The Nationalisation of Venepal: What does it signify?

Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. Although the nationalisation of Venepal in itself it does not yet mean a qualitative change in the class nature of the Venezuelan Revolution, this bold measure certainly signifies a step in the right direction. It indicates that the working class is intervening in the Revolution with increasing determination, pressing for its independent class interests, demanding a break with capitalism and pushing the Revolution forwards.

“Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defense. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertain-ing the deepest sympathy for the struggle that Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer greatly appreciated this moral support.

“The international proletariat has no reason to identify its program with the program of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing color, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organization of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.”

(Leon Trotsky: Mexico And British Imperialism, Socialist Appeal, 25 June, 1938)

Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. The nationalisation of Venepal under decree number 3438 marks a sharp new turn in the situation. It is a blow against the corrupt and rotten Venezuelan oligarchy and the imperialist robbers who stand behind it. It will be welcomed enthusiastically by the workers of all countries, in the same way that Trotsky welcomed the nationalisation of the Mexican oil industry by President Lazaro Cardenas in 1938.

Although in itself it does not yet mean a qualitative change in the class nature of the Venezuelan Revolution, this bold measure certainly signifies a step in the right direction. It indicates that the working class is intervening in the Revolution with increasing determination, pressing for its independent class interests, demanding a break with capitalism and pushing the Revolution forwards. This, and this alone, can guarantee the final and decisive victory.

The Venezuelan revolution began as a national democratic revolution that did not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism and private property. Despite this fact, it immediately aroused the hatred and the implacable opposition of the Venezuelan oligarchy and its masters in Washington and of the bourgeoisie and reactionaries of Latin America and the rest of the world.

From the very beginning, the international Marxist tendency represented by Marxist.com has consistently defended the Venezuelan Revolution against its enemies. It is the elementary duty of all workers and progressive people everywhere to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against the conspiracies of imperialism and the oligarchy. At the same time, the Marxists defend their own policies, ideas and programme. We stand firmly on the basis of the proletariat and, within the general process of the national democratic revolution, defend its independent class demands. Our slogan is that of Lenin: “march separately and strike together!”

President Hugo Chavez, like Lazaro Cardenas, has shown himself to be a courageous champion of the poor and oppressed and a fearless fighter against imperialism. Until now he did not pose the question of socialism. But by boldly challenging the privileges of the ruling class and resisting the pressure of imperialism, he inevitably placed himself on a collision course with the forces of the old society. This has a logic and a dynamic of its own.

The whole logic of the revolution tends to exacerbate the contradictions between the Venezuelan landlords and capitalists on the one hand, backed by imperialism, and the Venezuelan workers and poor peasants, backed by the masses in Latin America and the world Labour Movement, on the other. Not to see this fact would be unpardonable stupidity. Not to see that the struggle must be fought out to the end and can only result in the decisive victory of one class over another would be reformist blindness.

The destiny of the Venezuelan revolution will be decided by the class struggle. The final outcome is not yet sure. What is completely sure is that the only force that has saved the Revolution time and again from defeat is the masses: the workers and poor peasants, who have repeatedly demonstrated their unshakable loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution, their willingness to fight and to make the utmost sacrifices to defend it against its enemies. This is the real base of the Revolution, its true strength, its only hope.

Muddle headed reformists try to blur the differences between different classes in the Revolution. They speak of the “people” as a homogeneous bloc, when in reality it is an empty abstraction that conceals a sharp difference of interests. What does the Venezuelan worker have in common with the capitalists? What does the Venezuelan peasant have in common with the landlords? What does the Venezuelan small shopkeeper have in common with the bankers and moneylenders?

At every decisive turn in the Revolution, the role of the different classes has become manifest. The bankers, landlords and capitalists have resisted the Revolution, sabotaged it and attempted to overthrow it. And who saved the Revolution at every stage? It was the masses, and the working class in the first place, who saved the Revolution in the coup of April 2002, and it was the workers who saved it at the time of the bosses’ lockout that was designed to paralyse the economy and bring it to its knees. Finally, it was the masses who rallied magnificently to the defence of the Revolution in the August referendum that inflicted a crushing blow to the counterrevolution.

The threat of counterrevolution

All these events were great victories that demonstrated the colossal power of the masses, once they are mobilised to fight for a better world. We celebrated these victories, but at the same time we warned that the war was not over, that the enemies of the Revolution were not decisively defeated, and that they would regroup and organise new counteroffensives, one after the other.

Events in recent weeks have proved that we were right. Those who imagined that the referendum result would silence the enemies of the revolution have been proven wrong. The imperialists are not in the slightest interested in the rules of formal democracy. They see the Venezuelan revolution as a serious threat to their most vital interests and will not stop until they have destroyed it. Condoleeza Rice was no sooner installed in her new position than she attacked Venezuela. That shows that Washington remains intransigently hostile to Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. No amount of fine words or diplomatic gestures will appease the US imperialists!

George Bush and his allies inside Venezuela will stop at nothing to eliminate Hugo Chavez and liquidate the Venezuelan Revolution. The only real allies of the Venezuelan Revolution are the masses of workers and poor peasants of Latin America and the world Labour Movement. The kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla by Colombian agents in collaboration with elements of the Venezuelan armed forces indicates what was evident to all but the blindest of the blind: that US imperialism and its puppets in Bogota have not abandoned their intrigues against the Venezuelan Revolution.

The counterrevolutionaries remain active. New conspiracies are being hatched. The kidnapping in Caracas showed that Washington is still using its puppets in Bogotá to attack and undermine the Venezuelan Revolution. Its armed agents operate with impunity on Venezuelan soil. The fact that they were aided by elements within the Venezuelan armed forces indicates that counterrevolutionary elements still exist within the state and are conspiring with the enemies of the Revolution at home and abroad.

The power of US imperialism is very great but it has definite limits. Washington cannot permit itself the luxury of intervening militarily in Venezuela at a time when it is bogged down in an unwinnable conflict in Iraq. But it can intervene indirectly, using Colombia and the OAS. After the scandal of the kidnapping, Peru, Mexico and Brazil have all hastened to offer their services to “mediate”, that is, to place Venezuela in the accused bench for allegedly allowing foreign guerrillas to enter its territory, while drawing attention away from the criminal activities of the Colombian government and armed forces and their paymasters in Washington.

Against the power of imperialism and the oligarchy, the Bolivarian Revolution has its own powerful reserves of support: the power of the masses in struggle for their rights, the workers, the peasants, the revolutionary youth and the progressive intelligentsia. The US imperialists have the support of their hired mercenaries in Colombia and their despicable jackals in the OAS. But the Bolivarian Revolution has infinitely greater points of support – the oppressed masses of the whole of Latin America and the working class of the entire world.

Just as Simon Bolivar understood the need to carry the flame of revolution to the whole of Latin America, so the modern inheritors of Bolivar have the same mission. They can succeed where he failed – on one condition, that they do not allow themselves to be hypnotised by slavish respect for private property, bourgeois legality and the nation state.

Clarity is needed!

Genuine Marxists (as opposed to sectarian chatterboxes) have energetically supported the Venezuelan Revolution. But support for the Chavez government against imperialism and the counterrevolutionary oligarchy does not necessarily mean uncritical acceptance of everything that is done in Caracas. Like every successful revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution has attracted a large number of “friends” and admirers – some of whom only yesterday were its sternest critics. These are fair weather friends who will turn their backs on the Revolution the moment it finds itself in difficulties. With “friends” like these one does not need enemies!

These “friends of Venezuela” provide a regular chorus of praise and adulation. They insist that we should not criticise the government but simply nod in agreement. The workers and revolutionaries of Venezuela do not need flattery. As Lenin once said, talk, rhetoric and flattery have ruined more than one revolution. What is needed is an honest and frank appraisal of the Revolution, its strong points and weaknesses, its successes and failures. Only on the basis of an honest discussion can the Revolution learn and go forward. What is needed is clarity.


Unfortunately, the programme of the Bolivarians is not always very clear. Even the present measures in relation to Venepal are not entirely clear. The government has said that it will invest a lot of money in the company in order to make it viable. The state will be the owner at the beginning but there are hints that afterwards it will be given over to the workers as a cooperative as payment for the back wages that are owed to them. There has also been talk of co-management between the workers and the state (which could mean a whole range of different things, from workers being represented in the directors board, to workers control, etc).

It is necessary to clarify all these questions and to open a debate on the future direction, not just of Venepal, but of the Bolivarian Revolution itself. In this debate the Marxists will give critical support to the leaders of the national democratic revolution. We will say: “This is a start, an important start – but only a start. The nationalisation of Venepal is very good, as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. One swallow does not make a summer, and one nationalised firm does not make a socialist revolution. However, in order to succeed, the national democratic revolution must transform itself into a socialist revolution.”

Nevertheless, it is necessary to see the other side of the question. The real strength of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution was that it has brought the masses to their feet. Once the working class enters the arena of struggle, it acquires a dynamic and a movement of its own. The strength of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela lies not in its understanding of theory but in its daily practice. Its deeds speak louder than its words. Its actions far outstrip its consciousness. But sooner or later the masses will become conscious of the real meaning of their actions. They will come to understand the objective necessity of a radical break with capitalism. The recent speeches of President Chavez are already an anticipation of this.

Marx once pointed out that for the masses, one real step forward was worth a hundred correct programmes. And Lenin said that for the masses an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. The working class, whether in Venezuela, Britain or Russia, does not learn from books, but from experience. “Life teaches” says the Russian proverb. The workers learn from events, especially great events like the Venezuelan Revolution. They are learning fast through active participation. It was the pressure of the workers from below that led to the nationalisation of Venepal, and this in its turn will strengthen the tendency towards the statisation of the productive forces, towards a break with capitalism, towards a democratic socialist plan of production.

“Appetite comes with eating”

There is an old proverb: “appetite comes with eating”. The nationalisation of Venepal is a big step forward. Its great merit is that is has broken the ice and opened the flood gates. Workers will be asking questions: why should nationalisation be limited to factories that are bankrupt or threaten to close? Why should the state always nationalise the losses and privatise the profits? In order that the nationalised enterprises should be viable, they must be part of a general plan of production. That will not be possible as long as key sections of the economy, such as banking and credit, remains in private hands.

The argument that the Bolivarian revolution must not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism, must respect private property and so on, is sometimes put forward by certain Bolivarian leaders. It is presented as a very “realistic” point of view, as opposed to the supposed “utopia” of socialism. In reality, this argument itself is the most miserable form of utopianism. The idea that the Revolution must confine itself within the iron straitjacket of capitalism is empty formalism. Life teaches us otherwise! At every step this argument clashes with the demands of reality.

The bosses express their bitter hatred of the revolution, they sabotage production, lay off workers, condemn their families to hunger and conspire with imperialism and the counterrevolution. The workers know this very well. They cannot understand how the interests of the Revolution can be served by conciliating its enemies, allowing them to maintain their stranglehold over key points of the national economy.

For all these reasons the workers are demanding nationalisation and workers’ control. They wish to help the Bolivarian government by fighting against its enemies, by driving out the landlords and capitalists, by concentrating power in the hands of the only people who really have the interests of the Revolution at heart – the workers and peasants and their natural allies, the urban poor, the revolutionary youth, the soldiers, the women and the progressive intelligentsia.

Once the economic power of the bourgeoisie is broken, once the land, the banks and the industries are in the hands of the state, it would be possible to mobilise all the productive capacity of the nation in a common, democratically planned socialist economy. Very quickly it would be possible to win the war against poverty and misery, to raise the whole country to a new and higher level.

The Bolivarian movement has many strengths, and a number of important weaknesses. The main weakness of the Bolivarian movement is its lack of theory. Theory occupies a place in revolutions that military strategy occupies in war. A mistaken strategy in war will lead inevitably to mistakes in tactics and practical operations. It will undermine the morale of the troops and lead to all kinds of blunders, defeats and unnecessary loss of life.

It is the same in a revolution. Mistakes in theory will sooner or later be reflected in mistakes in practice. A mistake in everyday life can often be rectified. Everyday mistakes are not usually matters of life and death. But revolutions are life and death struggles and mistakes can be paid for very dearly. The task of the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current is to provide the necessary theoretical and programmatic clarity, not by pontificating from the sidelines, but by energetically participating in the movement, fighting in the front ranks and pushing it forward at every stage.

Imperialism and capitalism

The central problem facing not only the Venezuelan Revolution but the people of the whole world is imperialism and capitalism. The giant corporations are trying to control the whole world and plunder it for profit. They are supported by the big imperialist bullies, in the first place the USA, which enjoys unprecedented power and uses it to make and unmake governments and subject whole countries and continents to its will. Not one of the problems facing the masses can be solved without an all-out struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

It is impossible to achieve our ends without a radical break with capitalism. In order to solve problems like unemployment or the lack of houses and schools it is necessary for the government to introduce economic planning – to draw up an economic plan based on the needs of the majority, not the profit of the minority. But you cannot plan what you do not control and you cannot control what you do not own. As long as the land, the banks and the big industry remain in private hands, no solution is possible.

That is the central challenge that faces the Venezuelan Revolution at the present time. The Revolution has begun, but it is not finished. As a matter of fact, the main task remains to be accomplished. What is the central problem? Only this: that a number of key economic levers remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The problem here is both economic and political. The oligarchy will never be reconciled to the Revolution. Although up till now its property has hardly been touched, although it still enjoys its wealth and privileges, although its still holds in its hands powerful means of communication in the shape of the main daily papers and TV channels, which is uses to spew out a daily torrent of filth, lies and slander against the democratically elected government – despite all this, it is not satisfied. And it will never be satisfied until it has overthrown the government and crushed the masses under its feet.

Workers’ control is a big step forward, and we must encourage it. It challenges the “sacred right” of the capitalists and bureaucrats to manage industry, while giving the workers priceless experience in administration and control that can be put to good use in a socialist planed economy. However, as long as key elements of the economy remain in private hands, as long as there is not a genuine nationalised planned economy, the experience of workers’ control will inevitably have only a partial, one-sided and unsatisfactory character.

The President said yesterday that the expropriation of Venepal was an exceptional measure: “We are not going to take away land, if it is yours it is yours”. But he also said that “any factories closed or abandoned, we are going to take them over. All of them.” And he added: “I invite the workers’ leaders to follow on this path”. These words will not fall on deaf ears. Workers in other occupied factories will take this as a signal to mobilise and demand that the Bolivarian government expropriate their owners. This is the correct road!

What is necessary is to nationalise the land, the banks and what is left of private big industry. That will enable us to plan the economy and mobilise the productive forces in the benefit of the majority. Hugo Chavez stood in two elections and obtained substantial majorities in both. He has a big majority in parliament. He has won a crushing victory in the referendum. What is to stop the government now from introducing an emergency law (decreto ley) nationalising the property of the oligarchy? It would be possible to explain to the country on television the reasons for this (there are a number of very sound reasons). At the same time, an appeal should be made to the workers and peasants not to wait for parliament (which tends to be slow) but to take immediate action, occupying the land and the factories.

Dialectics and revolution

Marxism is based on a definite method – the dialectical method. This explains that every process inevitably leads to a critical point (to use a phrase from physics) where quantity becomes transformed into quality. That 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.

Sectarian blockheads have complained that we say that there is a revolution in Venezuela. These people talk a lot about revolution but they have not the slightest idea of what a revolution is. When a revolution is actually taking place before their very eyes they cannot even see it! The fact that for several years millions of workers and peasants have been mobilising to take their lives and destinies into their hands, fighting reaction in the streets, in the factories, on the estates and in the barracks – all this goes completely over their heads. They go scuttling back to their libraries to write “learned” articles quoting from Lenin and Trotsky. Not wishing to disturb their beautiful reveries, we will leave them in peace and get on with the pressing task of actually intervening in the Revolution.

In Venezuela 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 actually said this. But this view is not only wrong but irresponsible and harmful to the revolutionary cause. Hugo Chavez himself rejected this when, in my presence, he compared the Venezuelan Revolution to the myth of Sisyphus in Greek legend. The masses heave and strain to push a massive boulder to the top of the hill, only to be pushed back again before reaching the summit.

This analogy is quite correct. The Venezuelan Revolution is not yet irreversible. Despite all the heroic efforts of the masses, and despite all their undoubted achievements, the boulder can still roll back down the hillside, crushing many lives in the process. The point of a qualitative change has not yet been reached in Venezuela and will not be reached until the nettle is grasped and the landlords and capitalists are expropriated. The nationalisation of Venepal is an important step in this direction. Now other, even more decisive steps are necessary.

President Hugo Chavez has consistently revealed an unerring revolutionary instinct. He has striven to express the revolutionary instincts of the masses. That is his great strength! It has been shown yet again with the nationalisation of Venepal. However, at the tops of the Bolivarian movement there are all kinds of people. The President is surrounded by advisers, not all of whom are firm revolutionaries. Not all of them share the President’s faith in the masses. They incline towards compromise, concessions, and so-called “realism” – that is, they tend towards policies that, if accepted, would undermine the Revolution and wreck it totally.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, Chavez said “here we are creating a new model, and that is why in Washington they are angry... our model of development implies a change in the productive apparatus. The working class must be united, learn and participate”. He said correctly that capitalism is a model based on slavery, “and this is why in Washington they are angry, because we want to liberate ourselves from capitalism, in the same way that they were angry many years ago with the ideas of Liberator Simon Bolivar”.

He added that some might be annoyed at what is happening in Venezuela, but “they will continue to be annoyed by the revolutionary process, because no one is going to dislodge us from it.” That is the kind of lead the masses are looking for! It has nothing in common with the half-hearted and cowardly measures proposed by the reformists. The Revolution cannot stop half way! It must go from strength to strength, striking blows against its enemies, or else it will fail.

President Chavez also said that the “role of the workers in this model is fundamental and this is the difference between this model and the capitalist model”. He emphasised that “it is necessary to change the productive relations”. “Capitalism wants to annihilate the workers... here we are carrying out a process of liberation of the workers, and this is why they are annoyed in Washington”. The liberation of the workers from capitalist slavery is only possible through a fundamental alteration in the productive relations – but this cannot mean anything else but the socialist revolution.

That is a thousand times true. But it is also necessary to draw all the conclusions. The Venezuelan Revolution is already coming into conflict with the narrow limitations of capitalism. It cannot accept these limitations. It must either break through them, tear them down and boldly strike out on a new course, or else it will in the end be forced into retreat and be defeated.

As was pointed out by Jorge Martin yesterday, the measures of nationalisation must be extended to all sectors of the economy that are under monopoly and imperialist control, such as the banking system (the lion’s share of which is in the hands of two Spanish multinationals), the telecom sector (in the hands of US multinationals), the food distribution sector (in the hands of a couple of Venezuelan companies owned by known coup organisers), and others.

Workers of Venezuela! Take the road of struggle! Occupy the factories under workers’ control! Demand that they be nationalised! Drive out the counterrevolutionary bosses! The Venezuelan Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution or it will not triumph at all.

The question is posed point blank: who shall prevail? There are only two possibilities before the people of Venezuela. Either the Revolution will eliminate the power of the oligarchy, and then spread the revolution to the rest of Latin America, or the oligarchy, in conjunction with US imperialism, will eliminate the Revolution. No third way is possible