Venezuela and the Cuban road to ‘socialism’
At this year’s World Social Forum the cry was raised “Lula No! Chavez Si”! This chant captured the politics of the young and old radicals alike who look to Chavez as the best yet hope for socialism. CWG attended a session of the Asia-Pacific International Solidarity Conference in Sydney over Easter on the Venezuelan revolution. When we and others argued that Chavez was not capable of leading the Venezuelan workers to socialism, we were met with claims by the Democratic Socialist Party members that Chavez was a “Marxist” and was following the Cuban road to ‘socialism’. What’s up with Chavez?
Chavez in his closing speech before a full stadium in Porto Alegre, sported a Che T-shirt and was given a rapturous reception. Once more he talked about the need for socialism to achieve the goals of the Bolivarian revolution. On the face of it this sounded like Chavez was prepared to break with US imperialism and nationalise the property of the imperialists and local capitalists. Those whose hopes had been attached to Lula and his Worker’s Party Government in Brazil two years ago, and were now disillusioned by his attacks on workers and his sacking of left wing parliamentarians, now saw Chavez as picking up the mantle of the socialist cause of Castro and Che Guevara.
The Democratic Socialist Party of Australia is an example of a former Trotskyist group that has become an open cheerleader for Castro. In the recent APISC conference in Sydney, CWG members were told by a DSP militant that their ‘co-thinkers’ in Latin America were the Cuban Communist Party. When we said the Castro was restoring capitalism in Cuba and was a betrayer of the Latin American revolution, this comrade said that Castro was now fighting restoration and that the articles of Celia Hart showed that it was possible for Castroites and Trotskyites to be allies in the class struggle.
Celia Hart is the daughter of a two leading revolutionaries in Cuba. She has recently written about the need to adopt Trotsky’s view of permanent revolution in Cuba and Latin America. What she means by this is what Che Guevara meant when he said “either socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution”, that the Stalinist view of two revolutionary stages, first national, then socialist, must be abandoned. Chavez has also realised that Venezuela cannot be independent short of socialism. But what does socialism mean?
The fact is that Celia Hart’s ‘rediscovery’ of Trotsky is like the post-modernists ‘rediscovery’ of Marx. This ‘Trotsky’ is a museum exhibit like the mausoleum of Lenin. Celia Hart says that Trotsky’s ideas should be discussed like those of Gramsci and Mariategui! This is a dead Trotsky, whose politics have been transformed into their opposite. Instead of an uncompromising fight for working class independence, this ‘Trotsky’ calls a bourgeois president a ‘Marxist’ or even ‘Trotskyist’. Even serious ‘Trotskyists’ like the el Militante tendency of Alan Woods gives critical support to Chavez. This only confuses workers by presenting Chavez as capable of defending the revolution instead of warning workers that only they can defend their class against a counter-revolution. For example, Celia Hart recognises that a US attack on Venezuela will come, but instead of calling for soviets and workers militias now, she talks of an ‘international brigade’ like in Spain to come to the rescue of Venezuela!
Objectively Chavez is the President of a bourgeois state that defends private property. There is a huge gap between his ‘socialist’ rhetoric and his actions protecting Venezuelan capitalism. Towards the end of his speech at the WSF, Chavez defended Lula’s Government for facing up to the difficult task of defending the masses against imperialism. This was an indirect admission by Chavez that he too has to negotiate and make concessions to imperialism and sometimes attack workers directly, as he did at Sidor, on the ‘road to socialism’!
Those on the left who defend Chavez as a ‘Marxist’ or even a ‘Trotskyist’, are in effect liquidating the independent role of the revolutionary party in transforming a national revolution against imperialism into a socialist revolution. Instead they are substituting as the workers’ ‘vanguard’ a fraction of the national bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, or Castroite bureaucracy, who all try to use the state and mass support to negotiate better terms with imperialism. Chavez has come to understand that he will sooner or later face a US blockade and end up going further than he formally intended. And rather than follow Allende, his model is clearly closer to Cuba where Castro was forced by the US blockade to go further than he intended and proclaim ‘socialism’.
But Cuba under Castro has never been socialist. It’s revolution was not based on a mass movement but upon a petty bourgeois national democratic independence movement. The class character of the Cuban revolution remains petty bourgeois and bureaucratic caught between the Latin American proletariat and imperialism. Its role is not to encourage revolution but to moderate the class struggle and negotiate a class compromise like Stalin did. Castro acted like Stalin in every Latin American revolution from the 1960s onward. In Chile he backed Allende’s refusal to arm the workers for fear it would provoke imperialism. Disastrous betrayal! In Nicaragua he backed the Sandinista’s attempts to negotiate with the US rather than mobilise mass resistance. Disastrous betrayal! Today, his advice to Latin American leaders is to follow Cuba’s current path in negotiating a deal between the market and ‘socialism’ –something called ‘market socialism’ – betrayal again!
However, despite its counter-revolutionary role in Latin America, Cuba did expropriate the imperialists and national capitalists. Therefore it must be supported and defended from imperialism and capitalist restoration. But the only way to prevent capitalist restoration is to remove the Castroite bureaucracy and install a workers’ and small farmers’ government in its place. We say the same with Chavez and the Bolivarian movement. We support his regime unconditionally against imperialism. But we cannot give him the slightest political support. Why? Because Chavez is the President of a bourgeois state balanced between the Venezuelan masses and US imperialism. Like Castro, who is gradually accommodating imperialism by allowing it to buy up state assets in Cuba, Chavez is reluctant to directly confront imperialism by nationalising imperialist assets.
This fact is clear from the one and only nationalisation of a factory that has taken place so far. Venepal, a paper-making plant owned by a US corporation, was recently nationalised and put under joint government/worker co-management. The workers occupied the plant over a year ago calling on Chavez to nationalise it, but Chavez did so only when he satisfied that the owners were closing it down and it could be nationalised under the Constitution as ‘unproductive’. What results is a state-owned corporation in which the workers compete with capitalist firms in a capitalist economy. The program the workers need is not piecemeal nationalisations but wholesale expropriation not only of bankrupt factories, but of all major profitable factories, farms and banks without compensation to the bosses and under workers control as part of a planned economy!
The Cuba model is wrong for another life and death reason. Unlike Cuba, there are no Soviet missiles to ‘protect’ Venezuela. Castro’s bureaucratised worker state survived because of the Cold War standoff between imperialism and the degenerated workers states. Venezuela would not survive an imperialist counter-revolution and invasion without armed workers and farmers militia. Chavez may declare his loyalty to the interests of the masses, but his actions expose the masses to a terrible historic defeat. Any illusions that Chavez can defend workers in the event of a US sponsored civil war (e.g. invasion from Colombia) can only disarm the workers and lead to their defeat.
What is needed is not pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric about the ‘Marxist’ Chavez leading the way on the road to socialism, but the organisation of the Venezuelan workers, peasants and soldiers into armed Soviets capable of mobilising a ‘Red Army’ to defend the national revolution from the counter-revolution and to go on to seize the power in the name of a workers’ and peasant’s government.
For a national congress of the CNT and workers and peasant organisations in struggle!
For the expropriation of land, industry and the banks without compensation and under peasant and worker control!
For soviets and workers and peasants militias and soldiers committees!
For a Workers’ and working Farmers’ government!
From Class Struggle 60 March-April 2005