Why Venezuela's revolution needs our solidarity

By Roberto Jorquera

Since the defeat of the constitutional reform referendum last December 3 there has been much discussion surrounding the future of the Venezuelan revolution. Commentators and activists inside Venezuela and internationally have expressed their views on this topic. Some have started to ring alarm bells claiming the revolution has been halted and some have even argued that a counter-revolution is being carried out by the “endogenous right” of President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian movement. Others have commentated that what is happening is a temporary retreat by the left of the Bolivarian movement.

Rather than view the current process in Venezuela in such a black and white fashion, it is better to view the Bolivarian process as what it is — an unfolding process of revolutionary socialist transformation of Venezuela’s social order. The Bolivarian revolution has its official starting point with the election of Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s president in 1998, though the roots of the process go back to the 1970s.

The election of Chavez in 1998 opened the door to a process of democratic and anti-neoliberal reforms. The implementation of the 49 enabling laws in 2000 took this process in a more radical direction by shifting the focus of struggle between the Chavistas and Venezuela’s imperialist-backed capitalist oligarchy onto who would have control over the country’s oil industry, and therefore over its national economy.

April 2002 insurrection

The response by the oligarchy and Washington headed by the US government was the military coup in April 2002. The coup, however, split the military and led within 48 hours to a mass military-civilian insurrection that led to the restoration of Chavez as president. The popular insurrection altered the relationship of social forces within Venezuela to the advantage of the working people and the poor, radically transforming the class character of the government and the armed forces it rested on. In early 2003, the working people’s government born of the April 13 revolutionary insurrection inflicted a major blow against the capitalist oligarchy by mobilising soldiers and oil production workers to enable the government to take over PDVSA, Venezuela’s formally state-owned oil company and the largest company in Latin America.

PDVSA was reoriented from a corporation serving to enrich the capitalist oligarchy to a source of funds for the carrying out of extensive social programs benefiting the country’s impoverished majority. In August 2004, the capitalist oligarchy tried again to remove Chavez from the presidency. But having lost control over the armed forces, the capitalists had to wage a battle for public opinion through a recall referendum only made possible by the democratic changes Chavez had introduced in the period before 2002. Once again though, the Chavistas triumphed.

This led the oligarchy’s political leaders into a retreat, which after much debate led to a boycott of the National Assembly elections in December 2005. Only days before, the vote took place resulting in the pro-Chavez parties winning all the seats in the National Assembly. The right-wing opposition attempted to discredit the results, but the overwhelming majority of international observers declared the elections free and fair.

As a result, the opposition parties began to mobilise and talk unity among themselves, resulting in a single candidate to contest the presidential election of December 2006. This was a major step forward for the opposition, which had been plagued by infighting and differences over how to respond to the advance of the revolutionary forces. The united front presented by the opposition under presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, governor of the state of Zulia, was a turning point for the opposition, restoring some of the political legitimacy that it had lost inside Venezuela and internationally.

However, Chavez’s election victory allowed a renewed radicalisation of what Chavez himself had increasingly identified as a socialist revolution. Within a month of the presidential victory, the National Assembly passed another set of 11 enabling laws allowing Chavez to make further changes in the economy, increasingly encroaching on the economic power and control of the capitalists.

In the year following the presidential election, the revolution began a new political and economic offensive against the non-military components of the old state machinery. There was a renewed push in the decentralisation of government through grassroots political organisation, particularly through the promotion of the “communal councils” and other local community political organisations. The revolutionary government then turned its sights on the 1999 Bolivarian constitution. Chavez argued that a number of changes had to be made to the constitution to advance the socialist revolution. In December 2007, the changes were put to a vote and, for the first time since 1998, the Bolivarian forces lost an electoral battle.

United Socialist Party

The setback reflected a confusion among the masses supporting the revolution. In the constitutional referendum, 4.3 million voted in favour, while 7.3 million had voted for Chavez for president in December 2006. But while the pro-Chavista vote dropped some 3 million votes, the opposition gained only a few hundred thousand extra votes over the presidential election. The result indicated that the masses had not turned against Chavez and the revolution but were confused about the next steps in the revolutionary process, and so many did not vote.

In response, Chavez give political priority to the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), in order to begin to construct a revolutionary cadre force to help lead the revolution. The PSUV would also work towards combating the middle-class careerist forces that exist within the Chavista camp, which have sought to bureaucratise it. The call for the formation of the PSUV was initiated by Chavez in December 2006, only weeks after the victory in the presidential elections. Chavez argued that it was time for the revolutionary forces to come together and take the revolutionary process to a new level. In a period of just a few months of 2007, more than 5.7 million Venezuelans applied to join the new PSUV, which was officially formed in March 2008. Its founding congress was attended by over 1600 delegates, who had been elected by some 100,000 militants of the party. These militants were the spokespeople of 14,363 grassroots “battalions”, plus the heads of the five internal commissions of the party.

All this points to a continuing political battle for the Venezuelan socialist revolution, a battle that has had twists and turns, setbacks and advances. The key to the battle will be the political response of the Venezuelan working class and the leadership of the revolution, organised in the working people’s government and the PSUV. The defeat of the constitutional reforms in December was a serious political setback that has forced the revolution to slow down. However, the formation of the PSUV and the decision in April to nationalise the SIDOR steel company have laid the bases for a new advance of the revolution.

Leading against US imperialism

The Venezuelan revolution has been in the vanguard of Latin America’s battle against US imperialism. It has been the most important revolutionary development for the world working class since the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Its ability to sustain its gains since the mass insurrection of 2002 and to advance on a socialist trajectory will impact on developments throughout the continent.

The left and socialist movements throughout the world will also be judged by their relationship to the revolutionary struggle in Venezuela. For the working-class movement everywhere, it should be a priority to relate to the political developments in Venezuela and to work towards a broad solidarity movement with the Venezuelan revolution and other progressive struggles throughout Latin America. Venezuela is at the centre of global discussion on the tasks of the revolutionary forces that are combating US imperialism. Solidarity and collaboration with Venezuela will play a very important role in a strategy for combating the control of the world by international capital.

As has been the case for the revolutionary left historically, its orientation to new revolutionary victories will determine its future. The founding perspectives resolution of Australia’s Revolutionary Socialist Party states: “The Venezuela-Cuba axis of solidarity and socialist renewal is inspiring millions of people around the world as the real story gets out and more people are able to experience these revolutions first-hand. This socialist renewal is political gold, a `gift’ that must not be squandered. There’s nothing like a living revolution in all its concrete richness, contradiction and emotional appeal to inspire...”

The RSP resolution also stresses that “Venezuela-Cuba solidarity is our number one, ongoing campaign priority. We do not view this solidarity work as simply a means to recruit to our party. We are serious about building up a broadly based solidarity movement together with all other organisations and individuals who share this goal. A key task of our Venezuela solidarity work is to seek to establish the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network as a democratically functioning national network of affiliated solidarity groups and individual solidarity activists”.

The international and Australian solidarity movement with the Venezuelan revolution must be based on a genuine attempt to include all those who support the revolution. It must be built through mutual respect of all of the participants’ initiatives and proposals and work towards joint activities. However, the solidarity movement with the Venezuelan revolution cannot be promoted through a forced unity under one umbrella in any particular country. All initiatives in support of the revolution must be encouraged and promoted.

A key task for left and progressive forces in Australia is to create the basis for renewed initiatives by building the AVSN into a much broader network of political and community organisations and individuals in support of the Venezuelan revolution.

[Roberto Jorquera is on the management committee of the Melbourne-based Centre for Latin America Solidarity and Studies and a national co-convener of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network. He is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]