The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Chavez, Ally of the Poor Classes or Bulwark for the Wealthy?

Mar 22, 2006

The following article is translated from #96 of Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle), the magazine of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the French revolutionary group of that name. The article ends with a critique made by LO about the kind illusions in Chavez that are pushed by some left organizations in France and Britain. Those same illusions are rampant in this country.

President Hugo Chavez is in his eighth year as the head of Venezuela. If he decides to run for office again in elections scheduled for this December, he could extend his mandate by six more years. After having pleaded for "capitalism with a human face," he now says that he is a partisan of "socialism for the 21st century."

Declarations of this kind have earned Chavez plaudits from the anti-globalization forces and a part of the extreme left. "Chavism" has taken the place of Castroism or Sandinism as the latest fashion. Speaking of his "socialism," Chavez says that he is for "socialism which will be Bolivarian, Venezuelan and Latin American." He flavors this affirmation with religious expressions: "Capitalism, which is the road to hell, or socialism, for those who want to build a kingdom of heaven on earth." He also says: "Among the elements which could define socialism of the 21st century, ... the first characteristic is the moral element. We must start from there, by conscience, by ethics. Che wrote a lot about socialist ethics. Whatever one’s vision of the world, it must also include a sense of ethics in life. What I say certainly contains a lot of Christianity: ‘love one and all" or ‘love thy neighbor as thyself." In reality it starts from this: solidarity with your brother, or the struggle against the demons sown by capitalism: individualism, egotism, hate, privilege."

It is one thing for the poor masses in the country, who confront the cynical brutality of the country’s rulers, to find this kind of language pleasing. That it attracts the admiration of a part of the extreme left shows what that extreme left is. But where does Chavez’s credit among the poor masses come from? What has been his policy?

The Past Heritage

Military dictatorships dominated the Venezuelan government for almost half a century, from 1909 to 1958. The military ruled directly for 35 of those 50 years. And it ruled without a break between 1948 and 1958. In 1958, Venezuela became a parliamentary democracy, inspired by the system in the United States. Two parties competed for power: Democratic Action (AD), a social democratic party linked both to the socialist international and the main union organization, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV); and the Committee of Organizations for Independent Elections (COPEI), a Christian Democratic party linked to the Catholic church. This two party system, which revolved around AD and COPEI, was supposed to prevent the military from returning to power. But it also excluded the Communist Party, which had been in the forefront of the struggle against the dictatorship.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Venezuela’s economy was based on agriculture, first depending upon the cultivation of cocoa and then of coffee. But in 1925, Venezuela became one of the principal exporters of oil, for the benefit of the United States first of all. (Today it furnishes 10% of U.S. demand.) To finance its budget, the state has always taxed exports, thus depending on prices on the world market. When prices fall, budget difficulties break out.

During the big increases in world oil prices from 1973 to 1983, the government budget grew considerably. The state took in 80 cents from every dollar of oil exported. Carlos Perez (AD), the president during that period, pushed the idea of a "Greater Venezuela." But the gift of petroleum did not allow the country to overcome its dependence on a single commodity. However, it was a time of easy money for the possessing classes and the petty bourgeoisie, which was tied to them. Corruption was rampant. The fall in oil prices caused difficulties for the wealthy, difficulties which the wealthy then made the poor classes pay for.

A Bankrupt System

In 1989, upon the return of Perez to the presidency, the system exploded. Perez had been credited with the nationalization of oil and iron in 1976. He was also known for his promise to maintain state intervention in the economy. In reality, nationalization transformed the oil company into a multinational with branches in other countries, such as the Citgo chain of refineries and gas stations in the U.S. The oil company repatriated as little money as possible back to Venezuela. The state recovered less than 20 cents for every dollar of oil exported. This led to a growing government debt and terrible misery for the poor classes.

Pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce its debt, Perez privatized almost everything, and also got rid of price controls. Price increases ranged from 30 to 100%. In February 1989, five days of riots, known as the Caracazo, hit the biggest cities in the country. The population pillaged supermarkets. To put down the unrest, Perez mobilized the national guard, as well as the army. The government admitted that 287 people were killed. But there could have been between 1,000 and 15,000 people killed, and thousands more were wounded. The politicians were no longer able to keep order. So the army returned to the stage.

Two Military Coups

The first putsch took place on February 4, 1992. The officers of the coup spoke of "building a true nation" and denounced the "inability of the government to fight corruption." The rebel units, who called on the people to rise, were crushed in Caracas. They gave up "for the moment," declared a lieutenant colonel in the paratroopers, Hugo Chavez. At 38 years old, Chavez appeared for the first time as the head of the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MBR), which had been created 10 years before. He was imprisoned but had become well- known. On November 27, 1992, the MBR launched another coup, which was also short-lived. Of the 1,200 troops arrested, 500 were officers. The following year, following a corruption scandal, Perez abandoned the presidency. Rafael Caldera, the former leader of the COPEI, was elected while presenting himself as independent of all parties. Once elected, he continued Perez’s policies. But he released Chavez.

The Explosion of Misery

The privatizations ravaged society. Between 1988 and 1997, the number of available jobs dropped by 15%. In 1999, the number of workers living on small jobs, working under the table, represented 53% of the total number of jobs, compared to 35% in 1980. Between 1978 and 1994 the value of the minimum wage dropped by two-thirds. Government funding for social programs dropped by 40%, while funding for education and housing was cut by 70%!

Between 1984 and 1995, the population living below the poverty line grew from 36% to 66%. The share of national income for the poorest 40% of the population was reduced from 19.1% to 14.7%, while the share for the very wealthiest increased from 21.8% to 32.8%. In 1987, the richest 5% had an income 42 times higher than that of the poorest 5% of the population. Ten years later, it was 53 times higher! This general degradation also weighed on the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), which barely opposed the privatizations. Between 1988 and 1995, the percentage of workers unionized dropped by half, to 13.5%. There were some militant workers and Causa R (Radical Cause) tried to recruit them. This organization came out of the Communist Party in the 1970s and was inspired by the Workers Party of Brazil. Their militancy in some factories and slums won them some success in elections in the beginning of the 1990s. They later rallied to the side of Chavez.

Complaints in the Army

Given that Parliament appointed the army’s top officers, the leading circle in the army supported the system. The number of officer posts multiplied under the rampant corruption and cronyism. With five times fewer soldiers than the Brazilian army, the Venezuelan army had 133 generals, compared to 116 generals in Brazil. The lower levels of officers, who came from the lower classes, challenged the system. Chavez and those close to him were the first generation of officers who had studied at the university. The military hierarchy had encouraged them to have links with civil society, which politicized them.

After having created the MBR in 1982, Chavez was, for example, in touch with ex-guerrillas like Douglas Bravo. Bravo was a former member of the Communist Party who, after years of sterile guerrilla activity, returned to the more classic political struggle. Chavez’s brother was a member of Douglas Bravo’s PRV (Revolutionary Party of Venezuela). Bravo broke with Chavez before the putsch when Bravo understood that Chavez and the troops around him intended to reject all civilian control.

Chavez on the Road to Power

Upon leaving prison, Chavez plunged into the political struggle. He sought to address the poor, the majority of mixed race, like him, and also blacks and Indians. Chavez exalted the national character by referring to Simon Bolivar, hero of Venezuelan independence (1830), and Simon Rodriguez, the man who inspired Bolivar. Chavez also referred to Ezekiel Zamora, the leader of the peasant fight against big landed property owners in 1847. Chavez also borrowed quotations from Jesus, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Pablo Neruda, Guevara, Marx and Trotsky!

Chavez also linked himself to an old politician, Luis Miquilena, experienced in maneuvers and known in the business world. Miquilena was Chavez’s right hand man until 2002. In 1995, after a member of the MBR was elected governor, Chavez decided to jump into the presidential campaign. The MBR changed its name and became the MVR (Movement for the Vth Republic—the fourth one had been going on since 1958). To finance his campaign, Chavez got money from insurance companies, real estate developers and communication companies, as well as Spanish banks. Chavez also launched a "Patriotic Pole," which associated the MVR with smaller parties like the Causa R, whose strength had increased as the two traditional worn-out parties declined.

With the approach of the presidential elections, the leaders of the traditional parties feared that Chavez would succeed. So they decided to test the electorate by pushing up the date of local elections. After Chavez’s MVR did well, the AD and COPEI decided to run a joint presidential campaign and put up one candidate. Nonetheless, Chavez won easily, with 56% of the vote. Six years after his failed coup d"etat, he was elected by universal suffrage. His opponents’ refusal to carry out any reform of the constitution had only made things worse for them. A reform had resonated with electors from the poor neighborhoods as a sign of hope.

Limited Anti-imperialism

The new Venezuelan president sometimes employs provocative language in opposing U.S. foreign policy. Right after taking power in 1999, Chavez visited the big oil producing countries. He met the monarchs of the Persian Gulf, as well as Libya’s Khadafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. He also forged links with Castro. He went on to denounce the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as did many others. The United States responded by denouncing the "bad company" that Chavez was keeping. Since the Venezuelan army no longer tried to repress the guerrillas in neighboring Colombia, the U.S. accused Chavez of supporting the FARC, a guerrilla army. Washington also denounced Chavez’s economic alliance with Castro, the ALBA. By offering Cuba access to as much oil as it needed, Chavez allowed Cuba to partly escape the U.S. economic embargo. In exchange for this, Cuba supported Venezuelan health and education programs.

Chavez also sought to establish economic alliances with other South American leaders, which displeased Washington. Venezuela joined Mercosur, the common market that since 1991 united Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. In response, the U.S. has pushed the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), the economic alliance that it would like to establish for the entire Western Hemisphere. But so far, this U.S. maneuver has been unsuccessful.

Chavez has made some declarations that indicate his preference for a U.S. president from the Democratic Party. This suggests that Chavez does not want an unconditional break with the U.S. Chavez has even praised the Alliance for Progress—which was initiated by John F. Kennedy in the 1960s to try to stop the spread of the Cuban revolution to other Latin American countries!

As for his relations with the IMF, Chavez scrupulously repays the debts of his predecessors. He also is a conscientious provider of petroleum to the U.S. oil companies. Chavez has never called these business relations into question, and the contracts with the oil companies have been renewed without interruption. Chavez did institute one notable change—and quite rightly. He demanded that these companies pay a bit more taxes than they did before. While Chavez proposed to sell gasoline and oil more cheaply in three states of the U.S., he also congratulated the U.S. oil company Chevron-Texaco, during the inauguration of a new platform for exploiting Venezuelan natural gas. He even called the U.S. a "strategic ally."

Chavez in the Position of Arbiter

Taking office in 1999, Chavez got around his adversaries in Parliament by using a referendum to call for a constituent assembly. He won the referendum. The method of voting allowed his "Patriotic Pole" to win 121 of the 131 seats. So Chavez imposed his constitution. The constitution took into account the indigenous minority and invited the population to participate in public life, praising participatory democracy. It reaffirmed the responsibility of the state for housing, education and health care. It accorded the military the right to vote and Parliament was stripped of its power to name the top generals. Thus, the weight of the army was reinforced.

So was the power of the president. The president could now make laws in any domain with the agreement of Parliament. To reduce the strength of his opponents, the constitution did away completely with the Senate, and ended the public financing of political parties. The constitution, which was put up for a vote in 2000, was approved with 71% of the vote. Chavez continued his political offensive by holding fresh elections for all positions, including his own. He won the presidency with 59% of the vote. The two opposition parties were reduced to a handful of seats in the Assembly, with the AD keeping 20 seats and COPEI left with none.

Chavez’s men, military or civilian members of the MVR, divided up the official positions among themselves. But the state apparatus was left intact. Chavez even retained the old minister of the budget, who had been in office before 1998. The new president had no intention of attacking the dictatorship of money and private ownership over the means of production, whose inalienable right was reaffirmed in the constitution. But that didn’t stop the opposition—the wealthy, the defeated politicians, the bosses of the oil industry and the union bureaucrats—from uniting to try to take back the power they had lost. Even though they could hardly express themselves through the Assembly, they still controlled the news media, which for the most part was in their hands.

Having won three plebiscites in two years, Chavez’s position resembled that of other Latin American leaders throughout history, like Argentina’s Juan Peron. Chavez was an arbiter who balanced between imperialism, especially North American imperialism, and the privileged, on the one hand, and the poor classes with their aspirations for a more dignified life, on the other hand. To keep the power, the new president based himself on the army, while making concessions to the poor masses.

When Chavez came into office, he faced big financial constraints. The state treasuries had been emptied by his predecessors and the price of oil was at its lowest point. So Chavez established a direct relationship with the population to explain what he was doing, or couldn’t do. Each week on his television program, "Hello, President," Chavez responded to questions from the audience. This helped to further reinforce his personal appeal.

From the first days in office, Chavez began to restore government social programs. His constitution took into account single mothers raising children or workers paid under the table, integrating them into the Social Security system. He distributed food and launched education, health care and housing programs. To implement "Bolivar Plan 2000," Chavez mobilized 40,000 soldiers, who helped deliver health care, extend public transportation and housing. Chavez did away with fees that kept children in the poor neighborhoods from going to school. As a result, 600,000 new students enrolled in school. Lacking classroom space, Chavez turned over army barracks and even parts of the presidential palace to serve as schools. Chavez also brought retired school teachers out of retirement to teach the new students.

Chavez then capitalized on the ties that he created. In July 2001, he relaunched the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MBR) and invited the population to create "Bolivarian circles." This recalled the "unity at the base" created by Peron in Argentina. He also started associations to defend particular interests, from retirees to street vendors.

An Attempt to Reform Agriculture

In November 2001, Chavez, with the support of the parliament, promulgated 49 laws, among which was a "law on the land."

Radical agrarian reform is an absolute necessity in a country where 5% of the landowners control 80% of the land, and where eight families own an amount of land that is 18 times greater than the area occupied by Caracas! These landowners, who have always enjoyed large government subsidies, grow crops for the big agricultural corporations to export. They could care less when land lies fallow. Meanwhile, 86% of the people who live in the countryside live in poverty. How could it be otherwise when 75% of the peasants together own only 6% of the land?

With 70% of food consumed in Venezuela imported, Chavez proposed to take the land which was not being cultivated, turn it over to the landless peasants and have them grow food on it. The first step in this agrarian reform was to take an inventory of all the property holdings, some of which had been stolen from the state by the big landowners. Chavez also proposed to tax all landowners who used less than 80% of their land.

When the agrarian reform and the new tax were announced, it provoked a lot of anger from the landowners. The officials who headed the national petroleum company reacted in the same way. And they were, in turn, supported by the union bureaucracy of the CTV, who launched a strike at the end of 2001. This set the stage for the April 2002 attempt to overthrow the government.

The Population Opposed to Privileges

On April 13 and 14, 2002, Venezuela went through a complete swing in events. After a full week of agitation by his adversaries, Chavez was overthrown in a coup led by the president of the Fedecamaras (the confederation of business owners), Pedro Carmona. The United States government congratulated the coup plotters for bringing about a "new triumph of democracy." This U.S. announcement turned out to be premature. Forty-seven hours later, Chavez was back in power, due to the support of the troops and the massive mobilization of the poorest layers of the population in the capital.

This crushing defeat did not discourage the opposition. In December 2002 it launched a second coup. This time the bureaucrats at the head of the union confederation, the CTV, took the lead by launching a strike in the oil sector, thus paralyzing crude oil production and cutting off the main source of revenue for the regime. At first this succeeded.

The strike, aimed at overthrowing Chavez, then extended to the merchant marine, the banks, the stores and a part of the administration of the government. It lasted for two months in the beginning of 2003. To convince their employees to walk off the job, the bosses paid them for the days they were on strike! But this time, once again, Chavez received the support of the Bolivarian circles and militant workers who opposed the bureaucrats of the CTV. With the aid of retirees from the oil company, production was started back up, money began to flow into the government coffers and the test of strength was defeated.

Thus, under dramatic circumstances, Chavez benefitted twice from the support of the laboring masses and mobilized a big number of them throughout the country. Chavez may have barely changed the daily life of the poorest of them, but it was clear that a return of the partisans of the old system only promised greater misery. But it is equally notable that during each of the aborted attempts to take power by the opposition, Chavez did not use his credit among the laboring masses to urge them to continue to take the offensive and increase their mobilization. On the contrary, he restrained their mobilization while treating the opposition with kid gloves.

Limited Measures in Favor of the Laboring Classes

One of Chavez’s priorities was to restore the payments that the government collected from the state-owned oil company. To do that, the Minister of Energy and Mines had to retake control of the company, PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, SA). And, as opposed to the recent past, Venezuela became much more active in OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The successive defeats of the opposition reinforced the position of the Chavistas at the head of the industry. In 2003, to consolidate control, they fired 18,000 out of the 42,000 employees of the oil company, 80% of whom were management. In 2004, a supporter of Chavez became not only the Minister of Energy and Oil but also the president of the state-owned oil company.

Chavez was aided by the rise in oil prices on the international market. When he came to power, the price of oil was $20 per barrel, at its lowest point. Since 2001, the price has more than tripled to about $65 per barrel. With the state treasury filling with oil revenues, Chavez pursued actions in favor of the poor classes.

His agrarian reform finally got off the ground in 2003. In practice, it was mainly government land that was redistributed. An early study indicated that, during that first year, about 60,000 families divided up about two and a half million acres. Those families also gained access to small bank loans, machines and tools for cooperatives, technical assistance, the construction of silos and commercial marketing of their products.

But the reform remained very limited and slowed down, as the big property owners mounted resistance to it. With the local authorities acting as accomplices, the big landowners hired thugs to assassinate more than 120 peasants.

In 2003, many "specialized missions’ were begun. These included literacy campaigns (1.25 million adults were taught how to read and write), education (3,000 schools were built in rural zones; the number of children enrolled in schools increased by 25%), health care clinics were built in poor neighborhoods (with the help of thousands of Cuban doctors), athletic education and sports at a competitive level were begun (also with the aid of Cuba).

Sixty percent of the population received free medical care. There were massive campaigns to vaccinate the poor. Venezuela reduced its infant mortality rate. State money was allocated to provide food at low prices to the poorest families. Over 70,000 cooperatives were begun. And 5,000 committees were set up to grant legal title to squatters living in very poor neighborhoods. A small amount of credit was made available to repair existing homes, as well as to construct new ones. All this is appreciated by the population. But it still has a very limited social character. Representatives from Saudi Arabia, which no one would consider progressive, have come to study the functioning of medical centers and neighborhood clinics in order to eventually do similar things in their country.

New Offensive by the Wealthy...

The opposition’s successive failures to overthrow Chavez only managed to increase his credit. So the opposition tried to use elections to oust him.

The opposition put together a group called "Democratic Coordination" that sponsored a referendum on the question of "Should we dismiss Chavez?" and urged a "yes’ vote. Chavez’s constitution effectively offered this possibility. In their campaign to collect enough signatures to get the special election for the referendum, the opposition predicted that the Venezuelan president would never allow the referendum to go forward.

However, Chavez rose to the challenge. The referendum was held on August 15, 2004, and the opposition suffered another rout. The electorate was mobilized much more than usual. With five million "no" votes, Chavez beat his own score by two million votes from the previous presidential election. In the next elections for governors and mayors, the Chavistas took 19 of 21 posts for governor, and a majority of the mayors’ races. The opposition claimed fraud, but even observers from Washington validated the results.

After the referendum, Chavez did not try to deepen his victory. On the one hand, he speaks of the poorer classes "deepening the process’ and of the "revolution in the revolution." But he also greatly increased the number of meetings that he had with representatives from the oligarchy. He said that he wanted contact with the "serious opposition" in order to reinforce "national unity." Chavez then granted them large concessions. Parliament eliminated taxes on corporate assets and created a fund to guarantee private bank loans for capitalists and to reimburse taxes already paid by the export sector.

At the same time, the powerful groups—such as the multimedia companies owned by Gustavo Cisneros, which orchestrated the 2002 coup d"etat, and the Polar de Lorenzo Mendoza agricultural conglomerate—have benefitted from agreements with Brazil, fruits of the economic partnership with neighboring countries. Also, Chavez came to the aid of the government of Ecuador by sending it oil when Ecuador’s oil production had been drastically reduced by strikes. The owners of the big corporations got the message. When Chavez declared to them, "We have no intention of taking your private property," the spokesman for the big corporate owners echoed, "In Venezuela there is no threat to private property."

... And New Gestures toward the Working Masses

Chavez had invited the population to find a solution to its problems, which brought certain gains for the working class. The unionists who opposed the CTV bureaucracy and supported Chavez during the boycott by the oil company organized a new union, the UNT (National Union of Workers). This new union has exerted some pressure for wages to keep up with inflation. They have also mobilized workers to force the government to reopen companies abandoned by their owners. This was inspired by workers in Argentina, who had occupied abandoned workplaces there, and turned them into cooperatives.

In January 2005 there was a new decree to apply the agrarian reform. Chavez has spoken about the "war against the big land-holdings (latifundias)," a synonym for large properties that are not being farmed. In other words, he is now ready to occupy unproductive, privately-held lands. But the program to redistribute these lands is still very limited. There is resistance from the big landowners, as well as their accomplices, the local authorities. In 2005, the agrarian reform resulted in 120,000 families receiving about five million acres, out of the 75 million acres that remain uncultivated. This is small compared to the agrarian reform carried out in Cuba. In Cuba, which is an island that is eight times smaller than Venezuela, three million acres were distributed in the first year.

In February-March 2005, several peasant movements complained about the agrarian reform to the Venezuelan president: "The law is not being applied as it should, among other things, because of actions by bad officials, of the centralized state, weakness in the law itself, and there is no way for the peasant movement to effectively participate in the institutions established by the law." Another example: "The law allows the expropriation only of lands of more than 12,500 acres that are not being farmed." The peasants criticized the National Institute of Land (INTI), complaining of its "slowness and bureaucratic functioning. The big landowners transform entire forests into farm land before the INTI makes a decision. In addition, the Institute has distributed defective seeds." A number of peasants who directly seized land complained that "local judges take the side of the big landowners and order the police to expel us."

According to the president of the Finance Commission, "our form of socialist revolution does not seek to abolish private property, but only to allow it to co-exist with production of a social character." Oh yes, but "private property," or more exactly the big landowners, have no intention of "co-existing" with any attempt to limit their prerogatives.

The wealthy property owners continue to profit from everything, including the social programs of the government, because the government borrows from their banks. Chavez has raised the possibility of raising taxes on the banks, but he has never raised re-nationalizing the banking system. The spokesman for private banks bragged, "in 2004, the private banks increased their profits by 42% in relation to the capital that it circulated. Such a level of profit does not exist in any other sector in the country."

The Extreme Left and the Bolivarian Revolution

The political stance of some currents of the Trotskyist movement, such as the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) or one of the tendencies from the British ex-Militant are political nonsense. Rather than dispel illusions in Chavez’s actions, they sow them.

In the November 17, 2005 issue of Rouge, the newspaper of the LCR, an article titled "A Revolutionary Process" characterizes the Chavez government as "a consistent reformist government." It then concludes that one should "learn from the Bolivarian dynamic."

But what does the expression "consistent reformist" mean? At best, in this time period, reformists go along with workers when they try to fight to hold on to what they have, but the reformists do not at all look for ways that would allow workers to seriously mobilize against the huge rush of attacks by the bosses. Perhaps the expression "consistent reformist" refers to how the Venezuelan state has brought back a few social programs and protections, in contrast to what most governments are doing today—getting rid of those programs. But even if that is true, the granting of social programs by the state is an old tradition of the bourgeoisie, which uses these programs to hold social unrest in check. The president of the Chavez group in parliament said as much on December 26, declaring that "the bosses of companies can come [to Venezuela] without fear of risking social explosions, because poor people are helped, the country is safe and politically stable."

The LCR does not yet go so far as to say that Venezuela is a socialist state. Of course, Chavez himself denies it, saying,"Venezuela is not a socialist country." But the LCR still asserts that "Chavez does not divert the fighting spirit of the masses; he creates the opening for political opportunities and calls on the masses to mobilize against the heavy bureaucratic functioning and cronyism inherited from the old regime, as well as opportunistic and bureaucratic sectors perpetuated by Chavism. Let us not get the wrong enemy. Today Chavez is an ally."

Once more, these comrades use such a formula to justify coat-tailing nationalist leaders who try to loosen the stranglehold of imperialism, while avoiding any situation where the energy of the masses would become a consistent revolutionary force.

In the same Rouge article, the LCR praises the action of extreme-left militants in Venezuela, including militants from one of the splits in the Morenist tendency. When Chavez came to power, these comrades symbolically "dissolved" their organization. Later on they put together a revolutionary organization again and actively participated in the building of the UNT union. Since last summer, they formed the Party of Revolution and Socialism (PRS) and criticized certain limits of the "Bolivarian revolution."

Rather than encouraging them to organize independently, the LCR advised them not to break with Chavez. Instead, the LCR told them to wait:"Yes, an organization totally independent from the bourgeoisie is necessary to radicalize the course of the revolution" but"at this stage of the process, it cannot be built outside of the Bolivarian revolution, and even less by breaking with it."

According to the LCR, revolutionary militants should wait—why and how long—to express the proletariat’s political aspirations. According to the LCR, "Venezuelans are being convinced that they cannot avoid transforming the country."

Of course, if that were really the case, then the workers and the popular movement in Venezuela would need an organization more than ever to help them understand not only who their outright enemies are, but also who are their false friends, starting with Chavez.

Of course, if the Chavez regime was once again threatened by the U.S. or it was threatened by a new coup by the national capitalists, revolutionary workers would denounce these threats and oppose them. But that is no reason to view the Chavez regime with rose-colored glasses. It is still necessary to explain that Chavez is not a revolutionary without a compass, but a bourgeois nationalist. Moreover, he is trained by the military. And his perspective is not the emancipation of humanity. His allies are not the proletarians and the poor masses of the neighboring countries—but the heads of state. And he has no intention of attacking the state apparatus, nor of expropriating the means of production.

Only by speaking in this way, and by organizing separately, by building a pole of attraction for all the oppressed who desperately want radical change, can the working class and its allies hope to loosen the grip of imperialism and of the national bourgeoisie, and open a way toward the emancipation of all the peoples of Latin America.