The Venezuelan Revolution at the crossroads

The Venezuelan revolution has inspired the workers, peasants and youth of all Latin America and on a world scale. Over the past decade the revolutionary masses have achieved miracles. But the Venezuelan revolution is not completed. It cannot be completed until it expropriates the oligarchy and nationalizes the land, the banks and the key industries that remain in private hands. After almost a decade this task has not been accomplished and this represents a threat to the future of the revolution.

The Venezuelan oligarchy is bitterly opposed to the Revolution. Behind it stands the might of US imperialism. Sooner or later the Venezuelan revolution will be faced with the alternative: either, or. And just as the Cuban revolution was capable of carrying through the expropriation of landlordism and capitalism, so the Venezuelan revolution will find the necessary resolve to follow the same road. That is really the only way.

The Bolivarian Revolution is now at the crossroads. It has reached the critical point at which decisions will have to be made that will have a determining influence on the fate of the Revolution. The role of the leadership is decisive at this point in time. But here we find the greatest weakness. One can say without fear of contradiction that if a genuine Marxist party had existed in Venezuela with roots in the working class, the socialist revolution would have been completed long before now. But such a party does not exist, or rather, it exists only in embryo. That is the nub of the problem.

The question of leadership

After all the talk about socialism the fundamental tasks of the socialist revolution have not been carried out. In essence this is a problem of leadership. Hugo Chávez has shown himself to be a fearless anti-imperialist fighter and a consistent democrat. But courage is not enough to win a war. It is also necessary to have the correct strategy and tactics. And what is true of wars between nations is also true of the war between the classes.

The reformists and Stalinists try to argue that "conditions are not ripe" for a socialist revolution in Venezuela. On the contrary, the conditions for a victorious socialist revolution in Venezuela today are infinitely more favourable than they were in Russia in 1917. Let us not forget that tsarist Russia was an extremely backward semi-feudal country with a very small working class - not more than ten million out of a total population of 150 million. Let us also not forget that in February 1917 the Bolshevik Party had only 8,000 members in the whole of Russia. Compare that with the five million members of the PSUV and the difference is immediately evident.

The class balance of forces in Venezuela is a thousand times better than those that the Bolsheviks had in 1917. But this does not exhaust the question. In the history of warfare how many times has a big army composed of brave soldiers been defeated by a far smaller force of trained professionals led by good officers? Many times! In revolutions as in wars, the quality of the leadership is ultimately decisive.

Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Bolshevik Party succeeded in a very short time in winning over the decisive majority of the workers and soldiers and leading them to the seizure of power. They did this on the basis of clear Marxist ideas and methods that combined ideological firmness on all fundamental questions with the tactical flexibility needed to win over the masses to the side of the revolution.

The existence of such a party and leadership in Venezuela would undoubtedly have greatly facilitated the task of the socialist revolution. But such a party did not exist and the masses cannot wait until we have created it. Sectarians and formalists are incapable of understanding the masses, how they develop consciousness and move to change society. For such people the question is very simple: proclaim the revolutionary party. It makes no difference whether it is a party of two or two million. But the masses do not understand small revolutionary groups and pass by without even noticing them.

The Revolution cannot be directed by small groups of revolutionaries as a conductor directs an orchestra. It has a life and a logic of its own that does not correspond to the formalistic schemes of sectarians. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a firm proletarian revolutionary leadership armed with the scientific ideas of Marxism, the lead has been taken by the Bolivarian Movement.

This includes in its ranks millions of workers, peasants and revolutionary youths who are striving with all their energies for a fundamental change in society - for socialism. They identify their aspirations with the person of Hugo Chávez, the founder and indisputable leader of the Bolivarian Movement, Naturally! The masses are always loyal to the organizations and leaders that awoke them to political life, gave an organized expression to their aspirations and put them into words.

Strengths and weaknesses of Bolivarianism

These are the undoubted achievements of the Bolivarian Movement. Its strong side is that it is rooted in the masses - in the millions of Venezuelan workers, peasants and poor people who were previously without a voice and now have a voice. In bringing these millions to their feet and giving them a voice and a hope, the Bolivarian Movement played a very progressive role. But alongside its strong points it has many weaknesses too.

The most important weakness of Bolivarianism is that it lacks a clear, worked out programme, policy and strategy to carry out the aspirations of the masses. This is understandable given the way in which the Movement arose. It was not the product of a worked-out programme but of powerful but vague aspirations for national and social justice. This was not a problem at the beginning. It corresponded completely with the psychology of the masses, which were only beginning to awaken to political life. Once the masses realized that there was a possibility to fight for change, they eagerly embraced it. That created an irresistible momentum that has continued for a decade, shaking the foundations of society and politics in Venezuela and further afield.

However, dialectically, what was originally a source of strength at a certain point becomes transformed into its opposite. In the absence of a scientific programme and a clear and unambiguous ideology, the Movement comes under pressure from contradictory class forces, which are reflected in its ranks and especially in the leadership. This produces an unstable situation, with constant vacillations and hesitations. These contradictions, which at bottom reflect class contradictions, are reflected in the political evolution of Chávez himself.

The role of Chávez

No unprejudiced observer can deny that over the past decade Hugo Chávez has evolved in a striking way. Starting out from the programme of revolutionary democracy, he has come into conflict repeatedly with the Venezuelan landlords, bankers and capitalists, with the hierarchy of the Church and with US imperialism. In all these conflicts he has based himself on the masses of workers, peasants and poor people, which represent the genuine motor force of the Bolivarian Revolution, its only real base of support.

Finally, he has come out in favour of socialism, which is a very important development. Although the nature of this socialism is as vague as the rest of the Bolivarian ideology, the workers are filling it with their own class content. They have moved to occupy the factories and set up workers' control. The peasants are striving to occupy the big estates and implement the agrarian revolution from below.

The fundamental strength of Hugo Chávez is not the clarity of his ideas but the fact that he has expressed the deeply felt aspirations of the masses. Anyone who has been present at a mass rally in Caracas has witnessed the electrifying chemistry that exists between the President and the masses. They feed off each other. The masses see their aspirations reflected in the speeches of the President, and the President goes further to the left on the basis of the reaction of the masses and in turn gives a fresh impulse to these aspirations.

This "revolutionary chemistry" has been understood by the bourgeoisie, who are striving to break the link between Chávez and the masses. They have planned to assassinate the President, calculating that his disappearance will cause the Bolivarian Movement to fragment and disintegrate. They have organized a conspiracy in the upper layers of the Bolivarian Movement to replace him with a candidate who would be more "moderate" - that is to say, more amenable to the pressures of the bourgeoisie. The main purpose of defeating the constitutional referendum was not at all to "prevent dictatorship" (none of the provisions of the reform could be interpreted in this sense) but to stop Chávez from standing again for the Presidency. This would open the way for the success of the conspiracy that is known as "Chavism without Chávez".

It is well known that the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy has taken measures to isolate Chávez from the masses by creating an iron ring around the Palace of Miraflores. The threat of assassination is real and justifies tight security. But this can also be used as a pretext for functionaries to filter and censure, ensuring that only certain people have access to the President's office while others are excluded on political grounds. By these means the pressure of the masses and the left wing is reduced, while that from the bourgeois and the reformists is increased.

Why the referendum was lost

Time and time again the masses, showing an unerring revolutionary instinct, have defeated the forces of the counterrevolution. This fact engendered a dangerous illusion in the leadership and in the masses themselves, that the Revolution was some kind of triumphal march that would automatically sweep aside all obstacles. Instead of a scientific ideology and a consistent revolutionary policy, a kind of revolutionary fatalism gripped the minds of the leaders: that all was for the best in the best of all Bolivarian worlds. No matter what mistakes were made by the leadership, the masses would always respond, the counterrevolutionaries would be defeated and the Revolution would triumph.

The corollary of this revolutionary fatalism was the idea that the Bolivarian Revolution has all the time in the world, that socialism will come eventually, even if we have to wait fifty or a hundred years. It is ironic that Heinz Dieterich and others present this idea (more correctly, this prejudice) as "new and original". In reality, it comes straight from the dustbin of discredited 19th century Liberalism. The bourgeoisie, at a time when it was still capable of playing a progressive role in developing the productive forces, believed in the inevitability of progress - that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today.

This idea (now completely abandoned by the bourgeoisie and its "postmodern" philosophers) was later taken over by the reformist leaders of the international workers' movement in the period of capitalist upswing before 1914. The reformist Social Democrats argued that revolution was no longer necessary; that slowly, gradually, peacefully, the Social Democracy would change society until one day socialism would arrive before anyone even realized it. These reformist illusions were shattered by the outbreak of the First World War and the Russian Revolution that followed it. Yet they are now fished out of the dustbin of history, dusted down and presented as the very last word in 21st Century socialist "realism".

A further corollary is that the Bolivarian Revolution must confine itself to the narrow limits of bourgeois laws and constitutions. This is ironical, when the Venezuelan bourgeoisie has shown a complete disregard for all laws and constitutions. It has engaged in economic sabotage and constant conspiracies, it has boycotted elections and taken to the streets in violent protests; it has carried out a coup d'etat against the democratically elected government and, had it not been for the revolutionary initiative of the masses in the streets, would not have hesitated to murder the President and institute a vicious dictatorship on the lines of Pinochet's Chile.

All this is well known and does not need to be explained. In the defence of its class interests the bourgeoisie has shown no respect whatsoever for laws and constitutions. Yet the masses are expected to follow every dot and comma of the existing legislation and obey the "rules of the game", as if it were a game of chess or baseball. Unfortunately, the class struggle is not a game and it has no rules and no referee. The only rule is that in the end one class must win and the other must lose. And as the Romans used to say: Vae victis! (Woe to the defeated).

At first these methods appeared to work. For almost ten years the masses have loyally turned out at every referendum and election and voted overwhelmingly for Chávez, for the Bolivarian Revolution, for socialism. It is really astonishing that the masses could remain at this fever pitch of activity for so long. It is without precedent that a revolutionary situation could last for ten years without finding a solution either in a victorious revolution or in counterrevolution.

The masses were voting for a fundamental change in the conditions of their lives. This was demonstrated with utmost clarity in the Presidential elections of December 2006, when they gave him the biggest vote in the history of Venezuela. This was a mandate for change. But although some progressive measures were taken, including nationalizations, the pace of change was too slow to satisfy the masses' demands and aspirations.

It would have been quite possible for the President to introduce an Enabling Act in the National Assembly to nationalize the land, the banks and the key industries under workers' control and management. This would have broken the power of the Venezuelan oligarchy. Moreover, this could have been done quite legally by the democratically elected parliament, since in a democracy the elected representatives of the people are supposed to be sovereign. Let the lawyers squabble over this or that point. The people expect the government they have elected to act in their interests, and to act decisively.

Instead of decisive action against the oligarchy, which would have enthused and mobilized the masses, they were presented with yet another constitutional referendum. But how many referenda and elections are necessary to carry out what the masses want? The people are tired of so many elections, so many votes, so many empty speeches about socialism that present them with a beautiful picture that does not correspond with what they see every day.

What do the masses see? After nearly a decade of struggle they see that the same rich and powerful people still own the land, the banks, the factories, the newspapers, the television. They see corrupt people in positions of power - governors, mayors, functionaries of the state and the Bolivarian Movement, yes, and Miraflores also - who wear red shirts and talk about Socialism of the 21st Century, but who are careerists and bureaucrats who have nothing in common with socialism or revolution.

They see that no action is taken against corrupt officials who are lining their pockets and undermining the revolution from within. They see that no action is taken against the capitalists who are sabotaging the economy by refusing to invest in production and increasing prices. They see that no action is taken against the conspirators who overthrew the President in April 2002. They see landowners who murder peasant activists with impunity. They see prices rising in the markets and they see government spokesmen denying that there are any problems. They see all these things and they ask themselves: is this what we voted for?

Pernicious role of reformism

A pernicious role in all this is being played by the reformists, Stalinists and bureaucrats who have occupied key posts in the Bolivarian Movement and are striving to put the breaks on the Revolution, to paralyse it from within and to eliminate all elements of genuine socialism. These elements are constantly telling Chávez not to go too fast, to be "more moderate" and not to touch the private property of the oligarchy.

Ever since Chávez first raised the question of socialism in Venezuela the reformists and Stalinists have been concentrating all their energies on reversing the socialist direction of the Revolution, alleging that the nationalization of the land, banks and industries would be a disaster, that the masses are not "mature" for socialism, that the expropriation of the oligarchy would alienate the middle class and so on. The most consistent advocate and "theoretician" of this line of capitulation is Heinz Dieterich.

Dieterich opposed the constitutional referendum. One can argue over the content and timing of the referendum. In fact, in our view, it was not necessary to hold a referendum at all. What was necessary was to use the electoral victory to take decisive measures against the oligarchy and the counterrevolution. But that was not at all the position of Dieterich and the reformists. Quite the contrary: they opposed the referendum because they are opposed to the movement towards a socialist transformation of society. They want to halt the Revolution and put it into reverse in order to please the counterrevolutionary opposition and imperialism.

On the eve of the referendum, Dieterich publicly aligned himself with the renegade Baduel. He demanded that Chávez unite with Baduel: that is to say, that the Revolution should unite with the Counterrevolution. That was, and still is, the programme of Dieterich and the reformists. For them the defeat in the referendum was like manna from heaven. It enabled them to intensify their pressure on the President: "you see where your stubbornness has led us? You should have listened to us! We are realists. We understand things better than you! You must not be in such a hurry. You must abandon all thoughts of socialism and reach a compromise with the opposition and the bourgeoisie, or we are lost."

Now the narrow defeat in the constitutional referendum is being presented as a swing towards the "centre" - that is, to the right, and as proof that it is necessary to conciliate the middle class (that is, to capitulate to the bourgeoisie). This is the line that is being assiduously peddled by Dieterich and the reformists. If Chávez listens to them - and there are certain indications that he is ‑ the Revolution will be placed in extreme danger.

These "friends" of the Bolivarian Revolution reminds us of the friends of Job, who "comforted" him in his hour of need by kicking him in the teeth. Such "friends" bring to mind the old saying: "God preserve us from our friends: we will sort out our enemy ourselves."

A dangerous move

Following the advice of those who want to reach a deal with the counterrevolutionaries, Chávez granted amnesty to a number of opposition leaders connected to the April 2002 military coup and the shutdown of the oil industry which caused $10 billion dollars damage to the economy and nearly succeeded in wrecking the Revolution.

Let us recall that the "Carmona decree" of the coup government dissolved democratically elected public institutions such as the Supreme Court and the National Assembly. Now those who wrote and signed this infamous document will be amnestied. They will be free to continue with their counterrevolutionary activities.

Chávez said he hoped the amnesty decree would "send a message to the country that we can live together despite our differences." This is evidently an attempt to establish a policy of "national reconciliation", following the well-known recipes of Dieterich. It is a very dangerous move. If the coup had succeeded - which it would have done if it had not been for the revolutionary movement of the masses ‑ who can believe that the counterrevolutionaries would have behaved like this? They would have killed Chávez and many of his supporters and then gone to bed with a clear conscience.

According to the logic of the reformists, a conciliatory attitude will bring about dialogue and compel the opposition to adopt a more reasonable attitude. This argument has no basis in fact. On repeated occasions in the past, Chávez has attempted to do this. The results have been the exact opposite to those that the reformists predicted. That was shown after the coup of April 2002, when the President offered to negotiate with the opposition. What was the result? Not national reconciliation but the sabotage of the economy. After that also, Chávez offered to negotiate. The only result was a new attempt to overthrow the government in the recall referendum.

But maybe the opposition has learnt its lesson. Maybe they will now be willing to compromise? How has the counterrevolutionary opposition reacted to the decree? Have they rushed to embrace the President? No! The reactionary hierarchy of the Catholic Church calls it "discriminatory" and demands that it should broadened to cover police officers who are guilty of murder as well as other notorious counterrevolutionaries, such as 40 year old opposition student leader Nixon Moreno, who is wanted in relation to the attempted rape of a female police officer in Merida. Mónica Fernández, who ordered the illegal arrest of ex-Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín during the coup, is a beneficiary of the decree. Now she calls for the amnesty to be broadened to include "political exiles" such as Carmona Estanga and Ortega.

These criminals, who have not shown any remorse or willingness to rectify their actions, will now be free to carry on their counterrevolutionary activities. This has provoked the justifiable indignation of the Chavista rank and file. Manuel Rodríguez says that the president should not have signed the decree. "Where were our human rights when they [the opposition] paralysed the country?" he asked.

Should the Revolution slow down?

"Helped" by his reformist advisers, the President has drawn some incorrect conclusions from the referendum. During "Aló Presidente", on 6 January 2008 he said:

"I'm compelled to slow down the pace of the march. I've been imposing on it a speed that's beyond the collective capabilities or possibilities; I accept that, and one of my mistakes is there. Vanguards can't lose their contact with the masses. They must stay with the masses! I will stay with you, and therefore I have to decrease my speed. [...]

"This is not a spirit of surrender or moderation, not at all. It's realism. Realism! Calmness, patience, revolutionary solidity. Nobody must feel routed or demoralized [...]

"I prefer to decrease the speed, strengthen the legs, the arms, the mind, the body, the peoples' organization and the peoples' power. And when we're ready, later, then we'll accelerate the march."

These words will be music to the ears of all those bureaucrats and reformists who wear red shirts but who are fundamentally opposed to socialism and are striving to derail the revolution. These people are always shouting about "realism" and the need to move more slowly. They talk about Socialism of the 21st Century but in reality they would like socialism to be postponed to the 22nd or 23rd century, or better still, indefinitely. The President continued:

"Improvements are needed in our alliance strategy. We can't let ourselves be derailed by extremist tendencies. We are not extremists nor we can be. No! We have to pursue alliances with the middle classes, including the national bourgeoisie. We can't support theses that have failed in the whole world, as the elimination of private property. That's not our thesis."

We have read these statements before - in the articles and speeches of Heinz Dieterich, the ex-Marxist who has now gone over to the camp of reformism and the bourgeoisie. Reading these words we can form a clear idea of which tendency has the upper hand in Miraflores now. It is a tendency that has been working very patiently and systematically for the last few years, intriguing against socialism and revolution, striving to isolate Chávez from the masses and the revolutionary wing.

Are we extremists? No, we are revolutionary socialists, Marxists. Only the landlords, bankers and capitalists can see socialism as "extreme". But they are a small minority of society. The overwhelming majority of the people see socialism as something quite normal, and not at all extreme. The President has said on more than one occasion that capitalism is slavery. Is it "extreme" to wish to abolish slavery? Only the slaveholders would say so.

Are we in favour of abolishing all private property? No, we are not in favour of touching the private property of the overwhelming majority of the population: the workers, peasants, small shopkeepers and middle class. We do not propose the collectivisation of the neighbour's car, house or television, let alone his wife and children. These are the ridiculous lies that were used by the counterrevolutionary opposition in its slanderous campaign for a "no" vote.

What we do advocate is the expropriation of the property of the oligarchy: the nationalization of the land, banks and key industries. That means less than two percent of the population: not the middle class but the super-rich speculators and parasites who do nothing to develop the Venezuelan economy but who are constantly sabotaging production, creating artificial shortages and increasing prices. To Dieterich and the other reformists we ask a very simple question: how is it possible to achieve socialism without expropriating the property of the oligarchy?

Venezuela's GDP has been growing at 8.4%. But there are serious problems. Inflation is officially 22.5%. The increasing prices hit the poorest sections far harder than the well off. There are continuing food shortages, affecting such basic products as milk, beans, and chicken. This shows the complete inadequacy of private agriculture in Venezuela. A potentially rich and fertile land has to import over 70% of its food - a scandalous situation.

Scarcity of basic food products as a result of the deliberate sabotage by the capitalist farmers and the monopoly distributors played an important role in the defeat of the constitutional reform referendum. What action have the relevant ministries taken? Immediately after the referendum it was announced that price controls over milk were abolished and there is talk of price controls over a whole series of other products also being lifted. These are again concessions to the oligarchy.

There is a very simple solution for the problems of food scarcity: the expropriation of all companies and individuals that participate in the sabotage of the food distribution chain. This measure, which is perfectly democratic, could have been introduced long ago, but particularly since the passing of the decree on hoarding and sabotage nearly a year ago. All the expropriated land, installations and equipment should be put under the democratic control of committees composed of peasants' and workers' representatives to guarantee the distribution of food for the masses. Additionally, committees of provisioning should be set up in all the poor and working class neighbourhoods to exercise revolutionary vigilance over the distribution of food and to undertake the struggle against hoarding, sabotage, corruption, racketeering, etc.

These facts show that the market economy is failing Venezuela. The landowners and capitalists either cannot or will not solve the basic problems of the economy. The only way to put an end to the sabotage and ensure that the enormous economic potential of Venezuela is used to benefit its people is to nationalize the property of the oligarchy and create a socialist planned economy democratically run by the working class.

Lukashenko's advice

How fortunate Venezuela is to have so much advice! It has buckets of advice, advice by the ton, by the truckload and the trainload. If every piece of advice were one Bolivar every citizen of Venezuela would be a millionaire. It seems that Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, has also been giving advice to Chávez.

But before taking advice from somebody, we should first examine his credentials. After all, we would not accept advice on the evils of drink from a chronic alcoholic, or on the finer points of brain surgery from a butcher. Lukashenko, we are told, "witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union". Yes, not only did he witness it, but he was partly responsible for it. The USSR was destroyed from within by a parasitical caste of bureaucrats who absorbed a large part of the surplus value produced by the Soviet workers.

This bureaucratic caste in the USSR undermined the gains of the nationalized planned economy through theft, bungling, mismanagement and corruption. That is to say, they acted in a similar fashion to the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy in Venezuela that is strangling the Revolution even before it is born. Lukashenko was a member of this privileged bureaucratic caste in the old Soviet Union.

In the old days they used to call themselves "Communists" and stood on the tribune on the First of May making speeches about socialism. Now they have become converted to the joys of capitalism and the market economy. They have become businessmen and made fortunes. In Venezuela the same kind of bureaucrats wear red shirts and also stand on platforms talking about socialism. They have about as much in common with socialism as Lukashenko.

Such a lot of advice! And how fortunate that all the advice is directed in the same sense: "Don't be a fool, Chávez! Don't go so fast! Forget about socialism! Don't listen to the workers and peasants: they are fools! Listen to the guys with the money! Just persuade them to be good patriots and invest in Venezuela. Then everything will be OK!"

Lukachenko apparently told Chávez: "The entrepreneurs, this national bourgeoisie, you must have them get a national feeling, love for their Nation and Fatherland, even if they're entrepreneurs and they've got money. They must invest in the country!"

If the implications were not so serious this would be quite funny. We do not know what National Bourgeoisie exists in Belarus. But we do know that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie is not investing in Venezuela. We know that there is a flight of capital. We know that there is economic sabotage. We know that there is speculation that is emptying the shelves of necessary goods and pushing up prices. We know that factories are being closed and workers thrown onto the streets. That we do know. And we know who is responsible for it and why.

What does the president of Belarus propose? He proposes that we ask the Venezuelan capitalists to behave themselves, to cease their sabotage and to be Patriotic. This is like demanding pears from an elm tree. The capitalists will not be impressed by lectures on Patriotism. They always act according to their class interests. Is it in their interests to support the Bolivarian Revolution? We have seen what their attitude has been for the last ten years. Only a blind man could fail to understand that the bourgeoisie is bitterly hostile to the Revolution and everything it stands for.

It is not possible to reconcile the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. One can support the interests of the working class, who are the great majority of society, or one can support the interests of the minority of wealthy parasites - the bankers, landowners and capitalists. But one cannot support both. By trying to reconcile irreconcilable class interests, the reformists in the end inevitably support the ruling class against the working class.

The question of the state

Chávez has announced a "profound restructuring" of his government, including the appointment of a new Vice-President and changes in up to 13 out of 27 ministries. There have been many such changes over the last ten years. Ministers are changed with dizzying speed, but this solves nothing. What is required is not constant reshuffling at the top but the implementation of a socialist policy.

The President wishes to tackle corruption, which he correctly says is one of the most dangerous enemies of the Revolution. Indeed it is. But it is impossible to solve the problem of bureaucracy by bureaucratic means. The only way to root out corruption and bureaucracy is through the general implementation of workers' control and management, the limitation of the salaries of functionaries to the level of a skilled worker and the automatic recall of any official, minister, governor or mayor who does not carry out the will of the people.

Ten years after the beginning of the Revolution, the old state apparatus that was inherited from the Fourth Republic remains in existence. That is the problem! All history proves that it is impossible to carry out a revolution without liquidating the old state apparatus, which will remain a constant source of corruption, bureaucracy and oppression. But the reformists will not hear of this. They say that the masses are unfit to govern. But who are the people best equipped to administer society under socialism: the bureaucrats and careerists or the working people themselves?

In Inveval, which has been occupied and administered by the workers for some years, there is workers' control and everybody, from the cleaners to the director, gets the same pay. Not long ago Chávez said that this was the model to follow, and so it is. We do not want to repeat the experience of the bureaucratic totalitarian caricature of "socialism" that collapsed in the USSR. What is required is to return to the democratic programme put forward by Lenin and Trotsky - the programme of workers' democracy.

How to lose elections

The Revolution suffered a setback in the constitutional referendum. But this was by no means a decisive defeat. Many factors can intervene to transform the situation even in the next few months. In 2008 there will be elections across the country for governors and mayors. It is clear that the counterrevolutionary opposition, encouraged by the result of the referendum, will mobilize all its forces to win back positions in these elections. The question is: can the Bolivarians mobilize the masses to defeat them?

Chávez is insisting that they must make sure to not lose any ground to the counterrevolution:

"Let's get prepared, because at the end of the year there will be elections," he said. "The counterrevolution won't rest for a second trying to recover spaces. Imagine for a second if that happened," he warned. The President urged the consolidation of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). He announced that the founding congress of the new party will be held on January 12th, and that former vice-president Jorge Rodriguez will now be the head of the PSUV National Promotion Committee. Jorge Rodriguez is seen as a left winger.

"I ask everyone to have the energy and will to have the new party that we need so much consolidated soon," he said. The congress is expected to last one month and will decide the political programme, structure and statutes of the new party.

The founding of the PSUV was a very important step, but it can only succeed if it stands firmly for socialism. Chávez mentioned the five "motors" of the revolution, his plan to move the country towards so-called 21st Century Socialism, and insisted that his government would continue to move forward with the plan, but lamented that many changes would not be possible due to the failed constitutional reform. "We can't move forward with them because they depended on the constitutional reform," he said.

But why should the Revolution allow the opposition to dictate what it can and cannot do on the strength of a narrow majority in a referendum? Why should the tail be allowed to wag the dog? That is a sure way of disappointing the masses who are already disappointed at the slow pace of change. It will lead to a mood of apathy and further abstentions in elections. This is just what the opposition wants.

Chávez has called for an alliance of "patriotic forces" in the next round of elections for governors and mayors set for October this year, which would involve the PSUV, Homeland for All (PPT) and the Communist Party of Venezuela. The PSUV is a mass party with millions of members and supporters who want to fight for socialism. Why does it need to ally itself with the PPT which is a very small party with an opportunist policy? It may be argued that one plus one equals two, but two men in a boat rowing in opposite directions equals paralysis.

The Venezuelan Marxists will support the PSUV and fight at the congress for a socialist programme and policy. We oppose alliances with parties and organizations that do not fight consistently for socialism. We oppose alliances and blocs with the bourgeoisie. We warn that the policy advocated by the reformists of conciliating with the forces of reaction will not lead to national reconciliation and peace. On the contrary, the policies of class collaboration will de-motivate and disappoint the activists of the Bolivarian Movement, who are the shock troops of the Revolution. They will encourage the counterrevolutionary forces, who for every step back will demand ten more. That is a sure way of losing elections.

And how to win them

The President also said: "we must find the alliances to strengthen the new historical bloc, as Gramsci used to call it. Just one year ago we won the elections with 63% of the votes, over 7 million voters. There we have a very strong base."

Yes, one year ago over seven million voted for Chávez and that is indeed a very strong base. But the question must be asked: why did almost three million of these voters not vote in the constitutional referendum? Dieterich says: because Chávez was going too far, too fast and must therefore slow down. But this argument is false to the core.

The opposition did not win the constitutional referendum: the Bolivarians lost it. After superhuman efforts, the opposition only increased its vote by about 200,000, whereas the chavistas vote went down by about three million. That does not prove that there is a swing towards the "centre" but on the contrary, that there is a huge and growing polarization between the classes. It also shows that there are elements of tiredness and disillusionment in the masses that are the base of the Bolivarian Movement.

The defeat of the constitutional referendum was a warning that the masses are becoming weary of a situation where the endless talk about socialism and revolution has not led to a fundamental change in the conditions of their lives. The masses have been very patient, but their patience is being exhausted. The idea that they will always follow the leaders - that false and dangerous idea of revolutionary fatalism - stands exposed as completely hollow.

On the contrary! It is the slow pace of the Revolution that is causing disillusionment among a growing layer of the masses. For them, the problem is not that it has gone too far too fast, but that it has gone too slowly and not far enough. If this disillusionment of the masses continues, it will lead to apathy and despair. This will prepare a counter-offensive of the forces of reaction that can undermine the revolution and prepare for a serious defeat. The time has come to turn the words into action, to take decisive measures to disarm the counterrevolution and expropriate the oligarchy.

Socialism - the only road!

Is defeat inevitable? No, of course it is not. The Revolution can be victorious, but only on condition that the Stalinist-reformist Dieterich wing is exposed and defeated politically. The Movement must be purged of bureaucrats, careerists and bourgeois elements and stand firmly on a socialist programme. On that condition it can succeed, otherwise, no.

When Simon Bolivar first raised the banner of revolt against the might of the Spanish Empire, this seemed to many to be completely impossible. No doubt if Heinz Dieterich had been alive at the time he would have poured scorn on the Libertador, as he now does with the Marxists. Yet Bolivar, starting with a small handful of supporters, eventually triumphed, just as Chávez, whose cause at first seemed hopeless, triumphed because he mobilized the masses for a struggle against the oligarchy. The battle is not yet over and victory is not guaranteed. It never is. But one thing is clear: the only way to succeed is to rouse the masses to revolutionary struggle.

Either the greatest of victories or the most terrible of defeats: these are the only two alternatives before the Bolivarian Revolution. Those who promise an easy path, the path of class compromise, are in reality playing a reactionary role, creating false hopes and illusions and disarming the masses in the face of the counterrevolutionary forces that have no such illusions and are preparing to overthrow Chávez as soon as the conditions permit it. The only way to prevent this is by liquidating the economic power of the oligarchy, expropriating the landowners, bankers and capitalists and introducing a socialist plan of production.

Dieterich and the reformists 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 the reactionaries is foolish and very dangerous. On the contrary, such behaviour will only serve to embolden them and encourage them.

Of course, in isolation, the Venezuelan revolution cannot ultimately 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. The example of a democratic workers' state in Venezuela would have an even greater impact than Russia 1917.

Given the enormous strength of the working class, and the impasse of capitalism everywhere, the bourgeois regimes in Latin America would fall rapidly, creating the basis for the Socialist Federation of Latin America and, finally world socialism. On the basis of a common plan of production and the nationalisation of the banks and monopolies under democratic workers' control and management, it would be possible really to unite the productive forces of the whole continent, thus mobilising a colossal productive force. Unemployment and poverty would be things of the past.

The working day could be reduced immediately to 30 hours a week without loss of pay. As a reform to demonstrate the superiority of socialist methods, it would have immense consequences worldwide. But what is even more important, as Lenin explained, it would give the necessary time for the entire working class, to run industry and the state. Then a socialist plan of production, controlled from top to bottom by the working class, would lead to immense increases in production, despite lowering the hours. Science and technique, liberated from the chains of private profiteering would develop to an unheard of extent.

Democracy would no longer have its present restricted character but would be expressed in the democratic administration of society by the whole population. The basis would be laid for an enormous flowering of art, science and culture, drawing on all the rich cultural heritage of all the peoples of the whole continent. This is what Engels called humanity's leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. That is genuine socialism of the 21st century: the only way forward for the Venezuelan Revolution.

London, 11th January 2008

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