The Bolivarian Revolution and Socialism of the 21st century

We publish this report of a speech Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made at the "Bolivarian Revolution and Socialism of the 21st century" commission at the World Festival of Youth and Students last week.

Amidst strong security measures and after waiting for hours, thousands of delegates attended one of the most important events of the World Festival of the Youth and the Students (WFYS) in the Teresa Carreño Theatre in Caracas. On August 11, 5,000 people packed the venue while 1,000 more that could not get in followed the event on screens located outside the Theatre. The reason for all of this excitement was that this was the seminar on “The Bolivarian Revolution and Socialism of the 21st century”. This event gathered outstanding figures of the Bolivarian movement such as Rodolfo Sanz from the PPT (Motherland For All), Nicolas Maduro (President of the National Assembly) and David Velasquez (Communist Party of Venezuela), as well as leading intellectuals in Latin America like Heinz Dieterich and heroes of the Cuban revolution like Armando Hart. However, the main attraction of the meeting was President Chavez.

While waiting inside the hall, people began to chant “Marxism-Leninism, the way to socialism”, “Another world is possible, but only under socialism” or “Eh ho, Chavez will not go” amongst other socialist and anti-imperialist slogans. The mood was electric.

David Velasquez opened the meeting by pointing out that the debate on socialism comes at a very important moment for Venezuela and Latin America. He also produced an account of the achievements of the Venezuelan revolution. He ended his speech by pointing out that the revolution “cannot be stopped, is unstoppable and we have the support of the world.”

Rodolfo Sanz took the floor next. The writer and economist explained Chavez´s words on socialism. He explained that the discussion on socialism did not belong to the “academic left” and that it was not dogmatic either. Sanz explained that the “misiones” (social programs) are a step towards socialism, because now “we have an educated people that are in a better position to fight for socialism.” “Socialism is ethically superior to capitalism”, the PPT leader said. Sanz also answered those who accuse Venezuela of trying to export the Bolivarian revolution. “We do not export our revolution, we export the idea of making the revolution.” This statement earned him a big applause.  He finished by saying that socialism must be humanist.

Armando Hart stressed the necessity of recovering the historical memory of the people and invited people to study their own history. He praised the speech delivered by Hugo Chavez on Monday night at the inauguration ceremony. The hero of the Cuban revolution described it as “a jewel” because Chavez explains very important ideas in popular language that reaches everybody. The Cuban leader urged the audience to study Bolivar and Marti, so that their ideas could influence 21st century socialism. At one point he explained how there are only two paths before humanity - “Socialism or Barbarism”. Hart agreed with Sanz when he said that socialism of the 21st century must be original and not a copy of any other model. When he finished, Armando Hart received a standing ovation.

Nicolas Maduro followed Armando Hart. He began by evoking the spirit of Che Guevara. The President of the National Assembly explained that, “the struggle for justice and equality is as old as the history of mankind”. Maduro pointed out that it is very important to understand the problems that humanity faces today. In order to understand these problems it is important to study 19th century socialism. Maduro gave credit to Marx and Engels as the two intellectuals that discovered the mechanisms of the inherent exploitation of capitalism.

Maduro described the 20th century as a century of imperialist hegemony and the struggles to resist it.  It was also the century of the Russian revolution and the Cuban revolution, which he described as greatest events in history. However, the 20th century was also the century that saw the collapse of the USSR. Nevertheless, while the Soviet Union was collapsing, Venezuelans were fighting against neo-liberalism. This struggle was expressed in the spontaneous riots that cornered the pro-imperialist government of Carlos Andres Perez. Unfortunately, this movement was brutally crushed by his government. Another expression of this resistance in Venezuela took place on February 4, 1992 when Hugo Chavez led a military uprising against the Carlos Andres Perez government. He explained that the fact that Venezuela was rich in oil, gas and water made Venezuela a very important trophy for imperialism. He remarked that Venezuela was learning about socialism “through practice”. Maduro continued by recounting the different achievements of the Venezuelan revolution. These are examples that show the way towards socialism. One example was the “Mision Mercal” which covers the basic food requirements of the poorest 70% of the population in Venezuela. He also listed Venepal as an example, from which he raised the challenges of creating a socialist economy.

The last speaker before Hugo Chavez was the German intellectual Heinz Dieterich. Although he was greeted by enthusiastic applause, he very quickly failed to engage the audience. The intellectual began his contribution by saying that we should identify exactly what phase of the revolution we are in. He said that the revolution has “three different dynamics - the anti-imperialist, the bourgeois democratic and the socialist.” He explained that the Bolivarian revolution was now in the phase of endogenous development. This belongs to the bourgeois democratic revolution. Dieterich openly told the middle classes and the bourgeoisie to calm down, because we were still in the bourgeois democratic phase of the revolution.

He developed this point in a way that very few people amongst the audience could follow. Despite his highly academic vocabulary, the message was very clear. Mr Dieterich believes that Venezuela as a country, and that the Venezuelan people themselves are not fit for socialism.

Despite the new elements he introduced, he simply put forward the Menshevik theory of two stages that Stalin adopted during the late 1920s. Like the Russian Mensheviks, Heinz Dieterich believes that first we must complete the tasks of bourgeois democratic revolution before we can jump to the socialist stage of the revolution. This has theory played a very pernicious role in history. In 1927 the Chinese Revolution was crushed and the Communist Party was nearly destroyed because of the tactics of class collaboration of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and their Stalinist advisors from the Soviet Union. In Spain the two-stage theory also played a highly counterproductive role and meant the end of the revolution in 1937.

As Leon Trotsky explained in his great work The Permanent Revolution, agrarian reform, the education of the masses, the solution to the problem of self-determination and the expulsion of imperialist forces from a country can only be done within the context of a socialist revolution. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is not interested in the Bolivarian revolution. In such a situation, the working class, leading the oppressed masses in the countryside and the cities, is the only force that can successfully lead the struggle for endogenous development.

Dieterich continued by explaining his five conditions to achieve socialism. Among these 5 conditions there was not one mention of the involvement of the oppressed in state affairs, nor was there any mention of working people democratically electing their representatives, who would be subject to the right of recall. All throughout his speech faces in the audience began to change, and there was even some grumbling.

Adding insult to injury, Dieterich then explained that he was not in favour of co-management because it had failed in Germany. Of course, he never explained why it failed. Co-management is not a panacea, and when co-management is achieved in the factories, workers must fight tooth and nail to maintain democratic control of the factory against the bureaucratic elements. Heinz Dieterich would prefer to ditch the whole experience rather than fight for it. This is the worst kind of pessimism that the Bolivarian revolution can do without. Before he finished his speech he managed to insult the figure of Leon Trotsky, describing him as “Lenin’s thug”, of course without giving any concrete examples. The Venezuelan revolution can do perfectly without these kinds of “friends”.

After the awful lecture given by Dieterich, a video message of support from Fidel Castro was shown. This video also featured footage of Cuban doctors in Venezuela and the two trips that Chavez made to Havana (in 1994 and 2004).

Hugo Chavez was due to speak next. When he arrived the audience literally went mad! The roar of the audience and their chanting of slogans was so loud that Chavez was unable to begin speaking.

When he finally began, Chavez underlined the importance of the debate on socialism taking place in Venezuela. The President of Venezuela placed this debate in the context of the struggle taking place all across Latin America. These struggles are taking place because of years of imperialist oppression. “Venezuela was for 100 years a US colony and now we are free!” Chavez said.

Chavez then went on to explain his proposals to counteract the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. The ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) is an economic bloc composed of countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Uruguay and Argentina amongst others. These countries would exchange goods for other goods produced by other neighbouring countries. Chavez explained how Venezuela exchanges oil for cement from Uruguay. In the case of Cuba, Venezuela trades oil for health services and doctors. This sort of collaboration could be the beginning of a Socialist Federation of Cuba and Venezuela, as a first step towards a Socialist Federation of Latin America. However, as long as this treaty and this collaboration remain within the framework of capitalism, it will be vulnerable to attack, particularly from US imperialism. The only way to carry out this collaboration and extend this solidarity throughout Latin America is to break with capitalism. Chavez has made it very clear that he does not intend to be in same bloc as the imperialists. “Venezuela as a liberated country puts its wealth to the service of the peoples of the world and not to the service of imperialism.” Chavez continued by criticising the role of US imperialism in Latin America and the world. He correctly pointed out that US was nervous because of their failure in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez pointed out that the Bolivarian revolution could make a very rich contribution to the debate on socialism and the discussion on the building of socialism. “We have invited the Venezuelans to discuss and to walk the path of socialism.” President Chavez explained that he had been inspired to start this debate by Alan Woods, editor of this website, as well as by other intellectuals.

Chavez continued by quoting Karl Marx. Marx, and Rosa Luxemburg 50 years later, explained that the choice before humanity was “socialism or barbarism”. He explained that when they said this they were thinking of the future. However, we, he explained, cannot wait. “Today we cannot afford this luxury.” He explained that it was the “destruction of mankind” that would not allow us to wait. We must begin to build socialism now! Chavez explained that socialism is humanism, and that the aim of socialism was to save humanity from the capitalist destruction. The idea of going to socialism “right now” blatantly clashes with what other influential intellectuals and leading figures in Venezuelan politics have said. Only one hour before Chavez said this, Heinz Dieterich had put off the building of socialism until the distant future.

It is clear that there are certain sections within the Bolivarian movement that talk about socialism, but they are simply trying to appropriate the language of the revolution in order to stop it. This is what Hugo Chavez means when he talks about “the revolution within the revolution”. The leaders who are clearly identified with the rightwing of the movement appropriated this expression and emptied it of all the meaning.

The rank and file of the Bolivarian movement must be aware of these opportunist elements. These elements fear the revolution more than they fear the counterrevolution. It is time to organise and to take concrete steps towards the building of socialism of the 21st century. This also means the fight against bureaucracy. The state apparatus must be purged of all the elements that are trying to stop the revolution. The people must be involved in the running of the state – when everybody is a bureaucrat, no one is a bureaucrat. The same also applies to the running of industry. The experience of co-management must be deepened and extended. The fight against bureaucracy is also the fight for socialism!