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The overwhelming victory of Chávez in the presidential elections last December marked a new shift to the left in the Venezuelan revolution, followed by the setting up of the PSUV, nationalisations, workers' control, enabling power. In a speech at the summer school of the International Marxist Tendency, Jorge Martin analysed the stage the revolution is at, the dangers it faces and outlined the way forward.


The Venezuelan revolution is the most advanced point in the world revolution. The International Marxist Tendency recognised this early on and we have analysed its development, tried to intervene and organise solidarity for it. Now, nine years later, everybody is writing about Venezuela. The problem is that if you try to impose ready-made schemas into living processes, taking this or that detail, this or that statement by Chávez or someone else, you will not be able to understand anything. What is needed is an analysis of the process as a whole, an analysis of the class forces that are involved in this struggle, the direction in which they are going and the international context in order to understand the most likely course of events.

What we have done is to apply the Marxist dialectical method of analysis to the situation in Venezuela. The Venezuelan revolution has a lot of peculiarities and elements that are specific to the way it has developed, and it could not be otherwise. Every real social process has characteristics that are rooted in the history of the country, the particular development of its economy, the historical experience of the different classes involved in the struggle. This is what needs to be analysed in order to understand the Venezuelan revolution. In order to do so, historical parallels with the experience of revolutions in other countries and of previous movements in Venezuela, are certainly very useful so long as we are aware of the limitations of any historical analogies. In the case of Venezuela, a little knowledge of magic realism is also very useful! Marxism starts from the real situation as it is, then draws general conclusions from this and then always returns to the real situation on the ground.

 Massive Bolivarian demo before the election in December
 Massive Bolivarian demo before the election in December

The December 3rd elections marked a new turning point in the revolution and one which meant a new sharp turn to the left in the situation. One year ago, the conference of the IMT passed a statement on the Venezuelan elections[1]. One important thing that we said at the time is that a mood of impatience was developing amongst the revolutionary masses, a mood of "we have been talking about revolution for a long time, but nothing decisive seems to have changed". And we said that this mood was going to be an important factor after the elections, in which the masses would vote decisively to defend the revolution but would then expect and demand a fundamental break with the past.

The election campaign started quite flat and the main line of Chavez's speeches and electoral slogans was based around the themes of "peace" and "love". In elections, reformists always insist, you have to moderate your language in order to win over the middle ground. However, as we had explained, this was not a normal electoral contest but a decisive battle between revolution and counter-revolution.

The opposition also presented their nice "democratic" face, gathering round Manuel Rosales who promised to give lots of money to the poor. The "democratic" credentials of Manuel Rosales include having supported the coup in 2002, which shows the real character of the opposition. Their plan was clearly to either withdraw from the elections before December 3rd, or to create chaos on election day in order to de-legitimise the electoral process. In this context, two weeks before the elections, the opposition managed to organise a large rally in Caracas. This was the largest demonstration that the opposition had managed to organise for a very long time, with maybe 200,000 or 300,000 people present. It was at this point that the masses understood that there was a serious threat from counter-revolution and that a decisive response was needed.

Plan Oligarcas Temblad
 Plan Oligarcas Temblad

If you look at the history of the Venezuelan revolution, this is a feature that has repeated itself over and over again. The reformists try to conciliate and to negotiate with the opposition, this encourages the counter-revolution to move forward, and it is down to the revolutionary masses to mobilise and defeat the counter-revolution, pushing the whole process forward again. After the Rosales rally the whole character of the election campaign changed. The rank and file Bolivarian organisations set up what was called the "Plan Oligarcas Temblad" ("Tremble Oligarchs Plan")[2]. On the Sunday before the elections there was yet another mass demonstration of strength of the revolutionary forces on the streets of Caracas. It is difficult to know how many were there, but it could be up to 2 million people, in what was one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the revolution since 1998.

On the day of the elections itself, the revolutionary masses came out and occupied the streets in order to prevent any counter-revolutionary adventure. From 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning hundreds of thousands, millions of people, came out on the streets, queued outside the polling stations and did not go back home until the victory had been announced. And this was the only thing that prevented the counter-revolution from implementing its plan to sabotage the elections. They feared that any counter-revolutionary event would further enrage the revolutionary masses and they would be swept from the scene.

The size of the election result is a faithful reflection of the enormous reserve of support for the Bolivarian revolution. While in 1998 Chávez received 3.6 million votes, on December 3rd he won 7.3 million (63%). He won in every single state of the country including Rosales' home state of Zulia. The states with the highest votes for Chavez were: Delta Amacuro (77.9 %), Amazonas (77.8 %), Portuguesa (77 %), Sucre (73.7 %) and Cojedes (73.3 %). In fact in 8 states the vote for was higher than 70%, and in another 11 states the vote was between 60 and 70%. Chavez won in 92% of the councils, and in 90% of parishes (administrative units into which every council is subdivided). In nearly half of all polling stations Chavez received more than 70% of the votes (while the opposition only went over 70% of the votes in 3% of the polling stations).

There is no real precedent for such a massive electoral support for a revolutionary movement anywhere[3] and this is a testimony to the process of growing political awareness of the masses that has taken place in Venezuela over the last nine years. In fact, the more radical the message of Chávez and the revolution has become, the wider the popular support for it.

Celebrating election victory
 Celebrating election victory

Immediately after the election, as was to be expected, the reformists started their offensive to try to water down the meaning of the election results. The main line of argumentation was "now for the first time we have a nice democratic opposition because they have recognised the election results", and "we should therefore negotiate with them", "we should include them in the national assembly" (which they had boycotted in December 2005), "we should have a bi-partisan commission for constitutional reform".

But the mood of the masses was completely against this and Chavez himself from day one gave the reformists a clear answer by moving directly in the opposite direction of the proposed conciliatory line. On election night itself he said "this is a victory for socialism, this is a victory for socialist revolution". Then in the space of two or three weeks he made a series of announcements that indicated a clear shift to the left. He said "there is no question of including the opposition in the national assembly; if they want they can stand in the next elections in 2008." He announced the setting up of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and he did so as a way of fighting against bureaucracy and corruption within the leadership of the revolution. And in that speech he also said to the leaders of the parties in government, "you have to remember that the people have voted for socialism, the people have voted for Chavez, not for any of these parties," which is true of course.

He also made some changes in the composition of the government which indicated a shift to the left. He replaced the vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, who was seen as a reformist, with Jorge Rodriguez who is seen as a hard liner and a left-winger. For the first time in Venezuelan history a member of the Communist Party and a self-confessed Trotskyist were included in the government. Regardless of the actual politics of David Velasquez[4] and Ramon Rivero[5], the way Chavez announced their political affiliation in such a public way sent out a clear message that "we are moving to the left" and "there is no problem with Communism, no problem with Trotskyism."

He also announced that he wanted to be given enabling powers for a period of time in a whole series of areas of policy. As was to be expected, not only the opposition, but also sectarians and reformists in Venezuela and abroad criticised this move, arguing that it was a dangerous move towards authoritarianism. However, the revolutionary masses in Venezuela understood this very clearly as a move to settle decisively a whole number of issues, and also as an indication of mistrust in the ability of the National Assembly to carry out those tasks[6]. This is also related to the way in which many of the most important reforms of the revolution were introduced in December 2001 by means of 49 enabling laws, a move which provoked the revolt of the oligarchy and led directly to the coup in April 2002.

"Five engines for socialism"

In the economic field he announced that "everything that had been privatised would be re-nationalised" and immediately moved to take into public ownership CANTV and EDC, the telecommunications and electricity companies.

These announcements (the PSUV, the new government and its programme, based around the "five engines for socialism") set the tone for the new stage in the Venezuelan revolution which opened up after the presidential election victory.

In order to understand the current situation in Venezuela it is worth looking at three different aspects, three main contradictions, that we pointed out in the IMT statement on the elections a year ago: a) the question of the state, b) the question of the economy and c) the question of revolutionary organisation and leadership.

The class character of the state

In relation to the question of the character of the state we can say that the Venezuelan state is still, in the main, a capitalist state apparatus. However, this state apparatus operates in conditions of revolution and is therefore riddled with all sorts of contradictions and has been weakened as a tool of the ruling class. And at this particular moment in time it is not under the direct control of the capitalist class, in the sense that the ruling class cannot, for now, use this capitalist state in order to impose its class rule. However, this does not mean that the state apparatus even now has ceased to be a source of sabotage and blocking of the revolutionary initiative of the masses; and if it remains untouched it will eventually become a tool for smashing the revolution. It is clear that there is certain understanding of this problem among the rank and file masses of the Bolivarian revolution and even among some layers in the leadership, but unfortunately there certainly is no clear idea of how to solve this problem.

Chavez in his speeches in January announced the "five engines towards socialism", a clear indication of the general direction the masses want to take, and one of them is the question of the state. He said there should be an "explosion of communal power", that is, that power should be transferred to the communal councils that only now are being set up. And in this leaflet explaining the five engines, which was printed in hundreds of thousands of copies by the Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information, it says "we, the currently existing power, must progressively transfer all power, political, social, economic and administrative power, to the Communal Power... so that we do away with the old structures of the bourgeois capitalist state which only serve to stop the revolutionary impulse of the masses". This is the first time that Chavez has spoken openly about the "capitalist state" and this is something that the reformists in the leadership of the Bolivarian movement do not like and do not agree with.

This shows that a wing of the movement sees the problem posed by the capitalist state and is attempting to come up with a solution[7]. The communal councils already exist in many places around the country, but in some areas they have been infiltrated by bureaucrats, career politicians, local mayors and councillors, who use them to build a power base for themselves. As with many other revolutionary initiatives, unless they are part of a conscious and organised plan to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a revolutionary state, based on the workers' councils and the communal councils, they will probably be left mid-way. They can only survive and be effective as part of a national network of elected and recallable representatives, closely linked to the workers' councils in the factories, which would constitute the basis of a new revolutionary state.

Armed bodies of men

Diosdado Cabello, on the Bolivarian right wing

Diosdado Cabello, on the Bolivarian right wing

The most important part of a capitalist state is the army and the police, the "armed bodies of men in defence of private property". And the question of the army has come to the fore in the last few weeks. Also in this field there has already been an attempt to deal with the problem. Proposals have been made to first increase of the size of the Reserve Force to two million people, and then to create a Territorial Guard. There is a general idea of moving towards a situation of arming the people, and Chávez has repeatedly said that this is the only guarantee against imperialist intervention. But once again these proposals for the Reserve Force and the Territorial Guard have not been fully implemented. Although initially everybody insisted on the peaceful character of the revolution, there is now a widespread recognition and acceptance of the fact that the revolution has to be armed against the dangers of external and internal counter-revolution, but the instruments for arming the people have not been put in place.

In the last couple of weeks there has been an open and public debate about the question of the Army. This started with the question of whether military officers should be allowed to join the PSUV or not. A top ranking military officer, retired General Alberto Müller Rojas, was appointed as part of the organising committee of the party and he said that military officers should be allowed into the party and that there were already secret lists of officers who wanted to join. This created a big conflict since the Constitution says that military officers cannot be part of any party.

Alberto Müller Rojas
 Alberto Müller Rojas

Then the discussion moved to the question of the character of the Army, because Muller Rojas defended "the people in arms" as opposed to a professional army, while other officers defended a small core professional army backed by a militia. Once the debate opened up a whole number of other issues were raised in the discussion. Müller Rojas admitted that the army is divided and that military officers are divided along political lines. There is a right wing and there is a left wing, and within the left wing there are those who call themselves socialists but are not and "then there are those of us who are real socialists who have always been in a minority." And he added that this could not be otherwise because military officers do not come from Mars, they come from within society and reflect the political divisions in society. He also said that it was a contradiction for Chavez to say that military officers cannot join the PSUV and at the same time change the official oath in the Army to Fatherland, Socialism or Death[8].

Regardless of the way in which Müller Rojas conducted the public polemic, which was perhaps not the most tactful, and his confused political views on many aspects, this revealed something that had been denied until that point. The official line had been that the army is loyal to Chavez, united and at the service of the people. It is clear that the most reactionary military officers purged themselves out of the Army in 2002 by participating in the coup in April and the attempted coup in December (when they declared themselves "in rebellion" at the Altamira Square). Of those who remained the majority are probably loyal to Chavez in one way or another, but the reasons why they are loyal to Chavez are varied. Some of them are loyal simply because Chavez represents the official government of the day, others reflect the corrupt nature of the bourgeois state and plead loyalty simply because they are making a lot of money through legal and illegal businesses they have access to by being in the Army, and many of them probably feel uneasy about all this talk about socialism. It is clear that if the situation came to a decisive turning point of taking over the means of production and destroying the capitalist state most of them would be on the side of reaction.

Müller Rojas in his polemics also attacked General Raul Isaias Baduel, who played a key role in the defeat of the coup in April 2002. Müller Rojas said that since Baduel became the Minister of Defence he had prevented members of the Presidential General Staff (basically the president's political advisors on military affairs) from attending the meetings of the Superior Junta of the Armed Forces, in a move to keep politics out of the army. Then Baduel, who had just been removed as a Minister of Defence, also came into the debate in his departing speech. While he dressed his speech in socialist phraseology, what he said is very clear[9]. For instance, he declared that, "socialism is about distributing wealth, but before you can distribute wealth you have to create wealth" which is a typical argument of reformists everywhere against socialism and nationalisation. He added that "a regime of socialist production is not incompatible with a political system which is profoundly democratic with counter-balances and divisions of power," adding that "we must move away from Marxist orthodoxy which says that democracy with division of powers is just an instrument of bourgeois domination". He said, "yes, we must go towards socialism, but this must be done without chaos and disorganisation". And using a very strange analogy with Lenin's New Economic Policy he said, "we cannot allow our system to become a type of State Capitalism, where the state is the only owner of the means of production". And added "war communism in the Soviet Union taught us that you cannot implement sharp changes in the economic system... the wholesale abolition of private property and the brutal socialisation of the means of production always have a negative effect in the production of goods and services and provoke general discontent amongst the population". It is quite clear what he is saying. While using examples about War Communism and the NEP in Russia, what he is really saying is: "we should not go towards nationalisation of the economy".[10]

It is not by chance that Baduel wrote the prologue and publicly presented the new edition of Heinz Dieterich's book "Socialism of the 21st Century". Dieterich's ideas which amount to saying that the question of property of the means of production does not matter under socialism, have become very popular amongst the reformists in Venezuela, because they allow them to continue talking about "socialism", while distancing themselves from what socialism really means: the nationalisation and planning of the economy under democratic workers' control.

As I said before the Venezuelan revolution has an element of "magic realism", so he ended his speech by quoting the "seven principles of the samurai warrior" and made an appeal to "Yahve, the elohim of all armies, supreme maker of all things to bless and keep forever the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela". But leaving aside the peculiar philosophical views of Baduel, what is clear is that he deliberately did not use the "Fatherland, Socialism or Death" slogan which has become the norm in the Venezuelan army.

The position of Chavez in this conflict was also contradictory because although he said that military officers should not be part of the PSUV and that the army should not be "party-political", he also appointed a new Minister of Defence who is seen as a left-winger. In any case, Chavez reflects even within himself all the contradictions of the revolution in Venezuela. The pressure of opposing class forces has a reflection on his speeches and actions. You can maybe get a glimpse of what Chavez's policy is regarding the army from one thing that Müller Rojas said, "one condition that I put to the president when he asked me to return. I said that I could not retire from political activity. He said to me ‘do it, but with discretion'." Chavez obviously realises that the army is crucial and does not want to create a conflict inside it unnecessarily or openly or too early, but by trying to prevent the open expression of a conflict that already exists, he may end up with an even more virulent crisis erupting in the future.

Alcasa workers train as part of the Army Reserve
Alcasa workers train as part of the Army Reserve 

The policy that the CMR advocates in Venezuela is for open political discussion within the army, for cells of the PSUV to be organised openly inside the army involving rank and file soldiers mainly, but also revolutionary officers; there should be control over the officers on the part of the revolutionary soldiers; the proposal of the territorial guard should be taken up by revolutionary and working class organisations to set up workers' militias which is perfectly possible and would also be "legal"[11], so that the structure of the capitalist army can be smashed.

But the question of the state goes beyond the army. There is constant bureaucratic sabotage of the revolutionary initiative of the masses and of many of the proposals of Chavez himself. In an interview in Panorama Digital, Chávez described it in this way: "The main threat is within. There is a constant bureaucratic counter-revolution. I am an enemy on a daily basis. I have to walk around with a whip, because I am being attacked from all sides by this enemy, the old bureaucracy and a new one which resists change. So much so that I have to be constantly on guard when I give any instruction, and follow it up so that it is not stopped, or diverted, or minimised by this bureaucratic counter-revolution which exists within the state."[12]

More recently, the removal of William Mantilla as vice-minister of Peoples' Power for Participation (the Ministry run by Communist Party member David Velasquez) has highlighted the issue of bureaucracy even in a Ministry which had been created anew. Mantilla is a well-known revolutionary activist from the Bloque Popular de la Vega and the Coordinadora Popular de Caracas. He was asked to be vice-minister precisely in order to promote the communal councils. In his letter of resignation he describes how his work was constantly "blocked in order to prevent the development of our activities according to proposals presented during my mandate (a clear example of this was that I was never given access to the data regarding communal councils, not even given access to the access code for [communal councils national database] Sicom)". So, here was, according to all accounts, an honest hard working revolutionary who tried to use a position within a Ministry in order to promote the development of communal councils (a directive that comes from the President) and was removed precisely for doing so, and replaced by a grey functionary, a bureaucrat.

The problem is clear, as Marx explained after the experience of the Paris Commune, "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes."[13] The experience of the Venezuelan revolution in the last few years provides many examples that confirm this. One cannot simply put honest revolutionaries within structures that replicate the capitalist state and expect these to work better. The whole of the old state machinery has to be done away with and replaced with a new one, based on democratic elections with the right of recall and accountability of all functionaries, in which no functionary receives a wage higher than that of a skilled worker, and in which there is no standing army separate from the people, but the people in arms. 

The economy

The second question we should look at is that of the economy. Official figures show that the Venezuelan economy has been growing very fast, for 15 consecutive quarters at an annual average rate of 12.4%. This would make Venezuela the fastest growing economy in the Americas and probably the second fastest growing economy in the world after China. Unemployment has gone down from 15% in 1999 to 8.3% in June 2007 and the poverty rate has been reduced from 55.1% at the lowest point of the recession caused by the sabotage of the economy and bosses lock-out in 2003, to 30.4% at the end of 2006. However, these figures do not tell us the full story.

In a nutshell, what we have in Venezuela is an economy fuelled by massive public investment while the private sector stagnates. At the same time the government has introduced a whole series of checks and controls over the economy, and as we have seen in many examples throughout history with reformist governments, the introduction of checks and constraints over the normal workings of a capitalist economy create a situation of chaos because the market economy is not allowed to work normally but at the same time it has not been replaced by a democratic plan of the economy either.

Since the sabotage of the economy in 2002, the government has introduced a whole series of economic controls. The prices of basic foodstuffs has been fixed; there is a law banning employers from sacking their workers (although this is not necessarily implemented); there are foreign exchange controls; there is control over access to hard currency that companies can use to trade with the outside world; there are now even controls over what companies import and they have to prove that what they want to import cannot be produced in the country; rents have also been frozen; there are controls over interest rates; there are control over the amount that banks have to lend to different sectors of the economy, ...[14]

And what is the effect of all these controls? Sabotage and disorganisation of the economy on the part of capitalists! Partly this is deliberately for political reasons, sabotage of the economy in order to undermine the base of support for the government and the revolution. Partly it flows from the basic economic facts of capitalist economics, where producers are saying we cannot sell at these prices, it is not profitable.

The key economic feature in Venezuela now is that this economic growth is sustained solely through massive public investment, which in turn is sustained by very high oil prices on the world market. And this is one of the factors, though not the only one, which has allowed this revolution to be so prolonged in time (7 or 8 years now). Public sector expenditure represented 25% of GDP in 1998, 32% in 2004, and 39.4% in 2006. The increase in investment from the state in the economy was 50.2% in 2005 and another 50.8% in 2006[15].

Last year the Venezuelan government spent billions of US dollars in massive infrastructure and public works projects: a new bridge over the Orinoco river at the cost of US$1.2bn, underground systems in three different cities, railway lines... This also serves to underline the extremely parasitical nature of capitalism in Venezuela, where for 100 years it was unable to build any of these basic infrastructures. Venezuela has never had a railway system to speak of. Although the development of a railway network would have helped integrate the country, make the distribution of population more even and promoted an internal market, this was never done because in order to export oil there was no need for railways. The discovery of oil about 100 years ago completely distorted the development of the Venezuelan economy, destroying agriculture and preventing the development of a domestic manufacturing industry. In fact, any industrial development that has taken place in Venezuela has been carried out by the state using oil revenues (for instance during the first Carlos Andrés Perez government).

Even the implementation of these public works projects reveals the glaring contradictions of the Venezuelan economy. Since no Venezuelan companies are able to carry out these public works, most contracts go to a Brazilian multinational called Odebrecht. Production of cement in Venezuela is monopolised by three main companies, the largest of them being Mexico's CEMEX, which belongs to Carlos Slim, who has now just became the world's wealthiest individual overtaking Bill Gates. The Venezuelan government has just carried out the nationalisation of Cemento Andino (a cement company controlled by Colombian capital) and has threatened to nationalise other cement producers, which Chavez has accused of selling most of their local production on the foreign market where they can get higher profits.

Yes, the Venezuelan economy is growing, but its growth exacerbates all its contradictions rather than solving them. Chavez clearly reflected this when he threatened the nationalisation of the banks and of the Argentinean-owned SIDOR steel works. He said to the banks: "we cannot have a situation where the state is the only one lending money to national producers to develop production". And he added: "we cannot accept the position of SIDOR. It gets cheap raw materials, electricity and fuel from the state; it then produces steel which it sells on the world market, at world market prices, which is then transformed into manufactured goods and machinery by other countries (including China), which are then sold back to Venezuela at world market prices". It certainly does not make sense, but that is the way capitalism works.

The process in Venezuela is a clear example of the Permanent Revolution. One of the premises of the Permanent Revolution is that the national bourgeoisie of backward capitalist countries in the epoch of imperialism is unable to develop the productive forces in a progressive way. It is precisely the contradiction between the need to develop the country's economy and infrastructure (which Chavez has championed) and the inability of capitalism and imperialism to do so that has set Chavez on a collision course with capitalism itself.

Even in the current economic boom in Venezuela, the capitalists are reluctant to invest in expanding productive capacity (though they are obviously willing to make as much profit as they can in the short term). If you take 1997 as 100, sales in Venezuela reached 155 in 2006 (a 55% increase). However, industrial production reached only 99 in 2006. In the same period, according to figures from business organisation Conindustria, the number of manufacturing enterprises went down from 11,000 to 6,000. An increase in sales with no increase in production or investment leads directly to a situation of inflation and scarcity of basic products. At present there is scarcity of 26% of basic food products and inflation has reached 20%. This in turn forces the government to engage in massive imports of food products from the world market which they have to pay for at world market prices with hard currency.

If you take the example of black beans, one of the main staples in Venezuela, you see that Venezuelan production was 31,000 tonnes in 1988, it went down to 18,000 in 1999 and today Venezuela imports 56,000 tonnes every year.

The sabotage of the economy and consequent scarcity has affected particularly the food distribution chain. Capitalist producers, processors and distributors of food products engage in hoarding and speculation, sell their products on the black market, deliberately sabotage harvesting, prevent the processing of crops at sugar mills, slaughterhouses and dairy plants, create panic buying through scare-mongering campaigns in the media, and so on.

The Economist Intelligence Unit describes it in the following euphemistic terms: "The prices of many regulated goods have become misaligned and will have to be adjusted at some stage; and there is a lack of sufficient capacity in a variety of sectors as a result of inadequate investment. This is only partly offset by rising imports, producing shortages, supply bottlenecks and the sale of regulated goods above the official price"[16].

The food industry is a highly monopolised sector of the Venezuelan economy, controlled by a handful of companies (such as Polar) owned by prominent figures of the counter-revolution that have used and are using their control over this vital sector to undermine the democratically elected government. The case for expropriation could not be clearer.

The government, like in many other fields, instead of tackling the problem head on (i.e. the ownership of the land and the food distribution chain) has tried to set up a parallel structure through the creation of Mercal, a national network of popular markets which sells basic food products at subsidised prices[17]. But that in itself does not solve the problem. Very often Mercal has to import products from abroad at a very high cost. Since the Mercal network is not under any sort of democratic control or accountability, there is corruption and stealing of products at all levels, which has been denounced by the United Bolivarian Union of Mercal Workers (SUNTRABMERCAL), which has demanded workers' control of Mercal and the setting up of consumers' and providers' organisations to work with them in the control and management of the network[18]. The only solution to this problem would be the wholesale nationalisation of the big landed estates and the nationalisation of the food processing and distribution industries, under the democratic control of the workers, consumers and peasant producers organised in cooperatives[19].

FNCEZ takes over FEDECAMARAS headquarters
FNCEZ takes over FEDECAMARAS headquarters

A couple of months ago there was a demonstration in Caracas over this question of scarcity and sabotage, organised by the Ezequiel Zamora National Peasant Front and other revolutionary organisations during which they occupied the building of Fedecamaras, the main business confederation, under the slogan "if you take away our food, we will take away your factories". It is quite significant that the FNCEZ sent two representatives to the congress of the CMR, the section of the IMT in Venezuela. It is the largest and most revolutionary peasant organisation in Venezuela. They said they wanted to participate in the political discussions, but also, they wanted political and practical advice from the Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories (Freteco) in order to know how to occupy and take over factories in the food distribution chain (meat-packing plants, dairy production plants, sugar mills...).

Finally, earlier this year, the government was forced to pass a "Law against Hoarding, Speculation, Boycott and any other behaviour which affects the consumption of food and other products subjected to price controls", which allows for the expropriation of companies which engage in such practices. Already on June 21, the government used this law to expropriate two slaughterhouses that had been left idle by their owners, Fricapeca and Fribarsa in Zulia and Barinas, each with the capacity to process 800 head of cattle a day.

Cooperatives

There has been a lot of talk about the role of cooperatives in the Venezuelan revolution. In some cases, reformists have promoted them in opposition to what they see as the "bureaucratic nature of state ownership". This is the case not only in Venezuela, but also in many other countries. Venezuela, however, is a country where there has been state promotion, funding and help for the development of the cooperative sector of the economy, where these ideas have actually been put to the test.

According to official figures the number of cooperatives has shot up from barely 900 in 2001, to more than 215,000 that are now registered. However, only about 70,000 of these are active (meaning that almost 70% of all registered cooperatives have failed), and indication of the problems in developing cooperatives.

In many cases, cooperatives have become an excuse for outsourcing of the labour force. This is the case for instance with the cleaning contracts for the Caracas Metro system and in many PDVSA installations. In the past all these jobs were done in-house as part of the workforce of the company. They were later outsourced to private companies. Now in some cases cooperatives have preference when bidding for the contracts. All this means is that it is the workers who have to get organised, put the capital up-front and put in a bid competing with other groups of workers and risk losing all their capital if they lose the contract. Trade unionists in PDVSA have demanded that these jobs (cleaning, catering, maintenance, security, etc) be brought back into the workforce with the same conditions and benefits as the rest of the workers of PDVSA. Even Chávez himself has talked of "socialist cooperatives and capitalist cooperatives".

In other cases cooperatives have been established but have failed to compete in a capitalist market, for lack of access to raw materials, finance, and markets for their products. Cooperatives can certainly play a role within a planned economy, particularly in the agricultural sector, but they cannot survive as islands of socialism within a sea of capitalism.

Nationalisations

There has also been a lot of discussion about the nationalisation of CANTV, the telecom company, EDC, the electricity company and the oil multinationals operating in the Orinoco Basin. Some people have argued that these are not real nationalisations because they have been carried out with compensation. Firstly, this ignores the fact that when Chavez announced the nationalisation of CANTV and EDC the value of their shares collapsed on the stock exchange, so that the price finally paid was much lower. Furthermore, the question of compensation is not in itself a principled issue. Marx explained on a number of occasions that if it were possible to buy out the ruling class in exchange for a peaceful transfer of power, then this should be done. What we, the Marxists, would advocate in a situation like this would be to open the books and ask how much did these multinationals pay for these companies in the first place, how much have they invested since, and how much profit have they made? These figures would clearly show that there is no case for compensation.

However, if we want to understand the real meaning of these nationalisations, we have to look at how the workers and the capitalists have reacted to them. As soon as the nationalisations were announced, workers and former workers of CANTV decided to hold a mass meeting to create a Socialist Battalion. The demand they put forward was for workers' control of CANTV in order to prevent any attempt at sabotage by the managers and the directors before the company was handed over to state control. The workers at SIDOR, the massive steel works in Bolivar, which were not mentioned directly by Chavez in his speech, but only by implication when he said that "all privatised companies should be nationalised", held a number of mass meetings, organised road blocks and demonstrations, raised the Venezuelan flag over the factory and demanded nationalisation under workers' control[20].

What was the reaction of capitalists? According to official figures of the Venezuelan Central Bank, in the first quarter of 2007 foreign direct investment in Venezuela compared to the same period in 2006 went down by US$1050 million, a fall of 92%. The flight of capital from Venezuela in 2006 was US$2100 million. It is quite clear. The Venezuelan capitalists are not investing and neither are the multinationals. The reason for this is very clear: in Venezuela a revolution is taking place. They are not sure what is going to happen the day after they invest. They do not know whether the workers will occupy their factories and demand nationalisation under workers' control, or if the government will decree the nationalisation of their companies. The July 2007 "Country Risk Report" produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit makes this point very clearly. Commenting on what they describe as "mixed signals" regarding the protection of private property rights in the forthcoming constitutional reform proposals, they say:

"Apparently, then, the aim is to stop short of the elimination of all private property. However in the past Mr Chávez has provided assurances of this nature only to proceed towards greater state interventionism. There is therefore no guarantee that the process will come to a halt after the latest measures".

And then add: 

"Whether or not further nationalisation actually takes place, or is instead used as a bargaining tool to extract concessions from the companies concerned, the threat of nationalisation means that contract rights will remain weak".

And elsewhere in the same report, they add:

"Private investment in the non-oil sector is increasingly unlikely to thrive in the light of threats to property and contract rights, and in particular the threat of nationalisation and expropriation of assets as the drive towards state-led development progresses".

Regarding the nationalisation of the Orinoco Basin oil companies, some of the multinationals, reluctantly, accepted the terms, because there is still a lot of money to be made, but some others from the US refused. There is now a conflict over the level and the amount of compensation that they should receive. This is being frantically discussed in Houston, Texas, by oil industry analysts, lawyers and others. This is what one firm of lawyers said about the issue: "the government of Venezuela owns significant assets in the US, through CITGO (which is a subsidiary of PDVSA in the US), as well as significant resources that move through the US financial system, and these could be subject to an arbitration award[21]". This is a clear threat that if these companies are not given "fair and just" compensation, the US government will expropriate Venezuelan property in the US.

Such a situation has strong resemblances to the way in which the Cuban revolution proceeded in the first two or three years. A step taken by the revolution, a provocation by the US, further steps forward by the revolution and so on. The same thing could happen in Venezuela. You can just imagine what would be the reaction of the Venezuelan government and president Chávez himself if the US authorities were to expropriate CITGO. In fact, already, faced with the threats of these two US oil companies, the Minister of Oil declared that if they didn't accept the terms of the revised contracts, they would be denied any compensation at all.

There is another field where we have seen the same dynamic of provocations and counter-provocations, in relation to Venezuela joining Mercosur. Mercosur is a failed attempt at uniting the stronger Latin American economies and Venezuela applied to join and was accepted. But over the issue of the non-renewal of the RCTV broadcasting licence, a conflict erupted between Chavez and the Brazilian Senate. Some Brazilian senators said that this was a demonstration of the authoritarian character of Chavez and that RCTV should remain open. Chavez replied using some strong language against these Brazilian senators, who now have demanded an apology from Chavez otherwise they will not vote the ratification of Venezuela's entry into Mercosur. And Chávez, who has never been very keen on apologies, replied that if this is what Mercosur is, then Mercosur is a reactionary institution and that Venezuela should not be part of it.

Obviously, the question of the apology is just an accident, but what this conflict reveals is the opposing class forces that are at play in Venezuela and throughout Latin America and how they express themselves over these issues.

The main contradiction that is at the bottom of the economic question is this: the inability of the Venezuelan ruling class, the Venezuelan oligarchy, the Venezuelan capitalists, and even less of imperialism, to develop the economy. The attempt by Chavez to develop the national economy puts him on a collision course with capitalism. This is the main motor-force of the Venezuelan revolution, and this is why Chávez started talking about socialism and denouncing capitalism. This is also the reason why you cannot take an isolated incident or a single quote from Chavez and build a political theory around it. It is not ruled out, though is not the only possible outcome, that this process could lead at a certain point to the wholesale nationalisation of the means of production and the abolition of capitalism in Venezuela. During one of the demonstrations over RCTV, Chavez said that the ruling class was welcome to participate in this attempt to develop the national economy, but that if they did not change their ways "we will take away the levers of power that they have, one by one".

It would be wrong to think that the abolition of capitalism in this way in Venezuela would lead to the creation of a Stalinist regime like the ones that existed in the Soviet Union or East Germany. Some so-called Marxists are playing with the idea that a number of steps taken by Chavez (such as the enabling laws, the constitution of the PSUV, the Constitutional reforms and other measures) will lead directly to a Stalinist kind of regime (disgracefully echoing from the left the hypocritical cries of the imperialists in relation to the "autocratic" and "authoritarian" turn of Chavez). This is a completely false approach.

Clearly socialism is not a system that can be decreed from above. It requires the conscious participation of the workers in the democratic planning of the economy and in bringing about such a state of affairs. One of the main characteristics of the Venezuelan revolution over the last 8 years has been a strong anti-bureaucratic mood of the Bolivarian rank and file. For a whole period of time the situation would therefore be very open. The working masses in Venezuela in the last few years have also increased their level of understanding of the need for workers' democracy and direct control. The expropriation of capitalism, even if implemented from above, would open up a situation of enormous revolutionary ferment, mass participation, the creation of workers' committees, which would last for a period of time.

The bureaucracy would try to impose a bureaucratic structure but this would not be an easy task. The condition for bureaucratic rule would be that the revolution would finally be hijacked and defeated by the bureaucracy because of isolation, imperialist pressure and demoralisation of the masses over a long period of time. 

Revolutionary organisation and leadership

What we are fighting for in Venezuela is a genuine regime of workers' democracy and democratic planning of the economy and for this to be a first step towards the internationalisation of the struggle for socialism. The main obstacle for this to happen is the weakness of the revolutionary leadership, in two different ways. One is the absence of a Marxist leadership of the workers' movement, but also the absence of a national democratic structure through which the revolutionary movement can express itself and within which a Marxist tendency can fight for the leadership.

Joining the PSUV
Joining the PSUV

In this respect, the discussion around the setting up of the United Socialist Party could prove to be crucial. When Chávez announced the setting up of the PSUV, he made it clear that this was to be a tool of struggle against bureaucracy and a genuine revolutionary democratic organisation. But once again, this does not in itself guarantees that it will be implemented in this way. It depends above all on the ability of working people to carry this out in practice.

What is important to see is the enormous enthusiasm that this proposal has generated amongst the revolutionary masses. In 2001/02 when the Bolivarian Circles were first organised, they managed to gather around 1.5 million people. In August 2004, at the time of the presidential recall referendum, when the Electoral Battle Units and Platoons were created, 2 million people joined them. At that time we saw a massive clash between the revolutionary rank and file and the bureaucracy, which tried to impose itself over these organisations. For instance in the "23 de Enero" neighbourhood in Caracas, there was a mass meeting to discuss the parish level leadership of this organisation. The main leaders of the Bolivarian movement in Caracas, who at that time were well regarded by the rank and file, went to this mass assembly to try to impose their slate for the parish level leadership. This lead to a conflict with the 1,500 people present, who had an alternative slate. The discussion lasted until 2am and finally the rank and file imposed its proposal. Similar clashes took place in other places, such as the El Valle neighbourhood, where the assembly of the local UBEs accepted the parish level committee being proposed from above, but elected double the number of delegates from the rank and file to sit on the same committee[22].

Eventually the bureaucracy won, and at the higher levels of the organisation of the UBEs they imposed their people and after the referendum these organisations were disbanded.

 PSUV promoters take socialist oath
PSUV promoters take socialist oath 

When Chavez proposed the setting up of the PSUV, he said that the aim was to organise 3 million people, which in itself would be more than in any of the previous organisations. During an 8-week period people queued to register for the new party and the final result was that more than 5.6 million registered to join! This represents more than 2/3 of the actual number who voted for Chavez in the presidential elections. What this shows is the enormous reserve of support and enthusiasm for the revolution among the masses.

In some areas, such as the Alto Apure, a peasant region organised by the FNCEZ, more people registered to join the party than had actually voted for Chávez in December! The reason for this was a conscious campaign on the part of the FNCEZ appealing to every man, woman and child in the area to join the PSUV. The leaders of the FNCEZ commented: "in 1998 we also joined the MVR, but we were not organised and the bureaucracy took control, now we are joining the PSUV and we are organised to prevent that".

The national organising committee gave a detailed breakdown of the composition of the party. There are 1.4 million unskilled workers, 500,000 skilled workers, 750,000 service sector workers, 180,000 administrative and office workers, adding up to a total of 3 million workers who have registered for the PSUV. Also registered are 1.2 million housewives, which makes the PSUV the largest women's organisation in Venezuela and probably the largest in the world. This is unprecedented.

Now the party is to have a 3-month long congress period starting this month (September). The first meetings of the Battalions (there are about 18,000 of them) have already taken place with the participation of about 1.5 million people. This is normal. One cannot expect 5.6 million people to become active members of the party; that figure reflects the organised support for the PSUV; the figure of 1.5 million represents the activist layer.

There have been questions as to what is the class nature of the PSUV. The class character of any party or movement is determined by a number of different factors: its class composition, its relationship with the organisations of different classes, the composition and politics of its leadership, its programme, etc. In the case of the PSUV, most of these issues are not yet decided.

However, it is clear that in the next few months the PSUV will be the battleground in which the bureaucracy will try to impose its hold over the party, while the revolutionary rank and file will try to keep it a democratic organisation under their control. The outcome of this struggle is not decided yet. What you could see at the mass rallies of the promotores (the first organisers of the party) was the profoundly working class and plebeian character of the masses that are joining the party. The expression on their faces when they were taking an oath to struggle for socialism was an indication of their unbreakable will to struggle to transform society. After the experience of 8 years of revolution they will fight tooth and nail to prevent the right wing of the movement from taking over their new party.

The task of revolutionary Marxists is to throw themselves completely in this fight and participate alongside the masses in the creation of the PSUV. Any other policy would be utter sectarianism and would only contribute to isolating them from the real existing revolutionary movement. In this respect, the policy adopted by a section of C-CURA (the left wing current within the UNT) of refusing to join the PSUV and attempting to set up a so-called "Independent Workers' Party" is a criminal mistake which can only lead to the isolation of some advanced worker activists from the mass revolutionary movement.

The creation of the PSUV has lead to a sharp split with a section of the right wing of the Bolivarian movement. PODEMOS, which is the most right wing social democratic party of the government coalition, has decided not to join the PSUV. They said, "we are in favour of socialism, but we want democratic socialism", to which Chavez replied, "the problem is that you are social democrats and social-traitors, and we are revolutionary socialists". PODEMOS has now replaced the old Acción Democrática party as the Venezuelan affiliate to the Socialist International[23].

But it is clear that another, more intelligent, section of the bureaucracy and reformists have rushed to join the new party, trying from the very beginning to establish themselves in positions of power and influence. We have even seen the creation of an organisation of "Socialist Businessmen" who have joined the PSUV.

Interestingly the Communist Party has split over this issue, one wing joining, the other staying outside, and both maintaining a wrong, two-stage approach to the Venezuelan revolution[24].

The National Workers' Union

But if we are talking about revolutionary leadership, the weakest point is that of the leadership of the workers' movement, the leadership of the UNT. The UNT has been divided at the very least into 5 different factions since the congress one year ago. And this split was on the basis of issues that have nothing to do with the main key challenges facing the Venezuelan workers' movement today. They are involved in a power struggle for who controls the apparatus of the UNT, and this is all they seem to be concerned about. None of these different wings has taken questions such as workers' control or factory occupations seriously.

It is clear that the leadership of the FSBT wing (Socialist Bolivarian Workers' Front) of the UNT is against any idea of workers' control. In fact, a representative of this current, Jacobo Torres, went as far as saying in a meeting in Britain organised by the TUC that in Venezuela there was no workers' control. An example of this is the position taken by the Ministry of Labour, most of whose team comes from the FSBT, regarding the struggle of the workers at Sanitarios Maracay for expropriation under workers' control. The Minister refused to nationalise the factory even after the National Assembly had recommended it, and pushed the workers towards a settlement regarding the payment of back wages with the former owner, the counter-revolutionary Alvaro Pocaterra.

The leadership of the left wing, the C-CURA, around Orlando Chirino, makes a lot of noise about the issue of trade union autonomy, but what they really mean is not the independence of the unions from the state and the capitalists, but their sectarian proposal that workers should not join the PSUV. If the workers' movement in Venezuela had half the leadership of the peasants' movement around the FNCEZ, the situation would be much more advanced now.

It is clear that the workers' organisations, both trade union and political, must remain completely independent (never mind "autonomous"). But independence does not mean abstention from the actual struggle within the Bolivarian movement, the only revolutionary movement that exists in Venezuela. On the contrary, the bureaucrats and reformists would love nothing better than that revolutionaries stay away from the PSUV. This is particularly criminal when Orlando Chirino is prepared to speak on the question of "trade union autonomy" on the same platform as the counter-revolutionary CTV[25] and on a platform organised by the Friederich Ebert Foundation (the agency of German Social Democracy set up specifically to derail revolutions)[26]. What kind of "autonomy" is this? "Autonomy" from whom and for what purpose?

A genuine revolutionary current within the UNT would pursue a policy of full support for the Bolivarian revolution, of full participation in the PSUV on the basis of the struggle against capitalism, the reformists and bureaucrats, while at the same time actively promoting, encouraging and organising factory occupations, the setting up of workers' councils and the coordination of these with the communal councils.

Demonstration for workers' control Such a policy would immediately win a majority amongst the rank and file of all the different wings of the UNT, and is the only one which would be able to unite the UNT on the basis of a revolutionary policy. The conditions could not be more favourable. There is a mood of confidence among the workers. They feel part of the Bolivarian revolution and while looking towards many government officials with suspicion they regard Chávez as their main leader and are encouraged by his talk about socialism, the role of the working class in the revolution and his tirades against imperialism. Even the smallest day-to-day bread and butter conflicts over health and safety, wages, conditions, etc., tend to escalate and acquire a political character. The example of Sanitarios Maracay is a case in point. One of the most advanced experiences of workers' control in Venezuela started over a conflict about health and safety and trade union recognition. The political character of the struggle was determined by the fact that the boss, Alvaro Pocaterra is a known counter-revolutionary who actively participated in the attempted coups and sabotage of the economy in 2002. A serious campaign of factory occupations linked to the defence of the revolution against sabotage would spread like wildfire.

Inveval billboard At the same time the Ministry of Labour has proposed the setting up of Workers' Councils in the factories. Here again we see the mistake of the sectarians. What was their reaction to this announcement? "Here is another example of the attempt of the government to control the labour movement and destroy trade union autonomy and the UNT". There is no doubt that at least a section of the leadership of the FSBT and functionaries in the Ministry of Labour would like to see the end of a UNT they cannot control. In fact, FSBT leader Oswaldo Vera, has said so openly[27]. However, surely, if there is a proposal for the setting up of Workers' Councils what any serious revolutionary tendency within the workers' movement must do is to take up the challenge with both hands and organise a national campaign to create them in the factories and workplaces!

 It is in these conditions that the comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current, starting with modest forces, have played a key role in the setting up of Freteco, the Revolutionary Front of Occupied and Co-managed Factories. The initiative for the setting up of Freteco was taken by the workers at Inveval, the valve-making factory in Los Teques, Miranda. Inveval itself demonstrates all the problems and contradictions of the Venezuelan revolution. The workers took over Inveval and are running it under workers' control. It was nationalised by Chávez, against the opinion of the sectarians who at the time said, "Chavez's is a bourgeois nationalist government and will never nationalise anything". But now the workers at Inveval are facing two powerful enemies: one is the fact that they still operate within the framework of a capitalist market economy, and second that they have to face the deliberate sabotage of the state bureaucracy and the reformists who do not want to see a successful experience of workers' control for fear of this serving as an example to other workers[28].

  The Venezuelan revolution has developed over a long period of time, nearly 9 years now. This is the result of a combination of different factors. One is the enormously favourable balance of forces in favour of the revolution, which has smashed any attempts of the counter-revolution to raise its head. The revolutionary masses are strong but they do not have a Marxist leadership that can settle matters once and for all. The counter-revolution has attempted to put an end to the revolution on a number of occasions and the movement of the masses has defeated them. Venezuela is an oil producing country and this also plays a role; the government has been able to introduce a massive programme of social plans and investment which has in a limited but real way improved the living conditions of the masses and given the government certain room for manoeuvre. This situation of impasse, of equilibrium between the classes cannot last indefinitely. It is either resolved through a victorious socialist revolution or a bloody counter-revolution.

The stakes have been raised, the ruling class has been frightened, a whole number of challenges have been posed, but there is no clear idea of how to solve them. This is dangerous. It can lead to a situation in which the masses will become tired of the speeches and the counter-revolution will go on the offensive because they do have clear ideas on how to smash the revolution.

In these conditions, all sort of reformist ideas have flourished in the upper echelons of the state, with all sorts of "advisors" and clever "intellectuals". A key representative of this layer is Heinz Dieterich, but there are also others. In a recent interview in El Nacional, Juan Carlos Monedero, a Chavez advisor in charge of Ideological Education at the Centro International Miranda, developed his views about "socialism of the 21st century": "One of [the mistakes of 20th century socialism] was to think that the nationalisation of the means of production allows the satisfaction of the needs directly. That is why today we say that we do not care about private property, we have understood that it is not the enemy". He adds that the problem with private property comes only when it prevents the "equality of capacity of other people", but that this can be "solved with imagination, through several means. For instance social democratic Europe did it through a socialist tax system, where the ones who have more pay more". He says that the current stage Venezuela is at is one where "state capitalism coexists with redistribution of wealth and market socialism" in which there are "elements of socialism" going in the direction of "wrestling away bits from the capitalist system"[29].

Despite the deliberately confusing terminology he uses, what he says is clear: no nationalisation of the means of production, large scale state sector and certain controls (taxation) of private capitalists and then, bit by bit, we will end up with socialism. In other words, going back to classical reformist ideas, from the time when reformists did actually carry out reforms.

An almost identical line is defended by Haiman El Troudi, one of the directors of the Centro Internacional Miranda, in a text called "Questions and answers about socialism of the 21st century". He explains that the "challenge in the transition is to mediate consensus. Let us remind ourselves that the Bolivarian revolution is peaceful, and to transform Venezuela in peace means a dialogue between different sources of knowledge and respect for plurality of thought. What would happen in the country if suddenly it were decided to nationalise all private companies? This is not on the cards. On the road towards socialism private initiative can, without any difficulties, develop, as long as it accepts the new rules of the game".

El Troudi lists what he calls strategic sectors that in his opinion should be in state hands, but his list curiously, includes only sectors that are already in state hands! So, again, he is against nationalisation of the means of production. In fact, he adds, that, "banking, despite being one of the strategic means of production, in my opinion should not be nationalised, unless private banks go against the law and threaten national interests".

One again, it seems that El Troudi's "socialism of the 21st century" looks very much like "socialdemocracy of the 20th century". In the debate about workers' control and workers' management, after having argued that "nationalisation does not necessarily mean control by the people" as an argument against nationalisation, Haiman sides firmly with those who oppose any form of workers' control in the strategic industries.

He asks: "Is it possible to run the oil industry under the co-management model?", and answers himself: "Not for now. We will have to practise our co-managerial culture before we can adopt this format in the main industry and source of national income". So as to avoid any confusion, he adds that he is in favour of the workers having shares in the companies; what he opposes is "workers participating in the management of the company, the practice of democracy in the selection of the authorities including accountability, where the black accounts of the administrative affairs are opened, where mandates and functionaries are subject to recall."[30]

In a situation where the ruling class is temporarly unable to launch an open assault against the revolution with any guarantee of success, a great part of their strategy is based on a "third way", that is, basing themselves on bureaucrats and reformists in order to keep the revolution under control and prevent it from effectively breaking with capitalism, while in the meantime building up their forces and points of support for when they are able to strike a decisive blow.

The Economist Intelligence Unit explains it in this way:

"A combination of popular discontent and a cohesive opposition leadership is not currently in sight... The opposotion political class has found it difficult to shed its poor reputation... Moreover ... it has no direct influence on policy. Given these limitations, it appears likely that a third force will eventually emerge to lead the opposition. This might include what Venezuelans call "Chavistas light", Chavez supporters who are uncomfortable with some of the more radical elements of the president's programme. It might also include some pro-Chavez groups that are unhappy with a recent drive towards centralisation of power."[31]

Haiman El Troudi describes the strategy of the counter-revolution, which he calls "chavismo without socialism" in in this way: "it means putting a break on the structural transformation of society, to smooth over iniquity, to maintain intact the privileges of the capitalist class... the main proponents of this counter-revolutionary tendency are mercenaries infiltrated within the revolutionary process who web their conspicuous conspiracy with the threads of corruption, political control, the denial of peoples' participation in public affairs. Their main aspiration: to install a new oligarchy and take power at the expense of treacherous plans against the Bolivarian Revolution".[32]

We should therefore guard against a position of mindless enthusiasm that the revolution will go forward smoothly until its successful socialist conclusion. In fact as the contradictions become sharper, the dangers grow. The only real solution for all these contradictions is for the working class to take the leadership of the revolution, and for the Marxist tendency to win over the leadership of the working class. It is for this reason that the work of Freteco is so important, and also why the role of reformists and sectarians alike is so criminal. An offensive of the working class on the question of factory occupations and workers' control could offer a clear way forward to solve the problems of the economy and the state. It would show what socialism means in practice and pose the challenge openly.

The revolution in Venezuela has already had an important impact amongst the masses in Latin America and beyond. A successful socialist revolution in Venezuela would be the beginning of a wave of revolutions in the whole of the continent. The condition for that is the building of the CMR and the building of the International Marxist Tendency so that we can give this extraordinary movement of the Venezuelan revolutionary masses a clear Marxist leadership which is the only way to victory.

September 5, 2007


[1] Venezuelan presidential elections: vote for Chavez, carry the revolution out to the end August 2006.

[2] Amongst the members of "Oligarcas Temblad" was the National Peasant Front Ezequiel Zamora, the Coordinadora Simón Bolivar, Lina Ron's UPV, the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Factories Occupied and Co-Managed - FRETECO, the National Association of Free, Community and Alternative Media, the Movimiento de Bases Popular, the Revolutionary Marxist Current - CMR and the "Alexis Vive" and "Doloritas Rebelde" Collective.

[3] In the first elections after the victory of the revolution in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas received 67% of the vote, but there the main candidate of the opposition had pulled out of the electoral race.

[4] David Velasquez, former general secretary of the Communist Youth, just a few months before Chavez announced that the Venezuelan revolution could not stay within the confines of capitalism, insisted that the question of socialism was not posed in Venezuela, but merely that of "anti-imperialism".

[5] As we said at the time, he would be judged by what he did at the head of the Ministry. Though he has taken several progressive measures, his role during the Sanitarios Maracay struggle has been a criminal one (see Sanitarios Maracay, a first balance-sheet of an heroic struggle, Jorge Martin, 22 August 2007)

[6] This mood was very well captured by Michael Lebowitz in a very perceptive article called "Why Aren't You in a Hurry, Comrade?"

[7] Already the setting up of the Misiones in order to carry out the social programmes of the government since 2003 was an attempt to circumvent the problem of the capitalist state by creating parallel structures.

[8] The full text of the interview in which Müller Rojas made his views public can be read in English here: http://venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=2091

[9] Baduel's departing speech can be read in full here: http://venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=2103

[10] It is the enormous pressure to the left that is coming from the rank and file, which is encouraged by Chavez's speeches, which forces even conservative elements to dress up their ideas in left-wing, socialist sounding and even Marxist phraseology.

[11] An example of what is possible is the initiative taken by trade unionists in the basic heavy industries in Guyana where they asked for volunteers amongst the workforce to join the Reserve of the Army. Also at a meeting of revolutionary activists in Carabobo to discuss the issue of the Territorial Guard, a UNT leader asked the Rear-Admiral who was there representing the Territorial Guard what would happen if the workers at the nearby Firestone factory wanted to join the Territorial Guard, but as a whole workplace. The Rear-Admiral said he had never thought about it but that it sounded like a very good idea, and asked whether he could get a list of all the workers interested and someone to coordinate them so that it could be implemented!

[12] Panorama Digital, September 10, 2006, reproduced in Aporrea: http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n83403.html)

[13] Karl Marx, The Civil War in France

[14] Most of these measures were introduced in order to try to defend the living standards of the masses, particularly at the time of the bosses' lock out and sabotage of the economy in December 2002-January 2003.

[15] Figures from the Venezuelan Central Bank (http://www.bcv.org.ve/Upload/Publicaciones/infoeco2006.pdf)

[16] Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Risk Service July 2007

[17] In 2006 there were more than 15,000 Mercal shops around the country reaching about 43% of the population.

[18] Numerous statements in this direction can be found on their website: http://usuarios.lycos.es/suntrabmercal/

[19] A detailed analysis of the current crisis of scarcity and hoarding can be found in Venezuela: Price regulation, food scarcity, speculation and socialism by Erik Demeester.

[20] In the last few days an agreement has been reached between the Venezuelan government and the Argentinean owners Techint, which includes a guarantee of no-nationalisation. However, such an agreement is likely to break down in the face of labour conflict, more demands on the part of the government, etc.

[21] Statement by Jose Valera, a partner with King & Spalding in Houston quoted in the Houston Chronicle article "Citgo assets may be at risk in arbitration", June 27, 2007

[22] See for instance: http://www.marxist.com/Latinam/venez_maisanta0604.html

[23] It is interesting to note that it was Didalco Bolivar, the PODEMOS governor of Aragua who sent the police against the Sanitarios Maracay workers who were on their way to a Freteco demonstration in Caracas.

[24] The party's Central Committee split 9 to 13, with the 9 joining the PSUV and being expelled from the PCV.

[25] "A national crusade for trade union autonomy" El Universal, May 26, 2007. http://www.eluniversal.com/2007/04/26/pol_art_proponen-cruzada-nac_264996.shtml

[26] "Seminario Hacia una Asamblea Constituyente Sindical" http://www.ildis.org.ve/website/p_index.php?ids=7&tipo=A&vermas=55

[27] ""La UNT actual no representa a los trabajadores", July 31, 2007

[28] A detailed description of the current situation at Inveval can be found in Venezuela's Co-Managed Inveval: Surviving in a Sea of Capitalism by Kiraz Janicke

[29] Interview in El Nacional, August 27, 2007

[30] Preguntas y respuestas acerca del Socialismo del Siglo XXI, http://centrointernacionalmiranda.gob.ve/personal/docs/debate3.pdf

[31] Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Risk Service July 2007

[32] To be a capitalist is bad business, Haiman El Troudi ( http://www.haiman.com.ve/)