This article is based on material published in Venezuela, which is available in Spanish (see links at the end of this article). We will provide more material in the coming days. We ask all our readers and supporters to step up the campaign we launched last week in defence of the Venezuelan revolution. Keep collecting the solidarity signatures, organise meetings, raise money, spread the word about what is happening in Venezuela.
Events in Venezuela are moving fast. Twice the "opposition" – which gathers around it all that is reactionary in Venezuela – has tried to overthrow Chavez. First they tried the coup in April 2002, then the so-called oil workers' strike. On both occasions mass opposition from the workers and poor of Venezuela stopped the reactionaries in their tracks. But in the last few days they have adopted a new tactic, to sow terror on the streets. Workers, students, Chavez supporters, left activists have come under physical attack. This is part of a grand plan to destabilise the country and create conditions more favourable for the opposition, including the possibility of another coup.
Speaking at a mass rally in Caracas on Sunday Chavez made the harshest speech he has ever made yet against Bush. He said that if US imperialism dares to interfere in Venezuelan politics and tries to remove the democratically elected government of the country, not one drop of Venezuelan petroleum would go to the United States. This is a serious threat because Venezuela exports about 1.5 million barrels of oil daily to the U.S. He also raised the possibility that the U.S. may be tempted to carry out a military intervention. In such a case there would be enough mountain, enough jungle, enough savannah, enough dignity and also enough guts to confront such an attack.
The campaign to destabilise the country is being orchestrated nationally within Venezuela and internationally. In different towns and districts around Venezuela small but very determined and fanatical groups have been carrying out attacks on supporters of the revolutionary process. Faced with the counter-attacks of the workers and youth, these gangs have fired on ordinary civilians.
These activities have already provoked mass reaction. On Sunday, February 29th, Caracas saw millions of ordinary working Venezuelans, the downtrodden, the poor, the workers and youth, march through the streets for six hours. The masses could sense the danger that was looming. Two days earlier the opposition had mobilised a much smaller force on the streets of Caracas. Sunday's mass rally represented the whole people mobilising in defence of their basic democratic rights and in defence of the revolutionary process unfolding in Venezuela.
At the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) a small gang of "oppositionists" tried to raise barricades but they were swept away by the spontaneous mobilisation of students and workers. Similar provocations have taken place elsewhere. In the area of El Valle a group of about 100 provocateurs backed by an armed group attempted to take control of the streets, but were later dispersed by the mobilisation of the local people. The students at the UCV were holding a mass meeting today to discuss how to proceed.
These events are all part of a grand plan to present Venezuela as a country falling into chaos, with the clear aim of justifying moves against Chavez and the Bolivarian movement that stands behind. They want to confuse the workers and youth of the world about what is really going on in Venezuela and thus justify their attempts to overthrow the democratically electe3d government and President of Venezuela.
But why is all this happening now? After the failure of the April 2002 coup and the "oil workers' strike" the reactionary opposition was in difficulty. It had lost its momentum. Its supporters were demoralised. They were no longer capable of mobilising the already weak forces they had. Recent opinion polls actually show that they are weaker electorally. The same polls show that Chavez has more than 60% support among the population. There is even greater support for some of his basic reforms, such as in education and healthcare. These have 75-80% support. Ordinary workers and poor know where their interests lie!
Faced with this, the opposition shifted all their efforts to getting a recall referendum, which the Venezuelan constitution allows for. For this they need to get a minimum of 2,400,000 signatures. They have failed abysmally to achieve this figure. They claim they have the signatures, but it has been clearly demonstrated that many of these are false. There have been many cases of people declaring that their signatures had been falsified. In some cases it has been proven that the signatures were of dead people! Even children were signing for the opposition! And many signatures were duplicates. The opposition could sense that the National Electoral Council (NEC) was not going to come down on their side.
Without the referendum the "opposition" faced a further weakening and demoralisation of its forces. However, even if the NEC were to declare that this time round a sufficient number of signatures has been collected it seems very unlikely that in the given conditions, the opposition could win such a referendum.
The opposition leaders are fully aware that they would most likely lose, but they need something to keep their forces mobilised. Part of their plans are clearly to try to go ahead with the referendum, and if the result turns out be a defeat for them they would then declare it a fraud and mobilise on that basis. This seems to be how they were planning to do things, but now that the referendum may not even take place they have been forced to anticipate events. Time was playing against them. Opinion polls show that they could even lose control of some local councils. This, again, would put them in a very unfavourable situation. They could not claim to represent the "people" of Venezuela as they have been trying to do, once the masses had passed their verdict.
The opposition has thus found itself in extreme difficulty. It is their very weakness which has placed them with their backs to the wall. They must move, they must do something if they are to get their supporters mobilised behind them. But it is their very weakness which is leading them to act in the desperate way they are doing at the moment.
They may even be contemplating an attempted assassination of Chavez himself. If this were to happen, Venezuela would be thrown into even greater turmoil. A civil war could be on the agenda. The masses would not remain passive. They would come out in their millions. We would be facing a new "Caracazo", but this time on a much higher level. The masses are much more organised. They have a greater experience. They have gained much and will not be willing to give all this up to the reactionary, pro-imperialist gangsters that want to turn the clock back.
The opposition is clearly thinking of what their next step should be. Some must be playing with the idea of another coup. They are looking for support among the higher levels of the military. For now, the balance of forces, even at this level of the armed forces, is still weighed against them. Most of the officers have stated their loyalty to Chavez. In fact, last time there was a coup, under the pressure of the masses, a wing of the army moved to save Chavez and overthrow the coup leaders. However. There is no guarantee that this "loyalty" will remain for ever. It depends on several factors.
If they see the country falling into "chaos" some of them may decide to switch their allegiances. We have seen this many times before. At the crucial moment, the top officers side with their own class, the bosses. But it seems we have not yet reached that stage. But this stage clearly remains within the plans of the opposition. What they are doing is trying to create a more favourable situation for such a scenario.
One short term option is a possible embargo to be imposed on Venezuela from outside, led by the United States and backed by their allies in the rest of Latin America. This however, also has its risks. Instead of weakening Chavez it could push the movement onto a higher level, with the masses lurching evermore leftwards, thus increasing the pressures on Chavez to take even firmer measures against imperialism.
Another rumour circulating in Venezuela is that the governor of Zulia, an oil-rich region on the border with Colombia, may be tempted to declare independence. This would be a provocation aimed at getting Chavez to intervene militarily and thus justify some external intervention to "save" Zulia. The fact that it is on the Colombian border would facilitate this.
All these are clearly possibilities that the opposition is considering. The problem is that at this stage the balance of forces is still massively weighted against them. If they don't move then they clearly demonstrate their weakness and thus boost the confidence of the masses. If they do move they are escalating events and pushing the masses to counter-attack.
So it seems that their actions over the last few days are dictated by their desperate need to keep up the morale of their supporters. They are doing this by mobilising the dregs of society in these cowardly attacks of armed gangs against unarmed workers and youth. This is part of a more ling-term strategy aimed at destabilising the country and preparing more favourable conditions for reaction.
Their slogan is "the worse the better". More chaos and disorder they succeed in sowing, the more likely they feel they can start to change the balance of forces within the institutions of the state, in particular within the army tops. If they can convince some key elements at this level that the country faces "collapse" or some kind of "communist take-over" then they would be preparing the conditions for a new coup at some point in the future.
However, it is not ruled out, that faced with a desperate situation, they could be pushed into a premature action and try and base themselves on those officers who are already with them. We cannot be complacent about the situation. The Venezuelan revolution is staring reaction in the face. Any sign of weakness on the part of Chavez, or of the Venezuelan masses, would invite further aggression.
This threat will not go away. At best, it will be delayed for a further period. But the opposition will not stop until it has achieved its aim – to crush the Venezuelan masses, to give them a lesson they will not forget for a long time. We must make sure that it is the opposition that receives a lesson it won't easily forget. That will not be achieved by maintaining the status quo.
Last Sunday' massive mobilisation in Caracas shows clearly the immense power of the Venezuelan masses. They could crush the opposition a thousand times over. But this will not be done with pious appeals from the government. It is time to move into action. It is not enough to defend the revolutionary process. It must be deepened. The power of the opposition is based on its property. It owns the bulk of the media, the TV, the newspapers, the radio stations, it controls large parts of the economy. It still has substantial power. It has reserves of support within the state apparatus. Even the National Electoral Council is divided 3 to 2 in favour of Chavez. For now the NEC has taken the correct decision to challenge the signatures. However, there is no guarantee that they will stick to this. Under pressure, it would take just one of its members to shift their opinion, for it to fall into the hands of the opposition.
To defend itself the revolution must move forward. The property of these oligarchs should be expropriated. It should be nationalised under workers' control. However, this also is not enough. The opposition is armed and backed by the rich capitalists, behind whom stands imperialism. These forces are not going to stand idly by while the masses remove all their instruments of power from their hands. That is why it is an urgent task to organise the masses.
The first steps should be:
- call mass meetings in every working class neighbourhood and workplace; these should elect defence committees, elected by all and with the right of recall;
- workers' defence squads should be created to defend each area and each workplace;
- the Chavez government should distribute arms to these squads and provide the workers with the necessary training to use them; that is the only way the workers can seriously defend themselves against the criminal gangs that the opposition is unleashing;
- special defensive measures should be taken to protect those activists of the movement, shop stewards etc., against physical attacks; not to do all this with the excuse that this would merely provoke a reaction on the part of the opposition would be a serious dereliction of duty; the opposition is already mobilising, it needs no excuse;
- these committees and defence squads should be linked to the loyal sections of the army and measures should be taken to make sure the sons of the workers in the army stay with their class;
If such measures are taken quickly and the masses are mobilised then no force on the planet could stop the Venezuelan workers. The fascist scum would flee in the face of such a mighty movement. Not to take the above measures would be playing into the hands of the opposition. It would facilitate their manoeuvres. They may be weak now but they are preparing for the future.
The workers of the world must be vigilant. A defeat for the Venezuelan workers would represent a defeat for all workers, especially for the workers of Latin America. We repeat: the only way of stopping reaction in Venezuela today is to take the revolution forward, complete it!