Venezuela has become the latest Latin America country to enter a revolutionary crisis,
as the United States works hard to overthrow left-wing President Chavez.
We reproduce parts of an article written by supporters of Chavez, then outline the
Trotskyist response to the crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuela's 'National Strike'
by Justin Podur at Znet
The 'general strike' in Venezuela is the fourth called by the opposition over the past year, including the failed coup attempt in April.
The economy is suffering. On December 3, the anti-Chavez forces stopped a bus, doused it with gasoline, and set it on fire earlier
today to enforce the strike-only the driver was inside, and he escaped unharmed. On the fourth day of the strike the captains of the
oil tankers began a blockade on the transport of oil to and from Venezuela.
The 'Bolivarians', who support Chavez and his reforms, are fighting back. On December 10, they surrounded the TV stations,
a natural tactic in a country where the mass media is openly for the oligarchy and against the poor. On December 7, a peace march
brought 2 million out in support of the government, an event barely covered by the media. A week later workers at a Pepsi-Cola plant
in Aragua, Venezuela, took it over against the wishes of management in order to not join a national strike. Their slogan is "Fabrica
Cerrada - Fabrica Tomada", or 'Close the Factories? We'll take them over!" The government has sent troops to take over the oil
installations and there are reports that oil workers in some parts of the country are working. But the strike has slowed oil production
and the economy in general.
Much of this struggle is about oil. Venezuela is the world's fourth largest oil producer and its oil industry is critical to its economy.
Chavez's 'bolivarian revolution' argues for a role for the state in the oil industry, the redistribution of oil income, and the use of revenues
from this resource to build economic independence. But since 1974, the oil industry has been moving in the opposite direction. At that
time, the state-run-oil company kept 20% of its revenue in operating costs and turned 80% over to the state. In 1990 it was 50-50 and
in 1998, when Chavez was elected, the company kept 80% and turned 20% over. What the neoliberals had in mind in the late 1990s
was full privatization-not a reversal of the trend of the previous 20 years. Added to this, the administration of the oil industry is in the
hands of anti-Chavez forces, making it possible for them to go on strike in order to promote privatization.
What are Chavez's other crimes? Severance pay was restored in the constitution of 1999, after being eliminated in 1997. Social
security was set to be privatized in 1998, but was also impeded by the constitution of 1999. The Land Law, passed last year, was an
agrarian reform law that tries to make rural life viable for Venezuelans and slow rural-urban migration at the expense of large plantation
owners and real-estate speculators.
What is going on in Venezuela is a reversal of the situation in most of the countries of the world. Elsewhere, governments quietly
pass neoliberal laws, privatize state assets, and undermine agrarian reforms under the direction of local elites. The people-and quite
often the employees of the state organs to be privatized-protest, and are repressed by the government. In Venezuela, the neoliberals
tried and failed to take over the government in April 2002. Their remaining weapons are the strike, the media, and the dream of external
Many analysts believe that a US intervention in Venezuela shouldn't be ruled out, and that Colombia's civil war will offer a pretext
for such an intervention. While the US has made it clear that it would recognize a Venezuelan government that successfully overthrew
Chavez, reparations for a direct military intervention do not seem to be in the works in the short term.
Marta Harnecker, a Chilean sociologist, has been following events in Venezuela closely and recently interviewed Chavez for 15
hours. Just two weeks ago she stated her belief that "if Chávez wanted to lead an insurrection today, he would have the strength
to do it. That is, the people and the army at this moment would permit a victorious insurrection. The problem is what will happen
tomorrow. I think he's sufficiently mature to understand the correlation of forces in which he finds himself and to understand that
insurrection would not be the solution." The solution, instead, is to continue with democracy, to continue to struggle honourably
against opponents who fight dirty. Venezuelans should not have to face this battle alone.
Our Trotskyist Perspective
Trotskyists defend Chavez from U.S. coups and CIA-backed subversion, but deny that he can bring the improved living conditions
and wider democratic rights he has promised to Venezuela. Why do we take this position? Let’s have a look at the backdrop to the
Venezulean crisis in an attempt to get an answer to this question.
Despite their talk about a Chavez ‘revolution’, those who give wholehearted support to Chavez tend to seem him as a left-wing
reformer who can, if given the opportunity, gradually increase the scope of democratic liberties in Venezuela, as well as gradually
boost living standards and the quality of social services like education and health. If the US would only leave him alone, the argument
goes, Chavez would be able to get on with improving the lives of Venezuelans. What this argument ignores is the way that it is the very
existence of limited democracy and some limited left-wing reforms that have created the crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuela is a poor semi-colony, which means that most of its wealth is drained by multinational companies based in imperialist
countries like the United States. These companies are able to make such big profits because they pay very low wages for labour and
very low prices for raw materials. Because of this domination by foreign companies, not enough money is available in Venezuela for the
government to tax and spend on social services. When a government comes into power and under pressure from workers tries to enact
left-wing reforms, it quickly creates a crisis. If it wants to get enough money to pay for the reforms, it has to challenge the foreign
companies that have a stranglehold over the economy. These companies don’t want to see their profit rates threatened, and they are
backed by the governments of the imperialist countries in which they are based. They resist attempts to increase tax rates or to
nationalise their assets by getting imperialist governments to destabilise the regimes that threaten their profits.
The story is no different when left-wing reforming governments like Chavez’s increase democratic rights by, for instance, making it
easier for free trade unions to operate. Workers tend to use their new liberties to organise strike action to win higher wages and better
conditions from their employers, who are usually directly or indirectly multinational companies. Since higher wages and better
conditions cut into profits, the companies and their imperialist backers start to destabilise the government which gave workers greater
freedoms, in the hope that these freedoms can be rolled back.
Time and time again, left-wing reforming governments have run into the brick wall of the domination of poor semi-colonies by
imperialist money. In Guatemala in 1954, in Chile in 1973, and in Fiji in 1987 reforming governments have been ousted when the
companies they have alienated have turned to the imperialist powers for support. In Chile in 1973, the Allende government angered
U.S.-based multinationals with its plans to nationalise key areas of the economy like the mining sector. Nationalisation meant an end
to superprofits, so the multinationals conspired with the CIA and with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to organise the military
coup that put General Pinochet in power, killed thousands of leftists and unionists, and made sure that the economy stayed in U.S.
Like Allende thrity years ago, Chavez is running up against the ‘wall’ that keeps poor semi-colonies in their place. The only solution
in Venezuela is to break out of the global capitalist system by socialising property, abolishing the market, and establishing a planned
economy that runs according to the needs of working class and poor Venezuelans, not the dictates of multinationals and the global
market. To get rid of imperialist domination and secure democratic rights, poor semi-colonies have to go all the way to socialism.
Trotskyists call this process a ‘permanent revolution’.
Chavez will never lead such a revolution: His interests are tied to the national bourgeoisie and his ‘radicalism’ amounts to a demand
for a greater share of Venezuelan wealth staying in the hands of the national bourgeoisie. This ‘Chavista’ bourgeoise is trapped and
powerless to alter the situation. There are only two courses open: US-backed coup, or socialist revolution.
Only the workers of Venezuela have the ability to make a socialist revolution. Already, they have been organising themselves in
grassroots ‘Bolivarian circles’ to defend Chavez against coup attempts and CIA-backed right-wing protests. But Chavez has attempted
to stop the Bolivarian circles from taking to the streets in large numbers, because he is worried they will start to challenge the power
of ‘his’ army and police.
Chavez should be defended from the CIA's counter-revolution, but workers should organise themselves independently of him - rather
than having illusions in him, or being part of a political alliance with him, workers should make a ‘military bloc’ with him to defend him
against imperialist coups and subversion only.
Workers need to be independent of Chavez so they can get rid of him when he becomes an obstacle to the socialist revolution,
which alone can actually achieve the improved living standards and democratic rights Chavez promises. The win that independence
they need a revolutionary party and program which offers them a clear view of the road to socialist revolution.
HANDS OFF VENEZUELA!
BREAK FROM THE CHAVISTA BOURGEOISIE
BUILD WORKERS AND POPULAR ASSEMBLIES
BUILD WORKERS AND POPULAR MILITIAS
Support an international trade union appeal to defend Venezuela from imperialist coups and subversion.
To find out more, visit the following website http://www.marxist.com/appeals/hands_off_venezuela.html