is a weakness, but again there is no point complaining because reality is not perfect. There is also the emerging revolutionary grass roots leaderships in communities and workplaces. Both are seeking to push the process forward and have been blocked to varying degrees by bureaucracy that controls much of the state apparatus. The new party is an attempt to overcome this problem, to deepen and strengthen the grass roots leadership that is arising to break down the road blocks. Whether this can happen, whether the broad based mass revolutionary leadership required to decisively take the revolution forward will be created or not, will be the product of struggle. The problem seems to be that the Callinicos position rules out in advance the possibility of the creation of a revolutionary leadership through such a process, and deny the important gains already made along this line. It isn’t how the IST have always said it should happen, so rather than conclude maybe there is a need to broaden the IST's understanding of how the possible ways a revolution can occur and the different roads to solve the problem of revolutionary leadership the class struggle might throw up, the problem is concluded to be with the Venezuelan revolution. Chavez simply can't be a revolutionary leader, and the revolution simply can't occur in such a way. This is why you can have generally positive attitude to the gains of the revolution, as the IST does. You can defend it against attack, as the UK SWP did in the pages of their press against the media onslaught over the RCTV decision, an article that is hard to fault. But if you acknowledge that there is a socialist revolution and that Chavez is attempting to lead it, and if you support the struggle for a revolutionary party to take it forward that is underway — as the NZ comrades have done — then you challenge something much more fundamental. This is obvious from the way the discussion has explicitly raised the question of IST organisation. The New Zealand comrades have pointed out the obvious, which is when discussing how socialists should relate to each other internationally, you must take into account and seek to relate those currently leading a socialist revolution. They take this approach despite acknowledging the unfinished nature of the struggle for power, and despite the weaknesses, such as in the organised workers movement. The Callinicos line, on the other hand, seeks to use these things as an excuse not to proceed from such a position. It doesn't mean, as Callinicos implies, that this means creating a new "international centre" in Caracas. It doesn't mean denying the steps still to be taken and the potential for the process to be derailed. It means that you relate to this struggle with open arms, and seek to collaborate with and learn from the comrades who are leading it, many of whom come from a wide variety of traditions and reflect, within the revolutionary process, various positions. June 20, 2007

1 comment:

Dave Riley said...

You'll also find a lot of that debate archived here on LeftClick