Venezuela: Chávez, the re-call referendum and the struggle for revolutionary socialism

The referendum called on August 15 to try and remove Hugo Chávez from power has backfired on the rightwing reactionary forces led by the capitalist class with the support of US imperialism.

It was initiated by the rightwing as another attempt to topple Chávez’s radical populist regime following the failed coup attempt in April 2002, a bosses “lockout” in December 2002 – January 2003 and more recently a failed plot involving over 100 right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia who entered the country with a view to launch a terror campaign involving a plan to assassinate Chávez.

This latest attempt to remove Chávez has however galvanised the masses into action and seems likely to end in another humiliating defeat for the right-wing. One opinion poll organised by the Washington based polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showed that 54% approved of Chávez’s handling of the Presidency while 41% disapproved. Since the poll was taken all the indications point to increasing support for Chávez.This poll was commissioned by Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) which openly opposes the government. Yet the findings of this poll have not been published in Venezuela by RCTV! Another poll taken by the Venezuelan polling company, INDAGA showed that 55% of Venezuelans would vote against recalling Chávez. These poll findings have confounded capitalist political commentators. INDAGA in a statement said: “We are talking about an electoral phenomenon that defies all scientific predictions and reaches its fourth year in government without suffering any erosion in its political project”.

However, although the masses in Venezuela, it seems, are again about to inflict another defeat on the reactionary opposition the threat posed from the right will not go away. They will undoubtedly try and present the referendum as a fraud if they are defeated. US imperialism is already preparing the way for this by insisting that the Organisation of American States and the Carter Centre have the right to conduct their own separate counting of the votes!

The Chávez regime has introduced important reforms in the interests of the working class and poor which must be defended. However, these are now threatened because capitalism continues to exist in Venezuela. In order to defend the revolution and the reforms already introduced capitalism must be overthrown and a socialist revolution carried through. Unfortunately Hugo Chávez, who has zig-zagged between a more radical policy and one trying to pacify capitalism, in the referendum campaign is repeating the same mistake he has made in the past. He is again trying to appease capitalism and imperialism.

This followed meetings between himself, Jimmy Carter and Gustavo Cisneros, a media tycoon and supporter of the Venezuelan opposition in which they urged Chávez to adopt a more “moderate” policy. Chávez has again accepted their pleas as he did following the failed coup attempt in April 2002 and in the aftermath of the defeated bosses “lockout” in December 2002 and January 2003.

At each decisive turn, rather than take the necessary decisive steps to break with capitalism and nationalise the major companies and financial sectors under a system of democratic workers control and management, he has tried to seek an agreement with capitalism and imperialism. This attempt at appeasing capitalism poses the greatest danger to the revolution.

Chávez has fought the referendum campaign on the basis of trying to present a more “moderate” image. As the British daily the Financial Times pointed out “…the former military coup leader has replaced his inflammatory rhetoric with carefully choreographed TV ads portraying him as a mild mannered patriarch” (FT 9/7/04).

In his campaign he has argued that the Bolivarian revolution is “not communist” although he says he respects Communists. The Bolivarian revolution he says “respects private property”. In meetings with representatives of the employers he has argued that the employers “have a role to play in the revolution”. This is not the first time he has tried to pacify the employers and reach agreement with them. This has included establishing joint ventures with multi-national companies in some sectors of the oil industry.

The ruling class and US imperialism will not be pacified by such steps. This policy will eventually prepare the way for a defeat of the masses. It is to avert this danger that the urgent necessity for the working class to embrace a revolutionary socialist programme and build its own independent party is posed.

The committee for a workers’ international has explained on numerous occasions the tasks facing revolutionaries and the working class in Venezuela. (See “Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution”). These crucial developments in Venezuela pose many important issues for all socialists and workers looking to defeat capitalism and imperialism. The analysis of all tendencies and grouping are tested out by such events. As a contribution to this discussion we have produced some material dealing with the political ideas of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) led by Alan Woods. This grouping has adopted an opportunist approach towards Chávez as explained in “Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution”.

They have now published an article “Mass wave of enthusiasm must be used to complete the revolution” by Jorge Martin and William Sanabria. In it they say that Chávez has adopted “this kind of strategy” – appeasing the opposition. They report he has argued that the revolution is not Communist and that the employers “have a role to play in the revolution”. Then without comment they go on to quote Chávez as saying that “a revolution within a revolution” is necessary.

However, in the previous analysis of this grouping they argued that “Chávez has grasped the fact that the revolution needs to make a qualitative leap” (“Encounter with Hugo Chávez” 29/4/04). In the same article Alan Woods promised that “There are many things that indicate Chávez is preparing a sharp turn to the left”.

How do these expectations now sit with Chávez’s latest attempts at appeasing capitalism and imperialism and his defence of private property and the role of the employers in the revolution? The IMT argued that Chávez “alone has dared to confront the power of the oligarchy and defy the might of American imperialism” (“Marxists and the Venezuelan Revolution” 4/4/2004). This is not reflected in what Chávez has done following his meeting with Jimmy Carter in June 2004!

The IMT boasted that Chávez raised the issue of the arming of the masses. Yet what has he done about it? As the CWI explained at the time speeches on this critical question are not enough.

The leadership of the IMT, as part of the international discussion amongst socialists and workers about the important events in Venezuela has a responsibility to justify its analysis and comments in the light of the events which are unfolding – in particular to explain where it stands on the policies and programme of Chávez. The task of revolutionary socialists is to actively participate in the struggle and to explain the truth about the policies, programme and role of all parties, groups and individuals.

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July 2004