Venezuela: The real meaning of “Fatherland, socialism or death”

Since Chavez’s electoral victory in December the Venezuelan revolution has shifted gear and moved to the left. Pablo Roldan looks at the significance of the recent announcements made by Chavez, and points out the only way in which they can be successfully carried out. También en Español.

On January 10, 2007 Hugo Chávez Frías was sworn in as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, changing the traditional formula of "Fatherland or Death" to "Fatherland, socialism or death."

This variation in the ceremony's protocol has received quite a lot of attention from the bourgeois media internationally. Depending on the degree of their political vehemence, their more or less openly counter-revolutionary stance, and the particular economic interests of the respective business groups, the respectable media outlets, from The Guardian in Britain through to The New York Times in the United States and Le Monde in France, and the hysterical tone of El País in Spain or the more patronising and polite touch of The Financial Times in Britain, what one finds is a confirmation of the image of Chavez they have so painstakingly constructed over the last eight years.

They have painted Chavez to be a demagogue with a terrible thirst for power, who has led the poor, illiterate, and ignorant Venezuelan masses using a mixture of flowery revolutionary and anti-imperialistic rhetoric along with the use of the crumbs from state oil revenues.

The mention of socialism at the swearing-in ceremony of the President, the use of the s-word within the state institutions, even if these are not yet the institutions of a socialist republic, along with the announcement of the creation of a new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (which is to be built from the rank and file up), the nationalisation of CANTV and the utilities sector, constitutional reform, the non-renewal of RCTV's licence, and the formation of a new cabinet without Rangel as vice-president, can only mean one thing for the international bourgeois media and, therefore, for the international bourgeoisie. It is the confirmation of their worst fears: capitalism is in danger of being abolished in Venezuela through a socialist revolution. In the pages of the bourgeois newspapers this is translated in the following way: "there is no revolution in Venezuela, just a cunning shepherd and a flock of sheep looking for trouble".

However, "Fatherland, socialism or death" expresses in a concise and emotional way the experience of the revolutionary masses in Venezuela and the long journey that Chavez himself has travelled - from his admiration for Tony Blair and his advocacy of the "Third Way" and "capitalism with a human face" to the realisation that "within the limits of capitalism there is no possible solution for the problems facing the masses of Venezuela".

In this sense, it is not surprising that Chávez, when speaking about the new Minister of Labour, José Ramón Rivero, joked saying that "when I called him he said to me: 'Mr. President, I want to tell you something before someone else tells you... I am a Trotskyist', and I said, 'Well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky's line, that of permanent revolution'."

If the oath of "Fatherland, socialism or death" graphically captures the particular experience of the Venezuelan masses in their struggle to break free from the yoke of imperialism and achieve a decent life, Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution, first formulated one hundred years ago, expresses the general dynamics of this phenomenon.

When explaining the basic idea of the Permanent Revolution, Trotsky wrote:

"With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

"Not only the agrarian, but also the national question assigns to the peasantry - the overwhelming majority of the population in backward countries - an exceptional place in the democratic revolution. Without an alliance of the proletariat with the peasantry the tasks of the democratic revolution cannot be solved, nor even seriously posed. But the alliance of these two classes can be realized in no other way than through an irreconcilable struggle against the influence of the national-liberal bourgeoisie.

"This in turn means that the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.

"The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and, very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution".

But, what is this dictatorship of the proletariat about which there is so much talk?

"The exploited classes", wrote Lenin in The State and Revolution, "need political rule in order to completely abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the vast majority of the people, and against the insignificant minority consisting of the modern slave-owners - the landowners and capitalists.

"Only the proletariat - by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production - is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people, whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation

"The transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society proceeds through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and cannot do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters cannot be broken by anyone else or in any other way."

The dictatorship of the proletariat envisaged by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, in spite of what some may fear, has nothing to do with the totalitarian Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and Asia. Rather, they saw the workers' and community councils as being the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and this state will be, of necessity, the most democratic of states and will for the first time "create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority."

The dictatorship of the proletariat, "a state so constituted that it begins to wither away immediately, and cannot but wither away", can only be founded on the following principles:

1) Free and democratic elections with the right of the electors to recall every and any official.

2) No official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker.

3) No standing army but an armed people.

4) Gradually, all administrative tasks will be performed by everyone in turn, that way when "everyone is a bureaucrat no one is a bureaucrat".

To the masses who, risking their lives, poured onto the streets in April 2002 to defeat the coup led by Carmona and co., to the revolutionary workers who broke the bosses' lock-out of December 2002/January 2003, not to mention the daily economic sabotage of the Venezuelan capitalists, to the peasants who day in and day out face the violence of the landlords' thugs in their struggle for something so basic as the right to land, to the millions and millions who again and again have mobilised in defence of their lives and the dream of a better, more fulfilling, future, to all those who form the engine of this revolution, Trotsky's words will not appear as old and abstract ideas but, on the contrary, will be seen as the most accurate description of reality. So accurate are they in fact, that it is as if Trotsky himself had experienced the same events that have shaped the Venezuelan revolution with them, and had drawn from these particular experiences the general dynamic of the process and had generalized them in a coherent, comprehensive and orderly way.

To the housewives, urban poor, youth, students, unemployed, workers and peasants who, after eight years of the Bolivarian government, still face the entrenched bureaucracy and corruption of the bourgeois state, Lenin's four principles must seem the soundest of advice and not - as reformists of every shade try to present them - as utopian dreams not fit for this world. On the contrary, these are the best ideas for securing a successful transition to socialism and the further evolution of the human race.

In a previous article I expressed the opinion that it was critical for the revolution to move onto the offensive against the capitalist counter-revolution and the bureaucratism and corruption within the Bolivarian movement, avoiding any kind of compromise with the escuálidos advocated by the most moderate and reformist elements of the Bolivarian movement.

Chávez has apparently moved on to the offensive, rejecting a compromise with the opposition that would see them enter the national assembly and he has announced a whole series of important changes (see Chavez announces radical measures against capitalism in Venezuela by Fred Weston).

Amongst the most important measures that Chávez has recently taken, considering the critical role that the working class will be called upon to play if the revolution is to succeed, are the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the plans for nationalisations.

On the night of December 3, Chávez issued a call to fight against bureaucratism and corruption. And by proposing the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, he is creating a new channel for that struggle within the political party of the revolution.

This, as Luis Primo argues in his article Venezuela: five planks in building socialism, workers' council and the role of the working class, by itself will not guarantee a victory over the bureaucracy. Such a victory, as always, will depend on the resoluteness of the working class and, in particular, on the skills and foresightedness of its leadership. But without doubt this initiative has provided a channel for that struggle.

The nationalisation of CANTV and other companies poses the question of what type of nationalisation should be carried out. The UNT must put forward the demand of nationalisation under workers' control and for compensation to be given only in cases of proven need (many CANTV workers and former workers received shares in the company during the privatisation process). This demand must be extended beyond the utilities sector, as Chávez has suggested, to all the most important levers of the economy, especially the banks, and the occupied factories, such as Sanitarios Maracay. This must be part of the development of a plan to occupy all abandoned factories and those operating well below their productive capacity.

Only by developing a strong Marxist tendency within the Bolivarian and Labour movement in Venezuela, that is, within the USPV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and the UNT, can these objectives be achieved.

In Venezuela the most advanced elements of the revolutionary movement are gathering around the programme for the socialist transformation of society under the banner of the Revolutionary Marxist Current. They have put themselves at the forefront of the struggle for nationalisation under workers' control through FRETECO, as in the case of Sanitarios Maracay, and at the forefront of the building of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, on the basis of a genuine socialist programme.

Their brothers and sisters around the world are learning from their experiences. Through the Hands off Venezuela Campaign they are building international solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution. The ideas of Trotsky are being brought to life again in the experience of the revolutionary masses of Venezuela.

As he concluded in his basic postulates of the Theory of Permanent Revolution, "The completion of the socialist revolution within national limits is unthinkable (...) The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena. Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion, only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet".

Long live the socialist revolution!
For the Socialist Federation of Cuba and Venezuela!
For the Socialist Federation on Latin America!
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