[Marxism] Why it is important to get that Chavez is not a closet communist

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Aug 18 09:51:44 MDT 2004

The reason I wrote my comments on Tariq was not that I thought he was in
any way hostile to or belittling the Bolivarian revolution.  He is a
strong and active supporter of it.  But yes, as soon as I saw his
interpretation which was the context in which he placed 
Chavez's comments, I knew that every sectarian in the solar system was
going to jump on them.  I thought it was important that some of the
differences between the Venezuelan revolution and Chavez's course as the
central leader on the one hand, and British Social Democracy at its
post-World War II crest needed to be laid out sharply.
I agree that Chavez's words accurately captured the reality and the
tasks, and rejected ultraleftism appropriately.
But one thing I think we need to be clear on.  All the evidence -- past
and present -- available to us indicaes that when Chavez says he is not
a  Marxist and that he does not believe proletarian revolution is a
realistic perspective, I think he is not kidding or dissembling in any
The fact is that when they initiated the Cuban revolutionary struggle in
Fidel and Raul were consciously prosocialist and had consciously
assimilated  many of the fundamental ideas of Marxism.  They did not
think that socialism was the immediate task or needed to be talked about
constantly but they were in favor of it and thought it was a realistic
perspective for Cuba.
Of course, this was also true of Che when he joined the movement in
Its worth recalling the period when the Cuban revolution took place, the
period of upswing in the Soviet Union following the victory in World War
II and de-Stalinization.  The period of the victory of China and the
overturn of capitalism there.  The period when the Chinese and north
Koreans stalemated the US imperialists in a major war.  The period of
Dien Bien Phu and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of
Chavez comes from a quite different background and in a different
period.  A former army officer who organized revolutionary minded
officers of the army into a semisecret organization, there is no
evidence that they studied Marxism as Fidel, Raul, and others definitely
did.  There is no evidence whatsoever that he had a socialist
perspective when he came to power or that he does so now, although he
has learned a lot from the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro  (the
nearest thing he had to a model before was the Torrijos regime in
Panama, but he was critical of the insufficient involvement of the
masses in the process).
Chavez is also the first revolutionary leadership I know of to emerge
out of the period that has included the disintegration and collapse of
the Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia, the enormous strengthening of capitalist
forces in China consciously advanced by the ruling group there, the rise
of neoliberalism, the weakening of the labor movements in the United
States, Britain, and many other countries, the breaking and corruption
of the Nicaraguan revolution, the dispersion of the revolutionary forces
in El Salvador.   There have been positive threads going also (otherwise
the Venezuelan revolution would have been doomed) but Marxism and the
perspective that the proletariat can rule were never  so ideologically
discredited among masses of people and vanguard types in the first
eighty years of the twentieth century. 
This is important.  There is less confidence among the  radicals, the
vanguard fighters, AND the masses that they can really rule in their own
name  and interests.  Chavez doesn't simply deal with this circumstance
and try to  advance in spite of it, he also arises out of it and is
partly shaped by it.  Chavez and the masses are both learning in life
that the possibilities are greater than they imagined.
It is in this context that the Venezuelan revolutionary process began
(in a sense with the Caracazo of 1989 a and the attempted Chavez coup).
The current revolutionary leadership came to power with the idea of a
revolution but very modest ideas  of what it might consist of--much more
modest than you will find in the programmatic statements of the July 26
movement for example.  It took massive and unpredictable changes in the
political situation for them to be able to begin advancing in a
revolutionary way and the progress (especially in important areas like
arming the people to defend their gains and the critical land question)
has accelerated greatly but the level of achievement is still modest and
not necessarily irreversible in appearance.
(After all, Cuban doctors can be sent home, committees can become
inactive, a small-scale land reform can be reversed by the workings of
the debt-and-market system and so on.)
I don't rule out any scale of advance for the Venezuelan revolution.  I
worry about it slowing down, or the process being forced to retreat at
some point.  But I have also become convinced of the dangers of
ultraleft pushing from the outside and impatience. Illusions about where
the Venezuelan leadership is today ideologically and programmatically
(even if one assumes it would be correct for them to keep it under their
hats) can actually encourage impatience, and a lack of understanding of
what a process this really is.   I am convinced that if Chavez ever does
announce  that he will not be explaining why he thought it was
tactically wise not to say  this twenty years ago but what experiences
have CHANGED HIS MIND about the possibilities. To an even greater degree
than in Cuba (although this has to happen in every revolution), the
masses and the leadership are learning together as they advance
This depends in part on changing the world political situation.  The
biggest contribution we can make to this is demanding immediate
withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and standing in solidarity with the
people of Iraq against the occupation.  The confrontation over Najaf
will make an important contribution to the future of the Venezuelan
Fred Feldman

More information about the Marxism mailing list