“The Path Is Socialism”
President Chávez reaffirms opposition to capitalism

by Jorge Martín

Although we do not agree with every argument in this article, it does contain much valuable information that we wish to pass on to our readers. The article was posted on the Internet on March 1, 2005, and has been edited for style purposes for Labor Standard.

“I have said it already. I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.”—Hugo Chávez

“I am convinced that the path to a new, better, and possible world is not capitalism. The path is socialism.” With this clear statement on his weekly TV program “Alo Presidente,” Chávez reaffirmed his point of view that socialism is the only way forward to solve the problems of inequality, misery, and poverty that millions face in Venezuela and the world today.

He added: “I have said it already. I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.” President Chávez had already made similar statements at the World Social Forum in Brazil at the end of January.

Last Sunday’s “Alo, Presidente” program was broadcast from Cocorote in the mainly agricultural state of Yaracuy. Chávez made an appeal to open a discussion about the question of socialism within his own party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), and within the Bolivarian revolutionary movement in general.

He explained how this conviction came after many years of struggle: “I am convinced, at this stage of my life — I am now 50 years old — after six years as president, after nearly 30 years of political struggle, since 1997, when I had the idea of taking an oath from a small group of fellow countrymen, soldiers, to create the first nucleus—there were only about 5 of us then—of what later became the MBR-200 [Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200] ... after much reading and many debates and discussions and many travels around the world, etc., I am convinced, and I think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a new, better, and possible world, is not capitalism. The path is socialism. That is the path: socialism, socialism.”

The public cheered and applauded the speech. The reaction of the live audience to Chávez’s words shows the enormous potential that there is in the Venezuelan revolutionary movement for the ideas of socialist transformation. This is the result of the practical experience of the last 16 years of struggle. February 27 marked the 16th anniversary of the “Caracazo” uprising, which was to transform Venezuela’s political life. And in particular the last six years, since Chávez was elected in December 1998, have had an impact.

Hugo Chávez’s political evolution has not proceeded in a straight line, as he explained himself on Friday 25, at a Summit on Social Debt in Caracas. He honestly pointed out that he had toyed with the idea of a “Third Way” as a solution to capitalism: “a third way, capitalism with a human face, trying to give the monster a mask.” But he concluded: “This mask has fallen to the floor, shattered by reality.”

When he came to power in 1998 Chávez did not start from a socialist standpoint. He was committed to solving the problems of inequality, poverty, and misery of millions of Venezuelans. But he initially thought that could be done within the limits of the capitalist system. His government actually has gone out of its way not to violate private property rights of big landowners, bankers, and businessmen.

The contradiction from the very beginning was precisely that any attempt to seriously address these problems would clash head-on with the interests of the oligarchy, a tight coalition of interests of landowners, bankers, capitalists, and the state bureaucracy, completely subordinated to the wishes of U.S. imperialism.

Since President Chávez was seriously committed to solving these problems, the oligarchy, en masse, went over to the side of armed insurrection against the democratically elected government. This shows the extremely parasitical nature of the Venezuelan oligarchy (a feature it shares with the ruling classes of all capitalist countries in the so-called Third World). The oligarchy organized the military coup of April 2002, the oil industry sabotage and bosses’ lockout of December 2002, the bringing of Colombian paramilitaries to Caracas and the fascist provocation of la guarimba in February 2004, the presidential recall referendum in August 2004, and so on.

It has been this rich experience of the revolutionary movement, faced with these constant provocations by the ruling class, that has pushed Chávez and many in the Bolivarian revolutionary movement to draw this conclusion: “Within the framework of capitalism it is impossible to solve the challenges of fighting against poverty, misery, exploitation, inequality,” as Chávez himself explained during the October regional election campaign.

This dynamic of action and reaction of the Venezuelan revolution reminds us in a very powerful way of the first years of the Cuban revolution. In a process of attack and counterattack, the leadership of the Cuban revolution, which did not start with the intention of overthrowing capitalism, was forced, in order to solve the most pressing needs of the masses, to overthrow capitalism.

This is one side of the question, but there is another side. Chávez is a man who devours books and has an enormous thirst for ideas. This is no accident. It reflects the pressing need to find a way out of the problems faced by the revolution. That is why Hugo Chávez has been reading Marxist literature, which has undoubtedly had an influence on him. He has publicly praised Alan Woods’s book Reason in Revolt on several occasions. He has particularly quoted the section that deals with the molecular process of the revolution, a section that is particularly relevant to the stage the Bolivarian revolution is now passing through.

Even more relevant is Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, which he bought from the comrades of El Militante at the meeting with the workers in Madrid, and which he has also recommended enthusiastically. The main thesis of this book is precisely the fact that none of the tasks of the national democratic revolution can be carried out by the bourgeoisie in backward capitalist countries, since they have arrived too late on the scene of history, and that these tasks can only be solved by the working class through the struggle for socialism.

The central idea of the theory of Permanent Revolution is that in colonial and ex-colonial countries the struggle for the bourgeois democratic tasks, if it is pursued to the end, must lead (in an uninterrupted or permanent manner) to the socialist revolution. But that is only half of the theory. The other main idea in the Permanent Revolution is that revolution cannot be limited within the borders of one country, but must spread internationally as the only guarantee of its victory. Chávez has also commented favorably on this idea, stating publicly that Trotsky was right against Stalin on this question, and that the Bolivarian revolution must spread to other countries in order to succeed.

At the Summit on Social Debt, he said that so far in six years of government, “we have not defined our model as socialist”. He added: “I am saying this in my personal capacity, to contribute to the debate, to open the discussion within the parties that support the revolution.” But his position is clear: “If it is not capitalism, then what is it? I have no doubt it is socialism.” On “Alo, Presidente” Chávez stressed the need for a debate on this question: “Let’s discuss. We are not afraid of ideas.”

On previous occasions Chávez has made it clear that what is needed is to study the original ideas of socialism, which have been distorted by Stalinism. “Which socialism [he asked], of the many that there are? We could think that none of those that have existed, though they represent experience, achievements, advancement in many cases, we will have to invent it. That is why this debate is so important. We must invent 21st century socialism.”

At the end of his “Alo, Presidente” program he insisted that the kind of socialism he is thinking about is based on “revolutionary democracy”: “All of this, the urban land committees, the endogenous growth nucleus, the ‘Into the neighborhood’ mission, the Housing Mission—all of these are tools for the building of socialism, we must move away from capitalism.”

Chávez has said on many occasions that the only way to end poverty is, “to give power to the poor.” That idea is basically correct, but like all the other ideas expressed by Chávez, it must be given a concrete content. Genuine socialism can only be based on the democracy of workers’ committees in the factories, workplaces, and working class communities, soldiers’ committees, and peasants’ committees. This was actually carried into practice by the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia in 1917, although it was later betrayed and distorted by Stalin.

Chávez’s latest statements about socialism come after the Zamoran decrees to speed up land reform were passed in January and the expropriation of Venepal, also in January. The land reform decrees have already been used to take over part of El Charcote ranch (owned by British multimillionaire Lord Vestey). Venepal is now jointly owned by the state and the workers and run on the basis of a structure in which the Workers’ Assembly is the supreme body. The workers at the Constructora Nacional de Válvulas (the CNV makes valves for the oil industry), also abandoned by its owners, have now relaunched their struggle and are also demanding nationalization under workers’ control.

It is clear that the Bolivarian revolution now stands at the turning point. If it is to go forward, it must now grasp the nettle, confront the oligarchy, and carry out the expropriation of the land, the banks, and the big enterprises that remain in private hands. In order to avoid the abomination of bureaucracy and totalitarianism, it must develop a democratic model—not the corrupt pseudo-democracy of the bourgeoisie but a new model of socialist democracy that means that power is firmly in the hands of the workers and peasants.

Some people say that the Bolivarian model must not take its ideas from other countries, especially Europe. If that means that the Bolivarian revolution must not slavishly import foreign models, we agree. The Venezuelan revolution has its own character, personality, and historical traditions, and the masses have already demonstrated their colossal capacity for creativity and inventiveness.

But if it signifies a national limitedness and narrow-mindedness, that is bad and has nothing in common with the true ideas of Bolivar. Let us not forget that Simon Bolivar based himself on a very European model—that of the French Revolution. In the same way the modern descendants of Bolivar will seek to learn from other revolutions. After all, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Revolution did not end with Bolivar, and the revolutionary ideology was later perfected and placed on a scientific basis by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and other revolutionary thinkers.

The modern Bolivarians will be as open to genuinely revolutionary ideas from other countries as was their founder. It is no accident that, along with Bolivar and the other heroes of the Latin American revolutionary tradition, Hugo Chávez quotes the works of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. The modern Bolivarians will repeat the experience of the Russian revolution, but on a higher level, filling it with a genuinely Venezuelan and Latin American content. In this way they will preserve the best of the old to produce something genuinely new and original.

Above all, it is necessary to commence the debate on ideas that President Chávez has called for. The Marxist tendency represented in Venezuela by the Revolutionary Marxist Current, and internationally by El Militante and Marxist.com will participate actively in this debate. This is the only way in which we can develop a layer of revolutionary cadres, integrated in the Bolivarian movement, capable of providing the necessary guidance in the decisive battles against capitalism.

The opening of the debate about socialism represents a decisive turning point in the Venezuelan revolution and it has worldwide implications. For the first time in many years, the leader of a mass revolutionary movement is drawing the correct conclusions from his own experience. He has come to the conclusion that capitalism cannot solve the problems of the masses and that socialism is the only way forward. That should be warmly welcomed by all sincere revolutionaries. Now what is needed is to convert words into deeds!