The Venezuelan Revolution and the struggle for socialism: balance sheet, perspectives and tasks

The correlation of forces continues to be enormously favourable to the Venezuelan revolution, but it is necessary to take advantage of this in order to finish the job and take the revolution to the end. As long as the revolution does not break totally and absolutely with the private ownership of the means of production it will be in danger and will not be irreversible.

The present document is a shortened version of the draft document that the comrades of the Venezuelan Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria discussed at their 3rd National Congress in December 2005.


In the document “Perspectives for the Venezuela Revolution”, approved at the 2nd Congress of the CMR in December 2004, we analysed the new stage the revolution had entered after the historic victory of August 15, 2004:

“The bourgeois counter-revolutionaries have ‘struck out’ (at least for some time) and the revolution is now up to bat. The main struggle is now between reform and revolution. The class contradictions in the Bolivarian movement will intensify. The reformists in the movement express the pressure and the interests of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. They are taking control of the large majority of the ministries, governorships and councils, as well as the large majority of the deputies of the National Assembly and the leadership of the parties in the Bloc for Change. Furthermore, this sector is supported by a wing of the state bureaucracy. But it would be a mistake to think that this struggle will be decided by that fact alone. One of the characteristics of this process, as we have already analysed in different documents, is the enormous lack of authority over the masses of all the current leaders – with the sole exception of Chavez. However, the radicalisation and discontent of the masses is such that it tends to allow them to go over the heads of these leaders and even sometimes influence Chavez himself. The future of the revolution itself depends in large part on how this struggle will be resolved.”

This analysis has been confirmed with incredible precision. The struggle between reform and revolution is taking place, at this moment, in a national situation characterized by important economic growth, which is encouraging the struggle of the workers and the popular masses. However, this has not been enough to solve any of their problems. The political victories over the counter-revolution, particularly the Battle of Santa Ines, resulted in the mobilization and participation of the masses, which at the same time also increased the confidence of the masses in their own strength and produced new expectations that the revolution is advancing towards a definitive economic and social transformation.

These economic and social processes find their political expression in the growth of the consciousness and mobilization of the masses of the revolutionary movement, particularly the workers’ movement. The expropriations of Venepal and CNV, the debate on “co-management” in these factories and in other public enterprises (which the workers are trying to develop in the direction of workers’ control) as well as a significant increase and radicalisation in the struggles are driving the working class to adopt their own phraseology and demands, and to put themselves at the head of the struggle to complete the revolution. Combined dialectically with this turn to the left, which can be observed in the rank and file of the movement, we can see a turn to the left in the phraseology and the actions of President Chavez himself. Chavez has, for the first time, spoken openly about socialism, has taken the decision to expropriate several companies and continues to call on the rank and file to struggle against bureaucratism and to make “the revolution within the revolution”. The language of Chavez stimulates and at the same time reflects the growing consciousness of the masses.

On the other hand, the attempt of the masses to take the revolution forward – and to put into practice Chavez’s calls and proposals – clashes with the reality of the exploited layers in the neighbourhoods, the factories and the countryside. Despite the advances that the missions and other policies – products of the heat of the revolutionary process – the masses can still find no clear and definitive solution to any of their basic problems, such as unemployment, poverty, lack of housing, etc.

This contradiction is fundamentally due to the fact that the capitalist mode of production is still intact. This system is in crisis and in decline both at national and international level, and is no longer capable of developing the productive forces. In spite of this, the Venezuelan capitalists and the imperialists continue to maintain the decisive economic power. The crucial role they preserve within the Venezuelan economy allows them to organise sabotage of the economy. Their aim is to whittle away as quickly as possible popular support for the revolutionary process and thus attempt to change the balance of forces, which is not in their favour. To this lack of a decisive economic transformation – which would mean the expropriation of the means of production and the substituting of the socialist model for the present capitalist relations of production – one has to add the fact that the bourgeois state, created by the capitalists over a period of decades (with many contradictions and which is to a certain extent in a state of decomposition), has not yet been replaced by a workers’ state based on the right of recall of all public positions by the revolutionary assemblies of the workers and the people.

This means that the attempts of the masses to carry out “the revolution within the revolution”, a “leap forward” and an advance “towards socialism”, leads to a struggle against the resistance and the boycott of the capitalists, a clash with a bureaucracy that does not believe in socialism, in the revolution, or in the ability of the masses to consciously participate in the leadership of the country, a bureaucracy that is attempting to stop and cut short this participation. The bureaucracy is increasingly arrogant and removed from the mood of working people. It will be the development of the class struggle within the Bolivarian movement, the struggle between reform and revolution, which will decide the destiny of the revolutionary process.

The legislative elections of December 4, 2005 may prove to be a turning point in this battle and within the revolutionary process itself. However, an electoral victory in and of itself is no guarantee that everything will continue as it has up until now. A revolutionary National Assembly should immediately decree the expropriation of the means of production (the big banks, the monopolies, and the large landed estates) as well as a series of other revolutionary measures (no to the payment of the external debt, the expropriation of the main companies, etc.). Only once all the economic resources of the country have been put in the hands of the state, with the democratic planning of the economy under the direct participation of the working class and the people, will it be possible to solve the serious problems plaguing the country. This task is also inseparable from the substitution of the actual state machine (which stops the masses from taking part in the taking of decisions and often sabotages the plans and projects which could help the revolution to advance) with a workers’ state, based on representative committees, made up of delegates elected by the assemblies of workers and the people and recallable at all times.

If the movement does not take advantage of this opportunity and if the only change that takes place is simply an increase in the number of Bolivarian deputies in the National Assembly – where the deputies continue to be remote and removed from the people, limit themselves to taking possession of their seat and continue receiving their high salaries, as they have until now, without responding to the sovereign people who elected them but did not submit them to their control – the restlessness that exists amongst the rank and file could, in a very short space of time, lead to an open questioning and even important internal divisions within the revolutionary movement.

We have seen this type of situation – an intensification of the struggle between reform and revolution inside the revolutionary movement – in all revolutionary processes throughout history. It is a situation that offers great possibilities for the advance of the revolution. However, it is also full of enormous dangers and risks. The first risk in this type of situation is that certain sectors of the revolutionary vanguard, which are drawing more advanced and radical conclusions than the rest of the masses, can become impatient and desperate and move too far ahead of the masses and adopt an ultra-left position and ultra-left methods. This only plays into the hands of the reformist sectors whose aim is to isolate the revolutionaries from the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement. Many revolutions have failed because the leaders of the revolutionary left separated the more advanced revolutionary cadres and activists from the masses due to wrong methods, slogans, and strategy.

Another enormous danger for the revolutionary movement over the next few months – which will increase throughout the next period if the revolution does not break quickly and decisively with capitalism and begin to solve the serious social problems of the country – is that the more impoverished, desperate, and politically backward sections of the masses can be overcome by apathy, discouragement, and demoralisation. This is a process that takes place in all revolutions: if the revolutionary leadership takes too much time in taking measures to solve once and for all the problems of the masses, scepticism can spread amongst certain sectors and the social base of the revolution can be weakened.

At the present time the correlation of forces continues to be enormously favourable to the revolution, but it is necessary to take advantage of this in order to finish the job and take the revolution to the end. As long as the revolution does not break totally and absolutely with the private ownership of the means of production it will be in danger and will not be irreversible. The examples of Chile and Nicaragua are quite clear in this sense. As we explained at the beginning of this document, the strategy of the imperialists against the Venezuelan revolution today – as was the case in the past against other revolutions – is centred on economic sabotage with the objective of weakening the social base of the Bolivarian revolution and changing the balance of forces. This is combined with the rest of their strategy – diplomatic pressure on the Venezuelan government and on other Latin American and Caribbean governments, plans for the destabilization of the country and even a possible intervention, and the ever present threat of assassination, etc.

The Venezuela Revolution and the International Situation

The Bolivarian revolution is a direct consequence of the organic crisis of the capitalist system, a dying system which can offer humanity only war, misery, and destruction. An example of this is the Annual Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): the 500 richest people in the world receive more income than the 416 million poorest people, a huge level of inequality; 40% of the world’s population receives only 5% of total income, while the richest 10% receives 54%; 460 million people from 18 countries (the majority from Africa and the former Soviet Union) have experienced a fall in their standard of living compared to what it was at the beginning of the 1990s. 30,000 children die every day from preventable disease, etc. These figures, which are provided by the bourgeois themselves, reflect the crisis of the capitalist system.

The origins, the evolution and the development of the Bolivarian Revolution can only be understood as flowing from the world crisis of capitalism. Therefore our revolution is but a link (the most important link at the present time) in the world socialist revolution. The crisis in Venezuela and the revolution that flows from this are not the product of its own independent development. They are rooted in the imperialist plundering that the multinationals and the international banks have carried out in the most backward countries. In order to do this they had to rely on the invaluable collaboration of the capitalist class in these countries. Therefore, in order to understand and anticipate the general lines of the development of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela it is necessary to analyse the understand and anticipate the general lines of the development of the class struggle internationally.

The fundamental characteristic of our epoch is instability - on the political, military, and economic planes. This is due to the fact that the equilibrium which was maintained for some 60 years after the Second World War, has now broken down. We explained that after the fall of the Soviet Union the United States would emerge as the most powerful imperialist country in history. However, we also explained that North American imperialism was riddled with internal contradictions. It is a giant with feet of clay. We are in fact facing a similar situation to that of the fall of the Roman Empire and mode of production based on slavery or the fall of feudalism in the Middle Ages. The rise of militarism, the most concrete expression of which is the war in Iraq, is the consequence of the fact that the economic crisis (overproduction, the contraction of world markets) cannot be resolved with the old methods. In the current epoch capitalism is a fetter on the development of the economy, society and culture. Militarism has not solved one single problem of the imperialists but has actually intensified the contradictions.

The United States and China

The world economy is being sustained by growth in the United States and China, but this economic growth is completely artificial. The world economy and the country which buoys it up, the United States, are burdened with huge levels of debt. This applies to individuals, companies and the state. The basis of this economic growth is in fact this mountain of debt. This bubble is larger than that of 1929 or that of the 1990s. According to The Economist, the current bubble is in fact the largest in history and will end in a crash as all speculative bubbles have done. Japan has been in recession for nearly 15 years after the real estate boom slowed down. The international situation is moving towards an economic crisis which could be the worst for the last 70 years. The rise in the price of oil could be what sparks it off. This partially explains the interest of the United States in Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, etc. Its failure to stabilize Iraq has caused the price of oil to skyrocket. To the situation in Iraq must be added the increased consumption of China and the instability in the Middle East, Nigeria, the preoccupation with Venezuela, etc.

China is presently the second motor force of the world economy after the United States. After 25 years of reforms China has become a favoured destination for foreign investment. These reforms have also allowed China’s annual GDP to grow at over 9% for the last 15 years. The basis of China’s growth are low salaries and the terrible living and working conditions of the working class. The conditions in China reminds us of the conditions of the English working class described by Engels in 1842. For example, a pair of “Timberland” boots costs 180 dollars in the United States. The factory in China where these boots are made employs 4700 workers, the majority of which are young, approximately 20 years of age. They earn approximately 85 dollars each per month. The capital of the factory comes from Taiwan. Evidently this situation provides enormous profits to national and international investors in China.

There has been a whole series of reforms implemented by the Stalinist bureaucracy, driven by millions of dollars in investment from the West, which has pushed the country down the road of capitalism: 92% of the land has been privatised, which in the past formally belonged to the state. A large section of public companies have been privatised, leading to the loss of as many as 60 million jobs. 60% of GDP is in the hands of the private sector. If the capitalist system has a strong period of growth over the next 20 years the return to capitalism would be complete. But this is not something certain. The enormous social contradictions in China are creating massive discontent which is coming out more and more into the open. In 2003 some 3 million people participated in 58,000 protests (while the figure in 1993 was only 8700), an increase of 17% per year. The bureaucracy is leading China to an enormous social explosion. Once the Chinese masses move, it will not be very easy to stop them.

A symptom of the crisis and the conflict between the different imperialist powers is that all the old institutions, such as the United Nations, NATO, the WTO and the European Union, which in the past were a reflection of the equilibrium between the nations, are now in a profound crisis. The crisis of capitalism means a struggle between the different national bourgeoisies for world markets. The present situation implicitly leads to the formation of imperialist blocks and conflict between them. This conflict is sometimes open and at other times buried deep beneath the surface. At certain times in this struggle minor imperialist powers or powers of a second rank come into conflict with the United States.

According to the Marxists the only class that can transform society is the working class allied with the rest of the oppressed layers of society – the peasants, the unemployed, etc. The only true allies of the Bolivarian Revolution are the workers and poor of the world, not any government or alternative imperialist power to North American imperialism.

The theory of “multipolarity” to oppose the hegemony of North American imperialism is a trap for the oppressed of the world. The Bolivarian Revolution cannot trust the governments of countries like China, Iran, or Russia, or other governments that oppress their own people. The opposition to North American imperialism on the part of reactionary regimes and murderers such as Putin in Russia or the Iranian regime, is not based on the interests of the oppressed of these countries. This opposition is based on the conflict of interests between the capitalists of these countries and North American imperialism. The only defence for the Bolivarian Revolution is to extend the revolution to other countries.

It was not only opposition to the war in Iraq which lay behind the anti-war mobilisations around the world, but also the latent social discontent against the attacks on the working class. And this process is continuing. This is in itself a lesson for the reformist sectors of the Bolivarian movement who argue that capitalism can be reformed and that socialism of the 21st century can be built without expropriating the capitalists and the multinationals.

If Germany, the classical country of social reforms and social consensus, a country with modern industry and technology, has been forced, under the pressure of the capitalists, to attack the workers and reverse those reforms, in Venezuela there can be no room on the basis of capitalism for any reforms that would benefit the masses.

ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean) is an attempt on the part of the Bolivarian government to integrate the economies of the countries of Latin America on a more just and equal basis. It is also an attempt to counteract the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and MERCOSUR. ALBA can only be implemented on the basis of the expropriation of all the national bourgeoisies and the establishment of a Socialist Federation of Latin American and the Caribbean, which would allow the planning of the economy of the whole continent to the benefit of the majority.

As we explained in our last perspectives document, Latin America is in a state of revolutionary ferment. The turn towards the left can be seen on the electoral plane as well as in the social mobilizations across the whole continent. North American imperialism is totally conscious of all this and has had to sit and watch insurrections and mass movements without being able to anything about it. Venezuela is the vanguard of the revolutionary process in Latin America. The correlation of forces is tremendously favourable to the revolution. Any possible military intervention on the part of US imperialism would be a very dangerous adventure, especially now that the revolutionary tide is growing. There is a huge difference between the present epoch and that at the beginning of the previous century when the marines would disembark and inform the North American press that “the marines have landed and the situation is under control”. This has occurred many times in countries across the entire continent.

An act of aggression on the part of the imperialists against Venezuela or any other country would make Iraq look like child’s play. This turn to the left is the consequence of the “adjustment policies” which have devastated Latin America over the past 25 years and plunged the majority of the population into misery. However, after a series of attacks there comes a time when the masses say, “Enough is enough”, and they begin to take action. Then begins the revolution.

The current high price of oil allows the Bolivarian government to respond to the demands of the masses, redistributing the national wealth and providing money for the missions and other social projects, public works, etc. While recognising this, we have to understand that under capitalism none of these measures can permanently resolve any problem and are shoring up new contradictions.

The current economic situation

Venezuela's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 9.3% ( during the first quarter of 2005 compared with the same period in 2004. 2004 saw a growth of 23%, the beginning of a recovery after the disastrous fall of 18% during the previous two years.

The current high price of oil allows the Bolivarian government to respond to the demands of the masses, redistributing the national wealth and providing money for the missions and other social projects, public works, etc. They have even been able to implement a number of measures such as reduced interest rates and an expansion of credit, a reduction in mortgage rates, assistance in the purchase of homes and other products, and subsidies to basic goods in order to increase consumption. These measures can, for a time, create economic expansion and increase the purchasing power of sections of the population, particularly the middle classes. Combined with the defeats of the opposition forces, these have, at least temporarily, curbed the extent and hostility of the opposition to Chavez's government among this section of the population. But, while recognising this, we have to understand that under capitalism none of these measures can permanently resolve any problem and are shoring up new contradictions.

While acknowledging the positive role of the missions, it is clear that the rates of poverty - as Chavez himself has said - are still extremely high, which is totally unacceptable in a revolution which seeks to advance and triumph permanently. 15.1 million people, over half the population, belong to category E, that is, those with the lowest incomes. The housing shortage - a further 1.8 million homes are still needed - will not be solved, according to official plans, for almost two decades. While the plan is to build 120,000 new homes this year, only 30,000 have been built so far. Not even plans to house the victims of the "vaguada" [five day of very heavy rainfall in February 2005] and other floods and disasters have been completed. Unemployment remains very high and more than half the economically active population still work in the black economy.

The advances that have been achieved generate new expectations. In health and education, the missions undoubtedly represent a step forward but are not enough to satisfy what the masses hope for and need: finding a decent job and home, to be able to study, better health services, etc. In a dialectical way, the President's own speeches reflect and encourage these expectations. On the other hand, as we also predicted, there are contradictions between the wishes of the masses to deepen and control these social plans and improve them, and the counterrevolutionary role being played by sections of the bureaucracy who are trying to put a brake on the movement.

This is, of course, logical while we remain within the capitalist system. Even revolutionary initiatives such as the missions will find themselves subjected to the pressures of capitalist society, a society divided into classes and based on the struggle to survive, and the exploitation of man by man - that is, unless we expropriate the property of the capitalists and replace the bourgeois state with a revolutionary workers' state. The bourgeois state tends towards reproducing internally the contradictions which exist within the capitalist mode of production. Furthermore, if there are no mechanisms to guarantee the control of the missions by the revolutionary rank and file (the participants and volunteers, as well as the workers' and popular movements in general) with the right to elect and remove the coordinators, create student unions and organisations to defend their rights, etc., then the risk that a revolutionary project like the missions can also be sabotaged or corrupted by the bureaucracy and the capitalists increases.

From the point of view of the development of the organisations of the oil workers and their participation in the control and running of industry, which is fundamental to the development of the revolutionary process, the internal situation in PDVSA is very worrying. Since the old technocrats left, and with the disappearance of the elements of workers' control which developed during the fight against the bosses' lock-out of December 2002 and January/February of 2003, all indications are that a new technocratic bureaucracy is developing.

Oil revenues are acting as a blanket, and giving the government a certain room for manoeuvre. But how long can this last? Wastages, due to the lack of workers' control, could have a serious effect on profitability in the medium term. For the moment PDVSA is able to generate enough income to allow public spending to continue expanding, at least while oil prices continue at their present level. The reformists are euphoric with the increase in oil prices. However, a more sober analysis shows that enormous contradictions are building up within the Venezuelan economy, which can stall at any moment and seriously threaten the development of the revolution.

The capitalists are not able to develop the country

The lack of productive investment, both by the Venezuelan industrialists and the multinationals, means that a large part of oil profits go to finance the trade and budget deficit and to satisfy the growth of internal demand. The major share of public expenditure goes towards social projects and public works in progress. A very significant part goes to help industrialists, to encourage them to invest. It is a symptom of the weakness and parasitism of the Venezuelan capitalists that a large part of this state income is used to import goods from other Latin American countries, since the Venezuelan private sector is incapable of satisfying internal demand, especially for basic consumer goods such as food.

As we have already explained in other documents, given the present state of capitalism on a world scale, and even more so in Venezuela, the development of a new bourgeois class is impossible, just as it is impossible for the old parasitic bourgeois class to change. In the present epoch of capitalism, characterised by the growth of the domination of imperialist multinationals in every corner of the globe and the abandonment of productive investment in favour of financial speculation, this is even more true. This has been clear from the capitalists' refusal to invest over the past five years and it is clear from their failure to create employment and develop any kind of serious national industry despite all the subsidies the government currently gives them.

Even before a fall in oil prices, when these contradictions would break out openly, oil profits will not be enough to allow Venezuelan capitalism a sufficient margin to hold back the mobilisation and radicalisation of the masses and allow a minimum of stability. This is the big contradiction which has given rise to, and continues to fuel, the revolutionary process. In embryonic form, the crisis of capitalism (which is worldwide but has been particularly clear in Venezuela since the early 1980s) together with the counterrevolutionary sabotage of the economy, are doing their work and undermining, below the surface, the foundations of the economy. Despite declarations from Fedecamaras, and a business association such as Fedeindustria which declares itself pro-Chavez (or at least distances itself from the opposition), these publicly admit that, despite growth and an effective negative interest rate (the latest available figures show that while the annual inflation rate was around 19%, interest rates were around 16%), the private sector is not creating any significant increase in employment. Of the latest 200,000 new jobs created, 145,000 were created by the state, and only 55,000 by the private sector. As if that were not enough, the great majority of jobs created by the private sector offer super-exploitation and massive job insecurity.

The business organisations (including those which call themselves Bolivarian) complain that price and exchange controls, and above all, inflexibility in the labour market, are responsible for the fact that there is not more investment and more job creation. Businesses, of course, ask the government for more ‘help', measures to ‘encourage investment' and a relaxation of the labour market; that is to say, more exploitation and more suffering for the workers.

Despite an unprecedented boom in oil prices and with one of the largest economic growth rates on the planet in 2004, businesses are operating at 54% of productive capacity. The percentage of private investment in the GDP as a whole is around 10-12%. During the 1960s and 1970s the percentage of private investment was over 50% of GDP. In any other country where oil did not play the role it does in Venezuela, this would mean a total economic collapse.

The capitalists' refusal to invest has been a feature since 1983 although, clearly, this tendency not to invest, together with speculation and the flight of capital from the country have intensified under the Chavez government, as happens in all revolutionary situations. Private Investment as a Percentage of Overall Investment, according to El Nacional, has been on average 13.8% under Chavez's presidential mandate, which is a lower level than under the previous nine governments. According to figures published by El Nacional, from an average of 16.7% under Perez Jimenez and 31.5% under the first CAP [Carlos Andres Perez] government, this figure fell to 19.9% under the Lusinchi government (1984-89), 18.2% under the second CAP government (1989-1994), 17.5% under the second Caldera government (1994-98), with the lowest ever figures to date from 1999 to the present time. This has been the tendency within the capitalist system on a world scale since 1973 - a tendency towards stagnation and even decline. In Venezuela in particular, this represents a steep fall. Under capitalism there is no way out of the contradictions that have built up in Venezuelan society.