Last Chance for Venezuela’s Revolution? with Rebuttal

An article by Shamus Cooke arguing that the "pulse of the revolution grows faint" in Venezuela, together with a response by Axis of Logic writer Les Blough.

Axis of Logic Editor Paul Richard Harris’s note: I received a submission for publishing consideration entitled ‘Last Chance for Venezuela’s Revolution’. The writer is Shamus Cooke of Workers’ Action, although it was actually submitted to us on his behalf by another Workers’ Action member. Now I’ve spent some time in Venezuela, a couple of times in the past dozen years; but this article didn’t seem to cut the mustard for me. So I went straight to the top with it, to our senior editor and Axis founder, Les Blough. Les has been living in Venezuela for several years.

I needn’t have worried – Les and I are on the same wavelength.

But rather than ignore or decline the article, Les took the time to critique it. We are publishing it here because it seems reasonable to us to help Mr Cooke’s views be heard; but also important to rebut those views with what it’s really like on the ground in Venezuela.

What follows, then, is Mr Cooke’s original article with Les’s comments indented and bold. My only contributions are to alter a bit of Les’s response for grammar and wording (in view of my Canadian education which, let’s face it, puts the US-educated Les at a disadvantage).

The pulse of the revolution grows faint. Extreme measures are needed, since the extremely poor living conditions of most Venezuelans demand it.

“Extreme measures” are being taken – I see this happening all the time. The “extremely poor living conditions of most Venezuelans”  have improved significantly in 10 short years and are continuing to improve. This is about as rapidly as anyone can reasonably expect.

They are tired of the government taking half actions. Tired of the same super-rich oligarchy dominating the economy, which creates the horrendous inequality that overshadows Venezuelan society. If the revolution is not quickly pushed to the left, it will be strangled by the right.

People on the left, including me, tend to become impatient with the process of a “democratic revolution”. There are times when I want to see the oligarchs run out of the country or even shot … until I think more about it. The “horrendous inequality” between the few rich and many poor is steadily narrowing. I can see the difference in the six years I’ve been visiting and living here. When I first visited Venezuela, people never grocery-shopped where the wealthy shop and lived on a much poorer diet than they do now. I see the poor opening new small business all the time, and so on. Mr Cooke says the revolution “will be strangled by the right”. But what I see is the revolution strangling the right, slowly, steadily, with some setbacks here and there.

For all the positive things Chavez has accomplished as President, he is in danger of becoming another Salvador Allende — a martyr whose death ushered in a right-wing dictatorship.

Mr Cooke says nothing to support this – and I see no evidence that Chávez will ever become another Salvador Allende.

Chavez’s base — the working class and poor — does not uncritically support him, as the western media sometimes depicts. Their support is conditional on Chavez pushing the revolution forward by raising their living standards and keeping the right wing at bay. The slower he goes, the less support he gets.

Correct – the working class and poor do not uncritically support Chávez, and their “support is conditional on Chávez pushing the revolution forward” – therein is the strength of the revolution. This is a significant point Mr Cooke has misunderstood . “The slower he goes, the less support he gets” is simplistic and meaningless. Now it may turn out to be true that this phase of the revolution will fail this time around – but not because Chávez has been “going slow”. In my view, if the revolution were to fail, it would be due to the sheer power of domestic and foreign adversaries. I think the government is pushing the revolution about as fast as it can without resorting to bloody purges and the alleged dictatorship that the western media yaps about.

Chavez needs more than working people’s support; he needs their active support in the streets and workplaces, directly participating in political life — a defining feature of all revolutions.

What’s the difference between “working people’s support” and “their active support in the streets and workplaces?” Nothing. “Chávez needs [the people] directly participating in political life.” This revolutionary government of Venezuela, by design and definition, is a “participatory democracy”. Power emanates more and more from community councils in an inverted pyramid. Cooke is just kicking words out of his mouth. I wonder if he’s ever lived in and examined a national election here or visited community councils or the missions. It doesn’t sound like he has.

Revolutions do not have infinite amounts of time, since they are, by definition, rare periods where working people shed their apathy and participate directly in political affairs, a period of time that lasts until they either smash the power of the upper classes, or the upper classes can squash the revolution with a dictatorship.

“Revolutions do not have infinite amounts of time, since they are, by definition, rare periods …” This is plainly wrong. Authentic revolution by definition is a permanent revolution (Trotsky, right?). It cannot be a “rare period” with a beginning and an end. Chávez has always seen this clearly. Fidel has mastered it. “Smashing the power of the upper classes” sounds like it comes from a person who does not understand the process required for this. The many corrupt businesses, banks, even stock brokerage houses that the government has busted in 2010 are evidence of this. Not fast enough for Mr Cooke? Obviously, he hasn’t a clue about what it means to defeat centuries of entrenched oligarchy that has its tentacles into every berry in the pie.

The less active working people become, the more able is the right wing to make a power grab, since the rich believe that the workers will not rise up to stop them, as they’ve done before in Venezuela.

Is Mr Cooke saying that working Venezuelaños are becoming “less active?” I see the opposite in the streets every day.

Indeed, the right wing all over Latin America is becoming bolder. They applauded when Chavez’s base was not inspired enough to come out to vote in the last two big elections.

“Chávez’s base was not inspired enough to come out to vote in the last two big elections.” This is simply a false or incorrect statement. It’s true that fewer Chavistas voted in the December 2007 referendum on constitutional reform. Many reasons could be given. But in the 2010 national elections, record numbers of Chavistas voted. The difference in 2010 was that the opposition came out in the highest numbers since 1999. They had, to a large extent, abstained from participating in elections since then. “Not inspired enough to come out to vote.” This statement presumes so much that it makes me wonder who Mr Cooke is and what his agenda might be.

This did not mean that the right wing’s influence was growing (as the western media claims); rather, it was pure apathy. They applauded when the left-wing President of Honduras was overthrown by a U.S. sponsored coup. They cheered when Ecuador’s President was almost killed in a coup attempt. The right wing in Bolivia is taking advantage of an increase in fuel prices to destabilize Evo Morales, whom they’ve tried to topple once already.

“This did not mean that the right wing’s influence was growing (as the western media claims); rather, it was pure apathy.” The statements that follow this one: “They applauded”, “they cheered”, etc. do not support ‘pure apathy’. There’s no logical progression here. Is he trying to say that the right wing is powerful? They most certainly are powerful in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. After all, they’ve been in power since the Spanish arrived! So what’s new?

But Venezuela remains the most advanced revolutionary movement in Latin America. It is in danger of dying from the disease of apathy. Action is the best cure for apathy. Chavez was recently granted extra power by the national assembly — the enabling law — that allows him to directly intervene in the Venezuelan economy to address a variety of social issues.

He says that the revolution is in “danger of dying from the disease of apathy.” – then goes on to contradict himself by citing the enabling law.

Venezuela’s revolution will largely depend on how Chavez uses this power. If he quickens the tempo of the revolution by nationalizing sectors of the economy that will then begin to instantly produce for social need — housing, transport, banking, food, etc. — Chavez’s base will enthusiastically respond, and the right-wing danger that currently threatens Venezuela will be pushed back into the gutters where it belongs.

“If he quickens the tempo of the revolution by nationalizing sectors of the economy …” Mr Cooke should know the “tempo of the revolution” can hardly be “quickened” – at least not democratically. But as a democracy, “nationalizing sectors of the economy” has already been running at breakneck speed.

Chavez must also encourage the self-organization of working people through strengthened neighborhood community organizations, to neighborhood militias where the people themselves are armed and organized to protect their communities from violence and crime, and to workers control over industries.

Chávez has been doing this continuously for the last 10 years – community councils, peasant militias, an armed citizen militia of over 100,000, workers taking control of corporations in partnership with the state, and so on. Mr Cooke is either ignorant of this progress or, for some reason, deliberately ignores it.

If Chavez fails to use his new executive powers aggressively and effectively, the majority of working people will not respond, and their actions in the streets will continue to dwindle, allowing for a larger presence of the right wing.

This is a redundant statement and he’s provided no evidence that there is any danger of Chávez “failing to use his new executive powers aggressively and effectively”. This is just empty rhetoric.

The Latin American-wide revolution is in danger of falling back into a dark period, like the decades after Allende’s death, when right-wing dictatorships dominated the continent with full support from the U.S. government.

Another empty statement

The clock is ticking. Working people in Venezuela cannot constantly be revolutionary, since it takes enormous amounts of energy and effort. Chavez can stimulate their activity or subdue it, based on the actions he takes with the enabling law. The fate of the revolution hangs in the balance.

“The clock is ticking. Working people of Venezuela cannot constantly be revolutionary …” This again shows that Mr Cooke has not understood the concept of “permanent revolution.” Nor does the life of the revolution hang on “the actions Chávez takes with the enabling law.” The revolution doesn’t even depend on whether Chávez lives or dies. An old woman told me in 2004, when I asked her what would happen if the CIA assassinated Chávez, “Oh Señor, you don’t understand, do you? We love our president; but this revolution is not his – it’s ours. And with or without President Chávez, we will continue with our revolution.” This is something that Mr Cooke does not understand; I also wonder if he understands that the revolution that began with Simon Bolivar, was resurrected from time to time, then in a big way with Caracazo in 1989 and injected with the leadership of Hugo Chávez ten years later. Will it go underground again for 10 years? 100 years? I hope not; but even if it were to happen, it will rise again. This resurrection is the most powerful and promising yet. I think people like Mr Cooke should understand the Bolivarian Revolution before writing critiques like this one.