Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez spoke for people the world over at the United Nations General Assembly in September when he attacked US imperialism's attempt to dominate the world and subjugate its people. Referring to US President George Bush's speech the day before, Chavez said: "The imperialists see extremists all around. No, it's not that we are extremists. What is happening is that the world is waking up and people everywhere are rising up. I have the impression Mr Imperialist Dictator that you will live the rest of your days as if in a nightmare, because no matter where you look we will be rising up against US imperialism."
During the brutal war waged by Israel against Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories over July-August, Chavez stood in solidarity with the victims of Israel's vicious US-backed campaign. More than 1000 civilians were slaughtered during the invasion of Lebanon. Israel is "killing innocent children and whole families", Chavez said in an Al Jazeera interview on August 4, the day after Venezuela had withdrawn its ambassador to Israel in protest.
Since his election in 1998, Chavez has called for Third World economic and political unity against imperialism, starting in Latin America. Venezuela has been at the forefront of a continent-wide rebellion against US-enforced neoliberal policies, which for decades have caused intense poverty and misery. His government has pushed an alternative trade model among Latin American nations based on mutual cooperation rather than competition.
Most significantly, Chavez has declared that "the only way to overcome poverty is to give power to the poor", and Venezuela's revolutionary foreign policy is matched by an radical internal process of change — the Bolivarian revolution. This is a battle for power by the working people and poor, and for new, democratic structures for popular power to replace the old political structures of the former elite.
The US has backed undemocratic attempts by the right-wing opposition to topple the Chavez government and reverse the Bolivarian revolution, including a military coup in April 2002, during which Chavez was briefly ousted before an uprising by the poor and the ranks of the military restored him to power.
The Venezuelan revolution has raised the banner of socialism again — a project declared dead and buried after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Chavez has called for the construction, internationally, of a "new socialism of the 21st century" — as distinct from the bureaucratic and anti-democratic Stalinist "socialism" of the USSR. This call carries weight because behind Chavez stand Venezuela's increasingly radicalised working people. The conclusion that socialism — a system whereby the economy is run by and for the people rather than privately owned by a rich minority — is the alternative to the crimes of imperialism has been drawn not from abstract theoretical discussions, but from the experience of the living class struggle.
The old state structures, which are dominated by a corrupt bureaucracy, have not proven effective as a tool to achieve change. The degree by which the revolution has advanced in many cases is the degree by which these structures have been bypassed and new ones created based directly on the power of the working class.
The revolution's "social missions" — grassroots-driven efforts to provide services like free health care and education to the country's poor majority — were consciously established outside the old state structures. There is a struggle to create new popular-based structures to avoid corruption and sabotage by forces that had a stake in the pre-Chavez status quo.
The struggle for socialism has flowed out of the struggle against imperialism — driven by the extreme poverty the masses have been condemned to, despite Venezuela's extensive oil wealth.
There has been a struggle centred around taking control of the oil resources and using them to solve the major problems facing Venezuela as a result of its past relegation to the role of a semi-colonial nation providing cheap raw materials to complement the economies of the First World.
Solving the problems of the poor has been tied with economic development, partly through the promotion of cooperatives. Under Chavez, the number of cooperatives has grown from 800 to more than 100,000, involving as much as 10% of the adult population.
The push to empower the poor and redistribute wealth has faced fierce resistance from the old wealthy elite. Through this confrontation, the working people have become increasingly radicalised and organised. Reality has revealed to both the revolution's leadership and the working people that it is not possible to overcome the country's problems without confronting capitalism.
Venezuela's revolution faces many challenges as it continues to make profound changes to the country's social and economic structure. Internally, it still faces stiff, if marginalised, opposition from the capitalist elite and attempts to corrupt the revolutionary forces. Internationally it faces threats, including possible military intervention, from the US and its allies. International solidarity with the revolution is important to help counter attempts to isolate the revolution and to defend the Venezuelan people's right to self-determination.
Resistance takes solidarity with Venezuela seriously, and our members participate in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (<http://www.venezuelasolidarity.org>). We also look to Venezuela as an example of the kind of radical changes we want to make in Australia. The Bolivarian revolution provides people with free health care and education — rights that we don't have here even though Australia is a rich First World nation! There is a stark contrast between the courageous stand that Chavez has taken in opposing the occupation of Iraq and Australian Prime Minister John Howard's backing for the brutal US-led war.
In Venezuela, the country's economic resources are being used to help the most historically marginalised sectors of society, such as indigenous people, while in Australia cops bash Aboriginals with impunity and Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy 17-18 years less than other Australians — an ongoing genocide.
The lessons of Venezuela are that people power can make a difference and that the idea that capitalism is as good as it gets has been discredited. Join Resistance — and help change the world!
[This article is based on an excerpt from the new pamphlet published by Resistance, The Venezuelan Revolution: Fighting for Socialism in the 21st Century.]