REVIEW BY STUART MUNCKTON
Venezuela: The Revolution Unfolding in Latin America
By Jorge Jorquera
Resistance Books Sydney, 2003
41 pages, $4.95
Available from Resistance bookshops (see page 2) or order at <http://www.resistancebooks.com>
"Each day the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean will be increasingly convinced that there is no other road but revolution. For us there is no other road but revolution" — this quote by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez adorns the back of Resistance Books' new pamphlet on the historic political struggle now underway in Venezuela.
Venezuela: The Revolution Unfolding in Latin America, written by Latin American solidarity activist Jorge Jorquera, provides essential background information on the political upheaval that has erupted in the South American nation. Jorquera describes the "Bolivarian revolution" as "a revolutionary process ... unfolding in Venezuela, part of a continental rebellion unparalleled since the 1960s and '70s".
Venezuela's "modernisation" was facilitated by its abundant oil resources (Venezuela is the fifth-largest supplier of oil in the world). Mass bourgeois parties came to dominate Venezuelan politics for decades: the social-democratic Accion Democratica (Democratic Action, AD) and the conservative COPEI. Jorquera points out "people joined and supported AD and COPEI to get their share of the crumbs".
The wealth generated by oil helped to provide a more stable political environment throughout the 1960s and '70s, when the class struggle raged in much of the rest of Latin America. Until the 1980s, Venezuela enjoyed around double the growth rate of other countries in the region. The neoliberal offensive in the 1980s shattered this stability, with Venezuela experiencing the greatest increase in poverty on the South American continent.
In February 1989, there was an uprising of the poor, known as El Caracazo, which was sparked by the International Monetary Fund-imposed increases in the price of petrol and transportation. Popular anger exploded and the poor took over the capital, Caracas.
This had two important repercussions. First, it ended the political domination of the two neoliberal parties, with the AD government sending the military to put down the uprising, killing hundreds, if not thousands.
Second, it politicised a section of the Venezuelan military, grouped around Chavez, who were horrified at being ordered to crush what they considered a just uprising. Many soldiers, instead of repressing the people, joined with them.
Jorquera provides valuable information about the origins of the Chavista movement in the armed forces. He explains that, rather than being sent to the US military's infamous School of the Americas, as other Latin American officers were, Chavez's generation studied alongside the general student population in Venezuela and were exposed to radical left ideas.
Chavez and three other officers, angered by the poverty in their country and the corruption and subservience to imperialism of the ruling oligarchy, secretly formed the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario (Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement, MBR-200), which was inspired by South America's hero Simon Bolivar, who helped liberate much of the continent from colonialism in the 19th century.
The MBR-200 launched a military rebellion in 1992, but the civilian uprising they expected to also erupt did not take place. Chavez and his comrades were jailed, but Chavez appeared on TV to promise that he would return to continue the struggle. As soon as he was released from jail, Chavez and others in the MBR-200 launched a new political party, the Movimientio para la Quinto Republica (Movement for the Fifth Republic, MVR). Chavez toured the country to create a dialogue with the poor communities.
As a result of the MVR's agitation and the complete collapse of legitimacy of the parties of the elite, Chavez was swept to victory in the 1998 presidential election. A new, radically democratic constitution was drawn up and adopted in a referendum. The Chavez government implemented a series of far-reaching reforms and social programs to improve the lives of the poor people and the workers. They were able to participate in decision-making for the first time ever.
Jorquera details the response of Venezuela's capitalist class to this challenge to their political and economic power, which culminated in a failed military coup in April 2002. Its main political representatives are deeply discredited in the eyes of the majority. However, the capitalists and their political operatives retain control over key sections of the economy and parts the state, which they can use as a base to wage a counter-revolution.
Chavez's reforms and the mobilisation of his government's poor and working-class supporters to defeat the capitalist opposition's counter-revolutionary moves have created a counter-power to the oligarchy. Jorquera describes the creation of new struggle organisations and institutions of the poor, such as the Bolivarian Circles. The circles involve more than 2 million people and organise the poor at the grassroots level to carry out the project of social transformation.
Jorquera also looks at some of the problems facing the Venezuelan revolutionary movement, most strikingly the problem of creating a broad, united and conscious revolutionary leadership. To begin to solve this, the Frente Nacional (National Front, FN) has been created, which brings all the pro-revolutionary organisations under one umbrella.
Venezuela: The Revolution Unfolding in Latin America ends by putting the revolutionary process in Venezuela in the context of a revival of class struggle across Latin America and a growing resistance to neoliberalism. Venezuela is leading the way in providing a concrete alternative to capitalist globalisation, and is being watched carefully by the masses of the continent.
The pamphlet includes a 1995 interview with Chavez, which provides a useful outline of how Chavez himself sees the revolution he is leading. He explains: "If an elite owns and controls big business ... there can be no real democracy or social equality."
Jorquera and Resistance Books have provided an invaluable source of information on what may prove to be a historic renewal of the revolutionary movement in Latin America. As he notes: "The left has become all too accustomed to analysing defeats and is unfamiliar with the measure of a revolution."
The revival of revolutionary class struggle in Venezuela offers the chance for the left to "re-acquaint" itself with the dynamics of a living revolutionary struggle. This pamphlet is a great place to start.
From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.
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