[Book] The Venezuelan Revolution - a Marxist perspective

Venezuela between revolution and counter-revolution

The reports from Venezuela indicate a sharpening of the struggle between the contending forces.

On Friday a gunman killed three people and wounded 21 others at an anti-government rally in a plaza where rebel officers have held daily protests. This bloody incident bears all the hallmarks of a premeditated provocation. According to reports in Clarin, snipers mounted on motorbikes fired at a group which included dissident army officers. Police have arrested seven suspects, one of whom is Joao de Gouveira, a Portuguese national and a taxi driver by profession, who is said to have confessed to the shooting in Altamira Square.

We have no information about this Gouveira. It is impossible to say whether he is a professional provocateur or a deranged ultra-left or a terrorist manipulated by the CIA or some other state agency. This, however, is a secondary matter. The objective content of this action is that it is a provocation that is designed to discredit the revolution and provide support for the anti-government forces. In particular, it is intended to create an atmosphere of fear and panic that is conducive to the formation of a "Party of Order" among the army officers.

The revolutionary camp must be on its guard against provocateurs who have undoubtedly infiltrated themselves into the mass movement, with a view to causing disorder and panic. Their aim is to drag the mass movement into futile armed conflicts that can end with a large number of casualties. This is the main aim of the counterrevolutionaries. That is why the ideas of "foquism" and individual terrorism are so harmful to the movement. The groups that advocate such tactics are very easily infiltrated by the police and secret services and manipulated for sinister purposes. It is necessary to firmly oppose all adventurist tactics that put the whole movement at risk.

The way to defeat the counterrevolution is not through individual shoot-outs but through the actions of the masses themselves. And the masses are responding to the challenge magnificently! On Saturday about 100,000 Chavez followers poured onto the streets of Caracas in a human flood. This is the way to answer the enemy! By contrast, the number of counterrevolutionaries on the streets was much less. This is an indication that the willpower of the middle class is waning. That is quite typical of the petty bourgeois, which looks for quick successes and is easily discouraged when it meets resistance.

However, the struggle is by no means over yet. Troops ordered to seize the Pilin Leon, anchored off the coast, failed yesterday to retake the oil tanker which was seized by counterrevolutionaries because the crew said they would break maritime law to surrender control to unqualified officers. The aim of the reactionaries is perfectly clear: to cause the maximum chaos and disorder, to wreck the economy, to take the bread from the mouths of the people and thus create the conditions for a coup.

Having initially failed to bring things to a head by demonstrations, the attention of the reaction has shifted from the street to the state oil monopoly, PDVSA. Since the beginning of the present campaign of sabotage oil production has fallen 40% and key refineries are on the verge of closing. Since oil exports account for half of the government's revenue, this is a calamity for the country.

Hugo Chavez has ordered the army to increase its protection of oil sites and has warned that he may declare a state of emergency if the disruption continues to grow. He has also threatened to remove staff at refineries.

But the counterrevolutionaries are implacable. They understand that if this movement - the fourth this year - fails, they will find themselves in great difficulties. Behind the scenes the US embassy is urging them on. There is no shortage of dollars to finance these murky operations. Both sides understand that the outcome of the present test of strength will be decisive.

The counterrevolutionary forces do not feel strong enough to take power by themselves. The intention of the street demonstrations is not to stage a national uprising, but only to create panic and disorder in the hope that the reactionary elements in the tops of the army will be encouraged to carry out a pronunciamiento.

To the degree that the present situation is permitted to last, the possibilities of such a development will increase. The idea will gather force that "this cannot continue", "order must be restored". The risk of Bonapartist tendencies in the armed forces is very real.

Hugo Chavez has accused his enemies of sabotage and urged his people to "keep mobilised on the streets and in the countryside to defend the revolution once again". This is in fact the only way to save the revolution from imminent disaster. However, the mobilisation of the masses, by itself, is not enough. The movement requires not only courage and fighting spirit - it needs a clear goal, a programme and a strategy.

To do justice to the counterrevolutionaries, they have such a goal, and have consistently pursued it with skilful tactics, worked out by intelligent people who have no concern for constitutions, laws or any other scruples when it comes to defending their class interest. We should learn from our enemies, and show exactly the same qualities in fighting for the interests of our class.

The masses are responding with their customary energy and determination. There have been reports of factory occupations, including in the oil industry. This is the way forward!

Decisive action demanded

From all over the country messages and resolutions are pouring in from rank and file organisations of the Bolivarian Movement demanding that the President take decisive action. In particular the people are enraged at the vile conduct of the press, the radio and the television. These powerful instruments in the hands of the capitalists are always used against the labour movement. At this moment they are being used by the counterrevolutionary forces in Venezuela to agitate against the legally elected government and in favour of a coup. The question is posed of occupation of the TV, radio and press offices in order to put an end to the manipulation of the news by the reactionaries.

In 1968 in France, the print workers obliged the millionaire press to submit to scrutiny by a workers' committee to ensure that the content of the newspapers was reasonably balanced. The papers had to publish the workers' point of view on the main questions of the day. This is probably the only time that the people of France could read the truth about the workers' struggle. The working people of Venezuela could do more than just follow this example.

Under the capitalist system the freedom of the press is an empty phrase. In all countries the media is owned and controlled by a handful of super rich tycoons who appoint and sack the editors according to their tastes. It is they who ultimately decide the political line of the media. A tiny group of powerful men, elected by nobody and responsible to nobody, is able to shape and mould public opinion, to make and break governments. And this is what they call "democracy"!

A workers' state would nationalise the mass media and provide free access to them to all political and social tendencies in proportion to their support in the population. In this way, the revolutionary committees would have television stations and daily papers, and could permit themselves the luxury of giving the wealthy press tycoons the democratic right to produce a small duplicated monthly which they could sell at the bus stops and market places.

When Chavez was elected four years ago, he promised a fundamental change in Venezuelan society. The people believed him. There is no doubt whatsoever of his personal honesty and his sincere desire to act in the interests of the mass of poor people, the workers and peasants. Important gains have been made, and these must be defended. But in the end, the real problem remained unsolved. The country's economy remained in the hands of a tiny oligarchy that has robbed and ruined the country. These wealthy and powerful men will never be reconciled to a free, just and equal Venezuela. As long as the land, the banks and the industries remain in their hands, no real lasting solution is possible.

What is required in Venezuela is a social revolution. The question is: who shall prevail? A handful of wealthy magnates backed by US imperialism, or the overwhelming majority of the people whose only crime is to seek a better life for themselves and their children? Those who talk grandiloquently about democracy conveniently overlook the fact that what they are advocating is that a tiny handful of wealthy parasites should control the lives and destinies of the vast majority of the people. That is not democracy. It is the dictatorship of Capital.

The economic sabotage has had a certain effect, provoking shortages in the shops and a wave of panic buying across Venezuela. As the conflict entered its second week, the National Guard has had to commandeer delivery trucks and force petrol stations to open. The shutdown has crippled the oil industry of the world's fifth-largest producer as wells, refineries, tanker ships, delivery centres and gas stations have stopped operating. The situation thus remains serious.

Outside Caracas, the National Guard seized at least three gasoline distribution centres that had closed in the strike. The government hired civilians to drive tanker trucks - commandeered from their private owners - to gas stations. The Energy Ministry said the private property would be returned to its owners "as soon as activities are normalised."

But here is the problem. There is no question of things ever being "normalised" in Venezuela until the fundamental contradiction is removed. What is necessary is to destroy the economic power of the capitalist class by expropriating the commanding heights of the economy. This would make it impossible for the enemies of the revolution to conduct the kind of sabotage we are now witnessing.

More importantly, it would enable the people of Venezuela to mobilise the full productive potential of Venezuelan industry, agriculture and manpower to solve the burning problems of the masses.

For the present, the situation of unstable equilibrium continues. Egged on by Washington the reactionaries are even hardening their demands. Talks between the opposition and government were resumed Saturday night but appeared to make little progress. The opposition initially was seeking a referendum on Chavez's 4-year-old government, but now it is demanding his immediate resignation.

The most serious aspect of the situation is the beginnings of what are clearly armed provocations, like the one that was staged last Friday. There is no doubt that this was intended to lead to even more serious clashes. Fortunately, so far this has not occurred. However, the need for some kind of defence force or militia is clearly posed.

The need for defence should be discussed in every committee and where possible arrangements should be made to set up defence groups to patrol the local areas and maintain order. The workers' districts must be protected against criminal elements and provocateurs that seek to disturb the peace and provoke conflicts. Specialised people with a knowledge of military affairs can be put in charge of these units. The purpose is not to cause violence, as some have suggested, but to minimise it and to deter aggressors.

The question of the army remains the central issue. The majority of the soldiers are on the side of the people. The closest contacts must be maintained between the barracks and the committees, and together they should keep a close watch on the movements and conduct of army officers whose loyalty is doubtful.

Progressive role

It is absolutely correct to place demands on the President and to press the leadership to act in a decisive manner. In the last analysis, Chavez himself is a personification of the aspirations of the masses, or, to be more correct, of the first confused aspirations of the masses that have been recently awoken to political life. In appealing to these aspirations and the striving for a better life for the poor and oppressed, Hugo Chavez undoubtedly played a progressive role.

But life moves on. The situation now is posed in darker colours. Venezuelan society is fractured and polarised to the left and right. The old vague slogans no longer have any value or use in this situation. What is needed is clarity and firmness. An ever increasing number of people are beginning to see this and are loudly demanding a firmer hand and more decisive action in dealing with the enemies of the people. It is entirely correct and necessary to put pressure on the leadership to act. If they do so, the struggle can be won far more quickly and with fewer sacrifices.

But what is absolutely necessary is for the masses to continue to act from below, immediately to carry their demands into practice, without waiting for any lead from the top. This was how they won in April and this is how they can win now.

Unfortunately, Hugo Chavez has often displayed indecision in the face of events. Lacking a clear perspective, he finds himself under extreme pressures from left and right. He is being urged by so-called friends to behave with moderation, for fear of making things worse. With "friends" like these one really needs no enemies! It is necessary to counteract these pressures by stepping up the pressure from below.

Undoubtedly, a great weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the President. As an old army man, all his instincts are against splitting the army. He does not want a civil war. But the fact is that the only way to prevent a civil war is by taking decisive action against the counterrevolution and arming the people. The Romans of old had a saying: "Si pacem vis, para bellum" - If you desire peace, prepare for war! It is the eternal dialectic of reformism and pacifism that they achieve precisely the opposite results to the ones intended. By arming and mobilising the masses against the danger of reaction, that danger becomes less, not more. By compromising and trying to avoid a fight, that is, by showing weakness in the face of reaction, the latter becomes more confident and more aggressive.

As for the army, it is already divided between the majority that is on the side of the people, and a minority of elements who have been bought by the counterrevolution. The only question is which of the two factions will emerge triumphant. Hugo Chavez should base himself on the masses and the soldiers who are with the masses in order to disarm and arrest the counterrevolutionary elements in the barracks. Do not trust those who pose as loyalists but who advocate a policy of conciliation with the enemy and complain about the masses "going too far"! Remember the fate of Salvador Allende, who trusted the "democratic" general Pinochet and refused to distribute arms to the masses who were willing to fight for the government.

Here and in other articles, we have advocated a definite line of action to save the Venezuelan revolution and carry it forward. One may be in favour of these proposals or against them. But what happens at the end of the day will be decided by the masses themselves in the course of struggle. Their own experience will teach them which ideas are correct. The presence of a revolutionary Marxist party with a far-sighted leadership would enable them to find the right way in a shorter space of time. The marvellous resolutions from the local committees show that they are in the process of finding this way, and that in the committees there already exist elements that are fighting for a Marxist policy. Once the masses are convinced that this is the way in which to move, no force on earth can stop them.

Buenos Aires,
December 10, 2002.