Introduction by Rob Sewell
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This book by Alan Woods is being published at a decisive moment. Events within Venezuela are unfolding with lightening speed. The coming to power of Hugo Chavez in 1998 opened the floodgates for social change. It marked the beginning of the Venezuelan Revolution as the masses poured onto the stage of history determined to put an end to the rule of the oligarchy.
Over the past five years, the demands of the Bolivarian Revolution – in essence the demands of the national-democratic revolution – of national independence, land reform and increased democracy, have repeatedly come up against the constraints of capitalism.
The Venezuelan revolution now stands at the crossroads. To succeed it cannot stand still. It has aroused the burning hatred of world imperialism and its home-grown agents, the corrupt oligarchy, who are hell bent on its destruction. They can never be reconciled to the existence of the revolution, which acts alongside Cuba as a beacon to the masses throughout Latin America. That explains their continued attempts to overthrow the regime of Hugo Chavez. They must do to Venezuela as they did with Chile more than 30 years ago, where the flower of the Chilean proletariat was drowned in blood. It is a dire warning to the masses of Venezuela if they fail to carry through the revolution to a conclusion!
The recent sharp turn to the left within Venezuela, represented by the nationalisation of Venepal and Hugo Chavez’s speeches in favour of socialism, expresses the forward march of the revolution. “I am convinced, and I think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a new, better and possible world, is not capitalism, the path is socialism, that is the path: socialism, socialism”, stated Chavez recently. This represents a decisive change in Chavez, who in the past tried to work within the confines of capitalism. Of course, the task now is to translate these words into deeds.
Chavez’s references to Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” are also extremely relevant, namely, the tasks of the national-democratic revolution can only be achieved by the working class and oppressed masses coming to power and immediately proceeding to the socialist tasks. The revolution begins in one country but to succeed has to spread beyond its borders. In essence, this is the idea of Simon Bolivar in the context of the 21st century, of the creation of a democratic Socialist Federation of Latin America, as a stepping-stone to a World Federation of Socialist States.
Chavez’s speeches and actions have served to further radicalise the masses, who instinctively want to go much further and finish the job. However, the reformists in the Bolivarian movement, mainly confined to the tops, are resisting this development and act as a brake on the revolution, attempting to frighten the masses with the spectre of imperialist intervention. This is a completely foolish argument. The imperialists will never be “neutralised” in their efforts to overthrow Chavez, no matter how cautiously the revolution proceeds. It is such prevarication that precisely serves to play into the hands of the counterrevolution and endangers the revolution. This has been the painful lesson of all revolutions – written in blood – that attempted to stop halfway, hoping in vain to placate the counterrevolution. On the contrary, the way forward requires a bold approach to break the back of capitalism. The Bolivarian leaders could do well to adopt the motto of the great French revolutionary Danton. When asked what makes a revolution he answered: audacity! Audacity! And more audacity!
“Right from the beginning we have pointed out that the Venezuelan revolution has begun, but it is not finished, and it cannot be finished until the power of the Venezuelan oligarchy is broken”, states Alan Woods. “This means the expropriation of the land, banks and big industry under workers’ control and management. It means the arming of the people. It means the setting up of action committees linked up on a local, regional and national basis. It means that the working class must organise independently and strive to place itself at the head of the nation. And it means that the Marxist tendency must strive to win over the majority of the revolutionary movement.”
In the convulsive period of the 1930s, Leon Trotsky pinpointed single countries which for him represented “a key” to the international situation. At first it was Germany, then Spain, which became the focus for the world revolution. Today, one could say there are several “keys”, given the social, political, economic and military crisis unfolding on a world scale.
However, without doubt Latin America is currently in the vanguard of world revolution, and within the Latin American continent, Venezuela stands out sharply as the country most affected by this process. It would be no exaggeration to say that Venezuela is now the key to the international situation and the developing world revolution. It therefore follows that the class-conscious workers and youth in Britain and elsewhere must follow the events in Venezuela very closely and assist the revolution with every means possible.
This book by Alan Woods is essential reading for all those who want to understand what is happening in Venezuela today. But this is no mere description of events. It is a powerful Marxist analysis of the Venezuelan Revolution, its weaknesses and strengths, its contradictions and unique characteristics. The book was not written with hindsight. Every chapter, beginning with the coup of April 2002, was written as the events were unfolding at the time, and traces the winding course of the revolution. They reflect the immediacy and lightening speed of events happening before our very eyes. These articles, which were posted on our Spanish language website, had a big effect within Venezuela itself. They rapidly connected with those revolutionary Bolivarians keen to read and study them.
They were immediately downloaded from the internet and printed out, then circulated by hand amongst the Bolivarian circles and pinned to notice boards in political meetings and elsewhere. This reflected the colossal power of ideas in concert with the unfolding revolution and the living experience of the masses. It was thorough the impact of Alan Woods’ articles that we came into contact with the most advanced and class-conscious elements within the Bolivarian movement, all of whom had been attracted by the bold perspectives, as well as the theoretical method of Marxism which underpinned the whole analysis. Soon afterwards a Marxist tendency was formed in Venezuela, based upon the perspective of turning the national-democratic Bolivarian Revolution into a socialist revolution. The tendency then fused with a group of revolutionary militants who had a long revolutionary history in Venezuela to constitute the Revolutionary Marxist Current, the Venezuelan section of the International Marxist Tendency. This represented an historic breakthrough. The coming period will provide many opportunities for revolutionary Marxism, testing its ideas and mettle as it connects with the mass movement, not only in Venezuela, but throughout the whole of Latin America.
There is no middle road for the Venezuelan Revolution: either the greatest of victories or the greatest of defeats. The stakes are high, but we can be very optimistic for the future. The counterrevolution has been defeated on several occasions by the revolutionary audacity of the masses. Power is within the grasp of the working class and the oppressed. To kill a lion you need a gun, explained Trotsky, but to kill a flea you only need your fingernails. However, time is of the essence. The counterrevolution is not finished and over time will revive. By mobilising the revolutionary will of the masses, it would be a simple matter for Chavez to eliminate the power of the oligarchy. More and more the question of power – who rules? – is posed point blank. The Marxist tendency within the Bolivarian movement has a crucial role to play. Alan Woods’ articles will greatly assist in this endeavour, as they not only deal with the broad perspective, but the urgent concrete tasks needed to take the revolution forward. His “Theses on revolution and counterrevolution in Venezuela” skilfully outlines a transitional programme, which acts as a bridge from the immediate day-to-day tasks to those of the socialist revolution.
Alan Woods has been a consistent champion of the Venezuelan Revolution since its inception. He helped initiate the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign. He has held personal discussions with President Chavez, which are recounted in this book. After more than a decade since the collapse of Stalinism and the bourgeois ideological offensive against Marxism and Socialism, the author boldly holds up the perspective of a victorious socialist revolution in Venezuela. Such an event would constitute a political earthquake that would shake the capitalist world to its very foundations. A victory in Venezuela would spread like wild fire throughout the Latin American continent, where there is not a single stable bourgeois regime from the Rio Grande to Tierra Del Fuego. The Revolution would also light a flame within the United States itself, starting with the substantial Latino population, which would serve to paralyse any attempt at counterrevolutionary intervention. A victorious socialist revolution in Venezuela would change the world. We must do everything in our power to ensure that it does. In the words of Marx and Engels:
“... it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of proletarians, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one.” (Address to the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850).
Rob Sewell, 3rd March 2005