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Newsletter (in English)


How should we assess the government of Hugo Chávez?

You have to admit one thing about the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: he knows how to get headlines of the international press. A lot is written about his anti-imperialist speeches (he called George Bush “the devil” in front of the UN assembly) and his unusual measures (he created a special time zone for Venezuela so school children could sleep longer).

But above all, the bourgeois media consider him the biggest “red scare” since the collapse of the Soviet Union because he he propagates a “Socialism of the 21st century” which is to be built up in Venezuela. He re-nationalized a few privatized companies, such as the telephone network in the capital Caracas, and precisely because of his economic policies he is constantly being denounced as a “mad dictator”.

Many leftists from all over the world present Chávez as a socialist revolutionary – for example, the German Communist Party cheers for Chávez’ every measure. Especially enthusiasts of the Left Party look up to the Chávez project because they see in it the proof that socialism can only be introduced by a “left-wing” government. But is a socialist society really being created in Venezuela?

Constitution and Party

In early December, there was a vote about a constitutional reform that was supposed to codify the “socialist system” in Venezuela. The government camp lost this vote by a tiny margin, which makes one thing especially clear: Chávez is hardly a “dictator”, otherwise he wouldn’t have held a referendum, let alone lost it.

The results of the referendum can hardly be considered a rejection of socialism: the conservative opposition didn’t see an increase in votes compared with the last elections, but the Chávez camp received just four million votes, i.e. three million less than a year ago. (At the same time, the new party that Chávez is building up officially has six million members!) This means that many “Chavistas” weren’t convinced by this constitutional reform and stayed home.

There were many progressive aspects of the reform – a six-hour day, a prohibition of discrimination, etc. – but the aspects that were rejected were doubtless those which would had concentrated a huge amount of power in the hands of the president (for example, the power to declare a state of emergency and suspend many basic rights).

And not only this reform is being used to strengthen the power of the executive: Chávez is building up the “United Socialist Party of Venezuela” as a united party of the government camp. This party, despite its “socialist” name, is not a party of Venezuela’s workers: Chávez has already demanded that the trade unions be subordinate to the state, and the PSUV contains many state bureaucrats and “patriotic” capitalists – there’s even a group of so-called “socialist businessmen”!

The Chávez government is trying to balance between workers and capitalists – it is trying to give all social classes something and to reconcile their irreconcilable interests. Given the high price of oil, that might even work for a while: the government creates social programs and jobs in state-backed cooperatives, but the means of production remain in the hands of the capitalists. Despite the constant speeches about socialism, Chávez swears at every opportunity that he doesn’t want to touch private property of the means of production: “We have no intention of eliminating Venezuela’s bourgeoisie.”


What should we thing of a government that promises to protect private property and at the same time to introduce socialism? A government of this type is nothing new, especially not in Latin America. The capitalists in underdeveloped countries are weak, squeezed between multinational corporations and the masses. In order to get a bit more independence from imperialism, often “left-wing” military officers like Chávez will take over and mobilize the masses with radical speeches and small reforms (just think of the husband of Evita Perón!). They often talk about “anti-imperialism” or even “socialism”, but there is no fundamental change in social relations: power remains in the hands of the capitalists, the state bureaucracy, the army…

A socialist revolution, in contrast, requires the complete socialization of the means of production, the expropriation of the corporations and the big land owners, the replacement of the police and army by a general arming of the people. This program can’t be carried out by the state bureaucracy, which is tied to the existing social order. In a socialist revolution, the state must be toppled by the workers and peasants, organized in councils. This is the only way to permanently eliminate inequality and underdevelopment.

The workers’ movement

The workers in Venezuela defend the measures of Chávez which have brought concrete improvements for them. But they can’t just blindly follow the “máximo líder”. When they set down the path of socialist revolution, there will inevitably be a break between them and the state apparatus under Chávez. They must be prepared to go further than “Chavismo” can go – and for this, they need their own workers’ party, a party with a revolutionary program and an independent structure.

An important part of the trade union federation UNT did not let itself get pushed into the PSUV and recently founded the “Movement for the Construction of a Workers’ Party”. This movement has the task of building an independent force of the workers, a force which can struggle together with the Chávez government against imperialism in a united front, but which can also fight for its own demands against the Chávez government.

Our task as revolutionaries outside Venezuela is similar: we defend the Chávez government against the attacks by imperialism and the bourgeois opposition, but we don’t drop any criticisms. Our solidarity is principally for activists who want to build up a revolutionary party of Venezuela’s workers because this is the only way to create socialism in Venezuela.

by Wladek, Revo Berlin, December 20, 2007

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