Last month occurred the ninth anniversary of the coup against President Hugo Chavez. This event was a major turning point in the Bolivarian revolution that began with the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in 1998. Within 48 hours of the coup, people’s power was able to mobilise and, in alliance with sections of the army, to force the reinstatement of Chavez.
Eva Golinger wrote on her website: “Utilizing images manipulated by private television station, Venevision, the coup forces justified their actions by blaming the violence and deaths that occurred that day on the Venezuelan head of state. In reality, as top secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents have revealed, the coup was planned in the days and weeks prior to its execution. The objective was to use an anti-Chavez protest to provoke violence and unrest in the capital, Caracas, putting into action a detailed plot using snipers to fire on the crowds, causing deaths and injuries, which would be blamed on the government, justifying its ouster. As one top secret, now partially-declassifed CIA document from April 6, 2002 outlines, after the violence was provoked by coup forces, ‘President Chavez and other top members in his cabinet … would be arrested’ and a ‘transitional government’ would be installed.
“Chavez was detained by force on the evening of April 11, 2002, and kidnapped by dissident military officers, on the orders of the coup leaders. Meanwhile, the US ambassador in Caracas, Charles Shapiro, was coordinating the actions on the ground with media owners, metropolitan police forces involved in the sniper shootings, and of course the business and political leaders that forcefully took over the government. Documentary evidence proves that Shapiro held several meetings and conversations during the events of April 11, 2002, with the metropolitan police commissioner, Henry Vivas, as well as with Gustavo Cisneros, owner of Venevision, and Pedro Carmona, who subsequently took over the presidency and declared himself head of state.”
The attempted military coup was a major turning point. The popular uprising split the armed forces, a solid majority of the military siding with the people. In the following months, the remaining officers loyal to big business lost their commands. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie no longer possessed a military force, although large parts of the police continued to oppose the government.
The Chavez leadership began a major political, economic and social offensive. First there was the establishment of the social missions, which have the aim of helping working people to solve the social and economic problems that the majority of Venezuelans face. Many of the missions are now in their second stage of development, and new ones have been set up. The key political role of the missions was to bypass the bureaucratic state apparatus dominated by the old political elite and others not supportive of the revolutionary process.
At the end of 2002, the capitalists launched another counter-revolutionary effort, by instituting a bosses’ “strike” at the nominally state-owned oil company. The defeat of that effort gave the revolutionary government a new source of funds for the missions and other programs.
Late in 2004, Chavez began to raise the question of socialism, which opened up a nationwide debate about the ideological framework and direction of the revolution. At the April 2005 International Solidarity Conference, Chavez made it clear that he no longer believed that capitalism was a feasible system and that socialism was the only option. On May 1, 2005, Chavez in a speech of more than two hours set out the political framework for the revolution. The May 1 speech can be compared to Castro’s 1961 Havana declaration that drew out Cuba’s political direction.
The socialist character of the revolution is being emphasised although there is still much discussion among the revolutionary forces and the masses on what that means in practice.
There have been numerous economic offensives and increased moves for more workers’ control, nationalisation of industries and the breaking up of large land holdings. These offensives are bringing the Chavez leadership and the masses into much more direct confrontation with the Venezuelan bourgeoisie.
Gregory Wilpert wrote in a recent article in the online news service www.venezuelanalysis: “Venezuela has made significant progress in the past 12 years of Chavez’s presidency towards creating a more egalitarian, inclusive, and participatory society. Indeed, these advances explain the government’s ongoing popularity. At the same time, though, one must recognize that there are significant shortcomings that have either persisted throughout Chavez’s presidency or in some cases are new. This helps to explain why the Chavez government’s popularity seems to have peaked with Chavez’s 2006 reelection (winning 62.8% of the vote in December of that year) and has gradually declined since’.
“Many of the political changes that have taken place ... have involved an increase in political inclusion of previously excluded sectors of society ... For example, the percentage of the voting age population that is registered to vote rose from 79% in 1998 to 92% in 2010. Also, voter participation in presidential elections increased from 65.5% in 1998 to 74.6% in 2006. The combination of increased participation rate and of increased registration means that the participation rate of the voting age population increased from 51% to 69% between 1998 and 2006. Since most Venezuelans are poor and previously tended not to vote, most of the new voters come from poor backgrounds. Compare this to the United States, where in one of the highest turnouts in recent decades only 57.4% of the voting age population voted in 2008.”
On the economy, Wilpert writes: “Just as the Chavez government has democratized Venezuela’s political system over the past 12 years; it has done the same with its economic system, both on a macro-economic level and on a micro-economic level.
“On a macro-economic level this has been achieved by increasing state control over the economy and by dismantling neo-liberalism in Venezuela. The Chavez government has regained state control over the previously quasi-independent national oil industry. The government nationalized private sub-contractors of the oil industry and incorporated them into the state oil company, giving workers full benefits and better pay. It also partially nationalized transnational oil company operations so that they control no more than 40% of any given oil production site. Then, the government eliminated the practice of ‘service agreements,’ whereby transnational oil companies enjoyed lucrative concessions for oil production. Perhaps most importantly, the government increased royalties from oil production from as low as 1% to a minimum of 33%.
“In the non-oil sector, the government nationalized key (previously privatized) industries, such as: steel production (Sidor), telecommunications (Cantv), electricity distribution (production was already in state hands), cement production (Cemex), banking (Banco de Venezuela), and food distribution (Exito).
“On a micro-economic level democratization has taken place by promoting workplace democracy. The government supported the creation of more than 100,000 cooperatives with low-interest loans and free training. This represents a more than 100-fold increase from pre-Chavez days. In cases where factories were idle the government has allowed former workers to take them over so that dozens of worker co-managed factories were created.”
Venezuela also initiated the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as a counter to imperialist “free trade” areas that serve the economic and political interests of the wealthiest countries.
There is no doubt that the revolutionary transformation of Venezuela is an ongoing and difficult process. It faces the same kinds of challenges that have confronted other socialist revolutions in underdeveloped countries of developing the productive forces in a way that benefits working people while menaced by the very real possibility of imperialist military attack.
But the process is being led by a consciously revolutionary government that is broadly supported by the masses of working people. The continued development of the Bolivarian revolution deserves the solidarity of socialists everywhere. Conversely, its ongoing achievements will help to popularise the cause of socialism in many other countries.