Lair Of A Squirrel Red

Por ahora no pudimos by korakious
December 5, 2007, 10:51 am
Filed under: Chavez, Elections, Latin America, Venezuela

I shouldn’t really stress myself so much. I spent the whole of the last week thinking about the constitutional referendum, working out possible scenarios in my head and talking about it with everybody and their dogs. Fuck, I even had dreams about it. The last time I was stressed over a political event that much was just before the Scottish Parliament elections. Both times, anxiety gave way to profound disappointment.

However, having reflected on numbers, results and a series of articles my innate optimism has started crawling back in. This was a serious setback, but we have not been defeated. Chavez has still 5 years left in his term, the opposition barely made any gains relative to the presidential election and the magnitude of the pro SI rallies relative to those organised by the opposition clearly shows that the class balance of power leans heavily to the side of the conscious working class. Certainly, the slight victory of the No vote will give the shattered Venezuelan opposition something to rally around, as the calls for the convening of a Constituent Assembly by former Chavista General Baduel clearly show. However the very fact that the opposition will have to organise centred on a former enemy, around calls for national friendship and unity is clearly a sign of its own weakness suggesting that a well calculated, organised and swift political offensive by the Bolivarians is bound to shatter them. We have to keep in mind that revolutions are not linear processes where one side makes gains against the other until it wins; they unfold dialectically with each victory throwing up new obstacles and dangers and each defeat opening up new roads to success. What where the July Days preceding the great October Revolution if not a decisive defeat, with many good activists dead, leaders arrested and others going underground? The setback suffered by the Bolivarian movement is not even slightly comparable to that.

So what happened? It is evident from the numbers that the defeat of the reforms can be entirely attributed to the inadequate mobilisation of the Bolivarian camp. While the opposition gained a mere 100,000 votes (compared to the last presidential election), the Bolivarians lost some 2.8 million votes to abstention, with turnout reaching a very mellow 56% against approximately 70% last year. A lower turnout, in every situation, necessarily favours the forces of reaction, as the well-fed bourgeois and their satellite strata dutifully turn up to vote every time; it is the impoverished workers and peasants who abstain, for one reason or another. The question is why did they abstain on Sunday, a mere year after they overwhelmingly voted for Chavez routing both the counterrevolutionary and “revolutionary” oppositions?

The answer I believe lies in a combination of factors. First, we have to keep in mind that in any given situation, it is rather unlikely, if not impossible, that the oppressed classes will have achieved full consciousness down to the last person, especially when the situation is still prerevolutionary. For the unconscious masses, it was far easier to grasp the importance of the presidential election, as what was at stake was Chavismo itself; a defeat would have meant a regression back into the quagmire of traditional Washington Consensus neoliberalism. Reports from the ground also suggest that the opposition, with heavy financial backing from the United States, managed to mount a very effective, high intensity campaign of lies and misinformation (and terror), even if their concrete mobilisation was not much too look at. As you have probably already read elsewhere, “the state will take away your children” replaced the now cliche image of the baby eating communist.

This brings us to another, arguably the most important, question. Why did the conscious Bolivarian movement fail to agitate effectively and mobilise the masses to support the constitutional reforms? And also, why did they not effectively respond to the lies and filth propagated by the opposition? I can think of no other reason than the lack of an organised party of the bolivarian movement. In the absence of such, the campaign had to be based on largely ad hoc gatherings organised by the local socialist battalions that will form the basis of the PSUV. While the activist fervour of those should not be underestimated, their effectiveness cannot be compared to that of a integrated apparatus. The lack of a central coordinating organisation meant that the campaign had to be taken up by the state bureaucracy. These people have little in common with the working class and they would have failed to connect with it even if they had actually wanted to. The bureaucrats of the Bolivarian movement want nothing to do with socialism and they will consciously sabotage any attempt to destroy them as mediators of power, including the strengthening of community councils. It is then not really surprising that they made little effort to produce material refuting the outrageous claims of the opposition, basing their campaign on a theme of loyalty to Chavez, despite the fact that Chavez himself had often reiterated that a SI vote was not a vote for himself but a vote for the Revolution. No mention of the 36-hour week, or the community councils!

The entirely reactionary role played by the right wing of Chavismo has been sharply grasped by the radical activist base. The HOV referendum blog reports that on Monday a spontaneous gathering organised through text messages took place outside Miraflores palace in order to express solidarity with Chavez but more importantly raising the demand for a “clearing of the house” and denouncing certain officials as traitors.

The key task facing the socialist movement in Venezuela now is the foundation of the PSUV on an explicitly radical socialist basis. This will require back breaking mobilisation in the very near future (as in from January onwards). For the moment, the organised right wing has done a good job of excluding itself from the formation of the party, but it is certain that the sharper bureaucratic elements will not make the same mistake. Following that, it is imperative that the movement concentrates on a relentless attack against the dual fifth column that fetters is its development. I say dual, for apart from the state bureaucracy and the reformists, a war must be waged against the rererevolutionary ultra left that refuses to join the PSUV, the latter-day WRPs like the Argentinian PO and the neo-Kautskyite democrats who called for a spoiling of ballots at the referendum. Letting them cut themselves out of the working class movement, as they will, is not enough. In such social conditions, the minds of people are open to radical ideas, whether progressive or entirely stupid. Having said that, it must be stressed, despite being entirely obvious, that the prime threat remains the bureaucracy, the enemies within that want Chavez without socialism. They must be removed from the movement and the state at all costs and by any means necessary. Let them join the opposition and expose themselves for the hypocrites that they are. At this stage, without support from the inside, the counterrevolution will never manage to become a serious threat. Bring on the Cheka!


Tension increases in Venezuela by korakious
November 29, 2007, 2:34 am
Filed under: Chavez, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela

Venezuelanalysis carries two very important articles today. One is about a CIA plot named Operation Pliers, involving a number of prominent opposition groups, leaders, media outlets and students which came to light after the Venezuelan counterintelligence service intercepted a CIA memorandum, dated November 20th. The memorandum predicts a clear Yes mandate for the constitutional referendum taking place on Sunday and goes on to propose a plan of action for the opposition after the referendum, including challenging its authenticity, inciting unrest and distabilisation with the purpose of throwing the country into a state of ungovernability preparing the way for another attempt to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government; textbook imperialist tactics that is, from Mozambique to Vietnam. Importantly, the memorandum also confirms the large scale clandestine campaign against Bolivarianism that has been conducted by the CIA for some time:

Officer Steere emphasizes the importance and success of the public relations and propaganda campaign that the CIA has been funding with more than $8 million during the past month – funds that the CIA confirms are transfered through the USAID contracted company, Development Alternatives, Inc., which set up operations in June 2002 to run the USAID Office for Transition Initiatives that funds and advises opposition NGOs and political parties in Venezuela. The CIA memo specifically refers to these propaganda initiatives as “psychological operations” (PSYOPS), that include contracting polling companies to create fraudulent polls that show the NO vote with an advantage over the SI vote, which is false. The CIA also confirms in the memo that it is working with international press agencies to distort the data and information about the referendum, and that it coordinates in Venezuela with a team of journalists and media organized and directed by the President of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell.

The other article reports on the murder of José Anibal Oliveros Yépez, a Chavez supporter, by a group of anti-reform protesters on Monday. After documenting the entirely unprovoked attack, the article goes on to mention that violence by opposition group is not a collection of isolated incidents but instead, a consistent part of a quasi fascist campaign of bullying that is typical of middle class mobilisation:

National Assembly Deputy Francisco Ameliach and the Mayor of Guacara, José Manuel Flores, who visited the neighborhood to pay their respects to the Oliveros’ family, reported that opposition groups in Ciudad Alianza that claim to represent “civil society” have marked the houses of Chavez supporters, or those they believe to be Chavez supporters, with red paint and “have said they are going to kill them.”

What this goes to show is that the Bolivarian process is one powered by irreconcilable class contradictions within Venezuelan society, rather than merely a national bourgeois project. As the reforms instituted by Chavez increasingly weaken the power of global capital and its domestic crutches, we can only expect an intensification of the struggle as the bourgeoisie tries to overturn the process while it still has some political power left. As the heat rises, class contradictions will be laid in increasingly more stark terms as bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology will be unable to provide a satisfactory explanatory framework for the rapidly developing (and thus changing) circumstances in Venezuela. Chavez himself demonstrated this shift when, addressing a pro-amendment work place representatives’ meeting Caracas, he explicitly stated that “the working class has to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process for socialist power.”, cautioning against the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration as happened in the Soviet Union. Chavez also went on to speak about the irreconcilable conflict of interests between the working class on the one hand, and capitalism and the bourgeois state on the other. From the IMT website:

The Cuban revolution has lasted a long time due to a deep relationship with the masses. In Nicaragua the road of reformism led to tragic results. You cannot adapt to capitalism. It doesn’t work. No to reformism, No to Bureaucracy! […]He emphasized again and again that the working class is the vanguard but he also castigated many trade unions for not being able to rise above the arena of purely trade union demands. If this does not happen then the political level of the working class won’t rise to the level needed to carry out the task of being the motor force of the revolution. This process will determine the timing and direction of the revolution. We should pass onto the offensive as under capitalism we use defensive actions to protect conditions. The only way to guarantee Popular Power is if the working class plays the leading role.

Under the constitutional changes, he continues, the workers councils in the factories will establish relations with peasant, student and community councils [in effect setting up embryonic soviets – DC]. If this happens then what happened in the Soviet Union and Nicaragua won’t happen. The aim of all of this is to establish Socialism in the country of Bolivar and – in response to a cry from the audience – in all of the Americas.

Yet the devil is in the detail. On the one hand Chavez sees the councils in different areas as alternative organs of power more closely related to the people and therefore theoretically more responsive. This is also a way to bypass the cumbersome and obstructive State bureaucracy. As he stated, “…workers councils will come into being in the factories, in the workplaces, but they should reach out to the communities and be fused into other councils of popular power: community councils, students councils, etc… What for? To shout slogans? To go around shouting long live Chavez? No!… To change the relationships in the workplace, to plan production, to take over piece by piece the functions of the government and to finish up by destroying the bourgeois state.

The current stage of the class struggle in Venezuela will have to come to a decisive political outcome one way or another sooner than later; this dual-poweresque fragile balance of class powers is not a sustainable social equilibrium. The division and increasing weakness of the bourgeoisie makes it ever more difficult for them to defend against the advancing working class, but it should be kept in mind that the proletariat too does not yet have a unified political leadership with a clear programme, ready to seize power and embark on the construction of socialism. The PSUV might come to play that role, but that will depend upon the programme and the organisational structure that will be adopted by its coming founding conference. We can only hope that the majority of principled socialists in Venezuela have joined the party and have not been carried away by the calls for ideological purity by the WRP clones of this world.

Until the foundation of the PSUV however, it is imperative that the Bolivarian movement takes whatever measures necessary to safeguard itself from reaction. Extreme attention must be paid to the tactics of the opposition and resources of all kinds will have to be mobilised to ensure that Operation Pliers does not come to fruition. This will necessarily include state crackdowns (although I am sure that those who lamented the suppression of RCTV’s “democratic” right to support fascist coups will cry “authoritarianism” here as well) but it is of crucial importance that there is also grassroots working class political organisation in the form of demos, counter demos and patrols among other things. As Chavez (and Lenin) said, the workers (to the last cook) must gradually take over the functions of the state.

Green Left Weekly on Hugo Chavez by korakious
October 7, 2007, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Chavez, Venezuela

The following is an assessment, from a Marxist perspective, of the political role of Hugo Chavez as well as the prospects for a decisive break with capitalism in Venezuela, published in the Australian Green left Weekly. I think the points it raises are fairly valid and the analysis of the author reflects my own. With the Bolivarian process picking up momentum in Venezuela and the founding conference of the PSUV only weeks away, I think it is very important to keep an eye on even the finest of developments in the country.

Hugo Chavez: Social-Democrat or Revolutionary?

Stuart Munckton

5 October 2007

Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, led by socialist President Hugo Chavez, has captured the imagination of people around the world and sparked widespread commentary on the nature of the process of social change under way in the oil-rich South American nation.

Named after Simon Bolivar, who liberated much of the continent from Spanish colonialism, the process of change has been aimed at overcoming the country’s underdevelopment and widespread poverty. When Chavez was elected in 1998, the country had been devastated by neoliberal policies that bled the country dry largely on behalf of US corporations, with the complicity of a corrupt Venezuelan elite.

Any discussion on this process of change inevitably centres on the role of Chavez, the revolution’s central leader. A common analysis of the politics of Chavez, the government he leads, and, in some cases, the broader revolutionary movement based on the impoverished, working people, is that they can be understood as “social democratic”. Social-democratic politics tend to be understood as seeking to implement reforms that alleviate some of the worst aspects of the profit-driven capitalist system, to the benefit of ordinary people, without breaking with capitalism itself.

Certainly, the Chavez government has implemented a wide number of reforms that in and of themselves don’t do away with capitalism — a system based on private ownership and control over the economy, run for profit and based on the exploitation of working people — but have still benefited the poor majority.

However, describing the process as social democratic misses the profoundly revolutionary nature of the struggle being led by Chavez (who in almost every speech he gives calls for the need to construct socialism and describes himself as the “subversive within Miraflores”, the presidential palace).

The line of march for the Bolivarian revolution pushed by Chavez, who elaborates on revolutionary strategy in many speeches, especially on his weekly television program Alo Presidente (when not singing folk songs), is not for the process of change to stop with reforms to Venezuela’s existing power structures. He has used reforms to weaken the political and economic power of Venezuela’s capitalist class, while at the same time strengthening the confidence and organisation of the oppressed (the workers, urban poor, campesinos, women and indigenous people) in order to replace the structures of the old society with new ones based on the oppressed themselves.

This is a very difficult struggle, with many weaknesses and internal contradictions. It involves the ongoing creation and organisation of a revolutionary movement involving millions of people, who through their mass, coordinated action are capable of creating a completely new social system. Socialism — a society based on a democratically planned economy run according to people’s needs — cannot be decreed from above by a president, nor by simply elaborating a well-written program, as it involves the transformation of social relations for millions of people.

Much analysis, especially in the corporate media but unfortunately among much of the international left as well, focuses almost exclusively on the role of Chavez as an individual. However the correct way to analyse his role is in relation to the masses that have been drawn into political motion, and ask whether Chavez and his government’s policies work to advance the organisation of the oppressed in order to break the political and economic power of the capitalist class, or whether the policies hold this back.

In some cases, claims that Chavez is a social democrat are used to attack him by sections of the revolutionary socialist movement internationally. These arguments go further than suggesting simply that the revolution hasn’t gone far enough, something Chavez himself repeatedly emphasises — for instance, while announcing a series of radical measures aimed at creating a “new revolutionary state” and that nationalisation of “strategic industries” following his re-election on an explicitly socialist platform in December, Chavez insisted the revolution had “barely begun”. Left critics suggest that Chavez and his government either have no desire for significantly more radical measures, or falsely believe that the government’s approach is to implement more radical measures over the heads of the masses, which they rightly point out would be bound to fail.

However an analysis of Chavez as social democratic has also come from some outspoken in their support for the Chavez government and the process of change under way, such as the left-wing writers Tariq Ali, John Pilger and Stephen Lendman, all of whom play invaluable roles in promoting and defending the Bolivarian revolution.

While for those revolutionary socialists who wish to label Chavez a “social democrat” it is intended to highlight the perceived limitations of his politics (and by implication the mass movement that supports him), for many people the concept of genuinely social-democratic politics, based on state provision of welfare, health care and education and at least a degree of respect for people’s rights, seems a very good thing in this age of savage neoliberalism.

However understanding why the Bolivarian revolution is not simply a case of Chavez taking up a banner dropped by social-democratic parties, like the ALP and the British Labour Party, rushing to implement brutal anti-worker policies, is crucial to understanding why such parties have moved so dramatically to the right during the past few decades.

In his book Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (which Chavez strongly praised on Alo Presidente and urged Venezuelans to read), Canadian Marxist Michael Lebowitz uses his experience as a policy advisor to a social-democratic New Democratic Party state government in Canada in the ’70s to show that for social democrats, the interests of the capitalist system have always come first — and if advancing the interests of working people conflicts with the needs of the system, then it is the former that gets dropped.

In the First World the post-war economic boom allowed for the creation of a welfare state and other measures that improved the lot of working people, but since the boom ended in the mid-’70s, the capitalists have attempted to wrest all of these gains back. Social-democratic parties across the board have proven willing to implement neoliberal austerity measures to this end.

In Venezuela, the advent of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution have amounted to a break with the class-collaborationist politics of social democracy that seek to subordinate struggles by workers to the interests of capital by promoting the idea of common interests between two fundamentally irreconcilable social forces — working people and capitalists.

Within Venezuela, these politics were expressed by Accion Democratica, a political party that alternated in power with the conservative COPEI party and controlled the unions, and today is part of Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary opposition.

Although the program Chavez initially sought to implement after his election did not break with capitalism, the mild reforms aroused strident opposition from the capitalists, outraged at even minor encroachments on their privileges. The capitalist class was defeated in its attempts to overthrow Chavez when working people took the streets in April 2002 during a US-backed coup and during a lockout by bosses in December that year. This lad Chavez to conclude that the changes Venezuela desperately needed were impossible within the framework of capitalism.

However, many commentators point out that, even with the pro-people, anti-capitalist measures implemented so far, capitalism is far from abolished in Venezuela. These reforms have included the government wresting control of the oil industry; forcing foreign oil companies into joint ventures that give the Venezuelan government majority control; increasing nationalisation of “strategic industries”; a program of land reform to break up large agribusiness for the benefit of campesino cooperatives; the promotion of a “social economy” based on a massive expansion in cooperatives; and a series of measures that restrict the ability of capitalists in Venezuela to put their profits above the needs of the people — price controls, heavy restrictions on their ability to sack workers and increasing workers’ rights. In fact, despite these reforms, corporate profits have grown with the economic boom.

The key question in Venezuela is not merely the subjective intentions of Chavez, who has sparked a mass discussion on socialism in Venezuela, but the willingness and capacity of the millions of oppressed to take political and economic control out of the hands of the capitalists. Through the political battles over the last few years, this has continually increased, opening the way for increasingly radical measure. The key to the revolutionary process can be found in a book that Chavez urged Venezuelans to read during his Alo Presidente program on April 22 — The Transitional Program by Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution and an opponent of its Stalinist degeneration.

Written in 1938, the book is an argument for how a program of struggle for increasingly deep-going reforms that, without abolishing capitalism, make deep inroads into the capitalist system, can raise the level of consciousness and organisation of the working people and open the road to socialism.

Transitional measures aim to proceed from the mass of people’s existing level of consciousness and, by pushing measures that solve the needs of the working people while undermining capitalism, lay the groundwork for much deeper measures towards a socialist economy. Such transitional measures — such as nationalising key areas of the economy, introducing elements of workers’ control and shortening the working week with no loss of pay — can act as a bridge between the existing capitalist system and an increasingly socialist economy under the control of the working people and run according to their needs.

The transitional approach seeks to find ways to draw masses of people into political activity and increasingly radicalise the broadest layers so they are willing and able to fight for even more radical measures. This explains why, at the same time as Chavez promotes policies increasingly attacking capitalist interests, he continues in his speeches to urge the capitalist class to join the revolutionary project. Some revolutionary socialists, who already understand that the capitalists will never accept the measures implemented by Chavez, see this as evidence of social-democratic politics. However, Chavez is not speaking to those already convinced of socialist revolution, but to the millions of people in Venezuela, including the more than 4 million who voted for the opposition — the overwhelming majority of whom are not capitalists but middle and working class people misled into backing the pro-capitalist opposition.

An example of this came on June 2, when Chavez addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters in a demonstration to defend his government from attacks by the US-backed, right-wing opposition. Claiming his government had no plans to “eliminate” the Venezuelan capitalist class, Chavez added: “If the Venezuelan bourgeoisie continues to desperately attack us, utilising the refuges it has left, then the Venezuelan bourgeoisie will continue to lose these refuges one by one!

“This message is for the Venezuelan bourgeois class. We respect you as Venezuelans, you should respect Venezuela, you should respect the homeland, you should respect our constitution, you should respect our laws. If you don’t do this … we will make you obey the Venezuelan laws!”

Presenting the struggle in such a way aims to ensure it is the actions of Venezuela’s capitalists themselves that expose them and provide the justification in the eyes of millions of people for more radical measures that aim to overturn capitalism completely.

This mass action-based approach is the essence of a genuinely revolutionary strategy, one that applies in all countries, although according to national conditions. It is necessary to understand that while the revolution is a work in progress, its aim and trajectory are not simply tinkering with the system along social-democratic lines, but its abolition and replacement with socialism.

[Stuart Munckton is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in Australia’s Socialist Alliance. Visit for more information.]

Bonapartism, basic concepts and Chavez by korakious
June 14, 2007, 12:23 pm
Filed under: AWL watch, Chavez, First World Left, Theory, Trotskyists, Venezuela

Jim Denham (of the Alliance for War and Liberalism) has been crticial of Hugo Chavez and his government, calling them ‘a bonapartist formation, with nothing to do with socialism (assuming that by “socialism” you mean the rule of the working class)’. When I posted a Gramsci quote which says that perhaps calling a formation ‘Bonapartist’ is not the be all and end all of the matter Jim responded with ‘[s]o much for basic Marxist concepts’.

I think that position Jim takes here is an interesting one, and worthy of further exploration, especially as it exposes a real weakness in the approach of the British left in general. The Gramsci quote I posted only suggested that establishing something is Bonapartist is not the end of the matter, as it does not stop the need for further enquiry. Denham seems to be insisting that ‘Bonapartist formations’ are a basic concept of Marxist thought, and they tell us that the regime can have ‘nothing to do with socialism’.

The first point to note is that I am not a Trotskyist and I don’t really know that much about the Trotskyist position. This made it hard for me to even think of Bonapartism as a ‘basic concept’ of Marxist thought (I know it gets mentioned in the 18th Brumaire but still). But even if it is a basic element in Marxist thought, calling it a concept really doesn’t seem to help anyone, in fact Jim seems to have become an ideologist, for whom:

[R]elations become concepts; since they do not go beyond these relations, the concepts of the relations also become fixed concepts in their mind.

So, against Jim I raise Lenin, who refuses to acknowledge that Marxism is about ‘basic concepts’ that allow us to pre-judge a given situation. Against such positions Lenin insisted that the ‘very gist, the living soul, of Marxism [is] a concrete analysis of a concrete situation’. So in this respect I think that Gramsci is right and Jim is wrong, just establishing that a given social formation is Bonapartist tells us nothing about its relation to socialism or the emancipation of the working class – instead we have to ask the Marxist question – who benefits?

The Old man himself

The thing is, it seems to me that Trotsky himself realised this when he did his work on Bonapartism. I just randomly skimmed Trotsky’s article The Workers State, Thermidor and Bonapartism and came up with the following extracts:

The overturn of the Ninth Thermidor did not liquidate the basic conquests of the bourgeois revolution, but it did transfer the power into the hands of the more moderate and conservative Jacobins, the better-to-do elements of bourgeois society.

In France, the prolonged stabilization of the Thermidorean-Bonapartist regime was made possible only thanks to the development of the productive forces that had been freed from the fetters of feudalism.

And perhaps the kicker is:

Without historical analogies we cannot learn from history. But the analogy must be concrete; behind the traits of resemblance, we must not overlook the traits of dissimilarity.

Essentially what these quotes tell us is that although Napoleon was not the most advanced representative of the bourgeois revolution, he nonetheless preserved and stabilised the growth of the bourgeois revolution in France. What isn’t written here, but perhaps is more to the point, is that Napoleon spread the bourgeois revolution (and you’d think the AWL would love that) to the rest of Europe, as is evidenced by the fact that the Civil Code dominates the continent.

So, even for the paradigm case of Bonapartism, Napoleon himself, it is possible to say that he served a progressive role, in consolidating the gains of the bourgeois revolution, spreading it, and generally not liking feudalism. Of course, Louis didn’t play such a role, but this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it is entirely possible that Bonapartism can play a historically progressive role.

Cui Bono?

But of course this is all well and good when we’re talking about bourgeois revolutions (although I seem to remember hear some Trots talking about spreading the gains of October etc.) but the typical response to what I have said is – ‘the emancipation of the working must be the act of the working class itself’ or ‘socialism from below’(!!!). Now, although I think these slogans themselves have to properly put into context, I do agree that the proletarian revolution is always one that will be qualitatively different from every revolution that has preceded it.

So, agreeing with Jim here, I still don’t think it’s the end of the matter. At the very least we need to ask – has Chavez opened a space for the emancipation of the working class? So, rather than just shout ‘Bonapartist (!!!!)’ we need to ask ‘who benefits’ from the Bolivarian revolution, and we need to enquire if it has benefited the working class.

And surely on this level we can say (at the very least) ‘yes’. Chavez has firstly put socialism and the working class on the agenda in Venezuela and indeed the world stage. This must be a good thing for the perspective of the working class. I think the work of Mike Lebotwitz has been instructive here. Even if we disregard Chavez’ concrete policies relating to the economy it is pretty clear he has opened up a space for the working class in a way that has never happened in Venezuela.

He has opened up the political process to the working class, and indigenous people so that it does not lie solely with the oligarchs and its representatives. The ideas of co-management, no matter how limited their application, help smash the myth that the workers cannot do without he bourgeoisie. The barrio healthcare initiatives are helping the Venezuelan workers get back their confidence and dignity.

I think the confidence and dignity argument is and important one, which ought not to be overlooked. In Venezuela the workers may not rule, capitalism may still not be overthrown, the old state machine may not have been smashed, but the working class and its organisations have grown, they are taken seriously, they are confident and organised. Surely this sort of empowerment is the key to any successful self-emancipation.

It is Jim’s prerogative to disagree with my characterisation of Chavez (which was obviously provisional and sketchy), but I hope I have at least shown how a Bonapartist regime might be characterised as ‘progressive’. Hopefully this will at least stop the pointless screams of “Bonapartist!!!!!!!!!” at the mention of Chavez’ name.

Venezuela & Freedom. What would Lenin do? by korakious
May 26, 2007, 8:48 pm
Filed under: Chavez, First World Left, Freedom, Human Rights, Lenin, Theory, Venezuela

Most of you are probably familiar with the fuss kicked up on the bourgeois media when Chavez announced that the license of RCTV, an opposition station in Venezuela would not be renewed. The First World Left, including of course its vanguard, the AWL jumped on the bourgeois liberal media bandwagon, immediately concluding (or repeating their already made, age old analysis of any revolution that is not led by them) that Venezuela was heading down the road of Stalinism, state capitalism, Bonapartism and whathaveyou. Of course, neither the media, nor their “left” lackeys mentioned that the station was not being shut down, but having its license not renewed in a perfectly legal manner, as has happened a number of times in the “Free” World, without protest from either the media or our fellow revolutionary imperialist apologist brothers.

That of course is besides the point because a cursory look at RCTV’s involvement in the coup of 2002 against the democratically elected Chavez government would lead anyone but the most liberal of bourgeois liberals to conclude that the station should have been immediately shut down after the failure of the putsch. You see, the media often forgets to mention that the station was not only actively supporting the overthrow of Chavez, but also practically assisting the putschists by engaging in news blackouts. Now, perhaps the mourners of democracy should take a minute and think in what way any of the “democratic” governments of the West would have responded to a failed coup. Surely most of the participants would have been arrested and the leaders would have probably spent their lives behind bars (if not executed). What happened in Venezuela? The supreme court ruled that the military officers should not stand trial as what happened wasn’t really a coup but a… power vacuum. Oh, the brutality of authoritarian Venezuela! By the way, I would be amused to see how the very concerned about human rights left would respond to a similar situation in their own country. It is very easy to criticise little brown/red (you know, those who need our benevolent leadership; it is after all, the white man’s burden! ) people half way around the world, but it isn’t quite as simple to come up with a response to politically crucial events taking place in your own society.

Anyhow, I am ranting again. What’s interesting here is not the chauvinism-bordering-racism underlying much of the politics of the first world left, but the rush of such groups to publicly defend the democratic rights of a bourgeois media station that is owned by the ruling class, thus throwing class analysis out of the window and subscribing to Jeffersonian notions of the inalienability of rights. See for example the post made by TWP on Shiraz Socialist:

How many of us have “openly called” for the overthrow of capitalism? Well apparently Tariq Ali doesn’t see the irony in his statement about Chavez’s failure to renew a TV licence for the anti-government channel RCTV. By his logic most of the newspapers of the far left could be legitimately closed down in Britain. […]I have always argued for “no platform for fascists” and stand by that argument. However, this isn’t a “fascist” TV station – it simply opposes the government in the strongest terms. That is not a reason for shutting it down

Let’s take the arguments in reverse order. First, if a supporter of Fascism is a Fascist, then it makes sense that a TV station supporting Fascism is a Fascist TV station. One could of course try to argue that a military coup in Latin America might not lead to Fascism but to… something else. I would kindly ask them to stop reading and **** off my internets.

Now, with that out of the way, it would be useful to examine the contradiction inherent in TWP’s support for “No Platform For Fascists” and opposition to the “shutting down” of RCTV, a contradiction that runs deeper than the rather evident fact that RCTV is a Fascist supporter.

I do not wish to examine here whether the “No Platform” approach is correct or not. Let us assume it is. Why do socialists adopt a “No Platform” line on fascism? The evident and right, if a bit simplistic, response is that we do so because fascism is diametrically opposed to the interests of the working class and presents a formidable obstacle to the fight for socialism. So far, so good. But why is that we do not also call for “No Platform” for capitalists as well? Is it because we think that capitalist/liberal views are more legitimate than fascists’? Is it because capitalism is less of an obstacle to socialism and less of a danger to the working class? Of course not. If anything, capitalism has proven to be more resilient than fascism and has now become a threat not only to the working class but to the whole planet. Further, only the most stupendously half-witted liberaloleftie would dare argue that “kick them Pakis out of Britain” is a less legitimate view than “let’s bomb those terrorist A-rabs”. The reason therefore that we do not pursue a “No Platform” policy re capitalism is that we can’t. The whole purpose of “No Platform” is to prevent the poison of Fascist ideology from spreading among the working class, creating vile sectarianism, racism and other niceties. This is totally inapplicable to the hegemonic struggle of socialists against bourgeois ideology; you can’t call for “No Platform” to bourgeois ideology. Why? Because bourgeois ideology is the platform. Every single social structure is permeated by and functions according to bourgeois ideology. Hence the adoption of the Transitional Programme and the need for a War of Position, among other things. It should be clear by now, but it is worth restating. Socialists do not tolerate bourgeois ideology because it is more “legitimate” than Fascism but because not tolerating is a non starter. This brings us back to the first point made by TWP, that of legitimacy.

TWP argues that if we support Chavez’s action on the basis that RCTV supported the coup, then, it would be legitimate for, say, the British government to close down the newspapers of the far left, since they (we) have often supported the violent overthrow of capitalism. TWP here falls to the usual trap of forcing a fictitious universality onto concepts of a divided -ie partial not universal – society. Talking about legitimacy, TWP forgets to ask the crucial question: “for whom?” In a class society, questions of legitimacy, legal or moral, cannot be extracted from the context of class struggle and made into abstract, timeless dicta derived from the sky above. Therefore, if the British state decides to close down socialist newspapers, it will be a perfectly legitimate move for the class interest it represents. For socialists of course, it would be a terrible crime, not because it would take away our “freedom” but because it would severely reduce our efficiency and capability to promote our ideas. The illegitimacy of the act would not consist in a violation of our perceived human rights but in the fact that it would be an attack on socialism. In that manner, the very existence of the bourgeois state and its ideological supports is illegitiate. No action it takes can ever be considered morally acceptable by socialists, apart from that which is forced upon it by the struggle of the working class.

The same goes for human rights. The reason the left usually defends human rights is because attacks on them are made by the bourgeois state with the aim to undermine the fighting power of the working class. Indeed, “universal” human rights were won by workers after decades of painful struggle; there was no right to free speech for socialists for a large part of the 20th century (and one may very well say there won’t be a right to it again, if socialism becomes a powerful political force again), there was no right to shelter and food, no right to education. Socialists support human rights for the working class, but we have no obligation to fight for the right of RCTV owners to back fascist coups. Expecting from socialists to rise in support of freedom of speech for RCTV, is like expecting the Tories to organize demonstrations for the right to strike.

The concerned leftie will reply: “But isn’t the point of socialism to create a society where people are free? How can you increase freedom by curtailing freedom?”. To a limited extent, this is not wrong. I do not subscribe to the tanky notion that freedom in itself, is a bourgeois ideal. The fallacy of the liberalosocialist approach lies, again, in the abstractly universalistic manner it uses the concept of freedom. Like legitimacy, freedom cannot be extracted from its class context. As Lenin points out in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, one cannot discuss freedom and democracy without asking “for what class?”. The freedom of workers to go on strike restricts the freedom of capitalists to extract profit. The freedom of capitalists to own media curtails the freedom of workers to establish independent media outlets.

Freedom then, within the context of a class society is a question of which side you are on, as the amount of freedom a class has is inversely related to the amount of freedom of its antagonistic classes. Marxists are on the side of the working class and this is why we do not see anything wrong with the Chavez government shutting RCTV down. Had RCTV been a workers’ co-operative or had Chavez moved to silence an oppositional workers’ political group, he would have been on the receiving end of the harshest of criticisms from the Squirrel Vanguard. The only criticism one could level against Chavez is that instead of turning RCTV into a cooperative news outlet, he made it a state owned one. Other than that however, his democratic record with respect to the working class has been brilliant, to put it mildly. Not only has community power greatly expanded under his administration, but in what is probably a world first, the right of recall has been enshrined in the constitution and has already been used by Chavez’s opponents against him.

Perhaps the freedom-loving left (as in opposed to freedom-hating commies like me) should remember that true, universal freedom, can only be the product of a positive transcendence of alienation and therefore, achievable only in a true classless society. And since liberalosocialists don’t quite like “authoritarian” Lenin, I’ll finish this post with a quote by “libertarian” Rosa Luxemburg:

Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished

Good news from Venezuela. by korakious
April 22, 2007, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Chavez, Venezuela

While elections to a bourgeois parliament that isn’t even sovereign will be the most exciting political event in Scotland, at least in the near future, on the other side of the water things are moving on at an ever accelerating pace.

It appears that the establishment of a united socialist party in Venezuela to lead the struggle against both state bureaucracy and capital interests is now under way.

Green Left weekly has an excellent article about this by Federico Fuentes. He reports:

Chavez’s call has opened up a big debate on what the nature and program of such a party should be. For now, apart from Chavez’s party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR), the main Chavista parties have decided not to dissolve into the new party. However, large fractures have begun to occur as both leaders and rank-and-file members of these parties — Homeland For All (PPT), Podemos and the Venezuelan Communist Party — are leaving en masse. Most of the parties outside of the official Chavista electoral alliance but committed to the revolution have decided to integrate themselves into the new party, with a few waiting on the sidelines to see how things unfold first.

The party will be established along democratic lines, from the bottom up. For several weeks from April 29, 6000 booths will be set up all over the country for people to sign up to the new party. Next, the new joiners will be divided up into basic cells of 200 people based on territorial divisions, universities and factories. Out of each, a spokesperson will be elected to participate in the founding congress. No quotas have been set aside for party officials, nor will anyone automatically secure a place in the congress. Even Chavez will have to be elected by his local cell if he is to participate in the conference.

The founding conference will run for approximately three months. As the congress deliberates, spokespeople will return to their local cell, back to the congress, then back to the community and so on. On December 2, a referendum of all members will decide whether or not to approve the founding program of the new party. To ensure transparency and democracy, the national electoral commission will run the whole process.

Of course, not all forces of the left have been as supportive of the project as they should. As always, the pitiful party bureaucrats and hacks will not willingly support a truly radical party that will challenge their wee leadership positions. Honest socialists in Venezuela should leave their pathetic sects if their all wise leaders choose not to join the new vanguard -over some irreconcilable ideological dispute over the length of Engels’ beard- and leave those rotten bureaucrats to wither away on their own.

While we also have our fair share of ludicrous Trotskopuritan clowns bashing the Bolivarian process in Venezuela over here, they are not a tenth as dangerous as those more-revolutionary-than thou petty gurus that may compromise the unity project in Venezuela. Given the ever increasing lengths that American imperialism will be willing to go to in order to stop a socialist transition in Venezuela as this becomes ever more likely, the crucial need for an indivisible, united political organization of the working class that has both the power and the will to fight for socialism cannot be stressed strongly enough. If the project is successful, we will witness the first ever establishment of a truly mass working class party that is explicitly socialist, rather than social democratic or trade unionist.

Of course, the puritan clowns whose only idea of political activity is reading books and writing huge articles that nobody ever reads apart from others of their ilk – this is what being a proletarian consists in according to them; if you are a political activist, you are probably a middle class radical – will immediately jump and cry that if Chavez had any intention of moving towards socialism, he would have already nationalized the economy etc. The toy town voluntarism of such arguments is stupefyingly, mindblowingly, most incredibly moronic. Those great “Marxist” new Lenin wannabes seem to forget the key tenet of materialism, the primacy of matter over ideas. They ignore that merely by leading the government, Chavez and all honest socialists in Venezuela do not have complete control over the whole of the bourgeois state apparatus. It should also be remembered that not all parties forming the government coalition are socialist.

Chavez’s actions should be evaluated in the constraining framework within which they take place. Under this light, his record is spotless. Not only has Chavez armed the population – unlike the only comparable politician in the history of Latin America, Allende – and established radical democratic recall mechanisms, but also, unlike the great gurus, he has realised that socialism cannot be established via a series of decrees by benevolent leaders, it has to be built by the masses. He has been consistent in his calls to the Venezuelan people to actively defend their gains and move the revolution forward. In his latest speech he also said that those members of the government coalition that are against the formation of the united socialist party should fuck off to the opposition. So much for compromise.

Remember folks. A short bald guy once said that he who expects a pure revolution will never live to see it.

One party, one vanguard. by korakious
March 28, 2007, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Chavez, Venezuela

A couple of days ago, Hugo Chavez publicly called for the dissolution of the constituent parties of the government coalition into a single united, revolutionary socialist party. Chavez argued that the Bolivarian Revolution is entering a new phase of increased intensity that will “sharpen the contradictions” and that in order for the revolution to be successfully pushed forward, a new, strong and united socialist party must be established in order to reduce sectarian in fighting and be thus more effective in fighting the state bureaucracy which is, correctly, seen as the main enemy of the Bolivarian project. 13 of 24 parties that make up the coalition immediately agreed to the proposed unification, while others have required more time to internally debate the subject.

Sujatha Fernandes reports that the proposition has been met with mixed public sentiment. While many support the project, others have expressed concern about
its top down character, arguing that unity should be the product of grassroots processes rather than leadership directives. This is in line with the general criticisms of the Bolivarian process as a Bonapartist project of the Venezuelan national bourgeoisie.

I would say that first, we are not aware as to what extent this has been discussed at the base. As far as we know, Chavez’s announcement might have well been discussed internally. In fact, it would be rather odd for the majority of the coalition parties to agree to a unification upon its announcement, if it had not already been considered within their appropriate party structures.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with establishing a united socialist party, putting forward a revolutionary programme. As long as it is structured in a democratic manner, allowing a multitude of opinions to be expressed and affect policy formation, I believe that such unitarism is in fact a goal to strive to. It could also be argued that the dissolution of current parties within a new socialist and radically democratic formation can help destroy a large chunk of the cancerous bureaucracy that plagues the movement. I don’t think that one of the parties that reacted less than enthusiastically to the proposal was the Communist Party of Venezuela is coincidental. Such a merging, if carried out, will cost many a “professional revolutionary” his job.

Despite my instinctive hostility to “great leaders”, I do have high hopes for this endeavour. Chavez stated that the party will be “democratic and humanist” – I’ve no idea what the latter’s supposed to mean – and given that his record in government is one of constant democratization of the Venezuelan state, I do not, yet, have any reasons to believe that he is a hypocrite.

Contrary to other populist leaders, Chavez has not only delivered what he promised, but he constantly presents in himself in an ever more radical light. It could be that the social processes in Venezuela are pushing him leftwards and that he goes along with the current for opportunist reasons, or it could just be that he is indeed a man of principles that found himself in a position of supreme power. The future will show.

What’s certain is that Chavez deserves our active support for every step he takes against the bourgeoisie and our criticism for every unnecessary delay and/or retreat.