After the massive electoral victory on December 3, Chavez has put a big emphasis on the need to turn towards socialism. As part of this he is proposing a new party, built from the bottom up, to bypass the bureaucracy.
“For this new era we need a political instrument at the service of the Revolution and socialism”
In an event called on Friday 15, at the Teresa Carreño Theatre in Caracas, to celebrate the election victory and congratulate those who had made it possible, Chavez made a very important speech about the new phase the Bolivarian Revolution has reached. The whole speech was one blow after another against the right wing of the Bolivarian movement, which has spent the last two weeks since the elections calling for conciliation with the opposition, and was enthusiastically received by the thousands of revolutionary activists present at the Theatre and the hundreds of thousands who watch the speech on national TV.
He started by celebrating the election victory and stressing that it was a victory of the Venezuelan people "the first that should be congratulated and the owner of the victory", explaining that his role was one of being "always a tool of the will of the people".
Some of the figures that he gave about the extent of the victory were truly impressive. The states with the highest votes for Chavez were: Delta Amacuro (77.9 %), Amazonas (77.8 %), Portuguesa (77 %), Sucre (73.7 %) and Cojedes (73.3 %) as part of a list of 8 states in which the vote for Chávez had been higher than 70%, and another 11 states where the vote had been between 60 and 70%. Chavez had won in all of the 24 states of the country, in 92% of the councils, and in 90% of parishes (an administrative unit in which every council is subdivided). In nearly half of all polling stations Chavez received more than 70% of the votes (while the opposition only went over 70% of the votes in 3% of polling stations). While in 1998 Chávez received 3.6 million votes, in December 3rd he won 7.3 million (63%).
Chavez' speech part 1 (in Spanish)
In the days after the elections there had been a concerted campaign on the part of the opposition and of "moderate" sections of the Bolivarian movement aimed at undermining the election victory. The most common argument was: "there are still 38% of Venezuelans who oppose Chávez", "they must be included", "we must conciliate and negotiate with them". In an Alice in Wonderland understanding of democracy, what they were trying to argue was that since a lot of people had voted for the opposition, then Chávez, who had been chosen by a majority vote, had to adopt the programme of the opposition!!! This was the reason why Chavez stressed so much the enormous scope of the election victory.
In his speech Chavez also made clear that he considered that a new stage had opened up in the Bolivarian revolution. "I have never fooled anybody; during the election campaign I explained the main lines, and the main one is socialism, we are going towards socialism". And he insisted: "the most important issue is socialism" to which he added, "I haven't got a blueprint, I am calling on to you to build socialism, so that we build it from below, from within, our own socialist model".
Chavez' speech part 2 (in Spanish)
Chavez made several references to a "Venezuelan model" of socialism and to learning from the socialism of the Indian communities. He wanted to stress that socialism is not something alien to Venezuela, but at the same time he underlined its international character: "the socialism we dream of does not even depend on national circumstances, it is heavily dependant on international circumstances. But here we have started, we are going towards socialism, this is the road of salvation for the human species".
Since Chávez started talking about socialism at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2005 (http://www.marxist.com/Latinam/chavez_speech_wsf.htm) the reformists and moderates within the Bolivarian movement have had no other option but to also talk about socialism, but trying to water down the anti-capitalist content. On Friday Chavez also made clear that "we cannot just talk of a socialist morality, then we would be falling into utopian socialism" which he compared with "platonic love". "Utopian socialism did not offer solutions to the problems, until Karl Marx and Frederick Engels arrived, and they launched the Communist Manifesto and scientific socialism, and started to offer solutions". He was very clear in saying that "the transformation of the economic model is fundamental if we are to build genuine socialism", and he added that both the economy and the land should be socialised.
A new socialist party built from the rank and file
Chavez' speech VTV news summary (in Spanish)
But the central point of Chávez's speech was the call for the formation of a new party, which he proposed should be called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Ever since the idea of a united party of the revolution was first suggested by Chávez this has been greeted by revolutionary activists with cautious support. Support because there is a widespread feeling of rejection against the bureaucracy within the Bolivarian movement, the careerists and bureaucrats, counter-revolutionaries in red berets, the un-elected and unaccountable officials of the different Bolivarian parties (MVR, PPT, PODEMOS). But this support was cautious because many feared that a new party, a new structure, would be immediately taken over by the same old bureaucracy.
Here again, Chávez delivered another blow against the bureaucrats, and they were not too pleased, as Michael Lebowitz has very aptly described (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz171206.html). First of all he stressed that this was going to be a united party, not an aggregate of existing parties, in which each one would get a quota of power. This, he said "would be telling lies and fooling the people". He openly criticised the leaders of the main Bolivarian parties who had been appearing on TV trying to claim their part in the election victory. Visibly angry he replied: "this is a lie! Those votes belong to the people, and the people voted for Chavez!" And he added: "though in truth, they did not vote for Chavez, they voted for the socialist project that Chávez has been broadcasting in the last few years".
He made a direct appeal, over the heads of the party functionaries, to the rank and file of the revolutionary movement to build this new United Socialist Party, "and those existing parties that do not want to join in, they are free to continue on their path". The bureaucracy of the main Bolivarian parties must have been absolutely terrified, and in the days that have followed the speech there has been a mad rush to see which party is the first to declare it is disbanding and joining the new United Socialist Party.
Chavez reminded the audience of the enormous effort of organisation carried out to win the Battle of Santa Inés, the presidential recall referendum in August 2004. At that time hundreds of thousands of people, probably more than one million, got organised in electoral platoons and Electoral Battle Units. That was a genuine expression of revolutionary rank and file organisation and the attempts by the reformist bureaucracy to take over this organisation and to impose un-elected leaders appointed by the bureaucracy to run these structures at a higher level led to serious clashes in the revolutionary neighbourhoods.
Chávez said it had been a mistake to disband those organisations, and that despite his call to the contrary, most of them ceased to exist. "We must not allow the same thing to happen after the great victory of December 3. He appealed directly "to all those who are listening and watching, by radio or TV, you must carry this message, nowhere should squads, platoons and battalions [which were created to fight the election campaign] be disbanded". In order to create the new party "from tomorrow onwards, the commanders of the squads, platoons and battalions must gather the troops, the real good troops which are the people" and start the discussion. "For this new era that is beginning we need a political instrument at the service of the people and the Revolution, at the service of socialism".
The message was clear: the MVR was being disbanded. "Its period has ended, it must be consigned to history". The new party could not be composed of the "same old faces, the leaderships of the parties getting together and then that is the party, that would be a deceit". The new party should be build from the rank and file, "squads, platoons and battalions will be the basic structure of the new united socialist party of Venezuela".
Chávez also criticised the Stalinist model of the party. "The Bolshevik model was relatively successful in the birth of the Soviet Union, the October Revolution of 1917 ... the party that carried that people to revolution was the Bolshevik party of Vladimir Illich Lenin. But then it suffered a deviation, a Stalinist deviation, that Lenin could not prevent because he fell ill and died shortly afterwards". "The party became an undemocratic party and that marvellous slogan of ‘all power to the soviets' became all power to the party... in my opinion it became denaturalised almost from the beginning of that socialist revolution". As a result he said "70 years later no worker came out to defend it... because it had become an elitist regime which could not build socialism."
He stressed that the party should be built from below and with "very strict criteria", appealing directly to the revolutionary rank and file: "you know the people in the communities, we must not allow thieves, corrupt people, drunkards in". "This party", he said, "will be the most democratic party in the history of Venezuela, there will be discussions, the genuine leaders will rise from the rank and file" and he added "enough of appointments from above".
As part of the building of the new party there should be an open debate of ideas for the socialist project in which everybody should "read a lot, study a lot, discuss a lot", organise meetings of the "socialist squads, socialist platoons and read". The party must go beyond the electoral struggle and get involved in the battle of ideas.
This speech by Chávez represents a conscious attempt to give the Bolivarian movement an organised structure, and one that is clearly democratic and built from the bottom up. This goes to the heart of one of the key weaknesses of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela, the lack of a mass revolutionary organisation through which the revolutionary masses can generalise their experience, discuss the way forward and give the Bolivarian movement a democratic expression. The existing government parties (MVR, PPT, PODEMOS) are rightly seen by the revolutionary rank and file as mere electoral machines, full of bureaucrats and reformists whose main aim is to stop the revolution half way and water down and block the revolutionary initiative of the masses.
After the elections... struggle between reform and revolution
Eight years since the election victory of Chávez there is a feeling amongst the masses that enough is enough. December 3, for them, was not just another electoral contest, but one which represents the beginning of a new phase of the revolutionary process. They want decisive action against the oligarchy; they want socialism, not just in words but also in deeds. This mood is expressed in many different ways, the demonstration in Mérida "for Chávez and for socialism, against the bureaucracy", organised by the Front of Socialist Forces (http://venezuela.elmilitante.org/index.asp?id=muestra&id_art=2734), the demonstration of the Ezequiel Zamora National Peasant Front for Chávez and agrarian revolution (http://www.marxist.com/ezequiel-zamora-march231106.htm), etc.
The conflict between the reformist bureaucracy and the revolutionary rank and file also expressed itself during the election campaign. The whole of the campaign was mostly flat, partly as a reaction against the way it was being run by the bureaucracy. It was only when the opposition managed to gather a few hundred thousand people in Caracas, that the Chavista masses came out onto the streets en masse, in what was probably the largest revolutionary demonstration so far (http://handsoffvenezuela.blogspot.com/2006/11/largest-demonstration-in-history-of.html), on Sunday, November 26, a week before the elections.
It was at that point that the masses entered decisively the election battle, and organised to defend the victory on December 3, against counter-revolutionary provocations. In Caracas for instance there was the "Oligarchs Tremble" Plan (Plan Oligarcas Temblad) in which a number of revolutionary organisations (UPV, FNCEZ, CSB, CAV, CMR, FRETECO, amongst others) came together in a united front to organise rank and file vigilance during the elections. It was precisely the massive response of the people on election day, not only voting massively for Chavez but occupying the streets en masse from 3am onwards, that convinced the opposition leaders to drop their plans. Once again, the revolutionary masses saved the day.
The revolutionary activists will receive Chávez's speech with enthusiasm. The setting up of the United Socialist Party could be a re-edition of the Bolivarian Circles but on a higher level. When Chávez called for the formation of the Bolivarian Circles at the end of 2001, one million people joined in the space of a few weeks. This time, the revolutionary masses are more experienced. They have defeated the counter-revolution on three different occasions, have developed a healthy hatred of the bureaucracy, and have wholeheartedly adopted the debate on socialism launched by Chávez. The reformist bureaucracy will also try to position itself in the new party and stifle the initiative of the masses once again. On the outcome of this struggle will depend, to a large extent, the future of the Bolivarian Revolution.
The role of the working class
Unfortunately, because of the role of its leadership, the UNT, and the working class as a whole, did not play an independent role during the election campaign. Though the workers voted en masse for Chavez, they did not have a distinct presence during the election campaign. The responsibility for that lies squarely on the shoulders of the different sections of the UNT leadership. The split at the UNT congress took place over a secondary issue (the date of the internal elections) and was the result of the irresponsible attitude of the different wings of its leadership. None of them, neither the moderates nor the left wing, took seriously Chávez's appeal to occupy factories that had been left idle. Decisive action on that front would have put the question of the ownership of the means of production at the centre of the debate of the Venezuelan revolution.
Only one organisation pursued that line in a bold manner, the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied Factories and under Cogestión (FRETECO). With its limited forces it tried to coordinate the activities of workers in different factories, occupied, expropriated or in struggle, and won a leading position in the Sanitarios Maracay struggle. This represents a new qualitative stage in the workers' struggle in Venezuela, since it is the first time that workers have occupied a factory and put it to work under workers' control. It also destroys the myth of the "national businessmen" as a section that can be relied on as part of the revolution. The owner of Sanitarios Maracay is Venezuelan and participated in the coup in 2002. What led him to try to close down the factory was the militancy of the workers and their bold stance in defence of their rights.
Only the working class (in an alliance with the other oppressed layers in society) can carry out the struggle for socialism until the end. If the UNT were to call a national day of action for the occupation of factories, the balance would shift decisively against the counter-revolution and the reformist bureaucracy and in favour of socialism.
We have definitely entered a new stage in the Venezuelan revolution and there are only two roads: socialism (the democratic planning of the economy by the workers themselves) or capitalist counter-revolution.
For the full transcript of Chavez' speech, see www.aporrea.org
- For the expropriation and nationalisation of the Sanitarios Maracay factory (December 20, 2006)
- Nearly 1000 people march to the Miraflores Palace demanding the nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay under workers’ control (December 13, 2006)
- The struggle at Sanitarios Maracay is key for the socialist future of the Bolivarian Revolution (December 13, 2006)
- Workers of Sanitarios Maracay march for the expropriation of the factory under workers' control (November 27, 2006)