News and Analysis

Chavez met with Invepal workers before his Sunday television program, which was broadcast from the factory.
Chavez met with Invepal workers before his Sunday television program, which was broadcast from the factory.
Credit: Prensa Presidencial

In his Sunday television address Aló Presidente, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced a new direction for economic development, centered around the slogan “made in Venezuela.” Chávez made the announcement from the Venezuelan Endogenous Paper Industry (Invepal), an enormous paper factory recently expropriated by the government after a hard fought battle by 350 paper workers.

Formerly the private paper company Venepal, Invepal was expropriated last month after the company was declared bankrupt and the National Assembly (AN) ruled the factory to be of social and public usefulness. The 900 workers at the factory were laid off in September, 2004, but 350 workers remained, threatening to occupy the factory if the government didn’t expropriate it.

Venepal had been in dire financial straights since the late 1990s, but according to paper factory union leader Edgar Peña, the company signed its own death warrant by participating in the oil industry shutdown in 2002-03. In December 2002, the traditional labor federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) and the largest chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras, joined forces, declaring a nation-wide “general strike” aimed at ousting President Chávez. In many cases, such as in the case of Venepal, employers locked workers out, shutting down production for over 2 months. The economic blow left Venepal reeling, eventually forcing it to declare bankruptcy in 2004. Property expropriated from Venepal covers 5,600 hectares in 4 states.

According to President Chávez, the renamed company, Invepal, will produce paper notebooks made of Venezuelan primary material. Wood produced in the Venezuelan states of Monagas and Anzoátegui, South-East of the capital Caracas, will be made into pulp at a new factory to be purchased by the state. The pulp will then provide Invepal with its own entirely domestic raw material. According to Peña, Invepal currently must import pulp from Chile, with a shipment of 600 tons expected in early March.

The idea, says Chávez, is for Venezuelan industry to satisfy national demand for paper, using domestic raw material, which is part of Venezuela’s shift to “endogenous” development.

“Endogenous development” essentially aims to promote economic and social development prioritizing the collective benefits of industry and production and focuses on local specificities in development planning. According to government literature, endogenous development is based on “cooperative and humanistic” logic, as opposed to the capitalistic individualism of the global economy.

The new paper company expects to restart production next month, thanks to a US$7 million grant from the national government. Invepal will be co-managed between worker and state representatives. A workers’ assembly, representing the maximum authority of the company, will eliminate bureaucracy, and merge production and administration, said Chávez.

“This structure will be put to the test, and we’ll adjust it as necessary, because here we are inventing our own model,” added Chávez.

Invepal is to act as a “pole” of endogenous development in Venezuela’s North-East, a long-time manufacturing center. The government is also looking into building a plastic parts factory to produce for the automobile industry, as part of a joint-venture with Iranian companies, and soap and fertilizer factories to supply the domestic economy.

The government is simultaneously working on a plan to bring all basic industry into the state-run endogenous development model. The mining and processing center in the country’s South-Eastern state of Bolívar looks to become a similar “pole” of co-managed state run enterprises. According to preliminary reports, Basic Industry Minister Victor Alvarez plans to begin with the Aluminum processing plant Alcasa, much as the North-Eastern pole is being launched with Invepal.

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We, the undersigned leaders of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT), issue this appeal to the trade unions around the world that are represented in the Workers' Group of the International Labor Organization (ILO), as well as to all our sisters and brothers who are championing the trade union battles in defense of workers' rights.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We in Venezuela have been part of the effort by the working class to create a trade union federation that is built from the bottom up by the rank and file and that is rooted in the principles of class independence, trade union democracy and full autonomy in relation to the State and all political parties. This effort – which in April 2003 brought unionists from different sectors and trade union currents together to create the UNT – is part and parcel of the struggle of our people in defense of their national sovereignty.

Today, the UNT represents the majority of the organized workforce in Venezuela. Its creation in 2003 has given a huge impetus to the drive to organize trade unions across our country. The rate of trade union affiliation has increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2004. The UNT also has been present in the last two International Labor Conferences of the ILO in June 2003 and June 2004.

But these recent years also have seen FEDECAMARAS, the employers' association of Venezuela, join forces with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) to present a Complaint to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union Freedoms and the Right to Strike.

The joint Complaint by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV is highly unusual, as trade unions are generally the ones filing ILO Complaints against the employers and seeking support from the ILO Workers' Group against all violations of trade union rights, including the right to strike. It is unprecedented, as well, on account of the convergence of interests between FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

Such a Complaint can be understood only in the context of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, in which FEDECAMARAS and the top leadership of the CTV participated directly in the attempted military coup of April 2002, together with the opposition political parties and with the encouragement of the U.S. Embassy. The coup – which established a government" headed by Pedro Carmona, then president of FEDECAMARAS – was foiled after just two days by the mass mobilizations of the Venezuelan workers and people.

Later, in December 2002 and January 2003, FEDECAMARAS – together with the same leaders of the CTV – organized an employer lockout/work stoppage that was political in nature and that sought to bring down the government through the sabotage of the country's main source of income: the oil industry. In both the attempted coup and the bosses' lockout/work stoppage, the CTV leadership took actions that were repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the workers of Venezuela.

At no time, in fact, were the workers consulted by the CTV leadership about the work stoppage in the oil industry. Quite the contrary, upon learning of this action by the CTV leadership, the workers mobilized massively to occupy the oil rigs and refineries to ensure the resumption of oil production.

These undeniable facts were reported in detail by 35 leaders of the UNT to the Contact Mission of the ILO that traveled to Venezuela in October 2004.

It is not new, nor is it unexpected, that employers should resort to lockouts against the workers to promote their interests. Many of you undoubtedly have witnessed such bosses' lockouts in your countries. It is less frequent for the employers to resort to military coups, but, alas, such actions are not unprecedented. But isn't it an insult to our intelligence to try to have us believe that employer lockouts and military coups can somehow be aimed at defending democracy and trade union rights? Do they think we're fools who cannot see through their hypocrisy?

In June 2004, FEDECAMARAS – with the full support of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and representatives from bosses' organizations in 22 countries, including the United States, all of them notorious for their anti-union activities – invoked Article 26 of the ILO Constitution and proposed that a Commission of Inquiry be established in relation to alleged violations of Trade Union Freedoms in Venezuela.

The March 8-24, 2005 meeting of the Governing Body of the ILO is scheduled to take a vote on this request by FEDECAMARAS. It is worth noting that while this baseless Complaint against the Venezuelan government moves through the ILO system, the government of Colombia has not been subjected to any sanctions or pressures by the ILO – even when the ILO itself registered at the beginning of 2004 that 186 trade unionists had been assassinated for their union activity in that country, a number that now surpasses the 200 mark.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

The Venezuelan government today has wide popular support to advance its Agrarian Reform program and, with the aim of guaranteeing jobs and wages, to take over factories abandoned or bankrupted by their employers. Yet at this very moment, incidents are being staged to create a diplomatic conflict between Venezuela and Colombia. More ominous still, U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have issued public warnings against the alleged "negative" and "destabilizing" role of Venezuela in the region.

Anyone familiar with the international policies implemented by the Bush administration in the recent period can understand full well that these are not simply words; they are a direct threat to Venezuela. Bush and Rice invoke the concept of "democracy" – but if one looks at what is going on in Iraq today, one can see what they mean by "democracy."

Is it possible not to see a link between these political developments and the stance taken by FEDECAMARAS at the ILO?

Regardless of what one's opinions may be about the Venezuelan government and its policies, it's a fact that it's a government that received the support of more than 60% of the people in the August 15, 2004 recall referendum, thereby dealing a blow to the effort by FEDECAMARAS and the top officials of the CTV to oust the Chávez government. The election results were ratified, in fact, by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center, two bodies that cannot be accused of harboring any sympathies for the Venezuelan government.

It is also an undeniable fact that the partisans of the current Venezuelan government obtained the overwhelming support of the people in the state and regional elections held in October 2004.

From our vantage point as the UNT, genuine democracy means respecting the sovereign will of people to determine their own fate. And we wish to reiterate this point: Venezuela's right to self-determination must be respected and upheld independent of whatever one may think about the current government of Venezuela. It is not up to the U.S. government to decide in the place of the Venezuelan people what is "positive" or "negative" for Venezuela.

It is totally understandable that the representatives of the employers in the ILO should form a common front with FEDECAMARAS in support of this Complaint. Likewise, it is not surprising that governments, particularly that of Bush in the United States, should follow suit. But in no way can the representatives of the workers' organizations in the ILO support this attack upon our sovereignty and our independent trade union organizations.

Is it not obvious that allowing the Commission of Inquiry to be approved – as FEDECAMARAS demands – would, in fact, be tantamount to trampling upon our trade union freedoms and the very sovereignty of our country? Only we, the workers of Venezuela, can and must decide what kind of trade union organizations we should build, in the framework of the principles of Trade Union Freedom.

We issue this urgent appeal to all trade union organizations the world over. We call upon one and all to reject the proposal by FEDECAMARAS and its cohorts to sanction Venezuela and to conduct an ILO Commission of Inquiry. Such an action is not called for, nor does it correspond to the real situation of trade union freedoms in Venezuela, which is a country that has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

For our part, as trade union officers who are committed to the rank and file,we have nothing to hide. That is why we are appending to this Open Letter a Memorandum that responds to the specific charges contained in the Complaint filed by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

We invite trade unions from all around the world to come to Venezuela to see for yourselves the reality of our country, where even the CTV – which participated directly in the attempted coup of April 2002 and the lockout/work stoppage of December 2002-January 2003, enjoys full trade union freedoms.

We also invite representatives of the international trade union movement to attend the upcoming National Congress of the UNT. This will permit you to learn firsthand from the workers about the real situation of the trade unions in Venezuela.

To conclude, we call upon all trade union organizations and officers to reject the provocation by FEDECAMARAS and its allies to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry for Venezuela. We call upon you to add your names in support of this Open Letter to the ILO Workers' Group.

- In defense of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people!

- In defense of true Trade Union Freedoms!

In solidarity,

signed by following National Coordinators of the UNT:

Orlando Chirino, Marcela Máspero, Stalin Pérez Borges and Rubén Linares

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The Bolivarian Movement is a mass movement that originated as a movement for the national-democratic revolution – that is, a revolution that stood for a programme of advanced democracy, but which stopped short of challenging the foundations of capitalism. However, the progress of the Revolution has inevitably brought it into conflict with the vested interests of the oligarchy. At every step the demands of the masses in both town and village clash with the so-called sacred right of property. Upon the resolution of this contradiction the future of the Revolution depends.

The Marxists naturally supported the national democratic revolution and applauded Hugo Chavez’s courageous fight against the Venezuelan oligarchy and imperialism. Even on a capitalist basis, this was tremendously progressive, and it was, and remains our duty to defend it. Not to do so would be a betrayal. But we have always pointed out the elementary truth that in order to succeed, the Revolution sooner or later would have to go beyond the boundaries of capitalism and expropriate the Venezuelan landlords and capitalists.

Experience has proved we were correct. At every stage the Bolivarian Revolution has come up against the most ferocious resistance of the landlords and capitalists, backed by imperialism. In order to overcome this resistance, it has had to base itself on the only genuinely revolutionary classes: the workers and urban poor in the towns and cities and the poor peasants in the countryside. A decisive stage in this conflict is now commencing in the countryside.

Land distribution is an age-old aspiration of the poor of the Venezuelan countryside. The peasants desire to work the land and improve their standard of living. But this justified aspiration comes up against the fierce resistance of the big landowners, who, together with the bankers and big capitalists, constitute the cornerstone of the Venezuelan oligarchy. No real advance is possible in Venezuela unless and until the power of this oligarchy is broken. That is the real importance of the agrarian revolution.

Modest reforms

The attempt to move towards an agrarian reform has posed the central dilemma of the Bolivarian Revolution point-blank. It is not merely a question of modifying the existing set up. It must be swept away: the agrarian economic and social structure must be utterly transformed. As the Spanish Socialist Largo Caballero once put it: you cannot cure cancer with an aspirin. For this reason the Venezuelan peasants, like their brothers and sisters in the towns and cities, are drawing the most revolutionary conclusions.

In early January, President Chavez announced new measures to deepen and extend the agrarian reform, an essential component in the Bolivarian Revolution. The reforms themselves are quite modest in their scope, concentrating on the issue of under-exploited estates. Under a 2001 land law, the government can tax or seize unused farm sites. The Venezuelan authorities have identified more than 500 farms, including 56 large estates, as idle. A further 40,000 farms are yet to be inspected.

These measures are very modest and fall well short of what is required in order to fulfil the most elementary requirement of the national democratic revolution. Yet they were met with howls of rage from the enemies of the Revolution. The opposition has accused the state of “invading private property” and introducing “communistic measures”.

The protests of the Venezuelan opposition are mild, however, in comparison to the howls of rage in the international media. On 13 January the London-based Economist magazine carried an article attacking Chavez’s land reform. The occasion for its ire was the measures taken by the government to investigate the cattle ranch of El Charcote in Cojedes, a state in Venezuela’s northern plains, which is run by Agroflora, a subsidiary of a big UK food monopoly.

The Vestey Group is the owner of this huge ranch comprising no less than 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of pastures and woodlands, as well as a dozen other ranches elsewhere in the country. It has investments in beef and sugar in Argentina and Brazil as well as in Venezuela. It is a typical example of the way in which big foreign companies have taken over the key sectors of the productive forces in the continent and drained them for profit.

The Economist admits that the family that owns the company are famous (or rather infamous) in Britain for its long history of tax avoidance as well as for meat. Nevertheless it defends their absolute right to hold onto their land, since their title to El Charcote “goes back a century and has been upheld by the courts.” The article describes in colourful detail the spectacular way in which the inspection was carried out:

“On January 8th, the clatter of helicopters over the ranch heralded the arrival of Johnny [sic] Yánez, the chavista governor of Cojedes, bearing the country’s first “intervention order” against rural property. He was accompanied by some 200 troops and heavily armed police commandos. Mr Yánez, a former army captain, announced that private property was ‘a right, but not an absolute right’”.

A state commission now has three months to decide whether the ranch is unproductive or not legally held and thus can be turned over to peasant co-operatives under the terms of the land-reform decree of 2001. Two days later, President Chávez set up a similar commission at national level. Its task is to speed up and bring order to the land-reform drive.

The case for land reform in Latin America is unanswerable. In Venezuela, over 75 percent of farmland is controlled by fewer than 5 percent of landowners. Rural poverty is a cancer that blights millions of lives. Even the right-wing Economist agrees that “Unequal land distribution is one of the historical causes of the wider inequality that scars Latin American societies.” As President Chávez says, this is an injustice that must end. There can be no future for the Bolivarian Revolution without this. But an all-out assault on the property of the landlords will inevitably pose the question of the expropriation of the banks and industries as well. That is why the imperialists have raised such a hue-and-cry about the proposed measures.

Will agrarian reform damage production?

The bourgeois critics of land reform say that Chavez’s policies will have a negative effect on agricultural production:

“By harrying the private sector,” The Economist says, “the government has merely intensified Venezuela’s dependence on oil – and all the economic distortions that go with that. The government says Venezuela imports 70% of what it eats. The opposition retorts that food imports have risen by a fifth since Mr Chávez came to power, while agricultural production has fallen.”

The enemies of the Revolution are running around screaming about the threat to investment and productivity, when in reality what worries them is something else. What really frightens The Economist is the fact that the president’s promises have encouraged peasants to invade farms. It is arousing the rural masses from their slumber and bringing them into the revolutionary struggle. It is calling into question the “sacred principle of private property” and thereby is taking a big step in the direction of the socialist revolution. This is a prospect that fills the oligarchy and its imperialist masters with panic.

The Economist quotes with horror the words of Johnny Yánez: “Social justice cannot be sacrificed to legal technicalities,” adding darkly: “This assault on property rights is likely to scare off investment.” The article continues its tale of woe:

“Back at El Charcote, herds of Brahma cattle still graze. The Vestey company normally supplies 4% of the beef consumed by Venezuelans. It has been a pioneer in genetic improvements to the national herd. But Diana dos Santos, the firm’s local boss, says that at El Charcote all but one small pasture has been invaded; beef output has slumped. More than a thousand interlopers have put up rickety shacks and planted crops on the estate. They support the president—but despise Mr Yánez. So they may be evicted in favour of other, more reliable, political clients. And in a few years’ time these in turn will probably end up back in urban slums, while Venezuela will have lost a source of wealth.”

So there we have it! The big-hearted imperialists like the Vestey family have been so kind as to come to Venezuela with the best intentions in the world. Their only aim in life is to serve the people of Venezuela, feeding them with delicious beef, constantly improving the national herd with all manner of “genetic improvements” (we recall the kind of genetic improvements introduced by the British capitalist farmers in the United Kingdom, which gave us the blessings of mad cow disease). If incidentally they have earned a few bolivars by honest means, this was of course a secondary matter, in which neither the Bolivarian government nor the British taxman should take any interest.

Attitude of the petty bourgeois “democrats”

So crystal clear is the case for agrarian reform in Venezuela that even petty bourgeois groups, not noted for their love of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, have had to grudgingly accept it. The Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA has welcomed the Venezuelan government’s war on big landownership, calling the political will shown by government and opposition State Governors as “positive.”

However, the revolutionaries should beware of praise coming from such quarters. The bourgeois “democrats” of PROVEA are no friends of the Bolivarian Revolution and their praise is a poisoned chalice that they offer to the Revolution, not to help it but to paralyse it and render it ineffective.

The government is being urged to be “inclusive” in its agrarian policy and to avoid rural violence. That is to say, it is being invited to represent the interests of all classes – the landlords as well as the peasants. It is being invited to make the lamb lie down next to the wolf. It is being invited to square the circle. In short, it is being invited to do what cannot be done. And those who advocate such nonsense actually consider themselves to be great “realists”! If the consequences were not so serious, it would be very funny.

When one is given a bill of support from such people, it is highly advisable to read the small print! And in the small print we read the following:

The process should be undertaken within the rule of law and rejects the possibility that bodies other than those established in the Land & Agrarian Development Law (ITDA) start processes of expropriating agrarian land.”

These are priceless pearls of wisdom! The hypocrites of PROVEA read us pious lectures on “the rule of law” but conveniently forget that for years the Venezuelan landlords have been beating, torturing and murdering peasants who dare to question their authority and demand their rights. The landowners do not feel bound by the “rule of law” and will fight by any means at their disposal to prevent a meaningful agrarian programme to be carried out. Whoever denies this is either a fool or a rogue.

The peasants are not fools and will not allow themselves to be cheated by smart lawyers and “democratic” demagogues. They know that the land will never be theirs unless they fight for it, unless the ruthless resistance and sabotage of the landowners is defeated. They also know from bitter experience that their interests cannot be guaranteed by bureaucratic measures and nice sounding speeches by men in smart suits in Caracas. They know that unless the agrarian reform is backed by energetic movement from below, it will remain a dead letter – like all such laws in the past.

Therefore the peasants are organizing themselves. They are taking initiatives to seize the land of the big landowners. Genuine democrats will not oppose such initiatives but support them enthusiastically. Only a corrupt bureaucrat and an agent of the counterrevolution fears the revolutionary initiatives of the workers and peasants! It is only these initiatives that have saved the Bolivarian Revolution time and time again. Those who seek to stifle the initiatives of the masses are consciously or unconsciously striving to weaken the Revolution, to deprive it of its main strength and motor force. The day these people succeed, the Revolution will be doomed.

Legalistic sophistry

These unlikely “Friends of the People” continue: “State Governors can promote and facilitate processes that correspond to the National Institute of Lands (INTI) and provide technical support but they cannot hand over land titles or touch land by expropriating.

Land owner’s rights of property must be respected along with legal processes, just and transparent administrative measures, opportune payment and just compensation.

“In the case of idle lands, owners must be guaranteed expedition of improvable farm certificates, as established in ITDA Art. 52.” (my emphasis)

These “clever” lawyers know the law back to front, inside out and upside down. Yes, they have studied their legal textbooks for many years, passed all their exams and made a lot of money out of using and abusing the law. They have turned the law into their private property – something that represents a very expensive cow that yields a lot of delicious milk for a privileged few. But the hungry masses, the poor peasant, the worker, the unemployed, have got very little out of it.

The Bolivarian Revolution has done a lot to rectify this position. It has torn up the old Constitution of the oligarchy and replaced it with a new and more democratic constitution. That is very welcome, but in and of itself it is by no means sufficient to change the position of the masses and to eliminate the injustices of the past, as so many Bolivarians so passionately desire.

The Bolivarian Constitution is only a weapon in the hands of the people. But a weapon is no use if it is not used to fight with. In the hands of the lawyers and bureaucrats the Bolivarian Constitution can be easily reduced to a scrap of paper – something that can be twisted and “interpreted” and turned into a dead letter. After all, even the most democratic constitution in the world has limited powers. It establishes certain limits within which the class struggle can be carried out. That is important because it can give a greater or lesser scope to the workers and peasants with which to carry out their struggle. What it can never do is to act as a substitute for the class struggle.

In order for the democratic Constitution to mean anything, it must be backed by mass action from below. Without that, it must remain only a dry husk, an empty shell devoid of all real content, the lifeless bones of a skeleton. Only the revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants can put flesh on these dry bones and fill democracy with a real content. To argue therefore that the Venezuelan peasants must confine themselves to what is acceptable to the lawyers, to accept “restraint”, to moderate their demands to what the bureaucrats consider “reasonable” – in short to sit back and wait for the land to be handed to them on a plate – would be to give up any possibility of a genuine agrarian reform ever being carried out in Venezuela.

The line of argument of these legalistic ladies and gentlemen is the height of arrogance and insolence towards the masses. As mentioned above, they inform us that “state Governors can promote and facilitate processes that correspond to the National Institute of Lands (INTI) and provide technical support but they cannot hand over land titles or touch land by expropriating.”

The first part of the sentence is surely redundant. It is to be supposed that all democratic state Governors are legally obligated to carry out the decisions of the legally elected government. Why need this be stated? Unless of course, there are Governors who are working in collaboration with the big landowners and the Counterrevolution to sabotage the decisions of the Caracas government.

Do such governors exist? Of course they do, and that is precisely why the peasants do not trust them to carry through a proper agrarian reform. That is precisely why the peasants have decided – quite rightly – to organize and to take their own initiatives. That is just what provokes the indignation of the “democrats” of PROVEA and other counterrevolutionaries, open and disguised.

The “sacred right of property”

Above all, the “Friends of the People” protest, the big estates must not be expropriated. Why not? Because that would be a violation of the sacred right to private property! But in a country where 75 percent of the productive land is in the hands of only about five percent of landowners, how is it possible to have a real agrarian reform without violating the so-called sacred right to private property? To renounce this would be to renounce the whole idea of agrarian reform in Venezuela. And that is just what our “democratic” men in suits would like, although politeness (and fear of the masses) prevents them from saying so openly.

These ladies and gentlemen prattle on about “just compensation”. But if anyone is entitled to just compensation it is the millions of peasants who have been exploited, cheated and oppressed for centuries by the landlords who have enriched themselves at the cost of the people. Their ranches and mansions have been built out of the blood, sweat and tears squeezed out of generations of poor men, women and children. And where did they get their property from in the first place? The land was not theirs to start with. It was seized from the native population by violence and trickery. Where was the “just compensation” then?

These “clever” sophists try to blind us with legal niceties. But the whole history of Latin America shows that the parasitic class of landlords has never shown the slightest regard for such legal niceties when it was a question of their own selfish interests. They obtained the land through violence and have held it ever since by violence. What was stolen from the people must be restored to the people. The question of compensation does not enter into it. The landlords have made their fortunes on the back of the people. They do not deserve a single cent more.

PROVEA states that the government cannot deliver titles on private lands, if it has not undertaken expropriation procedures beforehand and followed Constitution Art. 115 regarding the expropriation of lands considered of social interest or public utility. The talk about legal niceties is only a smoke screen designed to confuse the issue, as in phrases like:

“In the case of idle lands, owners must be guaranteed expedition of improvable farm certificates, as established in ITDA Art. 52.”

Our friends in PROVEA inform us that the Revolution must do this and must do that, and that it cannot do this and cannot do that. Really? But the essence of a Revolution is that it expresses the will of the people; that it stands for the interests of the majority over those of the minority. The laws that were made in the past were made by the rich minority to defend their own power and privileges. A Revolution that allowed itself to be paralysed by such laws would not deserve the name of a Revolution at all. It would be only a bureaucratic game, a fraud and an illusion.

When the masses voted by an overwhelming majority last August to endorse the Bolivarian Revolution, they did not intend their clearly declared intentions to be frustrated by their enemies who, having been ejected by the front door, are now seeking to re-enter by the back door. Having been defeated in open battle, they are resorting to manoeuvres and intrigues, hiding behind the law and using delaying tactics. If we accept this, it would mean subordinating the will of the majority to the machinations of a wealthy and privileged minority. Democracy would be reduced to a hollow phrase. The tail would wag the dog.

Fortunately, the masses have no intention of allowing this to happen.

The peasants mobilize for action

We recently received an interesting report of The Venezuelan Peasant Congress from El Nuevo Topo, signed by E. Gilman. This brief report clearly shows the real attitude that is developing at the base, not only among the workers but also among their natural allies, the poor peasants. In it we read the following:

“Caracas: On February 5th and 6th took place in Tucari the ‘Peasant Conference in Defense of National Sovereignty and for the Agrarian Revolution,’ sponsored by the Frente Nacional Campesino Ezequiel Zamora.

“Nearly 100 delegates met at the Berbere Cooperative, which is a collective farm run by largely Black farmers.

“Though there was universal support for President Hugo Chavez, the Agrarian Reform Law was severely attacked as it allows only lands over 5000 hectares to be expropriated and these lands need to be uncultivated to be covered by the law. The peasants criticized the Agrarian Reform Institute, which they claimed was so slow and bureaucratic that owners of latifundios would cut down whole forests off the land while the Agrarian Reform Institute made up its mind. Also many had received defective seed from the Institute. Many peasants who have taken lands directly have complained local judges are on the side of the landowners and have had local police drive them off the land [...]

“The conference discussed the need for armed self-defence as well as the possibility of guerrilla warfare if there is a U.S. invasion. They defended the need to build collective farms rather than dividing up the land. There was discussion on the need for accounting and discipline with those who refuse to work. The Conference agreed to set up a school on the Berbere farm to teach collective agriculture.

“The peasants discussed blocking the Panamerican Highway to get their demands. The only discordant note was from the local Mayor who told the peasants to have more patience and that the law was like a ‘father who makes rules for his child’. Her proposal for patience for solidly rejected. Many peasants stated they felt a ‘revolution within the revolution’ was necessary to have genuine People’s Power (Poder Popular.)”

These few lines speak louder than all the books and articles that have appeared on the Bolivarian Revolution. Here we see the dialectical relationship between the masses and the leadership of Hugo Chavez at work. Reflecting the pressure of the masses, the government approves an agrarian reform. The peasants take heart from this measure and press their demands. They express “universal support for President Hugo Chavez”, but at the same time they point out the limitations of the new law. It is welcome, but it does not go far enough. They therefore decide to help the government to go further by stepping up their actions from below.

The announcement of the new measures has prompted hundreds of land invasions and these have been met by the killing of dozens of peasant activists by the landlords and their agents. But as yet very little land has actually been awarded. This is admitted honestly by some officials. “That’s a self-criticism the revolution has to make,” says Rafael Alemán, the official in charge of the review at El Charcote. “We have not pushed this process forward.”

This need not surprise us. The machinery of government is slow and cumbersome. The bureaucracy cannot be an adequate instrument for revolutionary change. It drags its feet, fulfilling its obligations without enthusiasm, or even sabotaging the laws passed by the Bolivarian government. In its ranks there are many escualidos and disguised counterrevolutionaries. The peasants do not trust it, and they are right not to trust it. They criticize the Agrarian Reform Institute for its slowness and bureaucratic methods that help the owners of lantifundios to sabotage the reforms. They know – and the whole people know – that only the mass revolutionary movement can carry through the revolution!

Displaying an unerring revolutionary instinct, they answer the critics of the agrarian reform in a way that shows a very high level of political maturity. The enemies of the agrarian reform say: the break-up of the big landed estate into individual peasant plots will damage productivity and cause chaos and hunger. The peasants reply: we are for the expropriation of the big estates – but we do not insist on their division into a multitude of small peasant holdings. We advocate the establishment of collective farms on which the land can be cultivated in common, using all the advantages of modern machinery and technology and economies of scale. To do this it is not necessary that the land should be owned by a handful of rich parasites!

The revolutionary peasants are not fools. They fully understand the need for accounting and discipline on the collective farms. They will be run democratically by the producers themselves. Those who refuse to work will be disciplined by the rest of the collective, which is interested in establishing a high level of productivity, and to this end proposes the establishment of schools on the farms to teach the science of agriculture. What has this highly responsible attitude got to do with the grotesque caricature of “ignorant peasants” sabotaging scientific agricultural production that the western apologists of the landlords like to present us with?

Reformism or revolution?

Some sections of the leadership have tried to soothe the nerves of the opposition, reassuring them that the present measures do not threaten private property. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel has said farmers and ranchers with their titles in order and their lands productive have “nothing to fear.” But such assurances will do nothing to calm the fears of the property-owning classes or reduce their implacable hostility to the Bolivarian Revolution.

In a recent report on Vheadline.com we read the following:

“Carabobo State Governor Luis Felipe Acosta Carlez is gearing up to face an embarrassing spate of land grabs and squatters that has divided the pro-government Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR).

“Sporting red T-shirts and using revolutionary lingo, people have been invading private property and allegedly idle lands throughout Carabobo.

“The State Public Security Secretary has been entrusted with organizing preventive controls in all zones and to establish dialogue with illegal squatters.

“The Governor has been accused of vacillating in tackling the problem and has reacted preparing a decree of emergency to establish points of control to prevent people from other States invading lands and properties.

“The National Guard (GN) and State Police will join the plan and the aim is to secure a pacific eviction of lands ... part of the operation is to root out professional or political squatters and to prosecute them.”

Of course, it is necessary to distinguish between land occupations carried out by landless peasants and fraudulent activities carried out by so-called “professional squatters”, who in some places have invaded plots in order to sell them later. Such activities are the work of parasites and counterrevolutionaries and must be condemned. But in the first place it is wrong to use such incidents to try to condemn land occupations in general, and in the second place, the only way to prevent cases of fraudulent land occupations is to develop and extend genuinely revolutionary land occupations organized by democratically elected peasants committees.

Every genuine revolutionary democrat is duty bound to support the agrarian revolution. But in order to succeed, the most energetic revolutionary measures will be necessary. The peasants cannot depend upon the bureaucracy to give them the land. They know that they can depend only on their own strength. That is why they are getting organized, preparing to take direct action to get possession of the land.

The revolutionary mobilization of the peasants is the only guarantee that the agrarian reform of the Bolivarian Revolution will be carried into practice – that it will not remain a dead letter, a meaningless piece of paper lying in the drawer of some bureaucrat in Caracas. The peasants are realistic people. They understand that, whatever laws are passed in Caracas, the landowners will not give up their power, land and privileges without a fight. If they want the land they will have to fight for it!

PROVEA says more than it intends when it calls on the Public Ministry to speed up investigations into the assassination of numerous social activists in the countryside. What does this mean? Only this: that a bloody civil was is already raging in the countryside; that the landlords and their hired pistoleros are killing peasant leaders every day with complete impunity; that for the poor peasants the “rule of law” is just an empty phrase. And what solution do our learned friends propose for this problem? To ask the Ministry to “speed up its investigations”. That is a praiseworthy suggestion, and we have nothing against it in principle. But the peasants know that the wheels of justice move slowly and the armed agents of the counterrevolution move swiftly. It is their lives that are at stake and they must do something to defend themselves.

Everybody knows that in the last few years many peasants have been killed by the landlords and their armed gangs. In the report of the peasant congress we read: “At the end of October 2003, in Barinas, 120 policemen helped the large landowners destroy a school on the occupied land as well as giving the landowner 240,000 pounds of corn produced by peasants.” This is not an isolated case. The reactionary landlords are mobilizing to defeat the peasants and defend their power and privileges. They have no hesitation in resorting to violence. They have money, arms and influence. And, as this report shows, they are being aided by parts of the state apparatus.

Those who preach moderation and restraint to the peasants in order to avoid civil war in the countryside are missing the point. The point is that there is already a civil war in the countryside. This can only be cut short by the most determined revolutionary action by the peasants themselves, backed by their natural allies, their brothers and sisters in the towns and cities – the working class. The peasant will not remain with his arms folded while the reactionary gangs paid and armed by the landlords beat, intimidate and kill them.

“The conference discussed the need for armed self-defence as well as the possibility of guerrilla warfare if there is a U.S. invasion.” Yes! But the enemy of the Venezuelan peasants is not only U.S. imperialism. The enemy is at home! The Venezuelan oligarchy is nothing more than the local agency of U.S. imperialism. As long as it holds onto the land, the banks and key points of industry, the gains of the Revolution will never be safe, and the agrarian revolution will remain a mirage.

The peasantry must arm itself! That message has been given more than once by President Chavez. It is time to put it into practice. What is needed is not a guerrilla war, but organized self-defence, the establishment of democratically elected peasants committees in every village, armed with whatever weapons they can obtain to defend the people against the armed gangs of the counterrevolution. The committees should link up on a local, district and national basis, and in turn must link up with the committees of the workers in the urban centres.

This is the only way to bring about a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to the people in the countryside. The peasant committees can play a dual role: first, to mobilize and organize the peasant masses for the swift carrying out of an agrarian revolution, and then to establish democratic control over the management and administration of the collectivised estates. No other way is possible.

The agrarian revolution, if it is to succeed, must challenge the power of the oligarchy, and not only in the countryside. In order that agricultural production should not suffer irremediable damage, the expropriated farms must be run on collective lines. That can only succeed if they are guaranteed the necessary finance, cheap credits, cheap fertilizers, tractors and combine harvesters, lorries for transportation, and guaranteed markets for their products. That can only be achieved if they are integrated in an overall plan of production.

The first step in achieving this is the nationalization of the banks. Without control over finance and credit, it is impossible to control and plan the economy. It would be like trying to drive a car with no brakes, accelerator or gear-stick. The nationalization of the land and banks is an absolutely necessary measure – even as part of the national democratic revolution. But then the question would immediately be posed: why stop there? Why not expropriate the big firms that still remain in private hands? (We are not interested in the small ones.)

The reason why the oligarchy and the imperialists are panicking over the agrarian reform is precisely because they understand its underlying logic, which is to place a question mark over the so-called divine right to private property. That is absolutely correct! Instead of apologising and assuring the landlords and capitalists that they have nothing to fear, the Bolivarian Revolution should place at the top of its agenda the expropriation of the property of the corrupt and degenerate Venezuelan oligarchy.

President Chavez has stated correctly that capitalism is slavery. He has said that the future of the Bolivarian Revolution must be socialism. We agree with him one hundred and one percent. He has also publicly supported Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. What does this say? It says that under modern conditions the tasks of the national democratic (“bourgeois democratic”) revolution cannot be carried out by the bourgeoisie, and that the national democratic revolution can only succeed if it transforms itself into a socialist revolution.

The history of Venezuela – and the whole of Latin America – for the past 200 years is a graphic confirmation of this assertion. On the basis of capitalist slavery, no way forward is possible. It is necessary to break with landlordism and capitalism once and for all. That is the real meaning of the slogan: Revolution within the Revolution. It is the only way forward!

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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.

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”


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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