On Tuesday 11th December, over 70 people packed into the debates room of University of Toronto’s historic Hart House, to hear a lively panel discussion on the aftermath of the Venezuelan constitutional referendum. The event was organized by Hands Off Venezuela, the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, Venezuela We Are With You, and the U of T NDP Club. Greg Albo from York University chaired the event and Mirna Quero de Peńa, the Toronto Venezuelan consul, was present for the discussion.
Starting the discussion, Suzanne Weiss and John Riddell from We Are With You, reported on their recent visit to Venezuela during the referendum vote. They gave an eyewitness account of community organizations in Venezuela and how towards the end of the campaign there appeared to be trouble. The PSUV was not well organized for the referendum, there was no canvassing and the trade unions were not visible as part of the campaign, despite the call for a 36 hour week.
Following on, Maria Paez Victor from the Bolivarian Circle Louis Riel presented a balance sheet of the referendum. On the positive side almost half of the electorate supported socialism, despite years of scare-mongering propaganda. The opposition was forced to recognise the democratic nature of the referendum and in some ways this has disorganized their destabilisation plans. On the negative side Maria highlighted that complacency and terrible communication about the content of the reforms hampered the no side. There was a virulent campaign of lies and fear, funded by millions of dollars from the USA, combined with food sabotage. Significantly, a section of the State bureaucracy and regional governors were opposed to the reforms and hampered the campaign. Maria concluded her remarks by saying no to reconciliation with the opposition, that the community councils must be front and centre, and that there are only two projects in Venezuela – a socialist project and a capitalist project.
Nicholas Lopez, of the Manuelita Saenz Bolivarian Circle, spoke about the type of socialism that Venezuela is trying to build with the "5-motors" of popular power. Nicholas said that socialism needs social ownership, a redistribution of wealth and the political organization of the people. Nicholas raised the issue of how the constitutional reforms may be re-introduced through 15% of the population signing a petition and how people need to become socialist in all their actions. The "rotten apples" need to be removed from the movement and socialism cannot come by decree. He concluded by saying that the PSUV and communal power needs to be the driving force of the revolution.
The last speaker was Alex Grant of Hands Off Venezuela. Alex opened his remarks by talking about the international significance of the Venezuelan revolution and that as internationalists, every victory for the Venezuelan workers is a victory for workers in Canada and worldwide, the same too for every defeat. Therefore, the Venezuelan revolution is "our" revolution and nobody should hold back in discussing the way forward for the movement. Alex stated that there were two explanations for the defeat, either the revolution had gone too far and scared people off, or had not gone far enough in eradicating capitalism and tiredness was creeping in. Echoing the comments of the previous speakers, Alex mentioned how the fear-mongering campaign of the opposition which stated that Chavez would steal, "your house, your car and your child" was never sufficiently answered by the Bolivarian bureaucracy. Many Venezuelan activists are now taking up the call for a revolution within the revolution to kick out the elements that put on a red shirt and a red hat, but are still supporting the old capitalist state. Any conciliation with the opposition would be a disaster and lead to apathy amongst the mass of the population. At 9-years old, the revolution is probably the longest in history, but up until now the oil boom has meant that the government has been able to give real reforms without fundamentally altering the economic base of society. With the food sabotage by the oligarchy this stage has reached its limit and the only way to get milk back on the shelves is either through the capitalist measure of removing the price controls or the socialist measure of expropriating the hoarders and saboteurs under control of the food workers. Alex concluded by re-iterating the international significance of the Venezuelan revolution and how Canadian workers could learn much from Venezuela. Workers fighting the undemocratic bureaucracy in their own unions and parties can look to Venezuela. Manufacturing workers facing plan closures could learn from Venezuelan plant occupations and nationalizations. He stated that the best way to defend the Venezuelan Revolution is to build the conditions for revolution in our own countries and called on all those present to get active in the movement.
A spirited question and answer session and collection was held after the main presentations. The issue of the need to work together and organize to counter media lies was a prominent theme and all agreed that while the referendum was a defeat, it is one that the movement can move forward from strengthened.
To see a full video of this important event click here.