‘Somos un rio crecido’ (we are a mighty river) read one of the banners on the pro-Chavez march on Saturday 4th February in Venezuela. One and a half million poured out onto the streets of Caracas in a massive show of strength which turned from a river into a sea of red banners and flags that brought parts of Caracas to a halt
Chavez supporters were packed like sardines on the metro trains trying to get to the march. They also came from miles around on motorbikes, buses, cars, on foot and even on crutches! Wave after wave joined in on the way. More than100 buses came from the Vargas region alone despite the recent collapse of the main viaduct link road.
Unlike the previous week’s march, during the world Social Forum, this march was predominantly made up of the working class and other exploited layers of Venezuela. Workers marched behind their trade union banners and from their barrios. Campesinos (rural workers) came packed in open top trailers.
The opposition represented by the capitalist bosses, latifundistas (large landowners), top layers of the church all supported by US imperialism thought that after a series of defeats the tide was beginning to turn in their direction after the widespread abstention of Chavez supporters in the recent National Assembly elections and opinion polls which showed a fall in support for Chavez. But the turn out on this march compared to the few thousands mobilized by the right wing opposition’s counter march confirmed again the real balance forces.
The radical, populist leader Chavez used the march, originally called to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the failed military rebellion led by Chavez in 1992, as a launching pad for the presidential elections later in the year by calling for ten million votes to ensure his re-election. The previous day he had gone onto the offensive by expelling a US naval officer for spying and announcing a series of new reforms, including a 15% increase in the minimum wage, which will benefit thousands of working class people.
However, winning another term as President will not be enough to solve the problems faced by the Venezuelan working class, campesinos and poor. Despite the significant reforms funded by the high price of oil, 70% of the population still live in poverty whilst big business continue to make massive profits. The Chavez reforms and partial nationalisations and co-gestion (worker’s participation) have enraged the opposition without breaking fundamentally their ownership of the main industries, banks, finance companies and land.
The process of revolution and counter revolution will continue to unfold in Venezuela but at some stage will reach a decisive conclusion. Either the forces of the counter revolution will predominate through a bloody military coup as in Chile in 1973 or a more ‘democratic’ counter revolution as in Nicaragua in the eighties and ninetees. Or the working class supported by the other exploited layers in Venezuela will build the forces necessary to break fundamentally with capitalism by taking into public ownership major industry, banks, finance houses and land under democratic workers control. This would allow production to be democratically planned based on the needs of the masses and not a privileged few. But a successful conclusion like this will not be automatic. The need for the working class and exploited to build their own independent organizations armed with a socialist program is now becoming increasingly urgent.