Why Socialists Defend the Bolivarian Revolution
By John Riddel
In the February 16 issue of Socialist Worker, Paul Kellogg calls on socialists in Canada to “pay close attention to events in Venezuela, and build solidarity with the people of that country.” Socialist Voice agrees completely—his article is a welcome addition to discussion on the Canadian left of events in Venezuela.
The working people of Venezuela, led by the Bolivarian movement of President Hugo Chávez, are engaged in the first major revolutionary upsurge the world has seen in fifteen years. Their progress has outraged the war-makers in Washington and other imperialist capitals, and is fueling a deepening resistance throughout Latin America to capitalist exploitation.
Unfortunately, while Kellogg welcomes developments in Venezuela, much of his article is devoted to inappropriate criticism of the Bolivarian leadership. We cannot agree with his rejection of Venezuela’s efforts to defend itself with arms and alliances, or with his focus on contradictions in Hugo Chávez’s fast-evolving political views.
Kellogg criticizes Venezuela’s purchase of 24 Brazilian-made fighter airplanes for U.S. $170 million, for example, as “a huge waste of money desperately needed by the Venezuelan poor.” We disagree: socialists must actively champion Venezuela’s right to self-defense, including acquiring the most modern weapons available.
The failure of right-wing forces inside Venezuela to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution is leading Washington to prepare a military attack. It is using the brutally repressive and heavily armed government of Colombia as its agent. Colombian forces have already made incursions across the Venezuelan border.
Venezuela’s poor need political power and the physical means to defend themselves. The Chávez government has proposed the formation of popular armed militias to help defend the revolution, and recent arms purchases, including 100,000 AK-47s, provide the material means to carry through on this pledge. No wonder Washington is alarmed!
Kellogg also criticizes Chávez for orienting to “strategic alliances” with Russia, China, Brazil and other states, rather than “‘looking down’ to the workers and the poor in order to deepen the social transformation.” Once again, the issue is self-defense. Without trade deals with other countries, social transformation in Venezuela would be cut short by economic collapse. Venezuela’s foreign policy aims to ally with other semi-colonial countries in opposition to imperialist globalization. To this end, Venezuela has proposed the Bolivarian Agreement for the Americas (ALBA), a plan to forge ties among Latin American peoples on a foundation of equality, solidarity, and the well-being of the dispossessed.
So far, only Cuba has signed on to this plan. The Venezuelans’ close ties with revolutionary Cuba are one alliance of theirs that can properly be called “strategic.”
All these initiatives have solid precedents in the foreign policy of the early Soviet republic.
When Kellogg criticizes Chávez for not “looking down” to the workers and poor to advance the revolution, he ignores the fact that, alone among the governments in Latin America that claim to be anti-imperialist, the Bolivarians have consistently relied on and mobilized the masses of working people to defend their government and implement its program.
Kellogg is very critical of contradictions in Chávez’s political views, including his favorable statements about Russia’s Putin and others. But Chávez did not begin as a Marxist, and the Marxist current in Venezuela is very weak. He is a genuine leader thrown forward by the struggle and is learning as he goes.
The aims of the Bolivarian movement are completely at odds with the likes of political figures like Putin. We don’t know how Chávez and the Bolivarian movement will evolve politically in the long term, but the direction they’re moving in right now is one that socialists should support.
Kellogg concludes with a call for development of a radical left in Venezuela that will rely on “worker and peasant action from below” rather than “putting faith in radical leaders at the top of society.” This artificially counterposes the development of the mass movement to the development of revolutionary leadership, which in Venezuela today is developing in and through the Bolivarian movement.
Are Venezuelan workers wrong to trust in the Bolivarians? Many socialist groups in Canada call for some new, more “radical” Venezuelan movement—and deny support to the Bolivarians in electoral confrontations with reaction.
Such views find no echo in the Venezuelan workers’ movement. The Bolivarians are pressing ahead with major reforms and refusing to back down in the face of imperialist threats. They have more than earned the support they enjoy from the Venezuelan people.
All the experience of the past century shows that revolutionary, anti-capitalist movements never conform to the prevailing views of Marxists of what they ought to look like. For that reason, we welcome Paul Kellogg’s advice to “pay close attention to events in Venezuela.” With all our wisdom, we may yet have things to learn.
John Riddell is co-editor of Socialist Voice (www.socialistvoice.com).
—Socialist Worker, March 23, 2005