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Venezuela and the new Latin American Revolution

By Jorge Jorquera

The following article is based on the author's pamphlet, Venezuela—The Revolution Unfolding in Latin America, Resistance Books, 2003. Jorge Jorquera is a long-term Chilean solidarity activist and at the time of writing a member of the National Executive of the Democratic Socialist Party.

CONTENTS

A revolutionary process is unfolding in Venezuela, part of a continental rebellion. Bourgeois power is being challenged by the emergence of a counter-power of the working classes. The reforms of the Hugo Chavez government have re-ignited the class struggle after years of defeat and decay of the left. This is not a simple replay of the Salvador Allende government in Chile 30 years ago. The Venezuelan army is deeply divided, and within it there is a revolutionary current of officers and soldiers. Chavez himself has radicalised and fallen back on, not the institutions of bourgeois democracy, but the revolutionary power of the working masses.

One of the greatest strengths of the revolution unfolding in Venezuela is that it is not isolated, but part of a continental upsurge that compares to both the wave of radicalisation of the 1930s and that of the 1960s and 1970s. Neo-liberalism in Latin America is in crisis. This is not so much an economic crisis as a political crisis. The market recipes of neo-liberalism persist, but they no longer enjoy the support of any significant sections of the population.

The economic restructuring of neo-liberalism has progressively undermined the social base of the bourgeois states of Latin America, reconsolidated by the 1970s dictatorships and decades of national (bourgeois) development. This crisis in the ability of the ruling classes to rule involves a growing crisis of the state. In this context, struggles throughout the continent can rapidly develop from defensive to offensive.

Crisis of the neo-liberal model

The neo-liberal model in Latin America is now characterised by economic decline. Between 1990 and 2002, multinational companies acquired some 4000 banks, telecommunications, transport, petrol and mining interests in Latin America.[1] In many respects they sucked the life out of the economies. Capital flows are increasingly speculative, many of the privatised firms are showing signs of profit exhaustion, imports have smothered local production, and the massively increased concentration of income has destroyed internal markets. Latin America's neo-liberal champion, Chile, now has a weaker insertion into the world market—the value of its exports is significantly lower than it was in 1970.

In a place like Argentina, which had a strong internal market and relatively skilled labour force, the stagnation of the neo-liberal model has had devastating effects—Argentinean professors and other professionals are now seen cleaning homes in the rich suburbs of Santiago Chile. In Chile, social inequality has reached a historically unprecedented level. The work week in Chile is among the longest in the world, approaching an average of 50 hours. In the poorer economies like Ecuador and Bolivia, the neo-liberal reforms have destroyed what minimal social nets previously existed—with life-threatening consequences for the poor majorities.

The neo-liberal model is not economically finished. From a capitalist point of view, it is the only policy option; this is what the ALCA is all about, the "final frontier" of neo-liberal economics.[2] The dilemma for capitalism in the region is that neo-liberalism is politically exhausted. Across the continent, neo-liberalism is no longer providing sufficient growth to maintain the middle-classes. Their stability is more challenged than ever.

This is the basis for the growing instability of bourgeois rule. The middle classes that previously provided the glue for bourgeois consensus (and military regimes) are increasingly threatened with proletarianisation and unlikely to continue to support the old bourgeois parties. The model so eroded the socioeconomic role of the state that it has also significantly narrowed the room for old style clientalism. In this context, it is also more difficult for the ruling classes to mediate their own divisions. The ruling class's historical alliances and political parties are being torn apart—in Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina.

Alongside this crisis of bourgeois politics is a growing coordination of mass opposition. While five years ago popular struggle tended to be localised and atomised, today it is increasingly part of cross-sectoral and cross-city, regional, nationwide and even continental struggles against neo-liberal measures. A campaign against privatisation of water or a labour struggle can easily spill over into a national political movement.

The mass movement has been accumulating forces for a decade. The prelude to this counterattack of the mass movement was probably the Caracazo in Venezuela 1989.[3] Throughout the 1990s, important struggles were waged in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and most of the continent. Since the year 2000, the movement has been conducting important battles with sometimes offensive characteristics—such as the January 2000 insurrection in Ecuador, the Argentinean rebellion and, most recently, the Bolivian insurrectional protests of February 12 and 13, 2003.

Preparations for new battles

On both sides, preparations are under way for new and bigger battles. The ruling classes are embracing US imperialism's new program for domination (the ALCA and a new militarisation) and trying to reorganise their political movements. The working classes are looking toward Venezuela and debating strategies for political offensives.

Three interlaced trends are emerging in this new period of crisis and intensified struggle. In some cases the bourgeoisie has the option of "third way" governments. Where the mass movement has suffered some defeats or is somehow in pause and the ruling class has no traditional parties of its own that can cohere sufficient social support—like Brazil and Uruguay—the ruling class is opting to support social democratic parties which have managed to tie significant sections of the working class into the neo-liberal agenda. This is the way the Chilean ruling class has maintained peace with the support of the Partido por la Democracia-Partido Socialista, it's the case with the Brazilian PT government, and it's the road Uruguay will likely take, with the possible election of the Frente Amplio.

The second political trend is the increasing militarisation of bourgeois rule. This is most marked where there is a landscape of generalised opposition, as with Colombia, or even where the threat exists, as in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru, where the ruling class is already beginning to test the possibility of using the military to restore the "order" their political system has failed to maintain.

Thirdly there is the trend toward "rupture". In Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the ruling class seems unable to reweave any sort of political consensus. The movement in each of these countries has now been through an important accumulation of forces: in Ecuador there was the uprising of 2001, in Bolivia the national uprising in February 2003. In Bolivia especially, where the Movimiento al Socialismo represents a serious development in the political organisation of the movement, there is another potential front opening up alongside Venezuela.

Across the continent, the left is reaccumulating forces and reappraising its political perspectives. In many of the rural (peasant and landless) organisations and in the trade union movement also, there are left currents coming to the fore. Left organisations are revisiting old debates but in the context of stepping out of the long-term retreat and tackling the challenges of real potential advances. Once again, the questions of state and power are on the agenda. The fear of making a revolution "post-Cold War" is finally beginning to be broken.

The revolution unfolding in Venezuela

The 1989 Caracazo signalled the turning point in the interminable process of de-legitimisation of Venezuela's bourgeois-democratic parties and the trade union movement sponsored by them. It also brought onto Venezuela's historical stage a previously excluded actor, the eighty per cent of the population who live in poverty, working mostly in the informal sector and previously unorganised.

The revolutionary situation unfolding in Venezuela today represents the fusing of the new "street democracy" of the masses with the political movement that emerged out of the army in the early 1980s. This movement, the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR-200), whose central leader became Hugo Chavez, originated from the profoundly democratic aspirations of a generation of junior officers drawn from the poor masses and educated in a unique military and social setting.

Unlike the rest of Latin America's career military officers, Venezuela's were not trained in the Escuela de las Americas but rather in the national military academy, which was transformed in 1971 by the Plan Andres Bello. This reform integrated officer training with general university education. This meant the new officers not only studied a much broader array of political theory but also participated in general university life, being exposed to the often radical ideas of their fellow (non-military) students. The reform also involved a certain (liberal) democratisation of the military structure, at least to the extent that promotion became more weighted toward merit rather than family connections.

In the new military academy, these young officers in training could reflect on their own experiences alongside radical students and with the benefit of exposure to radical writings, including those of Marx and Lenin. The old guard officers were not unaware of this contradiction. At certain points some of the literature from Marx and socialist history was prohibited.[4]

Unlike their counterparts in the rest of the continent, these same officers were exposed to a very weak guerrilla movement. Instead of intense fighting, they encountered the massive misery of the rural population and contrasted that to the wealth of the elites they had occasion to mix with.

The MBR-200 was born when a group of four such officers—Chavez, Raul Baduel, Urdaneta Hernandez and Felipe Antonio Acosta Carlez—took an oath on December 17, 1982. The MBR-200 started small but with a plan to organise. For years they worked as an underground network throughout the army, making contact with officers they thought would be sympathetic, careful to avoid being exposed but little by little reaching significant numbers and developing a loyal and relatively disciplined cadre base. They had a determined political project, which did not escape the attention of the ruling elites. In fact one of their founders, Felipe Antonio Acosta Carlez, was assassinated during the Caracazo. It's suspected that this was at the hands of a secret police agent on the orders of then president Carlos Andres Perez.

Chavez himself played a central role in the development of the movement, refusing promotion so that he could stay at the military academy as a trainer and continue to influence new generations of officers and soldiers with the ideas of the MBR-200. Many of the younger officers trained under Chavez played a key organising role in the failed 1992 coup.

The 1992 coup demonstrated the weakness of a political movement still disconnected from the emerging leaders of the new popular movement. The plans of the MBR-200 were inspired by the 1989 Caracazo, in which many of its leaders participated, sent by the Perez government to kill people but instead often taking charge of organising the expropriation goods from stores and generally keeping an order of solidarity among the people on the streets. The MBR planned the coup for May 1992 to coincide with a general strike. When the coup had to be put forward, fearing that the plans had been discovered, the organisation of the strike proved weak.

Many of the officers and soldiers who participated in the coup and most of the leaders ended up jailed and persecuted. While in prison however, Chavez and the cadre of the MBR-200 took the time to study and consider their next steps.

Once out of jail, the MBR leaders set a different tactical course. They realised the importance of developing the movement outside of the army and, given the opening created by the increasing delegitimisation of the old two-party system, they opted for an electoral road. Chavez and other MBR-200 leaders travelled the entire country, meeting with communities and developing their dialogue with community leaders. In 1997 they set up the Movimiento para la Quinta Republica (MVR). The MVR planted their key tactic at the centre of its political platform—the refounding of the Venezuelan Republic based on a new, democratic constitution.

Even before his election, Chavez faced a massive slander campaign from the Venezuelan ruling class. Polls gave him eight per cent in the presidential race. Instead, he won the December 1998 election with a majority of fifty-six per cent. The new government moved immediately to the convocation of a "constituent assembly" to draft a new constitution. Of the 131 members elected to this constituent assembly, the Polo Patriotico—consisting of various organisations supporting the Chavez government—won almost all. The new constitution was approved by a majority of 129 votes to two and then approved in a referendum by seventy per cent of the population.

The new constitution established a democratic foundation for national politics unimaginable in any other Latin American capitalist country. It also indicated that the Chavez forces had some understanding of the limitations of government and at least partially understood that their democratic objectives required a struggle for a new type of state.

Still constrained by congress and the continuous sabotage of the ruling class and its politicians, the Chavez government did not limit itself to the institutions of bourgeois democracy, as Salvador Allende had in Chile thirty years earlier. While the new mass movement booming during these years remained ill organised and without consolidated leadership, Chavez turned to the one organised social force which he thought could provide a motor force for his government—the army.

On February 27, 1999, a date chosen to symbolise solidarity with the Caracazo uprising, Chavez launched Plan Bolivar 2000. The plan mobilised the army to carry out massive social works programs—constructing housing for the poor, dealing with health and nutritional problems and assisting with a range of other public projects. Over two years, Plan Bolivar 2000 built more homes than had been built in the previous twenty years.

Most importantly, Plan Bolivar 2000 further increased the solidarity between the working classes and the soldiers of the Venezuelan army. However, in demonstrating the critical role that army officers were playing as cadre of the Bolivarian revolution, it also exposed the paternalism this bred and the gaping hole created by the lack of a political vanguard rooted in the new mass movement.

As a consequence of the growing experiences of struggle, Chavez reacted to the limitations imposed by the institutions of Venezuela's bourgeois democracy by continuing to deepen the democratic trajectory of the movement. On May 7, 2001, while the MVR languished and many MVR politicians, including governors, continued along the lines of the old-style corrupt and clientalist politicians, Chavez publicly stated the need to re-establish the MBR-200. He called on well-known left militants such as Pablo Medina from the Patria Para Todos (formerly Causa R) and Guillermo Garcia Ponce, a long-term communist and previous militant of the Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV), to play a leading role in this process. In this way the Comando Nacional de la Revolución was formed.

At the same time, the Bolivarian Circles were launched, aimed at organising the movement on a street level and beginning the development of structures of people's power that could organise social mobilisation and begin to combat the ruling class ideologically.

Capitalist power

In the wake of a failed labour strike, on April 11, 2002, the anti-Chavez forces organised a protest with the backing of the rightist mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena. As the opposition march made its way to the Miraflores presidential palace, a counter-protest by government supporters approached from the rear. Then a street battle began as the pro-Chavez forces defended themselves against shooting from the Caracas city council-controlled police and opposition snipers. This incident was manipulated by the mass media and became the trigger for the coup.

With the exception of the assistance provided by ex-president Carlos Andres Perez and his advisers, the political leadership of the coup was left directly in the hands of Venezuela's club of capitalists. This was one of its key weaknesses: the lack of a political leadership. The old political elite of the Venezuelan ruling class was and remains so thoroughly discredited that it has no authority, including among the middle classes—the force that could potentially provide a social base for a post-coup regime. Neither Acción Democratica (AD) or the conservative COPEI can provide the political leadership that, for example, the Christian Democrats did in the Chilean coup of 1973 and the military dictatorship that followed.

Lacking this political leadership, the anti-Chavez forces are also much more susceptible to petty squabbles and divisions. The Venezuelan capitalists who led the April 2002 coup and still dominate the opposition have limited political vision, as they put priority on their own specific economic interests.

With the historical political forces of the ruling class long discredited, the opposition has suffered a permanent problem in re-establishing a tactically united political movement. Especially since its "civic" forces were so thoroughly exposed by their role in the April coup, the strength of the opposition has been increasingly stripped down to its bare essentials—the naked economic power of the capitalist class. Since the April coup, the owners of Venezuela's economy—especially in key interests such as food, media, finance and oil—have wielded all their economic power to create chaos in the country, without giving much thought even to their own need to win public support and construct a viable political alternative.

This campaign reached an important turning point with the December 2002 opposition "strike" and the battle over the Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).[5]

On December 2, 2002, the opposition forces launched another "civic strike". Like the one in April that preceded the coup, the strike was more of a lock-out and only marginally successful. On Wednesday, December 4, the situation began to escalate as strike activity became visible in the oil industry. The technocracy of PDVSA joined the civic strike and, with only a small number of upper-level technicians from the 45,000 workers employed, was able to paralyse the industry. The workers and peasants responded on December 7, two million people from across the country rallying in Caracas against the shutdown. Over December and January, the government moved in to restore production in the PDVSA, sacking some 3000 technocrats and beginning the process of establishing real public control over the oil sector.

The opposition proved it had the power to bring the country to its knees but not to win political support. When the opposition officially called off the strike on February 2, 2003, it did so having lost control of the PDVSA, and to prevent a total haemorrhaging of its support base, as more middle class elements began to look to the government as the only source of stability.

The Venezuelan capitalist class has lost its more or less direct control over the country's main industry but maintains its class rule through continued control of all the other key sectors of the Venezuelan economy—most importantly, this includes almost the entirety of finance, media, telecommunications and the critical food sector. In conjunction with imperialist economic sabotage, this allows the capitalist class the luxury of persevering in opposition even with a diminishing political movement and organised military support that, for now at least, seems reduced to the 400 or so officers expelled from the armed forces after the April 2002 coup (a number of generals and the rest mostly from administrative positions).

The strategy of the counter-revolution, as always, falls back on economic sabotage. The test of the movement will be whether it is able to combat this sabotage, which in essence entails the repression of the pro-capitalist forces and the concurrent extension of workers' democracy. Failure to be decisive in this will lead the least politicised elements of the working and middles classes over to the opposition and create a more favourable relationship of forces for their counter-revolutionary objectives.

Beginning of a counter-power

The popular response to the April 2002 coup and the December petrol lock-out revealed the embryonic development of a worker-peasant-soldier counter-power. The organisation of an uprising against the coup began in all these sectors and across them within hours of Chavez's kidnapping on April 11.

In the early hours of the evening of April 12, radios began to report strong cacerolazos and protests in El Valle.[6] The people in Caracas' poor hillside suburbs started to come out onto the streets. Protests were reported in Catia, el 23 de Enero, Guarenas, Antimano and other areas of the greater capital. The Caracas-La Guaira highway was blockaded. At the same time, protest action began throughout the country's interior. In Vargas, for example, on the morning of April 12, the Bolivarian Circles, MVR militants, land committees and various women's groups organised clandestine meetings to prepare the popular response, using a funeral that day as the means for organising a mass mobilisation.

The same day, discussions were already well under way within the ranks of the army. Some soldiers within the palace regiment suggested a commando-style operation to take hostage all the coup conspirators and then attempt to negotiate. It was decided to buy time first to unite with other forces.

The decisive action came from General Baduel, in charge of the Maracay-based parachutists brigade and a founding member of the MBR-200. He refused to recognise the Carmona regime and together with the people of Maracay, who had already taken over the streets and set up barricades in preparation for battle, defied the coup leaders. Word of Baduel's stance soon reached leaders of the popular movement and soldiers throughout the country. The order went out through the Bolivarian Circles and other mass organisations for people to march toward the army's barracks. They did so in their thousands, calling on the soldiers therein to support the movement and demand the return of Chavez.

This strengthened the resolve of the officers and soldiers already planning against the coup leaders. On April 12 a group of young officers with contacts in both the important Fuerte Tiuna and the military academy, where a number of the coup conspirators had set up base, met to organise themselves.[7 ]They had two key goals: to find a general at Fuerte Tiuna who would side with the people and to break the media blackout on developments. They garnered the support of generals Martinez Mendoza and Garcia Carneiro at Fuerte Tiuna, and also organised the retaking of the government TV channel, Canal 8.[8]

By 10 in the morning of April 13, the palace regiment had already taken over the palace and forced coup leaders to flee. They too were in contact with General Garcia Carneiro. They called to the palace a Spanish television crew and videotaped a message making it clear that the Carmona regime was not recognised. Then lieutenant colonels Zambrano Mata and Francisco Guyon went to Canal 8 to get the recorded message out. Contact had already been made with the Bolivarian Circles to organise a mass protest at the station. At the station, the officers and movement leaders rallied the protest and forced the police to let them in. Armed with rudimentary crews and equipment from the barracks, they finally got the station on air that afternoon.[9]

By then, hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets of Caracas, sweeping down from the hillside suburbs. The atmosphere was defiant; slogans echoed throughout: "Pueblo, escucha, unete a la lucha" (People, listen, unite in the struggle); "Chavez, amigo, el pueblo esta contigo" (Chavez, friend, the people are with you). In Maracay, workers and soldiers were ready to march on Caracas if necessary. Within forty-eight hours, an impressive web of communication and organisation had developed between the Bolivarian Circles, other mass and neighbourhood organisations and the revolutionary elements in the army.

The Bolivarian Circles were launched in December 2001. At the time of the coup, there were only some 8000 Bolivarian Circles, each having around ten members and organised mostly on a territorial basis—in streets and local communities—but also along sectoral lines. During the December 2002 battle for the PDVSA, Bolivarian Circles provided volunteer labour, groups to defend oil installations and contacts to former oil workers and technicians.

The Bolivarian Circles now organise around two million people, some ten per cent of the adult population. They function as autonomous organs of people's power capable of organising community campaigns, mobilising against capitalist sabotage and provocations and increasingly providing a forum for the development of the class consciousness and combativeness of the working masses. In April 2003, for example, the regional coordinators of the Bolivarian Circles in the 23 de Enero area of Caracas began to develop a Bolivarian School of People's Power, with the aim of developing the political education of the movement. The ruling class rightly compares the circles to the Cuban Committees in Defence of the Revolution in the scope of their role and the threat they pose to the institutions of bourgeois state power.

The self-organisation of Venezuela's working classes is getting further impetus from the Chavez government's land reform. Eight Venezuelan families own land equivalent to eighteen times the size of greater Caracas. The Ley de Tierras has set a maximum legal size for farms ranging from 100 to 5000 hectares, depending on productivity. It also imposes a special tax on any holding that is left more than eighty per cent idle. At the same time, any Venezuelan citizen who is either the head of a family or is between eighteen and twenty-five years old may apply for a parcel of land and after three years of cultivation acquire a title that can be passed on but not sold. This is changing the balance of power in the countryside, undermining the political strength of the old owners of latifundia. Violence is escalating from that source, and in response rural workers and peasants are organising, including arming themselves.

In the urban centres, where almost ninety per cent of the population live, the government is pursuing initiatives to transfer the legal ownership of the barrios to the ten million people (forty per cent of the population) who inhabit them. Rather than leave this process to administrators, the government's law required families in the barrios to establish land committees, which sent representatives to the National Assembly to discuss and amend the Special Law to Regularise Land Tenancy in Poor Urban Settlements. Land committees are made up of seven to eleven individuals elected by a gathering of at least half of a maximum of 200 families for each committee. These committees are not only responsible for regularising the process of urban land title distribution but are also playing an increasing role as a framework for self-government and for the general transformation and embowerment of the barrios. Many of the committees have formed subcommittees to deal with all sorts of tasks, such as assisting in municipal public works, organising cultural activities and organisation of security.

As a result of the increasing level of organisation and class consciousness among the working class as a whole, the historic grip of social democracy and clientalism over the trade union movement is now in terminal crisis. On March 29, 2003, a new national trade union federation was formed—the Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT). The UNT was initiated with fifty-six national and regional federations and fourteen national trade unions. It involves most of the key unions in the country, including petrol workers.

The UNT is still in formation but already represents many more workers than the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) supposedly does. The leadership of the UNT has formed in the heat of class struggle, during and after the events of December 2002. Its orientation is clearly independent and based on a class-struggle perspective. It leaves the CTV totally exposed as a bosses' union without any significant mobilising power.

There is a growing political consciousness in the trade union movement. On April 13, for example, after months of struggle and having exhausted legal channels, the Fenix textile factory workers in San Juan de los Morros occupied the factory and started producing under workers' control. These sort of actions are being given massive stimulus by the discussion about workers' control within the PDVSA. Workers are also aware that the government is behind them—on a number of occasions Chavez has come out in favour of workers occupying factories closed by the bosses.

Within the military itself there is a struggle going on to develop the revolutionary current and build the alliance with workers and peasants. After the April 2002 coup, some 400 mostly senior officers were removed and a restructuring followed that put key people in all major posts commanding troops. These army leaders are not just "constitutionalists"; many represent a genuinely revolutionary current.

Problem of political leadership

A revolutionary situation has opened up in the Venezuelan class struggle. The political consciousness and combativeness of a majority of workers, peasants and soldiers have taken a qualitative leap since the events of April and December 2002.

A life and death struggle for power is now unfolding. The ruling class is mobilising all its economic power and, with the assistance of imperialism, preparing conditions for a reactionary counter-offensive. The working masses are increasingly conscious of the stakes, but they haven't the centralised organisation that could best prepare them for victory in the decisive battles to come. The revolutionary movement lacks the political and ideological apparatus that could provide the necessary direction and organisation to unite every struggle, mobilise forces for every battlefront and develop the general capacity for self-organisation of the working masses.

This is the legacy of social democracy in the labour movement, the opportunism that tainted and poisoned the Venezuelan left for so much of its history. After a brief period in the 1960s of charting an independent course, flawed as it was by its guerrillismo, the MIR [Movement of the Revolutionary Left] and Communist Party soon fell back into the framework of parliamentarist politics. When the Communist Party split in the 1970s, the split went to the right, forming the Eurocommunist Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). When the Causa R developed in the 1980s, many elements of it also fell victim to the trappings of AD-style social democratic parliamentarism. Through these processes in the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of left cadre, who today could potentially be in the front lines, were lost to the revolutionary movement.

As the Chavez government has radicalised, the movement has been forced to rely on the leadership provided by the MBR-200 supporters in the army. While these officers and soldiers have proved less corruptible than the electoral machinery of the movement—the MVR and the other left parliamentary parties that have supported the government—their role in mass organisation has bred a paternalism that can undermine the self-organisation of the masses.

Chavez and many other leaders of the movement have increasingly sought to consolidate a unified revolutionary leadership. At the same time as launching the Bolivarian Circles, Chavez called upon a number of leaders of the left and historic figures of the movement to form the Comando Politico de la Revolución. According to Guillermo Garcia Ponce, director of the Comando:

The principle weakness of the revolutionary process is the absence of the party of the revolution. In Venezuela we have many revolutionary parties that support the process, but we lack one capable of uniting them all. The government lacks a centre of leadership and mass organisation on the streets that can unite the efforts and resources of all the revolutionaries … The revolutionary political parties have not been able to form a solid structure at the base [grassroots] level. They continue to be, in some ways, electoral apparatuses with organisation at the level of the upper and middle leadership but very weak at the base.[10]

Since May 2003, Chavez's own party, the MVR, has been undergoing a reorganisation aimed at democratising the party and turning it towards political organisation of the mass movement rather than an exclusive focus on electoral organisation. In June 2003 Chavez also announced the formation of the Frente Nacional. The FN is not intended to be another electoral alliance like the Polo Patriotico but a political front of the revolutionary mass and party organisations that can fuse the leadership capacity of these organisations.

The three-decade discontinuity in the accumulation of revolutionary cadre is not something that will be easily made up. Time is not on the side of the Venezuelan revolutionary movement. Whether or not the new revolutionary leaders being forged in the heat of battle can step up to the task is yet to be tested. In turn, this will also depend in some part on the development of a unified revolutionary leadership, capable of providing an ideological compass and executing the necessary tactical decisions that will face the revolution in the near future.

Notes

1. El ALCA forma parte de la estrategia imperial, el ALCA visto desde los Estados Unidos. Spanish language version, <www.rebelion.org>, October 25, 2002.

2. The governments and business leaders of the US and Latin America have been promoting since 1994 the creation of what would be the biggest commercial bloc in the world, the Area de Libre Comercio de las Americas (ALCA—Free Trade Area of the Americas). The aim is essentially to impose further and more direct US control over the Third World economies of the continent.

3. On Monday, February 27, 1989, as part of a neo-liberal restructuring program, the Perez government of Venezuela introduced its first price hikes, a 10 per cent increase in the price of petrol and 30 per cent in "public" transport ticket prices. The people of Venezuela responded with a shock treatment of their own. From 6 a.m. that morning, spontaneous protests erupted all over the country. Shops were burned down, roadblocks were set up, and street protests emerged from every quarter. For twenty-four hours, the government lost control, and all organised political forces were nowhere to be seen. The government introduced a state of emergency and started a massive and violent crackdown, which by Saturday, March 4, had already claimed at least 400 dead, mostly civilians executed by the army. The injured were in the thousands.

4. Militares junto al pueblo, Marta Harnecker, 2002, <www.rebelion.org>

5. From the time of its establishment, with the nationalisation of Venezuelan oil in 1976, the PDVSA was increasingly corporatised and became a sort of "state within a state", with enormous political clout, and the source of great wealth for the elite of Venezuela and its imperialist masters. Oxford University researcher Dr. Carlos Boue estimates that the PDVSA's practice of selling oil cheaply to its "own" refineries based in the imperialist North accounted for one of the greatest international flows of capital from South to North.

6. Cacerolazos are protests in which people bang on their caceroles (pots and pans) as loudly as possible. They go back a long way in Latin American political tradition and recently have been most associated with the Argentinian popular rebellion against the neo-liberal order.

7. Fuerte Tiunia is one of the major army forts in the Caracas area.

8. Militares Junto al Pueblo. Marta Harnecker, 2002, <www.rebelion.org>.

9. Ibid.

10. Punto Final, No. 539, March 14_28, 2003.

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