Venezuela’s National, Anti-Imperialist, and Developing Anticapitalist Revolution
by Stuart Munckton
the past several years Stuart Munckton has written extensively on the
revolutionary process under way in
contribution seems to us especially valuable and informative in its description
of how the process of permanent revolution
has been unfolding in
The discussion on this list [marxmail.org]
about the Venezuelan revolution and how it relates to the struggle for
socialism and the role of Chávez, etc., is an issue I have spent a lot of time
thinking about and I wanted to put my two cents in. This is based on other
things I have written, and so doesn’t necessarily respond directly to points
others have named, but takes up the general points. I have to apologize in
advance if anyone sees fit to respond to any points I make, that I probably won’t
be in a position to respond because I have the enormous pleasure and privilege
to leave the political backwaters of mini-imperialist
(There are over 60 people from Australia, many who are already there, traveling to Venezuela for a solidarity brigade in advance of the World Federation of Democratic Youth congress, dividing up into four mini-brigades and spreading out across the country to see the revolution in action. It includes student activists, trade unionists, a Greens candidate from last elections, members of Resistance and Socialist Alliance. It should be fascinating.)
I strongly disagree with any
argument that denies
The key thing is that the struggle
for socialism flows out of the national,
anti-imperialist struggle, which is objectively the basis for starting the
revolution. I hope to provide strong reasons based on the actual development of
the economy and the struggle in
First thing, the masses of the
Venezuelan people have entered the struggle, as masses of people always do, not
according to a well-developed program but according to a crisis that needs to
be solved and they will struggle to solve. In
The struggle to resolve this problem is the centerpiece of the Bolivarian Revolution. It reveals a general truth about the struggle against imperialism in the countries oppressed by imperialism that Che Guevera was very sharp on and wrote some wonderful things about.
One of the best examples is his
brilliant article “
Che’s article details the general dynamic of struggle against imperialism and how this determines the class struggle and struggle for socialism. In it Che explains very well how imperialism impacts on the economy, it is worth emphasising. Che wrote:
“For us, the peoples of
This is a very good description of
the central problem in
The struggle against this has been the center of the Bolivarian revolution. Not the abolition of capitalism—which is only now, six years into the process, being posed.
And of course, this leaves
This is no idle threat in
The struggle is the struggle to
break this dependency, which has been forced on
The first thing to understand is
the land question and its impact on the poor. Firstly, 75% of useable land is
in 5% of landowners hands. The increase in poverty in rural areas in the 1970s
and ‘80s drove large numbers into the cities to look for work. However, the
impact of neoliberalism and the lack of development leaves millions in the cities
abandoned. This is crucial to understanding the struggle in
They are forced into unemployment, into the black market, into individual solutions like becoming street vendors, etc. An atomized, impoverished mass of people not involved in socialized production—and therefore not looking to solutions like a socialized, democratically planned economy, because it doesn’t mean anything in the context of their immediate problems. This was the original mass base for Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, although increasingly over the last two or so years the industrial working class has joined the revolution and is playing an increasingly central role.
Now the 75% of land owned by a tiny minority is largely left idle or underutilized. And when it is utilized, it is often owned by foreign agribusiness and the food produced is exported for the foreign market.
So the struggle is interconnected. The land reform is crucial, firstly, for the rural poor to get land to work. For the government it is tied to developing agriculture and solving the fact that they have to import 80% of their food. So land that is idle or underutilized can be redistributed to those who are willing to work it. It also can help with the millions of urban poor in slums by encouraging them to take land in the countryside to work, thus alleviating the problems in the barrios.
Using the oil wealth in a different way—serving Venezuela and the goal of development rather than imperialism—is crucial to this, because with the oil wealth the government provides cheap credit to the rural and urban poor to form cooperatives and to develop previously underdeveloped branches of the economy—especially food production. These cooperatives can work land redistributed that was previously idle. And, by helping fund (by the end of this year) 100,000 cooperatives, previously abandoned and impoverished masses of people can form cooperatives and find economic empowerment that helps drag them out of degradation and draw them into the productive economy and begins to involve them in some form of collective production.
And, poverty can be combated by using the oil wealth to fund missions to solve the most pressing problems—health care, education, housing. And in doing so, you can prioritize using the cooperatives formed with government loans and thus combat unemployment. You can subsidize the distribution of food, thus alleviating poverty while breaking the hold of the large supermarket chains, and what is more you can source as much as possible your produce from the cooperatives rather than importing it. You are lifting the urban and rural poor out of degradation and you are developing much needed areas of the economy, previously abandoned by the urban and rural elite [who are] either dominated by or utterly servile to imperialist interests.
That is the struggle in
The national elite is confronted first of all as a national enemy. Venezuelan elites conspired, internationally,
through OPEC, to keep oil prices low by breaking the quotas all the time.
It is this betrayal by the local
capitalist class and the latifundists—who won’t use their land to serve the
needs of the Venezuelan people—that is the main driving force of the Bolivarian
revolution, to overturn this betrayal. So, the Bolivarian government immediately
began to organize in OPEC for a strong enforcement of quotas to ensure a fairer
price. [This is] a blow against imperialism and gives
The government, only putting this into practice recently, forces oil corporations to pay their taxes and greatly increases the royalties they pay. The government, recently, moves to force the multinationals to sign new agreements, which give the state-run industry at least 51% control over any agreement. Anti-imperialist measures that give the Venezuelan government, as opposed to imperialists, control over the industry.
And the key is how they use their control over the industry. The workers mobilized to win the industry from the corrupt elite after the elite tried to use it to bring down the government [in the managers’ strike and shutdown of the oil industry in December 2003-January 2004].
A New York Times article last year explained what has happened since [the failed bosses’ strike]: “’Right now, Pdvsa [the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuala, SA] is not a mercantile entity,’ said Antonio Szabó, a former executive at Pdvsa who left long before Mr. Chávez came to power and who is now chief executive of Stone Bond Technologies, a Houston software and energy consulting firm. ‘Right now, it’s an instrument of the Venezuelan government.’ Even at companies like Total that are moving toward a deal, executives describe tough negotiations that leave them wondering how committed Pdvsa really is to expanding the role of private companies.
“‘We are proposing to invest in a
$4 billion project immediately, and we agree to work in terms of the new law,’
said Jean-Marie Guillermou of Total’s
“The company that has emerged from
the ashes of the strike that ended in February 2003 is nothing like the
button-down, corporate-style company that in the 1990’s was often the No. 1
provider of foreign oil to the
“Gone is the by-the-book giant, which had $42 billion in sales, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission last October. Gone is the multinational whose managers once proudly compared Pdvsa to Exxon Mobil. Gone, too, are 18,000 experienced executives and managers who were fired for their role in the strike.
“So is the autonomy the company once wielded, replaced by a highly centralized management controlled by the Ministry of Energy and Mines. The government recently announced that $2 billion in Pdvsa revenue would bypass the central bank and form a special development fund to pay for public projects like a hydroelectric plant and a new state airline. Another $1.7 billion—taken from Pdvsa’s $5 billion capitalization budget—is going to social programs, Rafael Ramírez, the minister of energy and mines, announced.
“And with the Aug. 15 recall referendum that could end Mr. Chávez’s presidency drawing ever nearer, the spending spree—on everything from housing to railroads, health clinics and literacy programs—is an increasingly important, and successful, tool for solidifying support for Mr. Chávez. Recent polls show he could squeak to victory.”
This is the centerpiece of the anti-imperialist revolution being carried out, a struggle for national development and against the degradation of the majority of the population. It hasn’t developed, in the first place, as a struggle for socialism or against capitalism.
But through the struggle for national development, the working people have had to confront the local capitalist class and overcome its resistance. This has radicalized the process and pushed it an increasingly anticapitalist direction.
The essence of the struggle is encapsulated in the concept of “endogenous development,” national development, via economically mobilizing the previously abandoned majority into cooperatives, or through workers co-management, to combat the legacy of imperialism. It is formulated, in the first place, by the needs of national development.
The fresh announcement of possibly hundreds of companies being expropriated only serves to ram home the point even harder. Why do these companies face expropriation? Because they are inherently exploitative? No. Because they closed.
This is how Chávez and the
government explain it. They are not facing expropriation for the general crime
of being capitalist, but for being capitalists who do not utilize their means of production. This is a crime
against the nation. A blow against the plan for endogenous development, which amounts to
The Minister of Labor called for a struggle against capitalists who close companies, calling on “the trade unions and the workers and former workers of these companies to recover them. Only with the strength of the workers can we defeat this internal enemy, which is dependency, and which keeps us away from our goals in the struggle against poverty”.
What was that? “Dependency”? Yes, dependency. That means something in a nation when you are dependent on 80% of your food being imported! When you have to buy back the raw product you export, oil, as petrol [gasoline] at exorbitant prices.
This is the basis for the revolutionary measures like these expropriations. This is the course the revolution takes, dictated by the need to break with underdevelopment—or, as Che put it so well, “distorted” development.
Or else what has happened the last few years? Is the revolution just a joke, a cruel trick played on the masses of people? Or is there actually a revolution despite the fact that the measures and the course has not been socialist?
Those socialists who think this is not right, and that the task of introducing socialism should have started long ago, or must start today, like to blame Hugo Chávez and his government. The blame is misplaced. They should direct their anger and frustrations at the revolutionary masses, because this is the course they are pushing for. And after all, the mass discussion currently under way on socialism was initiated by Chávez.
But this fact only serves to drive
home the class nature of this struggle for national development, this
struggle to break from imperialist oppression. This national democratic
revolution is carried out against the local capitalist class, as a
whole, by and in the interests of the broad working masses. This does not make
it socialist. But it opens the road to socialism.
The course of the Venezuelan
revolution is both as a national and class struggle. The national
struggle in underdeveloped countries has a tendency to develop along
class lines because of the weakness of the local capitalist class, because of
how tied the elite, the oligarchy, is to imperialism. The Venezuelan elite has
been completely tied to [multinational (imperialist) corporate domination of]
the oil wealth and its distribution. The distribution of oil wealth has been
the basis for the development of the corrupt elite who live parasitically off
its distribution and has funded a bloated state bureaucracy. A key
revolutionary measure was to decisively take the oil industry out of their
hands, which occurred following the sabotage of the oil industry by the corrupt
management elite and their hangers-on in the industry—backed by the rest of the
elite and imperialist interests inside
Having won control of the industry, the government was able to use the money to begin to solve the problems facing the Venezuelan people. For the poor masses, health care, education, housing, fresh water, subsidized food, etc. The immediate measures required to solve their immediate problems and start to lift them out of degradation. The government funding of cooperatives which take previously atomized urban and rural poor and help empower them economically while at the same time promoting the development of sections of the Venezuelan economy that need developing, that, while that capital is in the hands of either the imperialists or the local elite, simply will not be developed. Again, a national food supply is a key part. Also new government industries, building up the [natural] gas industry, etc., helped by the use of the oil wealth.
And, guess what, it is a hit with the masses, which is why Chávez’s approval rating is going through the roof. But, of course, there is the struggle to “deepen” the revolution, to have a “revolution within the revolution.” There are big debates about overcoming a “reformist” culture, and about tackling corruption within the process, about dealing with the opportunists, about overcoming the fact that the pro-Chávez political parties are racked with these problems and are not adequate enough tools for the revolution.
But the problem here is not with the course the revolution is on, but rather the problems of implementing the course. The problem is that the land reform is too slow, a fact complained about by peasant organizations and acknowledged by the head of the land reform institution. The problem, acknowledged by Chávez, is that the credit to the cooperatives is too slow, not coming fast enough. The problem is that not enough houses have been built. The problem is corruption within the government-subsidized supermarket chains. The problem is how to clear the way on the course they are traveling, not that the course itself is wrong.
And the problem is ultimately about building popular power, building the poor of the working people and the urban and rural poor to be able carry these measures out properly. It is, as William Izarra points out, about overcoming the reformist institutions and culture and building revolutionary institutions and culture based on direct democracy and participation.
But let’s look concretely at this
“[W]orkers control becomes a school for planned economy. On the basis of the experience of control, the proletariat will prepare itself for direct management of nationalized industry when the hour for that eventuality strikes.”
“The task is one of reorganizing the whole system of production and distribution on a more dignified and workable basis. If the abolition of business secrets be a necessary condition to workers control, then control is the first step along the road to the socialist guidance of economy.”
Not a socialist measure, but a transitional measure. And a transitional measure that is posited within the need to develop the nation. Chávez offers any company a government loan to guarantee full or expanded production, on the condition that some measures of workers participation (obviously open as to what this means, but if implemented in a revolutionary way would amount to workers control) as part of the struggle to democratize Venezuela and draw the energy of the workers into carrying out endogenous development (national development aimed at solving the problems facing the masses, democratizing the economy to make this happen).
In this way the road to socialism
is opened by the national struggle. We all want to see socialism in
You cannot simply skip over the
need to struggle [to solve] the immediate problems facing the masses, which are
national problems, because it is through this struggle that the road to
socialist revolution is, and has been, opened in
This is precisely how we have come to the situation today, where socialism is now a nationwide discussion and has clearly been taken up enthusiastically by the revolutionary masses. The whole experience preceding this point has laid the groundwork. The whole experience of the last six years could not have been skipped over to get to where the Venezuelan working class is today. You can rail against it all you like, but it is the reality.
There are those who are willing to acknowledge the situation today, where socialism has been put firmly on the agenda and masses of workers have embraced it, and even acknowledge the role of Chávez in starting this discussion, but want to deny the link between this and what went before, because what went before didn’t seem radical enough. Lee Sustar’s article in Socialist Worker is a classic example. The Grantites said from the start the revolution had to go to socialism or it couldn’t deepen, it would be defeated. The revolution kept deepening despite their exhortations and they kept exhorting nonetheless. Then, when the revolution reaches a stage where socialism is put on the agenda, they cry “At last! This is what we said all along! This shows we were right!”
But it doesn’t. All it shows is that a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Because you can’t have the current opening up of the socialist stage—and it is still only the opening up—without the struggle that has preceded it. Not because of anything that Hugo Chávez has said or done but because of the objective development of mass consciousness.
Those who are sectarian toward Chávez, who tend to shout loudest about “self-organization of the workers” and about how socialism can’t come “from above,” nonetheless blame Chávez for not doing things that actually require the working class themselves to not just want them but to organize to make them happen. The workers haven’t clamored for a socialist economy. They clamored for the oil wealth to be used to solve the problems of poverty and underdevelopment. They increasingly started to clamor and fight for control over their workplaces, tied, very often, to the fact that the existing management was sabotaging the company or running it corruptly and inefficiently.
Socialism is not a government policy; Chávez cannot introduce it [merely by decree]. It is a transformation in the social relations of millions of people. And those millions of people have got to struggle to make it happen. The real value of the role of Chávez is his role in furthering this struggle, in responding to the radicalization of the masses, and helping to encourage and further that radicalization.
The objective potential for a socialist