RE: [Marxism] "Containing" Chávez

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at
Wed Mar 16 20:47:03 MST 2005

Yoshie's post prompts me to share with this list my own very similar
comments on the same subject sent to a Solidarity internal list:

-----Original Message-----
From: Joaquín Bustelo [mailto:jbustelo at] 
Sent: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 10:23 PM
Subject: Bolivarian Revolution begins expropriation of landowners

The Venezuelan government announced over the weekend what are tantamount to
the first expropriations under the agrarian reform law adopted more than
three years ago.

The four estates affected are part of a group of 14 that were "intervened"
--put under government administrators-- at the beginning of the year, and
these four have been declared public property because the putative owners
could not provide proof of title. Thus technically they aren't
"expropriations" subject to compensation, but rather the recovery of
government property, which will now be turned over to small farmers, and for
which the previous "owners" are entitled to no compensation.

One of the properties affected is popularly known as "the English ranch,"
which was considered a sacred cow. A British firm owned it, and I'm told
that firm is generally believed in Venezuela to be a front for the Royals.
If so, that is a pretty clear political message that no capitalist sector
can consider itself safe from the application of revolutionary laws.

Another is a huge tract of nearly 100,000 hectares. The family that
controlled it --one of Venezuela's richest capitalist families-- had allowed
it to lay fallow for decades. Their mouthpiece now claims it wasn't fallow,
oh no, it was a "nature preserve" and "tourist resort." Somehow I'm not 100%
certain the authorities will accept the explanation.

I think these interventions and recoveries of land are very much connected
with Chávez coming out openly as a socialist in the past few weeks. Although
in general and in the abstract, these measures do not go beyond the bounds
of bourgeois property relations --no nationalization does--, it should be
remembered that in many countries in Latin America there really is no
separate landowner class, lands are just part of the holdings of various
capitalist families. So a struggle with "landowners" very immediately and
directly becomes a struggle with the capitalists as such, and usually as a
whole. (THEY, at least, are clear on the need for class solidarity.)

That certainly appears to be the case in Venezuela from the political
reaction. It was the adoption of the land law and a law changing taxes and
royalties on petroleum more than three years ago that set off the
Christmas-time lockout ("strike") that was then followed by the attempted
coup in April of 2002. Just the *threat* of doing what is now actually
beginning to be done led to the ruling class making a sharp turn in its
policy towards Chávez. They went from a "democratic.," "civic" and
"electoral" opposition to an unabashed campaign to overthrow the
democratically-elected government by force and violence in about three days
when these laws came out.

One very important question is whether the agrarian reform will be led by
the Chávez forces as a class struggle "from below" by the poor peasants
against the capitalist/landlord class (as happened in Cuba) or whether it
will be handled as more of an administrative reform "from above," however
much it is meant to benefit the poor peasants and even draw them into its
application (which tended to be the way it was handled in Nicaragua). It is
impossible from this distance and given the reporting I've seen coming from
Venezuela to know what is actually going on the ground, and especially
without very detailed knowledge of Venezuela's class structure, which I
don't have.

However, Chávez's increased talk about socialism suggests that he is
conscious of the class struggle involved. There certainly is no widespread
socialist sentiment among the masses that he is demagogically playing on by
such pronouncements; on the contrary, he's had to go out of his way to make
clear he's not talking about socialism such as they had in Eastern Europe,
but a new kind of socialism that is democratic and so on, suggesting he is
going against anti-socialist prejudices that the capitalists and their media
have succeeded in implanting in the population. So my hope/guess is that he
is trying to prepare his supporters for a further and deeper showdown with
the domestic capitalist class. 

Another indication of a deepening of the revolution is what may be a signal
of a coming shift in U.S. policy. According to a UPI news analysis:

"In comments published Monday in the London-based Financial Times, the
United States came out swinging, saying it was creating a policy to
'contain' the leftist Chavez in the face of his alleged dedication to
fostering leftist subversion among other Latin American countries. 'Chavez
is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and influence to
introduce his conflictive style into the politics of other countries,' said
Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary for western hemisphere
affairs at the Pentagon.

"Without expanding on just what that 'containment' policy might be,
Pardo-Maurer made it clear that the United States was ready to refocus its
attention on Latin America after largely ignoring the region in the wake of
the Sept.11, 2001, attacks. Other U.S. military officials and officials and
the U.S. State Department have expressed concern in recent weeks about
Venezuela's purchase of weapons from Russian arms dealers, including MiG
fighter jets, helicopters and some 100,000 assault rifles. Those worries may
have been the reason why U.S. naval vessels chose to conduct exercises off
the coast of nearby Curacao, located fewer than 50 miles from Venezuela's

Rogelio "Roger" Pedro-Maurer is a cadre of the counterrevolutionary cabal
centered among CIA-connected Cuban exiles. In the 1980's he ran the contra's
pretend-official Washington Office (the *real* office, of course, was in the
National Security Council "situation room" in the White House basement that
Oliver North operated from). Thus, I don't think one can be 100% certain
that this *is* a shift in policy, it could be a trial balloon, a warning
shot or even advocacy of a change in policy that hasn't yet been adopted.
The "exporting revolution" pretext is pretty threadbare.

Still, things aren't going well for uncle sam south of the border. The
pretend resignation of Bolivian president Mesa failed to achieve its
immediate political goal, which was to pressure Evo Morales and the other
representatives of the Indian Coca-growing peasantry to give political cover
for a hydrocarbons law that falls far short of the demands of the masses.
Instead, Morales and his sector have been driven into the arms of the
intransigent opposition (where they should have been all along). 

In other countries in the region a clear shift to the left continues in
repudiation of the so-called "neo-liberal" policies, which in reality are
not a matter of ideology but rather of inviting the imperialists to rape and
plunder at will. 

In addition, the mention of the Russian arms by "Roger" Pardo-Maurer is
significant. Everyone knows those 100,000 rifles are destined for the
Bolivarian militia in Venezuela, a force composed of working people and
projected as a parallel force under its own command structure to the
standing army. *Precisely* the sort of force that came in so handy in Cuba
when the time came to expropriate the capitalist class as a class (and that
in April 1961 smashed their CIA-sponsored invasion at the aptly-named "Bay
of Pigs" -- although the name "Bay of Pigs" itself is a mistranslation). 

To this day there are a few old-timers in Miami who will still explain to
you the brutal *unfairness* of what happened: the very *worst* element among
the workers, rabble rousers and trouble makers to a person, even people you
had fired, show up at your plant or warehouse at the head of an armed squad
wearing the uniform of the National Revolutionary Militias and TAKE IT OVER
by force and THROW YOU OUT.

However one may characterize the exact stage or phase that Venezuela is
going through or judge the merits or demerits of the Chavez leadership,
there is very little question that this is a deep-going revolutionary
process which increasingly is bringing out into the open the naked class
--property-- interests that are usually hidden in the day-to-day retail
politicking of bourgeois "democracies." 

For that reason, I would urge every comrade of the right age to consider
taking part in the U.S. delegation to the World Festival of Youth and
Students being organized in Venezuela this summer. 

There was a similar festival held in Cuba in the summer of 1960, held under
the slogan "Make the Andes the Sierra Maestra of Latin America" and during
which Fidel announced the initial round of expropriations of capitalist
non-agricultural properties and Che became the first Cuban leader to openly
discuss Marxism in relation to the Cuban revolution.

There is no way anyone can guarantee quite such historic moments at this
festival, but even without them, I believe that the comrades who go, and
keep their eyes and mind open on what they experience, are going to learn
things about politics and the class struggle that will stay with them for
the rest of their lives, and which are best learned from an open
revolutionary class struggle such as the one now going on in Venezuela.


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