Latin America: The rebirth of socialism and revolution

February 13, 2009

Luis Bilbao is an Argentine socialist currently based in Venezuela. He is the editor of the Latin America-wide magazine America XXI and is a central participant in the construction of the mass-based United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the party initiated by President Hugo Chavez to help unite Venezuela's revolutionary forces to push for the construction of a "socialism of the 21st century".

He was interviewed by Agustina Desalvo for Argentinian journal Razon y Revolucion (issue #18 second semester 2008).

Bilbao will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney on April 10-12, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Green Left Weekly. Visit for full agenda and to register.

The interview has been translated by GLW's Federico Fuentes and a heavily abridged version is published below. The significantly longer full version is published at the socialist e-journal Links, visit Links.

The interview deals with the role of the US in Latin America, which it has long viewed as its "backyard". US corporations, as well as other First World companies, are infamous for their exploitation of resources and labour across the Americas (a system referred to as "imperialism").

The US government has consistently intervened into Latin America to protect the interests of US corporations. That has included a number of military invasions and US military coups against governments that have threatened US corporate interests.

As a result of the growth in poverty resulting from harsh neoliberal policies implemented by pro-US governments across Latin America, since the turn of the century there have been a number of mass uprisings and governments elected on anti-neoliberal platforms.

This has led to a push for greater regional integration and independence from the US, and in some cases (such as Venezuela and Bolivia) radical movements winning government with the goal of revolutionising society.

* * *

What is imperialism's strategy for Latin America? Who are those who are fighting against it and how are they doing so?

For more than 200 years, the US strategy for Latin America has been domination.

However, during the last few years a particular phenomenon has occurred, provoked by the very deep and structural crisis facing the world capitalist system. This has not only led imperialism to further pillage the workers and peasants of all our countries, but has also put the local capitalists [in Latin America] up against the wall.

This has provoked opposition and a clear attempt at strategic resistance. There was the necessity of resisting the indiscriminate, uncontrolled looting by the US of the economies of our countries.

A movement of South American convergence has come into being and dragged governments from a wide political spectrum behind a common position, which is the necessity of putting a brake on the brutal plundering by the US.

But I want to insist: a brutal plundering no longer just of the workers and peasants, but also the bourgeoisies themselves.

The steamrolling entrance of international finance capital into all the areas of the economy of each of our countries has sucked out of them the possibility of generating local wealth, [that is] of the illegitimate ripping-off of wealth that the local bourgeoisies [previously] carried out.

In this way, US strategy now clashes not only with its traditional enemies, with the resistance of workers, students, peasants, but now also clashes with the South American capitalists.

We also have to point out that the local capitalists have a completely limited room for resistance, and moreover are divided in every country, which explains why some do opt — understanding that it is still profitable for them — to place themselves in line with the needs and will of international finance and the US.

This has, without a doubt, created complicated situations in each country. But the result of this very complex set of factors has been seen in the creation of the Union of South American Nations [Unasur, which was launched in 2008 and unites all South American countries into a body that is formally independent of the US].

Unasur is a heterogenous grouping within which exist the most diverse set of forces.

Within this grouping has appeared a force that does not represent the bourgeoisies, but instead represents, in general, "the people" (in the very ambiguous sense of the word, as the word itself presupposes). This group has a perspective of confrontation with imperialism from an anti-capitalist position that is vague and diverse.

A bloc within Latin America has been created. It is called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and is made up of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — to which we have to add some Caribbean countries that, for different reasons, cannot fully integrate themselves but want to do so. There is also Ecuador, which, for very particular reasons has not become a member yet.

Within ALBA, the determining factor is the will to resist imperialism from a non-capitalist, and in some cases explicitly socialist, perspective.

The US therefore has a double problem: it has to confront those who advance with an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist perspective, who have the capacity to infect the others and lead to a situation of revolutionary transformation of all Latin America, and it has to confront, of course on a different level, Unasur, the whole of the region resisting US policy.

Things have reached such a point that it is an imperative for the stability of regional capitalism and, much more, for US control of the region, to impede the continuity of these processes seeking to move beyond capitalism.

Above all else in two countries — Venezuela and Bolivia [led by democratically elected left-wing governments of Chavez and Evo Morales respectively]. Also, at a different level, Ecuador.

The US has tried everything and failed. It cannot regain the space lost in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador by any means than with arms.

That is why the US general strategy is a strategy of war. The US has declared war on us. And this war against all of Latin America has specific points of leverage in Venezuela and Bolivia.

If they can, they will not carry out the war in a direct manner. They are trying to do this via third parties.

They are trying to force secession in Bolivia, planned, structured and led by the US. If they succeed in splitting off some departments [states], it is highly probable that this would lead to a civil war and abort — or at least make extremely difficult — the process underway in Bolivia.

The US would have the perfect excuse to send troops under the guise of bringing "peace" to Bolivia.

The US is trying the same thing in Venezuela. It is promoting a secessionist policy starting in Zulia province, a petroleum state that borders Colombia and is led by the opposition to the [Chavez-led] Bolivarian revolution.

Of course, this cannot be carried out with the force of Zulia alone; rather it needs the force of the US, backed moreover by the government of Colombia, through paramilitaries who have infiltrated Venezuela.

Through different forms, but with the unequivocal aim of halting these revolutionary processes in Latin America, the US is right now trying to impose its general strategy through a line of military action.

Four years after Morales's Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party came to power through elections in Bolivia, what balance do you make of his government?

We have to take as our starting point the reality of the world situation since the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. A regression occurred in the overall political situation, particularly in the area of ideas and organisations that gave the working class and peasantry of the world even a minimum of organisation and some banners.

A reactionary wave of enormous power was unleashed in 1991, one that is deeply rooted in history and, in the last instance, comes from the degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the middle of the 1920s.

This defeat expanded over the whole continent and placed the exploited masses of the world in a very weak situation. We lost an ideological battle, because in 1990-91, we did not just witness the collapse of the reformist and Stalinist forces that survived off the Soviet Union; we also saw the collapse of those who had resisted the Stalinist degeneration in the 1920s.

These forces also failed. Those who did not hand themselves over to the enemy, passing over completely to the other side of the class line, hid or buried the red flag, and threw out the idea of revolution.

There are always exceptions, of course. But the only one of any weight, with international visibility, was the Cuban Revolution.

Within this international context, we are seeing a rebirth of revolution and a rebirth of the struggle for socialism.

If one tries to draw up a balance sheet of what is occurring in Bolivia without this historic backdrop, they could draw up a correct literary balance sheet, but one which would be politically speaking very incorrect.

All the enormous deficiencies that we can point to over these years of government in Bolivia, in reality, are something completely different when one takes as their starting point the reality out of which the revolutionary government emerged.

Placed in this context, I believe that the Morales government has dealt very well with the essential issues.

What have they achieved? Advances in organisation and raising consciousness, in the general and political education of the masses. Very important steps forward have been taken towards regaining the natural wealth of the country.

Bolivia has aligned itself with the South American revolutionary project and has projected a line of march that systematically advances against the oligarchy, against imperialism and against the bourgeoisies not only of Bolivia but regionally (although, of course, the political leadership in Bolivia does this with a lot of care, precisely because the correlations of forces within which they are working are extremely difficult).

So, that is the real measure of the situation, all of which does not presume that the possibility of risks have been closed off for the Latin American revolution in general, and in Bolivia particularly.

To the enormous difficulty that the masses have in front of them in Latin America, in the world, there is no solution in Bolivia, in Venezuela, nor in Ecuador or any country on their own.

The solution exists at the Latin American scale or it doesn't.

And if it doesn't then, put simply, this revolutionary tide that Latin America is living through, this rebellion of the exploited and oppressed masses of the region, will suffer a defeat.

It will be a very terrible defeat because it will be a military defeat. The level reached, in general, of voluntary, organised mass action of the workers, of the peasantry, of the popular masses in some countries — particularly Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia — cannot be wound back simply through an election.

To go back to the past requires losing a war; to advance requires a victorious war. What is at stake is not just any battle, it is a class war.

This war can only be won if we have a policy that can unite millions and millions of people; not only to unite socialists, to unite Marxists. The unity of Marxists will have to be the result of the unity of the masses and not the inverse.

Our great task is the unity of these masses that exist as they do.

That is why my balance sheet of the struggle in Bolivia is very positive. I believe that it has contributed in a lot of ways to this grand task of forming a mass revolutionary, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist Latin American international [organisation].

That is what ALBA is, and I can give you an example of transcendental importance. I'm referring to what occurred on May 2, 2008.

On May 4, the Santa Cruz referendum [on "autonomy" for the resource-rich Bolivian department promoted by the elite and backed by the US] was going to be held. On May 2, Chavez convened a meeting of the presidents of ALBA countries.

What was discussed was not reported in the newspapers and I believe that it did not even pop into the minds of the ranks: they discussed war.

They discussed the war planned to begin in Bolivia [on May 4] because [the referendum] was part of an international plan [to provoke a civil war in Bolivia].

And the presidents resolved that it would not be Bolivia plunged into war, but rather ALBA would take up Bolivia's war as its own, and military forces would be sent from the countries that make up ALBA to fight in Bolivia [in defence of the elected Morales government].

That single decision postponed the war in Bolivia. It gave more space, more time, to better organise, to win more people, to take space away from and weaken the enemy.

Right now in Latin America, a revolutionary leadership, made up of people who do not refer to themselves as Marxists, although some do, is exercising the revolutionary leadership of a battle against the US and the local bourgeoisies and oligarchies.

The solution is socialist revolution, there is no intermediary solution. And the socialist revolution cannot be carried out just in Bolivia.

What is your general balance sheet of the Chavista process in Venezuela and where it is going?

The general balance sheet is even more positive than what I outlined about Bolivia, because in Venezuela the revolutionary process began with a constitutional reform [in 1999] and two years later began to take very deep social measures.

This led to a [US-backed] coup [in 2002, reversed by a mass uprising], and this coup was responded to with a clear definition. In 2003, in a celebration of the first anniversary of the victory against the coup at a rally of more than 1 million people in Caracas, Chavez formally adopted the anti-imperialist character of the Bolivarian revolution.

And one year later he took the next step and proclaimed the revolution to be socialist.

Following this, he asked the masses to vote on whether they wanted to go toward socialism or not, and stood for re-election in December 2006 with a campaign focused on "vote for me if you want to go towards socialism, if you don't want to go towards socialism, don't vote for me".

And he won with 63% of the vote.

Immediately after the vote, he called for the construction of a mass socialist party.

From that time until now, a mass socialist party (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV) began to be constructed, starting with the signing-up of aspiring members that resulted in the registration of 5.8 million people.

Making a rough calculation, we can say that half of those signed up due to confusion or for opportunist reasons. What are we left with then? A little more than what those who consider themselves to be revolutionary parties have in the rest of the world.

And of those people, some 1.5 million form an active part of the party that every Saturday meets across the country.

There are more than 1.2 million people in the military reserves, what we would call in classical terms popular and workers' militias, to militarily defend the revolution.

It is the biggest leap forward that has been taken in a very long time. But it is much more than a grandiose leap forward in Venezuela, it is the rebirth of the idea of revolution.

Revolution is no longer just a word in the mouth of some revolutionary.

Now, revolution is something that is becoming real for millions of people, in millions of minds, in millions of hands, and it is the re-vindication of socialism.

Socialism is re-vindicated, but now not only for Venezuela, not only for Latin America, but for the world. The possibility of fighting for socialism has been reborn.

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