Venezuela Six Years after the Coup

Six years after the coup against the democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez was defeated by the magnificent mobilization of the masses, the contradictions within the Venezuelan revolution are as sharp as ever.

April 11, 2008 – Six
years after the coup against the democratically elected government of
Hugo Chávez was defeated by the magnificent mobilization of the masses,
the contradictions within the Venezuelan revolution are as sharp as

On March 2nd, delegates to the founding congress of
the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) returned home after a two
month long discussion period. On March 10th the Bush administration in
the United States threatened to add Venezuela to its list of "nations
that support terrorism". On April 9th, president Chávez announced the
nationalisation of the massive SIDOR steel mill, siding with the
workers in their 15-month long struggle with Argentinean multinational
Techint.. An analysis of these three events provides us with a clear
picture of where the Venezuelan revolution is at, the dangers it faces,
and which is the way forward.

The building of the PSUV was proposed by Chávez
immediately after the victory in the presidential elections of December
2006. The Bolivarian revolution has for a long time faced a
contradiction: on the one hand it has derived its strength from the
massive mobilization and support of the masses of workers and peasants
organized in thousands of different organizations (land reform
committees, revolutionary trade unions, Bolivarian circles,
neighbourhood groups, etc.), but on the other hand it lacked a
nationwide democratic revolutionary organization through which they
could express themselves politically. The Bolivarian parties that stood
in past elections were rightly regarded by the masses as no more than
electoral machines controlled by unelected and unaccountable cliques of
bureaucrats, careerists, corrupt local and regional politicians, etc.

Every time the masses of workers and peasants were
given a channel to organize and take the reigns of the revolution they
took it with both hands. A million and a half joined the Bolivarian
circles at the end of 2001. More than 2 million were organized in the
Electoral Battle Units during the recall referendum in August 2004. But
also, every time they tried to coordinate their efforts at the
neighbourhood, local and regional levels, the bureaucracy and the
reformists blocked them. Thus, when president Chávez made a call to
form the PSUV, and for this to be "the most democratic party in the
history of Venezuela", the masses correctly understood this as an
appeal to get rid of the bureaucracy which is acting as a brake on
their revolutionary initiative.

In just two months in early 2007, 5.6 million
Venezuelans – women, youth, workers, peasants, and unemployed –
registered to join the PSUV. 1.8 million of them attended regular
weekly meetings of their local Socialist Battalions. This was
extraordinary. Once again, the Bolivarian masses had responded. But, as
we warned at the time, the fate of the PSUV could not be determined in
advance. It would be the result of a fierce struggle between the
revolutionary left of the movement and its reformist and bureaucratic

During six weekend sessions, more than 1,600
delegates met to discuss the declaration of principles and statutes of
the new party. The clash between left and right was evident from the
very beginning. On the first day of the congress a majority of
delegates asserted their will to have control over the proceedings by
protesting that they had not been consulted on the agenda or the order
of the discussions. This was the mood that prevailed throughout the
congress and which was reflected in some of the decisions and votes
that took place. For instance, the PSUV declared itself as an
anti-capitalist party, based among other principles on those of
scientific socialism, and having among its guiding figures those of
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The fact that the congress delegates
met over six different sessions allowed the left wing, which at the
beginning was atomised, to become more coordinated. Most of the
delegates were representatives of this layer of "natural leaders" at
the local and neighbourhood level, and here they had a chance, for the
first time, to get to know each other, to exchange experiences and
discuss ideas.

On March 9th some 80,000 members of the PSUV
participated in the first internal elections to select a provisional
national leadership composed of 15 full members and 15 alternates.
Despite the fact that known figures, many of them from the old
Bolivarian parties, made up the bulk of those elected, there were a
number of significant surprises. Diosdado Cabello, who had emerged
during the congress as the main representatives of what in Venezuela is
called the "home grown right wing" of the movement, did not make it
onto the list of 15 full members, despite being well known and having
played a prominent role throughout the congress. It was a clear vote
against the right wing and against bureaucratic methods within it.

A whole number of other prominent governors, local
mayors, etc., did not make it into the list of 30 who were elected.
Many of those elected were those considered to be more left wing, less
connected with political party apparatuses, more removed from the
bureaucracy, etc. Others clearly identified with the revolutionary left
of the Bolivarian movement, missed election only narrowly. The cut off
point was set at 12,000 votes and several prominent left-wing
candidates all got more than 10,000. Freddy Navas, a supporter of the
Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) received 9,000 votes standing on a
clear Marxist platform. Navas explains how the political discussions
and the votes both "reflect a high level of consciousness amongst the
members of the party, an iron will to take the revolution forward and a
clear search for a revolutionary left wing alternative".

After the defeat of the constitutional reform
referendum in December 2007, the oligarchy realized that their tactics
had worked. They had applied massive pressure on the economy, with a
campaign of sabotage of the food distribution chain and had managed to
push a significant number of chavista supporters to abstain. They are
not strong enough to make open war or military intervention a part of
their agenda at the moment, so they hope to gradually wear down support
for the revolution through a relentless campaign in the media,
international pressure, economic sabotage, etc., and to win some
institutional spaces in the November regional elections.

Colombia's recent incursion into Ecuador to kill the
FARC guerrillas' second-in-command had a clear aim: to stop the process
of humanitarian negotiations which was increasing the prestige of
Chávez in Colombia and putting president Uribe in an increasingly
embarrassing position. The attack, a violation of Ecuador's national
sovereignty, and carried out with support from US forces based at Manta
in Ecuador, also aimed to paint Venezuela as a "terrorist-aiding"
country. During the raid, Colombian forces allegedly recovered a laptop
containing information linking the FARC with an attempt to make a
"dirty bomb", and linking Venezuela and Ecuador with the "terrorist"
FARC and narco-trafficking. This is all part of the propaganda war
against the Bolivarian revolution, in the same way that "weapons of
mass destruction" were part of the build up to the invasion of Iraq.

But the most damaging part of the campaign of
imperialism and the oligarchy is that of economic sabotage. In early
2008, the Venezuelan government discovered thousands of tons of food
hidden in warehouses and trucks, being diverted to Colombia or the
black market. This confirmed what everybody already knew. Food
shortages in Venezuela were part of a concerted campaign organized by
the oligarchy. But raids and seizures alone will not solve the problem.
Only a serious offensive, based on the revolutionary initiative of the
PSUV members and revolutionary trade unions, to occupy, expropriate and
run under workers' control and management the means of production can
put an end to the capitalists' strike which is crippling the Venezuelan
economy and undermining support for the revolution.

On March 15 Chávez announced the nationalization of a
dairy processing plant and a large chain of slaughterhouses which would
give the state control over 40 percent of the milk processing and 70
percent of the meat processing sectors. Then, on April 3rd, he
announced the nationalisation of the whole of the cement industry,
controlled by three multinationals, the Mexican Cemex, the French
Lafarge and the Swiss Hoclim. These are steps in the right direction,
but must be extended to the whole of the food distribution chain and to
all the key sectors of the economy.

The SIDOR steel mill strike clearly illustrates the
dangers facing the revolution. Here we have one of the most important
industries in the country, in an area with the largest concentration of
the industrial proletariat. There are nearly 15,000 workers at SIDOR, a
third of them working in-house and two-thirds working for a myriad of
outside contractors. The company was privatised in 1997 under the
Caldera government, when the former guerrilla leader Teodoro Petkoff
was in charge of privatisations. SIDOR is now owned by
Argentinean-Italian multinational Techint which has made millions in
profits on the back of tremendous exploitation of the workers, which
has resulted in a marked increased in deaths and accidents at work.

When Chávez made a call to "nationalise all that was
privatised" in January 2007, the workers responded with spontaneous
walk-outs and by raising the Venezuelan flag over SIDOR's
installations. Finally, after many negotiations and pressure from the
Argentinean government of Kirchner, an agreement was reached between
Techint and the Venezuelan government. The company was to sell to the
national market at preferential prices and in exchange, there would be
no nationalisation. But throughout the 13 months of the collective
bargaining negotiations the company has had a provocative attitude.
Finally, the workers' patience ran out and they started a series of
stoppages in January, February and March.

What was the response of the Ministry of Labour?
First of all they tried to impose binding arbitration. Then on March
14th the National Guard was sent to brutally repress the workers during
an 80-hour strike. The workers and the masses in the region have
responded with a clear class instinct, organizing solidarity meetings
and pickets, threatening strikes in other plants, etc.

Adel El Zabayar, a Bolvarian member of the National
Assembly who came out publicly for the nationalisation of SIDOR
explained: "There are sectors within the state that play at wearing
down the government, using government authorities to assume a bosses'
attitude". This is precisely the problem: the state apparatus remains
largely the same, and a capitalist state cannot be used to carry out a
socialist revolution.

Furthermore, the attitude of the Minister of Labour,
José Ramón Rivero, accusing the workers of being counter revolutionary,
siding with the company and putting pressure on the workers to accept
the company's offer, was playing into the hands of the right wing which
was attempting to exploit the conflict. Finally, on April 9th, Chávez
intervened on the side of the workers and announced the nationalisation
of SIDOR. This is an important victory for the workers of SIDOR and
will certainly have an impact on the struggle of Venezuelan workers as
a whole.

In these three examples we see the dangers that
threaten the Venezuelan revolution: a capitalist state apparatus which
has not been destroyed and that is acting to sabotage the revolution,
an economy which is still under the control of the oligarchy, which
uses it to sabotage the revolution, and a reformist, bureaucratic right
wing of the Bolivarian movement which is doing its best to block the
revolutionary initiative of the masses and prevent the revolution from
being completed and thus undermining its social base of support.

If these problems remain unsolved, the Bolivarian
revolution will be defeated. But in the rank and file of the PSUV and
among the SIDOR workers, there are the forces that can take the
revolution to victory. They need to be organized around a genuine
revolutionary socialist and internationalist programme which alone can
guarantee success.