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June 25, 2007

Venezuela and the International Struggle for Socialism

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

Roger Annis and John Riddell are the editors of Socialist Voice.

The dramatic advances of the Venezuelan revolution, and the alliances it has forged with other insurgent peoples and governments resisting imperialism, are creating an historic opportunity to strengthen international anti-imperialist collaboration and rebuild the revolutionary socialist movement worldwide.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution is still in its early stages. Yet as it moves forward, it will—like the Russian revolution of 1917 and other great revolutions of the 20th century—become a test for all tendencies in the workers movement, dividing those who identify with and defend real-world revolutions from those who remain in sectarian isolation.

Venezuela’s presidential elections in December 2006 delivered a solid mandate for the country’s advance toward socialism, in the form of a 63% majority for President Hugo Chávez. A mass movement of workers and farmers has set the goal of socialism and is using governmental power to take decisive steps in that direction. This is creating the most favourable conditions in several decades for socialist advance on a world scale. Socialist Voice aims to link up with other forces internationally to support this development and learn from it.

During the past year, the Venezuelan people and government have moved on many fronts to secure democratic rights and national sovereignty. They have nationalized basic utilities and energy resources that were privatized under preceding regimes. They have implemented measures that enable small farmers to gain secure access to the land. They have created new popular institutions, including “Communal Councils,” projected as the first step toward a new state structure based on popular and working-class movements. On the directly political level, the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) is being formed with the goal of enabling rank-and-file activists to take part in controlling and directing the struggle for socialism on a national level. Millions have responded to the call of this new party to join it, and they are pressing to make this party their own.

Venezuela’s revolution has been internationalist to its very core, devoting great energy and resources to reinforcing movements for sovereignty in the entire Global South, while winning the acclaim of tens of millions across Latin America. It has allied with socialist Cuba. It has moved energetically to aid and defend the indigenous-based government in Bolivia. It has brought urgently needed aid to the Haitian and Nicaraguan peoples. And it has extended its solidarity with countries in the Mideast that are victims of imperialist war and occupation.

The Bolivarian movement in Venezuela explicitly counterposes its concept of socialism, based on grassroots initiatives and leadership, to the bureaucratic system that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

A breakthrough in anti-imperialist leadership

It is important not to exaggerate the gains of the Venezuelan process or to project onto it our own hopes and goals. The revolution is now unfolding within the framework of a struggle against imperialism and for national sovereignty and democratic rights. Capitalism still dominates the Venezuelan economy, shaping the daily existence of working people. Capitalism is now balanced against the growing power of working people, and this uneasy coexistence could continue for some time.

The decisive battleground in the world democratic and anti-imperialist struggle remains the Middle East. The imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intertwine with the confrontation with Iran, the escalating war against the Palestinian people, and the increasingly explosive conflicts in Lebanon. The imperialists feel growing pressure either to carry out retreats they can ill afford or to undertake new military adventures that could be ruinous for them as well as humanity. Opposition to the war against Mideast peoples is the most urgent task of world solidarity. The course of this great battle will largely determine how far Venezuela’s working people can advance before they must confront decisive conflicts with imperialism.

In many regions of the world, including in parts of the Mideast, we see encouraging progress toward new or stronger anti-imperialist organizations and leadership. By far the most important gains in this respect have been registered in Venezuela. It is therefore no surprise that Venezuela’s bold stand against the Empire and neoliberalism won acclaim from anti-imperialist activists in the Mideast who were gathered at the March 2007 antiwar and anti-imperialist conference in Cairo, Egypt. (See Socialist Voice #122) Venezuela, in alliance with Cuba, is providing leadership to the world struggle against imperialism and reawakening hopes for socialism among the world’s oppressed.

Reshaping the socialist movement

The initial steps toward formation of the new party, the PSUV, have provoked a heated debate among socialists in Venezuela. Divisions have appeared in every major political current in the Bolivarian movement, separating those who favor support for the new party and those who wish to abstain from it. The founding of the new party offers revolutionary forces the possibility to unite against bureaucratic and patronage-ridden political machines and against left sectarianism. It is a creative process that deserves support. The advance in Venezuela will put socialist currents internationally to the test in similar fashion.

Venezuela is an economically dependent and relatively poor country. It has not yet achieved a political and economic transformation in favour of workers and farmers as fundamental as what was achieved by the Russian and Cuban revolutions of the last century. Yet the Venezuelan process is marked by high vision and solid achievement. And its impact is magnified by the fact that it reverses a long downturn of struggles and follows the shattering of Stalinism on a world scale.

For many years, working-class and progressive movements internationally have been on the defensive. The movement in Venezuela provides an opportunity to link up with the power of a living revolution and to win a new generation of fighters inspired by its example. It confirms the need for movements of working people and the oppressed to struggle for political power.

The example of Venezuela, combined with the rise of struggles in other regions dominated by imperialism and the emergence of new anti-imperialist leadership forces across Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere, provides an impetus for anti-imperialist unity everywhere. New forces inspired by Venezuela will move into action, both in defense of the Bolivarian revolution and in heightening anti-capitalist resistance in their countries. Currents that are able to learn from Venezuela will find that they share a broadening area of agreement as well as an effective banner for recruitment.

Socialist forces internationally, now divided into many weak and isolated currents, will have a chance to gain new energy and find new areas of agreement with each other and with forces from broader resistance movements. Those that identify with the advancing revolution will find a basis for growing collaboration and fraternal ties.

The role of Socialist Voice

When Socialist Voice was launched in 2004, its editors sought to provide a vehicle for “Marxists and other working-class fighters to forge new links across longstanding organizational barriers and rediscuss their tasks in a dynamic and changing context.” We quickly defined a focus: solidarity with the resistance in the Middle East and with the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions. Socialist Voice supporters have sought to expand our understanding through sharing in responsibility to build these and other solidarity movements.

In the present process of anti-capitalist discussion and regroupment, Socialist Voice is guided by three central ideas:

1. The example of Cuba and Venezuela

Revolutionary socialist politics today rests on a body of working-class experience going back to the time of Marx and Engels and including, as its central element, the Russian Revolution and the early Soviet republic. Today we are witness to two revolutions that demonstrate what working people can achieve through the exercise of political power: Cuba and Venezuela. These two peoples, acting in concert, are now the vanguard of a popular upsurge across much of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Cuban socialist revolution, now half a century old and struggling to recover from the blows of Soviet collapse and the U.S. blockade, continues as an outpost of militant opposition to imperialism and of solidarity with the world’s oppressed peoples. The Cuban communists provide Marxist leadership for the world struggle for liberation and human survival. Socialists have an elementary duty to defend Cuba—actively and militantly—against the ongoing U.S.-led blockade and subversion. This entails defending the institutional framework that has enabled Cuba to survive—including its government, armed forces, and instruments of state economic control and planning.

It is no accident that the Cuban communists were the first to perceive the potential of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela and offer it effective support. Many socialists elsewhere responded skeptically, emphasizing the ways in which this movement deviated from traditional models. Among socialists, fraternal criticism is always in order. But the leadership around Hugo Chávez has so far shown more wisdom than its left critics internationally. Revolutionary socialists, like all anti-capitalist fighters, must study and learn from the lessons of the Venezuelan experience and the experience of Cuba with which Venezuela is so closely allied..

2. Mass action—the only road forward

In imperialist countries such as the U.S., UK, and Canada, the last 25 years have been a period of retreat for most working-class and social movements. Capitalism still appears buoyant and revolution seems a distant prospect. Conditions are far removed from the type of acute social crisis that led to the Bolivarian upsurge in Venezuela.

Yet world capitalist development is marked by increasing political and economic instability and growing class antagonisms, thus hastening conditions for working-class upsurge in imperialist countries. The main lessons of the Venezuelan process are fully applicable to workers’ struggles in imperialist countries:

  • As Venezuela and Bolivia have shown, electoral victories based on deep-going popular upsurges can advance a revolutionary process. However, lasting political and social change happens only when massive mobilizations of the exploited and oppressed are the driving force.
     
  • Fundamental social change cannot be enacted by capitalist state bureaucracies. Popular movements themselves must take the lead in their implementation. The struggle must uplift all sectors of the oppressed and strengthen their capacity to participate and lead.
     
  • The advance of the anti-capitalist movement requires not just a national strategy but international solidarity and collaboration, support for national liberation struggles, and support for the liberation struggles of indigenous peoples at home and abroad.
     
  • Far-reaching challenges to capitalist power will invariably lead the ruling-class minority to use force, to subvert democratic rights, and to use such abhorrent practices as torture to maintain its control. This can only be parried by the concerted power of mass movements.
     
  • A rising anti-capitalist mass movement will require the building of unified revolutionary parties in each country to lead the struggle to establish and defend a workers’ and farmers’ government.

3. For inclusive, non-sectarian action

The long period of downturn in working-class struggles in Canada, the U.S., and UK has strengthened tendencies among many socialist currents to give their narrow organizational needs priority over the needs of common struggle. Attempts are often made to impose on united fronts an “advanced” program that would in fact narrow their political breadth. Too often, solidarity committees become limited to the group exercising control and its immediate friends.

Against this trend, the socialist principle of united front requires that all currents that support a progressive goal unite around the common interests of the broader struggle.

Such movements can not only strengthen progressive social struggles; they can also give leadership in their field of activity to the working-class movement as a whole and help clear the road to revolutionary unity.

Socialist Voice argues for labour unity in militant action. Socialist Voice supports all movements through which working people begin to assert their existence as a social class independent of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Based on this common activity, Socialist Voice seeks to expand fraternal discussion and collaboration with other currents in the resistance, with the ultimate goal of a unification of revolutionary socialist forces.

Tasks and objectives

The goals outlined here are not unique to Socialist Voice — they are shared in whole or in part by other currents and activists in Canada and elsewhere. By placing these goals at the centre of its activity, Socialist Voice seeks to help lay the basis for unification of forces that are marching down this road and for the building of an effective and broadly based revolutionary organization.

Socialist Voice views other anti-capitalist currents not as opponents but as allies, real or potential, which can contribute materially to building a revolutionary socialist movement. Socialist Voice seeks to take advantage of the unifying logic of Venezuela’s revolution to build bridges to currents from which we are divided by differences in political history, practice, culture, and theory, and to join forces with the many activists in labour and anti-imperialist movements inspired by Venezuela’s example of popular revolution.

We invite those who agree with the concepts outlined here to join us in the discussions and preparation and circulation of publications that make up Socialist Voice.


International DiscussionAn international discussion on the significance of Venezuela’s revolution has drawn contributions from socialists around the world. It was initiated by Socialist Worker (Aotearoa / New Zealand). Contributions to that discussion can be found at their website. An account of the issues in the discussion, including a summary of various participants’ arguments, appears in the June 22 issue of Green Left Weekly.

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