The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 80 (Fall 2007)
Venezuela: Chávez vs. Working Class
The political scene in Venezuela has centered around the discussion of “21st Century Socialism.” After his re-election in December 2006, President Hugo Chávez began consistently to announce new programs and plans as part of the “march toward socialism.” Much of the international left had been cheering on the “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela all along—and has become even more enthusiastic in the past year.
The LRP has stood against this tide from the start. We have argued that the political character of Chávez and his regime is capitalist, specifically populist. The basic function of populist leadership is to prevent the working class from developing a full understanding of the capitalist system and the need to overthrow it. However, given the rising hatred of imperialism and exploitation, this can only be done effectively by a charismatic populist figure who is capable of expressing and symbolizing what people really feel, even though the aim is to manipulate. As we wrote, “Chávez, like other populists, makes a rhetorical claim to represent the ‘people’ against the ‘elites,’ in order to preempt the development of class consciousness and its inevitable challenge to capitalism itself.” (See U.S. Hands off Venezuela in Proletarian Revolution No. 70.)
Chávez has had clashes with the U.S. which have gone a long way to enhance his stature among the masses as a fighter against imperialism. But as we have demonstrated, his basic perspective is not to end imperialism but only to gain more leverage for sectors of Venezuelan capitalists within the imperialist system. Likewise, while he has been forced to give concessions to the working class and the poor, he is not for ending exploitation and oppression. Therefore, while we defend Venezuela against imperialism and defend every gain or reform that benefits the working class and the poor, we are open political opponents of the Chávez regime—as of all bourgeois regimes of whatever stripe.
Behind “21st Century Socialism”
Nevertheless the shift in Chávez’s rhetoric means something. In the past few years, Chávez has been under mounting pressure to deliver on his promises to the masses. It has become obvious that the threat of an imperialist-inspired overthrow of the government, under one guise or another, has receded. At the same time, oil profits have been at record highs for three years. So working-class confidence and expectations have been raised. In response, Chávez has elevated the level of social welfare spending, and has elevated the rhetoric even more, in order to try to hold onto mass support. Especially key for the regime is the need to keep working-class struggles under control. This has been the chief motive behind Chávez’s “21st Century Socialism.”
Now Chávez doesn’t exactly claim that socialism has been achieved yet, but he does claim that there is a “revolutionary process” underway, building toward socialism. For Marxists this is not hard to see through. Chávez has explicitly opposed the Marxist principle that an actual revolution, an overturn in relations of production, is necessary to achieve socialism. On his July 22 “Aló Presidente” show he reiterated his past claims that Marxism “is a dogmatic thesis that has already passed out of style and that isn’t in agreement with today’s reality.” He added that “theses like the working class as the motor of socialism and the revolution are obsolete.” Thus he rejects the Marxist principle that the working class’s winning state power is the necessary step toward achieving socialism. And he just as explicitly rejects the Marxist definition of socialism as a classless society.
So what is left? What Chávez calls “socialism” is still within the framework of a bourgeois nationalist developmental scheme, except that he mobilizes the masses with radical rhetoric, a necessary feature of populism. There are the “cooperatives,” which are heavily touted as the new “social economy.” In the main they are nothing more than petty-bourgeois micro-businesses using non-union and casual labor. They now employ five percent of the workforce, while there remains massive underemployment, informal labor and poverty. They are a basis for Chávez getting political support, but they are an insignificant part of the economy.
“21st Century Socialism” stands explicitly for the maintenance of a mixed economy, albeit with a big role for the state in management of major industries like oil. Its nationalizations always include full compensation to the capitalists, and they have not reduced the level of imperialist investment and operation in Venezuela.
A financial column in the New Yorker magazine put it frankly:
If this is socialism, it’s the most business-friendly socialism ever devised …. The U.S. continues to be Venezuela’s most important trading partner. Much of this business is oil: Venezuela is America’s fourth-largest supplier, and the U.S. is Venezuela’s largest customer. But the flow of trade goes both ways and across many sectors. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter to Venezuela, responsible for a full third of its imports. The Caracas skyline is decorated with Hewlett-Packard and Citigroup signs, and Ford and G.M. are market leaders there. And, even as Chávez’s rhetoric has become more extreme, the two countries have become more entwined: trade between the U.S. and Venezuela has risen thirty-six per cent in the past year. (“Synergy With the Devil,” Jan. 8.)
Similar discussions about the friendly business environment of Venezuela can be found in a range of mainstream publications internationally. But if Chávez is basically a defender of capitalism and even imperialism, why are sectors of the imperialists and the domestic bourgeois opposition in Venezuela so hostile? At times he has cut into their profits or their way of doing business, although in general the foreign investment atmosphere as well as the ability of national capitalists to make profits is very strong.
What outrages them the most is that they see Chávez’s radical populism as too dangerous a game—and in this they could be right. But given the rebelliousness of the masses, he has to engage in what is called “double discourse.” He makes plenty of public assurances about the defense of private property and foreign investment, on the one hand. And he backs up those assurances with actions that serve imperialist interests, such as paying back all the IMF debts of past regimes, and dependably supplying oil to the U.S. war machine. But at the same time his speeches are full of revolutionary and anti-imperialist rhetoric.
The total effect has encouraged the working class, creating problems for Chávez himself. There have been a mounting number of struggles, and there is a massive swelling of sentiment for nationalizations without compensation, for workers’ control of industry and for other anti-imperialist and socialist measures that the masses desire. Thus in order to continue his political balancing act between the capitalist/imperialist interests and the masses, Chávez has stepped up his role as a Bonapartist or strongman ruler.
While Chávez was democratically elected, he has tended to rule by decree, concentrated power in the executive branch of government and greatly enhanced the role of the military as his chief power base. These factors always represented a great danger to the working class, as we have pointed out in the past. But this danger has accelerated recently, for example, through the passage of an enabling law that has allowed him to issue a massive number of decrees giving him unprecedented “special powers” to legislate as well as execute. Chávez still needs to discipline oppositional sectors and particular enemies within the bourgeoisie. But the opposition capitalists and imperialists are not his main target. Even his much ballyhooed refusal to renew the license of the anti-Chávez RCTV station was more symbolic than a real punishment. He has had no trouble making pacts with other coup supporters, in the media and other sectors. The measure against RCTV was taken to increase the power of the state. While acting against a right-wing opponent in the specific case, it set an ominous precedent for censorship of working-class and left activity.
Marxists see Bonapartism as inevitable under a class-collaborationist populist regime operating in crisis conditions, since only a strong authoritarian ruler can bind together the classes that in reality are in profound conflict. The objectively weak national bourgeoisie is fundamentally tied to imperialism, on the one hand; and the objectively strong working class has socialist and anti-imperialist sentiments, on the other. Any Bonaparte pretends to be a powerful and righteous arbiter above the contending classes who is uniquely endowed with the ability to make decisions for the good of society as a whole. Behind the pretense, any Bonaparte rests on the armed power of the bourgeois state and turns to the suppression of the working class when necessary.
The PSUV Trap
Chávez’s pretense of conducting a fight to the death against imperialism is window-dressing designed to justify a clampdown on the working class and the left in the name of “unity.” The main weapon being prepared is the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV; United Socialist Party of Venezuela). The Bonapartist regime has embarked on a high-pressure campaign to create one big populist party.
This party will include the army, from the top level down, and the pro-Chávez sectors of the capitalist class. These capitalists are his true allies; they have recently organized themselves into a grouping conveniently called “Association of Socialist Enterprises.” The “socialist enterprises” are old-school banking, hotel and textile magnates as well as the new-school “Bolibourgeoisie.” (This is the apt term for the new layers of wealthy business and property owners who gained their social position through contracts and opportunities doled out by the Chávez government to its friends.) It is notable that the leader of the Association is a former head of the Democratic Action Party, one of the old traditional capitalist parties whose neoliberal rule instigated a mass rebellion in 1989.
The PSUV also includes workers and peasants, who in many cases are being forced to join, lest they lose their jobs or funding for community projects. In typical populist fashion, the PSUV recruitment drive has been embellished by all sorts of “grassroots” structures and “participatory” verbiage. None of this is decisive or will make one iota of difference in the character of the PSUV. Chávez is the undisputed originator and the decisive leader of the party.
The chief purpose of the PSUV will be to control working-class struggle, as was made clear by Chávez’s insistence that union and left party currents dissolve into his party. As he affirmed at a March PSUV event, “unions should not be autonomous, one must put an end to that.” Chavismo only has room for union and left leaders and organizations that are willing to function as tools of the bourgeois state apparatus. And political currents, including left-wing tendencies, that are not willing to dissolve into the PSUV are already being dubbed “counterrevolutionary.”
The Chávez government has been bragging about the great successes of its recruitment drive for the PSUV, reporting almost 6 million enlisted so far—in a country of 26 million people. The working class and poor support Chávez, but these numbers of recruits in a short time can only be produced by the machinery of state power. Nevertheless, even though the party is intended as a weapon of a capitalist government of a capitalist state, it does not mean that the PSUV will succeed in defeating the working class. Venezuelan workers are socialist-minded, optimistic and undefeated as a class. At the same time that they back Chávez, there has been an escalation of labor struggles, indicative of workers’ growing sense that the time has come to press for their demands. And in many of these cases the workers’ actions have been in conflict with what Chávez wants—even if the workers are not fully conscious of this yet.
A prime example is the workers’ takeover of a ceramics factory, Sanitarios Maracay, which has been going on for more than nine months. (Maracay is the capital city of the state of Aragua.) The workers are fighting for nationalization without compensation and workers’ control. They have resisted the usual government efforts at a negotiated solution with their former bosses because of bitter past experiences. On April 24 these workers were violently attacked by the police and National Guard, and union leaders were summarily arrested en route to Caracas to join up with workers from other struggles for nationalization. A month later they initiated a regional strike in Aragua to back the factory occupation, oppose the use of force against workers and denounce Chávez’s position on union autonomy. Not only that, but the strike was explicitly carried out in solidarity with the struggles of other workers who have been fighting for wage raises, better contracts, the end to subcontracted casual labor and the like.
In general the number of strikes and protests for such demands, as well as for nationalization and workers’ control, has increased—including in major sectors like the vital petroleum sector, as well as in steel and auto and among government workers. (As we go to press, the workers at Sanitarios Maracay appear to have been set back, because of sabotage by supervisory and white-collar staff in league with the Minister of Labor. For our Spanish-language readers, further information and updates can be found at both www.aporrea.org and www.jir.org.ve.)
Trotskyism and Centrism
Chávez’s still heavy reliance on mass support means that most workers’ actions are not subjected to physical attacks—although there has been increasing repression. Certainly all assaults and threats, verbal as well as physical, against the union movement as well as other sectors in struggle, must be protested when they occur and also understood as an omen for the future.
But perhaps the greatest immediate threat is the chronic attack on the working class on the level of consciousness. The rhetorical pronouncements about “socialism” and “revolution” spewing out of the regime, now combined with the forced campaign to join the PSUV, have a purpose. They are designed to prevent the most politically advanced layers of the working class from reaching clarity about the program of socialist revolution and the vanguard proletarian party they need.
In any capitalist society, the surface appearances distort the real social relations. This is key to the domination of the working class by capital. The revolutionary vanguard party is the organ of conscious advanced workers; its aim is to cut through the surface appearances and reveal the real relations and the way forward at every turn. It is the highest expression of proletarian consciousness and is the indispensable weapon for a genuine overturn of capitalist relations.
The bulk of the fake left internationally has been applauding Chávez’s fake socialism. Few left groups are willing to state openly that there has been no revolution, no break with imperialism or capitalism—not even a “process” in that direction. This is true even of many groups that label themselves Trotskyist and therefore claim the revolutionary heritage and methods of the Bolshevik revolution. Much of the left also supports dissolving into the PSUV.
The Marxist tradition defines as centrist those left-wing groups who waver between revolutionary rhetoric and reformist deeds. This centrist phenomenon has been widespread among what passes for Trotskyism for a long time.
The roots of present-day pseudo-Trotskyist centrism trace back to the defeat of workers’ struggles internationally after World War II. The Trotskyist movement, born in a weak condition in the 1930’s, made heroic efforts to revive authentic proletarian internationalism. But it was shattered under the attacks of Stalinism, Nazism and the bourgeois-democratic powers. And the revival of imperialism after World War II led to a decisive shift in its class composition, towards the predominance of middle-class elements. In a short time the Fourth International’s leader Pablo devised the theory that non-working-class forces had created “deformed workers’ states” in country after country. (See Stalinist Expansion, the Fourth International and the Working Class in PR 64.)
The deformed workers’ state theory was a mockery of the basic Marxist principle that the emancipation of the working class can only be carried out by the class itself. It reflected a demoralization born of working-class defeats and the change in class viewpoint. The East European countries purportedly became proletarian when the Stalinists took over—but they were “deformed,” not “degenerated” like Soviet Russia, a label that evasively admits that the workers never held state power. The theory credits revolutionary social change to the petty-bourgeois Stalinists, who not only didn’t lead the working class to power but in fact smashed workers’ anti-capitalist struggles in order to set up coalition governments with bourgeois politicians. Only after the workers had been defeated did the Stalinists dare oust their bourgeois partners to create their fraudulent “people’s democracies.”
The theory violated Trotsky’s belief that Stalinism had become irrevocably counterrevolutionary. It was no accident that the same “Trotskyist” milieu that adopted this view also capitulated to equally counterrevolutionary reformists and bourgeois nationalists elsewhere. The fact that the bulk of international groupings had severed their proletarian connection to the heritage of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky was proved in struggle in Bolivia in 1952: no significant section of the international movement opposed the POR’s support to the bourgeois-led popular front.
Since then it has been shown over and over that the majority of so-called Trotskyists have no confidence in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. This is the heart of the problem with their devotion to Hugo Chávez. Much of the middle-class left sees the populist Chávez as the savior who will carry out the emancipation of the masses, or at least play a progressive role for a good period of time. They fail to grasp that populism, like reformism, is a counterrevolutionary trap, and that revolutionary working-class leadership is needed now and at every stage of the struggle.
The Trotskyist Fraction
To our knowledge, only one self-described revolutionary group in Venezuela has consistently opposed political support to Chávez—the JIR (Revolutionary Left Youth), a small section of the FT-CI (Trotskyist Fraction--Fourth International). Given the centrality of this question, we will turn to examining the politics of the JIR and the Trotskyist Fraction.
We consider the Trotskyist Fraction to be a left centrist organization. (See our reply to their International Appeal). They called for a campaign for class independence in Venezuela. However, as our reply argued, they damaged their own cause by making an appeal for a joint propaganda campaign to centrist groups who are proven class collaborationists. The Appeal did not serve to raise consciousness among advanced workers as to the problems with these centrists.
Some centrists can break with their past practice and join the ranks of authentic proletarian revolutionists. However, the FT-CI cannot seriously claim that this was the case with these centrist groups. There has been no significant movement to the left among these groups. Rather, the Appeal reflected what has been the FT-CI’s routine approach to building the revolutionary party for many years. FT-CI sections are chronically proposing electoral fronts and other types of big political blocs to the centrist groups to their right in a timeless manner, regardless of circumstances.
This is the opposite of Trotsky’s method in building the Fourth International. Today’s centrist groups have little in common with the unstable but often real leftward-moving centrists whom Trotsky approached in the 1930’s when trying to build the original Fourth International. Therefore at this time we do not believe that a revolutionary regroupment policy is generally actionable, and we disagree with the FT-CI’s method of chronic appeals and blocs. Centrist and even left reformist outfits in the future will undergo genuine internal political turmoil, most likely with a greater outbreak of youth and working-class struggle in combination with a profound economic crisis. But now the chronic call for left “unity” only disorients the advanced layer.
Trade Union Leaders
In Venezuela, the most militant wing of the trade union movement is headed by nominal Trotskyists. The UNT (National Workers Union) was founded in the spring of 2003 as an alternative to the CTV (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers); the CTV backed the reactionary bosses’ lockout in 2002 that had tried to destabilize the Chávez regime. The UNT gained wide adherence, and the more left-wing leadership groups within it became the mobilizing force for a range of struggles.
All UNT leaders support Chávez, but from the start they have had secondary disagreements over how much autonomy and militancy the new union movement should have in relation to the government. The best known leader is Orlando Chirino. He became one of 25 “coordinators” of the UNT when it was set up, with the idea that elections would be held down the road. Chirino, Stalin Pérez Borges and other unionists with left-wing profiles head the C-CURA (United Revolutionary and Autonomous Class-Struggle Current) within the UNT. There are four other leadership currents, all of which are closer to the government.
The C-CURA leadership is mainly tied to the nominally Trotskyist international, the UIT-CI (Workers International Unity--Fourth International), centered in Argentina. This political identity is important. The UIT had its roots in the big and infamously opportunist MAS party led by Nahuel Moreno, which fell apart after his death in 1987. The UIT rests uncritically on Moreno’s legacy of class collaboration. Recently the UIT supported the presidential candidacy of the populist Evo Morales in Bolivia. (See Bolivia: Revolutionary Prospects and Reactionary Threats in PR 74.)
The UIT’s political role in Brazil is also explicitly populist. Its section in Brazil functions as an internal tendency within the populist PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty). The PSOL was founded in 2005 by leftists, including a parliamentarian linked to the UIT, who had been kicked out of President Lula’s PT (Workers Party) after many years of loyal subordination (See PR 70.) The new party ran Heloísa Helena, who is affiliated with the Mandelite United Secretariat of the Fourth International, for president. Among her most outrageous electoral positions were her opposition to women’s right to abortion and her defense of the interests of Brazil’s state oil company in Bolivia, where the masses have long been fighting for expropriation. None of this stopped the UIT from lauding the PSOL.
The UIT has consistently proven its role as a barrier to class independence: its permanent residence in the pro-reformist/populist swamp is self-evident.
Chirino Backs Voting for Chávez
In Venezuela, Chirino and his co-thinkers have capitulated to the populist Chávez, no surprise given their practice elsewhere. Chirino’s political behavior is colored by his trade unionism as well as the UIT framework. He stated in an interview with the British Venezuela Solidarity Campaign:
We’ve been political militants since a very early age. I started as an activist at age 11 and when I was 16, I began a conscientious revolutionary activism… at that time I became a “Trotskyist” and I state it straightforwardly. But first and foremost I’ve been a trade union leader in this country, fighting in the trenches, defending the autonomy of the movements and its democracy, like the struggle for socialism. In this process of constructing the Bolivarian revolution and above all, since President Chávez left prison, we’ve shared a lot with him, we talk a great deal, we’re beginning to build a Bolivarian Workers’ Front (FBT), we were founders of the FBT as a front where all the trade union leaders had to come together who identify themselves with President Chávez and the process.
Chirino is first and foremost a union leader, and that impacts on the way he operates and the pressures he is under. He always advocates a formal “independence” of the union from the state. But he has always refrained from building a political opposition to Chávez; he left his base of workers unprepared for the very predictable effort of the Chávez regime to stifle militant struggles. The subordination of the union leaders to Chávez in practice over time invited the attacks at this juncture. In fact, Chirino and his political cohorts have endorsed Chávez—and indeed other less popular pro-Chávez candidates in parliamentary and regional elections—on a predictably consistent basis from 1998 on. They always argue that it is necessary to fight the domestic right wing aligned with U.S. imperialism and to “accompany the workers” through their experiences.
By mid-2005, Chirino was heading a party in Venezuela known as the OIR (Revolutionary Left Option) as well as the C-CURA union current. The OIR and C-CURA led a coalition promoting the formation of the PRS (Party of Socialist Revolution). An OIR correspondent provided an extensive report on the July 2005 launching rally for the new party, attended by 400 people, mainly union leaders and activists who identify with Chirino. The chosen international guests for the launch were mainly UIT representatives from PSOL and their big Argentine section. Also invited were left Chavista outfits that explicitly stand for popular revolution, not workers’ revolution. These included groups explicitly committed to the “civic-military” alliance that Chávez always touts. According to Chirino, their presence was based on “practical agreements in daily struggles.”
The report specified that Gonzalo Gómez, a major OIR figure, spoke at length about the need for the new party. Gómez noted that Chávez “defines the government as a ‘government of the workers’”—and commented that while this is Chávez’s intention, there was a “lack of real mechanisms for the exercise of power by the workers.” Chirino capped off the event by sending a message to President Chávez: “Here we are, the workers who fight daily, who don’t rob the public treasury, and we say to you with much respect: put yourself at the head of a government of the workers and the people.”
We note that this seems to be an attempt to apply the “workers’ government” slogan from Trotsky’s Transitional Program. Trotsky intended the workers’ government demand to be raised tactically, as a challenge to expose reformist working-class leaders—not as a polite request to a populist bourgeois politician to form a workers’ government. Chirino is among the worst of the fakers who abuse the spirit of the demand totally, as if Trotsky could have ever advocated a popular front!
Revolutionaries grounded in Marxism should have no trouble coming to clear conclusions about the PRS project. While the promoters of C-CURA favor the organizational independence of the working class, they are also for political class collaboration, the essence of reformism. Their whole outlook has been to get Chávez to move to the left as the way forward. No one could have believed that they were hoping to mobilize the working class into a political party for the purpose of confronting Chávez. That was the last thing they had in mind.
It is also worth noting that the C-CURA/PRS leaders, along with the large number of left Chavistas with no “Trotskyist” or specifically working-class pretensions at all, speak often of “deepening the revolutionary process” that Chávez is leading, never counterposing an actual workers’ revolution to Chávez’s capitalist state. Chirino does occasionally talk of socialist revolution as a project for the future. But other left Chavistas also talk of deepening the revolution; they want Chávez to carry out more nationalizations and to strike harder at the opposition and the imperialists, whom they see as holding back greater progress for their homeland.
Militants have not looked to Chirino and his milieu for a new political party, but they do look for direction. The crime is that the leadership they get reinforces their confusions and extends them—by claiming that Chávez is already carrying out a revolutionary “process” that can really deliver in their interests.
The general revolutionary approach to fighting reformist leadership and counterposing revolutionary leadership applies to the C-CURA/PRS leadership here. Revolutionaries join in all fights of our class in order to strengthen the struggles. At the same time, we openly intervene to warn our fellow workers that the pro-Chávez politics of their union leadership will compromise the struggle at each key point. We are frank about our aims; we state our desire to go through the test of experiences with our fellow workers in order to convince them of the need to replace reformist or centrist leadership with resolute revolutionary leadership. In other words, we wish to separate the base, the working class, from the top, its misleadership.
We do not agree that calling on Chirino to build an independent workers’ party is useful today. It is possible that such a demand will be appropriate in the future, when the working-class political scene is different. We do see that Chávez’s attacks on union autonomy could push Chirino and his ilk into a more assertive stance: they do need to defend their position and stature as militant union leaders and to maintain a base of support among the rank and file. Thus there will be opportunities to place appropriate demands on Chirino and other union leaders to mobilize the working class for specific actions and campaigns, to take the fight for union independence and other demands forward.
Revolutionaries make such demands in the spirit of the united front: we call for actions that can win real victories if carried out. But we have to make sure that workers are always warned that Chirino’s underlying role is not revolutionary. Despite whatever rhetoric he uses, it is fundamentally reformist. He is above all a left-talking labor broker between the ranks and the Chávez regime.
We have sharp differences with the JIR on how revolutionaries should intervene to fight centrist or reformist currents. To begin, a JIR representative was on the launching committee for the PRS. From the first edition of its newspaper, En Clave Obrera, in September 2005, the JIR identified itself as part of the PRS in their masthead. They enthused over the PRS project in a lengthy article. They said that they had been arguing for the construction of a “large party of Venezuelan workers” since April, and they therefore joined enthusiastically with the call for discussion initiated by OIR and others. They note approvingly that there was a call for a workers’ government in a document circulated for discussion. Only in the final section of their article do they lament the “absence” of any discussion of Chávez or his government in the document, stating that “it is necessary to explain that Chávez, even though he calls himself revolutionary and socialist, is heading a capitalist government.”
An entire exposé of the political views of the PRS leaders who put out the document and their attitude toward Chávez was in order. That is not what the JIR did. Rather they acted as if the party they wanted could come about under the Chirino leadership, a posture which was to continue for far too long. The lack of any direct warnings about the C-CURA misleadership was criminally “absent” from the JIR article and others to follow.
The JIR and the World Social Forum
At the World Social Forum (WSF) held in January 2006 in Caracas and attended by 70,000 people, the JIR also muted its criticisms of the PRS. The PRS had put out a flyer to advertise its forum, “The Bolivarian Revolution and the Struggle for Socialism of the 21st Century: Workers’ Power or Class Collaboration?” The flyer had only praise for PSOL, the UNT and the “electoral triumph of Evo Morales” as examples of “new leaders and new alternatives” to the “parties and governments that apply the recipes of capitalist globalization.” At the forum and in widely published interviews around the event, Chirino was clear about where he stood. “It’s still necessary to keep up support and struggle to maintain Hugo Chávez as president in order to guarantee the continuity of the process.”
The big shock here was not the political line advocated by Chirino—but the failure of the JIR to challenge it. The JIR in fact had a speaker at the PRS forum. Both their speaker at the forum and their follow-up articles should have counterposed to the line circulated by Chirino and other PRS leaders. But according to JIR’s own reports, this didn’t happen.
In fact, given the opportunity to report what had happened at the WSF, En Clave Obrera only provided selective quotes from Chirino’s and Stalin Perez’s speeches at the joint forum, thereby providing coverage of the event which managed to avoid bringing up any disagreements. An interview with the JIR spokesman, Ángel Arias, was published by the Argentine section of the FT-CI. (La Verdad Obrera, nro. 180.) Arias does mention that he disagrees with “international currents” that advocate a strategy of constructing broad parties like the PSOL of Brazil—“that is to say constructing parties where reformists and revolutionaries co-exist.” But even here he refrains from mentioning exactly who it might be that advocates a PSOL-like solution!
No Way to Build the Unions
Chirino’s C-CURA union current endorsed voting for Chávez’s re-election at a meeting in February 2006, shortly after the WSF. Then at the UNT’s 2nd Congress in May 2006, with the attendance of over 2000 delegates from across the country, all hell broke loose. The four other factions of the UNT, all more closely tied to the government than C-CURA, argued ferociously against allowing the scheduled election of UNT coordinators to go forward. They said it would interfere with the campaign to get Chávez re-elected in December. The Chirino faction, which was sure to be the big winner, advocated going forward with the union elections—with the proviso that the UNT would wage a campaign for “10 million votes for Chávez” as a top priority. They argued that “the re-election of President Chávez and the independence of the UNT must be simultaneously supported so as to criticize whenever necessary.”
The fighting between the factions disrupted the proceedings, which by most reports seemed rather pre-calculated: all factions except C-CURA walked out after blows were exchanged. The Chirino faction came out with a statement later agreeing that the UNT would be run without elected officers in the name of “unity,” until after the presidential elections. To this date UNT elections have not taken place, a dangerous and demoralizing situation for the rank and file and a graphic example of the bureaucratic nature of all the UNT leaderships.
The JIR in the PRS
On July 1, the PRS held a plenary session and formally made the decision to endorse Chávez. En Clave Obrera then announced the JIR’s decision to constitute themselves as a public fraction within the PRS, in opposition to the “majority.” There was no explanation why they had waited so long to take a formal step of separation. They began their statement this way:
Those of us who came together for the task of building the PRS did so because of the strategic necessity of building a socialist and internationalist revolutionary party, that would fight to achieve a government of the workers and poor—that is, a party that would fight for workers’ socialist revolution. We all agreed on this necessity because, despite the fact that the workers and all the poor people of Venezuela had been making heroic strides, this had not led to a truly revolutionary change in the country.
What is striking here is the JIR’s claim that there had been this agreement between the JIR and the Chirino leadership on the nature of the party and its mission from the start. In fact, the same statement goes on to note that “the JIR has been systematically struggling (from within the PRS and publicly) for the PRS to take up the politics of true independence for the working class.” And later the document describes the past betrayals of the “majority,” such as the decisions perpetrated by C-CURA to endorse Chávez five months earlier.
But they then go on to make a case for the PRS which is very close to an argument for a vanguard party. This is certainly not the picture of the PRS they had been been painting in their public press. They say in this statement that it is the duty of revolutionaries “to prepare the workers politically, unmasking and denouncing the politics of Chávez, explaining to the masses how he does not defend the historic interests of the workers,” and that “a permanent organization of the most politically advanced layers of the working class and the revolutionary intelligentsia is indispensable in order to confront the reformist and conciliatory tendencies, who are an obstacle to the defeat of the class enemy.”
If the JIR really had intended to make the PRS “a permanent organization of the most politically advanced,” then that conflicts with making it the vehicle for “a big independent party of the working class”—which is what they usually said in their newspaper and leaflets addressed to their fellow workers. (See Double Talk on the Party.) It was bad enough that they had been calling on Chirino for months to build the PRS as a mass party. Now the public fraction statement implies that they were hoping to form a revolutionary vanguard party—with these proven class traitors!
For all this, the fraction declaration fails to explain why the JIR remained in the PRS. After all, if one wants to prepare the workers politically and teach them to trust only their own class and not Chávez, how is that demonstrated by sticking with a party that supports Chávez? You can lecture and lecture the workers about “independence,” but staying in the PRS sends the opposite message in practice—that it is okay to be in this party that supports Chávez, as long as one makes criticisms.
Not only that, but the document leaves the undeniable impression that it is still possible to change what the “majority” is doing. There is not even a direct call to join the JIR fraction or to fight to overturn the Chirino leadership. Is the JIR still unwilling to state squarely that the Chirino leadership is precisely one of the “conciliatory” tendencies that needs to be confronted?
PRS vs. PSOL?
The JIR has remained a public fraction in the PRS, increasing at times their criticisms of Chirino and his friends. For example, after the C-CURA/PRS made the decision to enter Chávez’s PSUV project for the purposes of “discussion” last January, En Clave Obrera (February 2007) said that this represented “the deepening of a path alien to all independent working-class politics.” Its article concluded that those who lead the PRS are in “complete prostration to the leadership of President Chávez.” The JIR called on “those comrades of the party who honestly are for revolutionary working-class politics to reverse their passive and complacent attitude with this situation and to make a common struggle to change the course.” That is, despite their criticisms of Chirino and despite the fact that the PRS had become nothing more than a shell of an organization at best, by that time, they remained relentless in their efforts to change the PRS.
There was a subsequent split within C-CURA/PRS, when Chávez lashed back at the union leaders, demanding that they repudiate union autonomy as a precondition for entry into the PSUV. Stalin Pérez Borges and a number of other leaders from C-CURA decided to try to enter PSUV anyway—despite Chávez’s assault on union autonomy. Chirino and his allies decided to stay out. But Chirino emphasized that they would all stay together in C-CURA as the most fundamental thing.
The JIR’s response: En Clave Obrera (June 2007) came out again with the call for the big independent party. “The important union force that is C-CURA can’t remain at the mercy of a few leaders of the current that have decided to submit themselves to the creation of the PSUV.” Conclusion? “We call on the class-struggle unions, principally C-CURA, to fight for these politics and convoke immediately an Organizing Committee for a big independent workers’ party that will put itself forward as the voice of millions of workers.”
In sum, the JIR did not warn their fellow workers about the political character of the PRS’s co-founders and their history of betrayals. And worse, they refused to break from the PRS when they committed decisive betrayals in front of the workers, both voting for Chavez and then trying to get into the PSUV. The JIR just continued putting out statements which only communicate that the Chirino leadership can be convinced to reverse its course.
In February 2007 we wrote to the JIR questioning their staying in the PRS. They acknowledged receiving our correspondence but never sent a response.
The FT section in Brazil started on a similar road when PSOL was first being formed in 2005. It enthused over the PSOL project in the beginning, much as the JIR enthused over the PRS in Venezuela. As with the PRS, they gave no warning about the forces heading the PSOL and the likely outcome. But they were forced to break with PSOL rather quickly: the reactionary positions that the PSOL candidate Heloísa Helena would take in the presidential campaign became evident early on. Thus the PSOL could not attract the advancing layers of workers that they wished to reach. An FT article, “The Fraud of the PSOL Project,” stated, “The only conclusion we can reach from this balance sheet is that to mix the banners of revolutionaries with reformists, class-struggle positions with those of class conciliation, means that what gets lost always is the independence of the class and the revolutionary strategy.”
One can’t “mix the banners of revolutionaries with reformists”? Then it is up to the JIR to explain what they are still doing in the PRS. In reality there is no principled justification for remaining. The fact that there are militant layers that look toward C-CURA doesn’t change the opportunistic character of adhering to the fraud of the PRS. If anything, it is a more dangerous fraud because of the union leaders’ important influence among the workers.
Revolutionaries would have wanted to intervene in the PRS meetings at the start, to gain an audience among revolutionary-minded workers. But our aim would have been to use whatever interest existed among workers to expose the misleadership of the PRS and argue for the vanguard party and socialist revolution.
Centrality of the Vanguard Party
The essential question separating revolutionary wheat from centrist chaff is the centrality of the proletariat and its party, representing its most advanced consciousness. Pablo conjured up the theory that the counterrevolutionary Stalinists could make the socialist revolution and create workers’ states; Morenoism not only accepted the same theory but also capitulated to non- and anti-working class forces again and again. And similar capituations continue today. It is clear that the historic dispute over the existence of “deformed workers’ states” has only resurfaced in different forms in today’s world.
The UIT and the associated union leaders in Venezuela believe that they should adapt to Chávez—but, with the workers, push him to the left. They clearly do not believe that a workers’ revolution is necessary. They want to use the working class only as a battering ram.
The Trotskyist Fraction represented a far left split from Morenoism, and today has tried to adhere to the class line in countries where struggles have posed the question sharply, namely Bolivia and Venezuela. But they have made no advances on the level of theory. Their tailing of right-centrist and reformist forces shows that they retain the notion that working-class consciousness is not the critical factor.
Advanced workers must study the histories and theoretical as well as practical records of all self-proclaimed revolutionary groups so that they can evaluate the contending views for themselves. Refusal to capitulate to populists like Chávez is certainly one necessary test, which many centrists have already failed. But the refusal to prioritize the building of the vanguard party is also a test question, and one that the FT-CI and JIR have failed.
In Venezuela, the JIR became the small tail to the big fraud of the PRS, and it is ready to do the same thing again. What is needed is not only to advocate class independence but to carry out the fight for it in the only real way possible, by championing the independence of an authentic internationalist proletarian party.
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