The philosopher challenges Heinz Dietrich to a public debate on the Bolivarian Revolution:
Alan Woods: A decisive turn to socialism is needed
The activist of the International Marxist Tendency has come our country to launch his book Reason in Revolt in the Caracas International Book Fair (FILVEN), which takes place in the Parque del Este, Caracas, from the ninth to the nineteenth of November.
We interviewed the founder of Hands off Venezuela on the sunny terrace of the hotel where he was staying, in order to find out his opinions concerning the Bolivarian Revolution.
- How do you explain the interest shown by President Chavez in your book Reason in Revolt?
- The book is based on the Marxist philosophical theory, dialectical materialism, which is a tool that permits us to understand the world in general - not only science and nature but also, and above all, the inner workings of the revolution. Indeed, the revolutionary process can only be understood from the standpoint of dialectical materialism. I believe that President Chavez's interest in Reason in Revolt owes a lot to the dialectical idea of the transformation of quantity into quality. In revolutions - as in nature - there are critical moments when a qualitative leap becomes necessary. I believe the Bolivarian Revolution has reached just such a decisive point - the point in which it must transform itself into a socialist revolution.
- Some Trotskyist groups say that the Bolivarian Revolution is only some kind of Bonapartism, and they do not believe that there is any chance of Venezuela turning in a socialist direction, as you advocate.
- These so-called Trotskyist groups do a serious disservice to the great ideas of Trotsky. As a matter of fact, the best description of what is unfolding in Venezuela is to be found in one of the greatest books of the 20th century, Trotsky's brilliant History of the Russian Revolution. In the first chapter Trotsky poses the question: what is a revolution? He answers that a revolution, in essence, is a situation in which the masses, that is to say, the millions of ordinary men and women who are not political activists or theoreticians, begin to take part actively in politics and take their destiny into their own hands. This is a brilliant and profound definition! In Venezuela today there is a revolution and it is a source of inspiration for the whole world.
- Where is this revolution heading?
- You have begun a revolution, but do we have any reason to suppose that it has been completed? I do not think so. What will happen after the December 3 election? I have no doubt that Chavez will win. He has done an enormous service to the international workers' movement by raising the question of socialism. He has said that capitalism is slavery. Therefore, if we are really fighting for emancipation in Venezuela and in all of Latin America, it is necessary to break radically with capitalism and break the economic power of the oligarchy, which, eight years after the start of the Revolution, remains a source of danger to the people of this country.
- This change that you expect after the election - will it be within the traditional schemas of classical socialism?
- I do not speak of schemas but of facts. It is quite obvious that one cannot speak of socialism in any meaningful sense in a country where 75 percent of the land is in the hands of big landowners. As a matter of fact, the liquidation of the big landed estates (latifundios) is not even a task of the socialist revolution. It should have been resolved by the bourgeois-democratic revolution, as it was in France in the 18th century. It is self-evident that without the expropriation of the land, the Bolivarian Revolution would remain a mere phrase devoid of all content. Yet there are some people who continue to insist in the supposedly sacrosanct character of private property. Well, I too accept that we must respect the private property of 98 percent of the population. We do not propose the expropriation of the neighbour's car or fridge, or the local bar. But when it comes to the property of the big landowners and bankers, the Revolution not only has the right but the obligation to lay hands on it.
- So, the bourgeois revolution has attacked private property?
- Let's look at history. Let us not speak of the Russian Revolution, or of Lenin and Trotsky. Let us speak of George Washington and the American Revolution. Washington expropriated all the estates of the British colonial landowners and their Yankee backers, and he never paid a single penny in compensation. We are speaking here of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. Without such revolutionary measures it would never have succeeded in its objectives. Likewise, Abraham Lincoln was not a Marxist, but in the American Civil War the North confiscated the property of the Southern slave owners and also did not pay a single cent in compensation.
- It is not possible to achieve the aim of a free and just society as long as the oligarchy holds in its hands the land, the banks and a large part of industry. Whoever says that it is, is deceiving the people. And we would be leaving the door wide open for a new coup in the future, with disastrous consequences for the Venezuelan people.
- Gramsci used to say that it is easy to change the government, but hard to change the state...
- The state is another problem. Marx said that it is impossible to change society while basing ourselves on the old state apparatus. Over the last eight years very important gains have been made. But the old state apparatus, with all its bureaucracy and corruption, remains more or less intact. The President has said that this bureaucracy represents the greatest danger for the revolution. The enemy is in our own house! It is a kind of Fifth Column of imperialism, even though it appears dressed in a red shirt.
- So do we need a revolution within the revolution?
- Chavez has said so, and is doing everything possible to advance the cause of socialism. But the socialist revolution cannot depend on just one man. It must be the work of the masses, from below, by the power of the people themselves. That is the main characteristic of socialism. It is absolutely necessary that the masses, and in first place the working class, should take power into their own hands and do away with the bureaucratic state.
- But the power of the working class seems to have been diluted in this historical period, not only in Venezuela, but throughout the world.
- The real problem is not the working class or the masses. Let us look at Venezuela: what more do you want from the working class and the masses? What more can one ask of them? The workers and peasants have done everything possible to change society. But they lack something necessary, which is the revolutionary party and leadership. There are hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries, but they are not organized. I am not talking about setting up yet another party. What is needed is to rally the revolutionary vanguard and organize them in a Marxist revolutionary wing within the Bolivarian Movement, fighting against bureaucracy and reformism.
- So how does it happen that, while there are left wing parties, there is no party of the revolution?
- Lenin said - and I agree with him - that a revolutionary party is, in the first place, ideas, programme, methods and traditions, and only in the second place an organization that carries these ideas into practice. Before the Revolution of 1917, the Russian industrial working class was less than four million in a population of 150 millions, mainly peasants. Many of these workers were backward and semi-literate; they were under the influence of religion, drank vodka and beat their wives. Yet with this material Lenin and Trotsky carried out the revolution.
- At that time the Mensheviks, who were the right wing reformist wing of the Russian workers' movement, argued that the material conditions for socialism were absent in Russia. The same kind of arguments are repeated today in Venezuela by the likes of Heinz Dietrich. I challenge him to a public debate on these issues. It is very easy for him, sitting in Mexico, but if the oligarchy ever succeeds in seizing the reins of power once more in Venezuela, it will be a very grave matter. They will not act in the same way that the Bolivarian Revolution is acting today. They will trample all rights underfoot and respect nothing.
- To return to your book, Reason in Revolt, you say that the Bolivarian Revolution is at a critical point, where a qualitative leap is being prepared. Does this mean that the socialist transformation is inevitable?
The change can be in one direction - or another. What I am saying is that the present situation cannot be maintained. I do not know how long this situation can last. But sooner or later it must be resolved one way or another: one class must win and the other must lose. That I do know. In the course of the last eight years there have been three attempts to overthrow the Revolution - and they almost succeeded. On every one of these occasions the Revolution was saved by the people. But one cannot abuse the loyalty of the people. Either we expropriate the bankers, the big landowners and capitalists and liquidate the bureaucratic state, or else the workers and peasants, loyal Chavistas, will begin to have doubts. They will ask: how can it be that, after so many years, and so many speeches, the old bosses are still there? This means that the situation has not changed in fundamental aspects.