[Marxism] Why I disagree with Jorge Martin (Woods tendency) article on Ven. referendum (Martin article appended

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Jun 6 11:10:40 MDT 2004

I disagree with the political assessment in this article. 

But I have an additional objection to this article: its distribution by
a Venezuelan solidarity organization in the United States. If thiss was
done for information purposes, that is fine. I favor wide distribution
of all true information about Venezuela (or Cuba) or anything else, and
I have no doubt that there are sections of the masses in Venezuela whose
instinctive response was opposed to yet another bourgeois vote on their
top leader. But have the statements by Chavez and others motivating
support for the referendum been similarly distributed?  Not as far as I
know (but I know little about this). 

But I also know that at least one Venezuelan solidarity group has been
mobilized to collect signatures on petitions opposing holding the
referendum. Is this a proper role for Venezuelan solidarity activists in
the United States, even if they are primarily oriented toward the
Venezuelan population there.  And I note what should be obvious:
cancelling the referendum would be a qualitatively diffent and more
explosive, than declaring that they had not met the requirements in the
first place.  But Chavez, I am convinced, had a problem as an honest man
who wants his word to count for something with the people: they had met
the requirements. 

Either replace the Bolivarian constitution now at least in this respect,
over this issue, or carry out its obligations.  This, not imperialist
pressure, was the primary pressure that Chavez responded to. But I am
convinced, of course, that he is an honest man, and not --for example--
a bourgeois nationalist bonapartist demagogue, as some radicals in the
United States believe. 

I am convinced that Chavez is convinced or, and moreover probably
correct in being convinced, that as corrected and confirmed, that the
opposition has basically met the constitutional test for forcing a
referendum.  Does anyone really doubt that are well over the required
amount of people in the country who are opposed to the Venezuelan
revolution?  A couple years ago, the dominant TRADE UNION in Venezuela
was determined to overturn the revolutionary government led by Chavez.
They were smashed in a battle waged in the working class as well as
among the Venezuelan people as a whole, but does anyone doubt that they
had a base among the oppressed and exploited, not to mention among the
bourgeoisie and middle classes?  More than enough to qualify a recall
referendum under the constitution! That is for sure. 

My guess is that the fakery in the signatures was a response to laziness
in the bourgeois forces about waging a real fight -- among other things
I assume (admittedly from class knowledge and because I know how
carefully I acted as a signature collector motivated by conviction,
which was to have the legal requirements firmly in mind) that they hired
signature collectors, paying them per signature and thus encouraging
deliberately maximum fraud.  But when the test really came they had the
signatures because this is the reality.  Chavez, who clearly believes
the revolution can win a referendum and has said so before, now had to
confront the fact that not imperialist pressure but the letter of the
constitution  which he has been defending against the counterrevolution
--required him to accept the referendum. Fred Feldman 

-----Original Message----- From: cort greene
[mailto:cortgreene at excite.com] Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 12:44 PM
To: pttp at yahoogroups.com; actionla at lists.riseup.net;
Argentina_Solidarity at yahoogroups.com; com-news at yahoogroups.com;
MuktoChinta at yahoogroups.com; Activist_List at yahoogroups.com;
handsoffvenezuela at yahoogroups.com; stopplancolombia-en at yahoogroups.com;
Venezuela_Today at yahoogroups.com; proletariat at yahoogroups.com;
ccs-l at lists.ukzn.ac.za Subject: [Venezuela_Today] Venezuela: Bolivarian
masses anger at referendum decision 

Hands Off Venezuela Campaign- http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org 

Venezuela: Bolivarian masses anger at referendum decision 

By Jorge Martin 

On Thursday, June 3, the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission (CNE),
basing itself on preliminary data, announced that the opposition had
collected enough signatures to force a presidential recall referendum.
The opposition needed the support of 2,436,083 voters, in order to
trigger a recall referendum, and according to the CNE they have
collected 2,451,821 signatures, which is barely 15,738 signatures above
the required amount. 

The last part of the process by which the opposition was trying to force
the recall referendum was the so-called "repair" process in which
doubtful signatures were being ratified or denied by the people and this
took place over the weekend of May 28 to 30. This process was fraught
with irregularities. Large numbers of forged ID cards were found by the
police at different locations. A computer, scanner, printer, repair
forms, and forged IDs were found at the local headquarters of the
opposition party Accion Democratica in El Valle, Caracas, where people
who were being pursued by the authorities sought refuge, and 600 ID
cards were also found in the Accion Democratica headquarters in the
Caracas district of El Paraiso. 

In these police raids they also found leaflets inciting violence and
calling for a repeat of the riots that took place in February (a full
account of irregularities can be found in this excellent article by
Gregory Wilpert and Martin Sanchez). There were also instances of
workers sacked by their bosses for refusing to re-verify their
signatures, as was the case at the Coca-Cola plant in Antimano, where 50
workers were threatened with the closure of the plant. The Venezuelan
Coca-Cola subsidiary is owned by media magnate and opposition leader
Gustavo Cisneros. 

Some 1.2 million signatures had been sent to this "repair" process, and
the opposition managed to re-confirm only 614,968. This in itself gives
an indication of the scale of the fraud that went on in the whole
signature collection process. Also 74,112 people did not acknowledge
their signatures, which means that these had been used without their

There is also the issue of some 50,000 people who should have been
excluded from the electoral register because they were already dead, but
the data had not been updated. According to CNE board member Jorge
Rodriguez, this was due to deliberate sabotage. 

For all these reasons on Sunday night, Bolivarians were pleased and
confident and came out on the streets spontaneously to celebrate the
defeat of the opposition, as it seemed clear that with so many
irregularities, the CNE could never concede a recall referendum. But
even at that time many were not sure of what would happen. In the run up
to the repair process there had been extremely harsh pressure on the
part of US imperialism and the opposition to say that if the referendum
was not called, then this meant Chavez was a dictator and measures would
be taken (economic embargo and military intervention included). The
local agents of this pressure were the Carter Centre and the
Organisation of American States, which were allegedly "observing" the
repair process. In reality from Monday on they started interfering
directly with the work of the CNE and making public statements that
coincided almost word by word with the statements of the main opposition
leaders, to the effect that enough signatures had been re-certified and
that the government was stalling the process. This was another way of
piling more pressure on the CNE and on the government itself. 

By Wednesday it was becoming increasingly clear that the CNE would rule
that there should be a referendum and there was a lot of pressure on the
government to recognise such a result, despite all the irregularities.
Joy turned into anger amongst the ranks of the revolutionaries. They
could see in front of their eyes how, once again, a victory had been
turned into defeat. The National Workers Union (UNT) rejected the
calling of a referendum based on fraud, and the National Coordination of
the Bolivarian Circles issued a joint statement with the Bolivarian
Workers Front on the same lines. The same position was taken up and down
the country by many revolutionary organisations. At the Central
University a meeting of revolutionary organisations of teachers,
students and workers (amongst them the Revolutionary Marxist Current and
the Revolutionary Left Organisation) passed a resolution opposing the
referendum and calling on all people and revolutionary organisations to
mobilise against it. At 5 pm, an improvised rally with 3,000
revolutionaries from about 14 different neighbourhoods in the capital
took place in Plaza Caracas, outside the CNE building. There was a
lively discussion and many resolutions were passed, amongst them "1) to
strongly reject the fraud and declare that it would not be accepted
under any circumstances, 2) To reject any possibility to allow the fraud
to be validated through political negotiations at the top, 3) expel the
Carter Centre and the OAS for meddling with the process and not being
impartial observers, 4) not to accept that electoral crimes are left
unpunished (as happened with the crimes committed by those who organised
the coup on April 13th, 2002)". 

Prior to this rally there had been mass meetings of revolutionary
activists in many neighbourhoods to discuss the situation. The
resolutions that came out of them were extremely angry and strongly
worded. "The Bolivarian people of Caricuao" in a meeting on June 1st,
passed a resolution which started by saying clearly: "we refuse to
accept this repair process which is fraudulent", and then went on to
explain that "we will not accept any referendum, they will use all sorts
of tricks in order to win: getting dead people, foreigners and under
aged children to vote, etc" and correctly pointed out that "if we win
the referendum they will invent something else to get rid of you Mr
president, that is the only thing these criminals want." The mood of the
resolution was very bitter: "how long are we going to allow them to f**k
around so that they cannot call us dictators or violent, when they have
committed all sorts of crimes against us, from spitting at us to killing
us and organising military coups and bosses' lock outs". And the
resolution ended with an appeal to the president: "The people support
you, president, we do not want a referendum, send the Ayacucho Command
[which coordinates the leaders of all pro-Chavez parties] to hell. We do
not believe in anybody else, president, we believe in you, do not be
afraid. It does not matter if they call you a dictator, after all the
people know that you are not, and that you are more of a democrat than
all of them put together through a food processing machine. Do not fail
us president, we support you. We are not asking for anything for
ourselves, just a little bit of justice and democracy for us, is this
too much to ask? Ask the people, president what we want. Meet with the
Popular Movement, break the siege around you". 

The revolutionary masses, as always, realised very clearly what was
going on behind the scenes. Strong pressure was being applied on the
president by all the reformists and the moderates within the Bolivarian
movement (many of them to be found in key positions in the leadership of
the parties of the movement, the Comando Ayacucho, and amongst the
presidential advisers). The idea was that a referendum should be allowed
to go ahead, regardless of the signatures, since the opposition will be
defeated in it and this would give the president and the revolutionary
movement more international legitimacy. The clearest expression of this
article can be found in the statement of a Bolivarian activist quoted in
a Venezuelanalysis.com article: "We would win the recall referendum by a
wide margin, and that would be an excellent opportunity to re-legitimize
the [revolutionary] process. U.S. imperialism wants the CNE to declare
that there were not enough signatures for the recall, so they can say
that Chavez prevented the opposition from exercising their democratic
rights. It's a trap to label Chavez as a dictator, invoke the OAS
Democratic Charter against Venezuela and isolate us," he said (quoted in
Venezuela Leader to Face Recall Referendum). 

But this kind of argument was strongly rejected by the rank and file
activists of the Bolivarian movement. They argue, correctly, that one
should not make any more concessions to the opposition which after all
is responsible for the April 13th military coup and the failed coup of
December 2002. The leaders of the opposition should be in jail paying
for their crimes and not collecting fraudulent signatures for the recall
of the president. Furthermore, if during the signature collection
process hundreds of thousands of fraudulent signatures were used, then
these are hundreds of thousands of electoral crimes for which someone
must pay. Any concessions made in the past to the opposition have
resulted not in the opposition turning towards exclusively democratic
means of political action, but rather in them preparing new
counter-revolutionary attempts. As for imperialism, they already
maintain there is no democracy and an authoritarian populist ruler in
Venezuela, and their opinion will not change. They will simply look for
any other excuse to "justify" an intervention. 

In any case the opposition will not be prepared to recognise the results
of the referendum if this does not give them victory. They will
immediately start a new campaign of pressure and imperialist meddling,
threats, and all sorts of dirty tricks, and then if Chavez is reaffirmed
as a president, they will say that the referendum was rigged and this
proves Chavez is a dictator. The opposition is lead by the oligarchy,
the rich and the bankers, the owners of the means of production and is
closely linked to the interests of imperialism. They see their
fundamental interests threatened by the revolution which is developing
in Venezuela. They will not cease in their attempts to put an end to it
by any means necessary. Their use of democratic means (like the recall
referendum) is just a small part of their strategy which includes the
use of paramilitary forces, riots in the streets, sabotage of the
economy and eventually foreign intervention. Making any type of
concessions will only strengthen their counter-revolutionary activities
and it can cause, at a certain point serious demoralisation amongst the
revolutionary masses. 

This is exactly what happened in Nicaragua. After years of a low
intensity war, with imperialist financed guerrillas constantly attacking
the country, with permanent sabotage of the economy, with diplomatic
pressure (through the Contadora Group of Countries, represented in
Venezuela by the Group of Friends and the Carter Centre and OAS
observers), etc, finally the Sandinista leadership accepted the call for
an election. The election took place against this background, and with
the tiredness and demoralisation of ten years of revolutionary struggle,
with all sorts of pressures and dirty tricks on the part of imperialism,
and finally it was lost. The insistence of using only purely
"democratic" means and staying within the limits of capitalism faced
with a counter-revolutionary opposition which was prepared to use all
sorts of undemocratic means to overthrow the government and put an end
to the revolution, finally led to the defeat of the Sandinista

The anger of the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement led some of
its most radical elements to take to the streets on Thursday 3rd, clash
with the opposition controlled Metropolitan Police, burn vans belonging
to companies known to have supported the coup, etc. Later on thousands
gathered outside the presidential palace in a rally called to show
support for the president and the revolution. It was here that Chavez
announced that he would respect the decision of the CNE, that had been
announced only hours before, and that there would be a recall
referendum. For the reasons explained we think that this is a mistake.
The reactions of the people present could be divided roughly into three
main groups: those who accepted the argument that a referendum would
give more democratic legitimacy to the revolution and the president and
that this was the right decision; those who were angry and opposed to
the decision but accepted it out of loyalty to Chavez; and finally those
who are opposed to the decision and still want to fight to try and
change it. They are calling for a rally today, Friday 4th, but they will
also participate in the mass rally in support of the revolution which
has been called on Sunday. That will be a good opportunity to see what
the real mood of the masses is regarding this decision. 

What is clear is that a lot of the criticism has been centred on the
role of the Comando Ayacucho. This was set up a few months ago and is
composed of the leaders of all Bolivarian parties (MVR, PPT, PODEMOS,
PCV, LS). The revolutionary masses rightly feel that this unelected body
is largely useless and out of touch with the workers and the people.
They confidently promised that enough signatures had been collected to
trigger recall referendums against 20 opposition MPs which had been
elected on Bolivarian lists. They could only narrowly trigger 9 of those
referendums and only after a "repair" process. They confidently
announced that 200,000 people had not acknowledged their signatures to
the presidential recall referendum, and in the end only 74,000 had done
so. And this is not for lack of popular will or enthusiasm, but mainly
because of lack of organisation and incompetence of this body. On top of
this the Comando Ayacucho in many towns, cities and states, has imposed
candidates for the forthcoming council and regional elections without
any consultation with the rank and file and in many cases in complete
opposition to them. 

This is probably one of the more acute problems facing the Bolivarian
revolution at this juncture: that of its leadership. As a leaflet
distributed ine these days by the Revolutionary Marxist Current argues,
there is the need for a National Revolutionary Assembly of Delegates
elected and with the right of recall from all the local revolutionary
organisations and assemblies. Only a genuine democratic leadership of
the revolutionary process can replace the Comando Ayacucho and set the
basis for a genuine revolutionary policy. Such a structure could take
over the running of the state and industry in order to replace the
capitalist state structure which is still in place in Venezuela (in the
ministries, the judiciary, etc). 

In order to defend the revolution, some basic self-defence measures need
to be taken. All those responsible for crimes committed during the
counter-revolutionary attempts in the last few years should be put on
trial and sent to jail. The properties, factories and land of known
counter-revolutionary conspirators should be expropriated without
compensation and put under workers' control and management. Workers
control and management should be implemented in publicly owned
companies, in order to prevent corruption and bureaucratisation and use
their resources to the benefit of the majority of the people. All know
agents of imperialism (including the Carter Centre and the OAS
"observers", and the US ambassador) should be expelled from the country.
There should be an immediate default on all payments of the foreign debt
so that this money can be used to the benefit of the people. As announce
by Chavez, workers' and peoples' militias should be set up in order to
guarantee to defend the revolution from imperialist aggression. All
these measures would go a long way to strengthen and defend the
revolution and advance it towards socialism. 

June 4, 2004 

More information about the Marxism mailing list