For a “Yes” Vote in Venezuela’s Dec. 2 Referendum

by George Saunders


Celia Hart has made it clear in her article, “Bolivarians, You Have a World to Defend” (posted elsewhere on this web site), why she thinks a “yes” vote on Dec. 2, 2007, will be a further step toward socialist revolution in Venezuela. I tend to agree with her. Information giving support to that position may be found in an article by three Trotskyists in Venezuela (see “Chávez threatens to destroy the bourgeoisie,” by Euler Calzadilla, Wanderci Silva Bueno, and Darrall Cozens in Caracas, Monday, Nov. 26 http://www.marxist.com/Chávez-threat-destroy-bourgeoisie261107.htm)

An article by James Petras, posted Nov. 28 on the CounterPunch web site, gives further support to the position for a “yes” vote.  Petras’s article is entitled “CIA Venezuela Destabilization Memo Surfaces.” To read it, go to: <http://www.counterpunch.com >, Nov. 28, 2007.

The following passages from Petras’s article are, to me, particularly persuasive that the call for a “yes” vote has class-struggle and revolutionary implications:

“In a speech to pro-Chávez, pro-amendment nationalist business-people (Entrepreneurs for Venezuela — EMPREVEN) Chávez warned the President of FEDECAMARAS [the main anti-Chávez businessmen’s association] that if he continues to threaten the government with a coup, he would nationalize all their business affiliates [emphasis added). With the exception of … [some political] sects, the vast majority of organized workers, peasants, small farmers, poor neighborhood councils, informal self-employed, and public school students have mobilized and demonstrated in favor of the constitutional amendments.

“The reason for the popular majority is found in a few of the key amendments: One article expedites land expropriation facilitating re-distribution to the landless and small producers. Chávez has already settled over 150,000 landless workers on 2 million acres of land. Another amendment provides universal social security coverage for the entire informal sector (street sellers, domestic workers, self-employed) amounting to 40 percent of the labor force. Organized and unorganized workers' workweek will be reduced from 40 to 36 hours a week (Monday to Friday noon) with no reduction in pay [emphasis added]. Open admission and universal free higher education will open greater educational opportunities for lower class students. Amendments will allow the government to bypass current bureaucratic blockage of the socialization of strategic industries, thus creating greater employment and lower utility costs. Most important, an amendment will increase the power and budget of neighborhood councils to legislate and invest in their communities.

“The electorate supporting the constitutional amendments is voting in favor of their socio-economic and class interests; the issue of extended reelection of the President is not high on their [list of] priorities: [Yet] that is the issue the Right has focused on in calling Chávez a ‘dictator’ and the referendum a ‘coup.’”

Aside from these positive passages in Petras’s article, however, he also gives an incorrect impression on one aspect of the situation in Venezuela. He asserts that some Maoists and Trotskyists are calling for a “no” vote. This may be true of some, especially of some ex-Maoists and ex-Trotskysits, but most of the significant currents that call themselves Trotskyist are calling for a “yes” vote, such as Celia Hart and the Trotskyists mentioned above.

Petras cannot be unaware that such Trotskyist figures as Celia Hart and Alan Woods have been campaigning in Venezuela and internationally for the “yes” vote and against Chávez’s former ally, Gen. Raúl Baduel, who is calling for a “no” vote, and Baduel’s ally, the German-Mexican professor and sometime Chávez adviser Heinz Dieterich.

(See the five articles by Celia Hart and Alan Woods against Baduel and Dieterich on the web site <http://www.marxist.com>. Celia’s articles also appeared on the Madrid-based web site www.rebelion.org, where Petras’s articles often appear in Spanish as well, and the Venezuelan web site www.aporrea.org.)

On Nov. 28, Celia Hart posted another long article (in Spanish only) campaigning for a “yes” vote and, among other things, denouncing the king of Spain for saying to Chávez, “Why don’t you shut up?” (Porque no te callas?). This incident occurred at the recent Ibero-American summit, held in Chile, and in retrospect appears to be part of an international campaign in the major capitalist countries and in the capitalist-owned media to discredit Chávez and lay the groundwork for another coup attempt against him, like the one that the Venezuelan masses mobilized to defeat in April 2002.

In the Venezuelan union movement, there are numerous different left factions, often in rivalry with one another, as can be seen from the article mentioned above titled Chávez threatens to destroy the bourgeoisie.

One wing of the generally pro-Chávez labor federation (the UNT) is led by Stalin Peres Borges, who is also a leader of the (Trotskyist) Party of Revolution and Socialism. This Trotskyist component of the organized workers’ movement has taken a position of participation in and active support to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Spanish initials, PSUV), and the PSUV calls for a “yes” vote in the Dec. 2 referendum, as do most groups on the revolutionary left in Venezuela and internationally. A minor exception is represented by a splinter group in the UNT led by Orlando Chirino.

An example of the position taken by most Trotskyists can be seen in a recent article on the International Viewpoint web site, which is sponsored by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the mainstream organization of Trotskyism internationally. This article makes clear that the battle for the “yes” vote is part of the class struggle in Venezuela today, while the “no” vote is supported by imperialism and its allies among the Venezuelan capitalist class. (See “Venezuela at the crossroads: International media prepare a coup,” by Guillermo Almeyra at http://www.internationalviewpoint.org.)

Thus, Petras’s blanket statement, at one point in his article, that “the Trotskyists” are calling for a “no” vote is factually way off, and Petras must undoubtedly be aware of that, since he is a well-informed ex-professor of Latin American studies with many years of acquaintance with the world Trotskyist movement. The only question is, Why did he choose to make this undiscriminating assertion at this particular time? Petras has shown that he is capable of taking very strange, even inexplicable positions. Recently he advocated that Cuba should use its fallow land to grow sugarcane for biofuels—at exactly a time when Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in alliance with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, has been campaigning against the use of food crops for biofuel. When it comes to Petras, it seems, you can expect good information and good positions mixed with outlandish ones.

To make it very clear, the fact is that—regardless of Petras’s wild assertions—most revolutionaries, and that means most Trotskyists, are with the majority of exploited and oppressed Venezuelan workers, peasants, students, and the urban and rural poor, calling for a “yes” vote on Dec. 2 and for the further advance of socialist revolution in Venezuela, Latin America, and the world.