[Marxism] Venezuela's Left comes together

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Wed Aug 10 07:10:48 MDT 2005

Andrew Splane recommends to us the report in the ISO's Socialist Worker
on a number of leftist groups getting together in Caracas:

"ON JULY 9, over 400 people from all over the country met at the Teatro
Imperial in Caracas in a political rally whose main purpose was to issue
a public call for the formation of a mass workers party that can fight
for the socialist revolution in Venezuela.

"In a country whose population is close to 24 million, this may seem
inconsequential. But those who called for the event and the bulk of
those in attendance constitute the sector with the most political weight
in the leadership of the National Union of Workers (UNT)."

It may seem odd to talk about "Venezuela's Left" coming together in an
article that I think accurately reflects that the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY
of Venezuela's "left," those who identify with the Bolivarian Revolution
and its central leader, President Hugo Chávez, were not present. 

But that, really, is precisely the point. The ISO doesn't consider
Chávez or his millions of supporters part of the "Left." 

Sure, the ISO comrades are careful about how openly they project their
opposition to the Bolivarian revolution, given how popular Chávez has
become, not just in Venezuela, but internationally.

"President Hugo Chávez recently described himself as a socialist, which
led to a surge of interest among large sectors of the population who
want discuss and to understand what socialism is. The importance of the
July 9 event lies in the fact that while Chávez speaks in general terms
about the 'socialism of the 21st century,' the leftist leaders who
organized the conference emphasize that it is the power of the working
class which will be able to provide substance for socialism."

But the political line of OVERTHROWING the revolutionary government
(from the "left," of course...) is absolutely clear:

"Now that the masses have burst actively into the political scene, the
call issued at the July 9 event for the formation of a mass
revolutionary workers party that can lead the Venezuelan working class
to take state power is extremely important."

"Extremely important." How delicately put. "Extremely idiotic" is more
like it.

It is a political error of no small consequence to talk about "a mass
revolutionary workers party that can lead the Venezuelan working class
to take state power" in order that "the power of the working class ...
provide substance for socialism." As a practical program for working
people on the ground in Venezuela (not just in the pages of some
dead-tree tract in an imperialist country) it means overthrowing Chavez.

For good or ill, all historical experience in Latin America suggests
that there is one road and one road only towards the consolidation of a
socialist revolution in Venezuela TODAY. And that is in and through the
actual, really existing, national and anti-imperialist revolutionary
movement around Chávez. 

Calling on "the Venezuelan working class to take state power" is just an
algebraic and abstract way --a shamefaced way-- of saying "Down with

I am not for revolutionary organizations in the United States, and this
goes triple for mostly white revolutionary organizations, taking all
sorts of positions about strategy and tactics in other countries and
most of all in Third World countries. Historical experience has shown
that such positions are AT BEST a series of unhappy misunderstandings.
And how could it be otherwise?

How many comrades in the ISO leadership, responsible for setting the
political line of Socialist Worker, have even *been* to Venezuela? How
many Sunday afternoons have they spent listening to "Aló Presidente"?
How many are able to follow the Venezuelan press and political
developments directly, rather than through the filter of (mostly
imperialist and corporate) English-language publications? How many
Venezuelan friends do they have? 

But my opposition to groups like the ISO or Solidarity (the one I belong
to) taking positions like these on these sorts of questions is broader
than simply noting that truly encyclopedic ignorance (to plagiarize a
phrase from Fidel) isn't that solid a foundation for a correct political
line. It has more to do with combating imperialist arrogance, great
nation chauvinism, and idealism.

Idealism? Yes, idealism. What else to call the assumption that "having
the correct program" or knowing correct ideas *in general* somehow
qualifies you to make medicine for the Venezuelan revolution *in
particular* even though you've never been there, don't speak the
language, have no feel for the culture, and can't tell the players
without a scorecard? 

Marxist --and especially Trotskyist-- idealism, seeing the real world as
merely the playing out of certain unvarying paradigms --popular
frontism, bonapartism, bourgeois nationalism-- is the concrete mechanism
through which the arrogance born of imperialist and white skin privilege
manifests among Trotskyists.

As for Latin American Trotskyism, which is what this conference the ISO
reports on seems to be largely an expression of, it was put to the test
nearly a half century ago by the Cuban revolution and, as a current, it

Because what the Cuban Revolution was about in the area of the
traditional political tendencies was a shattering of schemas. Many, and
I suspect the overwhelming majority, of the people influenced by
Trotsky's ideas, understood it just that way and instead of defining
themselves in terms of the issues of decades past in other countries,
these forces became part of the historically evolved revolutionary
movements in their own countries, which under Latin American
circumstances, are generally national and anti-imperialist movements
first and foremost. And within that framework sought to apply the
lessons of past debates and struggles as they understood them.

But those who chose to remain specifically *Trotskyist* currents showed
that they were bankrupt sectarians. ALL OF THEM.

The cases of those associated with the mainstream international
Trotskyist groups (the Posadistas and Morenistas) are well known, at
least to veterans of this list. 

More to the point in relation to the ISO is that groupings from their
current don't have much of a basis to arise in Latin America. That
simply because these currents think that Cuba is capitalist.

And it isn't even a question of the theoretical somersaults these
neo-Schactmanites perform to come to such outlandish conclusions, but a
political one: Call it socialism, call it capitalism, or call it grumph:
there isn't anyone with their heads screwed on right in Latin America
who doesn't recognize the tremendous strides working people have made
under what the ISO calls "state capitalism" in Cuba.

And thus the "theory" (or, to be brutally frank, the pauperized parody
that passes for theory in state capitalist circles in relation to Cuba)
becomes a political noose. Sure, fight for the state cap's vision of
"socialism" or the withering away of commodity production or the rapture
or whatever utopia is called for in the state-cap book of common prayer.

But when you get right down to it, don't you have to admit that Cuban
"state capitalism" is qualitatively better for working people than the
regular kind? And if *this kind* of capitalism is better for working
people, aren't you duty bound to defend it and even promote it as a step
forward, even if it falls far short of the final goal? 

Because that's what it's coming down to in Venezuela. Cuban style "state
capitalism" (if that's what you want to call it) versus regular (or what
I would call "real") capitalism. The muddleheaded
workerist-economist-anarchoid utopia that state capitalists adhere to
isn't even in the running in Venezuela. 

Remember what the Socialist Worker told us about this 400-"strong"
assembly in the midst of a revolution where the many-millioned masses
have come onto the political stage. 

"In a country whose population is close to 24 million, this may seem
inconsequential. But those who called for the event and the bulk of
those in attendance constitute the sector with the most political weight
in the leadership of the National Union of Workers (UNT)."

It doesn't just *seem* inconsequential, it is IN FACT inconsequential.
And the idea that those involved represent "the most political weight in
the leadership of the National Union of Workers (UNT)" is a striking
illustration of sectarian delusion, if not dementia.

I harbor no doubt as to who has "the most political weight" among
working people in Venezuela today. And it ain't the half dozen grouplets
the ISO considers "Venezuela's Left." It is Hugo Chávez, and ANYONE who
doesn't realize it is lost in space.

Sure, it is comparatively *easy* under current Venezuelan circumstances
for just about any "Leninist" leftist group to capture any number of
union posts (especially by appealing narrowly to the immediate economist
interests of relatively privileged workers). But winning a union
election and winning hegemony in the class movement are two ENTIRELY
different things. 

And anyone who thinks Hugo Chavez doesn't have hegemony among the
popular classes in Venezuela today is being real uncomradely in not
sharing whatever it is they've been smoking. But if I were the editor of
Socialist Worker, I'd probably ask them to sober up before submitting
any more Venezuela articles.

I'm sorry if this sounds uncomradely towards the ISO folks but it can't
be helped. I like them a great deal; I think they could have a lot to
contribute to a reforging of a revolutionary socialist movement in the
United States. But the kind of sectarianism they seem to be drifting
into in relation to Venezuela is a road that's been traveled before by
quite a few people who come from the Trotskyist tradition. And what that
road leads to is complete sectification in the best of cases, and
cultist madness in the worst.


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