To the Editors
Our international Trotskyist movement is trying to analyze the Bolivarian Revolution. It is an exciting time in Venezuela, with nationalizations and a declared intent by Hugo Chavez to organize a socialist party and transform Venezuelan society. We will have our hands full analyzing the Bolivarian Revolution without becoming cheerleaders for Hugo Chavez or coming off as overly hostile to him. What excites a lot of us is seeing the oil revenues being directed into social programs. Chavez heroically busted a hole in the U.S. blockade against Cuba by exchanging oil for the services of Cuban medical teams, who are providing much-needed assistance in the Venezuelan barrios and countryside.
Hugo Chavez captured our attention when he was slated for execution CIA coup style, like Allende and Patrice Lumumba. Instead, the Venezuelan masses came unglued and poured into the streets to save this military caudillo paratrooper from certain death or imprisonment. To that mass action Chavez responded with gratitude. Judging by his words and deeds, he is feeling his way forward into the future, getting what guidance he can from reading Marx, Trotsky, and Antonio Gramsci. A close friendship with Fidel Castro, in addition to his reading, has inspired Chavez to declare himself openly for a socialist future. Now, social programs are being inaugurated in Venezuela that never existed before Chavez came to power.
Hopefully there exists a Trotskyist formation down in Venezuela that can send a fraction into the Chavist movement and be in on the groundbreaking process of organizing his socialist party. It would be smart for small workers’ parties to make appointments with Chavez and get face to face with him on a real comradely basis of idea exchange without a crazy longwinded sectarian lecture on how things should be done. Of course our knowledge, experience, and outlook are much more sophisticated than Chavez’s at this time.
It is my impression that Chavez knows he is a socialist head of a capitalist state, eking out an existence in an international capitalist economy. Trotsky wrote in his preface to The Russian Revolution: “But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime.” In Venezuela, when the masses poured into the streets and pulled Hugo Chavez’s bacon out of the fire, was that the breaking point where the masses could no longer endure the old order?
I think we could make a strong case that a new regime exists in Venezuela under Chavez. Trotsky continues to postulate, in his introduction to The Russian Revolution, “Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. Without a guiding organization the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”
Venezuela is not being rocked by strikes, factory takeovers, or street fights between the government authorities and the masses. Apparently there is a struggle in the countryside, where farmers are fighting with the landlords for uncultivated land and getting screwed over by the pro-rich judges presiding over the disputes. A wait-and-see patience and a mood of co-operation with the Chavez regime is prevailing in Venezuela right now. The masses are not fighting the government, nor is the government actively attacking the working class, preparing for some kind of violent coup in the name of protecting private property. Chavez appears to be moving cautiously ahead of the masses, pulling them along into a socialist future of his vision, rather than being dragged behind them.
It is of course important that we hang onto the lessons of October 1917. It will be important that we protect first and foremost the interests of the Venezuelan working class. We could see a time when Chavez commits treachery against the Venezuelan workers and farmers. But it seems that our historic movement and Chavez’s have intersected for the time being. A wise old comrade once told me that revolutions when they come often take us by surprise in both time and form. So far, the Venezuelan working class is enjoying improvements and the people don’t seem to be in any imminent danger as during the times of Salvadore Allende. Of course, the fate of Venezuela can’t hang in the balance between capitalism and socialism forever. The question really is, how long can the balancing act last? And can Chavez and his new socialist party, along with our Trotskyist cothinkers, lead a successful revolution once the Venezuelan masses begin to fuel it?
Yours for the revolution,