Latin America: Bolivian elections reflect continental revolt against neo-liberalism

Evo Morales of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) was sworn in as President of Bolivia this week. (6,000 words).

His election will be welcomed by millions in Latin America and internationally. In particular it will inspire the indigenous peoples of Latin and Central America. During his inauguration he promised he would, “end 500 years of injustice”. A minute silence was held for Che Guevara and leaders of the indigenous peoples like Marco Inca and Tupac Amaru who fought the Spanish conquistadores. Tens of thousand lined the streets to greet his inauguration.

Morales was swept to power in elections held in December 2005. Winning more than fifty-three per cent of the votes, he received a higher share of the vote than any President in the last thirty years. His nearest rival, Tuto Quiroga, standing for PODEMOS, the favoured candidate of the ruling class and US imperialism, trailed behind with a mere twenty-eight point five per cent of the vote. Morales even won a surprisingly high vote (thirty-three per cent) in the wealthy province of Santa Cruz where the vast oil and gas reserves are concentrated.

This election victory begins a new phase of the struggle of workers, peasants and others exploited by capitalism in Bolivia. It has already had significant international repercussions. To the irritation of Bush and US imperialism the first international visits made by Morales were to Havana and Caracas. During these visits, Morales announced that Bolivia was now joining a struggle against neo-liberalism and forming an “anti-imperialist front” together with Venezuela and Cuba.

The election of Morales and the mass social movements which preceded it are part of a continental revolt against neo-liberalism and privatisation which has swept Latin America during the last five years. The rejection of neo-liberalism in Brazil was reflected by the election of Lula, the candidate of the PT (Workers’ Party) in 2002 and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay. However, once in power these governments have continued to introduce neo-liberal, pro-imperialist policies. The same has been true in Chile under the coalition government of Ricardo Lagos and will be continued under the recently elected “Socialist Party” President, Michel Bachelet.

New radical, populist, nationalist governments

However, in Venezuela under the government of Hugo Chávez and in Argentina under the Peronist Nesto Kirchner, the anti-neoliberal revolts have bought radical populist, nationalist governments to power which have opposed these policies and clashed with US imperialism. The same development now seems likely in Bolivia with the election of Evo Morales. This could be followed in April with the victory of Ollanta Humala in Peru who is ahead in the opinion polls and dubbed the “Peruvian Chávez”.

The coming to power of such radical, populist regimes represent an important turn in the situation facing the working class in Latin America and internationally. The 1990’s were dominated by the application of neo-liberal policies and an ideological offensive by capitalism and its representatives against socialism, any state intervention, and in support of the ‘free market’. This followed the collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships and planned economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The revolt against these neo-liberal ideas and policies in Latin America, and the coming to power of governments opposed to them, are an anticipation of future developments on other continents and it is therefore particularly important for socialist to learn lessons from them.

The overwhelming victory of Morales is a consequence of the massive revolutionary uprising of the miners, peasants, public sector workers and others which overthrew the former President Carlos Mesa in May June 2005 and previous decades of struggle. In Bolivia, the mass struggles against the privatisation and neo-liberalism began in 2001 in Cochabamba. A popular uprising in the city prevented the privatisation of the water industry in what became known as the “water war”. Between October 2003 and June 2004 the Mesa administration quelled more than 4,300 social conflicts and protests.

During the movement in 2005, which included insurrectionary features, tens of thousands took to the streets demanding the nationalisation of the rich gas reserves of Bolivia.

Sections of the white ruling elite moved in the direction of civil war and threatened to split away from Bolivia the wealthy gas and oil rich province of Santa Cruz. On this occasion they pulled back. Yet this threat may emerge again as the crisis deepens in the coming months. The threat to split Santa Cruz, and its oil and gas, away from Bolivia is not new. In 1964 sections of the ruling class went so far as to invite the military dictatorship in Brazil to occupy the province and turn it into a Brazilian protectorate.

Mesa was the second President to be overthrown by a mass movement in two years. His predecessor, Sanchez Lozada, was forced from office in October 2003.

Apartheid in Bolivia

A powerful aspect of these movements, also reflected in the election of Evo Morales, (who is of Aymara decent), is the struggle of the indigenous peoples. For the first time a candidate who is from the indigenous people has been elected. The indigenous peoples, from an estimated thirty different ethnic groups, make up a majority [an estimated seventy per cent] of the Bolivian population. Throughout Latin America the emergence of the struggles of the indigenous peoples in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and Chile has been an important feature of the movement against neo-liberalism recently.

In Bolivia, the struggle of the indigenous peoples is particularly important where a form of ‘apartheid’ exists. While nearly forty per cent per cent of the non-indigenous population have access to water, eighty-one per cent to electricity and fifty six per cent to sewer services, the comparable figures for the indigenous peoples are sixteen per cent, fifty six per cent and thirty per cent. The majority indigenous population lives in destitution in the cities and countryside – ruled over by an elite capitalist class of European descent. In El Alto, which has been at the forefront of recent struggles, seventy five per cent of the population barely survive on less than US$2 per day. Boasting the most unequal distribution in wealth in Latin America, the richest ten per cent of the population have an income one hundred and forty-three times greater than the poorest ten per cent. In rural areas the ratio is and one hundred and seventy times greater!

Morales’ election was a vote against the pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist neo-liberal policies of the Bolivian ruling class and a demand for change. Those who voted for him did so as a means of supporting the nationalisation of the rich gas and oil reserves and their use for the benefit of the mass of the population. The Bolivian people are sickened by these resources being creamed off by the multi-national giants who have systematically economically raped the country.

Enjoying a profits bonanza, companies like Exxon (USA), Repsol (Spain), British Gas (UK) and Petrobas (Brazil) have like vampires sucked oil and gas from the country. These companies have seen the amount of tax (royalties on exploitation of gas and oil) paid to exploit these resources slashed from fifty per cent to a mere eighteen per cent during the 1990’s. This give away went side by side with the privatization of the former state oil company.

Another important issue in the election was Morales’s defence of the rights of peasant farmers to continue to produce coca leaves. This is a second potential source of conflict with US imperialism which is demanding the end of its production. When refined the coca leaves are re-produced as cocaine and shipped to the USA and other countries. However, the coca leaves are also a traditional tea drink for the indigenous peoples and an important source of income.

These upheavals which have shaken Bolivia represent an important change in the political consciousness of the masses. For the first time since the 1990’s and the massive pro-market ideological offensive launched by imperialism, a mass movement has erupted demanding nationalisation of a key sector of the economy. This follows the devastating experience of privatisation which has ravaged Latin America throughout the 1990’s.

Morales – which road?

The overwhelming vote for Morales and celebrations of his victory reflect high expectations that his new government will now strike blows against capitalism and introduce policies that benefit the mass of the population. At the same time it is already clear that significant sections of activists in the workers’ movement are wary of what Morales will actually do now he is in office and as a result question his programme. The main trade union confederation, COB, issued a statement after his election giving the new government three months to nationalise gas and energy or they would again take to the streets. The teacher’s confederation has given the new government two months to introduce better wages for the teachers or it has warned strikes will start.

These doubts about Morales’ determination to challenge capitalism and his willingness to seek compromise with it, exist because of his role in the mass movements which erupted in 2003, 2004 and 2005. During the 2003 movement, Morales was in Europe and played no role until he returned. After Lozada was overthrown, Morales helped prop up Mesa’s government. When a referendum was called with rigged questions on the issue of ownership of the oil industry, the mass organisations called for a boycott. Morales and the MAS leadership urged participation. He was consequently expelled from the COB. In the recent mass movement in 2005 he vacillated over support for nationalisation and counter-posed to it a fifty per cent tax on the profits of the private companies.

The doubts in Morales have been underlined by the ideas he has put forward since his election. They indicate his willingness to try and reach agreement with sections of capitalism and imperialism. These are a warning about the future direction he may lead his government and his willingness to challenge capitalism and imperialism.

One of his first announcements was to reduce the Presidential and Ministerial salaries by fifty per cent. This, together with radical statements at his inauguration have undoubtedly been very popular. Such a step together with some of his radical statements at his inauguration is undoubtedly very popular.

However, he has also reached out to try and reassure sections of the ruling class and imperialism. Following his election he immediately visited Santa Cruz and promised he would agree to more autonomy for the province as demanded by the right-wing. He quickly visited Venezuela and Cuba but also Spain and other European countries including France and Belgium. The Spanish oil company Repsol has US$800 million invested in Bolivia – the second largest foreign investor.

In Spain Morales went out of his way to “calm” the Spanish monopolies and tried to reassure them that his government could collaborate with them. He gave them a peace offering and promised that the new Bolivian government is “going to nationalise but it will not confiscate or expropriate”. A “symbolic nationalisation” was what he promised in Madrid. He seemed to be suggesting that the gas and oil reserves would be “nationalised” but the assets of the companies would be left in private hands and contracts renegotiated with the likes of Repsol and Exxon. The well informed British writer on Latin America, Richard Gott, is of the view that a fifty per cent tax on royalties is more likely than nationalisation.

Morales has also encouraged international investment in a US$500 million mining project, known as El Mutún near the border with Brazil. The German multi-national Lurgi and British Rio Tinto are likely to be involved in this joint venture.

Spanish imperialism

Spanish imperialism has intervened in Latin America both economically and politically for its own reasons and has to an extent come into conflict with US policy and interests. In Venezuela, it has engaged with Chávez. It has agreed the largest arms contract (worth one million three hundred thousand euros) since the end of the Franco regime. This provoked howls of protest from US imperialism which has given massive military aid to its favoured regime in Colombia led by Uribe. Colombia is now the second largest recipient of US military aid after Israel and has been a base for US imperialism in the region against the Chávez government.

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Angel Moratinos, explained that Spanish policy in Venezuela, “could satisfy Washington, to put a break on the dreams of Chávez to extend his Bolivarian revolution to other countries” (El País, Spanish daily paper, 10 May 2005). In the same article El País pointed out, “Spainish diplomacy is present (in Venezuela) to moderate and contain Chávez. A difficult mission”

Following the attempts of US imperialism to prevent the arms sales to Venezuela the Spanish government offered to sell the same arms to Colombia to “maintain the balance”.

During his visit to Spain, Morales tried to separate “good capitalism” from “bad capitalism” and warned that he would take action against “bandit” companies! He then went on to reassure the Spanish ruling class that he does not consider Repsol and other Spanish companies to be “bandits”. On the contrary “Spanish companies can play the role of foreign investors like a motor for development, with a stable market but combining it with social progress”. He seems to regard the “bandits” as US imperialism while the European imperialists are in some way better. He has also visited France and Belgium, undoubtedly in an attempt to win favour amongst the ruling class in those countries. This is a similar policy to that applied by Hugo Chávez.

There is nothing wrong in a genuine socialist government trying to exploit differences between different imperialist powers. This is especially the case if a workers’ and peasants government is isolated and needed to gain some time until it was possible for the working class in other countries to come to its aid through carrying out their own socialist revolution. This was done for a period by Lenin and Trotsky following the Russian revolution in October 1917.

However, this is not what Chávez and Morales are proposing. They attempt to curry favour with European, Russian and Chinese capitalism at the expense of US imperialism but lack a programme to carry through a socialist revolution with a perspective of it developing internationally. Instead they hope to try a develop a more “humane capitalism” as an interim step.

In an interview with ‘Journal of Bolivian Business’, Morales’ running mate for the vice-Presidency, Álvaro García Linera (regarded as a Marxist intellectual and former member of the radical guerrilla organisation Tupac Katari) clearly spelt out the programme of the MAS and the new government. When asked if the MAS wanted a socialist government he replied: “No, no way, because – it’s not viable. It’s not viable because socialism can only be built on the base of a strong proletarian presence… you don’t build socialism on the base of a family economy; you build it on the bases of industry, of which there are none in Bolivia”.

He continued to argue for an “Andean capitalism” which he described as “a strong state and that is capitalism; the state is not socialism, it’s a strong State in hydrocarbons, foreign investment, local private investment, the family economy and small businesses…It’s not even a mixed economy”. MAS proposes to use this approach to complete the 1952 National Revolution as an “intermediate step towards socialism”.

What the leaders are advocating is strong state intervention together with foreign investment from Spain and other “non bandit” capitalist powers. Through this they hope to develop capitalism with “a human face”. Once this task is achieved then maybe socialism will be posed.

These ideas are not new. They amount to a modern application of the “two stages theory” supported in the past by the Stalinists and Communist Parties and, in Russia, before the 1917 October Revolution by the Mensheviks.

Historically, the development of industry, introduction of land reform, establishment of democratic rights and the unifying of a nation and national independence – the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution – were carried through by the capitalist class.

However, in the modern epoch, the domination of the major imperialist countries; the weakness of the local capitalist class and its ties to the coat-tails of imperialism; the capitalist class has been incapable of resolving these questions. In Bolivia where seventy five per cent of the GDP is under the control of imperialist companies, it will not be possible to break from imperialist domination without overthrowing capitalism.

Trotsky and then Lenin explained, during the Russian revolution, that carrying through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution fell to the working class, even where it formed a minority in society. Only the working class together with the poor peasants and others exploited by capitalism, by taking over the running of society and through the introduction of a democratic state planned economy and by spreading such a revolution to other more industrialised and economically developed countries could complete these tasks.

In the context of Latin America today this means the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government in Bolivia and the introduction of a democratic socialist plan of production together with a perspective of spreading such a revolution to the rest of the continent with the objective of forming a voluntary Democratic Socialist Federation of Latin America.

Capitalism in Bolivia

Even with large state intervention in the economy, capitalism has historically proved incapable of resolving the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

None of these tasks have been fully resolved by capitalism in Bolivia. The economy remains under-developed and overwhelmingly controlled by imperialism through the world market, imperialist ownership of the major companies and a crippling foreign debt. Interest repayments on the external debt have rocketed from US$271 million in 1998 to more than US$500 million in 2003. On the land one hundred families own twenty five million hectares while two million indigenous people survive on five million hectares.

The struggles of the indigenous peoples clearly reveal the failure to resolve the national question and with an estimated 200 military coups during 180 years of independence the establishment of democratic rights is to say the least tenuous.

Morales, Chávez and Kirchner have been swept to power by the masses as part of a mass rejection of neo-liberalism and privatisation. All, to varying degrees, have adopted radical nationalist policies which have included greater state intervention in the economy, including some nationalisations, price controls and other similar measures. There is a strong tradition of radical, nationalist, populist movements and regimes in Latin America. For example the military government of Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru between 1968-75 even sent troops to occupy the IPC oil refinery at Talara and initially refused to pay any compensation. Velasco’s adviser proclaimed, “We have removed the Esso sign from our country”.

It is possible that under mass pressure from the workers and when faced with economic and social crisis, Chávez, Morales or a future government led by Humala in Peru would take similar or even more radical measures. At the same time if capitalism is not overthrown these governments and political leaders can vacillate, balance between the classes and come into conflict with the working class.

This is already seen in Argentina under Kirchner’s Peronist government. Unlike Morales or Chávez, Kirchner does not speak of socialism or come from a “socialist” party or movement. The radical, nationalist, populist policies have been wrapped in the flag of Peronism – a bourgeois nationalist movement with a powerful history. During the 1990’s Peronist governments, particularly under Menhem, abandoned the nationalist policies of state intervention and reform of previous Peronist governments. These previous Peronist governments, defended capitalism but balanced between the classes and implemented important reforms for the working class. Menhem and other broke with these policies and embraced neo-liberalism, privatisations and viciously attacked the working class.

Kirchner has attempted to return to the old traditional polices of Peronism of state intervention. These polices have boosted his support and resulted in him winning a massive endorsement in parliamentary elections in 2005. However, Argentinean capitalism does not have the resources to grant the reforms it did for a period in the past under Juan Perón, especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It will not be possible for Kirchner to repeat the experience of Juan Perón. Winning an overwhelming majority in elections in 2005 Kirchner has adopted more policies of state intervention. At the same time he has also attacked sections of the working class and the ‘picketeros’ movement, based on the unemployed.

Revolution in danger

This same danger is threat is also emerging in Venezuela where the failure to overthrow capitalism is posing a certain danger.

The radical populist government of Hugo Chávez has clashed with and been a constant source of irritation to US imperialism since it came to power in 1998. It has stiffened other governments like Kirchner in Argentina to take a more aggressive stance against US imperialism – reflected at the Summit of the Americas which took place in Argentina in 2005. There Bush’s proposals to introduce NAFTA (FTAA) was defeated as a result of opposition to it led by Venezuela and Argentina.

As the CWI has explained in other articles the Chávez government has introduced significant reforms in health, education and food distribution. These and other reforms won enthusiastic support from the masses in Venezuela which the CWI and all socialists support. Internationally, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Fidel Castro in Cuba and now Evo Morales in Bolivia are seen by many young people as the only radical left regimes that are challenging US imperialism and representing an alternative to neo-liberalism.

The CWI welcomes reforms that benefit working people and radical policies which challenge the interests of imperialism from the left. Yet the crucial questions facing the masses of Latin America, especially in Bolivia and Venezuela, are how the revolutionary processes unfolding can be taken forward to a lasting victory that will result in the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism. The failure to do this and establish a genuine regime of workers’ democracy in Venezuela means that the threat of counter-revolution still remains along with a threat to those reforms that have been introduced. The threat of counter-revolution can also rapidly emerge in Bolivia if capitalism is not overthrown.

The continuation of capitalism in Venezuela means that despite important reforms the mass of the working class, the peasantry and urban poor continue to face horrific poverty. The failure to resolve these problems, together with frustration and anger at growing bureaucracy and waste, now threatens to undermine the revolutionary process. The parliamentary elections in December 2005, in which seventy five per cent of electors abstained, were a warning of the dangers facing the Venezuelan revolution.

The high level of abstention, the highest in any Venezuelan parliamentary election, despite an appeal by Chávez for the masses to vote to demonstrate support for the revolution, is not simply the result of the right-wing boycotting the elections – although this had a certain effect.

It also reflected the frustration and anger felt by workers, the urban poor and those sections of the middle class who have supported Chávez, because of the failure of the government to resolve mass unemployment, poverty and housing shortages which exist. Although the government has nationalised a limited number of companies and carried through numerous re-organisations of the state oil company, PDVSA, capitalism still remains. There is no democratic socialist plan of production run by the working class.

As a result, the government is left in the worst of all possible worlds. On the one side it has aroused the furious opposition of the Venezuelan ruling class and US imperialism. On the other hand it has not taken decisive measures to take over control and planning of the economy. It is now subjected to economic sabotage by sections of the capitalist class. There are some food shortages in some of the supermarkets in Caracas. Poverty remains endemic. Over eighty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. According to one private survey, (CECA – Cifras Oneline Group) of the eighty-six per cent of the population in social classes D/E (the poorest sections) sixty-nine point six per cent earn less than a miserable 294,000 Bolivares per month (approximately US$136.75) – while the official minimum wage was 405,000 Bolivares per month in 2005.

When Chávez came to power in 1998 there were 3.2 million working in the informal sector. By 2005 this had increased to 5.7 million – out of a workforce of 12 million. Added to these are 1 million children who survive as street sellers in Caracas and other large cities. There is a massive crisis in housing in which there is a deficit of 1.6 million dwellings. Chávez promised to build 200,000 dwellings by 2006. Yet the budget for 2006 only includes sufficient funds for 18,490 dwellings.

In addition to this, the recent collapse of the main highway linking Caracas with the airport and port has been a major disaster. This has resulted in major problems in getting food and other goods to Caracas. It has also resulted in coastal towns losing the tourist market resulting in sackings in this sector. The collapse of the motorway, caused by geological changes, has highlighted the question of the economic policy of the government. The motorway in question has been in need of repair for more than 20 years and yet the government has done nothing about it.

“Socialism in the 21st century”

Government propaganda about building “Socialism in the 21st century” on state TV channels and bill boards is not being matched by results. The continuation of capitalism and sabotage by the employers means that government claims of economic and social progress because of “socialism in the twenty first century” bears no relation to the day to day life of the mass of the population. This contradiction is undermining support for the government, reflected in the elections in December 2005, and it poses a threat to the revolution.

Although capitalist counter-revolution has been defeated on four occasions, this threat remains. While it may not take the form of a military coup from the right it still remains a serious threat. The traditional right-wing parties and organisations which have attempted to oust Chávez, have been defeated by the spontaneous mobilisations of the working class, urban poor and others exploited by the rich elite. They remain split, demoralised and lack solid support in society.

However, the unresolved social and economic problems can and is erasing support for the ‘revolutionary process’. This can, over a period of time, prepare the way for an eventual electoral defeat, splits in the government and even the removal of Chávez from within, by more right-wing, bureaucratic pro-capitalist sections of the government.

A similar process took place in Nicaragua in 1990. After ten years in power the Sandinistas (FSLN) were voted out of office and the counter-revolution triumphed in a “democratic” form. This was possible because despite nationalising over twenty-five per cent of the economy, capitalism still remained. The continuing grinding poverty, war weariness from the US-backed civil war etc eventually eroded support for the FSLN and allowed Chamorro to win the Presidential election.

Following the boycott of December’s elections by the traditional capitalist parties and the high level of abstention it seems that a section of the anti-Chávez ruling class has reverted to “extra parliamentary” attempts at sabotage. Hoarding by producers, an action reminiscent of the campaigns by the counter revolution in Chile in the 1970’s, has led to shortages in the supermarkets and provoked Chávez to threaten nationalisation of the coffee producers.

The question of “Socialism in the 21st century” is now being defended as the policy of the Chávez government. The emergence of the idea of socialism in Venezuela is an important and positive development internationally. This, together with the demand for nationalisation in Bolivia and the general swing to the left in Latin America are an answer to those supporters of capitalism who though they had buried even the idea of socialism under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

However, the crucial question for the Venezuelan masses is what programme and organisations are necessary to begin to build socialism. Unfortunately, although Chávez poses the question of “socialism in the 21st century” no clear programme is offered by him or his government of how to overthrow capitalism and introduce a democratic socialist plan of the economy.

What Chávez is attempting to do is to use the state and revenue from oil sales to try to force the ruling class to invest and develop the economy rather than overthrow capitalism. This has included the introduction of price controls on basic goods and some limited nationalisations. The government has increased state intervention in the economy but without overthrowing capitalism and portrayed this as “socialism in the 21st century”.

During 2005 a series of infrastructure projects were announced by the government and then given out to private contacts. Fedecámaras, the employer’s organisation, have agreed a policy of forming an “alliance with the government to reactivate investment”. Fedecámaras also organised a conference for its members, “The role of private enterprise in socialism in the 21st century”.

Yet these policies, have not resolved the main problems facing the working class and others exploited by capitalism. The recent crisis over coffee distribution has illustrated the impossibility of resolving the problems facing the masses while capitalism remains. The price controls on coffee reduced the profits of the employers who in turn then provoked shortages by hoarding supplies. Although the government threatened them with nationalisation it backed down and agreed a sixty per cent increase in the price of coffee.

At the same time there is growing widespread bitterness and opposition to the growth of bureaucracy and repressive methods – some of which seem to have been borrowed from Castro’s regime in Cuba. There capitalism was overthrown and a centrally planned economy introduced. This resulted in important conquests for the masses especially in health, education and cheap food. However, rather than a workers’ democracy, a bureaucratic, repressive one party regime was established.

In Venezuela, since Chávez came to power the number of government ministries has increased from fifteen to twenty-on. Reforms, like the Misiones, (Government projects to end illiteracy, hunger, and to provide open access to health care) although initially popular were carried out from above. They lacked the conscious involvement, organisation and control of the working class. Even in the “recuperated factories” – bankrupt workplaces which the government has re-opened – are run by government appointed officials which sometimes include union representatives in the administration. Even in the government Misiones the workers are not allowed to belong to trade unions.

In a genuine workers’ democracy, workers would have the right to form trade unions which should be independent of the state. These would have a role to represent the particular interests of workers to the government. They would provide a reservoir of expertise and experience for a workers’ government to draw upon and to train and educate workers in the tasks and methods necessary to control and manage the economy.

The new trade union federation, UNT, which now claims a membership of 1 million, was initiated by Chávez and other leaders, from above. Despite its formation, more than two years ago, no national elections have been held to elect the leadership.

A crucial task facing the Venezuelan working class is to democratise the trade unions and check and control the bureaucratised leadership.

These contradictions are now beginning to lead to conflicts between sections of workers and the government regime. Nurses have not been paid for up to seven months and have taken to the streets in protest. In Caracas the police have been used against homeless people who have taken over empty buildings justified by the need to protect “private property”.

There is not a genuine system of workers’ control whereby elected committees in the workplaces have day to day control of the factories including the organisation of production, hiring and firing etc. The government sponsored Misiones although often administered by genuine activists, are not run or organised by democratically elected committees.

The working class, with a collective social consciousness, with the support of other classes exploited by capitalism and imperialism, is the decisive force to overthrow capitalism and begin the task of building a socialist society. To carry through a socialist revolution and begin to lay the basis to develop the economy and society, the independent, conscious and active participation of the working class and the masses is needed.

Need for independent workers organisation and socialist programme

Unfortunately, this has been lacking in an organised way in Venezuela. In part this is due to the effects of the 1990’s on political consciousness and organisation of the working class. It also reflects the weakness of independent political and organisational traditions of the working class. The working class is now beginning to establish its own tradition and build its own organisations. However, the level of organisation of the mass movement in Bolivia, through the trade unions, elected neighbourhood committees reflects the powerful independent traditions of political and social struggle by the working class. In Venezuela the need for the working class and masses to be organised independently to take the leadership of the revolution is now an urgent necessity.

Democratic committees need to be elected in the work places to introduce a system of democratic workers control. Popular assemblies in the neighbourhoods to elect committees to run and manage the Misiones need to be organised. A programme to democratise the UNT, and for it to be independent of the government, must be worked as a matter of urgency.

Such elected committees need to be linked together on a district, city wide, regional and national level together with elected committees of rank and file soldiers. They could remove bureaucratic bottlenecks. The accounts of all work places and government schemes could be opened to inspection to allow working people to see how the resources are being distributed and used.

Through the formation of such democratic workers’ and peasants committees the basis could be laid for the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government with a revolutionary socialist programme. This would include the nationalisation of all the major companies and multi-nationals on the basis of democratic workers control and management and the introduction of an emergency economic programme based on nationalised democratically planned economy.

Only such a programme to overthrow capitalism can defeat the threats now facing the Venezuelan revolution. If such a programme was also carried through by the working class in Bolivia it would allow the formation of a democratic socialist federation of the two countries and the first steps towards a joint plan and integration of the economies and resources of the two countries. Bolivia has undeveloped gas reserves worth an estimated US$100 billion – twelve times greater than the current GDP. Together with the oil and gas resources of Venezuela, a democratically planned economy and socialist federation could begin to develop these countries.

The establishment of workers’ and peasants governments in Venezuela and Bolivia would allow a democratic socialist federation and the integration and planning of these economies to begin. The establishment of a democratic socialist federation of Venezuela, Bolivia would be a genuine anti-imperialist alliance. It could win the support of the working class throughout Latin America and Central America. It would provide the basis to begin to appeal for support to the working class in the USA and Canada and undercut threats by US imperialism to challenge such a revolutionary movement.

These ideas provide a way forward for the revolutionary process unfolding in these countries and are part of the programme put forward by the CWI.

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January 2006