``In Venezuela the biggest threat to the revolution does not
come from the right-wing political opposition but from the so-called `endogenous' or `Chavista' right wing, in that chunks of the revolutionary
bloc, including state elites and party officials, will develop a deeper
stake in defending global capitalism over socialist transformation''' -- William I. Robinson
Interview with William I. Robinson, professor of sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara, by Chronis Polychroniou, editor of the Greek daily newspaper Eleftherotypia
February 1, 2010 -- ZNet
Chronis Polychroniou: There
are scare stories coming from Venezuela. The border is heating up,
infiltration is taking place, a new Colombian military base near the
border, US access to several new bases on Colombia and constant
subversion. Is the regime concerned about a possible invasion? If yes,
who is going to intervene?
William I. Robinson: The
Venezuelan government is concerned about a possible US invasion and
certainly an outright invasion cannot be ruled out. However I think the
US is pursuing a more sophisticated strategy of intervention that we
could call a war of attrition.
We have seen this strategy in
other countries, such as in Nicaragua in the 1980s, or even Chile under
Allende. It is what in CIA lexicon is known as destabilisation, and in the Pentagon's language is called political warfare
-- which does not mean there is not a military component. This is a
counterrevolutionary strategy that combines military threats and
hostilities with psychological operations, disinformation campaigns,
black propaganda, economic sabotage, diplomatic pressures, the
mobilisation of political opposition forces inside the country,
carrying out provocations and sparking violent confrontations in the
cities, manipulation of disaffected sectors and the exploitation of
legitimate grievances among the population.
The strategy is deft at
taking advantage of the revolution's own mistakes and limitations, such
as corruption, clientalism and opportunism, which we must acknowledge
are serious problems in Venezuela. It is also deft at aggravating and
manipulating material problems, such as shortages, price inflation and
goal is to destroy the revolution by making it unworkable, by
exhausting the population's will to continue to struggle to forge a new
society, and in this way to undermine the revolution's mass social
base. According to the US strategy the revolution must be destroyed by
having it collapse it in on itself, by undermining the remarkable
hegemony that Chavismo and Bolivarianismo has been able to achieve
within Venezuelan civil society over the past decade.
hope to provoke Chavez into a crackdown that transforms the democratic
socialist process into an authoritarian one. In the view of these
strategists, Chavez will eventually be removed from power through any
number of scenarios brought about by constant war of attribution --
whether through elections, a military putsch from within, an uprising,
mass defections from the revolutionary camp, or a combination of
factors that can not be foretold.
this context the military bases in Colombia provide a crucial platform
for intelligence and reconnaissance operations against Venezuela and
also for the infiltration of counterrevolutionary military, economic
sabotage, and terrorist groups. These infiltrating groups are meant to
harass, but more specifically, to provoke reactions from the
revolutionary government and to synchronise armed provocation with the
whole gamut of political, diplomatic, psychological, economic and
ideological aggressions that are part of the war of attrition.
Moreover, the mere threat
of US military aggression that the bases represent in itself
constitutes a powerful US psychological operation intended to heighten
tensions inside Venezuela, force the government into extremist
positions or into "crying wolf", and to embolden internal anti-Chavista
and counterrevolutionary forces.
it is important to see that the military bases are part of the larger
US strategy towards all of Latin America. The US and the right wing in
Latin America have launched a counteroffensive to reverse the turn to
the left or the so-called "pink tide". Venezuela is the epicentre of an
emergent counter-hegemonic bloc in Latin America. But Bolivia and
Ecuador and more generally the region's burgeoning social movements
and left political forces are as much targets of this counteroffensive
as is Venezuela.
The coup in Honduras has provided impetus to this
counteroffensive and emboldened the right and counterrevolutionary
forces. Colombia has become the epicentre regional counterrevolution --
really a bastion of 21st century fascism.
"Bolivarian revolution" has been very popular with the poor. Could you describe out how the Venezuelan society has changed since Chavez came to
of all, let us acknowledge that the Bolivarian revolution has placed
democratic socialism back on the worldwide agenda. We went through
a period in the 1990s where most were scared to even talk of socialism,
when it seemed that global capitalism had reached the apex of its
hegemony and when some on the left even bought into the "end of
Bolivarian revolution has given the poor and largely Afro-Caribbean
masses their voice for the first time since the war of independence
from Spanish colonialism. The Chavez government has reoriented
priorities to the poor majority. It has been able to use oil revenues,
in particular, to develop health, education and other social programs
that have had dramatic results in reducing poverty, virtually
eliminating illiteracy, and improving the health of the population.
International organisations and data-collecting agencies have
recognised these remarkable social achievements.
as someone who visits Venezuela regularly, I would say that the more
fundamental change since Chavez came to power is not these social
indicators but the political and socio-psychological awakening of the
poor majority -- a broad process of popular, grassroots mobilisation,
cultural expression, political participation and empowerment. The old
elite and the bourgeoisie have been partially replaced from the state
and from formal political power -- although not entirely.
But the real
fear and resentment of the old dominant groups, the panic and their
hatred for Chavez, is because they have felt slip from their grip the
ability to exercise cultural and socio-psychological domination
over the popular classes as they have done for decades, nay centuries. Of
course, there still plenty of other mechanisms through which the
bourgeoisie and the political agents of the ancien regime are able to
wield their influence, particularly through the mass media that is
still largely in their hands ... and this is why the "media battles" in
Venezuela play such a prominent role.
That said, there are all kinds of problems and contradictions internal to the Bolivarian revolution.
widespread are nationalisation plans under Chavez and is there any
evidence so far that they bring the desired results?
obvious major economic change has been the recovery of the country's
oil for a popular project -- and even at that there is still a PDVSA
[state oil company] bureaucratic oligarchy. Other key enterprises, such as steel, have been
nationalised. And the cooperative sector -- with all its problems -- has
spread. Nonetheless, let's be clear: economic power is still largely in
the hands of the bourgeoisie.
us recall that the Venezuelan revolution is unique in that the old
reactionary state was not "smashed" as it was in other revolutions. The
strategy of the revolution has been to set up new parallel institutions
and to also try to "colonise" the old state. But the Venezuelan state
is still largely a capitalist state. The key question is how can a
transformative project move forward while operating through a corrupt,
clientalist, bureaucratic and often inert state bequeathed by the
If revolutionary and socialist forces come to power
within a capitalist political process how do you confront the
capitalist state and the brakes it places on transformative processes?
In fact, in Venezuela, and also in Bolivia and elsewhere, prevailing
state institutions often act to constrain, dilute and coopt mass
struggles from below.
my view, in Venezuela the biggest threat to the revolution does not
come from the right-wing political opposition but from the so-called
"endogenous" or "Chavista" right wing, in that chunks of the revolutionary
bloc, including state elites and party officials, will develop a deeper
stake in defending global capitalism over socialist transformation.
revolution has been going on for over a decade now. Is it maturing or
is it reaching a stage of decline and deformation?
would not say that the revolution is in
"decline" or "deformation". Rather, we need to be more expansive in our
historical analysis and even theoretical reflection on what is going on
at this historical juncture of 21st century global
capitalism and its crisis. The turn to the left in Latin America
started out as a rebellion against neoliberalism. The post-neoliberal
regimes undertook mild redistributive reform and limited
nationalisations, particularly of energy resources and public services
that had previously been privatised. They were able to reactive
accumulation. But post-neoliberalism that does not now move towards a
deeper socialist transformation runs up against limits.
Bolivarian process faces contradictions, problems and limitations, as
do all historic projects! I would say that both the Venezuelan
revolution and also the Bolivian and Ecuadoran processes, may be coming
up against the limits of redistributive reform within the logic of
global capitalism, especially given the crisis of global capitalism.
Anti-neoliberalism that does not challenge more fundamentally the very
logic of capitalism runs up against limitations that may now have been
may be that the best or the only defence of the revolution is to
radicalise and deepen the revolutionary process, to push forward
structural transformations that go beyond redistribution. The fact is
that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie may have been displaced in part from
political power but it is still very much in economic control. Breaking
that economic control implies a more significant change in property and
class relations. This in turn means breaking the domination of capital,
of global capital and its local agents. Naturally this is a Herculean
task. There is no clear way forward and each step generates complex new
contradictions and Gordian knots. Of course these are matters the whole global left must contemplate.
us recall the lessons of the Nicaraguan and other revolutions.
Multiclass alliances generate contradictions once the honeymoon stage
of easy redistributive reform and social programs reach their limit.
Then multiclass alliances begin to collapse because there are
fundamental contradictions between distinct class projects and
interests. At that point a revolution must more clearly define its
class project; not just in discourse or in politics but in actual
a more technical level, we could say that the contradictions generated
by trying to break the domination of global capital are not the fault
of the revolution. Venezuela is still a capitalist country in which the
law of value, of capital accumulation, is operative. Efforts to
establish a contrary logic -- a logic of social need and social
distribution -- run up against the law of value. But in a capitalist
society violating the law of value throws everything haywire,
generating many problems and new disequilibria that the
counterrevolution is able to take advantage of. This is the challenge
for any socialist-oriented revolution within global capitalism.