Thesis on Venezuela
1. Unlike most of the left, both in Venezuela and in other countries, we supported the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). Later (in 1998) we welcomed the election of Hugo Chávez Fràas as President of the Republic as an exceptional anti-imperialist victory and as the beginning of a new and positive step, not only for Venezuela but for all of Latin America.
2. For the first time in decades, in a country which is decisive for the geopolitical balance of the continent, a leader had come to power who declared his radical hostility not only to imperialism, particularly US imperialism, but also to Venezuela's rotten, oligarchic two-party system, which is the expression of a corrupt and subservient capitalism. Chávez' anti-imperialism was not just for show. He was condemned as a militarist demagogue and as a populist politician. His answer was to stress that it is necessary to extricate Venezuela away from the neo-colonialist stranglehold and to build a social system to free the poor people in urban and rural areas from servile exploitation and social marginalisation. Chávez' repeated victories in elections proved beyond doubt that he was just a flash in the pan and that that the enormous support he had gained among the oppressed social strata was going to consolidate.
3. The capitalist oligarchy of Venezuela, was at first puzzled by Chávez's victorious advance. Once they understood that they were facing a long-term phenomenon, the oligarchy made the fatal error to try regain power in a coup supported by the United States. The leaders of the coup in 2002 were overwhelmed by a great and militant mobilization. They had to retreat quickly, it was a humiliating defeat. With its violent act, the oligarchy had brought the country to the brink of a civil war, and the outcome could be a strategic defeat, despite US support.
4. But it was only a tactical retreat. After a few months, the patchwork front of reactionary groups tried again to get rid of Chávez by insidiously sabotaging the oil industry. They brought the country to its knees, but once more, the reactionary front lost. However, they landed on their feet. They demonstrated that they commanded enormous resources and a stable social basis. Support came not only from the educated elites and the church, the government bureaucracy and the petty bourgeoisie, but some support also came from the unionised and corporatist working class.
5. In this situation of clear polarization between followers and opponents of Chávez, the oligarchy attacked the president the third time. This time they challenged on the electoral ground. They promoted a recall referendum to oust Chávez. The referendum was held in August of 2004. Sixty percent of the electorate voted for the MVR and for Chávez. Turnout extremely high at 70%. It was a huge success that was even more significant considering that the opposition enjoyed the brazen support of the United States, the European Uunion and most of the media at home and abroad.
6. This was a sensational political victory. Elections and referendums usually favour reactionary forces, because they are based on a passive electorate that chooses delegates, they traditionally aggravate the hegemony and corruption of the political establishment and the dominant class. This victory caused disarray among the front against Chávez. In the flush of victory, Chávez' camp had the illusion of success and invincibility, which lead them to believe that they could continue radical social transformation through a series of electoral successes, without a revolutionary rupture.
7. The victory of August of 2004 inspired the government and Chávez' bloc to accelerate the "Bolivarian revolution". The government has had a foreign policy that is essentially anti-imperialist, despite the limitations. In addition, the government proposed and stimulated deep transformations in the social structure of the country. They did not stop at radical reforms of the social structure, i.e. the redistribution of the national wealth to emancipate the oppressed from of misery and social marginalisation. The government also initiated deep structural changes, so that "the last shall be first", so that political and administrative power should not to be a privilege of the bureaucrats' and notables' nomenclature (who are mostly loyal to the old oligarchy) and pass instead into the hands of the grassroots organisations of the people.
8. As Anti-Imperialist Camp we have been fully supporting this process of social and institutional transformation, as well as every reform planned and carried out by Chávez' government. We have not a priori condemned the Venezuelan leadership (and we are not doing so now) for trying to move towards socialism through a graded series of revolutionary reforms. On the contrary, we have appreciated the attempt, the experiment of progress towards socialism without breaking the rules of democracy and avoiding armed confrontation, if possible. We know that no social or political measure, righteous as it may be, can be sustained without a strong hegemony and popular consent. However, we have warned that it is dangerous to defy the constants and the "laws" of history; history progresses in leaps and violent fractures; quantity is destined to transform into quality; at a certain point during the transformation process, the rupture will become inevitable; no profession of faith in democracy made by the revolution has a chance to persuade the oligarchy to get out of the way (remember the catastrophe of Chile in 1973).
9. There can not be socialism without hegemony and consensus, and in the same way it is also true that no definitive transition to socialism is possible without a revolutionary break. From the huge experience made in the 20th century we have understood that socialism can only be built if social equality and individual freedom are combined; but we have also understood that every attempt of splitting the pair formed by hegemony and rupture, of separating consensus from the use of force, even if inspired by the most noble intentions, can only lead to the victory of the armed counter-revolution. The bourgeoisie itself has given masterful lessons (and revolutionary often paid a very high price) on how, depending on the circumstances, one can and must proceed from the predominance of consensus to the predominance of force, how a shift from parliamentary democracy to dictatorship is necessary. That is, hegemony can be obtained not only through democratic consent, but also by resorting to the most unforgiving violence. Consensus and violence are not contradictory, but complementary. An unarmed revolution is bound to lose. Without real determination to win and unafraid to use force, a lasting hegemony can't be achieved and the oppressed won't be persuaded to fight for life or death by any means. If the revolution decides to respect democratic rules it will meet an insurmountable limit, a limit drawn by the counter-revolution which will never hesitate, as we have seen in Venezuela with the coup of 2002, to shift from legal opposition to sabotage and finally to live artillery.
10. It would be a mistake to measure hegemony mainly in elections and referendums. That is a legacy of the bourgeoisie, who need the consent of the masses to sustain its "democratic" supremacy, but also needs consent that is delegated, passive and amorphous. The Achilles' heel of the "Bolivarian revolution" is that it remains shackled by its electoral successes, victim of the idea that a social revolution can do without a rupture between the organised unprivileged masses and the dominant classes. The revolution requires that solid hegemony rests on active and massive popular participation in the political struggle. The revolution is a process of subversive "creative destruction" to overthrow the old state apparatus, which was founded on the separation between the electorate and the elected, or masters and slaves; a new one has to be built in its place, founded on direct democracy and self-organisation of the people. Post-revolutionary social systems of the 20th century have failed, but that does not invalidate this universal rule: those systems did not fail because they were originally flawed, they were actually born from genuine proletarian and peasant revolutions. To pronounce them as original failures is indeed typical of liberal and social-democratic thinking, a point where they are in full agreement.
11. It turned out that the oppressed people in Venezuela could not take over the state by getting rid of the old notables' class merely through continuous electoral victories. It is impossible to cure a malignant tumour with homeopathic medicine; surgery is necessary before metastases choke the revolutionary forces. The old state apparatus cannot be destroyed. The traditional separation between electorate and elected, or slaves and masters, cannot be overcome through polls and demonstrations, enormous as they may be. New power has to be built from below, based on structures that empower the oppressed people. However, this is not enough. This kind of participation can dissolve into thin air if it is not channelled, disciplined and backed by a powerful revolutionary organisation with experienced militants and leaders who can administrate the power once it is secured. Finally we must not forget that subversive drive from below, while being necessary for any revolutionary change, is not sufficient to create and consolidate revolutionary political and governmental institutions. It is illusive to hope that the oppressed, mobilised and swept into the struggle by the revolution, will be suddenly able to exercise a power in a collective and horizontal way, without relying on capable and experienced political leadersâ€”especially in countries like Venezuela, which has a history of caudillismo and century-long subjection to notables and oligarchs.
12. The extremely young "Bolivarian revolution" found itself in a most difficult situation: not having had the time to select a body of administrators, political cadres, central and local government leaders loyal to the policies of Chávez' government, the revolution had to rely on the traditional bureaucratic nomenclature, who did not only drag their feet to resist change, but in fact engaged in active sabotage, undermining the success of the reforms.
13. The defeat in the referendum of December 2007 was an unfortunate confirmation. It did not have strategic importance, but it was scalding. The "Bolivarian revolution" should draw lessonsâ€”the earlier, the better. Some far-left critics blame Chávez for this defeat, as he did not try to break the reactionary resistance. This is not true. Chávez, along with the most uncompromising leaders, has tried in every possible way to overcome these obstacles, and to encourage mass participation. Their ways might have been questionable at times, yet they tried. And they discovered that opposition was lurking in the Bolivarian bloc itself, in factions and tendencies that didn't want at all to continue along the path of the "Bolivarian revolution", like the Podemos party, which opposed the most daring social reforms and called to vote No. But trouble did not come only from this dissent, which considerably weakened the government. Chávez's strong attempt to build a United Socialist Party, the PSUV (an attempt that coincided with the referendum campaign), also met substantial obstacles. Indeed, the refusal of the Communist Party and of Patria Para Todos to join the new party crystallised the divisions and weakened the Yes campaign.
14. The narrow victory of the reactionary front also stems from other reasons. The steep drop of voter turnout compared to 2004, even in the most underprivileged urban areas, strongholds of Chávez, shows that approval and trust in the president have decreased among wide social sectors. They are disappointed, because the "Bolivarian revolution" did not yet bring results, and this defection shows the fragile and precarious nature of consent based on electoral support, as it relies on sentiments and moods that are by nature volatile and transient.
15. The second Achilles' heel of the Venezuelan revolutionary process is the absence of adequate two-way connections between the political leadership and its rank and file. We do not agree with those who consider merely Chávez as a heir, albeit a more radical one, of caudillismo and Peronism. This analysis has been proved wrong by his repeated and sincere attempts from the top to encourage popular participation, to give power to the oppressed people. But the relationship between the leadership and the rank and file, mainly based on the charisma of the leader, turned out to be a burden instead of an advantage. There are historical, social and cultural reasons for this serious flaw, which cannot be overcome just by subjective enthusiasm, nor by administrative measures, but only through a long process leading to the political maturity and awareness of the oppressed.
16. Last but not least another Achilles' heel of the Bolivarian system is that it has yet been unable to destroy the institutional structures of presidentialism and Bonapartism, a toxic legacy of the rotten oligarchic two-party system which is a carbon copy of the US regime. The proof is that, of the 36 articles submitted to the referendum, there was not a single one proposing the abolition of the presidential system, but on the contrary, the proposed constitutional reform actually would have strengthened the president's prerogatives and executive and veto powers. On the other hand, it would have advanced social justice and solidarity. The decision to increase the president's powers (and to extend his term of office) was intended as a solution to the problems we have mentioned; but we think it would have actually worsened them instead. The constitutional reform defeated in the referendum did indeed include strong institutional and legal proposals to advance local self-rule and intended to devolve a lot of power to the local and grassroots communities, to encourage citizens to take over the political and administrative machine. Would such those structures have worked? We believe that those two aspects go together like the devil and holy water. An institutional system with a powerful president and structures of direct democracy would be paralyzed each time there is no perfect correspondence and balance between the two parts. The proposals to some extent played into the hands of reactionaries and their demagogical accusations of populism and authoritarianism, and gave a certain legitimacy to ridiculing "socialism of the 21st century".
17. In spite of the limits of the Bolivarian process and the mistakes of its leadership, the Anti-Imperialist Camp will continue to support it to the best of its modest forces. We are confident that it will be able not only to resume its advance but also to learn from its mistakes. Any surrender or weakening of the international solidarity with the "Bolivarian revolution" would be a crime, because it would be an endorsement of the imperialist schemes of the United States and Europe, which are preparing to launch their final blow. The decisive battle is not behind us, it is yet ahead.
International Political Committee of the Anti-Imperialist Camp
Vienna, February 2008