Wednesday, 25 November 2009



The coming to power of Hugo Chávez in 1998 represented an important change in the world situation. This was the first government to come to power which did not embrace the ruthless ideas of neo-liberalism which had dominated every government and ruling elite throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The coming to power of Chávez thus represented a significant positive development. The Chávez regime enacted a series of popular reforms, especially in health and education, which the CWI and workers in Venezuela and internationally enthusiastically supported.

The radical populist policies enacted by Chávez rapidly aroused the wrath of US imperialism and the Venezuelan ruling class which tried to overthrow it. The struggle in Venezuela has passed through different phases and twists and turns in the situation. Now it has entered a new and critical phase. Initially, Chávez spoke only of a 'Bolivarian revolution'. A series of important reform programmes were initiated. The "Misiones" in health (Barrio Adentro) and education (Mision Robinson) were especially popular. One million were lifted out of illiteracy and millions were given access to a doctor for the first time. Three million were given access to primary and secondary school education. Over two million hectares of land have been distributed to peasant co-operatives since Chávez came to power in 1998. These reforms and other aspects of his programme rapidly brought his regime into open conflict with the oligarchs who had previously been in power and provoked the wrath of US imperialism.

The attempted coup in 2002 and then the bosses "lock-out" in 2002/3 were followed by a series of acts of sabotage, provoking shortages of commodities and electoral challenges. All these attempts at counter revolution were defeated. They were blocked by a massive, independent spontaneous movement of the masses from below. The defeat of these attempts at counter revolution represented important victories.

In 2005, spurred on by these events and the pressure from the mass of the poor and workers, Chávez went further and for the first time declared that the objectives of the Bolivarian revolution were now to build "Socialism in the 21st century". This, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, once again put the issue of socialism back on the political agenda and represented a positive development.

However, it is one thing to speak of socialism it is another to understand what programme and methods are necessary to achieve it. Marxists also have a responsibility to draw out and discuss weaknesses, deficiencies and dangers which are present in any movement and which can act as a barrier to defeating capitalism. It is necessary to assist workers and socialists in finding the right road to take the struggle forward and carry through the socialist revolution. Genuine socialism can then be built through the establishment of a real system of workers democracy and by drawing on the international and historical experiences of the workers' movement. Marxists try to assist socialists in Venezuela to draw on the international experience of workers in other struggles as a means of advancing the struggle for a socialist revolution. We also welcome comment and criticism from workers in Venezuela about the struggles of workers in other countries.

The CWI has welcomed the positive steps forward taken in Venezuela. But we have also warned of the dangers facing the movement from counter revolution and reaction due to deficiencies in programme, method and the organisation of the working class. Unlike some on the left, we have avoided falling into the traps of either opportunism - of merely acting as cheerleaders and advisers of Chávez - or alternatively, of attacking Chávez in a personal and sectarian manner.

The threat of counter revolution remains because capitalism, unfortunately, has not been defeated and replaced by a democratic socialist plan of production based upon the establishment of a system of workers' and peasants' democracy. Now, a new and critical phase has opened up in Venezuela which poses new dangers for the struggle for socialism.

The failure to defeat capitalism is now resulting in a series of attacks on the reform programmes and the working class. The new rich elite which has ridden on the backs of the movement and an ever-expanding bureaucratic apparatus, riddled with corruption, is increasingly coming into conflict with the working class and the struggle to take the revolution forward. Using "socialist rhetoric" the bureaucracy and new elite which is emerging are increasingly adopting repressive measures against the working class and those who come into conflict with or criticise the regime.

The CWI has commented on many occasions that one of the most serious weaknesses of the situation in Venezuela is the lack of conscious, independent organisation of the working class, which puts itself at the head of the struggle for a socialist revolution. The Bolivarian movement has been run in a top-down manner, without a conscious check or control by the working class. As a result, bureaucratic, administrative and now, unfortunately, increasingly repressive methods have been used against the working class and those who question or challenge the regime from the left.

These two elements - the predominance of capitalism and bureaucratic repressive methods - have been strengthened during the recent period. The revolutionary process which developed, especially following the attempted coup and lock-out in 2002/3 has stalled at this conjuncture. If a revolutionary process does not advance and go forward ultimately it can begin to corrode and even rot.

Unfortunately, this threat is beginning to develop in Venezuela. As a result support for Chávez is being seriously undermined and eroded. Even the idea of socialism is beginning to be discredited amongst a layer because of a failure to take the revolution forward. There is a qualitative change underway which raises the spectre of counter revolution. A counter-revolution, however, which is, in part, being driven from within the Chavista movement itself.

The 'Boli-bourgeois'

This involves sections of the old elite which have gone over to Chávez, who are now enriching themselves and making massive profits from the whole process. To this must be added the 'new rich' that has emerged. Today the term 'Boli-burguesia' (Boli-bourgeois) is common place in modern Venezuela. There is a strong element of the process which unfolded in South Africa where a section of the ANC enriched itself following the fall of the apartheid regime. They became a new upper-middle class and even a section of the capitalist class. This process is well advanced, in the name of "socialism", in Venezuela today. There is even an organisation made up of "Socialist companies" - companies that declare themselves socialist but operate as capitalist enterprises as well as a nationally organized group called the "Middle Class Socialists".

This layer includes people like Ricardo Fernandez Barruesco, who started out in the food industry but has now diversified and owns the Banco Canarias, Bolivar Banco and many others. There are also members of the new ruling elite like Wilmer Ruperti. A decade ago, he was simply another "businessman". Today, he is a shipping tycoon and a billionaire. In fact he is Venezuela's richest man. He made his fortune during the bosses' "lock-out" using his tankers to break the "strike" and ship oil for the government. Since then, he has been richly rewarded, with lucrative contracts with the state oil company, PVDSA. Although this layer has tried to reconcile itself to Chávez, there clearly remains another section of the old elite and other right-wing forces which remain determined to defeat him.

The growth of the 'Boli-burguesia' is a feature which is likely to continue in the coming period. Chávez, faced with a declining economy with industrial production set to fall by 10.25% in the third quarter of this year, has stepped up his appeal for the private sector to help boost the flagging economy. Identifying fifty-four issues that need to be confronted to boost the economy he appealed to the private banks - some of the richest in Latin America - to help stimulate the economy by increasing credit to the commercial sectors. (Ultimas Noticias 22/9/09).

While some of the "nationalisations" carried out by the government have received a lot of international publicity, most of them have, in fact, ended up as joint ventures called "empresas mixtas" (mixed enterprises). The whole thrust of the Chávez governments' economic policy has been to increase state intervention but leave in place a mixed capitalist economy – using the term "socialism".

Impact of the crisis

At the beginning of the world economic crisis, Chávez denied that Venezuela would be affected by it.

However, this argument is now unsustainable as the effects of falling oil prices have begun to hit the economy. Incredibly, the national state-owned oil company increased its level of debt by a staggering 146% during 2008! PDVSA is estimated to owe an enormous US$12 billion to contractors. This is now having a direct impact on the ability of the government to maintain its initially popular reforms packages.

Most of the reform and social programmes were financed by PDVSA. The increased debt of PDVSA is now compelling the government to cut back on its social reform programme. Social programme expenditure was cut by 58% in 2008, compared with 2007. Further cuts are also planned in state expenditure for 2009. When inflation, running at 30% - the highest in Latin America - is taken into account, economists estimate that the real value of the budget announced for 2009 will be 30% lower than in 2007!

Bureaucratic mismanagement and inefficiency

To these cuts must also be added the devastating consequences of the bureaucratic methods, corruption and inefficiency which in recent years has seriously undermined even the most popular "Misiones" - reform programmes. These include the most popular programmes, such as Barrio Adentro (Health) and Mision Robinson (the campaign to eradicate illiteracy) and the state run super market - Mercal - and the price controls which the government introduced on basic goods.

Health clinics run by Barrio Adentro, opened to widespread acclaim in the 'barrios', are now more often than not closed and fail to operate. Complaints by Cuban doctors sent back to Havana about the crisis which exists in the health sector prompted Fidel Castro to write to Chávez, warning him that the health system was not functioning. Chávez pronounced that he had received a letter from Castro protesting about problems in Barrio Adentro and that something must be done. It is as though Chávez himself had nothing to do with the problem. Yet why was a letter from Castro necessary to alert the Venezuelan government of a crisis in its own health sector!

The popular health reforms have, like many of the other reform programmes become clogged up in a mesh of bureaucracy and corruption and lack of over all planning even in one sector. The introduction of unified planning in the health sector, run through a system of democratic workers' control and management, could have been an example of what is needed in the rest of the economy.

Unfortunately, the health sector is plunging into a deeper and deeper crisis. The introduction of new health clinics, which gave the poorest sections of the population access to a doctor, was accompanied by stagnation and cutbacks in the existing state health sector. Outside Barrio Adentro clinics, a visit to the local doctor brings with it a bill for a consultation! The crisis in the health sector is now reaching explosive proportions.

Basic facilities like the hospital kitchens and laundries at one of Caracas's largest hospitals, El Agodonal, have been closed or not working properly for years and are causing infections and contamination. A walk around this hospital, once visited by Che Guevara, and you see repair projects standing idle as no progress has been made for more than a year. Between 2007 and 2009, the government authorised more than 2 billion Bolivars to be spent on hospital repairs and infrastructure. Yet, not a single project is more than 30% completed after two years. This has a direct effect on the functioning of hospitals. El Agondonal, is only functioning at 30% of operational capacity.

Despite the number of Cuban doctors sent to the country there is still a 30% deficit of doctors nationally.

The absence of a system of genuine democratic workers' control and management is resulting in the cancer of corruption and bureaucracy eating away and undermining the effectiveness of the reform programmes. Under Chávez, there has been an explosive growth in the state bureaucracy. Recent government re-organisation means that Chávez has six vice-presidents! The state now employs over 2 million people out of a labour force of over 12 million. The number of state administrators has greatly expanded. The number of administrators working for the state oil company PDVSA has increased by 266% since 2002. The nationalised electricity company employs approximately 42,000 workers, yet they are split up into over 200 separate management departments!

Infrastructure projects which the government initiated frequently remain incomplete – often as a result of bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption. In the centre of Caracas, a new bus lane, built aside from the crowded roads supposedly to speed busses through the city stands incomplete and overrun with cars and motor bikes, victim to corruption and the fact that the Russian company contracted to build it took the money and ran. To this sorry list must be added the cuts in power and water supplies which are currently taking place. This is partly due to lack of investment in infrastructure and partly due to bureaucratic mismanagement and also climatic changes and the effect of El Nino.

This is a country with abundant potential capacity to develop more than adequate hydro-electric power supplies, due to its vast rivers and access to water. Chávez claims these cuts are the consequence of changing weather patterns. In reality, the cuts in power and water are a monument to the lack of serious investment in infrastructure in the decade since Chávez came to power and for decades prior to him coming to power. Chávez's solution - shower for only three minutes. One minute to wash down, another to soap, and a third minute to rinse off! This assumes that you can get access to a shower with a functioning water supply.

Even the limited agrarian reform programme has been affected by the growth of bureaucracy and also lack of investment in machines at a price the land workers and peasants afford. Since 1999, the state has taken over approximately 2.5 million hectares of land. In 1999, the quantity of meat produced each month produced was 17.4 kilos per person per month. This was enough to satisfy almost all of the domestic market. Production in 2009 is expected to fall in 2009 to a mere 7.8 kilos per month – approximately 38% of local demand. This has compelled the state to import more than 50% of meat consumed in Venezuela.

The working class would undoubtedly be prepared to accept sacrifices and even a reduction in living standards for a temporary period of time if necessary under certain conditions. An example is the situation following the Russian revolution in 1917, when the revolution was isolated and threatened, as twenty-one armies of imperialism intervened to try and crush the revolution. However, for the working class to accept such hardship it must be convinced that it is necessary to defend the socialist revolution and feel that the leaders and activists are also prepared to make such sacrifices. When there are growing inequalities, corruption, and the enrichment of a section of the population, workers will not accept attacks and cuts in living standards. The continuing mass poverty which exists in Caracas, the corruption and absent of a clear way forward is reflected in the level of crime and violence which are amongst the highest in Latin America.

The CWI welcomed the reform programmes when they were introduced as a positive step forward. However, we also warned that unless capitalism was overthrown and a genuine system of workers' and peasants democracy was introduced then they could not be sustained and developed further. Now they are being rolled back under the impact of a deepening economic crisis.

The price controls that Chávez introduced while formally remaining often bear no relation to the actual prices good are sold for on the streets due to shortages, speculation and profiteering. Even the popular Mercal super markets have hiked their prices on many basic food items. The price of rice was increased by 29%, milk by 68% and pasta by 78%. While these state supermarkets still offer much cheaper prices, these increases are directly affecting the poorest sections of the population. Ironically, twenty years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall the shortages, empty shelves, and massive queues make a trip to a Mercal supermarket reminiscent of the former Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is not uncommon to have to search four or five shops to even find milk. On a Sunday it is impossible to find. Without the democratic planning of the economy such shortages are inevitable.

In part, these shortages are the product of economic sabotage by sections of the right-wing capitalist companies involved. However, in part they are also a consequence of bureaucracy, bad administration and corruption.

During the Salvador Allende Government in Chile, between 1970 and 1973, shortages of some goods developed as a consequence of sabotage and boycotts by the employers, who were preparing the conditions for the military coup against the government. In Chile, the consequences of these shortages were partly overcome by the democratic workers' and popular organisations which existed at the time. The factory committees, Cordones - and the JAPs which were formed in the shanty towns – organised food distribution on the basis of need and availability. Price speculation was controlled by the JAPs for a temporary period of time as they established basic food prices. Unfortunately, these types of organisations do not exist in Venezuela. Such organisations are necessary to deal with food shortages caused by both the employers and the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy.

The lessons of history - working class must take the lead

The Chávez regime is coming up against the irreconcilable contradiction that arises from attempting to introduce reforms and maintain them but without overthrowing capitalism and introducing a democratic, socialist planned economy. Marxists welcome all reforms which benefit the working class and the poor. However, under capitalism all reforms and concessions that have been conquered will be under threat and can be removed and rolled back. The capitalist system cannot afford and will not allow a permanently ongoing programme of sustained reforms. This was clearly demonstrated during the massive revolutionary movements which convulsed Mexico in 1910-20 and Bolivia in 1952. The failure to defeat landlordism and capitalism in both cases resulted in the massive gains and reforms conquered during both revolutions being rolled back and destroyed. The same process is currently underway in Venezuela.

This contradiction has been further compounded in Venezuela by the methods used from the outset of this "revolution". It has been "led" from the top down, using administrative, bureaucratic methods without the conscious, independent organisation of the working class and masses with checks and controls from below.

These methods have been applied by Chávez from the beginning and reflect his military background and the absence of an organised, independent, conscious movement of the working class and poor. The best of the traditions of the working class in each country need to be incorporated into a bold revolutionary movement with the programme and methods necessary to defeat capitalism. At the same time, it is necessary to overcome any weaknesses and deficiencies which exist. A socialist revolution cannot be successfully carried through by glossing over and ignoring problems and obstacles which exist.

In Venezuela, unlike Chile, Bolivia or Brazil, historically the independent organisation of the working class industrially and politically has been very weak. The first real Venezuelan trade union federation, CTV, was not formed until 1936 and did not really start to function until the 1950s. The Communist Party was not formed until the 1931 – under clandestine conditions and as a Stalinist party from its inception. There is no towering historical workers' leader like Luis Recabarren in Chile, who played a central role in building an independent workers' movement, forming numerous workers' papers, helping to build the trade unions and the Communist Party and who made his way to Russia for the congresses of the Comintern, meeting with Lenin and Trotsky.

This weakness was one of the factors which allowed Chávez and his supporters to assume the leadership of the movement and shape its character since the early 1990s. This point has been illustrated by the Venezuelan historical guerrilla leader of the left, Douglas Bravo, who collaborated with Chávez and others. The British writer, Richard Gott, in his book, "In the shadow of the Liberator" quotes Douglas Bravo, who recounts a meeting with Chávez. They were discussing the question of a general strike and launching an uprising against the old regime. Gott comments: "That is exactly what Chávez did not want. Absolutely not. Chávez did not want civilians to participate as a concrete force". Bravo recounted that a heated argument developed, during which Chávez interjected, pronouncing that, "civilians only get in the way". ('Shadow of the Liberator' page 64/65).

In recent discussions, in Caracas with this author, Bravo went further and illustrated how Chávez did everything possible to avoid the active involvement of the masses. In 1992, Chávez launched a radical populist military rebellion, which was defeated. According to Bravo, during the meeting mentioned by Gott, various student, civil and other organisations including junior army officers like Chávez participated. A specific date in February was agreed for a joint civil and military uprising. Yet to avoid involving the "civil" population Chávez jumped the gun and organised his defeated populist coup a few days earlier.

Unfortunately, Bravo's guerilla experiences and developments nationally and internationally have led him to renounce "Marxism-Leninism" and embrace "left humanism" as an alternative to the Chávez regime.

The top down militaristic approach of the Bolivarian movement has been one of its characteristics since Chávez came to power. The CWI has warned in many articles and documents about the consequences of this danger. For example we warned: "...without democratic check of the working class, those sections of the military who find themselves playing a leading can inevitably develop administrative or bureaucratic tendencies towards commandism. Without a clear understanding of the role of the working class in the revolution and being subjected to its democratic check and control, even the most well intentioned officers develop such tendencies and attempt to impose their will over the working class from above." ('Revolutionary Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution' – 2004).

Today, the bludgeoning state and party apparatus has begun to use this directly against sections of workers who have moved into struggle to defend their wages and conditions and democratic rights.

Repression and 'Stalinistic' methods

Unfortunately, the Chávez-led state machine on both the industrial front and the political front has begun using Stalinistic forms of repression against the working class and those who criticise the government from the left. Under the pretext of defending the "socialist revolution" critics on the left are denounced as "counter revolutionary" or "agents of imperialism the CIA and MI5". Within the PSUV this is a frequent attack by sections of the bureaucracy against those who raise the question of genuine workers' control, speak against corruption or mention Trotsky. In one instance, a supporter of the CWI was told by a PSUV official that it is only permissible to speak of "Chávez, Fidel, Che, Mao but not of the counter revolutionary Trotsky". This is despite Chávez's previous endorsement of Trotsky in one speech. Ordinary members of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) who have spoken out against corruption have been simply denounced as "counter revolutionary".

These are quasi-Stalinist methods reminiscent of those used during the Spanish Civil war by the Communist Party leaders. In Spain, the working class rose against the fascist Franco rebellion and took the revolution forward – eventually controlling of fourth-fifths of the country. The old bourgeois state lay in tatters as the working class advanced the revolution. However, the working class did not succeed in constituting and establishing its own state or taking power fully into its own hands. The policy of the Stalinists was to hold back the socialist revolution and to form an agreement with a section of the "progressive" capitalist class. As a consequence of this policy the bourgeois state was reconstituted and the revolution defeated and Franco's fascists seized power. Those opposing the Communist Party's policy were denounced and often executed as "counter-revolutionaries".

This is not the situation today in Venezuela today, but the use of quasi-Stalinist methods are a shadow of some of those used during the Spanish civil war where both capitalism and the bourgeois state remain.

Repressive methods are also now being increasingly used directly against the working class when sections of it have moved into struggle to defend their rights. During this year there has been a significant increase in the amount of workers taking strike action over wages, conditions and in defence of their rights. According to some estimates, there have been more than 400 labor disputes in the twelve months up to August 2009. Those involved have been in the steel, electricity, iron ore, aluminum, transport, health and other sectors. In response to this the state has used repressive methods against them.

When metro workers in Caracas were preparing for strike action to defend a collective contract Chávez threatened to put them under military rule and prohibit their right to strike. Using the laws related to "national security", strategically important areas such as the Metro or hospitals have been designated "zonas de emergencia" where protests and strikes are outlawed.

In the State of Zulia, when petrol workers took strike action demanding they were incorporated into a collective contract, 40 members of the National Guard attacked the workers and arrested the union leaders who was held for seventeen hours.

The world media gave a lot of attention to launching by Chávez of the new "socialist" cell phone, Viagra, which went into production on 1 May. 2008. Little coverage has been given to the appalling conditions and repression handed out to workers at the company where it is produced - Vtelca. With no compulsion to pay the workers, the management has used every repressive method at its disposal against the workforce, which attempted to form a workers council and elected delegates to deal with health and security issues. At one point, the National Guard was used against the work force and against all the labour laws eventually sixty workers were dismissed for "lack of commitment and dedication" to the job.

Sections of the working class have been driven into desperate action to high-light their grievances. Amongst those were the 27 workers of 1,400 who were involved in a dispute with PDVSA. The workers were demanding that they be incorporated into a collective contract rather than be left in a "holding" company with no fixed contract.

These workers who had no confidence in the trade union leaders to fight their cause went on hunger strike. They sewed their lips together with needle and thread to prevent themselves from eating!

At the same time as this movement took place sections of the right-wing led university students took to the streets to protest at the modest reforms included in the government's new education law, some of whom also went on hunger strike. Chávez and the government simply attacked the workers for being manipulated by the right-wing, counter revolutionary university students!

These attacks on working class people who have taken action to defend their rights and the reaction of the government has opened the door to another danger from the right-wing reactionary forces which have attempted to overthrow Chávez. While workers in struggle have been denounced as "counter-revolutionaries" the right-wing has been able to present itself as the "friends" of the working class.

Like a section of the old elite which have tried to reconcile themselves with Chavismo, a section of the old right-wing trade unions have done the same. Recently crucial elections were held for the leadership of FUTPV – the national oil workers federation. The winning slate was headed by Wills Rangel with the backing of the government and the PSUV. Rangel was a former member of a trade union bureau of the social democratic party Acion Democratica, one of the main parties that composed the pre-Chávez political establishment. Rangel only broke with the AD en 2003.

The situation unfolding in Venezuela is that of sections of workers are being denounced as "counter revolutionary" in the name of socialism, while forces of reactionary capitalism are allowed to present themselves as defenders of workers democratic rights and "friends" of the working class.

At a subsidiary of the nationalised SIDOR company hundreds of workers have been excluded from collective contracts and took strike action and faced police repression and arrests. One union leader – who is critical of the government declared: "socialism in the 21st century means workers in handcuffs".

These developments have undermined support for Chávez and the regime heads. Yet inevitably different layers of workers and the poor are drawing different conclusions from this process. While a growing number of workers are moving away from the regime a layer of the most down trodden and oppressed are ardent in their support for it. Sections of these in some areas have been drawn into the newly formed "socialist patrols" which have been established as local community branches of the PSUV.

While there are clearly different layers of the Chavista movement some sections of these "vigilante" community groups have been mobilised on occasions and sent into the Metro and some hospitals to prevent workers assemblies from being organised. Sometimes these are made up of the most oppressed who are fanatical in defence of Chávez who have been whipped up by propaganda presenting these groups of workers as privileged layers who support the counter revolution.

It would be a mistake to exaggerate this tendency but it is emerging in some areas and is a warning of the danger that is developing of splitting the working class and the urban poor through this approach. There has been a rapid acceleration of such methods in the PSUV and by the state machine in general. The PSUV now has a claimed membership of five million. It is divided into three categories - a full membership, sympathisers and the largest - "the reserve" is a reflection of how far the militarisation of the process is developing. The bureaucratic administrative measures are reflected in the PSUV. For example candidates for delegates to the forthcoming congress of the party are chosen by each regional vice-president of the party which led to protests at the exclusion of some dissident party members being excluded from the lists. Some of these methods were initially borrowed from the Cuban regime.

Now, however, it appears much is being imported from the regime in China whose influence has increased as Chávez has increased trade deals and joint ventures for infrastructure. The Chinese are in the process of constructing a series of high-speed rail links in Venezuela. Chávez recently praised the "revolutionary government" in China and sent 100 PSUV top officials for "ideological training" in China. China appears to be increasingly his "model". The government placed official adverts in the press on the anniversary of the Chinese revolution praising the Chinese government of Hu Jintao!

Friends in low places

However, it is not only the Chinese regime which wins the enthusiastic backing of Chávez. One of his regimes international strategy has been to attempt to bind together a block of all and any regime which is in conflict with US imperialism. A genuine revolutionary socialist government in any country may find itself isolated for a period until the revolution develops in other countries. Under such conditions there is nothing wrong with a workers' state forming trade and commercial agreements which may be forced on it. Exploiting splits and divisions between different imperialist powers would under such conditions be entirely legitimate. The Bolsheviks and Lenin and Trotsky were compelled to make such agreements given the isolation of the Russian revolution.

However, establishing formal trade agreement or commercial relations is not the same as lavishly heaping praise on brutal regimes which repress and act against their own people in struggle. Trade agreements do not necessitate praising the likes of Azminhijad of Iran as a great revolutionary leader. The mass movement against this regime was according to Chávez all part of an imperialist plot. At the recent summit of Latin American and African heads of state (ASA), Chávez added a few more friends to his list including Libyan leader Moamar Gadafi.

Neither his regime nor that in Cuba was even prepared to condemn the vicious slaughter of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government and vote against it in the UN!

The endorsing of such regimes as the Iranian and the Libyan dictatorships by a government claiming to defend "revolutionary socialism" is indefensible and can only damage the idea of socialism amongst the working class in these countries and internationally.

The future of the Chávez regime is in the balance. The methods and limitations of his programme are now seriously undermining his support. Parliamentary elections to the National Assembly are due to be held in 2010. Chávez is aiming to try and secure a two-thirds majority. This seems unlikely at the moment. Yet to try and assist reach his objective his regime has changed the method of election and eliminated the proportional representation system which used to exist. Such steps only further undermine his support and re-enforce the idea that he is now building a repressive regime. This plays into the hands of the right-wing. The threat of a "creeping counter revolution" remains as growing sections of the population become more frustrated disappointed and disillusions with the current regime.

At the same time, the prospect of more class battles erupting and even big social explosions taking place in response to the attacks of the government is present in the situation. Under such conditions, especially with a sharp economic recession it cannot be excluded that Chávez could again move to take some further radical populist measures including further nationalizations or expropriations and take other measures against the "Boli-burguesia" and corruption. This is despite his recent accommodation with this "new bourgeois" and bureaucracy.

Programme for socialist revolution needed

Yet any such steps would not resolve the underlying problem if it is not based on a conscious independent movement of the working class with a programme to carry through the socialist revolution. Even if capitalism were to be fully snuffed out, the absence of a genuine regime of workers' democracy would prevent the movement towards building socialism.

A programme for socialist revolution in Venezuela would need to include:

  • The introduction of a genuine system of workers' control through committees of elected and delegates subject to re-call that control the day to day running of the work places. The opening of the books of all companies – including nationalised companies - to inspection by committees of workers to end corruption and drive out the bureaucracy.
  • These committees should be linked up on a citywide, state and national level. State run companies should be managed on the basis of a system of democratic workers management with the boards of such companies to be made up of elected representatives of the workers in the industry, the wider sections of the working class and the poor and a workers' and peasants' government.
  • All officials to be elected and subject to immediate re-call and receive no more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
  • The expropriation of the banks, multi-national companies and 100 top families which still control the Venezuelan economy and the introduction of a democratic socialist plan of production.
  • The formation of an independent democratic trade union federation with an elected leadership under the control and accountable to the rank and file members.

The struggle for such a programme is now urgent in order to breathe fresh life into the Venezuelan revolution and prevent its stagnation, corrosion and threat of counter-revolution.

By Alejandro Rojas, CWI

Saturday, 7 November 2009



Abdullah Abdullah, the main challenger of Hamid Karzai in the Afghan presidential elections, announced on Sunday that he had decided to withdraw from the secound round of voting, which was scheduled for 7 November, ostensibly because all the conditions he had set for reform of the so-called 'Independent' Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan had been rejected. This decision was followed on Monday by the announcement, by this same commission, of the direct appointment of Karzai as President of Afghanistan. One of the official reasons given by the IEC for this decision was that "the presence of a single contender for the vote would have posed serious questions regarding the legitimacy of the presidency". How the direct appointment of a candidate, without holding a new vote will be more "legitimate" is not clear. This electoral process, in terms of "legitimacy", was a blatant failure for imperialism from beginning to end.

The impasse facing imperialism in Afghanistan is paralleled with a growing rejection of this war among workers and youth internationally. On the other hand, Obama administration is preparing for a possible new military escalation on the ground. Therefore, the US government and its imperialist counterparts wanted to use these elections in order to give the idea that democracy progressing in the country, and to legitimise their puppet regime. However, maybe giving the mask of democracy to a highly corrupted and discredited regime, and to a so-called "state" relying upon warlords, fundamentalists and opium trade barons a bit too ambitious a task. The way the electoral process was conducted, as well as its outcome, added to new scandals, such as the recent discovery about the CIA's regular payments to Afghan president's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, is a serious blow to imperialism's authority.

Even before the elections were held, it was already quite clear that this electoral process would be far from 'impartial' and 'democratic', especially in a context of generalised violence, intimidation and foreign military occupation. The day of the election itself was "one of the most violent days witnessed in Afghanistan in the last eight years", according to Human Rights Watch. The general climate of violence and the lack of serious political alternative to the main candidates (the main challenger of Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, was a previous minister in Karzai's government and linked to the rotten regime) resulted in an extremely low turn-out (38% according to official figures). In some areas and villages, virtually nobody went to the polls. The first results indicated a strong victory for Karzai, with 54.6% of the votes, and 27.8% for Abdullah. Karzai's (from the majority Pashtun community, strong in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, where the Taleban a large presence) campaign was based on deals with different regional warlords and tribal chiefs from non-Pashtun minorities who are dominant in the North and West of the country, such as Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, Tadjik, Qasim Fahim or Hazara Shiite, Karim Khalili, all notorious for their legacies of slaughter, drug trafficking, crime and extortion.

Moreover, massive fraud rapidly revealed itself as the core of Karzai's victory. On 30 September, Peter Galbraith, the top US official of the UN's mission in Afghanistan, was fired, after having refused to take part in a cover-up of the fraud. This case was symptomatic of the growing divisions among the ruling class on how to deal with what everybody knew was a pure electoral masquerade. Day after day, increasing evidence of frauds was revealed -there were numerous reports of 'ghost balloting sites', which never opened but registered thousands of votes-, putting more and more pressure on the shoulders of the 'international community' to distance themselves from their previously enthusiastic statements and congratulations. US imperialism started to put intense pressure on Karzai to go for a second round of voting, which the Afghan president finally agreed to. Abdullah Abdullah resigning from the planned run-off then changed the situation. Abdullah was probably ready to close his eyes to some 'irregularities' in exchange of a political deal, giving him some influence the cabinet, but the failure to reach an agreement saw him playing the card of 'integrity', despite the fact that about 300,000 votes for Abdullah had been found 'fraudulent' after the first round as well.

Even without the resignation of Abdullah, if the second poll had taken place, the turn-out would have been much worse than the first round. The Taleban had announced that they would do everything they could to sabotage the poll. A secound round would most likely have been again dominated by violence, fraud and massive abstention. Whatever the chosen solution to resolve the crisis, the few remnants of credibility regarding the process were already burned. In these conditions, US and British imperialism finally chose the faster and easier way to finish this farce by pushing for the appointment of Karzai as the new President. But this will not change anything. The recent communiqué published by the Taleban is certainly not wrong when it says that, "it's surprising that two weeks ago, the puppet-President Hamid Karzai was exposed in an electoral fraud" but that "he is now elected on the basis of the same fraudulent elections, with congratulations from Washington and London."

These elections, rather than giving any credibility to Afghan political institutions, have only succeeded in triggering anger and distrust against the Afghan regime, and the blatant complicity of imperialism and United Nations in trying to cover up its manoeuvres. A president whose authority outside Kabul is only achieved though unstable alliance with warlords, combined with a huge rejection of the war in their own countries, is now the political background facing imperialist governments, combined with an increase in Taleban violence.

Losing the war at home

The Afghan war is becoming exposed as an unwinnable, unpopular mess of atrocities for the US army and NATO coalition. The U.N. reported recently that the death toll of Afghan civilians is at almost 1,500 for this year alone, while September and October were the deadliest months for NATO troops since the invasion of the country, in 2001. The rising death toll during the last months has contributed to decisively breaking the public support for the war, particularly in Britain and in the US. According to a new poll published by Channel 4 News at the end of October, 48% of British respondents thought troops were not winning the war and that victory in Afghanistan "is impossible", a huge increase, compared with 36% in August 2007. The same poll reveals that 62% wanted the troops to withdraw from Afghanistan "immediately or within a year". In the US, at the end of August, a CNN poll. showed that only 41% of American people justified the war in Afghanistan. In Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and in every country with troops in Afghanistan, the majority of people also strongly favour withdrawal.

This sentiment is spreading more and more in the army itself. Joe Glenton, a British soldier facing the threat of being jailed for two years for refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan, is participating in demos and rallies against the war, calling for a complete withdrawal of the troops. He explained recently that, when returning to his barracks near Oxford, he feared a hostile reaction from his colleagues. Instead, he was applauded by fellow soldiers. "They were handshakes and a lot of pats on the back. Someone said I was saying what everyone else is thinking." Significantly, the morale of the troops on the ground is at its lowest point since the beginning of the war, and disillusionment is spreading fast among the rank-and-file soldiers. There are reports of suicide attempts, anxiety and depression, with explosions of anger against officers, etc. The current mission in Afghanistan is considered as one of the main causes of the sharp increase in the number of suicides in the US army. Last year, 128 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 115 in 2007. However, the suicide rate so far this year is already on the verge of surpassing this number. "Many soldiers have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair, and just want to get back to their families", was the observation of a British Artillery Captain in "The Times" newspaper. In the same article, a 37-year-old Sergeant from Detroit, asked if the mission was worthwhile, replied: "If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don't. The only soldiers who thought it is going well work in an office, not on the ground. The whole country is going to shit."

Indeed, as long as foreign imperialist forces, tribal leaders, warlords and reactionary forces like the Taleban are controlling the region and fighting for influence, this sentiment is essentially correct! All the futile arguments used to justify the war and occupation by the US and British governments have been reduced to dust. This war achieved absolutely nothing in terms of bringing democratic rights to the Afghan people. This is dramatically illustrated by the worsening situation regarding women's rights. Recently, Karzai approved a disgusting and ultra-reactionary law for Afghanistan's Shia community, depriving women custody of their children, forcing women to ask their husband for the right to work, and allowing a man the right to refuse to give food to his wife if she refuses his sexual demands. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan estimates that 87% of Afghan women are illiterate, only 30% of girls have access to education, one in every three women experiences physical, psychological, or sexual violence, and 70-80% of young Afghan women are forced into marriage.

Recently, a Pakistani infantry officer, commenting on the Afghan war, was pointing out: "The root cause of the insurgency is not religion but poverty." According to him, a solution cannot be found without "identifying means of improving conditions for Pakistanis, Afghans, and Central Asian peoples whose chronically corrupt leaderships steal everything within their reach." Indeed, the abject poverty facing the majority of Afghan people contrasts with the rich lifestyle of the corrupt economic and political Afghan elite. Moreover, the number of refugees fleeing the country has reached gigantic proportions -close to four million, according to the last estimations. Also, Afghanistan has become the biggest producer and distributor of opium on the planet - funding, among other things, the Taleban insurgency.

Winning the hearts and minds?

The growing hostility to the Afghanistan war internationally is accompanied by a growing hostility from the Afghan people themselves towards Western troops occupying the country. The French newspaper "Le Monde" said recently that, "The context of the evolution of the French troops in the East of Afghanistan is one of frank hostility from the local population. The conclusion of this reject is drawn since several months by French authorities, but tends to be hidden by the politicians in Paris, conscious of the growing doubts from the public opinion regarding the military involvement in Afghanistan." This sentiment of hatred against foreign occupation was recently illustrated by protests against American troops initiated by students in Kabul. Hundreds of protesters clashed for two days with Afghan police in the capital, burning the American flag and effigies of President Obama.

In the absence of a real alternative, this deep opposition to the occupation has served to feed the recruitment basis for the Taleban, attracting endless recruits. The Taleban insurgency is not a unified and national movement with a centralised command, but is divided into different armed groups. Research by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) gives interesting indications about the influence of these groups: it says that 80% of Afghanistan now has a "permanent Taliban presence" and that 97% of the country has "substantial Taliban activity." But a new feature developing in the last months has been that their influence, until recently confined mainly to Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, is spreading to the North of the country as well, in areas traditionally considered as more 'secure', like the Kunduz Province. These facts are sufficient in themselves to show the total failure and the ongoing military defeat being experienced by imperialist forces.

The Financial Times recently underlined: "Since major NATO military operations started in Afghanistan in 2006, support for the insurgency has grown" This kind of statement coming from one of the most influential mouthpieces of capitalism reflects the growing divisions developing in the ruling class regarding debate on a possible deployment of new military forces and on how to get out of this mess without undermining the prestige and interests of US and British imperialism. Some strategists are now stressing the need to push for further "dialogue" and agreements with parts of the Taleban, by financing or integrating them into the State apparatus. But this could only lay the basis for further problems. The growing disaster of imperialism in Afghanistan has led the majority of big business strategists and journalists to play down the original "aims"of the occupation, and move towards minimal objectives. The "fight for democracy" has been transformed into "We do not have to create a Jeffersonian democracy" (Los Angeles Times, 10/05/2009) or "Forget Nation-building" (The Guardian, 10/05/2009), while the "fight against the Taliban and to protect Afghan people" has been transformed into "Nato forces cannot hope to secure the whole of Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force goal of protecting the population is unachievable in its entirety" (Mehar Omar Khan, cited in the Financial Times, 10/28/2009)

All these discussions have also revealed fractures in the so-called 'unity' of the NATO-coalition, with each state having its own agenda in terms of strategic interests abroad, as well as in terms of declining public support for the war at home. Speaking about the British costs of the war in Afghanistan, a senior Whitehall official said: "The costs of the war have risen to more than £3bn ($5bn) a year. Yet a deployment like this comes at a time of real pressure on public spending. Britain has a deficit of £175bn this year. The idea that there is a limit to what we can devote to this campaign is not something that should shock people." What "shocks people" is obviously not the limits in the war budget, but, on the contrary, the unthinkable sums of money used for this war while public services and jobs are under threat under the cover of a so-called lack of money.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently agreed to send 500 more troops into Afghanistan, added to the already 9,000 troops present on the ground. The Spanish government made a similar decision, sending 220 more troops, raising their total to about 1,000. In the US, an intense debate on sending several thousand more troops, while a total of 68,000 are already on the ground. Barack Obama has been put under increasing pressure, on the one side from military officials and a section of the political establishment calling for more troops – General McChrystal spoke of an additional 40.000 -, and on the other side by the domestic unpopularity of the war. Indeed, a decision to send more troops could fuel discontent against the Obama administration and lay the basis for a renewal of the anti-war movement in the US. On 5 October, a poll showed that only 26% of Americans believe more US troops must be deployed. A political crisis in the Democratic Party could develop as well, as some Democratic leaders have come out against sending more troops, saying that there is no public support for such a move and that the Afghan army must take up a greater share of the burden. This proposed strategy, of an "Afghanisation" of the security forces, by recruiting and training more Afghan police and army, suffered a major blow with the recent killing of five British soldiers by a "rogue" Afghan policeman in Southern Helmand Province on Tuesday 3 November. This gives a new indication of the total disarray facing imperialism in Afghanistan. In this context, we will see an increase in opportunist stands against the war from establishment politicians in the next period. On Wednesday, the former British Labour Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, called for a withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. This is not in any way a consistent opposition to the war, as Howells was a strong supporter of the war during his time as a foreign minister, between 2005 and 2008.

The pressure of the opposition to the war on Obama was illustrated by his first attendance, last Thursday 29 October, at a repatriation ceremony for the bodies of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. But the crocodile tears of the politicians will not be able to reverse growing discontent regarding the sending of mainly poor and working class young people to die in an unwinnable war for the prestige and profits of the elite. A British Colonel responsible for the army recruitment recognised in the Guardian: "The recession has had a big impact on the numbers coming forward." With the dramatic increase in unemployment caused by the recession, for the US and British governments the recession's "lost generation" of young people are seen as perfect candidates to lose their lives on the battlefield.

Which way forward?

The imperialist intervention in Afghanistan has created an irredeemable mess. The occupation, supposedly for "democracy, peace and justice", has only succeeded in bringing growing misery, mass killings of civilians, increasing the influence of religious extremism and bombings attacks, and last but not least, exporting the conflict into Pakistan, with disastrous consequences for the masses of that country as well. The occupation only exacerbates the chaos, and will lead to new conflicts, for power and influence, between warlords who have been considerably strengthened.

US imperialism is directly responsible for the devastation of the country. In addition, the monster they are fighting against at the present time is their own creation. Together with their Pakistani and Saudi partners, US imperialism has consciously promoted and financed the Taliban and religious fundamentalists in the past. This strategy was especially useful to fight against "Communist" forces in the 1980s. But since then, they have lost control of their own monster. The idea that they can now resolve the problem they have themselves created is a total illusion.

The cost of this war has reached an average of $3.5 billion a month. However, similar financial attention has not been paid to the struggle to survive which characterises the day-to-day life of the majority of people living in this country. This money, invested in destruction, could instead have been used to build thousands of schools, and hospitals, and to provide a decent life, with jobs and housing for all. This would be a far more efficient way to fight against the Taleban than with tons of bombs and thousands of helicopters, planes and soldiers. But this kind of plan doesn't correspond to the interests of imperialism, looking only for a way to maintain and extend its influence in the region for economic interests.

An increase in troops will not bring any solution to the present situation, but only prepare the ground for new catastrophes and explosions of violence. The frustration and despair among poor and ordinary people, caused by occupation and poverty, with the absence of a genuine socialist alternative, feeds the ranks of religious fundamentalism. In the absence of an organised mass and democratic movement of the working class and poor, the anger spreading amongst the population could be used by Taliban, tribal chiefs and warlords and other reactionary forces which are only looking to further their own interests and have absolutely no alternative to offer to the present regimes. What is needed is a common struggle of the working and poor masses to assure their own security and to improve their living conditions.

This must be linked to the transformation of society along socialist lines. Indeed, more than ever, the situation in Afghanistan presents a choice between socialism and barbarism. Capitalism's only way of solving problems is to create new ones, at the expense of the lives of millions. The only viable way forward is to build a mass movement in the region in order to get rid of the corrupted elite and their international big business backers. This struggle must be based on a programme which defends the right to self-determination for the different national and ethnic minorities, and which appeals to the international solidarity of the workers movement. This must be supported by the building of a powerful movement against war worldwide and of strong workers' parties, arguing the case for an international socialist alternative against the misery of war and capitalism.

We Demand

  • Troops out of Afghanistan now! Stop the slaughter of civilians; let the Afghan people decide their own future!
  • No support for the corrupt and undemocratic regime of Karzai; for a mass struggle to remove reactionary regimes in Asia and in the Middle East!
  • For genuine democratic rights; stop the attacks against women's rights
  • For the building of independent and democratic organisations of the workers and poor; for democratically organised, multi-ethnic workers' defence forces
  • For a massive reconstruction programme in Afghanistan, under the democratic control of the masses; for public ownership of the gas, oil, and other key industries and resources
  • For the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government on a democratic socialist programme, as part of a socialist federation of South Asia, including Pakistan
  • Build a mass movement against the war! Don't pay for the capitalist crisis! Spend money on jobs and public services, not on war and weapons!
  • For a socialist world, free from terror, exploitation and war

Cedric Gerome, CWI