A highly influential – and right-wing Brazilian bourgeois commentator wrote an article for O Estado de Sao Paulo attacking Chavez from the right, tracing his evolution from his early days to his latest turn to the left. In doing so the author names the editor of Marxist.com, Alan Woods as one of the main influences responsible for Chavez’s move to the Left. Here we publish the original article and a reply from Alan Woods.
On Thursday 4th February an article was published in the leading bourgeois newspaper in Brazil O Estado de Sao Paulo. The writer is considered one of the 100 most influential people of Brazil, adviser to former presidents, international lecturer, etc. He is obviously a right winger who hates Chavez and is worried about the growing influence of Marxism in the Bolivarian Movement.
The article names the editor of Marxist.com, Alan Woods as one of the main influences responsible for Chavez’s move to the Left, and Alan has sent a reply to O Estado de Sao Paulo, which is a shortened version of the piece we publish below.
The Third Chavez
By Demétrio Magnoli
Karl Marx created the 1st International, Friedrich Engels participated in the founding of the 2nd, Lenin established the 3rd, Leon Trotsky founded the 4th and Hugo Chávez has just raised the banner of the 5th. "I take responsibility before the world, I think it is time to rally the 5th International and dare to make the call," he said in a speech lasting five hours, at the opening session of the extraordinary congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to the applause of 772 delegates in red shirts.
The congress was held in November. Then Chavez imposed energy rationing in the country, devalued the currency and introduced a dual exchange rate, nationalized a supermarket chain, suspended cable TV broadcasts and unleashed a bloody crackdown on student protests. The Chavista International will see the light of day at a world conference in Caracas in April, and the Venezuelan parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. But the future of the man who wants to succeed Marx, Lenin and Trotsky will be shaped by an event completely outside his influence: the Brazilian presidential election of October.
Chavez is living his third incarnation, which is also the last. The first Chavez emerged after the failed coup of 1992, in the guise of nationalist and anti-American warlord mesmerized by the image of an imaginary Simón Bolívar. Under the influence of Argentine sociologist Norberto Ceresole, that original Chavismo flirted with anti-Semitism and dreamed of the establishment of an authoritarian, fascist-style state, which would reunify Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador in a restored Great Colombia.
A second Chávez could be discerned in outline in the spring of the first term in 1999, after the break with Ceresole, when the Leader drew close to Heinz Dieterich, a German Professor of Sociology in Mexico who came out of obscurity to formulate the concept of "socialism of the 21st century." Chavismo reinvented itself and acquired left-wing collaborators, formed an alliance with Cuba and engaged in the project of building a state capitalism that was presented as a long transition towards a kind of socialism untainted by the Soviet legacy.
Brandishing a copy of The State and Revolution by Lenin, the Chavez of the extraordinary congress of the PSUV announced his conversion to the programme of the destruction of the "bourgeois state" and the building of a "revolutionary state." This third Chavez was already implied in 2004, when the Leader got to know the British Trotskyist Alan Woods, and was fully manifest by the time of his defeat in the referendum of December 2007, shortly after the break with Dieterich. The PSUV is a result of Chavismo of the third period, as is also the proclamation of the 5th International.
The word palimpsest comes from the Greek words palin (again) and psao (to scratch or wipe out). A palimpsest is a manuscript rewritten on several times, the superposition of successive layers of text, in which the ancient layers do not disappear completely and maintain a complex relationship with the later writing. To the horror of the sophisticated Woods, Chavismo is a palimpsest of a doctrine that represents a bizarre mixture of the Bolivarian Patria Grande, a strategic alliance with Iran, the barbaric impulses of Leaderism and a difficult learning of the language of Marxism. The most recent text, however, takes precedence over the old and indicates the direction in which the "Bolivarian revolution" is moving. Chavez reacts to the crisis caused by his own regime, tightening the screws of the dictatorship and launching wildly on a campaign of expropriation.
Chavismo is a revolutionary regime, not a traditional populist government or a mere “Caudillo” phenomenon. The PSUV has, on paper, 7 million members, of which 2.5 million participated in the election of delegates to the extraordinary congress. The decline of Chavez, aggravated by the ongoing economic crisis, lends support to the predictions of his electoral defeat in September, but revolutionary regimes are not thrown out of power by votes. "I will not allow my leadership to be challenged, because I am the people, dammit!" the warlord of Caracas roared weeks ago. This man will not allow the people to contradict him at the polls. The inexorable decline of Chavismo will be bitter, dramatic, perhaps bloody. But its duration will depend essentially on the direction of the foreign policy of the new Brazilian government.
Several times Brazil spread a net under Chavez. Lula and Amorim protected the Venezuelan when he closed RCTV, when he was defeated in the constitutional referendum, during the Colombian hostage crisis, and the controversy over U.S. bases, and in the failed adventure of the return of Zelaya in Honduras. On behalf of the interests of Chavismo, the Brazilian president has wasted the opportunity of strategic cooperation with Barack Obama.
In the course of stabilization of the "Bolivarian revolution", Brazil regionally isolated the Venezuelan opposition, helping to consolidate the regime of Chavez. Now begins another cycle: the dismantling of the political and social bases of Chavismo. In the new scenario, Brazil becomes essential: only the South American power has the means and influence to carry for at least a few kilometres the coffin of this irascible Leader.
The government majority in the Senate approved Venezuela's entry into Mercosur, under the cynical argument that democracy in the neighbouring country would be better preserved by the virtual abolition of the democratic clauses of Mercosur. In meetings of the OAS, Brazilian diplomacy manoeuvres to avoid a clear condemnation of the Chavista offensive against the students and press freedom. In Caracas, a technical mission sent by the Brazilian government articulates a plan to rescue the Venezuelan electricity grid from collapse. The statement of support by Chavez for Lula's re-election was greeted with scorn by the revolutionary Chávistas. Today, even Woods must be secretly praying for the triumph of Dilma Rousseff.
Reply of Alan Woods - For the attention of Demétrio Magnoli
In your article of 4th February, you present an apocalyptic picture of President Chavez, who you say has experienced “three incarnations”. By this, you presumably mean that his views have evolved in recent years – to the left. That is a fact, but whether you see this change as good or bad will depend on your political standpoint and the interests you defend.
From the content of your article, I conclude that you stand on the right politically and are trying to defend the status quo, whereas as a Marxist I stand for socialist revolution. It is therefore quite natural that our attitudes towards Chávez will be radically opposed. Now there is nothing wrong in defending opposite points of view, but let us at least base ourselves on fact, not fiction.
You write: “original Chavismo flirted with anti-Semitism and dreamed of the establishment of an authoritarian, fascist-style state”. There is no basis whatever for making such assertions. One of his first actions Chávez took after winning the 1998 elections by a landslide was to hold a referendum on the Constitution, which remains the most democratic Constitution in the world. This is hardly the action of someone who wishes to establish a fascist-style state.
During the past decade Chávez has won more elections and other popular consultations than any other political leader in the world. Nor can it be argued that these elections and referenda were rigged. In no other country have elections been subjected to closer international scrutiny than in Venezuela. Yet nobody has been able to produce the slightest evidence that the elections were rigged.
What about the “democratic” opposition, for which you show such tender sympathy? In 2002 the Venezuelan oligarchy overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup, which was immediately recognized by Washington. Had the opposition succeeded, Venezuela would have ended up like Chile.
This is not the place to deal with the false notions of Heinz Dieterich, which you mention. I have dealt at length with that subject in my book Reformism or Revolution, which has recently been published in Brazil. It is sufficient to say that the basic mistake of Dieterich and other reformists is to assume that it is possible, to achieve socialism without expropriating the land, the banks and the major industries. This idea (which is shared by some people in Brazil) is a recipe for disaster.
You write that the “third Chavez was already implied in 2004, when the Leader got to know the British Trotskyist Alan Woods, and was fully manifest by the time of his defeat in the referendum of December 2007, shortly after the break with Dieterich. The PSUV is a result of Chavismo of the third period, as is also the proclamation of the 5th International.”
I am gratified with this statement, but in all honesty, I believe that you greatly overestimate my influence over the President, who has a mind of his own and is accustomed to making his own decisions. My own views on the revolutionary process can be summed up as follows: It is not possible to make half a revolution. Either the Revolution will take the economic power out of the hands of the landlords, bankers and capitalists, or it will fail. Either the Revolution will defeat the oligarchy, or the oligarchy will destroy the Revolution.
I have stated these views many times in Venezuela and they are well known to many people, including Hugo Chavez. But I have never presumed to tell anybody what to think. On the basis of experience, the working people of Venezuela can decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong, and they are doing so. The reformist wing, which represents the influence of the bourgeoisie within the Bolivarian Movement, is losing support, while the audience for revolutionary Marxist ideas is growing. You naturally see this as a bad thing, while I see it as extremely positive.
You contradict yourself when you write: “Chavismo is a revolutionary regime, not a traditional populist government or a mere ‘Caudillo’ phenomenon”. But three-quarters of your article is precisely intended to present Chavez as a mere Caudillo, an authoritarian, if not an outright fascist. You talk about Chavez “tightening the screws of the dictatorship and launching wildly on a campaign of expropriation”, about “destroying the bourgeois state” and so on. This is enough to make the hair of respectable Brazilian bourgeois stand on end. But I believe that many Brazilian workers and peasants will see things differently.
You complain about the measures taken against RCTV, the ultra-right TV station that actively prepared the coup in April 2002. I am not well acquainted with the laws concerning the mass media in Brazil, but I can say this. In my own country (which is generally regarded as having a long democratic tradition), if any TV station actively supported sedition, including advocating the assassination of the head of state, it would have its license immediately withdrawn and those responsible would find themselves in prison.
You eagerly anticipate “the inexorable decline of Chavismo”, which you claim, “will be bitter, dramatic, perhaps bloody”. Yes, for years all the reactionaries in North and South America have been hoping for this. But at every stage their hopes have been frustrated by the movement of the workers and peasants of Venezuela.
Can it be that this time the hopes of the imperialists will be justified? It is impossible to say. The Venezuelan Revolution, like all revolutions, is a struggle of living forces. It can be influenced by many factors, such as the present worldwide economic crisis, the exhaustion of the masses after over a decade of struggle, the immense pressure of imperialism, and last but not least, the mistakes of the leadership.
You say that the duration of Chavismo “will depend essentially on the direction of the foreign policy of the new Brazilian government”. What is the meaning of this cryptic and mysterious statement? You criticize the Lula government for not joining in the attacks against the Venezuelan Revolution. You say: “On behalf of the interests of Chavismo, the Brazilian president has wasted the opportunity of strategic cooperation with Barack Obama.” [my emphasis, AW]
The hatred of the imperialists for Hugo Chavez has nothing to do with his alleged “authoritarianism” (since when has Washington been afraid of authoritarian regimes?). It is because he has courageously stood up to them and denied the big transnational companies the right to continue their uncontrolled plunder of Venezuela’s oil. For generations US imperialism has exercised a brutal stranglehold over the mighty continent of Latin America, exploiting its people, draining its resources, interfering in its internal affairs, overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing dictatorships.
The Brazilian bourgeois are content to play the role of the local office-boys of imperialism, the local agents of the big American transnationals. They hate Hugo Chavez for the same reason as their masters in Washington. But when the workers and peasants of Brazil see what is happening in Venezuela, they will say: thank God somebody is prepared to stand up to these bloodsuckers! And they will add: when are we going to do something similar in Brazil?
Brazil, with its huge population and vast resources, is destined to play a key role in shaping the future of Latin America. The people of this great country must decide what kind of government they want and what kind of system they wish to live under. The massive vote for Lula showed that the Brazilian people want a fundamental change – just like the people of Venezuela.
I firmly believe that the future for Brazil, for Latin America and the whole world, can only be socialism – not the bureaucratic caricature of Stalinism, but a healthy and vibrant socialist democracy, when the land, the banks and the major industries are in the hands of the state, and the state is in the hands of the working people.
It is the great merit of the Bolivarian Revolution that it showed the people of Latin America that it is possible for the masses to bring about change through a great and powerful movement from below. The workers have shown that it is possible to take over the factories and run them under workers’ control.
It is the great merit of Hugo Chavez that he was prepared to tell the whole world that capitalism is a rotten and corrupt system that cannot serve the interests of humanity; that it cannot be reformed, but must be overthrown; and that the only alternative before humanity is socialism or barbarism. I understand, Senhor Magnoli, that this message is not at all to your liking. But that does not mean it is not true.
Finally, you say that “even Woods must be secretly praying for the triumph of Dilma Rousseff.” It is a very long time since I have prayed for anything, whether secretly or in public, but it goes without saying that I will support the candidate of the PT against the right wing bourgeois parties, just as it goes without saying that I will support the PSUV in Venezuela against the counterrevolutionary opposition.
But just as in Venezuela I will fight for the PSUV to carry out a genuinely socialist programme, so in Brazil I expect the candidate of the PT, elected by the votes of the workers and peasants, to carry out a policy in the interests of those who elected her, not those of US imperialism and the Brazilian capitalists. And there is nothing secret about that.
Alan Woods, London, 8th February, 2010