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Announcement :: International
July 28-31 Events to Commemorate the Life & Legacy of Hugo Chávez
25 Jul 2014
Modified: 01:06:25 AM
The Consulate General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Boston, with the support of the Consulate General of El Salvador, have the pleasure of inviting you to the following events to commemorate the Life and Legacy of President Hugo Chávez, in the 60th anniversary of his birth.
July 28-31 Events to Commemorate the Life of President Hugo Chávez
-Monday, July 28th, 5:00pm to 6:15pm: interfaith Worship service, at Church of the Covenant, 67 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116

-Thursday, July 31st, 5:30pm: Opening of the Photo exhibition “In Memory of Hugo Chávez” and screening of the documentary “My Friend Hugo” by Oliver Stone, at the Consulate General of El Salvador, 46 Bennington Street, East Boston, MA 02128. Venezuelan food and refreshments provided.

All the events are free and open to the public. For more information: consulado (at) 617-2669368, ext. 203
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Break with Bourgeois Populism! For Workers Revolution!
25 Jul 2014
Workers Vanguard No. 907

1 February 2008

Opportunist Left and the Chávez Referendum

Break with Bourgeois Populism! For Workers Revolution!


U.S. Hands Off!

Across the political spectrum, the December constitutional referendum put forward by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was described as an attempt to institute a “socialist state.” The narrow defeat of the referendum is now celebrated by a cabal ranging from the Venezuelan oligarchy to the Catholic church to the Bush White House as a victory for “democracy.” On the other side, it has provoked much hand-wringing among self-proclaimed Marxists and others who have promoted Chávez as some kind of “revolutionary.” As for Chávez himself, he immediately made conciliatory gestures to the right-wing opposition.

Popular illusions notwithstanding, Chávez, a former army colonel, is a bourgeois nationalist administering a capitalist state. Far from undermining capitalism in Venezuela, Chávez’s referendum went out of its way to underline that private ownership of the means of production would be protected under the constitution. His proposed referendum was centrally aimed at strengthening the repressive powers of the Venezuelan capitalist state and concentrating increased authority in the executive office of the president. While cloaked in populist rhetoric of “people’s power” and promising some social reforms, such as a shorter workweek and pensions for the self-employed, the key provisions of Chávez’s referendum sought to increase presidential authority to declare unlimited states of emergency, to decree special military regions, to transform certain parts of the country into federal territories under direct presidential control, and to allow the president to dissolve the National Assembly.

The capitalist state—which at its core consists of the military, police, prisons and courts—is the instrument for the forcible suppression of the working class and oppressed in defense of the capitalist social order. Any augmentation of the Venezuelan capitalist state powers will be used against the working class when it struggles for its own class interests. As Marx and Engels put it following the experience of the Paris Commune, when the Parisian proletariat held power for nearly three months in 1871 before being bloodily crushed, “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz. that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’” (1872 Preface to the German Edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels).

As Marxists who fight for proletarian socialist revolution to smash the bourgeois state and put in its place a workers state, we were for a “no” vote on Chávez’s referendum. At the same time, we make clear our intransigent opposition to the right-wing forces that mobilized against the referendum. Chávez has provoked the ire of the U.S. imperialist rulers, Democrats as well as Republicans. In the event of a U.S.-sponsored coup, as in 2002, we stand for the military defense of the Chávez regime without giving it one iota of political support, as with Loyalist Spain from 1936-39.

The fact that most ostensible Marxist organizations either openly supported or abstained on Chávez’s referendum is testimony to both their own political bankruptcy and Chávez’s popularity. The very things that have made Chávez a thorn in the side of the arrogant U.S. rulers have made him an idol for the impoverished masses in Venezuela and for large numbers of young leftists around the world. Chávez has bitingly castigated the Bush administration and ostentatiously embraced Washington’s chief nemesis in the Western Hemisphere, Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He has condemned the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the threats against Iran and denounced the “neoliberal” economic policies promoted by the U.S. in Latin America and elsewhere. He embarrassed the Bush administration in 2005 when he offered to provide relief for the dispossessed people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (the offer was rejected). And as the U.S. heads toward a recession, Venezuela, through its CITGO affiliate, is once again supplying low-cost heating oil this winter to poor families in 23 states in the U.S.

Chávez is a populist who has used profits generated by the skyrocketing cost of oil to implement a series of social reforms. He has also undertaken some minimal nationalization of industry and land distribution. These measures, together with the fact that Chávez boasts of his zambo (mixed African and indigenous) heritage, have earned him the contempt of the lily-white Venezuelan oligarchy.

But Chávez is no socialist. And by historical standards, he is not even a particularly radical bourgeois nationalist. Mexico’s Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized that country’s oil industry, which was owned by the U.S. and British imperialists, and made significant land redistributions in the 1930s. While we defend such bourgeois nationalizations against imperialist attack, they are not socialist measures. In the case of Mexico, the subordination of the working class to Cárdenas resulted in more than 60 years of corporatism and the shackling of the proletariat to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the bourgeois ruling party until 2000.

It is a sign of the times that Chávez today is embraced as the leader of the fight for “21st century socialism.” As we wrote in “Venezuela: Populist Nationalism vs. Proletarian Revolution” (WV No. 860, 9 December 2005):

“The popularity of Chávez and his ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ among idealistic young leftists—and wizened opportunists—must be understood against the backdrop of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. Among radical youth, nurtured by more than a decade of ‘death of communism’ propaganda from the ‘left’ and the right, the October Revolution is widely perceived to have been a ‘failed experiment.’ They reject as well the Marxist understanding that the working class is the unique agency for social revolution against the capitalist order. Moreover, capitalism has, by and large, been equated with that particular set of economic policies known as ‘neoliberalism’—widespread privatization of public facilities, destruction of social welfare programs, untrammeled imperialist aggrandizement.

“The recent history of Venezuela amply demonstrates that neoliberalism and populism are nothing but two faces of the same coin, sometimes carried out by the same bourgeois regime in different periods.”

Indeed, in Venezuela in the mid 1970s Democratic Action (AD) president Carlos Andrés Pérez nationalized oil and mining. Similarly buoyed by booming oil revenues, the Pérez regime also massively subsidized food, transportation, health care and education. When the boom went bust, the Pérez regime itself then instituted brutal austerity measures beginning in the 1980s against the country’s working and poor people.

Today’s high oil prices, again, allow for limited reforms. But the very workings of the capitalist system ensure the continued exploitation and impoverishment of the Venezuelan masses. In fact, Chávez’s referendum was narrowly defeated largely because the masses of urban poor, who poured out in the streets against the 2002 coup and were the base of Chávez’s landslide victory in the 2006 elections with over seven million votes, largely sat this referendum out. As a woman from one of Caracas’ wretched slums put it: “If this government cannot get me milk or asphalt for our roads, how is it going to give my mother a pension” (New York Times, 30 November 2007).

As against Chávez’s populist nationalism, it is necessary to mobilize the proletariat, standing at the head of all the downtrodden and oppressed, in the struggle for socialist revolution against all wings of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which is tied by a thousand threads to the imperialist order. Only thus can the struggle for national independence and other democratic tasks be realized in such countries of belated capitalist development in the imperialist epoch. As Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, stressed in his “Basic Postulates” in The Permanent Revolution (1930):

“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”

There can be no fundamental amelioration of the plight of the urban and rural poor without the smashing of the capitalist state and the overthrow of the capitalist social order, laying the basis through a series of proletarian revolutions internationally for a global classless society in which all forms of exploitation and oppression have been eliminated. Crucially, this means linking the struggles of the Latin American masses to the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S.

Reformist Apologists for Chávez Regime

Under the Chávez regime, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie has made out very well (and foreign oil companies haven’t done badly themselves). According to the World Bank, the richest 20 percent of the population continue to pocket 53 percent of all income while the poorest 20 percent are the recipients of a miserly 3 percent. While raking off massive profits, much of the bourgeoisie is taking its money out of the country as well as hoarding its products, resulting in soaring inflation and shortages of food and other basic necessities.

Workers who have occupied factories that have been bankrupted by their owners or shut down, like those at Sanitarios Maracay, have found themselves on the receiving end of the armed forces of the Chávez regime. In April 2007, as they made their way to Caracas to demand the nationalization of the company, workers from this factory were stopped by state police and army forces who fired on them, leaving 14 wounded and 21 arrested. Similarly, representatives of the public employees trade union who had gone to negotiate a contract with the Ministry of Labor in August 2007 were locked inside a room at the ministry and six days later driven out by hired thugs.

None of this has stopped self-proclaimed Marxists from cheering on Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Among the most shameless is the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods who boasts of his credentials as a “Trotskyist” adviser to Chávez. In the lead-up to the referendum vote, the IMT’s Venezuelan section, the Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR), issued a 30 November 2007 statement calling for “an avalanche of votes in favor,” declaring that a victory “will be a new step forward for the revolution.” Incredibly, the CMR claimed that the victory of Chávez’s referendum would have marked “the end of the bourgeois state apparatus”!

The CMR claims that to have called for a “no” vote would have played into the hands of “the capitalists, imperialism and the bureaucrats.” This line is echoed by a number of other left groups, including the Revolutionary Leftist Youth (JIR), Venezuelan section of the Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International, a split from the international tendency led by the late Nahuel Moreno. The JIR proclaimed, “we don’t support this referendum because it upholds the legal basis for capitalism, the continuity of exploitation of the workers in the city and the countryside, securing the class society framework.” Nonetheless, the JIR justified its call for abstention by arguing that “the call by some left-wing sectors for a NO vote, which mixes their banners with the pro-American right, is an attack on a position of class independence” (En Clave Obrera, December 2007).

There is no question that the main forces behind the “no” vote were right-wing opponents of the Chávez regime. But to support or abstain on a referendum that would have strengthened the repressive powers of the bourgeois state apparatus is a betrayal of the class interest of the proletariat. The opportunist left promotes the dangerous illusion that the capitalist state can be made to serve the interests of working people and renounces the struggle for socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The class independence of the working class from all the agencies and representatives of bourgeois rule—including the most “progressive” bourgeois forces—is the fundamental starting point for the working class to struggle for its own class interests. It is essential for the forging of a revolutionary workers party that fights for the overthrow of capitalism and for liberation from the yoke of imperialist subjugation.

Fake Trotskyists Prettify Bourgeois Nationalism

In its article on the Chávez referendum (Workers Power, Winter 2007-08), the British Workers Power group, leading section of the League for the Fifth International, quotes Trotsky from his article “Bourgeois Democracy and the Fight Against Fascism” (13 January 1936) correctly urging, “We must vote against all measures that strengthen the capitalist-Bonapartist state, even those measures which may for the moment cause temporary unpleasantness for the fascists.” Workers Power immediately adds: “The presidency—no matter who occupies it—remains an institution of the bourgeois state which be it said revolutionaries are in favour of totally abolishing.” Their conclusion? To call for an abstention on measures, which by their own admission, would strengthen the powers of the bourgeois state!

Similarly, the centrist Internationalist Group (IG) argued that the referendum was “a program for a bonapartist ‘strong state’ regime” and concluded that “for socialists to approve such measures would be to renounce the program of proletarian revolution” (Internationalist, December 2007). And so, the IG urged “class-conscious Venezuelan workers”...“to cast a blank ballot” or “abstain.” So much for the program of proletarian revolution!

That neither Workers Power nor the IG, for all their orthodox-sounding disclaimers, could choke out a call for a “no” vote is sheer opportunism. Both Workers Power and the IG point to Venezuela as a bourgeois state. But they do not want to be seen as opponents of Chávez’s referendum. The bombastic cries of “class war” and “a fight to the finish against the counterrevolutionaries” by the IG serve to promote the fraud—openly peddled by Chávez’s more unabashed left apologists—that there is an ongoing revolution in Venezuela. Thus the IG’s December 2007 article called to “Impose Workers Control on the Road to Socialist Revolution” and to “Smash Counterrevolution with Workers Mobilization!” All this talk of Venezuela “on the road” to socialism is deliberately crafted to obscure the fact that Chávez is administering a capitalist state.

It is worth noting that a few years ago the IG was whistling a different tune. In the face of a 2000 referendum by Chávez aimed at busting the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), an article posted on the IG’s Web site in Spanish headlined, “Against Chávez, the Stock Market and the IMF—Venezuela: Mobilize Workers Power to Defeat the Anti-Union Referendum.” We too opposed this referendum and defended the CTV unions against government attack and control. However, the IG depicted Chávez as simply a stooge of the Caracas stock exchange and the imperialists and played down the real dangers of U.S. intervention, as well as the CTV’s organic ties to the bourgeois AD and its historic connections to the CIA’s “labor” fronts in Latin America.

As we observed in “Opportunism Makes Strange Bedfellows” (WV No. 787, 20 September 2002), “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the U.S. imperialists had it in for Chávez. Only idiots or CIA apologists could gloss over that fact.” We also found the IG’s denunciations of Chávez something of an unnatural act: “Given its history of lining up behind ‘anti-imperialist’ nationalists from Mexico to Puerto Rico and beyond, one could have expected the IG to cozy up to the nationalist-populist Chávez.” And so it has come to pass.

Following Chávez’s landslide victory in the 2006 elections, much of the left was heralding his calls to deepen the “revolutionary process” through more nationalizations, the creation of “communal councils” and the foundation of the thoroughly bourgeois United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as some harbinger of a revolutionary assault on the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. The IG followed suit by defending Chávez when he revoked the broadcasting license of RCTV, one of the main media mouthpieces for the 2002 coup. In “Venezuela: Battle Over the Media” (Internationalist, July 2007), the IG argued that “in revolutionary conditions or wars, democratic questions are subordinate to fundamental class issues.”

For Marxists, democratic questions are always subordinate to the class line. That said, there is neither a revolution nor a civil war in Venezuela today. For his part, Chávez made clear at a mass rally in Caracas where he announced the revoking of RCTV’s license: “We have no plan to eliminate the oligarchy, Venezuela’s bourgeoisie. We have demonstrated this sufficiently in our eight years” (quoted in International Socialist Review, July-August 2007).

As Trotsky wrote in a 1938 article against a campaign by Vicente Lombardo Toledano, the leader of the CTM union federation in Mexico under the Cárdenas regime, “to ‘curb’ the reactionary press, either by placing it under a democratic censorship or by banning it altogether”:

“Both theory and historical experience testify that any restriction of democracy in bourgeois society is, in the final analysis, invariably directed against the proletariat…. Bourgeois democracy is of use to the proletariat only insofar as it opens up the way for the development of the class struggle. Consequently, any working class ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means for controlling public opinion in general and the press in particular is, precisely, a traitor. In the last analysis, the sharpening of the class struggle will impel the bourgeoisie of every stripe to reach an agreement among themselves; they will then pass special laws, all sorts of restrictive measures, and all kinds of ‘democratic’ censorship against the working class. Anyone who has not yet understood this should get out of the ranks of the working class.”

—“Freedom of the Press and the Working Class,” 21 August 1938

In its article on RCTV, the IG shamelessly equates the bourgeois Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez to the Soviet government in Russia after the Bolshevik-led workers revolution had smashed the capitalist state and established a workers state. The IG writes:

“In a 9 November 1917 decree of the Petrograd Soviet, Lenin ordered that only those papers be shut down which ‘(1) call for open resistance or insubordination to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government; (2) sow sedition through demonstrably slanderous distortion of facts; (3) instigate actions of an obviously criminal, i.e., criminally punishable, nature.’ RCTV (and other networks) in Venezuela filled all three criteria.” [emphasis added]

Continuing in the same vein, the IG writes in its December 2007 article on the referendum that Chávez “expresses admiration for the Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky, but his actual policies are far more timid.” More timid?! Trotsky was a leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. According to the IG, being “more timid” is what separates the bourgeois-populist Chávez from a revolutionary leader of the international proletariat!

For all its pronouncements that Venezuela is a bourgeois state, the IG repeatedly draws analogies and makes comparisons with countries where capitalism was overthrown. The IG opines that “while Chávez may slough off pro-capitalist elements the way East European Stalinists got rid of bourgeois ministers one by one through ‘salami tactics’ after World War II, there is no Red Army occupying Venezuela to serve as ultimate arbiter and power base for erecting a deformed workers state.” This analogy is as breathtaking as it is outrageous. The East European countries were not bourgeois states after they were occupied by the Red Army following its victory over Hitler’s Nazis. Rather, the power of former puppet regimes of the Third Reich was broken when the Nazis were smashed, leaving behind a power vacuum that was filled by the Soviet Army. Confronted with the onset of the imperialist anti-Soviet Cold War, the Stalinists established deformed workers states as a “buffer zone” through cold social transformations from above.

In raising this surreal analogy, the IG’s not-so-subtle implication is that the bourgeois Chávez government is some kind of “transitional regime” that might accept or overthrow capitalism. Thus the IG consolidates its position on the left end of the spectrum of Bolivarian “Trotskyism.”

We have characterized the IG’s politics as “Pabloism of the second mobilization,” referring to the liquidationist current led by Michel Pablo that destroyed the Trotskyist Fourth International in the early 1950s. Faced with the onset of the imperialist Cold War and the creation of Stalinist-ruled deformed workers states in East and Central Europe, the Pabloites looked to non-proletarian forces and argued that the Stalinists, social democrats and Third World nationalists could be pressured to outline a “roughly” revolutionary course, denying the need for a Trotskyist vanguard party. By the early 1960s, Pablo himself became an adviser to the bourgeois FLN regime in Algeria after it won independence from French imperialism.

Referring to those who would write off the struggle against Pabloism that was led by American Trotskyist James P. Cannon within the Fourth International because of its partial quality, IG leader Jan Norden noted when he was still a Trotskyist in the International Communist League, “This, in turn, frees the born-yesterday centrists to pursue their eclectic, anti-internationalist lashups with abandon, combining and recombining with other denizens of the pseudo-Trotskyist swamp” (“Yugoslavia, East Europe and the Fourth International: The Evolution of Pabloist Liquidationism,” Prometheus Research Series No. 4, March 1993). This aptly describes the IG. Their opportunism reflects adaptation to the retrogression of political consciousness in the post-Soviet world, leading them to an increasingly desperate search for, and accommodation to, social forces other than the proletariat and vehicles other than a Leninist vanguard party to advance the struggle for human emancipation. Enter Hugo Chávez.