The London Hands off Venezuela campaign held an excellent meeting at the Walkers of Whitehall pub just off Trafalgar Square after the anti-war demonstration on March 19, 2005. Hands off Venezuela had a stall at the demonstration that attracted a lot of attention, where DVDs, pamphlets and leaflets were distributed on the revolutionary events in Venezuela.
There was a bit of a problem with the original venue for the meeting. The pub had double-booked their function room and was packed due to the rugby matches that day. We nearly cancelled the meeting when at the last minute we found the Walkers pub that agreed to allow us to host our meeting from 5:30 until 7:30. Even with the problems and the quick change of venue some 60 people turned up to the pub after the demo for the meeting.
David Raby speaking
Scandalously the meeting was disrupted just five minutes after it began by the Metropolitan Police, who entered the pub and demanded that the meeting be disbanded. The manager of the pub came downstairs to the meeting and informed us that we had to vacate the premises immediately because the police had arrived demanding that we leave. Some members of the Hands off Venezuela campaign asked if we could speak to the police and clarify the issue. The police clearly believed that we were holding some sort of “subversive” meeting planning some sort of violent action. We wanted to clarify that we were holding a peaceful meeting, and that it was our democratic right to do so. When members of the campaign got upstairs to speak to the police, they discovered that they had already left. We explained to the manager of the pub that we were holding a peaceful meeting and that there would be no trouble. He then agreed to allow us to continue our meeting, but that we would have to leave the pub by 7:00. It is an absolute scandal that our meeting was disrupted and truncated by the Metropolitan Police. This issue will be raised with MPs and a formal complaint will be made against the Metropolitan Police.
When the meeting got back under way David Raby (Institute of Latin American Studies, Liverpool) spoke about the significance of the Venezuelan revolution in Latin America and around the world. He pointed out that many on the left had failed to recognise that there was a revolution taking place in Venezuela because it did not fit into any historic mould, but now that Chavez had spoken about the necessity of socialism as the way forward for the revolution, many had woken up to the reality of the Bolivarian movement. He explained that what was taking place in Venezuela was a genuine revolution because of the participation of the masses in the political and economic life of the country and because the masses had taken their own destinies into their hands. This was seen in the recall referendum in August of last year with the organisation of the Electoral Battle Units (UBEs) where one million people were mobilised for the election. He mentioned that Allende in Chile didn’t even have that kind of support for his electoral success and never had a clear majority, unlike Chavez who has won nine elections with a clear majority. Another one of the major failings in Chile was that Allende was unable (or didn't really try) to transform the Armed Forces, whereas Chavez did and this was crucial. Chavez was able to generate a revolutionary movement within the military which transformed their consciousness and led to the majority of them (including some high-ranking officers) accepting their role as "the people in uniform". He spoke of the dangers facing the revolution and the threats of imperialism, and agreed with President Chavez that the only way forward for the revolution was socialism. He pointed out that the nationalisations taking place and Chavez’s willingness to mobilise the masses would go a long way in defending the revolution, pointing out that this is one of the failures of previous movements in Chile and Nicaragua.
His other key point was that the Left needs to learn from this experience that the revolutionary vanguard cannot be decreed or proclaimed by a group of well-intentioned people who adopt Marxist ideology and organise a party, if that party is not recognised by the masses; and that the vanguard may appear in very unexpected forms, which is what occurred with Chavez and the MBR-200.
Ramon Samblas, Secretary of the British Hands off Venezuela Campaign then spoke on the achievements of the revolution in Venezuela. He explained the importance of the victory of the masses against the attempted coup in April 2002, and the victory over the bosses in the oil lockout of 2002/2003. He mentioned the importance of the new social programs for literacy and healthcare, and explained the struggle of the peasants for land reform. He explained that perhaps one of the most important developments in the revolution was the nationalisation of Venepal under workers’ control. He finished by saying that the Venezuelan revolution would have major implications for the whole world, and in particular for Cuba and that one of the most important things we could do in the UK would be to join the Hands off Venezuela campaign and take part in defending the Venezuelan revolution.
Intervention from the audience
Heiko Koo, a Hands off Venezuela activist who has recently been to Venezuela, spoke about the politicisation of the masses. He explained that while people in the UK and most other Western countries were talking about football, the masses in Venezuela were talking about politics. He explained that when walking down the street or when in bars and cafes one can hear people speaking about events in Venezuela and around the world, about the law, and about history. This was because the masses had been awakened to struggle and the masses have understood the importance of these things to their daily lives. He explained that one good example of this was the field of mass communications, where everywhere there are local, independent radio and television stations being opened under the control of the masses and the communities they are based in. He pointed out that nearly everybody has potential access to the media, including school children who are involved in making a weekly educational programme on state television! He contrasted this with the situation in the UK, where technology should allow nearly everyone access to the media, yet in London, there is only one station where people can have some limited access. Heiko then said that this broad access to the media in Venezuela has improved people’s understanding of history. Documentaries on the history of struggle in Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua are regularly shown on television. This has led to widespread debate in the Bolivarian movement because people can see the parallels between events in Venezuela today and events in past. Heiko then connected the struggle in Venezuela and the anti-war movement by explaining that all anti-imperialist struggles must be seen as part of the wider struggle against imperialism itself. He explained that it was vitally important to be involved in the anti-war movement and against imperialist aggression in Iraq, but that similar things were being planned for Venezuela. He added that the US and the Venezuelan oligarchy had organised the coup in April 2002 in order to secure Venezuelan oil before the Iraq war and to stop the spreading of the revolution. None of the arguments used as excuses for the invasion of Iraq could be used in Venezuela because in Venezuela there is no dictator or any WMD. Chavez has been elected or won elections 9 times since 1998, and Venezuela is the most democratic country on earth, where not only do the masses have the right to recall any elected official but also the right to recall the President. He explained that there were plans by the US to assassinate Chavez and plans to provoke conflict between Colombia and Venezuela.
After the speakers there was a lively debate and discussion. Many people commented on the rottenness of the Blair government and the need to reclaim the Labour Party. Others spoke on the hypocrisy of imperialism and the lies being spread around the globe about the situation in Iraq and Venezuela and the necessity of defeating imperialism and capitalism both at home and abroad. There were several contributions on the importance of Chavez’s announcement on the necessity of socialism, saying that this was the only way forward, and was an inspiring step for the masses of Latin America and the whole world.