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Marxism and the Venezuelan State
At this point it is useful to return to Althusser and to the Marxist theory of the State. In classical Marxist theory, the capitalist state must be overthrown rather than reformed. As Althusser (1971: 142) put it:
the proletariat must seize State power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois State apparatus and, in a first phase, replace it with a quite different proletarian, State apparatus, then in a later phases set in motion ... the end of State power, the end of every State apparatus.
However, Althusser’s analysis did not extend to the possible existence of states which advocate their own destruction. As Chavez proclaimed at the World Social Forum in 2005:
It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans, and not machines or the state ahead of everything. That’s the debate we must promote around the world (my emphasis) (cited in Curran 2007).
On 8th January, 2007, Chavez created ‘communal councils’ and has referred to ‘the revolutionary explosion of communal power, of com?munal councils’ (Socialist Outlook Editorial 2007). This is a project for rebuilding or replacing the bourgeois administrative machinery of local and state governments with a network of communal councils, where the local populations meet to decide on local priorities and how to realise them (ibid.). ‘With the communal councils’, Chavez said, in perhaps his most clearly articulated intention to destroy the existing state:
we have to go beyond the local. We have to begin creating... a kind of confederation, local, regional and national, of communal councils. We have to head towards the creation of a communal state. And the old bourgeois state, which is still alive and kicking—this we have to progressively dismantle, at the same time as we build up the communal state, the socialist state, the Bolivarian state, a state that is capable of carrying through a revolution (cited in ibid.).
‘Almost all states’, Chavez continued, ‘have been born to prevent revolutions. So we have quite a task: to convert a counter-revolutionary state into a revolutionary state’ (cited in Piper 2007a, p. 8). The communal councils are intended to bring together 200 to 400 families to discuss and decide on local spending and development plans. Thirty thousand communal councils are intended, and provide, in the words of Roland Dennis, an historic opportunity to do away with the capitalist state (cited in Piper 2007a, ibid.)
If it is the case that genuinely supports socialist revolution from below, which will eventually overthrow the existing capitalist state of Venezuela, then, for Marxists, he must be seen as an ally. Whether he is or not, however, is less important than the fact that he is openly advocating and helping to create genuine socialist consciousness among the working class. I thus make no apologies for making Chavez’s pronouncements a central feature of this chapter.
For example, swearing in the new ministers, in the wake of his landslide presidential election victory, late in 2006, Chavez declared that they will be in charge of pushing forward his government’s project of implementing ‘21st century socialism’ in Venezuela (Wilpert 2007), which Chavez defines as ‘fundamentally human, it is love, it is solidarity, and our Socialism is original, indigenous, Christian and Bolivarian’ (cited in Hampton 2006). More recently, Chavez advised all Venezuelans to read and study the writings of Leon Trotsky, and commented favourably on The Transitional Programme, which was written by Trotsky for the founding congress of the Fourth International in 1938 (Martin 2007).
Trotsky’s pamphlet begins with a discussion of the objective prerequisites for a socialist revolution.
Trotsky’s concept of ‘the permanent revolution’, Chavez went on, is an extremely important thesis (Martin 2007). Chavez underlined Trotsky’s idea about the necessity for conditions for socialism to be ripe and expressed his view that this is certainly the case in Venezuela (ibid.).
Trotsky points out something which is extremely important, and he says that [the conditions for proletarian revolution] are starting to rot, not because of the workers, but because of the leadership which did not see, which did not know, which was cowardly, which subordinated itself to the mandates of capitalism, of the great bourgeois democracies, the trade unions’ (cited in Martin, J. 2007).
For me, this statement is indicative of Chavez’ belief in the importance of grass roots working class consciousness and action.
Jorge Martin agrees:
[s]ince Chavez started talking about socialism in January 2005, this has become a major subject of debate in all corners of Venezuela. Chavez’s statement that under capitalism there was no solution for the problems of the masses and that the road forward was socialism represented a major step forward in his political development. He had started trying to reform the system and to give the masses of the Venezuelan poor decent health and education services and land, and he had realised through his own experience and reading that this was not possible under capitalism (ibid.).
Chavez has made clear that when he talks of building socialism, he is talking about doing it now, not in the long distant future (ibid.). In his comments about Trotsky he stressed the point:
Well, here the conditions are given, I think that this thought or reflection of Trotsky is useful for the moment we are living through, here the conditions are given, in Venezuela and Latin America, I am not going to comment on Europe now, nor on Asia, there the reality is another, another rhythm, another dynamic, but in Latin America conditions are given, and in Venezuela this is a matter of course, to carry out a genuine revolution (cited in ibid).
Leading figures in some of the Bolivarian parties have refused to join in Chavez’ new United Socialist Party, the United Socialist Party ofVenezuela (PSUV) formed two weeks after his election success on 3rd December 2006, fearing the development of revolutionary consciousness among the workers. To one opponent’s statement that he was in favour of a ‘democratic socialism’, Chavez replied that the problem was that ‘I am a socialist and he is a social-democrat’, and he added, ‘I am in favour of revolutionary socialism’ (cited in ibid.). Actual membership of, not merely voters for, the PSUV is estimated at 5.8 million (Venezuelanalysis.com 2007).
In talking about the need for a revolutionary leadership Chavez also quoted from Lenin on the need for a revolutionary party in order ‘to articulate millions of wills into one single will’, which ‘is indispensable to carry out a revolution, otherwise it is lost, like the rivers that overflow, like the Yaracuy that when it reaches the Caribbean loses its riverbed and becomes a swamp’ (cited in ibid.). Chavez argued that PSUV must be the most democratic party Venezuela has ever seen, built from the bottom up, inviting all the currents of the Venezuelan left to join.
He also insisted that it must not be dominated by electoral concerns, nor by the existing leaders of the existing coalition parties. He criticized the way the Bolshevik Party in Russia came to suffocate rather than stimulate a battle of ideas for socialism, noting how the marvelous slogan of ‘all power to the soviets’ degenerated into a sad reality of ‘all power to the party’. For Chavez, this points towards precisely the kind of mass, democratic, revolutionary, political organization that is needed (Piper 2007b).
At the time of writing (summer 2008), in front of an audience composed mainly of PSUV leaders, Chavez has just made a further reference to Trotsky, in commending a book by UK Marxist writer Alan Woods (1999) (Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria (Venezuela) 2008) Here is the quote:
[The class struggle] needs a correct program, a firm party, a trustworthy and courageous leadership - not heroes of the drawing room and of parliamentary phrases, but revolutionists, ready to go to the very end (cited in ibid.).
Chavez said that the PSUV leaders should adapt themselves to Trotsky’s phrase (ibid.).
Capitalists and their political supporters are intent on spreading disinformation about the Chavez Government. In particular, there are numerous attempts to label the Government non-democratic or ‘dictatorial’.
As Jorge Martin (2007) concludes:
[t]he political thinking of Chavez is in tune and reflects the conclusions drawn by tens of thousands of revolutionary activists in Venezuela, in the factories, in the neighbourhoods, in the countryside. They are growing increasingly impatient and want the revolution to be victorious once and for all.
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