On Tuesday 5 March, the Venezuelan Vice-President, Nicolás Maduro, announced that President Hugo Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, had died. The news brought with it an outpouring of grief and shock, with thousands rushing to Caracas’s main square, the Plaza Bolivar, to lament the loss. Many Venezuelans, until that day, still held hopes that Chavez would ‘recover’ and return to take up the presidency as he had done three previous occasions.
Once his death was announced, the pro-capitalist and bourgeois media, both nationally and internationally, spread the unfortunate news. On the one hand, they hypocritically expressed their ‘sympathy’ and recognised the leadership of Chavez in an international context. On the other hand, they ‘subtlety’ started a campaign denouncing the death of a ‘dictator’ and ‘tyrant’.
They also began speculating about the internal divisions inside the Venezuelean government in an attempt to strategically weaken its post-Chavez leadership, which faces enormous challenges to fill the space left in the wake of Chavez’s leadership.
The importance of Chavez’s death Venezuela cannot be underestimated. To understand it, it is necessary to understand the political processes that first brought Chavez to power and the effect of Chavez and ‘Chavism’, nationally and internationally.
The origins of the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavism
Before Chavez came to power, after decade of decadent, so-called ‘democracy’ that only saw pro-capitalist government act in the interests of the rich in society and international capital, Chavez signified a break with the old system. Without doubt, it signified a ‘revolution’ in the minds of those who lived through the 1990’s. That decade was one of hunger, extreme poverty and brutal repression under the bipartisan leadership of the social democrats (AD) and the Christian democrats (COPEI) governments. There was also mass opposition struggle. There were indefinite strikes in many parts of the public sector, including health and education. Venezuela was similar, in some ways, to what today we see in Greece, Spain and Portugal.
The revolutionary left in Venezuela, mainly influenced by the politics of the Cuba Revolution and the former Soviet Union, fought for decades against under extreme and brutal state repression. Thousands disappeared and died. By the end of the 1990’s, the Left was almost destroyed, as they made up a significant part of those who were killed or ‘disappeared’.
These factors, combined with the total absence of support from the social and Christian democrats for the class interests of the masses, and the deepening of neo-liberal politics and ‘reforms’, had a huge impact on the middle layers of the Venezuelan military. Unlike most other countries in Latin America, many soldiers in the middle to upper layers of the military come from working class or peasant backgrounds.
This helps explain the radical nationalist character of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces that we see today. Chavez knew this and therefore was able to help lead the civic military coup in 1992 that had elements of a military uprising. Although the coup failed, it transformed the political scenery, presenting a nationalist, radical and popular alternative.
The ‘first revolution’ of the 21st century
The Bolivarian Revolution was later to become the first revolutionary upheaval of the 21st century that put forward the idea of socialism in a post-cold war world. It followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the declarations of international capitalism that they had ‘won’ and were the only viable social, economic, cultural and political model.
It is clear, as we have always said, that Chavez and the politics of the Bolivarian revolution has many weaknesses and has not advocated a programme that can defeat capitalism and put forward socialism, as an alternative. Chavez did not initially speak about ‘socialism’. He began to raise it in the light of the attempted in 2002 right wing coup and ‘lock out’ and during the big radicalisation of the masses which took place during and after these events. Advocating ‘revolution’ and the need to change the system and raising the idea of socialism, at a time when no other political world leader would advocate such ideas, was very significant. This had an important international impact, especially amongst a layer of young people.
Today it is not only Chavez’s words and the actions of the masses of Venezuela over the last 14 years that have confirmed the need to overthrow capitalism. Recent world events have reaffirmed this, proving capitalism is a system for the 1% of society. The Indignados, Occupy movement, the ‘Arab Spring’ and mass demonstrations in Portugal, Spain and Greece are a reflection of the growing international rejection of the profit system. Although these processes do not mean there is yet a clear understanding amongst the masses about how to overthrow the system or what to replace it with, Chavez played a role towards this goal, on an international level, by publicly speaking about Marx and even Trotsky, at times, and, of course about socialism as a possible alternative.
The hypocrisy of the bourgeois right
For years, the right wing bourgeois press have stated that Chavez is a “dictator” and that Venezuelans live under a “tyrannical communist” regime. This is clearly false and, if nothing else, proved that the majority of media remains in private hands.
The hostility of the capitalists and their media and politicians, shows the important role played by popular organisations in state politics, such as that of the ‘community councils’ and now the ‘communes’. One of the contradictions of the Bolivarian Revolution, however, is that these organisations exist under the close scrutiny of the state bureaucracy, which makes the final economic and political decisions.
The hypocrisy and hostility of right wing is an important factor when analysing the political situation in Venezuela. However, equally important, is the role played by bureaucrats and opportunists inside the Chavismo movement, which must be defeated. It is these elements that want to deny the role played by the working class and mass popular movements in the revolutionary processes that have developed. Indeed, these tendencies were decisive in putting pressure on Chavez to go further to the left, in demands, rhetoric and reforms.
The nationalisations that took place after the failed right wing coup, in 2002 and the social reforms that brought millions of Venezuelans out of extreme poverty are mainly thanks to the working class, the youth, the peasants and the poor who demanded these actions and supported their implementation. We must continue to support and fight for a deepening of these reforms, while linking them with the need to fight for socialism.
Today the right wing is calling for “national unity” and the government is calling for “peace”. But we have to say, strongly and clearly, that the unity we want to see, amongst the masses, crucially involving the working class and their traditional, grassroots organisations, and real, lasting peace will only be possible with the defeat of capitalism and the dismantling of the capitalist state and introduction of a democratic socialist alternative.
The fact that capitalism and its state remain was recognised by Chavez. He said, “In Venezuela, we have advanced a lot, but there is still much to do, the capitalist structure is intact as is the bourgeois state”. Unfortunately, he did not then conclude and explain what was necessary.
Despite recent events, the right wing remains on the offensive against the working masses. This is clear from the actions favoured of the bosses and reaction for over a decade; financial speculation, ensuring the scarcity of staple foodstuff and engineering high inflation and de-industrialisation. Politically, however, the ruling class is divided between the reactionary, even neo-fascist ‘radicals’ and the pro-democracy capitalist ‘moderates’, who are a majority on the right, at this stage. Furthermore, the right overall cannot rely on a solid social support base to gather enough strength to defeat Chavism.
Post-Chavez government at a crossroads: revolution or counter- revolution?
The government is correct when it says that the Venezuelan capitalist class is parasitic and that it lives on the profits of petroleum and the importation of the goods, services and manufactured products. At the same time, the government, who in their own way maintain this parasitic class, is at a crossroads. The government tries to operate within the limits of capitalism, introducing economic measures, such as the recent currency devaluation that will put the weight of the economic crisis on the working class and the poor. But, at the same time, it is the working class and poor that the government relies on for its support.
However, enormous grassroots pressure, although with a confused idea of revolution and socialism, will pressurise a post-Chavez government to adopt a more radical position. Failure to do so would only see it moving quickly to the right and to threaten the reversal of the reforms won during the last 14 years.
Presidential elections to determine who succeeds Chavez will take place in a few weeks. Although there is a very small chance that the right could triumph, this is highly unlikely and it is most likely that political control will remain in the hands of ‘Chavismo’.
Chavez’s death does not signify an end of the revolutionary process
It would be a mistake for Chavismo movement to think that it can govern in the same way that Chavez did. Within the Chavismo movement today, or in the medium term, there is no one who has the same authority as Chavez or anyone capable of maintaining popular support and the support of the critical Left.
Both Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello know that, as the political leadership of Chavismo, they need to manage the situation with care. The revolutionary Left today is fragmented and dispersed but there are at least small and significant steps to re-organise, as we have seen over the last six months. An example of this was a national Bolivarian meeting of revolutionary organisations that took place over the last months. There is a sector of the Left that is working towards the construction of a political leadership to the left of the leadership left behind by Chavez. This, together with economic uncertainty and a right wing offensive are challenges that the leadership of the ruling PSUV party will have to confront.
The right wing has been very careful not to initiate any radical actions that may provoke a social explosion. The perspectives for Venezuela are not certain. But to think that the death of Chavez means the death of Chavismo is an error, as it assumes that Chavismo will only move towards the right. However, sections of the government will attempt to go in this direction, to try and appease capitalism and imperialism.
The urgent task now, more than ever, is to fight for the conscious, independent self-organisation of the working class, the peasants and the poor. We must expose the bureaucratic, reformist contradictions of Chavismo, defeat the right wing and demand and fight for a revolutionary, democratic, socialist programme.
We cannot fall into the ‘democratic’ bourgeois logic of the government, of defending the “sovereignty of the Fatherland”. This means rejecting the idea that the revolution is ‘national’ but making clear it is an international question. We must try and unite the working class, not divide it. The alliances that strengthen capitalist trade relations, such as ALBA, Mercosur etc, are not the only alliances as far as the exploited and oppressed of Latin America are concerned. Our alliances come from our struggles.
We call and fight for the construction of a federation of revolutionary, democratic socialist nations across the Americas and further. It is only this that will guarantee the revolutionary triumph in Venezuela and the world.
All power to the communes, community council and workers’ councils! The only way to deepen the revolutionary process started by Chavez, and to defeat capitalism, and the bureaucrats and corruption, and the right wing, is for the grassroots to assume power, through revolutionary social organisation
We stand for:
- Nationalisation of the banks, monopolies and oligopolies! Nationalisation of the means of production, under the democratic control and management of organised of working people
- The popular and revolutionary transformation of the armed forces through soldiers’ committees, where democratic and re-call elections are held and planned by community revolutionary defence committees
- Profound extension of the social missions in health, work and housing, with a national plan to improve access to free and quality public services under worker’s and community control and management
- Centralisation and state monopoly, under worker’s control, of foreign trade (imports and exports), to end speculation and the flight of capital
- A planned economy initiated from workplaces and community committees, where the necessities of society are debated and agreed on, in line with sustainable growth and conservation of the environment