Michael Lebowitz, author of Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-first Century and professor emeritus of the economics department at Canada's Simon Fraser University, is a director of the Centro Internacional Miranda. The CIM is a Caracas-based foundation for analysis and discussion of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution — the radical process of social change led by the country's socialist president, Hugo Chavez. Lebowitz spoke to Green Left Weekly about the challenges facing the revolution (the first part of this interview appeared in GLW #690).
The US government is firmly opposed to the Bolivarian revolution, which is empowering the poor majority of Venezuela and using the country's oil resources to build "socialism of the 21st century". Washington backed a military coup in April 2002, during which Chavez was briefly ousted and the country's parliament dissolved. A massive people-power uprising reinstated Chavez. In December that year, the US backed a "bosses' strike" that had a significant impact on Venezuela's economy.
Washington also funds Venezuelan opposition groups through organisations such as the laughably misnamed National Endowment for Democracy, and provides the anti-Chavez opposition with political "advisers".
Lebowitz told GLW that the US government's strategy is "'let's go and destroy the Venezuelan revolution', and it will do everything it possibly can to achieve this. Assassinate Chavez? But that's a problem [for them], because that would be creating a martyr. It would be very strange — having talked to [former CIA agent] Phillip Agee, knowing how the CIA functions — to assume that the CIA doesn't have people already around Chavez, in some way."
He added that "it would be wrong to think that [Washington has] only one horse in the race".
The Bolivarian revolution has a strong international dimension: Venezuela has strong alliances with socialist Cuba and the government of Bolivia's radical indigenous president, Evo Morales. The Chavez government had promoted international solidarity in opposition to the "free trade" agreements pushed by the rich nations and, in conjunction with Cuba, has built social programs that benefit the populations of Third World nations, and even the poor within First World countries.
A key policy of the Chavez government has been to pursue the integration of Latin American countries — building unity to oppose the dominance of the US government and US corporations in an area that has in the past been considered Washington's "backyard".
Lebowitz said that the Bolivarian revolution "can re-awaken the left throughout Latin America. But how will they know about it? I was at conferences in Brazil in July, and spent a lot of time with young Brazilian leftists. These were highly conscious people, and are aware at the general level of what's happening here. But, they don't know any of the details.
"Everything I was telling them, they thought was fascinating. Listening to the stories about the factory takeovers, they knew vaguely about it all. I was trying to convince them, as a way to organise themselves in Brazil, was to create [organisations such as] Bolivarian Circles. That is something to get excited about, going to meetings focused on Venezuela, but doing their own organising in the process.
"You people do this all the time in Australia [through your solidarity work]. So, that's where there's a real potential for participating in the process, in Latin America, certainly, but also elsewhere by spreading the word about the nature of the revolution.
"But, there's another strain to all this, that's the 'real-politics' strain of internationalism. The unity of Latin America, the Bolivarian idea, is important. But [there's an element] that's different. It's like a nationalist perspective, different from what the Bolivarian revolution is all about on the social level.
"I don't think those two are resonating together, are linking together. Certainly, part of bringing together the Bolivarian project is Venezuela's entry into Mercosur [a regional trade agreement also involving Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay]. But, Mercosur is dominated by capitalists. The question is, does this advance the revolutionary process or, in fact, create barriers to it.
"The focus on Mercosur, these days, may be related to the [presidential] election and the UN Security Council vote [Venezuela waged an campaign for a seat on the Security Council in opposition to US-backed candidate Guatemala. Panama was eventually elected as a compromise candidate.] But, there is at the same time a reduction in focus on what ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America — solidarity-based alternative to free-trade agreements that incorporates Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba] is all about. The alternative to ALBA, which is the FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas], focuses on prices, and capitalist relations.
"ALBA [on the other hand] is related to links based on solidarity ... an exchange of activity based on human needs and purposes, the ideal of ALBA has been squeezed out by the focus on Mercosur. There is a danger that the whole focus on Latin American nationalism could [reduce] the emphasis on socialist internationalism. And working for the unity of an anti-imperialist bloc becomes more of the same — embracing Mugabe in Zimbabwe [for example], could mean [uniting with] some countries that are engaged in policies that no person on the left is going to accept.
"It is important to create this [anti-imperialist] bloc. And I think that Chavez was absolutely brilliant at the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Cuba recently, when he resurrected this document from [former Tanzanian president Julius] Nyerere, which included [backing from] the prime minister of India, [on the aims of the Non-Aligned Movement]. Chavez said we have to go back to this [idea], it was our project, we were diverted. He quoted Nyerere, 'The South must build the South'.
"It was certainly brilliant, not only in the short term for the UN Security Council elections, but also as a strategy to create a bloc against imperialism — but it's not the [full answer]. Chavez knows what he's doing. But, again, look at Mercosur. There are potential problems in this. They can't be avoided. There is a clear need to build these alliances, but the question is, at what point does this strategy — which they have to engage in within the international sphere — begin to undermine the other aims [of the Bolivarian revolution]."
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