[Marxism] Re A sectarian approach

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Sat Nov 12 18:33:02 MST 2005

Josh writes, "But my experience there, the time I spent with occupied
factory workers who had a more left-wing set of politics than Chavez,
the time I spent with Venezuelan militants of the CMR who are making
headway in trying to develop _real_ workers control of industry (not
cogestion), left workers caucuses in the unions, etc, convinced me that
Trotskyism is more relevant than ever in Venezuela - even Chavez seems
to think so, read the transcripts of his speeches."

I leave aside Josh's caricature of the views Louis, I and some others
share. I assume he meant it as a lampooning, and, having done a fair
amount of that myself over the years, I'm not really entitled to
complain. I would just add that my critique is not *limited* to groups
that call themselves or are regarded as Trotskyist, but I would
encompass pretty much the *entire* "Leninist" "far left." Some of this
also applies to the "traditional" CP's of what used to be called the
pro-Moscow Stalinist current (at least by us "Trotkyite wreckers and
splitters"), but only with significant reservations, as much/most of
this current, I think, has devolved into pretty straightforward
social-democratic (in the post-1917 meaning of the word) politics. In
the case of the CPUSA this manifests in its long-term strategic
orientation of building a left wing in the oldest bourgeois party on the
face of the planet, the Democrats.

Which brings me to what I actually meant to write about, which is Josh's
very acute observation that the most conscious and militant layers of
workers are to the *left* of Chavez. This is very good news indeed, and
very important for the health of the revolutionary process and its

In the middle of a transition from capitalist rule to a workers' state
such as Venezuela is living through today, THAT is absolutely essential.
It is absolutely essential that an advanced layer of workers sense the
road forward and are already starting to take the next steps along that
road. It is also absolutely essential that the revolution facilitate
these workers getting "ahead" of where the process as a whole is at. But
a conscious central leadership understands that the process as a whole
--the entire army of working people-- cannot advance as quickly and as
far as these most radical elements, and its task is to help the mass of
the army "catch up" to where the vanguard is -- or rather was, for in
the nature of things, the vanguard should have moved on.

It is precisely maintaining a "coherence" between where the heavy
battalions of the main body of the army are at and the more advanced and
audacious operations being carried out by the lighter advanced forces
that I believe would be greatly facilitated by a greater degree of
organic unity among revolutionaries in Venezuela. Because if vanguard
elements get too far ahead of the rest, they will become cut off,
surrounded, and defeated. 

Viewed in a slightly different way, I think the *art* of leading a
revolutionary transition of this type lies precisely in allowing the
*pressure* for more radical measures to build up, to the point that when
the leadership unleashes the actual measure, there is a huge head of
steam that has been built up for driving it through. The real trick is
to lead in such a way as every time you do something, there's masses of
working people saying "about time" but NOT "too little, too late."

The leadership's measures being actually way AHEAD of the mass movement
is not a good situation *at all,* although it may sound initially
attractive. Because the measure of success of the revolution isn't how
"radical" it has become at any given point, but the degree to which the
broad masses of regular people are becoming the *protagonists* in the
evolution of society. Much better that you "intervene" (place a
government administrator) over 10% or 20% of the factories than you
"nationalize" 50% or 75% of them, if in the first case the
"intervention" is the result of the workers taking the place over
whereas in  the second, all that has happened is that a new
administrator has replaced the previous boss. 

We must not fetishize the formalities or legalities of property
relations; at bottom, these are NOT relations between people and things,
but relations between people (and different *classes* of people)
mediated by things. At moments of qualitative change, there is likely to
be extreme unevenness and contradictions between form and content. 

Lenin, remarking on this dynamic, once commented that the party was to
the left of the central committee and the masses to the left of the
party, but I think a study of Cuba in this regard in 1959-1960 is
particularly instructive.

At every step of the way, Fidel and his friends "led" the masses in such
a way as to have *the masses* push "the leadership" into organizing the
assault on the next enemy stronghold. At least, I *think* that's what
Fidel and his friends were doing consciously. Because it is in the
nature of revolutions that the real energy, the driving force, comes
"from below."

Fidel could have proclaimed himself prime minister and president and
probably even Pope after Batista fled on January 1, 1959. But he had
said this struggle against the dictatorship was not about HIM, and he
placed instead in the cabinet all the usual suspects of the "democratic"
bourgeois opposition. And, of course, he continued his agitation among
the masses of what this wonderful new revolutionary government *ought*
to do. When the government proved to be paralyzed, he acceded to the
mass pressure and became prime minister. He "lost" a month and a half or
so of time. But he also allowed the masses to see for themselves, from
their *own* experience, what the leaders of the traditional bourgeois
opposition to Batista were made off, which was (mostly) hot air.

And, of course, as soon as Fidel replaced the bourgeois prime minister,
revolutionary measures began to flow like water over the Niagara falls.
The (U.S.) electric and telephone monopolies were nationalized and rates
cut (in half, if I remember right). An urban reform reduced rents and
brought evictions to a screeching halt. 

Then there was the struggle over the agrarian reform law. When the
president blocked a real implementation of the law, Fidel did not
overthrow the President, though he could have staged the coup with, at
the very, very most, three phone calls: one to his brother Raúl, head of
the Revolutionary Armed forces, and one each to Che and to Camilo
Cienfuegos, who were at the head of the main military garrisons in

Instead, Fidel resigned as primer minister, because --he said-- it would
have been disloyal to attack the president's course while remaining at
the head of his cabinet. And he called on the people to mobilize in
support of the government carrying out the agrarian reform in a radical
way. And so great did the pressure become that the President wound up
resigning and Fidel returning to the Prime Minister's post, elected to
it by acclamation at a mass rally of hundreds of thousands of people
--the biggest such gathering that had ever been seen until then, at
least in the Americas-- on July 26, 1959. 

And like that, and down to this day, this has ALWAYS been Fidel's method
as a leader. Decisive advances in the Cuban Revolution come *from
below*, and the role of people like Fidel, the Communists, is to live up
to the way the founding Manifesto of our movement describes our role: to
be "that section which pushes forward all the others." It is a peculiar
way to conceive of "a vanguard" but if we are to remain true to the idea
that the emancipation of the working class can ONLY be the work of the
working class itself, that is the ONLY possible way to "lead": "from

I believe we are seeing another demonstration of this method being
applied in Venezuela today. The audacious --and somewhat risky--
initiative of President Hugo Chávez to launch a broad-ranging discussion
on the need for a socialism of the XXIst Century is meant, I believe,
(among other things) both to break down some of the divisions inherited
from the past that now hinder a greater degree of cooperation if not
downright organic unity among different revolutionary forces in
Venezuela today, as well as to have the masses PUSH the revolution onto
a more radical course. It is an absolutely extraordinary privilege, I
believe, to be alive today and see this example.

Even things that seem completely far afield, totally unrelated, are
brought to bear, resources hidden deep in the historic memory and
culture of the Latin American nation. 

"Quizo el azar" --as we say in Spanish, as luck would have it-- this
year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote de la
Mancha, and in commemoration thereof, the Bolivarian Revolution launched
"Operation Dulcinea," the publication and distribution of one million
copies of Cervantes's work. And what import may this hold?

"La libertad, Sancho, es uno de los más preciosos dones que a los
hombres dieron los cielos; con ella no pueden igualarse los tesoros que
encierra la tierra ni el mar encubre; por la libertad, así como por la
honra, se puede y debe aventurar la vida, y, por el contrario, el
cautiverio es el mayor mal que puede venir a los hombres."

"Liberty, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that the heavens
gave to men; neither the treasures locked up in the earth nor covered by
the seas can be compared to her. For Liberty, as well as for Honor, one
can and should risk one's life; and, on the contrary, enslavement is the
greatest evil that can fall upon men."


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