The Venezuelan Revolution and the struggle for socialism - Part Four: the struggle between reform and revolution

Part Four of Venezuelan perspectives analyses the stage of the revolution we are passing through. It is important that we understand the processes at work, draw out their main tendencies and draw up perspectives. Our tactics and work in the revolutionary movement must be determined on these perspectives. By looking at the role played by Chavez, the developments in the Bolivarian movement, we can adopt the necessary tactics to win the masses to the programme of Marxism.

The stage of the revolutionary process through which we are presently passing is one that is common to all revolutions. After a period of euphoria, in which the counter-revolution appears to have been completely destroyed, and there is the impression that everyone is with the revolution and pushing in the same direction, class contradictions begin to grow and intensify within the revolutionary movement itself, as they have in the Bolivarian movement. A growing number of revolutionary activists are drawing the conclusion that it is necessary to continue advancing the revolution. Now that the enemy is weak and divided, it is not the time to slow down or hold back the revolution but rather accelerate it and take it to its conclusion. Nevertheless, when the vanguard and sections of the masses try to carry out measures that they consider to be indispensable to the pushing forward of the revolution, they meet resistance, including the open opposition of many leaders who are totally opposed to these measures. The longer the real solutions to the problems are delayed and the more the state bureaucracy and the reformist wing of the leadership slow down the process, the more the most advanced sectors of the revolutionary movement become impatient and restless.

In general, the prevailing mood among the masses continues to be that of waiting for the proposals of President Chávez to be carried out. The uneasiness of the masses about the concrete actions of the bureaucracy continues to grow, as does the anxiety provoked by the fact that despite the economic growth, ills such as economic and social inequality, unemployment, the lack of housing, etc., remain. Nevertheless, for now, at least among the majority of the masses who support the revolutionary process, this sense of unease is still below the surface. It is very important that we understand this, because in our day-to-day activities we revolutionary militants are mainly in contact with the more advanced workers and activists. This section is always a minority within the movement. This section is vital in the building of a revolutionary organization, but we must not confuse the existing mood among this advanced layer with that which exists among the broader masses. Such a mistake has led revolutionary organizations in the past to lose the opportunity provided by extraordinarily favourable revolutionary situations. A whole layer of trade union activists, youth and members of the popular movement are drawing very advanced conclusions and are completely open to Marxist ideas, but the impatience of this layer (at times verging on desperation) is much greater.

It is entirely possible to win the best of these fighters. However, we will not achieve this by giving in to their sense of desperation, but by patiently and firmly explaining the ideas and methods of Marxism. We are at a decisive moment in the revolution. The main task of the Marxists is to organize the advanced layers and educate them as cadres with a correct programme and method, so that they can provide an alternative leadership to the reformists in the Bolivarian movement and win the Bolivarian masses to the ideas of Marxism. We must resist the dangers of both opportunism and ultra-leftism.

On the one hand Chávez declares that there exists a social revolutionary state that cannot under any circumstances attack workers. However, he continues to call for the struggle for socialism, to protest and demonstrate against the institutions when there are signs of bureaucracy or corruption. He carries out new expropriations such as that of the Polar silos and calls for various other actions such as the taking over of Heinz. On the other hand, a whole layer of activists is perplexed, doubtful and uneasy when they see the continued support for MPs, governors and discredited mayors or when they see meetings being held with different employers known for their anti-worker practices. We have witnessed these contradictions at other times as well. In the final analysis they reflect the different class pressures that exist with in the process. If we were to let ourselves be taken in by the momentary impression created by each contradiction, each lurch to the right or to the left, instead of working out what is going to be the most likely direction that the class struggle may take in the next stage and thus prepare ourselves to successfully intervene within it, we would end up chasing each event, zigzagging from hope to disillusionment and substituting sentimentalism for a Marxist analysis. "Neither laugh nor cry," said the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza, "but understand".

Chavez and the masses

The relationship between Chávez and the masses, as we have explained in other documents, is dialectical and contradictory. A revolutionary that does not understand this relationship can very easily become lost in such a complex process. What determines the speeches and political actions of Chávez (and in general of any individual) is not any prearranged plan or a finished idea in his head, but rather all the economic, social and political forces that come into play and which are in constant struggle against one another. The enormous prestige and authority of Chávez flow from the fact that he is the leader who, after years of searching by the masses for an alternative to the misery they suffer under capitalism, and which the leaders of the left in Venezuela failed to offer them, has come to personify these hopes and awaken the masses to political life. As we Marxists predicted would happen, his programme of democratic and national reforms inevitably came into conflict with a capitalist system in crisis and with a bourgeoisie and imperialism that have no room to make any concessions. This has pushed the process to the left time and time again. In spite of all the attempts on the part of Chávez to enter into dialogue and reach an agreement with the ruling class, we have seen a clash with the decisive sectors of the bourgeoisie and with imperialism. We have also seen a tendency on the part of Chávez to use language which is increasingly critical of capitalism.

Chávez's refusal to bend to the demands of imperialism and apply the same policies of privatization, cut backs to social spending, etc., that imperialism has imposed in practically all countries means that imperialism and the bourgeoisie intend to remove him from power by open counter-revolution. However, at the same time it also reinforces his credibility amongst the masses. Chávez, as a leader who enjoys the absolute and unquestioned support of the masses, could have openly betrayed the revolution on many different occasions. For this he would have been rewarded with a golden retirement deal. However, he chose the other road -  he carried out the call for a new constituent assembly and proposed a new constitution, passed enabling laws, etc. Despite the limitations, this road represented a challenge to imperialism and the power of the bourgeoisie. The imperialists drew the conclusion, that despite steps forwards and back, Chávez was honestly looking for a solution to the problems of the country. They realized that there was no one on whom they could rely on to carry out their plans. For this reason they launched an open offensive to bring him down, as we all know. The masses also drew the conclusion that the President tried to remain faithful to his commitment to them, and strengthened their bonds with Chávez. From the point of view of the ruling class, the main crime of Chávez is that he speaks to the masses about revolution and he takes concrete actions to stimulate a revolutionary movement among them.

Nevertheless, in regards to this evolution, we also find sectors of the Bolivarian movement that occupy very influential positions and clearly pressure the movement to the right. These sectors distrust the masses, do not believe in socialism and continue to believe that capitalism is the only system possible. They express, more or less consciously and directly, the pressure of the bourgeoisie and imperialism within the movement. At the present time all of the proposals are given the gloss of "revolutionary" language (and they will continue being so as long as the correlation of forces so obliges) because they still do not dare defend their true ideas in an open and clear manner. But all of their actions in practice are aimed at slowing down the participation and the struggle of the masses and put cold water on their confidence in their own forces.

The clash between these opposing class pressures will become clearer as time goes on. This will force Chávez sooner or later to choose clearly to either openly confront the most right-wing elements of the bureaucracy and get grass-roots support for the taking of measures to decisively advance the revolution, or in the case that he decides to play the role of arbiter between the left and the right of the movement, accelerating the loss of support for both the left and the right.  A situation such as this would favour the ruling class, allowing them to take the offense and "be done with Chávez".

This evolution has not yet been decided. Until now the dominant tendency has been the one that has pushed Chávez to the left. The struggle between reform and revolution is taking place under better circumstances for the agitation and propaganda of the Marxists than what we had predicted. When we already predicted this development Chávez had not yet spoken in favor of socialism nor had any firms been expropriated, and the working class, encouraged by this entire debate, had not yet come onto the scene with the force that we see in ALCASA or in the demonstration on May Day. It was at this time that Chávez declared that the revolution was not socialist but humanist. There were no expropriations on the table, and when Invepal was expropriated, it was presented as an exception. However, several months later Chávez presented it as a new model of production and expropriated the CNV to create Inveval.

Marxism and Sectarianism

What is most striking about the situation in Venezuela for Marxists is not that Chavez's proposal of socialism is contradictory and confused, but that today it seems to advance, and the next go backwards. It is absolutely normal given the context on the national and international level: the collapse of Stalanism, the campaign to discredit the ideas of socialism during the last years, "capitalism is the least worst of the systems", "capitalism is the only possible system". The characteristics of Chávez play an important role. Chavez is a revolutionary leader that is not a Marxist intervenng in revolutionary events with a finished plan and a clear, revolutionary program, but rather someone who maintains a changing relationship with the masses who at one time reflects and encourages. The proposals for expropriations and socialism came at a moment when Chávez realized one of his greatest victories, giving him greater political stability. What is striking is that this took place at the very same time that the opposition lost, at least for an entire period, its ability to mobilize. It was also at this time that the economy achieved its greatest rate of growth, and a large part of the reformist sectors of the leaders surrounding the President, who were euphoric, began to suggest a turn towards moderating the revolution and negotiating with the oligarchy and imperialism. At this moment, in theory much more favorable to the slowing down of the revolution, Chavez decided to radicalize his language and declare that the objective of the revolution was socialism, which took the reformist leaders by surprise and encouraged the masses. These are symptoms of the depth of the crisis of capitalism and the revolutionary potential that exists in Venezuelan society.

The sectarians and formalists tend to narrowly analyse each process, each leader, and each organization in previously defined categories which are valid at all times and under for all circumstances. These groups also feel the impatience of the activists but instead of offering them a program to be able to win support of the grass roots in the Bolivarian movement, they call upon them to break with Chávez, and call upon them to "unmask him before the masses because he deceives them". They characterize Chavez as "bourgeois", call for a break with "Chavismo", denounce him as the leader of a "bourgeois movement" and call for the construction of a mass socialist movement in opposition to him. We have to be clear. Not only are all of these characterizations from a Marxist point of view absolutely incorrect, they are abstractions that do not help people to understand the dialectical nature of these phenomena. These ideas can only lead to isolation and marginalisation of those who advocate them from the decisive sectors of the working class, the popular movement and the youth. Whoever tries to apply these ideas will become a spectator to the events. Beyond Chavismo, beyond the Bolivarian movement, there exists no possibility of developing a revolutionary mass movement. Any attempt to do so will bring a separation of the main revolutionary layer from the majority of the masses.

History provides us with many examples of revolutionary organizations which, after analyzing correctly the development of a revolutionary process, begins to win important positions amongst the vanguard. Even though they may have an important impact among sectors of the masses, they failed because they did not understand and were not able to resist the pressures of the situation such as the one we are passing through now in Venezuela. In the end these organizations became completely separated from the masses. The classical works of Marxism always insist on one idea: what is now evident for the revolutionaries may not be evident for the masses. Moreover, it is necessary to know how to go through the experience with the masses and find a common language in order to explain it.

When a group of union leaders and left-wing members of parliament in Great Britain in the 1930s, under pressure from a rise in the mobilization of the masses and the clash between their aspirations and the pro-bourgeois policies of the Labour Party, decided to form the Independent Labour Party, Trotsky, despite the fact that the ILP had 100,000 activists, various members of parliament, well-known union leaders, etc., accused them of making the mistake of separating the vanguard from the masses. Trotsky called the ILP a sect. The ILP had 100,000 workers behind it. However, there were millions of workers who remained in the Labour Party under the leadership of the reformist bureaucracy.  Although in many cases there were criticisms of their leaders, and they did not understand why their leaders insisted on forming a pact with the capitalists instead of going towards socialism, the workers in the Labour Party had still not come to the conclusion that they were traitors. In any case they still did not see the ILP as an alternative to the Labour Party. These workers continued voting for the Labour Party, and when the workers moved, they did so through the Labour Party. The Marxists must demonstrate to the workers that our program, methods and ideas serve to win. In this stage of the struggle the fundamental task is to pull the masses away from the leadership of the reformists and win them over to the program of Marxism. In order to accomplish this the method, the tactics and the slogans with which the revolutionary leaders direct the masses and the leaders of other organizations are decisive.

The United Front

Lenin and Trotsky developed the general tactics and methods we Marxists should use in a revolutionary situation in order to win grass roots support from organizations and mass movements, often under the direction of reformist, leftist or centrist (which is a tendency that, under the pressure of class struggle, swings back and forth in a confusing and contradictory manner between reformism and Marxism) ideas, to the programme of Marxism.

This tactic was the tactic of the United Front, and consisted in making offers and continuous calls to the reformist (or centrist) leadership to struggle around a common program. The Marxists would propose their revolutionary program. The reformist leaders would generally ignore it or reject it, but in this way the Marxists were able to open the debate on these revolutionary slogans and continue to defend them in their publications and apply them there where they could. In any case, whenever it was possible to reach an agreement on joint action, marches, campaigns, or to build united organizations, the Marxists tried to do it and they never acted in a sectarian manner.

Of course, if the leaders of the majority of working class organizations called for struggle or made a proposal that mobilized the movement, the position of Lenin and Trotsky was not to criticize from the side-lines or adopt a posture of intellectual smugness in order to demonstrate one by one the contradictions of the proposed plan. They would begin by seizing with both hands the most positive aspects of the plan or programme, criticize it and point out its short comings and contradictions with the greatest possible tact, and above all would make proposals in order to concretize each progressive step made by the leftist, centrist, or reformist leaders and try to take them as far as possible. The principal slogan of the Bolsheviks when they were the minority in revolution was not "down with the reformists" but "all power to the soviets", which is to say they demanded that the reformists seize power and create the practical measures, which in their opinion, should be carried out in order to solve the problems of the masses.

In other revolutionary situations, the revolutionaries did not succeed in orienting themselves in the midst of these contradictions and the reformist bureaucracy was able to isolate them from the masses with relative ease. In 1934, during the Spanish Revolution, the Trotskyist leadership of the Communist Left refused to enter the Socialist Youth, arguing that it was a reformist organisation. They preferred to remain on the margins, making abstract appeals to the rank and file socialists, who numbered in the millions and who were in a confused and contradictory way looking for an anti-capitalist alternative, to join their small group of a few hundred. Of course, the masses ignore these calls and finally the Stalinists were able to win the leadership of the Unified Socialist Youth (YSU), the principle youth organization of the Spanish Revolution.

The Elections and Internal Differentiation of the Bolivarian Movement

The growth of electoral support in the Bolivarian movement for alternatives that appear critical of the bureaucracy, militant or that identify with the ideas of socialism, is a symptom of the turn to the left in the masses. The electoral growth of groups such as the PCV, MoBaRe or Tupa in the council elections and for federal municipal officials, although still small, is sufficiently clear and shows that a layer of the most advanced sector of the masses is looking for a programme and a leadership against reformism and the bureaucracy.

When the struggle between reform and revolution begins to intensify (and it will inevitably) this struggle will move inside all the organizations and influence the masses. The internal distinction inside the Bolivarian movement has not expressed itself yet clearly in a crystalized left and right wing. This is the case both inside the movement in general and in particular within its principal organization (the MVR,). This has happened before in other revolutions as well. Growing contradictions inside the movement, even though in its beginning stages, will mean that this struggle is developing and will be expressed at all levels, including the state apparatus (as we will see later in detail) and within the government itself.

There is a risk if those revolutionary sectors outside the MVR do not use comradely and friendly methods at the rank and file level of the part and fall into an anti-MVR and anti-PPT position by presenting these parties as a homogeneous, "reformist," "bureaucratic" block that the reformist and bureaucratic leaders will succeed in separating a layer of advanced activists from the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement - whether they be voters or militants behind the flag of the MVR. This would be especially dangerous now when it is inevitable that in the next period the internal contradictions in the MVR will continue to deepen. Under such circumstance the separation of the advanced layers from the rank and file may involve a much greater number of members. The rank and file of the majority of political parties, in particular the MVR, are also drawing revolutionary conclusions. Stimulated by the discourse of Chávez, they are more open to socialist ideas. One of the fundamental tasks of the Marxist is to prevent the rank and file from losing direction and dispersing. We must avoid all costs that one section becomes demoralized as another falls into despair and hopelessness.  We must win over the great majority of these rank and file members to a genuine Marxist policy.


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