Venezuela: Chávez Reaffirms “Permanent Revolution”

by George Saunders


As Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez swore in a new cabinet on Jan. 8 and was himself inaugurated in his new term on Jan. 10, his words and actions caught the attention of both working class activists and capitalist decision-makers, and the scribblers who serve them, all over the world.

Here is a roundup of some responses to the Chávez initiatives of Jan. 8 and 10.

First a look at some contributions to the Marxmail discussion group hosted by Louis Proyect (www.marxmail.org ).

Many of the contributors to Marxmail have a background in or around the Trotskyist movement. Here is a hasty note Michael Lebowitz posted to Marxmail from Caracas at around noon on Jan. 8, while Chávez was still making his speech.

Lebowitz, a frequent contributor to Marxmail, is a Marxist economist, professor emeritus of a university in British Columbia, Canada, who is currently in Venezuela working with a new institute, Centro Internacional Miranda, which does studies and develops programs oriented toward deepening and advancing the socialist process in Venezuela. He is also the author of Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century, published last year by Monthly Review Press.

Lebowitz wrote:

“From Chávez’s ongoing speech upon the inauguration of new ministers:

“[Chávez related that] when he called José Ramón Rivero to ask him to become the new minister of labor, Rivero said, “You know, president, I am a Trotskyist.” Chávez said that his response was: “What does it matter? I am a Trotskyist—I believe in permanent revolution!”

In the United States, the Marxist journalist Joaquín Bustelo was listening to the same speech, in Spanish of course. Major parts of Bustelo’s account, posted on Marxmail, were these:

“By the way, mark this day—I think we may well look back on it years from now as the day Chávez began pulling the plug on capitalism in Venezuela. He put in a new cabinet, featuring both a member of the CP and a self-described Trotskyist—actually, two—the new minister of labor, and Chávez himself.

Chávez said when he proposed to the comrade that he take the post, the comrade replied, ‘Look, I want you to hear this from me, not to have it reach you via someone else. I’m a Trotskyist.’ And Chávez said he replied, ‘How could that be a problem?’ He [Chávez] was a Trotskyist, too, a follower of the line of permanent revolution.

“Moreover, it was ultra-conscious. Moments before, he had highlighted a member of the Venezuelan Communist Party, saying he was proud that his cabinet was the first one in Venezuelan history to have a member from that party.

“Obviously, Chávez intends that the new party be inclusive of all revolutionary-socialist-minded trends, highlighting the inclusion of both the traditional pro-Moscow forces and their nemesis.

“And then…he explained that it was necessary to destroy the old Venezuelan state and build a new communal, revolutionary Bolivarian state. He said you could not build socialism with the old bureaucracy. He projected this as a step-by-step process. But for the explicit purpose of deepening the revolutionary process, he’s asked the legislature for a one-year grant of extraordinary legislative powers for the council of ministers.”

The following is part of a summary of the second speech Chávez gave, two days later, at his inauguration on Jan. 10, sent to Marxmail by a Spanish-speaking contributor from Australia, Roberto Jorquera:

“Most importantly Chávez emphasized…the need to make the communal councils the fundamental and most important political decision-making bodies in the country. Chávez said, ‘We need this so that the revolution never finishes.’

Chávez continued that the communal councils need to be able to make diagnostic assessment of their local areas…We need a confederation of communal councils on a national level. We need to transform power into a communal power. Economic and political power needs to be transferred to these local bodies, so that we can work toward a communal and social state and move away from capitalism. We need to continue to bury capitalism.’

“During his speech Chávez stressed…that the revolution was still in its beginning stages…He once again used Trotsky to explain his position [as he had on Jan. 8], stating, ‘Trotsky said that the revolution is permanent; it never finishes. Let’s go with Trotsky. It is Trotsky who is correct that the revolution does not finish.’”

A report about Chávez’s Jan. 8 speech appeared the next day on the web site of the International Marxist Tendency (the IMT, headed by Alan Woods). The author, Fred Weston, stressed the preliminary nature of his comments and said a fuller evaluation would appear later. Interestingly, his report said nothing about the self-designated Trotskyist who is the new minister of labor, nor did it mention Chávez’s describing himself as a Trotskyist and follower of the line of permanent revolution.

This omission was made up for by a Jan. 12 article on the IMT web site (www.marxist.com) by the generally well-informed Jorge Martin, who also heads up the international Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Jorge Martin’s article bore the headline, “‘What is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist!’ — Chávez is sworn in as president of Venezuela.”  

For the information of our readers, we here reproduce Weston’s article in full, from the IMT web site. The article has been modified only slightly for consistency with Labor Standard editorial style. Jorge Martin’s Jan. 12 article is likewise reproduced below, after two capitalist press reports on Chávez’s initiatives of Jan. 8 and 10.


Chávez announces radical measures against capitalism in Venezuela

by Fred Weston

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela during the swearing-in ceremony of his new cabinet gave a fiery speech in which he announced a series of radical measures. If carried out, they would be a serious blow against the power of the oligarchy and imperialism in Venezuela. The proposals he made reflect the sharp turn to the left in the country as a whole. They reflect the real mood of the masses and their desire for radical change and an end to capitalism in the country.

In December he won a massive victory, the biggest ever since the Bolivarian Revolution began. The balance of forces is now weighted very heavily in favor of the Venezuelan masses. Chávez has absolute control of parliament and massive support among the population. The conditions exist for snuffing out capitalism once and for all.

The list of measures announced by Chávez would mean striking at the very heart of Venezuelan capitalism. It is not by chance that an article that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday, commenting on his speech, appears under the title “Chávez accelerates Venezuela’s socialist revolution.” The title encapsulates very well what is happening in Venezuela. The serious bourgeois analysts understand what the Marxists understand. Capitalism could be eradicated in Venezuela quite easily.

In his speech Chávez emphasized that Venezuela has entered a new phase, which he defined as the “National Simón Bolívar Project of 2007–2021,” which would aim to build “Bolivarian Socialism.” Tomorrow [that is, Jan. 10], Chávez will speak again at his own swearing-in ceremony, where he says he will outline in more detail what this project will consist of, but already he has pointed to five main points, five “motors” of the revolution: a special “enabling” law, further constitutional reform, popular education, reconstruction of the organs of state power, and explosion of communal power.

The enabling law is the main plank of his proposals. It would allow Chávez, over the coming year, to push through a series of decrees. He specifically pointed out that a central part of the law would include the nationalization of key industries that had been privatized by past governments, such as the Venezuelan telecommunications company CANTV (privatized in 1991) and the electricity industry. Earlier this year he had already threatened to nationalize CANTV if it did not adjust its pension payments to come in line with the minimum wage.

He was very clear about what needs to be done. He said, “All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized,” which received big applause. He added that the aim was to establish “social ownership over the strategic sectors of the means of production.”

He also plans to increase state control over the oil industry. At present there are four Orinoco Oil Belt projects that the state runs as joint ventures with the U.S. companies Exxon Mobil, Conoco, and Chevron, France’s Total, Britain’s BP, and Norway’s Statoil, but the state has a minority share in these. Now Chávez proposes taking a majority share, thus strengthening the state’s control over these important projects which account for 18% of the country’s oil production.

He announced that the text of the law is ready and would soon go to the National Assembly.

He also proposed new constitutional reforms. He did not specify what kind of reforms he is proposing, but in his speech he said he would base himself on the “popular power, the true combustible,” referring to the need to base the revolution on the grassroots, the people that have consistently supported the revolution. He added that, “We’re moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela, and that requires a deep reform of our national constitution…We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it.”

One specific reform he did mention was that of establishing greater control over the Central Bank. The bank is presently independent. Chávez wants to remove this. As he pointed out, this independence makes it an instrument of “neo-liberalism.” This is a correct decision. The Central Bank directors have systematically put up opposition to Chávez’s policy of using state funds to alleviate poverty and carry out genuine reforms. They have used the independence of the bank to defend the interests of the unelected oligarchy that wishes to maintain its control over the fundamental levers of the economy.

Other measures he outlined included that of setting up a “Bolivarian popular education” system. He explained that this would “deepen the new values and demolish the old values of individualism, capitalism, egotism.”

He stressed the need to give a greater say in running things to the poorer areas of the country, clearly indicating the need to shift power to the masses that support the revolution. He said that what needed to be done is to “dismantle the bourgeois state” because all states “were born to prevent revolutions.” This is to be done by giving more power to the newly set-up Communal Councils and by developing them from the bottom up with the aim of creating a new state based on these Communal Councils.

Before his speech he had already taken a firm decision not to renew the broadcast concession to the RCTV, a television company that has consistently supported all the undemocratic maneuvers to remove Chávez. It supported the [April] 2002 coup and the sabotage of the oil industry [December 2002 through February 2003]. Chávez has been attacked for this by the [Venezuelan] opposition and imperialism. They want the freedom to maneuver and plot against the democratically elected government of Venezuela. Imagine if in the USA a private TV channel supported a coup attempt to remove Bush. How would the Republicans react? That TV [company] would not survive one day longer.

Another measure that had already been announced, and that can be seen in the same light as the ones announced yesterday, is the removal of Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel and his replacement by Jorge Rodriguez. Rangel had come to be seen as a representative of the most moderate elements within the Bolivarian leadership, and he specifically had opposed the expropriation of the Caracas golf courses announced by the mayor, Barreto, at the end of August last year. At that time Rangel said the government was fully for the respect of private property.

Marxists cannot but give wholehearted support to the measures announced by Chávez. We have consistently argued that the Venezuelan revolution cannot stop halfway. Either it moves forward to the expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy, thus breaking the power of the oligarchy and imperialism, or the process could unravel, with the oligarchy using its control of the economy to carry out acts of sabotage and wear down the revolution.

The massive victory in the December elections was a clear signal that the masses want to move on and take on the oligarchy. Chávez’s speech reflects this situation. It explains why he stated that, “Nothing or no one will be able to push us off course in our pursuit of…Venezuelan socialism, our socialism.” During his speech he specifically referred to the ideals of Marx and Lenin.

The reaction of the bourgeoisie internationally has been as could be expected. Alberto Ramos, writing for Goldman Sachs, commented: “These disconcerting policy announcements represent a clear turn into deeper nationalist and interventionist policies, which can lead to further erosion of business confidence and the country’s macro and institutional fundamentals.” Richard La Rosa, an equities trader at Activalores Sociedad de Corretaje CA, said: “We all expected some radical announcements after his swearing-in, but this took markets completely by surprise. We never imagined that he would name a company specifically. It left all of us in shock.” He added: “The big question in the marketplace is how are we going to be compensated? No one doubts Chávez’s intentions at this point.” Many are making the comment that Chávez could go down the road that Cuba took back in the early 1960s, when Castro nationalized the bulk of the economy.

Chávez is to be sworn in tomorrow as president. This will be his third term in office and would take him up to 2013. The bourgeoisie in Venezuela and internationally is mounting a rabid hate campaign against Chávez as he moves further and further to the left. This is not by accident. Their real material interests are at stake here. If Chávez goes all the way, he will receive the enthusiastic support of the Venezuelan masses. In the recent period Chávez had spoken about making the revolutionary process in Venezuela “irreversible.” There is only one way of doing that: expropriate the bourgeoisie and build a revolutionary state based on the working class.

When he says that it is necessary to “dismantle the bourgeois state” he is absolutely right. The present state is riddled with agents of the old regime. The big majority of civil servants and top state officials is still made up of people appointed in the past to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. They cannot be trusted. Every day, every minute they are maneuvering to block any progressive reform. They are trying to slow down the revolution, hoping to wear it down and prepare the ground for a return of the old regime. Chávez has often referred to the bureaucratism and corruption at all levels that are blocking the revolutionary process.

What is needed is to shift the center of action to the masses themselves? The only force that Chávez can really trust is that of the Venezuelan working class, the peasants, and the poor. Now is the time for committees to be elected in all the factories and other workplaces, and in the working class neighborhoods. These should elect delegates to higher bodies, eventually leading to a national body. This would be the instrument that could “dismantle the bourgeois state” and build a “revolutionary state.”

It is to be noted that one of the few companies specifically mentioned as being up for nationalization is CANTV, where workers and former workers have been fighting for their rights and demanding nationalization for the last few months. This will surely provide a new impetus to the struggle of workers at Sanitarios Maracay for nationalization under workers’ control.

The UNT [the million-strong pro-Chávez union federation] should take the initiative of calling immediately a National Workers’ Conference to discuss these measures and take concrete steps of the workers in key sectors of the economy to organize themselves to struggle for nationalization under workers’ control and preempt any attempt of the bosses to sabotage them or strip them of assets or valuable information. Such a conference should also call for a national day of action of factory occupations in which the 800 companies already mentioned by Chávez a year and a half ago should be taken over, and with them all strategic sectors of the economy should also be occupied by the workers.

Chávez sees the need to “deepen” the revolution. He understands that the revolution cannot stand still. It must move on. He can see that every time he tries to push the process further, the bureaucracy comes up with a thousand and one obstacles. He feels that he cannot make this state machine do what he wants. The only road is therefore to break this machine and build a new one based on the workers.

In the next few days we will provide a more in-depth analysis of what is happening in Venezuela, but what is clear is that an acceleration of the whole process is taking place. If the Venezuelan revolution were victorious in the coming period, it would be seen as a beacon by the masses of the whole of Latin America and beyond. It would usher in a new period of revolutions. That is why all genuine socialists, communists, cannot but be enthused by the new turn of events and give their wholehearted support to the revolution. The bourgeoisie is lining up internationally, using all it has, its control of the media, the economy, and so on, to strike blows at the Venezuelan revolution. It is our duty in all countries to counter this with all our might.


[Here, for the information of our readers, is another sampling in our roundup of responses to Chávez’s initiatives of Jan. 8 and 10. The following article, by Associated Press writer Ian James, appeared in The Guardian (London) on Jan. 9, it too has been modified slightly for consistency with Labor Standard editorial style.]

Chávez: Will Nationalize Telecoms, Power

by Ian James

President Hugo Chávez announced plans Monday to nationalize Venezuela’s electrical and telecommunications companies, pledging to create a socialist state in a bold move with echoes of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba.

Chávez, who will be sworn in Wednesday to a third term that runs until 2013, also said wanted a constitutional amendment to eliminate the autonomy of the Central Bank and would soon ask the National Assembly, solidly controlled by his allies, to give him greater powers to legislate by presidential decree.

“We’re moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela, and that requires a deep reform of our national constitution,” Chávez said in a televised address after swearing in his new Cabinet. “We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it.”

Before Chávez was reelected by a wide margin last month, he promised to take a more radical turn toward socialism. His critics have voiced concern that he would use his sweeping victory to consolidate more power in his own hands.

Cuba, one of Chávez’s closest allies in the region, nationalized major industries shortly after Castro came to power in 1959. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, another Chávez ally, moved to nationalize key sectors after taking office last year.

“The nation should recover its ownership of strategic sectors,” Chávez said. “All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized,” he added, referring to “all of those sectors in an area so important and strategic for all of us as is electricity.”

The nationalization appeared likely to affect Electricidad de Caracas, owned by Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp., and C.A. Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela, known as CANTV, the country’s largest publicly traded company.

Chávez said lucrative oil projects in the Orinoco River basin involving foreign oil companies should be under national ownership. He did not spell out whether that meant a complete nationalization, but said any vestiges of private control over the energy sector should be undone.

“I’m referring to how international companies have control and power over all those processes of improving the heavy crudes of the Orinoco belt—no—that hould become the property of the nation,” Chávez said.

Chávez did not appear to rule out all private investment in the oil sector. Since last year, his government has sought to form state-controlled “mixed companies” with British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA, and

Statoil ASA to upgrade heavy crude in the Orinoco. Such joint ventures have already been formed in other parts of the country.

The United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, [the sale of] which provides Chávez with billions of dollars for social programs aimed at helping Venezuela’s poor as well as aid for countries around the region.

Chávez threatened last August to nationalize CANTV, a Caracas-based former state firm that was privatized in 1991, unless it fully complied with a court ruling and adjusted its pension payments to current minimum-wage levels, which have been repeatedly increased by his government.

CANTV is the dominant provider of fixed-line telephone service in Venezuela, and also has large shares of the mobile phone and Internet markets.

Electricidad de Caracas is the largest private electricity firm in Venezuela. U.S.-based AES, a global power company that today has businesses in 26 countries, bought a majority stake of Electricidad de Caracas in a hostile takeover in 2000.

After Chávez’s announcement, American Depositary Receipts of CANTV—the only Venezuelan company traded on the New York Stock Exchange—immediately plunged 14.2 percent to $16.84 before the NYSE halted trading. An NYSE spokesman said it was not known when trading might resume.

Investors with sizable holdings in CANTV’s ADRs include some well-known names on Wall Street, including Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., UBS Securities LLC, and Morgan Stanley & Co. But the biggest shareholder, according to Thomson Financial, appears to be Brandes Investment Partners LP, an investment advisory company in California. Also holding a noteworthy stake is Julius Baer Investment Management LLC, a Swiss investment manager.

CANTV said it was aware of Chávez’s remarks but added in a statement: “No government representatives have communicated with the company, and the company has no other information.”

Chávez cited the communist ideals of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin at other points in his speech.

“I’m very much of [Leon] Trotsky’s line—the permanent revolution,” he said.

In the fiery address, the president also used a vulgar word [pendejo], roughly meaning “idiot,” to refer to Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. He lashed out at Insulza for questioning his government’s decision not to renew the license of an opposition-aligned TV station.


[The following article, reproduced here for the information of our readers, is from the Jan. 11, 2007, issue of the New York Times. In the print edition an “outtake” in the middle of the article in large bold text read: Venezuela’s reelected leader praises Jesus and quotes Trotsky.”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chávez Begins New Term Vowing Socialism

by Simón Romero

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 10—President Hugo Chávez was sworn in to a new six-year term at a ceremony here on Wednesday in which he described Jesus as “the greatest socialist in history” and pledged to speed Venezuelas metamorphosis into a socialist country.

“Fatherland! Socialism or death, I swear it!” Mr. Chávez yelled as he was sworn in and given the presidential sash and a golden key to the tomb where the remains of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberator, are interred.

In his speech, the president defended his decision this week to nationalize companies in the telecommunications and electricity industries and promised to seek greater control over natural gas projects. He also renewed his request to Congress for decree powers, saying a “revolutionary law of laws” would allow him to hasten the construction of socialism.

Since his re-election last month, Mr. Chávez has moved swiftly to group his varied supporters into a single Socialist party. In addition to his nationalization campaign, he has called for the end of the central bank’s independence from politics and the rewriting of the commercial code.

Headlines in the afternoon newspapers here reflected continuing polarization over his ideas.”Socialism Has Arrived,” proclaimed El Mundo, which, like most Venezuelan newspapers is friendly to Mr.Chávez’s government. Tal Cual, a small opposition paper, titled its main editorial “The Monarch.

Teodoro Petkoff, editor of Tal Cual, said Mr. Chávez’s “21st-century Socialism” had exhibited the same autocratic characteristics of Socialist movements of the 20th century.

Others pointed to the president’s political instincts as an explanation for his sharp ideological turn.

Fernando Coronil, an authority on Venezuelan history at the University of Michigan, said Mr. Chávez was acutely aware of his supporters’ high expectations of change. His effort to redefine the ideological and organization basis of his government, from the creation of a single party to the concentration of power in the presidency, are a response to that reading of popular sentiment, Mr. Coronil said.

“People voted for Chávez but didn’t give him a blank check,” he said. “Now he has to pay back.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Chávez, who hinted at the possibility of seeking another term once this one ends in 2012, seemed to evoke Fidel Castros leftward ideological evolution in the years after taking power in Cuba in 1959. Mr. Chávez, who has forged a tight economic alliance with Cuba, peppered his speech with references to the works of two Italian Marxist theorists, Antonio Gramsci and Antonio Negri.

He weaved in quotations from Napoleon and Trotsky, saying Trotsky had the right idea when he said, “The revolution never ends.” He also quoted liberally from the writings of Bolívar and the Bible.

He railed against his domestic political opponents and dissidents in the Roman Catholic Church, singling out Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro, who recently criticized the president’s decision not to renew the broadcast license of RCTV, one of Venezuelas oldest television stations.

“Monsignor Luckert is going to wait for me in hell, he said.

After his speech, Mr. Chávez traveled to Managua to attend a similar ceremony for Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista guerrilla leader elected president of Nicaragua. Venezuela is preparing to sign a far-reaching economic assistance agreement with Nicaragua.


[Now the Jan. 12 Jorge Martin article mentioned above—also slightly modified in keeping with Labor Standard editorial style.]

“What is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist!” — Chávez is sworn in as president of Venezuela

by Jorge Martin

On Wednesday, Jan. 10, Chávez was sworn in as president of Venezuela for a new term of office, and he delivered a speech in which he announced the members of the cabinet and repeated the main lines of his government, which had already been outlined in a major speech on Monday, Jan. 8.

After the massive victory in the presidential elections in December (in which Chávez received 7.3 million votes, 63%), Chávez had insisted that this was not a vote for himself, but rather a vote for the socialist project that he had been defending. The announcements made in the last few days in Venezuela send a clear and strong signal of the direction he intends to go in.

The composition of the new government can be considered a shift to the left. First of all vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, who had publicly opposed the expropriation of the Caracas golf courses by Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto and explicitly said that the government respected private property, has been removed. He has been replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, who is generally seen as being on the left of the Bolivarian movement. His father, of the same name, was historically a leader of the Socialist League in the 1970s, and died as a result of torture while he was in the custody of the secret police.

Chávez also put emphasis on the fact that “for the first time in history, we have a minister of the Communist Party in Venezuela,” referring to David Velasquez, the new Minister of People’s Power for Participation and Social Development. The Communist Party in Venezuela has not played a vanguard role in the Bolivarian revolution. Before Chávez started talking about the need to go beyond capitalism and of socialism as the only answer, the PCV insisted that socialism was not on the immediate agenda in Venezuela and that the revolution was, at that stage, only about the struggle against imperialism, repeating the old and treacherous ideas of the Stalinist two-stage theory. The Communist Party was caught off guard by Chávez’s announcement about the need to struggle for socialism and in a 180-degree turn quickly tail-ended what the president had announced, thus following events rather than offering a lead.

Among the new ministers to be incorporated into the government Chávez also pointed to the new Minister of Labor, José Ramón Rivero, whom he described as “young, and a workers’ leader.” “When I called him,” Chávez explained [in his Jan. 8 speech], “he said to me: ‘President, I want to tell you something before someone else tells you…I am a Trotskyist.’ And I said, ‘Well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky’s line, that of permanent revolution.’”

José Ramón Rivero was a trade union leader in the state-owned aluminum smelter Venalum, in the industrial state of Bolivar, and had become one of the members of parliament for the Bolivarian Workers’ Front (Spanish initials, FBT). In the recent period the FBT has been dominated by its most moderate elements, who launched a campaign against the left wing in the UNT. It remains to be seen what the attitude of Rivero as minister of labor will be. He will be judged for his position in relation to workers’ management, factory occupations, nationalizations, and the defense of workers’ rights.

But the statement of Chávez that he himself is a Trotskyist reflects the leftward evolution of his political thinking and his growing personal radicalization. At the beginning of the Venezuelan revolution in 1998 Chávez quite openly admitted that he was in favor of “third way” [between capitalism and socialism] and did not in any way challenge capitalism as such. It was only in January 2005, at the time of the expropriation of Venepal [a paper mill], that he first said that “within the limits of capitalism there is no solution to the problems facing the Venezuelan masses” and that the revolution must go toward “socialism of the 21st century.” This change in his political thinking came about as a result of several things, he said: the experience of the Bolivarian Revolution (trying to apply basic reforms such as free healthcare and education for all and being confronted by an armed uprising on the part of the capitalist class), reading, and discussing.

Shortly before he declared himself to be a socialist, he had bought a copy of Trotsky’s book Permanent Revolution, at a meeting in Madrid where he spoke in front of an audience of workers and youth at the headquarters of the Workers’ Commissions trade union (Spanish initials, CCOO). He obviously became very interested in the ideas of Trotsky, as these provided a socialist ideal, which was completely opposed to the Stalinist caricature that had fallen in the Soviet Union. More or less at the same time, in an interview with Al Jazeera he explained that, in his view, what had fallen in the Soviet Union “was not socialism, what was there had moved away a lot from the original aims of Lenin and of Trotsky, particularly after Stalin.”

At that time this was a major turning point in the Bolivarian Revolution and opened up the debate about socialism and what it meant throughout Venezuelan society in an unprecedented way. The recent announcements by Chávez can be seen in the same way as yet another major turning point in the revolution.

Chávez also stressed that the new ministers were “ministers of people’s power” and that they should spend Monday to Wednesday in their offices carrying out their duties, but then from Thursday to Sunday they should be “out in the streets implementing a plan of work.”

“Nothing, nobody will be able to divert us from the road toward Bolivarian socialism, Venezuelan socialism, our socialism,” he stressed. In the swearing-in ceremony as president he declared that the aim was to establish the Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela, and even the formula he used for taking the presidential oath was overtly socialist. “I swear for the people and for the fatherland that I will not give rest to my arm nor respite to my soul; that I will give my days and my nights and my whole life to the building of Venezuelan socialism, a new political system, a new social system, a new economic system.” And he finished his speech with the new battle cry “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!”

As in any of the other major steps forward in the Bolivarian revolution, Chávez is both interpreting and responding to the pressure of the revolutionary masses from below, but at the same time taking the initiative, launching bold ideas and proposals and consciously pushing the whole process forward. The response of the revolutionary rank and file to the announcements made on Monday, Jan. 8, and particularly the nationalization of the telecom company CANTV and the electricity company EDC, has been enthusiastic.

Trade union activists have been contacting the UNT leaders, expressing their support for these measures. The “Trade Union Alliance” at SIDOR, the steel works in Bolivar, which was privatized in the 1990s, has already issued a statement asking the president to renationalize the company. They added that renationalization should not be just a return to the previous situation when the SIDOR was state-owned, but rather that this should be accompanied by the introduction of workers’ management like the one that is already being experienced at the nearby aluminum smelter ALCASA.

Rivero, the new minister of labor, has already organized meetings with the trade unions representing workers in the companies that are to be nationalized, to discuss their future, and has added that a discussion has taken place in the new council of ministers about the “setting up of workers’ councils” in the companies, starting in the Ministry of Labor itself.

But also, as in previous turning points, the bureaucracy and the reformist elements within the Bolivarian movement (and particularly within its leadership) are already conspiring to water down the content of Chávez’s announcements and proposals and to block the revolutionary initiative of the masses. The announcement of the nationalization of CANTV and EDC immediately sent their shares into a downward spiral on the Caracas stock exchange and their trading was suspended. But quickly the new minister of finance, Rodrigo Cabezas, explained that “the process of nationalization will take place respecting the constitutional framework, which among other things outlaws expropriations.” This was not the line taken by Rivero, the new minister of labor, who reminded journalists that many workers and former workers of CANTV do own shares, which they got during the privatization process (as was the case at SIDOR) and that they, together with the government, represent 20% of the total shareholders. He said the government was looking for ways to protect the interests of these small shareholders, but not of those “who bought their shares on the New York stock exchange or somewhere else.”

The struggle is therefore far from over, and it is necessary for the revolutionary rank and file, and particularly the revolutionary trade unionists, to take the initiative on all fronts and to give content to all these announcements: the need to nationalize the key sectors of the economy, the need to dismantle the bourgeois state and replace it with a revolutionary state based on workers’ and people’s councils, and the building of a united party of socialist revolution. The Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) in Venezuela is insisting on the need to call a national workers’ conference to discuss all these issues and the role of the working class in the new stage of the revolution, and that such a conference should launch a national day of action of factory occupations. This is closely linked to the struggle of workers at Sanitarios Maracay, the first company in Venezuela to be occupied by the workers where the workforce is producing and selling products under workers’ control. A call has already been issued for a new national demonstration to support the call of Sanitarios Maracay workers for nationalization under workers’ control. This could become a focal point for the activity of the working class in the new stage of the revolution, at a higher level than what the nationalization of Venepal represented in 2005.

The next few months will be crucial for the future of the Bolivarian revolution, and the working class must play a key role.


[Lastly, we reproduce an article from the Canadian online publication Socialist Voice, by its co-editor John Riddell—a very valuable discussion of the mass socialist party that Chávez has called for.

[Curiously enough, Riddell also omits mention of Chávez’s references to Trotsky and permanent revolution. Perhaps that omission will also be made up for soon. Riddell does quote what Chávez had to say about Jesus as a socialist, along with a rich discussion of the indigenous and other roots of socialism. The article is mainly written a report on the Dec. 15 speech by Chávez on the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and Riddell includes some extensive quotes from Chávez expressing the latter’s views on the degeneration of the Russian revolution. These are fully consistent with the analysis made historically by the Trotskyist movement. But why omit mention of Chávez’s blunt statement that he too is a Trotskyist, a follower of the line of permanent revolution? Why not acknowledge that on Jan. 10 Chávez said: ‘Trotsky said that the revolution is permanent; it never finishes. Let’s go with Trotsky. It is Trotsky who is correct that the revolution does not finish.”

[Incidentally, publication in English of the full texts of Chávez’s Jan. 8 and 10 speeches, in addition to his Dec. 15 speech, would be a major contribution to the world’s labor and socialist movements.

[In reproducing Riddell’s article here, we have edited it slightly for style purposes. The original may be found at www.socialistvoice.com. The article has also been posted on the Monthly Review web site (www.mrzine.org). Readers may go to those web sites to follow the References links not shown here.]

 

Chávez Calls for United Socialist Party of Venezuela: Rank-and-file Committees to Be Building Blocks for New Organization

by John Riddell

When supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez rallied on Dec. 15, 2006, in the Teresa Carrena theatre in Caracas to celebrate their presidential election victory [of Dec. 3] “there were cheers in the back half of the theatre,” writes Michael Lebowitz, “but few in the high-priced seats.”

This was not because Chávez spoke of going forward to socialism and combating corruption—that wasn’t new—but because “it was all about the new party,” which Chávez insisted must be built “from the base” by the popular committees that fought and won the election.

The prospect of a united, fighting party of the Venezuelan masses is indeed unsettling to the conservative careerists who occupy many high posts in the pro-Chávez political parties. But, for working people, it could be the instrument they need to break the present deadlock in Venezuela’s class struggle and move decisively against capitalist rule.

Victory without Precedent

The victory of the Bolivarian movement in the Dec. 3 presidential elections has created the most favorable conditions yet for such an advance. The Venezuelan people made the elections the occasion for their largest mobilization ever in support of the Bolivarian movement and President Hugo Chávez. The pro-Chávez vote of 7.3 million (63% of votes cast) was almost double his total in the last presidential elections, and 25% more than in the recall referendum of 2004. Moreover, Chávez supporters on election day massively occupied the streets, forestalling any opposition effort to challenge the vote.

So massive was the victory that the right-wing opposition, for the first time since the Bolivarians took office in 1998, conceded that they had indeed lost the election and that Chávez was Venezuela’s legitimate president. With characteristic generosity, Chávez congratulated the opposition for “their display of democracy” and invited them to “include themselves in the process of building the new Venezuela.”

Program for Change

When his new cabinet was sworn in on Jan.8, 2008, Chávez pledged to set a fast pace in carrying out the mandate of Venezuelan voters.

Among his proposed measures: nationalization of key industries privatized under previous governments, including the giant telecommunications and electricity companies, and expansion of government ownership of oil projects. The national bank’s independence will be curbed. More power will be transferred to the recently created communal councils (see below). What is needed, Chávez said, is to “dismantle the bourgeois state” and create a “communal state.”

Progress toward a new socialist party will be crucial in enabling these and other programs to advance.

Danger from Within

According to Lebowitz, a Caracas-based Marxist writer, the main danger to the Venezuelan revolution comes not from the opposition, its backers in Washington, or the capitalist class they represent. “The problem of the Venezuelan revolution is from within. It’s whether it will be deformed by people around Chávez.”

Many officials in the Bolivarian political parties “want Chávez without socialism,” Lebowitz says, and “want to retain the power to make decisions from above.”

Following the elections, officials of many of the two dozen parties of the Bolivarian movement made boastful statements regarding how many of the Chávez votes had been on their ticket. (Under Venezuelan electoral law, Chávez’s vote is the sum total of votes for all the parties who named him as their candidate. The Movement for the Fifth Republic [MVR] picked up about two-thirds of the Bolivarian votes; the rest were widely scattered.)

“Let’s not fall into lies,” said Chávez on December 15. “Those votes were not for any party…they were votes for Chávez, for the people.” The audience then responded with an ovation to his call, “Don’t divide the people!”

A New Party

“The revolution requires a united party, not an alphabet soup,” Chávez said. “I, Hugo Chávez Frias…declare today that I am going to create a new party.” It will be “a political instrument at the service not of blocs or groupings but of the people and the revolution, at the service of socialism.” To great applause, he proposed the name United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Spanish initials, PSUV).

As for those who doubt the wisdom of this proposal, Chávez continued, “I don’t have time to bury myself in a debate…they are entirely free to pursue their course.” But “obviously, they will leave the government.”

The new party will not be a copy of any existing organization. As for the dominant Bolivarian party, the MVR, which Chávez himself founded, “its work is completed; it must pass into history.” Nor would party officials be automatically carried over to the new formation: “You will not see me with the same old faces, the same party leaderships—no, that would be a deception.”

How then will the party be formed? Chávez recalled the battle of the recall referendum in 2004, which was won by thousands of Units for the Electoral Battle (UBEs), made up of working people across the country. “Afterwards, I asked everyone to maintain the UBEs…but almost everywhere they were lost…Let us be sure this does not happen after our great victory of December 3.”

Built by the Ranks

Hailing the great work of 11,000 Bolivarian battalions, 32,800 platoons, and innumerable squads in rallying the people for this victory, Chávez said, “Let not a single squad dissolve. Starting tomorrow, the leaders of the squads, platoons, and battalions must bring together their troops, their worthy troops, who are the people.”

Get hold of a computer, typewriter, whatever, Chávez said, and draw up a list—a “census of the activists, sympathizers, and friends—for “the battalions, platoons, and squads will be the basic national structure” of the new party, a party built “from below.”

Chávez blasted the prevailing custom of hand-picking candidates and leaders from above—in the Venezuelan idiom, singling them out “with the finger.” “Enough of the little finger,” he said, “and generally it’s often my finger,” when he is “asked to take decisions on candidates…This should all be done from below, from the base. The people should take these decisions, as has been written in our Constitution for seven years, except we haven’t done it.  Now is the time to start.”

Elitist Models

Most Latin American left parties of the 20th century, Chávez noted, had “copied the Bolshevik model of the party,” which under Lenin’s leadership brought victory in the Russian revolution of 1917.  Later, this party “went off course, which Lenin could not prevent, because he was ill and died very young.” The Bolsheviks “ended up as an anti-democratic party, and the wonderful slogan, ‘All power to the soviets,’ ended up as ‘All power for the party.’

“In my humble opinion, this deformation took place close to the outset of the socialist revolution that gave birth to the Soviet Union, and we saw the results 70 years later” in the USSR’s collapse.  Workers did not come out to defend the Soviet system “because it had become converted into an elitist structure that could not build socialism.

“We here will build Venezuelan socialism—an original Venezuelan model.”

The new party “must be created not for electoral purposes—even though it will carry out electoral battles as we have done,” Chávez said. “The task is to carry out the battle of ideas for the socialist project.” For this purpose, everyone must “study, read, discuss” and “distribute information, printed material.”

Roots of Socialism in Religion

Chávez took care to present socialism not as something new, invented, or imported, but as growing organically out of the traditions and beliefs of the Venezuelan people. The socialist project, he said on Dec. 3, is “Indo-Venezuelan, homegrown, Christian, and Bolivarian.”

In his Dec. 15 address, he employed relevant passages in the Christian Bible to good effect. The prophet Isaiah condemned those who accumulate wealth, “Woe to those who add house to house [and] join field to field, until there is no more room” (Isaiah 5:8). 

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount blessed the poor and denounced the rich: “Woe to you that are well fed, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:20–25).

“We are much more moderate than Christ,” Chávez said. “We don’t want anyone to go hungry” and [we want] the rich to “share with us the happiness of being free…everyone free and equal.” But Jesus “was a radical, a revolutionary, an avenger [?], and that’s why he was crucified by the capitalists and imperialists of that time.”

Chávez pointed to the example of the early Christian church, quoting the Biblical account that believers who owned land and other property donated them to the community, “and distribution was made to each as any had need.” For the company of believers “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32–35).

Roots of Socialism in Venezuela

“Once Fidel [Castro] told me, speaking of Christ, ‘I’m a Christian on social questions.’” Chávez added, “Well, the atheists are welcome. This is not a religious movement…I’m just searching for its roots.”

Then he pointed to the example of Simón Bolívar, “a pre-socialist thinker,” who believed that society must be based on equality. Among Bolívar’s companions, Simón Rodríguez was a “socialist thinker,” and the Brazilian revolutionary José Ignacio Abreu de Lima was the author of “the first book on socialism written in the Americas.”

Chávez also recalled how the pioneer Peruvian socialist, José Carlos Mariátegui, had pointed to the socialist project’s roots in the indigenous societies of America. The indigenous peoples “lived in socialism for centuries,” Chávez said. Naming several aboriginal communities in Venezuela--including that of the Delta Amacuro, “where we won 100% of the vote”—Chávez called them “the bearers of the socialist seed in our land, our nation, our America.” They must be the vanguard, he said, for “we are going to relaunch Indo-Venezuelan socialism.”

Referring to all these experiences, Chávez said, “We’re going to take these models to the neighborhoods, to the housing developments; we’re going to create spaces for socialism.”

Scientific Socialism

Venezuela could not be satisfied with “utopian socialism,” Chávez said.  It offered no practical solutions “until Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels launched the Communist Manifesto—the thesis of scientific socialism.”

They began to propose solutions based on “the transformation of the economic model,” which is “fundamental if we wish to build a true socialism. Therefore we must socialize the economy,” including the land, and create a “new productive model,” he said. All the “new spaces that we are creating or regaining” will be “nuclei of socialist construction.”

On Jan. 8, Chávez was more explicit: the aim is “social ownership over the strategic sectors of the means of production.”

Barriers to Progress

It is not hard to enumerate the massive obstacles facing Venezuelan workers and farmers along this road.  The capitalist profit-making system remains intact—in fact, it has had a banner year. The capitalist right wing controls almost all the media and benefits from the sympathy or lethargy of many in the governmental apparatus.

The enemies of the revolution stand ready to use violence and dictatorship to impose their will—backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism.

Although the Bolivarian government’s measures have brought tangible benefits to the poor, poverty remains widespread and profound. Land reform has progressed slowly. Only a minority of workers have stable employment in the legal economy.

And the Bolivarian trade union movement that represents this minority is in disarray, wracked by factional divisions, and has done little to implement the government’s program to expand workers’ control.

But the most immediate barriers impeding further advances toward overturning capitalism in Venezuela lie in the political realm—the state bureaucracy ensconced in the ministries and different levels of government, and a vast layer of careerists operating in the traditional political parties, including pro-Chavist organizations.

Most political parties in Venezuela function as electoral machines dominated by parasitic elements who use them to control and dispense jobs and other favors to their clientele.  By launching a new united socialist party, Chávez has made an important move to allow workers and farmers to push these elements aside and position themselves to fight more effectively for their class interests.

Strategy for Socialism

The Bolivarian movement has not developed any blueprint for the transformation of this economy.  Chávez’s speech on the new party, however, gives evidence of a strategy for the struggle for socialism based on placing power in the hands of the working people who have beaten back capitalist assaults in each successive confrontation. 

“We will build it from below, an endogenous socialism,” Chávez said.

If built as Chávez advocates, the new party could solve the central challenge facing the Bolivarian movement: that of linking the worker and farmer base together with their chosen leadership in a cohesive, democratic political movement.

As for the government apparatus, the Bolivarians continue to focus on creating parallel institutions controlled by the worker-farmer ranks. On Dec. 15, Chávez focused on the Communal Councils (Consejos Comunales), of which 16,000 have been organized to coordinate action around the concerns of residents. “They are the key to people’s power” he said, appealing for their extension to every part of the country.

These councils, he said, must “transcend the local framework” and achieve “a sort of regional federation of Communal Councils” that could elect coordinating bodies. On Jan. 8, he went further, projecting the councils as the embryo of a new state.

A united socialist party will be key weapon in the fight to achieve such goals.

Challenge to Socialist Movement

On Dec. 3, Chávez dedicated his election victory “to the Cuban people and to president Fidel Castro, brother, comrade, companion.”

The inspiration, guidance, and practical help of the Cuban revolutionaries has been crucial in winning Venezuelan working people to support socialism. Today Venezuela, allied with Cuba, plays a similar role in winning new forces internationally to the goal of socialism.

The outstanding significance of Chávez’s new-party initiative, as of all the Bolivarians’ major struggles of the last couple of years, is that a vision of authentic socialism is taking root. Socialists around the world must ensure that the voice of the Bolivarians is heard and understood by rebels and activists everywhere.

References

Hugo Chávez on the new party, 15 December 2006  (in Spanish, text plus video)

Hugo Chávez on his reelection, 3 December 2006 (in English)

Michael Lebowitz, “‘It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry If I Want to’: Chávez Moves Forward,” MRZine 17 December 2006.

Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy, “Challenges for Venezuela’s Revolution,” an interview with Michael Lebowitz, Green Left Weekly 690, 10 November 2006.

C. Wynter and Jim McIlroy, “Marta Harnecker: Venezuela’s Experiment in Popular Power,” Green Left Weekly 693, 30 November 2006.