[Michael Lebowitz, a director at the Centro
Internacional Miranda (CIM), a Caracas-based foundation for analysis
and discussion of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, talks to Socialist Review about the nature of the "Bolivarian Revolution". The interview was conducted before Chavez won last Sunday's presidential elections. --Ed]
Venezuela: The Struggle after the Vote
By Socialist Review
In the latest test for President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelans are voting in a presidential election that will decide the future of the country's radical reforming government. Michael Lebowitz talks to SR about the nature of the "Bolivarian Revolution".
Hugo Chavez is the most prominent symbol of a far-reaching revolutionary process in Venezuela, which has provided inspiration for those fighting corporate globalisation and imperialism across Latin America and around the globe. A hero to millions, he is a thorn in the side of George Bush.
Michael Lebowitz, a leading Marxist writer currently living in the capital, Caracas, has just published a new book entitled Build It Now, which examines the potential for this process to lead to the creation of a new "socialism for the 21st century". He answered questions from SR.
In the title of the last chapter of your book you use the phrase "The Revolution of Radical Needs". What makes events in Venezuela a revolution, and who is driving this process forwards?
A revolution is not a coup or a specific act - it is a process. There definitely is a revolutionary process under way in Venezuela.
This process is creating conditions that empower people from below while keeping firmly in sight the goal of human development, which is where the phrase in my title comes from. It is a process in which oil money is being used both to support the development of human productive forces and also to create new productive relations. And it is one where a new form of power from below - communal councils - organising neighbourhoods composed of 200 to 400 families in urban areas, is rapidly spreading. How far this process will go won't be decided by analysts, but only through real struggle.
Certainly, Chavez is pushing this process forward. There's no question about this - you only have to read his speeches. But Chavez doesn't act in a vacuum. The incredible response he gets from the masses makes him what he is. In the absence of this response, which electrifies him and gives him energy and confidence, I suspect that he would be absorbed into the "Third Way" perspective that he had at the time of his initial election. So I see a dialectical process here between leadership and those at the base of society.
How are those at the base of society organised? In your book you talk about the need to construct a "political instrument" or party of some kind. Are there signs of this happening? How could the different sectors - informal workers living in the barrios, organised workers in the UNT union federation, agricultural workers and peasants - be drawn together?
In local communities, those at the base are organised in many ways, for example through land committees, health committees, water committees, defence, sports, etc. And in the communal councils the focus is upon bringing these specific sectoral concerns together so the communities can look at their problems as a whole. This is an important step in uniting that base.
But we are still a way off from linking those individual communities in common demands and, further, linking them directly with organised workers, who tend to be well off relative to the masses in the informal sector. Part of the problem is that the UNT union federation has been so preoccupied with internal factional struggles that the leadership which organised workers could provide is absent. So, at this point, the development of that political instrument which I see as necessary is a slow process.
It could emerge more rapidly in the context of a political crisis, or if Chavez threw his energy into stressing the importance of political organisation at the base - as he did during the 2004 referendum campaign, in which the elite tried to have him removed as president.
Venezuela is still a capitalist society, with dire poverty. There have been ambitious social programmes, in health, education, literacy and so on. How far is it possible to reform Venezuelan society without new revolutionary convulsions?
I think the social programmes have made a big difference to the majority, but that a revolutionary rupture will be necessary, sooner or later, if this process is to continue to move along a socialist path. What form it would take, however, is unclear.
In the absence of political and cultural revolutions, the revolution will be inevitably deformed. By cultural I mean the problem of the long-standing pattern of clientalism and corruption - a disease to which Chavist leaders are by no means immune. And this is not simply a question of attitudes. There are people around Chavez who want "Chavez without socialism". As I write in my book, these are people whose concern for "development of the capabilities and capacities of the masses is not as compelling as the desire for the accumulation of power and comfort for their families".
Class struggle is everywhere in Venezuela. It's there in the battle against US imperialism and neoliberalism, and for real sovereignty. It's there in the battle between Venezuela's old oligarchy and the Bolivarian Revolution [the name Chavez has applied to the process in Venezuela]. It's there in the struggle between Venezuelan capitalists and organised workers as well as peasants, and it's there in the growing divergence between a new would-be Bolivarian oligarchy and the masses of those excluded and exploited.
All of these are in play at the same time, but in my view, the contradictions within the Chavist camp itself point to the most immediate threat to the progress of the revolution. They reveal the barrier that must be removed in order to proceed on other fronts. But, again, how that happens depends upon many contingent factors.
To what extent is the state an obstacle to socialist transformation in Venezuela? You quote Karl Marx's comment on the Paris Commune of 1871, when workers briefly held power in the city. He argued, based on that experience, that workers can't take control over the "ready-made state machinery" that grows up under capitalism. Does that mean the state has to be "smashed" or can the state be "transformed"? Do workers need to create their own state from below, as happened during the Commune?
So far the existing Venezuelan state has been an enormous obstacle - even to the establishment of the social programmes. It's important to keep in mind that all the successful programmes introduced have occurred by forming "missions" which bypass existing state structures. And now a new state has the potential to emerge in the form of the communal councils, one that creates the basis for power from below - a new kind of state, much like Marx saw in the Paris Commune.
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