A few weeks ago an article was published in the leading bourgeois newspaper in Brazil O Estado de Sao Paulo, attacking both Chavez and Alan Woods. The latter answered these attacks and his reply was published and widely circulated in Venezuela, where it provoked a lot of comment and controversy. This has now resulted in an editorial article that appeared on the front page of TalCual, a prominent Venezuelan opposition newspaper on March 2.
Like the article in O Estado de Sao Paulo, the TalCual editorial names the editor of Marxist.com, Alan Woods as one of the main influences responsible for Chavez’s move to the Left. The article, accompanied by a photograph of President Chavez and myself, was signed by Teodoro Petkoff, one of the main leaders of the opposition.
TalCual editor Teodoro Petkoff was a guerrilla fighter under Douglas Bravo in the 1960s.He then left the Communist Party (PCV) in 1971 over the issue of Czechoslovakia to move towards Social Democracy by founding the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). In the 1994 elections, the MAS supported right-wing social-Christian Caldera for president and Petkoff became a Minister in his cabinet. He was in charge of implementing Agenda Venezuela, carrying out all the privatisation plans and neo-liberal proposals of the IMF and was the main person to receive instructions from the IMF in the Caldera government. When the MAS decided to support Chavez in 1998, he left.
Petkoff now stands on the right and openly backs the counterrevolutionary opposition to Chavez. In the December 2006 presidential elections, he stood against him, but withdrew in favour of Manuel Rosales. He now tries to distance himself from the coup in April 2002, but at the time he wrote a vicious editorial in TalCual ("Chao Hugo") in which he clearly supported the coup and celebrated Chavez’s overthrow.
The article attempts to make heavy use of irony and ridicule. Chavez is referred to as “Chacumbele”, a character in a Cuban song, a womanising police officer in Havana who is killed by a jealous lover. Despite the ironic tone, however, the fact that it appears on the front page of a prominent opposition newspaper and is signed by the editor indicates that the Venezuelan counterrevolutionary opposition takes this very seriously. A verse in the song talks about how Cachumbele "Él mismito se mató", meaning he got killed by his own mistakes or actions. Petkoff for a while has been using the name to refer to Chavez, implying that his own actions will lead to him being killed. In the Venezuelan context, this is far from being a joke.
Here is a rough translation:
The more recent political adviser of Chacumbele is one Alan Woods, English and a Trotskyist. From the days when the Great Ideologue was inspired by the famous Oracle of the Warrior,(1) which he did not mention ever again after Boris Izaguirre (2) made public that it was a sort of gay breviary, Chacumbele has had the most absurd and contradictory "advisors". First there was the Argentine Norberto Ceresole(3), who was chucked out of the country when Miquilena warned Chávez about the Nazi-fascist and anti-Semitic ideas of this "theoretician". But Chaco(4) bought some of his trinkets: the undemocratic idea of direct relationship of the leader with the people, disregarding of any institutional mediation except the Armed Forces. Leader, People, Army: he loved that bit.
Then it was a German charlatan, Heinz Dieterich, inventor of the concept "21st century socialism," about which Woods believes (and on that one I would have to agree with him) that it "has a great advantage, no one has the slightest idea what it means!" When he had thrown Dieterich into the dustbin (no one knows why), Chacumbele caught the measles from the Hungarian Marxist Istvan Meszaros, translated by Jorge Giordani. He has not mentioned Meszaros again, because he has welcomed as his new "spiritual" manager the Trot Alan Woods, who has obliged him to "take up Marxism and Leninism”. Woods apparently convinced him that, rather than continue parroting the heavy brick of Meszaros, he ought to read Karl Marx’s classic itself, Capital, incidentally, in a better translation than the one Alí Rodríguez gave him.
Woods is a firm defender of "Marxism-Leninism" and probably he hopes that very soon his pupil will declare himself as such and not merely as a "Marxist". The first step was to "take up" Marxism and recommend the reading of Lenin’s pamphlet, State and Revolution. Woods is part of that handful of castaways who left the shipwreck of the USSR: solitary souls who are looking for a sponsor in order to continue pontificating on "Marxism-Leninism" and "revolution" from their dusty and cobwebbed pulpits. Not a single word of what he says contains a refreshing or new idea; even worse, he boasts to be just a reciter of clichés, with the excuse that the wheel has already been invented and he will not create anything new, because all is said in "Marxism-Leninism".
This (someone should do Chacumbele a favour and let him know) is an invention of Stalin (who also added his own name to the monstrous formulation: "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism", suppressed later by his heirs), who had no other intention than to use it as the dogmatic catechism of a sort of secular religion into which Marxism was transformed in the Soviet Union and throughout the almost disappeared world communist movement.
“Marxism-Leninism" ended up being a heavy ideological stone that the alleged owners of the Truth, the Communists, threw at the heads who dared to think for themselves. With these antiquated notions of Alan Woods a new society cannot be built, but they will only make even worse the tremendous mess which Chacumbele is making. It is like confusing astronomy with astrology or believing that the earth is flat.
Oracle of the Warrior is a short book, which claims to summarise the ancient Eastern wisdom on the art of war (including quotes from Sun Tzu). It became massively popular in Venezuela since Chavez quoted from it.
Boris Izaguirre, a former writer of soap opera scripts who has become a TV personality in Spain. A vicious right wing opponent of Chávez.
Norberto Ceresole was an Argentinean sociologist. He was an adviser to Velasco Alvarado (the left wing nationalist military office who took power in Peru in 68), and leader of the Montonero group ERP-22 in Argentina., He was in Venezuela after the 1992 attempted coup by Chavez and was expelled from the country accused of being in contact with him. He has been accused of anti-Semitism and of denying the Holocaust. He denies being a fascist. Ceresole was linked to Aldo Rico and the "Carapintadas" a group of military officers who attempted a coup in Argentina. He was in Venezuela in 1998-99 and the opposition media made a big fuss about his links to Chavez, creating an amalgam, whereby Ceresole is a fascist - he advises Chavez - Chavez is a fascist.
"Chaco" seems to be yet another of Petkoff's derogatory names for Chavez.
Reply from Alan Woods
Dear Mr. Petkoff,
I read with some astonishment your article on March 2, in which you present an entirely incorrect picture of both the ideas I defend and my relationship with President Chavez. You begin your article by saying: “The more recent political adviser of Chacumbele is one Alan Woods, English and a Trotskyist.”
In the first sentence you make two mistakes. That is not bad for a start! In the first place, Alan Woods is not English but Welsh. In the second place, Alan Woods has never been asked to be an advisor to President Chavez. Apparently, however, I am not only an advisor of the President, but his new "spiritual" manager, whatever that might mean.
It may have escaped your attention that I live in London and not Caracas. On the occasions I have visited that city, I have had some conversations with the President, but that is the sum total of the direct contacts between us. The last time I saw him was in Copenhagen in December, but literally for a few minutes, since the “democratic” Danish authorities sabotaged the meeting with Danish trade unionists where I was present.
It is true that President Chavez has on more than one occasion recommended my books, specifically Reason in Revolt and more recently Reformism or Revolution, which, from some of the quotations in your article, it seems you have also read. That book contains a criticism of the reformist ideas defended by Heinz Dieterich. You also criticize Dieterich, but it is clear we do so from opposite extremes of the political spectrum and for entirely different reasons.
I am naturally pleased that my books have been welcomed by the President, who is one of the very few political leaders in the world who takes a keen interest in ideas and reading. I believe that once upon a time you used to read Marxist books yourself. In the recent past, I assume you must have felt more at home in the company of George Bush, who has only ever read the First Book of Genesis, and did not even finish that.
You go on to say that the
“Trot Alan Woods, […] has obliged him [Chavez] to ‘take up Marxism and Leninism’. Woods apparently convinced him that, rather than continue parroting the heavy brick of Meszaros, he ought to read Karl Marx’s classic itself, Capital, incidentally, in a better translation than the one Alí Rodríguez gave him.”
I would, of course, recommend the reading of Marx’s Capital to anybody, but I have never had occasion to recommend it to President Chavez. That is just another invention of your very creative imagination. Nor is there the slightest basis to the statement that I obliged the President of Venezuela to "take up Marxism and Leninism.” Anybody who knows anything about Hugo Chavez will know that it is not very easy to oblige him to do anything.
You say: “Woods is a firm defender of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ and probably he hopes that very soon his pupil will declare himself as such and not merely as a ‘Marxist’". To present President Chavez as a pupil, either of myself or anyone else, is yet another attempt to imply that he is an unintelligent man with no opinions of his own. Moreover, it hints that the President is being somehow controlled by a foreigner. I might well reply that the Venezuelan opposition is most certainly controlled by foreigners – in Washington. But this is certainly not true of President Chavez.
The truth is that he has very strong opinions of his own, and is a pupil of nobody and subordinate to nobody. Chavez is a man who listens, reads and learns. From conversations with different people and from his extensive reading, he forms ideas and makes up his mind. He rejects some ideas and embraces others. His views have evolved gradually on the basis of experience. The same is true of millions of ordinary men and women for whom the last ten years have been a vast school in which they have learned more than at any other time. There have been many mistakes and wrong turnings but in the end, the revolutionary instincts of the masses have proved to be an unerring compass that points in the one direction: the need for a fundamental change. This is what worries you and the class you represent.
The ironic and jocular tone of your article is a mask that conceals a deep concern about the political evolution of both President Chavez and the movement he heads. What you cannot understand or accept is that the political evolution of Hugo Chavez is the result of conclusions that he has drawn from his experience of the revolution itself. The reason you complain is that Hugo Chavez has evolved politically, and that this evolution has been to the left, reflecting the leftward movement of the masses themselves. This fact may well be expressed in the rise and fall, not just of advisers to the President, but of parties, leaders and tendencies in the Bolivarian Movement. Such changes have always been observed in every revolution in history.
Permit me to quote what the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky says on this subject:
“The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old régime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis – the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations. The different stages of a revolutionary process, certified by a change of parties in which the more extreme always supersedes the less, express the growing pressure to the left of the masses – so long as the swing of the movement does not run into objective obstacles. When it does, there begins a reaction: disappointments of the different layers of the revolutionary class, growth of indifferentism, and therewith a strengthening of the position of the counter-revolutionary forces. Such, at least, is the general outline of the old revolutions.” (History of the Russian Revolution, preface)
These lines perfectly express the process that has unfolded in Venezuela for more than a decade. In the beginning the Bolivarian Movement lacked a coherent revolutionary programme and ideology. It did not advance the aim of the socialist transformation of society, but only the programme of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. However, that was too much for the reactionary, corrupt and voracious Venezuelan oligarchy, which in April 2002 organized a coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela.
You say “Woods is part of that handful of castaways who left the shipwreck of the USSR: solitary souls who are looking for a sponsor in order to continue pontificating on ‘Marxism-Leninism’ and ‘revolution’ from their dusty and cobwebbed pulpits.” And you later assert that Marxism and Leninism is the same as Stalinism. You therefore assume that the system I defend is that which existed in the USSR before 1990. That is completely false.
If you had taken the trouble to read what I have been writing for the last fifty years, you would be aware that I have never defended such a system, and have always been opposed to Stalinism. Can you make the same claim? The attempt to associate the idea of a workers’ democracy defended by Lenin and Trotsky with the totalitarian regime of Stalin and his heirs is a distortion that has no basis either in Marxist theory or in fact.
Stalinism and Bolshevism are mutually exclusive. That can be proved very simply by the following fact: in order to consolidate his dictatorship Stalin was obliged to exterminate all the old Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky. A river of blood separates Stalinism from Leninism. It is therefore quite amusing to read that “not a single word of what he [Alan Woods] says contains a refreshing or new idea; even worse, he boasts to be just a reciter of clichés…”
You will, of course, be aware that everything you have written about the alleged identity between Leninism and Stalinism is merely a repetition of a cliché that has been said a thousand times already. There is certainly not a single word of what you say that contains a refreshing or new idea. Moreover, what you say is false.
For the last 20 years the enemies of socialism have been repeating the same lie: that the collapse of the Soviet Union represents the end of socialism (and even the end of history). But what failed in the USSR was not socialism in any sense that Marx or Lenin would have understood it. What failed was a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism.
Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. We stand for democracy: a real democracy in which the millions of workers and peasants who are the overwhelming majority in Venezuela and other countries actually take over the running of society at all levels: the factories, the land and the state. This is precisely the message of Lenin’s book State and Revolution, which Chavez quoted at the PSUV Congress (without any prompting on my part).
“With these antiquated notions of Alan Woods a new society cannot be built, but they will only make even worse the tremendous mess which Chacumbele is making. It is like confusing astronomy with astrology or believing that the earth is flat.”
The ideas of Marxism are “antiquated”. Pardon me, but this is hardly a refreshing or new idea. It has been repeated every year for the last 150 years, and is still being repeated. One wonders why they bother! If Marxism is really dead, why not let it rest in peace. Why are you so concerned about an idea that is antiquated?
What is really antiquated, Mr. Petkoff, is the capitalist system, the so-called “free market economy” that finds itself in an unprecedented crisis on a world scale. It is sufficient to point out that at this moment in time the big banks and companies in the USA and all other countries only survive because they are propped up on the crutches of the state. Trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been handed over to the banks, while the people are told there is no money for pensions, schools or hospitals.
By the way, did you know that, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Marx’s Capital is now a best seller in Germany. Evidently Alan Woods and Hugo Chavez are not the only ones in the world who are interested in “antiquated ideas”. And the truth is that these ideas offer a far better understanding of the modern world than those of all the bourgeois economists and politicians put together.
You are so kind as to give us lessons on how to build a new society. But the opposition to which you belong does not advocate the building of a new society at all. On the contrary, it seeks to drag Venezuela backwards, to undo all the democratic and social reforms of the past ten years that have given hope to the millions of Venezuelan citizens who were excluded, marginalized, cheated and exploited under the old regime.
Under the fake “democracy” of the IV Republic the people had the right to vote for the candidates of two parties that had different names but represented the same class interests – the interests of a tiny handful of rich families that regarded Venezuela as their private property. Have you forgotten the Caracazo, when Carlos Andres Perez, that great “democrat” ordered the army to shoot down unarmed men and women on the streets of Caracas? Is that the “new society” you offer?
If there are problems in Venezuela it is not because the revolution has gone too far, but because it has not gone far enough. In order to put an end to unemployment, inflation and chaos it is necessary to expropriate the oligarchy, nationalize the land, the banks and the big industries and create a democratically planned socialist economy.
It is ironic to read today the “democratic” protestations of the Venezuelan opposition. These are the very same people who organized the counterrevolutionary coup of April 2002. If this had succeeded, what would have been the result? You speak of the alleged “Nazi-fascist” ideas of one of Chavez’s earlier advisers. I am not acquainted with the ideas of the person to whom you refer, but I am sufficiently acquainted with the aims of the 2002 coup to conclude that this description would be a more appropriate if you applied it to them. You do not do so, because you remain in a bloc with them to this day. And as the proverb goes: tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.
London, 10th March 2010