Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution at a Crossroads

The lock-out staged by the Venezuelan capitalists on 10th December 2001 against the laws introduced by President Hugo Chavez has raised the level of class conflict within this Latin American country to heights not seen in the three years since the latter won elections with 56% of the popular vote, in the teeth of opposition from the imperialists and key sectors of the Venezuelan ruling class.

The lock-out staged by the Venezuelan capitalists on 10th December 2001 against the laws introduced by President Hugo Chavez has raised the level of class conflict within this Latin American country to heights not seen in the three years since the latter won elections with 56% of the popular vote, in the teeth of opposition from the imperialists and key sectors of the Venezuelan ruling class.

Using an "Enabling Law", which gives him the power to legislate without going through the National Assembly, Chavez promulgated on 23rd November a whole series of laws whose aim is to increase state intervention in the economy. Of these laws, three have particularly incensed the local oligarchy.

The first, the "Land Law", which has met fierce opposition from landowners and rich farmers alike, allows the government to seize and re-allocate farms regarded as under-utilised or force their owners to cultivate land left fallow. This law is to be applied immediately to estates of at least 100,000 hectares in the Orinoco valley. Secondly, the "Hydrocarbons Law" increases taxes for foreign investors operating in the oil and gas sector (which accounts for 80% of Venezuelan exports and 50% of state income) from 16.6% to 30% and reserves the sector's upstream activities (i.e. extraction, transportation, etc) only to companies partially or wholly owned by the state. This law also sets that the state must have a minimum 51% stake in these companies and allows the Venezuelan state to a 30% share of the royalties on all the oil and gas extracted from any field or well located within national boundaries.

In addition to the above, there is the "Coastal Zones Law" that stipulates that an area of sea stretching out 500 metres all the way along Venezuela's coastline to be under the control and protection of the state. Within this protected zone (which is as big as Belgium), large fishing trawlers will be prohibited and measures will be implemented in favour of the environment and small fishermen.

Unsurprisingly, the Venezuelan capitalist class is up in arms against these laws. These parasites, who have been filling their pockets for years and years on the back of increasing misery and suffering for the workers and peasants, cannot even accept the smallest of limits on their insatiable appetite for profit, especially at a time when the world economic crisis is reducing the share of the cake for each national bourgeoisie. Against the backdrop of the world economic crisis and the decay of Venezuelan capitalism, both the Venezuelan ruling class and the world imperialists intend to exploit the workers down to the marrow. This in reality means more privatisations, more flexibility, fewer constraints on speculation and the sale of national resources to the highest bidder, etc. However, these measures would require their complete control over the government. But the Chavez government, which came to power thanks to the massive support of the poorest sections of society, is under enormous pressure from the latter and is not going in the direction that the ruling class and the imperialists would like it to go.

This is what worries them the most, as they know that the recently approved laws could push Chavez much further than even he himself imagines. In reaction to the news of the boycott of his measures by the bankers, who have threatened not to lend to small peasant farmers, Chavez threatened to nationalise the banks. For the moment, these are mere warnings, but this is the first time in a long time that such a leader has suggested taking such action and with the developing class conflict in Venezuela, words might just be transformed into acts. In fact, it is not a coincidence that Chavez has been forced to introduce these interventionist laws, but due to the social and economic pressure that he is under. In order to understand the current situation in Venezuela, we must at first look at the current economic, political and social situation of the country and of the whole continent, as well as the roots and class character of the movement that placed Chavez in the seat of power.

The crisis in Venezuela: From Latin America's Switzerland to the "Caracazo"

Venezuela is a rich country with huge reserves of oil and gas whose social and economic statistics nevertheless reveal massive poverty and, above all, huge levels of injustice and inequality: fewer than 1% of landowners own 60% of the land[1], 51% of workers survive in the black economy, around 80% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of the national wealth is swallowed up in foreign debt payments.

The Venezuelan ruling class, which is as weak, parasitic and backward as its local counterparts, never used the proceeds from oil exports to modernise and develop the national economy, or diversify its industrial sector to free it from the yoke of imperialism. Instead, they preferred to merely live off this income, without investing it. The country is now entirely dependent on the oil sector. During the world economic boom of the 1950's and 60's, oil earnings allowed certain concessions to the working class and the formation of a middle class that was relatively stronger and more numerous than in neighbouring countries. This situation helped to maintain a relative social calm, unknown in other areas of the continent, for a certain amount of time. Venezuela became known as "the Switzerland of Latin America".

The dominant political regime since the war has been one of bourgeois democracy, with Parliament being dominated by two major parties: the "COPEI" (Christian Democrats) and "Acción Democrática" (an organisation created at the height of the populist period that the country experienced at the end of the 1940's but which then turned to the right and integrated itself fully into the system; AD now describes itself as "social democrat").

Each party took it in turns to govern without making any major changes to the plans of the imperialists and the decisive sectors of the national bourgeoisie. As a result, corruption mushroomed and the population became increasingly disgusted with the political class. The biggest Venezuelan trade union federation is the "Confederación de Trabajadores Venezolanos" (CTV), which covers 18% of workers and which has been controlled for decades by career bureaucrats who are completely detached from the real living conditions of the masses.

The decay of Venezuelan capitalism, which began with the world crisis of the 1970's, became even more pronounced in the decades that followed. The Venezuelan economy took a nose dive with the fall in world oil prices. The workers and peasants were pushed into even more misery and poverty at breakneck speed whilst the capitalists enriched themselves by selling off the country's resources to the imperialists and the professional politicians of the two major parties became involved in some of South America's biggest corruption scandals. Furthermore, the last twenty years have seen a 70%-drop in income for the middle classes.

The anger provoked by this situation boiled over during the "caracazo" of 1989, which was a spontaneous uprising of the poor masses, which engulfed the whole country and was put down bloodily by the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez (AD), who is now in exile and accused of corruption.

The roots of "Chavismo"

Fears that mounting social instability would result in a social revolution in the country led to increased criticism from within the Armed Forces. Widespread corruption and the swift pace of national decay, in a country that could still remember its golden years when there was strong state control over the economy and high levels of economic development, undermined the confidence that sectors of the military had in the country's political leaders, as well as in the privatisation policies being implemented by the capitalist class. There was a deep sense of uneasiness with the situation in the country amongst certain sections of middle-ranking officers, whose origins were for the most part in the petit-bourgeoisie (Chavez himself comes from a peasant family). As far back as 1983, some of these officers with their nationalist and muddled left-leaning ideas, headed by Hugo Chavez, decided to secretly create the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario &endash; or "Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement"

(MBR-200) and meet to discuss what should be done. Shocked by the repression of the caracazo of 1989 and disgusted that nothing was changing, the "Bolivarians" launched a coup d'état in 1992 whose aim was to depose Perez, judge him for corruption and repressing the masses and to set up in his place an "honourable and patriotic" government.

This action, which took place without the participation of the masses (it only obtained the support of a few populist and left-wing groups) was defeated and its leaders were imprisoned. However, due to the lack of any other revolutionary alternative within the labour movement, Chavez and his comrades-at-arms were seen by a whole section of the working class and peasantry as the only ones ready to rise up against an insufferable situation.

During the 1990's, the working class and other sectors of the Venezuelan masses tried to improve their living conditions through various ways: either by the general strikes that they forced the CTV leaders to call or by supporting left-wing parties such as the MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo) or Causa Radical. However, all these attempts failed due to the acceptance by a part of these political and trade union leaders of the necessity of the capitalist system. The leaders of the CTV only called strikes in order to release pressure and stopped them taking on any political character. Some of the former guerrillas of the MAS even managed to join the conservative government of Rafael Caldera and supported (as well actively led) certain privatisations. Causa Radical split over the question of whether to support or oppose the privatisation of Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), the state-owned oil company.

It was in this context of economic, political and social crisis, characterised on the one hand, by the ruling class's continued inability to develop the country and, on the other hand, by the lack of a mass revolutionary alternative able to lead the working class (and other exploited layers of the population) - despite having already shown its ability to struggle - in the fight for an alternative form of society, that Chavez launched his Movimiento Quinta Republica (Fifth Republic Movement) &endash; MVR - which was formed mostly by middle-ranking layers of the Armed Forces and other sections of the middle class.

Chavez's decision to run in the elections completely upset the plans of the capitalists who were hoping that the discredited candidates of the Copei and AD would once more fight over power, leaving the vast majority of the population completely apathetic and indifferent to the outcome. Chavez's anti-corruption, nationalist and democratic platform was seized upon by the poorest sections of Venezuelan society as a way of fighting back against the rich. Around the MVR there formed a front called el Polo Patriótico (Patriotic Front) comprised of several different tendencies of the Venezuelan left such as the Communist Party (PCV), the MAS (this party's conference actually forced the leaders to leave the government and support Chavez), Patria Para Todos (PPT) and other similar organisations.

The Bolivarian revolution

Despite the vicious campaign against Chavez, he won a landslide on election day. His main electoral promise was to call a Constituent Assembly, which would be responsible for drafting a new constitution. This constitution would be the first step towards complete social justice, more national independence from imperialism and the cleansing of all sectors of national life of corruption: from the courts, through Parliament and right down to the trade unions. This was the foundation stone of the Bolivarian Revolution, as Chavez likes to call it.

The Marxists have always explained (particularly in the pages of El Militante and Marxismo Hoy) that Chavez's victory was a heavy blow for the imperialists and the national ruling class, but that his promise to gradually reform the country, by gaining more social justice and more independence from imperialism little by little, would inevitably come up against the hardened opposition of the richest layers of society and that the only efficient method would be a complete and utter break with capitalism.

"Chavez will have to choose: either he will have to apply his programme against the opposition of the capitalist class and the American multinationals, which will force him to go even further (calling on the most radical sections of his social base, which will demand that he go further and on whose support he will need to rely on against the right), or he will have to backtrack and apply more anti-working class, austerity measures under the pressure of the ruling class. (...) It is likely that for some time Chavez will try to hover between the classes and try to please everybody; something that in the current state of Venezuelan capitalism will be impossible and will lead to more instability and increasing class polarisation (...). It cannot be ruled out that at a certain specific moment, fundamentally in a context of acute economic crisis and heightened mobilisation of the masses across the whole country and internationally as well (especially in other Latin American countries) that Chavez himself or sectors that today support him may be forced into pushing ahead and turning radically to the left. This would represent a further step towards a decisive confrontation between the classes". (América Latina. La lucha de clases llama a la puerta", Marxismo Hoy nº6, 1999).

This is exactly the situation that we have today. After having lost the battle to stop Chavez's electoral victory, the Venezuelan capitalists and the imperialists adopted a "wait and see" attitude for a certain period. They have met him, they have tried to apply pressure on him (at first in a friendly manner, then more vehemently) so that he would see "sense" and give up a whole series of promises made. In the beginning, a part of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie did not entirely frown upon some of Chavez's proposals, as they would mean more protection for certain industries and a boost for domestic demand. In any case, they thought that they would be able to dampen his left-wing enthusiasm and eventually tame him. However, the situation has changed very quickly &endash; it is no longer a question of Chavez's particular measures, in any given moment, or his fiery speeches, but the masses of people that are behind him and their aspirations and hopes.

The ruling class has already made several attempts to weaken the government. The one that immediately preceded the current vicious campaign of destabilisation (which marks a new stage in the situation) took place on the electoral battlefield. The discredited traditional political parties tried to regroup their forces and debilitate Chavez's by championing Arias Cardenas, a former military comrade of the President, who had participated in the 1992 coup attempt but then subsequently broke with Chavez accusing him of authoritarianism and wishing to turn Venezuela into a "new" Cuba. However, they failed miserably as Chavez gained an outright victory in the presidential elections, despite the very high level of abstention. This abstention was undoubtedly down to a certain level of weariness with the situation. Certain sections of the masses continued to hope that the aspirations aroused by "chavismo" would be concretised into better living conditions, without mobilising to support him (possibly also partly because they thought his victory was a foregone conclusion anyway), whilst of course placing little or absolutely no trust in the so-called "democratic" opposition, whose intentions were quite clear to everybody.

In 1999 and 2000 the hike in oil prices and the buoyant world economy afforded a certain margin for manoeuvre to the government. The freeze on the privatisation of PdVSA and its maintenance in the public sector (one of Chavez's first economic measures, who at the same time authorised the selling-off of other companies) enabled the government to earmark a part of the income earned by this company to boosting public spending, thus avoiding the need to take out more debt, print more money or prepare for a decisive battle with the capitalist class. During 2000, public spending thus shot up 42%. The "Plan Bolívar 2000", which comprised some public works and infrastructure projects as well as a general increase in spending on education, health and housing, was made possible by this favourable economic context. Nevertheless, these measures were considerably below the expectations of many sections of Chavez's social base, which were really hoping for a radical change in their living conditions. In 2001, the economic crisis began to make its presence felt, especially amongst the poorer layers of society, thus leading to more disillusionment and a certain decline in the support for the "Bolivarian" movement.

Between revolution and counter-revolution

Chavez has been able to see how his policies, promises and even his fiery speeches irritate the capitalists (who have withdrawn their investments, preferring to use their capital to speculate on the world's stock exchanges), but at the same time, given that he has chosen for the time being to remain within the framework of capitalism, he has also seen how the crisis of capitalism has eaten away progressively at his ability to manoeuvre. Furthermore, his party, the MVR, has been unable to organise the masses and to turn them out into the streets to support him. The main danger for Chavez now is that if this situation continues for much longer, his enemies will be able to find a favourable opportunity to oust him from power.

The laws passed on the 23rd November are an attempt to react to this situation by strengthening his social base and completing a number of socio-economic measures present in his programme. This turn to the left has increased class polarisation as well as sharpened the class struggle. The measures taken by Chavez now have their own dynamic and the bourgeois no longer understand them. They are neither in themselves revolutionary nor, of course, "Marxist" (as the representatives of the Fedecamaras - the Venezuelan employers' organisation - or bourgeois media like to repeat again and again). In reality they are reforms similar to ones that other governments of a bourgeois character in certain countries have taken in the specific moments in the past. However, in this context, they clash with the policies that the imperialists are imposing in every corner of the planet (privatisation, IMF austerity programmes, market liberalisation and introduction of market forces in to all areas of life, especially at the behest of the imperialist multinationals etc). Nevertheless, and most importantly of all, given the current crisis of capitalism in Venezuela and internationally, the class pressure expressed by a mass movement such as "chavismo", they are only the start of a revolutionary process that could go much further. If Chavez continues and strengthens his turn towards the left (as in the case of the nationalisation of the banks that he has already threatened), in the context of crisis and misery that is currently effecting the ex-colonial world, it would serve as a beacon to many other countries, and not just in the ex-colonial world. This would be the case even more if this turn led to deep social transformations.

The Venezuelan capitalists have understood this and have launched an aggressive campaign of boycotts and destabilisation similar to the one unleashed in Chile between 1970 and 1973 against Allende. They want to force Chavez to backtrack and, if he does not, they want to destabilise him. At the moment, they are combining legal methods to obstruct his government's action such as an investment strike and a transfer of capital to other countries with other actions such as the "saucepan" protests or the business shutdown of the 10th December whose aim is to rapidly erode Chavez's social base.

The leaders of the Fedecamaras are trying to involve in their campaign those layers of the population in a more desperate situation than the rest or those that are feeling more discontented after three years of a Bolivarian revolution that has failed to bring about economic change in their living conditions. In order to try and give a "populist" sheen to this campaign, they are using some of the CTV trade union leaders (those that Chavez confronted as soon as he came to power, openly criticising their corruption and promising to cleanse the unions) and political parties such as AD, or even the ultra-left groups that from the beginning had a very sectarian attitude towards Chavez, such as "Bandera Roja". These groups have allied themselves to various bourgeois and right-wing parties in a political front against Chavez called "roundtable for dialogue". But in reality, in doing this, these groups are merely playing to the tune of their reactionary masters.

Leaving aside the conciliatory, demagogical and pseudo-democratic words that it is using to disguise its real nature, the character and objectives of this opposition and its actions are clearly bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. The Venezuelan capitalists want to undermine the support for Chavez in order to topple him and replace him with a government ready to carry out their dictates, either by using some legal trickery (for example an impeachment by the Supreme Court), which would allow them to carry out a veiled or direct military coup d'état.

Chavez at the crossroads

Such an outcome would be a nightmare for the Venezuelan people. Likewise, if Chavez backtracks. The capitalists do not just want the abrogation of the laws of 23rd November but they also want to impose all of their anti-social measures, which in reality would require a government completely under their control and ready for a fight to the death with the working class. If he backtracks, the Bolivarian leader would be digging his own political grave (and perhaps not just his political one). The process has already gone a long way and the ties between Chavez and the left, as well as the mass movement, do not make him a reliable partner for the bourgeoisie, even if he were ready to take a few steps backward (an option which now appears increasingly difficult). Therefore, his initial response to the business shutdown was not to retreat but to tighten his grip on the Armed Forces, keep the controversial laws and call for mass demonstrations in support of the latter. Chavez called a march of indigenous people, peasants and other sections of the poor from every area of the country, he sent the army on manoeuvres in certain areas of the country and leant for support on some of the left organisations that support him, the Communist Party in particular, to organise the defence of the above-mentioned laws.

As the Marxists have already explained, in the context that prevailed before the collapse of Stalinism, Chavez would have definitely already started to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy and introduce economic planning, along the same lines as in Cuba. However, Venezuela's isolation and the predominant trend in the world in recent years (which is precisely the opposite of increasing state control) have prevented him from doing so, but it is not unthinkable that this situation might change.

We have already quoted Chávez's declarations on 18th December when he threatened to nationalise the banks. For the moment these are mere words, however these mere words were spoken in a very special context; in front of thousands of followers (who could interpret them as a promise and a call to arms). It was no coincidence that Chavez made his speech during a ceremony that paid homage to the 'Liberator' Simon Bolivar, and during which he swore in thousands of Círculos Bolivarianos activists (the grassroots movement that he intends to use to revitalise his basis of support and strengthen his presence on the streets). Neither is it a coincidence that he has decided to relaunch the MBR-200, the clandestine movement of the same name that led the coup of 1992. The most probable perspective is that he will be forced to turn even further to the left. How far and at what speed will depend on the different types of class pressure that he will be put under at specific moments in time. The key issue now is; how will this turn to the left be carried out; and will Chavez be able to win the support of the masses, by passing from words to deeds. In any case, the only certainty is that Venezuela is fast heading for a decisive confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution.

Saucepans against F-16's?

For the moment, Chavez seems assured of having control of the army and that this gives him a decisive advantage. His words: "The rich have their saucepans and the people have their F-16's", in response to the saucepan protests organised by business leaders and sectors of the petit bourgeoisie seem to indicate this. However things may not be as clear as this. Chavez has placed his supporters in a whole series of key posts within the state apparatus and has promoted those officers that he thinks he can trust. However, the officer caste of any army is linked by interest, tradition and a myriad of other different ties to the bourgeoisie. Venezuela is a country with a consolidated bourgeoisie and has had a bourgeois state apparatus for more than one hundred years. At the moment of a decisive confrontation between the classes that could change the nature of the state and property relations, there will be no lack of officers willing "to save the country from communism"

In the event of such a situation, it is not certain whether such people or Chavez will be able to win control of most of the army. This issue will only be resolved by events, when there is a decisive clash of forces. However, if Chavez thinks that he can win such a struggle basing himself exclusively on his control of the officer caste, he could be making a very serious error. In order to win a battle within the state apparatus, the decisive factor lays outside of it, within the masses. If Chavez maintains and increases his support amongst the peasants and the workers, this will be reflected within the army (amongst the soldiers and the low and middle ranking officers), however if this support continues to wane, the fight will take place at the tops of the army and the state, which is the preferred terrain of the ruling class.

The more time that he equivocates, earning the fury of the ruling class for his measures and promises, but without going so far as to implement a decisive change in the economy that offers the toiling masses a radical change in their living conditions, the more difficult his position will be. The new laws will undoubtedly worsen the capitalists' investment strike, but for them to bring about a real improvement for the people, they must be extended and deepened with an agrarian reform that would distribute the land immediately to the peasants coupled with the nationalisation of the banks so that the peasants and fishermen can have access to cheap credit and for there to be enough funds to resolve the most acute social problems. Furthermore, all the major industries must be nationalised, a permanent moratorium must be placed on the repayment of foreign debt that is bleeding the country's wealth away, the minimum wage must be increased and the working week must be reduced without loss of pay. This programme means direct confrontation with the capitalist class and can only be implemented successfully if the working class and the other exploited layers of society throw their combined weight massively behind it. Finally, it goes without saying that to fundamentally change society and implement a regime of workers' democracy, as a step towards socialism, the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy must be carried out under the democratic control of the workers themselves.

The role of the working class

It is significant that in his speeches and declarations, Chavez makes hardly any call to the working class. This is a common trait of revolutionary leaders from petit-bourgeois backgrounds that have led similar movements. They generally mistrust the independent organisation of the working class and fear that a massive influx of workers on to the scene would mean that the movement would take on the methods and objectives of the latter and remove them from the leadership of the revolutionary movement and place the working class and its vanguard at its head.

And this is precisely the key to the victory of the Venezuelan revolution: that the leadership of the process passes to the working class and that this is the result of an increase in its organisation and revolutionary consciousness. The Venezuelan workers must therefore form councils of democratically elected representatives, subject to immediate recall, in every workplace and in every district in order to organise the struggle, to defend the measures taken by Chavez from the counterrevolutionary offensive and to push the movement much further. This is the only way to guarantee the future of the Venezuelan revolution, to successfully defend it from the onslaught of the counterrevolution and to make sure that its leadership remains under the democratic control of the masses, especially the proletariat. This would show the way forward to other layers, encouraging the soldiers to organise within their barracks and the peasants to organise within their villages.

The main danger for the Venezuelan revolution is that up to now the working class has not participated in the movement in a clear and unequivocal manner and that it does not take the initiative in the situation. The mass media is clearly lying in the most cynical way when it describes the shutdown of 10th December as a combined general strike of the workers and employers, since no government confronted by the mass opposition of the workers and the capitalists would last one day in power. Business leaders have given very high figures for the number people who participated in the shutdown of the 10th December, but this is only logical as they themselves locked and shut down their own workplaces. Furthermore, it seems that there is no reliable information or figures as to the effect of the shutdown, and most importantly on the attitude of the workers, in the businesses that did not shut down (foreign-owned or state-owned companies).

All the evidence suggests that its effects were uneven. The Caracas Metro workers' union, for example, refused to take part in the shutdown and denounced it as a means for the rich to destabilise the government. In any case, it is clear that in those businesses that did shut down, neither did the workers mobilise as a class nor was there any call for them to organise as such. The leaders of the CTV supported the business shutdown and have threatened to call a general strike, but this time in order to prove that they are the real leaders of the working class and that they are capable of mobilising the workers on to the streets on a massive scale. However, in reality they have made no such call and have put forward no class demands, contenting themselves in their role as left-wing veneer to the bourgeois counterrevolution.

The elections within the CTV in October, in which half a million workers took part, have not cleared up matters. The trade union leaders, organised in the Frente Único de Trabajadores (FUT) &endash; United Workers' Front - (led by AD with the support of other anti-Chavez groups), proclaimed themselves victors claiming 62% of the vote whilst attributing only 12% to the pro-Chavez faction, the Fuerza Bolivariana de Trabajadores (FBT) led by Aristobulo Isturiz, which, according to some sources, was the second most voted list out of the six that participated. However, the accusations of fraud made by various candidates, including the government-appointed Electoral Commission, against the FUT (according to some, 22,000 ballot papers apparently disappeared) mean that are still no definitive results accepted by all of the candidates.

The FBT has not accepted these results and has accused the CTV leaders as being corrupt and traitors both to chide them and to denounce them for having supported the business shutdown against measures favourable to the working class.

Class independence and socialism

It appears that the Venezuelan workers do not have a clear leadership at the moment, which they can trust and follow. At the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution there were some reports of sections of workers and trade unionists storming into the offices of the CTV demanding that the leaders resign. However, it appears that the Bolivarian trade union organisation neither has the leadership of the workers' movement nor is able to mobilise it on massive scale. The task of building a fighting revolutionary leadership for the working class, of democratising the trade unions and transforming them from a moribund and bureaucratised apparatus, in the hands of corrupt leaders, into a tool of proletarian struggle can only be performed by the workers themselves, through their experience of struggle and through the development of their consciousness. Workers take years to build a leadership, even when it is degenerate (as we have seen the CTV leadership has been this way for decades), so therefore it is essential to build an alternative leadership that is able to win, through struggle, the support and the confidence of the workers and the right to lead them. Any attempt to look for shortcuts and to replace this process by improvising it from the outside is very risky (i.e., there is a danger of replacing one bureaucracy by another, losing the support of certain layers of workers or converting them into mere appendages and not the leadership of the struggle). This is even more the case here because the Bolivarian movement is the government of the day and is led by the military.

The simple fact that there is still confusion around the issue of who won the trade union elections, and that the suspected acts of fraud have not been answered by a massive mobilisation of the workers, which would leave no-one in doubt to which side they belonged, indicates that the working class still is not stamping its mark on the situation and that it is still lacking organisation, leadership and confidence in its own strength. However, this may change very quickly and the battle that has exploded between Chavez and his enemies requires a quick response from the most conscious and assertive layers of the proletariat

In order to get rid of the corrupt leaders of the CTV, break the influence of the bourgeois over the labour movement and for the Venezuelan working class to take control over the situation, it is necessary to build a Marxist organisation that bases itself on an independent class policy and fights for socialism. The masses, and above all the working class, must understand that only by building their own organs of power and workers' control and by participating massively themselves in the fight for a socialist programme, can Venezuelan society be transformed. It must be underlined that even the most modest of objectives of the Bolivarian revolution clash with the interests of the ruling class and imperialism and are completely unachievable under capitalism. A complete agrarian reform, independence from imperialism and the democratisation of society and the economy require the commanding heights of the economy to be nationalised under the democratic control of the workers organised into councils of elected representatives subject to immediate recall. At the same time, a victorious workers' revolution in Venezuela would need to be spread to the rest of Latin America and an internationalist appeal to all workers would need to made in order to consolidate the gains and continue on the path towards genuine socialism.

If Chavez, the officers that support him and the MVR are able to go so far as to nationalise the economy and introduce central planning but without this being the result of a conscious struggle on behalf of the masses and without it being under the latter's control, through the creation of councils that started as organs of struggle but then transformed themselves into the pillars of a democratic workers' state, this will only lead to the economy being managed from on top and could lead to a bureaucratisation of the regime. Such a regime would be a step forwards and it undoubtedly would improve the living conditions of the masses, but it would be subject right from the beginning to enormous contradictions and would sooner or later enter into crisis.

In the coming period, the working class of Venezuela and that of the whole of Latin America will take part in decisive events. We have already seen this in the events in Venezuela, the Ecuadorian revolution of 2001 and the seven general strikes in two years in Argentina, which have been continued by the spontaneous social explosion of the masses that might yet shake the whole of the continent and that was met by the state of emergency decreed by De la Rua. We are now embarking on a period of revolution and counterrevolution. The issue of whether the working class and the poorest layers of society will be victorious or whether the bourgeoisie and imperialism will be able to crush the popular will underneath the jackboot of military dictatorship, will depend fundamentally on the most advanced sections of the proletariat and youth finding the path to the programme and the methods of revolutionary Marxism and winning the total support of the masses for these ideas. This is the task that we have in front of us and we have the time and to complete it, and events will also help.

Miguel Campos,(El Militante)

[1] Article from the "Rebelión", 13-12-01