Marxism, parliament and the Venezuelan Revolution - Venezuela after the elections: What now?

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Prior to the Venezuelan elections there were clear indications that elements within the oligarchy were planning a coup or even possible assassination of Chavez. The opposition parties boycotted the elections as part of this plan to destabilise the country. They failed miserably. The Bolivarian parties have now total control of the National Assembly. They could mobilise the masses while at the same setting in motion all the legal procedures to abolish capitalism once and for all. But will they do this? To vacillate now, to attempt a compromise, would mean giving the opposition a dangerous advantage.

In the Bolivarian Revolution parliament and elections have played an important role from the beginning. Some who imagine themselves to be very revolutionary (and even “Marxists”) but who understand very little about revolution imagine that this fact disqualifies the Bolivarian Revolution in advance. They imagine that revolutions and parliaments are mutually exclusive phenomena. But this is not necessarily the case.

Marxists suffer neither from the disease of parliamentary cretinism (reformism) nor that of anti-parliamentary cretinism (anarchism). We have no prejudices of any kind concerning the weapons we use in the class struggle. We are in favour of making use of the machinery of bourgeois democracy for the sake of engaging in a dialogue with the masses, organizing and agitating. In this sense we are following in the traditions of Bolshevism.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks always made use of any possibility to participate in elections to the Duma and municipal councils, even though the tsarist regime robbed them of any real democratic content. They used parliamentary work, even in these most unfavourable circumstances, to build the revolutionary party and strengthen its base among the masses.

It is true that in the Russian Revolution of 1917 the parliamentary question played an insignificant role. Although the Bolshevik Party inscribed on its banner the demand for a Constituent Assembly as one of a series of democratic demands, the rise of the workers' and soldiers' soviets – a far more democratic and representative organizational form than the most democratic parliament – quickly rendered this demand obsolete. The Soviet power dissolved the Constituent Assembly. Russian parliamentarianism was dead at the moment of its birth.

However, this was not the only possible variant even in Russia. Lenin and Trotsky did not in principle rule out the possibility that the Russian Revolution could go through a phase of parliamentarism. This was not at all ruled out in advance. Under different circumstances, the Constituent Assembly might have played a central role, just as parliaments played an important role in both the English Revolution of the 17th century and the French Revolution of the 18th century.

The French Revolution has many lessons in this respect and we will return to this subject in a future article. In France, the entire revolutionary process passed through the National Assembly (or Convention) and was reflected in the rise and fall of parties and leaders in the Assembly. But this in turn was merely a reflection of the movement of the revolutionary masses in Paris, who continually intervened to purge the Assembly, eliminating the right wing, compromising and vacillating elements and replacing them with more energetic, determined and revolutionary leaders. At the same time, the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses of Paris organized their own associations and clubs that directed the movement. Thus, the extra-parliamentary movement of the masses played the determining role in what happened inside the National Assembly.

Elections in Venezuela

The parliamentary struggle is an important arena where the antagonistic classes clash and struggle to gain an advantage. However, in the last analysis, the real battle always takes place outside parliament. Sooner or later the serious questions are settled not in the rarefied atmosphere of the debating chamber but on the streets, in the factories, on the land and in the army barracks. Whoever does not understand this understands nothing about history in general and the history of revolutions in particular.

Depending on the concrete circumstances, national traditions and class balance of forces, it is quite possible that parliament can occupy an important role in the revolution in certain countries. In Venezuela there is a certain parliamentary tradition, although it is a tradition that was corrupted to the marrow, perhaps even more than in other bourgeois nations (and they are all corrupt, particularly the USA). Nevertheless, the masses and the middle class were accustomed to participate in parliamentary elections and to express their discontent and aspirations by voting for political parties.

In the Fourth Republic parliamentary elections were a mere game to create the illusion that the people had a choice and could determine the political life of the nation once every few years. In reality, nothing changed. Power remained in the hands of the oligarchy and its political cronies in different parties. This was even institutionalised in the Punto Fijo agreements signed in 1958 by the main parties (AD, COPEI and URD).

However, all that changed in February 1989. The leaders of Venezuelan “democracy” declared war on their own people. They shot down unarmed men, women and children on the streets of Caracas without mercy. They gave the people of Venezuela an excellent lesson in the realities of bourgeois democracy, which in every case is only a fig leaf to conceal the dictatorship of the banks and big monopolies. The latter are prepared to tolerate democracy, as long as it does not threaten their class rule. But the moment democracy threatens the power of the capitalists, bankers and landlords, the smiling mask is thrown aside and the ruling class asserts its power by violent means.

The Caracazo threw everything into the melting pot. Overnight the institutions of formal bourgeois democracy were hopelessly compromised in the eyes of the masses: the old parliament, constitutions, laws, parties and leaders were discredited. The bourgeoisie succeeded in maintaining control through bloody repression. But that could not last for long. The social and political ferment that resulted from the Caracazo was expressed in the unsuccessful coup in 1992 and the arrest of Chavez and his group of progressive army officers. This indicated that the decay of the old regime had affected even the armed forces, and that a split had opened up in the state apparatus itself. This is the first condition for revolution.

All history shows that repression by itself is insufficient to contain the masses. Mass pressure secured the release of Chavez and a powerful movement began to take off with explosive force around his person. This moved onto the electoral plane, culminating in the overwhelming victory of Chavez in the presidential elections of 1998. One has to be completely blind not to understand the progressive significance of the electoral struggle in this context. The electoral struggle played a most important role in mobilizing and organizing the masses, enabling them to recover swiftly from the terrible defeat of 1989.

The election of Chavez provided a rallying-point and a banner around which every section of the masses could unite. The electoral victories were a consequence of the upsurge of the masses, but each electoral victory in turn strengthened their confidence and determination. Thus, the electoral struggle has played a most important role in advancing revolutionary consciousness and carrying the movement forward. The clearest example of this was the victory at the 2004 Recall Referendum. At that time the electoral process was combined with mass mobilisations in the streets. The masses organised Electoral Battle Units to fight this recall referendum, which at their peak organised more than one million people in their ranks.

The Fourth of December

Lenin always paid great attention to electoral results. He used them to try to get an idea of the level of consciousness of the masses and the correlation of class forces. What conclusions can we draw from the elections of the fourth of December?

In the first place, they undoubtedly mark a new stage in the Venezuelan Revolution. It was yet another body blow to the counterrevolutionary camp and imperialism. In the legislative elections Chavez's party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), won 114 out of 167 seats in Venezuela's new National Assembly - a massive 68% of the total. Pro-Chavez parties won all 167 seats in the National Assembly. The preparations and voting all proceeded normally, with no incidents worthy of mention.

This was despite a frantic campaign of the counterrevolutionary opposition to destabilize the elections and create yet again the psychological conditions for a coup d'etat. The major opposition parties - Accion Democratica (AD), the Social Christian Copei, Proyecto Venezuela and Primero Justicia - all withdrew their candidates only days before the vote. Realizing that they faced a humiliating defeat, the opposition parties loudly called for a boycott. As a result, in upper middle class areas, where the opposition has its main base, many voters stayed away.

In opposition strongholds there was an extremely low turnout  perhaps ten percent of voters, while pro-Chavez areas saw much stronger participation. Voter turnout was lower than leaders of pro-government parties had predicted. Predictably, opposition leaders immediately began shouting that the new National Assembly would have no legitimacy. Maria Corina Machado, one of the leaders of the opposition NGO Sumate, said, “From a pluri-party parliament we pass to a mono-party parliament that does not represent the broad sectors of the population. Today, a National Assembly is born that is wounded in its legitimacy.”

But why should this be the case? The opposition parties had the chance to stand in the elections and thus demonstrate that they were capable of winning a parliamentary majority. They had the chance – and they refused to accept it. They boycotted the elections. Now, the first and most elementary rule of democracy is: “You must be there!” This was well expressed by Eugenio Chicas, a magistrate of the electoral council of El Salvador: “Democracy is constructed by those who participate, thus the withdrawal… of the opposition parties does not de-legitimise the parliamentary elections.”

The real reason should be clear to everyone: all opinion polls indicated that they would only get about 20 seats as opposed to the 76 seats they held before. It is as useless to refuse to vote or stand as a candidate and then complain about the result of the election as to refuse to sit down at dinner and then complain that you are hungry. No sensible person will take such complaints about “legitimacy” seriously. The people have voted for a National Assembly. The National Assembly has work to do. It must get on with it.

Having long ago lost the democratic argument, the opposition is putting pressure on the National Assembly. They seek to impose their will by the back door because they are incapable of winning an election at the present time. They resort to extra-parliamentary tactics, while loudly protesting that they are the only real defenders of democracy. The opposition leaders accuse Chavez of eroding democracy by extending his political influence over the country's courts and the National Electoral Council to tighten his grip on power. This merely echoes the black propaganda of Washington, where they have even invented an entirely new terminology previously unknown to the English language (or any other): “elected authoritarianism”.

Explosive devices were found in Caracas days before the election. Were these part of a plot to assassinate the President? It is quite likely. And the decision of the main opposition partied to boycott the election, accompanied by street demonstrations in the wealthy suburbs were to form the background of this, creating a sensation of chaos and general disorder. Just before the election somebody blew up a Venezuelan pipeline. Who was responsible? Everything points to the work of the opposition and the CIA. This shows the real attitude of the counterrevolutionary opposition and the “friends of democracy” in Washington.

Hypocrisy of imperialists

Both the European Union and the Organization of American States participated in the conspiracy against Chavez, releasing ambiguous and confusing reports on the Congress elections. The Washington-based OAS and the EU said the December 4 election was “largely fair”, but noted “some irregularities” in voting and distrust of election officials. This was intended to throw dust in the eyes of international public opinion.

The United States, while continually shouting about “democracy”, is trying to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela. In this dirty work, it can count on the support of a series of puppet governments in Latin America to do whatever it asks. President Chavez was quite right to describe Fox as just such a puppet. But he was not right to assume that he might expect better treatment from the European Union. It is true that there are certain contradictions between Washington and its European “allies” but all are united against socialism and revolution on a world scale. The different attitudes towards Venezuela are only of a tactical nature. In fundamentals they do not differ, and the EU will not lift a finger to help Chavez and the Revolution. On the contrary, while pocketing lucrative oil deals, their real sympathies lie with the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the opposition. The conduct of the EU observers confirms this.

These were probably the most closely scrutinized elections in history. Not for the first time, an army of foreign observers descended on Caracas, examining every detail of the electoral process with a magnifying glass. We might ask why Washington was not so eager to scrutinize the manifestly rigged elections held by Carlos Andres Perez and other friends of the USA in the past. Where were the calls for intervention after the Caracazo in February1989, when this great “democrat” butchered thousands of unarmed men, women and children? Where were the demands for regime change then?

The attitude of Washington and its puppets in the OAS, as well as that of the EU, is one of complete hypocrisy. If a low voter turnout disqualified the winning candidate, no President would have been elected to the White House for decades. In 1994, the Republicans' victory in Congress was obtained with the support of 17 percent of citizens with the right to vote... not to mention that the average abstention in the United States in legislative elections is around 70 percent. In the last elections for the European Parliament (June 2004), participation was only 28 percent of the voters from the ten countries.

In Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, the darling of the White House and the fascist paramilitaries, won his first elections with an 80 percent rate of abstention. As for Venezuela, parties like AD and COPEI based their 40 years rule on election rigging, yet now criticise an election process that was scrupulously democratic.

Foreign policy

The author of these lines warned a representative of the Foreign Ministry in Caracas several months ago that it was unrealistic to expect fair treatment from an EU delegation. That warning has been shown to be justified. Speaking from Uruguay's capital Montevideo, Chavez rejected the biased reports of the OAS and EU observers as an "ambush." That is quite correct. "This is a tactic against Venezuela, they've sown a minefield, they left a minefield behind, looking to destabilize Venezuela," Chavez told delegates from South American nations meeting to welcome Venezuela into the Mercosur trade bloc.

"These delegates, both from the OAS and the European Union,” the President continued, “connived against the interests of the Venezuelan people and against Venezuelan democracy.” That is also correct. It was naïve to suppose that the so-called “impartial foreign observers” would in fact be impartial.

OAS Secretary-General, Jose Miguel Insulza, also attending the Mercosur meeting, responded with that saccharine slyness that is the hallmark of bourgeois diplomacy. He said that the mission's report was preliminary, that he would take note of Chavez's concerns, and so on. But he added in response to Chavez's remarks: “I would like only to point out, as he said, that the OAS mission was solicited by Venezuela's government”.

By far the weakest and most unsatisfactory aspect of the Bolivarian Revolution is its foreign policy. It is no accident that that part of the state apparatus where the counterrevolutionary tendency is strongest is the diplomatic corps. It is an open secret that few of the ambassadors can be trusted and that at the first opportunity they will go over to the counterrevolution.

In order to counteract the lack of a genuinely revolutionary foreign policy, the President has tried to enter into direct contact with foreign leaders. In order to break the diplomatic isolation that Washington is attempting to impose on Venezuela, Chavez has tried to reach agreements with governments and countries that have differences with the USA, or that in some sense can be considered “progressive”. The intention is laudable, but the results are not always what he desires.

The Economist on December 9th, 2005 sneeringly compared these elections to "the kind of contest Saddam Hussein used to 'win' in Iraq with 99% of the vote” and deplored the fact that “now there is no parliamentary opposition to the president, who has run the Latin American country since 1999 and hopes to stand for another six-year term next year.”

It continued to wail over the hopelessness of the opposition, which is, as it correctly points out: “drawn from the discredited former elite, has been divided, lacks strong leaders and has been regularly outmanoeuvred by the wily president.”

And even this right wing magazine was forced to admit:

“In reality, the [opposition] parties that pulled out knew they were highly unlikely to win in any case. Mr Chávez's MVR and its allies already controlled a narrow majority of seats before the election, and the president is genuinely popular, though his approval rating has fallen from around 70% earlier this year to around half. Mr Chávez claims to be destroying the old order, in which two main parties cosily swapped power and enjoyed its perks. Thanks to the attention he has lavished on Venezuela's poor masses, his supporters worship him.”

It continued to moan:

“Now, with a two-thirds majority in the assembly, Mr Chávez can change the constitution at will. This will probably result in yet more state entanglement in the economy, and fewer limits on the presidency. Mr Chávez is almost sure to cruise to re-election in December 2006.”

“The Venezuelan leader is friendly with Fidel Castro, and Cuba gets cheap oil from Venezuela in exchange for the services of thousands of Cuban doctors. Néstor Kirchner, Argentina's president, seems to be drifting closer to Mr Chávez. Venezuela is buying Argentine debt, which helps Mr Kirchner continue to snub the International Monetary Fund. Mr Chávez is also on pretty good terms with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, a more moderate left-winger. With the added support of Uruguay's new left-wing president, Venezuela hopes to join Mercosur, a regional trading bloc. This could be another forum for Mr Chávez's petro-diplomacy, though it might also be a way for his neighbours to tame him somewhat.”

It adds: “He has been friendly with China and Iran. Some Americans worry that talks on nuclear co-operation with Argentina could help the Iranians, via the Venezuelan conduit, to build a [nuclear] bomb.” This is the kind of argument that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Venezuela is the world's fifth oil exporter. This has undoubtedly given the Revolution a breathing space and allowed Chavez to build points of support with energy deals with Caribbean and South American neighbours. But the “support” that can be obtained in this way is both very relative and very unstable. The only real friends of the Venezuelan Revolution are the workers, the peasants and the poor people of Latin America and the whole world. It will have need of such friends.

A showdown is inevitable

At bottom this is not a war of words or a constitutional debate. It is a class war, a conflict that involves fundamental interests. Chavez has proclaimed the need for a socialist revolution, not only in Venezuela but in all Latin America and on a world scale. Washington logically interprets this as a “threat to regional stability.” From the standpoint of imperialism this is correct. The constant revolutionary appeals of Chavez do not fall on deaf ears. They are eagerly listened to by millions of dispossessed workers and peasants in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

The Bolivarian Revolution has aroused the sympathy of millions, not only in Venezuela but far beyond its frontiers. It is true that it has not yet passed the point of no return. The power of the Venezuelan oligarchy has not yet been broken. Chavez has chosen the parliamentary path. But with these elections the whole process is reaching that critical point where the central contradiction must finally be resolved – one way or the other. The overwhelming victory in the National Assembly assures a constitutional change to allow the President to run for a third term in 2012. This is what Washington fears most.

MVR deputy Cilia Flores published a series of recorded conversations involving a group of retired military officers gathered together by Gustavo Diaz Vivas, Pedro Carmona Estanga's personal bodyguard during the April 2002 coup d'etat  Oswaldo Suju Raffo, Antonio Guevara Fernandez and Carlos Gonzalez Caraballo. Terrorist acts were to have been launched last Sunday, as the parliamentary elections were taking place.

“They were preparing a terrorist destabilization plot to delay the elections; we then saw opposition party leaders abruptly withdraw from the election and we said that those who reject the electoral path are planning something else. Many wondered what 'Plan B' was, but we knew (and the people knew), and now we have decided to come out with evidence that arrived at the National Assembly yesterday (Wednesday),” Cilia Flores said.

Nicolas Maduro, President of the National Assembly called on the people to reflect on the sequence of events represented in the evidence which included a recorded phone call in which retired General Oswaldo Suju Raffo discusses part of the national and international plan, detailing violent events that would take place in Venezuela. In the conversation he talks about the purchase of arms, specifically, Swedish 40 AT-4s manufactured under license by the Pentagon. During the phone-tap conversation, the conspirators revealed their intention to attack government institutions and leaders... coded as “first class passengers”.

These are serious warnings. The electoral struggle is only one arena. It has a considerable importance in galvanizing popular support, mobilizing the masses for struggle. It allows one to gauge the degree of support enjoyed by the conflicting camps. But that is all. In itself an election solves nothing. The oligarchy does not recognise any laws, constitutions and elected governments that run counter to its interests. It will not hesitate to resort to sabotage, murder and conspiracies to regain power.

The Venezuelan oligarchy and its masters in Washington will stop at nothing. They did not hesitate to perpetrate the massacre of thousands in February 1989. They were responsible for the killings of two dozen protesters in the unsuccessful coup of April 11, 2002, and how many more would have lost their lives if that coup had not been defeated by the uprising of the masses? They were behind the assassination of Danilo Anderson and the murder of over 80 peasants whose only crime was to fight for land reform. They have planted bombs at the National Electoral Council, and at an oil refinery, the day before the legislative elections, to sow panic and fear in the electorate. Who can believe for one minute that these people will surrender their power and privileges without a fight?

How can democracy be defended?

All of a sudden we see a proliferation of statements, petitions and appeals to defend democracy in Venezuela. That scarcely needs to be stated. Even a child of six can tell you that a democratic constitution is preferable to a fascist one! But in fighting to defend the democratic rights that have been conquered by the masses in struggle it is not necessary to present an idealized picture of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, still less to elevate it to a status similar to that with which the ancient Israelites regarded the Arc of the Covenant.

Ah! But we now have a new Constitution: the Bolivarian Constitution, which is completely different to other constitutions, some will say to us. Yes, the Bolivarian Constitution is a very fine document. It is the most democratic constitution in the world. But, in the last analysis, a constitution is only a scrap of paper. Whether or not the excellent principles of the Bolivarian Constitution are carried into practice or remain on paper depends not on what is written but on the real class balance of forces, on the willingness of the masses to fight.

It goes without saying that the workers and peasants will defend the Bolivarian Constitution because it is a consistently democratic document that provides the masses with the most favourable legal context in which to develop the class struggle and defend their interests. However, for the masses democracy is not an end in itself but only a means to an end. If it does not lead to an amelioration of their lives, if it does not lead to a fundamental transformation of society, it is not worth much.

Yes, the elections of 4 December were a victory and mark a new stage in the Revolution. But in war one can win a battle and still lose the war. The election of a homogeneous Chavista National Assembly is a big advantage, but it is an advantage that can be thrown way if the Assembly does not act in a decisive way. We repeat: in and of itself, the elections solve nothing. They open the way to a new and even more ferocious struggle between the classes. Not to see this would be a crime.

In the 1930s, at the time of the Spanish Republic, the fascists demagogically asked the question to the workers and peasants: Que te da a comer la Republica? (What does the Republic give you to eat?). It is true that, when the fascists came to power, the workers and peasants did not eat better but considerably worse. Nevertheless, the fascists were able to base themselves on the growing mood of disenchantment and apathy that gradually displaced the earlier revolutionary enthusiasm that was disappointed by the fact that the Republic left power in the hands of the landlords and capitalists.

The success or failure of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on one thing and one thing only: the active support of the mass of dispossessed people, the workers and peasants. Only the masses prevented the Revolution from collapsing in the coup of April 2002 and the later bosses' sabotage. Only the masses blocked the advance of the counterrevolution in the Recall Referendum of August 2004. This much is evident to any serious observer.

It is therefore a matter of extreme concern if the masses begin to succumb to moods of disillusionment and apathy. In order to understand the shifts in the mood of the masses it is necessary to study all kinds of statistics, and election results provide us with some important insights into the psychology of the masses. Admittedly, an election result is not one hundred percent precise. It is like a still photograph instead of a moving picture. It tells us something about the mood of the masses at a particular moment in time.

The corporate mass media naturally concentrates on the high abstention figure in an attempt to deprive the election results of legitimacy and thus provide some excuse for its counterrevolutionary plots. That is obvious. But nevertheless, from the revolutionary point of view the high level of abstention also demands an explanation. The official accounts – obviously written in reply to the attacks of the opposition – attempt to play down the level of abstention. That is unworthy of revolutionists, who should always look the truth straight in the face, no matter how unpalatable it may be.

The official line is to blame the opposition boycott and "severe" weather conditions in several states, including the capital, for making voting more difficult than usual. But in the end neither the conduct of the opposition nor bad weather can be blamed for the low voter participation. It may be that many Chavez supporters did not vote since the result was a foregone conclusion. But there may be a more serious reason for the low turnout. The masses are delivering a warning to the leaders. They are becoming tired of speeches and words, parades and slogans. They need action to carry the Revolution forward, destroy the power of the oligarchy and transform their lives.

Those who argue that in order to defend democracy and avoid a fascist coup it is necessary to halt the Revolution, to retreat and make concessions to the opposition and imperialism are mistaken. Such tactics will only serve to embolden the counterrevolutionaries and make them more aggressive and violent. Weakness invites aggression, and this simple fact can be demonstrated by what has happened at every stage of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Those who tell us that the Revolution must be halted resemble a man who is sawing off the branch of the tree on which he is sitting. The reason why sections of the masses are discontented (and it is foolish to deny that such discontent exists) is not at all because that the Revolution has gone too far, too fast. On the contrary, it is because the Revolution has not gone far enough and is proceeding too slowly. When people see that the oligarchy still owns the banks, the land and most of the industries; when they see the same old mayors, governors and state functionaries sitting in their offices, enriching themselves and plundering the state, they ask themselves why these things are tolerated and who the Revolution is really for.

This is where the real danger lies! It is not the divided and demoralised opposition, which can neither win an election nor organise a serious revolt on the streets. It is not the yellow press, churning out its torrent of lies and vomit that nobody believes. It is the danger that the Revolution will lose its base in the masses. The moment the masses do not feel the Revolution is worth defending with their lives, the Revolution is lost, no matter how many seats it has in the National Assembly.

It is time to act!

In 1998, the Democratic Action Party won control of the Congress with 11.24% out of an electorate of about 10.9 million. This party received 1.24 million votes. In the 2000 elections, Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement won control of the National Assembly with 17% or 1.98 million votes of an electorate of 11.7 million. In the elections on December 4th 2005, the six parties in the Chavez alliance received between 22% and 23% support of an electorate of 14.4 million  approximately 3.2 million votes. In 1998 and 2000 nobody doubted that the National Assembly was "legitimate". Yet now the opposition is raising a hullabaloo about the alleged “lack of legitimacy of a National Assembly backed by 22-23% of the electorate. Why?

The reason is that Washington and its local office boys fear that Chavez will take advantage of the election victory to push forward the revolutionary process. With 114 seats in the National Assembly, the MVR now has slightly over the two-thirds majority needed to make constitutional amendments and key appointments. The door is therefore wide open for a fundamental transformation. Technically, there is nothing to stop the National Assembly from approving all the necessary legislation to carry the Revolution beyond the point of no return. This it can do legally. But will it? This is the decisive question.

What is needed is the most energetic and decisive action to defeat the counterrevolution and deprive it of its economic power and social base. That is what the masses demand from their leaders. But will the latter do what the masses wish? Or will they allow themselves to be pressurised, bullied and blackmailed by the oligarchy and imperialism into prevaricating, retreating and once again attempting to compromise with the counterrevolution, that is, attempt to square the circle?

The demand to “defend democracy” can have a progressive significance only if it signifies an all-out struggle to defeat and disarm those forces that threaten democracy - that is, the oligarchy. This cannot be done by making pretty speeches in the National Assembly about the wonders of democracy. That only wastes time and hands the initiative to the counterrevolutionary forces. It can only be done by the revolutionary action of the masses from below.

By far the worst mistake would be to try to arrive at a compromise with the opposition or to seek points of support in the so-called liberal or “democratic” elements in their ranks. These are the most treacherous and dangerous elements of all. If what is meant by “defend democracy” is to throw the doors open to the bourgeois enemies of the Revolution under the guise of a “united front”, that is not the way to defend democracy but only to destroy the Revolution. It is the slogan of the counterrevolution with a democratic mask.

The workers and peasants and the revolutionary youth will fight against the fascist reaction with their own methods: in the streets, in the factories, on the land and in the army barracks. They will fight with enthusiasm to defend the National Assembly if the latter begins to take serious measures to eliminate the power of the landlords and capitalists. The MVR now has complete domination of the National Assembly. It must use its power in a revolutionary way: pass emergency legislation to expropriate the land, the banks and all the key industries! Then appeal to the people to respond and they will enthusiastically do so.

This is what we demand of the National Assembly! But we must not wait for the National Assembly or anyone else. If we are serious about the need to fight the counterrevolution, it is necessary to set up committees for the defence of the Revolution, elected by the workers, peasants and urban poor from the ranks of the most resolute and dedicated fighters. The committees must link up on a local, regional, state and national level. They must discuss a plan of action, how to defeat the counterrevolutionaries and disarm them. That means that the masses themselves must be armed. If the counterrevolutionaries are getting arms from the Pentagon, the people must be given arms to defend themselves. This is the inescapable logic of the situation.

Given the extreme weakness of the opposition it is inevitable that they will be seeking to infiltrate the Bolivarian Movement, especially the tops. The heterogeneous nature of the movement means that, alongside honest fighters, there are all kinds of bureaucrats, careerists and corrupt elements who have attached themselves to the Chavista movement as a temporary manoeuvre for personal gain. These elements are the Trojan Horse through which the enemy can work to undermine the Revolution and destroy it from inside.

There are honest Bolivarians in the government who are fighting to advance the cause of the workers and peasants and who support workers' control and nationalization. But they are being constantly blocked by right-wing elements who sabotage the President's decrees and undermine the Revolution. The struggle to defend the Revolution and to fight against the counterrevolution therefore implies an implacable struggle against the Fifth Column.

The masses were right to vote. But they must not leave all the important decisions in the hands of the Assembly. Honest Bolivarians in the National Assembly and the government will support the workers. But the pro-capitalist elements will resist by all means. The workers and peasants of Venezuela must be prepared to mobilise to defeat the pro-capitalist “Bolivarians” and ensure that the National Assembly actually carries out the demands of the revolutionary people. Mass demonstrations and meetings should be organized to put pressure on the National Assembly and manifest the popular will.

The central question that the Revolution must face up to is the question of the state. Marx explained long ago that it is impossible for the working class to carry out the socialist transformation of society by simply taking over the existing bourgeois state. Is it really conceivable that the workers and peasants of Venezuela can achieve their objectives while the old state functionaries, bureaucrats and other elements left over from the old discredited Fourth Republic remain at their posts? Can these elements be relied upon to defend the interests of the masses? These questions answer themselves.

The working people have voted for a Bolivarian government – that is to say, they have voted for a fundamental change in society. They expect the new National Assembly to take decisive measures in their interests. There can be no excuse for not taking such measures without delay. The key to the situation is the independent movement of the workers, basing themselves on their organizations and their revolutionary class instinct.

The workers must trust only in their own forces, their own strength and their own organization. The victory of 4 December can open a new and decisive stage in the Revolution - but only if the masses seize the advantage and take control of the revolutionary movement into their own hands. They must press forward to advance the Revolution on all fronts.

Months ago the President read out a long list of factories that had either been abandoned by their owners or were working under capacity. These factories should be taken over and run under workers' control. The workers should demand that the National Assembly expropriate them, along with the land and the banks, and institute a democratic socialist plan of production. That is the only way to advance the Revolution and make it finally irreversible. This, and this alone, is what is meant by “Revolution within the Revolution!”

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