The need for Marxist theory in the Venezuelan Revolution - Introduction to the Venezuelan edition of Reason in Revolt

The Venezuelan edition of Reason in Revolt has just come out. Here we publish the Introduction where emphasis is placed on the need for Marxist theory, the catalyst that can speed up and complete the Venezuelan Revolution.

In January 2006, the Cuban edition of Reason in Revolt was launched at the Havana Book Fair. The event was introduced by my good friend Adan Chavez, the ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic in Cuba, who is also a physicist. In the course of his remarks, Adan said that Reason in Revolt was known in Venezuela as one of "the President's books". Now, just a few months later, the first Venezuelan edition is being published.

This is a very important development, which shows how seriously the ideas of Marxism are being taken in Latin America today. This is no accident. Despite its almost unlimited resources, the continent is tormented by tremendous human suffering, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, and disease. The gap that separates rich from poor has widened into an unbridgeable abyss. This produces an explosive mixture that undermines stability and causes frequent social and political convulsions.

The economic malaise that affects the entire continent of Latin America is part of a general world crisis that affects countless millions of people. In the first decade of the 21st century the whole world is in turmoil. This crisis takes many different forms: economic, financial, political, diplomatic and military. The most powerful nations, in the first place the United States, attempt to deal with the universal instability by military means. The only result is to exacerbate the problems and increase them a thousandfold.

The economic crises, wars, terrorism, political convulsions, hunger, disease and poverty are evident to everybody. However, they are not separate and unrelated phenomena, but only the external symptoms of a global crisis of capitalism. The same symptoms existed in other periods when a given socio-economic system had exhausted its progressive potential and entered a blind alley. They were present at the time of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and they also accompanied feudalism to its grave.

Lenin once said that capitalism is "horror without end." It is sufficient to take a quick look at the state of our planet today to see the correctness of this assertion. To try to solve a problem without first understanding its nature and causes would be futile. It is like a doctor who complains about the symptoms of a disease but does not bother to provide a diagnosis. If one is ill, it may be pleasant to hear someone commiserate, but it is much better to receive adequate treatment.

Dialectics and the Venezuelan Revolution

The enormous superiority of the method of Marxism can be seen in The Communist Manifesto, the founding document of scientific socialism. Written in 1848 by two young revolutionaries, this text is the most modern book one could read today. In fact, it is more relevant today than when it was written. Here we have a perfect description and analysis of the world, not as it was then, but as it is now. How many other books written over 150 years ago can make such a claim? This is the final answer to all those who argue that the ideas of Marxism are "old" ideas without relevance to the world we live in!

Marxism is based on a scientific method - the dialectical method. Dialectics was already known to the ancient Greeks and which was later developed by the great German idealist philosopher Hegel (1770-1831). In Hegel, however, the dialectic appears in an idealist and semi-mystical character. It was Marx and Engels, the founders of scientific socialism, who rescued the dialectic and placed it for the first time on a sound materialist foundation.

Dialectics is a dynamic philosophy that sees the world in a state of constant change. Moreover, it explains that every process inevitably leads to a critical point (to use a phrase from physics) where quantity becomes transformed into quality. This profound observation has a very wide field of application, not only in nature but also in society and politics. Although this has been questioned many times by the opponents of Marxism, the most recent discoveries of science have established beyond doubt the validity of dialectics. The present book deals with this in some detail.

Let us just take one example: chaos theory and its derivatives (complexity and ubiquity) makes use of the law of the transformation of quantity into quality. It can explain such varied phenomena as heart attacks, stock exchange crises, earthquakes, forest fires, avalanches, the rise and fall of animal populations, wars, revolutions and even changes in fashion and artistic schools. This can even be expressed mathematically in a type of equation known as a power law. This is a most extraordinary discovery.

The molecular process of socialist revolution

The transformation of quantity into quality is the essence of a revolution. There is a definite point where the power of the old ruling class is decisively shattered and the whole situation changes course. Unless and until this point is reached, the revolution cannot be said to be accomplished. How does this apply to Venezuela? Here we can definitely say that the Revolution has begun, but can we say that it has been completed? Can we say that there has been a decisive change in property relations and the state to the point that there can be no going back? Some people have said this. But in my view this is not only wrong but also irresponsible.

President Chavez himself has compared the Venezuelan Revolution to the myth of Sisyphus. In this old Greek legend, Sisyphus was forced to spend all eternity pushing a heavy boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back just before it reached the summit. The workers and peasants of Venezuela have accomplished miracles, but in spite of all their efforts, the Bolivarian Revolution has not yet passed that critical point where quantity is transformed into quality. The final chapter of the Bolivarian Revolution has not yet been written.

When I discussed my book with President Chavez several years ago, he told me that he was particularly impressed by the chapter entitled The Molecular Process of the Revolution. Here we read the following:

"In real life, as in chemistry, molecular processes take their time. No chemist would ever complain because the anticipated reaction was taking a long time, especially if the conditions for a speedy reaction (high temperature, etc.) were absent. But eventually, the chemical transition state is reached. At this point, the presence of a catalyst is of great assistance in bringing the process to a successful conclusion, in the speediest and most economical manner. In the same way, at a given point, the accumulated mood of discontent in the workplace boils over. The whole situation is transformed in the space of 24 hours. If the activists are not prepared, if they have allowed themselves to be deceived by the surface calm of the previous period, they will be taken completely off guard.

"In dialectics, sooner or later, things change into their opposite. In the words of the Bible, ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first.' We have seen this many times, not least in the history of great revolutions. Formerly backward and inert layers can catch up with a bang. Consciousness develops in sudden leaps. This can be seen in any strike. And in any strike we can see the elements of a revolution in an undeveloped, embryonic form. In such situations, the presence of a conscious and audacious minority can play a role quite similar to that of a catalyst in a chemical reaction. In certain instances, even a single individual can play an absolutely decisive role."

The President was very interested in something called Gibbs energy that I mentioned in this context. In fact, he mentioned it several times in his speeches. But what is Gibbs energy? In the same chapter I explained:

"The process of chemical reaction involves crossing a decisive barrier known as a transition state. At this point, before the reactants become products, they are neither one thing nor the other. Some of the old bonds are breaking and other new ones are being formed. The energy needed to pass this critical point is known as Gibbs energy. Before a molecule can react, it requires a quantity of energy which, at a certain point, brings it to the transition state. At normal temperatures only a minute fraction of the reactant molecules possess sufficient energy. At a greater temperature, a higher proportion of the molecules will have this energy. That is why heating is one way to speed up a chemical reaction. The process can be assisted by the use of catalysts, which are widely used in industry. Without catalysts, many processes, though they would still take place, would be so slow that they would be uneconomic. The catalyst cannot change the composition of the substances involved nor can it alter the Gibbs energy of the reactants, but it can provide an easier pathway between them."

One can make an approximate analogy between a catalyst in chemistry and the revolutionary party. At a time when all the objective conditions for revolution are given, we still require a catalyst to bring the process to fruition. Only men and women who understand what is necessary, and who possess sufficient energy and determination, can lead the masses to victory. This is the revolutionary equivalent of Gibbs energy.

The need for Marxist theory

When the President advanced the idea of socialism of the 21st century, he wished to make clear that the kind of socialism that is needed has nothing in common with the discredited bureaucratic model of Russian Stalinism. Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. But the kind of democracy that the working people need also has nothing in common with the corrupt bourgeois democracy of the United States - a "democracy" that is only a fig-leaf for the dictatorship of Big Business.

The first condition for the establishment of a real workers' democracy is the active participation of the masses in the revolution from the very beginning. No serious person can doubt the colossal role that has been played by President Chavez in the Bolivarian Revolution. But one man, no matter how talented or courageous, cannot carry out the revolution. A revolution by its very essence is the work of the masses and can only succeed to the degree that it mobilizes and arms the masses.

The first weapons that are needed are ideas - correct, scientific, revolutionary ideas that really correspond to the situation and the needs of the masses. Marx himself said that ideas become a material force when they grip the minds of the masses. And the only really consistent revolutionary ideas are the ideas of Marxism. It is absolutely imperative that the workers and youth of Venezuela, starting with the activists, the proletarian vanguard, should thoroughly acquaint themselves with these marvellous ideas. They are like a compass that points unerringly to the victory of the socialist revolution. If in a small way the present work helps to present Marxism to a broader public in Venezuela, my work will not have been in vain. Once they are armed with these ideas, and organized in a genuine mass Marxist tendency, the workers of Venezuela will be invincible.

London, June 16, 2006