Revolutionary dynamics in Venezuela

By Roberto Jorquera — The presidential election victory of Hugo Chavez is a vital component in the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution, which has now been under way for 13 years. A defeat would have resulted in a massive attack on the working class of Venezuela. There is no doubt that, had Henrique Capriles won, he would have begun undermining and where possible breaking up the social missions and putting an end to nationalisations and returning to a pro-US foreign policy.

Chavez won with 55.12% of the votes compared to Capriles’ 44.26%. The election also registered the highest participation rate in Venezuelan history, with 80.59%, or 15,098,257 people, voting. This is a reflection of the increased political participation by the people, a key component of the Bolivarian revolution. Chavez won in 21 of the 23 states and the Capital District, losing only in the states of Merida and Tachira, and, significantly, winning in the states of Carabobo and Zulia, which currently have opposition governors.

Increasing polarisation

Although the Bolivarian forces had more people then ever before vote for them, so too did the opposition. There is an increasing polarisation reflecting the class dynamics of the Venezuelan political situation. There is a clash between the old bourgeois forces still dominating a large section of the Venezuelan economy, though this is distorted in favour of the working class with the government’s control of the oil industry, and a new developing workers state.

Since Chavez was first elected in 1998, the failed military coup (2002) and the oil industry lockout (2002-03) resulted in a significant change to class dynamics. Retaking control of the oil industry and the development of a Bolivarian army were crucial first steps in the advance of the revolutionary process. Since then, there have been increasing nationalisations of key sectors of the economy together with the development of a non-oil industry sector. The establishment of communal councils (2006) began a new form of popular participation and administration.

There have also been “initiatives like the strengthening of cooperatives and co-management ... the creation of social production enterprises (EPS), socialist enterprises, enterprises of social property, communal enterprises, workers councils and workers’ initiatives of workers control” (workerscontrol.net).

In 2007 the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was established after the victory of Hugo Chavez in the 2006 presidential elections. The PSUV has more than 5.5 million members, making it the largest party in Venezuela by far. However, although its constitution elaborates a detailed program for a socialist Venezuela, its internal structures and broad political membership result in many distortions.

Class forces

To comprehend the state of the Venezuela revolutionary process and its challenges, it must also be placed in the context of class forces internationally.

This was also true of the Russian Revolution. Lenin delivered a speech on April 7, 1920, to the Third All-Russia Trade Union Congress posing the challenges the revolution faced. “On an international scale, capital is still stronger, both from the military and the economic standpoint, than Soviet power and the Soviet system. That is the fundamental premise from which we must proceed, and we must never forget it. Forms of the struggle against capital change — at one time they acquire an open international character, at another they are centred in one country. The forms change, but the struggle goes on whether it be in the military, the economic, or some other sphere of the social system; and our revolution confirms the basic law of the class struggle.”

The process in Venezuela or any other revolutionary process, such as Cuba, is no different. The challenges, defeats and advances must be analysed in relation to the international economic and political order, which is currently overwhelmingly dominated by capitalism. As was the case with the Russian Revolution, in Venezuela today there are significant objective limitations in advancing Venezuela’s “socialism of the 21st century”.

The key decisions and the ability to move significantly towards socialism will inevitably be determined by international class forces. Though there will be scope to make advances depending on the state of revolutionary leadership and class consciousness, the domination of capitalism internationally and the current retreat of the left in the advanced capitalist world mean that the Venezuelan revolutionary process will encounter significant obstacles. Much of the discussion of Venezuela unfortunately does not take these issues into account, resulting in a distorted assessment of the Bolivarian revolution and its capabilities.

Venezuela’s oil industry has allowed the Bolivarian process to achieve much but has also distorted the revolutionary process. Pablo Gimenez, professor of political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, writing in venezuelanalysis.com on October 16 in an article titled “Socialist Transformation in an Oil-Dependent Economy: a Venezuelan Perspective”, argued: “... between 1936 and 1979, or even up to 1983 according to some writers, the Venezuelan economy was characterised by the development of what has been described as a rentier capitalism. That is to say, what developed was a very particular form of capitalism in Venezuela inextricably linked to the influx of oil money. When we talk of oil rentierism, we are talking about an interest and flow of international investment that is the result not of productive labour by the Venezuelans but rather comes about as a product of exporting oil, seen as a rich resource by some.

“There are liberal currents within the process who believe in state capitalism, who want a stable capitalism with less international exploitation, who follow the state capitalist model for example of Brazil, of Lula. In Venezuela we have witnessed the phenomenon whereby investment in social production has risen alongside salaries, yet we have not been able to raise the levels of production.”

Gimenez then goes on to argue: “We need to develop secondary industry and food production. We have been able to develop as fast as we have done due to the profits from petroleum, but this undermines the need and impulse to develop the forces of production. In the particular case of Venezuela, we have to take these oil deposits, take this rentier economy and transform it into social investments, but not only social investments, but investments into social production. In order to develop socialism, we need to develop the interconnection between these basic industries, and petroleum production, such as plastic production from petrol. National production and national industry are needed for national development to transform the relations of social production.”

PSUV and Chavez

The formation of the PSUV was an important step in the attempt to bring all the revolutionary forces into one political organisation. However, since its inception the PSUV has been plagued with problems and accusations of an undemocratic internal structure and domination by a bureaucratic elite.

The Lucha de Clases tendency within the PSUV argues: “At the moment the party is being used as an electoral machine and not as an organisation that constantly debates the policies that the revolution should implement at each moment in time from the grass roots. It doesn’t focus on the revolutionary ideas that we defend, nor discuss the programs that each state organism should follow, nor believe in our militancy and our tradition of struggle, commitment, and effort, nor discuss the methods and tactics to follow in each battle that we are faced with.”

Some on the left argue that the problem is Chavez and his style of leadership. The argument is that the masses want to move forward but Chavez blocks advancement. Fred Fuentes pointed out on the Socialist Voice discussion list: “Is the dependence on Chavez a weakness that needs to be resolved, yes of course … but there is a flip side to this that is almost never mentioned: the revolution would not be where it is today without Chavez and Chavez is not only the figure that is able to unite the broad range of social forces and able to keep the process going but is also the most visible leader of the left wing of the process and is the main obstacle to more moderate forces who don’t want the process to move forward.”

Gonzalo Gomez from Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), who was interviewed by Jeffery R. Webber from the Bullet, explains: “Given the unifying role that Chavez has played in this process, he will not be easily replaced. The social movements, the working class, and their organisations, have not organically constituted themselves as a social subject with sufficient strength to have weight in the exercise of power within the government. We need to move toward a form of government, even while Chavez is still present, where there are mechanisms through which the organisations of the working class and social movements are taken into account, are consulted, where they have a direct role in the design of policies and decision making.”

Next steps

The revolutionary process in Venezuela has continued to surprise the world ever since the election of Chavez in 1998. The process has steadily radicalised, and although sometimes rather slow, it has continued to deepen the socialist project under the banner of 21st century socialism. It has been tested time and again and has passed the test of time. However, its future is predicated as much on international developments as on internal developments.

In his election acceptance speech, Chavez, stated that his next six-year term would be a period of “greater advance” towards the construction of socialism as well as “greater achievements and greater efficiency in this transition from capitalism”. There is no doubt that this is crucial if the revolution is to survive. What the Venezuelan revolutionary movement does in the next period will be its biggest test yet. How the international revolutionary movement responds to its own struggles will also have a dramatic impact on the Venezuelan revolution.

Tamara Pearson from venezuelanalysis.com writes: “Chavez has said that the next six years should take Venezuela into socialism ‘beyond the point of no return’. The foundations have been laid, but it’s time now to make community councils and worker councils the norm, it’s time to talk about the hard issues that have been avoided (by the PSUV leadership) in order to avoid losing votes, such as gay rights, abortion and sexism, democratising the PSUV, and consumerism. If we don’t beat corruption and bureaucracy in the next period, we could lose this revolution. Now that the presidential elections are over, we have two main questions: How will we deepen the revolution, and will it survive?”

[Roberto Jorquera is a national co-convenor of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network.]

Direct Action — October 22, 2012