‘Now we build socialism’ Report on the Venezuelan Revolution

By Stuart Munckton

Click here for the Spanish version of this talk

[The general line of the following report was adopted by the DSP National Committee meeting on April 29 2007.]

This report seeks to reaffirm the general line and positions on the current phase of the Bolivarian revolution in the February 12 report adopted by the DSP National Executive. Subsequent events have shown the general analysis, of the opening of a new phase in the class struggle since the December 3 presidential elections, to be correct. The report contains more information on some of the analysis and formulations raised in this report, that comrades should refer in order to complement and flesh out this report.

Comrade Fred Fuentes, in Venezuela for the May Day brigade, wrote in the April 25 Green Left Weekly (#707): “Returning once again to Venezuela – having last spent four months here in 2005 – I recalled a refrain that had been constantly repeated by Venezuelans: ‘After we re-elect Chavez in 2006, the real revolution will begin.’ It took very little time for me to realise exactly what they meant. I arrived on the eve of the fifth anniversary of those historic events that shook Venezuela from April 11-13 in 2002 … Across all of Caracas, banners and billboards carried the slogan that summarised what had occurred on those fateful days: ‘Every 11 has its 13 – From oligarchic counter-revolution to civic-military revolution’ …

“It was impossible to miss the upbeat feeling among the people on April 13, as hundreds, and then thousands, began to congregate outside the presidential palace, just as they had five years ago, to await their president.”

Speaking in front an estimated million-strong demonstration, “Chavez called on the Venezuelan people to ‘radicalise’ the revolution towards the ‘new socialism of the 21st century’, to thunderous applause and chants of approval.”

Fred explains how the combination of consolidating the gains for working people internally via social missions “in order to attack poverty and organise the population”, and an international offensive that combines propaganda – captured by Chavez’s speech to the UN – with concrete agreements that advance the struggle to against imperialism, and to unite the Third World, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, has strengthened the revolution.

Fred writes: “This has helped provide the space for a rapid accelerating of the Bolivarian revolution, and with it an opening up of a period of definition of the process’s goals and line of march. In the economic sphere, Chavez told the April 12 rally, the government has ‘no plan to eradicate private property in Venezuela, as long as it subordinates itself to the national interest and the socialist project’. If it didn’t, then it was “condemned to progressively disappear”.”

Chavez explained, however, that the government’s emphasis would be in working with “new forms of property, social property … collective property … co-management, self-management”. It would encourage “direct or indirect social property via the companies of social property, of social production, and many other mechanisms that we are designing”.

Fred reports: “Perhaps most importantly, Chavez stated in his speech on April 13 that the revolution once again called on the Venezuelan people to participate in the formation of the new united socialist party. Stating that to date the revolution ‘hasn’t had real parties’, he referred to the construction of the new party as ‘the greatest necessity of this revolution’.”

New phase

Since the February 12 report to the NE, the assessment made of the significance of the victory by the revolutionary forces in the presidential elections and the post-election announcements, as opening a new phase in the class struggle, has continued to be confirmed.

The report stated: “The victory of President Hugo Chavez in the December 3 presidential elections, on an explicit platform of creating socialism, was a major victory in the class struggle in Venezuela, and it opens the way to a new phase in the struggle to decisively deepen the revolution, breaking the political power of the objectively pro-capitalist state bureaucracy, and the economic power of the capitalist class. This victory cannot be understood either in purely electoral terms, or in a purely ‘Chavista versus opposition’ framework.”

The report pointed out that the mobilisation in the lead up and on the day of the elections “both broke the potential counterrevolutionary offensive and they showed that the revolutionary momentum remains on the up”.

The report also noted that the victory in the presidential elections “cuts into the pro-Chavez camp, which many revolutionaries insist has its fair share of ‘counterrevolutionaries in red berets’.” This point has begun to increasingly play out on the ground since the NE report. The report noted the significance of the “revolution within the revolution”, that is the developing internal differences within the revolution, which is an expression of the class struggle. These differences are now beginning to break out into the open, and the catalyst for this has been the struggle to construct a united, mass revolutionary party as a political weapon to advance the revolution, to hep lead the construction of socialism and popular power.

The comments noted by the NE report by John Riddell in a January 11 Socialist Voice article (reprinted in Green Left Weekly January 18, 2007) on Chavez’s post-election call to construct such a party announcement of the need for a united party for the revolution, explain the process that is now under way. He said: “The prospect of a united, fighting party of the Venezuelan masses is indeed unsettling to the conservative careerists who occupy many high posts in the pro-Chavez political parties. But for working people, it could be the instrument they need to break the present deadlock in Venezuela’s class struggle and move decisively against capitalist rule.”

The NE report explained the context for these comments: “This is describing a situation of an incomplete struggle for power … The class struggle, as Marx said, is a political struggle, and politics is the struggle for power. The state is made up of the institutions by which the power of a class is enforced on society. Breaking the deadlock means resolving the question of state power decisively in favour of the workers and peasants.”

Report looked at key moves since the election that showed intent to significantly deepen the revolution:

* Chavez’s insistence in a series of post-election speeches, beginning with his victory speech, that the elections were a mandate to construct socialism, and that this now an immediate task facing the revolution. He also strongly emphasised, in relation to this, the need top wage war on bureaucracy and corruption, and to “dismantle the bourgeois state” and advance the construction of a new, revolutionary state, via an “explosion of communal power”, with the communal councils the key institution singled out to achieve this.

* Chavez launched what he called “five motors”: First of all the enabling law, granted by the National Assembly on January 31, that allows Chavez to decree laws in a range of areas that, in their totality, amount to the transformation of the political and economic legal framework – in other words, the legal framework to construct a “new, revolutionary state” and a socialist economic system. Secondly, a new education system, aimed at a “moral, cultural” revolution, based on socialist principles. A third motor is constitutional reform, to bring the constitution in line with the explicit socialist aims of the revolution. A fourth is the reorganising the regional division of power. The fifth is the construction of “communal power” via a massive expansion of the communal councils, currently 19,000 of which exist and with the plan to build as many as 50,000.

* Chavez also insisted the government would “renationalise” privatised companies in a bid for state control over the “strategic sectors” of the economy. CANTV and six electricity companies have since been nationalised. This also tightens the existing currency controls that help prevent capital flight by controlling carefully access to US dollars. CANTV and Caracas Electricity have been traded on the NY stock exchange, meaning shares could be sold in the US for US dollars.

* The forced shifting of oil projects in Orinoco Belt to joint ventures giving PDVSA a majority of at least 60%. Chavez has given companies until May 1 to carry this out, almost all companies have already agreed to the terms, with the exception of two companies and the government says they are preparing to take them over if they don’t comply. This advances the process last year where other 32 oil ventures were transferred to joint ventures with PDVSA majority. Two companies that didn’t agree to those takeovers and, since the NE report, the government has carried out its threat to take them over.

* Other announcements include the ending of autonomy for the Central Bank, changes to ensure full government control over the entire energy industry – including gas, and calls to cut the salaries of public officials to no more than US$1400 per month, which would reduce the salaries of top bureaucrats significantly.

* Also the push for workers councils in private and public workplaces across the country. Fred’s article in Green Left reports on some of the discussions underway in the workers movement about these councils and what their roles should be. He quotes Marcela Maspero, a leader of one of the currents in the UNT, as saying ““political organisations of the working class, based on direct democracy and control over production”.

They had to play the role of “eradicating capitalist exploitation, and transforming relations of production in order to create socialised ownership over the means of production”. Although these councils have only just begun to appear in a handful of companies, an intense debate at both the governmental and grassroots levels is unfolding over their nature and role.”

* Also, we saw the government respond very strongly to a new attempt to sabotage the economy by the capitalist class, which was an attempt to manufacture a shortage of food. This was in the context of inflation running has high at 17% in 2006 with a 2% increase in January. This has been a key fact used by the corporate media, including by Peter Costello, to attack the Chavez government as destroying the economy. Part of what has driven inflation has been a significant increase in consumption, driven largely by the increase in living standards of the poorest Venezuelans. According to government figures, reports in a March 14 Presidential Press article, consumption increased in 2006 by a record 18%, with a 16% increase in food consumption. The largest increases were recorded amongst the poor.

The shortages manufactured by the capitalists were also an attempt to break the price controls enforced by the government over basic goods since the defeat of the lock-out in 2003, with private supermarkets as well as transport and distribution chains claiming it was impossible to make a profit selling the food at legal prices, a claim disputed by the government. Capitalists have resorted to the hoarding of goods and speculation, selling the good illegally on the black market at prices higher than allowed by the price controls. The government responded strongly, with Chavez issuing a number of decrees to resolve the problem – reducing VAT on key goods, with the aim of eventually completely eradicating the VAT, to be compensated by an increase in taxation on the rich. There was a loosening of some price controls to allow for small price increases. Chavez threatened to nationalise any company that engaged in hoarding and speculation, and at least one expropriation was carried out. Also, the government introduced local currencies valid in specific areas, and a new national currency, the ‘strong Bolivar”, in an attempt to combat inflation.

Most importantly, was the organisation of working people to confront the plot, with the call to form committees of social control organised through the communal councils to price the decrees and directly confront hoarding and speculation. In a March 9 article published on Rebellion website, legendary Peruvian revolutionary socialist Hugo Blanco favourably comparing the response of the Chavez government to this attempted sabotage to the response of the Popular Unity government in Chile to a similar situation, arguing that the Chavez government has appeared to learn the lessons from the defeat of the Popular Unity government by a US-backed coup – that in response to attack from the right-wing, the revolutionary movement needs to respond by going on the offensive. He wrote: “Another piece of good news coming from [Venezuela]: far from pushing Chavez back, the shortage of foodstuffs caused by hoarding merchants makes the Venezuelan president move forward to warn that if they keep hoarding supplies the supermarkets will be nationalized and assigned to the people’s ‘community councils’. Way to go.”

The impressive results speak for themselves, the plot was largely smashed and the decisive action saw immediate gains in the battle against inflation, recording the lowest monthly inflation level in 19 years in the month of March, -0.7%. (Inflation remains a difficult problem, however, rising again by 1.4% in April).

We assessed in the report that this post-election offensive amounted to a deepening of the implementation of transitional measures that amount to increasingly deep inroads into the rights of private property, that increasingly open the way to a socialised, planned economy.

Continuing advances

Since then, this trajectory has deepened.

* The planned oil nationalisations have been carried out. On May 1, thousands of oil workers participated in a symbolic take-over. Reuters reported that at midnight on May 1, workers who had gathered for a symbolic event welcoming the takeover “exploded into a frenzied celebration after a New Year’s Eve-style countdown, dancing until the early dawn hours with some standing atop a pipeline that runs toward the installations”. PDVSA workers at the event symbolically swapped their traditional blue helmets for new red ones, in a show of support for the revolution. Conoco-Philips is the only company yet to agree to voluntarily agree to the terms, and the government has said if it doesn’t agree to the terms, it will be forced to leave the country and be denied the right to be a minority partner in any venture.

* The government has pushed ahead with the agrarian reform, expropriating 16 landed estates determined to be idle, amounting to 330,000 hectares. This signals the move against privately-owned latifundists, with most of the over 2 million hectares land so far redistributed being state-owned land. Such a push was called for by Chavez after the recall referendum and some small gains were made, however clearly there is an attempt for a new push to take advantage of the fresh victories that shift the relationship of forces in favour of working people.

Especially important is Chavez’s call at the same time to construct “new social relations” in the countryside. “Starting today it will pass on to be what it always should have been: social property and social production for the satisfaction of the needs of the people.” Chavez also tied it to the struggle for food sovereignty, and, like other private property, posed the question in a transitional way, that is, those private landowners who are willing to use their property in a productive way, as part of the struggle for food sovereignty, will not be expropriated. This mirrors repeated calls made by Chavez in relation to capitalist-owned industry in general. Chavez also announced a new agricultural plan based on “the new production model on the base of principles of agrarian socialism and of social property”, including a US$200 million subsidy to assist production in cotton, sugar, corn, rice and sorghum.

* The expansion of coal mining in Zulia on indigenous lands has been halted by presidential decree. This is part of the battle against bureaucracy and indicates gains in this area. The NE report stated: “the key culprit [in allowing the mining] is a state institution, working with multinationals. Indigenous people protest, while expressing support for Chavez. This environmentally-destructive exploitation of indigenous lands is in violation of the Bolivarian constitution. It reflects the fact that there is still a struggle to be able implement parts of the constitution, with imperialist interests, backed by the state bureaucracy, still holding the power to prevent its implementation.” The halting of the mining is a victory in the battle against the state bureaucracy and a further sign of the deepening of the revolution, and the shift in the relationship of forces in the country further in favour of the oppressed.

* Social gains continue to increase, such as the graduation of first doctors in integrated medicine to work in the barrios. Also the opening of the Latin American school of medicine to train doctors from around the region in this Cuban-invented model. Also a new housing mission has been announced, aimed at transforming the barrios and complement the existing mission that seeks to construct new homes.

* Another example of the post-election offensive was reported by El Universal reported on April 23, when Chavez “announced he is drafting a resolution -under the Enabling Law that granted him special ruling powers – to ‘regulate exploitation in private clinics’.” Chavez said “Any clinic failing to comply shall be closed down. Perhaps we could use its premises to install (government primary health care plan Barrio Adentro -mostly administered by Cuban doctors), or we could use it as a popular clinic. That is why I am making this a resolution applicable nationwide. If there is need to expropriate, expropriation will take effect immediately.”

* Environmental gains have continued, the first phase of Mission Energy Revolution has been carried out successfully with the replacement of over 53 million light bulbs in five million homes with energy efficient and environmentally friendly fluorescent bulbs. Unlike Comrade Malcolm Turnball’s proposal for Australia, this is free of charge. The hailing of Venezuela by the Green Party of England and Wales spokesperson, Derek Walls, is a sign of the growing international recognition of this aspect of the revolution, which, like Cuba, is proving in practice the environmental gains that can be made by a country that seeks to build an anti-capitalist alternative to the profit-driven system.

* On May Day, a series of new pro-worker measures were announced, including a 20% increase in the minimum wage to US$286 per month, the highest in Latin America. When Chavez was elected it was $185. Also, a new law is being drafted to shorten to working week from 44 to 36 hours by 2010, mandates the provision of meals to workers in workplaces with more than 20 employees and aims to introduce socialist education classes into workplaces.

* Since the May Day oil nationalisations, Chavez has threatened fresh nationalisations, targeting private banks and the steel company SIDOR, which was nationalised before Chavez came to power. Chavez has said banks that do not comply with government regulations to set aside a significant portion of their funds to help develop the Venezuelan economy could be nationalised. He criticised SIDOR for exporting steel products without first satisfying the demands of Venezuelan industry, which are forced to import steel products, and said his government would introduce a law to this affect with the treat of nationalising the company if it didn’t comply. As the largest shareholder in SIDOR is an Argentinean company, this opened the possibility of a rift with the government of Nestor Kirchner. Since then, an agreement was reached with SIDOR that would switch to production aimed at the needs of Venezuelan industry; the price for Venezuelan industry would be cut by up to 20%; and SIDOR would pay a higher price for the iron it purchases from the state-owned company, which was previously subsidised.

Chavez also announced the creation and funding of 49 new state companies to develop Venezuelan industries, to be run as “social production units” – which Chavez has previously described as unites to help construct socialism that would be run according to the needs of the Venezuelan people rather than generating profit.

* Chavez continues to indicate the radicalisation of the revolution, and continues to play an important role in pushing socialist education. One indication was his discussion on Alo President on Sunday 22 April, Chavez recommended Leon Trotsky’s The Transitional Program, and discussed its content, commenting: “It is a short booklet, no more than 30, 40 pages, but it is worth its weight in gold.” . In particular, he put enormous emphasis on the question of leadership, pointing out that Trotsky’s key argument was the while the time was ripe, and rapidly becoming overripe for revolution, the critical factor missing was revolutionary leadership.

Chavez said: "Trotsky points out something which is extremely important, and he says that [the conditions for proletarian revolution] are starting to rot, not because of the workers, but because of the leadership which did not see, which did not know, which was cowardly, which subordinated itself to the mandates of capitalism, of the great bourgeois democracies, the trade unions. Well, they became adapted to the system, the big Communist parties, the Communist International became adapted to the system…”

Chavez commented on the conditions for revolution in Latin America: "Well, here the conditions are given, I think that this thought or reflection of Trotsky is useful for the moment we are living through, here the conditions are given … and in Venezuela this is a matter of course, to carry out a genuine revolution".

Struggle for a revolutionary party

However, most decisive is the battle for a new united party, to be built from the ground up. This has made concrete advances since the NE report, and the debates around it have put it at the centre of the revolution. Chavez’s call that the party needs to be constructed from the grass-roots up, and that it can’t simply be an amalgam of the existing parties, but must be democratically controlled from the ground up, has been fleshed out. On April 19, Chavez launched a new phase of the process, with the swearing in of 16,000 “promoters whose job it is to go into poor communities and carry out a recruit drive. This was the second wave of promoters, with the aim of reaching 70,000 such activists, and the aim of recruiting up to 5 million people to the party. Then, party members will hold elections in cells of the new party for delegates to the founding congress which will adopt a program. Chavez has insisted that there will be no quotas involved, no deal for positions with the existing parties and organisations. Even Chavez himself will have to be elected by his local cell as a delegate to the founding congress.

The question of program and ideology will be the product of far reaching and extended discussion and debate. The congress will begin meeting in August, and will continue on and off until December, in order for delegates to return to their cells to enable ongoing discussion by all members.

On April 29, a three day recruitment drive saw the PSUV exceed its recruitment target by 28.5%, reaching 600,000 with only 85% of the tally counted, according to a May 7 <Venezuelanalysis.com> article.

As Chavez has said, creating a mass revolutionary party is the most decisive question facing the revolution. The revolution requires a political weapon that can unite around a common program the most active and conscious revolutionary militants to lead the struggle for socialism and to complete the struggle for power. The construction of such a party is essential to make a reality the drive to dramatically deepen the revolution to smash the capitalist system. The struggle for such a party is a crucial part of the class struggle that exists with the Chavista camp, and the debate that has broken out around the party is an expression of this.

The relationship of forces with the broad Chavista camp has been that the political momentum and initiative, especially since the defeat of the recall referendum, is with the revolutionary section, not least because of the role of Chavez in constantly radicalising the discourse combined with the growing confidence of working people encouraged by the government. However, the bureaucratic and opportunist sectors have had much more organisational strength and institutional hold, which has helped slow down the revolution and make it much harder to implement progressive measures. The hegemony of Chavez meant this sector has been unable to openly oppose the direction of the revolution, as their association with Chavez has been the key to their holding their positions.

However, the attempt to create a new party as a democratic party of revolutionary militants is the attempt to overcome this weakness on the side of the revolutionary sector, and create a political weapon against the bureaucrats. A significant number of elected officials have played a role of slowing down the implementation of revolutionary measures, not least the construction of popular power, and in his informal comments after arriving back in Venezuela Fred indicates many of these appear unlikely to get re-elected as a result of the growing organisation of the grass roots.

Fred also points out that the struggle for a political weapon to break the institutional hold of the bureaucratic sector is not entirely clear cut, as a number of bureaucrats within the MVR, as well as smarter bureaucrats in other parties, are going to go into the new party, meaning that there will be an internal struggle in order to for the revolutionary, cadre party Chavez insists is necessary to be created. Chavez says it can not replicate the pre-existing situation, but plenty of bureaucrats will be attempting to do just that.

Chavez has explained how the main Chavista parties have operated in a way that has hindered the revolution, hindered, pointing out if there was the cadre of a particular party who was the best person to fill a position, that person would often not be able to be appointed because other parties would demand that they also get a position in return. The aim is to end this situation by giving as much control to the grass roots as possible.

Chavez has explicitly tied the construction of the new, united party to the deepening of the revolution and sharpening of the class struggle, arguing on March 24: "as the revolution deepens, as it expands, these contradictions will come out openly, even some that up until now had been covered up, they will intensify, because we are dealing here with economic issues, and there is nothing that hurts a capitalist more than his wallet".

It is over the party question that the beginning of the much anticipated break within the pro-Chavez camp between the revolutionary sectors and the bureaucratic, opportunist, reformist, often corrupt and objectively pro-capitalist sectors is occurring, which tells us a lot about the dynamics involved.

So far, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (the largest pro-Chavez party founded by Chavez) and a host of smaller parties have agreed to dissolve into the new party. The Frente Francisco de Miranda, itself an attempt to begin to construct revolutionary cadre organisation among youth, is apparently playing a key role. However, three parties have so far decided against joining the PSUV: Podemos, the Homeland for All Party (PPT) and the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). In that order, they represent the three largest pro-Chavez parties after the MVR, although nowhere near as large. Podemos and PPT in particular have borne much of the brunt of grass-roots activists’ anger over bureaucratic and opportunist practices. Podemos (which stands for “For Social Democracy”) is generally regarded as the most consciously organised reformist and bureau tic section of the pro-Chavez camp.

Well, Chavez has not minced his words. He has attacked all three parties strongly, while urging unity. Comments from Fred indicate a very strong pull from the grass roots in favour of the party, building momentum Chavez is clearly hoping to take full advantage of. He has reemphasised that while joining is voluntary, any party that doesn’t will have to leave the government, going as far as to say they might as well join the opposition.

However it is extremely significant that the brunt of his attack has fallen on Podemos, which hold a number of elected positions, especially in local councils. For this reason the promotion of the new institutions of popular power such as the communal councils represent a particular attack on their interests. Key leaders of Podemos, such as Ismael García and Didalco Bolívar (who is governor of Aragua), have attacked the new party implying it represents a move towards totalitarianism, and against what Garcia has called a “single line of thinking”. It is also telling that they have received the public sympathy of the opposition, who have taken a “poor oppressed Podemos” line, essentially “look how the nasty Chavez treats his allies”.

Chavez has gone for their throats. He has said as far as he is concerned, they are as good as in the opposition. He has responded to their comments that they stand for “democratic socialism” by saying he supports democratic socialism, however they are social democrats and supporters of capitalism. He has said they don’t support the slogan of “socialism homeland or death, and are counterrevolutionaries. He has also publicly supported campaigns to have Podemos governors, such s Bolivar, recalled, saying they should be voted out.

A very clear example of the class differences at work here came over the movement by workers at the Sanitarios Maracay textile factory, who have been occupying their factory and running it under their control since November, to have their factory expropriated. The NE report noted a demonstration that united different sections of the UNT and included the labour minister Jose Ramon Rivero, who addressed the workers, supported their demands and said he was there with the explicit approval of Chavez, who supported the workers. The workers have come up against the state bureaucracy, which does not want the company to be nationalised.

While travelling through Aragua state governed by Bolivar, the Podemos leader, Bolivar set the police and national guard not he workers, repressing violently attacking their demonstration and arresting participants.

The PCV appears to be a difference case. Unlike a group like Podemos, they appear to have played generally a positive role on the ground in the revolutionary movement, in particular in the construction of popular power. It was a a PCV member David Velasquez, now minister for popular power, who drew up the communal council law, and PCV deputies who introduced legislation on the creation of workers councils.

However, the public positions of the PCV on why there are not joining the united party reveals the same basic dynamic. Their explanations are fundamentally right-wing ones, based on the Stalinist two-stage theory of revolution in underdeveloped countries. In the public document that came out of their March congress that decided against joining the new party, the PCV argued that the revolution is only in its national liberation stage, and is not yet socialist. As such, they support a “front” of all groups representing different social classes, including the “progressive bourgeoisie” willing to defend Venezuela against imperialism. It includes the sectarian implication that the working class in this alliance would be represented by themselves as the legitimate Marxist-Leninist party.

This line stands in contrast to the actual stage of the Venezuelan revolution, where the socialist road has clearly been opened and where Chavez constantly insists that the construction of socialism is an immediate task facing the revolution. In fact, the same document sets out he key tasks facing the revolution as “destroy the capitalist state” and for the “transfer of power to the people”. It also supports the nationalisations and calls for their extension to other key sectors of the economy. It is possible this is a reflection of their internal contradictions and differences.

There are differences within the PCV of this approach, which goes as far as the ban dual membership according to Fred. Fred indicates it is generally those in the social movements or who work in the government who are most supportive of the new party, while the strongest opposition is within the existing apparatus of the PCV.

The approach of the PCV is important for us to understand in relation to those we work with in the solidarity movement, especially the Communist Party of Australia which seems to be prioritising relations with the PCV.. This could become a big problem for the CPA, because this would seem to be hitching their wagon to the wrong horse. Whatever happens in the internal struggle in the PSUV, it would seem very likely that unless the PCV change their positions, by the end of this year, they could very easily find themselves increasingly irrelevant.

Fred reports that all three parties are paying a high price for their opposition, with people leaving Podemos and PPT in droves. The former education minister from the PPT has resigned, as has Ali Rodriguez, currently ambassador to Cuba but was previously in charge of PDVSA following the defeat of the bosses lock-out.

There is an internal debate within the PCV, with a statement in support of the PSUV signed by 14 members of the 41-strong central committee. Under the slogan “Now or never”, they argue that the push for a new party to help construct socialism works to help fulfil the historic aims of the PCV, and if they turn their back on the new party, they are sacrificing the current revolution for a hypothetical future revolution that might require the PCV not to dissolve today. They have not yet actually resigned from the PCV, but unless the PCV changes its mind it would seem a matter of time before they do as joint membership is banned. It appears David Velasquez, minister for popular power, has left the PCV, or if not he is on his way out because he has an official position already in the committee to oversee the formation of the new party.

The new party needs to be understood in conjunction with the push for popular power. Both are tied to the attempt to construct socialism, and are given their revolutionary content as a result of their role as weapons to this end. The communal councils, and proposed workers councils, deals with the broad mass, while the new party aims to unite the vanguard, albeit in a very broad way. The attempt to build popular power is important to both create the actual social force capable of replacing the capitalist class and state bureaucracy in running the economy and state, and providing the institutional measures to do this. That is, the only way to create the social force out of the working people capable of governing is to give people the experience of governing, and take them through the experience and transform them through what Marx called “revolutionary activity”.

However, the leadership also understands very clearly and emphasise repeatedly that this is not enough, it requires a conscious ideological campaign to transform consciousness, which is why one of the motors is socialist education. Here is where the new party, and the extended project to discuss its ideology and program, come in. This is the struggle for a Leninist party.

The new phase on the revolution, the construction of socialism, requires the advance on these two fronts in order to become a reality. Chavez, in the Alo Presidente program where he spoke of the Transitional Program, explained it this way, commenting favourably on Trotsky’s observation that the critical question facing the working class is leadership: "Now, the leadership, this is why I insist so much on the need for a party, because we have not had a revolutionary leadership up to the tasks of the moment we are living in, united, orientated as a result of a strategy, united, as Vladimir Illich Lenin said, [into] a machinery able to articulate millions of wills into one single will. This is indispensable to carry out a revolution, otherwise it is lost, like the rivers that overflow.”

The joint struggles around popular power and the revolutionary party are crucial to resolve what the NE report assessed as “an incomplete struggle for power”. The report noted: “The class struggle, as Marx said, is a political struggle, and politics is the struggle for power. The state is made up of the institutions by which the power of a class is enforced on society.” The report noted the new phase opened by Chavez post the election was aimed at “resolving this struggle in favour of the workers and peasants”.

Transitional measures

The NE report noted that the “struggle to implement the economic measures creates the framework for the political struggle to extend the power of working people. The economic measures are transitional measures, in the sense spelled out in The Transitional Program, the document written by Leon Trotsky and adopted as the program of the Fourth International in 1938. They do not amount to socialism in and of themselves but they act as bridge in that direction by increasingly undermining capitalism while shifting the economy further towards one that solves the needs of working people …

“These are measures that are part of carrying out the national democratic revolution by enabling Venezuela to increase its economic sovereignty and further the struggle to develop the nation to overcome the legacy of imperialist exploitation. However, it is undeniable that the road to socialism has been opened and these measures therefore go beyond the national democratic revolution” and are steps towards socialism …

“The nationalisations therefore are both national democratic measures, and anti-capitalist measures that advance the struggle towards socialism. Clearly, these measures are not starting this process from scratch, but are building on gains already made in this direction; most significantly the government gaining control over the state-run oil industry PDVSA in early 2003 … The new measures are aimed to extend state control over the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy.”

Ongoing struggle for power

The NE report notes: “There is an ongoing struggle for power in Venezuela, and control over a number of state institutions is still contested. The task is to make further gains in constructing a new revolutionary state based directly on the workers and peasants and acting in their interests, and dismantling the old state structures that serve the capitalist class.

“As in the economic field, this is not starting from scratch. Especially crucial, without which the revolutionary government would have been overthrown, is the purging of the openly counterrevolutionary forces from the armed forces following the failed April 2002 coup, and the ongoing transformation of the armed forces into a weapon to defend the interests of the workers and peasants through the ‘civil-military alliance’ …”

This armed power of the revolution is being complemented by the significant expansion of the territorial guards and armed reserves, explicitly being organised as an attempt to “arm the people” and are also being organised through the communal councils. As part of the new phase, there is an attempt to deepen the transformation of the armed forces and Chavez has made a number of statements post the elections that the armed forces must be a tool to build socialism, and that officers have to support socialism or they should leave. El Universal reported on April 23, Chavez “once again invited the argued that ‘the Armed Force is a political instrument’ and has the last word as to the fate of the people. ‘The Armed Force has an obligation to support the decision of the majority, and the majority here endorsed socialism. The Armed Force has no other choice than supporting the people’s lawful and constitutional decision’.”

In the lead up to the elections, Chavez reportedly held a meeting with the top officers in which he spoke to them about socialism explicitly for the first time, having previously emphasised nationalism and anti-imperialism in his appeals to the officers. He worse a red t-shirt, rather than an army uniform for the first time. This campaign, combined with using the communal councils are the framework to organise the poor as an armed force, as crucial to deepening the transformation of the armed forces into a tool of the socialist revolution.

However, contrary to what is implied by comrade Marce Cameron’s contribution to The Activist “State and Revolution in Venezuela”, where he argued that the seizure of state power has happened, this has not ended the question of state power. The position put forward by Marce in that contribution is not the same as the general line adopted by the DSP previously, or in the February 12 report.

At the 22nd DSP congress in January 2006, the report delivered by comrade Kerryn Williams, “Imperialist crisis and the advancing Venezuelan revolution” (The Activist Vol 16 #1), adopted unanimously by congress delegates, identified the institutions not under control of the revolution as the “judiciary, the police force and a large section of the state bureaucracy” (The Activist Vol 16 #1, p7), pointing out there was still a battle for control over these institutions. The inherited structures tasked with the actual administration of the state remain dominated by a corrupt, objectively counterrevolutionary bureaucracy that slow down or sabotage the implementation of revolutionary measures. In the film by Global Women’s Strike made around the time of the World Social Forum in Caracas in January 2006, Journey with the Revolution, an international adviser to Chavez put the figure at 75% of the state bureaucracy are hostile and play a negative role. The NE report contained some concrete examples.

Chavez explained in an interview that was published in the September 26, 2006 Green Left Weekly that there was a “bureaucratic counterrevolution that is inside the state”. He said: “I spend my time with a whip because all around me is the enemy of an old and new bureaucracy that is resisting change.” This is the meaning of Chavez’s comments since on the need to “dismantle the bourgeois state”, and create a “new, revolutionary state”. This sums up the general position of a wide range of Venezuelan revolutionaries. This view is expressed in Venezuela as: “the Fourth Republic is yet to die and the Fifth Republic is still being born”.

Overcoming this is not simply a question of legislation by the government or intention of the revolutionary leadership. The aim of constructing parallel institutions (via the missions) and in the economy (with the cooperatives and the co-managed enterprises) is both to get around the blockage of the old state bureaucracy, but most importantly to take the broader population through an experience and organise them in order to create the conditions to break the power of the old bureaucracy.

There is a strong passive culture amongst the poor that looks to above to solve problems. While there is plenty of evidence there is growing energy and enthusiasm among the working class, the majority of the workforce is still largely unorganised, and the organised workers are suffering a crisis of leadership with the split in the UNT. Because of the specific social weight of workers in the formal economy, due to their role in production, compared to the often than the unorganised mass of urban poor that have formed the main social base of the revolution from its early days, overcoming this problem is important for the revolution to be able to decisively move forward.

However, the government is also seeking to overcome this problem through a process of “proletarianisation” of the mass of urban poor via the promotion of cooperatives to organise them into collective production, as well as creating jobs through the expansion of state industry. The massive growth of cooperatives, not without many problems, from around 800 when Chavez was elected to as many as 180,000 today, is a very important part of this, and the government indicates the number of workers in the formal sector has grown from under 50% to 57% today. Also, unemployment has fallen below 10%, the lowest level in many years. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go and the problems in the workers movement remains a significant obstacle to be overcome.

Our position

It is not possible to grasp the significance of the revolutionary government’s announcements and actions post the elections unless you can see that it is about carrying out an ongoing struggle for state power. The partial degree by which power has been won by workers and peasants has conditioned the partial nature of the implementation of the government’s program so far.

We have used the formula, first adopted at the DSP National Committee meeting in November 2004, of an embryonic workers and peasants’ state. This describes situation where a workers and farmers’ government, created struggles around the coup and the lock-out, has come into being. However, this government is not simply floating in mid air, it relies on a certain institutional support based on the armed forces and increasingly the new institutions of popular power. This is where the description ‘embryonic” comes in, it simply describes the combination of a revolutionary government with a partial, unfinished struggle for control of the state as a whole.

The NC report stated: “resolving [the struggle for power] is the decisive question facing the revolution”. The revolutionaries had “yet to decisively resolve what Marx referred to as the ‘battle of democracy’, they have yet to raise the working class to the position of the ruling class”. It argued that “Venezuela is neither a consolidated capitalist nor workers’ state but is in a process of transition from one to the other” (TA Vol 14, #5, p7).

In the Program of the Democratic Socialist Party in the section “Democracy and the transition to socialism”, (page 122), point three states: “The dismantling of the capitalist state, in the first place its repressive apparatus (military forces, police, judicial and penal system) is a necessary prerequisite for the conquest of political power by the working class.” As we assessed at our last congress, this is still playing out in Venezuela.

It is no surprise that in attacks on the revolutionary government, the corporate media often highlights very real problems with the police, courts and brutal penal system, which so far have been unable to be reformed. We need to be able to explain the limitations of the power of the government in answering these allegations, which are the limitations of the power held by the revolution.

A workers and farmers’ government

An important formulation from the Marxist tradition, for which there are a series of concrete historical examples of how this plays out, is that of the workers and farmers’ government. This was formulated by the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, as a slogan that calls for the formation of a government “independent of the bourgeoisie” as a transitional formation on the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist state. The tasks of such a government would be to move as quickly as possible to dismantle the capitalist state and transfer power to a new workers state. “Such a government falls short of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but is still an important starting point for winning this dictatorship,” the Comintern theses argue.

The exact way such a struggle played out, and the exact pace at which this process of transformation would take, can only be determined by concrete struggle. One example of this process was the Cuban Revolution. In our resolution published in 1985 entitled The Cuban Revolution and its Extension, we argued that there was a transitional period in the Cuban Revolution between the formation of a government independent of the bourgeoisie, and the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We argued there were three key points in this process. The overthrow of Batista created a situation of dual power, in this case between a government dominated by representatives of the bourgeoisie, but the armed power lay with the revolutionary army of the July 26 movement. The struggle that developed over the implementation of the agrarian reform in July 1959 created a workers’ and farmers’ government, described as a transitional form of state power based on an alliance of the proletariat and peasants. With the widespread expropriations in October 1960, the socialist state – the full dictatorship of the proletariat – was created.

Not all examples of a workers and farmers government have led to the successful formation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Algeria, the workers and farmers government of Ben Bella from 1962-65 was defeated by a coup by one section of its leadership, based on the armed forces that had been created out of the struggle against French colonialism. Here, the revolution stalled as the tasks of transforming the armed forces; confronting the pro-capitalist state bureaucracy; deepening the organisation of the working class; and crucially of organising the vanguard into a political party to lead those struggles were abandoned by the Ben Bella leadership, opening the way to defeat. This was the basic conclusion of the 1969 resolution on Algeria adopted by the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International (reprinted in the 1974 US SWP’s pamphlet The Workers and Farmers Government, as part of its “Educational for Socialists” series).

Our resolution on the Cuban Revolution contains another example – Grenada, where Maurice Bishop headed a workers and farmers government that lasted four and a half years, before being destroyed by a counterrevolutionary coup (couched in ultra-left rhetoric) by one section of the government against the revolutionary current headed by Bishop. It should be noted that all these examples of workers and farmers governments rested on some form of armed power. A workers and farmers government that didn’t could be destroyed immediately by armed counterrevolution. However, simply having a workers and farmers government, resting on armed force that backs the revolution, is not the same as having the dictatorship of the proletariat, but is a transitional form that opens the road towards it.

The DSP program

What does our program say on the question? In the section “Democracy and the struggle for workers power” (Program of the DSP, p. 124), it lists a series of points on the struggle to overthrow the bourgeois state, and create a workers state to implement socialism. The points include:

“7. The first qualitative step in establishing the democratic power of the working class is the revolutionary replacement of the capitalist government by a working people’s government based on the soviets and other organs of mass revolutionary struggle.

"8. Such a government stands at the head of a turbulent, transitional process, during which the capitalist class retains significant advantages. Unless it acts decisively to consolidate the organs of revolutionary mass struggle as the new institutions of state power, that is, to replace the weakened capitalist state with a workers’ state, and to organise the workers to assert control over the capitalists, the revolutionary foundations of the working people’s government will gradually be undermined. The capitalists will use their economic power to unleash economic chaos, leading increasing sections of the working people to become demoralised, inactive, and confused. The erosion of the masses’ confidence in the revolutionary leadership will enable the capitalists to reassert their political power – to oust the working people’s government, re-establish a capitalist government, rebuild the capitalist state machine, and dismantle the democratic gains of the revolutionary upsurge.

"9. The consolidation of the workers’ state and mechanisms for workers’ control over the capitalists enables the working class to prepare itself to begin ‘wresting by degrees’ productive property from the capitalist class, to establish a state monopoly of foreign trade and to introduce a planned economy.”

I think that, understood broadly, Venezuela remains within point 8. The struggle is that of a workers and farmers government that is still attempting, not just to consolidate, but in some cases still to create, the new institutions of state power. For instance, the struggle for workers to assert control over the capitalists, identified both in our program and by the Comintern in 1922 as a key task of a workers and farmers government, is still largely a task to be fulfilled.

One correction here to the NE report is one raised by comrade Doug Lorimer’s contribution around the NE report, which I think correctly takes issue with the comment is one form the struggle for workers control is taking. As Doug points out, this doesn’t distinguish between the different forms of co-management, where it has taken the form often of cooperativism. However, examples such as ALCASA I think can be considered an example of the struggle for workers control, and it is this form of co-management that has been advocated for state industries like PDVSA.

It is also worth noting that the struggle for workers' control is increasingly becoming an issue, with the plans for workers’ councils, and discussions about the role of such councils in companies that have recently been nationalised. However, there are big barriers to this advancing, tied to the weakness of the workers’ movement in Venezuela, with much of the working class not even organised into unions, and the weak union movement further weakened by the ongoing split. Hopefully, when comrades return from the May Day brigade we will be able to get a better picture of the state of the union movement, its specific challenges and what the debates within it are.

Differences

Some debate over the question of state power in Venezuela, where the struggle for state power is up to and how to measure this, has occurred in The Activist. In regards to some points raised by Marce’s contribution, there are three different points I want to take up and respond to:

1.) Marce presents a false picture of how the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat occurs, presenting an account that ignores that the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat has historically occurred not through one big battle, but through a series of battles and a process of transition. Marce writes “the struggle for state power is necessarily short-lived… The revolutionary situation – the window of opportunity in which the class struggle has reached an acute crisis and the class balance of forces is about even – occupies only a fleeting historical moment, days or weeks at most, and it must be resolved decisively in favour of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.”

This is not how the struggle has played out in Venezuela, nor in other historical situations, nor is this how it is explained in our written program. With the example of Cuba, for instance, our resolution points to three crucial points that ended with the decisive creation of the proletarian dictatorship: 1) the overthrow of Batista creating a situation of dual power. 2) the battles over the land reform leading in July 1959 to a workers and farmers government, 3) the expropriation of the capitalist class in August-October 1960 leading to the decisive creation of the proletarian dictatorship.

2.) As comrade Simon Butler pointed out in response in “Determining the class nature of the state”, Marce also presents false criteria for measuring the class nature of the state. Marce argues: “The class nature of the state is revealed in which side of the class struggle the state comes down on in the decisive class battles.” In contrast, Simon argued: “A workers state… organises the working class for a specific, not a general, purpose i.e. to introduce and defend socialist forms of property relations.”

Important in this is not simply the existence of socialist forms of property, but rather the intention to introduce them. This was what determined our approach to the nature of the state in China, rather than waiting before capitalist property relations were dominant, the point at which the state became a clear instrument that sought to introduce them. It was a question of a conscious orientation to capitalist restoration. The October 1997 NC report given by Doug argued: “While the process of capitalist restoration is not yet completed in China, there is sufficient evidence for us to conclude that this is the conscious orientation of those who hold political power in China, and therefore China… is a capitalist state.”

The question of consciousness is important, especially in relation to an unfinished struggle. We need to know to what trajectory and direction the revolution is moving and the role of state institutions in relation to this direction. When Chavez opened the discussion, the question was open, there was a very clear trajectory that we assessed, and Chavez. This requires looking at the question of consciousness. Even after drawing our qualitative assessment we are still obliged to investigate to the greatest degree possible the question of consciousness because we need to know how consolidated it is, what are the dangers and weaknesses, what are the factors that might leave it open to the danger of reversal, or indicate confidence it will continue to advance. There are enough examples in history now of the negative role of consciousness in the reversal of dictatorships of the proletariat to show us that that consciousness is absolutely crucial to the question of creating, defending and extending workers power.

Relating this to Venezuela helps reveal the ongoing nature of the struggle for a consolidated revolutionary state – for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The program of the revolution has increasingly radicalised in the direction of seeking to introduce and defend socialist forms for property relations. Post the elections, it has become clear that this is the aim of the revolution, that when said they needed “socialism”, he actually meant they needed socialism, revolutionary socialism. That the way the oil industry has been used since it was won by the workers’ and farmers government needs to be generalised to the economy as a whole. The struggle for popular power and for the construction of a genuinely mass revolutionary party are occurring in this context – they are occurring in a context where their development is explicitly tied up with the struggle for socialism. This underpins the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

3.) Marce also introduces a potentially dangerous methodology, writing: “If we zoom into close we can be overwhelmed by the detail, by the incidental, by the particular, and we’ll lose sight of the overall situation which despite its inherent contradictions, always allows us, so long as we have a minimum of facts at hand, to make some kind of qualitative judgment.”

Contrary to this, in order to draw a qualitative assessment, we should seek to gather the greatest amount of concrete information and evidence as we can. Of course, we do this in a Marxist framework, in order to make an overall generalised assessment. However if we only have a minimum of facts, any assessment we make should be considered provisional while we go about gathering more information. The less information we have, the much greater the risks are of making an error, as well as minimising our ability to draw the lessons and to be able to assess how consolidated the current relationship of forces is, and what the potential for advances or retreats are.

Conclusion

We should reaffirm the concept of an embryonic workers and peasants’ state. The dictatorship of the working class and its allies is still being created. This is a transitional and unstable period. The use of “embryonic” is essential to understand the current stage of the struggle. It defines the existence of a workers and farmers government, resting on an armed force that are no longer a tool in the hands of capital but undergoing a process of transformation into a consolidated tool of the workers and peasants. Such a government has to move forward to the decisive creation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and a socialist state.

Understanding the contradictions in the current situation is important because it is through resolving these contradictions in favour of the working class that the struggle for power will be decisively resolved. However, between the current stage and the dictatorship of the proletariat there are significant blocks that can only be overcome through revolutionary struggle. Most significant is the role of the state bureaucracy, in conjunction with the economic power still in the hands of the capitalist class.

The struggle is increasingly playing out on an international level, with the conscious push to extend the Bolivarian revolution, first of, to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, but beyond that to break the hold of imperialism over the Third World in general. Chavez also calls for a worldwide revolution, including inside the United States, in order to create “socialism of the 21st century”. The signing of agreements with other countries in the region along pro-people lines, that seek to develop local industry to break the hold of imperialism; the expansion of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas; and the struggle to “decontaminate” the Mercosur trading bloc of neoliberlism, are part of the attempt to extend the revolution.

The gains in the direction of political and economic unity in the region have helped weaken the ability of imperialism to isolate and attack Venezuela and have created more favourable conditions for the revolution to advance internally. The fate of the Venezuelan revolution is closely tied up with the against imperialism and the local capitalist classes through out the region. Especially with the weakness of the internal counterrevolution, some of the most important fronts of the revolution are in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, where the struggle for process of transformation like that in Venezuela is the strongest.

Inside Venezuela, the NE report listed three key challenges: The old state bureaucracy; the hold of bureaucracy, opportunism and corruption amongst main Chavista parties (i.e.: same methods and often tied into the state bureaucracy); and the weakness of popular organisation, especially the workers movement.

However, what we can see is a very conscious and determined offensive to overcome these weaknesses being led by Chavez. The offensive is captured by the combination of the struggle for popular power, for a revolutionary party, and to win and educate the mass of people to revolutionary socialist ideology. With the leadership of a mass revolutionary party, active in every community and workplace, the new institutions of popular power have the potential to be “schools of democracy” for the working people, which allow them to develop the ability to govern through the practice of increasingly exercising power. Through this power, the economic power in the hands of the capitalist class can be broken.

This is hooked on the struggle to implement an increasingly radical social program, with Chavez calling for the working class to take the led. The revolution is clearly accelerating. You could say they are putting the proletarian pedal to the Bolivarian metal – and the destination is socialism.

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