Counterrevolutionary offensive in Venezuela - Mass mobilisation, the only way to defeat the counterrevolution

There have been increasing rumours in the last few days of a fresh coup attempt in Venezuela. According to pro-government members of parliament, there is strong evidence that the CIA and the leaders of the counterrevolutionary opposition are preparing plans to try and overthrow President Chavez once again. In response, the government has put the army on full alert, however, in our opinion, the best way to counter any further coup attempts is by mobilising the workers and masses of Venezuela, the very people who defeated the first coup attempt back in April 2002.

There have been increasing rumours in the last few days of a fresh coup attempt in Venezuela. According to pro-government members of parliament, there is strong evidence that the CIA and the leaders of the counterrevolutionary opposition are preparing plans to try and overthrow President Chavez once again.

In a number of recently discovered videocassettes, CIA agents and opposition members are seen planning acts of sabotage and in one recorded telephone call, two "trade-union" leaders of the pro-coup CTV union are overheard calling for a dictatorship in Venezuela of at least 10 years.

Although such activities by the coup-plotting opposition have been quite common, this time they have been accompanied by the discovery of massive secret arms caches in Maracay and elsewhere as well as a vast national and international campaign of disinformation and lies launched against the Venezuelan revolutionary process.

In response, the government has put the army on full alert, however, in our opinion, the best way to counter any further coup attempts is by mobilising the workers and masses of Venezuela, the very people who defeated the first coup attempt back in April 2002.

Lies and damn lies

The first salvo fired in this most recent campaign of disinformation was fired by the so-called US "journalist" Linda Robinson when she claimed that terrorist training camps had been set up on Venezuelan soil (for FARC, ELN and even Islamist guerrillas!). However, following protests from the Venezuelan authorities, this person had to admit that she had no concrete proof of their actual existence.

Next was the US administration itself, in the form of Colin Powell, who like many other of his governmental colleagues, never hesitates to lie quite openly and brazenly about the situation in Venezuela. On this occasion, Powell declared that the US government would remain 'vigilant' to make sure that all parts of the agreement between the Venezuelan government and the opposition signed in June were fully respected. This was clearly a bare-faced lie as the only provisions of this agreement were that the opposition would respect the legal process, as well as the democratically-elected government, and that, above all, the calling of a recall referendum would be done in strict compliance with the Constitution.

The principle of a recall referendum (applicable to ALL democratically elected officials in Venezuela) was introduced by Chavez himself in the Bolivarian constitution back in 1999. Ironically, the very same people who opposed this at the time are now championing it with all their might, as a means of getting rid of Chavez of course!

The opposition started to collect the signatures required to trigger the presidential recall process on Friday, November 28. However, parties and activists who support the revolutionary process had already started to collect the signatures required to launch recall processes on dozens of opposition members of parliament, many of whom, although having been elected on President Chavez's lists, have since passed over to the opposition without giving up their seats. For a recall referendum to be held, 20% of the electors registered on the national electoral roll (for a recall of the president) or on the constituency roll (for a recall of a member of parliament) must sign a petition. The signatures on this petition are then checked by the National Electoral Council (NEC), which is itself elected by the National Assembly (parliament). In August, when the opposition presented a petition of millions of signatures calling for a presidential recall referendum, many were found to belong to dead people or people who had been conned into signing by all manner of fraudulent methods: i.e. workers had been forced to sign by their bosses under threat of being sacked and false names had been used. The NEC was forced to annul these fraudulently obtained signatures and the opposition had no other choice but to try once again to organise a recall referendum.

Of course, not of a word of this has come from the mouths of Colin Powell or the friends of the Venezuelan coup-plotting opposition within the ex-progressive intellectual community who have now thrown their lot in with US imperialism. We are of course talking about people like Vargas Llosa, Enrique Krauze and others who recently took part in a conference entitled "The threats to democracy in Latin America: terrorism, neopopulism and the weakness of the rule of law". Although these lackeys of imperialism are very worried about the "lack of democracy in Venezuela", not a word was said about the murder of trade unionists in Colombia or the bloody government repression in Bolivia. However, this sort of attitude is hardly surprising when one looks at some of the names on the list of speakers: Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, who has recently set up "zones of consolidation and rehabilitation", in which all freedoms and human rights are suspended and where power is placed in the hands of the military, and Carlos Iturgaiz, leader of the Spanish Popular Party in the Basque Country, who is very well known for his extreme right wing views.

Leaders of the CIOSL, CCOO and UGT in support of the CTV

This use of intellectuals to help in imperialism's battle against the Venezuelan government has been supplemented by the visit of various European and Latin American trade union leaders to Caracas, to offer their support to the corrupt and pro-coup union, the CTV, in its recent congress. In fact, for the first time in the history of Venezuelan trade unionism, representatives from employers' organisations, such as the pro-coup FEDECAMARAS, also attended.

The participation of these European trade union leaders was a clear act of support to the reactionary leaders of the CTV in a congress that saw countless attacks against Chavez and his government. There were representatives of the CIOSL, the American AFL-CIO, the CCOO and UGT from Spain, the Portuguese UGT, the Mexican CTM, the CGT and CUT from Brazil and the Colombian and Chilean CUT's. They all apparently signed the 'Caracas Declaration' which unsurprisingly contained a whole string of lies about the supposed persecution of the CTV, despite the fact that none of this union's branches have been closed down and that it is allowed to operate freely despite the open coup plotting of its leadership. Some of the invited foreign trade unionists even declared that they had come to "guarantee" that the opposition was able to collect the signatures it required for a recall referendum, whether the government allowed it not. In reality, if anyone is persecuting the CTV leadership, it is not the government but its own members who in many workplaces have decided to break with this blackleg union and create news ones determined to actually fight for workers' interests. The mafia governing the CTV at the moment is reputed to have taken part in all sorts of scams including the 'sale' of jobs in the oil industry to unemployed workers, the signing of collective agreements without consulting the membership and open attacks on genuine trade unionists who have dared to stick up for their comrades.

We do not know whether the CCOO or UGT leaders from Spain were aware of these mafia-like methods or of how the CTV leaders supported the April 2002 coup and subsequent bosses' lockout, although only a brief look at the country's recent history would have told them all they need to know. However, something that they could not have denied knowledge of, as its authenticity was acknowledged by one of the participants in the congress, was the telephone conversation between Manual Cova (the current head of the CTV) and Carlos Ortega (the former secretary who fled to Miami in December 2002 after having supported the coup and the bosses' lockout). In this conversation, both called for a dictatorship in Venezuela of 10 or 15 years! Unfortunately, neither Guy Ryder, head of the CIOSL, nor any other of the overseas trade union leaders attending condemned these declarations or the coup-plotting activities of the CTV leaders, although representatives of the Spanish UGT did try to underline their respect for the Chavez government.

Workers affiliated to any of the organisations mentioned above should take their leaderships to task about this implicit or explicit support given to the coup plotters of the CTV and should ask their leaders to reject outright the lies and pro-imperialist propaganda of the Caracas Declaration. They should also demand the resignation of any representative to have signed this declaration.

Freedom of speech in Venezuela

One of the biggest lies being spread abroad about the situation in Venezuela at the moment is the apparent lack of freedom of speech and expression. Anyone who has spent any length of time in the country would be able to see the absolute falseness of such an allegation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Venezuela must be the only country in the world where known coup-plotters such as the abovementioned Cova, the mayor of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, Alfredo Peña, or the governor of Miranda state, Enrique Mendoza, can walk the streets freely and go on television to talk more or less openly of how best to overthrow the democratically-elected head of state. It must also be the only country in the world where the private media (which are all in the hands of the opposition) can insult the president and call for his ousting. The cynicism of Bush, Powell or the US ambassador Shapiro in this respect is limitless. Recently, another US representative stated that the Venezuelan government was antidemocratic because it was closing down certain media outlets and repressing demonstrations. In fact the only media outlet to have been closed down recently was a community-based TV station called Catia TV, and this by an opposition leader, Alfredo Peña, because it was serving the working class districts of the city and was openly in favour of the revolutionary process.

This barrage of lies has one main objective; to create a massive web of deceit, confusion and manipulation so that the workers of the whole world are unable to follow what is really going on in Venezuela. One other recent example of this campaign was the storm created around the film on the April 2002 coup and the popular insurrection that helped defeat it. This film called 'The Revolution will not be televised' was to be shown in an exhibition in Canada organised by Amnesty International. However, after massive pressure from the Venezuelan fascists, Amnesty caved in and agreed to cancel the screening. Nevertheless, we recommend all those who want to know what really happened during those momentous days to see this film as soon as possible.

Is a new coup possible?

As mentioned above, the aim of this campaign of lies is to isolate the Venezuelan revolution from the rest of the world and create the conditions for its overthrow. Admittedly, the counterrevolutionary opposition in Venezuela is far weaker than it was in April and December 2002. Each attempt it makes to mobilise its supporters has ended in utter failure recently. For example, when they announced that the National Guard was about to close down the private TV channel Globovision on orders of the government, only a handful of fanatics turned up to defend the station. In reality many opposition supporters were able to see just how much their leadership tricks and lies to them as in fact there was never any attempt to take Globovision off the air.

The opposition now has far less support in the population than on previous occasions, and clearly much less than the government. However, despite this, there is no doubt that sooner or later the ruling class, in league with the imperialists, will try once again to get rid of Chavez. And this may happen sooner than we think particularly given the rising tide of class struggle that is developing all over Latin America. For instance the whole signature-gathering process for the recall referendum, as well as a good way of cementing its ranks, might be used by the opposition as an opportunity to try something soon. They also hope to give encouragement to anti-Chavez elements within the army so that they may try and depose the government and, as Cova and Ortega put it, establish a dictatorship. If they are not able to do this, they aim to create enough civil unrest and economic sabotage that the imperialists would be forced to intervene. For the moment, some in the opposition leadership, realising that their plans have been revealed and that their forces are too weak, may opt to just continue with economic sabotage and their low-level intensity war against the revolutionary process. They have realised perhaps that to stage another coup now would undoubtedly lead to another defeat and therefore give added strength to the revolution. Whatever happens, the Venezuelan people still needs to be on its guard even more than before.

Furthermore, the imperialists and Venezuelan reactionaries know full well that they would lose a recall referendum if it were held today. In fact they probably won't even be able to get enough signatures to set the process in motion. However, they cannot recognise this fact as it would demobilise their supporters and strengthen the revolutionaries.

In fact, the fascists of the so-called "Democratic Block" have already called on their members to "take to the streets" whether they get enough signatures or not.

For a plan of action against any future coups

If there is another coup, it is bound to be more violent than the last one as the reactionaries know that for it to succeed they must eliminate a whole vanguard of worker activists. In the words of the joint declaration made by the revolutionary groups "El Militante de Venezuela" and "El Topo Obero" (Workers' Mole) on the possibility of a coup, if the opposition fail in their attempt to trigger a recall referendum, "the best way to thwart the counterrevolutionaries is by going on the offensive (...) we should not let ourselves be surprised like on 11th April 2002 (...) if the Venezuelan people unites up with the workers and peasants of Latin America and the world, the reactionaries will find it much harder to muster enough social forces to organise a coup". The declaration goes on, "there must be an economic plan as well, which is able to deal with sabotage and the country's main social problems (...) a combative plan that keeps the revolutionary people permanently mobilised to show their support for the revolutionary process in the streets. In order to do this, we propose that the government, the leaders of the parties in charge of the revolutionary process, the leadership of the UNT trade union and all the other peoples' organisations start debating an economic, military and political contingency plan to deal with any possible counterrevolutionary offensive in the best conditions possible. Our proposal for such a plan can be summarised in the following points:

A permanent mobilisation of the people; assemblies in all workers' districts, factories involving all the peoples' organisations (Bolivarian circles, land committees etc), class-based trade unions, co-operatives and parties supporting the revolutionary process, in order to discuss the situation and formulate a united response. Every organisation and citizen must have complete freedom to present its/his/her proposals, which must be properly debated

These assemblies should elect Committees for the Defence of the Revolution responsible for preparing contingency plans in conjunction with the pro-revolutionary sectors of the army and with the government. Such committees will be formed by representatives, subject to the right of recall, elected by each assembly on a national, provincial and local level.

The initial tasks of these Committees will be to organise a permanent presence of the revolutionary forces in each zone and then to organise a mass national demonstration in defence of the revolutionary process against the coup plans of the opposition and against the imperialists' interference. If the opposition launches a coup, these committees, as well as the assemblies, will have to organise the defence of each workers' district, the distribution of food and the co-ordination of other essential social activities

This demonstration should be a clear show of force to dissuade the most indecisive sections of the middle class in order to isolate them from the fascists. Reservists should be trained and any group of suspected of fascism should immediately be disarmed.

At the same time, Committees for the Defence of the Revolution should also be formed inside the army in order to organise the patriotic and revolutionary sectors within it.

There should be an end to impunity. There should be no recall referendum whilst those responsible for the April 2002 coup and the economic destruction caused by the bosses' lockout walk the streets free men. All coup-plotters and murderers of worker and peasant activists should be brought to justice immediately!

Deepening the revolution

This fighting programme, linked up with a whole series of economic measures aimed at deepening the revolution, will help to isolate the fascists and weaken the social basis of reaction. A layer of the middle class has already realised how the opposition has fooled it, how it has paralysed the country's main source of wealth (the oil industry) and how the bosses' lockout last year has pushed millions of people into more poverty this year. This layer of the middle class could even be won over to the revolutionary process, or at worst remain neutral, but only if the revolutionaries are audacious and, instead of moderating their programme, try to deepen the revolution even further.

The use of conspirational methods and coups only form part of the counterrevolution's strategy. The reactionaries are also using economic sabotage, factory closures, the firing of workers and hoarding, so that products disappear from markets, as a means of destabilising the country. In doing so, they aim to undermine confidence and demoralise the masses. However, economic policy is probably one of the government's weakest points, which cannot be said of its policies for education; it has introduced the Robinson programme to combat illiteracy, the Sucre programme to increase numbers attending university and the Ribas programme to help young people stay on at high school and obtain their diplomas. In the field of health, the Barrio Adentro plan, which sends Cuban doctors to the poorest and most inaccessible parts of the country, is also being continued.

All these programmes have undoubtedly increased the government's support considerably, as shown by a recent survey carried out by the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), which showed that if there were a recall referendum, 51% of Caracas's population would ratify Chavez whereas 31% would recall him. Nevertheless, the fate of the revolutionary process will ultimately depend on Chavez's ability to resolve the population's most pressing problems in the shortest time possible as well as raising general living standards.

The contradictions of economic policy

Unemployment, which the opposition blames the government for, is in fact produced by the crisis of the capitalist system and further aggravated by the economic sabotage perpetrated by the pro-coup bosses.

However, the main problem is that the government will not be able to eliminate this terrible blight by remaining within the capitalist system and trying to build capitalism with 'a human face'. The authorities' current economic policy is to borrow more and more in the hope that there will be a sustained and rapid recovery in the world economy that will boost oil receipts for Venezuela thus giving the country a wider margin for manoeuvre than its Latin American neighbours. Such a policy contains many limitations as, not only does it not solve the fundamental economic and social problems, but it may produce a far worse situation in the future. In order to compensate for the lack of consumer necessities, the state is buying them on the international market and then distributing them through the private sector. In addition to this, Chavez has had to go cap in hand to the central bank to ask it for more money to boost agricultural production.

The creation of co-operatives has mobilised hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans but the Ministry of Production intends these co-operatives to be the embryos of future new 'Bolivarian'-style private businesses. It would be a mistake to allow these co-operatives to compete with other private businesses within the capitalist market. Co-operatives could be a massive step forward and could help with the revolutionary transformation of the economy if run in conjunction with the popular assemblies and provided with the necessary resources and technical expertise. However under capitalism, some may survive by converting into successful capitalist businesses (however at the price of losing their collective and socially beneficial status) but the capitalist market will eventually economically suffocate most of them.

Keeping the revolution within the limits of capitalism or guiding it towards socialism?

One fundamental aspect is the level of control that the population and workers have over the country's n°1 business, the oil group PDVSA, which contributes more than half of state income. In December 2002, in response to the bosses' lockout movement, PDVSA workers took control of the company, helping to defeat the reactionary movement and showing also that workers' control is the best way to fight corruption and cronyism.

However, since then, workers' control has not been continued in the new managerial structure of the group. Although some workers' representatives have been moved up the hierarchy, they are not subject to the right of immediate recall by popular assembly and they now form part of the capitalist business type organisational structure, which prevents the company's democratic control by the population. The intention of PDVSA management is to run the group along capitalist lines in order to generate the maximum amount of revenue for the state. However, large swathes of oil workers, as well as the general population, would like to see a more democratic system which, as was seen throughout the period of workers' control during and just after the coup, in addition to earning revenue could enable the oil group to be used as the driving force of the country's entire economic development.

The government must also deal with the so-called 'companies in crisis'. Many workers decided to occupy their workplaces when their pro-coup bosses chose to shut them down and flee after the failure of their lockout movement at the beginning of this year. The authorities have intervened in some cases to stop these workers being forcibly removed by their absentee bosses but the main problem has not been resolved. The government cannot allow these occupied workplaces to remain idle (due to a lack of raw material deliveries) and their workers to remain without salaries. It can neither refuse to nationalise these companies under the democratic control of their workers, as the latter have demanded, because no such expropriation law exists. If no such law exists, then the government should pass it!

Nevertheless, the government has taken some measures to protect the national economy, some of which would be unthinkable in most capitalist countries; e.g. a law that prevents arbitrary redundancies and makes those permitted by the law even more difficult to implement. Exchange rate controls have also been introduced in order to stop the flight of capital. These measures are clear proof that the government is under the pressure of the people and has strong links with the mass movement. However, if it does not break with capitalism, these measures will eventually be overcome by big business.

In our opinion, the only way of fighting the economic stranglehold is by deepening the revolution, nationalising all companies, which are either "in crisis" or have been closed down, and putting them under workers' control. PDVSA should also be brought under popular control, the banks should be nationalised and the foreign debt should not be paid so that these vital resources can be devoted to genuine social needs and the industrialisation of the country.

These measures, which suppose the beginnings of a movement towards socialism and a popular and workers' democracy, are the only way of improving living conditions and the best way of defeating any further coup attempts

In the words of the joint declaration by El Militante de Venezuela and El Topo Obrero, "if the Bolivarian government does not organise popular assemblies and take the necessary political, social and economic measures, then we must demand that this be done (...) and that wherever possible, people must take the initiative in organising these popular assemblies in order to defend and deepen the revolutionary process. In particular, the UNT leaders have an enormous responsibility. In this organisation's recent congress a resolution was passed demanding a permanent mobilisation against the coup-plotters and that workers be encouraged to take the revolution even further. All those affiliated to the UNT must organise assemblies in all workplaces to discuss how to carry on the struggle along these lines. Committees for the Defence of the Revolution must be created and the government must take all the measures necessary to defend and reinforce the revolutionary process. The most left-leaning elements of the UNT leadership must launch these proposals and fight for them vigorously".

As shown by the events of April and December 2002 in Venezuela, by the Argentinean uprising in December 2001 and the recent movement in Bolivia, the only way to defeat reaction is by the mass organisation and mobilisation of the working class. Firstly, in order to defend past gains but then to advance towards the setting up of a genuine and popular workers' democracy as the first step towards the socialist transformation of society. In this struggle, the solidarity of workers from around the world is essential in the fight to prevent the imperialists from undermining the Latin American revolution. The masses of this continent are already showing the way, from Venezuela to Argentina and from Colombia to Bolivia. Armed with a genuine programme and a revolutionary leadership, victory is assured. This is the task of revolutionaries in Venezuela, Bolivia and the rest of the continent.