Venezuela…—heading towards revolution?


Observations on Chávez, the state and the left from within the Bolivarian process

If we try to gauge some general elements of situations in the 20th century when a revolutionary change could happen, we usually find a crisis of hegemony and of the state of the old ruling elites, an organised political vanguard and a vanguard political project that is accepted by the people as a path to liberation from an unbearable situation.

The questions in the context of Venezuela are thus the following: Has the end of the System of Punto Fijo [1] led to a crisis of the bourgeois state? Can president Hugo Chávez stand in for the non-existing collective vanguard to transform the process his government started in 1999 into a popular revolution? And has the people reached a level of political consciousness and organisation to the extent that the lower classes can form a new structure of state power?

The following presentation is an attempt to synthesise impressions, experiences and discussions we had as a delegation of the Anti-imperialist Camp with the most important organisations of the Bolivarian left in Venezuela and at the central venues of the "Bolivarian revolution".

An "anti-imperialist revolution"?

The Peruvian Marxist Josà© Carlos Mariategui in 1929 - in an indirect polemic against the line of the Communist International and their rapprochement with the nationalism of APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, American Revolutionary People`s Alliance) and Victor Haya de la Torre - presented the thesis that there can`t be anti-imperialism which is not at the same time anti-capitalist. [2] This basic conviction of the revolutionary currents left to the pro-Soviet Communist Parties is facing a serious test by the Chávez government today.

The confrontation of the Venezuelan government with the United States is not just rhetoric, as the attempted coup of April 11th, 2002 shows. And even the rhetoric challenge of the USA presented by Hugo Chávez with increasing clarity is a declaration of war in this uni-polar, imperial world order, because it questions US hegemony, despite the fact that Venezuela still is the strategic oil reserve for the United States and doesn`t fail to pay her foreign debt. Hugo Chávez has become a catalyst for the re-animation of an anti-imperialist public opinion in Latin America. With her open opposition to the US claim to rule the world, Venezuela has become a major geo-political fault-line. Together with neighbouring Columbia with a guerrilla movement that can`t be contained by political-military means, Venezuela and the Northern Andes region is viewed by Washington as the central region of conflicts in the coming years on the Latin-American continent.

At the same time the transformation of Venezuela has so far not exceeded a process of social reforms that did not demand any large-scale structural changes of the political and economic structure of the country, due to the oil revenues. The old state apparatus was taken over by a new, Bolivarian leadership, and the economic changes are limited to a redistribution of government funds in favour of the reform programmes.

The explosive momentum of Venezuela is obviously her anti-imperialist position against the US empire, not a domestic radicalisation of class struggle that would envisage the destruction of the state apparatus and the creation of people`s power within the next period.

Nevertheless the unity of anti-imperialism and people`s power postulated by Mariategui still is a decisive analytical concept to understand the dynamics of Venezuela. Globalisation and the imperial policy of US imperialism has made anti-imperialist confrontation the motor of politisation and deepening of class struggle, not conversely, as the Peruvian Marxist had thought, under different historic conditions.

In this article we want to analyse historical elements as well as the current domestic situation in Venezuela and her relations with other countries to substantiate our hypothesis that the possibilities of the revolutionary current of the Bolivarian movement to overcome a reformed bourgeois state are decisively influenced by the geo-political conflict with the United States` claim of hegemony, and that the anti-imperialist momentum of this conflict depends on the outcome of the class struggle between the faction of the "deepening of the revolution" and the tendencies who want to preserve a reformed status quo of the IVth republic [3].

Diplomacy and confrontation

Our thesis that the contradiction between Venezuela`s aim of anti-imperialist sovereignty and the United States` imperial policy is based on a concrete evaluation of the scope and the current situation of the clash between the Chávez government and the Bush administration.

The basic line of Chávez` foreign policy is a multi-polar world. That line is followed on three levels. The first level is the diversification of Venezuela`s economic relations with nations and regions that are potential counterweights to US hegemony: China, Russia, India and the Arab region. The acquisition of 100,000 AK-103 and AK-104 assault rifles and forty helicopters from Russia in early February…—part of a re-organisation of the armed forces aimed at territorial defence (more emphasis on militias, similar to the Cuban model)…—led to a sharp reaction of the Bush administration: Chávez was creating a reservoir to arm "Columbian terrorists" who use those weapons, they claimed.

The second line, seen by Chávez more on a political level, is the creation of new strategic partnerships among the countries of Latin America. On February 14th, such an alliance was signed with Brazil, there are close relations with Cuba on an economic and on a political level, and the expansion of MERCOSUR is being promoted. The aim is to constitute a "Bolivarian Alternative" (ALBA) opposed to the All-American Free Trade Zone ALCA. The actual economic significance of this project is rather limited, because the most important trade partners of the Latin American nations still are the United States and Europe. More than 50% of oil produced daily in Venezuela (about 1.4 of 2.6 million barrel) is shipped to the United States. The political-symbolical meaning of the integration attempts…—such as the creation of a Latin American TV channel, TV-Sur, modelled after the Arab station al-Jazeera…—is stressed by Venezuela (as well as Cuba) in open defiance of US dominance. This interpretation is not shared by the left-liberal "partners" Brazil and Argentina, at least not in the same sharpness, because they aim at a pragmatic improvement of the standing of their nations in the framework of the imperial community of states, in a consensus with the United States.

The third element of the Chávist foreign policy is the promotion of an alliance of political and social movements outside the governments in the framework of the Bolivarian Peoples` Congress. These attempts, however, are constantly restrained by the limits of diplomacy that have to be respected by any government. This was highlighted by the case of the kidnapping of the FARC activist Rodrigo Granda: The organisers of the Bolivarian Congress had to emphatically deny his invitation. The most prominent representatives of this initiative outside parliament thus remain hardly radical, and reformist forces like the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, the FMLN of El Salvador, the PT of Brazil or the MAS of Bolivia…—something like a revival of the Sà£o Paolo Forum of opposition groups that have the chance to become ruling parties in their countries.

But the significance of the Granda case exceeds the complex problem of a government`s forming an anti-imperialist alliance. Columbia is playing the main part of the US policy to militarise Latin America and is also the Pentagon`s lever of anti-Venezuelan policy. The artificial colonial border between Venezuela and Columbia (Apure, Táchira, Zulia–Arauca, Boyacá, Norte de Santander, Cauca) is the historic reason for a strong Columbian presence of Venezuelan territory, including the presence of armed organisations. The border region on the Columbian side is on the same time a central area of US military activities. The US military is maintaining a presence of about 400 combat troops (ostensibly guarding the oil pipeline Caño Limà³n of the Occidental Oil Company), as well as military advisors and private security companies. The core of the US doctrine is strategic control and stabilisation of the Northern Andes region under the slogan to combat "narco-terrorism" in Columbia. The three elements that are being implemented in the framework of the "Plan Colombia" and it`s sequel, the "Plan Patriota", as well as the Andes Initiative, are: first, armament and professionalisation of the Columbian armed forces; second, establishing a belt of military bases (at the moment in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Aruba and Curaà§à£o); and third, agreements with the neighbouring countries of Columbia (including Lula`s Brazil!) to militarise the borders with the help of US advisors and troops. As long as General James Hill, chief of the US Southern Command, was in charge until 2004, such agreements were concluded with all neighbouring states except for Venezuela.[4] Hill had warned in March 2004 of the "creeping danger of radical populism" for US security interests and clearly pointed out to the government of Venezuela their "duty" to collaborate in the fight against "narco-terrorism". Faced with the diplomatic crisis with Columbia after the abduction of Rodrigo Granda and the infringement of Venezuela`s sovereignty, the newly appointed US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice addressing the US Congress on January 19th, 2005 called Venezuela a "negative force in the region". As the central military security risks in Latin America for 2005, the US Congress for the new chief of the US southern command, General Bantz Craddock (a first-rate hawk with experience in Iraq) defined Columbia, Venezuela, Haiti and Mexico.

US policy on Venezuela vacillates between a pragmatic acceptance of the Chávez government, as long the access to the oil is secured (this pragmatism is opposed to provoking a civil war), and an imperial striving for hegemony that can not accept an anti-imperialist challenge, even if it is just symbolic. The Pentagon knows of the problems that would be incurred by an open US intervention, which could be an even more risky battle than Iraq and lead to an uncontrollable destabilisation of relations with all Latin American countries. The US policy of provocation and diplomatic attacks on Venezuela follows the pattern "support to the guerrilla in Columbia by denial of cooperation…—destabilisation of the region…—indictment on the basis of the "democratic charta" of the Organisation of American States (OAS)". This charta envisages a multilateral intervention in case of an abrogation of democracy and according to the wishes of the US government was to be amended to include democratically elected "neo-authoritarian" regimes.[5] The focus shift of the fight against the guerrilla closer to the border with Venezuela in 2005 could further aggravate the situation between the two counries. Para-military operations of Venezuelan opposition forces supported by Columbian mercenaries aim at international intervention in a situation of insecurity and instability. (In May 2004 130 Columbians in Venezuelan military uniforms were arrested in Caracas. They had been scheming a military rebellion against Chávez. In November 2004, the popular government attorney Danilo Anderson was killed by a car bomb.)

Whether the United States will risk open confrontation, the development of the symbolic confrontation into a military confrontation, depends on the deepening of the Bolivarian revolution and the strengthening of the rebel movement in Columbia, i.e. the revolutionary popular movements in the region. Chávez seems to be conscious of that fact: In his speech commemorating the coup attempt of February 4th, 1992 he once again stressed territorial defence based mainly on a broad militia to safeguard national sovereignty. Also the revolutionary currents of the Bolivarian movements stress the link between deepening the revolution and imperialist intervention, although they have doubts about the reliability of the armed forces and their ability to defend the country with their traditional structures.

A revolution without a left

As the internal relation of forces between "deepening the revolution" and "normalisation of the attained status quo" is the motor of the anti-imperialist dynamic of the Bolivarian process, we want to analyse the domestic development of Venezuela, after a brief summary of historic events. The Bolivarian revolution of Chávez is a process outside the historical Left, or even against the traditional Leftist parties of the country. This explains on one hand the personal significance of president Chávez, and on the other hand the relation of forces within the Bolivarian movement that gives a significant advantage to the anti-revolutionary, bourgeois current.

Historically speaking, the only period in which the revolutionary forces were actually playing a leading role, was their rise after the end of the dictatorship of Pà©rez Jimà©nez in 1958. The Communist Party of Venezuela (CPV) was the most important organised resistance against the dictatorship. It was able to expand its influence in the framework of a "patriotic junta" on parts of the rank and file of the Democratic Action (AD) party. Due to the lack of a political project, it was however unable to take power and to fill the short-lasting vacuum of power after the dictatorship was toppled on February 23rd as the result of the rebellion of leftist-patriotic young officers. One of the main reasons for the hesitating posture of the CPV was the self-restraint imposed by Soviet doctrine that proscribed Communist Parties to lead democratic revolutions as popular revolutions or against "bourgeois-democratic parties"…—in this case AD under the leadership of Romulo Betancourt. This position enabled the traditional parties AD, COPEI and UDR (see note 1), to overcome the critical phase of transition and with the three-party pact of Punto Fijo to prepare a long-term stabilisation that severely limited revolutionary possibilities.

Faced with the new situation of a totalitarian democracy and inspired by the victory of the Cuban revolution, the Left opted for armed resistance. The Communist Party, however, after a short-term guerrilla orientation, in 1965 embarked on a tragic path of integration, openly confronting the other guerrilla forces and entering the oppressive bourgeois system in the elections of 1969. The guerrilla on the other hand was unable to consolidate and was smashed after the 1969 amnesty of the government under Caldera during the early 70s. The new rise of protests during the 70s, especially among students, lacking a unifying political orientation was unable to challenge a system that had attained a remarkable clientelistic stability after nationalising the oil in 1974. The outcome of the political opposition of the 70s was the two new left parties emerging from the CPV: MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) and Causa R (Radical Cause).

In 1989 the popular uprising known as Caracazo opened a new political period, which brought down the system of Punto Fijo. The traditional leftist parties during these years (1989–1998) were however unable to provide a political direction of the discontent, not only due to their weakness, but they even attached themselves to the decaying ancien rà©gime with opportunist coalitions, hoping to gain in the elections from the crisis.[6]

The actual vanguard, opening up historical prospects of revolutionary chances, were military-civilian movements from the armed forces, supported by some individual political activists or movements of the revolutionary left. The division between the leftist parties and the patriotic military of the MBR-200 (Revolutionary Boliviarian Movement 200), who on February 4th, 1992 under the leadership of Hugo Chávez attempted an insurrection, was not so much a result of military paternalism, but rather the result of distrust on behalf of the left in a radical challenge to the ancien rà©gime. On February 4th, Chávez personally witnessed the failure of the left, who had promised to support the military rebellion by a mass insurrection, and then in fact didn`t touch the trucks full of arms. The space for a collective vanguard provided by the victory of in the 1998 elections and the ensuing Bolivarian process was not utilised to form an organic unity with the people and to deepen the defeat of the old republic to create a new power structure. The leftist parties MAS and Causa R split, Bandera Roja (Red Flag…—an organisation that had come from the MIR guerrilla, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, which had in turn emerged from a leftist current within AD in 1960) sided with the radical counter-revolution; only the small CPV as a whole joined the Chávez coalition, true to its tradition to join any coalition that provides for chances to participate within the institutions.

The chains of the state bourgeoisie

The left was unable to provide the Bolivarian process with a direction, and on the other hand parts of the elites in Venezuela were ready to penetrate the new government. To understand this other side of the balance of forces, it is necessary to analyse the ruling class of Venezuela. The oligarchy is closely tied to the state historically. It is a political-bureaucratic-economic elite, that draws its privileges from its control over the state apparatus that since 1974 wields control over the nationalised oil resources. One part of the representatives of that old system…—especially the Party of Democratic Action…—their instinct of self-preservation is opposed to the neo-liberal transformation of their traditional instruments of state control.

This "national bourgeoisie with special characteristics" and its armies of professional politicians have years of experience in the state apparatus; its life and its survival are tied to the political posts in the state bureaucracy.

Chávez` victory in the elections didn`t just split the Left, but also this political elite. While the left joined the Chávist coalition without any real project for a new power structure and while the people was euphoric and mobilised but far from sufficiently organised and politically conscious to found a new state, the elements of the old elite that were ready to accept the new Bolivarian framework, had been prepared for all their lives to administer the state and were driven by a deep-rooted survival instinct as a political caste to preserve the bureaucratic nature of the old system. The new political parties, especially the MVR (Movement of the Fifth Republic, the party of Chávez) and PPT (Fatherland for All, a split from the Causa R), became a reservoir for the political and administrative cadres with the aim to institutionalise the leftist and radical Bolivarian project that Chávez had developed in prison and during his election campaign, and to make the new "Bolivarian Republic" a newly decorated continuation of the old Fourth Republic.

Luis Miquelena, the first leader of the MVR was the most prominent representative of the IVth Republic under the new conditions. He opposed the Chávist plans to transform the model of representative democracy into a new "participative, popular democracy". The ideological proponent of the latter, William Izarra, was removed from the party leadership (CTN, National Tactical Command). The MVR became a new traditional electoral and administrative machinery. Nevertheless it was able to grant stability and control, which was what Chávez aimed at during the first phase of his government.

The clash with the old opposition (coup of 2002, oil strike of 2002/2003) however constantly undermined the broad normalisation. Growing popular activism and Chávez` radicalisation in the course of this confrontation so far prevented this conservative sector from taking over political control of the Bolivarian process.

After the Chávist coalition parties accepted a compromise with the reactionary opposition (unified in the "Ayacucho Command") that lead to a referendum in August 2004 to oust the new government, Chávez began the counter-offensive against the "political parties". William Izarra returned as the leader of the newly organised Bolivarian rank and file activists for the referendum "Maisanta Command", leading the…—victorious…—mobilisation to confirm Chávez` position.

Although the Bolivarianised part of the political-economic elite could not prevail, it is still present as a decisive power factor in all political institutions, parties, ministries, governor and mayor positions, and opposes the deepening of the Bolivarian revolution. Only the right wing openly articulates its wish fro "Chávism without Chávez", knowing that the relations of forces at the moment do not provide for a perspective to break with Chávez. But the weight of the facts, the control on many levels of the old state apparatus (which hasn`t been replaced) and its political and adminstrative decision-making bodies, is an enormous bourgeoisifying pressure on the Bolivarian process.

The three levels of power in Venezuela

Now let`s try to integrate the two elements analysed above into a presentation of the current political dynamic in Venezuela since the elections of October 2004. After losing the referendum that they had initiated to depose Chávez, the opposition in local elections on October 31st, 2004 also lost all influential representation except for two provinces. This in fact means the possibilities of the traditional right wing to work against the Bolivarian project from positions of state power have been destroyed. The anatomy of the state of Venezuela is now exclusively a project of the various forces within the Bolivarian current.

Due to the lack of a relevant Left, Hugo Chávez is the decisive power factor for the development of the transformation process. Only Chávez is able to dominate public discourse and to mobilise the people. This fact means that we have to make a hypothesis about the difficult, but decisive question how to characterise Hugo Chávez personally. If Chávez was interested in a normalisation of the internal struggle and the relationship with imperialism…—quasi as an instrument of the "Bolivarian state bourgeoisie"…—, he would have been able to impose that after the elections in October with hardly any threat from an opposition from below. The revolutionary Left would be unable to prevent such a course. But precisely at this moment, Chávez proclaimed the "leap forward", the anti-imperialist and social character of the revolution and the goal of people`s power in an open attack on "bureaucratism and inefficiency", the continuity of the political heritage of the IVth republic within his own ranks.[7]

Chávez obviously follows a political-ideological project, in contrast to the political pragmatism of the omnipotent neo-liberal politicians who only administer the needs of the markets. Without doubts, his actions are significantly determined by the situation…—US policies, the clash with the old opposition and the relation of forces within the Bolivarian bloc. But it is not a passive adaptation to the situation; it is an attempt to change the situation according to a plan to transform the state. This plan had been developed together with a group of university professors of the UCV (Central University of Carácas) under the direction of Jorge Giordani during his prison term as the basic line for his election campaign and government programme, and had been approved in 1996 by the MBR-200. This programme has the title "Alternative Bolivarian Agenda (ABB)" and in its first phase envisages to take over the government in order to establish in a second phase (Bolivarian Transition Project, PTB) a new model of democracy and in the long term to realise a unified Latin America according to the dream of Bolà­var (National Project Simà³n Bolà­var, PNSB). The "leap forward" according to the political analyst Alberto Garrido is the transition from the first phase, the change of government in the traditional institutions, to the model of participative democracy.[8] The current deputy minister for foreign affairs William Izarra, a leading ideologue of this new phase, writes: "The reformist state is still omnipresent…—despite the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999. During this new era of the Bolivarian model it is still the reformist state that rules the national collective. This contradiction leads to the present transitory phase. The revolution has to transform the structure of representative democracy, if it wants to advance. It has to replace all bureaucratic political entities (such as local administrations) that rule over the people."[9]

This leads to the decisive question about the mechanisms how to bring about these changes, to overcome the old state, which is in fact still able to put up stiff resistance against the most radical will for change. This is the main challenge for a revolutionary project without a revolution.

If we look at this level, the state apparatus, which is between Chávez and the people, we can see that it is being dominated by the Bolivarian politicians` elite analysed above. Neither the small Venezuelan Left nor the new popular activism were able so far to replace this bureaucratic caste of professional politicians who form the pillars of the state. In this sense the electoral victory of November 2004 has brought forth the paradoxical situation, that it has at the same time strengthened the Chávist bloc, as well as the influence of the experienced bureaucrats of Bolivarianism, who occupied the newly won posts and pushed away the revolutionary Left and popular activists. Interestingly, Chávez himself pointed out this problem, he emphasised the necessity to politicise the Bolivarian process, several times condemned the continuity of bureaucratism and nepotism in his own ranks and called for a "revolution within the revolution".

The clash between the old bureaucracy and the Chávist project of transition is expressed in frequent changes of ministers and the attempt to create alternative parallel structures to the traditional state. The missions…—whose starting point was the inefficiency of a Bolivarian literacy campaign of the ministry of education…—have started an impressive rank-and-file activism, a third level of power with the organised Left. The Maisanta Command and its UBE (Unidades de Batalla Electoral, electoral struggle units), according to the plan of Chávez are supposed to create the base for a new power structure in the "Great Leap Forward". The main issues are local planning councils (Consejos Locales de Planificacià³n), participatory budgets, popular control over the state (Controlorà­a Social), endogenous development projects and a ministry for popular participation. These new structures are to be controlled directly by the president`s office.

The problem is, that faced with the weakness of the organised Left and the lack of a clear political concept in the recent popular activism, traditional bureaucratic apparatuses have a strategic advantage to penetrate and to control even these new instruments.

The second paradox is that the stable economic situation of Venezuela strengthens both the Bolivarian process and the power of the old bureaucracy, especially in urban areas, which benefit from the programmes of social reform. During the sabotage of the oil industry in late 2002 / early 2003, the special situation gave popular activism a leading role, because the traditional instruments of the state were paralysed. The consolidation of the situation however has lead to an institutionalisation and bureaucratisation of the newly created initiatives (e.g. the state food markets MERCAL).

In the countryside, which is still dominated by large landowners and is historically not so much influenced by the presence of the government, the struggle is much sharper. As a result, independent popular organisations have been created, such as the revolutionary National Peasants` Front Ezequiel Zamora (FNCEZ), while the initiatives of the political elites, created from above, such as the National Agrarian Coordination Ezequiel Zamora (CANEZ) or the National Farmers` Federation (FNC) have remained isolated bureaucratic apparatuses, without any significant influence on the real peasants` movement. The FNCEZ is an organisation with some history and organic links to the peasant communities especially in the central and border areas (Llanos), and it is a focus of peasants` struggles. The confrontation with the Bolivarian bureaucracy of the Ministry for Agrarian Reforms and the local Institutes for Agrarian Reforms (INTI) is quite sharp accordingly. One of the main demands is direct access to the president, not via the traditional government channels. The "war against the latifundium" proclaimed by Chávez can only be waged with direct knowledge of the reality of the land conflicts in the eyes of the organised peasants, and only by the power of the organised people itself the country can be transformed. Chávez in his speech on the "Great Leap Forward" several times deplored the lack, the delay and the interception of information in the bureaucratic network of the institutions.

This constellation explains why many initiatives and ideas of Chávez to promote popular activism and building a new state structure remain proclamations that are absorbed by the executive organs, so that they finally fade away in the implementation period. This might be a combination of conscious containment by the bureaucracy, which is afraid of new institutions, and structural inefficiency of the long formal channels of the bourgeois state.

However there are cases, when the continuing existence of old and new grievances are not overlooked by Chávez without his interference. One example is the repressive actions of general Bracho, the current commander of the 1st operational theatre (Teatro de Operaciones N° 1) at the border with Columbia. He had been systematically acting against the strong revolutionary Left in that region. The events have shown that Chávez is obviously sceptical against any revolutionary initiatives beyond his own immediate control. This scepticism can not just be explained with the negative historic experience with a weak, unreliable and wavering Left. Political loyalty to Chávez is deeply rooted in the revolutionary Left as well. The independent Bolivarian forces are, however, in contrast to the newly created governmental and semi-governmental popular initiatives, following their own dynamic and methods of struggle. The reason for the lack of "direct contact to the president" of the revolutionary-Bolivarian movements can hardly be explained by anything else but by a paternalistic, maybe egocentric trait in the concepts of the patriotic and leftist military, who have difficulties to accept an independent power factor with its separate political life. But these forces are still too weak to form a sufficient power factor in the eyes of Chávez…—who is pragmatic in this aspect…—to risk creating new institutions against the traditional structures.

In the coming period, until the elections in 2005, the conflict between the Left and popular activism on one side and the Bolivarian state bourgeoisie on the other side, will concentrate on the struggle of filling political posts of the traditional state, because a completely new structure of people`s power is not realistic. The struggle to weaken the traditional elite in the state bureaucracy, from the local level of the communities right up to the parliament…—there are going to be elections for all these levels in 2005…—, will be a test for the revolutionary Left, whether they are able to act on a political level as a national power, to channel the popular activism created by Chávez in a political project. The Left has a formidable competitor, who is very conscious of this challenge: the MVR, who can throw into the battle the strength of being the "party of the president". The old elite with this party not only has an instrument to penetrate the administrative and political positions of power, but also to channel the new popular activism. With their latest recruitment drive, the MVR already has been preparing for the coming electoral campaigns. There are internal contradictions within the MVR about how to distribute posts…—it is a very heterogeneous spectrum, from AD deserters, political careerists to honest Chávist revolutionaries, unifying all around the person of Chávez. There can also be contradictions in this question between the MVR and the other Chávist parties. In February 2005 already there was a debate about the distribution of mandates among the Chávist parties, and about new party rules for the MVR, which were to give the rank and file more influence on the nomination of candidates for elections. This process, which according to the Venezuelan press was launched by the inner circle around Chávez, was immediately rejected by the CTN (National Tactic Command), the leading body of the MVR. For the option to deepen the revolution it is going to be decisive, whether the organised forces of the Bolivarian Left can become a point of reference both in public opinion as well as for the president, whether they can present themselves as a political factor, to "invade" the territory of the old elite, the impenetrable territory between the people and the president.

The revolutionary rupture towards people`s power as the result of just "deepening the revolution" through a step-by-step increase in organising and politicising the people seems unlikely, because the Left is not going to catch up with the advantages the political elite dispose of, as long as the power structure of the political elite is not jeopardised. The old structures are therefore an important battleground.

The Bolivarian left – from popular movement to political option

The Bolivarian, revolutionary left is mostly a popular movement that emerged on historical locations of the struggle. In the urban areas, it includes organisations with a long presence in poor quarters. The most well-known and strongest group is the Coordination Simà³n Bolà­var (CSB), founded in 1992 in the "23rd of January" district of Carácas which has been a focus of struggles for decades. A similar group is "Project Our America…—Movement April 13th" (PNA-M13A) in the "La Vega" district of Carácas. Among students` organisations, Project Utopà­a became a point of reference and has gained some influence via communal radio stations in some states outside Carácas (especially in the state of Lara). The Trotskist "Option of the Revolutionary Left" (OIR) don`t regard themselves as part of the Bolivarian forces in a narrow sense, but it also supports president Chávez. Their influence can be seen in the trade union movement National Labour Union (UNT) with a focus in the state of Aragua and in the information group The Movement of the Popular Basis (MBP) is a younger organisation, which has been able to united several popular movements and numerically and due to its presence in several states is the strongest independent movement of the Bolivarian Left. It encompasses the National Peasants` Front Ezequiel Zamora, the UFI Student Movement of the Universities of the Llanos (UNELLEZ) and the youth organisation Patria Joven. Their fields of activities are mainly the border provinces of Apure, Táchira and Zulia, as well as Portuguesa and Barinas. Their presence in Carácas has been negligible so far, which is the reason why their influence is not noticeable in the political spectrum of the urban Left and its initiatives. An organisation of the Bolivarian Left of a different type is the guerrilla movement FBL-EL (Bolivarian Liberation Forces).

These revolutionary movements have a longer history compared to the numerous initiatives characterised above as new popular activism. They also are therefore well-consolidated organisations and have their own political identity. Their most important weaknesses are local, regional or social limitations, so they have not been visible as a political focus on a national level. Attempts to overcome this problems through coordinating structures between the organisations…—which are for the deepening of the revolution towards people`s power…—so far have not gone beyond political declarations and were not consolidated. Besides the almost "natural"…—but nevertheless problematic…—fears, to lose influence that had been built for years to "competing" organisations, the root of this problem is of course also a political factor: they underestimate the spheres of politics and of the state, and they overestimate the social accumulation of forces. The left was able to grow considerable in numbers in the five years of Chávez` government, but they have been hardly able to make inroads into the political discourse that dominates society, outside their immediate spheres of influence. An independent position has of course been made more difficult due to the radicalisation of the president himself and his "takeover" of core concepts of the Left (deepening the revolution, peoples` power, anti-imperialism), because Chávez in the eyes of the people seems to be the best and the only instrument to realise their demands.

The presence of the Left in the political arena is decisive to transform the one-man leading role of Chávez into a "collective vanguard". Deepening the revolution and people`s power is however often seen just as the outcome of organisational growth and higher political consciousness in the popular organisations outside the state organs. Criticism of the old political parties and the bureaucracy often leads to an "anti-political" position, which is of course reinforced also by the dominant discourse of "civil society" and "social movements" in the international Left and the anti-globalisation movement. The lack of a political instrument to counter the old elite also in its traditional territory has made the Left lag behind in their possibilities, and behind the Chávist "political parties" they criticise, because the old state and its electoral mechanism are still the most dominant power factor for the future of the process.

The newly founded MBP was the only organisation so far to clearly state the goal to create a political instrument that is Bolivarian, but independent from the Chávist parties. Its successes so far, especially the victory of their candidate in the 150,000-people border-town Guasdualito (Apure) against the MVR candidate, could become a catalyst for a joint political alternative of the revolutionary Left in the coming elections, in order to fight for people`s power both from below and from above.

Gernot Bodner

[1] The pact of 1958 between the parties Accià³n Democratica (AD, Democratic Action; social-reformist and populist, member of the Socialist International), Comità© de Organizacià³n Polà­tico Electoral Independiente (COPEI, Indipendent Committee to Organise for the Elections; Christian-democratic party of the oligarchy) and Unià³n Democrática Republicana (UDR, Democratic Republican Union; liberal left) founded a closed political system of controlled democracy with strong corporatist elements.
[2] see: Josà© Carlos Mariategui (1929): Antiimperialistischer Gesichtspunkt, in Mariategui: Revolution und peruanische Wirklichkeit, isp-Verlag 1986, p. 155ff
[3] The IVth Republic…—the system of Punto Fijo…—is the period from 1958 until the new constitution of 1999 which marks the foundation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
[4] see: Alberto Garrido (2005): Revolucià³n Bolivariana 2005. Notas, Ediciones del Autor, Caracas 2005, p. 79ff.
[5] El Tiempo, February 26th, 2005,
[6] see: Dorothea Melcher: Venezuela – Reformismus und Radikalismus in einem Erdölland. In: Die Linke in Lateinamerika. Analysen und Berichte (1997), Neuer ISP Verlag, p. 176ff.
[7] Intervencià³n del Presidente el Dà­a 12 de Novembre del 2004; edited by Marta Harnecker
[8] op. cit., p. 83ff.
[9] see Garrido, op. cit., p. 123