Alan Woods recently participated in the II International Meeting of Solidarity with the Revolution in Caracas, Venezuela. For this occasion El Topo Obrero, the journal of the Revolutionary Marxist Current in Venezuela, took the opportunity to interview Alan Woods about the revolutionary situation in Venezuela, the validity of Marxism, and the world situation today.
What is your assessment of the strength or weakness of US imperialism after the recent events in Iraq and Haiti?
US imperialism is undoubtedly the most powerful economic and military state the world has ever seen. Compared to this, the power of the Roman empire seems like child’s play. The Bush administration is merely an extreme expression of this fact. The Bush doctrine claims to abrogate to the USA the unlimited right to intervene in any part of the terrestrial globe, to interfere in the internal affairs of supposedly sovereign states, to tear up treaties and to bomb, terrorise, invade and occupy without any control whatsoever.
On the face of this, no power on earth can stand against US imperialism. But this view is mistaken. In point of fact, the power of the USA has its limits, and this is now being revealed. The invasion of Iraq succeeded very quickly in demolishing the Iraqi army. There is no surprise here. The armed forces of Iraq, already defeated and enfeebled, could in no way compete with the colossal firepower and technology of the Coalition forces. But it is one thing to defeat the Iraqi army militarily, and quite another to establish a successful occupation of Iraq against the resistance of the Iraqi people. The British imperialist found this out to their cost in the past. Now the American imperialists are learning the same painful lesson.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who knew quite a lot about bayonets, pointed out that the problem was that you could not sit on them! One year after the war, the USA and its allies are nowhere near establishing their objectives in Iraq. They face a full-scale guerrilla war that is backed by the big majority of the Iraqi people. Every day there are new losses of US and allied soldiers and their Iraqi collaborators. There is no sign of stability. They have failed to establish a puppet government in Baghdad that could have even the shadow of credibility among the masses. The situation is chaotic and getting worse. From any point of view it is a complete catastrophe.
The war was reactionary from start to finish, and met with massive resistance in Europe, the USA and other countries. This was expressed by the mass demonstrations one year ago that brought millions of people onto the streets. In my own country – which, shamefully, has acted as the main ally of America in this war – two million people came out on the streets of London in the biggest demonstration in British history. The overwhelming majority of the British people was, and remains opposed to the war. This issue has occupied the centre of the stage and caused a deep crisis in the government and the Labour Party. Blair’s position is being rapidly eroded by this. All attempts to bury the issue have failed. At every step it comes back to haunt Blair and his cronies.
The question is still clearer in the case of Spain, where 90 percent of the people are against the war and six million demonstrated against it. Aznar – the other main European ally of Bush – seemed to be in complete control, just as Bush seemed to be up till now. But we saw how quickly the situation has changed in Spain. In a couple of days after the Madrid bombing, the mood of the masses underwent a lightening change and the right wing pro-American government of the PP was thrown out and replaced by the Socialists who say they will withdraw the Spanish army from Iraq unless the situation improves. But the situation is not improving but getting worse. If Spain pulls out – which is possible – it will put tremendous pressure on Blair and Bush. Similar changes of mood can take place in Britain and America in the next few months.
People now realise that the whole business of weapons of mass destruction was a lie and a deceit. No such weapons exist in Iraq. On the other hand the so-called war on terror has had precisely the opposite effect to that which they announced. Far from reducing the threat of terror it has enormously exacerbated it everywhere. Terrorism is spreading like a dreadful epidemic. In fact, state terrorism and individual terrorism feed upon one another. Bush is bin Laden’s best ally and vice versa (let us not forget that it was the CIA that invented al Qaeda as a weapon in its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan). Before the invasion there was no al Qaida presence in Iraq. But now they are certainly present there. That is what Bush has achieved.
By their actions the US imperialists are increasing instability everywhere. The whole of the Middle East is unstable now. Even Saudi Arabia is hanging by a thread. This does not suit US imperialism. It would like peace in the Middle East – peace under American control, that is – but by its actions it makes this impossible. You can have peace or you can have US domination, but you cannot have both!
In the absence of a stable Iraq, the plans of US imperialism to plunder its huge oil resources are not viable. Pipelines are sabotaged, American construction workers are killed. This is not a good environment for investments by the big US corporations! As a result, instead of getting rich at the expense of Iraq, the USA finds that it has to pay huge sums to keep the occupation going – at least four billion dollars a month, but it may be as high as six billion. That is a colossal drain on America’s wealth! It is like a slow but persistent haemorrhage. This cannot continue indefinitely. Even a very wealthy country like America cannot afford this to continue for ever.
There are quite serious economic problems in the USA, particularly huge debts and a huge budget deficit that is approaching 5 percent of the GDP. They say that they will not be able to pay the pensions of Americans who retire in a few years time and that there is no money to pay for medical care. Yet Bush is cutting the taxes of the rich and increasing military expenditure to obscene levels. This will provoke a backlash in America at a certain stage. What has happened in Spain can happen on an even bigger scale in Britain and the USA.
Before the Second World War, Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionist, made a brilliant prediction. He said that US imperialism would emerge victorious and would dominate the world, but he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. That prediction is coming literally true. All the contradictions on a world scale are coming to a head and are penetrating America itself. Explosions are being prepared!
What is your opinion on the revolutionary process that has opened up in our country?
US imperialism is attempting to use its muscle to pre-empt the revolution that is being prepared in Latin America. The crisis of capitalism has reduced the majority of the population of this potentially rich and prosperous continent to penury. The crisis has laid low the mighty Argentinean economy – once the economic power-house of Latin America. Revolutionary waves have swept through Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and, of course, Venezuela. There is not a single stable capitalist regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.
The American imperialists are terrified of these developments. The Middle East is of vital economic and strategic importance to them. But they see Latin America as their own back yard. Therefore, they are engaging in a counterrevolutionary policy. They are mortally afraid that Venezuela will act as a beacon to the oppressed masses in the rest of Latin America, and are doing everything in their power to overthrow the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez. They have already organised two attempted coups with the support of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, their local office boys.
The Chavez government has done many positive things. It has stood firm and refused to be bullied by imperialism. It has carried out many reforms in the interests of the workers and peasants who are the big majority of society. Above all, it has given hope to the masses, a sense of dignity and purpose. Unfortunately, however, the revolutionary process has not been carried out to the end. The economic power still remains in the hands of the landlords and capitalists, who will never be reconciled to the revolution. They will continue to intrigue and plot and will not rest until all the gains of the revolution are undone, the government overthrown and the yoke of oppression placed again on the neck of the people of Venezuela.
You mentioned earlier the events in Haiti. I do not think that this is a coincidence. The US imperialists incited the mob to overthrow the elected government of Aristide, because they did not trust him to act as their stooge. He was too inclined to respond to the demands of the mass of poor Haitians. Washington could not tolerate this. But I believe that the US intervention in Haiti was also aimed at Venezuela and Cuba. They are very anxious to overthrow Hugo Chavez, although I do not think it likely that they will intervene directly with US troops. They have their hands full in Iraq, and realise that they would face ferocious opposition from the people of Venezuela. Venezuela is not Haiti! But new counterrevolutionary attempts backed by the USA are inevitable.
What would be the best way to defend the Venezuelan revolution against the interference of imperialism?
The working people everywhere are engaged in a war with the exploiters – the class war. As in a conventional war, in order to win, bravery and numerical strength are not enough. A successful army must have a plan of action, a serious strategy, a grasp of tactics. It must have a good general staff that has made a serious study of war as a science and an art. Without this, victory is impossible.
The masses have repeatedly shown their revolutionary fighting spirit. On two occasions they have defeated the counterrevolution. But to win a battle is not to win the war. The defeat of the counterrevolutionary forces created exceptionally favourable conditions for carrying out the socialist transformation of society. In the given conditions, this could have been accomplished peacefully. The reactionaries were disoriented and demoralised. But the opportunity was lost and on each occasion they were allowed to regroup and prepare a new counterrevolutionary offensive.
Winston Churchill used to say that attack is the best form of defence. It is absolutely necessary to carry the revolution through to the end. It is necessary to put an end to the stranglehold that the landlords and capitalists exercise over the economy by nationalising the banks, the land and the major industries under democratic workers control and management. We do not want to nationalise every small shop and business. That is not necessary or desirable. We should try to win over the middle class by pointing out that our enemy is the big capitalists and imperialism.
Some misguided people argue that to act in this way would be to provoke the imperialists and reactionaries. That is absurd. The imperialists and reactionaries have shown by their actions that they do not need any provocation to act. They are continually acting to destroy the revolution. The idea that they will cease their counterrevolutionary acts if we “show moderation” and conciliate with them is foolish and very dangerous. On the contrary, such behaviour will only serve to embolden them and encourage them. Weakness invites aggression!
Of course, in isolation, the Venezuelan revolution cannot succeed. But it would not be isolated for long. Revolutionary Venezuela must make an appeal to the workers and peasants of the rest of Latin America to follow its lead. Given the conditions that exist throughout the continent, such an appeal would not fall on deaf ears.
Why do you still consider the ideas of Marxism valid?
Lenin once said: “Marxism is all-powerful, because it is true”. In an indirect way, the enemies of Marxism have themselves admitted its truth. They spare no effort to attack Marxism, to show that it is out of date, wrong, unscientific, and so on. But if Marxism is so irrelevant, as they claim, why do they spend so much time, effort and money to attack it? The ruling class does not waste time and money attacking an idea that is “dead” (as they say Marxism is dead). They only attack an idea that is not only alive but dangerous for them and their system. And Marxism is very dangerous for the bourgeoisie and imperialism!
The Bolivarian Movement has done excellent work in arousing millions of workers, peasants and other downtrodden and oppressed people. But unfortunately it lacks a scientific programme, method and perspective. Only Marxism can provide this. The ideas of Marxism are a treasure house wherein the class conscious worker or revolutionary youth can find the necessary ideological weapons to defeat the class enemy.
What would be your message to the readers of El Topo Obrero?
By uniting with El Militante and the international Marxist tendency, which I also represent, ETO took a decisive step in the direction of creating a strong Marxist tendency in Venezuela. Now it is necessary to intensify the work of the Venezuelan Marxists at every level. We must establish a firm base in every factory, every oil refinery, transport depot, every union branch, every Bolivarian circle, every school and university, every farm, and shanty town.
Our main weapon is the weapon of ideas – the revolutionary ideas of Marxism. We must strive to make the masses acquainted with these ideas by systematically disseminating Marxist literature, and above all by expanding the circulation of ETO and El Militante. Around these excellent publications we can group together our supporters in every locality. As Lenin explained, a Marxist paper is not just a paper – it is a collective organiser.
It goes without saying that the Marxists of Venezuela are an integral part of the Bolivarian Movement, the movement of the masses. They form its most militant and energetic section, its most consistently revolutionary wing. It is necessary to unite all the most revolutionary elements of the Movement in a mass Marxist tendency that can fertilise it with the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, while pushing it forward on the road to the socialist revolution.
The movement will succeed to the degree that it is led by the working class, and the working class is organised and led by the Marxist tendency. Naturally, the Marxists do not seek to impose themselves on the masses. We are part of the mass movement and will loyally work to develop and strengthen it. All we ask is the right to defend our ideas and work to convince the majority of the correctness of our programme and policies. Our slogan is that of Lenin in 1917: “Patiently explain!”
Within the general movement of the masses it is imperative that the working class fights under its own banner and retains its own class independence. The workers of Venezuela will fight against the counterrevolution, but it will do so with its own methods, policies and programme, which is based on the aim of eliminating capitalism and carrying through the socialist transformation of society.
The highest organisational expression of this is the formation of committees of struggle, democratically elected in the workplaces and workers’ areas, to give organisation and form to the struggle of the masses, and to challenge the power of Capital. In the course of the struggle against the counterrevolution, for the defence of the gains of the Bolivarian revolution, the masses will learn to have confidence in their own strength and they will come to understand the need to take power into their own hands as the only way of safeguarding these gains and carrying the revolution to a higher level.
Finally, I must emphasise that all our work must be imbued with a sense of tremendous urgency. Although the counterrevolutionary forces have twice been defeated they are preparing for another confrontation – possibly the decisive one. If they succeed, the consequences for the working people of Venezuela will be extremely grave. The counterrevolution will seek revenge for its past defeats and humiliations. They will make the workers and the poor pay a terrible price. They will aim to crush them so thoroughly that they will not raise their heads again for a long time.
Comrades! There is no room for complacency. It is a race against time to see who will triumph. The choice before the people of Venezuela is a stark one: either the greatest of victories or the most terrible of defeats. In the great battles that impend the question will be decided – one way or the other. The outcome of these struggles depends to a very large extent on your ability to build a powerful Marxist tendency in a very short space of time. Armed with the correct methods and ideas, the Marxist tendency can win the support of the masses, beginning with the active layer of the Movement. Upon your success everything depends. We have no time to waste!