The Bolivarian government still enjoys mass support. But the defeat in the constitutional referendum last December was a clear warning. After 10 years of revolution, the main problems facing the workers have not been solved. The masses that support Chávez are growing weary of seeing a lack of profound social changes and a lack of a clear perspective to complete the revolution. It is time to take firm action against the oligarchy.
Alí Primera, a famous Venezuelan Communist songwriter, once wrote the following: “An early revolution, we must make. Because the more it is delayed, the more difficult it will be”. These are indeed profound words and they sum up brilliantly the main problems that the Venezuelan revolution is facing today.
Hugo Chávez has been in power for ten years – a period that has seen numerous attempts on the part of imperialism and the oligarchy to overthrow him and put a halt to the social reforms he has been promoting. Time and again the masses of workers, youth and urban poor have moved to defend the revolution.
Growing inflation, crime rates and sabotage on the part of the capitalists
Despite the determination revealed by the masses over and over again, after ten years of almost permanent mobilization and conflict between the classes, the government has still not managed to solve the main problems of society. Although living standards and access to social welfare have improved, the majority of Venezuelans still live in poverty, the infrastructure and transport systems in the cities are still highly insufficient, house prices are souring and so on. At the same time, the crime rate has reached record levels. In Caracas, the number of deaths as a result of crime rose from 70 deaths annually per 100,000 citizens in 1998 to a staggering 130 in 2007.
Although the Minister of Planning, Haiman El Troudi, has been constantly denying that the crisis in the world economy will affect Venezuela, the fact is that the country is completely dependent on imports, especially of food products. Thus, inflation has hit Venezuela particularly hard. Inflation of food products has reached 15.3%. In Caracas prices increased by 49.9% between July 2007 and July 2008.
The government has been trying to tackle the problems by making an appeal to the capitalists for investment in the economy but these have continued to speculate and deliberately hold back food products to cause scarcity and give an extra impetus to inflation.
The wild swings in the price of oil-price are also having an effect on Venezuela. Some sources indicate that PDVSA, the national oil company, will make 40% cutbacks in their next annual budget. This will inevitably hit many of the social projects, the misiones, who are partly or wholly financed by oil revenues.
The idea of a “Socialismo petrolero” (i.e. Socialism financed by oil-incomes) which has been promoted particularly by the Reformist sector of the government is thus clashing head-on with reality. These people have tried to use the high oil-incomes as an excuse for not expropriating the capitalists. What they forgot was, that the situation of Venezuela depends wholly on the world market, not just the oil-price but also the prices of aluminium and other raw materials that Venezuela is producing en masse. While the Venezuelan economy is extremely sensitive to swings in these prices, it is also very much dependent on imports of other goods, as already mentioned. This creates a potentially disastrous economic situation for the country. The only remedy to really tackle this would be the implementation of a planned economy, capable of starting production in fields such as agriculture, food, clothing, etc.
The Venezuelan government has adopted some measures aimed at tackling economic sabotage and to the benefit of the workers and poor, notably the nationalization of the giant steel factory, SIDOR in April. To this we must add other nationalizations such as that of Banco de Venezuela, the milk producer ”Lacteos Los Andes”, the whole of the cement industry, the aluminium factory Rialca and others.
These nationalizations have been met with enthusiasm by many workers and youth, who correctly see them as a step in the right direction. An opinion poll conducted in May revealed a 56% majority in favour of the nationalization of the cement industries with only 33% against, with 53.1% in favour of the nationalization of SIDOR and only 30.9% against. Even more significant was the response to the question, “Would you agree with nationalization of the food chain?” (which hasn't been expropriated yet). 50.1% said they were in favour and only 30.9% against.
Socialists should support these nationalizations enthusiastically. However, nationalizations in and of themselves do not solve the question. Nationalizations must be part of a socialist plan of production, so that the productive chain can begin to run smoothly and satisfy the needs of the population. But in Venezuela, the nationalizations are still limited to particular parts of the economy while vast capitalist enterprises in key areas are left untouched. Partial measures are thus wholly unable to go to the heart of the problem. What is needed is not just expropriation of this or that particular factory but rather the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the setting up of a national Socialist plan of production, discussed and run democratically by the organized working class.
New conspiracies within the army
Hugo Chávez is without doubt an outstanding figure in world politics. The reason why he is being constantly attacked by the international bourgeois media is that he has had the courage to stand up against imperialism and to promote the idea of socialism as a viable alternative. In spite of Chávez appealing to the capitalists to invest and in spite of the fact that he has not yet moved decisively to destroy the economic power of the ruling class, the oligarchy and imperialism remain hell-bent on getting rid of him. They understand that his mere presence is dangerous.
In the past couple of months, a number of events have confirmed that there are still important sectors of the army that are not loyal to Chávez and are opposed to the revolution. On September 10, a plot of prominent active and retired army generals was uncovered. An audio recording revealed a detailed plan to isolate Chávez, capture him by force and carry out a coup d'etat. On September 23 a number of hidden weapons, including a large-range cannon, were found in Zulia (a state ruled by an opposition governor), apparently to be sued in the planned coup against Chávez. Again on September 27, it was revealed that the Venezuelan authorities had arrested a general of the Airforce who was involved in a conspiracy.
These conspiracies reveal a profound instability within the armed forces. The forces of the counter-revolution are working as an organized fraction within the army. This is the inevitable result of the vacillation on the part of the government that has sought to keep the army out of the revolutionary movement, by banning the PSUV from operating within the armed forces.
The result is clear: if you keep revolutionary politics out of the army, you will give room to counter-revolutionary politics. The only way to avoid future conspiracies and coups is to organise the revolutionaries in the army while at the same time extending the work of arming the masses that has begun with the National Reserve. All workers, peasants and youth should enter the reserve and fight to convert it into a real people’s militia with links to the revolutionary movement locally, regionally and nationally.
The PSUV and the PSUV youth
The contradictions in Venezuelan society are as sharp as ever. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). After its founding congress in January-February (See Balance sheet of the PSUV congress), the party has been going through a process of selection of candidates for the regional and local elections in November. An impressive 2.5 million members participated in the internal elections in June. In some places the left won significant victories (as in Mérida, Vargas and with many local candidates), but in most places the bureaucracy used the apparatus heavily to impose its candidates and the lack of a real left alternative weighed heavily on the final results.
If the PSUV in its first year has been the arena for constant struggles between the reformist right and the revolutionary left, this was even more the case at the founding congress of its new youth organization (See Venezuela: PSUV Youth congress) held in September in Puerto Ordáz. At this meeting, 1,300 youth from all over Venezuela gathered. There was a tremendously radical, revolutionary mood and a desire to push forward the revolution. This was reflected in the final assembly, where the most popular slogans chanted by the delegates were: “The Youth is Socialist but never Reformist” and ”Open debate – the rank and file has time.”
While an unelected leadership had pushed the idea of statutes that were completely imposed from above and which subsequently tried to stifle any debate, the pressure of the rank and file forced them to make concessions and alter the statutes, giving room for a more democratic structure with elections of the leadership from below.
The PSUV Youth founding congress represented officially 140,000 youth. All over the country these youth are organizing themselves in youth branches and are fighting to radicalise the revolution. The evolution of the PSUV Youth will without a doubt be decisive for the outcome of the Venezuelan revolution as a whole.
Workers push for unity and action
One of the key events that need to be taken into account to understand the present situation of the Venezuelan revolution is the break-up of the congress of the UNT (Union Nacional de los Trabajadores) in May 2006. The UNT represented and still represents in the eyes of millions of Venezuelan workers a potential instrument for the proletariat to act as the main protagonist in the revolution. However, these hopes were cut across in May 2006 when the UNT held its second national congress. While around 4,000 workers assembled in Caracas, a sectarian row broke out between the leaders of the two tendencies grouped around Orlando Chirino and Marcela Máspero. The congress was physically split up, ending in two separate assemblies, while most delegates returned to their homes frustrated.
The fight between the two tendencies was over questions that did not have anything to do with the real burning issues facing the Venezuelan trade union movement. The split however, served to paralyse the UNT for nearly two years. While there have been important workers’ struggles throughout the country (as at Sanitarios Maracay and SIDOR), the UNT has been unable to play a real role as a revolutionary trade union confederation.
The nationalisation of SIDOR in April was a new turning point. The heroic struggle of the SIDOR workers who achieved the re-nationalization of the company, in spite of the attacks of the multinational and the assistance which it received from the reformist sector in the state apparatus, showed that the Venezuelan working class is striving by all its might to advance the revolution.
It was also a clear lesson for the leaders of the different trade union currents who have been discredited by their passivity and complete lack of perspective for the movement. The victory at SIDOR showed the way forward and was a huge inspiration for workers all over Venezuela. It redoubled the pressure from below. Workers began to demand that the UNT be reactivated. Some bureaucratic sectors around the FSBT (Fuerza Socialista de los Trabajadores, a TU tendency around the former Minister of Labour, José Ramon Rivero), tried to explore the mood by proposing a new trade union confederation. However, they had to halt this process and discuss it more in depth, pressurized by their own rank and file.
Since then the pressure for unity and especially for action has been widespread. In July, representatives of the automobile workers met and drew up a resolution demanding unity and a new joint congress of the workers' movement. On September 4 a regional “Congress of Socialist workers” gathered in Zulia, with the participation of 500 people representing 100 trade unions. This congress was called by rank and file trade unions and its concluding resolution called for “a national congress to re-found the Bolivarian trade-union movement”.
Feeling the pressure from below, some initiatives have been taken from the leaders of the movement. On September 20 a national gathering of trade unionists supporting the PSUV was held in Caracas, organized by the PSUV leadership and supported by most of the wings of the UNT. This meeting, which gathered some 300 trade unionists, saw a radical mood and the main point of the final resolution was a demand for the nationalisation of the banks.
Many things indicate that some sort of national congress of the UNT will be held soon. But the decisive question is not just to have unity, but also how to achieve it and for what purpose. The main tendencies in the Venezuelan trade union movement have revealed their incapacity to show a way forward. In fact, they have deliberately maintained the split, which has led to a criminal impasse in the movement.
Unity cannot be built bureaucratically from above. It cannot be ordered by decree. It must be built from below and it must be built around a programme of action democratically discussed and voted by the rank and file of the trade unions. The regional gathering in Zulia indicated the way forward, when it listed a number of demands, such as the implementation of workers’ control and management in factories, nationalisation of the big private enterprises, state monopoly of the foreign trade and the reduction of the working day to 6 hours.
If the UNT were to begin to fight for these demands and take real measures to implement workers’ control in the factories, it would change the balance of forces completely. The bourgeoisie would be seriously threatened and workers in the whole country would move once again to follow the lead of the UNT.
Regional and local elections
A new test for the revolution will be the elections for local mayors and regional governors due on November 23. In the previous elections, the opposition only managed to win the governorship of two states (Zulia and Nueva Esparta). But this time, there is a serious danger of losing other important states, such as Carabobo, Táchira, Miranda and Mérida. To this should be added the possible loss of strategic mayors such as Maracaibo (the second biggest city in the country).
The Bolivarian government still enjoys the support of the majority of the masses. But the defeat in the constitutional referendum last December was a clear warning. After 10 years of revolution, the main problems as outlined above, have not been solved. The masses that support Chávez are growing weary of seeing a lack of profound social changes and a lack of a clear perspective to complete the revolution and finish off the power of the oligarchy once and for all. There has not been a real profound change in the leadership and many official PSUV candidates are widely discredited in the population.
That is why the most likely perspective is an electoral setback for the forces that support the revolution. Of course it is difficult to know exactly how big this will be, but the important thing is to seethe general tendency. The revolution is at the crossroads. The enormous contradictions that have accumulated within society – the contradictions between the ruling class and the working class – cannot remain in deadlock forever. They must be resolved one way or the other.
Even a clear victory in these elections would only prepare the way for an even sharper clash with the oligarchy at some point. Already Chávez has stated that if he wins, he will call a new referendum to see if the constitutional reform can pass this time. This would be a step that the oligarchy could not tolerate and it would begin manoeuvring once more.
The fundamental point for Marxists is to understand that all the objective conditions for completing the Socialist Revolution are present in Venezuela. Why then, has this not been done? The reformists blame the masses for a “low level of consciousness”. But if we analyse the past ten years of revolution, we see that it is these very masses that have saved the revolution from defeat in every important clash with the oligarchy. This was the case in 2002 with the coup d'etat and later with the bosses’ lockout. It was also the case in the re-call referendum of 2004 and the presidential elections of 2006.
The problem is not lack of consciousness of the masses, but the fact that the reformist elements in the leadership do not have a clear socialist perspective. The only solution is to expropriate the key levers of the economy (the banks, the land, the food distribution chain and the remaining industries) and put them under the democratic control of the workers and peasants within a Socialist plan of production. This and this alone can solve the urgent problems facing the Venezuelan revolution today.
- Venezuela: PSUV Youth congress - struggle between Reformism and Revolution continues by Patrick Larsen in Puerto Ordáz (September 15, 2008)
- Declaration of the IMT on the nationalisation of the Banco de Venezuela by IMT (August 2, 2008)
- Venezuela: The nationalisation of Banco de Venezuela by Alan Woods (August 1, 2008)
- Alan Woods' speaking tour in Venezuela
- Interview with Alan Woods at the Madrid Book Fair by El Militante (June 12, 2008)
- Venezuela Six Years after the Coup by Jorge Martin (April 11, 2008)
- Chavez re-nationalises SIDOR – historic victory for the workers by Jorge Martin (April 11, 2008)
- Balance sheet of the PSUV congress: the Bolivarian masses are pushing for revolutionary action by Patrick Larsen (March 11, 2008)
- Venezuela: The PSUV congress – what is at stake? by Patrick Larsen (5 February, 2008)