A question for Jose P.

Jose G. Perez jgperez at SPAMfreepcmail.com
Thu Sep 2 02:09:17 MDT 1999

>Jose, perhaps you can shed some light on the following:
>How do the Barnesites explain and justify their differences with Castro,
>for example on Chavez in Venezuela.  I saw somewhere that Fidel called
>the victory of the Chavez slate in the Constituent Assembly elections a
>red letter date in Latin American history comparable to the victory of
>the Cuban revolution, while the SWP calls Chavez a bonapartist (and not
>a very left one at that) and has nary a good word to say about him
>(other than the fact that he talks to Fidel).


    I've seen several statements by Fidel on Venezuela and Chávez; generally
what I've seen is consistent with the stance of the Cuban press, which is
supportive of and friendly to Chávez and his moves against the old corrupt
political structure. I'm not sure someone in Fidel's position would speak in
terms of how people in Venezuela should vote; he is, as you can imagine,
extremely sensitive on the issue of foreign interference in the internal
affairs of other countries. At any rate, I have not seen such a specific

    As for the Militant, it ran very sharp articles against Chávez around
the time of his election and his inauguration, calling him a "bonapartist
figure," a "capitalist politician," and a "strong-man;" comparing him with
Fujimori and his campaign against the democratic rights of the Peruvian
people; called Chavez's plan to call a referendum on a Constituent Assembly
"undemocratic"; predicted he would continue and deepen the austerity
policies of his predecessor; approvingly quoted attacks on Chávez by the
"outgoing president of the Congress"; chided COPEI for having "buckled" to
Chávez by acquiescencing to the holding of a referendum; and denounced
Chavez's references to Simón Bolívar as "nationalist demagogy."

    How hard the Militant was trying to "nail" Chávez is evident from this
excerpt from a front-page article in their December 21 issue:

"Cha'vez has already begun to shed many of the leftist
elements of his radical rhetoric. He has called on banks and
private investors to bring capital back into the country, which
businessmen whisked abroad upon news of his possible victory.
He has opened his arms to dealings with the U.S. government
that labeled him a terrorist after his coup attempts and has
denied him a visa to enter the United States.  An article in
the Spanish-language big-business newspaper El Pai's quoted
Cha'vez in a meeting that included former U.S. president James
Carter. 'There are no hard feelings with the United States,' he said."

This is a piece of raving, ultraleft lunacy worthy of the Spartacist League
of old. What should he have done? Demand that the banks and big businessmen
further decapitalize the country?  Insist that the United States break
diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and establish an economic blockade
against it, as it has done against Cuba? Stormed out of the meeting with
Carter vowing eternal enmity for the U.S.?

But apart from all the specific points, the Militant has completely
forgotten that Venezuela as a country is oppressed and exploited by the
States; that the U.S. Government's labeling of Chavez as a "terrorist" and
refusal to grant him a visa (until after the elections) was clearly an
arrogant intervention into Venezuela's internal affairs; and there's been no
note of Venezuela's prominent role --at Chávez's insistence-- in helping to
strengthen OPEC so that the semicolonial countries that are among the main
producers of crude oil can get better terms from the imperialist oil
monopolies. Even Chavez's offer to promote Cuba's entry into a
México-Venezuela program that offers the poorer countries in the region
crude oil on better terms than those available on the world market went

I think it is a mistake for revolutionists to determine their stance to
major political developments such as the rise of the movement associated
with  Chavez in Venezuela simply by figuring out that he is a "bonapartist."
For one thing, France in the mid-1800s was not a semicolonial country
exploited by imperialism.

I think Fidel showed what the point of departure for revolutionists should
be very well upon his arrival in Venezuela for Chavez's inauguration:

"Sé que Venezuela vive momentos de grandes expectativas y esperanzas. Quiero
compartir con el pueblo de Venezuela esas esperanzas.

"Tengo muy presente, y lo he tenido toda mi vida, que Bolívar fue el hombre
a quien más admiró José Martí. Bolívar, Venezuela y su pueblo fueron siempre
lo que más admiraron los cubanos. Bolívar, Venezuela, su pueblo y sus
hazañas inspiraron siempre mis sueños de revolucionario latinoamericano y

"Llego aquí hoy para expresar en nombre de Cuba la misma admiración, el
mismo respeto y el mismo entrañable cariño que hemos sentido siempre los
cubanos por Venezuela."

(In know Venezuela is going through times of great expectations and hopes. I
want to share those hopes with the people of Venezuela.

(I am very mindful of the fact, as I have been throughout my whole life,
that Bolívar was the man most admired by José Martí. Bolívar, Venezuela and
its people have always been most admired by the Cubans. Venezuela, its
people, and its heroic achievements always inspired my dreams as a Latin
American and Cuba revolutionist.

(I come here to express on Cuba's behalf the same admiration, the same
respect and the same deep affection we Cubans have always felt for

The emphasis here is not at all on Chávez; he isn't even mentioned, but on
the hopes and aspirations of the Venezuelan nation which have come to the
fore at this time; also Fidel recalls and gives great emphasis to
Venezuela's own revolutionary traditions and heroes.

In later statements, I think because he's gotten to know Chávez and take the
measure of the man, Fidel speaks of Chavez as someone who is representing
those hopes and aspirations, giving voice to them, and goes further in
highlighting that Chavez is talking about the hopes and aspirations of the
80% of Venezuelans who live in poverty. Fidel's even said thinghs like that
Chávez wants to change Venezuelan society to make it more just and so on,
and that he agrees with Chavez that people should look back to the example
of Simon Bolivar in going about that, repeating the stuff about Bolivar and
Marti. He's also hailed the victory of the chavistas is the constituent
assembly elections as something that could be a turning point in Venezuelan
history like July 26 --the attack on the Moncada barracks-- was in Cuba.

Fidel, being Fidel, doesn't need to and probably should not say more. People
know his history, when he say Bolívar served as an inspiration to his own
revolutionary dreams, they know what he's done, when he says it's a turning
point like July 26 was in Cuba, they know what that means, a moment when the
struggle in many ways BEGAN, not when it ended.

The Venezuelan communists are not Fidel and are not in Fidel's position.
They also do well to remember they don't have his moral authority, either.
They would undoubtedly say more, but I do not believe their basic political
stance of being part of the movement fighting to tear down the old, corrupt
political structures that allowed a tiny minority to line their pockets, and
to use Venezuela's wealth and resources instead for the big majority of the
population. They may have their own ideas on how to advance the struggle
against the old political elite. For example, the confrontation at the
legislature a few days ago was basically between the old legislature and
some supporters and the police. Venezuelan communists may have wanted to
explore with other groups whether a march, strike action or other activity
involving the masses to repudiate the old legislature's provocations would
be useful. I think at times like these communists should not place
themselves in the position of alienating people with "preventive," purely
ideological polemics against what some figure really intends or might do.
Communists should be part of the movement, seeking to deepen it and broaden
it, helping to make it more conscious, and let other figures and currents
define themselves as the movement develops. Even then, should some figure or
current counterpose themselves to the development of the mass movement, what
needs to be done is to have a discussion on the best way to fight the common
enemy, not a denunciation of X, Y or Z person as a traitor.

Finally communists in the United States are neither in Fidel's position nor
in the position of those who live in Venezuela. Again, I don't think their
stance should be any different but their main obligation is to educate the
working class in the United States, not the working people of Venezuela.

The SWP in the 30's 40's and 50's had a great deal of experience and success
in applying precisely such careful, communist tactics within the trade
unions. Comrade Sol Dollinger, who participated in that work, has recounted
some of it here and has posted a treasure-trove of material in a web site he
maintains. Party members in the unions didn't go out to pick fights with
other currents in the labor movement, they tried to keep front and center
the needs of the movement as a whole given the current state of the
struggle. They let the other currents decide whether they would lead, follow
or get out of the way. When some current or leadership did get in the way,
party members explained why that wasn't the best way to strengthen the
union's fight against the company. In the words of the manifesto they did
not set themselves up as a party opposed to other working class parties,
they tried to distinguish themselves by being the best and most farsighted
militants of the working class movement.

However, the SWP historically did not succeed in consistently applying that
same approach to other apects and manifestations of the class struggle. This
has been a generalized weakness of much of the communist movement and I
think is seen very clearly among Trotskyists, finding acute expression in
the relations between the various currents that come from that tradition.
Another area where it has found heightened expression is in the attitude of
many Trotskyist groups towards national and social movements in the third
world, and especially in Latin America, especially those whose leadership is
perceived as being bourgeois.

In another thread Nestor suggests maybe this is due to an adaptation to
imperialist pressures, if I understood his point correctly. Undoubtedly it
is a weakness in the way the SWP educated and organizes its members and
followers on this very important point, but I don't think it come from
adaptation. The SWP stuck fast to a Leninist line in WWII, when it was
extremely unpopular, especially at first, and although it meant the
imprisonment of many top party leaders, losing leadership posts in unions
and so on. And it has stuck fast to that line.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly Stalinophobia, an extreme sectarian and
factional attitude towards the pro-Moscow and (later) pro-Chinese currents,
understandable on a human level perhaps from the savage viciousness of these
currents against Trots, but still a political mistake.

More fundamentally, though, it comes from elevating a purely ideological,
propagandistic "struggle" for Marxist "theory" or "program" or "strategy" as
the highest form of revolutionary politics. Thus in the 1970s, the SWP
invested enormous resources to purely ideological discussions of what
revolutionaries ought to be doing in Chile, ought to be doing in Argentina,
ought to be doing in Latin America, ought to be doing in Canada, ought to be
doing in Spain, Portugal, France, Britain and God knows where else. The SWP
viewed this as its proletarian internationalist duty and invested enormous
resources, in these discussions. Indeed, the SWP's first Spanish-language
publications were of this type (internal bulletins, if I remember right),
and much of the original impetus for publishing Perspectiva Mundial --and
its name-- came from this, too.

It's not that the issues were unimportant, many were important, especially
around a country like Chile where a revolutionary upsurge was underway. It's
just that what revolutionaries ought NOT to have been doing especially in a
country like Chile right then was to elevate a purely ideological discussion
or struggle around these issues into a central or the central focus of their
organized activity. Nor should revolutionaries in other countries have let
it become the major focus of what they said and did about Chile. And this
focus on the ideological discussion made the SWP come across as dementedly
sectarian on Chile.

Now, back to Venezuela and your question about how the SWP reconciles its
stance with that of the Cuban communists.

There has not been, as far as I can tell, any attempt by the Militant to
reconcile their own initial hostility to Chávez with the markedly different
adopted by Fidel and Cuba.

But since Chavez's inauguration, the Militant has had virtually nothing to
say about Venezuela, except for an In Brief item on the referendum and two
pieces about layoffs and protests in the oil industry. I would hope this
means they've reassessed their previous stance, but I don't think this is
the case since they probably would have written something by now. I think it
means Venezuela has dropped off their radar screen because the bourgeois
press in the U.S. has given Venezuela very little coverage.


More information about the Marxism mailing list