El Valle (Caracas) – Workers' democracy in action

In a packed mass meeting in the El Valle area of Caracas, the working people elected their own local Comando Maisanta as part of the struggle to defeat the opposition in the August 15 presidential recall referendum. This was an extraordinary gathering, which demonstrated the superiority of the democracy of working people and the enormous capacity of the revolutionary masses to create forms of organization which guarantee the necessary unity and discipline of the movement, based on democratic debate and decision-making.

Revolutionary assembly prepares referendum battle

On Wednesday June 23, in a packed mass meeting of more than 500 in the parish of El Valle, Caracas, the working people elected their own local Comando Maisanta for the Battle of Santa Inés, as president Chávez has called the struggle to defeat the opposition in the August 15th presidential recall referendum. This was an extraordinary gathering, which demonstrated the superiority of the democracy of working people and the enormous capacity of the revolutionary masses to create forms of organization which guarantee the necessary unity and discipline of the movement, based on democratic debate and decision-making.

Following the decision to accept the recall referendum, through which the opposition wants to remove the President, there has been a wave of criticism directed against the reformist leaders of the so-called Comando Ayacucho, that has now been re-baptised by the people with names like: "the Talking Shop", the "See-saws" or "the Unmentionables". These leaders have shown in practice their complete inability to do anything: inability to organize effectively the campaign to collect signatures to secure the recall of opposition members of parliament and inability to denounce the fraud perpetrated by the opposition in their campaign to collect signatures for the recall of Chavez. The old leadership utterly failed to expose the intrigues of the opposition with facts and figures or by mobilizing the people. Instead of doing this, they issued a steady stream of triumphal reports that effectively dismissed the possibility of a referendum – reports that turned out to have nothing to do with the real position.

But it would be an error to imagine that the anger of the mass movement against the Comando Ayacucho was only because of its inefficiency. The other element in the criticism of the rank and file was directed against the bureaucratic methods which were used to select its members. This was done without any kind of consultation with the mass movement of workers and poor people or with the revolutionary rank and file. The Comando Ayacucho was also strongly criticised for having hand picked the candidates for the elections of mayors and governors. In many cases, the candidates were considered by working class people to be unreliable elements.

This led to sharp divisions with organizations of the revolutionary movement fielding candidates against the official candidates of the Comando Ayacucho. There are many examples of this, but one of the most interesting is the case of Vargas, where the Colectivo Vargas Revolución organized a popular consultation with the participation of more than 13,000 people. The overwhelming majority of the people chose as their candidate Gladys Requena, in opposition to the "Talking Shop" candidate, the governor Antonio Rodriguez (accused by the popular movement of having collaborated with the right wing would-be dictator Carmona during the coup of 11 and 12 of April, 2002). Thus, the criticism was not only directed against the candidates themselves but above all against the methods by which they were chosen, the method of hand-picking candidates bureaucratically from above, with no real participation of the revolutionary people.

So radical was the masses' rejection of the Talking Shop that when President Chávez asked for them to be congratulated for their work at the mass march on June 6, the response of hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries was a deafening silence, broken only by a few handclaps, and even some loud booing.

As a result the old Comando Ayacucho was unceremoniously ditched and replaced by a new leadership, set up to fight what is known as the Battle of Santa Inés, called the Comando Maisanta. Nevertheless, the procedure utilized for selecting the Comando Maisanta is not democratic either. It is true that many of those who compose it are well known activists who enjoy a greater moral authority in the ranks of the revolutionary movement. But the method of choosing them has also been selection from above.

The excuse for this is the lack of time, and the need to have an efficient and disciplined structure to give battle. The revolutionary Marxists are totally in favour of a united and disciplined revolutionary movement, but the best way to get this is through the democratic and conscious participation of the workers and the people in the election of the leadership of the revolutionary movement and in the choice of policies that must be carried out.

In practice, appointment from above of the members of the Maisanta committees at regional, local and parish level has already provoked a whole series of problems which have undermined the unity of the movement. In the case of Caracas, the swearing-in ceremony of the parish Maisanta organizations in the Teatro Municipal had to be suspended in the face of passionate protests of revolutionary organizations in numerous parishes (including El Valle, El 23 de Enero, La Vega and Antímano) which considered that the members appointed were not representative of the revolutionary forces in their localities.

After a lot of negotiations with popular organizations (which in some cases dragged on until the early hours of the morning) a consensus was reached with them and finally the parish Comandos could be sworn in. In the case of Antímano the representatives were democratically elected in an assembly with 150 people present and reflected the different forces that are active in the neighbourhood (MVR, PPT, the Revolutionary Marxist Current, M13A-PNA, among others). Even then there were problems, as when Caracas Libertador Council Mayor, Freddy Bernal read out the list of members of the Comando of Antímano, and the names on it did not coincide with those that had been decided in the assembly.

This situation led to a protest walkout by about 70 people from the Teatro Muncipal. Once again we see how bureaucratic methods undermine the much-needed unity of the revolutionary movement.

El Valle

For all these reasons the procedure utilized in El Valle constitutes an important example and we consider that it is necessary to explain it in some detail, as we see it as an example to be followed. The mass assembly of June 23 was made up of representatives of every street and sector in the neighbourhood who turned up as the result of the preparatory work of explanation and mobilization. The assembly, with more than 500 present, had before it a clear agenda, which included a report of the previous assembly and an explanation of the tasks of the referendum campaign, in which Chávez has appealed to the revolutionary masses to be organised in Electoral Battle Units (UBE, covering one polling station) and Electoral Platoons (PE, made up of 10 people).

However, the most important point was the election of one representative from every street and every sector, so they could form part of the local Comando Maisanta, along with the representatives nominated by the Municipal Comando. The decision to elect delegates from every street and sector was unanimously adopted on a show of hands by the more than enthusiastic people present. After this, the assembly split up into working committees organized by zones. The parish was divided into 12 zones which comprised the 29 polling stations each one covered by a UBE. Each working committee nominated democratically its delegates to the parish Comando and decided the date, hour and place for an assembly of each zone in which the teams for the UBEs would be ratified. It was also decided that the permanent headquarters of the local Maisanta would be set up in the headquarters of the rectorate of the University Simón Rodriguez, in 14th Street.

It is important to emphasize, as we saw in the working groups, that the people present were by no means the all of the forces mobilized for the battle, since the majority of them represented dozens of others who had already enlisted in the Electoral Platoons.

The working groups discussed in great detail the problems which face them in their areas, the strong and weak points, how to improve the level of organization and mobilization in order to win the Battle of Santa Inés. They discussed problems of logistics, of security and revolutionary vigilance, of mobilization, of organization, etc. At the end of the assembly, the plenary session was recalled in which the decisions of the different areas regarding the area assemblies were reported back. These had to be carried out in every area between Thursday 24 and Saturday 26 in order to swear in the UBEs.

To a great extent, the adoption of these correct methods is the result of years of patient work by the team of comrades called the Colectivo Radio Alí Primera El Valle which at all times has based itself on the mobilization of the masses and democratic methods. This work was not always easy and on occasions, was reduced to a small group of activists. During the fascist provocations of the opposition in February, known as guarimba, the comrades of the Collective insisted on the need to involve the masses in the fight against the provocations of the oligarchy and to organize assemblies in order to bring this about. This patient and consistent work has now made it possible to channel the revolutionary initiative of the masses in the direction of the democratic mass assemblies and revolutionary democracy.

The election of street and area delegates to the local Maisanta organization did not signify a slowing down of the process, and still less did it mean division. In reality, it is this method of workers' democracy, of direct democracy, what has increased the level of unity and efficacy of the different revolutionary forces involved in the struggle, each one with its own conceptions and ideas, but all subject to the democratic will of the revolutionary people.

The different areas elected those who have shown over many years to be the most dedicated leaders, committed and militant when it comes to fighting to solve the problems of these underprivileged areas. This is also the way to reduce the risk of careerists and corrupt leaders, who under certain conditions can go over to the other side. The natural leaders of the revolutionary movement are coming forward and are democratically elected by their own neighbours, who know them personally and are aware of their past history.

There is no reason why this same method – that of workers' democracy – could not be used at all levels of the revolutionary movement. In the same way in which delegates were elected street by street in the Maisanta parish Comando, these could in turn send delegates to the Maisanta Council Comando, and then to state level, and finally to the National Maisanta Comando. These delegates, of course, as well as being democratically elected, should be recallable at any time by those who elected them, in order that they should at all times represent the revolutionary will of the people. The moment they fail to do this, they should be replaced by others who will. This is the best way to guarantee the necessary unity and discipline of the movement and provide it with an organized channel that can express the extraordinary capacity of mobilization and the revolutionary enthusiasm of the workers and the oppressed masses.

The divisions in the revolutionary movement reflect real differences of opinion. There are two main contradictory tendencies in the movement, which, in the last analysis, reflect the pressures of different classes. On the one hand, there are the so-called moderates who are afraid to take the revolution any further, and who really think that it has already gone too far. They are afraid of "provoking imperialism." As a cover for their cowardice and their aim to halt the revolution, they say that "conditions are not ripe yet", but in reality they think that the revolution has already gone too far and that it is "already irreversible".

On the other hand, there are the consistent revolutionaries, who believe that the conquests that have been won to date can only be guaranteed by confronting and decisively defeating the oligarchy and imperialism, wresting the levers of power from their hands (in the state, in the economy, in the media, etc). Differences of opinion are normal and exist in any revolution. The only way to guarantee unity is to put forward the different proposals, subject them to democratic debate and then let the workers and the people decide through mass assemblies and committees of elected and recallable delegates.

A revolutionary workers' state

There is another important aspect that must be stressed. This structure of democratically elected commandos, if replicated in all parishes and neighbourhoods in the country, in all factories and schools, could set the basis to destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with a revolutionary workers' state. The old structures of the bourgeois state and of bourgeois democracy have proven once and again to be an obstacle for the advance of the tasks of the revolution. Marx and Engels, basing themselves on the experience of the Paris Commune, drew the conclusion that the working class cannot simply take over the old machinery of the bourgeois state and use it to its own benefit, but that this must be destroyed and a new workers' state must be built.

A workers' state would be based on the four principles developed by Lenin in "State and Revolution":

1) election and recall of all public officials (in order to guarantee that they represent at all times the revolutionary will of those who elected them)

2) no public official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker (to prevent careerism and corruption)

3) replacement of the permanent army with the general arming of the people (so that the army cannot be used against the people)

4) all public positions to be filled by everybody on a rotation basis over a period of time (in Lenin's words "if everybody is a bureaucrat, nobody is a bureaucrat")

This type of democracy, workers' democracy, representing the interests of all the oppressed layers of society, would be based on a network of workers' and revolutionary committees which would take into their hands the direct administration of public affairs at all levels.

In the same way as the Maisanta Comandos and the UBEs take charge of the mobilization, logistics and security, they could then extend their functions to the running of education, health, transport and finally could take control of the economy. Here is the basis of a real democracy – a workers' democracy.

The task is to smash once and for all the elements of the old bourgeois state of the IV Republic, which still exist at all levels and which are sabotaging the initiatives of the revolutionary people.

The Battle of Santa Inés must not be seen simply as an electoral battle. It is important to prepare all the necessary technical details to guarantee victory. But we must clearly understand that the oligarchy and imperialism know that they cannot win a democratic and clean electoral process, and this is why they have already launched a campaign of dirty tricks and manoeuvres so that they can "win" or claim that they lost because there was fraud, intimidation and violence on the part of the Bolivarian forces. It is not true to say that they have accepted the "democratic rules of the game". They are defending their privileges and power and will not hesitate to use terrorist and violent methods combined with legal and democratic methods (as we already saw with the April 11 coup, the oil sabotage, the February provocations of la guarimba, the bringing in of the Colombian paramilitaries, the assassination of peasant and trade union leaders, etc).

The way to defeat the oligarchy and imperialism once and for all is not to make concessions or through negotiations. In too many instances concessions have been made or negotiations have been offered to representatives of the opposition, in the mistaken hope that there is a "democratic" section of the oligarchy which would be prepared to accept the "democratic rules of the game". Again and again the oligarchy has shown that the only thing they are interested in is to put an end to this revolution once and for all. The concessions that were made after the April 11 coup (bringing back the PDVSA oil company board of directors, opening negotiations with the opposition, impunity for the coup conspirators), were used by them to prepare the sabotage of the oil company. The negotiations which led to the collection of signatures for the recall referendum (by those who instead should be in jail paying for their crimes) were used to organise la guarimba and to bring in the Colombian paramilitaries. What more proof is needed?

The only way to defeat the oligarchy once and for all is to go onto the offensive and take control of the levers of power which are still in their hands and are used to sabotage the revolutionary will of the majority. This means the nationalisation of the banks and monopolies under democratic workers' control, and the destruction of the bourgeois state and its replacement with a workers' state.

Therefore, the tasks of the Maisanta Comandos, the UBEs and the PEs cannot be just on the electoral field, but they must become elements of the new society within the old. Above all these structures of struggle must not be disbanded after August 15. Before, during and after the Battle of Santa Inés they must become organs of workers' power taking over the tasks of the leadership of the revolution and ultimately, the running of the state and the economy.