First published: May 2006
Chávez’s visit to London in mid-May gave an opportunity to deepen understanding of many details of the Venezuelan revolution. Particularly instructive were emphases in Chávez’s speech to the solidarity rally in Camden Town Hall on 14 May.
First let us return to fundamentals. What is taking place in Venezuela is the first self-defined and conscious attempt to create a socialist society since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. It is therefore also the first offensive struggle at a state level for over 25 years. That is already momentous. After a quarter of a century the working class is waging a direct struggle for state power. Furthermore the Venezuelan revolution has the specific form of being the first successful taking of state power essentially through urban insurrection since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its immediate aftermath.
Naturally the decisive moment of urban insurrection in Venezuela started in defensive form, in the defeat of the coup of April 2002, but form is not decisive. The essence of the issue is that over one million people descended into the streets, a number armed, against the attempted military coup d’etat. Through this insurrection the top echelons of the army that supported the coup were decisively isolated and crushed and the rank and file soldiers went over to the side of the insurrection. This created both the unique opportunity of the Venezuelan Revolution, that the core of the capitalist state power, the military reaction was defeated and many of the difficulties – elements of state power outside the army and the direct slums and working class areas remained organised, and even controlled, by forces totally hostile to the revolution. This applies even to large parts of the civil service, the police, the media, companies etc. The process since the insurrection of April 2002 therefore includes the spreading of revolutionary power into wider and wider layers of society – most notably into the oil sector.
That the core of the Venezuelan Revolution was an urban insurrection differentiates it from the revolutions after 1917 that overthrew capitalism.
The Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Yugoslav, and the Cuban Revolutions were all based on rural guerrilla warfare – often of a prolonged type. These combined the tasks of the bourgeois democratic and socialist revolutions in the specific form that the peasants carried out a bourgeois democratic revolution in the countryside, which smashed the bourgeois state apparatus and allowed a working class power to be constructed to destroy capitalism in the urban centres. These revolutions delivered huge objective gains compared to what had proceeded them – the expulsion of imperialism from China, the unification of that country, the freeing of Vietnam from French and US imperialism, the defeat of fascism in Yugoslavia, the establishment of universal literacy, the creation of health and other welfare services, and huge steps forward in the position of women.
Nevertheless the extremely economically under-developed character of China and Vietnam, in particular, at the time of the revolution, the essentially bureaucratised military character of the organisations that led these struggles etc meant that these huge gains were nevertheless partial and these parties did not function as fully developed universal vehicles of human liberation – narrow national prejudices were maintained, the position of women, while greatly improved, was far from adequate, reactionary positions were adopted on issues such as gay rights, etc. These were both wrong in themselves and limited the attractiveness of these revolutions in other countries.
The urban character of the Venezuelan Revolution, which is in turn linked to the fact that it is a society at a much more economically advanced state of development than China or Vietnam at the time of their revolutions, means that right from the beginning it not only serves the basic economic and social needs of the Venezuelan people but is a far more advanced agency of universal human liberation. Chávez at this speech in London devoted large sections of his speech to the position of women and to the fight against racism while also raising issues such as disability rights. The Mayor of Caracas has erected a flag declaring the city a ‘homophobia free zone’.
It is also evident that the struggle in Venezuela is intrinsically, and consciously, linked to the international struggles taking place around it.
So far also the social transformation of Venezuela has been able to proceed while maintaining democratic rights – indeed the main threat to the latter comes from external military intervention, civil war etc. A process is therefore unfolding which combines social progress and democracy – a deeply attractive model in all countries.
These features allow clear identification of the character of the forces leading the social transformation, the revolution, in Venezuela. This is not a process where one fights on the same side as other forces against imperialism or a worse enemy despite fundamental disagreement and contradictions with them – as was the case for example with the unequivocal necessity to fight on the same side as Stalin against the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, or Khomeni against the Shah of Iran. The current leading the Venezuelan process is a political current that one is part of, that one identifies with.
Does this mean that victory is certain, or that such a current may not change its character in the case of such defeats? Not remotely. Victory is never certain, and defeat is always possible. It means however that on the face of the planet there are now two places, and one political current, that one is part of and identified with – in Cuba and Venezuela. The urban insurrectional core of the Venezuelan revolutionary current creates a dynamic which makes it the force with the greatest potential to appeal to the population of economically advanced countries to emerge for a prolonged period.
All the political conclusions flow from that.