The transition to socialism in Venezuela

This article was written for the first edition of a new Venezuelan magazine called “Proceso: revista crítica de izquierda” (Process: critical left magazine), published by the political education school Escuela de Gobierno Hugo Chávez Frías of the Merida governorship.

All history shows that it is impossible to make half a revolution. In the final analysis, either the Revolution will be carried out to the end, expropriating the bankers, landlords and capitalists, or the bourgeoisie will destroy the Revolution. There is no ‘third way’, as Hugo Chavez pointed out on more than one occasion.

Ever since Hugo Chavez was first elected, the minority of wealthy oligarchs who were used to running Venezuela as their private fiefdom have been attempting by every means to impose their will upon the majority. They tried to do this in the coup of 2002 and later by sabotaging the oil industry through a national lockout. They tried it through the recall referendum, then by electoral challenges, then by rioting on the streets. But on every occasion the counterrevolution was defeated by the determined actions of the masses.

The real base of the Bolivarian Revolution is the active support of the masses. That is its only defence against the danger of counterrevolution and the only hope for its final victory. But the support of the masses cannot be taken for granted. The workers and peasants are not like a tap of water that can be turned on and off at will. The masses must feel that the leadership is carrying out the Revolution, that it is taking firm and decisive action against the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, not only in words but in deeds.

The workers and peasants have shown great willingness to struggle and make sacrifices for the Revolution. But there are limits to all things. If the masses begin to feel that their just aspirations are not being fulfilled; that too many concessions are being made to the rich people while the living standards of the masses fall; that they are losing control of the Revolution and that a new caste of privileged bureaucrats and officials have hijacked the Revolution; then a mood of disillusionment and demoralisation will spread with disastrous consequences.

chavez308The fact is that sixteen years after Hugo Chavez came to power, the oligarchy still owns a large part of the land, the banks and the most profitable industries. It exercises a stranglehold over the economy, carrying out systematic sabotage and preparing to carry out the counterrevolutionary overthrow of the Bolivarian government as soon as conditions allow it. Soaring inflation, growing unemployment, economic chaos and shortages of basic products are a favourable medium for the cultivation of the counterrevolutionary bacillus. Only the most determined action can stop its further development.

The capitalists are carrying out an investment strike and a flight of capital that represents a deadly haemorrhage of the life blood of the economy. They are sabotaging any attempt to use oil rent to implement social programmes and improve the lives of the masses, while shamelessly speculating with the currency in order to enrich themselves still more at the expense of the people of Venezuela.

20130218-Chavez supporters-chavezcandangaIt is not possible to reach a modus vivendi between a revolutionary government and the capitalist class, as the obtuse reformists imagine. In such a polarised situation it is foolish to imagine that concessions will make the landlords and capitalists more amenable to negotiation and less inclined to violent aggression. That is an illusion. Weakness always invites aggression. Every step backwards the government takes, under the pressure of the bourgeoisie, encourages the counterrevolutionaries to demand ten more.

I first met President Chavez ten years ago, after the defeat of the counterrevolution in 2002. In the course of a long conversation, he asked me if I had any criticisms of the Bolivarian Revolution.  I answered as follows: “The two main deficiencies I see is the lack of a clear socialist programme and the lack of a cadre party.” He said nothing but nodded his head in agreement. Later he declared that the aim of the Revolution was socialism, and that the Bolivarian Revolution was incompatible with the existence of capitalism.  

Chavez's programme, the Plan for the Socialist Fatherland, told the people the truth. It said: “Let us not fool ourselves. The socio-economic formation that still prevails in Venezuela has a capitalist and rentier character" and it advocated going "towards a radical suppression of the logic of Capital", adding: "This means the complete pulverization of the kind of bourgeois state apparatus that we have inherited, and which is still reproducing itself through its bad old practices."

Yet none of this has been implemented. Why not? Why do ministers, governors and mayors constantly sing the praises of Hugo Chavez, yet do nothing to carry out his programme in practice?  Some have argued that the Venezuelan revolution has been achieved by electoral means, and that this signifies a limitation on what can be done. Such an argument does not make any sense.

Chavez was quite right to underline the question of state power as the key element in the transition to socialism. How can we move towards a genuine democratic planning of the economy, while retaining the old capitalist bureaucratic state apparatus? Can anyone in their right mind imagine that the old bureaucrats, drawn in the main from classes hostile to socialism, steeped in bourgeois prejudices and corrupt to the marrow of their bones, will cheerfully carry out a socialist programme that means the immediate suppression of all their power, prestige and privileges? It is sufficient to pose the question to answer it.

A government elected democratically by the people has not only the right to carry out a programme in the interests of the people but has a duty to do so. The argument that the government must adjust its programme and policies to the demands of the minority is completely false. Government by the majority would become government by the minority, which is the opposite of democracy.

In reality the government has the power to carry through a revolutionary socialist programme. What is lacking is not the necessary legislative powers. What is lacking is the necessary will to carry out the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists and to destroy the economic power of the Venezuelan oligarchy once and for all.

What measures would amount to abolition of the bourgeois state? A revolutionary government must base itself on the support of the working people: the millions of workers, the poor peasants, the unemployed, the urban poor, the women, the students and the progressive intellectuals. It must rely on their initiative, their class consciousness and their creativity, which was clearly demonstrated during the bosses’ lockout of 2002-3. Nobody can run the factories better than the workers (who will receive the help of the qualified engineers and management, but under the democratic control of the workers).

Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. Nationalisation without workers’ control and management is an empty word. Bureaucratic management is a cancer that will undermine the nationalised industries and discredit them in the eyes of the workers and still more the middle class. Those who call themselves Bolivarians but who oppose workers’ control are betraying the most elementary principles of socialism. They are the negation of everything that Chavez stood for. They are nothing more than the Fifth Column of the bourgeoisie inside the Bolivarian Movement.

Another argument which is raised by those who do not want the Revolution to go forward is:  the objective conditions for socialism do not exist in Venezuela. This is merely a sophist trick to prevent the Revolution from doing what it has to do. The Russian Mensheviks used exactly the same argument against the Bolsheviks in 1917. As a matter of fact, they had a far better case than our “21st Century (reformist) Socialists” in Venezuela. Tsarist Russia in 1917 was far less developed than Venezuela. In fact, in many ways it was more backward than India today.  

Nobody could argue that the objective conditions for socialism existed in Russia in 1917. But that did not stop Lenin and Trotsky from leading the Russian workers and peasants to take power, overthrow the landlords and capitalists and begin the movement towards socialism.

The Bolsheviks took power under conditions infinitely more difficult than the conditions that exist in Venezuela. Basing themselves on the power and initiative of the working class, they expropriated the landlords and capitalists, carried the socialist revolution out to the end and appealed to the workers of the world to support them.

The example of the Russian Revolution, which Chavez quoted admiringly on many occasions, shows the way forward. Does that mean that the workers and peasants of Venezuela must slavishly imitate every detail of the Russian Revolution? No, it does not mean any such thing. The Bolivarian Revolution will pursue its own course, following its own creative initiative and working out the correct path to take. But at the same time it will absorb the lessons of other revolutions and apply them creatively and imaginatively to its native traditions and local conditions. In just the same way, Simon Bolivar learned much from the Great French Revolution and applied what he had learned to Latin American conditions.

Lenin and Trotsky were internationalists. They understood that although the economic basis for socialism was absent in Russia, it was present on a world scale. That is why they set up the Communist International and did everything in their power to support the German Revolution. The Bolivarian Revolution, like the Russian Revolution, is internationalist by its very nature. It has raised the banner of a United Latin America. But this will never be possible as long as this mighty continent remains under the rule of the landlords and capitalists. The Latin American Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution, or it will not triumph at all.

On countless occasions, the workers have responded to the call, defeating reaction on the streets and establishing workers control in the factories. They will do so again in the future, but there is a danger. The growth of bureaucracy, careerism and corruption, if it is not stopped, can have a fatal effect. Bureaucracy is a cancer that gnaws at the entrails of the Revolution and destroys it from within. The destiny of the Bolivarian Revolution will be decided, as it has always been, by the men and women of no property. Not the bureaucrats and careerists, but the ordinary workers, peasants and youth, can save it from the threat of counterrevolution and lead the way forward towards socialism. These are the people who have supported the Revolution with their votes and also with their blood. They are the only ones who have a real interest in its success.

As I write these lines, international capitalism finds itself in the deepest crisis in 200 years. Everywhere we see mass unemployment, the stagnation of the productive forces, falling living standards, wars and chaos, alongside grotesque inequality and obscene wealth. But as in mechanics, so in politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everywhere the working people and the youth are resisting and passing onto the offensive. The revolutionary wave has spread from Latin America to the Arab World and now to Southern Europe. Even in the belly of the Beast, in the USA, there are signs of movement.

On a historical scale, capitalism is in a blind alley. The masses are beginning to stir and draw conclusions. The workers have begun to move. The only thing missing is revolutionary leadership. That is what we have to create in the heat of the class struggle. It is the only way forward.

London, 10 September 2014.