Venezuela at the crossroads

On June 29 a million and a half workers marched on the streets of Caracas to show their support for the government and to warn reaction that "if there is a new A11 there will be a new A13" (in reference to the coup and counter-coup in Venezuela in April). The stories and pictures of the demonstration leave no room for doubt: the Venezuelan working class is ready to fight against reaction. On June 29 a million and a half workers marched on the streets of Caracas to show their support for the government and to warn reaction that "if there is a new A11 there will be a new A13" (in reference to the coup and counter-coup in Venezuela in April). The stories and pictures of the demonstration leave no room for doubt: the Venezuelan working class is ready to fight against reaction.

Events have been developing at a breathtaking pace since April 11-13, when the working class put an end to the attempted reactionary coup led by the bosses, the Church, the corrupt leaders of the CTV trade unions and US imperialism. Now revolution and counter-revolution are preparing their forces again. The forces of revolution have shown their superiority in mobilisation and support amongst working people, peasants, students and the poor in Venezuela - that is amongst the overwhelming majority of the population. But whether the process will go their way in the end will depend on their capacity to organise, their boldness and their revolutionary leadership.

The idea that it is the workers and oppressed sections in society themselves that have to take the reigns of the revolutionary process is gaining ground amongst the most advanced and militant sections of the Bolivarian movement, particularly since April 13. In this respect the news we receive from Venezuela is encouraging. A number of articles and papers published by the Bolivarian Network contain these ideas. Also important is the formation of the Popular Revolutionary Assembly (APR) which, among other things, is pushing for the national coordination of the Bolivarian Circles and the workers', neighbourhood, peasants' and students' assemblies that are being created. "This rally [on June 29] represents an important step forward towards the organisation of the popular movement. We made contact and established links with comrades and organisations from all over Venezuela. Many of these organisations are new, born - like the APR - out of the popular insurrection on April 13, but we all agree on the need to get organised and to link up nationwide." (From the APR website) Other groups are also moving in the same direction.

Now it is a question of what programme and what actions these platforms are going to take in order to organise the movement and give it real decision-making power.

Obviously one of the first tasks for the Popular Revolutionary Assembly is the nationwide coordination of all committees and local, factory, barracks and peasant assemblies, on the basis of elected representatives subject to the right of recall. But that in itself would not be enough.

First of all it is necessary to organise the defence of the conquests of the revolution and the smashing of reaction. For this armed self-defence committees composed of workers, peasants, students, neighbours and soldiers to defend the revolution must be organised.

The reaction is already arming itself and a decisive answer must be given. A reactionary group composed of retired and active army officers called "Venezuelan United Self-Defences" has been created. They claim to have 2,200 men "trained to fight Colombian guerrilla groups" and that their aim is to "change the political landscape which is dominated by the narco-guerrilla government of Hugo Chávez". This groups boasts about a forthcoming meeting with the leader of the Colombian paramilitaries, Carlos Castaño.

On the other hand, the priests in middle and upper class areas of Caracas, like the parish priests of UrbanizaciĆ³n Manzanares, Cumbres de Curumu, La Floresta, Los Charros and others, are making constant appeals to their followers to organise themselves in armed commando groups to "fight against the chavistas" whom they call "murderers and drug addicts", and they encourage their flock to "chase chavistas out of their neighbourhoods".

This is why we cannot stop halfway. Apart from calls for the general mobilisation and the warnings against repression we must tell the workers what is already happening, right now, and explain the need for a genuine revolutionary organisation able to act and fight back against the actions of the counter-revolution.

Different tendencies of the Bolivarian movement have insisted that this is a "peaceful movement" and Chávez himself in his speech to the people on June 29 made an appeal to "give up arms".

This appeal to give up arms is, frankly, very dangerous, since if it was followed, it would only disarm the revolutionary movement. Obviously the workers do not want violence and desire a peaceful change. In fact we fight against the violence and wars caused by the capitalist system in which we are used as cannon fodder. No-one is as interested as we are in a peaceful life. This is our aspiration and this is what we fight for. The problem is that the reaction is armed and is getting ready, and, of course, will not follow any appeal for peace and to disarm. However, if the Bolivarian Circles and the people's assemblies which are being formed follow this appeal to disarm in order to prove that "we are peaceful and don't want violence", what will happen is that while the counter-revolution is organising and arming their fighting troops to help the new coup which is already being organised, the forces of the revolution will be unarmed and will suffer the violence of the counter-revolution as was the case on April 11.

It is clear with this proposal Chávez is trying to get round the accusation used by the right wing that the Bolivarian Circles are arming themselves. But the solution is not giving up arms on the part of the revolutionaries, since even if this was done the right wing would not believe it and would not stop using this argument against the Bolivarian movement. What Chávez should do is precisely denounce the fact that the reaction is getting armed, the squads they are organising and the pro-coup officers who have access to arms and against whom the government has taken no measures so far. On the other hand, this call to disarm will not only not appease the right wing and the international bourgeoisie, but will only result in sections of the movement feeling powerless, and others not understanding the need to prepare boldly and seriously against the actions of reaction.

There have been already a number of warning signals of the fact that the Venezuelan ruling class and US imperialism have not abandoned their plans for a coup, as can be seen by the movements and threats against the government on the part of reserve and even active officers in the army. On April 12 and 13, the Venezuelan workers showed their revolutionary capacity by descending on Caracas and taking it back with their bear hands to prevent the consolidation of the military junta. But this magnificent revolutionary demonstration had its price. More than 40 people were killed and hundreds suffered bullet injuries. Despite this the reaction could not stop the movement. To recognise the heroism of the working class in stopping the coup is not enough. The task of revolutionaries is to explain what is happening and to take the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again and that our class paying the price. The working class does not need martyrs. We want to live in peace, but in order to achieve this it is necessary to arm the workers through factory, neighbourhood and barrack committees and assemblies to defend ourselves.

We cannot fear the truth. Workers all over the world, which are the ones who really support the Venezuelan revolutionary process, understand clearly the need to get armed and defend themselves to prevent reaction from using arms against the working class, against the revolutionaries. The bourgeoisie, internationally, will continue to lie about the process which is taking place in Venezuela, but the labour movement will steadfastly defend the revolutionary conquests. Working people all over the world already have a bitter experience about how the ruling class organises murders and violent actions against leaders and movements of our class. To raise the need to organise armed self-defence committees to be able to fight back against the attacks of reaction, far from scaring the workers away, will show them the right way towards victory. We cannot allow them to get armed to the teeth while we have to rely only on our bare hands.

But this, while being an urgent task, is not the only one. The Venezuelan ruling class is organising a boycott of the economy in order to force Chávez to take measures against the workers so that his base of support is weakened and the movement gets demoralised.

The latest measures announced by the finance and planning ministers, though they have not been yet approved by the National Assembly, go precisely in the direction of the wishes of the oligarchy. Thus, the Venezuelan paper El Nuevo Herald described these new economic plans as "orthodox and inevitable".

In the announced measures there is an increase in indirect taxation and VAT, the elimination of tax exemption for the sale of petrol, the selling off of some public assets, the emission of public debt bonds and the devaluation of the currency. These measures only favour the oligarchy and are ironically proposed by the same government they tried to overthrow with the coup and that they are still boycotting, despite all these demonstrations of "goodwill". Chávez and his ministers are making a big mistake if they think that by making all these concessions they will be able to avoid a bloodbath. The ruling class and US imperialism will not forgive the Bolivarian movement nor its leaders. They will not have a moment of rest until they smash the workers' movement despite concessions by the president and his ministers. The show of strength of the working class during the process is really what scares the ruling class and what they want to smash.

It is clear to everyone that indirect taxation (including the VAT which is charged mainly on the final consumer) are harder on the workers, since for the rich they do not make a big difference. For the 80% of the population who live on the verge of poverty, with an unemployment rate of nearly 13.5% (to which we have to add the massive number of workers who survive in the so-called "informal sector") and with a rate of inflation which is growing quickly (so far this year the currency has been devalued by 8%), these measure will became unbearable.

As for the sale of "some public assets", what this means clearly is the partial privatisation of the Venezuelan economy. This means that the government is seriously considering the sale of some of its share of the Venezuelan Oil Company (PdVSA) which would mean handing over basic resources of the country to the multinationals. The process has already begun with the "Paria" project according to which the government will not have a majority share in the exploitation of natural gas in Mariscal Sucre, something which contradicts the Oil and Gas Law passed in December as part of the 49 Enabling Acts. The same will be the case with the gas exploitation in the Deltana Platform.

It seems that despite the fact that the process was stopped by the revolutionary movement, the government is prepared to accept the conditions dictated by the oligarchs.

Chávez is even prepared to backtrack on some of the other Enabling Acts, as he has said to the different round tables organised by the ministers as part of the "reconciliation and dialogue process". After what is already happening with the Oil and Gas Law, the oligarchy wants to reverse the Land Reform Law, the Coastal Areas Law and the Fishing Law. This is really inadmissible!

This is obviously worrying revolutionaries in Venezuela who have already met with Chávez to let him know their position: no retreats on the Enabling Acts; trial and punishment for the coup organisers (let's not forget that Pedro Carmona and Molina Tamayo, the two most prominent figures in the coup have been able to escape from the country because they were simply under house arrest instead of having been locked up in a military jail); expropriation under workers' control of the mass media who supported the coup and maintain a pro-coup attitude against the government; and, amongst other things, a number of measures to defend the purchasing power of wages and make their jobs more secure.

Until now Chávez has not taken any steps in this direction, and from his minister's statements he is not too keen.

If he continues along the road of making concessions to the ruling class and attacking the workers, the support that he still commands will progressively dissipate and many workers who trusted the president will feel disheartened and demoralised, which is precisely what reaction wants in order to smash the revolutionary movement.

The working class cannot be in a permanent state of struggle. Venezuelan workers have responded every time they have been called to mobilise and have responded in an exemplary way against the attacks of reaction. But they need a revolutionary leadership with a clear programme able to fulfil the needs of the masses, a leadership able to explain clearly the situation they are in and able to take into their own hands the task of the socialist transformation of society - the only viable alternative in Venezuela. Such a leadership would explain clearly to the labour movement that there are no third ways, capitalism does not offer any alternative, that there is no such thing as a capitalism with a human face, that capitalism can only offer at most what they already have in Venezuela: misery, exploitation and poverty for the majority of society so that an elitist and reactionary minority benefits. We must be clear. The only way to solve once and for all the problems of the Venezuelan economy is the nationalisation without compensation and under workers' control of the means of production, the land and the banks, using all these resources for the benefit of the majority of society.

For this reason, the factory, neighbourhood and peasant committees and assemblies, apart from establishing a national coordination must take into their own hands in a very concrete way the reigns of the economy and of all political and social life in Venezuela. This National Revolutionary Assembly should organise and promote committees in very factory to expropriate the bosses, and take over production and the running of industry. No-one knows how to run a company than its own workers! They are the ones who are already running them! The factories must guarantee the necessary production for the normal running of the economy and to cover the basic needs of the majority. In every neighbourhood committees should be set up to organise the building of decent housing, schools, sanitation systems, and to guarantee the running of schools, hospitals and distribution of goods. Every peasants' assembly must organise the expropriation of the big latifundia and the running of these under a plan which guarantees the production of basic foodstuffs. In every faculty there should be a committee of workers, students and teachers to run the education system. In every barrack there should be soldiers' committees to organise the purge of pro-coup and reactionary officers, electing new officers subordinated and loyal to the decisions of a National Revolutionary Assembly.

The factories, the land, the financial resources and even the arms are there. It is just a question for the revolutionary movement to take them, and put them at the disposal of the working class and the exploited of Venezuela in order to guarantee a decent life for all.

As the comrades who are already organising the movement put it, a programme is need which would lead the workers to victory.

But victory will only be won on the basis of a revolutionary programme able to satisfy the needs of the 80% of the poor who support the revolutionary process.

The workers have already shown that they have the necessary strength to carry out these plans. The ruling class need the workers to run the economy. The workers do not need the ruling class to organise production, to guarantee a decent life for all. This has been shown once and again. Not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines without permission from the working class. The task of revolutionaries is to make workers conscious of their own strength, to explain clearly the tasks ahead. This is the only way to ensure victory.

Latin America is a continent in revolution. A socialist Venezuela making an appeal to her class brothers and sisters to put an end to capitalism and to join in with the Venezuelan revolutionary movement would awaken the Latin American masses and show them the way to put an end to the barbarism and hopelessness of capitalism. A Socialist Federation of Latin America would put the resources of the continent in the hands of the dispossessed and with full respect to the ethnic and cultural differences of the peoples, would appeal to the international solidarity of the European and US workers, particularly to those Latino workers in the US, thus making impossible a direct intervention of imperialism. Such an appeal would also encourage revolutionary movements against capitalism all over the world, opening a whole new stage in the history of humanity.

July 2, 2002

This has been translated from the original Spanish.