On Wednesday, January 10th Chavez was sworn in as president of Venezuela for a new term of office, and he delivered a speech in which he announced the members of the cabinet and repeated the main lines of his government, which had already been outlined in a major speech on Monday 8th.
After the massive victory in the presidential elections in December (in which Chavez received 7.3 million votes, 63%), Chavez had insisted that this was not a vote for himself, but rather a vote for the socialist project that he had been defending. The announcements made in the last few days in Venezuela send a clear and strong signal of the direction he intends to go in.
The composition of the new government can be considered a shift to the left. First of all vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, who had publicly opposed the expropriation of the Caracas golf courses by Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto and explicitly said that the government respected private property has been removed. He has been replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, who is generally seen as being on the left of the Bolivarian movement. His father, of the same name, was an historical leader of the Socialist League in the 1970s, and died as a result of torture while he was in the custody of the secret police.
Chavez also put emphasis on the fact that "for the first time in history, we have a minister of the Communist Party in Venezuela", referring to David Velasquez, the new Minister of Peoples' Power for Participation and Social Development. The Communist Party in Venezuela has not played a vanguard role in the Bolivarian revolution. Before Chavez started talking about the need to go beyond capitalism and of socialism as the only answer, the PCV insisted that socialism was not on the immediate agenda in Venezuela and that the Revolution was, at that stage, only about the struggle against imperialism, repeating the old and treacherous ideas of the Stalinist two-stage theory. The Party was caught off guard by Chavez's announcement about the need to struggle for socialism and in a 180 degree turn quickly tail-ended what the president had announced, thus following events rather than offering a lead.
Among the new ministers to be incorporated into the government Chavez also pointed to the new Minister of Labour, José Ramón Rivero, which he described as "young and a workers' leader". "When I called him" Chavez explained, "he said to me: 'president I want to tell you something before someone else tells you... I am a Trotskyist', and I said, 'well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky's line, that of permanent revolution."
José Ramón Rivero was a trade union leader in the state owned aluminium smelter Venalum, in the industrial state of Bolivar, and had become one of the members of parliament for the Bolivarian Workers' Front, FBT. In the recent period the FBT has been dominated by its most moderate elements that have launched a campaign against the left wing in the UNT. It remains to be seen what the attitude of Rivero as a Minister of Labour will be. He will be judged for his position in relation to workers' management, factory occupations, nationalisations and the defence of workers' rights.
But the statement of Chavez that he is a Trotskyist reflects the leftward evolution of his political thinking and his personal growing radicalisation. At the beginning of the Venezuelan revolution in 1998 Chavez quite openly admitted that he was in favour of the "third way" and did not in any way challenge capitalism as such. It was only in January 2005, at the time of the expropriation of Venepal, that he first said that "within the limits of capitalism there is no solution to the problems facing the Venezuelan masses" and that the revolution must go towards "socialism of the 21st century". This change in his political thinking came about as a result of several things, he said, of the experience of the Bolivarian Revolution (trying to apply basic reforms such as free healthcare and education for all and being confronted by an armed uprising on the part of the capitalist class), reading and discussing.
Shortly before he declared himself to be a socialist, he had bought a copy of Trotsky's Permanent Revolution, at a meeting in Madrid where he spoke in front of an audience of workers and youth at the headquarters of the Workers' Commissions trade union (the CCOO). He obviously became very interested in the ideas of Trotsky, as these provided a socialist ideal, which was completely opposed to the Stalinist caricature that had fallen in the Soviet Union. More or less at the same time, in an interview with Al Jazeera he explained that in his view, what had fallen in the Soviet Union "was not socialism, what was there had moved away a lot from the original aim of Lenin and of Trotsky, particularly after Stalin".
At that time this was a major turning point in the Bolivarian Revolution and opened up the debate about socialism and what it meant throughout Venezuelan society in an unprecedented way. The recent announcements by Chavez can be seen in the same way as yet another major turning point in the Revolution.
Chavez also stressed that the new ministers were "ministers of peoples' power" and that they should spend Monday to Wednesday in their offices carrying out their duties, but then from Thursday to Sunday they should be "out in the streets implementing a plan of work".
"Nothing, nobody will be able to divert us from the road towards Bolivarian socialism, Venezuelan socialism, our socialism" he stressed. In the swearing in ceremony as president he declared that the aim was to establish the Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela, and even the formula he used for taking the presidential oath was overtly socialist. "I swear for the people and for the fatherland that I will not give rest to my arm nor respite to my soul; that I will give my days and my nights and my whole life to the building of Venezuelan socialism, a new political system, a new social system, a new economic system." And he finished his speech with the new battle cry "Fatherland, Socialism or Death!"
Like any other major steps forward in the Bolivarian revolution, Chavez is both interpreting and responding to the pressure of the revolutionary masses from below, but at the same time taking the initiative, launching bold ideas and proposals and consciously pushing the whole process forward. The response of the revolutionary rank and file to the announcements made on Monday 8th, and particularly the nationalisation of telecom company CANTV and electricity company EDC, has been enthusiastic. Trade union activists have been contacting the UNT leaders expressing their support for these measures. The "Trade Union Alliance" at SIDOR, the steel works in Bolivar that were privatised in the 1990s have already issued a statement asking the president to renationalise the company. They have added that renationalisation should not be just a return to the previous situation when the SIDOR was state-owned, but rather that this should be accompanied by the introduction of workers' management like the one that is already being experienced in nearby aluminium smelter ALCASA.
The new minister of labour, Rivero, has already organised meetings with the trade unions representing workers in the companies that are to be nationalised to discuss their future, and has added that a discussion has taken place in the new council of ministers about the "setting up of workers' councils" in the companies, starting in the Ministry of Labour itself.
But also, like in previous turning points, the bureaucracy and the reformist elements within the Bolivarian movement (and particularly within its leadership) are already conspiring to water down the content of Chavez's announcements and proposals and to block the revolutionary initiative of the masses. The announcement of the nationalisation of CANTV and EDC immediately sent their shares into a downward spiral on the Caracas stock exchange and their trading was suspended. But quickly the new Minister of Finances Rodrigo Cabezas explained that, "the process of nationalisation will take place respecting the constitutional framework which amongst other things outlaws expropriations". This was not the line taken by Rivero, the new Minister of Labour, who reminded journalists that many workers and former workers of CANTV do own shares which they got during the privatisation process (as was the case in SIDOR) and that they, together with the government, represent 20% of the total shareholders. He said the government was looking for ways to protect the interests of these small shareholders, but not of those "who bought their shares on the New York stock exchange or somewhere else".
The struggle is therefore far from over and it is necessary for the revolutionary rank and file, and particularly the revolutionary trade unionists, to take the initiative on all fronts and to give content to all these announcements: the need to nationalise the key sectors of the economy, the need to dismantle the bourgeois state and replace it with a revolutionary state based on workers' and peoples' councils, and the building of a united party of socialist revolution. The Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) in Venezuela is insisting on the need to call a national workers' conference to discuss all these issues and the role of the working class in the new stage of the revolution, and that such a conference should launch a national day of action of factory occupations. This is closely linked to the struggle of workers at Sanitarios Maracay, the first company in Venezuela to be occupied by the workers where the workforce is producing and selling products under workers' control. A call has already been issued for a new national demonstration to support the call of Sanitarios Maracay workers for nationalisation under workers' control. This could become a focal point for the activity of the working class in the new stage of the Revolution, at a higher level than what the nationalisation of Venepal represented in 2005.
The next few months will be crucial for the future of the Bolivarian revolution and the working class must play a key role.
January 12, 2006
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