Successful Hands Off Venezuela meeting at Portcullis House (London, UK)

The Hands Off Venezuela campaign public meeting held on September 7 in Portcullis House (Houses of Parliament annex) was very successful with around 70 people attending, among them a sizeable group of the local Bolivarian Circle. The meeting also attracted a sizeable number of trade unionists and youth, who were keen to understand what is going on in Venezuela. It was of particular importance as it was the first time that a public debate was being held in London since the recall referendum took place on August 15.

The Hands Off Venezuela campaign public meeting held on September 7 in Portcullis House (Houses of Parliament annex) was very successful with around 70 people attending, among them a group of the local Bolivarian Circle, who arrived wearing red Bolivarian caps and T-shirts supporting the "No" in the referendum.

The meeting also attracted a sizeable number of trade unionists and youth, who were keen to understand what is going on in Venezuela. It was of particular importance as it was the first time that a public debate was being held in London since the recall referendum took place on August 15.

Among the speakers were two Labour MPs, John McDonnell, leader of the Campaign Group of MPs, the left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, another well known left Labour MP, who is known for his socialist views on many issues and also for having voted against Blairite policy repeatedly over the past few years.

Alongside them were Alan Woods, editor of the In Defence of Marxism web site ( and Jorge Martin, international secretary of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign ( and the European correspondent of "El Topo Obrero" (journal of the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current).

Alan Woods has visited Venezuela on several occasions, the most important visit being last April when he was officially invited to take part in the celebrations around the second anniversary of the defeat of the 2002 coup. He was invited because of the authority he has built up as the editor of through his many articles analysing events in Venezuela, and because he was among the first to promote the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. While he was there he met Chavez personally and spoke at several meetings where Chavez was present (see Encounters with Hugo Chavez). He has also discussed with many activists in the Bolivarian movement. Because of his experience, Alan was able to give a very good insight into what is really happening in the country.

Jorge Martin, on the other hand has paid lengthy visits to Venezuela, as part of his task of promoting and building up the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, and he has just returned from his latest visit there. Therefore he could give some very interesting first hand accounts of the latest developments.

We have to highlight the role of John McDonnell in supporting and promoting the Hands Off Venezuela campaign (see also Labour MP publicises Hands off Venezuela appeal). He explained how he has used his position as leader of the left of the Labour Party to spread the message of the Bolivarian Revolution here in Britain. He explained how he presented in parliament an "Early Day Motion" in support of the popular movement in Venezuela, for which he got the support of 30 Labour MPs. Although this is not going to change the views of Tony Blair and the Cabinet, it does play an important role in getting the question discussed and brings to the attention of many activists on the left what is going in Venezuela.

John McDonnell has repeatedly expressed his sympathies for the struggle against imperialism in Venezuela in speeches and press statements. In his introductory speech he commented on the experience of Chile in 1973 and he linked the movement in Venezuela with the experiences of the Chilean people back in the 1970s.

He rounded off his speech by expressing his commitment to gather Left Labour MPs in favour of the Venezuelan Revolution and to give the Hands off Venezuela campaign "a parliamentary voice". But he did not limit his commitment simply to the parliamentary level. He emphasised the need to extend the Venezuelan solidarity campaign to the wider labour movement, in particular to the trade unions and he also stressed the need for international solidarity.

Jorge Martin spoke after John MacDonnell explaining the role of the international and Venezuelan bourgeois media in spreading lies and distortions. He gave a full report on how the media has consistently tried to undermine the popular movement in Venezuela. He explained how so-called "serious" newspapers like "El Universal" and others have been openly talking about another coup d'etat and they have even openly discussed in their pages the idea of assassinating Chavez.

He compared this to Britain, and pointed to the fact that if this were done here, there is no doubt that the authors of such articles would be arrested. Can you imagine a journalist here openly calling for the assassination of Tony Blair? It would not be tolerated. And yet Chavez shows incredible tolerance of these right-wing reactionaries and lets them continue unhindered in their dirty work. In spite of this the western media continue to brand Chavez as a "dictator". If any criticism can be made of Chavez on this question, it is that he is too mild with these people, the exact opposite of what the western media accuse him of.

Jorge Martin remarked on the achievements of the Revolution concerning the media. Vive TV, the second state TV channel which is run by people previously linked to the free and community media, is the best example of how an entertaining, educational and progressive media is possible. He also described how the movement, the grassroots, the rank and file workers and poor, organised themselves to win the referendum.

But the most inspiring part of his speech was when he talked about how the Venezuelan workers had taken over and run the state-owned oil company by themselves during the opposition organised sabotage of the company. Jorge Martin pointed out that the workers had demonstrated concretely that "bosses are not needed to run one of the most sophisticated companies in the world – the PDVSA oil company". The experience of the oil workers highlights the power of the conscious movement of our class.

John McDonnell, Alan Woods, and Jorge Martin John McDonnell, Alan Woods, and Jorge Martin Alan Woods analysed the situation after the recall referendum. He congratulated the Venezuelan masses for their victory but he advised them to remain vigilant. In referring to the results of the recall referendum he said, "We've had a victory in a battle but the war is not finished". He explained what a revolution is. Many people see a revolution as the day the barricades are manned. That is ignoring the real process of revolution. Alan explained that a revolution is when the mass of working people say, "enough is enough" and decide to take their destiny into their own hands.

He explained how the poor and downtrodden masses of Venezuela have risen to their feet. They have acquired a dignity they did not feel they had before. He stressed how the reforms carried out by Chavez, the free education, healthcare, cheap food for the poor, etc., were the basis of the mass support for Chavez. He pointed out that as opposed to Britain or the USA, in Venezuela there is a concrete difference between the "Opposition" and the Chavez government, and the masses can feel this. That is why they turned out so massively in the elections.

Alan, however, warned that there is no guarantee that these reforms will be maintained. He explained that the Opposition had received a serious blow in the referendum, but the Venezuelan oligarchy and its imperialist backers will not give up. They are already discussing what step to take next. So long as the economic levers of the country remain in their hands the revolution is still in danger. He added that it was the duty of workers and youth internationally to support the revolution in Venezuela.

After the speakers had finished giving their introductory remarks, there was a very interesting debate. There was a lively discussion about what the tasks of our Venezuelan brothers and sisters are in order to defend and ensure the future of the Revolution. Calls were made to set up solidarity links between British and Venezuelan students. Different activists from the RMT, the NUJ, the Bolivarian Circle, the Global Women Strike, the Labour Party and the Hands Off Venezuela campaign itself put forward their views.

Others recalled their experiences in solidarity movements against the South African Apartheid regime in the past and in solidarity with the Chilean people. An Iranian activist invited the audience to support the Iranian workers who have been arrested in the Kurdish area of Iran and are facing trial (see Mobilise to stop the Saghez activists' trial!), highlighting the internationalist approach of the meeting as a whole.

Most of those taking part were enthusiastic supporters of the revolutionary developments in Venezuela. There was one member of the public, however, who said he was quite worried and even frightened to hear people talking of revolution. Some of the comrades had raised the need for the workers of Venezuela to be armed and to be trained in the use of arms. This is the only way of defending the revolution against coup plotters or foreign invaders. But this individual thought that this kind of talk would frighten people away and reduce support for the Bolivarian movement. To give an idea of his thinking, he said there were no longer classes in Britain, and that anyone could make it to the top here. This provoked bemusement and laughter on the part of those present.

One RMT member present asked the MPs what could really be achieved by being in the Labour Party. In his concluding remarks John McDonnell explained that we are not going to convince Blair, but that there are many people in the Labour Party, including Members of Parliament who are fighting to win the Labour Party to socialist ideas. He stressed the need to fight to change the party.

Jeremy CorbynJeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn arrived a little later during the debate as he had a prior commitment, a meeting with Hans Blix who had come to speak on his experience in trying to find non-existent "Weapons of Mass Destruction".

Jeremy is also quite involved in solidarity activity with the struggle of the Latin American masses. He is one of the public voices in Britain who has consistently denounced the brutal conditions the Colombian trade unionists have to suffer every day.

He pointed out that the Venezuelan Revolution is a beacon for all the Latin American masses. He also showed interest in the establishment of a solidarity movement in Britain with the courageous struggle of the Latin American masses starting with Venezuela. One of his comments that caught the ear of the audience was his definition of the recall referendum as "a rightwing plot with an amazing result". He correctly reminded the audience that the campaign to have a recall referendum was in fact a manoeuvre of the opposition, in the first place.

Jeremy reminded the audience of the terrible fate of the Chilean workers back in 1973. He said that then the solidarity movement developed after the terrible 1973 Pinochet coup. He said that today we mustn't wait for a defeat, but we must organise solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution now.

He recounted one curious experience he had had at the time of the April 2002 coup in Venezuela that had attempted to remove Chavez from power. He reminded everyone of how the Bush administration had immediately come out in support of the coup. But even here in Britain a certain undersecretary in the Foreign Office had also declared support for the coup. On the Monday, by which time Chavez had been put back in power by the masses, Jeremy asked him "which government do we support now?" Apparently the reply that came back was a very short one involving two words, the first of which began with an "f".

In his concluding remarks, Alan Woods answered some of the points that had been raised. Some of those present had emphasised the need for "peaceful revolution". One member of the audience had said that "we fight the opposition with the Constitution". Alan pointed out that Marxists are in favour of peaceful change. We are also realists. The opposition will not use peaceful means. That is why the revolutionary movement must be prepared, and the workers must know how to use arms. How else can you defend the democratically elected government of Venezuela against coup plotters and foreign armies.

He added, however, that the only real long-lasting solution is to expropriate the oligarchs, to take over the commanding heights of the economy and place them under democratic workers' control and management. He pointed out that during the American Revolution, the property of those supporting the British was expropriated. What was good for the American Revolution is good for the Venezuelan.

At the end of the meeting we found out that whether they agreed or not with the different speakers and different opinions put forward during the debate, people had enjoyed the meeting and learnt something from it. There was a collection for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign which raised £120.

One of the comrades who intervened from West London explained how in their area they had organised a party in solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution. Forty people attended and Jorge Martin spoke to those present. The event raised £200 pounds for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Other initiatives like this are also planned.

The meeting ended with most of those attending going to the pub to continue the discussion informally. The members of the local Bolivarian circle seemed very happy to see so many people taking an interest in what is happening back home in their country.

September 8, 2004

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