[Marxism] Socialist Voice reviews Alan Woods book on Venezuela
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Fri Nov 11 16:42:34 MST 2005
Marxist Perspectives for the Workers' Movement #56
November 11, 2005
MARXISM AND THE VENEZUELAN REVOLUTION A BOOK REVIEW
Alan Woods. The Venezuela Revolution: A Marxist Perspective London: Wellred
Books (wellred.marxist.com), 2005.
Reviewed by John Riddell
TORONTO, CANADA - Can a small Marxist current hope to influence the course
of events in times of a revolutionary uprising, or are they condemned to an
existence of sideline critics, never to influence the broader working class
A new book by British Marxist Alan Woods puts that question to the test in
a most challenging way -- in the midst of the unfolding Bolivarian
Revolution in Venezuela. The Venezuelan Revolution: A Marxist Perspective
consists of 14 articles written by Woods between the failed pro-imperialist
coup of April 2002 and the Bolivarians' turn to socialism in early 2005.
Published earlier this year, the book has much to teach us about the role
of Marxists in a revolutionary upsurge.
Many revolutionary-minded groups or parties in the world have been
skeptical and standoffish toward Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution. It
confounds their self-conceived truths: much of the Bolivarian leadership
came unexpectedly from the officer corps; the Bolivarian program was not
openly socialist in its beginning stages; its course of action corresponded
to no one's blueprint. President Hugo Chávez was pegged by most of them as
a radical bourgeois figure.
By contrast, the current led by Alan Woods, the International Marxist
Tendency (IMT) (www.marxist.com), grasped the importance of the Venezuelan
uprising soon after the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. It has devoted
considerable resources to building an international solidarity campaign,
Hands Off Venezuela (www.handsoffvenezuela.org).
The IMT understood early that Marxists in Venezuela should support the
Bolivarian movement and be part of it, rather than stand back and criticize
it from the sidelines. They have worked with energy and some success to
influence the Bolivarians, gaining favorable mentions from Chávez himself.
Expropriate capitalist property
Alan Woods' main point, reflected in each of his articles, is that the
Venezuelan revolution cannot stop half way, leaving the U.S.- backed
right-wing oligarchy in control of decisive sectors of the economy and
state apparatus. "The counterrevolutionary forces are not reconciled to
defeat," Woods states. "They are increasingly desperate ... determined and
Venezuelan working people must expropriate capitalist property and lay the
basis for socialism, he argues. "Either the greatest of victories or the
most terrible of defeats." (Pages 110, 133)
This basic premise of Marxism, confirmed at each stage of the Venezuelan
struggle, has won an increasing hearing among the Bolivarians. Chávez now
ridicules the notion that Venezuela can find liberation within capitalism.
Learning from Chávez
Another key lesson is not stated explicitly, and may be unintended. Woods
articles show how Marxists can learn from a living revolution.
In the opening chapters, written from London and Buenos Aires just after
the 2002 coup attempt, Woods is close to dismissive of Bolivarian leader
Hugo Chávez. At that time, Woods wrote that Chávez is "inclined to be
inconsistent" and has "often displayed indecision." He "temporized and
attempted to conciliate the counter- revolutionaries" which was "a fatal
mistake." (Pages 16, 20, 43)
The book then breaks off: there is a gap of 16 months before the next article.
Then, in April 2004, Woods attended an international conference in Caracas
in which Chávez, displaying his characteristic cordial generosity, set out
to forge a link with Woods, one of the most prominent international
solidarity activists. Woods learned that Chávez was not only keenly
interested in Marxism but was familiar with the British Marxist's own
writings. "He told me he was not a Marxist because he had not read enough
Marxist books," Woods commented. "But he is reading them now." (Page 62)
The next part of the book is a treasure: two slashing polemics against
sectarian attitudes toward the Venezuelan movement.
"For the sectarian mentality, a revolution must conform to a pre-
established scheme," Woods writes. The sectarian "establishes an ideal norm
and rejects anything ... that does not conform."
Woods ridicules those who would build the revolutionary party by
proclamation. "Three men and ... a drunken parrot gather in a café in
Caracas and proclaim the Revolutionary Party." And if the masses do not
join, the sectarian says, "Well, that's their problem." (Pages 65, 83)
These ideas are not new, but coming to us from the battlefields of a living
revolution, they ring with great authority.
In the pages that follow, Woods writes with warm respect of Chávez, "the
man who inspired this magnificent movement and provided it with a
leadership and a banner." (Page 162)
Nevertheless, the Marxism advanced in Alan Woods' book remains incomplete.
CUBA: The Venezuelan Revolution condemns U.S. attacks on Cuba, but not a
word can be found in this book of Cuba's role in the Venezuelan revolution.
Yet Cuba's revolutionary leaders have had a much stronger influence on
Venezuela's Bolivarians than all the smaller Marxist currents put together.
The political alliance of Hugo Chávez with the Cuban Marxists began a few
months after Chávez was released from prison in 1994, when he went to Cuba
for discussions with Fidel Castro. Since Chávez' first election to
president in 1998, Cuba has contributed tens of thousands of volunteers to
deliver health, educational, and recreational services to Venezuelan
working people. The two governments have a close diplomatic, economic, and
political alliance. The book's silence on this important alliance creates a
highly misleading picture of the Bolvarian revolutionary process. It raises
a crucial question: does the author view Cuba's role in Venezuela as
positive or negative?
ANTI-MPERIALIST ALLIANCE: And what about ALBA? The Bolivarian Agreement for
the Americas (ALBA) is the Venezuelan government's proposal for
non-exploitative economic cooperation among Latin American countries. It
was advanced in 2003 as an alternative to imperialist-directed "Free Trade
of the Americas" fraud. Cuba endorsed ALBA in its December 2004 treaty with
ALBA's appeal and relevance was made astonishingly clear at the recent
summit meeting in Argentina of political leaders of the Americas. The
imperialist "free trade" proposition was proclaimed dead on arrival by the
masses who rallied there and, not coincidentally, gave Chávez a hero's welcome.
Woods does not mention ALBA. Does he perhaps have it in mind when he warns
Venezuela against relying on "friendly relations" with Argentina, Brazil,
and Cuba. (Page 119) The international, anti- imperialist dimension of the
Venezuelan revolution is simply disregarded throughout the book
DEMOCRATIC TASKS: Woods does not take up the ongoing democratic tasks of
the Venezuelan process. Such struggles as that of Venezuela's people of
color for equality; that of women pressing into political life and
demanding their rights; that of workers in the "informal sector" striving
for a secure livelihood; that of the oppressed indigenous peoples to which
the Bolivarians have given such close attention -- all are neglected. Nor
does Woods acknowledge Chávez's role as a defender of the world's ecology
against capitalist devastation.
Woods also fails to give clear support to the struggles of peasants who
wish to divide up the great estates, arguing instead that the estates
should operate as collective farms. (Page 172)
All these questions are crucial to forging the revolutionary alliance
necessary to overturning capitalism in Venezuela. By omitting them, the
book displays a limited understanding of the complex dynamics of the
NATIONALIZING CAPITALIST PROPERTY: Woods presents the need to nationalize
capitalist property in a purely administrative way. "For the immediate
expropriation of the property of the imperialists and the Venezuelan
bourgeoisie.... An emergency decree to this effect must be put to the
National Assembly," Woods wrote soon after the failed coup in 2002. (Page 17)
But working-class nationalization -- as opposed to a capitalist transfer of
formal ownership -- can only be carried out by a mass movement of working
people who have become convinced through experience that there is no
alternative and who are ready to assume management responsibility. Provided
the workers are not forced into premature action, they must prepare for the
challenge of managing production. Otherwise, for example, their
expropriation of foreign- owned companies may lead to their immediate
shutdown for lack of raw materials, technical inputs, and customers.
There is a sameness in The Venezuelan Revolution: the articles span three
years but advocate an identical course of action -- immediate expropriation
-- at every turn. The book displays no sense of tactics, no sense of when
to advance, when to pause, when to sound out the enemy's willingness to
compromise, when to form alliances.
On all these points, The Venezuelan Revolution fails to convey key lessons
of the Bolshevik-led revolution in Russia, lessons that are well understood
by Cuba's revolutionary leadership.
Woods sees in Venezuela a dichotomy between two currents: on the one hand,
petty-bourgeois revolutionary democracy, led by Chávez; and on the other,
Marxism, represented in his view above all by the IMT's own Revolutionary
Marxist Current. (Page 93)
But on the key challenges facing the Venezuela revolution, the record of
the Chávez leadership is stronger than the course proposed by The
Venezuelan Revolution. The Bolivarians' course has led not to defeat, as
Woods warned, but to victory after victory.
Toward a revolutionary party
Judging by this book alone, the political line of Alan Woods and the
International Marxist Tendency is inflexible, one-sided, and veers off
course. Yet the IMT, as Chávez himself has acknowledged, has made an
undeniable contribution to the broader Bolviarian movement of which it is part.
Surely there is a lesson here for all of us in the splintered and
fragmented international socialist movement.
The revolutionary party for which we strive will be built through living
processes like those we see in Venezuela today or in Cuba before it. Under
the impact of an upsurge of struggles, new leadership forces will converge
with the best forces in existing currents to form a unified movement. All
existing currents will be challenged to subordinate their prized
separateness to a broader purpose.
It is to the credit of Alan Woods that he and his current have been able to
travel at least a part of that road together with Venezuela's revolutionary
SOCIALIST VOICE is edited by Roger Annis and John Riddell. Readers are
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