Venezuela is still reeling from the death of Hugo Chavez, the beloved self-styled “socialist” leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution”. Having raised up the long-held hopes of the impoverished and hideously exploited Venezuelan workers, peasants and indigenous peoples that, finally, their deliverance from capitalist wage-slavery was at hand, Chavez and his fellow “leaders” of the “Bolivarian Revolution” squandered 14 YEARS of opportunities to overthrow the capitalist system in Venezuela and replace it with a socialist workers republic, instead opting for timid reforms of capitalism and leaving the capitalist class deprived of only a fraction of their wealth and the workers and peasants mired in somewhat less desperate poverty.
At a meeting held at the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) office in Chicago, Illinois this weekend, two representatives of the “Bolivarian Revolution” from the Venezuelan consulate pleaded for “more time” to gradually expropriate more capitalist private property when our reporter pointedly asked them “when are you going to overthrow capitalism?”
“We have nationalized perhaps 30 per cent [of the capitalists’ property] so far. I personally hope that we will be able to move more in that direction in the future” said the Venezuelan government representative at the meeting in response to our question. “It will take time”.
Well, time is exactly what the leaders of the bourgeois reformist “Bolivarian [non-] Revolution ain’t got. With the United States disengaging its imperialist military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, over 300,000 US troops are being paid to do nothing right now – and that’s something the capitalists hate more than anything. There are more than a few “investors” on Wall St. and lobbyists for multinational corporations in Washington D.C. who think that the US has been neglecting affairs in “its own backyard” for far too long. In the past 15 years or so, left-liberal and pseudo-socialist governments have won national elections in Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela – something that the US would never have allowed to happen 30 or 40 years ago. These governments have pretended to be “socialist” in order to win the support of the masses, and have instituted mild reforms of capitalism after years of being “in power”. Of course, under capitalism, a class society, all “power” resides in the hands of the bankers and big capitalists, who possess the actual “power” no matter who sits in the ceremonial “Presidential palace”. So long as those “socialists” do not tamper with the capitalists’ “inalienable” property rights, the capitalist class may decide to tolerate them – for a time. But as soon as the economy starts to sputter or the “socialists” get it into their reformist heads to “nationalize” major industries or to prevent the capitalists from extracting profits from the toil of the workers, then the capitalists’ toleration for the trappings of bourgeois democracy begins to wear thin. And this is precisely what is happening in Venezuela today. “Time” is precisely what the fake-socialist leaders of the “Bolivarian Revolution” do not have, having already squandered 14 YEARS worth of it.
Like the monumental blowhard and military incompetent coward for whom their “Bolivarian Revolution” is aptly named, the Chavistas do not deserve to be called “revolutionaries” in anything other than words. In a revolution, it is deeds that matter, and here, as with the legend surrounding the cowardly dictatorial Simon Bolivar, the followers of Hugo Chavez come up far short of their bombastic rhetoric. In 14 years, the Chavistas have enacted nothing more than mere minor ameliorations of the grinding poverty suffered by the workers and peasants of Venezuela for centuries. Far from having enacted permanent changes to the economic system in Venezuela, the Chavistas have aimed only to reform the capitalist system, and have left the Venezuelan capitalist class and their vast holdings of wealth squeezed from the blood of the Venezuelan workers entirely intact. This ruling class, having been humiliated by their inability to overthrow the opera bouffe “revolutionary” Hugo Chavez in a coup, have been licking their wounds and preparing for a comeback. Their candidate in the elections that will be held next month has already declared that, if he wins, he will immediately rescind all support to Cuba, whose economy is hugely dependent on heavily-subsidized oil exports from Venezuela, very commendably offered to Cuba by Chavez while his party was “in power”. Of course, Capriles knows that it would be folly to announce BEFORE the elections that he intends to overturn ALL of the Chavez-era reforms if he wins. But that will undoubtedly happen. Thus have the Chavistas pissed away the most promising opportunity for the overthrow of capitalism in a major country since Chile’s Salvador Allende traveled the same reformist road to his own – and his country’s – doom in 1973.
This weekend’s fete at PSL headquarters was intended to polish the credentials of Chavez who the PSL described in their email invitation to the event thusly:
“Latin American revolutionary and president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, led a life of dedication to the struggle of the people of Latin America for independence and self-determination.
“He also led Venezuela in an effort to build a better society, redistributing resources in Venezuela to the benefit of the masses of working and poor people. Since his untimely death, millions of Venezuelans, Cubans and people around the world have paid homage to his legacy. Some 33 heads of state and representatives of 50 governments attended Chávez’s funeral.
“The massive outpouring in Venezuela is not just an expression of deep sentiment for a fallen leader. The cries of “We are Chávez!” and “Chávez Vive!” are a resounding commitment by the people: they are more determined than ever to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
“Join us at this public forum to commemorate Chavez’s legacy and discuss how to build solidarity with the struggle for Latin American self- determination within the United States.”
You can fault the PSL leadership for a lot of things, but, so far as we can see, you can’t fault them for being dishonest. Although they do hallucinate when they call Chavez a “revolutionary”, they quite accurately describe the poverty of the results of his faux “revolution”: he has not overthrown capitalism, the PSL admits (by omission) – he has merely “led Venezuela in an effort to build a better society”. That is the textbook definition of – not revolution – but reformism. Chavez, the PSL says “led a life of dedication to the struggle of the people of Latin America for independence and self-determination.” Independence from what? The US? The Venezuelan ambassador’s representative at the PSL’s meeting admitted that “around 50%” of Venezuela’s foreign trade is with the US. In fact, he decried that fact that their economy was, after 14 years, still too dependent on trade with the US. But that wouldn’t change even if Venezuela DID overthrow capitalism. Who else would buy their oil? An isolated workers state like Venezuela would be in that case would be forced to trade with capitalist countries until capitalism was overthrown in all those countries – and only then could you talk about the “political” independence of Venezuela – but not “economic” independence! No country in the world is both “politically” and “economically” independent of the rest of the world. And under world socialism, not only would nations not be “independent” of each other, they would be thoroughly integrated in a global socialist economy and, hopefully, in a political way as well, as equals, brothers and sisters, for the first time since the human race left Africa 100,000 years ago! North Korea has “achieved” the most thorough political and economic “independence” from the rest of the world, with Iran not far behind! Are their precarious situations desirable? No!
And what the hell does “self-determination” mean? What country, in a capitalist world run by the big banks in the US and Europe can claim to be a “self-determining” (is that a word?) economic or political entity? Until capitalism is overthrown worldwide, every capitalist and “socialist”! – country is not master of its own fate! Every socialist worthy of the name should understand this! Every country under capitalism is bound together in a web of competing nation-states endlessly squabbling over everything from the demarcation of their borders with neighboring states to the life and death struggle for access to resources necessary for those countries’ economies to prosper! “Self-determination” is a term that means only one thing in a case like Venezuela’s: it means that the Venezuelan leadership of the “Bolivarian [non-] Revolution” can make political error after error and can pursue a thoroughly reformist bourgeois – as opposed to revolutionary socialist – program as long as they want, because NO ONE IN THE REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST WORKERS MOVEMENT HAS THE ‘RIGHT’ TO CRITICIZE their leadership’s stalwart defense of capitalist private property! The only “role” revolutionary Marxists are allowed to play vis-a-vis Venezuela, according to the PSL, is merely to “build solidarity with the struggle for Latin American self- determination within the United States”!
In fact, the representative from the Venezuelan consulate told our reporter as much in his remarks.
We should back up here and set the scene for our readers so they can see how this was done in a very subtle way. There were two representatives present from the Venezuelan consulate, if we are not mistaken. One spoke fluent English and had probably spent a great part of his life in the United States. The other had a very good command of English but was not fluent – and it was THIS man who gave the presentation on Venezuela’s behalf!
We wish we could speak Spanish as well as this man spoke English; but the fact was that he often struggled during his presentation to find the precisely right words to express various political nuances. We ask you to have this in mind when we relate this response to our question to him. We did not record the speech and the Q and A session electronically, although someone videotaped the presentations and at least part of the discussion afterwards. But we did take some notes, and present them here.
During the question and answer session at the end of the Venezuelan Ambassador’s representative’s presentation, our reporter rose and made approximately the following statement “You consider yourselves to be revolutionaries and socialists, correct? You have been in power for 14 years: when are you going to overthrow capitalism in Venezuela? You seem to believe that you have plenty of time to do this. But while you are waiting, the capitalist class of Venezuela is regrouping and preparing to return to power. Already Capriles has announced that, if he wins the elections, he will cut off all aid to Cuba. After all the Cubans have done for the world, do they deserve that? What kind of socialist revolutionaries allow all their work to be overturned as a result of a bourgeois democratic election? The Venezuelan capitalist class is not going to sit around and wait while you play games with their private property rights. And there are more than a few people in Washington who think that the United States Government has been neglecting ‘its own backyard’ for far too long now. If you don’t overthrow capitalism now, you will end up like Allende’s forces in Chile in the 1970s. Time is not on your side. So when do you plan to overthrow capitalism in Venezuela?” Or words to that effect. As we say, the exchange was videotaped, so hopefully it will soon be on YouTube or the PSL’s excellent website.
The Venezuelan Ambassador’s rep made a long rambling response to the effect that they needed “more time”; that it is easy for people outside Venezuela to make criticisms and to demand that the Venezuelans “overthrow capitalism NOW”. And the he said, directly addressing our reporter (who is “white”): (in this case, we have an exact quote:) “When you evaluate from dogma or theory, you have a checklist [and you just go down your checklist ticking the ‘revolutionary’ boxes – ed]. The truth is, we have been, with our mistakes, we have been giving power to people. It takes to reality and to our times. We are not in the times of Marx or in the times of [Allende?]. Sometimes I feel that criticism comes from supremacist perspective. [emphasis added – ed]”.
Our reporter definitely got the message that maybe the reason that our reporter and our party were so “quick” to criticise the “Bolivarian Revolution” was because we were racists who thought the Venezuelans were stupid!
Of course, this man who did not possess the fluency in English of his compatriot sitting right next to him throughout this meeting can now say that he was misquoted or misunderstood by us. And that may be true. But this “misunderstanding” would not have occurred if the OTHER representative of the Venezuelan government – the one who spoke seemingly flawless English – had given the presentation instead. “The right to self-determination” is here taken completely out of its Leninist context – where it refers to the right of independent nation-states to secede from countries that are, essentially, holing national minorities in political and economic bondage – and turns it into a demand for a “criticism-free-zone” where fake-socialist “revolutionaries” can spout all kinds of political nonsense in defense of their stalwart determination NOT to overthrow the capitalist system.
“Theory is important, but we cannot be kidnapped by theory” the Venezuelan ambassador’s representative stated. But the “Bolivarian Revolution” HAS been “kidnapped by theory” – the erroneous theory that it is “impossible to overthrow capitalism in Venezuela at this time”!
[The Venezuelan Ambassador’s representative was a very nice and thoughtful, eloquent man, as you would expect an ambassador’s rep to be. He patiently listened to our comment and responded very honestly and without rancor. We would be happy to discuss these matters with him at any time; there was no anger or vituperation in the course of our conversation with him. We don’t want people to get the wrong impression from our criticism here that our interaction at the meeting was harsh in any way; it was not. We shook hands and conversed with him after the meeting as well.]
Political errors may seem small and even trivial to those who haven’t studied the history of the workers movement, where seemingly “trivial” errors, once committed, oftentimes lead to enormous difficulties or even the failure of an entire revolution, resulting in the mass executions of not just the erring political leaders but the very best self-sacrificing revolutionary elements of the working class and peasantry as well. A good analogy might be this: if you are trying to send a spacecraft to Mars from Earth, an error in the trajectory of that launch by as little as 0.00000001% might seem “trivial”; but unless that original trajectory error is corrected during passage to Mars, that spacecraft is going to miss the planet by maybe a half-million miles and will be lost in interstellar space forever – or crash into the planet. (Something very much along these lines happened to NASA’s “Mars Climate Orbiter” back in 1998 when a simple failure to properly covert the stupid United States’ archaic English units to Metric units of measurement caused the loss of a $600-million-dollar space mission!) These small errors of trajectory add up quickly, and this is as true in politics as it is in astrophysics. Only difference is: in politics, the price is paid with workers’ LIVES. This is something that far too many self-styled “revolutionary leaders” “forget” to include in THEIR political “calculations”.
In the case of the “Bolivarian Revolution” their “trajectory error” is this: they never “aimed” their revolution to overthrow capitalism in the first place! That’s why, after 14 years, they STILL haven’t overthrown capitalism! It’s not a mere “trajectory error”: their program never included “the overthrow of capitalism in a socialist workers revolution” at all, and all the apostles of Hugo Chavez among the “socialist” parties all over the world have “failed to notice” this simple fact. In the place of this glaring “trajectory error” of the Chavistas, these fake-“socialist leaders” of the left – the PSL not least among them – have substituted, not the “trajectory correction” of criticism, but the abandonment of their responsibility to point out this fatal “error” to their Venezuelan comrades, on the grounds that, due to the Venezuelans’ “right to self-determination” no corrections to the false trajectory of the “Bolivarian [non-]Revolution” are permissible – especially if those corrections come from outside the Chavista party in Venezuela! So, all we are permitted to do is to stand by and cheer as we watch the “Bolivarian [non-]Revolution” sail off into interstellar space, missing its “target” by half a million miles or more! Bye! Don’t forget to write! What bullshit!
Thank god that this is not how the scientists at NASA , CERN or researchers in any other branch of the “hard” sciences operate! They allow their “comrades” to freely criticise their work and to notify them if, at any time, they find errors of ANY magnitude in their calculations! Only in the political sphere are we supposed to keep our mouths shut when we see our comrades headed off in the wrong direction, perhaps to their executions! And they call themselves scientific Marxists, do these leaders of the PSL and others who declare this idiotic moratorium on criticism in the name of “the right to self-determination”! It is the purest nonsense, thoroughly unscientific, and therefore utterly sub-Marxist!
We’ll have more to say about our discussion with the representatives of the Venezuelan Ambassador in another article.
For the Overthrow of the Capitalist System in Venezuela and Around the World! Workers of the World, Unite!