Venezuelan Revolution

Chavez five years 6 Image chavezcandangaThe Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela can be traced back to 1989, when the masses of workers and poor rose up against an IMF-imposed package of austerity measures. Carlos Andres Perez responded by sending the army to kill unarmed protesters, leaving hundreds dead. This led to a failed uprising of junior military officers, led by Hugo Chavez, against the government in 1992. On release from jail, Chavez stood in the 1998 presidential election and won against the joint forces of the regime, opening up a revolutionary period.

Faced with imperialist aggression and coup plotting by the oligarchy, Chavez used the country's oil resources to carry out a widespread programme of social reforms, particularly in the fields of housing, education and healthcare. Companies were nationalised and workers occupied their factories. In 2005, Chavez declared that the aim of the revolution was socialism. But this revolution was never completed.

Back in 2005, Alan Woods, in The Venezuelan Revolution: A Marxist Perspective, explained that it is impossible to make half a revolution:

“[T]he Venezuelan Revolution has begun, but it is not finished, and it cannot be finished until the power of the Venezuelan oligarchy is broken… This means the expropriation of the land, banks and big industry under workers’ control and management. It means the arming of the people... It means that the working class must organise independently and strive to place itself at the head of the nation. And it means that the Marxist tendency must strive to win over the majority of the revolutionary movement.”

The current crisis in Venezuela is being blamed on socialism by reactionaries in all corners of the planet. It is, therefore, vital that all socialists have a good understanding of the history of the revolution, its achievements and its shortcomings. 

Using the old and tested mechanism of organising economic sabotage from within, the Venezuelan oligarchy is consciously manoeuvring to organise “food shortages”. The government has imposed price controls and is attempting to set up publicly owned food industries, but in order to successfully combat this sabotage it must go all the way and expropriate the oligarchy as a whole.

At the swearing in of his new government, Hugo Chavez announced radical new measures, including an enabling law that would allow for the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy. He also explained that it is necessary to “dismantle the bourgeois state”. All this confirms what the Marxists said after the elections in December. The balance of class forces has tilted enormously in favour of the masses.

After the massive electoral victory on December 3, Chavez has put a big emphasis on the need to turn towards socialism. As part of this he is proposing a new party, built from the bottom up, to bypass the bureaucracy.

The central thesis of this book from beginning to end is the following: that the Bolivarian Revolution can only succeed if it goes beyond the boundaries of capitalist private property, expropriating the oligarchy and transforming itself into a socialist revolution. The Revolution has begun, but it is not finished.The old state apparatus is still largely intact and a number of key economic levers (including the banks and the land) remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The expropriation of two golf courses in Venezuela was met with enthusiasm by wide layers of the Bolivarian movement and a hysterical campaign on the part of the bourgeois. In order for the revolution to move forward these expropriations must continue and must be extended.

The December presidential elections are an important turning point in the development of the Venezuelan Revolution. They reflect the struggle between the Venezuelan workers and peasants and the oligarchy and imperialism. Our attitude towards these elections is therefore a key question.

Chavez is about to visit Iran. We understand the reasons for reaching trade deals with a regime like the Iranian. The US is attempting to isolate Venezuela, but we believe it is one thing to reach such deals and it is another to present the Iranian regime as if it were somehow “revolutionary”. To do such a thing would sow confusion among the Iranian workers, the only ones who have a genuine interest in defending the Bolivarian Revolution.

Latin America is a huge area of the world, rich in human and material resources and yet a large part of its peoples live in poverty. Most of the countries that make it up speak a common language and have a common history. Simon Bolivar raised the idea of uniting all these countries to fight the imperialists. In today’s context this idea translates into the Socialist United States of Latin America – a socialist federation.

Prior to the Venezuelan elections there were clear indications that elements within the oligarchy were planning a coup or even possible assassination of Chavez. The opposition parties boycotted the elections as part of this plan to destabilise the country. They failed miserably. The Bolivarian parties have now total control of the National Assembly. They could mobilise the masses while at the same setting in motion all the legal procedures to abolish capitalism once and for all. But will they do this? To vacillate now, to attempt a compromise, would mean giving the opposition a dangerous advantage.

There are many bourgeois historians who believe that history is made by “Great Men and Women”, kings and queens, statesmen and politicians. It is this unscientific approach that Marxism is opposed to. However, Marxists do not deny the role of individuals in history. History is made by people. But we need to uncover the dialectical relationship between the individual (the subjective) and the great forces (objective) that govern the movement of society and see this role in its historical context.

“This is an historical gathering. For the first time workers from occupied factories from across the continent are meeting together” (Serge Goulart, United Workers’ Council of Brazilian group of occupied factories)

“We have shown how the workers can run the companies, and this means we can run society as well” (Ricardo Moreira, PIT-CNT, Uruguay)

This book, originally published in May 2005, is a collection of articles written by Alan Woods and covers the momentous events of the Bolivarian revolution from the April 2002 coup which was defeated by the masses, up until 2005 when president Chavez declared that the aims of the Venezuelan revolution could only be achieved by abolishing capitalism. More than a decade has passed since the publication of the book and the warnings contained within it have come true: the failure to move towards socialism is at the bottom of the crisis facing the Bolivarian revolution today.

In his weekly Alo Presidente TV programme, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that some 136 closed factories are being surveyed with the aim of expropriating them. Within the workers’ movement this has been enthusiastically received. The main discussion now is what is meant by socialism, how to apply “co-management” and what the role of the workers is in the revolutionary process and in the economy.

Alan Woods provides some very interesting insights into the processes taking place within the Venezuelan working class, the discussions on what kind of workers’ control is needed, on what is the next step facing the Revolution, and so on. His notes from his trip to Venezuela in April reveal a growing socialist consciousness among the Venezuelan masses. See also pictures from the visit.

The progress of the Venezuelan Revolution has inevitably brought it into conflict with the vested interests of the oligarchy. At every step the demands of the masses in both town and village clash with the so-called sacred right of property. Upon the resolution of this contradiction the future of the Revolution depends.

Two days ago, Venezuelan President Chavez gave a speech at the Gigantinho Stadium at the closing session of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In this speech, President Chavez gave further indications of the direction in which the Bolivarian Revolution is moving.

Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. Although the nationalisation of Venepal in itself it does not yet mean a qualitative change in the class nature of the Venezuelan Revolution, this bold measure certainly signifies a step in the right direction. It indicates that the working class is intervening in the Revolution with increasing determination, pressing for its independent class interests, demanding a break with capitalism and pushing the Revolution forwards.

Partial results of this weekend’s local elections in Venezuela indicate a dramatic turnaround in many states. Former opposition strongholds have been won by Bolivarian candidates. This confirms the solid support for Chavez that was clear to all in the August 15 recall referendum. Capitalism could be overthrown very easily in these conditions, but decisive action needs to be taken now.