Venezuela a year after the coup: the red tide floods Bolivar Avenue once again

Hundreds of thousands gathered in Bolivar Avenue, Caracas, on April 13 to commemorate the first anniversary of the popular uprising that defeated the reactionary coup of April 11, 2002. The different events that have been taking place a year after the coup give us a clear picture of the current balance of forces between the classes in Venezuela.

The mis-named Democratic Coordination, the opposition umbrella body, had called a march on April 11 in Eastern Caracas that was supposed to end with a mass rally. The very fact that they were calling such a meeting shows the hypocrisy of the Venezuelan oligarchy. The people who died on April 11 last year, which this event was supposed to mourn, were mostly on the Chavez side, and all of them died as a result of the reactionary conspiratorial coup. The opposition march and rally had been called through the mass media (all of them controlled by the opposition and supportive of the coup a year ago) with daily adverts. On the morning of April 11, the area around Plaza Altamira was already closed to traffic and a massive stage and sound system were being set up. However the event was such a failure that not even the opposition media felt they could report on them. If even a few thousand people had attended the march, the newspapers would have reported that hundreds of thousands or even millions had turned up, and of course, they would have showed only close-up pictures to avoid giving a general view of the crowd. But they could not even do that, because no one turned up!

And this massive failure is a faithful reflection of the mood within the reactionary opposition in Venezuela. The oligarchy, the bosses, the bank owners and the bureaucracy of the PDVSA oil company, with the support and advice of US imperialism, and its lesser ally Spain, carefully organized the oil sabotage and bosses lock-out of December-January. And they failed, again. The fight back of the people and especially of the rank and file oil workers defeated their attempt to oust Chavez. The masses of the Caracas middle classes were mobilized by the oligarchy through the mass media, sowing fear and hatred, unleashing the deepest fears of a section of the petty-bourgeoisie that they might lose whatever small possessions they may have. They went out on the streets convinced that within a couple of weeks the democratically elected president would have been ousted, the fear of "Castro-communism" would have vanished and the country would be once again firmly in the hands of the "law and order" party. The defeat of that attempted coup (because those actions cannot be described in any other way) plunged the reactionary forces into a state of deep demoralization. Their organizations are split and their social base has demobilized. At the end of the day, the laws that apply to the movement of revolutionary social forces also apply to the movement of reactionary social forces.

On the other side, those who support the revolutionary process gathered in a mass rally in the Bolivar Avenue in Caracas, which was the closing event to four days of debates and meetings within the framework of the Bolivarian Revolution World Solidarity Gathering. The red colour of the revolution once again flooded the centre of the capital city, despite the fact that this time there had been less of a mobilisation of people from outside the capital.

The mood was one of euphoria and celebration. The revolutionary people are perfectly aware of the significance of having defeated reaction twice, and particularly of the heroic feat of having defeated a military coup in less than 48 hours. This is clearly summed up in the slogan "every 11th has its 13th".

However, it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that reaction has been buried forever. They have suffered a serious blow and it will take some time for them to recover their ability to mobilize. However, as Marx explained, no ruling class abandons the stage of history without fighting to defend its privileges, and this is a life or death struggle for them.

A desperate section of the oligarchy has resorted to terrorism, in an attempt to create a social climate of chaos that would prompt an intervention by the National Armed Forces (FAN) to "restore order". This is the meaning of the bombings of the Colombian embassy and of a Spanish diplomatic building back in February and the bombing, on the eve of April 11, of the hall where the meetings of the "Negotiating Table" between the government and the opposition were taking place. Also on that weekend of the first anniversary of the coup there were rumours of a military conspiracy and the government announced that it had uncovered an attempted coup. However, this line of action of the opposition is not having much of an impact for now, since most of the more reactionary elements within the FAN had already placed themselves outside of the Army over the last year by coming out with appeals for a military coups, all of which failed.

On the other hand, the most influential sections of the opposition do not have much confidence in being able to oust president Chavez through the recall referendum that is planned to take place after August, which might have dealt a serious blow to the revolutionary process. Many of them think that the referendum will never take place and others fear that if it were to take place they would lose it, thus strengthening even more the mandate of the president (who has already won 7 different elections since 1998).

Faced with this situation the oligarchy and imperialism are following a two-track strategy; on the one hand sabotage of the economy and on the other an attempt to provoke a conflict on the border with Colombia that could justify a foreign intervention.

On the economic front it is clear that the (parasitical and pro-imperialist) Venezuelan bourgeoisie, not satisfied with having caused losses of more than 7 billion dollars during the bosses' lockout and their sabotage of the oil industry in December, is now trying to make workers pay the bill for all this. In the private sector there are more and more cases of bankruptcies, forced unpaid holidays, non-payment of wages, bonuses and other benefits, price increases, hoarding and a general disruption of economic activity on the part of the big industrial groups that control it.

The government has taken a number of measures, such as price controls, suspension of foreign exchange while control mechanisms are introduced, the holding of popular markets and, more recently, the retroactive freezing of rents to the levels they had been before the bosses' lock-out.

But despite all these measures the bosses continue to hit the working class. But the workers have started to fight-back. Examples of this fight-back are still limited in numbers but nevertheless they are very significant. In a whole series of factories up and down the country the workers have taken the initiative, organised democratic unions and even occupied factories forcing bosses to resume production and pay unpaid wages and benefits.

This has been the case for instance in Covencaucho and Semosa in Barquisimeto, in the state of Lara, of workers in Prevenca and SonoRodven in Cagua and Santa Cruz in the state of Aragua, and there may be other cases which are not reported. In other cases the threat of occupation by the workers has been enough to convince the bosses to back-track, as has been the case in some car plants in the state of Carabobo, organised by the Class Struggle and Democratic Trade Union Block. So far, none of these factories has started to produce under workers' control, though the discussion about the example of factories running under workers' control in Argentina is quite widespread in the Venezuelan labour movement. But on April 13, after more than 8 months of struggle and after having exhausted all legal channels, workers at the textile factory Fenix, in San Juan de los Morros, in the state of Guarico, occupied the factory and decided to start producing under workers' control. The workers of this factory, which had been closed by the owner since August 20 last year, made an appeal to president Chavez (who has, on several occasions come out in favour of workers occupying factories closed by the bosses) to supply them with raw materials.

In the current climate of heightened political discussion in the country, and after the example of workers' control in the country's most important industry, the state-owned PDVSA oil company, these actions could spread like wildfire, putting into question the bourgeois right to private property of the means of production. This is therefore a key battle for the future of the Venezuelan labour movement and it is the duty of all democratic and left tendencies that base themselves on the principles of the class struggle within the unions to support and defend it.

A new trade union confederation

In this situation a number of steps have been taken to set up a new trade union confederation to replace the rotten treacherous leadership of the CTV. This initiative is being promoted by a series of different groups and tendencies, including the Bolivarian Workers' Force, left and democratic tendencies within the unions in various parts of the country, Autonomia Sindical (Trade Union Autonomy) and the leaders of a number of national unions (who have been described as "the allies"). In our opinion if there had been a serious campaign on the bases of a plan of struggle addressing the current problems of the workers, it would have been possible to overthrow the corrupt, illegitimate and treacherous leadership of the CTV. The example of the comrades of "Topo Obrero" ("Workers' Mole") in Lara (where they have defeated the corrupt bureaucracy in the sugar cane fields and processing plants, in the Convencaucho tyre factory and in a number of other important unions) and other examples of democratic unions in the country, are proof that this would have been possible. However, now that important sections of the country's unions have taken the step to set up a new trade union confederation, which will probably organise a majority of the workers, the most advanced sections of the Venezuelan trade union movement should participate in this.

However, the new trade union confederation is coming into existence with a number of weaknesses. Some of the so-called "allies" do not really represent the workers in the unions they lead and are heavily contested by their own members. The whole discussion that led to the proclamation of the new trade union, which took place at the Caracas National Theatre on April 5, was mainly about the composition of the leadership, and not about the declaration of principles, statutes or plans of action. In the end there was an agreement about the composition of the new leadership, which in our opinion gives the "allies" a weight beyond what they really represent in the movement and this may become a source of conflict in the future.

In any case, in spite of these weaknesses of the new National Workers' Union (UNETE), the founding meeting took place with a show of enthusiasm that clearly reflected the new mood of confidence which exists within the Venezuelan trade union movement. The political climate amongst workers is what will guarantee the success of the new trade union, but it will also be necessary to wage a serious battle within this union so that it adopts firm principles of class struggle, trade union democracy and independence from the state.

Conflict with Colombia

In the last few months there has been a series of rumours and accusations, and even downright armed clashes on the border with Colombia, all aimed at provoking an escalation of the conflict. Representatives of the Colombian government, the Colombian paramilitary forces (AUC) and the reactionary Venezuelan opposition, have all been insisting, once again, that the Venezuelan army is directly or indirectly supporting the Colombian FARC guerrillas, that the FARC have bases on Venezuelan territory and even that the Venezuelan Armed Forces are involved in supporting the FARC on the Colombian side of the border. All these allegations are totally false. In fact, recently the Venezuelan army arrested a few FARC members in a joint operation with the Colombian army. On the other hand, however, there is definite proof that the AUC has been operating in Venezuela, in some cases disguised in FARC or Venezuelan National Guard uniforms. The aim is clear: to accuse the Venezuelan government of "supporting terrorism", thus spreading the Colombian conflict to the whole region, so as to justify a foreign imperialist intervention in Venezuela when this is deemed to be feasible (directly or by proxy with Colombian troops).

This is not likely to happen in the short term, since the US are aware of the fact that a direct military intervention against the revolutionary process in Venezuela would not be an easy task. However this is an option that sections of the Colombian paramilitaries, the Venezuelan opposition and even the Colombian state apparatus are already preparing for.

Thus the current situation is characterised on the one hand by the demoralisation of the social base of reaction that has been forced to change its tactics, but which still continues to conspire against the government, and on the other hand by a deepening of the revolutionary process and particularly of the consciousness of the masses that the working class has entered the scene in a decisive way.

The main weakness of the revolutionary movement is still, as we have pointed out in recent articles, twofold. There is, on the one hand, the lack of a national democratic body that could coordinate the revolutionary organisations and allow the movement to generalise its experiences, give itself a democratic leadership, and on the other there is a degree of confusion regarding the aims of the revolution, particularly at the level of its leadership.

The political project of Chavez and his most trusted people is to develop the national productive forces in opposition to imperialist domination. In order to do this they insist on the development of cooperatives and collaboration with the so-called "productive" sections of the employers. The World Solidarity Gathering was largely dominated by the most reformist section of the so-called anti-globalisation movement (Ignacio Ramonet, ATTAC, etc), which defends a "new", more "humane" and regulated kind of capitalism. It even included a forum on "the role of the employers in the process of change".

But the whole experience of the revolutionary process in Venezuela so far has clearly shown that the decisive sections of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie are directly linked to multinational capital and imperialism and cannot tolerate the implementation of even the most moderate reforms in the country, since these would undermine their most vital interests. The advances of the revolutionary process so far have been concentrated in the extension of democracy, but have left the economic base of the country almost untouched. The Venezuelan ruling class (which has very little to do with Venezuela) will use any levers that are left at their disposal to sabotage and destroy the revolutionary process. Therefore, to leave the banks, the private means of production (particularly the processing and distribution of food) and the mass media, means leaving arms in the hands of an enemy that has already shown its willingness to use them against the revolutionary process.

The only guarantee for the defence of the revolutionary process is to deepen it, to extend democracy from the political to the economic field. And this is a task in which the workers must play a leading role. The PDVSA oil workers have already shown that the Venezuelan working class is able to run and control one of the world's 50 largest companies with a high degree of computerisation and technological sophistication. After that experience there is no doubt that workers are indeed capable of running the country's economy under their own democratic control, that same economy which the oligarchy is attempting to sabotage. It is only the labour movement that is capable of doing this, but it must do it independently and with its own organisations. In order to deepen the revolution we must fight for workers' control of PDVSA, the nationalisation of the banks and the democratic management of their resources for the benefit of the many, the social control of the mass media, and the occupation and nationalisation under workers' control of the private companies that are sabotaging the economy. The Venezuelan revolution must advance towards socialism as the only way of guaranteeing its own defence.

April 21, 2003.

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