News and Analysis

“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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Caracas, January 12, 2005—According to Venezuelan police who are investigating the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the "Foreign Minister" of Colombia's FARC guerilla, two bounty hunters captured him and delivered him to Colombian authorities. Colombia's Defense Minister, Jorge Uribe, confirmed today that the Colombian government paid a reward for Granda's capture.

The Venezuelan newspaper El Mundo reports that police officials involved in the investigation have said that the two bounty hunters had plenty of previous experience with this type of operation and know how to travel throughout Venezuelan territory with their victim without being stopped at military or police check points. It is thus assumed that the individuals in question are active duty police officers.

FARC "Foreign Minister" Rodrigo Granda under arrest by Colombian security forces.
Credit: AP

Rodrigo Granda was kidnapped in the middle of the day, in the center of Caracas, on December 13, a few days after attending a conference of Latin American supporters of the Bolivarian project. Two days later, on December 15, Colombian authorities announced that they had captured Granda in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Colombia's rebel force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), denied he was captured in Colombia and demanded an investigation on the part of Venezuelan authorities. Last week Venezuelan authorities confirmed the Granda was kidnapped in Venezuela and then taken to Cucuta.

Luis Tascon, who represents Chavez's party in the National Assembly and is from Tachira state, which shares a border with Colombia, said today that Venezuelan intelligence forces have found out that members of Venezuela's investigative police (CICPC) and a Colombian military officer participated in the action and that they received a $1.5 million reward that had been placed on Granda's head.

Jorge Uribe, Colombia's Defense Minister, confirmed that the government paid a reward, but denied that it was $1.5 million. Also, he did not specify who received it. In an interview with the Colombian television channel RCN, Uribe said that the Colombian government specifically sought out Venezuelan bounty hunters and thus Colombian state security forces never violated Venezuelan territory in the action. Furthermore, this type of action is not new for the Colombian government, said Jorge Uribe, and that they would continue to employ such methods whenever the Colombian government considers it necessary.

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Commander William Izarra is a retired air force officer, with long standing links with left wing movements, including with leaders of the PRV. He was in charge of ideology in the National Maisanta Commando, and is seen as one of the most consistent and left wing elements within the Bolivarian leadership. This interview was conducted by comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current for their paper El Topo Obrero, on December 7th, in his Caracas home. (January 12, 2005)

"Endogenous development demands going towards a new peoples' institutionality"

"The organisations of the people must replace the bureaucratic apparatus"

"The Bolivarian Revolution in essence, draws from Marxism"

El Topo Obrero: How do you see the "new stage" the Bolivarian revolution is going through after the victories in the recall referendum and the October 31 elections?

William Izarra: Once the President was ratified on August 15th, a new phase of the Process opened up. This has been called by Chavez himself the "Leap Forward". This means the transformation of the capitalist state along the socio-popular endogenous model. It is just a month ago that the president skilfully explained the conception of the new phase of the Process.

Ministers, governors, local mayors, MPs, directors of state-owned companies and leaders of organisations of the Process gathered in Fuerte Tiuna to receive instructions for collective and coordinated action. The highest echelons of government decision-making were present. They all as assimilated the thesis of the President and what needs to be done to materialise it immediately. Jointly and with the humanism of revolutionary fraternity and solidarity, a high morale prevailed in relation to their goals and plans after the elections.

In my opinion, there are three global aspects which summarise the brilliant exposition of the President. The first aspect, in the political field, is the democratisation of the participation of the people. The president eradicated "the finger of the core" [note: an expression which refers to the way in which candidates were appointed by the ruling clique]. He annihilated the rule of the top layers as far as decisions affecting the communities is concerned. One of the tasks in the short term is the selection of candidates to publicly elected positions through primary elections. They will be elected by the organised communities and no longer by party cliques. In fact, the president decided to use this mechanism of election by the rank and file in the forthcoming Council and Parish Junta elections in the first half of 2005.

The second global aspect is the conscious stimulus to promote the building of a model of endogenous growth, with the aim that this will become in the medium term the new economic system of production. One of the aims of the revolution is the change in the relations of production, and endogenous development would be the first collective level of social production. In order to achieve this aim, endogenous development demands advancing towards a new "institutionality" of the state apparatus.

The third aspect is continental geopolitics. The US, presently in a truce regarding Venezuela, will continue to seek ways to destabilise the government, to put an end to the Bolivarian Revolution. The re-election of President Bush, the extension of their military plans for Latin America, the domination of the national security doctrine, the plan to replace the armed forces of Latin American countries with national police forces and the appointment of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State, Porter Goss as the new CIA director, and general Bantz Craddock as Commander of the Strategic Southern Command, are just some of the examples which show the new direction the empire is taking regarding the Bolivarian process. To this we must add the continuation of para-militarism. Bush's visit to Colombia and the prominence given to the Southern Command in the decision-making process for hemispheric affairs. We could say that the US SOUTHCOM has replaced the State Department in the development of policies towards Latin America and the Caribbean. Therefore, the national community, the revolutionaries and the community leaders must be ready for any surprise action that might come, openly or through covert actions, from the empire. This is also part of the Leap Forward.

El Topo Obrero: In this "leap forward" within the revolutionary process, don't you think that there are sections within the process who lack revolutionary consciousness, are reformist and might put obstacles to the change in the structures?

William Izarra: The Revolution is a change of structure. The political model of the Bolivarian process is revolutionary. The change of structure means the building of a new political system (State, productive apparatus and power relations). The structure is the dimension of how society works, where the genetic factors inter-relate and which produce the visible actions (observable facts). The structure is the genesis of the phenomena. A revolution acts on the structure while its opposite, reform - or reaction - only operates on the level of phenomena (that which is visible and verifiable). Reform does not transform the structure. Reform is contrary to revolution. The political model of representative democracy is reform. It does not seek change in the political system. The revolution is going to create a new system of relations which will establish a new "institutionality". Representative democracy is based in the representation of the people. On the contrary a revolution has no representatives, only spokespersons. In the revolution decisions are taken directly by the people, not the representatives. In Venezuela representation led to cliques which took over power and isolated the people.

The aim of representative democracy is not revolutionary. It has been conceived to satisfy the aims of reformist cliques. The whole of the bureaucratic state apparatus of representative democracy -governorships, mayors, municipal councils and the other bureaucratic political units - is reformist. The reformist state imposed a political culture based in cronyism and dependency. Despite the existence of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, the reformist state still exists. Despite the growth of the Bolivarian model, the reformist state is still the body that regulates the nation. This contradiction produces the current stage of transition towards revolution.

The revolution, in order to find its own way must operate at the level of the structure of representative democracy. It must change and eradicate the present State. It must replace all these bureaucratic political units (for instance the mayors) which dominated over the people. In the revolution, the organisations of the people must replace the bureaucratic apparatus. The managers of the State (bureaucrats) will not be the ones who decide. They will only be tools of the people. The power of decision-making will be in the hands of the people. The people will create a new organisation of the State. The people, further to the expressions of participation already instituted by the 1999 Constitution, has to invent other forms of organisation and decision-making in order to take hold of its own destiny. The essence of the revolution lies within the creative power of the people.

Currently, representative democracy still has a very significant space within Venezuelan reality. Reformist culture has assimilated a lot of "revolutionaries". Ideological weakness alters the attempt to deepen a process. The absence of values, beliefs and principles based in the spirituality of the human being, limits the advance of the Venezuelan revolution. Ideological weakness forces us to take circuitous routes. It delays the fulfilment of the phases and stages of the project. The guarantee of the revolution is ideology. This is what stimulates the inner forces of the being not to be seduced by the fascination of reformist power, power is to be used (not based on attachment to the material order of things). The ideology is the lever with which to catapult the revolution forward. It is the channel through which to build peoples' power. This is the challenge facing the revolutionaries, to build the road of the revolution or to fail to the ambitions of power. And this can be achieved with revolutionary consciousness.

El Topo Obrero: Don't you think that the oligarchy, the Venezuelan ruling class and US imperialism will try to prevent this "leap forward", stop any attempt to improve the living conditions of the population?

William Izarra: It is true, in fact this apparent calm, this "truth" dictated by the US to the Bolivarian process is based on two factors: first that the opposition did not fulfil the expectations. This opposition did not serve the Empire and, therefore, they are looking for a new, more effective opposition without obviously abandoning the road of destabilisation and "self-destruction" of the Bolivarian process. For instance, the assassination of Danilo Anderson has links to the CIA. The truce declared by the Empire towards the Bolivarian revolution is the result of a new political situation in the Venezuelan scenario: (i) victory of the NO with a margin of 20%; (ii) economic stability with an economic growth which could reach 12% compared to last year; (iii) the price of oil which has contributed to the development of the social programmes; (iv) big popular support for the revolution; (v) the attachment of the President to the Bolivarian Constitution. All this forces the US to tolerate the terrain won by the Bolivarian process. But, while the truce is, their covert operations continue unhindered. The covert actions, the speciality of the CIA, are still going ahead, although they are disguised and hidden, waiting for a more favourable conjuncture to come to the surface.

El Topo Obrero: What legacy has Danilo Anderson left to the Venezuelan people?

William Izarra: He is a symbol of revolutionary struggle. Danilo Anderson has gone from being a brave public figure, of institutional commitment, of proven ethical and moral righteousness, to a martyr of the revolution.

His assassination is a warning to us. It tells us to expect the most despicable actions of imperialist sabotage. The Empire wants to destabilise, to uproot the Bolivarian Revolutionary process. The assassination of Danilo Anderson is proof of the opposition of the Empire. The CIA does not rest, does not cease in its work. It keeps seeking the possibility of "mass murder" against the President of the Republic.

El Topo Obrero: Recently you spoke at a forum in the Venepal paper mill in defence of the workers and against the closure and the plans of the multinational Smurfit.

William Izarra: Yes, this case must be taken as a symbol. We could even draw a parallel with the years of Independence; with the battles fought in the years between 1810 and 1821, when the forces of the opposing camps lined up for a head on confrontation. This is very similar to what is happening at Venepal now. This, in the near future, may underline the very essence of the Bolivarian revolution, in its idea of giving power to the workers. Furthermore, at Venepal the workers have shown themselves not only to be capable of running their company, but also to increase the quality of production. On the other hand, Venepal should become a nucleus of endogenous development and thus transform itself into an example and an emblematic spearhead of the dignity and strength of the revolutionary workers.

It might happen that Venepal will go down in history, one hundred years from now, as the Battle of Carabobo did in the past. At that time it was the lancers, carrying their lances and machetes, today it is the workers, waiting, seeking the nationalisation of the company so that it can be run by the workers. Venepal is not only important for the Venezuelan revolution, but for the whole of the continental movement for emancipation.

El Topo Obrero: Is the President aware of the problem of Venepal?

William Izarra: The president is aware of the situation the workers at Venepal are facing and there are good prospects for the aims that the workers have given themselves. He knows of the project that was drawn up by the workers. He is an untiring generator of whirlwinds of actions in support of the process. Venepal is one of the aims he wishes to achieve.

El Topo Obrero: In the field of the ideological battle, what do you think the ideas of Marxism can contribute to the Bolivarian Revolution.

William Izarra: I think that fundamentally the Bolivarian Revolution draws its essence from Marxism - if not directly, at least in its conceptual content. Although it also draws inspiration from early Christianity, from the original ideas of our liberators and from the advanced thought of progressive currents which have been inspired by Marxism. This forces us to deepen the process and to be in constant contact with all the currents of revolutionary thought throughout the world. For its materialization we count on the Marxists.

To develop the idea of revolutionary democracy, the core of direct democracy, demands the study of Marxism and to take from its postulates the precepts which sustain peoples' power - to base ourselves on its scientific definitions those which show us the best way of achieving the common good of the whole.

How can we achieve that? One of the tasks that the President has assigned to me is to continue to advance in the ideological field and one of the proposals we are going to launch immediately, at the beginning of the new year, is a gathering with the Marxists of the world. We need to see the contribution of Marxism to the Bolivarian revolution, seeing the continental and worldwide sweep that the Venezuelan process - led by its leader Hugo Chavez - is starting to have. We have to see what contribution the

Marxists can make to our process, the Marxist criticism of the process, the incorporation of their more viable ideas, all that which can be incorporated within the framework of the postulates of the Bolivarian Revolution.

El Topo Obrero: Let's talk about the latest trip of President Chávez. An important point in that visit was the meeting in Madrid with Spanish workers of the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) trade union. What was your impression of that meeting with Spanish workers at which you were also present?

William Izarra: The answer, in the main, can be found in the good mood of the President. Obviously, diplomatic relations can be many times charged with calmness and even coldness. But when a revolutionary identifies with the mass, with that symbiosis which takes place between the leader and the mass, there we can see the disposition of the mood, the spirit embodied, the materialization of the dreams. With the Spanish workers the President reached a level of motivation generated by the perception of those moments. The whole scenario was draped in an openly revolutionary mood.

El Topo Obrero: To end, what would you like to say to readers of El Topo Obreros and the comrades of the CMR?

William Izarra: I would say that from the point of view of the concepts expressed, the ideas and the role that you play by circulating El Topo Obrero, it is important to stimulate the creation of the network of Ideological Education Centres (CFI), which we are creating nationally. We are entering the stage of the Leap Forward which allows us to position ourselves in a new dimension of revolutionary attitude and aptitude. It is time to go back to the school desk, to study, to read, to analyse, to compare positions, to reach new conclusions, in one word, to invent the revolution. The CFI therefore, are looking to follow the ideas of Simón Rodríguez, and to say, as the teacher of our Liberator said: "... either we invent or we make mistakes".

El Topo Obrero is one of the fundamental tools, needed from the point of view of theory, the evolution of thought, the creation of ideas for all the revolutionary militants. Therefore, from the pages of El Topo Obrero, we make an appeal to all genuine revolutionaries to join with us, to contribute their grain of sand, to create the ideological education network nationally.

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