An interview with Alan Woods on the Venezuelan revolution today

Alan Woods was recently interviewed by the Humania del Sur magazine, published by the Universidad de Los Andes, in Mérida, Venezuela. They asked him his opinions about the Bolivarian revolution unfolding in Venezuela today, touching on questions such as freedom of the media, the stage the revolution is at, and the need to complete the revolution.

John Riddell, in his review of your book "The Venezuelan Revolution, a Marxist perspective", wonders if a small Marxist current like the one you lead can influence the course of events in the world and says that at least you have the merit of going part of the way together with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. How was this possible? How did you manage it? Did they contact you? Tell us how your first meeting with Chavez was and how the relation between the International Marxist tendency, the government of Hugo Chávez and the sectors that support it are developing. Do you really believe you can influence events in Venezuela in some way?

History shows that a small group with clear ideas can play a decisive role in certain historical situations, while a big mass party with incorrect ideas can be transformed in a given moment into a great zero. It is sufficient to recall on the one hand the Bolshevik Party which, at the beginning of 1917 was a small minority in Russia, and on the other hand the collapse of the Social Democratic and Communist parties in Germany in 1933.

It is true that the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria is as yet very small in Venezuela, but we are very strong in ideas, and that in the last instance is the only guarantee of success. I might add that it was precisely the strength of our ideas that led to my first encounter with President Chávez, who had read my book Reason in Revolt, which he liked and which he has been so kind as to recommend on several occasions.

As to the influence we might have in Venezuela, that depends in part on the work of the Venezuelan Marxists, in part on the experience of the masses. In general the masses do not learn from books but from experience. But in a revolution the masses learn more in one week than in a decade of normal life. Lenin used to say that for the masses an ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory - and he was a great theoretician.

The masses have already learnt many things in this decade of revolution. They know how to distinguish their real friends from their enemies (even when these wear a red shirt). We could put it this way: although the masses may not know exactly what they want, they know full well what they do not want. The development of consciousness continues: the influence of the reformists is declining and that of the most revolutionary wing, together with that of the Marxist tendency that I have the honour of representing is growing.

You have openly expressed your admiration for President Chávez. However, you have said that you consider that the Bolivarian Revolution is "incomplete". What do you mean by this?

The Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution in the sense that Trotsky explained in The History of the Russian Revolution, that is, a situation in which the masses participate actively in politics and try to take their destiny into their own hands and change society from the bottom. But it is unfinished because it has not yet succeeded in expropriating totally the oligarchy and the old state apparatus remains more or less intact. As long as things continue like this, it cannot be said that the revolution is irreversible. President Chávez once compared it to the myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a heavy boulder to the top of a hill, at which point it always rolled back to the starting-point. The problem is that if this particular rock rolls backwards, it will crush a lot of people.

Trotsky once said: "truth and not lies is the motor-force of history". What, in your opinion, is the truth of the Bolivarian Revolution? And what are the lies? Are we in the presence of a real transformation of Venezuelan reality, heading for socialism of the xxi century or is it all a deception that will end in the consolidation of a new political and economic elite that has nothing in common with revolution or socialism?

The great truth is that in a revolution - that means also the Bolivarian - in the end one class has to win and the other lose, and that throughout history no ruling class has ever surrendered without a pitiless struggle. The great lie consists in empty and vainglorious declarations to the effect that the Bolivarian Revolution "is irreversible" and other such stupid and irresponsible nonsense which merely attempts to deceive the people and lull it to sleep instead of arousing it to struggle against the danger of counter-revolution.

As for the so-called theory of socialism of the XXI century, I think it is an attempt to distort the ideas of President Chávez and to divert the process towards reformism. People like Heinz Dieterich are striving by all means to water down the revolutionary message of the President and fill it with a completely reformist one. They are opposed to nationalisations, they preach reconciliation between the classes, that is, they are trying to teach the tiger to eat lettuce. And they call this nonsense "realism"! I am writing a book against the ideas of Dieterich and the reformists, and I hope to make clear the difference between Marxism - the authentically revolutionary theory - and this caricature.

What other criticisms would you make of the Bolivarian Revolution, apart from the fact that you consider it to be incomplete?

Some time ago Hugo Chávez asked me the same question. I replied in the following way. Your revolution is a real source of inspiration for millions. That is the most important thing. But it does have some weak points, for example, the absence of a clearly defined programme and policy, and the lack of politically educated cadres; in other words, the lack of a revolutionary party, the lack of a revolutionary leadership.

It is true that later there have been attempts to remedy some of these failings. For example, the President has proclaimed the socialist character of the Revolution - something that our Tendency has been advocating from the very beginning. But this idea is meeting with stubborn resistance from the reformists and Stalinists. The battle is not yet won.

What do you think of the criticisms of the Venezuelan opposition that the President has displayed authoritarian attitudes and that his condition as a military man does not favour the democratic rules of play? For example, what is your opinion about his declared intention of remaining in power for an unlimited term and his comments about a "peaceful but not unarmed" revolution? Are socialism and democracy incompatible?

Why should they be? Socialism is democratic or it is nothing! Of course, when I speak of democracy I do not refer to the vulgar caricature of bourgeois democracy - which is only another name for the dictatorship of big Capital. What democracy exists in the USA, where there are supposed to be two parties that, as Gore Vidal explains very well, are really only one party representing different wings of the bourgeoisie. In order to be President of the USA one has to be a millionaire. What kind of a democracy is that?

The protests of the Venezuelan opposition are pure hypocrisy. They have lost the elections and referendums, one after another. They lost again last December when Chávez obtained the biggest majority in the history of Venezuela. And they cannot say that this was a fraud! These elections were the most highly scrutinized in the history of the world! They were all out there in Caracas, searching with a magnifying glass for even the smallest evidence of fraud. If they had found any they would have shouted it from the rooftops. But they did not find anything.

These elections provide a very clear mandate to the Bolivarian government - a mandate for fundamental change in society. That is what the masses are really demanding! Hugo Chávez must carry out the wishes of those who voted for him, the workers and peasants, the poor people and the youth, ignoring completely the howling of the counterrevolutionary opposition, which is nothing but the mouthpiece of the corrupt and reactionary oligarchy and its master in Washington. We must take drastic and urgent measures. It is high time to carry out the expropriation of the oligarchy!

Concerning the question of the media and information in Venezuela, ever since Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías assumed the Presidency of the Republic in December 1998, the government has been reducing the freedom of the press, which is defined as "the guarantee by the government of freedom of expression for citizens and associations, including those dedicated to the collection and broadcasting of information" while strengthening the media owned by the state, which are dedicated to the transmission of programmes of an "ideological" character. Isn't this contrary to human rights? Is socialism against rights?

Come on, now! How can we speak of freedom of the media, of the means of communication, when all these are owned by a handful of rich men like Rupert Murdoch? The so-called freedom of expression in Britain and the USA is a joke in very bad taste!

Of course, socialism must respect human rights. But let us start by defending the rights of the overwhelming majority of the population who, until now, never had any real rights or a voice to express their opinions. What we should do is to nationalise the press, the radio and television, but not leave these things in the hands of the state (we do not want a totalitarian state as in the USSR) but to guarantee access to the media to any party, social or trade union organization according to the number of members, votes in elections, etc. they have. Thus, the PSUV would have several daily papers and more than one TV station, and the owners of RCTV could have a small monthly journal like El Militante which they would be free to sell at the bus stops... That is to say, we would give the bourgeois the same rights they give to us, neither more nor less.

What do you think of the case of Radio Caracas Televisión, a company with more than 50 years of history, which had its licence cancelled by the government in May?

As far as RCTV is concerned, everybody knows that this was a counterrevolutionary ("golpista") station. If I were to criticize the President, I would say he should have acted a lot sooner against this nest of vipers. And he should not only have closed them down but he should have arrested the bosses and put them on trial.

Yet again, the orchestrated campaign over this issue is just plain hypocrisy. I can assure you that if a British TV company had attacked Blair in the same way that this lot did to Chávez, advocating a coup and even the assassination of the head of state, they would be in prison before their feet could touch the ground. No! The problem here is not that we "have gone too far", as Heinz Dieterich and others think, but that we have been too soft. For example, how many of the April 2002 conspirators are behind bars? As far as I know, not one. This would not be the case in the USA, I can assure you!

Many chavistas are sceptical about the President's appeal to form the PSUV, because they fear that it may be an attempt to control and silence internal dissent. What do you think about this? Is a single party an instrument suitable for promoting a "revolution within the revolution" which is what you support?

On the one hand, it is evident that the working class needs a political party and also that the old parties that made up the MVR were very bad, totally taken over by the bureaucracy and the reformists. Therefore, it seems to me that the proclamation of the PSUV could be an important step forward, but only on condition that it is a genuinely revolutionary party, that is, a democratic and class party, controlled by the working class rank and file and not just another bureaucratic apparatus for the careerists and opportunists. Here also the presence of a strong Marxist tendency is absolutely necessary.

Your book on Venezuela has been translated into various languages, including Urdu. This has made Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution known in countries like India and Pakistan. Do you really think that what is happening in Venezuela is an example for the world? If so, why?

It is true that my book has been a great success because it fills a vacuum. Unfortunately, a great part of the Left internationally has not understood the significance of the Bolivarian Revolution, although this situation is changing rapidly, as people begin to find out what is going on in Venezuela. In all this a very important role has been played, and is still being played, by our international campaign Hands off Venezuela.

Why is the Venezuelan revolution important for the rest of the world? Well, in the first place, all this should not be happening! After the fall of the USSR the bourgeoisie succumbed to a mood of euphoria. They spoke of the end of socialism, the end of communism, of revolution, even the end of history. Now Venezuela has turned all these delusions on their head! The Bolivarian Revolution is like an echo of those famous last words of Galileo: "Eppur si muove!" (And yet, it moves!).

In the last period capitalism has demonstrated that it is incapable of satisfying the most basic necessities of the masses. On all sides we see more hunger, more diseases, more misery, more wars. But there is also an increasing reaction by the people. Classical physics says: every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. That is also true in politics! The mass movement increasingly tends to question the capitalist system - even in the USA. And Venezuela offers a point of reference for these movements. That is why the imperialists are hell-bent on destroying the Bolivarian Revolution at all costs, because it gives an example to millions of exploited and oppressed people in America and further afield.

In Venezuela there is a class struggle that has an increasingly sharp and ferocious character. We still do not know how it will end. But we do know on what side of the barricades we are! With the workers and peasants and against the bourgeois, bankers and landowners! With the revolutionary youth and the vanguard that wants to carry the revolution forward, striking hard blows against the counter-revolutionaries, and against the timid reformists and cowardly and treacherous bureaucrats!

If anyone had any doubt about whether we should support the Bolivarian Revolution, it is only necessary to see the attitude of US imperialism, which does not conceal its plans to overthrow Chávez and is backing the counter-revolution. This detail is sufficient to convince anyone of the necessity to rally to the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution. But in order to defend it seriously, it is absolutely necessary to go further, liquidating the economic power of the oligarchy. It is not sufficient to talk about socialism; it is necessary to make it a reality! And this can only be done when the working class takes power into its hands.

Once the working class takes power into its hands, the Bolivarian Revolution will lose its ambiguous and indecisive character and will acquire an irresistible strength, passing beyond the narrow national frontiers and transforming itself rapidly into a continental revolutionary movement. The conditions are more than ripe for this! Today there is not a single stable bourgeois regime in all Latin America - from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. The great vision of the Libertador, Simon Bolivar, of the revolutionary unification of Latin America, would be feasible for the first time. But it would only be possible in a Socialist Federation of Latin America, which in turn would be the first step towards world socialism.

London, 6 June, 2007

[Note: to be published shortly in Revista Humania del Sur, Revista de Estudios Latinoamericanos Africanos y Asiáticos de la Facultad de Humanidades y Educación de la Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida - Venezuela,]

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