Interview to Alan Woods.
Published in Razón y Revolución n°18, 2008.
Q: Which is the strategy of imperialism to Latin America? Who are fighting against it and how?
AW: All over Latin America the masses are stirring. This finds a reflection on the electoral plane. In Paraguay the Colorados were defeated for the first time in over half a century. The election of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, with over 80 percent of the votes, was an indication of the same process. In Mexico, it is clear that Lopez Obrador won the election and the ruling class, together with the imperialists, rigged the vote. This led to a mass movement of millions that was unprecedented since the Mexican Revolution.
These facts show something. They indicate a profound ferment in society and a general mood of discontent. But elections in themselves cannot solve the fundamental problems of society. In Bolivia, the government of Evo Morales is faced with a revolt of the oligarchy, which can only be settled by the revolutionary action of the masses.
The Venezuelan Revolution occupies a central position in the revolutionary ferment in Latin America. There is a furious offensive against the Bolivarian Revolution in the world media. Washington is striving to isolate Venezuela and is doing everything possible to support and encourage the counterrevolutionary opposition.
The strategists of imperialism have come to the same conclusions as the Marxists: the conditions are ripe for a general revolutionary movement in Latin America that will have enormous consequences in the United States and on a world scale. The eye of the storm remains Venezuela, where, after a decade of struggle, the revolution is reaching the point of no return.
In the past they would have intervened directly, sending in the Marines. But this is not possible at the present time. They are embroiled in an unwinnable and unpopular war in Iraq. Bush is now the most unpopular President in US history. Opposition to the war is growing at all levels. It is unthinkable that even such a blockhead as Bush could launch another military adventure in Latin America at this time.
Therefore, the options of imperialism in Venezuela are more limited than in the past. US imperialism, for all its wealth and military power, has so far been unable to achieve its main objective. But this does not mean that the imperialists have abandoned their plans to overthrow Chávez. Moreover, the result of the constitutional referendum in December 2007 shows that the masses are beginning to get tired and are disappointed at the slow pace of the revolution. Herein lies the main danger to the Bolivarian Revolution.
Q: In the last four years, since the rise of MAS, what kind of balance can be drawn from the government of Evo Morales?
AW: Evo Morales shows the limitations of a reformist policy. His reforms and partial nationalizations have alarmed the bourgeoisie of the prosperous eastern provinces without satisfying the workers and peasants. As a result the situation in Bolivia inclines more to the counterrevolution by the day. Because of the inaction and indecisiveness of Morales there has been a counteroffensive of reaction, which has even threatened to split the country.
The forces of reaction have been trying to destabilize the country, organizing violent street demonstrations. They have clashed with demonstrations of revolutionary workers and peasants with people killed and wounded.
These things indicate that the conflicts in society cannot be resolved by parliamentary means. The class antagonisms are too great and are tending towards civil war. In order to succeed, the revolution needs clear objectives and the determination to carry them out regardless of all obstacles and opposition. That is just what is lacking in Bolivia. Once again, it is a problem of leadership.
The calling of a constituent assembly is, as we predicted, was a means of diverting the revolutionary movement into parliamentary channels. Some Argentine Marxists actually advocated this! But the constituent assembly cannot solve any of the fundamental problems. What is needed is to mobilize the workers and peasants for an all-out struggle to defeat the reaction. This struggle must take place outside parliament: on the streets, in the factories, in the villages and army barracks.
Morales’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) has a confused programme. There is no perspective of socialism, no proposal to expropriate the oligarchy. And the leaders will compromise even on this. The government wanted to compromise with reaction. But no compromise is possible. The vacillations of the government provided the reactionaries with ample opportunity to launch a campaign of obstruction, sabotage and destabilization.
Meanwhile, more than half the population is poor, four-fifths of workers are in the informal economy and emigration continues. If he does not create good jobs and improve the conditions of the masses, no amount of constitutional manuevres will save Morales.
The vacillations of the government led it to falling into the trap of the right wing, accepting the need for a 2/3 majority in the Constituent Assembly, not launching a serious campaign of expropriation of the latifundia when it had the necessary support to do so. The ruling class, owners of the means of production, has organized the sabotage of the economy in order to create disillusionment amongst the people. Tomorrow workers and peasants will wake up facing the same problems: increases in the price of bread, transport, scarcity of fuel caused by the oil multinationals, the scarcity of rice, etc.
Q: Which is the balance of insurgencies in 2000 and 2003? Which thing does it remain of this process and how does it relate to the government of MAS?
AW: The marvelous Bolivian proletariat has tried everything to change society. They staged two general strikes and two insurrections, overthrowing two Presidents. What more could we ask of the working class? If the workers and peasants did not succeed in taking power, that was not their fault but the fault of the leaders of the movement, who threw away the opportunity when it was presented to them.
Jaime Solares, the leader of the COB, stated that they had not taken power because they lacked a revolutionary party and leadership. That is the truth! But there was nothing to stop Solares and the other leaders of the COB from taking power. They failed to do so, and therefore the initiative passed to the bourgeoisie and the reformists.
The workers are realists. They said to themselves: “we have done everything possible to take power, but our leaders have no intention of doing so. Let us vote in the elections and see if Evo Morales will give us something.” That was a perfectly logical conclusion, but the Bolivian Left understood nothing. They advocated abstention in the elections! The masses ignored them and voted for the MAS.
Even in El Alto, the storm-centre of the insurrection, a big majority voted for Evo Morales. The so-called Marxists were shocked, but there was nothing surprising about it. The workers and peasants were looking for a way out in order to solve their most pressing problems. Those who called themselves revolutionaries offered no solution to their problems, so they naturally looked elsewhere.
The masses hoped for an improvement under Morales, but they have been disappointed. They have shown their willingness to fight many times. They have taken to the streets once again in the recent referendum. Yes, the masses are prepared to fight, but where are the leaders?
Q: What does the confrontation between the government and the called “crescent” (Tarija, Pando, Santa Cruz and Beni) expresse? What should be the output to the conflict?
AW: The fact that the Bolivian ruling class has threatened to split the country, and in effect destroy Bolivia as a nation, is a sign of weakness, not strength. It was a desperate tactic, and it has failed. The oligarchy has tried to fool workers and peasants that this autonomy would benefit them, but they have learnt in practice that this is not the case.
The referendum on autonomy organized by the right wing and the Santa Cruz oligarchy has been clearly defeated. According to initial “official” results, abstentions reached 39%, which means that the number of people who participated is significantly lower than those who took part in the 2006 referendum. To this we must add some 14% of NO votes and spoilt ballots. It is clear that in the last two years the basis of support for the oligarchy has shrunk, and it is likely that a majority of the people did not vote for autonomy, even taking into account the electoral fraud that took place.
The referendum provoked mass mobilizations of workers and peasants throughout the country. This shows that the masses understand the need to fight and defeat the corrupt and degenerate oligarchy. But this cannot be achieved simply by voting in a referendum. The government must take steps to expropriate the landlords and capitalists and arm the workers and peasants to carry this out from below. Further vacillations will only serve to encourage the reactionaries and will lead to even greater violence and bloodshed.
Q: Which is the situation of the working class and their organizations and what are their prospects?
AW: The basic organizations of the working class remain intact. They have not yet suffered a serious defeat and the masses see the danger of reaction. They showed their willingness to fight yet again in the recent referendum.
Despite the appeals by government spokespersons to allow this “opinion poll” to go ahead, many trade union and social mobilized and organized an active boycott. In Yacapaní and San Julian, peasants and local communities organized the burning of ballot boxes as part of the campaign to boycott this illegal referendum. In Montero, the second largest city in the Santa Cruz Department there were clashes between the workers’ and peasants’ organizations and the pro-autonomy right wing.
In the rest of the country there were mass demonstrations against the oligarchy and in defence of national unity. In El Alto a cabildo (mass assembly) of hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants, students and others, voted to demand the resignation of Jose Luis Paredes, the prefect of the La Paz Department, who has also sided with the oligarchy and is attempting to organize a similar process for autonomy. The demonstrators also demanded the expropriation of the businesses of the oligarchy.
All this shows that, despite everything, the class balance of forces is still favourable for the working class. But that can change. Unless decisive action is taken to expropriate the oligarchy and defeat and disarm the reactionary gangs, the correlation of forces can go the other way. The workers and peasants can become tired and disillusioned. With every step back that Morales makes, the counterrevolutionaries will become more confident and aggressive. That represents a serious danger. It can end in an army coup or even civil war.
Everything depends on the ability of the Bolivian workers to transform their mass organizations into real fighting organizations, to clear out the compromising and vacillating leaders and replace them with consistent revolutionaries who are prepared to fight to the end. That is the only way to succeed.
Q: What is the overall balance of the « chavista » process and its prospects?
AW: The Venezuelan Revolution has begun, but it is not finished. As a matter of fact, the main task remains to be accomplished. What is the central problem? Only this: that a number of key economic levers remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy. That is the central challenge that faces the Venezuelan Revolution at the present time.
In order to carry the Bolivarian Revolution forward, it is necessary to take measures against private property, nationalizing companies and land belonging to the Venezuelan oligarchy and big foreign transnationals. These measures are completely justified! These big companies for decades have been looting Venezuela and other Latin American countries in order to extract huge profits. They have damaged the environment with oil spills and other forms of contamination and when it suits them, they close factories as if they were matchboxes. It will never be possible to solve the problems of the peoples of Latin America if this plundering is allowed to continue.
However, the expropriation of the property of foreign imperialism is insufficient. In reality, the so-called national bourgeoisie are only the local office boys of imperialism. The idea of a “progressive national bourgeoisie” in Latin America is a myth. The corrupt and degenerate bourgeoisie of Latin America has had 200 years to show what it can do, and has shown itself to be completely bankrupt and unable to develop the colossal economic potential of this great continent. It stands condemned by history.
The class struggle has been developing in Venezuela over more than a decade and has now reached a critical turning point. The workers, peasants and poor people of Venezuela are looking to Hugo Chávez to carry out his promise to make the Venezuelan revolution irreversible. This can only be done by directly challenging the so-called sacred right of private property. Unless economic power is taken out of the hands of the counter-revolutionary oligarchy, the Bolivarian revolution could never be victorious and the gains of the revolution would never be safe.
The main weakness is the leadership. The Venezuelan Revolution has gone quite far; but the state and economy are still in bourgeois hands. Normally, the question would have to be settled relatively quickly: either a bloody coup or workers’ power, as was the tragic case in Chile. But this hasn’t yet happened. Events are proceeding in a different fashion: we have the enormous power of workers who have not been defeated, and the weakness of reaction. The reaction has been defeated multiple times in their attempts to take power. In fact, in April 2002, they had power: but they were defeated.
After the defeat of the coup in 2002 it would have been possible to carry out a socialist revolution swiftly and painlessly – without violence or civil war. Unfortunately, the opportunity was lost and the reactionaries were allowed to regroup and organise a new attempt in the so-called strike (in reality a bosses’ lockout) that did serious damage to the economy. The new attempt was defeated by the workers, who seized control of the factories and oil installations and kicked out the reactionaries. Once again the possibility existed of a revolutionary transformation without civil war. And once again the opportunity was lost.
This reversal of the coup was the first time in Latin American history. And still the Stalinists and reformists complain about the “low level” of the masses! On the contrary, masses have shown extraordinary levels of maturity. So why have they not yet taken power? The key question is no the “low level of consciousness” of the masses but the absence of subjective factor: the party and leadership. No serious person can doubt the colossal role that has been played by President Chávez in the Bolivarian Revolution. But one man, no matter how talented or courageous, cannot carry out the revolution.
The final result depends on the leadership. If a genuine Marxist Party existed, a classical proletarian revolution would be entirely possible. The workers and peasants and the revolutionary youth are rapidly coming to the same conclusions as the Marxists: There is a general feeling: “we’ve had enough of this, we need to finish the revolution.” This is what is meant by a “revolution within a revolution.”
Q: Which place does Chávez take in international political alignments? Which interests does he defend and how?
AW: Hugo Chávez has shown himself to be a consistent and courageous fighter against imperialism. He has made appeals to the workers and poor people, not just of Latin America but also of the USA. That shows a correct internationalist instinct. But as on other questions his international policy is contradictory. This is quite logical, since foreign policy is only the continuation of domestic policy.
The foreign policy of Chávez is dictated by the attempts of US imperialism to isolate Venezuela and surround it with a bloc of hostile powers. Diplomatic aggression is only a prparation for military aggression. The USA has turned Colombia into an armed camp and this remains a constant threat to Venezuela. In response, Chávez has sought to establish relations with all thiose states that are hostile to the USA, especially the oil-producing countries.
Even if Venezuela were a healthy workers’ state, it would be obliged to make use of diplomatic manouvres in order to break out of isolation and defeat the plans of Washington. It would have to try to play off one bourgeois government against another in order to gain time. This is purely a tactical question. But in warfare tactics are always subordnate to strategy. It is true that tactics may sometimes diverge from the strategic line, but tactics must never be in flagrant contradiciton to strategy. That is to say, the pursuit of concrete short term advantages must never be at the cost of fundamental aims.
It is permissible for Venezuela to try to maintain friendly relations with Brazil and Argentina, in order to make it difficult for the imperialists to foment conflict between these countries and Venezuela. But from a socialist point of view, this is only permissible if it does not conflict with the aim of promoting the struggle for socialism in Brazil and Argentina. Goverments come and goverments go, and the foreign policy of Brazil and Argentina can change in 24 hours. The only real safeguard for the Venezuelan Revolution is the spread of the socialist revolution to the rest of Latin America and beyond. Its only reliable allies are not the governments of Lula and Cristina Kirchner, but the workers and peasants who are struggling to change society.
Q: Which is the situation of the working class and its organizations? What kind of relationship do they keep with the « chavismo »?
AW : This is the greatest tragedy of the Venezuelan Revolution. The working class of Venezuela has displayed enormous energy, courage and revolutionary spirit. Together with their natural allies, the landless peasants and urban poor, they defeated the coup of April 2002 and the bosses’ sabotage of 2002-3. They have the will and ability to change society. But they have been frustrated by their own organizations and leaderships.
What is needed in order that the Venezuelan Revolution should succeed is that the proletariat place itself at the head of the Nation, that is to say, the working class must give leadership to the millions of poor semi-proletarian masses of town and countryside. But in order to fulfil that role the working class must be organized under the banner of the class struggle and the fight for socialism. It must learn to combine a firm defence of revolutionary socialism with the tactical flexibility needed to get an echo among the chavista masses.
The UNT was launched with the most optimistic perspectives. It had the full backing of Chávez, who announced his aim that eighty percent of the workers should be organised in the UNT. But these hopes were sabotaged by the union leaders – including the so-called Lefts and « Trotskyists », who have played a lamentable role in the Revolution. They have played an even worse role than Andreu Nin, whom Trotsky denounced for his refusal to participate in the Spanish Young Socialists. That destroyed any possibility of the Spanish Trotskyists winning a mass base in Spain and handed the Young Socialists on a plate to the Stalinists. It effectively sealed the fate of the Spanish Revolution.
When Chávez launched the slogan « factory closed, factory occupied », what did the UNT do ? It did nothing at all. When he read out a long list of factories to be occupied on television, what did the UNT leaders do ? Did they issue a directive to all branches of the union to immediately occupy these factories and demand nationalization ? No, they did not. They were far too busy in internal faction fighting and the struggle for positions in the union.
This bureaucratic-sectarian attitude led to a disastous split in the UNT at its first congress. Since then the union, which showed so much promise, has been largely negated as a serious force in the class struggle. This was a crime against the Revolution and the working class. The problem with the sectarians is that they are organically incapable of placing themselves on the standpoint of the masses. They appear before the masses with ready-made formulae,which they demand the masses accpet. But the mass moveemt has its own laws and dynamic, which rarely conform with preconceived schemes and formulae.
Subsequently, the group around Orlando Chirinos refused to join the PSUV. Trotsky broke off all relations with Andreu Nin, whose conduct he considered a betrayal. What would Trotsky have said of the so-called Trotskyists who stood at the head of the UNT ? Instead of adopting a friendly attitude towards the chavista workers and peasants, fighting shoulder to shoulder with them against reaction, supporting any progressive step taken by the government, and placing demands on the leadership, while consistently advancing socialist and revolutionary policies, they have set themselves on a collision course with the chavista movement. This condemns them to impotence.
The sectarians are blinded by their hatred of Chávez. This immediately brings them into conflict with the aspirations of the masses and frequently pushes them into reactionary conclusions. On this basis there is no way forward. By their actions the leaders of the UNT have, at least for the time being, prevented the proletarian movement from occupying the leading role in the Revolution that by rights it should have. The UNT should have taken a position of critical support. The workers must support every step forward made by the Bolivarian Movement, while maintaining a friendly criticism of its failures and deficiencies. That is the only correct approach for the workers’ movement.
The occupied factories movement (Freteco) is now attempting to organize the movement for workers’ control and is achieveing some positive results. Of course, this cannot be an alternative to the UNT. The working class needs a stable, united and powerful trade union movement. We are fighting for a united UNT with a militant programme, independent from the state but prepared to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against its enemies both inside and outside Venezuela. Only a fighting alliance, which unites the proletarian vanguard with the broad chavista masses, can lead the Revolution to victory.
Q: Which are the specific tasks of the socialist revolution in Venezuela?
AW: The only way to prevent this is by liquidating the economic power of the oligarchy, expropriating the landowners, bankers and capitalists and introducing a socialist plan of production.
Reformists like Heinz Dieterich argue that to act in this way would be to provoke the imperialists and reactionaries. That is absurd. The imperialists and reactionaries have shown by their actions that they do not need any provocation to act.
It is not possible to stop the revolution half way. It is not possible to make half a revolution. The reformists behave like a man who tries to persuade a tiger to eat grass instead of flesh. Such a person will not succeed in changing the eating habits of the tiger but will end up inside its stomach.
Chávez has taken important steps forward but he is still hesitating on fundamental questions. This is placing the Revolution in great danger. The defeat of the constitutional referendum of December 2007 was a warning. The masses are getting tired of all the talk about socialism and revolution, when nothing fundamental has changed.
There is sabotage of the Venezuelan economy. There are serious shortages and inflation of about 20 percent. The masses are loyal to the Revolution but they will not permanently accept this situation. Sooner or later it must be settled.
Without wresting the economic power out of the hands of the capitalists so that they cannot continue their sabotage, without guaranteeing the social base of the revolution, i.e. the workers and the people, a decent living and decent jobs and a real participation and leadership of the state, victory is impossible.