Interview with Luis Bilbao, conducted by Agustina Desalvo for the Argentinian journal Razón y Revolución, issue #18 (second semester 2008). Translated by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes and published with the permission of Bilbao.
Luis Bilbao is a central participant in the construction of the mass United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and in the formation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); founding editor of the Latin America-wide monthly magazine América XXI. Luis Bilbao will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Green Left Weekly. Visit http://www.worldATACrossroads.org for full agenda and to book your tickets.
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What is imperialism’s strategy for Latin America? Who are those who are fighting against it and how are they doing so?
For more than 200 years, the US strategy for Latin America has been domination. There are a number of official documents dating as far back as 1820 that belonged to members of the government, of Congress, that put forward the proposition of seizing control of the region for themselves.
The Free Trade of Americas Agreement (FTAA) was
nothing more than an attempt to formalise the assimilation of the entire
continent within a single market, a single currency, a single army and a single
government. That is, in the more general sense, the strategy of the
However, during the last few years a particular phenomenon has occurred, a phenomenon provoked by the very deep and structural crisis facing the world capitalist system, that has not only led imperialism to further pillage the workers and peasants of all our countries, but has also put the local bourgeoisies up against the wall, suctioning an elevated portion of the surplus value that they extract from workers, and which has provoked a very particular opposition, of course within the boundaries in which the bourgeoisie can oppose imperialism, but a clear attempt of strategic resistance.
If we look at what occurred in August 2000, an
extraordinary event in world, and specifically continental, geopolitics
occurred: the emergence of the geopolitical notion of South American
presidents. A new instance of international organisation emerged that, curiously,
rests on two governments, two countries:
But at that time,
This movement started along an axis with two very
different points of leverage, which after eight years has resulted in the
creation of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). A movement of South
American convergence has come into being and dragged governments from a wide
political spectrum behind a common position, which is the necessity of putting
a brake on the brutal plundering of the
But I want to insist: a brutal plundering no longer just of the workers and peasants, but also the bourgeoisies themselves. The steamrolling entrance of international finance capital into all the areas of the economy of each our countries has sucked out of them the possibility of generating local wealth, of the illegitimate ripping-off of wealth which the local bourgeoisies carry out.
In this way,
We also have to point out that the bourgeoisies have a
completely limited room for resistance, and moreover are divided in every
country, which explains why some do opt to -- understanding that it is still
profitable for them -- to place themselves in line with the needs and will of
international financial capital and the
This has, without a doubt, created complicated situations in each country. But the result of this very complex set of factors has been seen in the creation of UNASUR.
UNASUR is a heterogenous grouping within which exist
the most diverse set of forces, where no one is missing, not even the president
Now, this situation produces itself in an unequal manner because the resistance does not only bring together all the bourgeoisies. Within this grouping has appeared a force which does not represent the bourgeoisies, but instead represents, in general, the people in the very ambiguous sense of the word, as the word itself presupposes, and with a perspective of confrontation with imperialism, from an anti-capitalist position that is vague, at times diverse, and in many senses contradictory, but anti-capitalist nevertheless.
A bloc within UNASUR, within the Latin American
situation, has been created. It is called ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the
Therefore, within UNASUR there is a bloc called ALBA,
that even goes beyond the boundaries of UNASUR because ALBA is not only South
American: it includes
Within this bloc, the determining factor is the will to resist imperialism from a non-capitalist, and in some cases explicitly socialist, perspective. On this point, the US has a conflict of a different nature, because it is confronting an organised, extended, structured resistance of all the south of the hemisphere against its policies, as well as from within this bloc that resists, that impedes it from carrying out its aims as occurred very clearly in the FTAA meeting.
As a side point, President George W. Bush suffered a
crushing defeat at the meeting of the FTAA in Mar de Plata, but this defeat was
not suffered at the hands of the revolutionary forces, or at the hands of the
representatives of the fighting, organised, class-conscious working class. No,
the two protagonists of this extraordinary event that resulted in a disaster
for the head of the empire, were none other than
Néstor Kirchner is far from being a representative of the revolutionary proletariat and, although from a totally different view, the same can be said for Tabaré Vasquez.
Why did this occur? Well, precisely because of the level of contradiction that the world capitalist crisis has generated between the bourgeoisies that sustain these governments and imperialism. This has been translated into a belligerence that has reached a point where these bourgeoisies said, “We are going to negotiate everything you want, but we will not allow FTAA to go ahead.”
So, there is a very large sphere, in many ways very diverse, in regards to the overall, general opposition of the continent to imperialism.
And the US therefore has a double problem: it has to confront those who advance with an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist perspective, who have the capacity to infecting the others and lead to a situation of revolutionary transformation of all Latin America, and it has to confront, of course on a different level, UNASUR, the whole of the region resisting US policy.
Things have reached such a point that it is an
imperative for the stability of regional capitalism and, much more, for
That is why, to finalise my response to your question,
If they can, they will not carry out the war in a
direct manner. They are trying to do this via third parties. They are trying to
force secession in
US is trying the same thing in Venezuela, although with particular
characteristics. They are promoting a secessionist policy starting in Zulia
province, a petroleum state that borders
Of course, this cannot be carried out with the force
of Zulia alone; rather it needs the force of the
Through different forms but with the unequivocal aim
of halting these revolutionary processes in
after the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) assumed power
Before drawing up a balance sheet of any of the
revolutionary processes underway in
They were points of unity that the exploited and the oppressed of the world could have had in their hands until a reactionary wave of enormous power was unleashed in 1991. One which is deeply rooted in history and, in the last instance, comes from the degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the middle of the 1920s.
This defeat expanded over the whole continent and placed the exploited masses of the world in a very weak situation. It was not just a military battle that was lost, not just a political battle lost, not just an organisational battle lost. We lost an ideological battle, because in 1990-91, we did not just witness the collapse of the reformist and Stalinist forces that, in the last instance, survived off the Soviet Union; we also saw the collapse of what was supposed to be the counterforce to this degeneration in ideology, that is, those who had resisted the Stalinist degeneration in the 1920s, forming the Left Opposition and which was later labelled, by its enemies, Trotskyism.
Well, these forces also failed and, in my opinion,
failed in a manner much more forceful than anyone expected, when it tried to
explain what had occurred. At the same time that this appalling defeat was
occurring, the majority of the forces who could be defined as – if we can
define phenomena by its subjectivity – a revolutionary Marxist left,
interpreted what had happened as a powerful leap forward by the proletariat, with
the workers of the
They did not understand the reactionary impact of these events that would cause massive destruction, as a result of this totally contradictory movement. It is true that the collapse of the Soviet bureaucracy signified a step forward in many ways and in historic terms, but there would have to be a very prolonged stage of defeat. And this was not understood, such that the world political map was restructured from a starting point of submission, desertion, confusion and delirium.
Those who did not hand themselves over to the enemy, passing over completely to the other side of the class line, abandoned the label communist, relegated the condition of socialist, hid or buried the red flag, and threw out the idea of revolution. And let’s not even speak about parties, much less Leninism.
They either did this or got so confused that their own ranks became disorientated (that is the cause of such dispersion, splits, this generalised crisis of revolutionary organisations across the world).
And the others simply held onto the discourse, that I do not want to classify in psychological terms, a discourse completely removed from the reality around them. There are always exceptions, of course. But the only one of any weight, with international visibility, was the Cuban Revolution.
Within this international context we are seeing a rebirth of revolution and a rebirth of the struggle for socialism.
If one tries to draw up a balance sheet of what is occurring in Bolivia without this historic backdrop, without this international context, without this cataclysm of revolutionary organisations, well, they could draw up a correct literary balance sheet, but one which would be politically speaking very incorrect, because all the enormous deficiencies that we can point to over these years of government in Bolivia, in reality, are something completely different when one takes as their starting point the reality, mixed up, combined and worn out by a number of forces, out of which this transformation, this political transformation and the revolutionary government emerged from.
Placed in this context, I believe that the Evo Morales government has dealt very well with essential issues. We have to begin from this context; we cannot carry out an abstract evaluation of what has occurred.
What have they achieved? First, advances in organisation and raising consciousness, in the general and political education of the masses. Very important steps forwards have been taken towards regaining of the natural wealth of the country. Bolivia has aligned itself with the South American revolutionary project and has projected a line of march that systematically advances against the oligarchy, against imperialism and against the bourgeoisies not only of Bolivia but regionally (although, of course, the political leadership in Bolivia does this with a lot of care precisely because the correlations of forces within which they are working are extremely difficult).
So, that is the real measure of the situation, all of
which does not presume that the possibility of risks have been closed off for
the Latin American revolution in general, and in
There is no solution to the enormous difficulty that
the masses of have in front of them in
A very terrible defeat because it will be a military defeat, because the level reached, in general, of voluntary, organised mass action of the proletariat, of the peasantry, of the popular masses in some countries, particularly Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, cannot be wound back simply through an election.
One cannot go back from here simply by losing an election. To go back to the past requires losing a war; to advance requires a victorious war. So, the responsibility that each person has, not those that act – of course those of us that are active have an enormous responsibility – but those who speak or write about this burning issues, is enormous, because what is at stake is not just any battle, it is a certain war that we have in front off us in this continent, a class war.
I am speaking in military terms, not metaphoric ones.
A war that can only be won if we have a policy that can unite millions and millions of people; not one to unite [just] socialists, to unite Marxists. The unity of Marxists will have to be the result of the unity of the masses and not the inverse. Our great task is the unity of these masses that exist as they do, that are the result of this tremendous defeat that I spoke of before.
That is why my balance sheet of the struggle in
That is what ALBA is, and I can give you an example
that I don’t think has been highlighted much, and that has a transcendental
importance. I’m referring to what occurred on
On May 4, the
What was discussed there? Well, it was not reported in
the newspapers and I believe that it did not even pop into the minds of the
ranks: they discussed war, they discussed the war that was to begin in
That is what was discussed in
That single decision postponed the war in
What I am trying to say is that, concretely, at this moment, right now in Latin America, a revolutionary leadership, made up of people who do not refer to themselves as Marxists, although some do; which does not have a revolutionary Marxist tradition, much less a Leninist one, with the exception of the Cuban leadership; nevertheless, is precisely exercising the revolutionary leadership of a battle against the US and against its local associates, that is, against the local bourgeoisies and oligarchies.
That fact is of enormous importance because what has emerged is something that we lacked and as a result suffered from in the 1990s, which is an International, a working International.
There is no problem with talking when there is nothing else to do. I have been a talker for many years, because I did not have the possibility to act. But now, the possibility to create a working International has opened up.
What is your balance sheet of the insurrections of 2000 and 2003? What is left of that process and what relationship does it have to the MAS government?
Well, the insurrections of 2000 and afterwards, the partial insurrections, practically constant throughout all this period, are precisely the substrate and foundation of this government; this government is an expression of those events, a legitimate expression.
What do the
confrontations between the government and the denominated “half moon” (Tarija,
As I said, the hand of imperialism is behind this, promoting, organising these fractures. But, of course, imperialism does not act upon abstract considerations.
There is a structure, a historic failure one could say (failure in the geological sense) in this country. There is an objective division between the provinces or the departments that want to separate and the centre of the country.
Naturally, that has an economic structure, has
historic roots and an ethnic reality. It is a material base upon which the
The solution is socialist revolution, there is no
intermediary solution. And the socialist revolution cannot be carried out just
situation of the working class and its organisation and where are they heading (in
As I said before, the working class finds itself in a state like never before in its history. The working class has never experienced the degree of disorganisation, disideologisation, as it has in the last years. I’m talking about the global working class.
In opposition to what many academics or pseudo-academics of capital have said, as well as many on the left, the working class has numerically increased at an extraordinary rate in the last decades. Simply put, what capital did in progressing, in carrying out its technological revolution, was to proletarianise sectors that weren’t proletarian before and today are.
Here it is very important to talk about Karl Marx, who differentiated conceptually the working class in itself and the working class for itself. The working class in itself is made up of all those who sell their capacity to work, their labour force. The working class for itself is one that is conscious of its existence as an exploited class.
According to this classic Marxist definition, the working class in itself grew spectacularly and the working class for itself disappeared. It’s not that it was reduced: it disappeared; we cannot find conscious proletariats in the national sphere in any country of the world, with a real representation (and every time that I allude to this and other such issues, we have to make the exception of Cuba, although naturally no country can escape the influence of the world historic moment).
Clearly there are class-conscious proletarians, there are class-conscious unions, and there are parties with a real weight that have a class consciousness. But proletariats as a whole, with class consciousness, that does not exist… today, practically all doctors are proletarians, but there does not exist one that is capable of saying, “yes, I am a proletarian”.
Architects, lawyers, all have become proletarianised,
not to mention the metalworkers who are also not conscious of what they are,
who think they are middle class. In
When I was talking to you about an ideological defeat, this is what I was talking about. This is the state of the working class and, of course, this conditions everything, unless we think that revolutions can be made without the working class.
Any revolutionary movement will reflect and translate this reality, because this is the reality of the working class. How will it translate? Well, through confusion, vacillation, errors, deviations, that will produce tensions between the revolutionary will of a leadership that succeeds in winning hegemony within the movement and the reality of the mass movements.
This is the state of the working class and this is true
for all the countries in the world, particularly for all those in
We have just seen a simply extraordinary example of this, one that ratifies something that we have defended on our own for a long time now.
Our opinion is that the Venezuelan proletariat has been a fundamental rearguard force; when the enemy has attacked, the proletariat has come out as an impregnable bastion in defence of the revolution. But it isn’t the vanguard of the revolution, not even close, and it does not have organisation.
Consciousness has advance a lot in the last nine years but it is far from the level of consciousness say, of the proletarians that made up an English trade union in 1850.
The example that I was talking about is what just occurred in SIDOR steelworks: fifteen months of struggle by the workers of SIDOR, for wage increases and better work conditions, and no real force of the movement in SIDOR, of the workers’ movement, raised the issue of nationalisation, none.
Of course there were activists, small groups that did so. But not the workers as a whole. And not even a significant fraction.
It is false to say that it was pressure from the workers that forced Chavez to nationalise SIDOR. It was the reverse. I was a witness to this reality.
For years Chavez has been trying to raise
consciousness, advance in raising the consciousness of the workers who, because
they are a labour aristocracy within
Plus, because the revolution has resolved a number of their problems, they are comfortable with how things are. They support this revolution, they will not hand it over to anyone. But they are not the vanguard, and do not understand well why it was necessary to nationalise or recuperate SIDOR... It had to be the government that raised the slogan after 15 months of union struggle.
I believe that this paints an accurate picture of the
situation of the working class in the most advanced place of the South American
revolution, without even beginning to mention what is happening in the most
backward place, which could well be
And let’s not even talk about what has happened with the most important proletariat of the region, Brazil’s, that since the great struggle that it waged in 1995, where it was defeated, in the framework of the generalised fall of the world proletariat. It simply disappeared from the political scene, putting in government the Workers’ Party (PT).
An incongruence that one can pin of the bad will of Lula and his leadership team. But it would be a poor excuse for a Marxist interpretation of reality, with very little to do with a materialist outlook. In reality, what came out of the debacle of the leadership of the PT was the debacle of the Brazilian working class. That is the state of things as I see it.
Of course we are advancing; we are advancing in
And I hope that we, the Argentine revolutionaries, can
comprehend this situation and be able to intervene in a very critical conjuncture
… in order to contribute in a positive manner towards a great leap forward in
the consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, because in
What is your general balance sheet of the Chavista process and where it is going?
The general balance sheet is even more positive than
what I outlined about
This led to a coup, and this coup, one year later, was responded to with a clear definition, now formally, for a revolution that until then was referred to as the “Bolivarian Revolution” and ideologically defined itself in line with “the tree of the three roots” (the three roots were Simon Bolivar, Simon Rodriguez and Ezequiel Zamora), but did not go beyond this ideological definition..
In 2003, in a celebration of the first anniversary of
the victory against the coup at a rally of more than 1 million people in
And one year later he took the next step and proclaimed the revolution to be socialist.
Following this, he asked the masses to vote on whether they wanted to go toward socialism or not, and stood for re-election in December 2006 with a campaign focussed on “vote for me if you want to go towards socialism, if you don’t want to go towards socialism, don’t vote for me”. This was the focus of the campaign; this was the content of Hugo Chavez’s campaign in 2006.
And he won with 63% of the vote. Afterwards a few stumbles occurred due to errors by the revolution or the concrete relationship of forces that do not escape the general framework that I outlined above.
So as part of drawing up a balance sheet we have to see that over the course of eight years, the Venezuelan revolution passed over from beginning as a general revolution, based on the ideas of liberators of the 19th century, to a formal concrete identification with socialist revolution.
But it did not stay there, because immediately after the re-election of Chavez as president with this campaign in defence of socialism, he called for the construction of a mass socialist party.
From that time until now, a mass socialist party (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV) began to be constructed, starting with the signing up of aspiring members that resulted in the registration of 5,800,000 people. Making a rough calculation, we can say that half of those signed up due to confusion or for opportunist reasons. What are we left with then: a little more than what those who consider themselves to be revolutionary parties have in the rest of the world.
And of those 5,800,000 people, some 1,500,000 meet regularly and form an active part of the party that every Saturday meet across the country….
There are more than 1,200,000 people in the military reserves, what we would call in classical terms popular and workers’ militias, to militarily defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
This is my balance sheet: it is the biggest leap forward
that has been taken in a very long time. But it is much more than a grandiose
leap forward in
Now, revolution is something that is becoming real in millions of people, in millions of minds, in millions of hands, and it is the revindication, the rebirth not only of the concept of revolution but of something that had disappeared from world politics: the revindication of socialism.
Who was revindicating socialism 10 years ago? Sure there were many of us, but we were people, isolated individuals, small parties, who no one listened to: something was missing.
Socialism is revindicated, but now not only for
I have had the opportunity of accompanying President Chavez on his international tours and I have seen workers, people, youth, from completely different countries, African, Asian or European countries, revindicating the figure of Chavez. Not because of the personal characteristics of Chavez but because he is the bearer of the “Good News”, as religious people would call it.
The good news is that the possibility of fighting for socialism has been reborn.
And if that was not enough, as well as the idea of revolution, as well as the idea of socialism, in Venezuela the idea of a party has been revindicated and reborn, a notion that had also been wiped out of political theory.
How many opportunists have come to explain that we don’t have to construct more parties, and that we don’t even have to take power? Well, all that has gone to the “dustbin of history”, as Trotsky would say.
But that had a pivot upon which to generate itself and that was the Venezuelan revolution.
What is the position of Chavez regarding international political alignments? What interests does he defend and how?
Chavez defends the interests of the revolution, of the anti-imperialist revolution and the socialist revolution. How does it defend it? First, raising the consciousness of the masses: his Hello, President program is a cadre school held every Sunday, over the past nine years. And the results are easy to see because 63% of an electoral register of 15 million voters voted for socialism, for socialist revolution, not for the socialism that one can vote for in Spain, no: for socialist revolution, for a hard, firm, intransigent confrontation with imperialism. Sixty three per cent voted for this policy.
Why? Because educative work was carried out, the task of explaining what is capitalism; first, what is imperialism, and afterwards what is capitalism and why we have to get rid off it. And the people understood it, something that is not occurring in any other country in the world.
This occurred because of Chavez. I refer you to the work of Georgi Plekhanov on the role of the individual in history. There is no way that an individual can change the course of events in historic terms: but there are particular moments in historic development where the individual plays an extraordinary role, as occurred with Lenin between 1915 to 1924, as occurred with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Well, now it is occurring with Chavez.
That is the role that he is playing, of the true
banner raiser of the idea of revolution for
Chavez has the same discourse everywhere he goes, and he has a very particular characteristic, because, I would say, he does not have the straitjacket (which in many cases is very positive and in many cases is very negative) who begins to form around a person that has an ideological formation, who belongs to a party.
He has a different origin and development in regards to consciousness than that of a traditional revolutionary. To give one example, like me: there are things that I would not do because my own mental and cultural formation does not allow me to.
Well, Chavez does not have those barriers and that has been very postive... Of course this has negative features, but the result of this has precisely been that he has been able to take the message of revolution and socialism beyond his country.
And he does so, first, through his method of teaching; second, by transforming words into action.
There is a very particular phenomenon that is
Well, that is how they are doing it, and I believe that the role it is playing is the most important that exists today in the idea of the revolution at the world level.
Of course, when I say this I say it in the function of what the masses see, anyone could say to me, and not without reason, that the most important role today in the world for the revolution is being played by a person that we don’t know, whose name we don’t know because he is writing, he is thinking, he is elaborating and nourishing the revolutionary ranks of the world with correct ideas.
This is right, but from the point of view of world politics, the political role that Chavez plays cannot be played by a revolutionary thinker, a revolutionary that belongs to a small party, it is Chavez that is playing that role.
What are the
concrete tasks for the socialist revolution in
The concrete tasks of the socialist revolution are not
On one hand we have an international policy and on the
other a national policy. Chavez articulates his national policy as a function
of an international policy. That is the first issue that has to be clarified:
the tasks of the socialist revolution in
In first place, to advance much more rapidly in this process – which has already advanced, but still has to improve a lot – of assuming political power by mass organisations in each sphere, of power in all senses of the word, by the workers in their factories.
I would say that today there exists a particular conjuncture where it is vital to carry out some key expropriations, not only of SIDOR which has already been done.
I believe that it is necessary to expropriate some import and distribution companies, particularly the company Polar, and some banks associated with the process of import and distribution. Because it is a point upon which a minority sector of the bourgeoisie that can exercise pressure upon the revolution still has power: we have to take that away from them, these are concrete tasks.
But I would not have said the same thing two or three years ago, it is not an axiom: we have to expropriate everything. What has to be done is expropriate everything within a strategic plan, whose objective is the Latin American revolution, not the Venezuelan revolution.
They have to be carried out in line with a process within which we have to even out a very deep inequality; we have to move towards levelling out an enormous inequality between the political processes of our countries.
We have to remember that if we look at all of
So, the countries that want to advance towards the real perspective of socialist revolution have to make the maximum effort to level out these inequalities. Measures that could weaken the revolution, even when the idea is to strengthen them, should be avoided.
We have to be very careful because this is always
concrete: one cannot say a prior that such and such measure will debilitate;
such and such measure will strengthen. This has to be concretely analysed within
the concrete situation. This requires a revolutionary leadership and that is
where the great weakness exists, not of
We have not yet seen a recomposition of the actions and thoughts of revolutionaries, and the revolutionaries that do act lack the strategic and general backing that is the international existence of thought and action articulated in the function of socialist revolution.
A great task that the revolution in
[Luis Bilbao is a central participant in the construction of the mass United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and in the formation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); founding editor of the Latin America-wide monthly magazine América XXI; previously editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Southern Cone edition; author of 16 books, most recently Venezuela in Revolution: the Rebirth of Socialism; Marxist professor of political economy and international politics at TEA, School of Journalism, Argentina; and member of Union of Militants for Socialism, Argentina.]