Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua: revolutionary movements for national salvation

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Sep 28 11:54:56 MDT 2002

I do not think this distinction that has been made here --"Nicaragua had a
revolution, Venezuela has not" is as useful as it might seem at first blush.

Nicaragua after July 19 was in the midst of a revolutionary process.
Venezuela is today in the midst of a revolutionary process. While the July
19th victory eliminated certain immediate obstacles that still persist in
Venezuela, the two situations have many elements in common, as they do also
with the situation in Cuba in 1959 and 1960.

True, we have the extremely unusual situation that a key role in setting off
this process in Venezuela was a bourgeois-democratic election and the
drafting of a new constitution that does not go beyond the bounds of
bourgeois democracy. There is nothing in Marxist literature that directly
speaks to a revolutionary process being born in such a way. But here we are,
and just because the reality wasn't foretold doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Lenin said it: theory is gray, but life is green.


What is to be noted about the 1998 Venezuelan elections is that they marked
a de-legitimization and breakdown in the political and ideological hegemony
of the old two party system. This assault on the instruments through which
the bourgeoisie legitimizes its rule and imposes its ideological hegemony
continued in the next couple of years with a half dozen more elections.
Again, it may be unheard of for revolutionaries to use this arena, the
electoral and parliamentary one, as their primary arenas or at least central
ones, especially in very important batles. But that, on the face of it, is
what happened.

One myth we should get rid off is the idea that people like Chávez, Fidel,
the Sandinistas and a number of others somehow stumbled into leading
revolutionary movements against capitalist rule by accident. Because of
bourgeois domination in every sense, leading a mass anticapitalist movement
is hard enough to do when you are trying, and it is not given to many to

I believe it is a safe assumption that, if this kind of revolution is moving
in a certain direction, that is a conscious choice. And while not all the
ends and means may have been foreseen at the outset by the central leaders,
what is clear from the path they have blazed is that the direction, at the
very least, was totally conscious from the outset.

With the collapse of the bourgeois two-party system in Venezuela, and with
Chávez giving voice to some of the most heart-felt grievances of working
people, this led to the entrance of the toiling masses on the historical
stage as protagonists of their own fate.


Some might challenge my characterization of what is going on in Venezuela as
a revolutionary process, or consider the term so broad as to be able to
encompass just about any upsurge in mass struggle. But I insist, what is
going on in Venezuela is a revolutionary process of the same type as that
which took place in Cuba and, later, in Nicaragua. This makes it different
from, for example, the situation in Argentina today.

I think it is important for Marxists to understand the character of the
movements through which revolutions arise in Latin America. These present
themselves, typically, neither as movements for workers rule nor as
movements for national independence, not explicitly, but rather as movements
to ennoble or raise up the nation from its current degradation. However, at
bottom they are precisely movements against imperialist domination, fueled
increasingly by the independent organizaiton and mobilization of the masses,
whose logic leads towards the establishment of a revolutionary government of
the working people.

The Chávez movement, like the Nicaraguan, Cuban and Peronist movements
before it, presented as a movement for national dignity, for national
salvation. It was aimed not so much explicitly against imperialism, but
rather against the humiliating state of the nation that resulted from
imperialist domination. In addition, these movements take place in societies
where capitalist social relations prevail. They seek to ameliorate some of
the most immediate, felt problems of the toilers, and give voice to their
demands, although these are often presented and motivated in national, not
class terms.

These movements "for national dignity" and "national salvation" may in the
beginning enjoy almost delirious support from all social classes, and
genuinely so, but the bourgeoisie soon discovers it has been "betrayed."
What presented itself originally as merely "pariotic" (and which the
bourgeoisie interpreted in an entirely bourgeois way, with themselves at the
head of the "patria" and *their* interests being the interests of the nation
as a whole) in fact does not uphold "the interests of  the nation as a
whole" (i.e., their own bourgeois class interests) but rather favors only "a
section" of the population, i.e., the toilers, the rabble, the majority.


It is this sense of betrayal, that they were swindled, tricked into opening
the door for the hangman that gives the bourgeois opposition to these
revolutionary national movements --which is how the bourgeois forces have
now reconstituted themselves-- such a venomous, even hysterical character.

The capitalists figure that "these people" (Fidel, the Sandinistas, Chávez)
could never have gotten where they were without bourgeois support, and the
withdrawal of that support (the only one that counts, in their own eyes)
should lead their regimes to collapse. Except that the regimes do not
collapse, not even in the Venezuelan situation where it cannot be said that
the national revolution has "taken power" in the sense that it did in Cuba
in early 1959. It does not collapse because the national revolution has
awakened a much broader and firmer base of support, the working people.

As the bourgeoisie stiffens its resistance to the measures of the national
movement, the class struggle, until now muted and veiled under the cloak of
this new "national" mantle, breaks out more openly, and with great vigor. It
will break out with a vengeance because the national movement has shattered
the old bourgeois political and ideological domination, freeing working
people to organize and fight for their own interests, even when these are
presented in national garb.

The leadership of the process will argue that the measures being proposed or
adopted are just patriotic. They favor the development of the nation, a
sronger internal market, a rise in the educational level of the people, all
goals of the nation (and things traditionally identified with the rise of
the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois-democratic revolution).

Some bourgeois figures, more for ideological reasons than immediate material
self-interest, may remain with the process for quite a distance. But the
problem is that the bourgeoisie as a whole is no longer "national," but
rather a subordinate part of a world capitalist system dominated by
imperialist corporations headquartered in imperialist states. Layer after
layer of bourgeois supporters of the national revolution turn against it, as
the revolution reveals and brings to the fore its essential popular
character (popular in the Latin American sense, "of the people,''  i.e., the

A small fraction of these bourgeois and middle class layers which are
nevertheless of great importance because of their administrative, managerial
and professional skills, will remain with the process and eventually
consciously cast their lot with that of the masses. But as for social
classes taken as a whole, it is as Sandino said, "Only the workers and
peasants will go all the way. Only their organized force can guarantee the


The class struggle intensified qualitatively a year ago, when Chávez put in
some 50 economic measures, among them an agrarian reform law and a law
increasing petroleum extraction royalties. That's when the bourgeoisie went
bezerk, although, of course, they had long before abandoned any pretense of
being Chavez's friends. But this frenzied campaign demanding the results of
elections held only a couple of years ago be overturned dates from that
time. It coincided also with Otto Reich being put in charge of Latin America
at the State Department, which played a role, for Reich is a gusano through
and through. He identifies with the Venezuelan rich in the calamity that has
befallen them, he feels their pain, he is one with them completely. Suddenly
having one of their own in the top levels of the State Department (and also
in the Pentagon, where another gusano plays the key role in relations with
Latin America) further emboldened the Venezuelan capitalists.

The April coup showed both the need to destroy the repressive forces of the
bourgeois state apparatus as well as the degree to which part of the
bourgeois state apparatus had already been corroded by the Bolivarian
revolution. It should be noted that this coup was launched from a position
of evident military weakness by the plotters. They could not immediately and
directly *overthrow* the president, but went through the charade of claiming
he had resigned, precisely to confuse and disorient the Chávez forces in the
hopes of preventing a popular uprising which the army troops, drawn from the
people and brought into intimate contact with the masses by Chavez's
policies, could not be counted on to repress.

This undermining of the army's utility as a weapon against the mass movement
did not happen by chance. It was engineered by Chávez, who both sent out
army units to work with local neighborhood leaders in building schools and
carrying out other useful projects, and constituted entirely new military
units, etc.

The *limits* of such a policy were shown by the April coup. More decisive
action on the part of the coup plotters, for example using the Caracas
metropolitan police force, which is under counterrevolutionary control, as
shock troops in spearheading the movement, might have let them get away with
it. The task of neutralizing and disbanding the specialized organs of
repression of the capitalists is an urgent and extremely delicate one.

Now, part of this is breaking the bourgeois control over and winning to the
revolution significant sections of the existing military structures. We must
remember the Venezuelan army is NOT the somocista national guard, which was
simply the goon squad of a capitalist mob writ large, nor the Batista army.
It hasn't just spent the last few years massacring workers, bombing
peasants, organizing clandestine kidnappings and disappearances. It doesn't
appear to be an essentially cop-like force.

Despite that, although many of the most reactionary officers did the
revolution a favor by botching the coup and exposing themselves, this
doesn't mean that the army officer corps is now rid of enemies of the
Bolvarian Revolution. And as the class struggle continues and deepens, we
can expect more members of the officer corps will turn against the process,
paralleling the evolution of similar layers in civilian society. This
happened even among the officers of the insurgent forces in Cuba and
Nicaragua: Edén Pastora and Huber Matos are well known examples.


For Marxists, the most important thing, however, is not the dismantling of
the repressive apparatus. It is that Chávez has increasingly relied on a
strategy of organizing and mobilizing the masses, and, especially, of
carrying out countermobilizations against the right wing protests, which,
when you think about it, is on the road towards the formation of a militia.
Reports indicate that this approach, applied very spottily before the end of
last year, and still unevenly in the first months of this year, has since
April been given much broader sweep and scope.

This is the most important thing, for in the last analysis, it is the
mobilization, organization, consciousness and combativity of the masses that
will decide the issue. Without it, NOTHING is possible. So this is the most
important revolutionary policy of the Chávez administration, and it is
precisely the right one. How well it is being carried out and with how much
success is very difficult to judge from a distance.

That is what failed in Nicaragua. The U.S. sponsored contra war sent the
economy into a virtual collapse. The failure of the socialist countries to
provide Nicaragua with adequate weapons to beat back the attacks quickly,
and with adequate economic aid, meant the brunt of the economic crisis was
borne by working people (the capitalist market will do that pretty much
automatically) and in an especially maddening form, that of a
hyper-inflationary spiral. The war and the economic crisis atomized and
demoralized the masses; the organized struggle for a new Nicaragua was
consumed by a desperate individual struggle to put food on the table.

So in the end, even though the Sandinista government and military structures
were not destroyed, the Sandinista revolutionary movement among the masses
was destroyed, and that led both to the degradation of the revolutionary
vanguard and government, with privilege taking and other abuses becoming
very visible, and then to the complete collapse of the revolutionary
government, which took the form not just of the electoral defeat but also of
la Piñata, the placing of numerous properties and resources which until then
had been viewed as state property into the private hands of Sandinista
functionaries. This showed the degree to which the revolution rotted out
once it was cut off from its organic base, an organized and mobilized
people, by the blows of imperialism, and how these blows were reflected
within the vanguard, the FSLN.

Each revolutionary process is unique; each one must be analyzed on its own
terms. Comparing and contrasting with previous experiences is often very
helpful in this, provided the previous experiences are not turned into some
sort of norm or model which the new process is expected to copy and gets
demerits for non-compliance if it doesn't.

While there is cause for concern --there always is in this stage of a
revolutionary process--  there is no reason for pessimism, quite the
contrary. Despite the unique way in which the revolutionary mass movement
got under way, the balance of the evidence increasingly points to the
Bolivarian Revolution acquiring the mass popular strength and organization
needed to qualitatively change society, and having a leadership that
understands this and is up to the task.


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