Monday, 9 July 2007

Second statement on Venezuelan revolution from Socialist Worker-New Zealand

The Bolivarian Revolution & socialist internationalism:
Organising to fight the 4th World War

A follow-up to our May Day statement: ‘Venezuela’s deepening revolution & international socialist coordination’


7 July 2007

The debates taking place globally among left-wing individuals and groups in response to the Bolivarian Revolution are profoundly important to the grassroots struggle for human emancipation. It was to accelerate this international debate that the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand released its May Day 2007 statement on ‘Venezuela’s deepening revolution & international socialist coordination’.

As hoped, our statement has sparked considerable debate. We acknowledge the replies that we have received from individuals and socialist groups around the world. Some of these responses, along with our original May Day statement, can be read on our blogsite:

Socialist Worker-New Zealand has been an affiliate of the International Socialist Tendency (IST) since 1995. We hope that many more IST affiliates will contribute their thoughts on Venezuela. We also invite leftists outside the IST to make use of our blogsite as part of expanding the perimeters of the discussion. We believe that Venezuela’s unfolding revolution has the potential to reshape socialist currents on every continent, so debate on this issue is too important to be locked up inside each tendency. It needs to be an open debate involving all socialists in all lands. You can send contributions to our blogsite via

In this follow-up to our May Day statement we expand on some of the points we initially made, as well as responding to some of the issues and criticisms raised in the replies we have received so far.

Our collective analysis of the Bolivarian Revolution will improve our collective understanding of the ever-evolving struggle for socialism. Every living revolution yields a rich harvest in terms of socialist theory, strategy, tactics, outreach and organisation. In Lenin’s phrase, the “living soul” of Marxism is “a concrete analysis of a concrete situation”.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand understands the need to integrate theory and practice. So our analysis of Venezuela is linked with practical proposals for IST action and organisation. These proposals were first presented in our May Day statement and are here repeated in conclusion.

The freedom, excitement and chaos of a revolution

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes events in Venezuela are worth getting very excited about. The masses are actively participating in politics in a way that has only happened on a few occasions in the world’s history. People are beginning to take power into their own hands and change the society in which they live.

You only have to look at some of the images coming out of Venezuela to sense the mood that’s infecting the people. On pro-socialist demos and rallies people look like they are having the time of their lives, they are jubilant and determined.

In an article for The Guardian (28 February 2007), George Galloway, Respect MP in Britain and international peace campaigner, recounted his visit to Venezuela. He writes: “The atmosphere in Caracas is fervid. The vast shanty towns draping the hillside around the cosmopolitan centre bustle with workers’ cooperatives, trade union meetings, marches and debates.” His description recalls scenes in Petrograd following the February 1917 revolution that toppled the Russian monarchy.

To people who wish to cling to the old ways, such scenes can be destabilising and senseless. To revolutionaries, such surface chaos merely points to vast social forces in motion, creating a wonderful opportunity for grassroots liberation. People are learning directly from the material of an actual revolutionary process. Learning in these circumstances, as Lenin observed, happens quickly and it sticks.

Despite the serious obstacles still to be overcome, the formerly “invisible” masses of Venezuela are gaining their human dignity, an experience that is not going to be easily abandoned. They are grabbing hold of something that is clearly worth fighting for. That’s why, amazingly, 5.7 million people registered to join the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in just over a month.

Dual power in Venezuela

As we said in our May Day statement, Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes a dual power scenario exists in Venezuela. The class forces are fairly evenly balanced. Neither of the two opposing class alliances has yet been able to win the war which both sides recognise they are fighting on a number of levels: politics, economics, ideology, administration, culture and, at times, physical force.

Dual power is not a historically static concept that we can rigidly apply. Dual power will have different characteristics in every revolutionary situation. Revolutions are never going to play out in the same way each time. In Venezuela, dual power emerged from a period of intense class struggle in 2002-03, culminating in the recall referendum won decisively by Chavez in 2004.

This struggle was over control of Venezuela’s multi-billion dollar oil industry, around which the whole economy revolves. Plans by the Chavez government to gain real control of the nominally state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) led to the oligarchy’s ferocious confrontation with the government and its grassroots supporters. A capital strike initiated by PDVSA bosses on 9 April 2002 sparked a full-scale coup backed by Washington. Two days later Chavez was taken prisoner by right-wing military officers.

Millions of grassroots Venezuelans flooded the streets demanding the release of Chavez and his re-instatement as president. Buoyed by these mass mobilisations, pro-Chavez sections of the military went on a counter offensive on 13 April. The coup was defeated and Chavez restored as president.

The opposition regrouped and in December 2002 organised a two-month lockout. PDVSA was closed down and the lockout spread to all major industries, effectively crippling the economy and plunging millions of poor Venezuelans into deeper poverty.

The president and the Chavistas rallied. Supply lines were set up by civilian volunteers and pro-Chavez military personnel to provide food and other necessities to the poor of Venezuela’s cities, establishing structures that would later blossom into the “missions”. The mass resistance of the people, bolstered by Chavez mobilising the resources of the government on their side, meant that the capitalists buckled first as their profits dried up.

The lockout was called off on 3 February 2003. Many firms were left bankrupt. By the end of March the Chavez government, with the help of oil workers, had gained full control of PDVSA and removed all opposition forces. It was possible to begin socialising oil wealth for the benefit of the people of Venezuela.

This was a critical battle because of the centrality of oil to the Venezuelan economy, on which the Venezuelan oligarchy based its wealth and power in partnership with foreign capital. The oligarchy were well aware of the stakes. And workers, through mass mobilisations and factory occupations, played a leading role. After this victory, Chavez was able to set in motion the process which led towards the missions and Communal Councils.

Opposition forces then tried to get rid of Chavez through a recall referendum. Despite a full-scale media propaganda blitz, the masses again rallied in support of the president. 5.8 million people said “no” in the August 2004 recall referendum, 59% of the vote. Opposition political forces were so badly beaten that, in a sign of desperation, they boycotted the National Assembly elections the following year.

On the other side of the ledger, the Venezuelan economy mostly remains under the control of local and foreign capital. The media is largely run by the Venezuela oligarchy, pumping out capitalist ideology and rubbishing the Chavez government. The corrupt bureaucracy within the existing capitalist state remain strongly opposed to Chavez and the mass movement. These counter-revolutionary forces attempt to frustrate the government’s social (and increasingly socialist) measures, acting boldly where they can, covertly where they are hemmed in.

Since the corporates control most of the economy, Chavez is forced to tread carefully when it comes to rolling back the market. He seeks to avoid sparking a mass strike by capital before workers have gained the revolutionary organisation, the practical experience and the international support needed to run a socialist economy. The president cannot just legislate powerful capitalist forces out of existence, compelling the Chavez government to maintain a “relationship” with local and international capitalists, which is qualitatively different from an “alliance” or “partnership”.

Today the opposing class forces in Venezuela are fairly evenly balanced, although a political revival of the open counter-revolutionaries looks unlikely in the immediate future. In a dual power situation, there is no prospect of a strategic compromise (as distinct from tactical manoeuvres) between balanced-out class antagonists. Each of the two opposing class alliances faces either total victory or total defeat sometime in the short-to-medium term. It is with this understanding that we should assess political events in Venezuela.

The role of Chavez in the revolution

The unfolding revolution in Venezuela has new features, like all revolutions do, and the figure of Hugo Chavez is one such important element. What role Chavez is playing in Venezuela’s unfolding revolution is a major bone of contention among the world’s socialists, including the IST.

For some socialists, only the mass movement is propelling the revolution forward, while Chavez merely responds to pressures “from below”. This analysis essentially characterises Chavez as someone unwillingly pushed along by the movement, whose main interest is trying to cling to power in the same way a reformist leadership might do.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand rejects this view, which we see as one-dimentional and non-dialectical. We believe that Chavez, through what he says, and more importantly through the chain reaction of events he is able to set in motion, is advancing the confidence, awareness and organisation of the masses. Rather than having to be pushed forward by the movement, Chavez has grown into a huge motivational and practical initiator of the socialist cause.

In speeches, Chavez often refers to his own steep learning curve. Since 2005 he has publicly moved towards revolutionary socialism, often quoting key Marxist thinkers. At the World Social Forum in Brazil, January 2005, he stated:

“It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system, to solve the problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union…

“I am a revolutionary and I am becoming more revolutionary by the day, because every day that passes convinces me more that the only way in which we will be able to break out of the capitalist hegemony, the hegemony of the oligarchies that rule our lands, is through the path of revolution. There is no other way.”

On top of his extensive socialist reading, Chavez is learning heaps from being at the helm of a real-life revolutionary process based on the practical expression of “popular power”.

The fact that Chavez is occupying the presidential palace is a key factor in accelerating the socialist revolution that he advocated during his re-election campaign in late 2006. A socialist leadership based on the masses and promoting their self-emancipation transcends the reformist dichotomy of “from above” and “from below”.

Dialectical relationship between Chavez and the movement

The dialectical relationship between Chavez and the mass movement can be seen in the formation of the Communal Councils.

Before the Communal Councils there were the Bolivarian Circles that organised Chavistas in the barrios. The Bolivarian Circles helped to pull the masses onto the streets to defeat the 2002 coup. Then came the extremely popular missions, initiated by the Chavez government to target specific needs of poor Venezuelans. The missions are funded directly from oil revenues and staffed by armies of volunteers. The missions bypass the corrupt bureaucracy of the capitalist state which, in consequence, is de-legitimised.

The practical experiences of the missions have given confidence to the masses. They learnt how the bureaucracy can be outflanked and alternative institutions and processes set up which benefit the majority of the people. This wonderful lesson meant the movement “from below”, particularly the organic leaders who were emerging from the grassroots, began pushing for more.

Chavez & Co understood the needs of the movement. They passed the Communal Council Law in April 2006 that again propelled the movement forward. The law says the Communal Councils will “represent the means through which the organised masses can take over the direct administration of policies and projects that are created in response to the needs and aspirations of the communities, in the construction of a fair and just society”. Today over 18,000 Communal Councils exist across Venezuela.

This year the Intergovernmental Fund for Decentralisation will distribute $5 billion directly to the Communal Councils. The grassroots will decide how this money is spent in their own communities. And on 8 January, Chavez called for a “regional federation of Communal Councils” to replace the “bourgeois state”. The Chavez government is looking at eliminating most of Venezuela’s 335 municipalities, which are riddled with capitalist partisans, and giving extensive powers to the Communal Councils under a re-written constitution.

The leadership of Chavez & Co sparked the “explosion of communal power” (Chavez’s phrase) which is now challenging the old state structures. This is what socialist leadership is all about. In a television interview on 4 March 2007, the president noted the relationship between the Chavista leadership and the people. Referring to the “five motors” of the revolution launched at the beginning of the year, he commented: “We are at such a level of consciousness and popular organisation that we only had to set them in motion.”

Promoting Communal Councils from the presidential palace may well be unique in the history of revolutions. Yet it would be a bad mistake to downplay this presidential leadership and so regard the Communal Councils as not worth getting excited about. The Communal Councils are a groundbreaking socialist solution to the problem that, while Venezuela is highly urbanised, more city workers are in the “informal” economy than in corporate and state entities.

For Socialist Worker-New Zealand, the Communal Councils have emerged from a dialectical interplay between the leadership of Chavez & Co and the impulses of the mass movement.

Transitional mechanisms not ‘top down’ reforms

While Chavez started from a radical reformist perspective in 1999, something he readily admits, it would be wrong to see the present relationship between the president and the masses as like that between a reformist leadership and a grassroots movement.

While the social polices of the Chavez government have massively benefited the poor of Venezuela, this has not been their only value, or even the most important when viewed with a wider lens. Their “revolutionary value” has come from the involvement of poor communities in the implementation of these social policies, thus mobilising grassroots Venezuelans on a mass scale. The crucial element is not so much the degree to which poverty has been lessened, important though that is, but rather the meteoric rise in the confidence of ordinary people to shape their own destiny. The missions were never “top down” reforms in the social democratic sense. As Chavez put it: “They are weapons in the construction of socialism.”

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the initiatives of the Chavez government, taken as a whole, constitute a transitional programme of the 21st century. A transitional programme helps the grassroots promote radical reforms linked to mass actions that have a revolutionary impact on society.

Trotsky wrote in 1938: “It is necessary to help the masses in the process of daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist programme of the revolution.” He went on: “This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”

The nature of these “transitional demands” depends on context, including the locality of the struggle, the balance of class forces, the political will of the antagonists and many other historically determined factors.

Many of the initiatives promoted by Chavez since his election in December 1998 have acted as “bridges” across which the masses have moved from a lower level of struggle to a higher one, often in response to obstacles put up by opposing class forces. Each step of the way has seen the revolutionary consciousness of the masses develop.

In a dual power scenario, transitional demands take on a heightened significance because there is no room for strategic reconciliation between opposing class forces. Big business is compelled to fight for the continuation of its rule by any means possible. This is the “truth” of a revolutionary situation. It is what the Venezuelan grassroots have been learning in their struggle to win and retain social reforms.

There is no sharp dividing line between reform and revolution. Revolution grows out of the determined struggle for concrete reforms and the defence of what has already been achieved. This is why well-considered transitional policies (especially coming from an elected socialist government) are one of the most important elements of revolutionary leadership.

Price regulations for food, control of Orinoco Basin oil reserves, nationalisation of telecom and electricity firms, the promise of further nationalisations and other measures likely to come from Chavez over the 18 month period he is able to pass laws by decree – taken as a whole, these initiatives look set to further radicalise the masses and fundamentally threaten the interests of the capitalist class in Venezuela. They become lightning rods for the revolution.

Revolutionary implications of price controls

In a situation of dual power, where opposing class forces are battling it out at every level of society, apparently modest measures that in themselves do not seem to go beyond capitalism can have revolutionary implications.

So in Venezuela today a battle is starting over government measures to try and control the price of food and secure supply to the public supermarkets, the Mercels. Venezuela’s importers, retailers and agro-capitalists are engineering shortages of basic foodstuffs and ignoring price control regulations. Economic sabotage is a weapon the counter-revolutionary forces can still wield. Their aim is to undermine socialism and the government in the eyes of the people.

But every problem for revolutionaries is also an opportunity. In his speech at the first meeting of the “promoters” of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on 24 March 2007, Chavez referred to the famous Bolshevik call for “land, peace and bread” in 1917. He said:

“Reading Lenin, who made a call to the Russian people to struggle against the scarcity of meat and bread, we notice the same method. A hundred years have passed but they did the same with the Russian people. The old capitalist is still alive… I’m not referring to the state but to the capitalist… Socialism needs to enter in the economic arena, if it doesn’t it will not be socialism that we are building, it will not be a revolution we are making.”

The Chavez government has passed a law that allows expropriation of any company hoarding products. But the government cannot substitute for the mass movement. It is the people who will have to enforce the price controls and secure the supply of food. That will require action by the Communal Councils, farm labourers, and factory and distribution workers. This solution is already being voiced by grassroots activists who are calling for the occupation of farms and factories, similar to how oil workers secured and defended the nationalisations in the oil industry.

Confronting economic sabotage is an urgent task of the revolution, requiring an enhanced level of grassroots consciousness and organisation. So far Chavez & Co have played an important leadership role. That leadership, however, hasn’t been connected to a mass organisation capable of uniting all the best activists around the revolution’s pressing problems and turn them into opportunities for increasing the revolutionary motivation of the masses. This will be the task of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Dual power demanded the united socialist party

Chavez & Co deserve credit for recognising that the Bolivarian Revolution was demanding a “combat party” which combined revolutionary leadership with the power of the mass movement in order to take the war to the capitalist class and the corrupt state bureaucracy.

Because of the dual power situation, which by its very nature is unstable and chaotic, the need for a mass revolutionary party in Venezuela is urgent. It has to be built now. This is what Chavez & Co have set out to do.

To Socialist Worker-New Zealand, the information coming out of Venezuela about the PSUV is overwhelmingly positive:

- 5.7 million Venezuelans have rushed to join the new party, often pulling with them unwilling union officials and other community leaders slow to see the need to move beyond sectional organisation.

- The registered members will be divided up into 20,000 “socialist battalions” of 300 people from communities, universities and workplaces. Each battalion will hold three assemblies before electing its delegate to the PSUV founding conference which kicks off in August 2007.

- 25,000 “promoters” will organise community assemblies of the battalions across Venezuela to discuss the PSUV’s structure and other issues relating to the struggle for socialism. The assemblies will remain “centres of revolutionary political discussion” after the PSUV has been formed.

- No quotas have been set aside for party officials. Every individual in the current Chavista leadership will have to be elected by his or her local battalion, including Chavez himself.

- The PSUV founding conference, which will decide the party programme, will run for three months. Delegates will have time to return to their battalions to discuss options for the party programme and other issues that emerge during the conference.

- A referendum in December 2007 will give all party members a democratic say on the PSUV programme.

The PSUV will be an attack on bureaucracy

One criticism levelled at the PSUV is that the mass socialist party will be a “top down” organisation controlled by a bureaucracy linked to the Chavez government. For Socialist Worker-New Zealand, this argument does not hold up when we examine the way the PSUV is being built. Every attempt is being made to avoid bureaucratic capture.

The very impetus for a new mass socialist party has come from the frustration and anger of grassroots activists towards the bureaucracies of all the parties represented in Chavez’s previous coalition government. Cronyism and corruption have been embedded in Venezuela’s political system for a century or more. Those bad habits have been hard to root out.

The popular frustration and anger “boiled over” during the 2006 presidential election. In many regions, the Chavez re-election campaign was carried out by community groups and socialist militants independently of the bureaucratic in-fighting and sectarianism of governmental parties.

Chavez & Co recognised this and announced plans to build the PSUV early in 2007. A “technical committee” was appointed to oversee the formation of the new party through to its founding conference. Members of the technical committee have voiced strong opposition to party bureaucracy. And this has been borne out by organisational decisions showing a commitment to build the PSUV from the “bottom up”.

Many of the 5.7 million people who have joined the PSUV are community, union and indigenous activists who have previously stayed clear of political parties. Clearly, grassroots people in Venezuela believe that their mass socialist party will be an attack on bureaucracy.

The united socialist party is forming after the massive demonstrations supporting Chavez during the 2006 election campaign, and in conjunction with the hugely important “explosion of communal power”. The three-month timeline of the PSUV founding conference and the scheduled interplay between conference delegates and members of their own “socialist battalions” are a practical manifestation of grassroots democracy. Factors like these give the PSUV the best chance to overcome bureaucratic capture, an ever-present threat in any workers party, trade union or other grassroots organisation.

Grassroots people will know who the bureaucrats are, they will know who is corrupt or untrustworthy, they will know who does not listen to the masses, and they will soon work out who has the best ideas to tackle the urgent problems of the revolution. Those tainted by bureaucratic practices in the old party formations can be weeded out.

Claims that a few Chavista supporters are using positions of authority to “pressure” people into joining the PSUV is certainly no reason to reject the mass socialist party and the serious revolutionary momentum it is set to unleash. 5.7 million people cannot be coerced into joining. The working class masses of Venezuela are voting with their feet. Socialists worldwide need to recognise a mass movement when we see it.

The primary role that the grassroots will have in determining the PSUV programme has stimulated a mass debate as to the nature and tasks of the new party. To stand on the sidelines and say that the party should be this or that before the mass membership has any chance of coming to a collective decision is a bureaucratic and/or sectarian attitude, which Chavez & Co have rightly shown little patience with.

Backing the revolutionary current

Another argument made against the PSUV is that it will contain competing political currents and therefore cannot be a genuine revolutionary party. As Socialist Worker-New Zealand said in our May Day statement, it would be utopian to imagine that the PSUV will instantly become a party of homogenous revolutionaries (as if any mass party ever could be).

The real question is whether or not a reformist current wanting a partnership with the capitalist class, or a state capitalist current wanting a party elite to control Venezuela’s economy, will be able to establish their hegemony over the mass socialist party. There is no reason to think such a negative outcome is historically predestined, given the increasingly revolutionary nature of events in Venezuela.

Through word and deed, the Chavista leadership is moving steadily towards a strategic confrontation with the Venezuelan oligarchy. And this is certainly the direction in which the masses are moving. The process of forming the PSUV is already applying pincers to the middle class politicians, state bureaucrats and trade union officials who are the main social base of reformist and state capitalist currents.

It will be when the PSUV addresses pressing problems of the revolution that the revolutionary focus of the party will be sharpened. For example, what solutions to economic sabotage by the capitalist class will the state capitalists and reformist conciliators suggest to the PSUV’s mass membership? Only revolutionaries focused on grassroots self-activity will be able to provide leadership that makes “good sense” to the increasingly radicalised masses of Venezuela.

The people joining the PSUV have been excited by the experience of the Communal Councils. Self-belief in their collective power to reshape society has grown along with the increasingly revolutionary tempo of events in Venezuela. The reformist and state capitalist currents will be marginalised so long as the revolution keeps pushing towards socialism, as it must, or else face a terrible counter-revolution.

There is every reason to be optimistic that the PSUV can become the mass revolutionary party so urgently needed to resolve the dual power stand-off in favour of the grassroots.

Revolutionaries should be inside the PSUV

The PSUV will bring together the organic leaders who have emerged from the revolutionary process. The PSUV will provide a political structure to link revolutionaries and radicals in the cities and the towns, farm labourers with workers in the cities, and activists in the barrios with unionists in the oil industry.

The entry of the working masses into the PSUV means the new party is the only show in town for serious revolutionaries. This is where the debates on problems facing the revolution will take place. It is where the co-ordinated actions of the masses will be decided.

Sadly, some “revolutionaries” inside and outside Venezuela seem to believe an alternative “pole of attraction” to the PSUV must be built. Yet standing outside the mass socialist party would be to invite sectarian isolation from the masses.

It is Socialist Worker-New Zealand’s belief that serious revolutionaries must be inside the PSUV, helping the party to integrate Marxist theory with the often unique practice of a real-life revolution.

Of course, forming the PSUV does not automatically mean plain sailing towards socialism. The ups and downs of the class struggle, along with decisions over strategy and tactics, will determine the history of the PSUV, just as it determines the history of any political party. The PSUV is a work-in-progress.

There will be struggles within the PSUV which reflect struggles taking place in Venezuelan society. Such struggles also occurred within the Bolshevik Party in response to the pressure of outside events. Lenin’s party was never “homogenous” and never pretended to be.

Any insistence on ideological and political “purity” in a mass party would be a delusional demand. There will always be at least degrees of difference over every important issue, and often distinct though ever-evolving inner-party currents. So long as the social base of reformism and state capitalism remains in existence, such trends will continue to infiltrate the mass socialist party. The real question is whether or not the revolutionary current can carry the masses with them during every important turning point in the long war to replace capitalism with socialism. And the only way this can happen is for the revolutionary current to win a hegemonic position within the mass socialist party.

IST affiliates and other socialist groups outside Venezuela should develop a close relationship with the PSUV. The world socialist movement should be helping the PSUV to create a “Marxist party of the 21st century” and, in turn, learning from our Venezuelan comrades as they lead a real-life grassroots revolution.

Bringing workers to the forefront of the revolution

As noted in our May Day statement, the unionised working class in Venezuela is tiny compared to the urban population of casualised workers, petty traders, cooperativists and the unemployed. On top of this, the union movement suffered terribly from years of being led by the conservative Venezulan Workers Congress (CTV) who partnered Venezuela’s oligarchy during the Punto Fijo regime preceding Chavez’s presidency.

During the bosses lockout of 2002-03 the National Workers Union (UNT) emerged as a pro-Chavez umbrella federation. Today the CTV has been thrust into the shadows by the UNT, despite the left-wing federation being split into five distinct and often conflicting currents.

On May Day 2007 the UNT organised a workers mass march in Caracas under the slogan: “In the Struggle for Socialism.” While this is an encouraging sign, unionised workers in Venezuela are not yet at the forefront of the revolution. Socialists inside and outside Venezuela, including Chavez, recognise that this weakness within the Bolivarian Revolution must be overcome if there is to be a socialist victory.

A strategic aim has to be workers control at the point of production through factory occupations and workplace committees, which feed into a network of workers councils linked to the Communal Councils. The emergence of workers councils requires more than brave declarations from union committees, the Chavez government and socialist networks, important though these are. Workers councils can only be built through an organic process of struggle by workers themselves in conjunction with a mass socialist party.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the PSUV can play a breakthrough role in the creation of workers councils. PSUV jobsite battalions will start to mobilise the country’s workers around practical problems facing the revolution. For instance, as the PSUV rallies workers against the economic sabotage of employers, the associated need for workers councils to spread workers control of production and distribution will become more apparent to everyone at the base. The organic connection between immediate need and socialist organisation will be made.

The PSUV and workers power

There has been debate inside and outside Venezuela about the nature of the relationship that should exist between the Chavez government, the PSUV and the UNT. While the grassroots membership of the PSUV is yet to decide on the new party’s programme, Socialist Worker-New Zealand offers these first thoughts.

The defining objective of the union movement in Venezuela has to be workers power. It would be a mistake for unions to prioritise pay claims over the strategic imperative of workers power. In order to win workers power, the UNT must forge a strategic alliance with the Chavez government, the PSUV, the Communal Councils and non-union toilers in city and countryside. Pay rises alone would be whittled away as the counter-revolution gathered strength in the absence of workers power. On the other hand, an expansion of workers power will create the best conditions for improving the living standards of everyone at the grassroots.

Unionised workers must rise to a higher level of political awareness and class organisation if the revolution is to advance and thus survive. The essential new element in this revolutionary advance is the mass socialist party. PSUV jobsite battalions, often composed of UNT members, will work alongside other grassroots unionists and, whenever possible, their union officials. When necessary, however, the PSUV needs to work independently of those union officials who put their bureaucratic and/or sectional interests ahead of the general struggle for workers power.

PSUV and UNT activists should not hold back from mobilising grassroots unionists around factory occupations and workers councils simply because union officials refuse to give their blessing to such actions or even oppose them. Like Lenin’s Bolsheviks, the role of the PSUV is to act as a “combat party” that mobilises the broadest layers of toilers in order to solve the revolution’s problems. To transcend the divisions that currently cripple the UNT leadership will require transformative mobilisations driven by the political centre of grassroots power – the PSUV.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that the UNT and its affiliates should maintain their organisational autonomy from the Chavez government. This follows Lenin’s advice that Russian unions should remain independent of the Bolshevik state as a counter to the inevitable official bureaucracy in a backward country whose revolution was isolated.

At the same time, we support UNT officials and members joining the PSUV on an individual basis. Most grassroots unionists have already done so, sometimes pulling their self-proclaimed “revolutionary” UNT leaders kicking and screaming after them. The rank-and-filers are leading their leaders. The dialectics of leadership start to change as socialism challenges the old order. The “normal” authority that union officials exert over their members in a society under the complete domination of a capitalist elite begins to break down in a dual power situation.

Revolutionary tactics and the Venezuelan constitution

While the direction of events in Venezuela is exciting, the PSUV is only just being formed and has yet to be tested in battle.

So it cannot be claimed that grassroots Venezuela is yet at the level of consciousness and organisation needed to deal a knockout blow to counter-revolutionary forces. As long as dual power remains the reality, there will be need for carefully balanced tactics that create space for revolutionary forces to grow.

Books alone cannot teach the art of revolutionary leadership. This comes mainly through having to navigate the twists and turns of a revolutionary process while calculating the strengths and weaknesses of the hostile class coalition.

A key question for Chavez & Co has been the relationship of the Bolivarian Revolution to the Venezuelan constitution approved by popular referendum in December 1999.

The process of drafting the constitution first involved elections to the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly. The result was an assembly dominated by diverse parties all declaring support for Chavez. Revolutionary, reformist, state capitalist and market nationalist currents were all represented within an ill-defined Chavista coalition.

So it was no surprise that the 1999 constitution was not socialist. Capitalist property rights are guaranteed. However, the constitution embodies progressive features like “participatory democracy” and “the values of liberty, independence, peace, solidarity, the common good, democracy”. There are provisions for national referendums to revoke laws or the mandate of public officials.

Given the mass dissatisfaction with the Punto Fijo constitution and the two major political parties of pre-Chavez times, the new constitution had buy-in from most Venezuelans, including many in the middle class. Millions of constitutions were distributed to people eager for a new political system.

From 2000 to 2004 the Chavez government was largely on the defensive as attacks came from the Venezuelan oligarchy. During this period the 1999 constitution allowed Chavez, as president of the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, to maintain some constitutional legitimacy in front of all classes in Venezuela.

Defeat of the 2002 coup restored the presidency of Chavez and the 1999 constitution. A significant factor in the coup’s failure was the passivity of those neither-for-nor-against Chavez but giving “soft” support to the 1999 constitution and its democratic initiatives.

Important to keeping those who are neither-for-nor-against Chavez at least tolerant of his government has been the president’s constant reference to the 1999 constitution and the rule of law. For instance, nationalisations have been carried out with full compensation to capitalists, consistent with the constitution.

As Chavez & Co have gone onto the offensive and put socialism on the agenda, the relationship of the Bolivarian Revolution to the 1999 constitution has begun to change. Chavez & Co know the revolution must advance beyond the boundaries of the 1999 constitution and its dual class aspects. This year, Chavez signalled the drafting of a socialist constitution.

At this stage, however, Chavez continues to invoke the 1999 constitution while placing increasingly socialist demands on Venezuelan capitalists. The socialist direction of the revolution becomes clear to the grassroots without violating the rule of law which gives Chavez legitimacy in the eyes of the middle class. This divide-and-conquer game plan shows Chavez to be a master of revolutionary tactics.

The president’s speech on 4 June 2007 to 300,000 people marching against the counter-revolutionary RCTV station is instructive. Chavez stated: “We have no plan to eliminate the oligarchy, Venezuela’s bourgeoisie. We have demonstrated this sufficiently over eight years.”

But he immediately goes on to say: “If the oligarchy does not understand this, if it does not accept the call to peace… then the Venezuelan bourgeoisie will continue to lose, one by one, the refuges it has remaining.” Chavez calls on the oligarchy to “respect our constitution, respect our laws. If you do not, you will regret it, if you do not, we will make you obey Venezuela’s laws”.

Promoting a new socialist constitution will be an important mechanism by which the education and organisation of the masses is continued. The constitutional legitimacy of the “revolution within the revolution” encourages the masses to confront the diminished political, economic and ideological power of the old ruling class.

This will be accelerated by the launch of a mass socialist party that mobilises the masses. The PSUV will empower revolutionary Chavistas in the government, Communal Councils, trade unions, urban and rural land committees, missions and other citadels of socialism. Only the PSUV and its grassroots allies will be able to concretise a new socialist constitution.

Most important revolution in 90 years

The revolutionary process in Venezuela is on a qualitatively higher level to anything currently happening elsewhere in South America, including Bolivia, let alone any other continent.

In the words of Socialist Worker-New Zealand’s May Day statement, “the masses in Venezuela are behind a genuine revolutionary project in a way that has not occurred in the last 90 years”. Our statement reflected the revolutionary dynamic between a tactically creative socialist leadership and an increasingly confident mass movement during a period of social upheaval and rebirth.

Such a “dynamic” is precisely what was lacking in the global revolutionary upheavals of the last 90 years: Germany 1918-23, Spain 1936-8, Hungary 1956, France 1968, Portugal 1975-6, Iran 1979, Poland 1980-1 and Serbia 2000.

The ever-stronger linkages of our global village mean that a socialist revolution in one country must generate political shockwaves on all continents. This will be intensified by escalating inter-imperialist conflict among the world’s powers, especially between Washington and Beijing, which is driving America’s never-ending “war on terror” to monopolise Middle East oil supplies and gain leverage over rival states like China.

Venezuela’s revolution supports Iraqi resistance

Socialists in every country are at the centre of anti-war movements opposing Washington’s armed colonisation of Iraq and Afghanistan. US imperialism is facing disaster due to the combined pressure of indigenous resistance forces, the global peace movement and rising discontent inside the US military.

Socialists link America’s “war on terror” with neo-liberal hostility to public services, indifference to eco-viability and erosion of popular democracy. The unfolding revolution in Venezuela allows us to highlight the positive alternative: a real-life struggle for social justice, ecological sanity and human liberation.

The heroic Iraqi resistance has provided more space for the Bolivarian Revolution to advance. In turn, Washington’s resolve to dominate Iraq has been weakened by Venezuela’s challenge to US hegemony in South America. It’s hard for even a superpower to win a war on two fronts. Every advance of the Bolivarian Revolution strengthens the global struggle against US aggression.

In his speech to the United Nations general assembly on 20 September 2006, Chavez described US imperialism as “the greatest threat looming over our planet”. He has since suggested that, if the US state attacks Iran, Venezuela will halt oil exports to America (currently 20% of the country’s total).

The significance of revolutionary Venezuela extends beyond its localised threat to US interests. The Bolivarian Revolution is a real-life challenge to global capitalism’s exploitation, oppression and war. That’s why our May Day statement declared: “The front line of the epochal war between capitalism and socialism is now in Venezuela.”

For Socialist Worker-New Zealand, anti-war activism and Venezuelan solidarity are two sides of one coin. Each needs the other. That’s why Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution are an inspiration to freedom fighters across the Middle East. By refusing to prioritise one struggle over the other we don’t buy into imperialism’s bid to divide-and-rule the global grassroots.

4th World War demands a mass socialist international

Over the last century, humanity has suffered from three global conflicts sparked by the imperial rivalries of market capitalist and state capitalist powers. They were the First World War (1914-18), Second World War (1939-45) and the Cold War (1946-91).

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes we are in the first stage of the 4th World War. The war’s key words, like “Iraq”, “terrorism”, “regime change”, “China”, “peak oil”, “climate change”, “globalisation”, “poverty” and “Chavez”, indicate a multi-layered global struggle. It will be a war fought between rival imperialist powers, it will be an ecological war fought by corporations against the planet, and it will be a war between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The 4th World War will be marked by a decline in capitalist legitimacy, grassroots resistance and revolutionary explosions. The stakes have never been higher: either global catastrophe or global revolution.

In Venezuela today, millions of people are acting on the belief that socialism can be won within their lifetimes. This mood is spreading across the borders of Venezuela to other Latin America countries and beyond.

If the multi-million strong PSUV does take Venezuela’s grassroots in a revolutionary drive past the roadblocks of dual power, then the material conditions for a mass socialist international should start to appear on the horizon. Such an international would be the first since Lenin’s Bolsheviks founded the Comintern in the wake of Russia’s socialist revolution in order to spread the revolutionary wave around the planet. Seizing the first realistic opportunity to create a mass socialist international is a historical necessity if revolutionaries are to lead the global grassroots to victory in the 4th World War.

In the meantime, socialists can organise worldwide to take the inspirational lessons of the Bolivarian Revolution into every grassroots movement we are involved with “at home”. From these lessons we should be drawing organisational conclusions as well as political and ideological ones if we are to unify Marxist theory and practice.

Our May Day statement linked the unfolding revolution in Venezuela with establishing a Coordination of the IST, the international Marxist coalition to which Socialist Worker-New Zealand is affiliated. Rather than being a tactical leadership body, any IST Coordination needs to have the strategic focus of coordinating a global debate about Venezuela’s unfolding revolution and how it may germinate a mass socialist international.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand’s proposals to the IST

At the IST annual gathering in London on 11-12 July 2007, Socialist Worker-New Zealand is tabling these practical proposals:

(1) As many Spanish-speaking IST comrades as possible to attend the three-month founding conference of the PSUV starting in August 2007.

(2) In consultation with PSUV leaders and Marxists from other countries attending the PSUV conference, the Spanish-speaking IST attendees to initiate a global debate about the nature, strategies and prospects of the Venezuelan revolution.

(3) To help coordinate this global debate about the Venezuelan revolution, an IST Coordination be created consisting of one delegate from every IST group and relying on modern technology to hold all-in “virtual” meetings as required.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand invites further contributions to this debate from IST affiliates and other socialist groups and individuals. Please send to:

Central committee,
Socialist Worker-New Zealand,
PO Box 13-685,
New Zealand.

+64 9 634 3984

In solidarity,

Central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand


Don Archer
Grant Brookes
Joe Carolan
Gordon Farris
Vaughan Gunson
Bernie Hornfeck
Peter Hughes
Daphne Lawless
Grant Morgan
Len Parker
Tony Snelling-Berg

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