Some Impressions from Venezuela
By Andreas Bülow
“It is never too late for the masses to begin to hew their road to freedom. Pessimism and skepticism are luxuries for the few. The masses have no other choice except to fight for their lives and the future of their children.”
—Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain.
In Venezuela things are moving at an incredible speed. The above quoted lines are very apt to describe the mood that exists here. When you arrive at the airport in Caracas, you are informed that, “you are now in Bolivarian territory.” This sets the tone for what is to come. On the walls one sees revolutionary paintings and graffiti. One of them is a quote from Simon Bolivar, “An ignorant people is the blind instrument for its own destruction,” a clear appeal to people to seek knowledge and information and participate in the process.
As soon as one turns on the TV, one understands that there is something special, something quite extraordinary, about the situation that the country finds itself in at present. In any normal capitalist country in the West, television is generally a tedious, depressing affair, usually addressing only the lowest common denominator. The point is that the ruling class is afraid of raising the consciousness of ordinary working people, and prefers to feed them with cheap trivia in an attempt to keep them calm (although they frequently fail to achieve this).
In Venezuela things are the same if one looks at the various privately owned channels. But the most popular TV-station, the publicly owned Channel 8, is a completely different story. Watching this channel, one sees a completely different approach.
Programs about the work of the misiones eliminating illiteracy in the neighborhoods are accompanied by big adverts for Saturday’s demonstration against the “cumber” of the Americas, saying: “Vamos todos—contra el imperialismo—en defensa de la revolucion y la soberania de nuestro pais” (Let’s all go—against imperialism—in defense of the revolution and the sovereignty of our country). And this is national TV watched by millions! And it doesn’t stop there. Immediately afterwards a picture and a text description of the “famous person of the day” appear on the screen—today it is Che Guevara. After that a text comes up informing us that, “Venezuela now belongs to everyone.”
Moving around the neighborhoods in Caracas on Saturday, one could see that in many bars the television was on and people were listening attentively to Chavez speaking live from Argentina. In his speech, Chavez—once again—quoted Karl Marx and talked about building “socialism in the XXI century.”
Although the rally in Caracas was not one of the biggest (it was called with only two days’ notice!) one could have no doubts about the mood. There was a militant mood reflecting the will of the rank-and-file Bolivarians to push the revolution forward.
The comrades of the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) organized a small stall that attracted a lot of interest. What was significant was that some people that passed by stopped at the stall because they saw the name of Alan Woods on the material being sold on the stall. Alan Woods, British Marxist theoretician and editor of marxist.com, is quite well known in Venezuela as a result of a number of tours he has made, speaking at public meetings, being interviewed in newspapers and on television, etc., in which he has consistently defended the revolution while at the same time giving concrete proposals to push it forward.
The Venezuelan workers and youth have quite their own way of organizing demonstrations. They always wear dresses, T-shirts, caps, etc., with the Bolivarian colors (red, blue and yellow), accompanied by samba rhythms and other music and chanting pro-Chavez slogans and “death to imperialism.”
However, this slogan must not be misunderstood as an attack on the people of the United States. Chavez made it abundantly clear in his speech on Saturday, that he distinguishes between the rulers and the people of North America, appealing for the support of the latter against the former. As he put it, “the spirit of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is being reborn on the streets of the towns of North America.”
Another striking feature here is the resurgence of a whole range of political groups. In all the neighborhoods, in the factories, and the schools and universities, a number of political groups have been formed, mainly on a local level. They do not all have a fully worked out political program or ideology—but they are the first conscious attempts of people who have been awakened to political life, to take the destiny of the revolution into their own hands. This is the exact meaning of a revolution: the masses getting involved in politics and trying to break the power of the ruling class, trying to take the initiative and push the movement forward.
One such group is the FAR (American Rebel Front) in Barquisimeto. This group of young fighters publish their own organ, Alba Estudiantil, every month. It is of very high quality, with a mixture of short articles on the day-to-day problems of the students, combined with short analyses of the political situation nationally and the way forward for the movement, clearly based on the need for socialist revolution as the only way out. They distribute it in the schools and colleges of Barquisimeto.
These comrades—who are now also working to build the JSR (Revolutionary Socialist Youth)—have taken the initiative to establish Controlorias Sociales Estudiantiles (Students’ Social Control assemblies). These are organs of struggle in the schools against bureaucracy, corruption, and so on. The first such assembly was set up in the pedagogic institute of Barquisimeto. In assemblies the students elect delegates, with the right to recall. Already 30 such delegates have been elected in assemblies and they are now putting forward a number of demands to the school administration.
These are just some examples that serve to illustrate the involvement of the masses in political life. It is an amazing phenomenon that can be felt in every corner of society. Let us end this short letter with the words of John Reed in his marvelous book about the Russian Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. In these lines we see exactly the same phenomenon that is present in today’s Venezuela:
“All Russia was learning to read, and reading—politics, economics, history—because the people wanted to know. In every city, in most towns, along the Front, each political faction had its newspaper—sometimes several. Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets were distributed by thousands of organizations, and poured into the armies, the villages, the factories, the streets. The thirst for education, so long thwarted, burst with the Revolution into a frenzy of expression. From Smolny Institute alone, the first six months, went out every day[with] tons, car-loads, train-loads of literature, saturating the land. Russia absorbed reading matter [insatiably]. And it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts—but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol, and Gorky….”
—In Defense of Marxism, November 9, 2005