[Book] The Venezuelan Revolution - a Marxist perspective

The Venezuelan Revolution in danger

In Defence of Marxism received a letter from a Venezuelan Marxist commenting on an article we published by Emilia Lucena. The following are extracts from the letter relating to the present situation, with comments by Alan Woods:

"Dear comrades, (...) In my opinion our country is passing through a pre-revolutionary situation. In reality the working class and the people now have almost all that is necessary, except a revolutionary leadership, which at this historic moment in the history of capitalism, is absolutely necessary in order to overthrow the capitalist regime. On the other hand, since April 13, there has been a continuous development of organs of popular power, with thousands of Bolivarian circles, land committees, popular assemblies, class currents, all sorts of political movements, etc. Nevertheless, this process also reveals the inexperience of the popular movement, showing serious organizational weaknesses within it and, what is even more serious, a great lack of coordination between its component parts.

Another important factor to take into account is the dead weight of the messianistic leadership of Chavez. (...) This dramatically shows up the lack of a revolutionary party and, at the same time poses the urgent need for the mass movement to create a popular action front, to articulate the popular and working class organizations, and to discuss a plan of action against the coup conspirators, and out of such a front, to begin to work towards the construction of the party, a task which is still only in its early stages. Another element that must be borne in mind is that the organized workers' movement is not yet the vanguard of the process. There are unions and class currents that have developed over the last year but they do not yet represent the workers movement as a whole.

Here too one feels the lack of a revolutionary party. The hub of the mobilization against the conspirators is still the popular organizations, that is, the Bolivarian circles and committees in the poor areas of the main cities, and also the rural organizations and semi-urban communities (i.e., the shanty towns) but the workers' movement as such is not the vanguard of the struggle. (...)

As far as the present situation is concerned, I can tell you that the strike was a failure. At the moment, it has only affected 16 percent of the labour force. Nevertheless, the conspirators have concentrated on the oil industry (PDVSA) where they have caused some problems without having succeeded in paralysing the whole industry.

In Caracas, above all in the commercial sector in the East of the city, the stoppage was significant, however, in the poor areas the majority of shops were open, and even the banks were open with only a few exceptions. In the interior of the country the defeat of the strike was even clearer and more striking. For instance, in the prairie country of Apure and in Guayana, where the basic industries are concentrated (iron, steel, aluminium, electricity), the industries in Fedecamaras did not support the strike.

Since yesterday, in an action that reflects desperation but also the pressure of the most right wing section of the Coordinadora Democratica, Carlos Ortega called for an active strike, which was translated into violent acts in some cities, especially Caracas. This means that they are trying to create a situation of chaos on the streets in order to provoke eventually a military coup, combining this with an attempt to sabotage the workings of the PDVSA.

On the military plane, we believe that they do not have the strength to carry out a coup, or they would have already done so. As for taking over the factories, this has not taken place. The reports in Aporrea concerning Pepsi Cola have not been confirmed. Although the article appears to me to be correct in general terms, the final proposals, although correct, are of a propagandist character at the present time. We must bring them down to earth and adapt them to the specific situation in which the process now finds itself.

In this sense we are proposing another April 13. We are calling for an emergency conference of workers and popular organizations to discuss the formation of a people's action front, with a plan of action and an economic plan and a social alternative, while at the same time calling for a mass mobilization next Saturday. In this way we think we can give a more concrete character to some of the points you raise in the article.

With revolutionary greetings,


Comments by Alan Woods:

I received this interesting letter from Venezuela just as I had finished my [last] article. Written by an active participant in the struggle it merits the closest examination. It is quite obvious that comments written from a distance of thousands of miles can never do full justice to the events under consideration. Of necessity they have a somewhat abstract and general character. In order to make things more concrete it is absolutely necessary to obtain correspondence from the front line.

The letter of which we reproduce the most relevant parts allows us to see the process more clearly as it unfolds. These lines contain the fresh breezes of the revolution in a way that the reports in bourgeois newspapers could never do.

The most important thing that emerges from this report is that the forces of the revolution remain intact, and that the counterrevolution yet again seems to have failed. If this is confirmed, it means that the revolution is faced with an extraordinarily favourable situation. The generalization of popular committees, which the author of the letter describes, is the most important factor in the situation. The proposal to call an emergency conference of the committees is absolutely correct and fully in accord with what is proposed at the end of the present article - that is, the need to link up the committees on a local, regional and national scale. This is absolutely the most crucial need of the moment.

A programme of action is needed. Yes! And who shall decide upon such a programme but the working people themselves in such a democratically convened conference? The Venezuelan Marxists will actively participate and propose our programme - the programme of socialism, of workers' power. We will fight to win the majority for these proposals. The people will be more receptive now than at any other time. Events will have educated them to understand who the enemy is and how to fight him.

Marx once said that ideas become a material force when they grip the minds of the masses. The combination of the experience of the masses and the patient work of the Marxists, the work of organization, agitation and propaganda, must sooner or later bring fruitful results.

Naturally, as the extreme left wing of the revolutionary movement, our ideas will appear somewhat abstract and difficult at first, but life teaches, and the masses are learning from one blow after another.

Yes, it is true that at this stage the organized working class is not in the vanguard, and this constitutes a weakness of the movement. We will base ourselves on the most advanced and revolutionary elements, especially the youth, in the committees. They will push the whole movement forward. Sooner or later these ideas will penetrate the organized working class, although they are now lagging behind.

Incidentally, it is not the first time we have seen this. In the Russian revolution the trade unions also tended to consist of the more conservative sections of the class, and many of them remained under the control of the Mensheviks even after October. Some of them (banks and railways) even adopted a counterrevolutionary position.

Nevertheless, while continuing to base ourselves on the most revolutionary elements, and concentrating on strengthening and extending the committees of action, we should by no means ignore the unions and leave them to the mercy of the scoundrels and counterrevolutionaries, but wage a struggle inside the unions to turn them into genuine organs of proletarian struggle, to purge them of corrupt and reactionary leaders and place them at the service of the revolution.

Finally, the author of the letter is 1,000 times correct to point to the question of the party and the leadership as the key to the whole situation. If the reaction has been once more defeated by the movement of the masses, this is a great victory. But it is by no means the end of the story and we would make a serious mistake if we imagined that the danger had gone away. I therefore see no need to change either the title of the present article or its basic content. The Venezuelan revolution remains in danger, and will remain in danger until the working people finally decide to take the power into their hands.

I offer this point of view in all humility as a contribution to the discussion that is taking place in the Venezuelan revolutionary movement. I have every confidence that the workers, peasants and poor people of Venezuela will find the correct path, overcome all obstacles and triumph.


The Venezuelan Revolution in Danger

The news from Caracas has an increasingly alarming character, as the forces of the counter-revolution step up the campaign to overthrow the legally elected government of Hugo Chavez. Yesterday the navy seized a government oil tanker pirated by a rebel crew, and Chavez vowed his military would stop sabotage of Venezuela's oil industry.

By its actions the counterrevolution is attempting to strangle the Venezuelan economy and plunge the country into chaos. Those behind the new attempted coup know that the oil industry is the country's life-blood. The so-called general strike (in reality a bosses' lockout with the connivance of right wing trade union leaders) virtually halted the loading of oil tankers, forcing Venezuela to free buyers and sellers from fulfilling oil contracts. Oil exports are critical to Venezuela's economy, accounting for 75 percent of total exports and half of government income. This is a matter of life and death for the fifth biggest oil producer in the world. After four days of organized disruption, oil exports ceased because 23 tankers were unable to load cargo, according to officials.

Behind the present chaos is the hand of Washington. Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States. Not satisfied with his plans for invading and occupying Iraq with the intention of grabbing its oil, Bush wants to seize the oil of Venezuela also. However, the immediate effect of these events has been to increase the price of oil on world markets. Crude oil and refined products futures at the New York Mercantile Exchange rose Thursday partly because of events in Venezuela. The price of oil for January delivery rose 58 cents to $27.29 a barrel.

The counterrevolutionaries are demanding an immediate vote on Chavez's presidency, which they blame hypocritically for the economic and political turmoil that they themselves have been provoking. Quite correctly Chavez refused to give in to this blackmail. He has accused the leaders of the opposition of seeking to privatise the Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. the state-owned oil monopoly, known as PDVSA. "Assaulting PDVSA is like assaulting the heart of Venezuela,'' Chavez said in a nationally broadcast speech. "Nobody stops Venezuela.''

The actions of the opposition are a direct threat to the Venezuelan revolution. The bankers and wealthy businessmen want to put the clock back, to overthrow a democratically elected government by gangster tactics, to liquidate all the social reforms of the past few years, to sell off the country's valuable assets to the crooks and speculators and to place their boot on the throat of the working class and the poor once more. In this they have the firm support of US imperialism which is interfering in the most blatant manner in the internal affairs of the country.

There is no longer any room for doubts or vacillations. The revolution is in danger! There are only two possibilities before it: either to advance boldly, to mobilize every ounce of strength to crush the counterrevolution, or else go down to defeat. No middle road is possible.

The great mistake that has been made so far is to imagine that the revolution could stop half way. It is extremely dangerous to think that it is possible to disarm the enemy by adopting a conciliatory policy. This is like trying to persuade a man-eating tiger to eat grass. Every attempt to conciliate has had precisely the opposite result to that envisaged. With every step back, the enemies of the revolution demand ten more. No further retreats or compromises are now possible. To entertain the slightest doubts on this would be to invite disaster.

Chavez denounced the attempt by a reactionary captain to seize the oil tanker Pilin Leon - named after a former Miss World - as "an act of piracy". This description is correct. Capt. Daniel Alfaro, a PDVSA employee, anchored his tanker filled with 280,000 barrels of gasoline off the western city of Maracaibo on Wednesday. Navy officials seized the ship Thursday and were talking with its crew, said Gen. Alberto Gutierrez, head of the army command in Zulia state. This sabotage on the high seas is being backed by the tugboat owners. Zulia Towing, the largest private tugboat company on Lake Maracaibo, pulled all 13 of its tugs from service to join the strike, a worker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The company serves ships on both domestic and international routes, including oil tankers.

This is clear evidence of a nationwide conspiracy of private companies connected with the all-important oil industry to carry out a campaign of sabotage on a massive scale. The fact that the worker had to reveal the bosses' actions on condition of strict anonymity is sufficient to show who is really behind this so-called strike. Similarly, the nation's terminals stopped loading tankers Wednesday. This is a serious threat. If a group of reactionary sea captains succeed in tying up the oil fleet, they can inflict major damage on the economy. According to press reports, at least five other tankers had anchored in protest and more were joining Thursday. Decisive action is needed to stop this sabotage, but as of tonight (Thursday) the government had not yet arrested the tanker crew but was said to be looking for replacements.

Missed opportunity

This is the second attempt at a coup. Nineteen people lost their lives during the last coup on April 11. Dissident officers deposed Chavez the next day, but he was restored two days later after an interim government abolished the constitution, triggering a popular uprising. We consider that President Chavez made a serious mistake last April when he failed to take advantage of the favourable situation that existed after the failure of the coup to disarm and arrest the counterrevolutionaries and confiscate their property. This could, in our opinion, have been accomplished relatively painlessly at that time. However, the opportunity was missed. The result is the present counterrevolutionary uprising which we predicted last September.

There is still time to take decisive action, but the situation will not wait forever. It is necessary to take immediate and firm action against the counterrevolution. Chavez has assured Venezuelans and international clients - he specifically mentioned the United States - that he would use the armed forces to keep the oil tankers afloat. He accused strike leaders of pursuing the same strategy they used to topple him in April: street confrontations, a general strike and an oil industry shutdown, all backed by Venezuela's news media. "Every time these sectors call a strike it's because they have a card up their sleeve, a hidden knife,'' he said.

This is absolutely correct, but it is necessary to pass quickly from words to decisive action. Denunciations alone will not stop the counterrevolution. It must be confronted with the revolutionary movement of the masses. They must be resisted on the streets, and the leaders placed under arrest. Counterrevolutionary factory managers and ship captains must be removed and the running of their factories, docks and ships be placed in the hands of committees of workers and engineers loyal to the cause of the revolution. Officers who refuse to take action against the enemies of the revolution must also be placed under arrest.

Such measures will of course be attacked in the yellow press as tyrannical and dictatorial. That is all rubbish. There is not a single self-styled democratic government in the whole world that would tolerate the deliberate sabotage of the economy for the purpose of the subversion of the legally elected president. Those so-called democrats like Bush and Blair would not hesitate to call in the army and use the full force of the law to protect the capitalist system if they felt it was threatened. Yet when a left wing government attempts to defend itself against an intolerable threat, actively backed and organized by a foreign power, it is supposed to be tyranny! Isn't this the most monstrous hypocrisy?

So far the army seems to have remained on the sidelines. The National Guard has been deployed in Caracas "to keep pro- and anti-Chavez rallies from clashing". The counterrevolutionary leader Carlos Fernandez, head of Venezuela's largest business federation, has accused the government of placing snipers inside an oil company building in Caracas to fire at opposition protesters. The purpose of this is quite clear: to prepare the ground for the use of violence by the counterrevolutionary forces.

Rumours are constantly being spread. Another "hero" of the counterrevolutionary mob, right wing union boss Manuel Cova, claimed secret police tried to raid his home early Thursday but were said to have been stopped by protesting neighbours. Using these alleged incidents as a pretext the reactionaries have announced more opposition demonstrations for Friday and throughout the weekend. Opposition marches have been staged in cities across the country, and several clashes occurred among demonstrators, Chavez supporters and police forces. In Caracas, pro- and anti-Chavez demonstrators are mobilizing. The tide of counterrevolution has once more been confronted with the resistance of the masses who have taken to the streets. The tendency towards civil war is increasing by the hour.

Onto the stage step so-called mediators - the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center. The purpose of these is to try to ensure that the bourgeois counterrevolution succeeds as painlessly as possible. They act approximately like the "good neighbour" who intervenes when a gang of robbers are about to cut someone's throat, to ask the victim not to make so much noise as this will disturb the neighbourhood, but to reach a friendly "compromise" with the aggressor which will of course mean handing over all the money and in return (possibly) the saving of his life. The continuation of the lockout and the government's refusal to endorse early elections have, fortunately, derailed the peace talks sponsored by these good neighbours.

The international bourgeoisie are looking at these events with concern. European Union and ambassadors from 22 OAS member governments issued statements Thursday backing OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria's efforts to restart negotiations. They would like to see the government in Caracas overthrown, but they are frightened of a repetition of the events of last April and fear that this time things can go a lot further.

No stable regimes

The neighbouring states of South America have good reason to be worried. At the present time there is not a single stable capitalist regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. In Buenos Aires, from where I write these lines, little children are dying of malnutrition in what used to be the tenth industrial nation on earth, a country with a rich agricultural potential that should be able to feed all the Americas and is now experiencing something like a famine.

Throughout this vast continent, with its colossal potential for the production of wealth, millions of men, women and children are suffering from poverty, unemployment and hunger. They are restless and discontented, and their discontent is slowly but surely turning into anger at their foreign and domestic oppressors. The election of Hugo Chavez was an expression of a burning desire for change. So was the election of Lula in Brazil and Gutierrez in Ecuador.

But a change of government is not enough. What is needed is a change of regime, a radical change in the social system. What is needed is to break once and for all the power of the oligarchies that dominate this continent and suck its blood. However, the oligarchy is used to wealth and power. It will not give up without a struggle. Power will not be handed over voluntarily. It must be taken from them.

The ruling elite will use every trick at its disposal. They are now mobilizing the middle class in Venezuela, and appealing to backward layers of the population who have been disenchanted by the lack of progress on the economic front. Nevertheless Chavez still has mass support. The middle class people on Maracaibo's boardwalk, dozens of people who blew whistles and banged pots and pans and flashed car headlights to support the Pilin Leon crew do not have the stomach or stamina for a serious fight. Determined mass action would disperse the rebels very quickly.

It is time to mobilise the full force of the revolutionary masses to inflict a decisive defeat on the counterrevolution. But this time the movement must not stop half way. It is necessary to destroy the social and economic base of the counterrevolution. This means expropriating the land, the banks and the big businesses, along with all the property of known counterrevolutionaries and that of the US imperialists.

Some will say that such measures will antagonise the United States and provide them with an excuse for intervening against Venezuela. But the United States is already intervening on the side of the counterrevolution in Venezuela, and has been doing so for a long time. Washington needs no excuses for such interventions, as the case of Iraq shows very clearly. It would be fatal to imagine that, by modifying our position, retreating and making concessions to please the US ambassador, that this will make George W Bush soften his stand. On the contrary! Weakness invites aggression. Such concessions will only encourage the imperialists and their local agents to make even more insolent demands.

It is true that by taking decisive measures to defend the gains of the revolution, it will be necessary to pass from defensive measures to an offensive programme of expropriation. But there is no other way. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie - that corrupt and degenerate fifth column that wants to sell the nation to imperialism at bargain basement prices - has gone over to the offensive. They have been consistent and implacable in defence of their class interests. The working class must be equally determined and courageous in defence of theirs. There can be no turning back, and no compromise is possible: either the revolution is carried through to the end, or it will perish.

For the imperialists and the bourgeoisie the crime of the revolution is not that it has done this or that, that it has behaved imprudently or used undiplomatic language. Its only crime is that it exists. The counterrevolution has only one aim - to destroy the revolution. Acting in legitimate self-defence, the aim of the revolutionary masses must be to destroy the counterrevolution. The petty bourgeois rabble is capable of making a lot of noise on the streets, but once confronted with a show of strength they will scatter like straw in the wind. This was shown in April, and it will be shown once again. The condition is that the masses show complete determination and that there are no more attempts at compromise.

The armed forces

In the equation of civil war - because that is what we see unfolding before our eyes - the conduct of the armed forces is decisive. In the tops of the army and police there are undoubtedly elements, open or hidden, who have been bought by the counterrevolution and the American embassy. There are others who are unsure which way to jump and are hesitating between the people and reaction. But for every open or covert counterrevolutionary there are ten, fifty and a hundred loyal soldiers of the revolution.

Nowhere have the consequences of a hesitant and inconsistent policy proved more negative than in the army. By failing to purge the tops of the army of reactionary elements in time, the conspirators have been allowed to continue their dirty work in the barracks. That such elements are present was clear from the coup last April. Since then they have been forced to be more circumspect, but many of them are still there.

Only a serious offensive of the masses can tilt the balance of forces within the army to the side of the revolution. Decisive action to smash the counterrevolution will paralyse the will of the reactionaries in the officer corps and encourage the rank and file soldiers and the officers who are on the side of the people.

The working class must put itself at the head of the nation. It must show a way out to the millions of unemployed, urban poor, the women and the youth, the landless peasants. It must establish stable organs of power in the form of elected committees. Form Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in every workplace, every neighbourhood, school, university, farm and army barracks. Link up the committees on a local, regional and national basis. Take the power into your own hands!

The threat of counterrevolution contains a deadly danger. Once in power the smiling mask of "democracy" will be cast aside to reveal the viciousness of the ruling class. The businessmen, bankers and landowners have had a terrible fright. They will want to take their revenge on the people, to make them pay for the years of "chaos" and "anarchy", to show them who is boss, to teach them a lesson they will never forget.

The masses must be armed against this danger. The only solution is the arming of the people and the formation of a people's militia under the control of the revolutionary committees. Let the militias patrol the neighbourhoods to protect them against counterrevolutionary terrorism and outbreaks of looting. Instead of looting the shops for food - acts of desperation that only push the small shopkeepers into the arms of reaction - let the local committees establish firm control over the transportation and distribution of food.

The price of food and other basic articles of consumption should be controlled by committees of workers, housewives and poor people to prevent speculation and cheating and ensure that everyone gets enough. Immediate steps must be taken to solve the housing problem by confiscating all empty and under-occupied properties, the second homes of the rich, etc.

The workers should immediately take over the factories and establish workers' control to restart production. Managers who have collaborated with the bosses' lockout should be confronted with a straight choice - help to get production moving again, or go to jail. Corrupt, inefficient and counterrevolutionary managers must be removed and replaced with honest people, engineering graduates and others prepared to serve the cause of the revolution.

In the countryside the power of the big landowners must be broken, the land nationalised and the peasants and agricultural workers encouraged to take over the big estates.

As soon as possible this situation should be regularised by an emergency decree nationalising the main enterprises, the land and the banks. A plan of production should be drawn up with the participation of all workers, scientists, technicians and so on, with the aim of mobilizing the full productive potential of the nation in the interests of the whole people, not for the enrichment of a handful of wealthy parasites.

It should be made clear that such measures are not directed against the middle class, the small shopkeepers and small businessmen, etc., whose property will not be touched. The enemy of the revolution is the oligarchy that is responsible for ruining the country and which robs and exploits the middle class as well as the working class. By nationalising the banks and installing a regime of planned economy, it will be possible to help small businesses by granting them cheap credit on easy terms. By nationalising transport and commerce, including the big supermarkets, it will be possible to eliminate the intermediaries who rob the small peasant while charging exorbitant prices to the consumer.

Shock waves

Such steps will cut the ground from under the feet of the counterrevolution and provide the Venezuelan revolution with an unshakable base of mass support. They will cause shock waves throughout Latin America that will reverberate in all the world.

For all the power of US imperialism, it would not be able to intervene directly. Not only does it have its hands tied with the projected invasion of Iraq, but it would be faced with mass opposition at home, beginning with the millions of Latino workers and the youth, which are already profoundly discontented.

Instead, US imperialism would try to get the neighbouring states to intervene. But this is also not a simple proposition! Colombia has a right wing pro-US government but is entangled in its own civil war. It would be difficult for Lula to justify intervention against Venezuela and such a step would cause an immediate crisis in Brazil.

In fact, so unstable is the situation that a socialist revolution in Venezuela would have an effect throughout Latin America like one domino falling after another. Far from contemplating a military intervention against the Venezuelan revolution, they would be facing the danger of revolution in their own back yard.

Does this seem so difficult? The alternative is a million times worse. Because the only alternative to this scenario is the defeat of the revolution and the victory of the counterrevolution in Venezuela. The consequences of such a defeat would be extremely serious not only for the people of Venezuela but for the whole of Latin America

The beginnings of a process of revolution in Venezuela aroused the hopes of millions of poor people throughout the continent. But the revolution halted half way, and this is not possible. One cannot make half a revolution, any more than one can be half born. A birth that halts half way ends in abortion, pain and death. It is time to cast aside all illusions. It is time to look reality in the face. It is time to carry out the Venezuelan revolution to the end.

Above all, it is time for all those who stand for revolution and workers' power to unite in a single Marxist party that is able and willing to fight within the Bolivarian movement to put an end to all vacillations and to carry the struggle through to the end. The success of the revolution depends on the subjective factor, that is, on the revolutionary party and its leadership. Armed with the scientific ideas and programme of Marxism, no force on earth can defeat the working class.

- For the programme of workers democracy and proletarian internationalism!
- For a Marxist party!
- Forward to the victory of the Venezuelan revolution!
- Forward to the Socialist United States of South America!

Buenos Aires, December 6, 2002.