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Everyday I become more convinced, there is no doubt in my mind, and as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can’t be transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. But I’m also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed from Washington,”
Hugo Chavez.


Chavez addressing the meeting
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias
Two days ago, Venezuelan President Chavez gave a speech at the Gigantinho Stadium at the closing session of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In this speech, President Chavez gave further indications of the direction in which the Bolivarian Revolution is moving. This speech, reported in Venezuelanalysis.com (Caracas, Jan 30, 2005), deserves to be studied by every conscious worker and revolutionary youth.

The Bolivarian Revolution started out as a national democratic revolution, aimed at freeing the people of Venezuela from the rule of a corrupt and degenerate oligarchy that acted as the local agency of imperialism. The Marxist tendency always stood firmly for the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution against its twin enemies, the oligarchy and imperialism, but also pointed out consistently that the only way in which the Revolution could save itself and advance to a final victory was by overthrowing landlordism and capitalism.

The recent nationalisation of Venepal and decree on agrarian reform marked a clear turn of the Revolution in the direction of a decisive confrontation with its enemies. These revolutionary measures will have been greeted enthusiastically by workers and peasants everywhere. However, they have aroused the fury of reactionaries from Washington to London. The enemies of the Revolution are preparing a new counteroffensive against it. The only way to defeat them is by striking new and decisive blows against them.

But here a problem arises. It is well known that some in the leadership of the Bolivarian Movement do not share the President’s enthusiasm for the Revolution and that some of his advisers are upset by his constant and outspoken criticisms of US imperialism. The President is clearly not impressed by this advice. In reference to the recommendations of some of his close advisors, he said that “some people say that we cannot say nor do anything that can irritate those in Washington.” He repeated the words of Argentine independence hero José de San Martin “let’s be free without caring about what anyone else says.”

These words are absolutely characteristic of the man. Hugo Chavez is a man of great courage and integrity. He has shown himself to be implacable in his attitude to U.S. imperialism. Chavez blamed the bad political relations between the U.S.A and Venezuela on the “permanent aggressions from there”. He criticized U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who recently asserted that Chavez was “a negative force in the region.” He said those relations will stay unhealthy as long as the U.S. continues its policies of aggression. “The most negative force in the world today is the government of the United States,” he said.

The President criticized the U.S. government for asking other countries to put pressure on Venezuela in the crisis with Colombia over the kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla activist in Caracas last December. “Nobody answered their call... they are more lonely every day.” Chavez added that U.S. imperialism is not invincible. “Look at Vietnam, look at Iraq and Cuba resisting, and now look at Venezuela.”

The Bolivarian leader pointed out that Venezuela was prepared to defend itself arms in hand against any aggression, and added that his country’s military forces are undergoing a period of modernisation of its weapon systems and resources, but asserted that it is aimed at defending the country’s sovereignty. “Venezuela will not attack anybody, but don’t attack Venezuela, because you will find us ready to defend our sovereignty, and the project we are carrying forward,” he declared.

Like Simon Bolivar, that other great leader of the national democratic revolution in Latin America, Hugo Chavez has understood that the Revolution cannot triumph if it is isolated in a single country. He has stated publicly that Trotsky was right against Stalin when he argued that the Revolution cannot ultimately succeed in an isolated state. He has publicly stated that the aim of the Bolivarian Revolution is to spread to every country in Latin America – and beyond.

In his speech Chavez highlighted the recent creation of Latin American satellite TV network TeleSur, “which will allow us to tell our people’s reality in our own words.” He added that TeleSur will be at the disposal of the people, not of governments. The Venezuelan President visited the Lagoa do Junco agrarian settlement in Tapes set up by Brazil’s Landless Movement (MST), and later held a press conference with more than 120 media organizations, where he criticized the U.S. government for claiming to lead a fight against terrorism while undermining democracy in Venezuela. These actions are not likely to earn him the plaudits of Washington!

Internationalist appeal

Despite the repeated provocations and aggressive conduct of US imperialism, the Venezuelan President always distinguishes carefully between the people of the USA and their rulers. Pointing out that all empires come to an end, he said. “One day the decay inside U.S. imperialism will end up toppling it, and the great people of Martin Luther King will be set free. The great people of the United States are our brothers, my salute to them.”

The President continued:

“We must start talking again about equality. The U.S. government talks about freedom and liberty, but never about equality. They are not interested in equality. This is a distorted concept of liberty. The U.S. people, with whom we share dreams and ideals, must free themselves... A country of heroes, dreamers, and fighters, the people of Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez.”

He also said: “We can’t wait for a sustained economic growth of 10 years in order to start reducing poverty through the trickledown effect, as the neoliberal economic theories propose.” The President lambasted the US-sponsored Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). He told the closing meeting: “The FTAA is death, what they go was mini-FTAA’s because U.S. imperialism did not have the strength to impose the neocolonial model of the FTAA.”

He paid tribute to the cooperation with Cuba, which, along with several Central American countries, receives Venezuelan oil at below market prices, in exchange for assistance in healthcare, education, agriculture and other areas. He explained that about 20,000 Cuban doctors work in Venezuela at free medical clinics in poor neighbourhoods, and that Venezuela has used a Cuban literacy method approved by UNESCO that has allowed more than 1.3 million Venezuelans learn how to read and write. He said Venezuela is using Cuban vaccines, which now allow poor children to be vaccinated against diseases such as hepatitis.

The President poured scorn on the stories spread by the western media about alleged plans by Fidel Castro and him to spread Communism in the Americas, overthrow governments and set up guerrillas, “after 10 years it seems like we haven’t been very successful.”

He said:

“Cuba has its own profile and Venezuela has its own, but we have respect for each other, but we celebrate accords and advance together for the interest of our peoples.” He said that any aggression against either country will have to confront the other, “because we are united in spirit from Mexico down to the Patagonia.”

“When imperialism feels weak, it resorts to brute force. The attacks on Venezuela are a sign of weakness, ideological weakness. Nowadays almost nobody defends neoliberalism. Up until three years ago, just Fidel [Castro] and I raised those criticisms at Presidential meetings. We felt lonely, as if we infiltrated those meetings.”

He continued:

“Just look at the internal repression inside the United States, the Patriot Act, which is a repressive law against U.S. citizens. They have put in jail a group of journalists for not revealing their sources. They won’t allow them to take pictures of the bodies of the dead soldiers, many of them Latinos, coming from Iraq. Those are signs of Goliath’s weaknesses.”

“The south also exists... the future of the north depends on the south. If we don’t make that better world possible, if we fail, and through the rifles of the U.S. Marines, and through Mr. Bush’s murderous bombs, if there is no coincidence and organisation necessary in the south to resist the offensive of neo-imperialism, and the Bush doctrine is imposed upon the world, the world will be destroyed,” he said.

Chavez warned that global warming would bring catastrophic events if no action is taken soon, in reference to uncontrolled or little regulated industrial activity. Chavez added that perhaps before those drastic changes take place, there will be rebellions everywhere “because the peoples are not going to accept in peace impositions such as neoliberalism or such as colonialism.”

“Capitalism must be transcended”

The most interesting part of his speech, however, was when he posed the need to pass from the national democratic tasks to the socialist transformation of society:

Everyday I become more convinced, there is no doubt in my mind, and as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can’t be transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. But I’m also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed from Washington,” Chavez said.

These words mark the first clear indication of a decisive shift in the Bolivarian Revolution. Until now, Chavez never suggested going beyond the bounds of capitalism. But the real march of events has posed the question with ever greater clarity: it is impossible for the national democratic revolution to succeed unless it makes deep inroads on private property, unless it takes the decisive step of expropriating the landlords, bankers and capitalists.

The only hope for the Venezuelan Revolution is to transform itself into a socialist revolution. But the model of so-called “real socialism” that collapsed in the Soviet Union holds no appeal to the masses in Venezuela, imbued in the spirit of democracy. What is required is to return to the democratic traditions of the October Revolution, to the programme of Lenin and Trotsky. Only this can guarantee success! In this respect, Hugo Chavez said: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition,” he added.

The President stated that Venezuela is trying to implement a “social economy”. He said,“It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything. That’s the debate we must promote around the world, and the WSF is a good place to do it.”

Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. From the very beginning, the control and administration of industry, society and the state must be in the hands of the working class itself. That is the only way to prevent the formation of a bureaucracy – that abominable cancer on the body of the workers’ state – and to ensure that the masses are actively identified with the Revolution from the start. The active participation of the masses is the first rule of socialism.

The President added that in spite of his admiration for Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, he said Che’s methods are not applicable. “That thesis of one, two, or three Vietnams, did not work, especially in Venezuela.” That is quite correct. Che’s aim of spreading the Revolution to Latin America was correct and necessary. But unfortunately the tactic he adopted was mistaken. This led to his tragic death which deprived the Revolution of an outstanding leader.

It is necessary to draw a balance sheet and speak clearly: over a period of decades, the tactic of guerrilla war has led to one defeat after another in Latin America. The Cuban Revolution took the US imperialists by surprise. But they learned the lessons and applied them. As a result, every time a “foco” appeared, they immediately crushed it before it could develop further – as we saw with the tragic fate of Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Guerrilla war is a necessary auxiliary to the proletarian revolution in countries like tsarist Russia or China where there was a big peasantry. But it makes little sense in Latin America where the big majority of the population lives in towns and cities. So-called urban guerrillaism is only individual terrorism under another name. That tactic was always rejected by Marxists – particularly the Russian Marxists. It is a recipe for defeat, as the people of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia know through bitter experience.

The great advantage of the Venezuelan Revolution is that it is a mainly urban revolution (though with important support in the peasantry) based on the active movement of the masses, in particular the working class and its natural allies, the urban poor, the unemployed, the revolutionary youth, the women and the progressive intelligentsia.

Parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle

Hopeless sectarians think that parliamentary struggle can play no role in the Revolution. This shows they have no understanding of Revolution – or anything else. The Russian Bolsheviks paid careful attention to the parliamentary struggle. They skilfully combined democratic slogans with the economic and social demands of the proletariat, linking them to the idea of taking power. That is the only way to build a mass base, to mobilise the masses and thus to create the objective conditions for a revolutionary overturn. There is no other way.

The Bolivarian Revolution began on the electoral plane and has dealt one blow after another against the counterrevolutionaries, culminating in the magnificent victory in the August 2004 recall referendum. By this means it has rallied the masses behind it. But the struggle is by no means over. It is a dialectical law that the struggle in parliament must eventually be resolved outside parliament. Reformists and parliamentary cretins do not understand this. That is why they always lead the movement to defeat – as in Chile. If the pro-bourgeois reformist wing of the Bolivarian Movement wins, the same fate awaits the people of Venezuela.

However, the pro-bourgeois and reformist elements have not yet won. The masses are pressing from below. They want the Revolution to advance, to strike blows against its enemies, to take power. The workers demand nationalisation of the factories, the peasants want to put an end to landlordism. This is a decisive fact! The Revolution has not ended, as the reformists claim. It has scarcely begun!

Whatever the limitations of the Bolivarian Movement, its vacillations and inconsistencies, its ambiguity and lack of a clear programme, it undoubtedly has the merit of having roused the masses to struggle, mobilising, inspiring and organising millions of oppressed people who were never organised before. That is a tremendous achievement! And the man who inspired this magnificent movement and provided it with a leadership and a banner is Hugo Chavez.

Those who try to denigrate Chavez, to belittle his role and also to attack the genuine Marxists for supporting him (while maintaining our organisational and political independence) show their complete inability to understand Revolution or the role of Marxists in a Revolution. What is necessary is not to criticize and grumble from the sidelines but to participate actively, shoulder to shoulder with the most advanced workers and revolutionary youth, explaining patiently what is needed, while at the same time pushing the movement forward. Anything else is just the sterile impotence of sectarianism.

Marx pointed out that for the masses one step forward of the real movement was worth a hundred correct programmes (and Marx knew very well the importance of a correct programme). Lenin said that for the masses an ounce of practice was worth a ton of theory (and Lenin never underestimated the importance of theory!). The masses in Venezuela have learned a lot from their experiences in the last few years. Their confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. Above all, they have developed a very keen sense of democracy. They will not tolerate bureaucracy and autocratic methods. This is the greatest guarantee against the danger of a future totalitarian state. It will be impossible (or at least very difficult) to impose a Stalinist dictatorship under such conditions. What is on the order of the day is a healthy, democratic workers’ state – like the original Soviet state established by Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917.

For a Socialist Federation of Latin America!

In his speech, President Chavez cited Marx’s phrase, quoted by the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, that “each revolution needs the whip of the counterrevolution to advance.” He listed actions by the opposition and the U.S. government to drive him out of power. “But we resisted, and now have gone onto the offensive. For instance, we recovered our oil industry... In 2004, from the oil industry budget we utilized $4 billion in social investments, education, health, micro-credits, scholarships, and housing, aimed at the poorest of the poor, what neoliberals call waste of money. But that is not a waste of money because it is aimed at empowering the poor so that they can defeat poverty.” He added that “that money before stayed out of Venezuela or just benefited the rich.”

He criticized privatizations by saying that “privatisation is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatised because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people from their rights.” All this is very true. It is necessary to fight against privatisation. But the real solution is to establish a genuine socialist plan of production under the democratic control and administration of the working class.

There were, of course, some elements in Chavez’s speech which Marxists would disagree with. He defended Brazilian President Luis “Lula” Da Silva, who has been sharply criticized by the Latin American left, and who was booed during his speech at the World Social Forum. Apart from the natural reluctance of a guest to criticize his host, Chavez naturally sees leaders like Lula in Brazil or Kirchner in Argentina, or the new leaders of Uruguay as potential allies in the fight against US imperialism. This also explains his favourable reference to President Putin of Russia.

There is nothing wrong in attempting to make use of every opening, no matter how small, on the diplomatic front that may help to break the wall of diplomatic isolation that Washington is attempting to construct around Venezuela. On the contrary, the Bolivarian Revolution is obliged to do so. It is compelled to seek diplomatic and trade relations with friendly states as long as the Revolution remains isolated. But no firm reliance can be placed on these diplomatic points of support. To imagine (as some people do) that the Bolivarian Revolution can depend on this is to lean upon a broken reed. These supposed points of support can collapse – or even turn into their opposite – in 24 hours.

The only really reliable point of support for the Bolivarian Revolution is the millions of oppressed workers and peasants of Latin America and the Labour Movement of the whole world. The Bolivarian Revolution already counts on the sympathy of millions of people. If it shows that it is capable of taking the decisive step of breaking the stranglehold of Capital and ending capitalist slavery once and for all, that passive sympathy will be immediately transformed into militant action. US imperialism would be paralysed and unable to intervene because it would be faced with uprisings everywhere – and a mass movement inside its own borders.

The revolutionary idea of Simon Bolivar has been betrayed for 200 years by the Latin American bourgeoisie. It will become a reality only when the workers of Venezuela and the whole of Latin America take the power into their hands. What is needed is a bold lead. Armed with the correct policies and programme, Venezuela can give it.

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UNT organiser Ricardo Galindez spoke to Ramon Samblas about the progress of this new trade union organisation in Venezuela and the latest events that have taken place in this Latin American country. An edited version of this interview also appeared in today's left-wing daily The Morning Star.
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The article in The Morning Star


When the bosses’ lockout was defeated by the spontaneous and determined action of the Venezuelan masses, Ricardo Galindez did not hesitate to join others in walking out from the hopelessly corrupt CTV (Venezuelan Labour Confederation) and its Executive Committee in the State of Lara and join with other genuine activists and rank and file members of the trade union movement in Venezuela to form the UNT (National Workers Union) – now the legitimate voice of Venezuelan labour. Ricardo Galindez, a trade union organiser with more than 20 years experience in the movement has been engaged during the last two years in the titanic task of building a trade union force which backs the movement of the majority of the Venezuelan working people – the movement popularly known as the Bolivarian revolution headed by Hugo Chavez.

His activity has earned him the hatred of the Venezuelan oligarchy and physical attacks on himself by the bosses’ thugs, who, on one occasion, shot him in the chest. Nevertheless, this is not enough to defeat the beliefs or the energy of a man who sees, in the measures taken by the Chavez government, “a chance for the people to enjoy democratic rights like free education and healthcare”. To this he adds that “these gains have revolutionary features because they are against the interests of the capitalists of the world”.

One of the issues that pops up in our conversation is Venepal. This paper mill was occupied and run by the workers after being abandoned by the owners. The decision of Hugo Chavez to nationalise the company under workers’ control is more than welcomed by Ricardo who states “we support President Chavez in his decision. A government that rules in favour of the bosses’ would have never done something like that. The decision is painful for the imperialists and the bosses who deny the ability of the workers to create a new model of production where the aim is to serve the majority of society, not just the wallets of few people”. He then adds: “what the Venepal workers want is to create an endogenous plan where the company will provide cheap paper for the “misiones” (social programs) and the estate of land which belongs to the company will be used by landless peasants”.

We also have time to comment on the state takeover of the massive “El Charcote” ranch, which belonged to the British company Vestey. While he shows his support for the measure he also expresses his concerns about how the issue has been handled by the imperialist paid press and their US masters. In his opinion it is clear that “the imperialists are seeking to create a diplomatic impasse with the UK”. This is not the only tactic the US administration and its allies are undertaking. He says “the kidnap by Columbian agents inside Venezuela of human rights activist Rodrigo Granda is such a provocation. The Venezuelan government has always handed over to the Colombian government all those alleged to be members of the guerrillas or the “narcos”. There was no necessity to come over to Caracas, bribe corrupt policemen and kidnap Granda, who was not even being ‘officially’ sought by the Colombian authorities. This is a provocation of the Bush administration and the Columbian leader Uribe is a mere puppet here”

UNT vs CTV

There is no doubt that the issue of the trade union question in Venezuela is one of the most misleading ones. For almost two years now the labour movement has been striving to get international support from other sister organisations all over the planet. On top of all the problems the new genuine trade union is facing, they also face the lack of official recognition. But Ricardo views the process with considerable optimism and points out how through the UNT the working class is playing its full role in the Venezuelan Revolution.

“Working people have increased their active role in the process. They participated in the mass movements which followed April 11 (the date of the coup d’etat) to rescue our president. Later on we created the UNT which was born weak but has gained strength over the last two years,” he says.

Ricardo warns us not to use membership figures as the only measure of strength of both trade union confederations. “They (the CTV) always inflate the figures,” Ricardo says. The key is rather to analyse the level of collective bargaining. In the last period the UNT has been involved in the organising of companies like Ford, Goodyear, Firestone, the Caracas Underground and “the glorious oil workers”. In the public sector the UNT is dealing with collective bargaining in the health service and the Department of Social Security. Another good measure of the organisation is the size of the May Day marches. In 2003 both union bodies had marches with a similar size but in 2004 the UNT march was much larger than the CTV one. Ricardo is confident that for next May Day the UNT march will outnumber the CTV once again.

The fate of the Bolivarian Revolution

From Ricardo’s point of view the best thing about the Bolivarian Revolution is that the reforms and concessions given to the masses are based on the ability of the masses to mobilise and create new forms of society. As a socialist he sees the revolutionary process in his country as a dynamic and living process. He usually likes to link the Cuban experience to the Bolivarian Revolution in his remarks.

He says that “revolutions are always dynamic and sometimes the social dynamics go beyond the original aims of the movement. The best example is the Cuban Revolution. It was a movement started by democrats and due to the attacks of imperialism on the democratic regime they took up socialist measures against imperialist aggressions”.

To sum up the interview we asked him whether he has a message for the British labour movement. He does not hesitate to appeal to all trade unionists to “discontinue to recognise the CTV, which is the executive arm of the policies of imperialism, and support the UNT. For this purpose we also need campaigns like Hands Off Venezuela, so please support the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign.”

Ricardo Galindez has been brought to Britain by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Hands Off Venezuela has organised a meeting in the Houses of Parliament (Grand Committee room) on February 2 at 19.30. Ricardo will share the platform with John McDonnell, Mick Rix and Jeremy Dear.

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“Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defense. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertain-ing the deepest sympathy for the struggle that Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer greatly appreciated this moral support.

“The international proletariat has no reason to identify its program with the program of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing color, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organization of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.”

(Leon Trotsky: Mexico And British Imperialism, Socialist Appeal, 25 June, 1938)


Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. The nationalisation of Venepal under decree number 3438 marks a sharp new turn in the situation. It is a blow against the corrupt and rotten Venezuelan oligarchy and the imperialist robbers who stand behind it. It will be welcomed enthusiastically by the workers of all countries, in the same way that Trotsky welcomed the nationalisation of the Mexican oil industry by President Lazaro Cardenas in 1938.

Although in itself it does not yet mean a qualitative change in the class nature of the Venezuelan Revolution, this bold measure certainly signifies a step in the right direction. It indicates that the working class is intervening in the Revolution with increasing determination, pressing for its independent class interests, demanding a break with capitalism and pushing the Revolution forwards. This, and this alone, can guarantee the final and decisive victory.

The Venezuelan revolution began as a national democratic revolution that did not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism and private property. Despite this fact, it immediately aroused the hatred and the implacable opposition of the Venezuelan oligarchy and its masters in Washington and of the bourgeoisie and reactionaries of Latin America and the rest of the world.

From the very beginning, the international Marxist tendency represented by Marxist.com has consistently defended the Venezuelan Revolution against its enemies. It is the elementary duty of all workers and progressive people everywhere to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against the conspiracies of imperialism and the oligarchy. At the same time, the Marxists defend their own policies, ideas and programme. We stand firmly on the basis of the proletariat and, within the general process of the national democratic revolution, defend its independent class demands. Our slogan is that of Lenin: “march separately and strike together!”

President Hugo Chavez, like Lazaro Cardenas, has shown himself to be a courageous champion of the poor and oppressed and a fearless fighter against imperialism. Until now he did not pose the question of socialism. But by boldly challenging the privileges of the ruling class and resisting the pressure of imperialism, he inevitably placed himself on a collision course with the forces of the old society. This has a logic and a dynamic of its own.

The whole logic of the revolution tends to exacerbate the contradictions between the Venezuelan landlords and capitalists on the one hand, backed by imperialism, and the Venezuelan workers and poor peasants, backed by the masses in Latin America and the world Labour Movement, on the other. Not to see this fact would be unpardonable stupidity. Not to see that the struggle must be fought out to the end and can only result in the decisive victory of one class over another would be reformist blindness.

The destiny of the Venezuelan revolution will be decided by the class struggle. The final outcome is not yet sure. What is completely sure is that the only force that has saved the Revolution time and again from defeat is the masses: the workers and poor peasants, who have repeatedly demonstrated their unshakable loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution, their willingness to fight and to make the utmost sacrifices to defend it against its enemies. This is the real base of the Revolution, its true strength, its only hope.

Muddle headed reformists try to blur the differences between different classes in the Revolution. They speak of the “people” as a homogeneous bloc, when in reality it is an empty abstraction that conceals a sharp difference of interests. What does the Venezuelan worker have in common with the capitalists? What does the Venezuelan peasant have in common with the landlords? What does the Venezuelan small shopkeeper have in common with the bankers and moneylenders?

At every decisive turn in the Revolution, the role of the different classes has become manifest. The bankers, landlords and capitalists have resisted the Revolution, sabotaged it and attempted to overthrow it. And who saved the Revolution at every stage? It was the masses, and the working class in the first place, who saved the Revolution in the coup of April 2002, and it was the workers who saved it at the time of the bosses’ lockout that was designed to paralyse the economy and bring it to its knees. Finally, it was the masses who rallied magnificently to the defence of the Revolution in the August referendum that inflicted a crushing blow to the counterrevolution.

The threat of counterrevolution

All these events were great victories that demonstrated the colossal power of the masses, once they are mobilised to fight for a better world. We celebrated these victories, but at the same time we warned that the war was not over, that the enemies of the Revolution were not decisively defeated, and that they would regroup and organise new counteroffensives, one after the other.

Events in recent weeks have proved that we were right. Those who imagined that the referendum result would silence the enemies of the revolution have been proven wrong. The imperialists are not in the slightest interested in the rules of formal democracy. They see the Venezuelan revolution as a serious threat to their most vital interests and will not stop until they have destroyed it. Condoleeza Rice was no sooner installed in her new position than she attacked Venezuela. That shows that Washington remains intransigently hostile to Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. No amount of fine words or diplomatic gestures will appease the US imperialists!

George Bush and his allies inside Venezuela will stop at nothing to eliminate Hugo Chavez and liquidate the Venezuelan Revolution. The only real allies of the Venezuelan Revolution are the masses of workers and poor peasants of Latin America and the world Labour Movement. The kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla by Colombian agents in collaboration with elements of the Venezuelan armed forces indicates what was evident to all but the blindest of the blind: that US imperialism and its puppets in Bogota have not abandoned their intrigues against the Venezuelan Revolution.

The counterrevolutionaries remain active. New conspiracies are being hatched. The kidnapping in Caracas showed that Washington is still using its puppets in Bogotá to attack and undermine the Venezuelan Revolution. Its armed agents operate with impunity on Venezuelan soil. The fact that they were aided by elements within the Venezuelan armed forces indicates that counterrevolutionary elements still exist within the state and are conspiring with the enemies of the Revolution at home and abroad.

The power of US imperialism is very great but it has definite limits. Washington cannot permit itself the luxury of intervening militarily in Venezuela at a time when it is bogged down in an unwinnable conflict in Iraq. But it can intervene indirectly, using Colombia and the OAS. After the scandal of the kidnapping, Peru, Mexico and Brazil have all hastened to offer their services to “mediate”, that is, to place Venezuela in the accused bench for allegedly allowing foreign guerrillas to enter its territory, while drawing attention away from the criminal activities of the Colombian government and armed forces and their paymasters in Washington.

Against the power of imperialism and the oligarchy, the Bolivarian Revolution has its own powerful reserves of support: the power of the masses in struggle for their rights, the workers, the peasants, the revolutionary youth and the progressive intelligentsia. The US imperialists have the support of their hired mercenaries in Colombia and their despicable jackals in the OAS. But the Bolivarian Revolution has infinitely greater points of support – the oppressed masses of the whole of Latin America and the working class of the entire world.

Just as Simon Bolivar understood the need to carry the flame of revolution to the whole of Latin America, so the modern inheritors of Bolivar have the same mission. They can succeed where he failed – on one condition, that they do not allow themselves to be hypnotised by slavish respect for private property, bourgeois legality and the nation state.

Clarity is needed!

Genuine Marxists (as opposed to sectarian chatterboxes) have energetically supported the Venezuelan Revolution. But support for the Chavez government against imperialism and the counterrevolutionary oligarchy does not necessarily mean uncritical acceptance of everything that is done in Caracas. Like every successful revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution has attracted a large number of “friends” and admirers – some of whom only yesterday were its sternest critics. These are fair weather friends who will turn their backs on the Revolution the moment it finds itself in difficulties. With “friends” like these one does not need enemies!

These “friends of Venezuela” provide a regular chorus of praise and adulation. They insist that we should not criticise the government but simply nod in agreement. The workers and revolutionaries of Venezuela do not need flattery. As Lenin once said, talk, rhetoric and flattery have ruined more than one revolution. What is needed is an honest and frank appraisal of the Revolution, its strong points and weaknesses, its successes and failures. Only on the basis of an honest discussion can the Revolution learn and go forward. What is needed is clarity.


Unfortunately, the programme of the Bolivarians is not always very clear. Even the present measures in relation to Venepal are not entirely clear. The government has said that it will invest a lot of money in the company in order to make it viable. The state will be the owner at the beginning but there are hints that afterwards it will be given over to the workers as a cooperative as payment for the back wages that are owed to them. There has also been talk of co-management between the workers and the state (which could mean a whole range of different things, from workers being represented in the directors board, to workers control, etc).

It is necessary to clarify all these questions and to open a debate on the future direction, not just of Venepal, but of the Bolivarian Revolution itself. In this debate the Marxists will give critical support to the leaders of the national democratic revolution. We will say: “This is a start, an important start – but only a start. The nationalisation of Venepal is very good, as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. One swallow does not make a summer, and one nationalised firm does not make a socialist revolution. However, in order to succeed, the national democratic revolution must transform itself into a socialist revolution.”

Nevertheless, it is necessary to see the other side of the question. The real strength of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution was that it has brought the masses to their feet. Once the working class enters the arena of struggle, it acquires a dynamic and a movement of its own. The strength of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela lies not in its understanding of theory but in its daily practice. Its deeds speak louder than its words. Its actions far outstrip its consciousness. But sooner or later the masses will become conscious of the real meaning of their actions. They will come to understand the objective necessity of a radical break with capitalism. The recent speeches of President Chavez are already an anticipation of this.

Marx once pointed out that for the masses, one real step forward was worth a hundred correct programmes. And Lenin said that for the masses an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. The working class, whether in Venezuela, Britain or Russia, does not learn from books, but from experience. “Life teaches” says the Russian proverb. The workers learn from events, especially great events like the Venezuelan Revolution. They are learning fast through active participation. It was the pressure of the workers from below that led to the nationalisation of Venepal, and this in its turn will strengthen the tendency towards the statisation of the productive forces, towards a break with capitalism, towards a democratic socialist plan of production.

“Appetite comes with eating”

There is an old proverb: “appetite comes with eating”. The nationalisation of Venepal is a big step forward. Its great merit is that is has broken the ice and opened the flood gates. Workers will be asking questions: why should nationalisation be limited to factories that are bankrupt or threaten to close? Why should the state always nationalise the losses and privatise the profits? In order that the nationalised enterprises should be viable, they must be part of a general plan of production. That will not be possible as long as key sections of the economy, such as banking and credit, remains in private hands.

The argument that the Bolivarian revolution must not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism, must respect private property and so on, is sometimes put forward by certain Bolivarian leaders. It is presented as a very “realistic” point of view, as opposed to the supposed “utopia” of socialism. In reality, this argument itself is the most miserable form of utopianism. The idea that the Revolution must confine itself within the iron straitjacket of capitalism is empty formalism. Life teaches us otherwise! At every step this argument clashes with the demands of reality.

The bosses express their bitter hatred of the revolution, they sabotage production, lay off workers, condemn their families to hunger and conspire with imperialism and the counterrevolution. The workers know this very well. They cannot understand how the interests of the Revolution can be served by conciliating its enemies, allowing them to maintain their stranglehold over key points of the national economy.

For all these reasons the workers are demanding nationalisation and workers’ control. They wish to help the Bolivarian government by fighting against its enemies, by driving out the landlords and capitalists, by concentrating power in the hands of the only people who really have the interests of the Revolution at heart – the workers and peasants and their natural allies, the urban poor, the revolutionary youth, the soldiers, the women and the progressive intelligentsia.

Once the economic power of the bourgeoisie is broken, once the land, the banks and the industries are in the hands of the state, it would be possible to mobilise all the productive capacity of the nation in a common, democratically planned socialist economy. Very quickly it would be possible to win the war against poverty and misery, to raise the whole country to a new and higher level.

The Bolivarian movement has many strengths, and a number of important weaknesses. The main weakness of the Bolivarian movement is its lack of theory. Theory occupies a place in revolutions that military strategy occupies in war. A mistaken strategy in war will lead inevitably to mistakes in tactics and practical operations. It will undermine the morale of the troops and lead to all kinds of blunders, defeats and unnecessary loss of life.

It is the same in a revolution. Mistakes in theory will sooner or later be reflected in mistakes in practice. A mistake in everyday life can often be rectified. Everyday mistakes are not usually matters of life and death. But revolutions are life and death struggles and mistakes can be paid for very dearly. The task of the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current is to provide the necessary theoretical and programmatic clarity, not by pontificating from the sidelines, but by energetically participating in the movement, fighting in the front ranks and pushing it forward at every stage.

Imperialism and capitalism

The central problem facing not only the Venezuelan Revolution but the people of the whole world is imperialism and capitalism. The giant corporations are trying to control the whole world and plunder it for profit. They are supported by the big imperialist bullies, in the first place the USA, which enjoys unprecedented power and uses it to make and unmake governments and subject whole countries and continents to its will. Not one of the problems facing the masses can be solved without an all-out struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

It is impossible to achieve our ends without a radical break with capitalism. In order to solve problems like unemployment or the lack of houses and schools it is necessary for the government to introduce economic planning – to draw up an economic plan based on the needs of the majority, not the profit of the minority. But you cannot plan what you do not control and you cannot control what you do not own. As long as the land, the banks and the big industry remain in private hands, no solution is possible.

That is the central challenge that faces the Venezuelan Revolution at the present time. The Revolution has begun, but it is not finished. As a matter of fact, the main task remains to be accomplished. What is the central problem? Only this: that a number of key economic levers remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The problem here is both economic and political. The oligarchy will never be reconciled to the Revolution. Although up till now its property has hardly been touched, although it still enjoys its wealth and privileges, although its still holds in its hands powerful means of communication in the shape of the main daily papers and TV channels, which is uses to spew out a daily torrent of filth, lies and slander against the democratically elected government – despite all this, it is not satisfied. And it will never be satisfied until it has overthrown the government and crushed the masses under its feet.

Workers’ control is a big step forward, and we must encourage it. It challenges the “sacred right” of the capitalists and bureaucrats to manage industry, while giving the workers priceless experience in administration and control that can be put to good use in a socialist planed economy. However, as long as key elements of the economy remain in private hands, as long as there is not a genuine nationalised planned economy, the experience of workers’ control will inevitably have only a partial, one-sided and unsatisfactory character.

The President said yesterday that the expropriation of Venepal was an exceptional measure: “We are not going to take away land, if it is yours it is yours”. But he also said that “any factories closed or abandoned, we are going to take them over. All of them.” And he added: “I invite the workers’ leaders to follow on this path”. These words will not fall on deaf ears. Workers in other occupied factories will take this as a signal to mobilise and demand that the Bolivarian government expropriate their owners. This is the correct road!

What is necessary is to nationalise the land, the banks and what is left of private big industry. That will enable us to plan the economy and mobilise the productive forces in the benefit of the majority. Hugo Chavez stood in two elections and obtained substantial majorities in both. He has a big majority in parliament. He has won a crushing victory in the referendum. What is to stop the government now from introducing an emergency law (decreto ley) nationalising the property of the oligarchy? It would be possible to explain to the country on television the reasons for this (there are a number of very sound reasons). At the same time, an appeal should be made to the workers and peasants not to wait for parliament (which tends to be slow) but to take immediate action, occupying the land and the factories.

Dialectics and revolution

Marxism is based on a definite method – the dialectical method. This explains that every process inevitably leads to a critical point (to use a phrase from physics) where quantity becomes transformed into quality. That is the essence of a revolution. There is a definite point where the power of the old ruling class is decisively shattered and the whole situation changes course. Unless and until this point is reached, the revolution cannot be said to be accomplished.

Sectarian blockheads have complained that we say that there is a revolution in Venezuela. These people talk a lot about revolution but they have not the slightest idea of what a revolution is. When a revolution is actually taking place before their very eyes they cannot even see it! The fact that for several years millions of workers and peasants have been mobilising to take their lives and destinies into their hands, fighting reaction in the streets, in the factories, on the estates and in the barracks – all this goes completely over their heads. They go scuttling back to their libraries to write “learned” articles quoting from Lenin and Trotsky. Not wishing to disturb their beautiful reveries, we will leave them in peace and get on with the pressing task of actually intervening in the Revolution.

In Venezuela we can definitely say that the Revolution has begun, but can we say that it has been completed? Can we say that there has been a decisive change in property relations and the state to the point that there can be no going back? Some people have actually said this. But this view is not only wrong but irresponsible and harmful to the revolutionary cause. Hugo Chavez himself rejected this when, in my presence, he compared the Venezuelan Revolution to the myth of Sisyphus in Greek legend. The masses heave and strain to push a massive boulder to the top of the hill, only to be pushed back again before reaching the summit.

This analogy is quite correct. The Venezuelan Revolution is not yet irreversible. Despite all the heroic efforts of the masses, and despite all their undoubted achievements, the boulder can still roll back down the hillside, crushing many lives in the process. The point of a qualitative change has not yet been reached in Venezuela and will not be reached until the nettle is grasped and the landlords and capitalists are expropriated. The nationalisation of Venepal is an important step in this direction. Now other, even more decisive steps are necessary.

President Hugo Chavez has consistently revealed an unerring revolutionary instinct. He has striven to express the revolutionary instincts of the masses. That is his great strength! It has been shown yet again with the nationalisation of Venepal. However, at the tops of the Bolivarian movement there are all kinds of people. The President is surrounded by advisers, not all of whom are firm revolutionaries. Not all of them share the President’s faith in the masses. They incline towards compromise, concessions, and so-called “realism” – that is, they tend towards policies that, if accepted, would undermine the Revolution and wreck it totally.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, Chavez said “here we are creating a new model, and that is why in Washington they are angry... our model of development implies a change in the productive apparatus. The working class must be united, learn and participate”. He said correctly that capitalism is a model based on slavery, “and this is why in Washington they are angry, because we want to liberate ourselves from capitalism, in the same way that they were angry many years ago with the ideas of Liberator Simon Bolivar”.

He added that some might be annoyed at what is happening in Venezuela, but “they will continue to be annoyed by the revolutionary process, because no one is going to dislodge us from it.” That is the kind of lead the masses are looking for! It has nothing in common with the half-hearted and cowardly measures proposed by the reformists. The Revolution cannot stop half way! It must go from strength to strength, striking blows against its enemies, or else it will fail.

President Chavez also said that the “role of the workers in this model is fundamental and this is the difference between this model and the capitalist model”. He emphasised that “it is necessary to change the productive relations”. “Capitalism wants to annihilate the workers... here we are carrying out a process of liberation of the workers, and this is why they are annoyed in Washington”. The liberation of the workers from capitalist slavery is only possible through a fundamental alteration in the productive relations – but this cannot mean anything else but the socialist revolution.

That is a thousand times true. But it is also necessary to draw all the conclusions. The Venezuelan Revolution is already coming into conflict with the narrow limitations of capitalism. It cannot accept these limitations. It must either break through them, tear them down and boldly strike out on a new course, or else it will in the end be forced into retreat and be defeated.

As was pointed out by Jorge Martin yesterday, the measures of nationalisation must be extended to all sectors of the economy that are under monopoly and imperialist control, such as the banking system (the lion’s share of which is in the hands of two Spanish multinationals), the telecom sector (in the hands of US multinationals), the food distribution sector (in the hands of a couple of Venezuelan companies owned by known coup organisers), and others.

Workers of Venezuela! Take the road of struggle! Occupy the factories under workers’ control! Demand that they be nationalised! Drive out the counterrevolutionary bosses! The Venezuelan Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution or it will not triumph at all.

The question is posed point blank: who shall prevail? There are only two possibilities before the people of Venezuela. Either the Revolution will eliminate the power of the oligarchy, and then spread the revolution to the rest of Latin America, or the oligarchy, in conjunction with US imperialism, will eliminate the Revolution. No third way is possible

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Chavez talks to Venepal worker
after signing the decree.
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias

On the morning of January 19th, in the Ayacucho room of the Presidential Palace in Caracas, and with the presence of Venepal workers and trade union leaders, Chavez signed decree number 3438 which expropriates Venepal. From now on it will be co-managed by the workers and the state.

This is a very important victory for the workers of Venepal but more than that it is a massive step forward for the Bolivarian revolution.

Venepal is one of the main producers of paper and cardboard in Venezuela and its plant is located in Morón, in the industrial state of Carabobo. At one point it employed a total of 1,600 workers, controlled 40% of the national market and was one of the main Latin American producers in this sector. But the company’s management allowed the paper mill to slowly lose market shares and revenues. In April 2002, at the time of the short lived military coup against Chávez, some of its main shareholders were present at the swearing in ceremony for the new, illegitimate, “president” Pedro Carmona. During the bosses’ lockout against the Chávez government in December 2002-January 2003 the workers resisted attempts by the employers to paralyse the plant.

In July 2003, the owners declared bankruptcy and the workers responded by occupying the plant and starting to run production under workers’ control. Rowan Jimenez, a trade union activist and member of the action committee, explained how during the occupation, “the workers organised production, broke all productivity records and reduced unproductive waste to a level never seen before”, (El Topo Obrero interview, 16/09/04). After a 77-day long struggle an uneasy truce was reached. But that was not to last. On September 7th of last year, the company again ceased operations and the workers’ struggle started again.

The Venepal paper mill.
Picture: CMR

From the outset of the struggle the workers adopted the demand for nationalisation under workers’ control that was being proposed by the comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current (The Workers’ Mole). There were a number of demonstrations in Moron and in Caracas, and solidarity actions were being organised by workers in other factories, particularly those organised by the Carabobo region of the newly established trade union federation, the UNT.

After months of struggle, finally, on January 13th, when a delegation of Venepal workers went to Caracas to demand a solution, the National Assembly declared Venepal and its installations to be of “public usefulness and social interest”. This was the prelude for Chavez signing decree no. 3438. This is the result of the struggle and the resilience of the workers in Venepal who consciously sought the support of the local community for their struggle.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, in front of a large number of Venepal workers and UNT trade union leaders, Chavez said “here we are creating a new model, and that is why in Washington they are angry... our model of development implies a change in the productive apparatus. The working class must be united, learn and participate”.

Edgar Peña, General Secretary SUTIP

Before Chavez, the oldest worker in Venepal took the stage and described their four month long struggle and the sacrifices they had had to make. Edgar Peña, general secretary of the Venepal workers’ union explained how the workers had drafted a project that proved the company could be profitable and how this paved the way for expropriation. Peña also asked for National Guard protection of the installations, since there are still those bent on sabotaging them. He also explained how, when they resume production in a few weeks’ time, the first products will be destined for the government’s social programmes (Misiones), “for the benefit of the working class”.

In his intervention, Chavez stated that capitalism is a model based on slavery, “and this is why in Washington they are angry, because we want to liberate ourselves from capitalism, in the same way that they were angry many years ago with the ideas of Libertador Simon Bolivar”.

Referring to Condolezza Rice’s recent criticisms of Venezuela, he said that there are good remedies in the market to cure ulcers, “for those who might need it”. He added that some might be annoyed at what is happening in Venezuela, but “they will continue to be annoyed by the revolutionary process, because no one is going to dislodge us from it”.

Chavez added that the “role of the workers in this model is fundamental and this is the difference between this model and the capitalist model”. He emphasised that “it is necessary to change the productive relations”.

Adressing Venepal workers
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias

“Capitalism wants to annihilate the workers... here we are carrying out a process of liberation of the workers, and this is why they are annoyed in Washington”.

Paraphrasing Lenin, Chavez said, “neoliberal capitalism is the highest stage of capitalist madness.”

“In Venezuela we are at war, but not invading other countries or violating other countries’ sovereignty... here we are at war against misery and poverty”.

He explained that the recovery of factories on the part of the state is aimed at changing the conditions of exploitation the workers have been submitted to by the capitalist model and the recovery of the country’s industrial capacity. He added that these new companies should not be viewed through the lens of state capitalism, but rather as co-management. “We must not fear the workers since they are the soul of the companies”.

Chavez also announced the “recovery” of a maize processing plant and all of the basic industries in Guyana (this means the massive SIDOR steelworks amongst others).

Though he said that “today’s expropriation of Venepal is an exceptional measure... we are not going to take away land, if it is yours it is yours”, he was also clear that “any factories closed or abandoned, we are going to take them over. All of them.”

“I invite the workers’ leaders to follow on this path” he said. This is a clear appeal to workers in other factories who were also involved in the struggle of the occupied factories in July-August 2003, like the CNV, Fenix, Industrial de Perfumes, CODIMA, among others. Workers in these factories have already started to remobilise.

This is without doubt a massive step forward in the right direction. But it must also be extended to all those other sectors of the economy that are under monopoly and imperialist control. This should include the banking system (which is largely in the hands of the two Spanish multinationals), the telecoms sector (in the hands of US multinationals), the food distribution sector (in the hands of a couple of Venezuelan companies owned by known coup organisers), and others. This needs to be done, as in the case of Venepal, under workers’ control. In this way the whole economy could be planned to the benefit of the majority of working people. This would be the only way of guaranteeing the final victory of the revolution. Workers’ control or management, if it remains isolated in one single company, cannot, in the longer term, fundamentally solve the problem.

Through its own experience, the Bolivarian revolution has come up against the wall of capitalism. Now it needs to break it down and move to a democratically planned socialist economy in order to win the war against poverty and misery.

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Sunday, January 16th, Caracas, Venezuela. The kidnapping of Colombian guerrilla FARC's "foreign minister" last month, outside a Caracas cafe in broad daylight, allegedly by bribed members of the Venezuelan army's elite counter-kidnapping division, has sparked a crisis that threatens to further polarise the people of both countries, especially regarding public opinion of their Presidents. On Thursday, Hugo Chavez recalled his Ambassador in Bogota, which was followed by Friday's announcement of a trade freeze until Alvaro Uribe publicly apologised. Although this doesn't seem likely (in fact the Colombian government has responded by repeating this was standard operating procedure for them and they would do it again) the fact is that Colombia needs Venezuela's trade a lot more than Venezuela needs Colombia's, with over $2-billion flowing between the two last year, much of it fuelled by Venezuelan oil. If this was a poker game, Chavez would have a high stack of chips backing up some pretty strong cards. On the other hand, Uribe would be dealing from a marked deck with a US-made cannon under the table.

Rodrigo Granda was abducted in the Venezuelan capital on December 13th while receiving a mobile phone call, and smuggled to the Colombian border town of Cucuta where he was officially arrested. He had been present at the "World Forum of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity" in Caracas the previous week, along with over six hundred delegates from Venezuela and around the world, although both the government and organisers say they didn't invite him. The Colombian government at first denied that Granda had been apprehended in Caracas, and have insisted throughout that in no way have they violated Venezuelan sovereignty. The Venezuelan government were initially quiet on the matter, and it wasn't until Noam Chomsky and others sent Chavez an open letter asking him to investigate involvement by members of the political police, DISIP, that they admitted rogue security officials were believed to be behind the kidnapping. A couple of days later, on his re-launched new-look Sunday talk-show, Alo Presidente, Chavez accused the Colombian police of lying when they said Granda had been captured in Cucuta. On Wednesday the Colombian government admitted they had paid for Granda's abduction and had specifically sought out bounty-hunters, thus they claim never violating Venezuelan territory with their state security forces. (They didn't mention the four Colombian security officials who were temporarily detained in early December for allegedly taking photos of military buildings in the city of Maracay, only one hour from Caracas.) Venezuela responded the next day by recalling its Ambassador. It is still not clear whether the trade freeze applies to all business between the two countries or just government contracts, such as the giant gas and oil pipeline deal, which both buys a bit of regional peace and opens up delivery to Venezuela's newest energy customer, China.

Chavez' confidence comes from the fact that there's no doubt this was a scandalous act by Uribe, and even the middle-class opposition anti-Bolivarians in Venezuela realise this. They consider suspending trade a massive over-reaction, but they see Chavez as having to do something in order to show the FARC he's on their side. It goes without saying that they are convinced these Colombian "narco-guerrilla" are arm-in-arm with Chavez (an image the FARC, who indeed describe themselves as Bolivarian, don't exactly go out of their way to dispel). They claim to have evidence that Granda illegally gained Venezuelan citizenship, which the government says is fraudulent. This latest claim doesn't seem to have been picked up by the international media yet but they are reporting that a militant Bolivarian party from Maracaibo, the oil capital near the border, accused the CIA of being behind the abduction and then promptly had their headquarters searched by Venezuelan police. Maracaibo is in one of only two states still with an opposition governor after October's local elections.

To put this in context, much of the middle-class here do believe some rather odd stuff; for example, many still maintain that the coup of 2002 simply did not happen. Rather, there had been a "constitutional crisis" whereby Chavez resigned leaving a "power vacuum", which for some reason Pedro Carmona, head-honcho of "civil society" (who in their opinion went a bit over the top during his brief dictatorship, dissolving the National Assembly and tearing up the Constitution - not that they complained at the time) filled out of public duty. (Why the Vice-President didn't assume command I've yet to find out.) They also maintain that the referendum of August 2004 was fraudulent, and in fact +they+ won with 60% of the vote. I'll admit it's difficult to know what to say to that. Mention the Carter Center or the OAS - well, they're just Chavez stooges. As for why Washington (grudgingly) accepted the results, the answer is they need the oil, and therefore stability in Venezuela. Luckily the anti-Bolivarians have largely given up trying to tear up the Constitution again and there doesn't seem to be any appetite for next year's general election fight. Their favourite slogan is, "If you don't like it, move to Miami!" (This is said in response to almost any complaint.)

Back to the crisis: Friday night Bogota responded to the trade freeze with a carefully-worded, nine-point legal-type argument, spelling out their justification for hiring bounty-hunters to snatch state enemies abroad. Apart from hypocritically claiming the "right to free itself from the nightmare of terrorism", Uribe's government's main thrust is summed up by their third point, that "the UN prohibits member countries from harbouring known terrorists 'actively or passively'". The problem is that the FARC are only classified as "terrorists" by Colombia and the US, not by the UN. Also there was no warrant out for Granda's arrest, which Interpol confirmed to Chavez, until January 9th, almost a month after Colombia had him in captivity. Chavez responded to Uribe's statement a few hours later with a great line: What would be the reaction to his bribing of Colombian commandos into kidnapping Pedro Carmona (currently claiming asylum in Colombia, having fled from house-arrest following the coup to the Colombian Embassy and then given safe-passage by Chavez out of the country) and smuggling him into Venezuela where he's wanted for a quite clear-cut case of treason?

Then Saturday the US weighed in, with their Ambassador in Bogota backing Uribe's nine-point brief "100%". It's difficult not to imagine them having a little chuckle over all this as the pipeline plan was certainly not in Washington's interests. Uribe requested a regional summit at the Presidential level, but Chavez has insisted instead on an exclusive head-to-head in Venezuela. The bottom line is the Colombian government must apologise, not just to Chavez but to all the Venezuelan people. No matter who you're after, it is intolerable to hire mercenaries (almost certainly active state security officials, though Uribe won't say who he paid) in order to extra-judicially abduct someone and smuggle them out of the country. That's the reason we have international law, diplomatic norms, extradition processes, things like that. Screw Lord Spam's squealing about squatters farming "his" fertile pastures, I wonder what the UN, Human Rights Watch or even the UK government will have to say about Colombia's clearly provocative violation of Venezuelan sovereignty? As Chávez pointed out to Uribe just a few days ago, "You can't fight crime with more crime."

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The oil supply to the US from Venezuela has been cut once in recent years. The reason for this cut was the bosses’ lockout at Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) that took place at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. Ironically, the lockout was backed by US imperialism.

However, the recent trip of President Chavez to China has made top ranking members of the US administration uneasy. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congress investigative agency, is studying the issue at the request of Richard Lugar – Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest exporter of oil, supplies almost 15% of imported oil to the US.

The oil in Venezuela has been under the control of the oligarchy since the discovery of this raw material more than a century ago. In spite of the state owned character of PDVSA the management of this company has always given priority to their own personal interests and those of the Venezuelan ruling class and US imperialism. It used to be said that it was not the government who controlled PDVSA – it was PDVSA that controlled the government.

This has now changed. The trigger for the coup d’etat of April 11 2002 was precisely the removal of the director’s board of the company. After that, the overwhelming majority of the managerial elite of PDVSA were removed due to their role in the bosses’ lockout that followed at the end of that year. The financial aims of the company have also changed. A large share of the money coming in from oil revenues is being used for social programmes known as “misiones” which cover housing, healthcare and education. Some people at that time were talking about “a second nationalisation”. Since then President Chavez has warned more than once that he would “not send one drop of oil” to the US if the Bush administration carried out more attempts to oust him.

After his visit to China the concerns of the US have increased. On January 14 the Financial Times revealed, “Venezuela is currently studying how it can ship oil to China, either through the Panama Canal or via a pipeline across the Panamanian isthmus”. A US official said “the US will not look favourably on Panama aiding Venezuela to sell its oil to a competitor of the US” (Ibid.). In recent years China has emerged as one of the biggest consumers and importers of hydrocarbons. China is now also an industrial and commercial rival of the US. On top of that the price of oil is rising higher and higher. In 2004 US crude prices rose above $55 a barrel. On January 13 oil prices rose again – this time to a six-week high due to fears of lower stocks of crude. It is quite clear that this future commercial deal with China is a movement of self-defence on the part of the Venezuelan government against the continuous attempts of US imperialism to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution.

In order to safeguard the gains of the revolution the oil is an important factor that must be skilfully used by the revolutionary movement. However, this is not enough. At the moment the prices are favourable for PDVSA and massive revenues coming from the oil are reverting to the poor and the workers but there are no means at all to keep the high prices of oil forever. If the prices of oil fall in the meantime, the Venezuelan Revolution will be jeopardised. The oligarchy still holds control of most of the economy and is using its financial power to attack the revolution by whatever means necessary. Massive media corporations like Globovision are using all their resources to spread lies about the Bolivarian Revolution and openly call for coups and foreign intervention. Meanwhile the landowners are hiring thugs to terrorise peasant and community leaders. The Venezuelan Revolution must take the initiative and expropriate all those who do not respect the democratic will of the majority and put these means of production under the control of the workers and the community.

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Caracas, January 14, 2005—Amidst escalating tensions between Colombia and Venezuela over the recent abduction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) foreign minister, Ricardo Granda, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, Carlos Santiago Ramirez, was called back to Caracas yesterday, for “consultation.” Also, President Chavez, during his annual report to the National Assembly, announced that bilateral business deals, such as the Venezuela-Colombia gas pipeline, would be put on hold as long as the Colombian government does not apologize for its actions in the kidnapping.

Consultation is a step below an official protest between governments. Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel noted, “For now, our ambassador, Gen. Carlos Santiago Ramirez was called back,” deeming that Colombia’s actions “constitute a crime that could have international implications.” He went on to criticize the Colombian government for “committing a huge mistake by legitimizing these criminal acts,” adding “This is bringing back the law of the jungle in the Andes.”

In a statement was released by Chacón yesterday, five members of Venezuela’s National Guard’s Anti-kidnapping Force (GAES) have been detained in relation with the kidnapping, as well as three police officers. He went on to allege that at least one member of the Colombian police force was directly involved. The kidnapping “was planned some time ago from Colombia, by Colombian authorities”, adding that the Colombians crossed the Venezuelan border ahead of time to coordinate the abduction.

The recall of the Venezuelan ambassador follows a statement released on January 12th by Colombia’s Defense Minister, Jorge Alberto Uribe, in which he retracted his prior position that Granda was captured in Cúcuta, Colombia, on December 15th, 2004 and confirmed that the high-ranking FARC member was indeed apprehended in Caracas two days prior.

Chavez, in his speech to the National Assembly, said, “With much pain I have withdrawn the Venezuelan ambassador in Bogotá and the ambassador will not return as long as the Colombian government does not apologize and rectify what it has done.” Chavez also explained that he sees himself “obligated” to suspend bilateral business deals. “It cannot be. It is unjustifiable from any point of view that high officials of the Colombian state are instigating Venezuelan officials to break the law,” said Chavez, adding, “they are buying Venezuelan military personnel who betray their homeland and these will be punished with the full weight of the law.”

“This definitely signifies a violation of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan state, which we categorically reject,” said Venezuelan Minister of the Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón in a press conference. “Colombia’s government, or at least Colombia’s national police, planned this.”

Granda was kidnapped in Caracas on the 13th of December around 4 in the afternoon by a Special Task Force of the Venezuelan National Guard that was closely cooperating with the Colombian National Police. After the kidnapping, Granda was in to Captain Francisco Antonio Rojas Bejarano of the Colombian police, on the morning of December 14th in Cúcuta, Colombia.

Although Chacón admitted that the Venezuelan investigation has not yet identified the Colombian police involved in the incident, he informed the Colombian Minister of Defense, Jorge Alberto Uribe, that there was proof linking the Colombian police to the kidnapping of Granda.

Chacón went on to emphasize that Granda was not wanted by the Colombian government nor any other government until January 9, 2005, in order words, 25 days after his capture in Bellas Artes, Caracas. For the Minister, this procedure is ironic. “I do not understand why they are making the request for his arrest since they have already detained him.”

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As was to be predicted, London's Financial Times reacted negatively to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's announcement of a speeding up of land reform (see: Chavez announces “war against the latifundia”). On January 13th they published an editorial comment (see: Chávez slips into demagogy again) full of distortions of the truth and pontificating advice. We did not expect less from the FT, a paper that has always unashamedly defended the interests of capital. However, what we did not expect was for the FT to argue that the "best way to address rural poverty", was for businesses to "pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers"!

The editorial piece contains a number of factual errors, which are introduced for the purpose of backing their argument against land reform. Let's look at those:

1) The FT says that "Land reform ... has been on the statute books for more than three years. But it is only now, ... that Mr Chávez is implementing it." This is plainly wrong. The National Land Institute has already distributed some 2.2 million hectares of land (approximately 5.5 million acres) to peasant cooperatives in the last three years.

2) The FT further says: "First, the government itself is the biggest landowner in Venezuela and has huge amounts of empty land that could be settled by the landless". This is correct, but what the FT does not tell us is that there has been no expropriation of privately owned land in Venezuela so far, so the 2.2 million hectares of land distributed have all been state owned land. The government is therefore, already distributing land it owns.

3) The FT then talks of "The expropriation of Vestey's Agroflora subsidiary is an inauspicious precedent since the government has so far failed to show that the estate was unproductive". Again, this is wrong, since Vestey's Agroflora ranch has NOT been expropriated. On Saturday, January 8th, there was an “intervention” by the Venezuelan authorities at the El Charcote ranch, belonging to Agroflora, precisely for the purpose of determining if the land titles are correct (since the government claims that at least a third of the land is state property) and if any parts of the estate have been left idle. The intervention entails a number of troops from the National Guard being present at the ranch carrying out the investigation, during which the ranch is allowed to operate normally. Despite the FT's correspondent Andy Webb-Vidal’s talk of the ranch being "seized", this is clearly not the case.

The Financial Times is obviously entitled to have its own editorial views on land reform in Venezuela, and we expected them to be on the side of the landowners. To resort to twisting the truth to fit their arguments is very poor journalism indeed. To do so three times in a 7 paragraph editorial is quite a lot. However, what is really hilarious is that the FT, in order to further their argument against land reform, end up advocating workers rights! The editorial piece in fact ends up by recommending that "ensuring these [agricultural] businesses pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers would be the best way to address rural poverty." How nice of them to think of rural workers! Whose demagogy then? Chavez's or the FT's?

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At a mass rally of 10,000 people on Monday January 10, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez announced a new decree aimed at speeding up land reform. He was speaking in front of a massive banner with the slogan of 19th century peasant war leader Ezequiel Zamora "Free land and men - War against the latifundia". This comes after the Christmas period, during which a number of regional governors, elected in the October 31st elections, passed regional decrees along the same lines.

Since the Land Act was passed in December 2001, the National Land Institute has already distributed 5.5 million acres of land (2.2 million hectares) to peasant cooperatives. But up until now all the land distributed has been state-owned land and there have been no expropriations. The new decree, called Decreto Zamorano, and passed on the anniversary of the death of Ezequiel Zamora, is aimed at the large landed estates (latifundia) that have been left idle or are poorly used. But even so, the Decree is not based on expropriation of private land. A special land commission has been appointed to look into the issue of land ownership and usage. This commission will then issue reports on the following two aspects. The first is whether large landed estates which are privately used actually have proper land titles. In Venezuela, over the years, there have been many cases of private landowners occupying land that belongs to the state and de facto appropriating it. The other issue will be whether the land is being used or is being left idle. If landed estates are found not to be productive, then they can be seized (with compensation) and distributed to peasant cooperatives. Chavez has made it clear, both now and during the October 31st regional election campaign, that his preferred option is to solve this through negotiation with the land owners (in which they can give up land they do not use), but also that if no agreement is reached, the full strength of the law and of the army will be used to implement land reform.

On the face of it, this is in fact quite a moderate decree and in its wording is far from a wide-ranging threat to private property, as has been presented by the Western media. The Financial Times for instance has talked of "what is likely to be a number of Zimbabwe-style expropriations of big estates", when referring to the intervention at the El Charcote estate. The FT chose to describe this move, which took place on Saturday January 8th, as "seizure", when in reality what happened is something else completely. The El Charcote estate is owned by AgroFlora, a subsidiary of the British Vestey Group. The Vestey group, belonging to the family of Lord Vestey is a major meat and food multinational which has been operating in South America for decades.

The El Charcote estate has 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of land and produces some 450,000 kilos of beef every year. The Venezuelan government argues that a large part of this land is not actually owned by the Vestey group and that they are illegally using property belonging to the Venezuelan state. Local peasant leaders argue that the land was bought by dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in the 1930s and that subsequently, all land owned by the dictator was passed over to the Venezuelan state. Vestey Group administrators complain that parts of the ranch have been occupied by peasants since 2001 when the Land Act was passed. The intervention at the El Charcote estate was carried out by the governor of Cojedes, Johnny Yánez, with about 200 national guardsmen and police along with helicopters which will allow them to survey the ranch.

As part of a regional review of land ownership the Cojedes regional governor sent a commission of enquiry to El Charcote. The ranch has not been "seized", as the Financial Times claims, but rather there has been an "intervention". There is now a technical team on the ranch which will investigate the claims of the British group over the land titles and whether the land is being used to its full capacity or whether parts of the ranch have been left idle.

As Chavez explained in his speech on Monday, the structure of land ownership in Venezuela is scandalously unfair. A 1998 census found that 60 percent of Venezuelan farmland was owned by less than 1 percent of the population. Chavez yesterday said that nearly 80 percent of the country's land is owned by 5 percent of landowners. Meanwhile, the smallest landowners representing 75% of agricultural holdings have to share 6% of the land. The 1998 census also revealed that 90 percent of farmland given to the poor under a 1960 agrarian reform had since returned to large landholders. "A democracy that permits such a situation of injustice will lose its democratic character and will end up turning itself into a pantomime of democracy. A revolution that permits this injustice cannot call itself a revolution," said Chavez.

This is at the same time that Venezuela, despite having large extensions of very fertile land with a benign climate, imports about 60 to 70% of all the foodstuffs that it consumes. Some have called it a "harbours' agriculture", since most agricultural products come from ... the harbours through which they are imported. For instance, every quarter, 14,000 tonnes of black beans (caraotas) and other pulses, which are an important part of the staple diet of poor Venezuelans, are imported. Production of caraotas actually collapsed in the 1990s, from 31,376 tonnes in 1988 to 18,627 tonnes in 1999, while the Venezuelan population increased by 20%.

In fact, agriculture is one of the most extreme expressions of the backwardness and parasitical character of the Venezuelan oligarchy, this reactionary alliance between capitalists, bank owners, landowners and multinational corporations that has ruled the country since it achieved independence. For them it is preferable, and more profitable, to live off the state and oil resources, gamble on the stock exchange, buy government bonds, invest their money abroad, and import luxury goods, than it is to develop national production in any field.

In these conditions it is difficult to see how an amicable agreement can be reached with the landowners to voluntarily distribute land to the hundreds of thousands of land hungry families that need it. The struggle for the land has been one of the most contentious issues of the Venezuelan revolutionary process so far. It was the passing of the Land Act in December 2001 (together with the Hydrocarbon Act and others) that triggered the opposition to organise the April 2002 military coup against the Chavez government. The hopes of thousands of peasant communities were again lifted during the regional election campaign last October, when Chavez delivered belligerent speeches against the latifundio and instructed the Bolivarian gubernatorial candidates to tackle the problem of land reform straight away.

No meaningful land reform possible within the boundaries of private property

The president of the ranch owners association, Betancourt, reacted strongly to the decree, saying in an interview on the Globovision television station that "If they eliminate private property rights, they will also be eliminating the peace in Venezuela''. This is an ominous threat. Some 100 peasant leaders and activists have been killed in disputes over land property with big landowners in the past 4 years. In some areas along the border with Colombia ranch owners have for some time armed white guards modelling themselves on, and sometimes getting advice from, the infamous paramilitary gangs from neighbouring Colombia.

If you have a situation in which 5% of landowners control nearly 80% of the land, then it is clear that one cannot carry out a land reform policy that will please both the owners of large landed estates and landless peasants. Even the Cojedes governor, Johnny Yanéz, had to say that private property "is a right, but not an absolute one, since the collective interest, public need, and food security are parameters that must justify this private right".

This is not just about land. If the conflict over land reform deepens, as it is bound to do, and land is expropriated and given over to landless peasants, then workers in industry are bound to draw similar conclusions. Instances like that of the Venepal paper mill, which the owners declared bankrupt and the workers took over and are now demanding to be nationalised under workers control, will spread. On the other hand, Venezuela's landowners are an inseparable part of the Venezuelan ruling class. An attack on them will be rightly seen by the capitalists as an attack on the very principle of private property of the economy.

The analysts of the ruling class can clearly see the implications of these moves. According to business analysts Bloomberg, Benito Berber, an analyst with HSBC Securities in New York said: "The erosion of private property rights may undermine long- term economic growth as capital inflows slow and investors lose confidence in the country's future".

mass peasants rally in El PoliedroThe problem is precisely that, as in other areas of the progressive government of Chavez, any social justice measures implemented, no matter how "moderate" they might be, clash head on with the vested interests of the owners of industry, capital and the land. We must remember that, even though the Bolivarian revolution has not directly infringed on the rights of private property, the capitalists and landowners have attempted the violent overthrow of the government on several occasions. The fact is that the basic needs of the working people of Venezuela (to free health care and education for all, to a roof over their heads, to decent food on their table, to means of earning their livelihood) are in direct contradiction to the existence of the capitalist system based on private profit and the benefits of a wealthy minority. And this is why the very existence of a revolutionary movement in Venezuela is seen by the oligarchy, rightly, as a threat to their interests.

The Bolivarian revolution should understand this basic fact and move to wrest from the oligarchy the levers of economic and political power they still control as the only guarantee for the victory of the revolution.

January 11, 2005

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